All-Star Bloopers

The Morning Daily's New All-City Policy Leaves A Lot To Be Desired.

IVONNE LOPEZ IS one of my favorite basketball players. She's not really a great shooter or rebounder. She's not very tall nor, for that matter, all that quick. All she does is win.

The Nogales High senior was a favorite of a lot of local high school coaches this past season as she led her Lady Apaches deep into the Class 4A state championship tournament. But when it came time for post-season honors in the morning newspaper, she was nowhere to be found.

Ivonne is just one of the kids slighted by a new policy of The Arizona Daily Star, one which has been found universally baffling by players, fans, coaches and parents. After decades of shortchanging high-school athletes in the name of providing more coverage of such nobody-cares items as spring training, hunting, and the Dallas Cowboys, the Star hit on a novel idea: let's mention even fewer high school athletes than ever before.

I'm not talking about the season coverage provided by preps editor Brian Pederson and his staff. They do a decent enough job with the extremely limited space they're given to work with. This shortage of coverage is the fault of whoever's in charge of the sports page or perhaps the geniuses who run the entire paper. The Star has perhaps the least amount of preps coverage of any big-city paper I've ever seen in the entire country.

It would be so easy (and, dare I say, more profitable) for the Star to give more coverage to the preps. For example, they could print a couple fewer Wildcat articles per week during football season. Just leave out the crime reports. Who would miss them?

Or they could do away with spring training coverage altogether. Nobody reads that stuff. Dead fish don't even want to get wrapped in spring training articles.

I know that baseball is big here. Spring training brings in lots and lots of money, really slow drivers, and overpriced ballplayers who are reluctant to meet the public and/or run out ground balls. Still, I'm glad we have spring training here. It gives baseball fans a chance to see major-leaguers at reasonable prices. But spring training fans are already attending the games. Newspaper coverage isn't going to affect game attendance one way or another. And noooobody wants to read what happened in a split-squad game which was shortened to seven innings so the teams could make Happy Hour at Hooters.

This, however, is not Brian Pedersen's fault. What is his fault is the new policy for honoring prep athletes at the end of the seasons. What the Star is doing is wrong, and it needs to be changed.

For many years, at the end of a particular season, the city's coaches would gather at a central location (usually the Star-Citizen building) and hash out the All-Conference teams. There would be separate teams selected for the 4A Kino, 4A Sonoran, and 5A-South squads. Each league would select first and second teams for the respective conferences (plus honorable mention picks), and then a conglomerate All-City team would be selected with coaches and media people participating in the selection.

Not a perfect process, by any means, but certainly one which originated with those who knew best about the relative merits of the players -- the coaches. And if the media guys wanted to make an odd selection every now and then, it was cool, because the kids who deserved recognition would get it when the (coaches'-picked) All-Conference teams were printed in the paper.

The Star would print all of the All-Conference teams, including honorable mentions, and then have pictures of the (media-selected) All-City players. (The Citizen has always just gone with media selections.) But this year the Star dropped the All-Conference selections and went with their own in-house All-City picks.

I don't want to go into the mistakes the Star made, because to do so would slight the efforts of those who were honored. Suffice it to say they made some doozies, both in girls volleyball and both basketball squads. My favorite gaffes were the inclusion of players who had been academically ineligible part or even most of the season.

You know that old saying about a newspaper comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable? Well, it should also serve its community, and one way of doing that is by honoring those who deserve the recognition, even if it's (as I heard one sports-talk idiot say on the radio) just girls playing basketball.

Besides, what is it going to hurt to print more kids' names in the newspaper? That'll sell more newspapers, if even only for a day. It will make more kids happy, more families proud, and might just inspire some younger kid to work hard so that he or she might get that sort of recognition somewhere down the line.

When Tucson coaches learned what was going on, they met on their own to select the teams and send their choices on to the papers. In a juxtaposition, the Citizen ended up printing the coaches' picks in a separate box next to their All-City teams, while the Star went with just their All-City picks. (Ivonne was first-team All-Kino Conference and second-team All-City in the Citizen.)

It is not progress to cut by 75 percent the number of kids who get recognized for their hard work, no matter how pretty the page layout is. I assume, Mr. Pedersen, that you were trying to do things differently. Well, you tried and it didn't work. Please go back to the old way, and then, only one year's worth of kids will have been slighted.

And oh, I went back and looked at the Star's All-City picks for Ivonne's name and there she was after all, way down in the small-type honorable mention section.

The Star had spelled her name wrong.

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