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Simmons Says - March Mailbag

It won't be long before I don't have time to sit down and write these all out, but since we've started spring sports on spring break, there hasn't been an overwhelming amount of games this week. Therefore, I thought it would be a good time to clear out the mailbox and give some deep dive answers to questions submitted by the community.

Before I get to the questions, I want to say a sincere thanks to all my subscribers and advertisers on the WCSA website. As much as I love to do this and would do it for free if it was an option, I have to keep a house over Cat Mahomes and I couldn't do that without your support. Those subscriptions and ads go a long way to keeping me from having to add a second, full-time job to supplement my earnings. If you're reading this and don't have a subscription or you're a business owner and want to get your message out, maybe today is the day you should reach out and join up with the Warren County Sports Authority.

OK, with that out of the way, let's jump into the questions for March:

What should we make of coach Chris Sullens’ comments after the end of the year?

This was paraphrased from the numerous people who text and called recently when we ran the story about the Pioneer season. For the younger kids, that story got the eye emojis because coach Sullens said a lot of things that would ruffle many people’s feathers, even if he was just being honest about what needs to happen to get the program back on track.

Let’s just state the obvious: the Pioneers didn’t have the same team chemistry this year as they did during their back-to-back runs to the district tournament. It was apparent with how they played together and even more clear with some of the stuff that happened off the court (Don’t ask, I’m not telling).

For me, the biggest line was coach Sullens saying, “I’ll let those above me know the changes I see need to take place for Warren County basketball to get back to being one of the most competitive in the Midstate.” It’s not the fact that he feels the need to go to the top to change things that stands out to me; It’s the curiosity of what the response will be when he delivers his list of changes.

What happens if they look at the list, shrug their shoulders and do nothing? I’m not saying that will happen – Sullens is a well-respected coach with a great track record for winning – but if it does, could we be in search of a new coach? I don’t know the answers – just like I don’t know all of coach Sullens’ desired changes.

It was crystal clear what one change was: He wants to see the feeder programs get better. How that happens – if it does – will be fascinating to see. I’ve been around for over a decade now and I can still count on one hand – maybe even one finger - how many times I’ve seen a WCHS coach successfully dictate how their feeder programs should run (or who should run them).

As for what is next, I have no clue. For the sake of Warren County basketball, let’s hope Sullens is satisfied with the answers he gets from the administration and has a chance to lead what looks to be a promising crop of freshmen kids heading to Warren County this fall.

What hire have you seen that has had the biggest benefit on sports in Warren County (Whether it be a community position or coach)?

Great question! That’s a tough one because I’ve seen so many coaches come through Warren County in just the last 12 years. Think about this – only girls soccer coach Todd Willmore and golf coach JW Holt have been with their teams longer than I have been reporting sports locally (I started Feb. 8, 2010). Willmore has led the Lady Pioneers for 14 years while also serving as athletic director, a position that has left him managing revolving doors in almost every other sport.

Just off the top of my head, I’ve covered five volleyball coaches (six if you count the short-lived Leah Simpson tenure where she had to resign before she ever coached a game due to changing positions in the school), five baseball coaches, four football coaches, four boys soccer coaches (August Palombo being the fourth once he debuts next week), three coaches in boys and girls basketball and (at least) three coaches in track, cross country, tennis and wrestling (sports where they’ve sometimes had a hard time keeping a full-time coach).

The two sports not on that list: girls soccer (already discussed) and softball, where Gooby Martin took over from David Upton in 2015 and started piling up wins. In the grand scheme, I think Willmore or Gooby would be a great answer here. They’ve both shown the ability to vault a program to a new level after taking over, sustain success for multiple years and coach athletes to peak performance (Todd has the most all-state selections of any coach at WCHS, while Gooby may have the most kids sent to college in the last 4-5 years).

Matt Turner changed the landscape of WC sports in 2019.

Can I throw a curveball though? I think it’s Matt Turner taking over football in 2019. He may not have the sustained success of Willmore or Martin (or Sullens), but I think his arrival flipped the whole school into a different gear. Football was on life support – people don’t realize just how close the program was to folding up before Turner’s arrival (not altogether, but game forfeits were on the board in 2018, no matter how many denied it then and now).

When Turner came in, it became cool to play football again. It became cool to compete again. It became cool to be a Pioneer. Kids stropped striving to be ‘Warren County Good,’ (a phrase Turner uses to describe players only working hard enough to beat out their teammates) and started wanting to show some schools in the Midstate what the Pioneers were about. And, most of all, he kept CJ Taylor on campus (I think Taylor, the best WC athlete in 40 years, may have moved to Murfreesboro without Turner’s arrival before his junior year).

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard other coaches talk about setting the tone in the fall and how much it helped all the other sports once Turner had football players believing they could win against anybody. He also worked kids into incredible shape, transforming the bodies of some of the school’s best multi-sport athletes.

Without his injection of grittiness, enthusiasm and swagger, I don’t know if the Pioneer basketball team rolls off two straight district titles or baseball wins a district championship last year. Sure, they could’ve happened (Chris Sullens and Phillip King are great coaches), but Turner time in the fall helped.

I think his hire is the one that I saw transform a program the quickest without a talent infusion (while he did bring more kids out, some of the stars Turner during the 2020 run were on Tom Moore’s team in 2018 too).

Don’t look now, but Anthony Lippe is doing a lot of the same things for girls basketball.

You posted about all the new uniforms for the WCHS teams but never said which was your favorite. Would you rank them or pick our top look?

I won’t bother ranking the 11 I posted on Facebook Tuesday afternoon because I think they’re all really good, so I don’t want somebody to think their jersey is the “worst” when I really could flip a coin from No. 6-11. I will, however, give you my five favorite looks.

First of all, I want to say that I support all of the changes and modifications made wholeheartedly. For years, I debated uniforms with Seth Wright, my coworker at the paper. He liked the traditional colors, but I think his point was always trying to unify the look (we both, like most everybody in Warren County, hated the cartoon number football jerseys that had crimson numbers). He was always spot-on when it came to ever-changing logos and symbols – there’s been the interlocked WC, the Wisconsin W and many different Pioneer heads over the years.

I think we first differed on the blackout jerseys the Pioneer football team wore in 2010.

I can’t remember if he disliked them for aesthetics (he was a red, white and blue purist since they were the school colors) or just because a first-year coach was changing stuff that quick. It may have been a bit of both honestly, and understandably. On the other hand, I still have a No. 22 jersey from that batch.

Since then, I’ve always been fan of different looks – and we’re getting them in every sport now. So, without further ado, here’s my favorites:

1. The Powder Blue Baseball uniforms. I think coach Phillip King knocked it out of the park with the Powder Blues. They’re just a great set – a splashy color with an old-school look. The new red hats they have, along with some nice red helmets, only made them pop even more during Monday’s home opener. I know he has several different combos, but I’d implore coach King to stay in the Powder Blues at Patrick Ramsey Field.

2. The Code Red football jerseys. I can’t take credit for this – I believe it was Dale Stubblefield who made the point that any kind of “Everybody Wear the same color in the entire stadium” night should focus on red because everybody mostly has the same shade of red. When you do a “Blue” Night, you may get Navy, Royal, Powder or 100s of other shades of blue – when you say red, everybody wears the same red. The football team took it an extra step with the sleek all-red uniforms that Turner rolled out in his very first game in 2019. They’ve had some minor alterations since, but they still look sharp when they hit the field.

3-5: The all-white uniforms for softball, football and soccer. I’m a sucker for the storm trooper outfits with minimal, yet very noticeable writing on the fronts. Gooby Martin and the Lady Pioneers may have taken it a step further with the pinstripes this spring, but coach Todd Willmore’s Lady Pioneers and Turner’s Pioneers also looked great in all white in the fall. I should note that I’m sure baseball has all whites as well, I just haven’t seen them because I haven’t gone to a road game in years.

I’ll gladly re-rank any team first if their coach comes out in a short-sleeved hoodie (as long as they get one for me too). In fact, I need to look into some short-sleeved hoodies for the WCSA team. I think I need at least one more to have one for every day of the week.

Do middle school baseball games really need to be seven innings?

No, they don’t. I’ve never understood it and I bring it up to coach Chad Young every season. Baseball (and now softball) I think are the only team sports that play the same time frames as their high school counterparts (basketball doesn’t play eight-minute quarters, soccer doesn’t play 40-minute halves, football plays shorter quarters, etc.).

I don’t blame for softball coach Joe Damon for pushing for seven innings since that is what his team will have to play in the TMSAA postseason. Likewise for coach Young – I’m sure they have the same set of rules in the postseason.

I blame the TMSAA for not coming in and setting up a rule across the board for innings. I personally think five is plenty, but I’d accept six as well. Start the petition!

How many of your mailbag questions are made up by you vs. submitted?

One of the basketball coaches asked me this and I had to laugh. Occasionally, I do slip in a question that I’d like to answer without anybody asking me (he said I should have a competition for people to pick out which one it is and give them a prize – I may do that sometime). Traditionally though, they are questions I get (even if they don’t know they’re submitting them at the time).

A lot come from casual conversations around the parks or, like the top question in this column, I condense a number of question/comments into one concise thing. Oftentimes, even as somebody asks in public, I’ll tell them, “that’s a great mailbag question,” or silently think it while giving a nonchalant answer.

For the record, I got all these questions. And I’d love to get flooded with more – I’ll keep them anonymous because it just seems to work better for my audience.

Where would you rank Monday’s softball pitching performance from White County in your best ‘seen-it-in-person’ athletic feats?

It was truly mesmerizing. I’ve seen some pitchers get in a zone before, but Addison Abell was on another planet against the Lady Pioneers. I’ve seen a few no-hitters over the years, but I don’t think I’ll ever see 19 strikeouts in a high school game again. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that is a White County school record and has to be approaching a state record (theoretically, without extra innings, the max should be 21 Ks).

As for where it ranks, it still wouldn’t top what CJ Taylor did in the region semifinals against East Hamilton last year. Hitting six 3-pointers in a row, all in the final four minutes, to bring his team back from down 10 against a top 10 team in the state is going to be hard to top. There is still video evidence or my sheer astonishment from behind the bench as Taylor hit the last two 3-pointers in regulation.

I’d put Abell’s assault on the Lady Pioneer order ranks somewhere on the next tier, along with K’Rojhn Calbert, as a freshman, going to a JV game and playing receiver and finishing with four catches, 190-plus yards and two touchdowns, Brooks Helton nearly single-handily beating Rhea County at home his senior year (6 IP, 9 Ks, 4-for-4 with 2 HRs – including the walk-off – and seven RBIs), some crazy McKinley volleyball games (both Laura Beth and Caroline), Isaiah Grayson dominating Fayetteville as a senior, when Lauren Wilkinson clicked on all cylinders a few times on the hardwood and several others I’m forgetting right now but will be reminded of when people read this list.

One quick note on Monday’s game: I’m not saying this to diminish anything Abell did, because she was phenomenal, but it was one of the worst strike zones I’ve ever seen. It went both ways too – Madison Hollis had nine strikeouts and definitely used the floating zone to her advantage a few times as well.

As for the shot down the RF line that could’ve changed the game for Warren County, Brent Carden had a great video of it on his Facebook page and I still think it’s too close to call. Those are ones you usually expect the home team to get, but they didn’t and Abell was a stud the rest of the way.

How big of an attention “seeker” is Tom Brady after coming out of retirement so quickly?

My mom sent me this Sunday when Brady put out the message that he was coming back. I sent her back a meme that had a picture of Brady and said, “Gas is $4/gallon, everybody is coming out of retirement now.”

I don’t know why Brady ultimately decided to reverse course, but I do know I don’t really care about seeing the stories and posts about it. I don’t think he’s going to win another Super Bowl and truly believe he’s going to play long enough that he becomes washed up and a liability to his team – It happens to the greats, even my hero Tim Duncan in his late days with the Spurs.

If he was coming back though, I thought it would be with another team. Maybe it still will be. Even so, I don’t care and neither does my mom.

We should all be in mourning for Scott Hall…. Do/Did you watch wrestling much?

Of course I watched wrestling as a kid. I had one friend in middle school who specialized in getting those gross-tasting wooden ice cream spoons and drawing WWE wrestlers on them. You didn’t show up to the cafeteria table on Tuesday without knowing what happened on Raw.

Also, have any brothers ever grown up without practicing wrestling moves on each other? I don’t know how many times I’ve put my brothers in Bret Hart’s Sharpshooter or delivered a power bomb. I’m sure some Razor’s Edges were mixed in too.

It was shocking just how many messages I got from people about Scott Hall passing away – it may have been the most I’ve heard from people about a celebrity/athlete/entertainer death since Kobe. Hall was an absolute legend.

To this day, I have to fight the urge of just blurting out, “Hey YOOOO,” anytime I use a toothpick. If I’m outside, I know that toothpick is getting forcefully flipped like Hall did during his NWO days. Gees, what a character.

There’s few people who went out with a cooler line than Hall’s lasting Hall of Fame speech – “Hard work pays off. Dreams come true. Bad times never last, but BAD guys do.” I wish one of the great bad guys would’ve been around longer.

Your Jaguars dropped big money in free agency. Did you like the moves and who should they pick No. 1?

I didn’t like how this person said, “Your Jaguars.” It made me feel like it was a dig. Honestly, I don’t know how their big money additions (namely All-Pro Guard Brandon Scherff, who I watched Derek Barnett ragdoll when his was in college at Iowa, and Christian Kirk) will play next season. I really don’t care either – as hard as it’s been to be a Jags fan over the years, having to root for Urban Meyer has taken it to a different level. He’s atrocious and just a slimy dude.

If I was the Jaguars, with their many needs, I’d trade out of the No. 1 pick. They seem like they’re destined to take an offensive tackle and most mock drafts I’ve seen have four in the top 10-12, so why not move back some, maybe take the second- or third-best OT and get more picks? This isn’t a sexy draft anyway – almost all the top players are linemen or defensive players instead of top QBs or receivers – so do the unsexy thing and maximize the position by getting a few players for it.

It’s March Madness – tell us who is going to win the NCAA tournament?

I have no idea who is going to win. Aside from Tennessee games, I don’t watch college hoops (I probably saw only five regular season Vols games this year). If I’m watching basketball in my spare time, it’s the San Antonio Spurs. The only college teams I know anything about are ones with top prospects since the Spurs are looking at potentially getting a top 5 draft pick this year, so I’m aware of Duke (Paolo Banchero), Auburn (Jabari Smith) and Gonzaga (Chet Holmgren).

I’m just going to guess that it’s finally the year for the Zags and they take it down.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t take this time to tell people that my brother and I have partnered on a bracket challenge for sports fans in town. Join our challenge and you’ll have a chance to win a month subscription for the WCSA website and a $50 gift cards at Mud Bums (you will have to show a proof of purchase at Mud Bums during a tourney game, but that shouldn’t be hard – pick up a wing/draft special this Thursday – St. Patty’s Day! - for the opening games).

Here's the link for the Mud Bums/WCSA Bracket Challenge:

Give us some odds on the upcoming elections – which races will be hotly contested?

I’ll bust that out into a column here soon – I don’t want to tack that on the back of this mammoth column. I’m sure people’s eyes are bleeding by now anyway. I will say, I think the town will mostly be focused on county executive and sheriff, so those will be the ones I’ll dive deeper into before long.

That’s all this time. Great questions as always! I had another one about ranking the best superhero movie trilogies, but I’m going to let that marinate as I check out Spider-Man: No Way Home a couple more times in the coming weeks.

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