seth@mckinziesportsreport.com

By: Seth McKinzie

This edition of the Monday Mailbag is being brought to you by H&K Heating and Air. For all of your HVAC needs call H&K at 479-366-8901 or find them on Facebook. 

As part of the content on Lion Lettermen, this “Monday Mailbag” hopefully will be one of the scheduled, regular pieces readers can look forward to and know exactly when it will be published. The Monday Mailbag is anonymous. Of course, LL knows who sends the emails/texts/asks the questions but the identity of those writers will never be revealed to the public. This way, hopefully, readers will feel comfortable asking anything that could possibly be published.

LL will select 3-5 questions each week for this feature. Sometimes, on slower weeks, the questions sent the prior week may be used.

Lion Lettermen – How do you see the Lady Lions doing in the regional softball tournament? I have high hopes for the team, and feel the 4A-1 may very well dominate the tournament. 

LL: The 4A North Regional Tournament is set to begin Thursday with the first game being the #1 seed from the 4A-1 (Farmington) versus the #4 seed from the 4A-4 (Dardanelle). The Lady Lions are set to begin at 5:30p on Thursday against the #3 seed from the 4A-4 which is Clarksville. The other games are Morrilton (#1) facing Berryville (#4) at 3:00p (and Pottsville (#2) squaring off against Pea Ridge (#3) at 12:30p. 

According to the GameChanger app, Clarksville is 14-13, but it does not look like their district tournament games are listed as part of their schedule. Anyone who pays attention to postseason sports should know this time of year there are no teams to overlook. Each team in the regional tournaments can play. Clarksville should be no different.

On Friday in the 4A-1 District Tournament Finals in the bottom of the sixth inning Gravette held a 6-2 lead over the #1-ranked team in Arkansas 4A Farmington. Then, in one horrible half inning, the Lady Lions surrendered eight runs and would eventually lose 10-6.

LL doesn’t point that out to get fans down in the dumps, rather to give the fact Gravette can play with anyone. Farmington is very good and, at least for now, may very well be the best team in the state. Is Clarksville as good as Farmington? Without having seen them, LL would have to say “no” but Gravette needs to come out focused and ready from the first pitch. In a few games this season, the Lady Lions have made it interesting in the earlier innings before pulling away. This is the time of year where slow starts can, and will, get a team beat and sent home far too early.

Overall, the 4A-4 appears to be very top heavy. Pottsville has built quite the program and was the 4A state runner up in 2018. Fans may remember Gravette defeated the Lady Apaches for the 4A North Regional title and Pottsville knocked out the Lady Lions in the state semifinals. Pottsville certainly will not be an easy out.

That brings LL to the 4A-4’s top seed Morrilton. The Lady Devil Dogs, like Farmington, are one of the teams that were 5A last season. Like Farmington, Morrilton had a very successful season in 2018 and, according to MaxPreps, are 21-4 in 2019. Every coach LL has spoken with says Morrilton is the real deal. So, just like in the last few seasons it appears the 4A North has the best handful of teams in the state.

If LL had to make predictions, it will be tough to pick against Pea Ridge even though they are playing Pottsville. That is a very difficult draw for both teams. Morrilton will defeat Berryville. Gravette will win over Clarksville and Farmington should handle Dardanelle. For round one, LL says the 4A-1 goes 3-1.

What do you think is going on with the GHS football team? I was told they have less than 30 players out for spring football. Is it just the fact they finished 1-9 last season combined with all the negative news football gets these days?

LL: Man, this situation really has LL nervous and there does not appear to be any obvious answer.

Last season, the Lions finished 1-9 and really only seemed to “be” in two of those losses (Lincoln and Jay). So, not only did Gravette lose nine football games but the Lions were essentially blown out of almost every game.

There were multiple contributing factors, or possible contributing factors: 1. New head coach 2. Large coaching staff turnover 3. Cyclical talent 4. Popularity of football in a school/community – By now, everyone knows Coach Greenwood was hired on the last day of school and really had to install his plays, program, culture in a span of about two months before the season actually kicked off. There were multiple new assistant coaches, heavy losses to graduation, and just a snowball of bad luck in 2018 (think multiple injuries, penalties, etc.).

Now, with spring football having started the team’s overall numbers are suffering greatly. LL is not for sure but the team likely had less than 30 players suited out for the Week 10 game against Gentry. When that happens, coaches have to start recruiting players out of the hallways. They have to work with the other coaches within the athletic program to see if there are athletes who can contribute to the team who might want to come try to play football. LL has heard plenty to know this has been taking place. Throw in the fact you have to keep the freshmen in the program as they rise up to sophomores as there usually is some attrition here.

So, while the coaches do their part, there is also some responsibility that falls on the shoulders of the actual players on the team. They should be talking to their buddies who do not play and saying “come on man, we need some guys on the team” and “we really think you can help us”. Having defeatist attitudes can sink a ship very quickly. LL is not aware this is part of the problem but the current players have to be sure and sell the benefits of the game as well.

LL used to get really hot under the collar when guys who did not play football (or any sports for that matter) would say things like “oh, you guys suck” or “couldn’t even beat *fill in the blank*”. The response LL had was basically “yeah, maybe we could have won that game if you were playing with us”. There are some dudes walking the halls of the high school who should be playing. There are athletes in other sports who should also be playing football (and those players should also be playing basketball, baseball, track). Would that mean the Lions would automatically have a 7-3 season and make the playoffs in 2019? No, but it certainly would make the outlook brighter than looking at a 4A team, which happens to be one of the LARGEST 4A schools in Arkansas, with 2A football participation numbers.

Simply put, LL is concerned the very low numbers might mean the 2019 season is in danger of not being a full 10-game season. This is not an indictment of any individual, or the program as a whole. It is more just a “state of the union” type of response. The Lions can’t trot out 25 players in Week One and possibly think they can be super competitive in 2019.

Football participation numbers were down in several schools throughout the 4A-1 last season but are any currently as low as the Lions? LL has some concerns but just has to look in from the outside. Hopefully, the summer months will ease our fears.

What do you think about adding new sports to what GHS currently offers? Soccer is being toyed with. Some parents have brought up wrestling. Just curious about your take on this.

LL: As someone who thinks students should have exposure to as many extracurricular activities as possible I look at this from two angles:

  1. Adding sports can ONLY be beneficial to the other offerings of Gravette Public Schools
  2. If sports are to be added there needs to be a “needs analysis” done to be sure there are enough athletes to sustain all programs

Look at the response above about the football team’s current struggles with participation. LL does NOT believe programs should be added if they will be detrimental to other programs. Still, other 4A schools offer soccer and wrestling and some still have healthy numbers out for football, basketball, etc. 

If Gravette were to add a new athletic offering it is not just as simple as “hey we are now fielding a soccer (just as an example) team”. First of all, there needs to be a coach. There needs to be an interest survey. Using soccer as the example, that is pretty much what the district seems to be doing. Get a club team together. Let them go play against a “real” team so that the players get a taste of what it is like and see how/if the interest grows. Coach Sheldon McKinzie, who coached the Decatur soccer programs in 2017-2018, has been “running” the scrimmages. So, at least Gravette has a current coach on staff who has experience coaching the sport. Will the interest shown be enough to drive soccer into an official athletic offering? LL believes it is still too early to know for sure. 

Gravette will continue to grow. As the town and school both experience this growth it does only make sense to remain open to the possibility of students coming into the district because of certain athletic offerings, or NOT moving into the district because of what is not offered. LL would not move to a district if it did not offer football, baseball, golf, or soccer which are the four sports in which my children currently participate. There are many parents out there who view moves to districts in the very same way. It is not always academics that drives people to move into a town/district.

If you have a question for next week’s Monday Mailbag please send it to: seth@mckinziesportsreport.com

 

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