By BRETT MARSHALL
SALINA — When Garden City High School athletic director Martin Segovia and Buffaloes' football coach Brian Hill walked out of the Bicentennial Center late Wednesday morning, there was nothing but big smiles on their faces and sighs of relief.
For the first time since 2001, when the Kansas State High School Activities Association began sponsoring its biennial football scheduling meeting, the Buffs left Salina with a complete schedule for the next two seasons.
And for the first time since 2009, the Buffs will have an all-Kansas schedule.
The Buffs will open the 2014 season on the road at Class 6A Olathe East, with a return home date in 2015 with the Hawks, a member of the Sunflower League. It will be the first meeting between the two schools, with the Buffs last having played an Olathe school district team in the 1998 and 1999 Class 6A state championship games (41-37 loss to Olathe North in 1998, a 14-7 win over Olathe South in 1999).
"It's a real feather in our cap to get a team like Olathe East on the schedule," said Hill, who has had to open the previous two seasons with Bixby, Okla., a school that has had advantages by an earlier practice start as well as two scrimmages with other schools prior to the season's start. "We're at least on a level playing field as to when we start. That's very important to us."
Segovia had been working diligently in the two weeks leading up to the scheduling meeting, which occupied a large conference room at the Bicentennial Center to accommodate the several hundred coaches and administrators that were seated at tables where league officials were conversing and negotiating with each other to nail down their schedule.
"They were very interested from the first time I talked with them," Segovia said of Olathe East's officials. "The game there next year will give us an opportunity to play in an area where we have a lot of GCHS alumni living. So we're expecting a good following and a good turnout for those folks to be able to see the Buffs play close to their homes."
In Week 2, the Buffs will face a familiar foe in the Maize Eagles. For six seasons, including the current one, the Eagles and Buffs have played in Week 8 as members of Class 6A-District 8. But the Eagles have dropped to Class 5A for the next two years and it was during the open time of schools negotiating with each other that Segovia and Maize officials worked out the arrangement.
The Buffs will then follow a nearly normal schedule the remainder of the season. They will travel to Great Bend for their Western Athletic Conference opener, followed by home WAC games with Hays High and Liberal. A two-year continuation with Wichita East is Week 6 for the Buffs prior to their start of district play. The Buffs will open district play at Hutchinson, followed by a home date with new district opponent Wichita Northwest. As usual, the Buffs conclude their regular season/district schedule on the road against rival Dodge City.
"It's really good to get this ironed out now and not have any worries," Segovia said on the trip back to Garden City.
Class 6A Topeka-Highland Park, and Class 5A's Kansas City-Harmon, Topeka-Shawnee Heights and Shawnee-Mill Valley were all on the radar screen Wednesday, but no bites were taken by those eastern Kansas schools.
Segovia said he had earlier conversations with out-of-state potential opponents at Colorado schools Pueblo East, Pueblo Central and Pueblo South, as well as Canyon Randall in Texas. But with the schedule of in-state schools safely tucked away, the traveling Buffs don't have to worry about crossing state lines at least for the next two seasons.
Holcomb coach Jerry Johnson was concerned ahead of time that the Longhorns might be assigned to a northern district for Class 4A-II that would have included Great West Activities Conference members Goodland and Colby, but instead it was a happy Johnson when it was announced that the Longhorns, as well as GWAC member Hugoton, would be in the district with Pratt and Larned.
"We just weren't sure what would happen, but we're very happy to be in the southern district," Johnson said inside the Bicentennial Center.
The Longhorns will open their 2014 campaign against Cimarron of the Hi-Plains League and in week 6 will face another HPL member, Lakin. In weeks 2 through 5, the Longhorns will take on GWAC members (Colby, Goodland, Scott City and Ulysses) before entering district play against Larned, Pratt and Hugoton.
Dropping off the Longhorns' schedule was Class 2-1A Meade and Southwestern Heights, which was in the Class 3A district with the Longhorns the past two seasons.
Perhaps the team with the most at stake, due to its geographical location and being placed in Class 4A-I, was coach Jason Kenny and the Tigers.
There is no other 4A-I school in western Kansas, and Kenny knew his team would be in for a road map schedule the next two years and beyond.
Not knowing whether they would head north where they might be placed with Hays, or go south where they likely would play Wichita area 4A schools, provided the anxious moments for the Tigers.
KSHSAA placed the Tigers in District 7 with Mulvane, Rose Hill and Wellington and Kenny said it didn't matter where the Tigers would be assigned, they would be in a tough district.
"The other option was likely a Hays-McPherson-Buhler combination (those three were placed with Abilene)," Kenny said afterward. "Either way, we'll have our hands full. Those are all three good football schools."
At least in the first year of the two-year cycle, the Tigers will be at home against those schools. Mulvane is the closest at 254 miles while Wellington is 260 miles away and Rose Hill 268. Hays had been the closest in miles at 190.
The Tigers will retain Class 5A Liberal for its season opener, followed by Hugoton, Colby, Holcomb, Goodland and Scott City before diving into district play.
Cimarron, Southwestern Heights, Lakin and Scott City will comprise the four-team Class 3A-District 16. Class 3A is now the biggest class of schools with 64 after the split of Class 4A into the two divisions.
Three of the schools — Cimarron, Heights and Lakin — are in the Hi-Plains League and were able to secure their schedules mostly within the HPL, as well as the Bluejays and Broncs playing Holcomb. Scott City, a GWAC member, was facing the toughest obstacle in trying to find a week 1 replacement for Class 4A Abilene, but the Beavers were able to come out of Salina with an opening date against Clearwater, a Class 4A-II school, which is 248 miles from Scott City and located southwest of Wichita.
There was little mystery for the southwest Kansas schools in this classification.
The five schools in district 8 — Elkhart, Meade, Sublette, Syracuse and Stanton County — are all members of the Hi-Plains League and have been playing each other for several years. Wichita County will be in District 7 with Ellis, La Crosse, Oakley and Plainville.
The big news coming out of the HPL was the league's approval Tuesday night for Wichita County to rejoin the HPL next year. In this current two-year cycle, the Indians had moved to the Northwest Kansas League, but petitioned to move back to its long-standing relationship with the HPL.
8-Man I and II
Dighton/Healy and South Gray will be competing in District 7 of the 8-Man Division I along with Hodgeman County, Ness City, Spearville and WaKeeney. The Hornets were Division II the past two seasons.
In 8-Man Division II, District 6 will include Deerfield, Ingalls, Moscow, Rolla, Satanta and Fowler. Deerfield and Satanta dropped from Division I. Greeley County will be in District 8, and there are seven teams in that district, including Cheylin, Wheatland/Grinnell, Hoxie, Golden Plains, Wallace County and Triplains/Brewster.
For other WAC schools that play Garden City, Class 5A Great Bend and Liberal have been assigned to District 6 and 8. The Panthers are with Newton, Salina Central and Salina South while the Redskins are paired with Arkansas City, Goddard and Goddard-Eisenhower.
The remaining two northern schools in the GWAC — Colby and Goodland — were assigned to Class 4A-I District 7 with Clay Center and Concordia. It's a long drive to those north central towns, too.