8-Man coaches express gratitude to Beloit / Melby to coach his last All-Star game

"The amazing amount of pride and hospitality from the town of Beloit is amazing," said Division I East team Head Coach Jeff Slater, during Thursday's Lions and Rotary Clubs' luncheon provided for the All-Star coaching staff.

Rotarian Dave Dubbert provided introductions for this years coaches and welcomed everyone to the event leading up to Saturday's 8-Man All-Star football games. 

Slater, a three year Dodge City Community College football player, is in his fifth year at the Burlingame football program with a career record of 39-6 and three Sub-State final appearances in the last three years. In 2015, Burlingame won their first playoff game since 1972 and have won six total since 2015.  

"We had a lot of lows," said Slater. " I coached some of the players in junior high, that in their sophomore year, made a run at State. I am proud of those kids making our town a big name around the State."

Assistant coaches for Slater are Cullen Riner of Osborne and David Gillett of Bennington. 

"I have a lot of respect for Cullen," said Slater. "I call on him for his knowledge of the game. I am also always communicating with David. We all have players to share this experience with."

Players and coaches arrived in Beloit on Tuesday and have been practicing through the week for the big games.

"It is really fun as a coach to see the players here,  that you see on the All-State list at the end of the season," said Slater. "To see their play-making capabilities and how they are so quick to pick up on things. They are not only talented football players but are top of their class athletes from a lot of great football programs. On Saturday, we hope to be physical from both sides of the ball and to build many friendships along the way." 

Chet Skinner is the opposing West team Division I Head Coach. The Division I game will kick-off at 10 a.m. 

Skinner took over the Macksville football program with a two year prior 1-8 record. 

"I came into the program as a young buck, just fresh out of playing three years of football at Sterling College," said Skinner. Our first year, we won one game. Macksville has a lot of pride, a lot of State Champions, and this year we have two All-State players."

Like the game of football, sometimes sacrifices are made. 

"I had to miss a wedding of a really good buddy of mine to coach here," said Skinner. "But I wanted to be here. You meet a lot of good kids here. I'm not the smartest coach, but when you have good kids, it makes it easy."

With Skinner being a younger coach, he said both of his assistants have coached against him as a player and as a coach.

Assistant coaches are Matt Smith of Atwood/Rawlins County and Marc Cowles of Ness City. 

"I enjoy talking with both coaches and Marc has one of the top programs in the State we have played against. He is one of the nicest guys."

"We really appreciate all of the great kids, the coaches, the college and all of the hospitality we have received in Beloit," Skinner said. "The food is great and we all get to see the best of the best from around he state of Kansas and all be together once again."

Coach Don Melby is the Division II East squad team Head Coach. The Division II game will kick-off at 1 p.m. 

Melby is a well-known name around the area as he has coached Pike Valley High School since 1981. Melby graduated from Scandia in 1974 and from Fort Hays State University in 1978. The family man, has been married to his wife Judy for 35 years, and recently retired after 40 years. 

Melby took the Panthers to three State titles from 1970-72 from the field that now bears his name. 

He is a founder of the 8-Man All-Stars program,  and said there were around six people from North Central Kansas area that came together and talked about creating the game. 

"We thought it would take around two years to build on, but everyone jumped on the idea and it all came into play," Melby said.

"When it first started it was played in July. Besides the weather, it wasn't such a good idea as it was also my wedding anniversary and she was so thrilled," laughed Melby. "We moved the games to June and it has blossomed into more than I expected. I am privileged to coach and to be here. We have the best coaches in the State and it is the best, to sit around and talk about football all night."  

Coach Melby has three All-Star players this year.

" All of the kids here are great," said Melby. "They are having fun and making life-long friends that will never forget. While visiting my daughter in Topeka, we were out eating and I had a man approach me and grabbed my shoulder and said he  played for me in the All-Star game 25 years ago."

Assistant coaches for the East squad are Sean Blosser of Caldwell and Matt Heuer of Hanover. 

"It is very special to join these coaches and I am very grateful to share the experience," said Melby. "This is my last football game as a coach as I am retiring this year. I have two of the smartest coaches on this team. I am kind of a dinosaur. They are so, way-beyond knowledgeable in the game. We have so many talented coaches coming into the All-Star games. I hope we can keep it moving. I really appreciate it."

During a question session,  Melby was asked about his retirement. 

"You never say never," laughed Melby. 

Melby says he still plans on coming to the All-Star games and will remain being involved in the Kansas 8-man Football Association.

"I just plan on being involved on a different level," said Melby.       

Matt Cantrell will be the Head Coach for the opposing Division II West squad. 

Cantrell graduated from South Barber HIgh School in 1990 and Bethany College in 1994. He returned to his home town and started coaching junior high in 1994 before becoming the high school defensive coordinator in 1996, with a State Runner up title in 2002 and a first State title Championship in 2005. He became the head coach in 2015. South Barber is 24-7 in Matt's first three years as head coach. 

Cantrell has Beloit ties, as his sister Jacee is married to Micah Tice. She also works at NCKT. 

"In one year as an assistant coach we had 44 players and are down to maybe 20 players this year," said Cantrell. "I feel I have kept the program at a high level. Last year I was an assistant All-Star coach and I am privileged this week to be a head coach. If I hadn't had the last years experience, I'm not sure I would have coached this year."

Cantrell's assistant coaches for the west team are Assistant Coaches Matt Housman of Hodgman County and Chuck Fessenden of Northern Valley.

"I really respect what Matt does," said Cantrell. "And I knew of Chuck from his football program. It is nice to be able to pick a guys brain that has been coaching for 42 years."

In the All-Star games, players come together after being opponents throughout their high school years. 

"The talent is great here and it is exciting to coach and for the kids to play with athletes they have competed against. We are coming along as a team. They are smart and really pick up on things." 

"As far as coaches go, we are good thieves and pick up things from each other," Cantell said. "I have picked up things on and off of the field."

The NCKTC has been a huge part of the All-Star games since it's existence. 

"The college is great," said Cantrell. "Beloit embraces this program and that is great. I say a big thank you to everyone involved. I think the colleges, especially the smaller ones, are looking at the 8-man players a lot more now. My son played last year in the All-Star game and is now playing at Sterling College. I think colleges are opening their eyes more and one of my goals has always been to keep the program at a higher level and to help get kids recruited that want to play at the next level."

"I am a farmer, and only coach at the school. This really isn't a great time of year for me, around harvest," laughed Cantrell. "I'll never know if I will get this opportunity again and so I am honored to be here as a coach. It's been fun and I know they are holding down the fort at home."

Questioned asked after the coaches presented themselves included 6-man football, which is a growing program. There are 30 teams in Nebraska and the Kansas State High School Activities Association (KSHSAA) will maybe look at a sanction when there are 24 Kansas teams formed.  The selection process was also addressed on chosen All-Star players which includes the high school coaching staff nominating players. 

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