Column: "The Sports Trail": Placid days of summer quickly vanish as August begins

Thursday, August 1, 2002

by David McNeal

Where the heck did the summer go?

One minute I was breathing a sigh of relief that all the school sports had finally ended, then a blur of baseball, golf and motorcycle stories flew past, and bam, suddenly it's time for football two-a-day practices!

I used to dread the dog days of August. No sports, no pictures, no stories, just unrelenting heat blazing down and blank pages to fill.

Not any more.

August has become a whirlwind all its own, with volleyball, cross country, and football practices cranking up the first week, quickly leading into games and meets and the next school year.

It used to be simple. Just a junior and senior high football team at Berryville and Green Forest, and cross country teams at Eureka Springs and Berryville.

Now both Berryville and Green Forest have added volleyball programs, and the football schools have seventh-grade and junior varsity teams.

With volleyball adding at least two teams per school, junior and senior high squads, it is getting harder and harder for one guy to keep up.

Then, last week, the Arkansas Activities Association (AAA) really fired a low blow at the middle- and small-sized schools ---- they voted to move tennis and golf from the spring season to the fall season for the 2003-2004 season.

On the surface, the move makes sense. The calmest, most pleasant, and predictable weather is usually in the fall, from September through October. Even November can be mild.

Spring weather is often violent, as warm and cold weather battle for supremacy. Sure, let's move tennis and golf to the fall.

EXCEPT, who makes up the golf and tennis teams at the mid- and small-sized high schools?

Why, off-season football and basketball players, that's who.

This move by the AAA won't hurt the large classification schools (as in AAAAA), as they have enough athletes to go around.

But at out smaller schools, many of the athletes will now be forced to choose between sports, instead of getting to participate in both.

It also puts the pressure on coaches, who are often faced with the unenviable, but necessary, chore of recruiting athletes for their programs.

Yep, coaches in the same schools, on the same staff, have to compete for players if they expect to field a competitive team.

It goes like this: "Son, you don't want to play football when you could be going to the golf course every afternoon, do you?"

Hummmm. Let's see. Go out in the scorching heat and get pounded and bloodied by your teammates as you do nose-skids through the grass;

OR: Pick up the clubs, get the cart, and play 18 holes.

Or try this one: "Now girls, basketball and volleyball are fine sports, but they're played indoors, and the weather is really great this time of year. Why don't you come out and play tennis for me?"

Coaches shouldn't be put in such a position, and neither should young athletes, who may not know just which sport they are really cut out for.

What these new changes really do is make youngsters specialists in one field, instead of well-rounded athletes in several areas.

The only thing worse than moving those sports to the fall, was the AAA's decision to take over and monitor the Supplemental Instruction Program. Remember? It was a tutoring program for students with low grades that would keep them eligible to play.

The Arkansas Department of Education dropped it due to continued abuses as the supervisors of that program didn't get the job done.

Now the sports governing body of the state has taken it on. That's like letting the foxes watch the henhouse.

Like I said, August has become a whirlwind all its own, as a calm and placid summer vanishes into the dust of a new fall season.

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