Monday, March 31, 2008

Amite High in turmoil

All of this legal wrangling regarding Alden Foster and the head football coaching job at Amite High School had its roots in the Jim Crow South and the push for African Americans to have equal access to a system that was supposed to be equal for all citizens from the get-go.

However, Foster’s involvement in the federal case against the Tangipahoa Parish School System and the subsequent ruling in his favor has its beginnings on the sidelines of Russell Memorial Stadium in two totally different time periods — way back in 1983, and weeks before the start of the 2006 season.

It was way back in 1983 when Foster first began developing his love of football, spending his time as a team manager for his beloved Amite Warriors and head coach Gary Hendry. That time shagging balls, carrying water and putting up shoulder pads gave the young Foster a dream — a dream that one day he would be in Hendry’s position, leading the charge of purple and gold to gridiron success.

“We didn’t have biddy leagues, and I just loved football so much,” Foster said.

Foster’s love affair with the game began two years after John Williams finished his tenure as Hammond High’s head football coach. Williams, the only black head football coach in the integration era, led the Tors from 1977 to 1981.

Foster grew up, going from team manager to standout player for the Warriors before playing collegiately at Southern University. He still remembered what Hendry, his old coach, told him — get an education and then become a head coach.

He did just that, taking the reins across the parish line at St. Helena Central and turning the Hawks into a Class 2A power as he went 65-49 in 10 seasons. That run included a trip to the Dome in 2004 before barely missing the playoffs in his last two seasons.

Then came those two weeks before the start of the 2006 season.

Donald Currier abruptly stepped down as Warriors’ head coach. Doug Misita led Amite as interim coach in the ‘06 season, finishing 5-4 in the regular season before losing to Catholic-New Iberia in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs.

Following that season, a vacancy at the helm of one of Louisiana’s top prep football programs in terms of success and talent.

Foster’s dream looked like it was in sight, and who can blame someone from wanting to go back home? He applied for the job, looking to have the opportunity to coach his alma mater. Amite assistant coach Mark Vining, himself a former Warrior, also applied for the job with the hopes of taking the helm of his beloved alma mater.

The two men, bonded together for their love of Amite High football and their mutual desire to lead the Warriors, put themselves through the crucible of an evaluation process mired in the imperfections of post-integration politics — politics resulting in things such as busing, changing schools, retracing attendance zone lines, majority-minority transfers, white flight and something called a “40/60 ratio” being used as a guideline for hiring coaches.

According to reports, U.S. District Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle cited factors that influenced his decision — including the school system’s history of not hiring black head football coaches, the sometimes subjective nature of the supposedly objective hiring criteria, and a complicated formula for evaluating applicants’ past performance that could produce lower-than-expected scores.

To put Lemelle’s rulings into layman’s teams, Foster got screwed. However, Foster was not the only person to get shafted by the system.

Vining, who coached the Warriors to the Class 3A state semifinals and lost to eventual state champion Parkview Baptist, got the proverbial wood as well. This ruling will probably mean he gets slapped with the “just because he’s white” label by some people.

Although Vining scored highest in the hiring process, who knows how the scores would have turned out if things were done correctly and on a level playing field? Would he have scored lower than Foster or higher?

The same could be said in Foster’s case, in which he will get slapped with the “he got the job because he’s black” label by some people. Would he have scored lower or higher than Vining if the playing field was truly level and things were done correctly?

Let’s not forget the players gearing up for a spring with the possibility of being led through it by the fourth head coach in as many years. No matter how talented the players are, the uncertainty of who will coach them in the upcoming season hangs on their minds constantly.

All of this legal wrangling puts a cloud over Foster, Vining, Amite High School and the Tangipahoa Parish School System. It is a total disservice to Foster, Vining, the players and the Amite community.

The only thing that could lift that cloud hanging over 403 South Laurel Street is the community rallying around the game that Foster fell in love with as a child, a game that identifies Amite as much as anything else.

“You dream of a job like Amite,” Foster said. “You’re going to have talent and you’re going to have kids with the passion for the game. That passion you can’t teach elsewhere is already instilled in these kids at Amite from day one.”

Friday, February 08, 2008

SLANT-N-GO: Recruiting's like scenes from "The Mack"

Blaxploitation movies from the 1970s are not exactly great source material to cross-reference to the world of sports. However, one such flick contains scenes that are eerily transferable to sports — namely college football.
That movie is "The Mack," the 1973 blaxploitation masterpiece starring Max Julien, Richard Pryor and Roger E. Mosley — "T.C." from "Magnum, P.I."
At first glance, it seems to be a tad bit contrived that someone can draw parallels between college football and a 35-year-old movie where the protagonist was an ex-con who turned to the world’s oldest profession after he served a 5-year stint in the slammer.
Upon further review, and given the fact that America has reached the climax of the recruiting season, the similarities are striking. The following features scenarios from the actual movie, and a translation as it relates to the world of college football.
For more information on "The Mack," check out the Internet Movie Database web site (, rent/buy a copy, or watch clips of it on YouTube.
Let’s take, for instance, the scene where John "Goldie" Mickens, played by Julien, and his mentor are having a conversation in a pool hall after Mickens returned to his old neighborhood. The mentor told Mickens that he was one of the best people on his staff and he hated to lose him. The mentor goes on to give Mickens some advice about setting out on his own and how to handle recruits.
The conversation Goldie had with his mentor can easily be transposed upon any college football coach, especially in a BCS conference. The mentor told Goldie that he has to go out and recruit the best talent, and if he does it right, the pockets of Mickens’ pants would appear to have the mumps because of the large sums of money he will be earning.
With that in mind, what has been one of the oldest sayings about a college football coach? Well, that would be that a coach is only as good as the talent he recruits. A coach has to recruit the talent that will help him achieve success frequently. The better the talent means the better chances of winning, which increases the chances of making more money in the future.
All coaches have to have a special type of personality that will win over recruits. Mickens possessed that, and a lot of your top recruiters — like the ironically-named Mack Brown, Pete Carroll, Les Miles and others — have that personality as well. Like Goldie, these men have to possess a supreme confidence in their abilities and their systems in order for potential recruits to buy into it.
As Mickens put it, coaches have to feel that they’re going to rewrite the record books and they will be the new kings of the block. They have to believe that they will get the best high school and juco talent available, get the facilities upgrades to entice them to come and mix it all up to produce a winning program.
Goldie tells one recruit that they can go all the way to the top while assuring said recruit that he would be a friend a father figure. Mickens also asks the recruit to believe in him and believe that everything he tells the recruit to do is in their mutual best interests.
Now does that sound like what a coach would tell a recruit, or what?
Mickens also holds a "weekend visit" with potential recruits, selling them on the benefits of joining his teams. One can easily picture a coach standing in front of a group of potential recruits telling them that his team is built like a family with everyone playing a major role in that family’s success. The rewards for helping the family will be great, including conference championships, playoff runs or a bowl game.
However, there’s a serious side to the college football game as well. The folks at the NCAA do not take too kindly to things like "lack of institutional control" and "improper benefits" while shrugging off any notion that student-athletes be paid. Just check out what one of Mickens’ rivals, Pretty Tony, said about his players getting paid.
"Wake up one morning with some money, they’re subject to go crazy," Tony said.
Most coaches feel the exact same way. Tony, and other coaches, understand the headaches a controversy with a player can do to their program — as well as their pay checks. Don’t believe it? Then go ask new Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt about the whole Mitch Mustain saga that hounded him during his last season at Arkansas. He would probably say, like Pretty Tony said in the movie, that he has lawyers and he makes too much money to take such nonsense.
Also, picture how the coaches are all fawning over Pennsylvania quarterback sensation Terrelle Pryor. All of these coaches are doing the best to make Pryor choose one of them — just like Goldie, Pretty Tony and others try to get their recruits to choose.
Whoever gets Pryor, or any other highly-coveted prepster or juco sensation, will probably tell their rival coaches that they understand the rules of the game and their prospect just chose them. Have some class or get into something a little bit messier — like the whole Phil Fulmer/Alabama/Albert Means fiasco.
Not that much difference between 1970s cinema fiction and real life, is there?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

A few notes from Fred getting tested for HIV (I'm negative, folks)

First things first, I took one of those oral swab HIV tests. The result (which I had a damned good feeling) was that I'm HIV negative. So I guess, like that old BET ad campaign, there's peace of mind in knowing.

But that's probably the side note to the whole thing. My girlfriend's church was sponsoring free HIV testing for people in the community. She talked me into getting tested and we share results (she's HIV negative, also). At first, I thought the idea was a novel one, but as I read the form the counselors had to fill out, it had me thinking that this was an on-the-slick way to see if I was being truly honest and faithful, but that's later.

Ironically, the first T-shirt that I grabbed was a khaki number with the phrase "I'm right. You're wrong. Any more questions?" plastered in big orange or (urnge) letters. The sky was dark and rain was falling down (maybe because I was on holy ground for the first time in a minute)and here I was waiting to get tested. My g/f was running around doing other things at the church.

So it's my time to go and the first question the counselor asked me on the form was "when was the last time you had sex with another man?" That questioned floored me, not because of the disbelief that I was getting asked that questioned, but because IT WAS THE FIRST FRIGGIN QUESTION OUT OF THE GATE. My first response was supposed to be, "Man do I look like JL King up in here? I don't play with that Chuck-n-Billy mess. I likes the ladies."...But the recently-devleoped filter from brain to mouth translated that response to "No."

The other questions were like how many sexual parterns I had in the last 12 months, intravenous drug usage and those other type questions.

But I passed the test, and I felt like doing the cupid shuffle, well not exactly, but there was a dude that went before me. His test was negative and his response...

"Ah yeah. I'mma wear this on my chest in the club so these girls know what the deal is with me."

Saturday, June 23, 2007

SLANT-N-GO: Pacman and McMahon

NFL commissioner Roger Goddell may have a much-younger kindred spirit in the 10-year-old son of local resident Myrtle Johnson.

Johnson said her son needed to take medication after watching World Wrestling Entertainment chairman Vince McMahon "get killed" in an exploding limousine at the end of "Monday Night Raw" two weeks ago.

Goddell probably had to take medication after suspended Tennessee Titans cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones somehow is entangled in another shooting incident, this one in the wee hours of last Monday after a fight in a suburban Atlanta strip club.

At first glance, McMahon's death hoax and Jones' latest involvement with law enforcement seem to be on opposite sides of the reality spectrum. McMahon's case is just another despicable display of poor taste to boost ratings while Jones' case is just another episode of his now-legendary lack of judgment.

Matter of fact, it is poor taste and lack of judgment that make these two seemingly opposite people very similar.

McMahon is the third-generation wrestling promoter that made the change from "rasslin'" to "sports entertainment" to keep his company from sporting events regulated by various state athletic commissions — avoiding commission fees and license costs in the process. He built his empire by taking over smaller territorial companies in the early 1980s in his own version of manifest destiny.

He then pushed it into the national landscape with the help of cartoonish characters that bordered on the ridiculous, but partly based on stereotypes. The characters and storylines took a turn during the last 15 years as storylines became more offensive and violent, featuring a dose of misogyny mixed in with the "Mr. McMahon" character's various abuses of power.

The June 11 episode of Raw was billed, ironically, as "Mr. McMahon Appreciation Night." Last Monday's episode somehow mocked the WWE's own coverage of deaths like Owen Hart's in 1999 and Eddie Guerrero's in 2005 as it focused on the "death" of the Mr. McMahon character, going as far as saying federal investigators were looking into the incident. WWE programming also gave passing mention to the recent death of New Orleans native, and 2006 WWE Hall of Fame inductee, Sherri Martel.

By the way, letters from WWE stockholders have been showing up on websites dedicated to covering the sports entertainment industry voicing their displeasure at the McMahon death hoax. A CNBC commentator also pondered if the hoax violates a portion of the Securities and Exchange Act, which would bring about real federal action if it was indeed a violation.

Pacman Jones, who is not related to writer Bomani Jones, pushed himself into the national spotlight with a cool retro nickname and his dramatic kick and interception returns while playing for former Tulane assistant Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia. Pacman experienced heartache as a child. His father was shot and killed when he was 10-years-old, leaving his mother and grandmother to raise him in the Altanta suburb of College Park. His grandmother succumbed to cancer during his freshman year with the Mountaineers, and the game he missed to attend the funeral was the only one he missed during his 3-year stint at West Virginia. He was even on the academic honor roll.

Jones, who brought the strip club slang "making it rain" to the national lexicon, was charged with two counts of felony coercion stemming from the now-infamous NBA All-Star weekend rainfest at a Las Vegas strip club that turned into a fight that came before a triple shooting. The shooting left one bar employee paralyzed and two others with less serious wounds.

In other news, Jones made it rain in Vegas again early Friday. He dropped $20,000 into the Clark County coffers — $10,000 for each charge — as he surrendered to authorities and posted bond. He also made a change, cutting off his dreadlocks for the mug shot. Ironically, Jones ‘‘was in and out around 2 a.m.,’’ said Lt. Jason Letkiewicz, a Las Vegas police watch commander.

Columnists and TV personalities also like to poke fun at the fact that Jones has more arrests (six) than interceptions (four) since being taken with the sixth-overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft.

McMahon and Jones each did a little bit of violating with their respective transgressions. McMahon violated the trust of a 10-year-old child that believed he was being entertained until that limo went kaboom. Everyone knows the outcomes are predetermined, but people respect the performers for their toughness, athleticism and ability to entertain. However, try explaining to a 10-year-old who "loves rasslin’" the difference between Mr. McMahon getting blown up in a limo on TV while Vincent Kennedy McMahon is still alive and well at this moment.

Jones violated the trust of Goddell after telling him he was going to take his 1-year suspension like a man and work to improve his image in order to be reinstated. The NFL would have reviewed that possibility as early as the Titans' 10th game, but that is probably out of the window now. Jones somehow became the poster boy for bad behavior in professional sports with his constant run-ins with the law. Goddell probably hoped Jones kept his nose clean in order not to get to that next step of possibly banning Pacman from the league, but Jones just could not keep his butt out of the strip club or keep his "posse" in check for him not to get into trouble.

By the way, only middle-aged, out-of-touch writers would refer to an athlete and the gaggle of folks around him as a "posse." That is so "Arsenio Hall Show."

Nevertheless, all that remains is the trauma and tears of a 10-year-old rasslin' fan and a half-empty bottle of headache medicine for the NFL commissioner. All thanks to two men that suffer from an obvious lack of judgment and good taste. Heck, they make a great tag team.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

SLANT-N-GO: mini-camp, mega-madness

METAIRIE, La.—Remember the mall concert madness of the late 1980s through early 1990s? You know, the thousands of screaming fans with T-shirts, hats and posters cramming into the food court or some other small space to see some young up-and-coming teen heartthrob send mall security into DEFCON 1?

Well, the New Orleans Saints' facility had that same energy during its mini-camp a week ago. Hundreds of people lined the street between the Saints home base and Zephyr Field while hundreds more looked both ways before running across Airline Highway, oops, Airline Drive just to get a chance to see the defending NFC South champs and soon-to-be trendy pick to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLII Feb. 3, 2008 at University of Phoenix Stadium.

This experience was a totally new one for me. I've covered the mini-camp last season and spent part of a day last fall in Jackson, Miss., for training camp at Millsaps College. It is one thing to cover the NFL as a member of the media, but its a whole other world watching it from a fan's point-of-view.

In a nutshell, watching the NFL as a reporter and then watching it as a regular spectator is sort of like flipping the channel from "Larry King Live" to "Total Request Live." Sure, the nice little media tag grants a good deal of access to the workouts and the players but the atmosphere is just stolid, business-like, and down right cold. That atmosphere is a not-so-subtle reminder of why some people call the NFL the "No Fun League."

On the other hand, the fans were what Southeastern head football coach Mike Lucas would call "crunked up." I arrived at the Saints facility about 45 minutes before the gates opened, and you could see just driving by the long line of would-be spectators that they were just getting warmed up.

The fans brought their energy and enthusiasm to the place — along with enough Saints paraphernalia to devote a good 2-hour block on either QVC or the Home Shopping Network. They came with their photographs, jerseys, footballs, mini- and full-sized replica helmets and just about anything else under the sun in the hopes that their favorite guy in black and gold puts their John Hancock on it.

I made that drive from Baton Rouge to Metairie with my 15-, 13- and 11-year old nephews thinking we would get there early enough to cop a good spot amongst the throngs of Saints faithful. WRONG!!! The traffic on Airline robbed me of a good 10 minutes, enough to put my group at least four football fields away from the gate to enter. Fellow Daily Star employee Tammy Pierson and her son saw me pass by, but they were in a far better position that my group was.

Enough about the celebrity sightings, let's get back to this experience. Saints officials opened the gate to the public around 9 a.m., and the fans were rushing in there like the Saints facility was a Foot Locker in the mid-90s and a new version of Air Jordans were just getting put on the shelves. Thousands of fans, along with this casual onlooker with puzzled nephews, swamped the area set aside for spectators and waited for nearly an hour before the first wave of Saints players jogged out for workouts.

A group of guys sitting around midfield started to belt out that familiar "Who Dat" chant, and the call-and-response spread quickly throughout the crowd. My nephews looked at me with some confusion, and I just told them to just sit back and enjoy the show.

It started to startle me when the crowd started chanting different things at the sight of different players.

When Deuce McAlister strolled out, the crowd broke out its "Deuce" chant. You know, the one where everybody yells out "DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOSE!" whenever he gets the ball.

When Reggie Bush jogged out, that "REG-GIE! "REG-GIE" chant was as loud as the one he got before he broke that punt return for a TD against Tampa Bay in the Dome.

When Drew Brees came out, these two little kids just kept screaming his last name. They did this for about 30 minutes nonstop, trying to get the starting QB to acknowledge them while warming up. All they did in 30 minutes was drive me crazy. In fact, that's what all of the fans did.

The media guy in me wanted to get on a megaphone and say "Look, y'all. It's just mini-camp. It's not preseason. It's not mid-October. It's mini-camp in June." However, acting out on that thought would have gotten me branded a Saints hater and then probably would have received the beating of my life from the overexuberant Saints faithful.

So here's this media guy in fans clothing, hearing the "oohs" and "aahs" of the crowd as the team went into coverage drills pitting the DBs against the WRs. Ironically, I saw Robert Meachem running — albeit just as briefly as the Saints brass saw him run as well. I thought to myself what just was the payoff from me sitting out in the heat with thousands of diehards.

Well, the payoff was the joy on my 13- and 11-year old nephews' faces as they walked away with their T-shirts covered with autographs from some of their favorite players.

And that was well worth the headache.

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Return of the WMD

Yo, people

Sorry it's been a goof few months since I last hit the blog up, but I'm back....

Just a recent update, I placed third in the best sports column category by the Louisiana Press Assocation. Does that make me an award-winning columnist as well as an award-winning writer?

Stay tuned y'all. I'm bout to get back into it.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Chee Wee hairstyles, dreadlocks and me

St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain landed in a little political hot water about a month ago regarding his comments discussing a horrendous incident of “spillover crime” in his sprawling, suburban jurisdiction.
He got in trouble by saying this during a television interview in late June:
"If you’re going to walk the streets of St. Tammany Parish with dreadlocks and chee wee hairstyles then you can expect to be getting a visit from a sheriffs deputy.”
Now the context of what he said is being debated, but one thing could be taken from this statement. Certain athletes should do their best to avoid St. Tammany Parish at all costs, especially if they either have dreadlocks, “chee wee” hairstyles or just happen to be Belle Chasse product – and frequent violator – Chris Henry of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Athletes running afoul of Johnny Law are just as common as snowball stands in south Louisiana in the summer. That is not even counting Henry and his teammates, nor the Portland Trail Blazers either. Sometimes these overly talented men and women need some protection from themselves, and the brain “mis”trust at Slant-N-Go Enterprises, LLC, will do its part to perform an extremely valuable public service.
The SNG service is all too simple, but yet all too important to the sporting world. That service is to keep athletes with dreadlocks and “chee wee” hairstyles out of St. Tammany Parish and out of possible legal issues.
However, questions still baffle the board of directors at SNG: What in the world is a chee wee hairstyle? Do you find them in a Cracker Jack box? Can you use “the cream,” “the clear” or “flaxseed oil” to attain such a hairstyle? Will Walt “Clyde” Frazier and Keith Hernandez be featured in commercials advertising coloring products for men with chee wee hairstyles?
The list of potential clients is a diverse array of athletes from surf, turf, snow and other surfaces of play. However, some have taken Strain’s warning very seriously and cost SNG a very important potential client. That person would be 2-time NBA MVP Steve Nash. He showed up to a recent charity game in his native British Columbia, Canada, with one thing missing—his notoriously unruly bedhead. Maybe he got the hint from Strain and thought that he should tread lightly.
Seimone Augustus should be on the lookout and is a potential client. Although she was a nationally-known commodity since her freshman year in high school, there are still parts of the state where she is a highly unknown figure. Heaven knows St. Tammany does not need the publicity of a sherrifs deputy getting in the personal space of the WNBA’s second-leading scorer, Baton Rouge playground legend and the Wayne Gretzky of LSU women’s basketball.
Former Gonzaga gunslinger, and new Charlotte Bobcat, Adam Morrison should also tread lightly if he ever finds himself traveling throughout St. Tammany. If it were not for Morrison’s sick hoops game, his “chee wee-ish” hairstyle and that dirty upper lip of his would definitely get him confused with either a mechanic, a pool cleaner, a really bad stunt double for Ron Jeremy or someone Strain’s deputies would surely focus their attention on.
Not even Skyler Green’s LSU national championship ring and old game-worn jerseys are enough to get St. Tammany’s finest off his dreadlocked case. Manny Ramirez can show off his curse-breaking world Series ring or even show clips of him tossing a ball to the outfield wall, taking a break in the Green Monster or cut off Johnny Damon and throw the ball into the infield. It won’t help Manny, but Manny’s Manny, so Strain could have other reasons to send his deputies in to check up on him.
Throw in New Orleans Saints cornerback Mike McKenzie and Green Bay cornerback Al Harris. You couldn’t tell those guys apart when they were together in Packerland, especially with their anti-Stain dreadlocks would cover up their names on the back of their jerseys. Now that McKenzie’s a member of the “gluttons for punishment,” he should avoid having to go travel to teammate Jammal Brown’s house or P.J. brown’s house for that matter.
How about Olympic gold medal winner Shaun White? Now if that shock of red hair the snowboarder sports isn’t “chee wee,” then the SNG directors do not know what is. He could possibly go from getting a hug from Carmen Electra at the ESPYs (lucky guy) to seeing deputies staring him down (not so lucky guy). Talk about a sad twist of fate. Shaun would have to just avoid Louisiana completely altogether.
Almost forgot Pedro Martinez and his new-school jheri curl/shag hybrid. It beckons back to a time when judgment was bad (circa 1975-88), but Petey’s ode to nostalgia and TCB curl activator is not good enough to stay scot-free (or even Scotchguard free) in St. Tammany Parish.
SNG will continue to help the athletes help themselves not the fall victims of themselves. SNG also believes in showing its clients that the company is not afraid to do what is asked of the people it represents. Therefore, Fred Batiste will cut his hair before he becomes the next to get a visit from a St. Tammany sheriffs deputy.