Tuesday, February 24, 2015

THE "LOSE AT ALL COSTS" MENTALITY OF LOCAL HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL (when things are too bizarre to believe, it's probably happening in Tennessee...)

           Folks who read this blobber on a regular basis (and you both know who you are... thanks!) might be aware that I make my living covering some local high schools' athletic events as a photographer.  There's no real money in what I do, (at least not how I'M doing it).  But it does give me an excuse to attend a lot of games and play with cameras, two of my favorite things.

          One thing I can tell you about working as a photographer in this part of middle Tennessee is that there are some incredibly talented football and basketball teams in the area, and they put a premium on winning.  The coaches who are employed by local schools are well compensated for their jobs, and you had better believe they either win, or start looking for other lines of work.  Some of them have been accused of having a "win at any cost" mentality, and that would probably be a fair assumption most of the time.  But not ALL of the time.

            Last weekend saw an ugly situation unlike any other in recent memory.  It's such a bizarre thing, I might not even find words to adequately explain it to anyone unfamiliar with the story... but here goes...

            A couple of the girls high school basketball teams in Rutherford County are nationally ranked, and for good reason.  One team in particular, Blackman High School, has an awesome team this season. All five of their starters have committed to play basketball at division one colleges next year, and a couple of the kids coming off the bench will join those ranks in the years to come.  The Lady Blaze are currently ranked 4th in the country, and no one really wants to play them, especially in a lose-and-you-go-home tournament situation.  And that might explain why two teams who were playing for the right to face Blackman did their best to throw the game last week in the district tournament.

              Here's why... The winner of the game would face Blackman in a semifinal elimination game, whereas the loser of the game would fall to a consolation bracket and have a chance to play in the district finals.  Both teams playing in the finals would automatically advance to the state tournament, so losing to Blackman in the finals would be preferable to losing to Blackman in the semis.  Got all that?  Doesn't matter.  What matters is that the coaches of these two quarterfinal teams looked at the upcoming schedule and realized that losing their game would probably give them the best chance to take their team to the state tournament. So they made sure their teams understood the implications of winning and losing- nudge nudge, wink wink- and sent them out on the court to do their worst.

              And their worst is what they gave.  Kids deliberately dribbled the ball over the half court line to get an "over and back" called against them, losing possession.  Kids threw up bricks at the free throw line.  They passed the ball to the wrong team.  Threw the ball out of bounds.  One girl even took a shot at the other team's goal.  In short, it was a total embarrassment to both the fans and the state's basketball officials.  The referees in the game noticed what was going on (videos are available showing some of the more blatant efforts to throw the game) and called both coaches to the center of the court for a warning.  The coaches were playing substitute players who never got in regular season games, and it was obvious they weren't engaged in trying to win the game.

              The TSSAA (the governing body of Tennessee's high school athletics) met after the game, reviewed the referees' reports, and then ruled both teams ineligible for the state tournament.  The schools were notified that their girls programs were to be placed on probation for next season, and were encouraged to take additional action against the coaches involved.

               Last night I took photos at a regional first round tournament game and had a chance to speak with several fans and coaches who witnessed the game in question.  From their comments I came away feeling there was no doubt at all about what was going on: the two coaches had instructed their teams to lose, and in so doing they could avoid playing Blackman in the semifinals.  Now both teams are out of the state tournament, and there is a movement afoot to have the coaches involved terminated from their jobs.

               And that's where it gets personal for yours truly.  One of the coaches was once my son's little league baseball coach, and he's since become a friend of mine.  I know the guy, and the one thing I can tell you is he's about the most competitive coach on the planet.  His little league teams were well coached, and they played very aggressive baseball.  Some parents didn't like the guy's "win win win" attitude, but my son loved his coach, and they've stayed in touch over the years.  This is the last guy on Earth I would have ever suspected of being involved in a plot to deliberately lose a high school basketball game.  The last guy.  He would storm out on the field to argue a call in little league baseball, for crying out loud.  He hated to lose at ANYTHING.

              So I have to wonder, what the hell happened?  Did he see the other coach putting his subs out on the court in place of his starters?  Did he notice the other team deliberately turning the ball over to his own team, and then realize his girls would have a better shot at the state tournament if they lost?  

               I hope to talk to him about it at some point.  Right now all I can go by are his statements in the local press in which he expresses great regret, saying he got caught up in the "heat of the game" and would never do such a thing if he had it to do over.

               But whether he has a chance to "do it again" is now in doubt.  His reputation as a coach is sullied, as are the reputations of the two fine basketball programs involved.

               How do you punish teams and coaches for trying to lose a game?  Obviously, the players went along with the game plan, so they aren't completely blameless.  We do tell our kids to follow their coach's instructions, but at what point are they responsible for their own actions?  Does this constitute unsportsmanlike conduct by coaches and players?

                One of my friends argues that she sees no difference in this and in strategic moves that are made in other sports and other games.  Her example was giving up one's queen in chess in order to win the game later.  My response was that to deliberately lose one's queen in order to win was the polar opposite of losing the game to avoid facing the queen.  Bad analogy.  Another guy suggested that pro football teams often tank late in the season in order to get a better draft pick or a more favorable schedule the following season.

                But do they deliberately, blatantly try to lose games?  If they were caught doing so, what would the league do in response?

                 Like I said, it was ugly.  And it's likely to get uglier.





Saturday, February 21, 2015

BILL BANNING "NO-GO ZONES" INTRODUCED IN TENNESSEE LEGISLATURE (and what better way to defend bigotry than compare it to Civil Rights?)

           If you're a Muslim, you might want to keep an eye on Tennessee's General Assembly... 'cause they're sure as hell keepin' an eye on you.

           In yet another example of a cure being offered for which there is no disease, state Representative Susan Lynn (R-of course-Mt. Juliet) has filed a bill cosponsored by Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron (also R-Murfreesboro) that is designed to prevent "no-go zones" within the borders of the Volunteer State.

           You know about "no-go zones", right?  Those are fictional places where white Christians  say they aren't allowed to travel.  Faux News talked about them a lot when the last news cycle contained instances of Islamic extremism in Europe, even going so far as to allow an asshat to assert, on air, that there were entire cities in England where Christians are forbidden to trespass by Sharia Law-abidin' Muslims.  Of course, it was total bullshit, and when called on it Faux News apologized for having failed to do "due diligence" in vetting their guest's comments.  Oopsie... But (nudge nudge, wink wink) we all know "they're" taking over...

            Anyway, a couple members of Tennessee's esteemed legislature are convinced that there are places in our fair state where members of certain races or religions aren't welcome.  Of course, when pressed to name an example of such racial or religious intimidation, Rep. Lynn was unable to come up with anything.  But, not being one to let pesky ol' facts get in the way of an opportunity to climb aboard the Pander Express, she had this to offer in her own defense:

“You might find it with gang activity, you might find it with organized crime, and of course we have heard that there were some places where it is happening with certain religious groups,” Lynn said.

There are some people who claim that there are some areas of Tennessee where they feel this is happening. And as you know, when there’s activity happening where people sort of feel intimidated, there’s not exactly a sign up on the wall,” Lynn said in a recent interview. “But its just an overall feeling of intimidation.”

             Yeah, I've definitely heard folks talk about feeling intimidated.  They were Muslims who were being threatened here in Murfreesboro for the offense of wanting to build a house of worship.  Their signs were destroyed, the construction equipment on their property was torched, and angry mobs of good Christian folks from around the state came to town to scare the shit out of them for daring to build a mosque in middle Tennessee.  The fact that Muslims in Murfreesboro had been worshipping peacefully for over three decades was beside the point...

              So Rep. Lynn and Sen. Ketron want to make sure no one is prevented from moving freely about the state simply based upon their race or religion... which sounds like a good thing, right?  Of course, there are already a LOT of laws on the books to prevent discrimination based on race or religion.  When asked why yet another law might be necessary, Rep. Lynn likened her efforts to those laws that were passed to make it easier for black folks to attend public schools and universities back in the days of desegregation.  She said her bill was “really the same sort of thing.” 

               Aren't they slick?  When they mask their fearful bigotry in the sanctified cloak of the Civil Rights movement, isn't that just brilliant?  We can't be doing anything hateful if we're simply mirroring the protections offered to those poor Negroes, right?

              These assholes make me want to puke.

              Why can't they just own their bigotry, instead of wrapping it up in a pretty flag and telling us how much they love everyone?

               There are no "no-go zones" in Tennessee.  No one is patrolling the perimeter of a community to keep Christians and whites from coming and going in complete freedom.  No one is posting sentries to make certain only those of their "tribe" or "gang" are welcome (unless you count the members of our legislature who seem to want such protections from the unnamed "boogie men" of their xenophobic nightmares).

               It's getting harder and harder to ignore these pious sons of bitches.

               If you're not willing to call them out on their bullshit, you might as well sign up and go along with their bigotry yourself.





Thursday, February 19, 2015


           If you're trying to keep up with individual efforts by members of Tennessee's esteemed General Assembly to climb aboard the conservative Pander Express, you've been busy!  Seems like a new candidate for Suckass of the Year comes along every other day, with no end in sight.

           A week or two ago the Governor's "Tennessee Plan" for Medicaid expansion was squashed in the first committee meeting debate, and since then Republicans have been stepping all over themselves to come across as more gung-holier-than-thou than the other members of our legislature.  They've offered up bills to make The Holy Bible Tennessee's official "state book".  One guy has introduced legislation to include a phrase praising God the Savior and Creator as the dude responsible for our freedoms into the state's constitution.  And now a local crank has suggested Tennesseans be allowed to carry weapons openly or concealed without a pesky ol' carry permit or background check.  Because Amurka, by God...

            State Representative Rick Womick (R-Rockvale) says we don't need no stinkin' permits to enjoy a right guaranteed by our Floundering Fathers in the Bill of Rights.  According to Womick, our constitution gives us the right to keep and bear arms, and that's all we need.  When critics of his proposal point to the fact that a license and testing is required in order to legally operate a motor vehicle, he simply replies that driving a car is a privilege, not a right.  Very different things, says Rick.  When others ask why we require all sorts of background checks to exercise our constitutionally guaranteed right to vote, he just points to the 2nd Amendment and smiles.

             Of course, gun totin' ammosexuals will still have to abide by silly laws against carrying weapons onto school property or into business that forbid such displays of machismo, but that's a technicality the legislature can correct in the future.

             In the meantime, at least one state representative thinks we need more guns on the streets of the Volunteer State, and he's determined to make it legal for anyone with a gun to bring it with them wherever they go.

             According to this article, Womick believes it's cut and dried, as clear as the target on a liberal's forehead:

 “What this bill would do is allow you to carry a gun without a permit either concealed or unconcealed. It’s straight Second Amendment.”

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


            Four to six inches of snow, they said.  Certainty of measurable accumulations, they warned.  Go to Kroger and buy up all the milk and bread, they advised.

            Okay, they didn't exactly tell us to stage a run on grocery stores for milk and bread. But then, they don't have to tell us how to panic here in Tennessee.  If the weather dudes call for snow, we know to buy up all the milk and bread.  It's in our DNA.  Dumbass Nature Aptitude.

            But it would be nice if the weather people got it right about snow every once in a while.  They've called for snow three times this winter, and they've been wrong all three times.  What they should do is just stand in front of empty store shelves and shout "Ice storm!" at the camera.  We understand those words... better than most.

             Here's what we know about ice storms.  No matter where you're from, or how skillful you and your local citizenry might be when it comes to driving in winter weather, no one can drive on a sheet of ice... unless you're the Zamboni driver for an NHL franchise.  A half inch of solid ice renders your false bravado about winter driving skills a moot point.  No one does it well, not even you folks who live in the frozen tundra and who take great pride in getting to and from every appointment regardless of nature's worst efforts.  We know ice storms down here, and no one can fucking drive on ice.

              The other thing we know about ice storms is that our trees aren't nearly as stout as they might appear.  Add a few tons of frozen rain to the branches of a mighty tree, and before you know it you've got yourself a week's worth of work with a chainsaw lying around your yard.

               So we're in day two of the Great Ice Storm of 2015, and already some of us are starting to crack under the unrelenting pressure of cabin fever.  Cable television, our hope for mindless distraction, is a banal time suck.  We can't even find our usual Sunday afternoon-ish movie fodder... something like an extended version of "Time to Kill My Legally Blonde Cousin Vinny"...  any of those would be good, right about now.  Instead, we've got the Disney Channel and a Rizzoli and Isles marathon.  

                I caught myself mindlessly typing "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" over and over on the computer earlier.  And an axe has mysteriously appeared behind the office door...

                Someone should probably send help if they don't hear from us in a day or two.

Monday, February 16, 2015


        I won't bore you with all the gory details, but I'm too proud of the kid to let it slide!  Ryan won last year's A-AA state wrestling championship at 170 pounds as a junior.  He went into last Saturday night's finals with a perfect 40-0 record, and left with his second straight state title.

        When you put those two rings next to the two state football titles his high school won his sophomore and junior seasons, it's almost to the point where the kid can't put on all the jewelry.

         Great kid, on top of all the athletic awards, too!