Remembering four of the greats we lost in 2021

Rick Peterson, Top Sports News Writer


Every year at this time I get excited for the start of a new year.

It gives us the chance to put the trials and tribulations of the past year in the rearview mirrow while looking ahead to what a new year could bring.

But while looking forward to 2022, it’s also important that we remember those we lost in 2021, including four men who had a lasting impact on sports in Shawnee County and a lasting influence on me.

RenePoort2Rene Poort (second from left), who passed away last month at the age of 77, was one of three generations of Poorts in officiating, with Rene joined by son Hunter, (left), grandson Jarred (second from right) and son JT. [Submitted]

Local officiating icon Rene Poort, 77 years old, longtime Hayden High announcer and Wildcat supporter Tom Smith, 64, and Silver Lake sports staple Mike Burton, 73, all passed away over the final two months of 2021, as did Gary Horn, 81, a former Kansan who few if any in this area are familiar with, but one who had a huge influence on me and my career.

Horn passed away on Nov. 20, while Poort passed on Nov. 21, Burton passed on Dec. 4 and Smith just a week before Christmas on Dec. 18.

For those who had the opportunity to rub elbows with any of these four men I'm sure they’re well aware of their contributions.

For those of you that didn’t get that chance, here’s a brief look at the legacy they left:

TomSmithobitTom Smith

TOM SMITH -- Smith was a 1975 Hayden High graduate, which helped stoke a passion for the Hayden community and Wildcat sports throughout his life.

Smith was the voice of the Wildcats for 25 years, serving as the public address announcer for both football and basketball, and while fans outside of Hayden may not have known Tom by face, his voice was very recognizable, as well as his attention to detail and accuracy.

Smith always called a fair game for both Hayden and Wildcat foes, even though anyone who knew Tom knew exactly where his allegiance lied.  

He was the St. Matthew youth track coach from 1994 to 2002, a Kansas Kids State Wrestling announcer for more than 20 years and was involved in Saints football for 25 years while also helping coach the Hayden wrestling team.

Smith is survived by his wife, Rose, along with four childen and 11 grandchildren.

Mike BurtonMike Burton

MIKE BURTON -- Burton was a youth sports coach for baseball, flag football and basketball and was a manager of the Silver Lake American Legion baseball team for 43 years while also serving on the football chain crew for the Eagles for 47 years.

Burton, a Frankfort native, was recognized for his long service to Silver Lake amateur baseball when he was inducted into the Shawnee County Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015.

Burton was fiercely loyal to Silver Lake athletes past and present and, in his always polite and respectful way, would try to make sure his Eagles received their just due.

Mike is survived by his wife, Jill, along with two sons and two grandchildren.

Rene PoortRene Poort

RENE POORT -- A graduate of Mayetta High School and Washburn University, Poort had stints as a teacher and coach at Silver Lake High School and Hayden, but was best known for officiating basketball and football from the youth to collegiate levels.

Poort mentored numerous young officials in the Topeka area and was an active member of the Kansas State High School Activities Association as an official for 53 years. He was also actively involved in the Topeka Officials Association, where he served as president for several years.

Poort was followed into officiating by sons JT and Hunter and grandson Jarred.

Poort's career was known for his penchant for calling a fast and fair contest in both basketball and football.

Rene is survived by his wife, Connie Ann, along with six children and nine grandchildren.

GaryHornGary Horn

GARY HORN -- Gary, almost universally known as Horn, was an immensely successful teacher and forensics/debate coach at Southwestern College in Winfield and Ferris State in Big Rapids, Mich.

Horn coached multiple national debate championship teams and was inducted into multiple halls of fame, but what I'll most remember is how Horn took a horrible student who had a hard time making it to class at Southwestern, and helped him become the first college graduate in his family.

Preceded in death by Jean, his wife of more that 50 years, Horn is survived by three children, seven grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.

Rest in peace Tom, Mike, Rene and Gary.

Deja vu: Rossville repeats as No. 1 on TSN list of top boys prep stories of 2021

Rick Peterson, Top Sports News Writer


The best news about the 2021 high school sports year for Shawnee County high schools was that there was one.

COVID-19 wreaked havoc on 2020, resulting in an early end to state basketball tournaments, the cancellation of all spring sports and forcing wholesale delays and contingency plans through the fall of '20.

But by the time the calendar hit '21 there was a return to some sense of normalcy.

A decision by the USD 501 school board kept Highland Park, Topeka High and Topeka West wrestling teams off the mats through the entire '20-'21 campaign, but when practice started in November for '21-'22 the Scots, Trojans and Chargers were back in action.

Shawnee County prep teams took full advantage of their opportunities to compete in '21, with county schools winning five state boys and girls team championships and county athletes combining for 16 individual titles. 

Here's a look at' top 10 Shawnee County boys prep stories of 2021, with the girls top 10 coming up next::

RossvilleFBtitle1Rossville's football team hoists the Class 2A state championship trophy last month after winning its second straight title and fifth since 2014. [File photo/TSN]

1. DAWG DAYS -- Derick Hammes’ Rossville Bulldawgs captured their second straight Class 2A state football championship and an amazing fifth title since 2014, capping a second straight 13-0 season with a 32-12 win over Beloit in the state final. The Bulldawgs overcame some adversity along the way, including an injury to star senior quarterback Torrey Horak which kept him out of multiple games, but star running back Corey Catron took over at QB and the Bulldawgs didn't miss a beat, outscoring its opposition 611-111 on the season.

RuralteampicWashburn Rural's wrestling team captured its first-ever Class 6A boys state team championship in 2021, also the first ever for a Topeka school. [File photo/TSN]

2. DATE WITH DESTINY -- After knocking on the door with a pair of Class 6A runner-up finishes, Washburn Rural's wrestling team knocked the door down, rolling to the first-ever team championship by a Topeka school by a commanding 159.5-112 margin over Olathe North. The Junior Blues clinched the title before the final round, putting a whopping five wrestlers in the finals and getting individual championships from Jonathan Morrison, Jacob Tangpricha and Bishop Murray (more on that below) and runner-up finishes from Austin Fager and David Huckstep.

Bishop Murray stateBishop Murray won his third Class 6A state individual title last season while helping lead Washburn Rural to the Class 6A state team title. [File photo/TSN]

3. THRICE AS NICE -- Washburn Rural wrestling standout Bishop Murray captured the third Class 6A individual state championship of his carreer, joining former Highland Park star and multi-time Olympian Melvin Douglas as the only city wrestlers to win three state titles while helping lead the Junior Blues to their historic team championship. Murray won the 120-pound title to cap a 29-1 senior season while posting four top-three state finishes.

JeremiahSmith1Shawnee Heights' Jeremiah Smith won three Class 5A state titles in the 2021 Class 5A state track meet. [File photo/TSN]

4. IMPRESSIVE FIRST IMPRESSION -- After having his freshman track and field season wiped out by COVID-19, Shawnee Heights' Jeremiah Smith established himself as one of the state's best early last spring when he broke T-Bird legend Marcel Carter's school-record in the 100-meter dash. Smith went on to capture three Class 5A individual state titles in the State Track and Field Championships, winning the 110-meter hurdles in 14.74 seconds, the 100 dash in 10.52 and the 200 dash in 21.92.

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