The T-Birds are looking to fly.
The USD 450 school board on Monday granted approval to the Shawnee Heights High School administration to pursue membership in a proposed league comprised of six schools with similar enrollments, five from the Kansas City area.
The board voted 4-3 to allow Heights to join Basehor-Linwood, DeSoto, Lansing, Leavenworth and Turner in attempting to form a new league.
Approval is needed from boards representing all six schools. According to Shawnee Heights athletic director David Wonnell, decisions have not yet been finalized by Leavenworth and DeSoto.
The league, which has not yet been named, would begin play during the 2018-19 school year.
If the new league is adopted, Heights would leave the Centennial League. The T-Birds have been Centennial members for all but four years (1971-75) since Shawnee Heights opened in 1962.
Each of the seven city high schools, including Heights, currently belongs to the Centennial. Although other Class 5A schools in Topeka (Seaman, Highland Park, Topeka West) looked into the proposed league, only Heights pursued membership.
At its May 1 meeting, the board heard presentations from administrators and coaches favoring the proposal. On Monday, most of the seven members raised questions, including the ability to maintain rivalries with city schools through non-league competition.
“I have spoken to several of the ADs (at Centennial schools) and they have told us they would continue scheduling us,’’ said Wonnell.
Most league schools, Wonnell added, are consistently looking to fill schedules. From that standpoint, he said, it made no sense to be vindictive toward the T-Birds and not schedule them.
Board member Rusty Doty noted, “I don’t want to do it just for football; that’s ridiculous to me,’’ before adding that it was his impression that all coaches at Heights either favored the move or were indifferent toward it.
“I don’t think I’m on the board to make sure our kids win state championships,’’ Doty said. “I think our mission is to make sure our kids have every chance to be successful.’’
Shawnee Heights superintendent Marty Stessman addressed how enrollments of some 6A members in the Centennial League would be enough to comprise two 5A schools. Enrollments sent to the KSHSAA in September listed Heights at 1,123, ranking the school seventh in the league.
Mentioning Washburn Rural and Manhattan, two 6A schools that have claimed the bulk of Centennial titles since the league expanded to 10 members in 2004, Stessman said: “When you have affluence and you have numbers, you have an advantage, plain and simple.’’
Although a large turnout was expected, prompting the high school to place seven long rows of seats in the commons area, few patrons attended the meeting.
Several members of the football staff, including head coach Jason Swift, were in attendance.
The only patron to address the board was Garth Wellshear, a 1975 graduate who played basketball and golf for the T-Birds. Wellshear’s daughter, Sydney, is a sophomore on the undefeated Heights softball team.
“Playing up in your division is the most beneficial thing you can do,’’ said Wellshear, mentioning the competitiveness involved in all aspects of life.
“Getting your rears kicked is part of improving. … Backing off the competition just so they can win is the worst thing you can do for them. My daughter would love to stay in the same league the way it is.’’
Following Wellshear’s comments, the board voted.
“We love playing against Seaman and we love playing against the city schools,’’ said Swift, “but we also love the feel of playing against 5A.
“I think this an opportunity our administration saw, along with other administrators, and they’re going to take a chance. I think they’re doing it because they think that’s what is best for Shawnee Heights, and if it’s best for Shawnee Heights, I’m going to be supportive.’’