By CONOR NICHOLL
Two years ago, Bird City-Cheylin boys’ basketball went 17-5 under coach Chris Walden. A Cheylin alum, Walden is well-known as the Cougars’ highly successful football coach. He had coached the boys in junior high basketball, too.
However, Walden has multiple other duties, including athletic director, farming and has a young child. Last winter, Cheylin’s boys and girls teams formed a co-operative agreement with St. Francis, the other Cheyenne County school. Walden elected to not coach basketball.
“In all honesty, the reason we were together was not because of our boys,” Walden said. “It was all for Cheylin girls. So our girls have been really, really low on numbers. We were really low last year. Last year, we had like five senior girls in high school that would do sports, and that was it.”
Cheylin’s outstanding multi-sport junior trio of Logan McCarty, Pablo Bermudez, and Brady Ketzner played with St. Francis in 2021-22. Those three were key on the 17-win team.
St. Francis/Cheylin bumped to 2A and finished 7-14 under coach Cory Busse. He had led SF to a couple of recent state berths. Busse’s son, Ben, has started since his freshman year and is a quality player.
In the spring, Walden and others with Cheylin knew that the St. Francis/Cheylin arrangement was going to fall through for this winter.
“Our junior boys, that was kind of the prize, crown jewel of Cheyenne County,” Walden said. “St. Francis wanted them for their boys to help them along, and we needed their girls to help our girls.”
Ben transferred to Colby, where he has helped the Eagles enjoy a 13-2 record. Colby is among the state’s biggest turnarounds.
“The unfortunate thing about that whole situation is we have this good group of junior boys that we have currently have,” Walden said. “And it was almost like those kids, those boys got used as a pawn. St. Francis would take our girls if we would co-op together for the boys. Because Sainty’s boys are having a pretty tough go at it this year.”
Walden took back over Cheylin boys’ basketball for 2022-23. The Cougars are a big turnaround with an 11-1 mark.
Cheylin dropped the season opener to Wallace County after a disjointed preseason. Since then, the Cougars have not lost. Cheylin is currently ranked seventh in Class 1A, Division II by the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association. Cheylin has the program’s longest winning streak in at least 15 years, per SIK research and MaxPreps archives.
“Our boys really didn’t care either way,” Walden said. “They enjoyed playing with Ben last year. I think they would have been happy to have him play on their team this year for sure. He’s a good ball player. But that class of junior boys, they want to do it on their own.”
On Friday, Cheylin plays Logan-Palco (9-4) in a key Western Kansas Liberty League contest. Ketzner has delivered 14.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.4 steals and 2.1 assists per game. Bermudez has 13.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.3 steals and 2.3 assists.
McCarty has 13.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 3.9 steals. Tucker Burr, who has limited experience in football and basketball, is the lone senior and has played in all 12 games. Junior Victor Hernandez has delivered a nice season with 6.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.3 steals a contest. Junior Connor McPherson has appeared in each game, too.
“They don’t want to have anybody have any reason to put an asterisk by their accomplishments,” Walden said. “So when it all fell apart, and we knew that we would be on our own this year, I think there was a sigh of relief from those guys. They were ready to go and let everyone know that they were still as good as we were before, and so that was a big thing for them.”
St. Francis girls had 5-foot-10 senior Gracie Parsons, a Smith Center transfer, come to the volleyball and basketball programs this year. SF is ranked fourth in 1A-1 girls at 13-2. SF boys are winless. Cheylin girls are 1-11 with playing predominantly freshmen.
“And this year, we had like five freshmen girls that came in that would play sports that were guaranteed athletes to play,” Walden said.
For the boys, Walden brought Max Keltz out of retirement to help with the boys’ team. The Waldens and Keltzs are longtime family friends. Keltz is a Cheylin legend where he served more than 30 years in various roles, including ag teacher, head football coach and head basketball coach for both the boys and girls at time.
“Having him at practice has helped a ton,” Walden said. “That’s a pretty vast wealth of knowledge that you have there, and he’s good with the kids, and the kids respect him.”
Cheylin had a disjointed preseason in basketball. McCarty, Bermudez and Ketzner helped Cheylin to a six-man state semifinal football showing. McCarty and Bermudez helped Cheylin win state football as freshmen. Both have been football player of the year candidates. McCarty hurt his ankle pretty badly in the Ashland loss, though has come back to have a strong basketball season.
Cheylin boys have not made state since 1980. The Cougars will likely be the second seed in the Wheatland-Grinnell sub-state. Cheylin will have defending state champion Tribune-Greeley County (14-1) and Dighton (9-6) among contenders.
“Logan is a kid that doesn’t love basketball, but he will gladly play just so that we have enough kids to make a team,” Walden said. “He will play because he likes playing sports with Brady and Pablo and the rest of those guys. He doesn’t want to let them down. There are kids that have played football up here that don’t love football but play just for the same reasons – they want to be with their friends. They want to be with kids they have grown up with.”
The football season ended the Friday before Thanksgiving. Walden gave his players the next week off. Originally, the Dec. 6 game against Wallace County wasn’t supposed to occur. The first week of practice, Cheylin had two snow days and battled the flu. The majority of the team missed the first week.
By mid-January, Walden was unsure whether the team had “10 quality practices” or not this year. Walden put in two or three offenses early and hadn’t put anything else in Jan. 16. Cheylin has heavily focused on defense. The Cougars have used multiple defenses, including full court press and junk defenses. The wins include a 48-43 victory against Wichita County on Jan. 10. The 2A Indians are 13-3.
“It really helps with this junior group that we have that are smart,” Walden said. “They are really smart kids, they are athletic, and you can kind of just kind of get creative and plug in pieces here and there to get what you want you want out of them on offensively or defensively.”