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Simmons Says - June Mailbag

It was time to come out of hibernation and give the people what they want. I recently had somebody tell me that my mailbags are their favorite thing to read on the Warren County Sports Authority. I didn't really believe it, but I'm always flattered to hear stuff like that.

Before I jump into questions, I just wanted to remind people that if you want to read about your favorite college athlete, send me a suggestion at We've started the Security Federal College Spotlights with TTU golfer Bracton Womack and TWU softball player Emily Mikkola. I hope you go back and check those out.

We're in the official dead period for school sports, so I'll try to be putting out a little variety of content through the middle of July. We'll also be back with the WCSA Podcast, brought to you by Ben Lomand Connect, very soon!

Okay, let's get to the questions.

Were you right about the principal hire and what do you think about Chris Hobbs getting the job?

I got this question from so many people once it was announced Hobbs got the job last week (Quick tangent: I was really angry I slept in that morning because I had written the story the night before that Hobbs had the job and was just waiting for final word to post it. My crazy sleeping habits cost me my scoop).

Anyway, back to the question: No, Hobbs wasn’t the person I mentioned when I broke down all the potential principals a few weeks ago (Hobbs was mentioned in the story though). I’m not going to reveal who my prediction is, but I feel confident that they were heavily involved in the search as well, but Hobbs proved to be the man for the job.

Will he be the right man? I hope so. I’ve known Hobbs for years due to our connection as sports writers and his kids (Chance and Mia) being the focus of many of my stories over the years. I can say this: nobody wants Warren County to succeed more than Chris. He’s a big-time supporter of everything Warren County and I think his friendly and focused demeanor will be a good start as WCHS looks to rebuild its leadership. He's a passionate guy who clearly has vision and experience in leading schools.

Just like my analogy about Director of Schools Grant Swallows being the new owner/GM who decided he wanted to clear the deck and bring in his own people, I think Hobbs has to serve as the “coach” of WCHS going forward. And no good coach does it alone – you must have good coordinators to make things run. I’m curious to see who gets the academy jobs in the coming weeks.

I’ve already reached out to Hobbs and we’re working on a date for him to come on the WCSA podcast, presented by Ben Lomand Connect. I’ve got a laundry list of question for him (many involving sports – obviously) so stay tuned!

Loved the Simmons Superlatives – what was the hardest pick and do you have any sneak peeks for 2023?

First, thanks to the many, many people who reached out and mentioned how much they enjoyed the Simmons Superlatives. While I love the finished products, the leg work can be daunting – cranking out two columns of 1,000-plus words a day over a 10-day period is a gauntlet and I get a little loopy about halfway through. With over 3,000 views on the site and hundreds of likes on social media, I can safely say they’re becoming the most popular feature on the WCSA website.

I did lock each story behind the paywall after 24 hours this year, something I didn’t do in 2021. I know there are plenty of people who get disappointed when they click on the story and see the “subscribe” message, but I need your support to continue to do this. I’ve tried to think of a good July 4 sales pitch for my site, but there’s really not much more to say other than you can get the best local coverage of sports for $5/month. At the rate gas is going, you’d save yourself plenty over the course of the year by just waiting for my speedy reporting than trying to make every game on your own.

OK, back to question. I think I mentioned it already in the Simmons Superlatives, but I’ll say it again: picking the top female athlete this year was impossible. I think there were really 7-8 girls that could’ve been the top female in a normal year, but we just so happened to have a year where we stacked standouts from the summer all the way to the spring.

We were bookended by Lauren Slatton making a push for the golf state title (ultimately finishing sixth in Sevierville) in the fall and Ally Beneke winning the state high jump championship (becoming the first Lady Pioneer to win an individual medal in school history). Between their standout performances, we had Lia Wright leading Boyd to 36 wins in basketball, Katie Toney setting the WCHS school record for soccer goals and signing a D-1 scholarship, Madison Hollis again pitching the Lady Pioneer softball team into sectionals and Ella Van Vranken becoming the school record holder in four different track events.

Simmons Says Superlatives - Best Female Athlete

That doesn’t even include Jaden Smartt (basketball, soccer), Marli McBride (volleyball, softball) and Shelby Roberts (softball, soccer) being two-sport standouts, Aleya Esparza’s all-around excellence for softball, Natalie Stepien being an unsung hero for years in soccer, Krista Chisam winning a pair of MVP awards in state tournament for Boyd volleyball and the entire Lady Pioneer basketball starting lineup (plus a few subs) becoming household names during a 24-win season.

I know we’re coming right off the heels of an incredible boys class of 2021 that featured a ton of worthy athletes, but I think everybody knew CJ Taylor was the star. Just off the top of my head, picking between Chris Sullens and Matt Turner for 2020-21 best coach, Hailey Wood and Emily Mikkola for 2018-19 best athlete, Ansley Mullican and Caroline McKinley for best athlete in 2012-13 and Caleb Northcutt vs. Cody Robinson in 2010-11 stand out as some tough decisions, but none of those were fields that ran 6-7 deep with tremendous choices.

I’m not even sure if I want to try to muster a guess at next year’s frontrunners. If I had to answer this question at this time last year, I would’ve said there was a 100 percent chance Katie Toney or Madison Hollis was winning best athlete, but then they get unseated by a state medalist. I guess it’d be easy to say that if Beneke goes back-to-back (while also emerging as an all-district volleyball player), she would win again. Then again, what happens if Slatton wins a state title?

Braylon Grayson seems poised for a breakout 2022-23 season.

It feels like Braylon Grayson has the inside track for the boys side, but somebody can always come out of left field. Maybe Alex van Vuuren emerges as a three-sport starter on three talented teams (football, basketball and baseball) or Dayton Jernigan destroys people in the trenches and on the mat as a senior.

There’s also so many newcomers who could steal the show. I’m genuinely curious to see how good Devin Fish (new coach Danny Fish’s son) is at basketball and baseball. I’ve heard good things already. Can Chance Whitlock grow a couple more inches and dunk his way into an honor? Will Isaiah Robledo make an immediate impact on football? Does Kealey Simpson become a double-double machine at Boyd?

Then there are the teams who are set up for success next year, especially the Lady Pioneer basketball team (a group I’ve written about twice in the last week). If they make a run deep into the playoffs or win a district title, how can you overlook Shelby Smartt, Kyra Perkins, Brienne Kelsey, Savannah Winfree, Mia Hobbs or Sable Winfree for awards?

The hype train for Warren County athletics is now loading up. We’re going to be leaving the station by August, so you may want to get your seat early.

How do you think the WCHS football team will look this fall?

I’ve been caught off guard by some people who have dismissed the Pioneers in 2022. I’ve heard some say they don’t think they’re going to be that good --- probably based on the fact they were 1-8 last year during the season from Hell. I’m going the opposite direction: Everything I’ve seen and everything I’ve heard makes me think coach Turner is assembling another great squad of Pioneers.

This all dates back to the winter, when it was getting colder in Warren County but coach Turner was still running hot after the Pioneers lost their final seven games of the season (including some real clunkers like losing 28-0 against Dekalb County at home and going down 91-0 combined Lebanon and Oakland to end the year). Turner is an old-school coach who, at his core, believes you win football games up front. I wouldn’t expect anything less from a former lineman.

I know coach Turner was in anguish last year because teams were doing to the Pioneers what Warren County had done so well in Turner’s fist two years (when the team amassed a 12-9 record). Opponents just ran at will against the Pioneers, knowing they could ultimately push them around and control the game. It stuck with Turner to see his team get bullied by opponents, including the season ending with a runner getting the ball ripped right from his hands while trying to go in for a TD.

Because of that, Turner pushed the weight room on his team like never before. I’m not saying it hasn’t been a priority before (it has), but Turner was unrelenting in challenging and pushing his Pioneers to get stronger in the offseason. He knows Warren County isn’t going to an influx of sensational athletes overnight (though the upcoming freshmen have some speed), but you can always be strong and mean.

When I watched the spring game, I was already getting excited about the Pioneers. I was giddy once I heard their results from Tullahoma, especially during the lineman drills where Warren County more than held its own. While there’s still plenty of things left to do (most notably, replacing Donathan Lewis as the team’s safety and dynamic runner moved and won’t be at WCHS this fall), I think the Pioneers are trending in the right direction for this fall.

I’m not going to predict another eight-win season, especially with a schedule that currently features six away games (Warren County has to honor its road game with Ridgeway that was cancelled in 2021). I will say that it won’t shock me for this team to get back to the postseason and/or post a .500 or better record. They’re going to be in some dog fights that go down to the wire – win enough 50/50 games and it can be another remarkable year.

Are you going into coaching now or was your sideline show with Boyd a one-time thing?

As many are aware now, I spent last week in Kentucky watching the Lady Broncos take part in the Murray State basketball camp. They happened to invite me during a time when I knew I wasn’t going to be very busy and stories would be hard to come by, so I took the offer and enjoyed every minute of the experience.

What started as a joke – that I’d be the “special assistant” coach so I could get some free perks at the camp – ended up becoming a reality when Boyd’s two normal assistants had to make it back to Warren County a day early to work their normal jobs. That left coach Tim Page with nobody on the sidelines with him, which really isn’t a problem because Page isn’t going to get tossed, but I guess he wanted a back-up plan just in case.

So, I got to sit over with the girls and occasionally add in some great gems like, “Yeah, what coach Page said,” and “Let’s score more than the other team.” I know --- Vince Lombardi would be proud!

While I didn’t get to enjoy the thrill of victory, the final game did come down to the final minute and “our” opponent hit a dagger 3-pointer in the final 20 seconds to pull away for good. It was thrilling to be back in the middle of the action and getting the competitive juices flowing, even if it was as an honorary assistant for one day.

Getting that little peek into the coaching world was fascinating. I’ve been a part of many coaches meetings over the years - and have been accused of being an assistant coach for a couple teams in the past - but I’ve never actually been on the sidelines and in the huddle of an actual game until last week (other than when I coached an alumni team to a victory over the Pioneers and Malcolm Montgomery back in the day). It was a thrill. I can see why people give up so much of their valued free time into helping the youngsters of the community try to excel.

Does that mean the coaching bug bit me and I’ll be back on the sidelines soon? I wouldn’t count on it. There’s really no room to be the coach (and stay in one spot day after day) while also trying to be the Warren County Sports Authority, a title earned by being everywhere all the time.

If something changed down the road and I wasn’t the WCSA anymore, then maybe I’d try to help out. I don’t expect my inbox to be flooded with coaching offers anytime soon though.

No statement from the WCSA on the recent national news?

Nope - Unless you’re talking about the San Antonio Spurs making three first-round picks in the NBA draft last week (I like Jeremy Sochan, but I didn’t understand the need for taking two 6-foot-5 guards who have similar skill sets at picks No. 20 and 25). Something tells me that wasn’t the national news they were referring to though.

The answer is still no because I really don’t think anybody is on the edge of their seat wondering what the WCSA has to say about politics.

Are you actually going to write about the upcoming elections or keep teasing us about it?

OK, maybe I will get a little political. Yes, I do plan on doing a numbers crunch on a few of local races which should hotly contested next month, including County Executive, Sheriff and District Attorney. I’ve done the leg work on the figures, I’m just trying to decide on a format to lay out my findings/thoughts.

Would you support another pro team moving to Nashville (with baseball being the latest rumor)?

Yes and no. I’m definitely in favor of having pro sports close enough that I can leave mid-afternoon for a game and be home before midnight, but if it was an NBA team, then they aren’t pulling me away from the San Antonio Spurs (unless they were the team relocating to Nashville).

This is the same conundrum I found myself in as a teenager when I had already started amassing a pretty big Jacksonville Jaguar jersey collection before the Titans moved to Memphis, then Nashville. People can’t believe I’m not a Titans fan, but I had already fallen for the Jags (foolishly, I might add – they’re atrocious). I think the same can be said for a number of local Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers and Atlanta Falcons fans in town.

While basketball hasn’t been mentioned much, baseball does seem to continue to gain a little bit of traction with Nashville. I don’t foresee any imminent move, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Nashville popped up atop the list for a franchise if one was to move soon (Las Vegas also looms as a destination for a club too). Any pro baseball team would have a much easier time swaying my fandom from the Braves – or baseball in general – just because my love of America’s Pastime ebbs and flows.

Ultimately, I’m sure I’d support another sports franchise in Nashville the only way they’d want me to – by spending money going to games. I usually find a way to at least one Predators game a year and I’m sure I’ll be at a Nashville SC game before the summer is over. Put a pro baseball or basketball game in my backyard (or just 70 miles away) and I’m sure I’ll find my way to a few events every year.

What would you do if you weren’t writing sports in Warren County?

Oh how I hated getting this question. I feel like I should blame Luke Combs – this feels like it fell right out of the lyrics of his new song (which I don’t particularly like that much). I’ve tried to answer this question before to no avail and I really don’t have a better answer now.

For people who assume that I always wanted to do this or went to school for it, think again. I have no formal writing training (which wouldn’t surprise many wannabe editors who like reading my stories) aside from the grueling AP English class I took with Medora Willmore back in the day. I actually have a degree in Business Management from UT, one that seemed pretty much useless from the day I received it.

I can still vaguely remember the speaker at my 8 a.m. graduation say, back in 2008, that my class was entering the job market at the worst time since the Great Depression. Inspiring stuff! Maybe it was the general doom and gloom of his message, or the fact I was still hung over from staying out until 3 a.m. the night before, but I really didn’t enjoy my graduation that much.

Honestly, it was probably because I had no clue what I wanted to do then and really still don’t know now. I always said when I was a kid that I wanted to work in sports, so I’ve accomplished that for the last 12 years (minus a year when I was at Security Federal). I don’t know if this is what I had in mind, but I can’t say it’s a surprise either. When I was in high school, I was the host of a sports radio show on 91.3 FM WCPI and already had an affinity for talking sports with anybody who would listen.

By the time my mom called and told me I should apply to write for the Standard back in 2010, I was pretty desperate for a change. Being a kennel technician at a vet clinic (the polite way of saying you’re a human pooper scooper) for two years after earning a college degree will make you do crazy things. I somehow got the job and it’s been something I’ve enjoyed doing ever since.

It helps that I’m pretty good at it. Winning a few awards from the state gave me the confidence I needed and then my connection with the community carried me the rest of the way. It’s funny now because I can’t go anywhere – literally anywhere – in the county with people gathered without somebody saying, “There’s the Sports Authority.” It’s truly a blessing and I’ve learned to love talking to people and embracing it (though I’ll still have moments when I pop in my Air Pods and sit by myself at games).

If I couldn’t do this, then I’d really wish I could be a successful sports gambler. Sadly, that’s a job that pretty much nobody can do long term with great fortune and I rarely can do it short term with any success. It’d also probably send me into an early grave because my stress level would be maxed out anytime I put more than $20 on an outcome.

I know I don’t want to teach – I don’t have the patience for youngsters day-in, day-out. I probably wouldn’t mind coaching, but that’s not going to keep a house over Cat Mahomes’ head. I would melt if I had to work in a factory or outside daily, so those are pretty much no-go’s for me at this point. I’ve pondered at times about selling real estate or insurance, but then I think about how much I hate asking people for money for my writing and wonder if I’d do any better asking them to pay for something I don’t build or produce.

I do enjoy cooking, even if people who have been to my house would point out that I don’t even own an oven or stove. Small restaurants are just a tricky business right now – like every other mom-and-pop shop. I don’t have any particular set of skills that are marketable, aside from being a world-class Free Cell player (I’m also very good at Wordle and trivia).

Sometimes I feel like I’d be perfect as a lifetime game show contestant, then I remember I don’t like being in front of crowds. Movie star, stand-up comedian and reality TV fly out the window too.

Recently, I told some people that I was just going to find a sugar mama and actually live up to the retired tag that’s on the front of the truck I drive. Their response after looking me up and down slowly – “Good Luck with that.” Something told me they didn’t think I had the right look to bag a rich cougar.

Do you realize now why I hate answering this question? I’m very knowledgeable on the things I can’t do, but I’m not so sure at the things I can do. That’s why I stick to the thing I’m good at – covering Warren County sports – and continue to hope the community will gravitate toward good local writing and support it.

I will end with this for any younger person reading this (or older person, for that matter): it’s not the end of the world if you don’t know what you want to do. You’ll be OK. Just try to find something you love doing and make it marketable for you. I’m living proof that if you find something you love doing then you won’t work a day in your life. You may never be rich either, but I think in the long run you’ll still be pretty happy. There’s always the lottery too.

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