Southeast students, staff and family did not know what to expect when they went to last year’s School Bus Races at Humboldt Speedway. But when they left, they had raised more than $1,000 for the Southeast Marching Band, and all had so much fun they vowed to return the next year… with friends.
The 2016 School Bus Races were held Saturday September 4. The Southeast faithful came to have fun, cheer on USD 247 bus route driver/bus racer Ken Snyder, and hopefully again win some money for the Marching Band.
A gorgeous night began with the Kids Bus Pull. Last year, students from each school district pulled a 13,500 pound school bus 100 feet, and Southeast took 1st place. This year, the distance was extended to 175 feet.
Snyder was down on the dirt track to cheer on the kids, who took up nearly every foot of the rope available.
“I saw a little itty bitty guy at the front of the rope and pointed to the far wall and I told him ‘you see that wall? You don’t stop runnin’ till you hit that wall or all these kids behind you are going to run over you!’” Snyder said. “After the race he came up to me and said ‘Did you see me? I didn’t stop running!’”
A test of endurance, an organizer said afterward several schools started fast but lost steam around the 100 foot mark.
Southeast was not one of those schools.
With a time of 18.31 seconds, for the second year in a row, Southeast took 1st place in the Kids Bus Pull, winning $500. We’re told the bus was going 7 miles per hour as it crossed the finish line.
Following the Kids Bus Pull, the parade of buses began. Every bus involved in the School Bus Races took a single lap around Humboldt Speedway, all at once. This is fans best opportunity to see the decorations painted on each bus, and compare notes.
After the parade, it was time for the event Southeast was determined to win – the School Spirit Contest. One at a time each bus drives along the grandstand as their fans cheer and yell as loud as they can for as long as they can. Using a decibel meter located in the midfield, quite a ways from the stands, organizers aren’t looking for can blast out and be the loudest – the winner must be able to get loud, and stay loud for several seconds.
When the School Bus Races began in 2014, Brad Miner was still the principal at Royster Middle School in Chanute. Royster won the School Spirit contest that year. So, last year, in his first year as the Southeast superintendent, Mr. Miner got Southeast involved in the School Bus Races. The one contest he wanted to win was School Spirit. In what many Lancers in attendance deemed a controversial decision, Southeast took 3rd.
This year, after talking about it for a full year, Southeast came prepared.
“I was told we had around 500 Southeast people there,” Snyder said. “I’d believe it. We took up one whole section, just a wall of blue, and I could hear ‘em hollerin’ on the backstretch, horns, cowbells, yelling. It was great.”
With a reading in the 85 decibel range, Southeast took 1st place in the Spirit Contest, and the $1,000 prize that came with it.
“We were very successful in all of the events,” Southeast Band Director Danica Gibson said. “I thought it was really neat that we won the Spirit Contest this year. We’re the school that comes from the furthest away and we probably had the largest crowd of people.”
Then it was time for the main event as the School Bus heat races began. Driving in the Professional/Modified class, Snyder went on to take 2nd place in his first heat, then 1st place in his second heat. The 1st place finish won Southeast another $50.
After the heats were done, it was break time before the Championship round. Last year spectators watched dirt cars race on the track. This year, organizers tried something different: a Chariot Race.
“I don’t think anybody really knew what to expect, and I think Chariot Race is a little misleading — it should be called a Rickshaw Race,” Mrs. Gibson said. “I really liked that it was another kids event in between all of the other events instead of the dune buggy races like last year.”
Humboldt Speedway is a high banked, oval, dirt track, and it’s 3/8 of a mile long. That’s about 600 meters, or 50% bigger than a regular track around a football field. Two kids pull the rickshaw while two others sit. At the 150 meter mark those four kids switch spots. At the 300 meter mark, those four kids are done and swap with four fresh kids. At the 450 meter mark, the two running take their turn sitting as the other two finish up the last leg. Four rickshaws meant 32 kids total were involved in each heat.
“Oh man,” laughed Southeast senior Jacob Wyckoff. “It was very tiresome. My legs got tired. We ran pretty hard but towards the finish line it got pretty tiresome. It was a lot of fun though.”
Freshman Bryce Petersen, sophomores Hunter Chrysler, Trenton Hartman and Josh Wyckoff, and junior Taylor Beckley, Alex Fleck and Shane Hendricks had all volunteered for the event.
Jacob Wyckoff wasn’t even supposed to be running.
“But they needed another person so they picked me out of the crowd,” Wyckoff said. “They started cheering my name until I got up and went down there. They made a big scene about it.”
During Southeast’s run, which happened to be the very first heat ever for the event, Southeast started slow. But the first team of four found their groove and at the halfway point had a slight lead. When the second team of four tried to take over there was a struggle with the seatbelts – a requirement – and Southeast lost some of their lead. But the last switch went smooth and they easily won their heat with a time of 1:58.53.
The lone freshman, Petersen, plays or has played baseball, basketball, football, track and field and wrestled. Even though all of the runners had played a wide variety of sports, he said there were surprised at how difficult the rickshaw relay was because so many others were involved.
“It was a lot more difficult trying to buckle in, then waiting, and pulling two other people while you’re running,” Petersen said. “It was fun. I figured why not just go out there and do something that can help Southeast.”
Once all of the heats were done Southeast ended up taking 3rd place – a $250 prize.
“That was really cool,” Mrs. Gibson said. “I think now that we’ve been through it once we can revamp the strategy for next year and see what happens.”
Southeast’s final event, the Professional/Modified Class was filled with excitement. But a frightening crash about midway through the event brought the estimated 7,000 people to gasps, then silence.
Following a delay of about 30 minutes the race resumed and Snyder ended up taking 1st place, another $300 won for Southeast.
Last year, Snyder finished 3rd in the Championship round. So when Snyder finished his victory lap, his granddaughter, Southeast senior Elizabeth Fornelli, was on the field to get a picture of him with his new trophy and the checkered flag.
“I know he’s wanted to win it and he’s worked really for it, getting the bus ready all year,” said Fornelli, who races dragsters. “It was a big accomplishment for him, and he’s won many before.”
“Let me say that you have shown the Lancers some great hospitality and awesome entertainment the past two years,” Southeast Band Booster Club Robin Stricklin posted on the Humboldt Speedway Facebook page the day after the event. “A big thank you to all at the Speedway who do the hard work to pull this off each year and to the various Legions for providing such wonderful cash prizes and give so graciously to support the schools. As you know, we are working to pay for new Band uniforms (to the tune of $25,000) and we paid for several last night! So thank you, thank you!”
The Band Booster Club sold “Band Bus” leading up to the event. Stricklin said they sold 71 tshirts.
USD 247 Southeast staff at the event said they were thrilled with not only how the Lancers won, but how they represented themselves and came together as a community.
In addition to the countless families who made the drive to Humboldt on their own, Southeast provided two school buses for students who wanted to go but had no transportation. Both buses were filled to capacity.
“Everyone attending was positive, enthusiastic, and supportive of our students, Ken, and everyone helped make noise,” SHS Vice Principal Debbie Clawson said. “Our students were polite, listened to directions, and the older students helped the younger students throughout the evening. Our bus drivers also showed their support by bringing family and friends, driving carefully, and supporting and guiding our bus-pulling team.”
Snyder plans to drive the “Band Bus” used at the races through the Cherokee, Weir and McCune Homecomings parades.