34 years later, former Lancers recall last meeting with Rockhurst on the gridiron

The 1983 SM East football team, the last squad to face Rockhurst. Photo via SM East Hauberk/Harbinger.
The 1983 SM East football team, the last squad to face Rockhurst. Photo via SM East Hauberk/Harbinger.

When SM East’s football team took the field at Rockhurst High School in the fall of 1982, the players knew it would be the Lancers’ last meeting with the Hawklets for a while. But no one suspected the series would be on hiatus for 34 years.

“I know we knew we weren’t going to be playing them the next year, and that added even more to it,” said Chris Shirling, who started on the ’82 team as a defensive back. “I definitely don’t think anyone thought it was going to be 30 some odd years before we played again, though.”

[pullquote]SM East vs. Rockhurst

Friday, Sept. 16
Rockhurst High School
9301 State Line Rd
7 p.m.: Kickoff
6 p.m.: Gates open
5 p.m.: Parking lot opens

[/pullquote]Shirling will be among a handful former Lancers who played in that 1982 game and will be in the stands Friday when the teams dust off what had been a heated rivalry decades ago. Shirling’s son Parker is the starting right tackle for the Lancers team that is currently ranked number two in the metro area. Number one? That would be Rockhurst.

So it’s little surprise that the fanbases have already gobbled up the tickets made available for pre-sale. SM East student seats sold out before school even started on Wednesday. A limited number of additional tickets will be sold at the Rockhurst stadium gate starting at 6 p.m. (The parking lot opens at 5 p.m.).

Coaches at SM East expect the stands to be even more lively than during the teams’ basketball games, which traditionally see gyms packed to the brim with excitable Lancer and Hawklet supporters. And former Lancers understand why.

As Shirling recalls, even back in the 1970s and 80s, the Lancer-Hawklet games carried more weight than others on the schedule.

“It meant more because there was a lot of guys on the team that knew each other,” Shirling said. “Some had played prior to high school together. It just added a little more to the game.”

David Wentz, whose sons Vance and Joey were varsity standouts in basketball and baseball before graduating from SM East in recent years, was on the ’82 team as well. He said that Rockhurst was already a Kansas City area football powerhouse, and even remembers the SM East coaches using film of a Rockhurst linebacker to teach their own players the position.

The SM East team was fairly talented that 1982 season, Shirling and Wentz say. But Rockhurst’s team was chock full of college-caliber talent.

“We were competitive that year,” Wentz said. “We had a couple of really good seniors. But they were huge. There wasn’t anyone on their line under 260 pounds. At the time, that was just huge.”

The Lancers started that game keeping pace with the Hawklets, and had managed to find the endzone twice in the first half, Wentz recalls. But at halftime, one of the Lancers players ran through a Hawklets’ sideline banner.

“I always thought that was a stupid thing for him to do,” Wentz said.

That incident apparently sparked some energy on the Rockhurst bench. In the second half, Rockhurst put the hammer down, charging away for a 14-34 victory.

“They were big, and they were fast,” Shirling said. “They beat us pretty soundly.”

SM East and Rockhurst will meet for the first time in 34 year Friday at 7 p.m. Get there early, people…