Another Mailbag for Readers
More snow showers have left us without a lot of games this week, so I thought it would be a good time to dust off the mailbag. I had a few questions that I left out from a couple of weeks ago and I figured people are finally done reading that epic novel, so let’s give you more answers.
As always, these are questions I’ve gotten submitted or asked while out and about in the Warren County sports world. If you want to submit questions, you can do it by emailing email@example.com. There is always a chance I may send you some WCSA swag or gift you a month subscription!
OK, let’s get to your questions:
What is it going to take for an elementary team to crack the top 10 stories rankings?
I should’ve known when the Top 10 stories of 2021 generated thousands of clicks in December that it would lead to a debate. It was pretty obvious I would be fielding questions about it for a while once I started getting people trying to push their favorite moment/team/athlete onto the list the day I put up No. 10 (Dec. 22). Of all the comments I got about it, positive and negative, I may have liked this one the most.
It wasn’t delivered with malice (I rarely get hate mail anymore, sadly. I loved it when I did back in the day). It was just a very candid and curious question – why do elementary champions rarely ever garner spots on the top 10 lists at the end of the year?
Since I started doing top 10 lists a decade ago, I can probably count on one hand how many times an elementary champion made it (I’m pretty sure Dibrell, when it was on a 30-plus game winning streak, made it). It doesn’t happen much, that’s for sure. Let me explain my reasoning with an example.
Ever hear MVP debates in sports and hear people say teammates cancel each other out? It’s the Steph Curry-Kevin Durant issue (Freddy Freeman and Ronald Acuna are another good example). It’s hard to distinguish which one would be better, so you just gravitate to a single person on another team.
For elementary basketball, it’s hard to distinguish between so many championship teams. When you take into account there are boys and girls 7-8 grade teams winning titles and boys and girls 5-6 grade teams taking home trophies in the same year (5-6 grade also has Districts, which adds more champs), how do you pick which is more impressive? I’d venture to guess that every year there are at least two undefeated elementary champions – and that may be a low figure.
That may be a cop out, but that’s just how I look at it. Admittedly, I also usually look for high school events first too. It feels like the most impressive things that stand out in Warren County athletics are when one of our local teams beats a rival from outside the border. I could be wrong though.
What’s it going to take? Maybe a team comprised of the same players winning multiple championships over a 3-year stretch, like Dibrell did back in the day. Otherwise, I don’t know if you’ll see many elementary champions ever ranked in the top 10 (if it happens, you can probably assume the local HS teams had really poor years).
How rare is a top 10 matchup in Warren County? Also, did you really pick Coffee County over Warren County at media day?
Second part first – Yes, I picked the Lady Raiders, who were coming off a 28-win season and returning multiple starters, to win the newly formed, four-team District 6-4A in the preseason. I’m pretty sure it was unanimous among coaches and media, so I wasn’t exactly out on a limb. Through the first round of games for all teams, Coffee County is alone at the top, so it looks like my pick was pretty spot on so far.
Now, the more important part: Top 10 games are exceedingly rare around these parts. Off the top of my head, aside from last week’s CC-WCHS matchup at Charlie Dalton Gym, I can only think of one more that I’ve covered. It was recent too – the 2020 Pioneer football team was 8-0 and ranked in the top 10 in 6A when it faced top 10 Riverdale at home.
Could there be more I’m forgetting from the last 12 years? Sure. A lot of it comes down to what rankings you’re looking at too – MaxPreps and CoachT have their rankings that I’ve never really looked at much. It you go by those though, I’m sure there have been multiple top 10 matchups just this season (I’m guessing the Lady Pioneers and White County are both top 10 and they’ve met twice on the hardwood already).
I know there have been wins for Warren County that I covered where they beat top 10 teams, though our local teams weren’t similarly ranked. Coach Erick Baird had a huge win over a Cannon County team that was ranked while he led the Lady Pioneers, while coach Chris Sullens’ Pioneers toppled a top 10 team in the postseason last year (East Hamilton, who the Pioneers beat in OT in the region semifinals, were a top 10 group). There was also a wild win by the Pioneer baseball team several years ago when they beat Tullahoma when the Wildcats had the Sheffield brothers (Justus and Jordan).
I believe those Wildcats were NATIONALLY ranked when the Pioneers won a crazy game at Patrick Ramsey Field. Forgive me if memory isn’t totally correct, but I’m pretty sure side-arm slinger Will Sweeton was huge on the mound for Warren County that night. That was a huge victory for the program.
If I had to guess, I would say when Warren County finally beat Cookeville in Volleyball back in 2012, ending a 26-year losing streak, the Lady Pioneers and Lady Cavaliers both had to be considered two of the top 10 programs in the state. Both of those teams won over 40 games that year.
The same could be said when the Warren County Lady Pioneer softball won the region championship in 2019. By the time they faced Siegel at home in substate, Warren County – with a roster that would eventually have seven players sign college scholarships – had to be one of the best 10 teams in AAA.
(You can make an argument any substate matchup – girls soccer in 2012-13, baseball against Riverdale under Adam Childs - is pretty close to being a top 10 matchup. By then, there are usually only 16 teams in the state still playing).
I loved the atmosphere of the recent top 10 matchups in Warren County. I’m hopeful we can host many more in the coming years.
Who wins in a game between the Lady Broncos and Lady Pioneers?
People really aren’t going to let me keep dancing around this, are they? In the last two mailbags, I’ve addressed this and made the point about how we really don’t need the game, but people keeping hitting me with the “what if,” question.
OK fine. I’ll add my two cents – I think it would be a good game and I’d have Warren County as a favorite. That number would probably depend on where the game was played – Boyd’s home-court advantage is real and can affect other teams by playing in such confined spaces. Still, I’d probably give the Lady Pioneers an edge on the road and make them a moderate favorite at home (7-10 points).
I don’t think that’s very controversial when you consider one school is assembling a team from over 2,000 students while they other is picking from 40-50 high school kids. One would assume with more options, you’d have a chance to find more talent.
While I’ve not felt any need to push for the game – or pick a winner – I would like to see the PG matchup between sophomores Sable Winfree and Laney Copeland. They are both effective in different ways and contrasting styles clashing usually makes for an entertaining battle.
If it ever happens, I’ll be on the front row rooting for both.
Your competition seems to think a red wave is coming in 2022 – what do you think about the number of candidates (some announced on your site) getting ready for the Republican primary?
I had to ask and clarify what they were talking about and it was a Standard column, titled “Better Run as a Republican.” Here’s the link: https://www.southernstandard.com/opinions/scoop-better-run-republican/
The basic premise was that anybody wanting to run and win in 2022 better have Republican beside their name. It was based off how Warren County has voted in state and federal elections recently – basically, the Trump elections.
While that may be the case, I didn’t really like how it was presented. It seemed too lackadaisical in the action – just put Republican by your name if you want to win. Well, you probably SHOULD BE a Republican to run as such. The same could be said if you want to run as a Democrat.
Just adopting the side that is most popular in Warren County at the time to win an election is a good way for people to continue to roll their eyes at politicians. You could have written the same column a few years back and it would’ve undoubtedly been titled, “Better Run as a Democrat.” It would’ve been just as disingenuous then as it is now and yet, it’s going to happen locally.
Here’s my two things: sometimes it shouldn’t matter and nothing is ever guaranteed.
1) When I say it shouldn’t matter, here is what I mean: There are some offices up for election in 2022 where I don’t think there really needs to be distinction for party affiliation. I don’t know exactly what a Register of Deeds does (aside from register deeds), but I really don’t think I need to know where they may stand on Roe vs. Wade to make them more (or less) fit for the job. Same for Road Superintendent – I think Republicans and Democrats all agree with the need for roads without potholes.
I don’t care if people running for those jobs declare their party, I just don’t think it will mean much. I doubt there will be any sweeping sign of change or precedent set if, for example, we elect a Democratic judge or Republican court clerk.
There are positions where it does matter – County executive stands out, as does all open county commissioner seats. Voters can probably glean some understanding of people’s thoughts on tax policies, role of government, etc. from their party affiliation (it’s not iron-clad, but there are leanings on important topics generally). Those are places where I think it would be wise for people to declare their affiliation – their TRUE affiliation.
2) I still don’t think running as a Republican means you’ll win in Warren County. Nothing about our local elections in the last 6-8 years back that up. In the same time when Donald Trump was winning the county by 10,000 votes and Republicans were cleaning up in state races, Warren County was still electing people locally that would probably sit on the other side of the aisle.
Jimmy Haley was elected both Mayor and County Executive in that time frame (as an independent). He’s probably still the betting favorite to be elected in 2022 too and I doubt you’ll ever see Republican beside his name. At the city level, Ryle Chastain topped both Brett Simmons and Billy Wood in the last Mayor race. Again, they were all independents (that’s how the city works), but I’d say the winner was least likely to be somebody identified with the Republican party.
Races for alderman and county commissioners played out the same way. For the paper to say somebody would have to be a Republican to win, I’d say if you survey our community and asked them if they thought each individual making up the county commission and board of Mayor and aldermen were liberal or conservative (and Republican or Democrat), it would come out liberal and Democrat (particularly at the highest levels).
With all that said, I do believe you’ll have a record number of Republicans elected in Warren County in 2022. A lot of that will be because we’re going to set a local record for how many Republicans are on the ballot too.
How much longer will print newspapers be viable at all in America?
Depends on the market. I think small-town communities are going to hang on for a while, even if it means printing just once a week (pretty much every community around Warren County has one paper a week). Around these parts, I could see the paper sticking around and being “viable” as a business venture for another decade. I won’t go into too much detail about finances – I know all about them though – but I think a paper will still print in our town through 2030. I will say though, the product will get smaller (it has shrunk tremendously just in the time I’ve been in media) and will ultimately print fewer times a week (it almost happened recently).
It will be about cutting cost (paper, ink, buildings) and staff to keep the product in the black. The classifieds revenue is gone and isn’t coming back. Advertising is going to go where the viewers are (hint: mobile devices and online) and print subscribers are aging out (to put it delicately). The last print products will have one or two people compiling information and putting out product on a weekly or monthly basis (like all those free publications you see outside grocery stores).
Nationally, I think print newspapers are already building toward going online. It’s happening rapidly and will continue to as more and more people look at their phones instead of their front yards for the news. I’m really curious to see how the New York Times purchasing The Athletic plays out – it could be a harbinger for how the medium plays out in the next 4-5 years.
There was a time when I started writing at the paper that I wondered if it was a job I could keep until I retired. Now, I know that’s not going to happen (and not because I was fired). I don’t think there are any journalism graduates in 2022 that will hit retirement age still writing for print newspapers.
You’re an NBA guy – what do you think about the Lakers and Russell Westbrook?
This almost felt like my readers are trying to make me angry. It’s nice that you recognize I’m an NBA fan (rare around these parts), but then you ask about the Lakers when you know they are one of the San Antonio Spurs’ main rivals. I’ll answer it, but just know it’s coming from a biased Spurs fan who is absolutely loving the Lakers being in turmoil.
The Lakers got themselves in trouble by banking on Westbrook to become something he has never shown signs of being. He wouldn’t play second fiddle to Kevin Durant (one of the best scorers ever), so what made them think he’d be happy being the third option behind LeBron James and Anthony Davis? He never showed that he could be a role player – he’s always bent people to his will, not submitted to others.
I would go deeper into how much they screwed up their cap space (something I love tracking), but I can already imagine eyes glazing over just by reading a few paragraphs on the NBA. I’ll leave you with this – the Lakers (and no other team) is going to win an NBA championship with Russell Westbrook in the starting lineup. That ship has sailed.
Any early favorites for the Simmons Superlatives (If you do them again)?
I will definitely be doing the Simmons Superlatives again. If you missed them last spring, I picked the top teams, athletes, seniors, freshmen, under-the-radar players, coaches and moments for the 2020-21 school year. Unless something crazy happens, I’ll do the same this May-June (whenever all school teams finish their years).
I wouldn’t want to spoil it, but I’m sure it’s pretty obvious by now that Katie Toney is going to win a Simmons Superlative. You don’t break school records, win MVP honors and get named all-state by accident. I’ll break it all down in a few months, but Toney is going to win something.
Lauren Slatton’s run to the state tournament, where she finished in the top 10, will draw a bunch of attention too. Standouts on the Boyd and WCHS girls basketball teams are going to make it tough to make picks on the female side for 2021-22 (that’s not even factoring in Madison Hollis - a Superlative runner-up last year who has yet to suit up on the diamond).
As for the boys, I think it’s a wide-open race. Could Christian Rogers (Boyd) or Noah Mason (Covenant) make a push in the next month? I think so. Will our cross country standouts – Alec Smith and Caleb Stovall – duplicate their success on the track in the spring? Is Caleb Mackie going to make another run to the state tournament on the mat, or does a teammate make the leap?
I’m kind of like Santa Claus when it comes to the Simmons Superlatives – I’m always making a list and checking it twice.
We know you like Ted Lasso, Yellowstone and Taylor Swift now – what other TV/Movies and music do you like?
Gees, this could be a 3,000-word answer on its own. I like a lot of stuff and I think it’s a wide variety too. When it comes to music, I may go from listening to Taylor Swift to Tupac, then to The Four Seasons and the Temptations.
I don’t have Spotify to tell me my most listened to artists. If you want a sample of my taste, I would say these 10 artists – not counting TSwift – are a start: Tyler Childers, The Avett Brothers, Elvis Presley, Glass Animals, Drake, Mumford and Sons, Morgan Wallen, The Weeknd, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats and Bruno Mars – I love Silk Sonic’s ‘Smokin out the Window.’
When I made a recent Facebook post about the upcoming Bonnaroo lineup, I had a friend tell me I needed to check out Andy Frasco and the UN. I’ve been playing this tune a lot lately:
As for TV, I’ve been rewatching Breaking Bad lately as I eagerly await the return of Peaky Blinders and Ozark. I still need to watch S4 of Cobra Kai too. I’ve enjoyed all the Marvel shows – Loki was the best. Outer Banks is a guilty pleasure.
For me, there’s never a bad time to catch a rerun of The Office. Also, I’m probably one of the few fans of the show that you won’t hear complain about how Game of Thrones ended – I just thought it was a good, entertaining stuff every week. I gave up on the Walking Dead after 7-8 seasons, but loved every episode of Scrubs and Seinfeld. My favorite TV show as a teenager was the OC and I still rewatch the first season every 2-3 years.
We can stop there for TV shows.
Movies – my personal top five would have Dazed and Confused, No Country for Old Men, Anchorman, The Big Lebowski and Rocky IV (in some order). If you check my DVR, you’re also going to find Major League, Road House, Super Troopers (1 &2), Molly’s Game, Baby Driver, Charlie Wilson’s War, Smokey and the Bandit, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Scott Pilgrim, both Godfathers, High Fidelity and a bunch more.
I’ve seen all the MCU movies (I think). The newest Spiderman was great (shoutout to Three Star Cinema, I saw it there on opening night) and Eternals was OK. I’m pretty easy to please when it comes to movies – I just want to be entertained and leave in a good mood. Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift was one of my favorite movies to watch in the theater, while Passion of the Christ, World Trade Center and Flight 93 are tied for my worst movies to see in the theater.
I’m not saying any of those three movies are bad, I just felt horrible when I left my seat. I don’t want to feel horrible when I leave – cross that bar and you get a passing grade from me.
Were you surprised by the K’rojhn news?
No. I probably keep track of Vols’ roster lookout as much as I do for the Pioneers, so I wasn’t too shocked when K’Rojhn decided to transfer. College football is a business and sometimes programs make business decisions. It may not be right, but it happens (EVERY team does, so I don’t want to hear the fans of other schools saying their school wouldn’t do it – they would and they have).
I’m happy K’Rojhn is reuniting with a coach he obviously trusts a lot. Walt Wells recruited him to UT, so it only made sense he would want K’Rojhn – an immense talent – to suit up for the EKU Colonels.
I hope K’Rojhn can stay healthy and dominate this fall. I like to tell people he’s the one percent of the one percent – There are few human beings on the world who possess more athletic ability. He’s gigantic while also being freakishly fast and strong. You couldn’t build a lineman with better athletic features than K’Rojhn.
If he stays healthy and gets invited to the NFL combine next year, I think he’s going to get drafted. It wouldn’t shock me if he got drafted high too (as long as his medical is good).
What’s one ‘take’ you’d like to have back or delete out of your archives?
Tough one. I don't really think of myself a "hot take" guy. I'm not Stephen A. Smith, just yelling stuff I don't believe in hopes it will draw attention. Maybe I should do it more, but I'm not trying to build an audience attracted to drama.
People would be surprised by this, but I can’t recite everything I’ve said over the years. There are days when people compliment me for a story or a paragraph I wrote just a day or two before and I don’t remember it. When you’ve written millions of words and thousands of stories, they all just bleed together.
The first thing that came to mind was the Malcolm Montgomery – Van Buren County situation. Because Van Buren County was so open during that process (and Warren County, including Montgomery, wouldn’t talk), there was no “getting both sides of the story.”
VBC coaches and administrators were forthcoming with the things they felt happened that night that could’ve been handled better (their student section was rowdy and some parents/fans came on the court to confront WC coaches in the aftermath). Their coach was also proactive in trying to keep the peace late when one of his players was bloodied by an inadvertent elbow - a weird play that had no intent but got the crowd fired up.
On the other side, it didn’t help that I asked a bunch of kids on the bench (and many people behind it) that night about what was said that prompted Montgomery to take his Pioneers to the locker room and I got different answers every time. Nobody seemed to agree if there was something said that would’ve justified them leaving the bench.
Because of all the answers I got, I wrote at the time that it was a bad look for Warren County to walk off the court when the game seemed to slip away (two technical fouls were called on the Pioneers in the seconds leading up to storm off). Over the last 10 years, I’ve never gotten a fully explained reason for why they left other than somebody said something (and again, some said they heard things and others said they didn’t).
If I was doing that story again now, I think the context of the night would draw more attention. I had a candid conversation with a coach (who, like Malcolm, is an African American) about this lately and what really stuck out to me during the conversation was him talking about the gorilla and banana suits worn by VBC students that night. That was something I barely even registered, but he thought it was a telling sign of the atmosphere for the game. He opened my eyes to a viewpoint that I didn’t find on my own.
I wouldn’t delete anything I wrote about it at the time, but I really wish Warren County would’ve been more proactive about telling their side (they were fined for forfeiting in the aftermath, though I think it may have gotten waived eventually). On my part, I wish I had more insight to differing viewpoints than I did when I was 26. I was still a kid in a situation that, in a lot of ways, was probably too complex and big for me to fathom in the moment.
Also, I couldn’t even begin to imagine how big a story that same incident would be in 2022. It would be immediate national news.