Even after 12 years of writing locally, it’s still refreshing when people come up to me and tell me, “I read your stories.” It’s even better when the next word is “And…” because I’m usually going to get a compliment – “And I love them,” or “And they’re great.”
Sometimes though, you get “BUT…” -- That’s when I have to brace for impact.
I had a moment like that after Wednesday’s Lady Pioneer championship at home against Coffee County. Warren County shocked the Lady Raiders in the late innings, scoring four runs in the bottom of the sixth on their way to a 4-3 victory – securing bragging rights, the program’s second district tournament championship and a home game in next week’s region tourney along the way.
I was lucky enough to call the game with Hall of Famer Jay Walker, the legendary Voice of the Pioneers. During the game, I laughed, nearly cried (when Coffee County hit a moon shot just foul in the seventh), got angry (at an umpire – go figure) and eventually spent the final moments celebrating a great championship game. I was in full Homer mode the whole game and I didn’t care if anybody knew it. When you’re the WARREN COUNTY Sports Authority, it’s kind of expected that you’d have some bias in big games.
Just as I was giving out fist bumps to players and swapping stories with coach Gooby Martin after the game, one player came up to me with a bombshell. The player, who I won’t name but she’s a star senior, said, “Hey, didn’t you write that no WCHS team in the spring would win a district championship?”
She smiled and walked off, dropping the mic on me as I stood in stunned silence. She was right – I did write that in my April mailbag, saying specifically about the softball team:
The Lady Pioneers are perfectly capable of taking down Coffee County in the tournament, but they’re going to have to take care of business against Franklin County first (and it’s not easy beating a team four straight times). Even if the Lady Pioneers beat Franklin County and Coffee County in back-to-back games to get to the finals, they’ll have to beat one of those teams again to hoist the hardware. I think getting to regionals (by finishing top two) is a more likely scenario than winning a title.
Before I could leave the park, another player reminded me on my terrible take from a few weeks ago. I wish I could blame it on a bad crystal ball or a temporary lapse of sanity, but I was just flat-out wrong. These girls were stars in the last week and deserve to let all their doubters know that the first-ever District 6-4A championship trophy will forever reside in Warren County.
Thankfully, the girls on this team are super nice and probably will forgive me at some point. Gooby is right when he says this is a special group of girls – their spirit and skill is amazing to watch up close. I encourage everybody to arrive early next Monday for the region semifinals against Rhea County. Game time is at 6 p.m., but I want the place to be standing-room only everywhere before they even announce the starting lineup.
Because I’m obviously terrible at picking games, I’ll refrain from projecting what happens in the region. I’m tempted to say they can’t win (because they would love nothing more than to prove me wrong again), but instead I’ll just say GO LADY PIONEERS and I'm sorry for doubting you.
Some other thoughts and comments
I don’t have enough questions to put together a May mailbag right now (send them to firstname.lastname@example.org if you want them answered soon), but I do have some thing I’d like to comment on right now. First up – I got a few texts Wednesday morning saying my writeup of the Pioneer baseball game seemed “a little harsh.”
My initial response was, “you should’ve been there to see it.” After further thought, I still think that is a good rebuttal, but I’d like to offer more analysis in how I try to approach situations like Tuesday when a local team falls in soul-crushing fashion (which was only made worse because it ended the WCHS baseball season).
I’ll get this out of the way – I take zero pleasure in any Pioneer or Lady Pioneer team losing any game (or Boyd and Covenant). I tell people all the time that my business would grow 10x faster if every WCHS team went undefeated and won state championships. Everybody likes reading about wins and seeing Geoff Griffin’s great reaction shots of smiling kids. It’s easy money.
Writing about a loss, particularly a brutal one like Tuesday, is just part of the job. Had it been a regular season game over a weekend that would only get a handful of clicks, maybe I would’ve written 200 words or just put the final score on Facebook, but this was the district tourney against one of the program’s biggest rivals.
I had already hyped up the game with a preview story detailing the week of games, which only gained more steam when Warren County beat Shelbyville Monday night and broke out the cowboy hats. People were going want to know what happened next, so I told them.
When a team wins a colossal game, I write huge stories. When they lose a game with great importance, I have to write it too. There’s just no sugar coating a loss when a team makes seven errors and allows 10 unearned runs. I hate it for the kids because they’re trying their best and are great representatives of Warren County.
Okay, moving on --- this was a late addition Thursday, but I was blown away when my brother text me that the Standard was reporting that Parks and Rec was looking at revamping the Jungle Jym at a price tag of $700,000. To me, that’s AT LEAST one zero too many – and maybe a couple.
Because my brother is much more involved in the local scene than I am (other than when I'm doing my candidate reporting), I’ll give you his thoughts. He already posted them on Facebook, so it’s not breaking news, but he said, “I don’t know where to start. For the city to have let the blue building deteriorate for 20 years and tell a property owner to demo its building is hypocrisy at its finest. It’s another level of arrogance to turn around and ask 700k to renovate a playground.”
Price tags like that are always going to generate some buzz, but I was actually shocked when I read so many people who thought it was a good idea without any notes of what that money would pay for (other than “a renovation” as reported). I don’t necessarily think it’s bad to upgrade that facility, but is it going to take that much money to do it? If it does – and the city wants to fund it – then I’d much prefer to have a discussion on where that money could go.
Here's a thought: If Parks and Recreation is going to get $700K, then use that to COMPLETELY OVERHAUL your local sports. Make them free for kids to play, bring in pros to run camps, buy equipment, hire better umpires, extend seasons, bring back chicken sandwiches, etc. Maybe that’s just the sports guy in me coming out, but I’d rather see that money go plenty of other places than the Jungle Jym.
(Full disclosure: I probably don’t care about playgrounds as much as others because 1) I don’t have kids, 2) I’ve been too big to play on that equipment since --- forever and 3) I broke both my arm and leg on playgrounds as a kid, including snapping my leg on a merry-go-round that used to be where the Jungle Jym is now. Playgrounds are the devil.)
Last thing, my favorite radio color analyst (other than myself) got my attention recently by giving me a new nickname. Jeff Lee has started calling me the “Godfather of Warren County Sports.” I guess WC Sports Authority wasn’t good enough.
I’m going to be honest: I love it. I’ve probably seen the Godfather movies 100 times (at least the first two). I’ll probably stop short of renaming my website (I don’t want to get a new logo and more swag), but I could change my name to Jeffery Corleone Simmons. It changes my middle initial for K to C, which helps because JK Simmons is already taken (he’s the actor who plays J. Jonah Jameson in Spider-Man, though I know him best from Whiplash).
I loved Lee’s name so much that I started who are the people in my life who would be the other characters in the movies. Here’s what I have so far:
Rob Nunley is Don Fanucci, the guy Vito kills in The Godfather Part II to ascend to top dog. I didn’t brutally shoot Rob in a dark hallway, but he was the guy who I had to take over from and try to be better than when I first started reporting. To this day, I still don’t think I’m a better writer (Rob is professionally trained and multi-time award winner), but I think I’ve earned my spot by now. Also, I like to think Rob is the only person who I could see walking down the streets of McMinnville in an all-white suit throwing oranges to people or taking over theaters.
Peter Clemenza and Salvatore Tessio are Seth Wright and James Clark, respectively. Clemenza and Tessio were the guys that were there guiding Vito when he was first arriving on the scene as a gangster, much like Seth and James were there when I started writing sports locally. Without them, I wouldn’t have become what I am now.
To this day, Seth is a guy I can talk to about the job and local news (or Marvel movies, TV shows and when I'm getting too cocky in life), much like Clemenza advised the Godfather as he aged (and later to Michael, Vito’s successor). And, if you remember, Tessio tries to betray Michael when he becomes Godfather – yeah, both fit.
Seth Wright and I go so far back that I was actually skinny when we became friends.
There were more than a few people in my early career to try to muscle me out my position as sports writer, so I can’t pick out just one to cast as Sollozzo. Trust me though, I’ve taken a few bullets while trying to do this job, only to come back stronger.
My brother Brett is Tom Hagen, the Consigliere. He’s my most trusted advisor and somebody who gives me business advice all the time. The only difference between Brett and Tom is that Brett would be an outstanding War Time Consigliere – in fact, he was indispensable when I was canned by the paper and started plotting how to start my own website.
I can’t really think of anybody who would be my Luca Brasi – maybe Matt Turner or Jason Jacobs (some say they look alike anyway). If I need some muscle, I’m sure they wouldn’t ask questions. I hope neither is sleeping with the fishes anytime soon.
Trevor Evans is Johnny Fontane – a talented youngster who I kind of try to take under my wing at times. If Trev ever asked for me to help him, I’d do it in a heartbeat (though I’m not cutting the heads off any horses – I wanted that on record). Also, if Trev ever came to me whining about something, I’d probably tell him to “act like a man.” I probably have at some point, even though he’s twice the guy I am.
Let’s just say I also have some people I would cast for Fredo and Sonny, Vito’s kids who should be in line to take over his business, but I’ll refrain on naming them. Of the two, there are a lot more candidates for Fredo – a lovable character who just couldn’t seem to do anything right. There’s been nobody who has joined the sports writing scene after me that needed to be sent out on a boat and taken out – you could make an argument I did that to the paper’s sports section in general.
As for Michael – the Godfather’s true successor and the heir to the empire – I’m still searching for that person. When I first started writing, I thought Will Warren would eventually come back to town and unseat me at the paper. Thankfully, he had higher aspirations and became a great statistician who has been mentioned on several national sports broadcasts. He even has his own website: www.statsbywill.com
Carter Mansfield, who started writing some for me when I first started in 2020, is showing the same kind of bigger and better aspirations. He’s one of the most followed reporters on high school football in the state and is the sports editor at Austin Peay’s school newspaper. I can’t take any credit for his success – reporting is in his family as I worked with his grandmother Margaret Hobbs and she was as good as it gets.
Trev would kill it as a reporter in town, but I hope he continues to pursue his dreams of becoming a coach someday. He should be on the court making decisions, not on the baseline watching.
Taylor Moore is emerging at the paper and writes some stuff I like. His coworker Bethany Porter is good too – I think she would be great in sports because I know she was successful playing them (I covered her when she was a local soccer star). Her columns are an open book into her life, but sometimes she swerves to hit hard on a point and it has some bite. I remember when I was young and wrote a few things I knew would ruffle some feathers – It was fun. I think I’ve lost that edge now; People that wanted to argue with me tuned me out over the last decade.
Ultimately, I’m just 36. I don’t do much running around in gardens (or really any running anywhere), so I think I can hang around for a few more years. My saga as the Godfather of Warren County Sports will continue.