by Marc and Julie Anderson
TOPEKA — It’s too early to tell if Joe Otting, who is entering his senior year at Hayden High School here, will play football professionally.
But he and his teammates had the chance to do something no other Hayden football player has. On June 24, the teammates participated in what is called the “11-On” at Yager Stadium at Washburn University, a one-of-a-kind event in Topeka hosted by the Kansas City Chiefs in partnership with Nike.
“Nike brought that to the Chiefs,” said former Chiefs linebacker and Chiefs Hall of Famer Gary Spani. Spani is now director of community engagement for the organization.
“I think 16 pro teams are doing it now across the country,” he said. “We started it last year. We just did it in Kansas City last year.
The half-day experience “supports high school football team competition” and “focuses on building character and life skills as well as team foundations.” The day consists of 7 on 7 games and positional drills. Teams were specifically invited to participate in what Spani said he hopes will become an annual event within the Topeka community.
“We believe high school football is about community,” he said. “So it’s a chance for us to go out and engage with secondary schools. . . . We love football, but we love to do [the event] because it really is about community.
In addition to Hayden, other Topeka teams included Shawnee Heights, Seaman and Washburn Rural, with teams from Center, Junction City, Manhattan and Olathe West rounding out the rest. Spani said two similar events took place earlier in Kansas City and Wichita.
Bill Arnold, who is Hayden’s head coach, said he was delighted with the invitation.
“I didn’t ask any questions,” he said of the invite. “I’m glad the kids are coming to experience something like this.”
As part of the activities surrounding the competition, the Chiefs organization also brought in the Lombardi Trophy from Super Bowl LIV for photos and set up a children’s camp with USA Football at the training ground for ages 5-14. year.
Ahead of their drills and matches, a trio of Hayden seniors shared their thoughts on attending this first-ever, unique event.
“It’s really cool. You know, we’ve never experienced anything like this, especially with the Lombardi Trophy that’s up there,” Jameson Kennedy said.
Senior JC Cummings agreed.
“We’re kind of a small school, playing at these bigger schools,” he said, “so it’s good to have a competition to start the year.”
The 6-foot-4, 270-pound Otting, who signed a letter of commitment to play football at Notre Dame University after graduating, said, “It’s exciting to be here. It’s something new. It’s a chance to build this team, to build chemistry. It’s gonna be fun.”