Manhattan High petitions to join Sunflower League

Kris Long , Sports Editor

Manhattan High has formally requested admission to the Sunflower League, which includes mostly 6A schools in the Eastern Kansas area. The move comes after the announced departures of other schools from the Centennial League in the fall of 2022, leaving only five to compete against. 

Athletic director Mike Marsh and Building Principal Micheal Dorst are attending a Sunflower League athletic director principal’s meeting today (Tuesday) to make their case to join. 

“Tuesday is where we provide our proposal to the Sunflower League,” Dorst said. “We’ll share why we think we would be a good fit, and why the current membership of the Sunflower League would be, not only a good fit for us, but why Manhattan High would be a good fit for them.”

The decision on whether or not MHS is admitted may not be announced for a while, however, and whether Manhattan gets accepted is far from certain. 

“It’s hard to tell [whether we’ll get in],” Marsh said. “We’re very hopeful that they’ll accept our proposal. But if they don’t, then we’ll go back to the drawing board and we’ll continue to play in the Centennial League…. this is all up in the air right now based upon their decision, not ours”

If Manhattan is accepted, the contract with the Sunflower League would start in the fall of 2022, meaning the league change will only directly impact sophomores and freshmen. 

The main reason Manhattan wants to leave the Centennial League is that other 5A and 6A schools are leaving to compete with schools closer to their size. Topeka West, Highland Park and Seaman all plan to leave. Those remaining are 6A schools Junction City, Washburn Rural and Topeka High, Emporia at 5A, and Hayden at 4A. 

“There is concern about the ability to schedule games with only six schools,” Dorst said. “And having schools that were roughly our size leave the league into other leagues, then they’re going to have priority to schedule other leagues, so scheduling would be a primary concern.”

Another reason administration is looking to join the Sunflower League is that most schools Manhattan’s size are in the Kansas City suburbs of Shawnee, Overland Park and Olathe. The only 6A schools closer to MHS than the Kansas City ones are Washburn Rural, Topeka High, Lawrence High, Lawrence Free State and Junction City. Because there are so few schools, Manhattan often plays 5A teams, who don’t provide the same level of competition. 

“It would be all schools basically our size, they are all 6A schools,” Marsh said. “That’s why it’s a really good match for us, knowing that we would have great company and great competition every game.”

One concern is increased travel time for athletes, meaning they might have to leave school earlier. The drive to the Kansas City area will take longer than the drive to schools in Topeka, but although Kansas City is further away, higher speed limits on the Interstate mean travel times shouldn’t increase by too much.

“Some days they will [have longer travel times than in the Centennial League] and some days  they won’t,” Marsh said. “That’s a consideration, but not enough of a consideration for us to not approach The Sunflower League for potential membership.”

Students may actually spend less time traveling in the Sunflower League, because due to Centennial League schools in the Topeka area leaving, Manhattan teams may have to play schools from Western Kansas like Great Bend, Dodge City and Hutchinson, which take a while to get to. 

“With our current situation we’re facing with only five other schools… to schedule a full season… those schools to fill those schedules could be all the way over in the southwest part of Kansas in the southeast part of Kansas,” Dorst said. “So being accepted into the sunflower league would provide some stability. …  we’re traditionally not used to traveling beyond Topeka…[but] there’s a strong potential to be closer than the alternative of having to travel and pick up games.”