Imagine playing for your high school against a conference rival one year, then wearing the opponent's jersey the next. That has become a strange reality for three former Miami-Yoder baseball players this season.
Colby McCarley, Alex Toumbs and Ronnie Mercer will sport Calhan baseball jerseys this season, one year after battling against the Bulldogs as part of Miami-Yoder's team.
"Miami-Yoder was looking at the numbers and knew they wouldn't have enough players to field a team this season," Calhan athletic director Derek Burnside said. "We're the closest district, and we wanted to make sure those kids who wanted to play got a chance, so we opened our doors and welcomed them in."
While some teams may not be too receptive to three players from a rival school coming into their clubhouse, McCarley says his new teammates have treated the Miami-Yoder trifecta as their own.
"It's been a little bit weird, but it's a great opportunity to be on a more competitive team," said McCarley, a senior who was part of Miami-Yoder's 1-13 team last season. "It's been a smooth transition; everyone at Calhan is nice and they've all been helpful to us. The three of us feel that we need to step up our game to compete for a starting position on this new team."
Donovan Mitchell can relate to his new players. The Calhan grad and former baseball assistant is entering his first season as the Bulldogs' coach.
He said the unique situation is something that he and his squad welcomed with open arms.
"The kids have done a fantastic job; I know it would be tough for me to walk into another program and compete for playing time and become one of the guys," Mitchell said. "We've done everything we could to make them feel at home and welcome, and they've done a great job in coming in and showing everyone respect."
This isn't the first time Calhan has seen athletes come from other schools to join the Bulldogs. Simla has sent wrestlers to Calhan in recent years, and Burnside says he thinks the baseball team will be a cohesive group.
"The kids who are coming over are quality kids, so we're excited to have them," Burnside said. "We're lucky; due to our location we can have a chance to help some of the other schools around us."
Nolan Payne, the Miami-Yoder coach for the past few years, will also be integrally involved with the Calhan team. Payne is an assistant on the coaching staff and will drive the three Miami-Yoder players to and from Calhan for practice and games.
"I feel that we're going to have a winning season and have fun doing it," McCarley said. "Coach Mitchell is a great coach who knows a lot about baseball, and Coach Payne being there with us makes the transition easier."
After a 7-11 record last season, Mitchell expects big things from his new-look roster. The Bulldogs have all of their players back and add the three new faces.
"Our expectations are to compete for first place and a district title," Mitchell said. "We're looking forward to playing, and we're counting down the days until (the opener) March 18 when we get to play Crowley County."