KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Ronnie Bell couldn’t wait to take the celebration to the crowd.
Park Hill teammates edged up toward the railing of their section of bleachers inside Park Hill’s gymnasium as the Trojans’ star senior wide receiver slowly paced toward them with the Simone Award trophy. Bell provided the blueprint for how a basketball player signed to Missouri State can be named the best high school football player in the Kansas City metro — all while not playing quarterback or running back.
Bell became the 35th recipient of the annual honor during a special assembly, one kept secret from him for as long as possible, Tuesday, Dec. 5 in front of family, coaches, teammates and friends.
“Definitely, just thankful for all the people that’s here — my family,” Bell said. “They raised me and taught me everything I know. Without them and these people having my back, I don’t know how I would’ve been able to do this.”
Bell became the first player who didn’t line up at quarterback or running back to win the Simone Award since Lee’s Summit West offensive lineman Evan Boehm and the first receiver since Raymore-Peculiar tight end Chase Coffman in 2004. Both went on to an NFL careers.
Other finalists for this year’s award were Blue Valley North junior quarterback Graham Mertz, Staley senior quarterback John Raybourn and Lee’s Summit West senior running back Phillip Brooks.
A third-year starter, Bell quickly established himself as a superstar this season and set career-highs and school-records with 89 catches for 1,605 yards and 21 touchdowns. He tallied at least one receiving touchdown in nine of 13 games and added three total rushing touchdowns in two of the games he ended up shutout through the air.
Bell had three 200-yard receiving games (school-record 259 in a win over Liberty North) and seven games with two or more receiving touchdowns, including four in the first of two wins over Lee’s Summit. The highlight reel became extensive, including a one-handed TD catch against Liberty North, a diving snag for a score in an upset of Blue Springs that briefly moved the Trojans to the No. 1 ranking in Class 6 and a tackle-breaking catch and run of 70 yards finished with a dive across the goal line during the District 4 championship win over Rockhurst.
Park Hill senior quarterback Billy Maples, who finished with 3,130 yards passing and 41 touchdowns in his third year as a starter, kept finding ways to put the ball in Bell’s hands even as the Trojans dealt with injuries to senior wide receivers DJ Johnson and Joe Webb.
“If the game was on the line, I’d throw it to him any time,” Maples said. “Even if there was 11 guys on him, I trust him enough to go up and get the ball and make a play. Almost every play was something special with him.”
The ceremony Tuesday morning featured a long list of honorees, including other player of the year trophies.
Platte County senior defensive end Michael Smith became the 18th winner of the Bobby Bell Award, given to the best small class lineman/linebacker. He recorded a school record 17½ sacks this season with at least one sack in 12 of 14 games during the Pirates’ run to the Class 4 semifinals.
A third-year contributor, Smith more than tripled his career sack total coming into the season. The versatile 6-foot, 225-pound defensive lineman also notched 62 total tackles (11 for loss) and 20 quarterback hurries.
Smith was one of two finalists for trophies from Platte County with senior quarterback Tanner Clarkson a runnerup for the Fontana Award, given to the top small school player.
“I never thought I was going to win,” said Smith, who received the trophy from inaugural Bobby Bell Award winner and 2001 Platte County graduate Brian Koechner. “I knew I was going to be up there with (the finalists). That’s what I was hoping for this year.”
Park Hill senior linebacker Brighton Ramirez was a finalist for the 26th annual Buck Buchanan Memorial Award, given to the best lineman/linebacker in the big schools. He finished behind Daniel Parker of Blue Springs in the voting process, which includes area coaches and select media members.
Bell ended up the big winner, also the obvious choice to win the 11th annual Otis Taylor Award given to the top wide receiver. Kept in the dark about the awards, his twin brothers Marqueas and Kendrick Bell — seventh grade students in the Park Hill School District — accepted that honor at the start of the ceremony.
The effort to keep the Simone Award secret from Bell included his parents coming up with an excuse to confiscate his phone the night before.
After the other three finalists were named, Jeff Kelso — the first winner of the Simone Award from 1983 and former Park Hill quarterback — introduced Bell, who waded through a crowd from the back of the gymnasium to thunderous applause. He claimed to not realize he had won until moments before the ceremony started.
Bell gripped the four-columned wooden trophy and held it aloft in the direction of his teammates before a highlight video played on a projector screen at the back of the gym. Afterward, former Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Eric Hicks delivered a keynote speech and offered a professional assessment of Bell’s talents.
“First of all, you’re not a basketball player,” Hicks joked.
Entering his second full season as a starter in basketball, Bell remains committed to Missouri State. He finished his football career with 159 catches for 2,476 yards and 35 combined touchdowns — the 21 receiving as a senior tied for the fourth best single-season mark in state history.
Bell’s legacy will be multi-tiered at Park Hill, but it may very well start with his Simone Award winning season, leading the Trojans to a third playoff appearance in four years and their first after moving up from Class 5 to Class 6.
“This is crazy. It all just feels like a dream,” Bell said. “To be able to share it with my teammates is probably the best feeling. I think I talked to them whenever they brought up after the season: ‘Do it for them.’ That would be the best thing, and that’s exactly what it is. It’s the best thing.”