Today, I will be spending the majority of the time in my hometown Syracuse.
As they say, that's where my family roots are.
Tonight, Syracuse plays host to Stanton County — well, I'll call the school Johnson for my purposes — in a Hi-Plains League football game. I still have a difficult time thinking of schools as County rather than just Johnson, or in Wichita County's case, Leoti. Some things are just hard to let go.
And while many fans tonight will be focused on the outcome of the game, there will be countless others who will be there to honor the 1969 undefeated/untied Bulldogs, the only team to accomplish the feat in school history.
The Syracuse-Johnson rivalry likely dates back to the 1950s, if not before. Johnson was one of the original members of the HPL while Syracuse gained entry into the league in 1958. Immediately thereupon the Bulldogs captured the HPL football title in that first year under Ulysses native Kayo McGillivray.
For a number of years thereafter, the Bulldogs staked a claim as one of the best teams in the league, but could never quite capture another crown until 1969.
It has been 40 years since the Bulldogs made history. That season, which was my senior year, provided memories that have been weaving in and out of my life for that long span.
I was one of the student managers on the team.
It was a season where, at best, the team was picked maybe a distant second or third in the preseason league race. Sublette was the defending champion and had tons of talent returning. But the Bulldogs had something that other SHS teams were missing — chemistry, leadership, respect for each other and respect for the coaches.
We had a young, 29-year-old coach from Nebraska — Jerry Yeutter — who had never been a head coach before landing in Syracuse. We had a great assistant in Ray Seib, a superb motivator and defensive whiz. They were opposites and yet meshed together that year. The seniors from that group — mostly linemen — took the proverbial bull by the horns and brought a talented group of underclassmen backfield players along for a memorable ride. It was a lesson in leadership that has not been lost on those who were on the team.
The springboard was a 20-13 opening-game win at No. 6-ranked Jetmore. The mid-season biggie was against No. 2-ranked Tribune, which resulted in a 21-14 Bulldog victory. There was the 50-0 thrashing of Lakin after the game was tied 0-0 at halftime. The icing on the HPL cake came when the 'Dogs put a 32-12 spanking on the Larks to win the league title. An outmanned Holcomb team was the final victim, 52-6.
That team, by no fault of its own, was denied the opportunity to compete in the state playoffs that year. It was the first year for Kansas to have them and only four teams were chosen to compete. Meade, another unbeaten regular season team, nudged the Bulldogs out by .63 of one point to represent the District 2 of western Kansas.
Tonight will be the first time members of the team and coaches have gathered together since that season. I'm not sure what has taken so long, but we are certainly excited to renew acquaintances and talk about the good 'ol days. In this case, the good 'ol days, were really good.
I'm sure in talking with many of the players from that team that we didn't realize how precious or special going undefeated actually was.
Today, we realize just how special that was, but more important we realize that relationships from our days of youth are equally, if not more, important.
We will renew those friendships tonight and Saturday and enjoy the sweet memory of a special time of our youth.
We will only be sobered by the memory of those members our team, six of them, who have passed away far too early to enjoy this reunion. We will remember them fondly.
Sports Editor Brett Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.