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Thursday, Apr. 24, 2014

Ten years of sports in 10 minutes

Sunday, August 5, 2007

When I started my sportswriting career at the Standard Democrat in September 1997, I had no idea I would still be here 10 years later.

But now the time has come to start a new chapter in my life. I have accepted a teaching and coaching job with Sikeston Public Schools, and with that, my days as the sports editor are now over.

It was not an easy decision. After spending most of my adult life covering the local sports scene, in particular Sikeston sports, you become attached to the job, the people you work with and the teams you cover.

But teaching and coaching is in my blood and it's something I've always wanted to do.

Most of you know that I have a passion for everything Sikeston, from the community to the school to the athletics.

It was one of the reasons that I wanted to start work at the Standard Democrat. The opportunity to cover the Bulldogs was a dream of mine.

I even recall the first story I ever did. It ran on Sept. 16, 1997. It was a freshman football game. Sikeston defeated Chaffee 27-14. Ironically, (showing my age here) one of our new sportswriters here at the SD, Josh Mills, was a freshman in that class.

It's been a blast ever since.

I've had the privilege of covering some tremendous high school players and teams.

In football, I've seen the Sikeston all-time rushing record fall twice. Mark Blissett broke Tiger Boyd's career total in 1997. Three years later, Justin Robinson set the all-time record, single-season record, single-game record (twice) and single-season touchdown record.

I've seen the Sikeston single-season receiving record and single-season receptions record fall. Scotty Keenan pulled that feat in 2003.

Not to mention, I had the opportunity to cover Brandon Barnes, who I had known since he was 8-years-old. Brandon was an all-state defensive back at SHS in 1998, went on to an all-conference career at Mizzou, and then played one season in the NFL with the Washington Redskins.

Who would've known that the tall, lanky kid that I watched grow up, would develop into a monstrous, 6-foot-3, 240-pound linebacker?

I gave longtime Bulldog football coach Charlie Vickery a farewell article in 2003 that I am very proud to say he has framed and hanging on the wall in his house. It was my honor, coach.

I introduced new boys basketball coach Gregg Holifield to the Sikeston readers in 1998. Ten years later, Sikeston basketball is in great shape as Holifield has led the Bulldogs to three district championships and a second place finish at state in Class 4 in 2006. Even when the talent level has been down, Holifield manages to field competitive, respectable teams.

Holifield has groomed numerous all-state players: Bryan Ellitt (twice), Lontas McClinton (twice), Julian Beard (twice) and Michael Porter (twice and counting).

I've also had the great fortune of covering Sikeston Bulldog baseball, which, under Kevin Self's guidance, has arguably been the most dominant program in the area the last 10 years. Maybe in any sport.

Some of my fondest memories were covering the Blake and Jake Show. That is, Blake DeWitt and Jacob Priday. I watched the two, along with their standout classmates, come up through the little league ranks, from going to the Bambino World Series to three final four appearances with the Bulldogs.

I'll never forget DeWitt's grand slam to beat North County 4-3 in the state sectional round in 2004, arguably one of the great moments in Sikeston sports history. Talk about a Hollywood moment.

I beam with pride as I have watched Blake and Jake succeed in their post-high school careers -- Blake in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization in Double-A and Jake as an all-conference player for the Missouri Tigers.

It wasn't just Blake and Jake though. Sikeston has had so many all-state baseball players I can hardly keep them straight. Brent Self is probably the best pitcher I have ever covered. J.R. Bizzell and Richard Landers formed one of the best defensive tandems on the left side of the infield that I've ever seen.

Billy and Jamie Puckett, Kent Chappell, Lance Rhodes -- I could go on and on here.

I've watched Jerry Dement resurrect Sikeston's track and field program as an area power and state contender once again, including a couple state champions during that stretch in Michael Colon (triple jump) and Tyler Woodson (110-meter high hurdles) and countless other all-state performers.

While Sikeston was my usual beat, yes, I did branch out to cover other area schools. Here are a few quick hitters of things that stand out to me in no particular order -- just random thoughts spilled onto the page.

* I got to cover many tremendous athletes at many different schools. Some things have never changed. Charleston continues to be, well, "The Factory," as my good friend and former colleague Chris Moore coined.

Charleston's state championship last spring reaffirmed that status and gave coach Danny Farmer a well-deserved championship ring. I don't think Coach Farmer ever got enough credit, but getting that ring justifies the quality job that he has done at his alma mater.

* Portageville's Jim Bidewell is as good as any coach in the area, maybe even the state. His kids are always as well-mannered and well-behaved, yet as competitive as any you'll see.

* I had the opportunity to cover New Madrid County Central in the Class 3A state championship game in football against Platte County in 2001, and also three straight 3A state championship game appearances in basketball led by the incomparable Dereke Tipler, in both sports I might add.

Tipler was a member of perhaps the single-greatest sports class that I've ever seen. If my count is correct, six of those football and basketball players went on to play in college, including three at the Division I level. Two of them, Desmond Sims and Brian Murph, are fighting for roster spots in the NFL.

* I witnessed Dexter basketball's rise to prominence under Paul Hale and Eric Sitze. The Bearcats' Bloomfield dominance will never be duplicated.

* Portageville's Willie Hassell and Bell City's Dominitrix Johnson were as good a point guards as I've ever covered.

* Jackson's Mario Whitney is quite simply the fastest kid I've ever seen on the football field and on a track.

* Poplar Bluff's Tyler Hansbrough is the most dominant offensive force I've seen come out of Southeast Missouri. It's no wonder why North Carolina offered him a scholarship.

* I saw legendary coach Lennies McFerren win a state title, retire and then coach again.

* I even covered a coach that I grew up around, but had no idea I'd ever cover one of his games, Ronnie Cookson. They call Steve Spurrier "the ole ball coach." Not so fast, my friends. Folks, Coach Cookson was, and is, "the ole ball coach." Welcome back, Coach!

* I thought when Fred Johnson resigned from the boys basketball position in 1998 that I would never cover him again. Fortunately, "The Sheik" came back for one round of girls hoops in 2005-06. The result? The girls won more games (18) than they have in school history.

* The Bloomfield Christmas Tournament is always one of my great joys during the break. Great hospitality, great atmosphere. It's got it all. Now if we can just get Sikeston in that tournament, it'd be perfect.

* Kelly Lady Hawks softball, led by Rhonda Ratledge, was the premier softball team in the area when I started in '97. It still is today.

* I'd like to recognize Mitch Wood (Oran baseball and basketball), Gavin Miller (ex-Dexter athletic director and girls basketball), Dan Kesselring (Charleston A.D. and football coach), Brent Keefer (Sikeston A.D.) and Diane Fowler (NMCC A.D.) for making my job easier.

* And finally, I can't sign off without recognizing the people I've worked with. I'll start with my former colleagues, Lance Hanlin, Michael Boyd Jr., the aforementioned "C-Moore," Larry Lewis and Jeff McNiell. All have moved on to their own adventures in life, yet we all stay close in contact to this day. My current co-worker David Jenkins has proved to be an enormous help to me, especially in a pinch.

Together, I feel we all provided you, the readers, with as extensive local high school sports coverage as one could ask. I'm very proud to have brainstormed with Hanlin in forming our annual "All SD" teams that have become a staple in the paper.

Our first one was the "All Standard-Democrat Boys Basketball Dream Team," selected by yours truly, Hanlin, Boyd and McNiell in April 1998. Since then, it's become an annual affair with boys and girls basketball, football, baseball and a couple softball teams.

Also, with help from my fellow writers and page designers, we brought back the annual basketball preview tab in late November.

And my employers in general at the Standard Democrat, Mike Jensen and Don Culbertson, provide a great family environment and are great people to work for.

Our new sports team here at the SD will be led by Jeff Arenz as sports editor, and Josh Mills as a sportswriter. I'm confident the SD has made great decisions in hiring these two and I'm sure you'll be getting outstanding coverage for years to come.

* In closing, I've always tried to control my Sikeston bias in my articles. I wrote my game stories from a Sikeston perspective for the majority of our readers, but always kept in mind the emotions of the opposing team as well, especially if Sikeston was playing one of our coverage teams.

Now that I am officially on board at SPS, I can bury that unbiased approach. Which leaves me with one final comment: "Go Dogs!"