Rick Cunningham: Appreciating Ellis Railroader baseball and softball

Hays Daily News
Rick Cunningham

I thought I might take this opportunity to write about something that’s very important in my life – and that’s Railroader baseball and softball.

Ellis baseball just completed another great season, finishing third at the 2-1A state tournament in Great Bend.  We were ranked No. 1 in the state for most of the season.  After losing the semifinal game to Valley Falls 3-0, we rebounded to run-rule Spearville for the third-place finish.

This is the second time coaches Brent Cain and Dave Wildeman have taken the Railroaders to state, with a second-place finish in 2017.

In 2010, only our third year of high school baseball, the team finished fourth in the state.  The first two years, we just missed the state tournament by losing the regional finals by only one run each year.

The baseball team has made the state tournament 5 times – in 2010, 2014, 2016, 2017, and 2021. That’s very impressive!

Knowing how hard this is to achieve, as many teams have never made one state tournament, I don’t want to leave out the Ellis Railroader softball team. They’ve had great success also participating at the state tourney.

To share the whole story, I need to tell how it all started. Before we had high school teams, we were able to play baseball and softball because of the ESBA – Ellis Softball and Baseball Association. John Walz and Glenn Lacy worked very hard to make this happen. Both teams were very successful, but were not allowed to compete in the postseason. During that time, there were several teams that I believe would have done very well if they would have had the chance.

This program was funded by donations and by picking up trash at the Ellis County Fair, selling fireworks, delivering phone books, and many other fundraisers. I can’t begin to name all the parents, players, and supporters who made this happen.

Finally in 2008, after several failed attempts, baseball and softball were added to the high school, but only under the agreement that it still be funded by the ESBA. After several years of success, they were then added to the high school program.

I remember our very first high school baseball game at home against a very good Moundridge team. We won 4-2. The rest of the story has been an amazing run for both the baseball and softball programs.

One constant through all the years has been Dave Wildeman.  He has been a coach for the baseball team in all but the very first year.

I want to thank those at the school who support the program, all the coaches, parents, and all the fine young men and young women who have made these programs such a success. I can’t leave out all the local business and community members who have contributed.

I was very honored and privileged to coach the first five years of the baseball team.  The lifelong friendships and the great memories that I’ve been given are priceless.

I hope and pray that these programs continue for years to come.

May God bless you all.

Rick Cunningham is an avid outdoorsman from Ellis