Saturday, December 27, 2008

Fan Night

Last year, I wrote a column about going to a football game and being lost because I forgot how to be a fan.

Tonight, I remembered.

I'm on my last vacation day in Missouri and I managed my schedule so that I stayed in town long enough to watch my nephew, Russell, play basketball in his school's holiday tournament.

Russell is a 6-0 sophomore forward, who starts for the Bears, and was born when I was just in second grade. Since I've been away to college and now working in Kentucky, I've missed a lot of his growing-up time and games.

Anyway, it wasn't hard for me to start cheering for Russell and gasping in suspense as his first shot of the night tip-toed around and out of the basket. It was easy to scream like a mad woman when his first shot went in for an and-one (he made it).

From there, I evolved to yell at the referees (they were letting No. 20 from the other team get too feisty). Then I started yelling for Russell to start blocking out, and started yelling for his team to "get your arms up, get big and play good defense."

My sister (who is 18 years older than I) was ready to have a fit at my vocalness. The gym was relatively quiet, therefore, everything I said at a mild volume came out much louder than it was. My sister is also the junior high principal and was the working administrator of the game.

I told her if she had a problem with my cheering, she could go to the other side of the gym. Should she still hear me over there, then she could rail on me.

Part of me wanted to keep stats for the whole game, but then that would take the fun out of it, and I would be working on my vacation. So I compromised and just kept stats for Russell.

He finished with four fouls, five points, five rebounds, and three deflections.

After a close game, the Bears won, despite being short two starters who were suspended for five games for violating team rules.

Because I wasn't in my element, I'm not sure the exact score, but they won by four points.

After watching a plethora of Kentucky basketball lately, it was interesting to compare the style of play of western Kentucky and south-central Missouri.

My assessment: Kentucky basketball is by far, much, much, much more aggressive and physical. But it seemed like in the Missouri basketball I watched, the teams executed more plays.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Rerun: Time to Shine

*I attempted to post this earlier in the year, but had troubles. See today's story on Mallory Luckett in The Paducah Sun for more details on Time to Shine.*

In preparing for the post season, including the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament, Murray State guard Mallory Luckett wrote 'A Time to Shine' as a way to inspire the Racer women's basketball team. This is the video the women's basketball staff created to show before the NCAA Tournament selection show.

'A Time to Shine' is performed by members of the team.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Donte Poole update

After the season-ending injury for Murray State reserve guard Jewuan Long, coach Billy Kennedy answered questions this afternoon to the Racers' depth.

With Long gone, B.J. Jenkins sitting out for transfer rules and forward Marvin Williams off the team, the Racers only have 10 scholarship players left, making it a necessity to seriously consider removing the redshirt from freshman Donte Poole, Kennedy said.

Whether Poole plays Saturday against Missouri will be a game-time decision.

“In the best case scenario, it would have been good to redshirt him," Kennedy said, "but our team has changed and we haven’t been getting good performance out of our perimeter guys. If it’s in the best interest of our team, that’s what we’ll do.”

See more questions and Kennedy's answers in Friday's preview of the Racers' game against Missouri.


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After playing Mississippi State for their "money game" last season, the Racers have stepped up the competition level when they play Missouri on Saturday at 6 p.m.

The program will be paid $64,000 for the trip to Columbia, Mo. Morehead State's 1-6 record was partly due to playing so many money games on the road — money that they can save up to build the program and the athletic budget.

"The bigger schools buy games so they can have a bunch of home games so they build up their resume," Kennedy said. "We’re fortunate we only have to play one (money game).”

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Death Valley wrap-up

A Death Valley trip, by the numbers:

850 miles traveled in three days

5 game stories

2 blog posts

4 basketball games

1 football game

2 sets of Hot Hands (two for the feet because the toe warmers didn't work)

2 McChickens

3 medium McDonalds' fries

1 GPS unit


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After making the Death Valley trip last year (following Murray State basketball to Eastern Kentucky University and Morehead State), I must say, this one was much better than the first, although neither was bad.

This year, I had the gift of my Garmin nuvi GPS unit, and for this I am quite thankful. I just punched a few buttons, and the Garmin did the rest. I didn't have to worry about glancing at my pre-researched Mapquest.com directions, I just had to listen to the voice of my unit lady. The GPS came in especially handy for navigating through Lexington.

I thoroughly recommend a GPS if you do not have one already. It's not flawless, but it will get you closer to where you need to go than an atlas will.

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While the Death Valley trip resulted in a split for the Murray State men's basketball team, normally a feat in itself, the loss to Morehead State has slightly bigger implications than sticking a 1 in MSU's Ohio Valley Conference loss column.

Morehead State is now 2-0 in the conference, at the top with Austin Peay. The Eagles celebrated like they had won a trip to the NCAA Tournament after beating Murray State. Not only did they break an 11-game losing streak with the Racers, in one weekend, they beat the No. 1 and No. 2 team (UT Martin). Quite a feat after coming into the conference games 1-6.

Seeing that it is so early in the season, the one loss isn't going to deter the Racers for too long. But starting the conference 2-0 is big for Morehead. How big remains to be seen.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Rockin' Rockets



Crittenden County's three captains, Gage Courtney, Rodney Robertson and J.D. Gray, greet Beechwood's captains before the cointoss of the their Class A state semifinal football game Friday night in Fort Mitchell.

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The outcome of Crittenden County's Class A state semifinal game against Beechwood wasn't just a David vs. Goliath matchup on paper. The differences between the two programs stood out in the stands, too.

According to city-data.com, the two school's corresponding cities, Marion and Fort Mitchell, have vastly different characteristics, despite being the homes to Class A schools.

Population:
Marion 3,069, Fort Mitchell 7,556.

Median household income:
Marion $27,411, Fort Mitchell $53,112.

Residents with income below poverty level:
Marion 24.3 percent, Fort Mitchell 3.4 percent.

Folks with a bachelor's degree or higher:
Marion 9.3 percent, Fort Mitchell 37.6 percent.

Little wonder then, how Beechwood gathered up the funds to play on a turf field.

Rocket fans, donned in Carhardts and camouflage (one Rocket football player actually had a camouflage muff around his waist), were juxtaposed by their calmer counterparts to their right — a few sporting actual fur coats.

While Beechwood's fans huddled together in the cold air reaching temperatures in the teens, Crittenden fans stormed the field before the game to cheer the Rockets as they took the field.

Rocket fans stayed and they cheered through the 34-0 loss and they hugged their football players and cried with them after the game, all the more proud to have Crittenden reach the semifinals for just the second time in school history.

But ask someone who really knows, really cares, who were the best fans at the game Friday night. Ask Rockets coach Al Starnes, who just completed his 18th year with the Rockets.

"You can't beat that," Starnes said about the support. "We had a great send off yesterday. The community did a great job of that, and I looked up here one time and we had more fans in the stands than they did. It just shows the support that we have. It’s a five-hour trip and to have as many as we had — the fans are great."

Maybe money can't buy true support.

Leftovers from Eastern Kentucky

In lieu of practicing in a high school gym or traveling on to Morehead, the Murray State men’s basketball team will practice today in historic Rupp Arena in Lexington.

For Racer Danero Thomas, the allure of Rupp wasn’t quite there after making friends with the Wildcats’ Ramon Harris when Thomas played in Africa with Harris on a summer team. Harris took Thomas on a tour, allowing him to get acquainted with tradition.

But for Racers Kevin Thomas and Isacc Miles, the rafters of Rupp are still impressive.

"It will be a good experience, because I’ve never been there," Miles said. "I mean, I’m not a Kentucky fan, but I can respect that."

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Miles, a sophomore transfer from Creighton, is finally finding his offensive groove. Thursday night against Eastern Kentucky, Miles had 11 points, two assists, two turnovers, three rebounds and a steal. Due to transfer rules, Miles sat out all of last season.

"When you sit out a year, it’s tough to get back right way," Miles explained. "So the first couple games we’ve been winning, so I haven't been complaining about trying to score. I'm just doing the little things, defensively and getting ready to play conference basketball."

Miles' defensive effort held EKU's leading scorer, Mike Rose, to just two points.

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EKU coach Jeff Neubauer was asked to compare this Racer team to the last OVC Championship Racer team, the 2005-2006 team coached by Mick Cronin that fell by three points to North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament.

"It’s yet to be determined," Neubauer said. "This team does compare to that team, and the next three months will tell if their defense is as good as Mick's last team, the 2005 tournament team."

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Turkey and giblets, giblets and turkey

Murray State University men's basketball fans were apparently still hung over from their Thanksgiving feasts Saturday night when the Racers played St. Catharine.

Either that or the noisy ones went on vacation.

The 0-9 Patriots were supposed to be a tune up on the way to the Racers' Ohio Valley Conference opener Death Valley trip, a three-day swing to play at Eastern Kentucky and Morehead State this coming weekend. It was supposed to be the kind of game where the end of the bench could achieve career highs.

The Racers struggled to pull away in the first half, leading just 39-35. When the first-year NAIA program (last year a junior college), took the lead, Racer fans had nothing to say. A steal or a basket were met with light-hearted golf claps. Hearty yells didn't come to the game until eight minutes into the second quarter, and hearty could be an understatement and certainly short lived.

Against Western Kentucky, a rout against an admitted arch rival, fans were rabid. But playing a team, at home, where a loss would mean certain embarrassment and a big L, Racer fans had little to say. Even coach Billy Kennedy, who is never very animated, sat quiet until about 10 minutes left.

While the Racers' performance wasn't exactly noteworthy, the game, a 76-66 win, was the last home game for the Racers until January. The Racers have a hard enough road schedule this season without making home a neutral court.

The no-win former JUCO just scored the most points in the Regional Special Events Center. That's certainly not something to cheer about.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Extras from MSU's two-win weekend

Murray State football coach Matt Griffin mentioned in his 11-17 press conference that a win against Tennessee State that following Saturday would be great not only for morale but give them a springboard into the final weeks of recruiting.

The bowels of Roy Stewart Stadium welcomed several recruits after Saturday's 24-17 win over TSU in colorful letter jackets flanked by hopeful parents.

MSU coach Matt Griffin said he's already had some soft commitments out of some players, but isn't ready count them as signed. He's said some of the targets also have had offers from other top OVC schools.

But. The eight weeks that remain before signing date are plenty to get things accomplished.

Outgoing senior Quinton Hankins had some thoughts for the possible recruits.

"I’d tell them don’t look at the record," Hankins said. "When it all boils down, it’s all about family and coming together and playing together. Once you can do that and build team cohesiveness, the sky’s the limit.

"If you want to be a part of a good team, Murray State is a place to be."


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Amidst near turmoil and heartbreak at Western Kentucky, coach Ken McDonald had good things to say about Murray State's team.

"I think they have really good focus on offense, too," McDonald said. "They run their sets with really good precision, and they don’t beat themselves, and that's a sign of a good team and well-coached team. They defend well. They don't have a ton of turnovers. The fact they have 18 assists in a game with almost six guys playing going into double figures says a lot. They share the ball."

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It seemed like the Racer fans had endless things to cheer about Saturday. Dale Beach, of Graves County, made a half-court shot worth $10,000 sponsored by Perkins Motor Plex out of Mayfield. It was the first time a contestant had made the shot offered at every game.

“I’ll use it to pay bills,” Beach said. “We’ll have a better Christmas. I’m thinking I might need a new car.”

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Be the coach...

In my near daily perusing of the Murray State sports message board (racerfans.com), someone posted a link to a basketball simulation game on the Internet.

The point is that you get to be the coach and manage a team throughout the season. Really, the only thing you manage is recruiting and tryouts, which is by far the most exciting part of the game.

So, for the past 45 minutes, I played as coach Pineapple McGee, coach of the University of Missouri, where in three seasons, I was 26-18.

My second and third seasons, my team was conference champion, and received a ticket to the Big Dance. My first year I was knocked out by Maryland Eastern Shore (who?), and the second year, I made it to the second round before getting beat by Florida A&M. The NCAA tournament was devoid of perrenial favorites North Carolina, Duke, Kansas and UCLA. Kansas was left out, partly because I whooped them in the regular season. Take that.

Overall, the game was fun. Obviously, or I wouldn't have just played it for nearly an hour. I gave up when my All-American senior graduated, leaving me with some mediocre talent. I just didn't think I could recruit well enough to win another conference championship. So I retired.

One of the messageboard posters just typed in to say he played the game until he went to "basketball heaven." That was over 50 seasons. Incredible.

Anyway, give it a try on this rainy day. The game could be loads better, but is still good for a relatively amateur setup.

http://www.bethecoachbasketball.com/

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Common Denominators

Even before the regular season begins, the Murray State men's basketball team got a good measure of how the Ohio Valley Conference season could go.

The Racers faced Bethel in their exhibition match Tuesday, an 82-45 win. OVC opponent UT Martin also played the Wildcats in an exhibition, a 90-71 win.

So. If Martin beat Bethel by 19 points, and the Racers beat Bethel by 37, that means the Racers will beat Martin by 18 points in January.

Right?

Ha.

Wildcat coach Jeff Britt, a Sedalia, Ky., native, had the privilege of comparing the two teams for the small media panel present after the game. He provided a very diplomatic analysis.

"I think with Murray, overall, much better defensive team, than UTM. I think probably a little bigger inside. I think they're a little crisper on the offensive side of it, to compare the two. I think they're both two good basketball teams, I think you're going to see them battling for your top two or three spots in the conference, maybe both for then No. 1 spot. They both got depth and good size, and both blessed with some good quickness. I'm going to give Martin just a tad bit of edge on the shooters I think Murray's probably got one or two guys that can shoot. I think Martin's got several that can shoot."

The OVC picked the Racers to finish first in the league, but other publications and outlets predicted UT Martin right up there with them, sometimes picked as high as first.

Britt said the Racers obviously put in a lot of time on the defensive end of the ball. Compared to last season, the Racers seemed to have more of a sense of a mission, Britt said, as if they were trying to achieve a conference championship.

"It appears they know they're batter and it appears they're confident in their play and they feel like they can win the regular season and the conference."

Jan. 5, 2009 and Jan. 31. That's when you can find out how well Britt pegged the two teams.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Who's excited?

Murray State men's basketball opens up its season Tuesday night against Bethel College in an exhibition game.

I'm excited for two reasons.

1.) It's the start of basketball season which, other than dirt track racing, is God's sport.

2.) I briefly thought of going to Bethel College because of family and religious relations. Bethel is supported by my church denomination, Cumberland Presbyterian, and I have a slew of family to graduate from there. My dad, who I seem to be talking a lot about lately, attended for one year in the late 1950s and played basketball for them as a freshman.

His thoughts on Bethel? "I couldn't play on the B team in high school, but I started at Bethel."

Take that as you will.

It's a 7 p.m. tipoff. Totally pumped to be hitting the hardwood.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Post-election day thoughts:

In 2004, my first year being old enough to vote for president, my first ballot was special. That was the year my dad ran for a seat on the county commission back home.

That was his fourth time running for office. The previous three times he was unsuccessful. We were and still are members of the minority party in that county. The majority doesn't much vote outside party lines. In 2004, Dad lost again.

I was heartbroken. That year, I was his "campaign manager," designing newspaper ads and recording radio ads. That was the first and only year I had ever and will ever cast a vote when my last name was on the ballot. I will never forget the pride I felt choosing my dad over his opponent.

What a year.

This year, my dad got to the polls long before the 6 a.m. opening. He was the first voter at his precinct. That's my dad.

And this year, we witnessed the most historic election in the history of our country.

What a year.

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I love the assumption that sports writers and sports folks don't care much about "real news." I get a chuckle and sometimes get rankled when the other side of the building makes an offhanded comment about what we know or don't know.

All I've got to say is I've had some of the best political conversations with Joey Fosko these past few months than I have with other "newsy" folks I've met.

I originally started my journalistic career with the thought of pursuing a political or health-related beat. I eventually chose sports because this is where all the fun happens, not because my mind is incapable of wrapping itself around charged topics.

We might know stats and figures and game histories, but don't ever think we're out of the loop.

Same for athletes. Check out this story written for the Columbia Missourian about Mizzou's football political discussions:

http://www.columbiamissourian.com/stories/2008/11/04/missouri-football-team-talks-politics/

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Good reporting by The Associated Press. Athletes going professional in something other than sports:

By The Associated Press
Winners
—Kevin Johnson, NBA, Sacramento mayor.
—Heath Shuler, NFL, North Carolina congressional seat.
—Sam Wyche, NFL, Pickens County Council in South Carolina.
—Baron Hill, college basketball, Indiana congressional seat.
—Norm Dicks, college football, Washington congressional seat.
—Jason Chaffetz, college football, Utah congressional seat.
—Todd Thomsen, college football, Oklahoma Legislature.
—Tad Jones, college football, Oklahoma Legislature.
—Anton Gunn, college football, South Carolina Legislature.
—Mufi Hannemann, college basketball, Honolulu mayor.
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Losers
—Joe Mesi, boxing, New York Legislature.
—Joey Browner, NFL, Eagan (Minn.) City Council.
—Bob Heaton, college basketball, Indiana Legislature.
—Greg Hopkins, Arena Football League, Pennsylvania Legislature.
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Race Undecided
—Peter Boulware, NFL, Florida Legislature.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

It's baaaaaaaaaaaack!




The Lone Oak Purple Flash mascot was seen again at the First Region volleyball tournament held in Lone Oak. The photo is not nearly as funny as real life, so my next task is getting live cell phone footage of the creature.....stay tuned!

Monday, October 6, 2008

OVC officials taken out of the mix last weekend

One of the Ohio Valley Conference's football officiating crews was absent from the games this past weekend.

Jim Jackson, coordinator of league officials for the OVC, confirmed he "took them out of a game in the best interest of the OVC."

The officiating crew was not suspended, Jackson said, and he would not comment as to which crew sat the weekend out. Murray State sources say the crew not working this weekend was the crew that officiated MSU's loss to UT Martin two weeks ago.

Racer coach Matt Griffin has been extremely outspoken in regards to OVC officiating, saying he sends tape to Jackson regularly. Griffin was suspended for Western Kentucky game by the OVC for his unsportsmanlike comments made against the officials, an OVC crew, after the Racers' home loss to Illinois State.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

MSU football notes

Additions to Tuesday's Murray State football follow up:

Offensive operator: Jeff Ehrhardt, the 2007 OVC Freshman of the Year, returned from standing on the sidelines after healing from an injury to his throwing shoulder. He said after the game he felt better about his mechanics than ever, and coach Matt Griffin said Ehrhardt should be good to practice all week.

His 375 yards passing was the sophomore’s fourth 300-yard game of his career. The Racers’ 539 yards of total offense was the most since 2004’s season opener against Glenville State.

First quarter fits: Saturday’s game was the first time the Racers scored a touchdown in the first quarter this season. The Racers have been outscored 66-10 in the first quarter alone against five opponents.

Double-digit defense: Sixth-year senior linebacker Nathan Williams had 16 tackles against the UT Martin, his third double-digit tackle performance this season. Williams is the leading tackler in the OVC and in the FCS with 73 total tackles, a 14.6 per game average.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

And the best referee jab goes to...

... the Heath student section cheering at the Pirates' boys soccer game against visiting Paducah Tilghman on Thursday night.

"Check your answering machine, you missed a call."

**Disclaimer: In no way does Dusty Luthy or The Paducah Sun condone unsportsmanlike conduct. However, creativity and uniqueness should be rewarded.

Monday, September 22, 2008

WKU vs. MSU and The Red Belt




There really is a "red belt" involved in the Battle for the Red Belt between Murray State and Western Kentucky University.

According to WKU game notes: The two teams have played for the Belt on 22 occasions since 1978, with WKU winning the trophy 14 times (there was one tie). It currently resides in the WKU training room for almost nine years since the Toppers took back the trophy with a 21-15 win on Oct. 2, 1999. The history of "The Red Belt" originated in 1978 when WKU athletic trainer Bill Edwards attended a district trainers' meeting with Murray State trainer Tom Simmons. As Edwards tells the story, Simmons forgot to bring a belt, and borrowed a red one from Edwards. After the meeting, when Edwards asked about his belt, Simmons responded that WKU would have to bat Murray State in football to get it back. Simmons had the belt mounted on a large plaque, complete with brass plates to keep WKU-Murray scores etched in history for years to come.

The Hilltoppers played for the first time in newly renovated Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium and featured a true sporting-event atmosphere.

Fireworks cracked with every score and during the National Anthem. Hawkers sold cotton candy and peanuts through the stands. The video scoreboard also broadcast a marriage proposal to a Margaret Tichenor, who appeared to say "Yes" to her intended.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

P.S. for Dynamic Dynasties



Photo of Mayfield's football trophy case, highlighting a leather helmet from ye olden days.

The Dynamic Dynasties series that ran this week in The Paducah Sun was not an easy task. The idea came to me over a month ago after listening to story after timeless story from Joey Fosko and Steve Millizer about different sporting programs through the area and their rise and fall.

I was not "in" on any of these stories because I am not a lifelong resident of the state. Being still a newbie from Missouri, it was important for me to learn these stories on a more personal level.

The five programs I chose to profile — Reidland softball, Mayfield football, Lone Oak tennis, Marshall County girls soccer and Paducah Tilghman track and field — cannot be disputed in their status as a dynasty. The facts, trophies, championships and alumni that these programs have contributed to western Kentucky are fathomless.

The 26 schools The Sun routinely covers in Kentucky and southern Illinois each have histories with plenty of stories to tell. Other programs have been successful over the years, but may have fallen short of reaching dynasty status or may have reached it at one time, but fallen off in recent years. The five programs are still considered tops in their sports.

One program I especially was pressed to mention was Marshall County girls basketball. The Lady Marshals clearly are one of the top girls basketball programs in the region year after year, but their dominance has been challenged lately, especially outside of the First Region. The Marshals have won nine of the last 18 regional championships after winning nine-of-10 in the 1980s. In 1982 and 1984, the Marshals won state championships, but the last win for the Marshals in the state tournament came in 1990.

In researching these stories, statistics and records were vital. The Kentucky High School Athletic Association Web site, khsaa.org, was immensely helpful in compiling information. The Sun's own sports history file has been kept impeccably over the years, and I was delighted to find nearly everything I needed, and more, in our own system.

We actually have a single file dedicated to the Mayfield-Tilghman football series, that dates back to the first game in 1911.

The many, many coaches I contacted were also very helpful in providing statistics and information that we didn't have at our disposal. And thanks to whomever took over Stacey Bradley's bus duty the day I went to talk to him about Marshall County soccer.

Thank you for reading, and thank you coaches and players for helping me understand western Kentucky athletics a little better.

Headlines with the word "Flash" always stand out

Cassee Layne, Reidland's phenom pitcher, verbally committed to Michigan State on Wednesday night. See the story in Friday's Paducah Sun.

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With Murray State football coach Matt Griffin staying in Murray on Saturday to serve his one-game suspension issued by the OVC, it looks like defensive coordinator Rich Nagy will be taking the reins against Western Kentucky.

Nagy is one of few veterans left on a Racers staff that saw great turnover on the offensive side of the ball after last season.

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I am enchanted by the nuances outside the athletes that make up sporting events. This is no exception.

Previously, I've stated my favorite mascot I've found since coming to Kentucky has been the Madisonville Maroon, which looks more like a pompom than a mascot.

But Tuesday at Lone Oak, I found the Maroon's rival. In this rare sighting, the Lone Oak Purple Flash Boy/Girl was hamming it up during the Lone Oak vs. Marshall County volleyball game. He/she was utterly hilarious and worth the price of admission.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

This and that



Missouri tight end Chase Coffman leaps over a Southeast Missouri defensive player. photo from The Columbia Missourian.

One of my favorite sports photos right now. That's also my alma mater hurdling the competition. Missouri is a solid No. 6 right now in the national polls.

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Murray State's football game at Western Kentucky will begin at 6 p.m. in Bowling Green, Ky.

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Lone Oak wide receiver Jamarielle Brown has received scholarship offers from Murray State, UT Martin and Troy, he said after Friday night's win against Crittenden County. Brown, who holds three state receiving records after last year's season, is also talking with Purdue.

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Lone Oak coach Jack Haskins became the school's all-time winningest head coach after Friday's win against the Rockets. His 32-16 record in just four years (plus two games of this, the fifth season), beats Tom Pandolfi's 31-32 record from 1979-1984.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

MSU vs. Lambuth - LIVE

13:57 4th quarter
MSU - 41
Lambuth - 17

Nico Yantko is still leading the offense. Jeff Ehrhardt is out of his pads, arm tucked against his chest under a gold shirt and jacket.

MSU vs. Lambuth - LIVE

HALFTIME

Murray State 17
Lambuth 14

Nico Yantko went in late for injured quarterback Jeff Ehrhardt. Ehrhardt looked to get banged up on a running attempt earlier, and went into the locker room where remained. The injury looked to be to his throwing arm.

Yantko's stats are impressive for never playing a collegiate football game at quarterback. His bio jumps from UT Martin to Iowa Central Community College where he did not play football. He is listed as a junior and has seen time in six games, but has no stats, according to the MSU Media Guide.

Yantko's drive resulted in a field goal for the Racers.

He passed for 23 yards completing 3-4 passes and ran for 11 yards. Ehrhardt was 6-13 with 122 yards and one touchdown. His longest pass was a 50 yard toss to DeAngelo Nelson.

The Racer Band is rocking with a rendition of Turn the Beat Around.

MSU vs. Lambuth - LIVE

9:56 second quarter
MSU -7
Lambuth - 7

The Eagles scored on a 6-yard run from tailback Edward Robinson after the Eagles received good field position on a Racer penalty with 6:44 left in the first quarter.

Racer senior safety Will Werner interceped Lambuth quarterback Josh Garza with 11 minutes left in the second quarter for the Racers first score. Werner ran for 66 yards, the first time since 2004 the Racers have returned an interception for a touchdown.

Statwise, there's not much difference. The Racer offense looks scrapped together. The defense looks as if it hasn't seen a live play since spring. Except for Werner.

But it's the first quarter. Last season, the Racers allowed Lambuth two touchdowns before responding with five straight. Everyone needs some time to get the kinks out.

MSU vs. Lambuth - LIVE

The jockey for Racer One just got thrown from her horse after taking an entry lap during the preshow. She is up and walking.

Murray State vs. Lambuth begins in 6 minutes and 20 seconds. Check back for more.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Class 6a extras

The way a lot of the Class 6a football coaches talk in the first district, the district champion could just as likely be determined by way of lottery as way of on-field performance.

Daviess County coach Marcus Kimbrell reports that 100 kids grades 9-12 have come out for the season. If the Panthers can keep 3/4 of those players in the system, the future looks bright.

The Panthers lost just seven players, the fewest of any District 1 team. They also start two Governor's Scholars in Joey Kramer and Hunter Jagoe.

---Clay Clevenger at Henderson County is moving his returners around, experimenting at the positions to find the right fit. The Colonels won't be very deep, but will return running back Mondo Theus, a physical kid, and quarterback Jeremiah Coursey.

--- Graves County probably took the biggest hit of all the teams, losing 22 seniors. The Eagles don't return a lot and have small junior and senior classes, therefore relying on some inexperienced underclassmen. While that won't be a bad thing in the future, this season the Eagles will need plenty of crowd support with a tough schedule on the docket, coach Mike Rogers said.

Cassidy McAlpin will play both ways at linebacker and tight end, but will likely find himself in other roles throughout the season.

Coach Rogers was the only coach I talked to in these two weeks who mentioned his kickers, Isaac Sims and Tyler Willett. Both will be counted on for their experience.

---Marshall County will only be as good as its 17 seniors - four of whom saw significant time at the varsity level. Coach Scott Shelton stopped short of calling his team young, just a tad inexperienced.

Senior Denver Seay will take over the quarterback spot after playing defensive end last season. At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Seay will be able to withstand a few knocks and knicks.

Wide receiver Josh Madding returns as one of the Marshals best and most experienced players. Madding was invaluable on both sides of the ball last season and looks to be a playmaker again.

Scott Williams will work into the starting line up, as well, as a receiver and safety. Williams is the younger brother of running back Alan Williams, who set state records as a junior before graduating last season.

---Madisonville-North Hopkins is another team to look out for this season. The Maroons (best mascot ever, btw), started off last season a strong 4-1 until quarterback Matt Levin went down with a broken ankle against Marshall County. The Maroons finished last year 5-5.

If the Maroons can get the ranks up to speed and truly start 22 different players, they will be a mess to tangle with.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Class 3A football extras....

I'm still no Joey Fosko when it comes to area football, but give me some time. I believe I've figured out where every school in the region is located, so now I can concentrate on Xs and Os and the names in the game. Right? Let's hope so.

Today I profiled Class 3A District 1 football where Paducah Tilghman is the only local team on the docket. There's no doubt the Tornado will once again be at the top, but who takes the runner-up spot is in question.

Union County looks to be strong once again after finishing second in the district last year. Webster County could be strong; I couldn't get a hold of coach Andy Corbin to find out.

Coach Nick Eckert at Union County hopes the coaching change will benefit the competition, not the Tornado. The district knows little of new Tornado coach Randy Wyatt, but remembers Perry Thomas well.

"I think the new coaching situation is going to help them a little bit," Eckert said. "Perry was an outstanding coach there. He’s going to be hard to replace. He did a lot with their kids."

Thomas was 76-35 for the Tornado in seven years, leading last year's team to the Final Four, falling to eventual champion Louisville Central on a last second field goal. Thomas is now the head coach at Campbellsville University.

Wyatt spent time under Thomas as the offensive coordinator, but most recently focused his attention on the duties of head boys track coach. He was also a standout athlete at Tilghman as a youngster.

With Wyatt's characteristic swagger unchecked, teams in the district will at least find the Tornado motivated and excited to play.

---Marshall Enoch at McLean County is trying to build the program, one step at a time. Numbers are improving and the program now has freshmen and junior varsity teams. Enoch also went down to the elementary teams, begging coaches to teach the basic fundamentals of blocking, tackling and hitting. The strategy paid off with the elementary teams competing for championships in Owensboro, something that has never happened before.

---Josh Staples is now the head coach at Muhlenberg South after serving as the team's offensive coordinator. Staples is trying to bring a community buzz back to the program and is working on building. The team just wants to make it to the playoffs, which hasn't happened since 1995.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Tidbits



Associated Press photo, Nadia Liukin

I got teary-eyed when Shawn Johnson was nearly perfect on her floor routine last night. That meant Nastia Liukin won the all-around gold medal in women's gymnastics. She is one of three Americans to win the all-around gold — Carly Patterson did it the last Olympics and only Mary Lou Retton had done it before.

Johnson got second place, meaning the U.S. was one and two on the medal stand.

----
Update: My softball team lost Tuesday night. It was disheartening. We just fell apart after our third baseman was injured with a ball to her foot. Tonight though, my church can redeem itself if the men's team wins all three of its games to win the championship through the loser's bracket.

So not only did I lose Tuesday, but I missed Michael Phelps win another two gold medals. Sadness on all accounts.

---
Murray State's football game against Indiana will be shown on the Big 10 Network. Don't get too excited, though. Very few people will get the channel, and I doubt cable subcribers even have a chance at it.

---
After close analysis of Murray State's football media guide, it should be noted that defensive end Austen Lane has quite an impressive achievement under his name.

Lane recorded his first collegiate sack when playing as a true freshman at Missouri in 2006. He sacked Chase Daniel, last season's fourth-place Heisman trophy finalist. That's pretty awesome.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Blissfully ignoring you



I feel like the little girl, above, in this Associated Press photo. lalalalalala! I can't hear you!

I get the majority of my sporting news from espn.com. Since the Olympics have started, I care about only one thing. The Olympics.

While espn.com has good coverage of the events, they're also having to report on the other left-behind sports. College football. Pro football. Major league baseball.

Sorry sportscasters and sportswriters of our country, unless their colors are red, white and blue and are competing for medals, I don't care.

*Inserting fingers in ears. Lalalalalalalalalala!*

I bypass Sportscenter on my TV and head right back to NBC. Even the newscasts I watch are China-focused, which I can't get enough of. Bring me more of Brian Williams' culture pieces!

It's ridiculous. I watched three hours of swimming and men's gymnastics last night. Those are not typical revenue, viewer-producing sports. Yet, I was entranced.

On yahoo.com, I've read nearly every snippet of Olympics news and columns the Web juggernaut puts on my homepage.

It kills me to think I'll miss even a fragment of tonight's events. My church league softball team will be taking the field for playoffs. I can't miss out on playing right-center field, but I might miss Michael Phelps!

Red, white, blue and gold. That's what I'm talking about.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Epitome of Olympic greatness



It was late and I wonder how many Americans actually watched the race live.

Those who didn't watch it live I am sure have read about it in today's morning papers or seen it replayed over and over again on TV.

The 4X100m was amazing. I watched the first three American swimmers, Michael Phelps, Cullen Jones and Garrett Weber-Gale with interest. The big story line was the French, and how they vowed to 'smash' the Americans. Countless times I've heard epithets like that and seen them blown to smithereens.

It looked like the French might come away with a gold medal.

And then Jason Lezak was swimming the last leg for Americans. I gave up hope, and resigned myself to seeing Phelps' dash for eight gold medals die. But Lezak didn't give up.

He won.

I was screaming and high-fiving my fiance. Then I started laughing at Phelps' supremo screaming, taut muscles and all.

This weekend was filled with little other than Olympic watching. The opening ceremonies can't be topped. I watched the gymnastics preliminaries and remembered the fantastic performance of Keri Strugg from years past.

Tonight, I'll be back on the couch, waiting for more.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Schwag

I wasn't even expecting to walk into the World of Outlaws trailer last night at Paducah International Raceway and walk out with something other than a driver roster. It's dirt track racing. What PR guy Tony Veneziano handed me was infinitely cool: four reporter notebooks and three World of Outlaws pens.

Total score.

Reporters on various beats are invariably offered some sort of work-perk schwag from their sources. In my contract, it says something like I'm not supposed to take it if it is worth $50 or more, but politely refuse or donate it to charity. Sadly, I haven't even been tempted with something so valuable. But, I have been offered other little things here and there that make my job pretty cool.

At the Missouri School of Journalism, we're told not to take anything from any source. By doing so, our credibily is skewed and we become "beholden" to our sources to write a positive story. This was after I freely accepted a basket of ribbon fries at a Lion's Club festival. I've learned there is a balance when accepting the schwag.

I learned best the perspective of ethical gift acceptance from a NASCAR reporter I met through my journeys. I was freelancing the 2007 NASCAR All-Star race for his paper when I was confronted with a line of tables chock full of free goodies in the press room. These ranged from then-Nextel Cup schedules to an actual free jug of Junior Johnson's moonshine. People in the media room were going nuts for the shine.

I told the reporter about my misgivings about taking free things from sources. His response was cheeky, but good: "If NASCAR thinks they can buy my allegiance with a free baseball cap, then more power to them."

NASCAR was, after all, giving out the goods to everyone in the room. Home Depot even sponsored pens, notebooks and Post-It notes. I came out of there with a cap I gave my dad and a small Craftsman Truck notebook I'm still using.

And if grandma offers me a cookie while I'm interviewing her son, I'll take it if I am hungry. Debbie Keeling offered me some sweet tea while I talked to her husband Gary. Turned out to be some of the best tea I've ever had and Debbie likely felt more like a proper hostess since I accepted.

At college sporting events, reporters typically eat for free and partake in some sort of low maintenance meal. Am I beholden? No. I, and other reporters, have likely just traveled a good distance to cover the event. The meal is more of a thank-you, please-come-again, token.

I come again.

For Ohio Valley Conference media days, the organization is kind enough to hand out guest gifts. I now have two thumb drives and a super travel mug. They are tastefully covered with the OVC logo, but since I'm not boasting the colors of a single team, I'll use them.

Lately I've been offered racing T-shirts. These I sadly must turn down. I adore racing T-shirts. The day-glo neon and angular cars spread across my shoulders make up some of my favorite garb. But to wear one shirt from one driver is to appear to favor that driver and not another. Sandy Mason, mom of Street Stock driver J.R. Mason, was crushed when I wouldn't even tell her what size I wear.

Trust me, I was crushed too that you offered to give me a really well-designed free racing T-shirt that I had to decline because of any perceived bias.

But Veneziano's schwag was appreciated. I had already been at the track more than two hours, had sweated myself smelly and was fixing to spend the rest of the night collecting dust with a bit of an attitude. I'm glad it was just pens and notebooks he offered me; had it been a WoO T-shirt, I don't know if I could have stood the temptation.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Racers tabbed 8th in OVC


I was a little shocked that the Murray State football team was picked to finish the conference in eighth place out of nine teams. Head coach Matt Griffin said the Racers deserved it after their 2-9 performance last season.

Personally, I feel the start of the season will be rough — likely a 1-3 start — but if the Racers can avenge last season's rout against Tennessee-Martin, I think they'll be OK for the rest of the season. I predict at least five wins, although a .500 season could be possible.

Remember, the games against this season's top three — Eastern Illinois, Eastern Kentucky and Jacksonville State — the Racers showed progress. The Racers were a touchdown away from a win against EIU and had some lapses on defense and special teams for unanswered scores with the other two. A win on the road against any of those three and they're looking good.

Jacksonville State was picked to finish the conference first, but that doesn't mean anything right now in the OVC. No team picked to finish first in the pre-season has done it since EIU did it in 2002. The championship prediction in 29 years has only been right 41.4 percent of the time.

So my question is, who has the best chance this season to get the title? Check out the poll to your right.

New NCAA football rules


At the Ohio Valley Conference football media day held at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn., on Tuesday, OVC coordinator of officials outlined some of the rule changes made in the offseason for NCAA football.

Jackson, who was an official for nearly 20 years in the Sunbelt and Southern conferences, is in his second year as coordinator.

Also, because Samford switched conferences, only nine teams remain that play OVC football, which allowed the number of OVC officials to decrease. The OVC will now have five crews of officials instead of six. No officials were fired, Jackson said; attrition took care of the seven.

Changes:

Play clock —
The 15 second play clock has been eliminated. A 40-second play clock has been instituted to begin the instant the ball is dead on every play, just like in NFL games. The theory is that the pace of play will be faster and games won't last an eon. A play clock of 25 seconds will be administered under these conditions: penalty administration, charged team time out, media time out, injury time out, measurement, change of possession, following a kick, following a score, start of each period, instant replay review, and any other administrative stoppage.

Kicking — When a kickoff goes out of bounds, the receiving team has the option of taking the ball to the 40 yard line as opposed to the previous 35.

"Bill Belichick" rule — You can't film opponents play signals.

Chop block — The chop block has been defined and made into a penalty. The chop block has been defined as either a high-low or low-high combination block by any two players against an opponent (not the runner) anywhere on the field. Intent is key here as accidental grazes on the way to another player are not a problem.

Example: http://youtube.com/watch?v=vqiLlOybz9s

"Horse collar" tackle — It is now illegal to grab inside the collor or shoulder pad from the back and shoulders to institute a tackle. A 15 yard penalty will ensue. The tackle must be immediate and it is not a foul if it happens inside the tackle box. Tackling a quarterback by horse collar method while in the pocket is OK.


Face mask — Incidental face mask touching is no longer a 5-yard penalty. But it is illegal to twist, turn or pull the face mask and is a 15-yard penalty.

Head contact —It is illegal to initiate contact and target an opponent with the crown of the helmet. It is illegal to target and initiate contact with a defenseless opponent above the shoulders. When in question, the act will be a foul. Intent is all a key to the call here. Basically, this is a helmet punch to the head and neck area.

Sideline interference — Referees were spending too much time delaying the game to issue non-penalty sideline warnings. Officials will now only call sideline interference when they are actually impeded by a sideline member in their officiating duties. This will be a delay-of-game 5-yard penalty. No more warnings.
Also, if a school's marching band is playing while there is a live ball and it is preventing a team from hearing the play calls, the official can give a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct to the band.

Thanks to Jim Jackson for explaining the changes to everyone.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

More on MSU softball

If you read Sunday's news centerpiece of The Paducah Sun and still want more information about Murray State's incoming softball program, I've got you covered.



Field No. 6 at Murray's Chestnutt Park will be the home of MSU softball.

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All about Title IX

In 2004, Murray State invited Lamar Daniel to come to campus and evaluate its athletic Title IX compliance. Daniel found several problems that have kept officials busy making corrections and changes.

One of the biggest and most prominent changes has been the restructuring of the women’s sports programs with the addition of softball and the discontinuation of rowing.

Daniel is one of the leading experts on Title IX compliance, having worked with the Office for Civil Rights in his home state of Georgia for 20 years, in addition to conducting investigations into school compliance and writing manuals and literature used by the government. Just six months away from a second retirement, Daniel operates a consulting firm used by colleges all over the U.S.

A final evaluation of Murray State in December will be Daniel’s last official gig.

Title IX, a portion of educational amendments originally made in 1972 that prohibits gender discrimination in any program under any educational institution receiving federal aid, requires that school comply in three categories.

A school must accommodate female athletes based on interests and abilities, which schools comply with by meeting one of a “three-prong” test:

n Provide opportunities that are proportional to the gender's enrollment.
n Show continued growth in opportunity for the under-represented gender.
n Meet the interests and abilities of the student population.

Many schools choose the proportionality prong because of its visibility to inspectors.

“It’s not the easiest to me because you have to have a higher number of women’s sports and participants,” Daniel said.

Daniel sees schools all across the country cutting several sports programs from their lists because of budget cuts. For a school to choose to reach the proportionality portion of compliance, a football school can find compliance typically with six male sports and 10 for women. MSU has seven sports for men and nine for women.

The large number of scholarship football athletes skews the number of sports in a Division I program.

According to the roster on goracers.com, MSU will lose 20 athletes with the discontinuation of rowing, while softball will add 12 scholarship athletes, plus walk-ons. Equestrian could have as many as 50 athletes.

For the second category the awards of athletic financial assistance must comply with Title IX rules. Daniel called the third category a “laundry list” that is more subjective than quantifiable. Travel, housing, dining, and facilities are judged to be equal in affect to those offered to male athletes.

“That’s why you have consultants,” Daniel said. “You have to know how every sport operates and how they compare to others.”

----

A listing of local softball players who have gone on to play on the college level in the past four years:

Name, high school, college, college location

Division I
Brittany Scheer, St. Mary, Morehead State University, Morehead, Ky.
Sam Butts, Calloway County, Austin Peay State University, Clarksville, Tenn.
Kayla Fox, Calloway County, Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond, Ky.

NAIA
April Carter, Ballard Memorial, Mid-Continent University, Mayfield, Ky.
Brittany Edmonds, Marshall County, Bethel College, McKenzie, Tenn.
Ashley Simmons, Heath, Bethel College, McKenzie, Tenn.
Bristyn Prowell, Caldwell County, Brescia University, Owensboro, Ky.
Laura Slack, Marshall County, Campbellsville College, Campbellsville, Ky.
Dria Moore, Paducah Tilghman, Lindsey Wilson College, Columbia, Ky.

Junior college
Ambur Frizzell, Carlisle County, Shawnee Community College, Ullin, Ill.
Jordan Huston, Murray, Shawnee Community College, Ullin, Ill.
Megan Snow, Murray, Shawnee Community College, Ullin, Ill.
Kelsie Beardsley, Ballard Memorial, Shawnee Community College, Ullin, Ill.
Kortney Rose, Heath, Shawnee Community College, Ullin, Ill.
Jessica Pickard, Marshall County, Shawnee Community College, Ullin, Ill.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Overflow

Here are a few more photos from the June 20, 2008 front-page feature on Sherri Heckenast, owner and promoter of Kentucky Lake Motor Speedway.


Sherri Heckenast and her dad, Frank Sr., watch a heat race from her office on June 12 at Kentucky Lake Motor Speedway. Frank Heckenast bought the race track for his daughter to run under stipulation that she quit racing.


Sherri Heckenast checks the books in her office between races at Kentucky Lake Motor Speedway on June 12.


Sherri Heckenast and Late Model driver Jason Feger, Bloomington, Ill., share a quick hello before the Summernationals race on June 12 at Kentucky Lake Motor Speedway.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

It's June for crying out loud!

Less than 24 hours after the NBA Finals Championship game, I'm being entertained with college basketball bracketology.

College basketball!

Don't get me wrong, I love the hardwood probably just as much as anyone else in Kentucky. But it is June. It's officially summer. I'm ready for dirt track racing, NASCAR, golf and sunny vacations. Basketball is such a consuming sport, so I can't help but enjoy my vacation from it.

Talk about football season isn't even going as hot fired as it should be. Camps open up in late July/early August and I've heard nary a word about the teams.

I'm just not to a mental state where I can contemplate hoops hoopla.

Anybody else not ready for basketball?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Summernationals at KLMS 6/12

Kentucky Lake Motor Speedway opened up the UMP Summernationals tour Thursday night with one of the best races I've seen in a long time. There were lead changes, crazy driving (by Jason Feger who led about 25 of the 30 laps) and big names. And the racing in both the Modified division and Crate Late Models was great, too. KLMS got Thursday night right.

The Summernationals tour will swing through six states in 31 days giving fans 27 chances to check it out. The tour will be at Paducah International Raceway on June 26.

Here's a few photos from the event:


An example of the types of "rides" you can have. Big, bigger, biggest.


Christopher, Ill., driver Kevin Cole as he gears up for hot laps.


You won't see these two in the same room much. That's Bill Roth, PIR's track manager, and Sherri Heckenast, owner and promoter of KLMS.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Sunburns and softball

After spending the weekend covering Reidland's trip to the Kentucky state fastpitch softball tournament, here are a few of my musings:

Owensboro is exactly like Paducah, only not. Things seemed bigger (like the riverfront development), the soon-to-be closed Executive Inn was decked out in red neon lights, and the town had a mall, but also had a TARGET.

Oklahoma signee Kirsten Allen was more impressive because of her stature rather than her fastball. Allen, Ryle's pitcher, is 5-foot-11 and looks like a giant in the circle. Her fastball is clocked at 67 mph. She's worth her scholarship.

While it takes a good pitcher to get a team to the state tournament, it takes good hitters to win the tournament.

A 16-team, double-elimination high school softball tournament is too much to be held in just two days. One, it's a mouthful for me to work into my stories. Two, it's physically draining for all involved. Count in mid-90s temperatures this weekend, and we're talking a safety concern. I don't pitch, I don't bat, and I don't run, but I felt beaten by the time I made it to my hotel Friday after covering three softball games. I'd like to see something similar to baseball's eight-team tournament and semi-state series. I could go on, but I'll cease my rant for a year or two.

Sweat-proof sunscreen really does work! But when you miss a spot or have the strap of your messenger bag rub it off your shoulders, the point ceases to be relevant. I've been burnt worse, but I will never have tan lines as ugly.

I've never seen a worse omen for the outcome of a ball game than when Christian County's Allie Blauser sent Cassee Layne's opening pitch to the outfield for a single. Wait. Nope. Felt the same thing when Kasey York hit a home run off Layne for Lawrence County. Both 9 a.m. games were losses for Reidland.

Just because a hotel or media event has wireless Internet, doesn't mean a Mac can access it. It also doesn't mean I can use the newspaper's server with the open wireless connection once it works on my laptop. Just a few small challenges we Mac users face as we relish in the beauty and excellence of our svelte machines.

Getting hot and dusty at the tournament made me think of dirt track racing and how much I can't wait to get back to the tracks.

I got a GPS unit for my birthday, and so far it's been very helpful (finding schools and ball fields in Kentucky is not an easy feat). But is not infallible. It did not list the Panera Bread Co. as a possible food option to take me to, so I had to improvise and drive down Frederica until I found it. And it was good, as usual.

The tournament marked my one-year anniversary in Kentucky and with The Paducah Sun. I have now officially experienced nearly everything sports-related pertaining to my job. Things from here will be old hat (I hope). My favorite events this year? I've got to say, the regional volleyball tournament rocked my face off — one of the best post-season atmospheres I saw. And accompanying the Murray State women's basketball team to Maryland for the first round of the NCAA tournament was one of the most fun things I've done all year.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Softball's Best of 2008

I haven't been to every ball field or seen every team play, but I think I can give you a good idea of the Best of Western Kentucky softball. photos by Lance Dennee

My picks for a Fantasy Team:

Samantha Gillum, third base, Graves County — This kid's got a heck of an arm and she'll use it, as exemplifed in the First Region tournament.

Jordan Gilland, second base, Marshall County — Not sure I've seen her make but one routine play. The rest of her outs have been fly-through-the-air, dive-in-the-dirt. She's a hitter, too.

Sam Butts, shortstop, Calloway County — Butts was responsible for at least eight defensive outs against Reidland in the First Region championship game. She's hot at the bat, and definitely deserving of the Austin Peay softball scholarship.



Lindsey Bridges, first base, Lyon County — Softball savvy, Bridges lives up to her cleanup batter status.

Karson Canup, right field, Reidland — Canup loves to play softball and it shows when she runs into the dugout with a huge smile on her face after a third out. Canup's two shoestring catches helped seal pitcher Cassee Layne's no-hitter in the First Region championship win. She's a clutch hitter, too.

Lauren Elder, centerfield, Graves County — All-around good player who helped keep the Eagles alive in the opening round of the First Region tournament against Reidland with big catches in the outfield.

Brittany Fox, left field, Calloway County — Fox can hit the ball as evidenced with a 2-for-3, 2 RBI performance against Ballard Memorial in the semifinal game.

Emily Montgomery, catcher, Heath — Still a young one, Montgomery goes well with Heath pitcher Kelleigh Jones and everytime I've seen her, she's a hitter. Honorable mention: Morgan Harrell, Reidland.



Cassee Layne, pitcher, Reidland — Layne has a pocket full of tricks and she can hit nearly any spot in the strikezone at will. She's fast, accurate, and has a "baffling" changeup, as more than one opposing coach has reported. Honorable mentions: Kelleigh Jones, Heath, and Alexis Rodgers, Ballard Memorial. Both pitchers are fast, and hit the ball well. Rodgers could be the best batter in the region.

Best warm-up music: Calloway County. The only school to play Old Crowe Medicine Show's song 'Wagon Wheel' as a peppy tune. Also, not even the radio stations play Taylor Swift's fun, alternate version of 'Picture to Burn'. Props to you, Lakers.

Best food: Heath. Grilled chicken and the occassional barbecue keeps Dusty from punching into McDonald's. Honorable mention goes to Ballard Memorial. The Bombers are the only school I've found to serve french fries. Way to go.

Quotable coach: Jennifer Burnham, Marshall County. She insists her best stuff be off record, but she doesn't lack for words.

Best uniforms: Calloway County. A nice blend of navy and red, without being too busy, shiny or plain.

Best 2008 surprise: Graves County. Going 8 innings with Reidland is an accomplishment. Beating Ballard Memorial for the Third District championship is admirable. And with only two seniors lost, look for the Eagles to be a competitor next season.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Third District tournament softball pitchers

Pictures from the Third District tournament I covered tonight.


Alexis Rodgers, Ballard Memorial


Samantha Mullins, Graves County


Jaclyn McCuiston, Mayfield


Carli Cummins, St. Mary

Friday, May 16, 2008

Run, Oscar! Run!

Oscar Pistorious was earlier denied the right to attempt to qualify for the Olympics.

The 21-year-old South African sprinter wasn't a druggie and had no record of steroid use. His apparent flaw was that he didn't have feet.

Pistorious, a double-amputee, runs with carbon fiber blades that connect to his knees. He has competed in the Paralympics and holds the 400-meter world record of 46.56 seconds. The International Association of Athletics Federations originally ruled that the blades would give him a competitive advantage against able-bodied athletes.

He appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which ruled that no proof of an advantage existed. A team at MIT proved that the Cheetah Flex Foot he wears do not give him an advantage.

Now, he has the opportunity to qualify for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. If he doesn't qualify this year, he has a chance of being selected as a member of the South African 1,600 meter relay team, or he can still work to qualify for the 2012 Olympics.

I'm just shocked this was ever an issue. Pistorious' time of 46.56 in the 400 is just a second off the Olympic minimum standard, despite being without feet and fibulae.

Do his J-shaped legs give him an advantage? Absolutely not. The only way he would have an advantage is if they were strapped on to turbo boosters or jet engines.

So run, Oscar, run. Show the world what you can do.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

A thousand words

For the third year in a row, the Reidland softball team won the All A Classic on Saturday in Jeffersontown, Ky.



Reidland pitcher Cassee Layne was horrified at the thought these photos could make it into the paper product of The Paducah Sun. I somewhat appeased her fear by telling her they would wind up on my blog, which is on the WORLD Wide Web.

In what I would like to call a freak accident, Layne stretched a ligament in her foot the day before leaving for the All A Classic state tournament (which Reidland won). She was still needed to pitch, so she decided to tread lightly and hold back Saturday. All 51 strikeouts worth (26 innings).

Reidland's road thus far...

In Jeffersontown —

Reidland has won its first two games — against Walton-Verona, 8-1, and against Model, 4-0.

Against Model, Reidland pitcher Cassee Layne struck out 16, taking her total to 24 for the day. Against WV, junior varsity pitcher Jasmine Matchen threw the last two innings of the game in only her second varsity outing. After working out the nerves, she retired four batters, issued two walks and allowed one run with one hit.

What was supposed to be a two-day tournament has now turned into a one-day marathon, with the championship game slated to begin at 9 p.m. The tournament was reorganized due to impending doom and rain on Sunday. Reidland plays next at 5:30 p.m. (All times Eastern).

Non-softball related....There is a Moe's a mere mile away from my hotel that I found after scouting the locations on the Internet. Moe's Southwest Grill is my all-time favorite fastfood joint — a healthy option and a unique spin on Subway, only TexMex. I've already eaten there once today, and a second time is a strong possibility unless I can find a Panera Bread Co.

If I ever become independently wealthy, you can bet one of the two franchises will be coming to Paducah. If you are independently wealthy and want to bring one or both of the franchises to Paducah, my daily proceeds will likely meet your profit quota.

-Cheers.

Friday, May 2, 2008

A design mind

Designing is not my forté. I do it, however, to make myself marketable in a highly competitive job market.

At The Sun, when I am on "slot" (another name for the sports design desk), it usually means someone is on vacation. In this case, editor Steve Millizer took his week-long break, so I had to substitute Wednesday and Thursday for page designer Greg Stark's days off.

Wednesday nights for a designer are usually smooth sailing. Since Wednesday nights are historically reserved for church and religious times, high school athletics have largely taken the night off. We do get call-ins for some games, but the night is normally not too hectic.

Thursday night, I was ready, but it still wasn't enough. I had five pages to take care of, which is more than I usually have been asked to design. And then, as per the editor's request, I had to try and find photos to go with all of the stories.

If you are not a design person, or interested in the process, then you probably already stopped reading ages ago, and that's OK. You're not reading this.

But for those of you who have some design experience, you know the more items you need to include on a page means more time.

I had 12 photos, one logo and one graphic to place on the pages. This means tweaking sizes of the boxes and the photos, making sure the subject will appear as we want it to in the morning. Then we have to tweak the cutline, or caption, information. I have to change the fonts and resize the boxes. It's tedious, especially when all the boxes have to fit together in one rectangular page.

Then, for the local sports roundups, I had extra work to do. We had plenty of call-ins and lots of information to put together. Those little agate lines, the teeny, tiny lines for scores, don't just happen that way magically. Each box score must be formatted upon its arrival on my page. We do as much as we can to prepare for the boxes, but you always have to line things up once the scores come in. And for that part of the paper, you are most always up against deadline. Games end late, and we wait for the calls. And with our extra-early 10:30 p.m. deadline because of the new press, things get dicey.

While you are designing, you are taking these calls. Jon Futrell helps with the calls, but the designer inevitably has to answer some. And while you are designing, you must keep up with sending the pages down to the press room so they can take care of that operation. You write headlines and edit the stories. It's tough.

I spent the night glued to my chair, eyes never leaving the screen, to get things done on time. I had a bottle of Tums by my side, ready to battle the stress that was boiling up.

And then I made what I consider a very gross error: I spelled a guy's name wrong.

It was my fault, my story. The one I had written earlier that day.

I discovered the error this afternoon and about vomited. I thought an "i" was supposed to be a "y". It wasn't. I even put the name in the headline.

Reporters, editors and designers don't like mistakes. When we make mistakes, we look like idiots, and you the reader lose trust. That's why we edit things before they go into the paper and ask good questions.

I just didn't ask the right question.

So Friday afternoon, instead of furiously checking my photos to make sure tiny black lines bordered every one of them, or if I got in all the scores, I had to bemoan my mistake.

I feel awful. I apologize. I'll never spell his name wrong again.

I'll remember to always ask how you spell your name, even if it's the simple "Smith" or "Jones". Twice. Three times.

And I won't have to design for another six months!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Bonjour!

I ate my Pop-Tarts while watching SportsCenter yesterday morning.

This is a far cry from how last week’s mornings were spent.

Last week I was eating fresh baked brioche and croissants covered in fresh butter and preserves for breakfast while conversing with friends in a foreign country that had never heard of SportsCenter, let alone broadcast it.

Last week, I was in France on a dream vacation (hence the absence of my byline from The Sun). One that included about three minutes of anything sports related.

My three minutes of sports included a drive by the Stade de France, an 80,000 capacity stadium that houses the French rugby and football (soccer) teams. Then I caught about 20 seconds of football clips on the French-speaking news station.

And I wasn’t even trying to isolate myself from sports.

The French culture does not put such a high value on sports like the U.S. does. The papers might have a page, at most, of sports coverage, not entire sections like we do.

For the most part, schools don’t put an emphasis on athletic extra-curricular activity. There are no basketball teams competing for district titles, no baseball teams running bases and certainly no dirt track racing.

A French native I spent a good deal of time with this week said her high school, which is considerably different than one in the U.S., had a fairly prestigious rugby team., which, again, was unusual for French schools. Her focus growing up had been spent on learning: She knows three languages, and is studying to become a journalist, which I understand to be a prestigious and hard-to-achieve status in France.

I did come to know that the French football team in Marseille, the Olympique de Marseille, is a pretty big deal. Say one word against it in a bistro and you might get knifed.

But other than the world fetish of football that the U.S. still has yet to grasp, I was without sports (which wasn’t a bad thing at all for me while on vacation).

Now that I am back in the U.S., I am amazed to see how much of sports consume my life, despite being the main theme behind my profession. I can’t drive five miles in any direction without coming into contact with it in any way.

Rolling into Reidland, Lone Oak, and Calloway County are highway signs proclaiming state champions of some sort. In France, signs like that might say, “Aix en Provence: Home of Paul Cézanne.” (He’s a famous Impressionist painter for the curious)

I’m not complaining, and I’m not praising. It’s just one of many cultural differences between the U.S. and other countries.

****

One of the highlights of my trip was touring the principality of Monaco, which just happened to be setting up for the 79th Monaco Grand Prix.




Monaco is an affluent “country” surrounded by France and the Mediterranean Sea that speaks French, is defended by the French and whose football team competes in the French National Championship. But it’s not in France.

Anyway, traipsing along the streets of Monte Carlo, we discovered all sorts of barriers being put up and construction. Upon further inspection, the barriers were for safety and the sides of the streets were painted with red and white stripes for boundaries. The grandstands were being built on top of store fronts and banners were everywhere advertising for the May 25 race.



The famous Grand Prix snakes through the city and is thought to be one of the most dangerous courses in the world. The streets are narrow, the course has a tunnel and two drivers have lost their lives when they tumbled off the course and into the sea.

Formula 1 might not be my kind of racing, but even I can salivate over one of the coolest events in motorsports history.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Media's madness about women's athletics

As of 1:00 p.m. on the front page of espn.com, there is nothing about the National Championship game that was played on Tuesday night.

If you got all of your sports news from espn.com, you would likely have missed the women’s NCAA National Championship game entirely last night.

I’m more than mad with what our media has done to help the cause of women’s basketball and women’s sports in general.

For the men’s NCAA National Championship game, days were spent giving credence to the two teams involved: Kansas and Memphis. Espn.com designed a whole new top to its front page, involving cutout pictures of players and coaches as a preview to Monday night’s game.

The next day, Tuesday, the day of the women’s NCAA National Championship game, a feature story on Tiger Woods’ caddie took up the main story spot nearly all day on the Web site. The women’s game preview didn’t show up prominently until about three hours before game time. No fancy headlines. No fancy cutout photos. No extra fanfare.

And now, at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, there is not even one headline link to a story about last night’s game. That was not the case yesterday reporting on the men’s game.

The women’s game was shown on ESPN. The men’s game was shown on the CBS network. My parents, along with countless other people in the world, still don’t have cable or satellite and were barely aware the game was even going on.

I watched the game, and also watched all the promos for ESPN. The cable network actually split-screened for a moment, coming out of a timeout, to highlight Manny Ramirez as he ran the bases to score for the Red Sox on a Placido Polanco error.

Millions of people would have killed CBS had they split-screened to highlight a promo for the nightly news. But apparently since it’s a women’s game, it’s OK to show some disrespect.

Best plays of the day that night on ESPN’s highlights did not include a single play from the women’s championship game. Instead, we watched two highlights for foreign soccer.

And it’s not just this Web site that has me mad, it’s the whole media and pop culture surrounding the sport. It’s the people who still come at me saying they’d rather watch “paint dry” than a women’s or girls’ basketball game.

Sports Illustrated has a link for Tennessee’s title game, as the third in a list of the top stories. An NFL mock draft and NHL previews headline the top feature spot.

Do we have office pools fixed on the women’s bracket? Of course not.

Where is all the fanfare for Tennessee coach Pat Summitt’s eighth National Championship? She is only two away from tying John Wooden’s collection of 10 while at UCLA. The program is one of a handful that has won back-to-back titles.

I’m more than bitter. I’m mad. The disparity has gotten better with time, no doubt, and I applaud that. And when you think of other women’s sports that get no media coverage on any level, that bristles my feathers, too.

It starts with the fans, people. Start buying tickets and going to games. Please prove to the media that women’s basketball is something to get behind. Because when the people want it, the media generally responds.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Rain, rain, more of the same...


As of lunchtime, the rain seems to be over for a little bit today.

But the rain we did get is a big downer for me and my plans for the day, and the radars predict more coming.

I was going to head to the Calloway County at St. Mary softball game this afternoon. While likely not a region showdown, the game had promises of being close since both teams played earlier in the season with Calloway coming out with an 8-6 win. But now with the rain and the cruddy weather, fields are going to be too wet for play.

So I’ve been left to handle other responsibilities around the office. I’m working ahead on sports previews and using the telephone to conduct interviews instead of face-to-face. I’m glued to my chair and forced into staring at my computer screen all day when I could be out filling my lungs with spring air.

I’ve worked in the office basically for two weeks now, and I am ready to get back out to games. I’m like a caged animal who is locked in at The Paducah Sun, baring my teeth and scratching at the door. Although baseball and softball are in full swing, we in the sports department are sitting in between seasons, trying to round up information on baseball, softball, tennis, golf, and track and field before we get back out to the events.

It also stinks because when we have no games at night to cover, we nocturnal-leaning sports writers have to work dayside. That means I get up before the early hour of 9 a.m. to try and get to work before 11 a.m.

I’ll just sit at my desk, wait for my phone calls and hope for better weather this weekend.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Hair today, gone tomorrow?


The buzzword in the NFL is hair — long hair, copious amounts of bushy thatch — and whether it should be allowed in the league.

Herm Edwards, the Kansas City Chiefs’ head coach, leads the way in suggesting that long hair on NFL football players either be cut or somehow tucked away from the names plastered on the back of their jerseys.

The proposal will be reviewed in May at the next NFL owner’s meeting, after hearing feedback from the players. See the full story here at espn.com http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=3323895

Hair has nothing to do with X’s and O’s, first downs or spying. But it does have to do with taste and dress code, according to Edwards.

For me, it seems unsafe and just gross. Watching it on high definition TV just magnifies the effeminate locks.

Imagine running around on a field with Troy Polamalu (pictured, No. 43), and getting your hand tangled in his unruly mass. Polamalu receives instant whiplash or paralysis in my eyes, similar consequences from grabbing the face mask of a player.

Not to mention that hair on anybody else’s head other than mine kind of gives me the willies. Especially long man-hair.

So the proposal is out there.

I don’t think the NFL can mandate a league-wide hair cut, nor should it. While not in the NFL, half of Hawaii’s lineup would send a barber into retirement if the NCAA adopted the same scheme. But putting your ponytail into a bun can’t be that troublesome. Girls do it all the time.

To me, it wouldn’t be any different than issuing school uniforms or dictating that TV reporters be freakishly well-groomed.

Is it a big deal, or not? What do you think?

Friday, March 28, 2008


The question a lot of Murray State women’s basketball fans are asking this weekend is “What about Rob Cross?”

Cross is the assistant coach for the Racers and has been for 13 years, joining the program with Eddie Fields, then Joi Felton, and finally spending a year at Jody Adams side before she left for Wichita State on Wednesday.

Should he be considered for the coaching position?

Since I’ve only covered Racer basketball for a year, I’m not going to pretend I have all the answers. I really haven’t spent enough time with Cross to judge his ability to be the head coach for the Racers.

He’s got a great knowledge of the area for recruiting. His familiarity to the program and the players is incredible. He is articulate in his speech and thought, which is a plus for the media.

Adams also credited Cross with the development of post players Angela Brown and Pam Bell. Brown, who came in for her last year of eligibility after sitting out a year, was a force by the end of the season.

I think Cross is more than ready and able to be a successful head coach, I just am not sure if he’s ready to lead the Racers. While he’s a stable force in the community, he’s had the fortune of studying under three Ohio Valley Conference coaches. To win conference championships and be more than a one-and-done program in the NCAA Tournament, I think you need a little more experience than what those three head coaches can give in 13 years.

Racer women’s basketball isn’t just an afterthought to MSU’s athletic department anymore. The program is capable now of competing for and winning championships in the future. The program is very capable of attracting well-groomed applicants for the head coaching position, i.e. Jody Adams.

Whomever the MSU athletic department brings in for a head coach, Cross will be a key asset, just like he was in Adams’ transition, and needs to be rewarded in some way for his loyalty to the program if he chooses to stay on and not as the head coach.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Good-bye

Cliché as it sounds, I, too, was shocked by the departure of Murray State’s women’s basketball coach, Jody Adams.

For five months, I’ve talked to Jody at least twice a week (She had insisted her players call her Jody, thus nearly everyone did.). At the end of the season, as I worked on a story about her performance and achievements in only her first year as a head coach, I joked about how she would be a hot commodity to other schools. She just humbly blushed and said, “No.”

At the end of those five months, I’d like to say we’d established a good rapport. Jody let me tag around with the team in College Park, Md., at the NCAA Tournament to avoid boredom in a hotel. In return, I kept a professional distance and made sure not to bug anyone until it was my turn to ask questions.

In my time reporting, it turned out we knew a lot of the same people. I spent last season covering the Missouri women’s basketball team, and coach Cindy Stein is one of Jody’s best friends. Murray assistant coach Kerensa Barr also came out of Missouri.

During interviews, Jody always made sure to ask about me and seemed interested in getting to know me not only as a professional, but as a person. I appreciated that. A lot.

Jody’s brown eyes would constantly twinkle with mirth, especially when teasing reporters in a press conference. She could still stare a reporter down with the best of hard-nosed coaches, but she would straight talk. I appreciated that. A lot.

I figured she’d give Murray State at least three years. I think she did, too. Either way, I’ve said good-bye to a coach that I genuinely liked as a person, and that hurts a bit. I wish her the best of luck, and hope the reporters out in Kansas appreciate their new source just as much as I did.

----

On a side note, I got a chuckle out of the poster on racerfans.com suggesting that Calloway County girls basketball coach Scott Sivills be considered for MSU’s newest opening.

As much as I enjoy talking with Sivills and understand what he’s done for Calloway basketball, he’s no Division I head coach. Although his dark-rimmed glasses and brightly colored blazers would be great story fodder.

And while Sheri Coale at Oklahoma came straight out of high school to D-I, Oklahoma was a nod away from dismantling the women’s basketball program — it was that pitiful at the time. The Racers are at a crucial point of building a reputable program. Big difference.