Why is this big news? Well, the Smith Center Redmen had the longest active winning streak in high school football in the U.S.--they had won 79 straight and, in the process, eight straight state titles. But, this is a story which transcends football and wins and losses on the field of play--it's a story of small town U.S.A. and the pride of Smith Center in their boys, and of the coach who has led the program for 32 seasons.
Joe Drape, a writer for the New York Times, eloquently wrote about this high school program in his book, Our Boys: A Perfect Season on the Plains with the Smith Center Redmen. Drape originally wrote a piece on the Redmen for the Times, then decided to move his family to Smith Center to get a true glimpse into small town life. Drape's book chronicles the impact this football program has had on the lives of the citizens of the town and, most importantly, on the students who have played under Coach Roger Barta.
As Drape wrote in today's New York Times, with the news that Smith Center lost this past Saturday to Centralia by fumbling the ball away in overtime in the state final, "Barta has won 301 game by creating a culture that values the whole man over a football player, that emphasizes getting 'a little bit better each day,' and that insists the Redmen cannot be champions until they learn to love one another."
On Saturday, in a post-game locker room filled with players, parents, grandparents and former players, Barta had everyone hold hands and had this to say. "Nobody hang their heads in here. We have lined up 80 times against teams, and finally one of them got to us in a game that is going to go down there in the history books. They were a play better than us today. We've never judged ourselves by our wins and losses. We've measured ourselves on whether we have been there for each other."
Barta's words convey a culture which he has instilled in the program and which has spilled out into the community. Wouldn't it be cool to have that same sort of spirit imbued in our key, big city institutions--corporations, churches, philanthropic organizations and, yes, schools.
Our hats are off today, tipped to the west and to Smith Center, Kansas--population 1,931. I have a feeling that community has "it" figured out. Way to go, Redmen!