Trying to get off the soapbox without getting hurt

Published 3:32 pm Thursday, March 4, 2021

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In this week’s Chatter, I just wanted to take the time to congratulate our area basketball teams from junior high to high school for being able to complete a season that was filled with many challenges from canceling games due to COVID-19 breakouts to playing in empty gyms with only a handful of fans able to attend.

It is my opinion that each and every player, cheerleader, coach, manager, scorekeeper, gatekeeper, sports medicine, athletic director, and principal are the champions of the 2020-21 season just to have to endure the challenges that they faced.

There is one team still seeking an opportunity to go to the state tournament in the Cloudland Lady Highlanders who are on the road at Oneida in the sectional Saturday and with a win should have the opportunity to play in Murfreesboro, unlike the Hampton Bulldog boys who qualified last season but were unable to participate due to the COVID shutdown.

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Fingers are crossed and prayers sent that Coach Matt Birchfield and his ladies can get that elusive opportunity when they play Saturday.

There are just a couple of things that I would like to climb on my soapbox for one final time this basketball season so I can get off before I fall and bump my head.

The first thing is the lack of effort by the TSSAA to ensure that teams that reached the semifinal and final round of the district and region had equal opportunity to play on a neutral court instead of allowing the higher seeds to host.

One may say why I bring this up, and it’s very simple. If anyone has been around sports for any length of time then they understand the term ‘home cooking’ referring to the fact that a home team does possess a distinct advantage in playing these high-level games on their home court.

Especially in a season such as these participants had to endure, they should have been afforded the opportunity to play on a court at a site that neither team could have an upper hand or advantage.

Here are some examples of what I am speaking of. First, certain gym goals are not the same when it comes to the depth from the wall, if there are any opening spaces behind a goal, and even the rim may play softer or harder than others.

A home team that practices and plays on these goals have a distinct advantage to know whether to shoot softer or harder, adjusting for the depths behind the goal and even the crowd factor.

This season when schools were supposed to impose adjusted attendance, many schools utilized that to control the number of tickets that visiting teams were allowed to have while filling the stands with a heavy attendance from the home base.

Now, for those that have never played, this may seem like a bunch of non-sense but from someone who has been around sports my entire life I can honestly say things like this do make a difference.

Secondly, it was also very confusing why that there was no effort made to swap up referees between the districts and regions.

Now before my refereeing friends get all uptight, I want to state why I am making this statement.

When these teams get to this level, there needs to be as much impartiality as possible, and even though referees are supposed to be non-biased there is no doubt that past experiences with coaches, schools, and even fan base can bring bad memories and yes affect calls.

What is even more challenging for these referees is that everyone and their brother see these guys and gals taking time to talk to fans in the stands and coaches which cast a shadow of doubt especially if the calls seemed leaning one way or the other.

Heck, some of these guys have graduated from the schools they are reffing and may even have had children or grandchildren go to these same schools.

For that reason, especially in the semifinals and finals, the officials should come from another region, and the games played on a neutral court to make it totally unbiased.

That is the way it has been in seasons past and it could have been done this season.

It happened in football playoffs so why not basketball playoffs.

Anyway, I must now step off this soapbox and prepare for what hopefully will be a Cloudland girl run at a state title and in two weeks the start of baseball, softball, boy’s soccer, and track season.

Again, thank you to all the county schools for a memorable 2020-21 basketball season. You are all champions and we are proud of you!