Manhattan High has been a football power in Kansas for a half-century. Starting with J.W. Emerson, through Lew Lane and Butch Albright, the Indians have consistently won league titles and competed with the state’s best.
Those names are legendary, as they should be. But right along with those names, you now have to put Joe Schartz. He’s earned it.
In his 13th season leading the program, Coach Schartz notched his 100th career win a couple of weeks ago. Appropriately enough, it was against Junction City, the school’s main football rival. Win No. 101 came in a blowout over Highland Park a week ago; tonight the Tribe faces Topeka High.
At this point, he’s been the head coach longer than Coach Albright. And although he’s got a ways to go to catch Lane’s 169 career wins, he’s actually winning at a slightly higher clip than Coach Lane — 79 percent vs. 77 percent.
The stats tell part of the story. The narrative itself is another part, since the chain is unbroken — Lane was an assistant under Emerson, Albright was an assistant under Lane, and Schartz was an assistant under Albright. They still hand out the bones jerseys for good performances, and they still run the 50 40s in the summer. They run the ball, they play stifling defense. It is, in many ways, the same program.
Sometimes it seems as if all of this simply emanates from the building up on the hill, where Poyntz bends around to Westwood. As if it’s inevitable.
It isn’t. It’s the result of a whole lot of work, work that the rest of us should appreciate more than we probably do.
And there are challenges now that the previous legends didn’t have to contend with. Lew Lane never had to compete with soccer as a talent drain, or five-wide offenses; Butch Albright didn’t have to worry about Instagram; J.W. Emerson didn’t have to navigate the surreptitious recruiting game for high school players. Nowadays, some kids think athletics boils down to SportsCenter highlight clips; they announce their scholarship offers to a juco as if they’ve been anointed king; they bust up the school bathroom so as to get likes on TikTok.
Schartz’s message is pretty simple: Hard work works. He personifies it, too. Buzz cut, square jaw, eye contact. Straight answers, declarative sentences. Everything else, all the stuff in the previous paragraph, fades away.
Truth is, kids are ultimately not that different. They want that message; they need it. They respond to it. That message, and that mindset, works in football, if it’s followed consistently. It works well in life.
And it follows the pattern, or rather — I think we should say now — builds on it, verifies it, extends and improves it. It’s amazing, if you think about it in a broader context. In more than a half-century, MHS has had four football coaches. Four. K-State, at one point in the same era, had six in less than half that time, and all of them lost.
At Manhattan High, the winning has never stopped, never slowed down. Not with the legends in charge. Including the one currently wearing the headset.