Year of the Comet
Story by Tom Loeffler | Mar 10, 2014
Photography by Anthony Jinson
Fatima High School is having an amazing run of athletic success in Westphalia, a town that’s basically a present-day Mayberry with smartphones and iPads. It took the Fatima Lady Comets about 20 minutes to accomplish the feat. It took their boy counterparts three minutes less to get it done.
On the Field of Dreams for another Fatima team, it took more than 14 hours to complete a single mission on its way to achieving the ultimate goal.
In order, the Lady Comets won the state cross-country championship last fall. The Fatima boys made it a clean sweep by capturing the boys state crown the same day. The boys won in a rout, beating the second-place finisher by 57 points. The girls said: “Hah! Anything you can do, we can do better.” They won by 59 points.
And as we near the one-year anniversary, the Comets won the state baseball championship last spring, even though their semifinal game took two days to complete due to an overnight weather delay.
We’ll address more examples of Fatima’s sporting magic in a bit. But why is this happening in the ultra-quaint community of Westphalia, a town of 483 that looks like it fell off a postcard or a Norman Rockwell painting?
It’s all about time: winning times, good times, and, just perhaps, it’s all due to a step back in time. As mentioned earlier, Westphalia is a present-day Mayberry with smartphones and iPads. It’s a community full of great families who produce great kids who end up accomplishing great things.
“These parents are really instilling the right things in their kids; the values and morals these kids have are unmatched, really, compared to a lot of other areas around us,” says Fatima baseball coach Scott Kilgore, 39, a graduate of Columbia Hickman and Lincoln University, who’s in his 15th year at Fatima. “I honestly didn’t think I’d be down here so long, but I really enjoy it. I like getting back to the family roots, the family values that you see down here.”
Back to the future
“You’ve got a bunch of great kids and a bunch of great parents, and that’s pretty much the recipe for success,” Kilgore continues. “And we have a lot of great coaches here who have a lot of passion for what they do, and that passion and their knowledge of the sport rubs off on the kids. But regardless of how good of a coach you are, you’ve got to have athletes with some ability to be successful. We have a lot of great kids who have a lot of determination and heart, and they’re willing to put forth the effort to be successful. And it’s paying off.”
It paid off in November with a double state championship for the Fatima cross-country teams, under the direction of Marc .
“We knew early on in the summer that we had a pretty good group, so we were excited going in,” says Bridges, 40, a graduate of West Platte and Central Missouri State University (now the University of Central Missouri). Bridges, who’s in his 18th year at Fatima, is also the track and field head coach. “We were waiting for the other shoe to drop and for something to go wrong, but it never did.”
Good things happen to good people
“It’s such a strong community,” Bridges says. “Religion is strong here; there are strong values. That’s all a big part of it, and that certainly makes it easier to do our jobs. The parents are involved in their kids’ education and their kids’ athletics, and that makes it so much easier to do the right thing when so many people know you. And it’s a lot harder to do the wrong thing.”
Problems with their athletes are few and far between.
“I have a lot of coaching friends, and some of the stories they tell me, it’s like, wow,” Kilgore says. “It makes you feel good because it’s things that we’re not having to deal with … the discipline part of the coaching. It can really be detrimental for schools and teams when that’s a major problem.
“But for us, we don’t have that problem, and I say that knocking on wood because you never know when problems will arise,” he continues. “But so far, so good. It’s never really been a big issue.”
Perhaps it’s because Fatima has a lot of very sharp students. Last year’s senior class had no less than 10 valedictorians.
“For a school our size that graduates right around the 100 mark, that’s unbelievable,” Kilgore says. “And two of those 10 were on my baseball team. That tells you that we’re not only talented athletically, but we’re also so academically strong. It makes the whole environment down here unmatched.
“We’re pretty much counting our blessings right now,” he continues. “We’re in a great cycle because in high school sports, you obviously can’t recruit athletes. We have to play the hands that we’re dealt.”
Dealt a lot of full houses and royal flushes
“That,” Kilgore says with a laugh, “is for sure. It’s hard to fathom what we’ve accomplished the last few years.”
Fatima draws students from several surrounding communities, including Argyle, Meta, Folk, Loose Creek, Frankenstein and Rich Fountain. Fatima is not alone in this success story, but it’s currently at the top of the heap in central Missouri.
The Lady Comets won the state volleyball championship in the fall of 2012. In all, the school won seven district championships during the 2012-13 school year and had four top-four state finishes to go along with the two state champions and an individual champion at the state wrestling tournament.
In the end, it may have taken 17 minutes or 14 hours to win these championships, but rest assured, it took a lot longer to get to that point.
“Obviously, we have a very talented group of kids, and they’re the ones who are out there competing,” Bridges says. “There’s the feeling of not wanting to be left behind, by all programs. When one program has success, then another has success, then pretty soon every program expects to have success, and they get that winning attitude, that winning expectation. That goes a long way.
“Right now,” he continues, “it’s just a great time to be a Comet.”
After all, it really is all about time.