Having grown up in nearby Minneola, 33-year-old Travis Powell has returend to south central Kansas to take over Shawn Starr's reins as USD 422's athletic director. With a steadily rebuilding community as his new home, Powell looks to take full advantage of the facilities Greensburg will soon have in its new school campus in working toward a successful athletic program in the middle of Kiowa County.
Former USD 422 athletic director Shawn Starr could be found at Ranger football games last season viewing the action from a lawn chair around 15 yards off to the side of an end zone. Having been the head football coach until being supplanted by Clint Young 18 months ago, Starr’s seating location was understandable, if not suggestive of the detachment he likely felt from a program he’d run the previous two seasons.
Current Greensburg AD Travis Powell feels no such awkward juxtaposition, standing beside Young during games as part of his coaching staff. Powell, in fact, feels quite at home in Greensburg both on and off the job, and for reasons other than having grown up just half-an-hour down the road at Minneola.
“I think the community (Greensburg) has a pretty good vision of what it wants to be and develop into,” he said last week. “I definitely can see myself being here a long time. There’s a lot of exciting things going on, especially with the building of a new school. We’re going to be able to offer our kids the kind of facility no one else around here can, and there’s just a lot of pluses that go with that for a school this size.”
Only 33, Powell’s seventh-grade son plays quarterback for the Greensburg junior high team he coaches. He and wife Heather also have two daughters, Morgan and Mallory, currently enrolled in fourth and second grades, respectively, at Greensburg. In addition to coaching the Junior Rangers, Powell serves with Peter Kern as Young’s assistants on the high school squad.
Having run the 400 meters at Emporia State, Powell will also serve as head track coach at GHS next spring, and may help Young coach the junior high basketball team as well.
Though he played all sports at Minneola except football, Powell is quick to say he enjoys the game a great deal and served as a gridiron assistant at former teaching positions at Ellsworth, Bucklin and Syracuse.
It was while he was again at Ellsworth last April that Powell received an email from GHS principal Randy Fulton concerning the AD position having opened with Starr departing for a new job.
“I’ve known Randy a long time, and Darin (Headrick, USD 422 Superintendent) was the principal at Minneola when I was teaching at Bucklin. He lived, in fact, next to my in-laws there, so I already knew them both and how they operate and so, it was a position I was interested in right away.”
Having the opportunity to work as an AD for the first time also intrigued Powell, as well as being able to move back to the area of Kansas he calls home. Now that he’s here, he hopes to do all he can to help Young do what Starr and several of he predecessors couldn’t—build a successful football program.
“It really starts at the junior high level, and we do a lot of the things the high school does so kids know what to expect when they go from eighth grade on to high school,’ he said. “To get a respectable football program established here you’ve go to do what you need to do anywhere, which is win some games. What we did at Ashland last week is a steppingstone. Everyone wants to be part of a winner, that’s just the way it is.”
Asked if he agrees with Young’s recent assessment that GHS thinks of itself as more of a basketball than football school as Macksville tended toward before winning a state title on the field last year, Powell didn’t offer an opinion one way or the other. He instead spoke of being competitive in all athletics.
“I don’t like the label of being a basketball or football school,” he said. “If you have athletes that work hard you’re going to be good in all sports. It’s a matter of commitment on the part of the kids, coaches and administration. It was that way when I was in high school, and that’s still the way it works—the way it can work here.”
Acknowledging it’s been a disappointment more didn’t make the commitment to Young’s program this summer and fall, Powell prefers to remain optimistic about the future.
“Our kids on the scout team, they get beat up pretty good in practice,” he said. “And there aren’t even enough of them for us to have a junior varsity schedule this year, so they don’t even get to play any games. The varsity guys get upset because they’re (younger players) not giving them the look they want in practice, but with the low numbers—GHS currently has 13 healthy players to suit up—we’re doing the best we can. Peter (Kern) and I fill in with the younger kids to present some kind of defense for them to practice against.”
As for last year’s squad members who opted not to participate this year, Powell says, “I hear that and see it, but we can’t do anything about it this year. We’ll go after those kids after the season and hopefully we get more of them on board next year.”
Powell, in the meantime, is focused on what he can do to help and enable Young’s effort to build a football foundation in Greensburg, as both his AD and assistant.
“If he’s (Young) struggling in some aspect and he needs someone to talk to, or use as a sounding board, hey, I’m there,” he said. “I try to keep him from getting discouraged which is easy to do in this situation with our low numbers and injuries we’ve had early on. I do whatever I can by giving suggestions and help him keep focused on the task at hand.”
Soft spoken but physically imposing as a former linebacker at Emporia State, Young is someone who, according to Powell, can be misunderstood by those who don’t know him well.
“I don’t know if he (Young) comes across as arrogant, but he’s not, he’s just a quiet person who’s sure of what he knows, and he knows a lot about the game,” Powell said. “He’s getting so much out of these kids. He’s a great motivator, and that’s very important in coaching.”
Powell knows full well that once football is finished for ’08 another coach in a different sport will be stepping into some sizeable shoes, following the retirement of long-time boys’ basketball coach Dave White for the larger opportunity at Pratt High.
“Royce Bryan is from Haviland, so he’s basically in home territory, but he just needs to go out this winter and make that job his own,” Powell said. “He’s not Dave White; he is who he is. And some people will like that and some won’t. He needs to do things the way he likes them to be done and not worry about it. He does that and he’ll be fine.”
Regardless of the sport, Powell has no doubt about the role a successful athletic program can play at a smaller school.
“Being successful in athletics is very important,” he said. “In a school this size you get confidence with success in volleyball, football and tennis and you become motivated to succeed with a sense of accomplishment that carries over to band, vocal, and scholar bowl, things that maybe aren’t athletic, but still involve competition. Success is contagious. So is failure.”
It’s no secret as to which Powell hopes reaches epidemic proportions at USD 422, no matter how long it takes.