Archive for Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Chinstraps and Mouthpieces: Hot start has football team in a prime pigskin position

September 24, 2003

Billy Baska has had an interesting three weeks.

Baska endured a hospital stay before running wild for four touchdowns and more than 200 yards total yardage in the season opener against Wamego.

THS coach Mark Elston said Baska missed three days of practice because of asthma problems.

Then before the Bonner Springs game Sept. 12, Baska found himself facing another obstacle -- the senior threw up a few times just before kickoff because of nerves.

"Next week I might have to kick him in the teeth before the game," Elston said after his Chieftains defeated BSHS, 29-25.

But coach, you don't want to, um, kick the gift horse in the mouth.

Baska has been a work horse for the Chieftains in the first three weeks. He now has seven touchdowns in three games. Baska also has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of those wins, including a 141-yard performance against Bonner Springs.

Elston said after Friday's game that he didn't need to use any extra-curricular activity -- such as a punt to the teeth -- to get Baska motivated. The senior actually looked as though he would come out of the contest unscathed, but he did suffer a stinger in his shoulder.

The senior has been a major piece of Tonganoxie's early success, but in the event Baska doesn't score, this Chieftain team won't be in trouble.

After all, with 13 seniors, they have plenty of weapons. Yes, we go on and on about this senior-heavy squad, but this could be a very special year for Tonganoxie football. That large 12th-grade class is a big part of that.

Whether it's Matt Weyer making tackles, Justin Walker scrambling for yards or Dustan Sprowls making a huge catch, the seniors are coming through big. Let's not forget the other classes -- juniors Zach Ditty and Sam Mitchell have provided some excitement, as has sophomore BT Fleming.

But this season, the Class of 2004 is giving early indications that they don't expect any late-season swoons.

The Chieftains never can look beyond the next Friday's opponent if they expect to have an outstanding season. That, of course, is the sports writer's job.

So, with visions of the next few weeks waltzing through my cranium, let's take a peek into the near future.

Now 3-0 after the 50-13 rout of De Soto, Tonganoxie heads Friday to Leavenworth to play Immaculata. Last season, Tonganoxie squeaked past IHS, 23-14 at Beatty Field in a game that had 19 penalties worth 195 yards between the two teams. The Raiders gave Tonganoxie fits a year ago, but that shouldn't be the case this season.

That puts the Chieftains at 4-0 ready for a homecoming date with perennial power Santa Fe Trail. The Chargers, though, are without the services of Bob Von Stein, who retired as football coach after many years in the Carbondale area.

It's homecoming and the Chieftains are hungry for their first win against the Chargers in four years.

Now at 5-0, the Kaw Valley League title and the quest for an undefeated regular season are on the line. The Chieftains head to Shawnee to play Mill Valley, a team with plenty of upperclassmen as well.

And that's when the crystal ball gets fuzzy. I've done enough damage. No matter what Tonganoxie does through the Mill Valley game, those last three games -- districts -- are what truly count. That will be more business for the Chieftains to tend to, but this season, they should be up to the challenge.

On the road trip to Wamego a couple weeks ago, I traveled along scenic U.S. Highway 24. When I passed through Silver Lake, I saw the school that produced Lon Kruger warming up to take on tradition-rich Centralia, the Class 1A school that produced KU and NFL great John Riggins. A few miles down the road was Rossville, another small-town power. Next was St. Marys, which was supposed to consolidate with Rossville this year, but as anyone from a small town knows, it's awfully tough to tell a village it no longer will have a school. The school district still has two high schools.

After a Chieftain victory in Wamego, my vehicle brought me back on the long jaunt back to Tonganoxie, a town ready to really put football on the map.

This team certainly has local support.

Soccer players enjoyed tailgating in the high school parking lot before painting their bare chests and stomachs with red paint. Yes, eight devoted youths donated some skin to be one letter and help spell out G-O T-O-N-G-I-E on a chilly September evening. Volleyball and cross country players got in on some pregame tailgating as well.

Then there are those rabid Chieftazzlerz BaDazzlerz. Primarily volleyball players, these supporters are a cross between caffeine-enhanced cheerleaders and peppy drill team members. They also have a flair for transforming ordinary white T-shirts and blue jeans into cheer-riffic uniforms.

Check the Tonganoxie sidelines and you'll find these students clamoring for more Tonganoxie touchdowns.

Hey, plenty of games remain this season and that 5-0 prediction might not be accurate.

Whatever happens, locals should take a hint from these spirited high schoolers -- get a little fired up and enjoy the ride.

I'm pretty sure that about 55 Tonganoxie football players are.

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