Uniting a Community, Eight Men at a Time

This year, KHC features weekly posts related to the Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition Hometown Teams, currently touring Kansas.

The current Hodgeman County High School Longhorns' success on the football field follows in the footsteps of other successful area teams, like the undefeated 1935 Hanston Rural High School Elks.  Image Courtesy Hodgeman County Economic Development.

The current Hodgeman County High School Longhorns’ success on the football field follows in the footsteps of other successful area teams, like the undefeated 1935 Hanston Rural High School Elks. Image Courtesy Hodgeman County Economic Development.

When small-town teams consolidate, there are always fears about how the new team will shape up.

As players on the Hodgeman County High School Longhorns 8-man football team found out, there’s nothing quite like winning to help smooth that transition.

After a 2013 season that saw the football team go all the way to the Kansas state 8-Man Division I state championship game, the community has largely come to support its new-look Longhorns. But that wasn’t always the case, said Lea Ann Seiler, Hodgeman Country Economic Development’s Hometown Teams Partner Site Project Director.

“Like many small towns in Kansas, the Friday night football rivalry went a bit further than Friday night sometimes,” Seiler said. “When it was evident that the consolidation [of the Hanston Elks and the Jetmore Longhorns] was a must, it really created a division within the community.”

But local organization Hodgeman First was determined to make sure that the school consolidation strengthened community bonds in the county—and saw the brand-new football team as a great way to achieve that.

Hodgeman First raised funds to buy HCHS Longhorns t-shirts for community members and distributed them at the year’s first pep rally, where cheerleaders symbolically released old Hanston Elks and Jetmore Longhorns balloons into the air before passing out new balloons bearing the HCHS Longhorns logo. A day that could have been painful instead became a way to simultaneously commemorate the county’s sports history and celebrate its future.

Seiler said she hopes the exhibition about Hodgeman County’s 8-man football history will remind those who see it that local sports are about more than the games, players and coaches—that the whole community is involved.

The team’s success elicits community support, she said, but the community support also adds to the team’s success. From bus drivers to pre-game concessions workers, everyone contributes.

“Football brings people together out here,” Seiler added. “We’re one county, one community and one school.”

Hodgeman County’s exhibit, “Friday Night Lights…8 Man Style,” will be on permanent display at the Haun Museum beginning in April. For more information, contact Hodgeman1@unitedwireless.com or (620) 357-8831.