Rebels rise to play again
John Griffin received a phone call last February.
On the other end was then former Midwest Rebels coach Phil Hannon, and he had an urgent request.
"He called me up and just said, 'We've got to do it again," Griffin said. "I said 'No we don't' and he said 'Yes we do,' and I said 'OK.'"
And thus was rekindled a new season for the Midwest Rebels summer baseball team.
The program was born in 1997 by Griffin, Hannon and Kenny Massey and concluded last summer with the 16-year-old squad capturing a state title.
It was a perfect place for the players to leave and have a chance to go on to more advanced levels of play.
But as the summer became fall, it was becoming apparent the players were in danger of losing the edge in baseball that they had built over the summer.
Both basketball and football have programs set up during the summer off-time to hone the skills of players.
For the Rebels, that was no longer an option.
"We just felt that these players needed to have a place to help them compete on the 4A level," Griffin said. "There are opportunities to get better in the other sports, but not in baseball. And some of these kids in the bigger schools have been playing the 65 and 70 game schedule and have a bit of a lift."
So beginning this summer, the Rebels will be reborn into an 18-and-younger team that will consist of players from last year's state squad including players from Baldwin and Lawrence, and some newcomers.
Hannon and Dirk Kinney will continue their coaching duties from a year ago.
"These guys (Kinney and Hannon) do so much for us in the coaching department," Griffin said. "They do it for the love of the game."
And with the continuation of the program, players like Miles Cleveland, Mark Abel, Luke Abel and Kyle Brouhard will have the opportunity to hone skills in preparation for another high school baseball season.
That drive to get better was an important factor in the continuation of the Rebels, but as the time drew near for the season to begin, there grew another, stronger reason for the Rebels to continue.
"We really want to maximize the high school experience for these players," Griffin said. "We want them to really enjoy their time here and to realize that they don't have to decide at 17 on the rest of their lives."
In addition to the on-the-field benefits, the decision to continue the Rebels will not want for support from the communities involved.
The teams are allowed to play and practice at such facilities as Baker University and Eudora High School.
"The communities are so very supportive of the program," Griffin said. "We get access from the schools to their outstanding facilities. They don't have to do that, so that just goes to show how much they do for the program."
And for all the things Griffin has done to help keep the Rebels rolling, he gladly defers credit where it is due.
"These kids did it all," he said. "They've worked hard and earned the right to keep on doing this as long as they can."
As for the players, what was their reaction to February's decision?
"They were ecstatic," Griffin said. "However, I don't think they were that surprised. They knew that this thing would go on before we did. They just were waiting for us to say yes."