Mark Clark: Sports writers convention was informative and a blessing to boot

Mark Clark: Sports writers convention was informative and a blessing to boot

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I was a newbie – well, almost a newbie – when the 2017 Alabama Sports Writers Association met for its annual convention in Montgomery this past weekend. It was really my second time attending the organization’s workshops to listen to guest speakers. The first time was back in 2012 or 2013. It is hard for me, at my age, to remember back that far. But, that convention was held at Auburn University and the guest speaker was the Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive. This year, there were several.

First up was the Reese’s Senior Bowl Executive Director Jim Nagy. Nagy was recently named to the position following the bowl’s committee and Phil Savage deciding to “mutually” part ways. Nagy has been the Southeast Area Scout for the Seattle Seahawks for the past five years. He scouted for NFL teams for the past 18 years. Nagy says the bowl game is in good shape “from a football aspect.” Nagy allowed that the game may be moved to the new University of South Alabama stadium when it is completed, but that there had been no complaints concerning the current stadium, Ladd-Peebles. Nagy said the complaints had been about the stadium’s location. He also said the key to the game was its quarterbacks. “Quarterbacks drive the team and how the bowl will do,” Nagy said. Last year’s quarterbacks – Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen – were big draws. He said he would be attending the Manning football camp to recruit quarterbacks for next year’s games.

Joel Erdmann, the University of South Alabama’s Director of Athletics/Executive Director, spoke to the sports writers in attendance. Erdmann said USA was in the early stages of preparing to construct what will be a $72-73 million dollar facility for football on campus. The school currently uses Ladd-Peebles Stadium for its home games. The stadium will hold approximately 25,000, but will be constructed in a manner to allow for future expansions to 32,000 and then to 40,000 without having to tear down what has already been constructed. If all goes well, USA could play its first home game in its new stadium in 2020 against Grambling or, if not then, in 2021. The 2021 home opener will be against Southern Miss.

Troy University head football coach Neal Brown told the writers he was proud of the success of the Troy football program over the past two years with its 21-5 record which is the eighth most nationally. He told the group the Trojans were preparing to move into a new football facility within the next few weeks. And, he told of how big the win over LSU was last season.

Alabama State University football head coach Donald Hill-Eley said his school was in need of the assistance of the media to get its “brand” out in the community. Recently, Hill-Eley took 105 football players off campus to help build a playground.

The speaker who drew the most attention for the day was the Director of the Alabama High School Athletic Directors & Coaches Association, Alvin Briggs. Briggs has held the position since 2011, but will soon move into an associate executive director’s slot with the Alabama High School Athletic Association. Briggs called the group of sports writers at the meeting “special” because of the respect the previous speakers had for the group – so much so that they “would spend a Sunday in June to be with you.” He also said he appreciated the work the group has done to get the names of young athletes in newspapers. “Moms, Dads and athletes love to see the athletes’ names in the paper.”

After those words, Briggs opened the floor for questions. The group wanted to know if the AHSAA would change its football playoffs to allow for neutral sites in the semifinal rounds. He said the association had a contract to rotate the game between Bryant-Denny Stadium at the University of Alabama and Jordan-Hare Stadium at Auburn University until 2021. He said AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese had told the City of Birmingham the association would consider moving the Super 7 games to that city if it built a domed stadium.

Briggs was asked about the AHSAA’s opinion of the Private School vs. Public School debate that has now turned into a law suit. Briggs said he would not comment on the issue. Then sports writers asked what was the advantage to the AHSAA to have private schools as members? Briggs said because they are members and that over half the private schools that are members were original members of the association.

Briggs said there would be only eight games used in eSport competition this fall. He said, if the sport advanced like in other areas of the country, that Alabama did not have a facility big enough to hold regional or state meets.

And then the sports writers asked about the safety issues raised at the recent state softball championships held at Montgomery’s Lagoon Park. Briggs said there were really no issues – a collapsible fence “is not a safety issue” according to Briggs. “I would much rather have my child run into a collapsible fence than a permanent wall.” He said the complaints were really more about “sour grapes.” Briggs said the City of Montgomery has been in discussions with the AHSAA to see what it can do to make Lagoon Park a better facility. “When Lagoon was built, there was nothing like it around. The only complaints we have really received is that there are not enough bathrooms and the concession lines are too long.” Briggs also said no consideration to moving the championships would or could be made until the contract expired in three years.

Well, that was a busy weekend with just listening to those speakers, but it was not over. I went to the awards banquet to watch Tommy Hicks get inducted into the ASWA Hall of Fame and got to see that as well as walk away with an award for Best Column or a Feature, Non Daily division. It was a pretty informative weekend – and a blessing to boot. I have to thank you for reading my stories and columns because without you, I would not write.

Mark Clark is a local sports writer for 

The Citizen of East Alabama.