By Mark Schremmer for Kpreps.com
Posted: September 19, 2012 - 12:48 AM
PITTSBURG – Football has always been a big part of life in the Smith family.
Chuck Smith played football at Pittsburg State University and is in his 33rd year as head coach of the St. Mary’s Colgan Panthers. His sons -- Nick, Mark, Jeff and Chas -- all starred at Colgan and went on to play Division II football for the Gorillas.
However, when Mark Smith went over to his parents’ house for dinner this past Sunday, there was little to no mention of football.
“We didn’t talk about it,” Mark Smith said. “He doesn’t want to talk about it, and I don’t want to talk about it.”
The “it” he is referring to is Colgan’s game on Friday against the Frontenac Raiders. You see, Mark Smith took over the Raiders program in the offseason, which means father and son will be coaching against each other. And they will being doing so in what was once one of the most intense rivalries in the state.
“We didn’t talk football,” Mark said of Sunday’s family dinner with Chuck and his mother, Beth. “Dad was still cracking jokes like he always does. That’s why he’s the best dad in the world.”
Chuck Smith is quite simply one of the most successful coaches in Kansas high school football history.
Smith is one of only six coaches in Kansas history to earn 300 wins. Chuck earned the milestone last season, taking only 363 games to do so. His pace is second only to Smith Center’s Roger Barta, who needed 358 games to win No. 300.
“It will be interesting to go up against him,” Mark Smith said. “He’s a great coach.”
His resume speaks for itself. Chuck boasts a record of 306-64 with five state championships (1984, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003) and 11 state championship appearances. Those accolades include four consecutive state championships and 66 consecutive wins, which was a state record at the time. The run also included seven consecutive appearances in the state title game.
Eddie Lomshek, a 1987 Colgan graduate and current sports director of KKOW radio in Pittsburg, said Smith’s best talent is his ability to lead.
“I think he’s changed as a coach over the years,” Lomshek said. “I thought early on, he was more fiery and intense. He’s mellowed some over the years, but he has such a great presence with the kids. They respect him. He’s coaching kids whose dads played for him. Coach Smith is going to encourage players to do the right thing, and the kids respond.”
Chuck Smith already knew that his son had the makings of a football coach when Mark was an eighth-grader.
“He knows the game,” Chuck said. “When he was a ball boy as an eighth-grader he knew everything we were doing on offense then. He came into high school ahead of the game. He’s a very intense person. He has a great work ethic. He has the attributes to be a real fine coach.”
Mark’s abilities as a player are well documented.
He helped Colgan win four consecutive Class 2-1A state championships, starting at quarterback for the majority of his sophomore, junior and senior seasons. Mark didn’t lose a game in his high school career, finishing 54-0 during that stretch. He was a two-time all-state selection in football, basketball, and baseball.
“He’s a student of the game,” Lomshek said. “As an undersized sophomore, Mark had to step in because of an injury. I couldn’t believe how good he was. They go on and win state that year. Mark steps right in there and was just as calm as can be. He is a great leader by example. He has all of the intangibles.”
Mark used those intangibles to become a successful quarterback for Pittsburg State. There, Mark earned All-America accolades and led the Gorillas to the second round of the D-II playoffs in 2008.
Despite playing in high school for the Raiders’ rival, the community of Frontenac welcomed Mark with open arms.
“We all like him a bunch,” Frontenac senior Bryan Wade said. “He won a lot of games at Pittsburg State as a quarterback, and he never lost a game in high school. We believe in what he’s teaching us.”
Frontenac and Colgan rank among the top programs in Kansas history. Frontenac is second only to Lawrence in all-time wins with 627, while Colgan has won 554 games and holds the state’s top winning percentage at nearly 81 percent.
The rivalry between the Panthers and Raiders dates back to the 1930s. During that time, there was a Catholic grade school in Frontenac, and St. Mary’s decided to build a Catholic high school in Pittsburg.
“Many people who lived their whole lives in Frontenac decided to send their kids to St. Mary’s so they could continue their Catholic education,” Lomshek said. “So they were competing in athletics against people they had grown up with. That’s what started the rivalry.”
From there, the rivalry only escalated. With schools of similar size a few miles apart competing against each other, they were natural rivals.
Football, in particular, created the most intensity. So much so that the two schools decided not to play for several years during the 1960s to try and cool the flames.
When the rivalry resumed, it was one of the most even series in Kansas. Both teams were in Class 2-1A and were fighting for a playoff spot.
“Often both teams were 8-0 going into the last game of the season. Both would be ranked and only one team would make the playoffs,” 2002 Frontenac High School graduate Chet Kuplen said. “That’s what made it such a great rivalry.”
Several thousand people would flock to the games at Hutchinson and Adolph Spigarelli fields over the years to see two of the best teams in 2-1A butt heads with league and district titles on the line.
“The crowd was right on top of you at Spigarelli Field,” Lomshek said. “The Colgan and Frontenac game was often played on Thursday, so people from all over the area came to the game. There wasn’t much seating at Spigarelli, so there would be eight and 10 people deep all the way around the field. People would be on their rooftops across the street to watch the game.”
During this time, Colgan won the state championship in 1984 and was runner-up in 1991. Frontenac won the state title in 1994 and was state runner-up in 1981, 1987 and 1992. When the Raiders won state in 1994, they beat a previously unbeaten Colgan team in the final game of the regular season.
The fact that one team’s season was over combined with the schools’ proximity and relationships between opposing parents and players is why it became one of the most heated rivalries in the state.
Pranks were often played between the opposing schools.
“I remember things being toilet papered and seeing Panther paws on the windows of game days,” Kuplen said.
At a low point, a fight broke out on the field after a Frontenac win in 1992. For the most part, however, things were kept in check.
“There were pranks, but for the most part they were in good nature,” Lomshek said. “I don’t ever remember anything getting out of hand. There wasn’t anything that required law enforcement.”
The Raiders beat Colgan four years in a row from 1992-95, then again in 1997. After that, Frontenac moved up to Class 3A and the two teams played every year in league but not in districts. With no playoff spot on the line, the rivalry lost some of its luster.
The rivalry was diminished more as Colgan went on one of the best runs in state history, winning 66 games in a row. Frontenac had some good teams during this time, finishing second in 3A in 2000. However, the Raiders continued to fall short of the Panthers.
It has been 15 years since Frontenac has defeated Colgan in football.
“Since I was born, we’ve won only one time in 1997,” Frontenac senior Blake Barto said. “That was the last time we won. Being a Frontenac kid, it’s been a rivalry in every sport and every year. Football is probably most important. We want to make history and win for the first time since 1997. We want to be the team at Frontenac to be remembered.”
Colgan enters Friday’s game at Hutchinson Field with a 3-0 record and Frontenac is 0-3. However, that doesn’t mean Chuck Smith is overconfident.
“The teams they played are 8-1, and the teams we played are 1-8, so that tells you a little bit right there,” Chuck said. “They really played hard against Galena. I think they’ll play physical football. We’re going to have our hands full.”
The Panthers are still a work in progress with only one returning starter from last year’s state semifinal team. Still, Colgan has posted wins against Erie, Baxter Springs and Anderson County.
“We’re getting better,” Colgan senior Conner Dayton said. “We definitely have some tougher competition coming up. We’ve had a good start, but we definitely have a ways to go.”
Frontenac returned a good nucleus from last season and had several kids choose to go out for football again after Mark Smith was named the coach. But with a tough early schedule against Riverton, Southeast and Galena and the loss of All-Stater Bryce Burdette to injury, the Raiders have been unable to earn their first win.
“When you lose a player like that, it’s going to affect any team,” Mark Smith said. “Some kids have stepped up. Hopefully, we’ll have him back for district time.”
Mark said he thinks his team matches up OK with Colgan, but limiting mistakes will be key.
“We’re a little bigger,” Mark said. “They probably have a little speed and quickness on us. It will come down to execution. I told the kids that they will have to be disciplined.”
Chuck said he believes Mark is the person who can bring that discipline to Frontenac, and he expects him to have a lot of wins as a coach. He just wants that to be put on hold for a bit.
“He’s going to be a good head coach,” Chuck said. “And I’m excited for him to get that first win. I just don’t want it to be this week.”