By KEVIN THOMPSON
They were back where they belonged.
The band played the fight song. The cheerleaders got the hometown crowd going Friday night in Leoti.
The buzz in the gym was more than just for the game as the girls were playing Hugoton. In fact, the Lady Indians might have even stepped it up a notch after the VIPs walked in and took seats behind the scorer's table
This was a special night, a spotlight night in western Kansas where this small town with big hearts and long memories had come out to honor a collective group of heroes, the 1989-90 state 3A high school boys champions.
They've aged a little. Many have families. They don't move as swiftly as they used to. They might ache a bit more and a little sooner than they once did.
But don't mistake the spark in their eyes when they took their seat of honor and the added buzz from the fans who remembered that magical team from nearly two decades ago, when 12 guys literally ran teams out of their gym on their way to basketball immortality.
And lest anyone forget, there's the banner hanging from the rafters symbolizing a slice of Kansas sports history.
The 12 players, one manager and the coach have spread around the country, but 12 of that group made the trip back, some seeing their teammates for the first time since that wonder season.
A generation has passed, but many in the town still remember that weekend in Hutchinson in 1990 when these self-proclaimed "run and gunners" took out three quality teams to bring glory to the county seat of Wichita County.
The previous season, the team lost in the first round at state to Ellsworth. The following season, despite losing two key players to graduation, they felt they had a chance to get back and do some damage. The Indians defeated Smokey Valley 61-47, Marion 75-61 and Cheney in the final game 63-48.
Their overall record: 23-3.
Team members: Bill Biermann, Ron Bremer, Jess Herbers, Kyle Dosco, Gunnar Appl, Jody Wilkerson, Chris Kalbach, Bryce Brewer, Scott Hahn, Justin Enderton, Shad Case, and Robert Brandt. Jay Herbers was the team manager.
Dosco, a forward, said the key was deciding as a team to play together as a team.
The strength, he said, was their bench. Six players averaged double figures, the "run and gun" team could sub freely and often because they really didn't have a set offense, and that's all it took.
"It was never organized," Dosco said of the team's offensive "strategy" that made them hard to defend.
Most of the guys had grown up together, played together and knew what each other was going to do, so running and attacking seemed the right style for this mix of players, he said.
Dosco, who now lives in Denver with his family of five, was a newbie to the group, having transferred as a junior from Tribune the previous year.
"It was an awesome move," he said with a smile.
Biermann, now a math consultant living in Holcomb, said. "I don't think we had any stars. We just had an exceptional team."
Running up and down the floor and pressing were keys to success, he said, but when they had to, they ran some organized offense.
"But most people would attribute a lot of our success to our press," Biermann said. "The turnovers and easy buckets we'd get were the cumulative effect of that constant pressure throughout the game and that paid off a lot."
Kalbach added they pressed whenever they could.
"We pressed after made baskets, after missed baskets, any time," he said. "It was full-court pressure, get the turnover, and go. Our offense was full-court 'get it and go.'"
Appl described their press as "vicious."
"We worked on that press constantly in practice," he said. "People couldn't get the ball up the court against us. Even when they could, our defense was phenomenal."
Kalbach, who lives in Frisco, Texas, just outside of Dallas, said he tries to keep up with basketball when he can. He still enjoys it, but he said, "The older it gets, the harder it gets. The mind still works, but the body doesn't quite react like it used to," he laughed.
Kalbach said since they were young, basketball was all they did, and that helped this group gel.
"You could always find us at the park. Or anywhere we could find a goal or an open gym, we were always there. It was all we did," Kalbach said. "It's second nature to go down the court with these guys because you knew where they were going to be and what they were going to do. We love the game, and we had a lot of fun."
Appl, who now lives in the Kansas City area as a corporate accountant, said he played in a competitive league up until a couple of years ago. His two daughters take up a lot of his time now.
"We played so well together," he said. "We were a team. Nobody hogged the ball, everybody passed, nobody cared who shot it. We just ran the heck out of people, made them turn it over, and ran, ran, ran."
They were so confident with each other, he said, that he didn't even feel nervous because, "we knew we were going to smoke everybody."
Appl said the most prominent memory for him to show was just how galvanizing this special team was for the community happened when he came out of the title game for the last time to an ovation.
"As I go walking off the court, I remember thinking I didn't know there were this many people that actually lived in Leoti," he said. "The Hutch civic center was just packed, and I'm seeing these older people in their 60s and 70s jumping up and down, going crazy. They were happier than I was."