There used to be a time when Dale Herl walked into a gym and could shoot from anywhere — and make it.
Now, Herl is happy sitting in the bleachers cheering on his son, Dawson.
The annual Hays City Shootout gave Herl a chance to return to his roots of northwest Kansas, though. It’s a place he called home while starring on the basketball court at Grainfield-Wheatland in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“It is nice to come back, and my family can watch my son play,” Dale said. “It’s a long way to Kansas City, so they don’t get to see him very often.”
Herl is the superintendent of the Independence School District in Missouri. One of the district’s schools — William Chrisman — is competing for the first time in the shootout.
And Dawson, a junior, is getting a chance to play ball in northwest Kansas for the first time in front of a crowd.
“They don’t get to see me play that much since we moved to the city,” Dawson said. “It’s just really nice to have them be able to come watch me here.”
The junior guard has the ability to spot up and shoot from long range, or put the ball on the floor and drive to the hoop.
It’s similar to the skills his father had while playing at Wheatland, where he had the capability to pull up from just beyond halfcourt and drain a 3-pointer without touching the rim.
“I love being superintendent in Independence,” Dale said. “It’s a wonderful community and a great school board. They are very supportive of the school district. It’s fun being close to the Royals and Chiefs. But, still, western Kansas will always be home for me.”
Dale, who graduated in 1991, led the Shockers in scoring his senior year, posting multiple games of 30 and a few 40-point outings.
“He said he would shoot it just wherever he felt like shooting it,” Dawson said about his father.
Indeed, he did. And he made it more often than not.
Dale guided the Shockers to the Class 1A state tournament his senior year. But eventual runner-up Pike Valley knocked Wheatland out in the first round, 71-65.
“It’s great to be back. My family is here in town — my mom and my dad,” he said. “Plus a few of my former teachers and coaches are here.”
Dawson said he and his father go to the gym and shoot hoops often.
“He’s really taught me how to play and shoot the ball,” Dawson said. “We always go to the gym together and just play.”
It’s apparent the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
“He’s bigger than I am, but I shot the ball a lot better than he does,” Dale said. “There’s really not a whole lot of similarities. He’s bigger and stronger than I was, probably a little more athletic. But I shot the ball better.”
That’s something Dawson doesn’t agree with.
“He says that, but I don’t think so,” the son said.
“No. It’s not even close,” said the father. “If I could warm my knees up, I could outshoot you all day.”
Dawson said his first love is basketball, with football a close second. He’d love the opportunity to play at the collegiate level.
The three-game trip to Hays is a learning experience for some of the players not familiar with western Kansas, both Herls said.
“Probably for some of them, it’s the first time they’ve ever seen a cow,” Dale said. “It’s good for our kids to see a different perspective. It’s nice that they get to see things that they otherwise wouldn’t. And Fort Hays is a great college, so maybe this is something that would interest them in going to Fort Hays.”
“They were all talking when we got to the hotel room that you look out the window in the city and see other buildings and all you see here is farmland,” Dawson said.
The times have changed for Dale compared to when he starred for the Shockers. Now, he’s living in a much larger town and in a metropolitan setting.
“It’s certainly a different level of competition from 1A,” Dale said. “We only have five classes in Missouri, where there’s six in Kansas. But it’s great to watch your kids play.”
He’ll always remember those days of 1A basketball when he scorched opponents from well beyond the arc. Dale said he has shown Dawson some of his accomplishments in his prep career — and that brings about a few comments from the son.
“He does, but mostly he comments about how short our shorts were at that time,” Dale said.
While the Kansas City area is a long way from Gove County, this weekend’s tourney was a chance to bring the Herls a bit closer to home.
It’s a place where Dale dominated opposing teams his senior year while being one of the state’s top scorers.
That’s something the son still is trying to wrap his head around at times.
“Yes and no,” Dawson said about being surprised how good his father was as a high-schooler. “Yes because he wasn’t that big, but no because the only thing he could do out on the farm is shoot.”