Western Kansas athletes overcome long road to be in Shrine Bowl
By Kyle McCaskey
By Kyle McCaskey
Special to The Hays Daily News
A few of Warren Kropp's teammates at the Kansas Shrine Bowl know his hometown, Scott City, but most everyone else only recognizes the town because of its connection to a Wichita State University basketball star.
"A lot of people just ask, 'Is that where Ron Baker is from?' They don't have a clue where it's at," Kropp said. "It's what we're famous for."
For three players suiting up for the west side in the Shrine Bowl-- a football game showcasing the best graduated seniors from across the state -- this is a chance to put their small schools on the map.
Kropp comes from Scott Community High School, a Class 3A powerhouse. Meade's Morgan Olvera represents a Class 2-1A school, and his coach, Scott Moshier, is also on the west team's staff. Dalton Walker, from Wallace County, comes from an eight-man football program.
"I wasn't sure what to expect, coming up from the bottom playing with these 4-5-6A guys," Walker said. "I've just been working my butt off and trying to show that 8-Man guys can hang with them, too."
There was a long road for this trio to travel for a chance to show their mettle -- literally, a long, long road. The Shrine Bowl rotates locations yearly. The 2014 version will be held Saturday in Pittsburg, nearly on the Missouri border.
For Olvera, the journey takes about 5.5 hours, according to Mapquest. Kropp will be 6.75 hours from home. And for Walker, coming from Sharon Springs, the venture takes a grinding 7.5 hours, or 480 miles each way.
Even among his "western" teammates, Walker's hometown makes him a bit of an outcast.
"I think maybe one person out of 33 other guys knew where it was," Walker said. That one person was Kropp.
Even the climate and landscape is shocking to the best of the west.
"I'd say there are a lot more trees in eastern Kansas than western, and a little more humid than dry heat," Olvera said.
"Definitely a lot more humid," Kropp said. "We probably have the driest air in the world, I swear."
For all three, this is one last chance to prove themselves on the gridiron.
Kropp, a two-time KSHSAA state placer in wrestling, will wrestle at Concordia University, Nebraska. Walker will study mining engineering at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. Olvera is heading to Oklahoma State University to become a petroleum geologist.
Each led their respective high school programs to new heights. Walker helped Wallace County to four postseason appearances, including a runner-up finish in Eight-Man Division II this past season. Scott Community won the 3A title in Kropp's junior year. Meade captured championships in 2010 and 2012 with Olvera's efforts.
"It meant the world," Olvera said. "Growing up as a kid, all you want to do is win a championship. I was able to win two of those."
But no matter the success, there are still stereotypes. People wonder if athletes from schools with enrollments that hover close to 200 can keep up with those with numbers close to 2,000.
"Maybe they do, but they haven't questioned me. Everyone does their talking on the field, and your athleticism is on the field," Olvera said. "We have other athletes from western Kansas, and we're all sharing responsibility to show them what we've got."
The fight is especially exhilarating for Walker, who will play offensive or defensive line at the Shrine Bowl. He is relishing his selection to play in the all-star game.
"That meant a lot to me. Coming from eight-man and being all the way out in western Kansas, you don't get a whole lot of recognition," Walker said. "It took a little bit to get used to 11-man, but after a day or two, I got my rules down and I'm getting things figured out."
Kropp, a 5-foot-11, 185-pound defensive end, will play with the small-school chip on his shoulder, he said. But strapping on his Scott Community helmet one more time is secondary to a showcase that raises funds for Shriners Hospitals for Children.
"Especially being for the Shriners Hospital, that means more than anything to me. We met some of those kids, and they're so grateful. It opens a new perspective," Kropp said. "We can get up and walk and run and play football. There are others that don't even know if they're going to get up in the morning."