May 22—Despite three defections from the Centennial League during the 2020-21 school year, Manhattan will remain a member of the conference through 2023-24, according to athletics director Mike Marsh.
"That's the plan right now," Marsh told The Mercury. "We're committed to the league. We have hopes that, at some point in time, we'll be able to attract a couple of other schools."
Centennial League members began their recruiting efforts before Seaman, Highland Park and Topeka West announced last June their intentions to join the Kansas City-Atchinson League in 2022-23. Marsh said he and the other Centennial ADs courted Salina South and Salina Central, which, like Manhattan, were members of the I-70 League from 1978 to 2003.
Neither Salina school showed interest, however, which is why Manhattan applied to join the Sunflower League last October. The Indians' proposal was rebuffed, leaving Manhattan to compete in a six-team conference once the Topeka trio leaves after next school year.
That means more travel for Manhattan players and parents. The road trips to Topeka, which usually required two round-trip hours on the road, might not seem as long compared to the incoming non-conference hauls.
"We're a school that's on an island," Marsh said. "We're a one high school town, and we're a ways away from everybody. We've always had to travel to play games. We're just going to have to travel a little bit more."
Take the Indians' 2022 football schedule, for example: Manhattan has scheduled Derby (140 miles away), Fort Hays (155 miles) Lansing (109 miles) and Wichita Northwest (132 miles) that fall. Manhattan will host Lansing and Wichita Northwest, but both the Derby and Fort Hays road trips will be longer bus rides than all but one of the road games Manhattan played in 2020-21 (Garden City, 261 miles).
For that reason, Marsh said the Centennial League plans to recruit other schools to the conference. Its athletics directors want 5A or 6A schools that make geographical sense. Marsh didn't name specific schools, but Shawnee Heights (71 miles), Lawrence Free State (71 miles) and Lawrence (75 miles) are all located within 75 miles and reside in KSHSAA's two largest classifications.
In the meantime, Marsh said, Manhattan welcomes any and all opponents, particularly those rich with talent. Marsh loves that the Indians will play Derby, which has won three consecutive 6A football championships, during the regular season.
"We want to play the best," Marsh said. "We want to give (our players) that opportunity. Our coaches feel the same way."
Stronger schedules come with a cost, however. Time might be an athlete's most valuable commodity, and until Manhattan either recruits new neighbors or finds a new home, the Indians will spend a lot of it on the road.
Can the Indians sustain their new normal past 2023-24, the last school year they are committed to the Centennial League? Marsh doesn't know.
He hopes that between now and then, he'll find a solution that renders the question moot.
"We've got some time to put stuff together," Marsh said. "We're making those plans and looking ahead rather than sitting on our tail. I'm sure there are going to be other conversations, but at this stage, we're committed to the league, and we're hopeful that the other five schools are as well."