Jared Lankford: Finally, Bailey can remove the asterisk

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

For most high school sports teams, the ultimate goal on their preseason list is a state title.

Why wouldn't it be? Coaches don't just want to win a few games. They want to win them all.

While most players and coaches dream about hoisting the state trophy, Lamar's football team's list begins with a conference title.

For the last several years, Lamar has been the gold standard of gridiron power in Class 2. Its four consecutive state titles, eight district titles in the last nine years and a 9-1/2 wins-per-season average over the almost decade-long span are hard stats to argue with.

What Head Coach Scott Bailey has done at Lamar is nothing short of incredible. He took a long-time doormat gridiron team, the butt of inept football program jokes, and transformed it into a dominating brotherhood.

Lamar has become the most feared Class 2 program in the state. The Tigers, since the 2011-2012 season, have played 30 Class 2 opponents and outscored them 1,709- 258 (56.9 to 8.6 points per game). In those 30 games, the Tigers have surrendered 7 or fewer points 19 times, with 10 of those contests yielding no points.

However, while the students, players and community celebrated the team's Class 2 dominance, and rightfully so, their coach put a mental asterisk by the championships because he had not won a Big 8 Conference title.

Scott Bailey is nothing more than just a big, giant Teddy bear, once you get to know him.

The Lamar High School and Pittsburg State University alumnus, Bailey looks the intimidating part. He stands on the sidelines grinding his teeth and journalists must not be timid if they want to get a quote for an article.

Over the last five years, I've learned one key thing about Bailey -- he cares.

He cares about his athletes' well being, on and off the field. When Bailey tells you that his players are family, that is an understatement. He treats them like they are his own sons.

Bailey and his wife care about the facilities at Lamar. They are the groundskeepers for the most beautiful natural grass playing surface in southwest Missouri -- college or high school. The Baileys even managed to get the head groundskeeper at the Truman Sports Complex, home of the Chiefs and Royals, to help them.

He cares about the school and community. In every preseason preview that I have received from the Lamar coach, he always mentions the success of Lamar's other sports programs before he gets to his football team's accomplishments. There is also no football signage about the state championships until you get to the football field, by the coach's design.

He sends his assistant coaches to go handle radio interviews and talk about their kids.

The Tigers' seniors pick two Lamar teachers to serve as honorary captains before every home game, an idea that came to Bailey late one night.

He truly puts others first.

I get the pleasure of driving to Lamar every summer to snap a senior picture of the Tigers for the Gridiron Guide magazine. Bailey's one rule for the picture is all senior football players must be in it, or no picture.

The Lamar weight room is a three-door garage metal building that contains a drum fan, weights and benches. In the 100-degree heat, the Tigers are still pumping iron.

Their gruff-natured coach has shorts and a full hooded sweatshirt on every time I arrive. His explanation for his attire is simple: "When I get hot in this thing, I know my players are too hot in their pads and we end practice."

For nearly a decade, Bailey has chased the elusive conference title. Cassville, Seneca and Carl Junction all took turns denying the coach of something that was at the top of his wish list.

That all ended on Friday. With a 56-34 thumping of Carl Junction, the Tigers won their first outright conference title since 1932. They shared the crown in 2003 with Carl Junction and Mt. Vernon.

When I asked Bailey about the title's significance, his reply was, "I'm happy for the kids, Jared."

Bailey, who was known, before last week, as the greatest Big 8 coach not to win a conference title, can now erase that legacy.

Granted, he does not care about the record. What he cares about is teaching his players the importance of setting, then achieving, their goals.

Bailey just achieved his. Now, he can remove that asterisk.

Jared Lankford is the sports editor of the Cassville Democrat. He can be reached at sports@cassville-democrat.com, or 417-847-2610.

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