Dodge City’s visits to Wichita are a study in organization
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Through the first three weeks of the football season, it’s OK to mistakenly assume Dodge City is part of the City League.
On Friday, Dodge City made the 2 1/2-hour trek to Wichita for the second time in three weeks to play at Heights, its third straight City League opponent.
Dodge City athletic director Jay Gifford and coach Dave Foster shrug off the length of the trip. After all, they could be traveling much greater distances.
“Garden City just traveled to Bixby, Okla., (400 miles away) because they couldn’t find anyone in the state of Kansas to play them,” Gifford said. “Great Bend has been where they’ve had open weeks. Garden City has had that on occasion.
“If it wasn’t for the City League being willing to play us in the open weeks, we’d be in a similar situation.”
Dodge City plays in the five-school Western Athletic Conference, so it can be difficult to fill schedules. Teams don’t want to make the long drive out there, and most of the Class 6A and 5A schools are either around Wichita or in the eastern portion of the state.
While the City League’s scheduling of western Kansas teams — East also plays Garden City, while South plays Hays — has long been viewed as a way to help out WAC teams, it’s been a positive for the City League, as well.
“It’s somewhat more out of necessity (because) we both have an odd number of teams in our league,” City League athletic director J Means said. “We’re looking for those games. They’re a good opponent. They’re good matchups, and I think we treat each other well both ways. We’ve had that good, longstanding relationship.”
Dodge City understands the unwillingness of teams to make the drive to play there — “We always say it’s 150 miles (Dodge City to Wichita), but from Wichita to Dodge City, it’s 300,” Gifford said with a laugh. That’s kind of the mentality, so the school puts out the proverbial welcome mat. Food is provided for visiting administrators and coaches in the press box before games, for example.
“We make sure when they come here, it’s not like an enemy in enemy territory,” Gifford said. “We’re glad to have them.”
As for the trip to Wichita, well, it’s a process that’s been perfected over the years. There’s the two buses for football, a bus for the band — Dodge City brings its band to all away football games — two Suburbans for cheerleaders, one for the student athletic training staff, and one for administrators.
There’s lunches to get for the ride there, dinner to plan for the trip back. Travel rosters are delivered to teachers for students who will school leave early.
Gas costs $1,200 round trip, Gifford said. Meals are $500 with another $300 for meals provided by the booster club.
“I have the good fortune to follow (activities director Tamie) Preston, who put most everything in place,” Gifford said. “We have really good people in charge of our transportation. our trainer helps with all our meals on the road. The head football coach is super-organized about where we’ll be when we’re stopping, the postgame. My job is to make sure all the good people have resources to do their jobs.”
Foster, 41 and in his fourth year at Dodge City, is a veteran of coaching teams located in remote areas. There was a time when he’d stress about getting to games on time.
“I’d even keep notes on it,” Foster said. “But you have to relax a little bit.”
And that’s what the Dodge City coaches and athletes do.
When Foster’s awake, his eyes are constantly roaming the countryside looking for good deer-hunting areas and wildlife.
“The coaches are usually the first ones to fall asleep in the front of the bus,” Dodge City quarterback Kelan Newton said. “… You’re getting out of school early, and some of us don’t get the best night’s sleep before games, so it’s a chance to sleep.”
Dodge City leaves at 1:30 for Wichita, stopping at the Stafford rest area on U.S. 56 to eat and have a team walk-through, focusing on the game’s mental aspects.
The buses should arrive at Heights at 5, and the team likes walk on the field before heading to the locker room to change. There they go through their usual pregame routine with their special teams on the field by 5:50.
The postgame meal will vary. If Dodge City is making a quick trip, they order pizza to eat on the way. On Sept. 6, when Dodge City played Southeast, they ate at a barbecue restaurant.
“We try to make it a fun trip,” Foster said. “They only get to go through high school once.”
Oftentimes families make it a weekend trip, which is fine with Foster, who doesn’t have team practices or meetings on Saturday or Sunday.
Foster has stayed for the weekend, too, once so his wife could run in a road race.
Newton plans to stay in Wichita with his dad this weekend so he can take a recruiting visit to Butler Community College — and take a necessary trip to a sporting goods store.
“We usually spend the day up there and shop and hang out in the town,” Newton said. “There’s not a whole lot to do in western Kansas.… My sister and my mom like to do most of the shopping. It’s fun to spend the day not having to worry about anything.”
And the drive back home? Eh. Not a big deal.