Chris White commentary: The inside story about All-Bi-City

June 2, 2011 

Sometimes being a sports writer is hard work.

Not always, but some of the time. At its best, it’s telling interesting stories and watching games.

At its worst, it’s tedious and frazzling, and everyone is an English teacher when what you write is posted online and dropped off at thousands of doorsteps seven days a week.

And nowhere do readers seem to be the most vociferous about their high school sports than the day the Ledger-Enquirer releases its All-Bi-City teams.

Sure, it’s great to make the team. But it’s tough to be the one who makes it.

All-Bi-City teams are a big deal. I found that out the hard way when, after my first fall as the Ledger-Enquirer’s high school sports reporter, I had a barrage of phone calls and e-mails from coaches and players’ parents telling me that, judging by my selections, I was clearly a fool and obviously never had seen a football game.

Imagine that happening with different sports every three months or so for the next two years.

No matter how much time I spent poring over my notes, analyzing statistics and calling coaches for their opinions on opposing players, I just couldn’t make everyone happy.

So goes the life of someone tasked with choosing all-star teams. Don’t take my word for it. Former L-E sports editor Cecil Darby helped choose the All-Bi-City teams from 1948-1979 and said there was just no pleasing everyone.

“You always had people complaining about leaving one boy off and putting somebody else on,” Darby said. “There were always complaints about the selection, but you had to pick what you thought was the best team.”

After hearing coaches’ complaints and suggestions for long enough, I had long discussions with L-E sports editor Kevin Price on how we could create the team more fairly. At some point last summer, we decided it would be best to let the coaches of each sport vote to decide who makes the team.

Of course, I was a bit wary of this approach. This was tried for two years in the early 1990s when L-E metro editor Chuck Williams was the sports editor. It quickly became apparent that some animosity between coaches and programs skewed the voting, and the experiment ended.

“After two years, it seemed that some coaches’ biases started to get in the way,” Williams said. “It wasn’t all coaches, just some of them. But it was enough of an issue that it didn’t make sense to keep doing it.”

Wednesday, I hosted meetings for coaches to decide the All-Bi-City baseball and All-East Alabama softball teams, marking the final teams to be determined for the 2010-11 school year.

At the end of the year, I can say that I’m mostly delighted with the response -- I barely have heard complaints from coaches -- but a little disappointed in some aspects.

So with the coaches now in the driver’s seat, I’ll dole out some grades of my own:

A in workmanship

Having presided over the voting meetings, I can say that most of the coaches fairly considered other teams’ players and even spent extra time researching those from teams they did not see play. Several coaches in various sports would not vote for players they did not compete against, and a few others, particularly in football, seemed to vote more on name recognition than on the merits of an athlete’s season. Overall, I was impressed with the thought most coaches put into this.

C in participation

I still had to spend hours tracking down late nominations from coaches in nearly every sport, and some of the voting meetings, which began with the winter sports, were poorly attended. On average, about half of the coaches in any given sport who nominated their athletes actually followed through and voted.

D in accountability

It never seems more difficult to reach people than when it’s time for All-Bi-City nominations and announcements. That might have to do with the timing, which leads us to put out teams near Christmas and spring and summer break. Yet few coaches return my phone calls when the time comes. E-mails work a little more consistently, especially when I include Muscogee County School District system-wide athletic director Gary Gibson in the recipients list, but that’s still no surefire way get a response.

Getting the word out when the votes are counted is difficult, too. I’ll call and e-mail coaches with the information on where their athletes placed on the team, yet rarely do I hear back to verify that someone received it. I usually figure out whether the message got to them on photo day, based on whether their athletes show up.

Several coaches have even called me in anger when they find out their athletes missed photo day. Then they admit that they saw a message from me earlier in the week but had not listened to it.

What I’ve learned

I won’t grade myself -- I’ll let you do that -- but I have learned a few things in this process that I hope to apply to next year’s selection process:

Most of the winter and spring sports coaches were invited to the Ledger-Enquirer office for meetings, which allowed them to discus their players and to vote. I hadn’t considered doing that until several football coaches complained they had no opportunity to hash out their ballot with other coaches. Point taken, and there will be meetings in the fall for football, volleyball and Georgia softball coaches.

And to make sure the nomination process is always accessible, we are developing on an online system that will allow coaches to sign on to our website and paste in their players’ information. This will save everyone the frustration of dealing with a fax machine and keep me from worrying about my e-mails finding their way into spam folders.

And if you know of a way we might make this even easier, let me know. I want to make selecting the All-Bi-City teams as fair, easy and painless as possible for everyone involved. After all, I know exactly how tough of a job it is.

Chris White, 706-571-8571

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