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Rich Stevens: Things to think about as prep season approaches

High school football season is just around the corner, and, quite frankly, it's not even close to being my favorite sporting event of the school year.

I'm sure my curmudgeoness - not a word, I know - has contributed to me being surly about what is undoubtedly the most exciting time of the year for almost every sports fan.

Still, stepping back and being from the outside looking in, I see some things going on that are troubling, particularly in Kanawha County. I actually am covering the high school sports spectrum, not just football.

Oh, the wheels are turning now and fast enough to give me a headache, but I'll get through this before my head explodes.

Let's look a little closer at some of the issues that plague the high school scene from the Kanawha Valley all the way to Timbuktu.

  • Recruiting. I really don't like that word, because in that context it's like college recruiting where tuition, room, board, books, etc., are offered. "Full rides," as it were, aren't on the table at public schools. I know Catholic schools have the ability to permit "underprivileged" students to attend at little, or no, cost. As the complaints start brewing in your head, remember that Wahama won the Class A football title last year over private school Madonna. Weirton-based Madonna benefits from a talent-rich Ohio Valley just a few miles from Wellsburg, Follansbee and right across the Ohio River from Steubenville. Do you think Steubenville's recent black eye will benefit Madonna? It might help Brooke (Brooke County) and Weir as well. Don't count it out, but I digress.
  • When a program is successful that offers football success, a diverse enrollment, quality instructors and a structured environment, students gravitate to it, right? If that's merely the case with some schools - yes, almost all of them certainly have a key player from another school district - then why does the 2.00 student-athlete transfer? Football success, keys to the car and Friday night success.

    It was suggested to me that perhaps open transfer policies should be implemented countywide. Bad idea. As funding for public schools is being chopped, the first thing to take a hit is athletics. At most schools, football is the only sport that makes money based on gate receipts and concession sales.

    When a team is successful, more fans find their way to the stadium on Friday night and more green rolls into the coffers.

    The haves and have-nots will be more exposed than ever. One of the best examples is South Charleston, which still plays at rundown Oakes Field, but, between around 1996 and the John Messinger regime, the Black Eagles didn't get much attention.

    The more talent that suits up, the more successful a team is, the more erase marks there are under the 'W' column, the more people go to games, yada, yada, yada. You know the rest of the story.

    Cutting transfers altogether is the only solution. It has become evident to me that allowing a student to leave his/her school district after the eighth grade has brought more high school coaches to middle school games. Dad isn't happy with the boy's playing time; he strikes up a conversation with an opposing prep coach at a middle school game, and Bingo! He suddenly transfers. All legal like. Depending on your definition of recruiting, I imagine that falls under that umbrella.

    For the record, you'll be (or not be) surprised at some of the old faces in new places this season.

    There are loopholes to everything and I am surrounded by more attorneys in my district than O.J. Simpson in 10 trials. Still, somebody has to make a stand.

  • Cost of a football game. How close is it to going to the movies? What, $6 for adults, $5 for students ... roughly? A matinee at the movies, by the way - is pretty close to the same price. I've covered hundreds of football games and have never paid because I am a member of the media. I paid when my son played middle school and freshman basketball, but I was being held captive for the opportunity to watch my son compete. (Or not compete, sometimes).
  • They have to make money, and I get that ... sort of. Why not offer a $1 game night? It's great a public relations move and it's a cheap night out just to watch some high school football. One game out of the season - not a rivalry game, Homecoming or Senior Night, that would be financial suicide - in which tickets are $1.

    At its current state, I'd rather eat lunch at home, go to a matinee and stay home on Friday night. Yes, I'd feel that way if I weren't a curmudgeon.

  • Coach's job description. How ambiguous is that? Well, his job is to discipline, guide, mentor, sell and coach. They aren't paid much, but if you don't like the job, don't take it. Do you know how often I hear: "Oh, I don't do it for the money, that's for sure," in a snippy tone? No, that isn't mom and dad's job - it's yours. Do it, or get out. Pretty simple.
  • Parents. Stay out of the way. If you don't like what the coach is doing or your child isn't getting enough playing time, there's a reason. Have your child ask why he isn't playing. If you don't like the answer, play out the season and don't return. I know there are unreasonable situations, but it doesn't help to confront the coach and make the circumstances worse.
  • And, don't quit in the middle of the season. Somebody once told me that once you quit, it gets easier the next time. Dealing with adversity is part of life and that's something else a coach is supposed to teach.

  • The 'P' word: politics. They are everywhere. If you hound the coach enough, your kid might get more playing time - deservedly or not - because he's tired of listening to you. If you put in enough time keeping the scorebook, working the concession stand or raising money, you're probably going to get preferential treatment. That's the way it is, like it or not. Make no mistake, that's wrong. Programs need everybody's help and there shouldn't be a reward of undeserved playing time. If the principal insists that a friend's son or a relative must make the team - and that happens - I'd like to think I would quit.
  • This one is for the coaches. If somebody isn't going to play, why do they make the team? I have my theories, one of which is this: The more players on the team, the more parents come to watch, the more money at the ticket booth and concession stand, etc. What parent worth his or her salt isn't going to attend a game to support their child, whether or not he's sitting on the bench? Sound cynical? Think about it.
  • In 2005, Logan won the Class AA boys state high school championship. As you grumble about what Logan does to get players, let me interject with this. In the first half of most of the games of that State Tournament, Coach Mark Hatcher played at least 10 players in each game. When you know you might get some playing time with the opportunity to contribute and prove yourself, it's much easier to work for two hours a day to get better.

    I know some programs and coaches aren't fair. Maybe they think they're teaching you that life isn't fair?

    A pretty lame excuse, huh?

    Well, parents, coaches and athletes need to think about how they explain things away.

    Not much difference.

    Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at or 304-348-4837.


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