Leader Blues

Friday, August 07, 2009

SPORTS >> AAA tackles recruiting; sportsmanship still up to coaches

By KELLY FENTON
Leader sports editor

Last November I witnessed a pretty solid Beebe Badger team travel to Pulaski Academy and get their helmets handed to them in a 63-21 trouncing in the second round of the 5A playoffs. It would have been one thing had the Badgers hung close for a while and the game just got out of hand late.

But the truth of the matter is, and I mean no disrespect at all to the Badgers, Beebe had almost no chance of winning that game.

Iíd add that the score might have been worse, but Iím not sure it could have been. Bruins coach Kevin Kelley apparently is way more interested in watching his offensive genius exhibited on the field than in exhibiting any sense of sportsmanship.

A week later, Leader sportswriter Jason King traveled to Springdale and saw another outstanding team in Lonoke get run off the field early in a 47-7 rout at the hands of Shiloh Christian.

The Jackrabbits, who dominated the 2-4A and lost only to Beebe during the regular season, never had a chance. King at the time noted nearly 80 players on the sidelines for the Saints. Lonoke, in contrast, listed a mere 50 on its roster.

Now, Iím not here to suggest we should mandate parity. Itís not only impossible, itís not the American way. What I am suggesting is that there is something terribly wrong when one team (Shiloh Christian) is 70 points better than a playoff opponent, which the Saints were in their 84-14 win over Clarksville last fall, or is 40 points better than a 10-1 Lonoke team, or 39 points better than one of the 4A semifinalists Ė the 11-1 Osceola Seminoles.

Likewise, you cannot mandate sportsmanship. If a coach or a school or a community has their minds set on exalting themselves through dominance on the gridiron, itís their perverse right, I suppose. In fact, my guess is that many of the better coaches on the losing ends of those lopsided scores have used the experience to hammer home some lessons to their players.

Beebe coach John Shannon suggested after the PA game that his players and coaches had just got a glimpse of what it takes to reach the next level. And Iím guessing he also might have touched on the theme of sportsmanship after that game as well.

What did the PA kids learn? Maybe that winning is easy. Maybe that winning big is better. Letís hope thatís not the lessons they took away from their PA experience because that wonít serve them well in the real world.

The Arkansas Activities Association took up the matter of private school vs. public school inequality in its board of governors meeting on Tuesday and may have come up with a way to at least put a patina of fairness on the matter. Given the choice of placing all 21 private schools in their own postseason tournament (Proposal 7) or tightening the transfer rules (Proposal 8), the board opted for the latter.

On a side note, I find it interesting that the matter of recruiting is addressed so openly in Proposal 8 and yet when I mentioned it on Fearless Friday about nine months ago, I was immediately banned Ė no warning, no opportunity for appeal. Makes me think the people running the board over there might have some dogs in this hunt.

Proposal 8, which was adopted after Proposal 7 narrowly failed, mandates that any athlete wishing to play at a school that offers financial assistance must enroll in that school in the first year that it offers classes, usually seventh grade. If an athlete decides to enroll at the school at any point after that, he or she would be banned from athletic competition for 365 days.

Yes, that should help alleviate the problem the board moderators at Fearless Friday donít want anyone acknowledging: recruitment. And while I think that option is much better than the one of having private schools compete for their own state championship, it wonít resolve the matter perfectly.

The fact is, some private schools simply have built-in advantages. Shiloh Christian has players who arenít quite good enough to start at 7A Springdale banging on their door. And letís face it, a second-stringer at Springdale High is likely going to star at 4A Shiloh. You canít exactly blame that on the Saints.

And letís give credit where it is due. Pulaski Academy and Shiloh Christian have put their advantages to good use, establishing outstanding feeder programs at the junior high level, where they hammer home the fundamentals of their high-powered offensive systems early. By the time these kids arrive at the high school level, they essentially have three years experience under their belts.

Weíll always have inequality in competition ó at all levels. We should all just accept that fact. What the AAA has done is to rein in that inequality to some extent. Thatís about all you can ask.

As for the matter of sportsmanship, no legislation can mandate that. Thatís up to coaches, administrators and communities to decide what lessons they want to teach their kids.