Nov 24, 2007

A Town that Raises Children

The Redmen of Smith Center won the Kansas State Football Championship today at Lewis Stadium on the Fort Hays State University campus, capping their season with a 40-14 victory over St. Mary’s-Colgan of Pittsburg, KS. The Panthers of St. Mary's-Colgan themselves outscored their opponents 524-87 before their only loss to the Redmen of Smith Center. Between them, The Panthers and Redmen have combined to win the last eight 2-1A state titles.

The Redmen attracted national attention in the New York Times, ESPN, ABCNews, and The Kansas City Star because of their record score of 72-0 score over one opponent--after only playing the first quarter! Over the past several years, the Redmen have won 53 games in a row. During 2007, they scored a whopping 844 points compared to 20 by their opponents.

So what is and who is Smith Center, KS and Pittsburg, KS? (Girard, KS, too, who lost to St. Mary's-Colgan in a 42-41 double-overtime victory--a fantastically exciting game that I saw on September 21) Why are these students from small Kansas towns so successful in football, and presumably other things as well? Especially, why do the young men of the small Smith Center senior high school of 154 students win so grandly?

Wikipedia describes Smith Center as having less than 2,000 population, with about a third who are 65 years of age or older. In fact, the small north central Kansas town is home to the largest proportion of people over 85 in the country, with only twenty percent of the population under the age of 18. It is a very stable community with most of the residents being married couples living together. Only 6.1% of the population consists of a female householder with no husband present. The residents are not rich in money; Smith Center males had a median income amounting to only $25,833 versus $20,667 for females.

What seems to distinguish Smith Center residents is their cohesiveness (they all know one another), their peer- and elder-encouraged discipline, and the town's purposeful and outspoken ambition to raise good children. The New York Times reporter notes that the town wholeheartedly supports their football players and encourages good behavior by issuing player trading cards to the younger students.
The trading cards, for example, are not about hero worship. Each player and cheerleader signs a contract pledging to remain alcohol-, drug- and tobacco-free. If they break that promise, they must go to the elementary school to explain to the children why they were kicked off their team, and their cards are revoked.
The Redmen coach is quoted:
“What we do around here real well is raise kids. “In fact, we do such a good job at it — and I’m talking about the parents and community — that they go away to school and succeed, and then pursue opportunities in the bigger cities....What I hope we’re doing is sending kids into life who know that every day means something.”
When I heard about the successful Redmen, I remembered another team of a few years ago. That softball team won the state championship with a record of 40-0. The coach explained that only one student lived in a home without a father and mother (or stable step-parent). Winning students are always developed and encouraged by dedicated support from the community, especially parents and grandparents--just like Smith Center, Pittsburg' Catholic St. Mary's--Colgan, and Girard, KS. These communities incubate and nourish the religious and cultural ties and forces that develop winning futures for their children.

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