The only way to reach the St. Michael the Archangel Catholic High School campus is by a rutted gravel road. Construction workers scurry inside and outside a gleaming white building surrounded by dirt and unfinished parking lots. Cardboard boxes and tools cover the shiny new floor in the gym.
In less than two weeks, Rich Weitz, whose office consists of an empty case of bookshelves, a metal desk and his laptop, will be overseeing a 16-team varsity program as the school’s first athletic director. Even with so little time and so much left to be done, Weitz is excited about getting the athletic department of the Kansas City area’s newest Catholic high school up and ready to go.
“I’ve used this word a lot,” Weitz said. “For me personally, it’s exciting because it’s a position that I’ve always aspired for. But it’s also exciting because of the enthusiasm everyone seems to have to be a part of this school community.”
Weitz, formerly the head track coach and assistant girls basketball coach at St. James Academy in Lenexa, Kan., is an athletic director for the first time, and he’s been given the task of building an athletic department from the ground up. And the building won’t be gradual: From day one, the school will field varsity teams in seven fall sports (football, boys soccer, softball, cross country volleyball girls golf and tennis), four winter sports (boys and girls basketball, wrestling and girls swimming) and five spring sports (baseball, track, girls soccer and boys golf and tennis).
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Weitz said there was no consideration of phasing in the programs from junior varsity to varsity competition, as new schools and teams will sometimes do. St. Michael’s will have about 300 students in four classes when it opens its doors in northern Lee’s Summit, and the school didn’t want to shortchange its seniors.
“We wanted to do that for our seniors,” Weitz said. “We wanted our seniors to be able to have that opportunity to play varsity football. The idea that was going to take place was set up before I came on but I fully support that that’s what we want to do.”
Picking out a mascot and colors were also done before Weitz came on board last November. St. Michael’s teams will be known as the Guardians, and they will wear Kelly green, navy blue and silver. Those colors weren’t picked at random. The green represents Archbishop O’Hara High and the blue St. Mary’s High, the two closed schools St. Michael’s was designed to replace.
Most of the students will transfer from O’Hara, which was closed last May by the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph after 50 years in south Kansas City. St. Mary’s, which traced its history in Independence back almost 160 years, was closed in 2013. St. Michael’s will honor the legacy of both schools, Weitz said, by displaying old trophies and other memorabilia. But he also made it clear the school won’t merely be a continuation of those schools.
“I think emotions are done,” Weitz said. “There was a sensitivity when O’Hara was closing and I think people were cognizant of that. We want to be welcoming to the graduates and alumni of O’Hara and St. Mary’s. We want to be open, we want to be hospitable, but we also need to move forward and be St. Michaels.”
Weitz will move forward with several former O’Hara head coaches, most notably veteran boys basketball coach Mark Scanlon, who guided O’Hara for seven seasons and coached Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue during his 22 seasons at Raytown High. Mary Kroening, who coached girls basketball and girls soccer, is also coming over, as are golf coach Kyle Sellnow, wrestling coach Brian Taylor and cross country coach Vince Fitzgerald.
That there are so many former Celtics coaching Guardians is more by coincidence than design, Weitz said.
“We want to have the people we thought would be the best fit for what we were trying to do,” Weitz said. And with Mark and Mary and Kyle Sellnow and Vince Fitzgerald, we thought they would be the best fit for St. Michael’s.”
A member of the Missouri State High School Activities Association, St. Michael’s will start out competing in Class 2 in most sports. It will take O’Hara’s place in the West Central Conference, which also includes Center, Clinton, Nevada, St. Pius X, Sedalia Smith-Cotton and Warrensburg.
That helped make one job for easier for Weitz: Substitute St. Michael’s for O’Hara, and his scheduling was done. But with several West Central schools shopping for a new conference, he knows scheduling could become more difficult in the future.
“That was one of the things that helped a lot was that those schedules were in place especially for the fall to get the ball rolling,” Weitz said. “If (West Central teams) decide to disband or go their separate ways, we’ll look at our options.”
Like the rest of the campus, St. Michael’s athletic facilities will be built in two phases. The first phase, which will be complete with the new building, includes the gym, a weight room and a wrestling room. The second phase calls for a football/soccer stadium, baseball and softball facilities, a full-sized track and eight tennis courts. The gym, which currently only has seating on one side, will have a wall that runs along the opposite sideline pushed back to accommodate more bleachers and increase the capacity to 1,500.
Weitz said there is no timetable yet for completing the second phase, so for now only the volleyball and basketball teams will have true home games. The football and soccer teams will play at Lee’s Summit North, and the softball team will compete at Hidden Valley Park in Blue Springs.
“We need to be flexible, we need to be patient, and we need to make sure that we know that at the end of the day, no matter what is happening, the mission of our school has to be protected in everything that we do,” Weitz said. “And our coaches know that and they have our support. It’s never going to be about wins or losses, it’s going to be about protecting the mission of our school.”
Weitz expects to see the second phase completed someday, just as he expects St. Michael’s enrollment to grow to upwards of 800 as it draws more students from Lee’s Summit, Blue Springs and further east. It all adds excitement to his new job, one that he had wanted since watching his father serve as a high school AD while growing up in Iowa.
He’s also excited about finally getting to add a personal touch to his newly built office, too.
“The back seat of my car right now has a lot of my things from St. James in there,” Weitz said. “Once I can get those in and I can get my office set up, that’s going to be awesome.”