Some of you just cheered. Others thought, “Where’s he going?”
No. I’m not leaving the Leader. It’s my last column for summer 2019 coverage. Next week, I’ll preview the I-55 (football) Conference to kick off the 2019-2020 school year.
So begins another ride on the prep sports conveyor belt. This fall will mark my 23rd year of covering prep sports in Missouri and I will be starting my fourth year in Jefferson County.
Where did the time go? It seems it was a minute ago I was heading to my first football game at Herculaneum. The freshmen I began covering in 2016 are seniors now and ready to earn college scholarships and leave our nest. I can’t wait to see what awaits them.
There are some fascinating storylines for the fall prep season.
Can the Festus boys cross country team capture its sixth straight and eighth overall Class 3 state championship? The Tigers will have to do it without Max McDaniel, who’s now running at Bradley University. The Leader’s Gordon Bess talked with Festus harrier front man Bryant Wright last week about the Tigers’ summer running training program and how that fosters success in the fall. (See related story on page 15.)
St. Pius X finished 8-3 and had its best season on the gridiron in years in Jerry Woods’ swan song last fall. Where Woods once stood is Dan Oliver, who brings decades of experience as a head football coach and athletic director at Affton.
In my first three years in Jefferson County, two softball teams have advanced to the state tournament in Springfield. In 2016, on the strong arm of Sarah Handrahan and timely hitting and base stealing by Abi Chipps, Jefferson came in third in Class 2. Last fall, Hillsboro’s Emma Nichols was the guiding force behind the Hawks finishing fourth in Class 3. Chipps makes her last appearance in a Blue Jays uniform this year. I hope she leaves with a state title to go with her effervescent personality and swift legs.
The Fox and Seckman girls golf teams will need to find a new home after the Arnold City Council decided on Aug. 8 to close the Arnold Golf Club, nee Pomme Creek Golf Course, because of budgetary restraints. The Warriors made it to the state tournament last year for the first time.
I found out Friday that Jordan Duncan won’t be under center for Herculaneum this fall. Cody Hunter is in his second year of trying to restore the Blackcats’ glory days and Duncan was going to play a major part of that his senior year. But injuries from last season gave Duncan pause about returning this fall.
Duncan was in Hastings, Neb., playing in the American Legion Mid-South Regional tournament for Festus Post 253 when I spoke with him on Friday. Duncan said he had a hip fracture and two concussions playing football last year. After the school year ended, he told Hunter he wouldn’t be coming back.
“After getting hurt last year it’s a big deal to risk my health,” he said. “My main sport is going to be baseball.
“The (Herculaneum) coaching staff has turned around that program. It might not look like it because of the record (3-7 in 2018). It was a great experience and I enjoyed every moment of it. They brought back the fun in football for me.”
Festus won the regional championship on Sunday. Duncan had three hits and two RBIs. He said his goal now is to get in front of as many scouts as he can.
“I want to get as many schools to look at me as possible,” he said. “We’ve played in some big tournaments this year. There are a lot of college coaches (in Hastings).”
Tom Ludwig was the athletic director at Windsor High for the last two years, but resigned to take a job in the Hillsboro R-3 School District. In his place, the Windsor C-1 Board of Education voted unanimously on July 24 to hire Ross Koenig.
Koenig was most recently an administrator at Telegraph Intermediate School in the Jefferson R-7 School District. He was also the head baseball coach for the Blue Jays. Koenig is a 2001 graduate of Crystal City and was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in 2001.
“When I saw his application, I thought he’d be a good person to talk to and he knocked it out of the water,” Windsor High principal Jason Naucke said. “He’s from the area and knows it. A lot of those elements came into play. Ross carries himself well and comes across as being a genuine person. When we hire at Windsor, that’s one of the top things we look for. You want the best administrators you can find.”
Since Windsor had little time to fill such an important position – Ludwig gave his notice at the end of the school year – Naucke said he reached out to other athletic directors in case they knew someone who was looking for a job.
“We made sure we got the word out because it was summertime,” Naucke said.
Because it was late in the game when Koenig was hired, he’s had to dive into the routine of meeting parents, coaches and athletes at his new school.