The SportsTalk Shop: The “Pokemon Go Effect” on Sports

There is a charming game (that nearly everyone probably knows by now) that has been sweeping the world, that everyone can play for free (for the ‘basics’ anyway) on their cell phones and tablets, called “Pokémon Go.”

While my son is an expert (or he better be, with all the cards and accessories that I’ve paid for) and I know very little about the game itself, I do admit there are a number of benefits to participating in this activity.  It encourages people to get out, walk around and get some exercise and fresh air.  Also, it is a nice “unifying” event that helps bring people together, and it is something that people of many different ages, classes and demographics can participate in.

There are also times when I see parents so engaged in their cell phone activities that their little kids are getting into trouble or nearly get hurt themselves—being oblivious to things going on around them.  It’s also quite common now for couples to be holding hands while simultaneously frantically typing on their screens with the other hand while never exclaiming a word to each other.

But I am not here to pass judgment on social issues…and if that’s how love looks in 2017, then so be it.

The “disturbing” feeling that I sometimes get while watching people overly addicted to this activity at the expense of everything else around them, is the same emotion I have felt a few times during this school year when some (but certainly not all) teams seem to be trending down a similar path.

Let me explain.

I’ve noticed more than a handful of individual athletes—at different schools in different areas and in different sports—who seem largely focused on what is clearly most important to them—themselves.   Players who seem more interested in padding their stats, doing what’s in their best interest, and, in many cases, doing what their parents are telling them to do—even when in direct contradiction with his/her head coach.

The primary interest of these athletes’ parents appears to be to do what is best for them, for now and for their immediate future and, oh yeah, the coach better keep winning games so that my son/daughter can continue to get more and more exposure.

This year, I’ve noticed a slight spike in the already excessive amount of student-athletes (do people still use this term?) who coincidently/ironically/purposefully transfer out of schools at a time when their team’s win total is declining, and “moving” into school districts in which their new team’s win total is increasing.  More wins equal more media/internet coverage, which equals more exposure to college scouts which translates to scholarships and dollars in other areas.

Once the family makes this commitment, then the “new” coaches’ philosophies better change to accommodate their son/daughter or there’s going to be conflicts that quite frequently escalate to the school’s administration and school boards, which, as we’ve seen over time, frequently leads to the removal of coaches that parents don’t “approve” of—regardless of how successful or how many wins that coach has achieved in the past—or is currently achieving.

In one school district, speculation (in the absence of clear specified reasons) has left the very strong impression that the style in which a coach wins games is (now was) even more important than if the team succeeds.  This “theory” becomes more palpable when the new coach indicates operating in a style that will be more beneficial to the individual player(s).

Keeping your eye on your own game is key to having success in the world of Pokémon Go.  But encouraging an atmosphere where it’s acceptable for athletes to only care about their own self-interests at the risk of their school and community will undoubtedly continue to erode the waning interest in many high school sports programs that numerous districts are now facing.

*****

Don’t forget to stop by Buffalo Wild Wings on Grape St. in Whitehall this Thursday for our special “SportsTalk” show, honoring the Allentown Central Catholic Girls Volleyball Team for capturing a state championship title.  We’ll talk with members of the Vikettes during the hour- long program and you can have the opportunity to ask a question or make a comment, supporting their tremendous achievement. Also check out ways here on the website how you can also support a local charity at the same time! This week’s charity is LLS.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: LVC Expansion Proposal

 

LVC EXPANSION PROPOSAL

Last Wednesday, the presidents of the Lehigh Valley Conference  and Mountain Valley Conference  officially announced a merger of the two leagues for the 2014-2015 school year. We first mentioned the possibility of this event in January on our RCN Sports Talk show. We’ve also had different representatives from various parts of our viewing area discuss the “rumors” on our program over the last several months. I think the league presidents and school principals should be commended for coordinating a brief conference call to inform the local media and local sports fans of this major decision for the high school sports program in the District XI region.

Once the news of the merger became official, there was very little additional information presented. New league alignments, scheduling and other relevant issues were not discussed during the teleconference. The league officials instead stated that meetings will soon ensue to hash out all of the details. Without any indication of which direction this new league is headed, I would like to share my proposal on how the new conference could shake out.

THE ALIGNMENT
I can see three divisions based on geography, which would help in the area of travel expenses — an area in which some school districts have expressed concern. The divisions would be:
• Lehigh – Allen, Central Catholic, Dieruff, Emmaus, Parkland, and Whitehall
• Northampton – Easton, Freedom, Liberty, Bethlehem Catholic, Nazareth, and Northampton
• Monroe – Pocono Mountain East, Pocono Mountain West, East Stroudsburg North, East Stroudsburg South, Pleasant Valley, and Stroudsburg

THE SCHEDULES
For the sports that feature schedules with maximums of 20 or 22 games (e.g., basketball, baseball, softball), I would offer the following scheduling points:
• Teams will play the other teams in their division twice (home/home series)
• Teams will play three teams from the other two divisions once a year for a two-year cycle (home/home)
• Teams will play the “other” three teams in the following two-year cycle
• Teams will have four to six non-league games to play in tournaments and/or face teams from outside the area

For example, Allen Basketball would play Central Catholic, Dieruff, Emmaus, Parkland and Whitehall twice a year, and could play Pleasant Valley, Pocono Mountain East, Pocono Mountain West, Easton, Freedom and Nazareth once a season for two years (alternating home court during those two seasons). After the first two years, the Canaries could play the other six teams during the second two-year cycle. For football, you could do the following:

• Teams will play the other teams in their division once (alternating home field advantage each year)
• Teams will play two teams from the other two divisions once a year for a two-year cycle (home-and-home series)
• Teams will play four other teams (two from each division) in the following two-year cycle and the remaining four teams in the “fifth” and “sixth” year
• Teams would still have the benefit of one ‘non-conference’ game, in which they could schedule a team that don’t play that year, or can play a team outside the region (something I know head coaches like to have available)

For example, Pocono Mountain East could play their division rivals each season, and Liberty, Freedom, Allen and Dieruff for the first two seasons. For years three and four, they could play Central Catholic, Emmaus, Easton and Nazareth. For the next two years, they could play Parkland, Whitehall, Bethlehem Catholic and Northampton.

I think for some of the other sports, like wrestling, they could employ an idea of some of the other “super-conferences” and also incorporate the complex, but extremely effective, system used for districts. The “top-tier” wrestling programs compete against each other in one division, the “mid-level” wrestling programs compete in the second division, and the “rebuilding” programs compete in the third division. There are a number of wrestling tournaments that teams could incorporate into the “non-conference” portion of the schedule. I think the current committee has done an excellent job restructuring the District XI tournament in recent years. They could put a balanced alignment together that could be re-examined every two years, if necessary.

Please note: I am not a school administrator, and I’m sure each district would have individual issues that no doubt could arise and cause conflicts. I think our local athletic directors do an amazing and, most often underrated, job. This process will not be a simple endeavor. Nevertheless, I could see this as a starting point from which to work through other issues.

What are your thoughts on my proposal for the new league? What do you think the new conference should be named? Send your opinions and suggestions to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com. Tune in to this Thursday’s RCN Sports Talk at 6:00 PM as we discuss this issue and take a look at all of the fall high school sports news this season.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Anti-Poll Halftime Standings

 

“Anti-Poll Halftime Standings”

Hard to believe, but we’ve already reached the midway point in the high school football regular season. It’s time for our mid-term grades for the RCN Football “Anti-Poll.”

Before I give you my observations, we’ll first take a look back at some of the teams we’ve featured this fall on RCN Sports Talk, and let the coaches and players give you their insights on their respective teams.

Now, here’s my take on the teams in the RCN Eastern Pennsylvania coverage area I’ve had the pleasure of viewing in person, plus some views uncovered from my contacts throughout the region.

Grade: A
Imhotep, Garnet Valley, Penncrest, and Catasauqua
Footballstories Editor/Publisher Al Thompson pointed out on last week’s RCN Sports Talk that, at that time, no AAAA team in our viewing area was in the “Top 100” national polls this year. However, that doesn’t mean we haven’t had our share of dominant football teams. Expect to see all of these teams in the PIAA playoffs. Imhotep fans might be inclined to go ahead and buy tickets to the state title game. In the Lehigh Valley, the Rough Riders continue to roll. Their offense seems to be able to score on anyone, at any time, and in a variety of ways. The word is that their defense must improve if they want to advance to the state finals, which would mean they’d have to find a way to stop the powerful Imhotep offense. I’ll find out for myself when I get my first look at the Rough Riders when I announce their game against Pen Argyl next Friday night, October 11, on RCN TV.

Grade: B+
Bethlehem Catholic, Easton, Emmaus, LaSalle, Parkland, Ridley, Whitehall, and Upper Darby
Emmaus and Parkland have a ton of momentum right now. They are both coming off wins against the Rovers and Zephyrs, respectively. One could argue that the Hornets had the best chance of any of these teams to be undefeated at this point. Both of their losses came late in the game due to strange plays. Parkland’s Kareem Williams might just be the most dynamic running back in the Lehigh Valley, which is saying something because I’m a big Shane Simpson fan. I was impressed how Whitehall was able to run the ball against the Trojans. The passing game looked good late, although by that point, Parkland was mostly in a “prevent” defense. They must have some other offensive weapons develop consistency to make a deep run in the postseason.

Bethlehem Catholic’s only loss was an impressive showing against the Rovers a few weeks ago. They can make a major statement with a win this Friday against Whitehall (watch this game live on RCN TV at 7:00 PM). LaSalle, Upper Darby and Ridley all suffered tough losses to very good teams early. However, they have bounced back and remain very much in the hunt for a district playoff spot.

And Easton? You can find out for yourself how they are doing by watching RCN Sports Talk this Thursday, October 3, live at 6:00 PM on RCN TV. Head Coach Steve Shiffert and his players will be my guests on the show. Feel free to email your comments and questions to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com now and we’ll read and respond to your messages live on the air!

Grade: B
Southern Lehigh, Saucon Valley, Pen Argyl, Notre Dame, Northwestern, and Palisades
These teams have all played well and will most likely continue to do so. It will be difficult for any of these teams to vie for the Colonial League crown if Catty doesn’t get tripped up at some point. However, any of these teams could do damage in the district playoffs, as Pen Argyl proved last year. We’ll be focusing more on these teams on RCN Sports Talk on our October 10 and October 17 shows.

Grade: C
Nazareth, Liberty, Central Catholic, Palmerton, and Pius
Liberty and Nazareth have some major questions that they have to answer in a hurry to make the district playoffs. Don’t forget, at least two teams from up north must qualify for the District 2/4/11 Sub-Regional Playoffs. With both of these teams already having at least two losses, they can’t afford another “L” with half of their schedule yet to play.

Central Catholic is coming off a victory against Northampton. They have some major challenges coming up on their schedule, and are not locks to make Districts this year. Remember that Central refused a bid to play in the Eastern Conference playoffs several years ago. It will be interesting to see if the Vikings play ANY post-season games this year after several seasons of reaching the PIAA semifinals or better.

Palmerton played well but lost an offensive struggle to Palisades last weekend. A good effort against the Tigers this weekend can push them back into the top half of the Colonial League standings. Pius is coming off a solid win over Towanda, and can move back to .500 with a win against Wyalusing Valley Friday.

Special Award
Dieruff
I said after their first win that the Huskies are already the feel-good story of this fall season. Going five years without beating anyone other than their ASD rival, Allen, had not been fun. The entire Lehigh Valley football community was genuinely happy for those kids to get that first “W” after Week Two. The fact that their success on the field has continued has proven that they have exceeded everyone’s expectations — except, perhaps, themselves. Based on what they’ve overcome, I have to give them a weighted ‘A+.’ I’m looking for even more positive news coming out of Dieruff High School going forward.

What are your thoughts and observations on the first half of the high school football season? Which teams will have the best “Second Half?” Post your comments here and tune in to talk high school sports every Thursday at 6:00 PM on RCN SportsTalk, live on RCN TV.

 

Behind the Mic: You Are Cordially Invited…

 

You Are Cordially Invited..

It was announced this past Friday that the Lehigh Valley Conference invited the Mountain Valley Conference (except for Lehighton) to join them in the creation of an 18-team super conference, tentatively maintaining the LVC name. And to do it by next season!

With Lehighton moving to the Anthracite League in football and the Schuylkill League in most other sports, the MVC was looking at the scheduling nightmare that goes along with just a 6-team league. Ironically, just a few months ago, the MVC invited the LVC to merge with them, but the request was not made to Central Catholic or Bethlehem Catholic. By omitting those two schools in the initial invitation, it gave the LVC the opportunity to “remind” both schools (particularly Beca) that there could be consequences to very overt recruiting. The message was delivered and the invitation was not accepted.

So now, the MVC has been “cordially invited” to join the LVC, bringing all the schools together. In terms of football and basketball, there are certainly plusses and minuses.

On the “plus” side, the super conference will now include all the AAAA schools in District XI. The merger would bring Allen and Dieruff back into the Lehigh Valley football picture and I certainly like that. By merging, all teams would battle for their spots in the District and State playoffs. This eliminates the complaint that some MVC teams got better seeding or easier qualifying because they played a much weaker schedule. Certainly, with 18 teams, the scheduling still may slightly favor one team over another, but that happens now. Also, the MVC will have no trouble filling their schedule.

On the “minus” side, an 18 team conference can certainly look a bit unwieldy when it does come to scheduling. In football, do you create two 9-team divisions and play for a championship? That sounds like a reasonable idea. In basketball, 3 divisions seem to be the best approach, but, if you play your division foes twice and the other teams once, you have the allotted 22 games filled. From there, a championship tournament could certainly be created. Even the “minuses” do not seem so bad.

Although I argued a few months ago, that the LVC was just fine the way it was and did not need to accept the MVC invitation, I do believe the “return to sender” invitation makes sense. I am quite certain the RSVP from the MVC will include acceptance. The nightmare will be for the AD’s to figure out the scheduling for all the other sports. And for a Sports Director at RCN to choose which League games to schedule for our viewers!!

 

The SportsTalk Shop – December 7th

This is one of the best (and busiest times) of the year.  Aside from the Christmas and holiday shopping (I wait until December 20) and everything else going in December, it’s incredibly exciting to follow the teams in our coverage area of the HS State Football Playoffs (when we can root—at least quietly—for teams).  It’s also hectic for everyone involved as the winter sports season is gaining momentum and league play gets underway.  I think it’s tremendous that the winter sports coaches are not only patient in having to put their season’s plans on hold while the football teams continue to play, but they genuinely look to cheer on their players on the football field—even if it does put certain teams well behind the eight-ball.

Both Parkland and Pen Arygl were a bit “un-herald” by some media personalities during this season.  Our “SportsTalk” preseason poll had those teams #2 and #1 respectively in their respective classes, but both schools received some grief—Parkland started the year 0-2 and Pen Argyl unexplainably was overlooked by some in both pre-season and post-season expectations.  Both the Trojans and the Knights lose some special kids, but return a ton of talent and look to be among the top teams once again in 2013.  And Central Catholic—once again—was the last team standing from the Lehigh Valley in 2012.  John Cupples and his tremendous coaching staff really deserve credit when not much was expected from them by outsides…but certainly not by the list of talented players headed up by Colin McDermott, who will go down as one of the premiere running backs in the area.

One other great note about the fall sports season—a special shoutout to the Parkland volleyball team for getting to the state championship round for the second consecutive year.  It was very enjoyable to stop by their practices this fall and interview them for “SportsTalk” and, after winning their firstever title a year ago, they have now established themselves as one of the premiere programs in Pennsylvania.

Now, with the winter sports season underway, it’s time to turn the page and look ahead to playing/wrestling/swimming indoors.  What were your top moments from this past football season and which other teams deserve credit for their work?  And don’t forget to share your picks for the top players and coaches during the fall sports season.  Email them to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com or leave a comment on this post and we’ll read and respond to them on our next show.