SportSpeak Mark Schnabel
The spring sports season has arrived, and with it, my first spring sports season postponement.
Such is the way of the world, but it brings me a chance to bring you this chance to bring the winter sports season to a close.
With Bethel’s recent trip to the round of 16 at the NAIA men’s basketball tournament, I got to take my first steps into the basketball cathedral that is Municipal Auditorium. I was hoping to attend last year, but decided not to because of the NAIA’s COVID restrictions at the time. Media were allowed to attend, but were not allowed to interview players and coaches, as they tried to maintain a pretty strict bubble. (NCAA had some similar rules, but made provisions for video interviews post-game.)
Besides being home to the final three rounds of the NAIA tournament, it has housed nine NCAA championship games and was a former home of the Kansas City/Omaha (now Sacramento) Kings, so a number of great names in the game have played there. When the Big 12 Tournament is in Kansas City, the building serves as the site of the women’s tournament. It is the current home of the Kansas City Kangaroos (the marketing name of the sports teams of Missouri-Kansas City).
What struck me was the Art Deco architecture and the condition of the building. Usually, when you are in a city’s second or third venue, it’s pretty run down. This building was in immaculate condition. The T-Mobile Center and Hy-Vee (formerly Kemper) Arena are both nearby. The latter received some major renovations.
The Auditorium also sports an attached theater and music venue and an area for meetings and smaller events.
It is located next to the Kansas City Convention Center and adjacent to the Power & Light District, home to a lot of bars, restaurants and hotels. (Because of threats of bad weather back home, I didn’t hang around very long after the game to find out what’s what in that area.)
While not too hard to get to, traffic in the area can be pretty bad. Construction in the area didn’t help. Parking is hard to find and expensive (at least by area standards).
Hopefully, Bethel can keep winning and I can get a chance to do this again on a regular basis with more time to enjoy the area.
All-in-all, it was a pretty good winter season for area teams. The Bethel Men had another successful campaign. While they didn’t repeat as KCAC champs, in the win column, they actually exceeded last season. They completed the schedule, both conference and non-conference. While they were a senior-laden squad, I’m told a few seniors may be coming back for their COVID year next season (both the NAIA and NCAA have allowed athletes an extra year to play because of seasons and games lost in the past three years). A few top seniors have been signed.
I keep reading of so many players from Power 5 and Group of 5 schools entering the transfer portal, I wonder if Bethel could pick off one or two of those if they are the right fit? (“Look kid, you’re getting less than 10 minutes of play a game with Super Big State U, come here and you’ll be playing 30 to 35 minutes a game.”) To reach the NAIA’s Fab 4 (what they are using now because the NCAA has trademarked several other terms), Bethel will need some size. The Threshers had plenty of size for the KCAC, but some of the better teams that finished in the top eight were just a touch bigger (and more athletic).
It was a good high school season. Hesston won the title for the second straight year. The only blemish on the record was a loss to Hillsboro at Hillsboro’s tournament. That loss was avenged and both teams finished as state champions.
The Berean Academy girls reached state with a pretty young team and I look for them to be back.
We have a number of other young teams in the area that could make some noise next year.
The Newton boys’ wrestling team had a standout year, finishing third at state with an unprecedented number of state finalists and most of those are coming back. Just another wrestler or two could be the difference to get the team to the top. In the area, there was a marked increase in the number of girls wrestling. Newton had a state medalist for the second straight year and a couple of others just on the cusp of getting to state.
Let’s see if we can see the same level of success in the spring seasons. Mark Schnabel is the sports editor of the Kansan