KC's media has rediscovered high school football.

Kid Grids 

KC's media has rediscovered high school football.

High school football in the Kansas City area is about to blow up big. A combination of unprecedented media attention and a fifteen-year-old running back with one of the best football names this side of Bronko Nagurski have rejuvenated Kansas City's interest in Friday night's heroes. Football has been played in area high schools for almost one hundred years, and according to Tom Leathers, founding publisher of Johnson County's The Squire newspaper, the game reached its popular apex in the Kansas City area during the 1940s and '50s. "They played all the high school games at Municipal Stadium back in the '30s and attracted some big crowds," says Leathers, who covered the games as the sports editor of The Southwest Trail, Southwest High's school newspaper. "It was quite a grand venue for players of that day." As the area's population grew, more and more schools opened, and high school football became big.

The arrival of the Kansas City A's in 1955 marked our city's graduation into the big leagues. The Chiefs, Scouts and Kings soon followed, giving KC four professional franchises. Suddenly the prime newspaper, radio and television coverage once reserved for stories about high school football was being gobbled up by the bigger kids on the block.

The proliferation of new, competitive electronic media has given even traditional outlets more room to cover amateur sports again. And demand has surged. "High school football has really exploded in this town with the incredible level of play and the quality of athletes," says WHB 810's Nick McCabe, the radio station's play-by-play voice of high school football. The 50,000-watt station will broadcast two games live each Friday night and have stringers reporting live updates and interviews from as many as eight additional games. "Clearly, I don't think we've filled the appetite of area fans," says McCabe. "We're continuing to expand our coverage as we see packed stadiums almost everywhere we go."

Metro Sports has been sending live high school football games into Time-Warner cable-ready homes since 1996. Its coverage started small but has blossomed into the Sports Center for high school play. Brad Porter and Chad Harberts, Metro Sports' most recognizable talking heads, have risen to Lee Corso-like status on high school campuses. Metro Sports had cameras at 24 games last weekend, producing fresh video for the most comprehensive coverage of high school football in the state.

The Kansas City Star is also paying heed. Tom Ibarra, The Star's high school sports editor, says that the addition of StarTouch, the paper's automated phone system, is the reason the paper's high school football coverage doubled overnight. "We received 6,000 phone calls from fans wanting high school football scores the very first night we installed the service five years ago," says Ibarra. "We do things now that we never used to do."

The Star published its high school-football special section two weeks ago with a full-page photo of Rockhurst's sensational sophomore running back "Touchdown" Tony Temple on its cover. Temple's talent matches the hype; he has spectators from Garden City, Kansas, to Dematha High in Washington, D.C. (both opponents of RHS this season), shaking their heads over his immense potential.

The high school football season is not even a week old, yet the game of the year will take place Friday night at Rockhurst High when Blue Springs arrives on the Hawklets' campus. This game features two of the best teams in the Midwest, the most celebrated sophomore running back in KC history and a cozy, cramped stadium that can raise goose bumps on pedestrians five blocks away when it gets rocking. But you'll want to be much closer than that by kickoff.

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