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KFBCA Hall of Fame Selection: Ken Stonebraker

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  • Former Salina South head football coach and athletic director Ken Stonebraker was recently selected for induction into the Kansas Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame. (Photo: Dylan Sherwood/The Salina Journal)
    Former Salina South head football coach and athletic director Ken Stonebraker was recently selected for induction into the Kansas Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame. (Photo: Dylan Sherwood/The Salina Journal)

Life comes full circle sometimes. When it happens in the great fraternity of Kansas high school football coaches, it can take on a whole new meaning.

Longtime Kansas high school football coaching giants Ken Stonebraker and Chuck Porter will be inducted this December in the Kansas Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame. A culmination of years of molding young men into men after their paths first crossed in early 1985.

“I was signed at my house in Ellsworth to go to Wichita State by WSU assistant coach Chuck Porter,” Stonebraker recently recalled. “Chuck had great success as a high school football coach in Kansas and he is in this 2024 hall of fame class with me. We did meet once as opposing coaches in a playoff game and that was special, too.  He was a terrific coach and a better person.”

Stonebraker’s Salina South Cougars defeated Porter’s Buhler Crusaders 51-7 in the first round of the 1997 Class 5A playoffs. 

“We were pretty good that year. We lost to Liberal in the semifinals 21-17 and they went on and won it,” Stonebraker remembered.

Stonebraker and Porter will be enshrined later this year alongside Rich Anderson (St Xavier, Washington County, Goodland, Pratt, Liberal); Girard’s Craig Crespino; Pittsburg Colgan’s Frank Crespino; Sedan’s Les Davis; Ted Easter (Valley Heights, Derby, Andale); and Frankfort’s Larry Schroeder. Easter is the first assistant coach to be elected for the HOF. 

“To be honest it is quite a humbling experience,” Stonebraker said of the HOF election. “There are so many great coaches across the State of Kansas that I feel like others are deserving. To be included with a group of coaches like that is nice. I am not one who wants individual recognition as I know I could not do what I did without all my assistant coaches, players, parents and everybody who contributed to our program.”

In 14 years at South, 1994-2007, Stonebraker fashioned a 101-47 record where the Cougars won state championships in 2000 and 2004 and a runner up finish in 2003. 

“We made six trips to the semifinals and were in the playoffs 10 years out of 14 years as head coach,” he said. “Prior to taking the head job in 1994, Salina South had been to the playoffs once in school history.”

He was the Kansas Coaches Association Class 5A coach of the year in 2000 and the overall coach of the year (all classes) in 2001.

“I transitioned to Athletic Director in 2007 and was named the Kansas Athletic Director of the Year in 2016 by the Kansas Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association,” Stonebraker said.

But three words accounted for thousands of words, especially in Salina.

South vs Central. Coach Ken Stonebraker’s Cougars vs Coach Marvin Diener’s Mustangs.

“People forget Salina was the hub every year for the premier game of the year in Week 2,” Diener said. “And we could play two times in a year in Week 2 and (state) semifinals with the winner going to the championship game.”

They met an uncanny 20 times in football in the 12 years the two friends faced off on the gridiron from 1994-2005. Diener’s Mustangs won 13 of the epic games.

“There would be 6-7,000 people at Salina District Stadium. The end zones were full. Fans would come early and the stands were packed in pregame,” Diener said. “Ringing the bell after the game was a big issue. The atmosphere was beyond what you could imagine. But for the two of us as friends, it was hard. It had a toll man.”

“We had some unbelievable games with Salina Central for several years,” Stonebraker said. “It became commonplace to play them two times a year. When I took the head job at Salina South they were coming off their first state title. We worked extremely hard to try and beat our cross town rival.  

“Once we began competing with them we realized we were a state caliber team. I don't think we would have reached the height of our program without Salina Central and I am not sure Central would have had all of their success without us. The games we played were pretty wild most times and very close.”

But it never changed their friendship and the respect each coaching giant had for one another.

“I will always appreciate Ken,” said Diener, who was 253-111 in his coaching career and was an original member of the KFCA HOF class in 2020. 

“Marvin became a good friend,” Stonebraker lamented. “Not everybody in Salina understood or liked that we could be friends. But we shared a lot of information with each other as we played the same opponents. There were only two weeks a year we didn't talk during the season.

“I respected Marvin and his program tremendously and I think he shared that same respect with me. I think we took the success of both programs for granted because it is just what seemed to happen every year. One of us played for the state title for eight straight years which was quite a run for our city.”

Stonebraker played two years for Dick Foster’s Coffeyville Community College Red Ravens. His 1983 freshman season they won the national championship. 

In 1985 and ’86, he starred for the Wichita State Shockers where he earned academic All-Missouri Valley Conference honors. He graduated in 1988 from WSU with his degree in Education. That fall he was named head football coach at Argonia High in south central Kansas, a position he held for four years before he became an assistant in football and track until his move to Salina.

“I think one of my strongest features as a coach was that I allowed my assistant coaches to coach and be involved in decision making, game planning and overall production of our football program,” Stonebraker, who touched around 5,000 athletes’ lives in 34 years, said. “I relied very heavily on our entire staff, and I had a great staff.  I could not have done what I did without the support of our entire staff.

“I also learned that being a leader of young men was more important than the X’s and O’s.  Kids are hungry to be led and believe in something.  It is vital for the head coach to be a strong leader and I think I recognized that and did my best to provide that leadership.”

Stonebraker’s influence on being a coach and mentor began in Ellsworth County.

“I grew up with a coach.  My dad was a head basketball and track coach in Atwood and Ellsworth.  He won a state championship in each sport and both my mom and dad were huge influences in my life,” Stonebraker said. “My high school football coach, Pep Shanelec, was also a huge influence.  I had the opportunity to play for Dick Foster at Coffeyville and he was a legend.  We won the national championship, and I learned a lot about a winning culture.  I then played at Wichita State and learned a lot from some great coaches there.”

Stonebraker said many people played an important part in his teams’ success. 

“I could not have done this job without the support of my family.  My wife Amy and my kids Jessica and Justin were all in and they were committed to my career and lifestyle,” said Stonebraker, who coached around 40 players who played in college. “And like I said earlier, I can’t say enough about the assistant coaches that I had at South.  I learned so much from them and it was a team effort.

“And most importantly we had great players during my tenure as head coach.  I’ve told a lot of people that I was a lot better coach when I had great players.  And we had good, hard-nosed kids that did what they were coached to do and played together as a team.”

He conveyed this message to his past players. 

“I was pretty tough on kids. I had high expectations,” the all-time winningest coach in South history said. “I hope they know that I loved them. I tried to convey that when I was coaching them. They need to know that they had a huge impact on me as a coach. In education-based athletics you want to see your athletes become great men and women, leaders, and mothers and fathers. To be able to watch these young people grow up and become great adults makes me happy.”

He’s also happy later this year he will be enshrined into greatness that will soon honor a new total of 27 of the greatest Kansas prep football coaches of all-time.

“I can’t believe that I was able to do what I did as a living,” he said. “We all want to win, and I think winning is important. But the relationships I have built with my players, coaches, parents and community members are far more important to me than any games we won. I hope that I had an impact on them because so many had an impact on me. I feel so lucky to have had these experiences.”