In the 2007-2008 school year, athletic officials from the five Western Athletic Conference schools gathered together to discuss ways to promote the school-year-long competition among the nearly 20 varsity sports for each school.
Thus, the Champions Cup was born, and it celebrated its first year in 2008-2009 with the Great Bend Panthers, a Class 5A school, winning it.
The following two years, the Cup moved to Dodge City as the Red Demons, who along with Garden City represent the only two Class 6A schools in the league, stood atop the Cup race which at the time was sponsored by State Farm Insurance.
Last Thursday at the WAC track championship in Dodge City, the 21-varsity sport schedule came to a conclusion with Liberal winning the boys track crown and Dodge City the girls title by a mere half-point over Garden City.
But the bigger picture that was crystal clear was the dominance of the Buffaloes’ programs from fall to winter to spring as they scored 182 points to garner their seventh consecutive Cup. Dodge City and Great Bend battled for second, with the Demons finishing second with 124 points to the Panthers’ 122. Hays was fourth with 106 and Liberal fifth with 98 points.
“I think the big thing that we saw this year was that our coaches were able to get the best out of a lot of kids,” said GCHS athletic director Drew Thon, just finishing his second season in that position. “The level of coaching that we have, in my opinion, is the best in the league. We’ve been able to finish at the top, and I think a lot of that is the athletic development we do with the kids.”
One of the interesting aspects of the competition is that every sport counts the same in the points awarded, 12 for first, eight for second, six for third and four for fourth. No points are given for fifth.
"When the idea came up for discussion, we wanted to do something to recognize all the existing and new sports coming in to give them some publicity and recognition," long-time Dodge City High School athletic director Jay Gifford said. "It was a way to let people know how all the sports were doing, and each sport has equal importance with respect to the points. It's been a great way to promote the league, and we also are able to give out medals to student-athletes who make 3.5 to 4.0 GPA's on our All-Academic teams."
In breaking down the latest GCHS victory in the Cup, the Buffs had seven teams win WAC titles — girls cross country, football, girls tennis, volleyball, bowling, boys tennis and girls soccer. Ten sports captured second-place finishes — boys cross country, girls golf, boys soccer, boys basketball, wrestling, boys golf, boys and girls track, girls swimming and softball. There were two thirds — boys bowling and boys swimming (first year for the program) and there was one tie for fourth (baseball) and one outright fourth (girls basketball). Not one team of the 21 varsity sports finished last.
“We’ve really raised the ball with our expectations with what we want from coaches and the kids,” Thon said. “Across the board, you’ll see certain sports that dominate, but we don’t have that. A lot of our sports we just have high expectations for everybody — it’s the same from one sport to the next.”
Thon had high praise for his varsity coaches and the cohesiveness that has developed amongst the group. Of the 21 varsity sports, there are 14 head coaches as several coach both boys and girls such as golf, bowling, tennis, track and field, cross country, and soccer.
“Our coaches get along together and in many schools, that just doesn’t exist,” Thon said of his head coaching staff. “We’re all on the same page and we all have the same goals. We’ve got a lot of kids who compete in multiple sports so the coaches are familiar with how kids are doing.”
And while the last seven seasons have been dominated by the Buffs, there was one season, the 2015-16 year, when the Buffs rallied to edge Dodge City by five points when the GCHS girls captured the final track event of the WAC meet and won the team title.
State Farm sponsorship continued through the 2014-15 school year, before a search for a new sponsor began and it was then that American Implement, headquartered in Garden City but with business in most of the five communities, came forward to sponsor the Cup.
Today, the WAC schools now have a permanent trophy that resides at the winning school for the next school year, to be brought to the league track meet at the end of the school calendar year and presented at midfield in Dodge City.
“We’ve just tried to do our best to create a winning culture,” Thon said. “Everybody gets on board, and it has just continued through each season."