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Gonzales commentary HHS has come a long way

It's hard to believe it was 16 years ago this summer when I first met Chris Michaelis.

He had the same hair color he has now, the color of a red card. And a bright, red mustache, too, the color his face would turn after a bad call.

I was just starting to learn to love soccer around that time. The U.S. played host to the World Cup in 1994; ever since then I've been a fan. Hays High School adding soccer was exciting news, I thought.

Hays High was starting boys' soccer in the fall of 1997, followed by the girls in the spring of 1998. Michaelis, an assistant at Manhattan High, was hired to take over programs that didn't even have a field, let alone soccer balls, uniforms -- or players.

Michaelis stepped down recently as the only coach the programs have known (except for one fall season, when his son coached). His daughter, Hannah, has a 7-month-old son, and they live in Oklahoma. Simply put, granddad wants to spend more time with his grandson. After all these years, family finally comes first.

"As all coaches do, sometimes I put my family on the back burner," Michaelis said.

As Michaelis built the program, his teams endured a rough start.

The boys' team in that fall of 1997 played on a bare patch of hard turf that barely resembled grass, on an open lot on Indian Trail. There was no scoreboard, so I kept track of the time goals were scored with my watch.

The boys' team went 1-11 that fall, and was outscored 67-11. The following spring, the inaugural girls' squad went 0-10, and didn't score a goal (0-55).

But Michaelis persevered.

"It was a challenge," Michaelis said. "Soccer was new out here in western Kansas. What I first realized right away, these kids just needed some time and attention and focus. They had the potential to be a very successful soccer program."

And the Indians did have success.

In 2002, the boys made a run to the Final Four, finishing as state runner-up. They won their only Western Athletic Conference championship that season. That season also was part of a four-year stretch where the Indians went 45-23-3. Michaelis finished with six winning seasons and a 118-129-11 record as the boys' coach.

On the girls' side, they went undefeated in WAC play in just their third season, the first of five conference titles. The HHS girls went 150-108-13 under Michaelis, with 12 years finishing at .500 or better, including the last nine seasons. In 2012, the Indian girls made the Final Four for the first time in program history.

"The skill level really increased," Michaelis said of his players through the years. "We're now competing with the best teams in the state."

The program has grown off the pitch, too, but it took time. After playing at Indian Trail the first few years, the Indians played their games for several years at the football field behind the high school. What a home-field advantage it was, being narrower than most fields, and with a crown that had players running downhill to chase balls. But it wasn't a soccer field. Finally, in the last few years, improvements were made to the practice field, where the Indians now play their games. A water sprinkler system was added, and a press box/concession stand was built.

Michaelis credits the soccer parents for the off-the-field improvements; they did it without school funding.

"The program has grown," Michaelis said. "All that work to get what we have now, was done by parent volunteers, and parents being involved in the program."

It's the players Michaelis said he will miss most.

"I think just (not) being around the kids in practice every day," he said.

For now, Michaelis, 52, will stay on as a teacher at USD 489, but at the same time he said he doesn't know what the future holds for him.

Coach, here's hoping your future is a bright one -- as bright as your hair and mustache.