Archive for June, 2017

By Brad Hallier

I sometimes wonder how much the United States Soccer Federation cares about developing the game in this country.

I’m sure the federation cares. But not as much as it cares about the almighty dollar.

Fourteen years ago, Garden City High School had one of the best boys soccer teams in Kansas. That’s right, the city of less than 30,000 people, nestled in the desolate high plans of southwest Kansas, had one of Kansas’ best teams. They had a kid named Juan Torres, a tall, powerful, graceful forward. He scored many goals that year, one coming on a jaw-dropping bicycle kick. It was the most beautiful goal I’ve seen a high school player score.

The Buffaloes also had a goalkeeper named Miguel Benitez. Strong, big, quick, Benitez was an elite goalkeeper. They also had Luis Posada, a magician with the soccer ball at his feet.

From that point, I was convinced some of the best soccer in Kansas was not played in the burbs or in the metros, but in southwest Kansas. Around that time, Liberal – which sits on the Oklahoma panhandle and is closer to Tucumcari, New Mexico, than Wichita, began a dominant run, which climaxed with the 2011 Class 5A state championship. Some of those Liberal teams were incredible, routinely beating teams 10-0.

This past fall, Dodge City made a case for being the greatest high school boys soccer team in Kansas history by going 21-0.

All the while, I’ve wondered why more of these guys don’t get looked at by the United States. Liberal once had a player get a look by Sporting Kansas City, and Dodge City senior ball wizard, Joshua DonJuan*, is a regional player in the Olympic Developmental Program, one way the USSF uses to try to identify talent. But again it goes back to dollar signs. It cost a Kansas kid $55 up front to try out for ODP.

* – Can we agree that there has never been a better name to market United States soccer than Joshua DonJuan?

But it shouldn’t be up to these kids in these rural places and smaller cities and metropolitan areas to get noticed. It’s up to the USSF to find them.

The USSF is starting a new system to identify girls talent, called the Development Academy (the DA is already around for boys). Actually, let’s clarify that. It’s a system to identify talent in the metros, and only from certain clubs.

And, on top of that, you better have some money stashed away. Not only are club fees usually high – they can vary from about $500 a year to well into the thousands – but that doesn’t take into account travelling. For the two Kansas City-area clubs that will be in the girls’ DA – Sporting Blue Valley and FC Kansas City, the only other clubs in their conference are in Colorado in Texas. Even if you meet halfway, you’re travelling eight hours round trip for one or two games, and could be staying overnight.

Not to mention that DA games will feature limited substitutions. You come out, you’re finished playing. Yeah, I would love to spend all that money in club fees and send my kid on an eight-round round trip for two games, only to see them get token 10 minutes of playing time each game. Or better, yet, to see my kid get a hard knock early in a game, come out, and then be subbed because the coach didn’t want to play shorthanded for more than a couple minutes.

Whee! Money well spent there.

So really, what the United States is looking for with the DA, is talented players from certain clubs in certain metropolitan areas whose families have money. Yes, there are scholarships available, which is great, but that doesn’t even start to come close to the core issue with the DA.

I don’t fault any parent for wanting their kids to play DA, and I don’t fault clubs for wanting to have a DA affiliation. There’s no doubt the DA teams – which are the top teams in a respective age division in a DA-affiliated club – will be good and have some of the nation’s best talent.

The problem here isn’t with the parents or clubs. It’s with US Soccer. It’s naive on the part of US Soccer, and borderline insulting, to market the DA as the place to play if you want your kid to have the correct inroads to top college soccer, professional soccer and the United States’ national teams.

While I have no doubt the DA will continue to expand, and probably expand rapidly, there currently is no girls DA club in St. Louis. There is no DA club in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Memphis, Omaha or Las Vegas. There is no boys DA club in Salt Lake City.

The DA website,, boasts that “Academy clubs are located throughout the country from markets with a history of National Team player production.”

Sorry folks in New Mexico, Wichita, the Dakotas and Mississippi. If your kid is a great soccer player, you better uproot your family and move to a city with a DA club, or they probably won’t get noticed. After all, the DA brags on its web site that, “89 (percent) of all (Youth National Team) players during the 2015-2016 cycle were Academy players.” Plus, more than “50 percent of all Academy games are scouted.”

If colleges and the national teams are spending most of their time at DA events, they’re a big part of the problem, too. I once heard a story of a girl who went to a college showcase. The coaches then divided up the players into two groups. The first group was nothing but Elite Clubs National League players (the DA’s predecessor). The second group was everyone else. Most of the top college coaches went to watch the ECNL. Nice attitude. Evidently, only the good players play ECNL and everyone else is but a peasant.

And we wonder why the United States women’s team has the likes of Japan, France, England, Brazil, Sweden and Germany breathing heavily down its neck, and the US men’s team continues to lag behind the elite world powers.

There are more problems with the DA. DA teams rarely compete against non-DA teams, but friendlies can be scheduled. But I would imagine there would be hell to pay, and then some, if such a friendly is scheduled and a DA team lost to a non-DA team.

And, of course, there is no high school soccer for boys DA players, and the girls DA will quickly phase out high school soccer for their players, plus the ability to play another sport. I feel for a great soccer player who may have an equal love and talent for basketball … like Abby Wambach did.

When it comes to high school soccer, let me use the example of Newton’s Brookelynn Entz. She played some for Sporting Blue Valley and Wichita Futbol Club. She was one of the best players in Kansas this year. She’s off to Kansas State next year to play. And yet, she loved high school soccer.

After her final high school soccer game, Entz took to social media to express how much she was going to miss playing high school soccer. That it taught her so much that she never would have picked up in year-round club ball.

Entz is right. Different teammates, different coach, different opponents. That means a different role for everyone who plays club and high school. That would mean more playing time for a DA player who struggles to find the starting lineup for his or her club team, but would start for the high school. That means a DA player who is used to playing defender for their club gets the chance to play forward for the high school, and vice versa. That means a DA player who doesn’t shoulder the captain’s responsibility for the club team can learn about the leadership role that comes with being a captain for the high school.

If the United States is serious about becoming a world power in men’s soccer, and maintaining its status as the women’s world power, the United States Soccer Federation needs to start scouring the country for players, and not just from certain clubs from certain metropolitan areas. The players are out there, in every nook and cranny in this country, from Boston to Los Angeles, from Portland, Maine, to Portland Oregon, and from Kansas City to Dodge City. But, at this point in time, money is doing all the talking.


By Brad Hallier
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” – Ferris Bueller

This has been a trying time. It’s been six days since I’ve been gone from my employer for nearly 14 years, The Hutchinson News. There have been tears shed, and the shock has not really worn off. But so many outstanding people have reached out to me. I have tried to personally respond to every text, call, tweet and Facebook message, and I know I have some to go through still.

I’m moving forward, albeit slowly.

Part of the healing process, I figured, can be restarting my blog. It’s crude for now, but I’ll try to jazz it up later. You know links, photos, etc. All that good stuff.

Let’s start by reviewing, from A to Z, some of my favorite people I encountered on the job through the years. Without these people, my job wouldn’t have nearly as fun or memorable.

AJ Spencer was one of my favorite players when I covered Hutchinson Community College athletics. AJ was not only a great basketball player and a fan favorite, but he was as genuine of a person as I’ve ever known. Once, after a game, I went for half-price apps at Applebee’s with my wife and some friends. AJ saw us before we saw him. He came to our table to say hi, and he introduced himself to my wife. What a great, great kid.

Blaik Middleton provided us with one of the most memorable seasons in Hutchinson High football history. He destroyed many single-season records in 2014, when he embarrassed many opponents. His six-touchdown performance in the 6A state semifinals against Lawrence Free State was one of the best single-game performances I had ever seen. Maybe the best. For one night, the nation’s best high school football player was a Salthawk.

Central Christian was my favorite school to cover. Not gonna lie. Why? They almost never complained about how we covered them or how much coverage they got. In nearly 14 years, I only got one complaint from someone from Central Christian, and the lady was so nice in her correspondence to me that I couldn’t believe it, and I can’t even count it as complaining. She was upset but not really. I was invited to tailgates at football games and was always guaranteed a spot on the scorer’s table for basketball games, even though the table was small. Strangers would come up to me and thank me for covering Central Christian.

Dan Naccarato, “The Salt City Jedi”, is still the most sincere person I’ve ever met. Even on your worst day, he is there for you, trying to bring you up. Seriously, Coach Nac is not of this world. He knows his baseball, his football, his basketball too. Nac’s honesty and sincerity are things every person in this world should try to duplicate.

Brookelynn Entz is quite possibly the best soccer player the area ever produced. She scored 40 freaking goals this year on one-and-a-half ankles. The Newton sensation is going to Kansas State, and she dominated area soccer again, even after missing segments of this season with an ankle injury. She dominated despite some Cobra Kai-like attacks on her (sweep the leg) during the season. A shame Entz ended her prep career injured. She didn’t deserve it. Neither did soccer fans.

The Green House, home of Seward County basketball, was often a blast to watch a game. The baseball players would sit near the visiting bench and hurl insults all game. They would go after Hutchinson women’s coach John Ontjes, but that dude played in Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, (Historic) Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Hilton Coliseum in Ames and the Hearnes Center in Columbia. I’m sure he heard it all already, but those guys sure tried. They once even got me in the action. When it was obvious the Seward women were going to beat Hutch, I began writing my lead. A Seward baseball player, disgruntled with Hutchinson still fouling, shouted at Ontjes that even I knew the Saints were going to win, based on what I had written. And of course, we can’t forget when the baseball players serenaded a female Garden City player with this song:

The Hutchinson Monarchs have become one of the most popular teams in Hutchinson, and really, I give partial credit to the Monarchs for the current high school baseball revival around the city. The Monarchs, owned by outstanding people in Marc and Kim Blackim, are run the right way. They have players who play the game the right way, they act the right way (and if they don’t, they’re gone), and the coaches coach the right way. It’s an outstanding organization. Born in 2009, the Monarchs have filled the void of summer collegiate baseball that Hutchinson had since the 1980s.

Nobody was a bigger pair of idiots than Steve Carpenter and I when we were together. I’m actually a pretty normal guy. So is Steve. Put us together in a pressbox, and you have two of the biggest loons this side of Minnesota. From Reggie America to Food (a restaurant in Parachute, Colorado), nobody ever had more fun in junior college athletics than Carp and I. Here’s all you need to know. We dubbed our wives “Thelma and Louise.” They countered by calling us these guys. We took it as a compliment.

Jessica Steffen knew how to play the game. Basketball and tennis, but beyond that, she was a social-media stud. I loved it when one of the nation’s top prep basketball players tried to ask Donald Trump to her prom. It fell on deaf ears, but that was about the only time in her Buhler high-school career she failed. Steffen was, quite honestly, one of my all-time favorite athletes to cover.

Kolby Holmberg probably didn’t get the credit he deserved for being one of the area’s top basketball and baseball players. Known more for his prowess as an elite scorer on the basketball court, Holmberg had a remarkable baseball season too. He pitched 13 innings this postseason, against 10-win Junction City and state runner-up Manhattan and allowed just five lousy hits. I’m just glad the kid got to play at a state event, even though it was baseball and not basketball. But at least in basketball, Holmberg nailed that incredible last-second 3-pointer at Valley Center.

Sammy Lane has made junior college soccer cool. He has built a national power at Hutchinson Community College, and not only are the Blue Dragons often wonderful to watch, but Sammy’s wisecracks are often epic. Fans have been known to hang out near the Blue Dragon bench, just to hear Sammy talk.

“You couldn’t trap a wet bag of cement.”

“Do you need a taxi to get back onside?”

Mariana Blum was recently named to the HCC Quarterback Club Hall of Fame, as she’s by far the greatest volleyball player in HCC history. And they’ve had some good ones. She played from 2004-2005, my first two years covering HCC, and I thought I’d see more like her. I haven’t. Nothing close really. Mariana Blum,nicknamed “Thunder” by the HCC students, was a once-in-a-generation volleyball player.

Chris Nelson was the first superstar athlete I covered during my four-year stint in Garden City. He was the starting quarterback, and one of the state’s best basketball players. In 2003, Nelson was arguably the best basketball player in Kansas, and he showed that in the postseason with strong performances against Dodge City, Wichita North, Maize, Wichita Southeast and Blue Valley North, all of which won at least 16 games that season. He could throw down alley-oops and hit 3-pointers. He was an elite rebounder and a smart defender. I was just glad Nelson got the chance to play in the state tournament finally. Many people quickly realized how damn good he was.

John Ontjes will go down as one of my favorite coaches ever. He’s a mix of John Kreese (the sensei from “The Karate Kid”) and Geno Auriemma. Ontjes wants to destroy opponents and he demands the best from his players. I don’t know a ton about basketball, but I learned so much from watching Ontjes’ teams practice and play through the years. It’s still disappointing to me that a Division 1 school hasn’t snapped up John. Oh well. I guess winning isn’t that important to some people.

Cordarrelle Patterson was a freak. Maybe the greatest football player in Hutchinson Community College history, Patterson effortlessly destroyed defenses as a wide receiver and kick returner. My favorite moment came his sophomore year when Kilgore kicked off to Patterson, and he returned it for a touchdown. The next kickoff went right back to Patterson, who again scored a touchdown. I wondered on Twitter if Lloyd Christmas or Harry Dunne were the Kilgore special-teams coordinators.

Man, I’ve tried to come up with something for Q. I’ve failed, not for the first time. So how about a shoutout to Hutchinson native and Barton Community College men’s basketball coach Craig Fletchall? While it hasn’t been the same not covering Fletch’s games the last couple years, Fletch is one of the most outstanding and loyal dudes out there. I honestly hope he gets to come home one day to coach in the NJCAA Tournament.

Ryan Cornelsen took the ultimate gamble on his coaching career. He was a successful football and track coach at Hays, building a track powerhouse and giving respectability and authentication to a football program that had little of either. And yet, he wanted to come to Hutchinson to take over the state’s best high school football program and a floundering track program. In three years, Cornelsen has taken Hutchinson to a state championship football game, and Hutch was, realistically, the third or fourth best team in 6A last year. He also coached the boys track team to a state title this year, and coached the girls track team to a third-place state finish. I hope Hutchinson fans appreciate what they have in Ryan Cornelsen.

Frank Seurer Jr. was one of the greatest stories I ever covered. The backup Hutchinson Community College quarterback was a little known backup for most of his one season in Hutchinson. All I knew about him at first was he was from Olathe South and was the son of the great Kansas Jayhawk quarterback of the same name. When record-setting QB Luke Barnes went down in a late-season game against Fort Scott, Seurer was pressed into service. Hutch trailed 36-14 early in the third quarter. Seurer than led Hutchinson to a jaw-dropping 63-39 win. He then nearly helped Hutchinson end a long losing streak at nemesis Butler. After leading Hutchinson to come-from-behind win at Dodge City in a Region 6 semifinal, Seurer again nearly led Hutchinson to a win at Butler. His juco career ended with a Salt City Bowl MVP performance. I just wish this kid had been given the chance at KU. He knew how to win.

Jeff Tanner was the boys basketball coach in Garden City when I was there. Guy dealt with a lot of garbage. I thought he was a pretty good coach, and I loved his passion, his animation (The Colby Game included Tanner having the reddest face I had ever seen when he got a technical foul), but most of all, I loved his resilience. In 2003, Tanner and the Buffaloes were 12-8 going into the postseason. They were seeded seventh in a brutal eight-team substate. They made it to state. Then they were seeded seventh at state. They were one lucky Wichita Southeast air ball (Garden City was about to pull away for the win but that air ball turned into two easy Southeast points, giving Southeast a jolt) away from playing for a state title, and I am convinced Garden City would have won the title that Southeast did.

Shakur Juiston will forever be a Salt City legend after leading Hutchinson’s men’s basketball team to the 2017 NJCAA national championship. While I didn’t cover Shakur regularly, I saw enough from him to coin a new word to the English language: shakur. To shakur someone is to embarrass them on the basketball court, or to dunk a ball viciously, or to block a shot so hard the shooter’s ancestors felt the impact. This dude was an absolute joy to watch.

After Brandon Cameron threw down one of the best dunks I had ever seen for Hutchinson Community College, I asked him what his immediate reaction was to that crowd-approving alley-oop. He said he was thinking of Dick Vitale shouting, “Get a TO, bay-bee!” Barton did call a timeout. Gosh, I wish YouTube existed back then.

Thad Weber was the best baseball player I saw wear a Hutchinson Community College uniform. He was an elite hitter and better pitcher. In 2006, he pitched Hutch past Labette 1-0 in the first round of the Region 6 Tournament, and it was the most lopsided 1-0 game in baseball history. Labette wasn’t going to score against Weber. It just wasn’t going to happen. As soon as Hutchinson scored its one run, the game was over for all intents and purposes.

Alex Santiago, who hailed from tiny Burrton, was Stef Curry during one glorious March afternoon in Hays in the first round of the Class 1A state tournament. I was new to Twitter in 2009, and as the game wore on, I simply tweeted Santiago’s point total. 46. 49. 52. 54. When Santiago came out of the game late, he was given a standing ovation from Burrton fans, from Hanover fans and from fans who were there to watch the next game. Maybe the most remarkable single-game performance I had ever seen. I had never seen one player be so unstoppable from start to finish like Santiago was that night.

The Young family is filled with good people. Chris, the Hutchinson Community College golf coach, has single-handedly built a national junior college golf power in central Kansas, which isn’t easy. Top golfers want to go somewhere they can play year round, like Texas, Florida, Alabama and Arizona. I was also glad to have seen Hutchinson High junior Kennedy Young swim for a couple years, and of course, I’m proud of the story I wrote on former Salthawk Cole Young. I believe Cole is still the only male in Kansas history to go from state-qualifying swimmer to basketball varsity lettermen.

Zero was the number of losses Hutchinson High senior Brian Gates had last wrestling season. The kid was dominant throughout before getting an exciting 8-7 win in the state championship match. My favorite moment came after the match. Gates is such a stoic kid. He never shows much emotion when wrestling. He almost looks bored at times. But after winning state and finishing his undefeated season, Gates turned into a madman, deservedly celebrating his historic moment.