Thinking back on a favorite local sports moment of 2023
Published 10:53 am Friday, December 29, 2023
In my role as sports editor at The Daily Leader, I find myself in a place of reflection more than just at the end of a calendar year. After the conclusion of high school football, soccer, basketball, softball, and baseball seasons, I spend time thinking about those games and teams I’ve watched as I prepare to anoint our annual All-Area teams that recognizes players and coaches of the year.
The 2023 All-Area football team will be revealed in a week as I’ve been spending the last few days pouring over statistics and rosters to make sure that the best players are recognized.
In thinking back on the games that I covered this season, my mind went back to a sideline interaction that sums up what I love so much about high school sports.
Now I can lay out a long list of bullet points describing the things I don’t love that might surpass my list of positives.
I don’t love people who stand up in the bleachers, and to borrow a phrase from my mama, show their butts. No one comes to watch a high school game to hear you scream at a referee or the opposing coach. Sit down, you are embarrassing yourself.
I don’t love it when parents get intoxicated with pushing the achievements of their own children in pursuit of more individual honors, recognition, and perceived scholarship opportunities. Listen to me, if your kid is good enough, they will get an offer. If they are not, their athletic career will end. Find peace in that because it happens to every person who has ever played sports, everybody has to hang it up at some point.
I don’t love this idea that kids need to focus on one sport in order to enhance their chances of earning collegiate scholarships. Anybody remember Corey Dickerson, the most talented baseball player to graduate from a local high school in my lifetime? Dickerson has made millions playing Major League Baseball for eight different teams over the last decade. When he was moving through Brookhaven Academy, Dickerson played football, basketball and baseball. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that some of the lessons Corey learned while playing basketball for Dale Watts have helped him during his baseball career.
Enough with negativity though, the things I love about high school sports are strong, foundational feelings that make going out and watching ball so much fun for me.
To boil it down, the thing I love the most is the ideal of what makes up a team. A team is a group of individuals who commit to filling their own roles in order to achieve more together than anything they could do on their own.
The star running back would be nothing without his offensive line fighting the defenders across from them on every snap.
The starters on the basketball team can’t expect to prepare for the full-court trap of an upcoming opponent if the scout team in practice don’t commit to mimicking that defense.
The all-state softball player will find her enthusiasm waning over a long season and will need to hear and feel the energy and excitement from her teammates in the dugout, many of them younger players that are waiting their turn to get on the field.
Everyone must do their part. Everyone must fill their role. Everyone must sacrifice collectively.
I saw a great example of this on a Friday evening while walking along the sideline of a Bogue Chitto football game.
I watched two or three Bogue Chitto games this season, but I’m almost positive the one that I’m remembering came midway through the season against Amite County. That was a tight contest, won 36-28 by the visiting Trojans. It was a physical, hard-hitting game that was well played.
All high school football sidelines are different, but all are the same in some ways, especially locally at a school the size of Bogue Chitto.
They all have water boys, usually elementary age chaps that can’t wait to be suited up themselves one day. There is also usually a kid or two wearing a jersey, boots and Wranglers, which is the official uniform of being on the injury list of Lincoln County schools.
There are cheerleaders cheering and coaches coaching, and you’ve always got a young player or two that are sneaking looks up the bleachers to see who’s in the crowd.
At some point in the game, I think it was in the third quarter, a Bogue Chitto wide receiver went down with an injury. If I remember correctly, he’d been blocking out on the edge and a running play came right up behind him. The wideout got hit in his back by the pile and he was writhing around in pain for a few moments as a trainer came out to help him up and to the sideline.
BC assistant coach Adam Moak turned back towards where I was standing to call for a replacement wide receiver. The player he was looking for was kneeling with his helmet off just to my left and was intently focused on the game.
Before Moak could even holler his name, senior wide receiver Blake Smithers was up on his feet, buckling his chinstrap and sprinting onto the field.
Yes, during a high school football season, I see interactions like this one every week. However, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a guy more ready to get out there than Smithers was that night. The waterboys, cheerleaders and fans were all background noise.
You ever seen a bird dog on point? That’s the type of focus Smithers had while watching his teammates from the sideline, something I’d already noticed before his opportunity came.
He went in, played a few reps, Bogue Chitto gave the ball back to Amite County, and he came back out. By the time the Bobcats got the ball back, his injured teammate was back on the field and Smithers was back on the sideline, watching with focus for the next time he was needed.
The roster for Bogue Chitto lists Blake Smithers as 5-foot-8, 145-pounds. Statistically speaking, he didn’t catch a pass or get a carry on offense. Defensively, he made 14 tackles, two tackles for a loss, broke up one pass, caused a fumble and recovered a fumble.
He didn’t make a game winning touchdown or have a game saving tackle at the goal line for head coach Gareth Sartin, but Bogue Chitto and every high school team needs guys like Blake Smithers. They need more than just one actually, they need several.
Guys who are willing to be part of the team, without being the main focus. Guys who are willing to come to practice and work and improve. Guys that coaches can trust to make good decisions away from the field.
Guys that are ready to come in and do their job when needed.
Those guys might not see their name listed on the All-Area team next week, but they should know that I for one never take their efforts for granted.
Cliff Furr is the sports editor at The Daily Leader. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org