CUNNINGHAM, Kan. (KSNW) — We’re about halfway through the Kansas high school football state playoffs. As always, state champions will be crowned in eight classes (6A through 8-man DI and 8-man DII). This year, a state champion in six-man will be crowned for the first time.
In September 2021, the Kansas State High School Activities Association (KSHSAA) officially sanctioned six-man football. Schools struggling to fill rosters with enough players to compete now have the option to compete at the six-man level. Twenty-five teams, most of them located in northwest and southwest Kansas, played a full regular season this fall.
Many small towns across Kansas face the same challenges, such as shrinking populations and declining school enrollments. They’re also determined to save their high school football teams. So more and more of them are turning to the wide-open, high-scoring game of six-man football.
Cunningham, a town located 65 miles west of Wichita, has a population of 462. Like many towns its size, it has no stoplights on Main Street or anywhere else. However, they have one of those Kansas skyscrapers, a post office, and a high school with 52 students in grades 7 through 12.
Over at the city park, 20 of the Wildcats from Cunningham High School (CHS) are suited up to play football; six-man football.
“Six-man football is a blast!” says Amy McGuire, the wife of CHS Head Coach Lance McGuire.
“You’ll be shocked. You won’t know what to expect,” says former CHS football player Isaiah Reed.
“It’s crazy,” says CHS senior Lane Halderson.
“You can do nearly anything, and that makes the game super fun,” says CHS senior Trey DeWeese.
“In one word, ‘fast.’ The second word would be ‘addictive,'” says CHS Head Coach Lance McGuire.
Lance is in his 16th year as the head coach at Cunningham. This is the Wildcats’ fourth season playing six-man. On this night, they’re hammering Natoma in the regional round of the state playoffs.
“I think it was fast and fun to watch at first, but the more I’ve gotten into it, it gets a hold of you, and you think of possibilities,” says Lance.
“It’s fast, and it’s fun, and it’s a community all in itself. And if you blink, you will probably miss a big play,” says Amy.
Cunningham is one of 25 schools playing six-man football. The KSHSAA expects that number to grow.
“It’s our life here. Cunningham has been distanced from football. We’ve been at Kingman and other places, and we brought it back home to Cunningham,” says Halderson.
This is the first year the state has sanctioned the six-man game.
“Six-man football is a really exciting game. Everyone is eligible, so that makes throwing the ball really fun,” says DeWeese.
“Our center caught three or four touchdowns tonight, so it’s just crazy,” says Halderson.
Football is a way of life in small Kansas towns. That’s certainly the case in Cunningham, where the undefeated Wildcats are the number-one ranked team in six-man.
“I would tell you before you come to a game, just be ready and be excited. It’s gonna be electrifying. Just be prepared to have a good time because it’ll be fun,” says DeWeese.
After shutting out Natoma 65-0, Cunningham is three wins away from winning a state championship.
“Last year, we didn’t quite get the job done, but this year we hope to do it,” says Halderson.