Saturday, October 30, 2010

Remembering the Heavener Lightning

Many times, an old picture will pop up on one of the social media sites that you wish had been destroyed many years ago.

That wasn’t the case on a picture that I was tagged in on facebook the other day. The picture was from 1982 and was of the Heavener Lightning, a pee-wee team I helped coach for three summers.

The picture was taken, I believe, in Ada, where the Lightning played in and won the district tournament to become the first Heavener youth team to ever advance to the state tournament.

It was some 28 years ago, but memories of those young boys will never go away.

In the district tournament, we played Preston, Byng (I believe, not sure) and beat Preston in the finals to advance to the state tournament. The state tournament was played at Moore and the Lightning played Coweta in the first round and lost by a couple of runs. Coweta eventually won the state tournament and nobody played them any closer than the Lightning did.

This was the second year I had helped coach the Lightning, along with David Grubbs Sr. and Mike Vickers. And yes, this was a special group of kids, now adults.

Many of them had started playing together in t-ball and then moved up to pee-wee. This was a time when Cameron and Spiro dominated pee-wee baseball in LeFlore County. But these boys quickly showed that was changing.

We had a lot of good players on that team, especially Joey Bradberry. He caught and pitched for us and I have not seen a player that young as good as Joey was. For those who did not remember, he played college ball and was a professional prospect until injuring his throwing arm.

Joey was also a heck of a football player at Talihina and is now coaching, like his brother and father.

Jared Muse was our shortstop and he was like a vacuum. David Grubbs Jr. played second base and was our leadoff hitter, a tough little sucker even then and is now on the Heavener School Board.

Dusty Alexander was the third baseman, a solid player and a good hitter after he was allowed to swing the bat instead of bunting. Dusty was not the swiftest of foot, but was another good player. Todd Vickers manned first base and did some pitching, along with being one of our best hitters.

A future candidate for the state representative position, James “Brother” Lockhart also played for the Lightning, along with Justin Frizzell, Russell Sanders, Cody Terry, Brandon Moody, Weldon Green and Shawn Ward. There were a couple of other players, but sadly I can’t remember their names.

One of my best memories of that year was the district finals. The winner of that game would make it to the state tournament. One problem, we were out of pitchers since we were playing the third game in that many days.

We talked it over and decided to give Shawn Ward a chance, even though he had not pitched for us that season. We worked with him during an earlier practice and found out that Shawn was definitely not overpowering, but could throw strikes.

Shawn threw a bunch of strikes that night and the Lightning won their biggest game ever to advance to the state tournament.

The kids had a blast that week and also at the state tournament, staying at hotels just like the big guys. And many of those same kids also were part of the first Heavener High School football team to win a playoff game since the early 1960s.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

No more Thursday games!

I shall admit it. I don’t like change. High school football games are supposed to be played on Friday nights.

Right? Uh, wrong, at least when it comes to the games during the annual state teacher meeting.

So I have but one small request to post here, one that will probably not make one bit of difference.

That is how most of my requests wind up, in the trash can. This one will probably wind up the same way, but I must voice this simple request: NO MORE THURSDAY NIGHT HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL GAMES!

There, it is off my chest. Actually, it was never on my chest. But it was on my mind, and hopefully on the minds of others.

Now the Thursday night game between Panama and Spiro to open the season was fine. My problem is the Thursday night games the week of the state teacher meetings.

All the county games were played Thursday. I know a lot of people enjoy this change of routine. Most of the coaches do because it gives them an extra day to prepare for the following game. Some of the players probably like it, also. It even gives the fans and supporters extra time for a long weekend.

So what is my problem? If you are going to play these games on Thursday, it should only be between teams that are a short distance apart, like Panama and Spiro.

Valliant played at Spiro and Poteau visited Broken Bow. Most of those schools didn’t have school on Friday. Poteau did. So after getting back from the game well after midnight, Poteau’s players, coaches, band, cheerleaders and students were expected to attend school all day on Friday.

I doubt a whole lot of learning took place Friday. From what I understand, Poteau was the only county school to actually have school on Thursday and Friday. The players were also expected to not miss one second of class on Friday, per the upper echelons of administration.

But that is not the only negative. How about the fans from Poteau and Valliant? Fortunately, Poteau’s game ended early. Valliant’s game at Spiro ended at 10:50 p.m. thanks to the pinball-like scoring and an injury timeout that lasted over 30 minutes.

Those fans, many who likely had jobs, probably did not get home until the wee morning hours. Hopefully some of them had the day off or did not have to report early.

Others did. Friday was not a good day for the old Craigman. After the late night on Thursday, I got up early to work on the Journal (as usual), then worked from 8:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. I did it, but it wasn’t easy.

So I hope the school administrators and coaches will take this into consideration before games are scheduled for the 2011 season and realize these Thursday games are not a good idea, especially those featuring long drives.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

No way to end a game

Don’t expect Sallisaw football coach Craig Benson to get a Christmas card from any of the Poteau faithful.

In fact, don’t expect him to get anything but scorn.

Benson was not exactly well liked before Poteau played Sallisaw Friday night. Now, not liked is a huge understatement.

After a hard-fought game with the favored Black Diamonds well in control of the game, leading 24-13, Sallisaw took over deep in Poteau territory with less than a minute remaining.

Game’s over. Show some sportsmanship, right? Wrong. Instead of taking a knee, Sallisaw rushed to the line and ran several plays, scoring on the final play of the game as the horn sounded.

Not a good way to win friends and influence people. The Poteau crowd let out a round of boo’s, the PA announcer congratulated Sallisaw on the poor sportsmanship and the Pirates’ coaches and fans were not happy.

I feared a confrontation. Poteau coach Jeff Broyles did let Benson know the final score was not appreciated.

This was not the way to end a game where the underdog Pirates basically left everything they had on the field. Facing a much bigger Sallisaw team, which dwarfed the Pirates in most of the line positions, Poteau gave an effort which showed how much heart this undersized team has.

The Pirates were bruised and pounded. Quarterback Nick Donathan dislocated his thumb in the second quarter, but came back to play after halftime.

Poteau had earlier battled back from a 14-point deficit to pull within one and would have tied the score in the third quarter except for a penalty washed away a successful PAT kick and there was a bad snap on the next attempt.

Sallisaw came back and scored 10 points, which a good team does. And make no mistake, the Black Diamonds are an excellent team and well coached.

The Black Diamonds can blame the silly OSSAA rule (which seems to discourage good sportsmanship) for giving a team up to 15 points for winning margin as a tiebreaker for the playoffs as a reason they ran up the score. Sallisaw won’t need a tiebreaker for the playoffs, however.

Everybody knows the Black Diamonds will make the playoffs, either as the first or second place team out of the district, depending on how they fare against undefeated Broken Bow.

But sportsmanship should prevail in a situation like this. Game’s over, show some dignity and respect for your opponent. Don’t kick dirt in your opponent’s face. Sports are supposed to be played to teach the players lessons such as discipline and good sportsmanship.

That wasn’t good sportsmanship. And as I overheard after the game ended, what comes around goes around. Poteau plays Broken Bow in its next game. The following week Broken Bow plays Sallisaw and rest assured, the Savages will have a ton of fans supporting them against the Black Diamonds.

Friday, October 15, 2010

LCT returning to county

Spiro will hold the finals of the annual LeFlore County Tournament in January of 2011.

The LCT returns back to LeFlore County after a two-year stint with the Friday and Saturday games played at UAFS in Fort Smith.

This has been a controversial subject and remains so. County superintendents discussed the issue at a meeting Monday and confirmed that Spiro is the host of the tournament this year.

Spiro had hoped to host the big games of the tournament in its new gymnasium. The gym is easily the nicest in the county, but there are a few problems with the move.

First, the finals have always been played at a neutral site.

Then, there is the attendance factor. During the finals last year at UAFS, a crowd of over 2,600 was in attendance. Spiro officials say they can seat 1,900 in their facility. That means crowds of at least 700 less than attended the games last year.

Also, the facility at UAFS is a big-time atmosphere. Again, Spiro’s gym is excellent, but not as nice as the Stubblefield Center.

There is also a concern about parking, which might necessitate a long walk to shuttle buses to take fans from the high school to the gymnasium.

Those are the cons, but there are plenty of pros. Many people did not like the county tournament leaving the county. Having to go out of state made it worse.

This will keep money in the county instead of going across the state line. With the economy like it is, every dollar kept here instead of being spent in Fort Smith will help.

I am glad the county tournament will be played in the county, like it should. But the biggest problem still is we do not have a facility to compete with the Stubblefield Center.

We need a multi-purpose facility that will hold at least 2,500 people at a central location. It is not fair for the residents in the south part of the county to have to travel all the way to Fort Smith, or even Spiro to play in the finals, although Spiro is not much farther than Poteau.

But that is a problem. There are simply not funds available to build a facility like that. The state does not have the money and I don’t believe the facility could generate enough income to pay for itself, even by hosting the county tournament, other tournaments along with concerts, plays, etc.
It is a shame the new civic center in Poteau was planned before CASC renovated its Mick Thompson Field House, which resulted in the loss of seating and the move of the county tournament to Fort Smith.

If you would like to discuss the LCT move to Spiro, we have a discussion on this at our forum.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Oops and congrats

Ahoy and welcome to another blog!

Hey, first off, I would like to point out an error in a blog the other day. Actually, two errors. I was writing about breast cancer awareness but instead of using those three words, shortened it to breast awareness.

Oops. Now before somebody mentions that every week is breast awareness week for guys, I would like to apologize for this and no, my mind was not in the gutter. Honest.

I blame the error as I do all my mistakes on my puppy Molly. Ever since we got her back in August, Molly thinks I should be spending time entertaining her instead of working on the Journal.

It is a constant battle. I will do something to distract her for a few minutes so I can actually post something to the Journal, then she will want to play and if I do not respond quick enough, do something she should not be doing or sit and bark at me.

Since you have not heard the Molly bark, it is a shrill, piercing noise that tends to make a person jump when it is not expected.

I currently have Molly scratches all over my arm. She almost gave me a black eye the other night. Molly has decided that chasing cats is a lot of fun. Fortunately she has not caught one yet.

Anyway, enough about the puppy. Congrats are in order to our county softball teams that advanced to the regional tournament. Panama, Poteau and Talihina all made the regional tournament.

Panama and Poteau lost to the eventual state champions in Konawa and Little Axe. Colbert, which beat Talihina in the regional finals, lost in the state semifinals.

Also, congratulations to the two county baseball teams that made it to the state tournament. Wister and Whitesboro represented the county well. Wister lost to eventual champion Silo in the semifinals while Whitesboro lost in the first round to eventual finalist Tupelo.

I would also like to congratulate the county band directors, especially Heavener’s Hank Nichols for organizing and taking part in the first Band Review for all the county bands. The event will take place on Monday at Harvey Stadium in Heavener and feature bands from Heavener, Panama, Pocola, Poteau, Spiro and Talihina.

This will be a great opportunity for residents to see all the county bands in one setting. I hope this is a big success and a great crowd comes out for this event. It is free and refreshments are available. Hopefully this is the first of an annual event.

Finally, my phone contract finally runs out next month. I have had a Razr for some five years and it has worked great. But it is time for a change and I will be moving into the smart phone area for the first time.

I have not had a data plan before and don’t know how much I will use it, but it will be nice to post updates to the Journal’s Facebook page instead of texting to Twitter.

But I need some help in deciding which phone to get. It will be an AT&T phone and just so you know, I am rather cheap. So leave your suggestions in the comments below or send an email to


Saturday, October 9, 2010

The eight-man experience

I made my way to the northeast part of the county last night for my first experience in eight-man football.

Maud at Arkoma was the top game in the county last night and I decided this was the time and place to lose my eight-man virginity.

After missing my turn and going around the block, trying to find the entrance, I found a spot close to the gate. Sweet. I must admit that returning to the Arkoma football field brought back some bittersweet memories.

The last time I was on this field was 30 years ago (yes, I am that old despite my youthful appearance!) when the Heavener Wolves played the Arkoma Mustangs in the season opener.

That was a loss for the Wolfies. I had one of my better games as a chubby quarterback for Heavener, but it was a bad way to open the season.

I walked up to the gate and told them I was here to cover the game. The gatekeepers smiled and let me through. I asked if there was a program available. They looked at me like I had just passed a windy. “No, we’re not that fancy,” she said, or something like that.

Now I have been to games where a roster isn’t available for one team and I usually can cope. But both teams? Eek! I walked to the press box and found rosters available. They were handwritten and I had to copy them down, but that was fine.

The first thing I noticed about the field was it was the regulation length, but a lot more narrow. It was 44 yards wide, instead of the typical 53. I introduced myself to the Arkoma coaches and had a short conversation and they are now among my favorite coaches. Easy going, friendly and about everything you can ask for.

Just like the Arkoma people at the game. A couple of Journal readers came up and introduced themselves and I found one of our frequent readers and introduced myself.

I watched the teams during the warm ups and they looked like most other football teams, just without as many players. Maud did have the coolest helmets I have seen in high school, a replica of the Cincinnati Bengals’ black stripes on orange helmets.

Finally, it was time for some football. I noticed all the officials were black and wearing outfits that looked like the NFL attire for officials with black pants instead of the usual white ones. The first kickoff was a regular kickoff, which seemed normal at the time but was surprising later (more about that soon!)

Arkoma promptly scored on a long pass play. Maud came right back and scored. Then Arkoma scored and guess what? Maud scored. That was the theme of the night. The football was well played, the players were excited, as were the fans and cheerleaders, even the Arkoma community band, which was surprisingly good.

The Mustangs scored late in the first half to lead 22-16. I was thinking I could dig this.

As I mentioned previously, the first kickoff was a normal one. From that point on, both teams tried onside kicks. Every kick. Every time. I liked that. Of course, it gave the teams short fields if they recovered, but can you imagine a coach at a bigger high school trying that?

Then, it was time for the second half. I thought there had been a lot of scoring in the first half. El wrongo. Maud scored 38 points in the third quarter alone. The Tigers had two touchdowns within 16 seconds. Seriously. Arkoma added 16 points in the third quarter. That equaled 54 points in one quarter for those of you scoring at home.

It was a quarter that seemed longer than most games. The officials did not help as they were seriously confused at times and the head guy moved at a pace that a crawling baby could top. Maybe they thought they were getting paid by the hour. Beats me.

The Arkoma kids were getting tired. I didn’t blame them. I was tired from my frequent walks back and forth on the sidelines.

As the game got a little out of hand, my attention started to wander a tad bit. I heard the old “Let’s get a little bit rowdy!” cheer, one I had not heard in probably 30 years. That was soon followed by the “Push ‘em back! Push ‘em back! Way back!” cheer. Another oldie, but not necessarily goodie.

The announcer was as good as I have heard all year. He even announced updates to the baseball playoff games. There were some good players. Arkoma’s Tyler Sweeten is as good of a receiver as I have seen this year. Maud’s quarterback was a stud, as were the two bowling ball running backs.

There were good hits, excellent catches, great runs and plenty of excitement. The only difference from other games was there weren’t as many players on the field or the sidelines.

After Maud took a 62-38 lead early in the fourth quarter, I thought maybe the mercy rule would be called and we could all go home before it got to the witching hour. Nope, the mercy rule was only if a team led by 45 points, one of the fans told me.

Ugh. I noticed the stands were departing rapidly. All the little elementary Mustang cheerleaders, who had entertained at halftime, were gone and probably already home in bed sleeping. Or texting.

The announcer kept reminding the crowd that a fifth-quarter would be held after the game. If it ever ended, I thought, but did not say. Heck, it probably wound up as a sleepever and everybody came in their jammies.

I realized about that time that there had not been a single punt all game. It was either score, turn the ball over or fail on fourth down. Mike Leach would love this.

After Maud scored again with 2:26 left in the game to increase the lead to 76-44, one Arkoma fan hollered out “We can do it!” I thought I might have morphed into an Adam Sander and wanted a sip of whatever that fan had been drinking.

In the last minutes, the announcer asked for applause for the officials. Whoa, I thought. I heard a boo from the Maud side and applause from the Arkoma crowd. Were they not watching the same game? I wondered, but did not say.

The clock slowly ticked away! Then there were back-to-back timeouts! I was about to drop. The Bob Marchant scoreboard show was probably over. My phone was dead and my texting finger was about to drop off. I probably have a callous now. I fear arthritis will hit sooner from the use of my texter from this game.

Finally, Maud got the ball back with just over a minute left and the quarterback took a knee! Hey, thank the big guy above. I edged out toward my truck and climbed in as the horn sounded. It was 10:47 p.m.

The final tally? Maud 76, Arkoma 44. FYI! That was 120 points scored in a single game. I was talking to a friend after the game and told him to shoot me if I ever mentioned going to another eight-man game.

But then I talked to Bokoshe coach Chad Ritter on the phone and he mentioned that Bokoshe will host Arkoma in a couple of weeks and I started thinking how that would be a good game.

So don’t shoot me, JP. Not yet.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The PDN&S was wrong

Typically, I try not to be critical.

But I happened to see something this week that made me cringe.

It was an editorial in the Poteau Daily News & Sun that was critical of the Poteau Chamber of Commerce getting their 2010 Membership Directory printed at the Southwest-Times Record of Fort Smith.

The PDN&S writer, who did not bother to post a name in the editorial, chastised the chamber for its choice of a printer without giving the local paper a chance to bid on the project.

The Poteau Chamber is pushing local citizens to buy local, which it should. But the paper was upset when the Chamber chose to get its printing done out of town.

Okay, let’s look at this a little closer.

First off, Stephens Media (which owns the Southwest-Times Record) has been a member of the Chamber for over 10 years.

Second, this is a true magazine printing job, not a newspaper job. The PDN&S implied that it could handle this type of printing, but had trouble with a previous order from the chamber last year.

Third, the PDN&S boo hoos about this and how it was not awarded to a LOCAL company. Hmm, last time I checked, the paper was owned by Horizon Publications, which is located in Marion, Ill., which looks like it might be an out-of-state company. True, the workers are local, but all profits are sent out of state.

Fourth, the chamber has spent a bunch of money advertising with the paper this year and every year.

Fifth, the Chamber has 7,000 editions printed. Of those, 3,000 are given out in the Fort Smith area while 4,000 are distributed in LeFlore County.

What’s next? Will the PDN&S complain if somebody advertises with another media outlet, especially if it is a Fort Smith newspaper, television or radio station.

A couple of other observations: David Seeley is doing a great job with the sports section at the paper. Also, I was surprised that the paper printed several pages in pink on Thursday. That is to honor breast awareness week, which is good. But then I noticed that there were several advertisements about breast awareness week, which makes me think that this was all an advertising venture, not just trying to raise awareness.