I’ve been meaning to write a blog for the last few weeks, but luckily several area athletes and teams have been keeping me busy traversing across Texas.
In the past month, I’ve made trips to Lubbock, Austin, Minneapolis, Mineral Wells and Austin. I was threatened to be removed at state track for standing in the way of a scoreboard. I almost caught a baseball at a frigid Twins game, and I had to scale a chainlink fence because some Big 12 facility – one that couldn’t even have a working scoreboard for regionals – uncourteously locked a few media folks in.
High school football season is definitely our busiest time, but the spring comes in a close second. At least during football, efforts are mostly poured into that one sport (We also cover volleyball and cross country then).
In the spring, there’s high school baseball, softball, soccer, NAHL hockey, powerlifting, tennis, golf and track. Plus spring football and a few MSU sports. A good balancing act is required. And lots of hours on the road, which also means lots of coffee for this sleep-deprived parent of two small kids.
With Petrolia’s loss in the state semifinal and Iowa Park falling short in the regional finals, our high school sports season came to a close last week. Here are a few thoughts I’ve been compiling in my scattered mind:
* Your UIL champions in the spring individual sports include Olney’s Tanner Thompson (golf), Petrolia’s Breanna Smith (golf), Rider’s Conner Curry (tennis), Vernon’s Lauren Stanley and Emily Graf (tennis), Hirschi’s Charles Brown (track), Munday’s L.J. Collier (track) and Knox City’s Tylenne Eaton (track).
In team sports, the Crowell football team was the only one who captured a UIL state title in 2013-14. Notre Dame won a TAPPS volleyball title, too. The Windthorst volleyball and Petrolia softball teams also advance to state, and Holliday’s girls cross country team took second.
* The UIL should be and is criticized for many stubborn transgressions, but it’s only fair to praise them when they come up with something great.
Having wheelchair events at the state track meet was a terrific idea. There weren’t as many competitors as I thought there would be, but hopefully more wheelchair participants learn about this opportunity and it grows and grows. The shot put, 100 and 400 debuted this year, and it was touching to see standing ovations from the crowd.
* What a run by Petrolia softball making the regional finals for the fifth time in a row (and capturing its second state berth). DeDe Gray was always a good interview after wins and losses, and I wish her the best in retirement.
The last time a program made five consecutive regional finals was when Holliday baseball had the stretch of six state title appearances that ended in 2006.
* If you would have asked me before baseball season which area team would be the last one standing, Iowa Park probably wouldn’t have cracked my top five.
Michael Swenson usually has the Hawks playing at a high level, but I would have at least chosen Holliday, Windthorst, WFHS and Graham before them. Keep in mind, area 3A playoff baseball teams had gone 0-9 in playoff series the past three years.
The Hawks came brutally close to a state berth. Only a couple plays in a pair of 6-5 losses to Lubbock Cooper kept them from making a trip to Round Rock this week. It’s a commendable effort for a group of guys who played well all year.
* It started off pretty slowly, but the area’s annual high school football coaching carousel ended with some noteworthy moves.
For a while, it looked like Aubrey Sims replacing Scott Ponder at Iowa Park would be the lone change. But Rider and Hirschi both opened up as Jim Garfield and Cody Slater left for Elgin and Benbrook, respectively. That makes Danny Russell the longest-tenured WFISD head coach, which is strange since he just finished up his first season.
We also had a run of Class A small-school changes triggered by Keith Ivy leaving Seymour for Aubrey. Olney’s Hugh Farmer replaced Ivy at Seymour, then Electra’s Mark Young took over for Farmer.
In a way, it’s ironic that Ivy and Young were linked one more time. Two years ago, Ivy and Young were finalists at Seymour. Young didn’t get the job, but he did replace Ivy at Electra soon after. And now Young replaces the guy who replaced Ivy.
* More coaching news: Ricky Ledford won’t be returning to coach softball at Iowa Park. Bowie’s head softball gig is now open as well. And with Gray retiring, Petrolia has a vacancy. Seymour opened up as well. I don’t remember this many solid softball openings occurring at once.
Speaking of Seymour, I think I now know more ex-coach administers there now than actual coaches. John Anderson is now the elementary principal, and Brian Bibb took over as HS principal at the end of the year. With Ivy and both coordinators leaving and Courtney Woodward solely teaching, Farmer and Doyle Browning might be the only coaches I’m familiar with.
* Softball is a little bit different because most teams, at least at the small-school level, depend on one pitcher. I’ve never thought one-game series’ in softball are that big a deal (they used to be the norm 7-10 years ago).
But I wouldn’t have a problem with baseball going to a mandatory three-game format. It cost Windthorst this year (the Trojans had a pretty deep staff, but Gorman’s ace was too strong). And then you could make state a double-elimination format if you wanted (since it would be unfair to have state as one game). That way pitching depth would be rewarded. It’d be like a college baseball regional tournament, although I’m sure site logistics would be more troublesome.
* Still not looking forward to the switch to 6A, 5A, 4A, etc. next sports season. I have a feeling I’ll be dealing with a few confused parents and readers. Plus, I think everyone will refer to Class A as six-man, still. It’s going to take some time getting used to.
* We’re less than three months away from the start of high school football season and about two months before two-a-days beginning. For a guy who has spent about zero hours planning on our 100-plus page HS preview section, this is absolutely terrifying. Can the summer months please go by slowly.
* We’ll be releasing our Red River Diamond Dozen in the coming weeks. The Oil Bowl players report next week, and then the T-O Junior Golf Tournament arrives in town. But most importantly to this soccer nut, the World Cup starts in 10 days. I’ll be writing a daily column for this and other Scripps newspapers and will probably write a few blogs, too. Can’t wait!