|Monday, December 29, 2003|
What else can you say as you slowly sink back into the easy chair...as your screams slowly echo through the house...
On the last play of such a rollercoaster season, Arizona stunned the Vikings 18-17!
So many unbelievables throughout the season...start to finish.
Unbelievable that the Vikings would start the season 6-0, taking complete control of the NFC North.
Unbelievable that the Vikings would play down to their competition.
Unbelievable that they could completely dominate a team like Kansas City and then struggle with a Chicago!
Unbelievable that even in the final game they chose not to take a field goal early in the game.
Unbelievable that on the last play had the Vikings let the receiver alone he probably would not have come down in bounds, but because they drove him out of bounds the catch counted.
The on side kick, the interceptions, the missed tackles....all unbelievable!
I have never professed to be a big fan of the over-paid fat guys of the NFL and I have taken many a shot at the Vikings, but I would have liked to have seen this team in the playoffs. I think they like big games, against big teams and I think they would have been a great playoff team.
But, not this year.
They really have the best offense in the league. If they make some small progress on defense they will be back. I still like Mike Tice. I liked him when he played and I like the way he coaches for the most part. He needs to step further from being a player and step closer to being a coach.
Let's look at the opening weekend of play:
AFC-Saturday 1/3 3:30pm Tennessee at Baltimore
Sunday 1/4 3pm Denver at Indianapolis
Give me the home teams in both games. I really don't know much about Baltimore, but I don't like Denver as a road team, especially if the weather gets bad. I like the Baltimore.
NFC-Saturday 1/3 7pm Dallas at Carolina
Sunday 1/4 noon Seattle at Green Bay
I have thoughts of picking the road teams in these matches, but that would be wrong. In the NFL the home field does mean something. So if I had to pick one, give me Green bay at home over Seattle. But look for Carolina to advance.
What do I know about any of it? Not one thing, but when it comes to cheering the for Vikings or picking games...in the NFL it's unbelievable!
|Thursday, December 25, 2003|
|High School Athletics Will Wither And--Maybe--Die!|
|Guest Commentary By: JOHN W. DERMODY|
Prediction: High school athletics as we now know them will undergo vast changes in the next 10-20 years, few of them for the better.
We will be lucky if we can avoid a wholesale turn toward “club” sports similar to those in Europe.
Any move in that direction will increasingly take “democracy” and “equality” out of athletics, specifically, and the overall educational process, generally.
Some critics believe too much emphasis is placed on prep school athletics, anyway. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that they are wrong, mistaken, or misguided in terms of sports’ importance to young men and women, their schools and communities.
Thousands of words can be written, pro and con…just on how terribly expensive athletics have become for districts and why cuts should be made. In my humble opinion, many of those critics do not value athletics in the first place. In the second, they don’t bother to try to understand how extracurricular activities – not just sports, but speech, drama, music, FFA judging teams and many others –actually encourage students to stay and graduate who may not otherwise earn a diploma.
Title IX has also caused problems in terms of the amount of dollars spent.
Without taking a few hundred additional words to debate the merits of men versus women on the field or playing court, surely sports have been added that require additional expenditures for districts. Rarely – although it has happened – high schools or colleges actually have cut a sport to gain a so-called balance.
Transportation is a huge money pit, too. Teams have to travel longer distances in wider-reaching conferences, or to play teams in the same enrollment class. Along the way, some rivalries have been discarded because of dictates by the Minnesota State High School League. The MSHSL has conferences to take in teams 200-plus miles away, for example.
Do state high school league officials care that the downward slippery slope is causing districts to slide into deeper financial problems? Of course not. The MSHSL has continued to inflate prices at all the state tournaments, along with raising ticket prices at sub-section and sectional playoff contests. Yes, the high school league sets those prices long before the teams travel to the Twin Cities for the Big Show!
“So what?” you might ask.
Well, all these reasons…and I have just begun to write…are going to result in sports being anything but an “equal opportunity.”
Another point: Schools throughout the state have gradually raised activity fees for students participating in extracurricular activities, even though family “ceilings” are often in place. Having fees for towels and a few incidentals is one thing, but the amounts levied on families are causing some to discourage their children from taking part. Fees can total hundred of dollars!
Poor families will be hurt the most. What about the kid with average talent who would “kinda” like to play football…or any sport? But he knows Mom and Dad are having tough times, so he foregoes participation. Who suffers? He does, along with the team and the community.
No, athletics are not as important as academics. But for some youngsters, they are almost essential. Rarely does a young man or woman qualify for a free ride in college (although many pushy parents think little Herkimer or Hermione is the next super star…). But athletics make school interesting, enjoyable, competitive (just as in the classroom), and they give kids a solid foundation later for the real world.
An activities director confidentially told me that he worries about the fact some students will be outside looking in. Oh sure, if you attend Blake or Cretin-Derham Hall, some wealthy alumnus will pay your fees and your tuition, if necessary. We know that “open enrollment” means recruiting anywhere to coaches in those schools! (Don’t get me started!)
Many schools have booster clubs, generally independent from the activities department but nevertheless complementary. Parents and other athletic fans have seen that raising extra money is necessary. And school boards, who face tough decisions in many arenas, so to speak, are glad to see some others pick up the tab with bake sales or whatever it takes.
(But should such fund-raisers be viewed as mini-cash cows? An analogy would be to point out the way our moronic legislators have stolen lottery dollars from the DNR and education interests – as originally ordained by statute -- and pumped the funds into the state’s general coffers.)
Yes, there are dangers: Will the most active booster clubs try to say which coaches will be hired? Will they try to influence schedules, tournaments, other aspects? Will the most adamant try to dictate who gets the most playing time? We’ve all heard of such horror stories by out-of-control parents.
Certainly, districts are trying to pare costs. Boy-girl doubleheaders are held at School A one season, and at School B next year, rather than have buses meet each other. Some schools have cut a coach from this sport, one from that. Necessary? Maybe. But the “trickle down” can result in kids being cut because there are not enough supervisors to handle the numbers. And any “feeder system” is made weaker.
Finally, rising costs and their resultant drawbacks seem to be tied to professional sports. Is this a stretch? Not really.
The MSHSL and some school districts have raised ticket prices all along the route for families and fans. Why should it be necessary to pay $5 for a varsity basketball game in Wadena or wherever? The games last 90 minutes, maybe two hours. But value-per-minute-played isn’t the issue, although some folks will make that point.
School districts seem to think they can “push the envelope” (a terrible expression…) in terms of admission – because college and pro teams have goosed prices. Section tourney prices are now $7 and $8. And a person attending state wrestling sessions pay close to $10 per session, with attendance at all three in a single day costing a family a bundle.
The result is lower attendance at local, sectional and state athletic events. The explosion of “classes” over the last 10-12 years has exacerbated the situation as well. We don’t need six classes in football, three in wrestling, etc. Overall attendance has fallen in most state tournaments. But the MSHSL wants more kids to “have a state tournament experience,” even if the sour taste left afterward is the result of watching four out of eight teams perform in mediocre fashion.
It seems that the Minnesota State High School League and some districts think everything is “relative,” meaning that “now we can raise our prices to $5, $8, whatever it takes…because it is still far less than what the ‘big teams’ charge.”
Yes, it’s the old “forest versus the trees” situation. The arrogant MSHSL doesn’t want to face facts. It believes the organization is always right, and some coaches and administrators are quick to follow.
So what if a team in Class G gets one of a thousand trophies, if the hardware is meaningless?
The officials can’t see that some of these actions are resulting in fewer families – and individuals – attending games. Charging more may not mean more income in the end. And if support dwindles, interest within the communities and conferences will diminish as well.
These aren’t all the problem areas, of course. But as costs continue to rise, along with an increase in other complicating factors as outlined above, our fair and equitable system of athletics will disappear.
Then we will have sports teams composed only of students who can afford to pay higher fees.
John Dermody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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