By Pat Melgares – K-State Research & Extension
It’s game day. The high school athlete has her jersey on and prepares to go into action. All eyes are on her as she makes her move. But right now this athlete isn’t using a ball, she’s using a book.
On game days at Frankfort High School, the athletes don’t just perform on the court, they read to younger kids in the classroom. This is small town athletics at its best.
Dean Dalinghaus is principal at Frankfort High School, home of the Wildcats. He went to high school at B&B, graduated from K-State, and has been principal at Frankfort since 2006. He has observed the significance of hometown sports teams in rural communities.
“I think it brings the community together,” he said. “It creates a sense of pride. It’s the joy of seeing the kids put their heart and soul on the line, for the (town) name on the front of the jersey.”
Among the competitive athletes who recently came from his school is Emilee Ebert. In fact, her parents are directly involved with the school. Her father Brian is a teacher and was Emilee’s basketball coach at Frankfort. Her mother Jennifer is the school librarian.
Emilee Ebert had a standout athletic career at Frankfort. She set the school record with 1,648 career points in basketball. A four-time Kansas Basketball Coaches Association honoree, she earned first team honors in 2018 and 2019. She completed her basketball career as a four-time All-Twin Valley League First Team recipient, and a four-time All-Flint Hills First Team honoree by the Manhattan Mercury.
At the end of her senior season in 2018-19, Emilee was a McDonald’s All-American nominee and garnered top-15 All-Class honors as well as Class 1A All-State First Team honors from multiple sources. Not only was she selected to play in several all-star games, she was selected as most valuable player at two of them.
Ebert was also an outstanding competitor in volleyball and track and field.
Emilee Ebert chose to come to K-State to play basketball for women’s coach Jeff Mittie. By her sophomore season, she was the only Wildcat to start all 27 games. That year, she finished among the Big 12’s best in assists, blocks per game, and assist to turnover ratio. Ebert set the school record for blocks by a guard in a season and was the only player in the Big 12 to appear in the top-15 in assists and blocks.
In her junior year, she played in a career-high 31 games with 24 starts. As this is being written — partway through her senior season — she has helped lead the Cats to a 9-2 record and a top 25 ranking. On December 7, she led K-State in scoring in its win against Kansas City, and has been consistently good from the free-throw line.
She is also an excellent example of a student-athlete. Ebert has made the Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll twice, plus the Big 12 All-Rookie Academic Team, and the Academic All-Big 12 Team the following year.
Dalinghaus said he wants his students to appreciate academics as well. Frankfort has a K-12 attendance center, so all grades are in the same building. This creates an opportunity for interaction between older and younger students.
Three years ago, Dalinghaus created an initiative called Wildcat Readers. On game days, the athletes take turns reading a book to the elementary school children while wearing their jerseys or dress clothes, depending on the sport.
“It lets the little kids see the older kids as student-athletes, not just athletes,” Dalinghaus said. By modeling reading and encouraging the kids to read, it is a win-win for academics as well as athletics.
This type of interaction works especially well in a school in a rural community such as Frankfort, population 723 people. Now, that’s rural.
All eyes are on the athlete as she makes her move – not to the basket, but to the book. We commend Dean Dalinghaus for making a difference with this initiative to connect learning and athletics, and we salute Emilee Ebert and all small-town athletes for representing their communities so well.