Tuesday, November 23, 2010

SPORTS>>A seat at the pigskin table


Leader sports editor

The high school football playoffs are in the stretch run to the December finals in Little Rock, and I’ve observed a few things during the past couple weeks of the postseason.

Most disturbing to me is the idea that, more and more, the press box is no longer being set aside for the press.

My co-worker Jason King actually proved he can read a map and made it to Batesville recently for the Beebe Badgers’, Class 5A first-round game against the Pioneers, only to have to cover the game from the sidelines.

Maybe we should have phoned ahead and reserved Jason a seat, but forgive us credentialed members of the press if we think we should actually be allowed in the press box.

I mean, Jason had his orange Arkansas Activities Association playoff pass and everything, yet he found himself squeezed out by all the cameramen, radio people and — forgive me for being cynical but I’ve seen it before — hangers on who probably don’t have a working function in said “press” box.

It seems ironic Jason traveled all that way to stand outside the press box at a Beebe road game — he could have gone up the highway to Beebe and suffered the same fate.

The Badgers have a smallish press box and have to allot space on a first come, first served basis, and since we sportswriters have to hit happy hour at Chili’s first, we often find ourselves among the late arrivals.

Speaking of Beebe, why is it every time I see a picture of coach John Shannon and his haircut I have this inexplicable urge to go watch “Midway” again?

Seriously, congratulations to Shannon and the Badgers for their fine conference run, and we are appreciative of any and all hospitality we receive throughout the season.

Whether we’re enjoying that big box of chicken and dinner rolls that are a Jacksonville tradition, the wacky antics of the crew at Lonoke, the people who are Johnny on the spot with the rosters at Cabot or that magical crock pot full of lovin’ at Sylvan Hills, it has been a pleasure to cover local games each Friday, or Thursday, or Tuesday or whenever the heck high school football is played these days.

All we need is about three feet of space and a clear line of sight to get our jobs done, but people go out of their way to give us so much more than that.

So, since it’s Thanksgiving week, we say thanks.

I have also observed this playoff season that there is no substitute for having a program.

No, not that book with the rosters that the cheerleaders sell at the stadium gates, but a real football program, which is not the same thing as fielding a team.

A program has continuity, coaches who know each other and work well together, team leadership, offseason conditioning and an offensive and defensive system you can hang your hat on.

Though beaten at Fort Smith Southside on Friday, Cabot proved once again it has a program — when you lose five starters to injuries just before the playoffs and can plug in other guys and win a game it’s clear your program is operating.

Jacksonville is headed that way under first-year head coach Rick Russell, who spent years with the Red Devils as defensive coordinator.

Under Shannon, Beebe — running a version of Cabot’s Dead T offense — also appears to be on the upswing after missing the postseason last year.

In Searcy, Harding Academy seems to always have plenty of pilots for its high-flying Spread offense and is headed for the 3A quarterfinals, the Searcy Lions just completed their second straight playoff trip under second-year coach Tim Harper while Riverview, which reached the postseason in its first year as a varsity program two seasons ago, made it to the second round this season.

Suffice to say, it’s been another interesting football season around here, and it’s not quite over yet.

We’ll keep our eye on things, even if we can’t get in the press box.

Happy Thanksgiving.