Simmons returns with a mailbag
It’s been far too long since I’ve written a column. I had an idea for two different ones early last week, but I got pretty sick over the weekend and really haven’t recovered until now (I think this is where I have to clarify that I didn’t have COVID and, even if I did, I’m fully vaccinated so I should be fine, right?). Anyway, the majority of my columns all usually spawn from conversations or questions I get from others, so why not shift into mailbag mode and answer some questions and give my thoughts. It’s why I get paid the medium bucks!
These are all questions I've been asked over the last couple of weeks by multiple people. If you want to submit a question for future WCSA mailbags, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If I can get enough, I'd love to do this weekly! OK, here we go:
How do we keep the best athletes from Warren County in Warren County?
This was going to be the premise for a big column, but I feel like I’ve already addressed this issue a number of times. I think it resurfaced recently because Alaina Stiles made her homecoming trip to Warren County with the Warriorettes (something I joked about before the game with White County fans) and because Dyson Elam – a standout at WCMS last year who is now playing at Blackman – was spotted at some games. I know I got the question about athletes leaving with them two referenced a few times already during basketball season.
First, I have to say that every case is different. For Alaina, it should noted she was never in the Warren County school system playing sports (to my knowledge). When she competed locally, it was at Boyd. As much as I thought she was a potential missing piece for the Lady Pioneers during her elementary days – I even wrote that I thought she was one of the five best girls players in the county as an eighth-grader, regardless of age – there was never a guarantee she was going to play for Warren County.
As for Dyson, I’m about 99.9 percent sure his family moved to Murfreesboro shortly after his older brother Dante graduated high school. Those things happen. We’ve benefited from kids moving to town from Murfreesboro as recently as last year, when Dee Spates (formerly a Blackman Blaze baller) was winning District 6AAA tournament MVP.
Personally, I don’t think it should be hard to convince athletes to stay in Warren County. We are perfectly capable of grooming them to be college athletes here AND they can have loads of team and personal success. We’re just a couple days removed from the one-year anniversary of CJ Taylor going up to Nissan Stadium and hoisting the Mr Football trophy.
Think about it – name me a rural community school in the area that can say they had two SEC athletes on one field this year? When Vandy and Tennessee clashed last month, CJ and K’rojhn Calbert were able to pose for pictures after the game.
When I first started writing sports in Warren County, Cody Robinson was getting interest from D1 schools and I was told he was a “once-in-a-generation” talent on the football field. Basically, people were under the belief that Warren County couldn’t product high-level, D1 talent consistently – we got those kids once every 15-20 years.
That’s bogus. They may not all be signing at major schools, but Warren County is consistently producing college athletes in every single sport. Just name the sport and there’s a good chance we have a kid playing it in college somewhere – including another D1 athlete in Tyra Wright at Charleston Southern.
Heck, we even have high-level college dancers. CJ and K’Rojhn weren’t the only SEC athletes this fall – Kataen Shockley and Mary Humphrey got a chance to meet up when Ole Miss took on Vandy this year.
Kids, it doesn’t matter if you want to dominate at football, dance or do any sport in between, you can do it at Warren County and get noticed. I’m stunned Warren County doesn’t pull more kids from surrounding counties that want to come here and get a chance to move to the next level.
As I liked to tell people for the last year, if you want to be the most noticed athlete in the state of Tennessee, play quarterback at Warren County and lead the Pioneers to victories. The last guy who did it was Mr. Football and went to the SEC. It’s an easy recruiting pitch – if any team outside of Oakland was able to get away with such things.
What the heck is going on at Boyd? 91-6???
Here’s another question I got from several people after the Boyd Lady Broncos absolutely demolished Covenant in a matchup just before Thanksgiving. Local basketball fans wanted to know just how legit Boyd's girls are since they’re still perfect and clobbering opponents this season.
I can say with a good amount of certainty – maybe 85 points, I mean percent - that the Lady Broncos are better than Covenant this season. For the last few years, it’s been a coin flip between the Lady Broncos and Lady Lions to see who the county’s second-best team would be. This year, there is no question.
Now, before you ask, ‘Are they just the second-best team?´ Let me just stop you right now. Don’t bother comparing the Lady Broncos and Lady Pioneers – that’s one showdown you aren’t going to get to see. As somebody that has been down that road before, the “what if,” scenario is usually a lot more fun to think about then actually seeing it play out anyway.
Back to the question –how good are the Lady Broncos? They are a very good small school team. They have a bunch of players who know their roles and play them exceedingly well.
Boyd has done a good job of rounding out its roster with solid athletes, capable shooters and talented ball handlers from surrounding schools. Laney Copeland is an emerging talent as the team’s sophomore PG, while the wings – Lia Wright and Audrey Durham – are as athletic as you’re going to see from schools that have enrollments lower than the cost of one ticket to the Music City Bowl. Anna Jones is a center who shoots like a guard, while Krista Chisam, Jaycie Hodges and Sarah Kate Brogden play their role to perfection.
Some have asked me if Boyd’s path to success was paved by recruiting. I honestly don’t know the answer, though I’m sure the Lady Broncos were waiting with open arms once many of their current players decided to enroll at the local private school in the last 12-18 months.
If recruiting is why the Lady Broncos are suddenly 9-0, well, so what? I don’t hate them for it – private schools, particularly ones not aligned with the TSSAA, have different rules. Me and the late Al Davis share the same mentality – Just Win, Baby!
I’d also add that if anything, the Lady Broncos deserve some luck with transfers coming to the school after having to endure the heartbreak of seeing one of its best teams break up a few years back.
I remember how excited Boyd fans were at Charlie Dalton Gym four years ago when the Lady Broncos won the 7-8 grade elementary title. That Lady Bronco team was led by Alaina Stiles (didn’t think she would be mentioned twice in this column, but here we are), Sydney Burger and Emma Fulks. Nowadays, Stiles is a Warriorette (and will be at Freed Hardeman next fall), while Burger plays for the Lady Pioneers and Fulks fills a role at Coffee County.
Only Jones remains from that title team, though she’s not the only girl on the Lady Broncos right now who played in that memorable championship game. Wright was on the other sideline representing Morrison. I wonder if they ever talk about that game – odds are they barely remember much of it, other than Boyd winning.
Anyway, I’m looking forward to seeing the Lady Broncos again soon. Same for Christian Rogers and the Broncos. Boyd has some fun basketball players – go see them!
When are you going to run for an office?
I was grateful to not have to hear “when are you going to settle down and have kids,” this Thanksgiving (as if I don’t try – I don’t think the pick-up line, "Hey, I'm the WC Sports Authority," is alluring to women). But I was surprised when I had one family member ask me at one dinner if I was going to run for office in 2022. I quickly shut that talk down too.
As somebody who does live in the city (barely – I think I made it by 100 yards), I guess I could run for alderman or a county commissioner seat. That just doesn’t seem like something I want to subject myself to right now. I hate asking people for money to read my work – even when it’s my livelihood – so I would loathe going around asking people to vote for me (and give me money for a campaign).
I just don’t have a good enough filter to be diplomatic. I’m extremely sarcastic and like to make jokes about pretty much everything. I don’t know how well that would go over in a hypothetical debate (as if anybody pays attention to those). I’d probably come off like Cam Brady in “The Campaign,” (played by Will Ferrell). I can't be out there offending potential readers or punching babies.
It's a funny movie, if you haven't seen it.
I won’t rule out the possibility of running for some small office in the future, but you won’t see me on any ballots in 2022. I do, however, invite anybody who does put their name on a ballot next year to announce their plans to run on the WC Sports Authority site. We’ll do it free of charge!
How do we get the county championship games at one place?
Several readers wanted to know how to fix the county championship games after my column last month. Like me, they thought it was a pretty good idea to make sure when we crown county champions, the games are played at one central venue. This year, the sixth-grade championship games were played on the same night at the same time at Centertown and Eastside.
Really, I don’t think it’s a hard fix. If fans just keep asking for the county teams, principals and administration to consider it, enough people will get in the room together and make it happen. It shouldn’t take much to plan it out and make it a night to remember every year.
If I was working at Milner Recreation Center and had a brand-new, $10+ Million facility that should be a showcase for huge events, I’d be offering my court free of charge to the county. Send a portion of the gate money to the participating schools and bank the concession money - Boom, done!
If the city somehow blows that open layup, then Charlie Dalton Gym is a good alternate venue. I’ll always volunteer to be on the broadcast if Joe Harvey and his great WCS-TV team wants to air the game. The only thing I’ll ask is to keep the camera on the court and off of me.
Have you ever had issues with cheerleaders on the baseline at basketball games?
I know why two people asked me this question and no, I’m not taking that bait. It’s very funny though.
Also funny: Yes, I have had one issue with limited room on the baseline with cheerleaders and one other that had nothing to do with cheerleaders. I’ll tell you about both instances.
Early in my career, I had trouble getting some pictures at a game between DeKalb County and Warren County in Smithville. It’s a small gym and the cheerleaders were controlling both baselines, where it’s much easier to get pictures of players fully visible (instead of side profiles from the sidelines). At one point, I may have let out my frustration loud enough that some of the DeKalb County cheerleaders heard me complaining.
They never said anything to me and I moved shortly after, but a few days later DeKalb County played at Boyd and I made sure to find their cheerleading coach and apologize. She said she hadn’t heard anything, but I felt like I needed to say sorry because it was unprofessional of me to be bellyaching about it. We had a good talk about the baseline and the problems of operating in a cramped gym.
At the end of the day, we both agreed that the girls need their space. After all, they’re part of the game and I’m just there covering it. I’ve usually found if you will accommodate them, they’ll accommodate you. It’s never been a big issue even in small gyms – just one time when I got frustrated.
As for the other time, it was with a referee who decided he was going to flex his muscles. I was at Boyd covering a game and was alone on the concession stand baseline minding my own business when I was told I couldn’t stand there.
I’ve heard that before on the baseline, but it was when I was standing in the lane – there are rules about people being inside the paint behind the basket that I didn’t know about when I first started working in sports media. But that night at Boyd, I was well removed from the paint, so I asked him why I needed to move.
He told me I needed to move and he wasn’t going to start the game back until I was clear of the area. I wasn’t really happy with that answer and, not so politely, asked for an explanation. He just put the ball under his arm and stared at me as it was starting to become a scene in a small gym where everybody can hear everything.
I just shrugged my shoulders, grabbed my stuff and headed toward the door. I told him he could tell the game administrator why Boyd wouldn’t have any pictures in their next story, and he said he didn’t care, I just had to move.
On busy basketball nights in Warren County, you can find a game at 5-6 different gyms. I just went across town to a game where referees would let me take pictures from the baseline.
The next day I had a conversation with the referee assigner. I don’t know if you know this about referees, but they don’t like to admit when they’re wrong. Their bosses don’t either.
I asked why, after three years, my spot on the baseline was a problem and was told I just couldn’t be there. Of course this wasn’t true, but he was backing up his guy and the ruling instead of saying the guy screwed up. After a while, I just said that I’d go to another gym if I saw that guy calling the game I showed up at and I’ll never forget the assigner telling me, “It sounds like you just don’t want to do your job.”
Man, officials are fun! So much fun!
After the harsh words – I said plenty of my own – cooler heads prevailed and we acknowledged that refs have a tough job and I have a tough job (I really don’t though). I’ve talked to the guy plenty of times since and it’s always a good conversation – Referees, when they aren’t working, really are fun. You can’t beat their stories – maybe someday I can get a few on podcasts.
You can probably guess, but it’s been 8-9 years since then and I’ve been on the baseline at Boyd games dozens of times since then without issues. I’ve been at EVERY school in Warren County on the baselines without issues, even in games that one special referee called. It was never talked about again.
Here’s the thing I’ve found out: just don’t take yourself that serious and go with the flow in this gig. Watch my interviews on Facebook (or Ansley’s), do you ever get the feeling we feel like we’re auditioning to be on ESPN? Of course not! We’re just trying to have fun and make people excited about sports in Warren County.
That’s all this job is about – making people excited about sports, not me. Heck, most people who know about the WC Sports Authority probably think of Ansley as much as they do me. And I’m perfectly fine with that! I just take comfort in knowing people look forward to talking to us at games because they know it’s a chill experience and we aren’t going to play a game of ‘Gotcha’ with them when it comes to trick questions.
Anyway, appreciate people trying to tee it up for me, but I’m still trying to play nice with my competitors!
Finally, let’s get to the Facebook post by Jeff Chisam:
Elementary basketball – the topic that can spark a 200-comment debate! If you’ve read all of the comments (man, I hope you had better things to do), then you probably have a good idea of where I stand. And if you listen to the WC Sports Authority Podcast on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, then you already know I went deep on this topic with WCHS boys coach Chris Sullens and recent champion John Bryan O’Connor (Tiger Pride, baby!) just a month or so ago.
Here is a summary of what I would like Warren County to do when it comes to county basketball:
1. Get the best 10-12 boys and girls together by grade starting in sixth grade and let that team – playing as Warren County (Middle School) – take on competition from out of the area. To do that, WCMS would have to list all elementary county schools as co-op programs (they do in every other sport already) and county schools would probably have to refer to their ball teams as “clubs.” (They really are already considering they aren’t recognized at any state level, just by our county).
2. Allow our high school coaches to dictate the style of play – and leaders - of those feeder programs. They can’t be too hands on, but I don’t think its ever early enough to start teaching the vocabulary and style our high school coaches use to kids who could be the next Pioneer and Lady Pioneer stars. I don’t think that would be a big issue as long as the coaches are working hand-in-hand, something that hasn’t always happened in the last decade.
3. County clubs – do what you’ve been doing! Keep up with your rivalries, play your games. Battle to bet the best in the county. Bring all the energy and never stop. It’s awesome.
4. Expand the league – or build new rivalries out the county. I’ve always wanted to see Covenant join the elementary league, but it just doesn’t seem like it will ever happen and that’s too bad (they can, however, continue their private school local rivalry with Boyd). As for the rest of the county clubs, pick a neighboring county and begin a rivalry. Even better, make it one of those home-and-home series where you play them during the day so the whole school can come to the games. Here you go: Morrison vs. Coffee County (or Manchester Westwood), Dibrell vs. DeKalb County, Eastside vs. White County, Irving College vs. Grundy County and Centertown vs. Woodbury. Let those county kids know, at least two times a year, what it’s like to play an out-of-county team in a big-time atmosphere.
I don’t think anything here is too egregious. I also don’t expect anything to change either. It hasn’t for decades and I’ve been writing versions of everyone of those points since I took over the sports gig in 2010. People just like how it is, for whatever reason. Usually, it’s just a pride point where people truly feel like there is no difference in building kids up by playing county basketball as opposed to playing out-of-county basketball (I think that’s wrong, but why argue?).
So, if nothing else is going to change, then it’s MONEY IN THE BANK time! Leave the ladders at home though.
I want to do a rip-off of the WWE event, where the county champion (7-8 grade) can challenge WCMS for its spot in the Central Tennessee Conference tournament. Of course the TMSAA would never approve of this premise, but I don’t care – hell, we’ve been making up crap in Warren County for 50 years anyway, why stop now?
I’d go all the way with it too. It’s not some game that is planned on the schedule and everybody can prepare. It’s straight out of the wrestling playbook, where the team can show up anytime and anywhere to challenge for the title.
Think about it – how excited would you get when you checked your phone and had an update from the WC Sports Authority that says, “IRVING COLLEGE HAS ARRIVED AT WCMS. The Tigers are cashing in their contract tonight!” Imagine the surprise of WCMS fans, players and coaches when they’re clearing out after beating some CTC team, only to hear “Eye of the Tiger,” start blaring in the lobby and 100 fans wearing Black and Yellow storm the gym.
Two referees walk to the middle of the court, John Bryan O’Connor comes to the court in Cobra Kai dojo gear and they put 10 minutes on the clock to warm up. The Tigers fly around, await the weary Pioneers to get up to speed and then it’s go time!
Strike First! Strike Hard! No Mercy!
(Seriously, catch up on Cobra Kai if you haven’t already and be ready for new episodes on New Year’s Eve).
Life is always better if we incorporated more outrageous WWE gimmicks. Just don’t expect me to climb to the top of any ladders and look for a flying elbow. I don't want to cause a scene and I think the SROs are too busy dealing with my old employers anyway.