By Travis Mounts
A legendary Kansas high school football coach is ending his career.
C.J. Hamilton, the head coach of the Silver Lake Eagles for the past 47 years, is retiring with a 447-98 record. That makes him the winningest high school football coach in the state.
Under Hamilton, the Eagles made the playoffs 40 times, and advanced to 18 State championship games. They played in seven straight title games from 2002 to 2008, and 11 in a 12-year stretch running from 2002 to 2013.
Silver Lake won eight State titles, the last being the 3A State in 2013. No team has more championship game appearances. The Eagles’ eight State titles rank behind only Lawrence and Bishop Miege.
No Kansas head football coach has as many titles, and no other coach has topped 400 wins. In fact, Hamilton leads his nearest competitor by 93 victories.
The Conway Springs Cardinals and Garden Plain Owls are familiar with the Eagles.
In fact, Silver Lake faced either Conway Springs or Garden Plain in the 3A championship in six of the seven straight years that the Eagles made it to the title game.
The Cardinals beat the Eagles in 2002, 2003 and 2004, as Conway Springs won State in four straight seasons from 2001 to 2004.
Conway Springs head coach Matt Biehler has faced Silver Lake as both an assistant coach and head coach. The Cardinals have gone 5-1 against the Eagles, a level of success most schools could not approach. Biehler is 1-1 against Hamilton in championship contests.
“They have such a great program,” he said. “That’s what a lot of schools dream to have, that continuity. Of course, we’ve had some of the same thing for 20 years. It makes a team that much more formidable.”
Biehler said preparation was a hallmark of Hamilton’s teams.
“C.J.’s teams, there was never a stone unturned. If you didn’t bring your A-game, you were in trouble,” he said.
The Owls faced the Eagles in two consecutive State title games. Silver Lake won in 2006, while Garden Plain exacted revenge in 2007 with a 48-7 victory, giving the Owls a 14-0 season record and their only State championship in football.
Garden Plain Elementary principal Brad McCormick is a former assistant coach and head coach of the Garden Plain Owls, and was an assistant on the teams that played Silver Lake.
“C.J.’s teams were very well coached and had great athletes. I thought they were ahead of the times a little bit in terms of throwing the ball,” he said.
McCormick said turnovers cost the Owls in the first matchup. It was the first title game experience for those Owls, but the Eagles were used to vying for the championship. Garden Plain was laser focused the next season.
“We prepared for that State game all year long,” he said.
Silver Lake’s seventh straight championship came in 2008, when Conway Springs lost 22-14.
The Eagles and the Cardinals matched up two more times, in 2010 and 2011. Silver Lake won the first time, 27-21. It was the closest score the Eagles had in any of their championship games against either Conway Springs or Garden Plain.
Conway Springs beat Silver Lake 49-7 in the 2011 3A championship, the biggest margin in any of these games.