Longtime former Lee's Summit North High School coach Harold Wambsgans, who won a state championship at Shawnee Mission (Kan.) West High School in 1985, will be inducted as part of the first class of the Greater Kansas City Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame. The ceremony will take place prior to the start of Thursday night’s 24th-annual Missouri vs. Kansas All-Star Football Game at Larry Stewart Memorial Stadium on the campus of Blue Springs South High School.
“This game has always been a great game,” GKCFCA co-director Tony Wrisinger said earlier this week, “but we want to make it an event. And there is no better way to make something an event than by having a Hall of Fame induction ceremony. I have known and worked with Coach Wambs for many years, and he is the class of the class.”
Wambsgans, who will be a part of the initial 24-coach Hall of Fame class, coached for five decades, starting as an assistant at Shawnee Mission West in 1967. He later earned his first head coaching job at SM-East in 1969.
He then moved back to SM-West where he coached from 1981-1990 and won a state championship in 1985. He then accepted the head coaching job at Lee's Summit High School. In 1995 he became the first head coach at Lee's Summit North, where he coached for 14 years.
He has been the weekly co-host of PrepsKC's Friday Night Football on 1030 AM KCWJ with PrepsKC managing editor Dion Clisso and has worked as a tax preparer in Mission, Kan., since retiring from the coaching ranks in 2009.
“This is such a wonderful honor because you get to share it with so many great guys you coached against and with,” Wambsgans said. “I had so much fun over at the Shawnee Mission Schools; then I came over to Missouri and coached at Lee's Summit and had the unique opportunity to start a program at Lee's Summit North when it opened 1995. That was really special.”
When asked about the secret to his longevity, Wambsgans just smiled.
“Great kids and the fact that I had a lot of fun,” he said. “I coached at two Shawnee Mission schools and two Lee's Summit schools. I was blessed at each school to work with some great people. But I have to tell you that working with the staff at Lee's Summit North was amazing. How many chances do you get to start a program – the school colors, the nickname, you build it from the ground up – and that was something I will never forget.”
Another is a rainy night in Manhattan, Kan., when his Shawnee Mission West squad upset a heavily favored team from Dodge City 24-0 to win a state title.
“We didn't have much speed and Dodge City had nothing but speed,” Wambsgans explained. “But it rained all day – and rained even more during the game – and our backs ran as fast in the mud as they did on a dry field. It was before turf, and the rain really gave us an advantage and we won the championship.”
Wambsgans’ quarterback on that SM-West team was current Oak Grove coach Pat Richard, himself a two-time state champion coach.
“When he won his first state championship at Orrick,” Wambsgans said, “he called me from the bus and said, ‘Coach, I just had to give you a call. Our championship made me think back to 1985 and what an impact you made on my life.' He won another state championship last year at Oak Grove, and it's great to see the coaches from your staff or your former players have success. Those are the things that are really important.
“It's been a great ride, and I am just so thankful to have been associated with so many great people.”
Editor's note: Former Blue Springs and St. Mary's High School coach Fred Merrell, who coached in six decades, will be featured in Thursday's Examiner.