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Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014

Football stats moving into the computer age

Monday, October 25, 2004

(Photo)
Brett Dorton sits in front of his laptop at a recent Dexter High School football game.
DEXTER - The first time Brett Dorton moves into a cramped press box, packing his computer and accompanied by his spotter, Denny Putnam, he knows he is eyed with suspicion. What is a statistician doing up here?

But as the game progresses and he keeps announcers stocked with the numbers for their broadcasts and ends the game with a complete listing of both teams' every play, he is welcomed with open arms.

Dorton smiles. He has gone through this scenario time and again since he became part of the team to track the Dexter Bearcats' game stats.

Originally working with Alan Hedrick, the two would follow the games along the sidelines. "We would keep it by hand, calculating the yardage," recalled Dorton.

While that system worked well, it also took time. Dorton said they often wouldn't finish until early the next morning. "We thought there had to be a better way," he said.

Hedrick began researching various computer programs and eventually found Sydex Sports. The company offered computer software for statistics on several sports, but what caught their interest was the football program.

Using their own money, they purchased the program, loaded it on Dorton's laptop computer and began moving their statistics keeping into the computer age.

Six years later, Dorton is now heading up the stats, using a revised version of the same software.

"We are totally thrilled with the quality of statistics we get out of the program," said Dorton, who pointed out revisions over the years have expanded the program making it easier to use.

Although there is a little more manual work up front, Dorton said he can now keep statistics for the Bearcats and their opponents. The final six or seven-page product not only lists each player's yards rushing, passing, tackles, etc., but also includes a play-by-play of the action.

With a click of his mouse, Dorton marks the ball's location at the end of the play as the computer automatically calculates yardage. Putnam tracks whether it was a pass or a run and the players involved, passing the information along to Dorton.

"The best thing is when we get done or even at half time we can print off statistics for the radio announcers or the coaches. The newspaper guys love us because they don't have to keep statistics anymore," said Dorton.

With the computer, he said, the risk for human error is reduced.

However, anyone who works with computers knows they have their own glitches. The printer has run out of ink and Dorton recalled the game where his laptop simply "froze" and they couldn't load in the statistics as the game progressed. The next day, the duo sat through the game film, logging each stat as if they were at the game.

Keeping statistics requires a dedication to be there every Friday night. Rarely does Dorton miss a Bearcat game, even when he tries.

When his wife was pregnant and the birth of their child was near, Dorton took a Friday night off to be at home. "They couldn't get anyone to fill in, so they called me from a cell phone from the press box. I sat with the phone, did stats and printed it off," he said. "You know, it is kind of funny with the new technology, you don't even have to be at the game. Of course, that isn't way we like to do it but it offers that option anyway."

With the ease of the program and the quality of the end product, Dorton is surprised more schools aren't using it. He noted Kennett High School is now using the same software.

"I would encourage anyone who is looking at providing better statistics for a team to give this program a try. It is inexpensive, easy to operate, it just takes a little effort to make it work," said Dorton. "When you compare what we did when we kept statistic by hand to what we put out now - we print out punt averages, return averages, compile lists. We are keeping more statistics then ever before."

A final advantage comes at the end of the season. While Dorton stores the season's summaries to maintain a historical record of each season, he also provides a complete lists of stats on the Bearcat players. Dexter football coach Aaron Pixley uses this information to promote his players for honors.

"I think statistic-wise, you can't beat it. It is a great program and he does great job," said Pixley. "When we go to all-conference meetings, it is so easy to break out each and every football player I have to get kids nominated."

Those record disks will keep totaling up. Dorton said he has no intention of stopping. "We just really love Bearcat football and we enjoy keeping the stats," he said. "This is a labor of love and I have no desire to sit in the stands."