Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Big Deal about the Playoffs

Our Woodland Bobcats will be making an 8th straight playoff appearance this season, a feat that is to be commended. Because of this recent trend of success, there are those among us who may have already forgotten what it was like to be one of the teams whose season ends after week ten. But, no matter how many years in a row you make the post-season, it's a really big deal.

Half the teams in this state played their final games of the season this past week. Done, finished, over. Next week, many of those kids will start basketball practice. Some of them are already talking about "next year". But, for the seniors, there won't be a next year. On Friday night, many will likely travel to neighboring towns to watch 2 other teams play, wishing they could put that uniform on again tonight.

Earning a spot in the playoffs is not easy, especially in 2A Region 5. Every region game is important. Often, one play is the difference in a game and one game the difference between "going on" and "going home". Next Friday night, only 32 2A teams will even get to play football. We are one of them.

Playoffs are sudden-death, one and done, lose and go home. Each game could be the last. It's intense, for the players and the fans. No one wants the season to end, but the odds are stacked against you and the shot is long. Six teams will end their seasons with wins. Only 6. And, there will be only one 2A champion. If we want to have a chance, everyone has to step up their 'games'. The coaches will devote every minute they have to preparation. They will plan and scheme and teach and prepare. They will stay up late and get up early. The players will have to work harder and longer. They will have to play better than they have all year. And, they'll do it gladly, because they know how hard they've worked to get this far. They know what it will take. And, they know how far they have to go.

Five weeks stand between the Bobcats and a state championship. Five weeks and five talented football teams. Do we have a shot? Who's to say we don't? It's time for us to get behind our team. Drive further, yell louder. Show up for round one like people proud of the young men in the orange and blue. It's the playoffs, y'all.

No matter if it's a team's first playoff appearance, the 8th straight, or the 100th, it IS a big deal. If you don't believe me, ask someone from Wedowee.

Friday, October 28, 2011

I HATE Losing

To say I hate losing is an understatement. It's more than that. I have always been a highly competitive person, to say the least. When I was younger, I would fight you to the death over tic-tac-toe or a card game. Competitiveness is a family trait, but I was unfairly deemed the worst loser of the bunch. I can't deny that it wasn't true at some point, but even though I've learned to control it, I will never live it down.

Still, I hate to lose. I know that failure is a powerful teacher. For example, a few years ago, I took a literature course at JSU in which the professor took off a point for every grammar error in a paper. Apparently, I had never bothered to learn how to use hyphenated adjectives. I'm certain that all of my adjectives would have forever remained hyphen-less had I not lost 8 points in one paper. Was I happy about the 92? No! Did I learn to hyphenate those pesky modifiers? Yes. But, that doesn't mean I'm willing to whole-heartedly accept this you-can't-win-them-all attitude. Why can't you win them all? Who says?

The Bobcats fell short last night by a score of 34-28 to the 3A Wellborn Panthers. The game was shaping up to be a blowout. The athleticism of the visiting squad seemed to be too much for our banged-up Bobcats, who were playing minus several starters tonight. The halftime score was 21-7, and we'd shown very few signs of life. However, the game was far from over. The home team came out fighting in the second half, pulling to within six and the ball in scoring position with under four minutes remaining. Just when it looked like we were about to come back and win that ballgame, a red-zone interception sealed out fate.

Losses are tough. No one likes the feeling of falling short. It's even worse when you know you've got to go home with a miserably disappointed coach. Still, our guys should be commended for not ever giving up or hanging their heads. There's something to be said, too, for the young guys who had to step in for injured players tonight. Coach Strain said it well in his post-game address. Sometimes life gets you down. They way you respond is the true measure of a man. That's one thing I love about Woodland. Our kids don't quit. They might get down, but they fight back. It serves them well in football. It will serve them better in life.

So, yes. You can find positives, even in a loss. But, that doesn't make them easier to deal with, nor does it make me like them any better. You can keep all the "better luck next time" and "you win some; you lose some" and anything else people say to try and sugarcoat the reality that losing really stinks. And, sometimes, you just feel like taking your ball, going home, and pouting a little bit.

The Cats can't afford to pout. They've got to go the work. It's officially playoff time. A loss now leaves more than a bitter taste in your mouth; it ends your season. And, even though it means even longer days for Coach, I'm not ready for this season to end.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Other Coach Bailey

Those who really know me can attest to my super nerdiness. I am a nerd, yes. And, I kinda like it that way. A few weeks ago, I heard about a writing competition for high school students at JSU called Writers Bowl. Teams composed of 2 sophomores, 2 juniors, and 2 seniors work collectively to respond to a prose prompt and a poetry prompt. This was right up my alley, so I put together a team.

Yesterday, I took my group of 6 to JSU to face 70 other teams in the competition. My students sat wide-eyed and nervous-looking before the writing began. I felt a little out of my element as well. I really knew very little about what would actually happen during the competition. The teachers were all kicked out, so all I could do was wait on my team.

My hope was that this would be something they would enjoy. There are few outlets for intellectual competition for high school students. I was happy to have at least provided an opportunity for my students to showcase their abilities. We had to leave before the awards were announced, which was fine with me. I didn't have any expectations that we would place. During the drive home, the team members all agreed that it was a worthwhile event and they were glad to have gotten to participate. They expressed interest in returning next year. So, to me, it was a win.

Later, I received an email informing me that my team had placed 3rd in the poetry division. I was so excited and proud for them. That was quite an accomplishment, especially since we were new to the format. I've been smiling since I heard. I couldn't wait to get to school today and share the news with my team. It was rewarding to see the surprised looks on their faces.

Everyone is nerdy about something. I'm nerdy about teaching kids. I love what I do all the time but even more so on days like these. Here are some of my favorite nerd quotes by author John Green (check him out, he's great! I'm also nerdy about books):

“Saying 'I notice you're a nerd' is like saying, 'Hey, I notice that you'd rather be intelligent than be stupid, that you'd rather be thoughtful than be vapid, that you believe that there are things that matter more than the arrest record of Lindsay Lohan. Why is that?' In fact, it seems to me that most contemporary insults are pretty lame. Even 'lame' is kind of lame. Saying 'You're lame' is like saying 'You walk with a limp.' Yeah, whatever, so does 50 Cent, and he's done all right for himself.”

“…nerds like us are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff… Nerds are allowed to love stuff, like jump-up-and-down-in-the-chair-can’t-control-yourself love it. ...when people call people nerds, mostly what they’re saying is ‘you like stuff.’ Which is just not a good insult at all. Like, ‘you are too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness’.”

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Friday Night Loser

Friday night, I rushed on to the field in a crowd of Woodland fans to celebrate with our Bobcats, looking for my coach. But before I found him, I noticed another coach, Randolph County's. He was not in the line of players, coaches, and cheerleaders passing by their opponents, shaking hands. He stood purposely apart in a stubborn refusal to acknowledge or respect Woodland's team in any way. And, I've got to say - I have a problem with that.

(Thankful for the good coaches my sons have had)
Every year, the Alabama High School Athletic Association requires it's student-athletes to complete an online sportsmanship course. The purpose of this is to ensure that these young men and women don't lose sight of some of the important lessons that participating in sports teaches. Opposing teams line up and shake hands after games to demonstrate respect and good sportsmanship. From the time children begin playing organized sports, they are taught the importance of this part of the game.

Everyone wants to win, and there's nothing wrong with being competitive. However, the drive to win should never cause anyone to lose sight of the fact that those are people, just like you, on the other side of the field, court, etc. People that you may one day work with or for, might I add. Whether your teams wins the game or not, the players from the other team deserve to be respected and commended for their efforts. They are, after all, only still children. A grown man refusing to shake their hands because he's pouting over a loss is pathetic.

And, it's more than that. Coaches should be examples and leaders for their athletes. It is their job to teach them how to act, to be men, win or lose. If our coaches displayed the lack of sportsmanship I've seen from RC's head coach the past two years, I for one would be embarrassed. Of course, our coaching staff would never do that. Our coaches are teaching the lessons that last long after the game clock hits zero. It's so much more important than wins and losses, but it's so often overlooked and underappreciated.

What are RC's kids learning? There is no shame in defeat. Sometimes, you play hard and come up short. Is as much a part of sports as it is a part of life. It's not something to hang your head over. But, how you respond to it could be, when you behave like that coach did. You should conduct yourself with the same class and dignity regardless of the outcome of the game. Players, coaches, cheerleaders, etc. represent their schools and entire communities, and they should never lose sight of that. Play hard, fight hard, do everything you can to win on the field. But, in the end, remember that how you treat others matters. And, is speaks volumes about the kind of person you are.

The Randolph County team failed to win that game Friday night, but the way I see it, there was only one loser standing on that field.

Friday, October 21, 2011

We Beat Wedowee!

They say that anything can happen in a rivalry game. And, this is true. But, even knowing that didn't prepare me for the scene that would unfold at Warren Sewell Field tonight. It's too much story for one post, so I'll give you the rundown on how the game played out.

It was the best of times. It was the worst of only took me 8 posts to get in an obscure literature reference! Tonight's is a tale of two cities and a tale of two halves. Coach Bailey's defense came out of the gate like gang busters, holding Randolph County to 3 and out on their first three possessions and sacking the QB Sparks twice in the first quarter. The offense was doing its job too, scoring on our opening possession after converting a 4th and 5 around the Tiger 35 yard line. The Cats scored again with just under 4 minutes to go in the 2nd. The Cats dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball as well as the clock.

On the Tigers' last drive before the half, they finally managed to pick up their first 1st down of the night. Then, aided by a couple of penalties, reached the endzone to cut Woodland's lead to 7 as the half ended.

Woodland received the opening kickoff of the 2nd half, and put together another touchdown drive. The defense held RC to 3 and out on the ensuing possession, setting up our second touchdown in less than six minutes. Then, with two minutes left in the 3rd quarter, RC finds the endzone, making it a 28-14 game.

The fourth quarter was all Tigers. Two TDs later, with less than a minute to go, the Bobcats found themselves having to stop RC one more time to force overtime. Woodland won the toss and elected to play defense first. They picked up 5 on 1st down, but the next snap sailed over the QBs head, setting up 2nd and a long 27. An incomplete pass on 3rd down lead to a field goal attempt that fell just short.

Then, it was our turn. My Daddy, who came with me tonight, asks as the RC field goal attempt hit the grass yards shy of the goal post if we could kick a field goal. My response was "from the 10...yeah...we just don't need to lose yards." But, lose yards we did. The officials call a delay of game despite their failure to whistle in the play. On 1st and 15, we commit an illegal shift. It's 1st and 20. The snap goes to the QB who rolls right, has a man open, but slips down. It's 2nd and 22. We pick up four yards on a run. On 3rd and 18, a pass over the middle from Barron to McManus is good for 16. After another penalty, a field goal by McManus on 4th and 7 is good. Bobcats win, 31-28. They celebrate a huge victory over a rival and a playoff berth.

I'm proud of our team for playing hard, leaving it all out on the field, and overcoming challenges this week. I'm proud of a community that came out into the cold and supported our guys. I'm proud of the band and cheerleaders and everyone involved in making our game atmosphere a great one. I'm proud of the Bobcat alumni who support their younger brothers and lend a hand to hold a sign when needed! (Thanks Nape, Kody, Rick, and Snyder. You guys are awesome; you know what for) I'm proud that my dad was there with me tonight.

And, I'm proud of our coaches. I know how hard they've worked for this. It was fun and wild and awesome. And, in the end, I'm so proud to have been among the other WHS coaches' wives yelling and worrying and even feeling sick in the stands tonight. I'm still shaking from the nerves! What a night.

Congrats coaches and players on a great game!

Post-game celebration - A Woodland Tradition
photo credit: Marc Smith

Thursday, October 20, 2011

It Doesn't Get Bigger Than This

Sometimes in life, you find yourself waiting on the edge of something big. You've done all the preparation you can do, and all that's left to do is to wait. Anticipation can become a tangible thing. You can feel it living inside you, growing and building, consuming your thoughts if you let it. I imagine it's an all-too-familiar feeling for the Bobcats tonight.

Tomorrow, they will once again suit up in the orange and blue. They'll tie their cleats and strap their helmets on. They will take the field wearing not only their uniforms, but the anticipation and pride and hopes of an entire community. Each player's jersey bears a number representing not only that young man but every Bobcats who has proudly worn that number before him. He carries tradition, legacy, and expectations. And the weight of the world.

Tomorrow night, these guys will amaze you. They will demonstrate the courage and heart that have become hallmarks of Woodland football. They will fight with a relentless spirit. They will become bigger than they are. They will do things they shouldn't even be able to do. They will understand that 7 months (and a lifetime before that) of preparation comes down to what they do in the next 48 minutes. They will accept the magnitude of the task before them and the expectations and pressure and not let it get in between them and what they know they must do. And, while they may not be perfect, they will never, ever quit, because they know that you never know which second, which down, which play will be a turning point. And, they will not let their brothers down. They will do things that make us forget that these are only just boys playing a man's game. And, hopefully, they will be victorious.

But tonight, they wait. They'll do whatever it is they do to calm their nerves and prepare for the coming day. The coaches will spend a restless night going over and over the game plan in their heads, rehashing everything they've taught this week, making sure that they've given their players every possible advantage. We coaches' wives will wait up on them to come home from painting the field. We will offer a sympathetic ear if they need one and be a voice of reassurance. We will iron their coaching shirts and clean the grass off their shoes. And, we wait.

It may not seem like much to you, but we know that it doesn't get bigger than this.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Small Victories

This one isn't about football; it's about my job. I'm in my 3rd year teaching English, and I've often heard people say of the teaching profession, "It's worth it if you reach just one student." But, near the end of my rookie year, I had serious doubts about this philosophy. I remember saying, "Reach just one? Are you kidding me? I work too hard for just one!"

That was my inexperience talking, because by this point in my career, I totally get it. They are hard to reach. And, with so many other things getting in the way of teaching, it's almost impossible to feel like anything you do matters to anyone. It's easy to see how teachers can become disheartened and frustrated. We survive by celebrating the small victories, and can put one in the win column for me.

I am fortunate to get to teach AP language and composition at the school where I work. It's like teaching a college writing course to juniors. I absolutely love teaching it because it gives me the chance to expose juniors to something they don't already know about language and writing, which you would never get in a regular ELA class since that stuff really hasn't changed since first grade. In AP, I get to challenge them. I get to teach.

A few weeks ago, I divided the classes up into groups and assigned them a topic and a position for a debate. They've worked for two weeks researching, planning, and crafting their arguments. Today, we began the debates. It was rewarding enough to have my 5th period students discussing the in-class debate we had been having over their lunches, but at the end of the day, it got better than that.

One of the major goal of the assignment was to win the debate. I had the class vote on which side of today's issue had presented the most compelling argument. On her way out to her car, one of the young ladies who presented today stopped by to ask, wide-eyed with anticipation, if I had counted the votes and if I would tell her. She isn't one of those grade-obsessed over-achievers either, just a regular student who had worked hard and, coincidentally, won the debate over another group who had also done an impressive job by unanimous decision. I told her as much, and she smiled from ear to ear. As she walked away, I heard her say to a friend, "That just made my whole day!"

Little did she know, it had made my day, too.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Coach reacts

I'd published 3 posts before I let Coach Bailey in on what I was doing here. I know, I know. I should have told him first, but I knew what his reaction would be. He'd think it was silly. So I waited. Of course, I knew I couldn't wait too long. And, I wanted him to know; I wanted him to like it!

So, on Saturday morning, I found a good opportunity to share this blog with him. His initial reaction was just what I thought it would be. Then, I read a couple of posts to him (Defense holds and Like Cats and Dogs). I will never forget the look on his face. He was actually impressed, and he told me so saying, "Wow, Babe, that's impressive."

I admire him and his work so much. It was meaningful to me for him to respect my writing. He has always respected my understanding of what he does. I thought I knew a good bit about sports until I met him. That's when I found out that I had no idea. He has always talked to me about all the aspects of his job and shared so much of it with me. This is key for any coach's wife or the spouses of those who have to put extraordinary amounts of time into their jobs. You can stand back and become resentful of the attention the job gets, or you can buy in to why they do what they do and become a part of it.

Few people really understand the behind-the-scenes hours that high school coaches put in or the sacrifice their families make. That's one of the reasons why some of us become so feisty! We hear all the negative comments about our coaches in the stands, and sometimes it makes us fighting mad. Because, while those people think they know everything, I know something they don't. These coaches give up time with their own children to coach yours. But, it's worth it for my children to have a dad they can be proud of. (There'll be more on this later!) I understand how important sports can be to young men and women. I know what a huge influence coaches can be on their lives. I'm proud of what Coach Bailey does. And, I'm proud to be a part of it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Teams we love to hate

It's rivalry week here in Woodland, and this week's game couldn't be any more important. Here in Alabama, we love a good sports rivalry. At birth, we declare allegiance to either Auburn or Alabama and anticipate the annual playing of the Iron Bowl, so named because it was traditionally held in Birmingham, known for its iron industry. I grew up in Clay County, Alabama where the Clay Bowl, the game between the Clay County Panthers and the Lineville Aggies, has become one of the best-known high school games in the state. (Go Aggies, by the way)

In Randolph County, we play what has been dubbed the Grocery Bowl (I guess it's because people from the opposing schools shop at the same local grocery store?) between the Woodland Bobcats and the Randolph County Tigers. It's always a great game, and this year's promises to be one of the best in recent history.

When RCHS's new head coach held his first team meeting with the Tigers last year, he basically circled the date of the Woodland game on the calendar as a must-win. The Bobcats, however, had something to say about that and spoke loudly, defeating the Tigers by a score of 29-14. Woodland has won 4 of the last 5 meetings.

This year, the Tigers will come to Woodland with more than just winning the game on their minds. RCHS is currently in position to claim the region championship, depending on the outcome of the Lineville/Reeltown game played the same night. Woodland needs a win to ensure a playoff berth. Like I said, it's going to be a good one.

This game has all the makings of a great rivalry game. The two schools are almost the same size and only 8 miles apart. Each team is competitive and has a chance to win the game. Woodland's head coach was a student at RCHS in high school. Another assistant on staff was coaching the Tigers just 3 seasons ago. And, there's a lot on the line for both teams.

As a coach, Coach Bailey is 4-3 against RCHS, but in high school, his Bobcats lost every year until his senior season. That year, WHS defeated RCHS 8-7, and the whole team, coaches included, shaved their heads. I hope this Friday night ends with a Bobcat victory and every one's hair still attached to his head!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Like Cats and Dogs

Every Sunday night, Coach Bailey comes in from the film session and says, "I don't think we can beat 'em." He's not just saying that. It's evidence of one of the things that makes him a great coach (and one of the reasons I'm so crazy about him), he respects his opponents strengths. He can look at a team and pick out what they do well regardless of their wins and losses. Usually, though, at the end of a week of relentless preparation, he is more optimistic, feeling like they have found ways to have a fighting chance. However, there are times when, on paper, one team outmatches another, and finding ways to gain an advantage is more difficult. It seemed this was true of the Lafayette Bulldogs.

There's a reason that you play the game, though. Some teams don't care how they look on paper. Some kids understand that, as long as they are fighting, they have a fighting chance. This really is why we play the game. They say, it doesn't matter whether you win or lose. But, that's not altogether true. Cliche' or not, playing sports IS about winning - in life.

Sometimes, the guy lined up on the other side of the ball is bigger, stronger, faster, and smarter than you. Sometimes, the challenges you face seem impossible. Sometimes, you don't know how you can win. So what do you do?

You fight. For that extra yard. You hang on. And make that tackle. In sports and in life, you do what you have to do. You want that job; you fight. Your marriage seems to be falling apart; you hang on. Things get tough; you get tougher. More cliche', I know...but it's true.

The Bobcats brought home another huge win tonight, defeating the Bulldogs by a score of 27-20. Another come-from-behind victory sealed by another interception, like last week. Again, a group of young men work together, each doing everything he can to achieve the goal, to rise to the challenge, refusing to quit. Across the field, the Bulldogs gave all they had as well. Even after giving up 20 unanswered points, they marched down the field and found the end zone. Young men on both sidelines learned more about themselves tonight. It's likely that neither the Dogs nor the Cats realize how important these lessons are or will be long after they take their last snaps, but they are learning.

They are learning that no one is going to give you everything you want, things worth having don't come easily, and sometimes life knocks you down. When it fight. Like cats and dogs.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Defense Holds

Last Friday night, the Cats went to Lanett looking to establish themselves in the playoff picture, or at least have a chance of making the post season. Since joining 2A Region 5, Lanett has fielded an athletic and fast team. I watched the Panthers during warm-ups and was impressed. They were tall, muscled, and able-bodied. A sharp contrast with many of the young, undersized Bobcats.
Coach Bailey's defense started the game strong, stopping the run despite three talented backs. But, a couple of turnovers deep in Bobcat territory set up Lanett's first touchdown. As the second quarter ended, the Cats trailed 18-15. The second half was wild with both teams trading the lead. A Woodland TD was answered by two from Lanett. The score was now 32-22, Panthers.
This is the time in the game where some kids might get ready to quit. The fast and physical Lanett team seemed to have the momentum. Not our guys. A 30 yard TD pass from QB Barren to McManus got us to within 3. The defense gets another stop and the offense answers with the longest drive of the game making the score 36-32.
On Lanett's first play from scrimmage, a hand-off up the middle goes for 65+, touchdown, 40-36. (Coach Bailey throws his hat) We score, they score, we score again, mostly on the back of #23 Howard who carried the ball, our playoff hopes, and at least 2 Panthers all the way down the field with just under two minutes to go. That was plenty of time for the quick-strike Panther offense. But, it would not be a win for the home team that night. This time, the defense comes up with an interception near mid field. With no timeouts remaining, the Panthers can only watch as Woodland lines up in the victory formation. Final score 50-46.
It wasn't pretty, and Coach Bailey was already complaining about the 300 yards they'd allowed. But, it's true what they say. A win is a win. And this win kept our playoff hopes alive.

The first one

Long before there was a wimpy kid or even a mad Black woman, I attempted to create a blog to share with you all what it's really like to be the one sitting alone in the stands on a Friday night, among other things. It was a failed attempt. I was simply too busy. Those of you who really know what my life has been like the past few years will surely understand why! But, not to be deterred, here I am again, keeping with the tradition of being among the last people in the world to get cell phones, social networks, and DVR!
It won't be all sports. You will also get your fair share of stories about the joys of teaching high school English and raising two of the most precious little boys in the world. It may not ever be profound or heart-warming or any of the other things you read blogs for, but it will most definitely be what I think, uncensored. Because, that's the only way I know to do it!