The Jayhawk League has been left in limbo by the sudden departure of four teams, leaving the prestigious 42-year-old summer collegiate baseball league with just four current members.
The Derby Twins, Great Bend Bat Cats, Haysville Aviators and El Dorado Broncos are departing for the Sunflower Collegiate League, the Jayhawk League announced Wednesday in a Facebook post.
The remaining teams in the Jayhawk League are the Hays Larks, Liberal Bee Jays, Dodge City A’s and Oklahoma City Indians.
“The reason each team gave was an inability to raise the funds necessary to compete in the Jayhawk League,” the Facebook post stated. “There was very little communication from these teams before this happened and we wish we could have tried to work it out. The remaining teams, Liberal, Hays, Dodge City and Oklahoma are still committed to the Jayhawk League and plans to keep the league viable began last week, and are ongoing.”
Hays Larks manager Frank Leo confirmed the Larks intend to stay in the league. Leo is assisting in helping the league pursue new teams.
“Myself and Nate McCaffrey (Liberal Bee Jays general manager) have been in a lot of contact back and forth and it’s going to be on our shoulders to try and make something happen,” Leo said. “That is the way we’re operating: We’ve got to sustain the Jayhawk League.”
The departing teams will join the Cheney Diamond Dawgs, Mulvane Patriots, Hutchinson Monarchs, Wichita Sluggers, Haven Warhawks, Newton Rebels and The Salina Shock in the Sunflower League.
Leo said he heard rumblings this summer about teams possibly exiting the league but was caught by surprise this past Thursday when he was informed it was happening.
He is optimistic the league will be able to add new teams, but acknowledged it could be a challenge because of travel concerns.
“A big-time challenge because we’ve tried to expand before and pick up one, maybe two teams,” Leo said. “We have to pick up three, and we had a hard time picking up one or two.
“It’s either going to have to be going to Oklahoma or going to Colorado (to add teams). That’s going to change the whole map of the Jayhawk League.”
Leo said he’s already been in contact with teams that could be candidates to join.
“I haven’t had much time to do some things, but I have been on the phone talking to some Colorado teams about joining up,” said Leo, who just completed his 36th season as Larks manager. “They’ll need a little time to digest that, financially.”
Leo said he's also been approached by the Kansas Collegiate League but dismissed that as an option for the Larks, reiterating he wants the team to remain in the Jayhawk League.
The KCLB is comprised of teams in Wellington, Valley Center, Park City, McPherson, Augusta and Clearwater.
“I don’t think that’s going to be a viable option,” Leo said of the possibility of joining the KCLB. “None of them want to travel. How can that work?”
Even by playing a handful of non-league games, Leo said it would be tough for the Jayhawk League to operate with a four-team league. He recalled a season when the Jayhawk League was left with just five teams, which made for a redundant schedule.
“We played each other eight times and that was bad,” he said. “That's a long haul. Eight teams would be OK if it was over like a three, four-month period. But when you’re talking about eight times in two months, it does get a little old.
“If worst comes to worst, that’s what we might have to do, but we’re sure as heck going to try to avoid that.”
Hays claimed its 10th Jayhawk League this summer, going 35-12 overall and 26-9 in league play.
The Larks have overcome uncertainty before and Leo says the organization will do the same this time around.
“We’re not going to let it die,” Leo said. “It means too much to the Hays community. We had a hurdle in 2007 when they were talking about disbanding the Larks program. That’s when everything really started to take off. We were starting to get some success in the early 2000s. You had to jump a hurdle then, and we’re going to have to jump the hurdle again.”