It’s OK to look back while moving forward. My sports journalist days, from A(J) to (E)ntz to Z.

Posted: June 6, 2017 in Uncategorized

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.

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Comments
  1. Chad Woelk says:

    Monarchs games were always more enjoyable with you and Carp rambling on. When one of you were not there, it just was not the same to be honest. Enjoyed reading this Brad!!

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