By Mark Schremmer
Globe Sports Writer
LAMAR, Mo. —
The pride is evident as soon as you arrive in Lamar.
Business windows are decorated to declare its support for Lamar High School, and people are wearing Lamar Tigers T-shirts. Tiger paw prints decorate the street, leading up to the high school.
Of course, the town has plenty of reasons to be proud.
Up until two years ago, the Tigers hadn’t won a team state championship in school history. Now, Lamar boasts four state titles after winning in football the past two seasons and capturing crowns in boys cross country and boys track and field this school year. The Tigers also have two runner-up finishes in that time frame.
“The town has rallied around the school,” said Lamar assistant superintendent Zach Harris, who will take over as superintendent on July 1. “The community takes a lot of pride in athletics and academics, as well.”
Through the years
Harris recalls a time in the not too distant past when Lamar didn’t always win.
A 1996 graduate, Harris was part of a Lamar football team that went 8-3, but he also was on a Tigers squad that finished 0-10.
Tim Timmons, a 1969 Lamar graduate and current softball coach, said a five-win football season his senior year was the best during his tenure.
There were stints of success with larger gaps in between.
Several individual state titles had been won in track and field over the years.
The girls track team finished third at state in 1987. The boys golf team was third the following year. Lamar’s volleyball squad won six consecutive district championships 1989-1994 and were among the final four Class 2 teams in 1992 and 1994. The Tigers football team reached the quarterfinals in 1988. Lamar’s boys basketball team made the state playoffs in 1933, 1940, 1972, 1974 and 1991. The girls basketball team advanced in 1989, 1994 and 1999.
But no Lamar team had ever won a state championship, and no team had ever reached a state finals.
“To be honest, growing up I never thought about winning a state championship,” said Sam Bailey, who played a key role in Lamar’s two football state titles and the track and field title this spring. “As a kid, I just loved playing. It wasn’t until the eighth grade that I started realizing that we would have a chance to do something at Lamar that no one else had done.”
Renaissance at Lamar
Success in Lamar has been building since the early 2000s.
Golda Sherman won a state championship in the 100-meter hurdles in the spring of 2002. Swimmer Brett McCulloch won individual state titles in the 50 freestyle and the 100 freestyle the following fall.
Lamar’s cheerleading squad finished fifth at state in 2005 and fourth in 2007. The boys basketball team made the playoffs in 2006.
The Tigers’ 4x400 relay team of Anthony Garrett, Sean Rhoades, Cody Frieden, Matt Obert and Destrey Hines won a state title in 2007.
After finishing 0-10 in 2007, Lamar’s football team advanced to the sectionals in 2008 and to the semifinals in 2009 and 2010.
Things were changing in Lamar.
“It was great watching the older guys,” Sam Bailey said. “Those were the ones who built the program up so that we could compete.”
Over the past two seasons, the Tigers athletic programs have taken it to a new level.
Lamar’s football team captured the school’s first state championship with a 14-1 record in 2011. Later that school year, the boys basketball team made the state playoffs and the boys track team finished one point shy of a state championship. Ben Bailey won an individual state championship in the discus.
“There has been a change in attitude,” Lamar cross country and track and field coach Rodney Baldridge said. “The athletes have been doing what the coaches ask of them. For the most part, it’s been building the last three or four years. A lot of it has been in the weight room. The philosophy is bigger, faster and stronger.”
2012-13: A Stellar School Year
It didn’t take the Tigers long to add to the trophy case.
Led by sophomore Kaden Overstreet, Lamar won its first cross country state championship in November. Zachary Ray, Drew Buckner, Zane Hull and Nicholas Ray followed to help the Tigers earn another crown.
“The work ethic has been key,” Baldridge said. “The kids have had the willingness to put in a lot of miles and a lot of work.”
A return to the state championship in football seemed unlikely after a 1-2 start and consecutive losses to Seneca (13-6) and Cassville (31-0). When the regular season ended, the Missouri media left Lamar out of the top 10 in the Class 2 rankings.
As players returned from injury, the Tigers cruised through the playoffs by beating Stockton (70-0), Ash Grove (69-28), Butler (62-0), Liberty (55-14) and Caruthersville (69-12). Lamar capped its second consecutive title by out-gunning Blair Oaks 69-41.
An outstanding fall continued on the girls’ side. Taylor Clements became Lamar’s first girls tennis player to reach state. The Tigers’ softball team finished 18-4 and won its first district championship since 2007.
More success followed in the spring.
Lamar’s Landon Maberry tied for sixth place as he helped lead the Tigers to second place at the Class 2 state golf meet in Nixa. Logan McArthur tied for 14th, and Caleb Fischer tied for 20th. Derek Nagel and Kealon Cox followed for the Tigers.
“The kids have fully embraced an on and offseason mentality,” Lamar golf coach Dan Eckstein said. “Golfers were coming up to tell me their scores in January. They were out playing golf year-round. It’s a big advantage when the kids are willing to put the time in.”
A year after missing the state track title by one point, the Tigers cruised to the Class 2 title as they nearly doubled second-place Cleveland NJROTC’s 40 points. Sam Bailey, Ben Bailey and Austin Boice finished 1-2-3 in the discus. Boice won the shot put, and Josh Garfield, Zachary Ray, Landon Compton and Buckner teamed to win the 4x800 relay.
“Last year was a great motivator in track,” Baldridge said. “They didn’t want to be that close and not get something.”
All the success has led several Lamar athletes to compete in college. Buckner has committed to Missouri Southern track. Emmie Robertson is an early commit to Pittsburg State softball. Keenan Begley is going to play football at Iowa Wesleyan, and Boice is a preferred walk-on as an offensive lineman for the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Twin brothers Sam and Ben Bailey, who will be seniors for the 2013-14 school year, have both received offers to play football at Army. According to PowerMizzou.com, the Missouri Tigers have offered Sam to play football for the SEC school and an offer for Ben may not be far behind.
The accomplishments also have extended to the classroom.
Baldridge said Lamar’s 2013 graduating class had seven valedictorians and three of them — Boice, Buckner and Zachary Ray — were on the track team.
Reasons for success
There is no single answer to why the Tigers have enjoyed their current run.
However, a dedication to weight and offseason conditioning programs is a good start.
“The success we’re having right now is largely due to the work coaches Scott Bailey and Thad Lundine are doing in the weightroom,” Timmons said. “When I first came here, Lamar didn’t lift weights. The kids are bigger and stronger right now.”
As Lamar’s success has grown, its participation rates have risen. With an enrollment of about 190 boys, the Tigers had 75 out for football and another 13 out for cross country. Add in swimming, band and other activities and there aren’t to many Lamar students who aren’t active outside of the classroom.
“We have a tremendous amount of students involved in some type of extracurricular activity,” Harris said. “As a district, we believe strongly in keeping students involved.”
Timmons added: “I would venture to guess that two-thirds of the kids are involved in some type of athletic event. A lot of that is due to the success. People want to get on that bandwagon. We are getting kids to come out for sports who would have never thought of coming out two or three years ago.”
Success breeds success, as they say. Coaches believe the town’s youth can keep Lamar’s newfound winning ways a reality.
“You can see the younger kids just watching the older kids and see how they are working,” Baldridge said. “Several eighth-graders have talked to me about what running events they would like to compete in. They know the team is going to be good, and they want to be a part of it.”
STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS AT LAMAR HIGH SCHOOL SINCE 2000
2002: Brett Mcculloch, 50 freestyle and 100 free style, swimming
2002: Golda Sherman, 100-meter high hurdles, track and field
2007: 4x400 relay (Anthony Garrett, Sean Rhoades, Cody Frieden, Matt Obert, Destrey Hines), track and field
2012: Ben Bailey, discus, track and field
2013: Sam Bailey, discus, track and field
2013: Austin Boice, shot put, track and field
2013: 4x800 relay (Josh Garfield, Zachary Ray, Landon Compton, Drew Buckner)
2012: Boys cross country
2013: Boys track and field