By TYLER HENRY
Salina Post contributor
Over the past three decades, Southeast of Saline has established itself as a 3A powerhouse, churning out state titles and collegiate athletes over the course of what has quickly become a storied history.
While the athletes, and in some cases the coaches have changed throughout the years, one man has been there through almost all of it, and his legacy will forever be a part of SES.
Wayne Sager arrived at Southeast of Saline in 1988, where he accepted a position teaching business and accounting. That role quickly expanded into something that would lead to 30+ years of Trojan excellence.
In 1989, Sager became the head Cross Country coach, and in his first season at the helm, led SES to a top three finish.
In 1991, both the boys and girls teams became state champions, raising the schools fourth and fifth ever state banners.
“When you get to the top of the mountain everybody wants to knock you off,” Sager said. “It was great to see that the kids weren’t content with just getting there, they wanted to put in the work to stay there.”
Sagers teams always seemed committed to doing more, and that season set off a run of three state titles for the boys and five for the girls.
By his seventh year at SES, the Trojan gym had seen the addition of eight new championship banners from the cross country team alone.
Over the years, Sager’s role grew, as he also acted as an assistant, and later head coach for the girls basketball team, and eventually became the schools athletic director all while still teaching classes at SES.
His career includes 18 state championships, including 10 as a coach, and 17 as athletic director, but after 33 years of working for the purple and white, Wayne Sager decided it was time to hang it up.
“I had always said that I wanted to retire before I had to retire,” he said. “I think my energy level went down a little bit which comes with getting a bit older. The AD job takes a good amount of energy and I think it’s good for someone else to jump in and keep the ball rolling.”
While many others that found the success that Sager did at SES would have looked to take their career elsewhere, the community and student body at Southeast kept him in Gypsum.
“It was the kids and the people involved with the school that kept me here,” Sager said. “The parental support was tremendous and with a great group of kids we built something that really took off. That support continued all throughout my time there and even when our programs didn’t perform the way we wanted the kids always worked hard, I always enjoyed that.”
Sager also quickly became a staple in 3A athletics, commanding the respect of his fellow teachers, coaches and administrators.
“The most rewarding part of the job for me was the respect that I got from my peers,” Sager said. “Through the building of the cross country program I got to meet a lot of really great coaches that took me right in. We had such a mutual respect for each other and that respect was very important to me.”
Many coaches at Southeast of Saline feel the same way, as their programs thrived during Sager’s run as AD.
“Wayne has always been supportive of all the coaches and activities at Southeast of Saline,” SES cross country coach Wade Casselman said. “That support never went unnoticed and was very much appreciated.”
“Mr. Sager quickly became a fixture in our league,” SES baseball coach Mike Garretson said. “He always saw the activities as an extension of the classroom and he took a lot of pride in our teams and their performances.”
With so many great memories to look back on, it would be difficult to highlight just one or two, but the success of the teams that reached the peak of excellence and the athletes that made it all happen stand out to Sager.
“The championships and the overall success that our kids had in athletics and activities is what I’ll remember most fondly,” he said. “The state titles all come with great memories and seeing the kids move on to run and play at the next level has been very fulfilling.”
In addition to the success of student-athletes, Sager also started a broadcasting program that has produced on-air talent and launched several careers in both radio and TV. That success across the board has cultivated a culture at SES that was punctuated in Sagers final year as AD of the school.
In 2020-21, the boys and girls cross country teams both capped off their seasons with 3A state titles. The football team finished its season 9-1 with a trip to the state quarterfinal and the basketball teams combined to go 29-15 throughout their seasons.
In the spring, the baseball and softball teams combined for a record of 36-8 while the boys track and field team added one final state championship to a dream year for SES athletics.
“To see all of our programs in such a good place feels really good,” Sager said. “Every team we have at Southeast of Saline is very competitive and I’m very proud of that.”
There are many things that Wayne Sager is looking forward to in retirement, but the time to find out what specifically those things are is at the top of the list.
“I think the time is what I’m most looking forward to,” he said. “When you get engrossed in your job the way I did at SES you put a lot of other things on the back burner and don’t take the time to do some of the things that maybe you want to do. I’m looking forward to having more time for my family and time to do some things that I haven’t had the chance to do before.”
Sager will be replaced at SES by CJ Korf, who comes to the school from Hugoton where he acted in a very similar role for the Eagles.
“I was glad to see that CJ had some experience as both an assistant principal and athletic director at a school that has had success,” Sager said. “That was a very positive factor for us as we went through the interview process.”
As for where the programs go from here, Sager is optimistic that his successor can continue building upon the winning traditions that have been established at SES
“CJ will be stepping into what is a great school, one of the best in the state of Kansas in my opinion,” he said. “Things are very good now but I would love to see things be even better at Southeast of Saline in the future.”