Carl Gerlach is completing his second term as the mayor of Overland Park.
He was first elected in 2005 and re-elected in 2009, and it’s likely that many Johnson County residents do not know that their mayor was an outstanding basketball player at Shawnee Mission South and Kansas State.
The Overland Park resident grew eight inches between his ninth-grade junior high year and his sophomore year at SM South (1969-70).
“My sophomore year I was trying to get used to my new big body,” Gerlach said.
Ron Millard, who retired in 2011 from SM South, was a sophomore coach that year.
“He was a coachable athlete that was always listening for ways to improve and with a big desire to be part of a team,” Millard said.
Gerlach played on the junior varsity as a junior and was part of the best SM South team to that point in time as a senior.
“My senior year we had seven seniors who were all good players, and a number of them went on to play after high school,” Gerlach said. “We had spent two years under coach Dudley Geise, who taught hard-nosed, fundamental basketball skills.”
The Raiders advanced to the state tournament, losing in the 1972 state championship to Wichita East by two points.
“My best memories are of our teammates and coaches,” he said. “Most of the seven seniors have stayed in contact with each other. Many of us were together this past September for our 40th high school reunion, and it was like it was just last year that we were playing in high school.”
Olathe South girls basketball coach Steve Ingram was one of those seniors.
“Carl was a dominant player in high school,” he said. “Not only because of his size, but because he was so athletic. He was always trying to get better. A great person. A great teammate.”
Bill McDonald was in his first year at SM South and coaching sophomore basketball during Gerlach’s senior year. McDonald would start the baseball program at SM South in the mid 1970s and then went to Blue Valley West when the school opened in 2001.
“Carl was a great teammate and one of the most unselfish players I have ever been around,” McDonald said. “As a coach today, I would take an entire team of Carl Gerlachs. I am proud of him that he has taken a place of leadership in our community.”
The 6-foot, 81/2-inch Gerlach was an All-Metro player and heavily recruited.
“My final decision came down to KU, coached by Ted Owens, and K-State, coached by Jack Hartman,” Gerlach said. “It was a tough decision, but I seemed to connect better with the players at K-State at the time, like Lon Kruger, Bob Chipman, Danny Beard and Gene McVey.”
Gerlach grew to 6-10 in college and played four years for the Wildcats.
“In my four years, we finished first or second in the Big Eight,” he said. “We made it to the NCAA Elite Eight twice and finished in the top 15 in the country.”
In 2012, Gerlach was selected as one of the 50 greatest Wildcat basketball players. What does he remember of his years at Kansas State?
“My best memories are the friendships I developed with my teammates that continue to this day,” he said. “Last summer, 11 of us who played in those NCAA Elite Eight games came together for a reunion. And yes, we watched those games and joked with each other from days when we played.”
He thinks his basketball career helped shape his life.
“I believe playing a team sport, where you must depend on others to create the best team, helped prepare me for being mayor,” he said. “Having two hard-nosed coaches taught me that you can push yourself much farther than you realize to achieve more than you think you can achieve.”