Editor's Note: This is the final in a series of 10 stories counting down the top 10 sports stories of 2012 as voted on by The Telegram's staff.
By BRETT MARSHALL
In late February, seniors Luke Hayes and Clay Mulligan were the on-mat and emotional leaders of the Scott City Beavers wrestling team.
Hayes won an individual title at 285 pounds, and Mulligan placed second to propel the Beavers to the Class 3-2-1A state championship in Hays. It was the school's first since winning a 4A title in 2004, and the fourth overall for the Beavers. Previously, during coach Jon Lippelman's 32-year tenure, the Beavers had won Class 4A titles in 1990, 1994 and 2004.
Two weeks later at the Hutchinson Sports Arena, the Beavers' boys basketball team, using a balanced offense, a smothering defense and a devastating inside-outside game, rolled to its second consecutive Class 3A state championship, defeating Nemaha Valley, 61-47, in the title game.
For coach Glenn O'Neil, it was his third state championship at Scott City, the others coming in 2011 and 2006 (4A). The school's first state title came in 1958, when the Beavers claimed the Class A crown, when there were just four classifications. Now they had their fourth basketball title.
Fast forward to Nov. 24, and many of the same Beavers who had been on the wrestling and basketball championship teams earlier in the year played integral roles as the Beavers rallied from a 21-0 deficit to topple previously unbeaten Silver Lake, 28-21, earning the school's — you guessed it — fourth state championship.
It was the first football crown in 21 years, and ended a long drought and five seasons of frustrations of second or third-round exits from the 3A state playoffs.
The Beavers had won their previous three titles, all in Class 4A, in a span of four seasons (1988, 1989 and 1991).
It would be easy to disregard some of the sports euphemisms that go with winning — teamwork, chemistry, leadership — but in the case of the Beavers, in all three sports, that's exactly what laid the foundation for one of the most successful years in Kansas high school sports by a single school.
The championships aside, there were other team successes for Scott City.
The Beavers' boys cross country team finished second in the 3A state meet in October, and the track team was fourth in May at the state meet in Wichita.
It has often been said that success breeds more success, and the Beavers are a prime example.
The group of seniors who just won the school's first football crown in more than two decades never lost a home football game in four years. They never lost a regular season football game their entire prep career. They finished an astonishing 46-3 during their four-year reign in dominating western Kansas football.
The seeds for this run of success were perhaps planted years ago when a majority of these same high school players were either playing with or against each other in Garden City YMCA football. In one year, the two Scott City teams battled for the YMCA title in their age group.
"I really do think a lot of our success can be traced back to when this group were in grade school," said Glenn O'Neil, the architect of four state championships in two sports over the past six years. "You want to keep up with your classmates and not just in one sport. They have good relationships and they cheer for each other in all the sports. They're always aware of how the others are doing. And I think the fact that this group has success in multiple sports really says how good of athletes we've been fortunate to have."
Indeed, examples are plentiful.
Numerous members of the wrestling team that captured the February title, also played football this fall. The same is true with basketball. Brett O'Neil, Drew Kite, Tyler Hess, Trey O'Neil and Colten Yager all were both football and basketball players. Michael McEachern and Warren Kropp were wrestlers/football players; Joey Meyer was a starter in basketball and led the Beavers' boys to their 3A runner-up finish in cross country.
"So many kids we have are involved in different sports and I think that's as much out of necessity as it is for the love of the sports," coach O'Neil said. "It's not always the same ones accomplishing things, but there's a combination of chemistry that has made those things special."
O'Neil said he had observed that for the wrestling team to capture its first state title in eight years, that it was those who came through the back side of the bracket to win multiple matches that proved critical in the team compiling enough points to win. He said as much could be said about the cross country team's performance, where Meyer was the lone top-20 finisher for the Beavers.
"I believe any time you have success in a team sport, it's those who don't always get their names mentioned that are just as important as those who do," O'Neil said. "It's a collective effort. Everyone is on the same page, everyone wants the same goal to be achieved. That's what has worked well around here. It's a buy-in to what you want to accomplish."
For coach O'Neil, having overseen two of the three 2012 state titles, each event has its own special place.
"Those are the big treasures as a coach," he said. "It's hard to be better than that. At the same time, there are coaches who have a .500 team who come out of nowhere and there's no trophy, but the satisfaction of seeing a team do more than most thought, is a satisfying thing, too."
O'Neil said he will remember the football championship in many different ways - all the obstacles to overcome (injury, illness, trailing early), and for the final game-winning drive.
"There were so many plays that were big in the football game," O'Neil said. "You remember each one, and I do because it's still fresh in my mind. It was just such an exciting game and to see the kids' hard work rewarded, was something that you'll cherish. We somehow found a way to get the job done and at the end of the day, that's what matters most. To see the joy those kids had on their faces, that's something you don't forget."
For the basketball championship, repeating also had its special memory for O'Neil, who now has guided three of the school's four state championship teams.
"We got off to such a great start that there really wasn't any last-second dramatics like the year before," O'Neil said of his team's blazing first quarter against Nemaha Valley.
In the title game, the Beavers scored the first 15 points, forced numerous turnovers and were lights out on the offensive end. That red-hot start turned into an 18-3 first quarter advantage and the Beavers were never challenged en route to that 61-47 thrashing. It was a much different finish than 2011, when Ron Baker hit a last-second follow shot to beat Minneapolis.
"I think the basketball team felt they had a lot to prove after Ron graduated," O'Neil said. "They were kinda united in one goal and that was to prove that they were a good team, too. We had a good combination of inside/outside on offense, but everything we did was generated by our defense. We were able to force a lot of turnovers, get out in transition and the kids were not afraid to pass the basketball and share with each other."
Simply put, the basketball title defense was one of domination by the Beavers. In three games, they trailed for a mere 42 seconds, and that came in the opening game against Beloit. Ninety-six minutes of basketball, holding the lead for 95 minutes, 18 seconds.
For the wrestlers, as Lippelman alluded to, things just fell into place.
"We have had some good fellas before, but there has been some great teams when we have been sliding up and down," Lippelman said. "Well, not this year. I don't know we was any more powerful. The moon was right. Things were working, and my kids were ready."
The group of seniors who were part of both basketball and football successes through their high school careers could look back with a sense of accomplishment, and pride. The Beavers' football team had gone 46-3 (.939 winning percentage) and the basketball team had posted a 71-8 record (.899, through Dec. 2012) in three-plus seasons. The current wrestling and basketball teams were ranked No. 1 in their respective classes just before the holiday break.
It was that type of year for the Scott City boys — a year of dominance, a year of memorable moments, a year of state championships.
It was, indeed, the year of the Beavers.