By Mike Courson
GREAT BEND, Kan. - Ellinwood’s Jack Bowman made Great Bend High School a cross country powerhouse with a boys’ Class 5A state titles in 1999 and a girls’ state championship in 1999 before ending his 16-year run with the Panthers. Great Bend is again dipping into its pool of Ellinwood resources, this time with the hiring of Lyles Lashley, who made Ellinwood a perennial power in the Class 2A ranks.
Lashley will be filling a void left by Todd Kaiser, who took over after Bowman and won four cross country titles in 2000 and 2001. Kaiser was arrested on June 7 after allegedly sexting a minor, and resigned from the district days later, leaving vacancies for both the cross country and track and field programs at GBHS.
“It was a big hire,” said GBHS Activities Director David Meter. “With what happened with our track coach, we wanted to move forward quickly. Lyles is a quality coach and was in our neighborhood. He’s a guy we’ve been looking at for a long time. He’s not only a good coach but a good guy. He fits into the community and does a lot of community service. He’s well-received in Great Bend and we’re fortunate to have a chance to get him.”
“I’m very excited about the opportunity to work there for quite a few reasons,” Lashley said. “Mr. Meter was a great salesman and a great person to talk to. I’m excited about working with some new kids but I’m also sad to be leaving some kids.”
Lashley, a native of Monroe, La., coached at Barton Community College near Great Bend prior to his stint in Ellinwood. Lashley was track and field coach in Ellinwood for eight seasons, helping the Lady Eagles to a team runner-up finish in 2014. His teams have produced multiple state championships and state medalists. His boys’ teams have also produced various state champions and a handful of state medalists.
As successful as his teams were on the track, they were even more successful on the cross country course. The Eagle boys won three-straight Class 2A state titles from 2011 to 2013. Pedro Montoya won an individual title in 2013 and will run for Wichita State University next season. The Lady Eagles finally won a title in 2015 after finishing second in 2011, 2012, and 2013, and placing third in 2014. The Lady Eagles won regional cross country titles in each of Lashley’s seven years with the program. Jenna Snell won the individual 3A title for Ellinwood in 2009.
After years of success, Lashley was named the Kansas Coaches Association All-Class Cross Country Coach of the Year in 2014.
“First of all, we had girls who bought into the craziness of giving up their Saturday’s and eventually giving up their summers to do it,” Lashley said of the success. “Once the girls got successful we started having some boys buy into it. They bought into it, committed to it, and their hard work paid off.”
Lashley is not necessarily a stranger to 5A and 6A competition and looks forward to seeing new opponents. In 2014, his Class 2A Lady Eagles beat Great Bend and 6A powerhouse Garden City at the GBHS Cross Country Invite. The Ellinwood girls finished second to Garden City at the meet in 2013, and the boys placed second behind Liberal but took the top-two individual spots.
“You’re always excited for a new challenge,” Lashley said. “I think going to 5A will be a new ball game. Class 2A, for its size, especially with distance races and the teams, was very competitive.”
Lashley already has some talent on his new teams. Junior Kerby Depenbusch won a 5A regional cross country title last year, then ran 21st at state. Senior teammates Eric Vasquez and Armando Jaquez finished in the top-12 at regionals and ran at state. Senior Karen Razo finished third at regionals last year and placed 52nd at state.
Last spring, the Great Bend boys scored 17 points at the state track and field championships to finish 18th overall. Depenbush medaled in both distance events, and the 4x800 team placed seventh. The Lady Panthers finished 19th overall. Junior LoCora Bryant picked up points in both the 100m and 200m dashes.
“With a new batch of kids, we just have to start over with them and get them to buy into the system,” Lashley said. “I’m real excited with the group we have, just looking at them on paper. There is some talent there and I’m looking forward to working with them.”
Many of Lashley’s former athletes were sad to see him leave Ellinwood but happy he will be staying in the area.
“Coach Lashley has left an impact on my life forever, as he taught me more than just how to finish a race,” said Snell, who went on to run for Fort Hays State University. “He taught me the true meaning of hard work, as he continually challenged me to achieve my best and never gave up on me. On a daily basis, Coach Lashley displayed qualities of an excellent leader and we all were able to learn by example.”
“There is a reason why he is a Hall of Fame coach: You only hear about a coach turning a mediocre team into a powerhouse on the news and in movies like ‘McFarland, USA,’” Montoya said. “But if you think about it, he is that coach. The regional and state championship titles didn't happen overnight. He built this program and put Ellinwood on the map.”
Kyle Oglesbee never really thought about running until Lashley turned him into one of the best 800m runners in Kansas. Oglesbee set a new school record in the event and missed a state title by just 0.01 seconds in 2014.
Similarly, Kenna Rugan, now a varsity trackster at Emporia State University, transformed from a sprinter in her early track days to a formidable 800m runner. She won state titles as a member of the school’s 4x100 and 4x800 teams. “He helped me get to that point when I never even thought I’d be doing something like that,” she said.