Danedri Thompson
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The Gardner Edgerton High School ‘Blazers will start the fall sports season in a new athletic league. Last year was the district’s final year as members of the Frontier League. GEHS athletes will compete this year in the Eastern Kansas League, more commonly referred to as the EKL.

Members of the 2009 ‘Blazer varsity football team take the field during a home game last fall. The ‘Blazers will see different schools in league competition this year as GEHS joins a new athletic league. File Photo

According to Kent Glaser, GEHS Assistant Principal and Activities Director, joining the new league has several advantages for the students and district.

Many of the league’s schools are closer in proximity to GEHS.

“In league play, everyone is right outside of our backyard,” Glaser said.

The EKL includes five schools from the Blue Valley District – Blue Valley, Blue Valley North, Blue Valley Northwest, Blue Valley West and the district’s newest school, Blue Valley Southwest, opening this school year. Other schools in the league include private schools Bishop Miege and St. Thomas Aquinas.

“I think all parties are looking forward to the stability of having strong programs throughout the league, top through bottom,” Glaser said. “We’ll be bringing a lot to this league and they’ll be a lot this league can offer us too. There’s a lot more opportunity for our kids – especially at the sub-varisty level.”

GE was the largest district in the Frontier League which includes Baldwin, De Soto, Eudora, Louisburg, Ottawa, Paola and Spring Hill. And with a much larger student population, GE has the numbers to field more sub-varsity squads. However, other districts in the Frontier League weren’t able to do so.

“The most immediate expansion we’re having is adding C team soccer,” Glaser said. “In comparison to the Frontier League, we were just so much bigger we were not able to schedule those additional games. Here in the fall, we’re already adding an extra soccer team. That’s easily scheduled within the EKL.”

GEHS was the goliath member in the Frontier League. During the 2008-2009 school year, there were more than 820 students in tenth through twelth grade. Ottawa was the second largest in the Frontier League with enrollment of 499 that year.

Size-wise, GEHS will be in the middle of the pack in the new league.

“We’re not the smallest and we’re not the largest,” Glaser said.

Although high school attendance counts aren’t official until mid-September, Glaser said he anticipates Blue Valley North or BVNW will remain the largest schools in the conference, and Blue Valley Southwest will likely be the smallest.

“I think the students are excited about the change,” Glaser said. “We’ll be the new kid on the block, but we anticipate having success. It’s a highly, highly competitive league – arguably the most competitive league in the state.”

Over the course of the last two football seasons, GEHS has already established a rivalry with St. Thomas Aquinas. The squads met twice over the course of the last two seasons, splitting games. During the 2008 season, the ‘Blazer football team narrowly lost to St. Thomas Aquinas in a sub-state championship match. The victory led to a trip to the state football championship game for the STA Saints that year. They lost that game to Hutchinson High School.

In 2009, the ‘Blazers and Saints met again in the sub-state championship game. This time, the ‘Blazers were victorious. The GEHS squad went on to lose the state championship to Hutchinson.

In individual sports, Glaser said, GEHS athletes won’t see much of a difference in their competition schedules or competitors. The schedule changes will be more noticeable in team sports like football, volleyball, soccer, basketball, baseball and softball.

“Some of our tourney sports like golf and tennis or things that are done with wrestling and cross country, there’s just an EKL meet,” he explained. “We don’t necessarily see the league schools at every single event.”
At the team sport events, fans may notice the ticket price increase. Last year, GEHS charged adults $5 per game and charged students $3. The prices will increase to $6 for adults and $4 for students this year due to EKL rules.

“There is going to be a price increase in tickets,” Glaser said. “But that was kind of out of our control. We certainly hope that doesn’t affect anybody’s plans, and we certainly hope everybody continues to come out and offer they’re great support of the ‘Blazers.”

Team sports fire up at GEHS soon. The varsity boys soccer squad will take on Shawnee Mission North at home on Aug. 31. GEHS’ varsity volleyball squad takes on Bishop Miege at that school on Sept. 2. The ‘Blazer football season kicks off on Sept. 3 at home against Blue Valley West. The game will be televised on Time Warner Metro Sports.

“We hope to pack the stands,” Glaser said.