Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Media Guides

It's one of the toughest things about the job, but it's also one of the most fun and rewarding when it all comes together.

I'm talking about designing media guides, and most every SID in the country has their own different opinions about their worth or necessity. Depending on where you are, the media guide can have a multi-dimensional worth and an even more multi-dimensional purpose.

I've been designing and writing ETBU's media guides for the last eight years, and I just put the wrap on our basketball books last week. Just in the nick of time, too, with the season opener now just hours away, literally.

We do media guides at ETBU for just about every sport, which is a little different than some other places in our conferences. Most of our conference schools provide media guides, but there are a few that use other means of promotion, which is just fine, too. With the Internet today, there is the argument brewing that the media guide as we know it has very little use anymore. Updated, pertinent information about a specific athletic program is available with the click of the mouse, and just about everything you see in one of our media guides most likely at some point will find its way to our web site.

But media guides are just one of those things as an SID you have to do. It's just part of the job. I haven't met one colleague in eight years who would totally admit to absolutely loving to do their respective guides, but I also haven't met one who'd come right out and say he hated it with a passion, either. It's just one of those things that comes along at a certain time every year, like Christmas, you know? On one hand you absolutely love the holiday, but on the other hand you dread it because you know how much money you're going to spend.

That's the way I look at media guides. I love doing them because I get to soothe that creative fix I have, almost to a fault. As a former newspaper guy, one of the highlights of the job was to change and create a different look on the front page every day. It's a challenge and a rush, when you see everything come together and you just really feel good about your design, you know.

I've had some memorable media guide designs at ETBU that I'm proud of, and then there are some that I'm not so proud of. Designing D-III media guides is very tough because of the time crunch you have to endure with just about every sport. At bigger D-I schools, for example, a football media guide can be published in late spring or early summer with no problem because you have the signed scholarship right there in front of you. You pretty much know for sure who you have to cover and get info for.

At D-III non-scholarship you have to pretty much wait until the athlete arrives on campus before you spend time putting them in a media guide. The worst thing is publishing a bio on a student-athlete and then for whatever reason that athlete never seeing the field or court. It happens, fairly rarely, actually, but it's always a consideration when I'm planning for our annual media guides.

Depending on budgets and roster size, of course, football will always be our largest media guide. I can typically target a 78-82 page media guide, with just about every other book coming in between 16-32 pages. When I first starting working at ETBU both soccer and basketball media guides were combined books, including both men's and women's programs. A couple of years ago we split each into separate guides and we've been happy with the results.

Of course, the purpose of media guides is to provide media with a reference guide, basically, for whatever program is being featured. But the overall, larger purpose really, at least at ETBU, is a recruiting tool. We'll print, on average, about 500 guides for every program, and I'll keep about 30-50 of them in my office. The rest go to our coaches to use on the recruiting trail.

Knowing this, I try to include as much information as possible about ETBU in general -- admissions, campus, history, fast facts, etc. The basic questions a potential student-athlete has, hopefully, can be answered on those ETBU pages. The rest of the book also, hopefully, will provide an overview of the program currently as well as its past.

The stress level of each media guide rises for two main reasons -- my procrastination, and my creative mental blocks. The number one goal I have every year is to make sure our books are attractive, contain as much information about ETBU and our athletics as possible, and that I get them back from the printer in time for the first game. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn't. I've had to learn patience with media guides, too.

But I hope our fans and students enjoy the finished product, at least occasionally. When it gets right down to it, it's really fun while also being a big part of my job, annually. Basketball is now in the books this season, literally -- and as soon as I catch my breath, I'll begin work on our baseball and softball guides for next spring.

The clock is again ticking...

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Hoop Dreams

With the official close of the fall sports season at ETBU last weekend, it's been very easy to overlook the looming fact that... basketball season is, literally, hurtling at us from around the corner.

Both the Lady Tigers and Tigers tip off their respective hoops seasons the weekend of Nov. 16, which means as of this writing the Tigers' opener on Nov. 16 against Belhaven College in The House of Blues, Ornelas Gym, is exactly 11 days away. The Lady Tigers will tip off the following night against Wiley College, hosting the Lady Wildcats in the tipoff of a doubleheader that will conclude with a Tigers vs. Wiley matchup immediately following the ladies game.

It is going to be an interesting year for both ETBU teams. It's also a pivotal year for both; the Lady Tigers are in their first season under new coach Jay Bowen, and the Tigers are coming off just a seven-win season a year ago. But the excitement is bubbling under the surface in both programs.

The key element running through both teams entering the season is newness. The Lady Tigers have just one returning starter from last season's ASC East championship team, senior guard Sade' Stewart. "Slim," of course, is a good place to start -- she was named the ASC East Preseason Player of the Year last month by the coaches, SIDs and media folks, and she has an outside shot at becoming ETBU's all-time leading scorer with a great year as a senior.

But by and large, Coach Bowen's first Lady Tiger team is going to be vastly different from the one that lost in the closing seconds to McMurry in last season's conference tournament semifinals under former coach Lisa Curliss-Taylor. But Jay and his staff have brought in a nice core of solid recruits in their first season, despite the relatively late start in the recruiting process this last summer. Topping the list are a pair of JUCO transfers, point guard Armeka Brooks and post Dana Alexander, as well as a tough, hard-nosed freshman in wing Julie Bowman.

ETBU coaches are very optimistic that these additions, along with Stewart's return as well as another year of growth from veterans such as sophomore Nieishia Brown and juniors Michelle Young and Meaghan Woodell, will allow the Lady Tigers to again compete for the ASC East championship. The one glaring weakness entering the season is a lack of depth, something that was not a problem during last season's undefeated run through the East.

But strengths? You can bet that Coach Bowen's team will be disciplined, they will play smart basketball, and they will be exciting to watch because of the style of play. There is always some degree of change and uncertainty whenever a new coach comes along, at any level. And there will almost certainly be a period of growth this season. But the Lady Tigers should once again be a very competitive challenger for the ASC East title this season.

And don't forget this nugget -- the winner of the East gets to host this year's conference tournament in late February, so there's even more gold in the pot at the end of the rainbow this season.

Now to the men. I personally got my first look at the Tigers last night when ETBU made the two-hour trip south to Natchitoches, La., to face a very, very good Northwestern State team in an exhibition game. There were a lot of reasons I like this trip personally -- number one, Northwestern State is my alma mater and I really like watching the Demons whenever I get a chance. Number two, though, there is a bubbling excitement being generated around campus about this year's Tiger team, which resembles nothing like the squad that limped to a 7-18 finish last season.

First off, don't let the final score of 94-57 fool you. The Demons are three-time champions in the Southland Conference and, of course, pulled off that great upset of Iowa in the first round of the NCAA Tournament a couple of years ago. This year's NSU team is tall, long and quick, and the Demons pretty much controlled the Tigers over the final 30 minutes or so of last night's exhibition.

But they've also been practicing for about two months, whereas the Tigers entered the game with less than two weeks of workouts under their belts. And that's a big key, seeing as ETBU coach Bert West is sending out perhaps the youngest, most inexperienced team he's ever had in 14 years with the Tigers.

But you'll mostly see West with a smile on his face these days, because the Tigers really, really have a nice group of young freshmen -- perhaps the deepest, most talented group of freshmen to come through ETBU since West led the Tigers to NAIA prominence back in the early- and mid-1990s. There are no superstars in this group, but there are definitely some guys who can do several things awfully, awfully well -- the proof will come when, as ETBU football coach Mark Sartain liked to say about his young team back in August, "when the live bullets start flying."

ETBU will be bigger, faster, quicker and deeper this season. Junior transfer La'France Cooper was the JUCO Player of the Year at Southern-Shreveport a couple of years ago, and he led the way with 13 points against Northwestern Monday night. Senior transfer point guard Nick Garrett, all 5-foot, 8-inches of him, has the potential to be a multi-purpose threat running the offense for ETBU.

Then come the freshmen. Post Josh Chambers, out of Mexia, stands 6-7 and has already become a dangerous shot-blocker -- an element the Tigers really haven't had out of a true post player this decade. Chambers had an outstanding night Monday against the Demons, with 10 points and at least four blocked shots in the second half against D-I competition. He will only get better as the season goes along.

Post Cody Waneck, of The Woodlands, also had a very impressive night against NSU, scoring eight points and displaying some really nifty offensive moves in the paint. West really, really likes the play of guard Tyler McKinney, a tough, hard-nosed, physical defender. Forward Deba Egharevba also is a very good, athletic player who great and explosive leaping ability who pulled down a team-high eight rebounds against Northwestern.

There are others, of course -- nearly 20 are listed on the roster, and only four of those -- seniors Bryan Whitmire and Carlos Marbot, junior Josh Hickman and sophomore Tyrell Brown -- played last season. Hickman, the starting tight end on this year's football team, is expected to join the team for practice Tuesday and should be ready to go by the season opener on the 16th. He will be a huge, experienced addition with scoring punch to a team already buzzing with excitement and athleticism.

So the countdown is on. This season promises to be another exciting one for ETBU basketball, and it's just around the corner.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The World Keeps Spinning

One of the toughest parts of being an SID is the need to try and make everything seem positive with every bit of news released out of the department. No matter how bad the news may be, the good SID will always, always be able to put a good spin on it. That's the nature of the business and the nature of PR in general.

Losses-- those are the toughest things to write about. There is usually no good spin to a loss, because it's so cut and dried. You can say whatever you want about the game, but the most important part of a sports story, usually and unfortunately, is the final score.

With the exception of our rebuilding women's soccer program this season, every other ETBU fall athletic team went into last weekend with their playoff destiny in their own hands. But coming out of the weekend, only one -- the Lady Tiger volleyball team -- ended up advancing to the postseason.

Disappointing? Very. When you follow a team and a group of athletes as closely as I do all these years, it really hurts to see them get so close to their goal only to come up short. Last Friday's men's soccer game down at Cornish Field was a prime case in point: needing just one win in their final two games against the top two teams in the conference, the Tigers were unable to pull one out. Consequently ETBU won' be making the men's soccer tournament this year, something the Tigers last qualified for back in 1999 when ETBU was still just a provisional member of the ASC and NCAA D-III.

But Friday's 2-1 loss to UTD was particularly excruciating, and it goes to show you just how little a difference there is between a playoff team and one getting ready to go into the offseason already. Tied 1-1 early in the second half, then down 2-1, the Tigers came out like the desperate team they were and attacked the UTD defense most of the second half. But four -- count 'em, four -- shots hit the post. On another shot, the Comets' goalie made an outstanding effort to save a nice header that would also have tied the game.

That's how close things are in this business sometimes -- the difference between writing about a team heading to the postseason and a team disappointed about not getting the opportunity. If you want to get really deep, that's life sometimes -- every shot we take somehow seems to hit the post.

But lost in the disappointment of this past weekend for our men's soccer team is the fact that this was a very young team, still. Only three seniors will leave off this year's team, with everyone else ready to roll again next season. That includes the last two recruiting classes, which have been very, very solid for Coach Jose Alonzo. It's disappointing, yes, the way this season ended -- but our men's soccer program appears to be on the rise again. And there is the positive side of that story.

Disappointment was there also for the Lady Tiger volleyball team, which could have clinched the outright ASC East championship with two wins at home over the weekend. ETBU would have clinched the right to host the conference tournament with a win over UT Dallas on Friday night, but the Comets won all the big points in the first two games and ended up sweeping the Lady Tigers, 3-0.

Again, it was a game of inches, literally -- the first two games were won by two points apiece at 30-28, 30-28. Think of how close that is in volleyball terms. One more ETBU kill stays inside the line, or even grazes it, and it's 29-all. Nothing is guaranteed after that, of course, but 29-all is much closer than being down 29-28. It's an entirely different mindset, and the mindset usually changes much more positively for the home teams in those kinds of tied, critical situations.

That's how close our volleyball team came to hosting this year's conference tournament, which usually means a tremendous advantage for the home team. Now, because of that "game of inches" last Friday, the Lady Tigers have to pack up and go to Dallas this weekend at UTD's place. A big change in plans, obviously. But the goal never changes -- all you want is a chance, and the odds of ETBU winning the conference tournament have now improved from the start of the season, when it was 1 in 13. Now it's down to 1 in 6, and the ladies will certainly be ready to play Friday afternoon against McMurry.

A big positive there, too.

It was also a disappointing day Saturday in Ornelas Stadium. The loss to Mississippi College, technically and mathematically, doesn't eliminate the Tigers from the conference title. But for all intents and purposes, the postseason now is out of reach -- specifically, our ability to control our own destiny is gone. A lot of crazy things would have to happen now, starting with an upset win at Mary Hardin-Baylor this week.

But don't forget -- the Tigers were picked seventh in a nine-team league in the preseason poll. They started the year with a brand new coaching staff and only 10 returning seniors who played their final games in Ornelas Stadium last week. It's a young team that took its lumps against two talented non-conference teams at the beginning of the year but rebounded with a four-game winning streak to open conference play. If nothing changes in the standings the rest of the way, the Tigers will finish no worse than third place in the conference. And now, there will be no mysteries going into the offseason -- Coach Sartain and his staff have their program in place and it's going to be a big offseason for ETBU in recruiting and in getting the returners ready for next season.

Positive, yes.

So while we all jump on the Lady Tiger bandwagon for this weekend's conference tournament, let's not forget the collective growth and progress of all of our programs this fall. There really is something to look forward to once you get past the disappointment. All our programs are going forward, and that's the direction you want to be heading at all times.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Coming Home For A Showdown

When our fall sports schedules were released this past summer my eyes instantly were drawn to the last weekend in October.


Not that I have anything against homecoming. Not at all. You can't work at a place like ETBU and not feel the excitement in the air when you know you'll get to see old friends and colleagues, or feel the nostalgia that oozes from every event scheduled for that very special weekend. And there's something quite American about ending the festivities with a football game, too.

No, homecoming itself didn't catch my eye, because you know its going to happen every year. What did cross my mind, however, was the fact that I saw a combined four soccer games, two volleyball games and the football game all set to occur over a little bit more than 24 hours.

Those are what's called nightmare weekends in the S.I.D. business -- not because of the games themselves, but just the sheer manpower and time it takes to pull off them off without a hitch. I will probably blog sometime about what it takes to get one game in the books from my perspective, but let me just say that there's more to it than just the final score.

Anyway, the first thought I get during these types of weekends as what we'll have next week is: how am I going to cover all these games going on at the same time and still have some sanity left by Sunday? And yes, that was the very first thought I got when I saw this year's soccer, football and volleyball schedules.

Want to know how to make a ton of money in a hurry? Develop a way for SIDs to be in about three different places at the same time. Until that happens, though, I will forever be grateful for the dependable help I have here. Jason Soles, Jason Havner, Allison Ratcliff, Nathan Jones, etc., those are just a few of my trusty "assistants" who help keep things going smoothly. Were it not for these people, there is no way I could cover a Tiger football game out in Abilene at the same time as hosting a soccer doubleheader here at Cornish Field. Or a volleyball match up in Ornelas Gym. It's people and friends like that who help me get through the stress and strain of a Nightmare Weekend.

But those thoughts -- the ones that made me dread the upcoming series of games on homecoming -- pretty much fade away now thanks to the performance of our fall sports teams. Really, now I could say it's not so much a Nightmare Weekend as it is a Showdown Weekend.

As of this morning, our men's soccer team found itself in a tie for second place in the ASC. The Tigers were only a game out of first place in the conference with a week to go in the regular season. Now, ETBU has a very tough schedule over the final week or so, including Saturday's very critical game over at UT Tyler. In case you're counting, we've never beaten the Patriots in men's soccer. UT Tyler was picked to win this year's title in the preseason poll, and rightly so -- but the Patriots enter Saturday night's game needing desperately to win just to stay in the race for the six-team conference playoff field.

Should the Tigers win out, however, there's a very good possibility that ETBU could host the conference tournament. No matter what happens in Tyler Saturday, the Tigers could still also be fighting for the playoffs themselves when they return home and host UT Dallas next Friday night. Regardless of what happens before then, next Friday night's game here at Cornish Field will have playoff implications, which means a playoff atmosphere. The Tigers will then turn around on Saturday after the homecoming football game and need to find a way to defeat nemesis Ozarks, which is also cruising toward a high seed in the conference race.

Let's put it this way -- with just a week of games left in the conference schedule, the Tigers are still very much in the hunt for ETBU's first ASC regular season soccer championship. Or, the Tigers could very conceivably miss out on the playoffs altogether, still. That's a drop of about seven places in the standings in a week's time. Talk about parity.

But they'll still be in the race come next weekend, which will be at the height of homecoming festivities, which should also guarantee one of the largest crowds this season at Cornish Field. That's Showdown I.

Then there's the action that will be going on at the same time up in Ornelas Gym. The Lady Tigers most likely will enter Friday's game against ASC East rival UT Dallas in a dead heat with the Comets for the division championship. The slight advantage ETBU now holds is the race is that the Lady Tigers can clinch the right to host the conference tournament with a win next Friday night because ETBU already has a win over UT Dallas earlier this season. Another win, with just one match left on Saturday against Mary Hardin-Baylor, would ensure that the conference volleyball tournament will be held in Ornelas Gym the following weekend for the first time since 2001.

And that's Showdown II.

Finally, lost in all the disappointment of last week's two-point loss to Hardin-Simmons is the fact the Tigers are still very much in the ASC football race. ETBU is just a game behind conference leader Mary Hardin-Baylor, and the Crusaders are looming on the schedule in about two weeks. If the Tigers can take care of business the next two weeks, ETBU could go into the game at UMHB on Nov. 3 needing an upset win over the Crusaders to create a tie atop the league standings. The league's playoff rep would then be determined by a coin flip if there's a three-way tie with, say, HSU.

If HSU were to stumble the rest of the way, then that game in Belton would be for all the marbles in the ASC. But the only way any of that happens is if ETBU goes down to Pineville this Saturday and takes care of Louisiana College. Then, that sets up next week's homecoming game against Mississippi College in what could be a very pivotal game for both teams. MC is getting its shot at UMHB this weekend over in Clinton, Miss., so there's still a whole lot to be decided in the ASC football race.

Showdown III right there.

So yes, homecoming will be a very exciting weekend at ETBU next week -- it always is. But put these athletic events on your calendars when you come home to ETBU. It's time to get loud, rowdy and proud.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Heat Of The Night

Anyone who doesn't believe in some form of global warming has never spent a summer or early fall afternoon in East Texas.

It gets hot down here. "Hot" isn't the right word for it -- stifling, suffocating, brutal are terms that can be described for East Texas weather nine months out of every year. I've lived here all my life and it's been the same for all 38 of them. The weather, as ironic as this sounds, never changes. It gets hot in the summer, stays unbearably warm throughout most of the fall, and you might catch a cold "winter" snap in late January or early-to-mid February.

There are advantages to this, especially if you are a sports team having to endure every waking minute of practice in the furnace. Typically, our bodies adjust to the heat, even those of us whose bodies aren't much to begin with in terms of physical conditioning. Our athletes, especially the ones who arrive in August and who get to really enjoy the wonderful conditions, become specially tuned to the heat and humidity that hovers over this area for months. If the humidity lingers, say, into October, and you play a team from somewhere up north or even out in west Texas, a couple of hours in the baking temperatures here can really become an advantage for the home team, which is generally more conditioned to the weather.

It gets very hot, to put it mildly, for our fans and supporters in the stands this time of year, literally. Whether you're upset at some blind call by an official, or if you're just upset at the way things are going on the field in general, the one thing that increases the stress level is the East Texas bonfire going on around you. Trust me, it gets a little warm even in the press box -- you just can't escape it. Again, I've lived my life here -- trust me, there is no escape.

It stays brutally, sticky hot around here at night, too. I remember earlier this season during our football team's trip to Arkadelphia, Ark., to face Ouachita. I was thinking that finally we'd get the chance to play football in some cooler weather, but... yikes. I think I lost a good 20 pounds or so standing on the sideline, taking pictures. The heat stuck to you like glue, even hours after the sun had set. Throw in the buzzard-sized mosquitoes that were nipping at us all night long, and it was almost like torture.

Fact is we are East Texas Baptist University, and if you are going to enjoy the Tigers or play for the Tigers, you are going to have to do it in some uncomfortable conditions. ETBU is hoping to ease some of this burden in the coming months and years, however -- because we've heard the concerns. Yes, the mid-afternoon start times in September have become fan-repellant. We know and understand a lot of what we hear when it's just too warm to sit in the sun for three hours and watch a football game.

I know some of the ideas under consideration include moving our football start times up to a morning start, say 11 a.m. or so. I've been to every home game ever played at Ornelas Stadium and I've never not enjoyed being there three or four hours before kickoff. It's really quite pleasant. But there's something about 2 o'clock that brings out the worst in East Texas weather -- specifically the temperature. Moving the start times up to a cooler 11 a.m. kickoff would get us out of most of the heat of the afternoon, and most games would conceivably but done by that 2 p.m. slot.

Adding lights are always a possibility, and have not been ruled out at some point to my understanding, but adding lights and playing night games doesn't necessarily negate the problem with the heat. Again, I refer back to the road trip to Ouachita -- the darkness didn't make the most sticky problem go away, namely the heavy humidity. It was still unbearably warm and the air was pressing down on us like crazy. And of course, lights are expensive, and they are expensive to run, and as a private university that has to be taken into serious consideration as well.

To a somewhat lesser degree, baseball games at ETBU have had this problem in dealing with the heat as well. But lights will be going in at Young Field this spring, and we'll be playing the first night games in Tiger baseball history right here on campus. Lights were added to the soccer field a couple of years ago, and that has helped some with the heat problems there.

Yes, it's hot. Very hot. But it's our heat, and it's something we all learn to deal with if you live in East Texas very long. So remember to prepare for the heat when visiting us or attending one of our outdoor events -- dress for the occasion, drink plenty of fluids and it's not against the law to spend a few minutes in the shade or air conditioning when possible. Sunscreen is always a nice addition as well --it's always been blazing hot when I've gone to the beach as well.

And above all else, don't let the heat keep you from coming out and enjoying the performance of these student-athletes. When it comes to life, hey, we're all in this together... even when it's hot.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Congratulating Bink

My last blog was about my personal friendship with one of this year's Hall of Fame inductees at ETBU, Tony Cutright. I couldn't let this time pass, though, without saying something about another, Bink Grimes.

The other two members of this year's class, Jana Allen-Sims and Kathy Norris-Edwards, were great contributors to their respective sports of cross country and women's basketball and were highly regarded, obviously, by the selection committee. I personally never met Jana or Kathy prior to the banquet this year, however, so I can't really say I have a history with them. Both ladies are first-class, however, and they represent what ETBU and Lady Tiger athletics are all about. It was a pleasure meeting them and witnessing their induction last month.

But I knew Bink quite well when he and his wife Shelly lived in Marshall. Bink actually is a kind of trail blazer here, at least from my perspective: he was a full-time S.I.D. when his playing days were over while also working as full-time assistant coach in the baseball program. Actually, I guess that makes him part-time S.I.D. and part-time assistant coach, but trust me, he did full-time work in both places.

I was working at the Marshall News Messenger at the time, covering local sports, so I got to know Bink pretty well. As with Cutright, I came along just after Bink's playing days, but I'd heard everything about him as well on the field -- outstanding hitter, both for average and power, a pretty good defensive first baseman and an even better leader.

Bink wrote an outdoor column for us in the News Messenger. I am not the least bit interested in hunting or fishing anymore, personally. My hunting experience ended one cold, rainy New Year's Day back in the 1980s after I'd been left sitting in a deer stand with nothing but a soaked parka and an even more soaked hunting rifle. I sat there for three solid, frigid hours, and there were several points in the experience where I thought I'd actually been frozen to the tree. Probably three of the most miserable hours of my life, quite honestly. And nothing moved but the raindrops and iciclyes hanging from the trees. I'm sure there were deer out there in the woods, but they were huddled up somewhere, looking at me and warming up to their own laughter watching this idiot kid sitting up there freezing to death.

Anyway, I prayed to God that day that if he would just make me warm again, get me out of that tree, I'd never spend another second in the woods. He came through as He always does, and I've held up my end of the prayer.

But Bink -- he was an avid outdoorsman. Bink had been a hunting and fishing guide along the coast even before he came to ETBU, and he fit right in up here in East Texas with all the wildlife and outdoor action to be had on the area's lakes and in the pine forests. We struck up a pretty good friendship -- he was able to fill a lot of space for me every Sunday in the paper, and in turn I was able to get him in on a media pass to a Texas Rangers baseball game.

Bink and I drove to Arlington one sunny day with the opportunity to cover the Rangers. I can't remember who they were playing, but it didn't matter. My goal was simply to get out of the office under the premise of working, as it usually was back in those days when I occasionally covered the Rangers. Bink was actually working; he wanted to meet Will Clark, who was not only a first baseman by trade but also a very avid hunter.

The game wasn't unlike any in the past, really, meaning the Rangers probably lost. But Bink got to sit down for a brief moment with Clark and talk outdoors, hunting and fishing, and as I remember he wrote a very good article. You could tell that he was a natural, both as a ballplayer and as a writer.

Bink has gone on to coach high school baseball down in Bay City, and he and Shelly now have a daughter, Mallory, who looks just like her dad. Not sure if she can hit the fastball yet, but I'm pretty sure she knows how to bait a hook.

He also continues to write his weekly outdoor column as a freelancer. In fact he came up to me after last month's banquet and asked if there would be a way he could use my laptop to email that week's column to the Houston Chronicle. He got it sent off, and it just reminded me of the kind of things that make our Hall of Famers great -- they always are focused on what needs to be done, and they do whatever it takes to get it done.

Congratulations, Bink.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Legend Of The Fall

It was a very exciting weekend again here at ETBU, and it wasn't just because the football team is still undefeated in the conference race.

I was looking forward to this year's Athletic Hall of Fame banquet moreso than any other year of my previous seven at ETBU. Not because I didn't enjoy the previous ones, but because I felt a personal touch with some of this year's inductees and share a little slice of -- yes, history -- with them.

I was never fortunate enough to see Tony Cutright play competitive basketball at ETBU. "Cut" played one year here at ETBU in 1995-96, and it was right after the completion of his senior season with the Tigers that I moved back to Marshall and began working at the Marshall News Messenger.

But I heard the whispers and the legend. As a local sports writer I, of course, covered a lot of ETBU events personally and it didn't matter who the next star-in-waiting for the Tigers was. They were always compared to a handful of greats who had come through in the past, fairly or unfairly, and Cut was in that small group of comparisons.

In fact, I never met Cut personally until he came back to ETBU as an assistant coach in 2001. Most people who follow our basketball program closely or who know Coach West personally know how close he and Cutright are. Bert coached Cutright back at Zwolle, La., and he will flat out tell you that Tony is the best high school basketball player to ever come out of Louisiana. Bert says that Cut was a player without a position, and that's because he could play all of them. Whoever was the best player on the other team, that's who Cut guarded all night at Zwolle. He could shoot from long range, middle range, drive to the basket past anyone and then post them up whenever he wanted. He was a tenacious defender and team leader who was good enough to lead Zwolle to four state championships, back-to-back-to-back. Yes, Bert will tell you that without Tony Cutright, Zwolle doesn't accomplish that amazing feat most likely.

Cut went on to star at Lee Junior College for two years then signed on at UL-Lafayette, where injuries cut short his D-I career after one season. With one year of eligibility left, Cut looked up his old high school coach and arrived at ETBU. Still hurting from leg and back injuries, and mostly out of shape the first half of the season, Cutright still was the best player on the floor most nights for the Tigers -- who went 28-5 that season. He earned a tryout with the Houston Rockets after the season, and it ultimately came down to who the Rockets wanted to keep -- a young thoroughbred just beginning to get healthy again, or Mario Elie. Houston chose Elie and Cut was left to continue playing basketball overseas.

When I met Cut for the first time in 2001, he was back with Coach West as an assistant. I'd heard the legend and heard Bert talk countless times about what he'd seen Cut do on a basketball court, but you never really know yourself until you see it with your own eyes. Seeing him up close and personal for the first time, Cut towered over everyone. Beginning that first year he and I were roommates on road trips and I got to see with my own eyes the Cut that everyone had talked about.

I believe the one common denominator that all great athletes have is competitiveness. Tony Cutright was competitive, and for us it began with PlayStation. I'd never owned a PS2 in my life, just the old original PlayStations. Cut had the PS2, which was top of the line back then. He'd bring it on those road trips and we would get going on that darn thing. I don't know what the streak was, but it had to be getting pretty close to 100 straight wins for Cutright. He'd pull out the latest Madden version and we'd go at it, and he'd take his beloved little Saints every time. This was back when the Saints struggled every year to get five wins, but Cut would get that in one night of competition against me -- who bounced back and forth from every other team in the league, trying to find a matchup that would favor the old SID.

I finally beat Cut on one trip -- I think it was with the Steelers, which shows you how much I needed a win because I hate the Steelers -- and it was because I simply threw bombs downfield every play and eventually you learn that you can hook up three or four times for easy scores that way. After the win, I announced that I had retired from Madden. Cut announced that I hadn't, and that I'd better get my Steeler self back on that stick or he would roll me up and dunk me the next time we saw a gym. I thought he just might be able to pull that off, based on what I'd heard from the legend talk, so I humbly returned to the stick. I don't know that I ever won again.

Cut's basketball skills to this day haven't eroded, either. He might be a couple steps slower, and need a bit more of a break during a timeout, but he dominated ETBU intramurals while coaching here. It was really nice because I was always on his team, thanks to the deft recruiting of my trusty assistant and Assistant Director of Admissions Jason Soles. Soles is a pretty good basketball coach, too, as it turns out -- he knows that when Cut is on the floor, let's find ways to get him the basketball. Every trip.

And those athletes nowadays? Cut always had fun with them after practice. I remember one particular trip to Mississippi College when some of the players were calling Cut out following a shootaround. The reference was vaguely to Cut's age, I think, or the fact that maybe he wasn't the same guy he used to be on the court. The big guy, to his credit, didn't say much back. He simply walked over, picked up a basketball and then carried it to midcourt.

He then took a jumper -- no underhand heave or overhand toss, a straight-up, in-your-face jump shot -- from the midcourt circle at Wood Coliseum. The ball never touched the rim, sliding gracefully through the net about the time Cut popped off with his only talk of the exchange -- "Boom!"

The only noise coming from the current day college players then was that of them rolling around on the floor, absolutely juiced from the display. No one ever challenged Cut seriously again.

Once a legend, always a legend.

Cut was one of our four inductees to the Hall of Fame this year, along with Bink Grimes, Jana Allen-Sims and Kathy Norris-Edwards. The old superstar is now coaching high school basketball at Pleasant Hill, La., and he's doing what he says he needs to do, and that is help young people in life and in faith. As an old friend, it was an honor to see him accept his Hall of Fame plaque Saturday.

No one has earned it more than Cut.