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I care about sports, and I know you do, too

The boy wasn’t a great ball player to begin with, but this was a terrible call.

I can’t even remember the kid’s name now, some 12-year-old hell-raiser on my son Timothy’s Wesson Athletic Foundation team who ran fast and slung the ball hard and had a mischievous little grin you just knew would be packed up with Skoal as soon as he worked up the nerve to swipe a can from his daddy.

But no matter how tough he acted at practice, he was scared to death of a pitch. He’d step up to the plate with his bat and make mean eyes at the pitcher, but as soon as that strike came flying in over the plate he’d leap backwards on his butt like he was diving away from a live grenade. He’d get up all dusty and wonder why the umpire had wronged him with a called strike while he was laying in the grass three feet away.

But this time he didn’t flinch. He stood there, correctly, straight as a rifle barrel while a bad pitch went down below his knees, almost at his ankles, and bounced off the center of the plate for the most obvious Ball One in the history of little boy baseball.

King’s Daughters Medical Center marketing director David Culpepper, the game’s umpire back then, shouted out the call: “STRIKE!”

That was the moment I learned the importance of local sports.

A line of mommas in camping chairs from third base to the parking lot started shaking little fists and getting out from under their quilts and booing David like he was Christ on trial at the Sanhedrin. Angry dads put down their nachos to holler at David, and yellow cheese and tobacco juice ran down their chins — “Bad call, Blue!” He was the WORST umpire, they all agreed. I think someone’s grandmother offered to go over the fence, but she didn’t. David was probably too fast for her, anyway.

I stood there, laughing. I knew this was going to happen. “I’ve got a biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiig strike zone,” David had told me. He was actually a pretty fair umpire.

The humor of that night has stuck with me, and now the lesson is settling in, too.

Folks from Wesson, from Brookhaven, from all around Lincoln County and everywhere in Southwest Mississippi where there’s a handful of kids and a ball to throw around, love local sports.

It doesn’t matter if the football team is getting pounded every Friday night; those players will be supported. It doesn’t matter if the softball team has played 137 games this month; folks aren’t going to forget the next one. It doesn’t matter if the track team is all fat kids; folks will be cheering them on, ready at the finish line with water hoses and oxygen masks.

So, as the new Sports Editor for The Daily Leader, my goal will be to report the news on our local sports teams and their events and get the kids and their trials and their triumphs in the paper, because it means a lot to you.

I don’t care about the New Orleans Saints (unless a local boy is playing for them). I don’t care about Major League Baseball (unless a local boy is playing for them). I don’t care about the U.S. Women’s Golf Team (unless a local boy is playing for them. Then I’d have some pointed questions).

I care about local sports, local kids and the grandmothers who love them enough to kill an umpire, or a newspaperman.

I know how important a good sports page is to our communities. I’ll try to make sure all the strikes are strikes and all the balls are balls. If I make a bad call, let me know. If you need to get the word out about an event, let me know. My e-mail and phone number are at the top of the page.

I live in Wesson, I have kids in school at Wesson, at the Mississippi School of the Arts and the Reading Nook. I’m rooted pretty deep and I’m not going anywhere, and I will strive to bring some stability and continuity to the sports page.

I worked here, once, years ago, and I think I still remember how this newspaper gig works. Just give me a few weeks to get up and going and, please, don’t jump over the fence and come after me. I’m not that fast.

Sports Editor Adam Northam can be reached at 601-265-5305 or adam.northam@dailyleader.com.