Tonganoxie’s midnight express
Some athletes celebrate early practice with breakfast run
The best part of running in the wee hours of the morning in Tonganoxie has to be the chocolate chip pancakes.
That’s according to Tonganoxie High senior Leah Bartels, a member of this year’s THS cross country team.
The THS boys and girls cross country teams started the tradition several years ago of practicing at midnight on the first official day of fall sports practices for Kansas high schools.
Runners do what they can to be awake at midnight, whether that’s take an afternoon nap or, as was the case for fellow senior Sophie Wetta, finish up a shift across the street at Sonic.
After finishing up the overnight run, boys and girls team members continue another tradition — head to Ihop for some sweet goodness in the form of pancakes.
Seniors on this year’s team with Wetta and Bartels are Nichole Zerrer and Brynlee Robbins.
Zerrer said the early practice was a fun way to start the season. And as senior boys team member Ethan Phillips pointed out, it sure beats a running in triple-digit weather in the afternoon.
Though that’s still a possibility, Monday morning was all about the midnight run. Runners wore glow sticks and flashing red light accessories to increase visibility any night owls were driving on the streets. Parents stood at various checkpoints to direct runners along the early morning path.
Joining Phillips in this year’s senior class on the boys side are Jake Tollefson, Sean Ketchum and Dylan Staatz.
Seniors on the girls team, as well as coach John Tollefson, are hoping to make another state run. The Chieftains won a regional title last year for the first time since 1990 and then finished fourth at state, tying the all-time best finish for a girls team. That mark was set in 1980.
Both the boys and girls squads look to have successful years as most of their teams return this season.
Monday’s practice also was a familiar sight for a new THS assistant coach.
Patrick Holton, a 2008 THS graduate, participated in the midnight practice tradition when he ran in high school. After a few years at Flinthills High School a Class 1A school in Rosalia near El Dorado.
The squad has just more than 40 runners out this fall.
Anyone driving through Tonganoxie overnight had to wonder what all the activity was about. Cross country runners congregated in the THS parking lot, while lights were aglow at Beatty Field and Chieftain Park.
For THS football coach Al Troyer, the first practice at Beatty Field was about getting under the lights and starting the season off right.
Troyer was enthusiastic after the first practice for a squad of about 50 that looks to improve on last year’s 2-7 mark.
Troyer has eight seniors, 15 juniors, 19 sophomores and eight freshmen.
“A lot of the kids will have to mature in a hurry,” Troyer said.
Across Main Street at Chieftain Park, Bran Kroll’s soccer squad was started the clock on what’s hoped to be another successful season. THS finished 2014 at 14-4-1 after a 3-0 loss to Bishop Miege in the Class 4-1A state quarterfinals.
Kroll was all smiles after addressing his team following this year’s inaugural practice.
“The mood was awesome and the tempo great,” Kroll said. “I think it sets the tone for what I want to do this year.”
As of Monday’s practice, the Chieftains had six seniors, nine juniors, 13 sophomores and 11 freshmen.
Games have been played in recent years at the THS soccer complex south of the high school’s west campus, but games will be moving back to Chieftain Park this year. Kroll said the field provides better access and has lights. The school complex does not have lights.
Tiffany Parker’s volleyball squad didn’t do the early bird special for its first practice.
The squad, about 36 strong, had its first practice Monday afternoon as the team went through a 3-hour practice.
Parker opted for a regular start time because, well, a midnight practice isn’t the most ideal when there’s a bundle of joy at home.
“I didn’t do it because I have child,” Parker said with a laugh, referring to her 9-month-old.
She said the team was starting the season off well.
“We have been very enthusiastic,” Parker said. “We’re starting the year off right.”
Parker has been accustomed to some high-win seasons in the past at THS, but the program has been trying in recent years to get back to those winning ways.
She noted that this year’s squad has seven seniors. The last time the team had that number, it went to state in 2007.