By DAVID GRAVELY
In early March this year, I received a phone call from Kay Kline, who only recently retired from The Southwest Times as the general manager. I had spoken with her by email about possibly doing some new things online to allow for more expanded coverage of our local sports, and now she wanted to meet with me face to face to talk about it. I had no idea when I walked into the office that day how much my world would change.
Kay told me that the paper was making some changes, and that the new focus was going to be on the local stuff. She also said there was going to be some new things happening online, and she wanted me to be a part of that as well. She offered to let me run with some ideas that I’d had for years, and after finding out all of the facts, there was no way I could turn her down.
For years some of our local sports “experts” have told me that it … focusing on the local stuff … just wouldn’t work. Comments like “people don’t care about what’s going on with the little kids” and “non-revenue producing sports will never make an impact on anything” were only a few things I was told along the way. Any sport that a female athlete played in was considered nonsense and not worth reporting on, unless of course they happened to be having a winning season. Those kids that played soccer, softball, tennis, volleyball, and who ran track really were just out there participating in an activity, not really playing in a sport. Heaven forbid if we ever mentioned a cheerleader for anything other than rooting on the football or basketball team.
Well I’m glad to report that those experts were wrong. People do care, and people do want to know what’s going on with our kids. Not too long ago, anytime you opened The Southwest Times to the sports section you could almost be guaranteed to see at least one article about Nebraska, West Virginia, Notre Dame, or some other big name football school and what their football team was up too that particular week. I like football, but if I want to know what the Fighting Irish are doing I’ll go to their website or ESPN.
You can’t, however, go to ESPN or Sports Illustrated and read about the Dublin Jets completing an undefeated season in football. You can’t go to those national publications and see how the Pulaski Patriots finished off a fine season with a win streak. The Cougar football team has been mentioned in the USA Today before, and from time to time an athlete like Jeff King or Shayne Graham might be mentioned on ESPN’s Sports Center, but you won’t see any regular mention of kids like Kellan Dalton from Dublin Middle School or Evan Austin from Pulaski Middle School. You certainly won’t hear anything about the Snowville Panthers or any of the rec basketball teams from Riverlawn Elementary. ESPN has no clue how to get to Hiwassee, and certainly won’t be bothered reporting on the Hiwassee Hokies rec baseball baseball team.
We are your local newspaper, and with that comes the responsibility of giving you the local news first. After all I had been told over the years about how hard it would be to find enough local sports to fill up even the smallest of sports pages, I’m pleased to write that we’ve had no problems with it at all. Expect things to continue to improve, as we work to provide you with the best and most local sports coverage available.
From time to time, we’ve included stories on Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia. Those are the two closest major universities, and our community has ties to both schools. Pulaski County has sent athletes to both schools, where they have been able to shine. Just last week at a Cougar basketball game I spoke with Jared King, who is getting ready to finish his time at UVA where he has done a fine job on the baseball field and in the classroom. Another King, Jeff King, finished his time at Virginia Tech and now spends his Sundays and sometimes Monday nights playing in front of a national audience in the NFL. On Thursday we ran a story about James King, who spent Saturday playing in The Chesapeake Bowl in Maryland. If this keeps up, we may have a movement for players around her to start changing their last names to King.
This weekend wraps up another year, and while there have been some good things happen in sports here and around the country, there have unfortunately also been some bad. We’ve been blessed with no major bad news locally in sports. We do still have a lot of teams and programs that are on the rebound, to put it nicely, but it seems like the right people are getting into place to make those rebounds happen.
The Cougar football team finished with a 6-6 record. Head Coach Todd Jones would have loved to see more wins in that win column, but no one can ever doubt the work his team put in. That hard work payed off with a win in the first round of the Region 4 playoffs, Jones first as the leader of the Cougars. With nine of the teams on the Cougar schedule making the playoffs this season, the Cougars were within a few points of winning several of those games. Expect good things next season as Pulaski returns many of the key players from this years team.
The Lady Cougar volleyball team won a few this season as they welcomed a new head coach to the program. After speaking with her this past week, expect to see some good things happening for that program soon as well.
The Cougar and Lady Cougar basketball teams have both gotten off to rocky starts so far this season, with the girls team still searching for their first win. The girls JV team was stripped of many of the key young players that would have made them a very competitive squad, but they’ve shown improvement since the beginning of the season. The varsity girls squad is being forced to deal with a combination of injuries to the players with the most experience and freshmen and sophomores being put into a position of helping to lead the team. It’s a tough thing, but they are also showing improvement. The boys varsity team has won a few games, but they still seem to be searching for an identity. Their tough out of district schedule has put them in some big games, and hopefully that experience will help them going into the River Ridge District portion of their schedules. One of the bright spots so far in the winter sports has been the boys JV basketball team. Made up of mostly freshmen, this squad has shown a ton of grit an determination as they’ve put together a fine 7-2 record heading into their district schedule this week.
The Cougar wrestling and indoor track teams have also been bright spots this winter. The grapplers have been on the road for the entire season, traveling to face some very tough competition. Expect to read about some of our wrestlers doing well in district competition when it gets underway. As for the indoor track team, Sydney Anderson is picking up right where she left off when she won her state title during spring track season. She currently holds the top mark in the state for the high jump with her 5’4″ mark. She also holds the top ranking in the 300 meter run with her time of 42.01 seconds. Add to that the fact that she is a part of the 4 x 400 relay team that currently holds the top time in the state, 4:11. Pulaski also has two other athletes ranked in the top ten in the state for their efforts in the shot put, Ian Calfee and James Reynolds.
So let the national sports news cover topics like Jerry Sandusky, Bounty Gate, Linsanity, replacement refs, Lance Armstrong having his seven Tour de France titles striped away for using performance enhancing drugs, and the hockey lockout. We all know Miguel Cabrera became the first winner of baseballs’ Triple Crown since 1967 when Carl Yastrzemki won it, and that he had 44 home runs, a .330 batting average, and 139 runs batted in. Yes, Chipper Jones finally decided to retire after a 19-year career with the Atlanta Braves, and it was sad to see him go. We didn’t report on those stories, however, because as big as those stories were, the local ones were more important to us and to you.
I hope everyone has a safe and happy new year, and as we head into 2013 I look forward to being a part of the team that provides you and our community with the sports coverage you deserve.