Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Here Come the Bugs

As the closest thing we experience to an autumn chill tries uneasily to settle in over north Louisiana, we can realize in amazement that Our Little Hockey Team is still here, alive and crawfishin’. The Mudbugs apparently have stood the test of time and continue to amaze and amuse us. How can it be that minor league hockey has been a success in hunting and fishing country?
Can it be the team’s owner, a walking talking caricature who appears at games in a big, silly cowboy hat wearing a giant shiny belt buckle with his blue jeans? John Madden carries the same name as a famous football coach turned broadcaster, and seems to have a similar level of enthusiasm for his adopted game. His loves his Mudbugs and tirelessly promotes the team. When he bought the team from high-strung New Mexico chiropractor Michael Plaman, he kept key people in place and made a successful effort to establish affinity with his fan base. He also has run the team like the business it is, all the while perpetuating his own image as a good ol’ fella who wears his hat and goes mud-ridin’. It works, too. I’m certain he’s sincere in that way. The fans who like that sort of thing seem to identify with him while those who observe his sartorial shenanigans with skepticism easily can appreciate the show he offers when he makes his rounds through the stands during games. It’s not about spotlights and antics, but more about being highly visible and creating a sense of connectedness between the fans, the team and its owner.
Certainly, the fact that the team wins a lot of hockey games helps. They routinely make it into the Central Hockey league playoffs, and most recently have made it into the championship series twice. The fact that have been tantalizingly close to winning the championship only to fall agonizingly short seems to work in their favor. It’s almost like there is a script writer crafting cliffhangers. The fans keep coming back to find out what happens next.
The local hero has to be the Bugs’ fiery coach, Scott Muscutt. He has been with the team since its inception. He was one of the most recognizable players on the team before taking over as head coach. He met and married a local woman and is raising a family here. Madden was smart enough to know he’s got it good with his coach, and he has made no change there. Muscutt is easy to like, and the fans adore him not only because he wins but also because his passion for what he does shows through at every moment. He’s also developed into quite the public relations man, understanding how important it is to connect with the community and keep things clean and above board with the players he hires.
During the off-season, the team experienced perhaps the most dramatic turnover in player personnel it has seen since it was formed. This year may be Muscutt’s biggest challenge so far and his toughest test as a coach and the face man for the franchise. History and experience tell us he is up to the challenge. If he can’t mold a consistent winner out of his current crew, the fan base may become disenchanted. However, there’s enough good faith built up by management and ownership that a rough patch on the ice should not be much of an obstacle.
The key to continued success is to maintain and grow interest. Shreveport-Bossier has a long history of developing complacency over time, and that may be one of Madden and Muscutt’s biggest fears: that the cities have begun to take the Bugs for granted. They’re still here and certainly they have earned our attention.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Justice, Texas Style

According to reporting by KLTV, the ABC affiliate in Tyler, Texas, an eight-year-old East Texas boy got a visit from a Mt. Vernon police officer during school hours. The reason: five overdue library books from the Franklin County Library. The report by Orelia Ortega said "The boy's father is furious that the school would allow something like this to happen. But the officer who went to the school says he was just doing his job." The boy said he had no clue why he got called to the principal's office in Mt. Vernon. Once inside, he saw Mt. Vernon Sgt. Blake Gurley, who was carrying a gun, handcuffs and pepper spray.
I understand and respect that police officers must be on guard for their safety at all times. They never know what danger may lurk around the next corner or in the nearest shadow. Sometimes, however, you have to use a little judgment.
I completely understand why this kid might be freaked out. If the report is accurate, this officer's attitude, demeanor and approach were inappropriate and over the top. On top of that, how can you explain that some police department thinks it's a high enough priority to chase down fifty bucks worth of overdue library books that they can yank a third grader out of class, not to mention humiliate him? The kid is so embarrassed by the whole thing that he has changed schools. Maybe that's an overreaction, but we can't get inside an eight-year-old's head.
Who exactly was the Mt. Vernon police department serving and protecting by this course of action? Can any good that might be done outweigh the obvious harm, not only to the kid and his family but to the department's image?
Sergeant Gurley told KLTV that every month, the library gives him a list of people who have not returned their books and he tries to contact them. He said the library sent out a notice regarding the overdue books to the boy's parents. "The mail was returned back to the library so they were not able to get a hold of the parent so I made a few phone calls and determined the child was the school," Sgt. Gurley told KLTV. (Of course, I'm already against the guy for using the redundant phrase "returned back," but that's another story, isn't it?)
At this point, Gurley obviously sprung into action and smoked out the nefarious ne'er-do-well.
The boy got the books (Peter's Trucks, Octopuses, Sea Anenomes, Jellyfish and another book, according to KLTV's reporting) during a school field trip.
The kid was so upset after his encounter with Serpico that he broke out in a rash and ultimately was taken to a hospital. I hope Sgt. Gurley feels like a big man today.
"I really feel that Will will carry this the rest of his life," the boy's father told the TV station.
Law enforcement at its best.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Eye Black on Sports Journalism

Here's a perfect example of what's wrong with the media today: Over the weekend, on a day when there were perfectly good football games to report on, ESPN SportsCenter spent the first seven and a half minutes of its presentation discussing something that MIGHT happen. They had a live report from Yankee Stadium about the fact that Joe Torre might be fired as manager of the Yankees. Today, the news emerges that Torre won't be fired.
So, let's see. SportsCenter got it wrong, spent almost eight minutes getting it wrong, and no doubt today will not admit that they got it wrong. Their whole power block was based on a questionable newspaper report, to start with. The execution was bad and the journalism was worse. This does not even consider the fact that on an amazing football weekend, they dedicated inordinate blocks of their time to a baseball story was didn't really exist.
Since ESPN is the lead dog in the sportscasting pack, almost every little yapper out there in the sportscasting world went with some version of "what might happen to Joe Torre." It was ridiculous and embarrassing.
Don't get me wrong, if the Yankess had actually fired Joe Torre, then I wouldn't have a problem with SportsCenter of any other sports media outlet dedicating time and resources to the story. That's becuase it would have been a story, which it wasn't and isn't. Or, is it? It's a story today because Torre won't be fired. Of course, the fact that he's keeping his job is only a story today because one newspaper in New York and one cable outfit made up a story over the weekend. That is the sorry state of journalism today.

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