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Larry Peterson - Straight Shots

Peterson: Online convenience replaces all-state voting panels

Long tradition of News Advertiser participation ends

Growing up in Fort Dodge, one of the highlights each fall was opening up the Messenger’s sports section and looking at that year’s all-state football players as selected by what was then called the Iowa Daily Press Association.

It was well-known that sports editor Bob Brown and his assistant, Dave Stockdale, were regular participants in the process of the IDPA selecting its all-state team. The late Max Sandeman was a respected panel member from the Creston News Advertiser in those days.

Back then, Harrison “Skip” Weber was news director of the organization that later took on names of the Iowa Press Association (allowing weekly papers to be a part of the process) and its current moniker, the Iowa Newspaper Association. Skip organized these all-state selections, and wrote the news release associated with them.

I attended my first all-state meeting in 1980 as a recent college graduate working at the Atlantic News-Telegraph. My editor, Phil Chinitz, was a regular attendee and launched me into the routine.

Since that first meeting 37 years ago, I have no idea how many early weekend mornings in the fall, winter or summer that I got up and drove to the INA office in Des Moines to vote on an all-state panel. The INA all-state program recognizes athletes each year in football, girls and boys basketball and baseball. (The Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union and Iowa Girls Coaches Association handle all-state announcements in volleyball and softball.)

I always felt it was important that we participate as an advocate for our area kids, and to try to pick a proper all-state team. It’s simply part of the job.

Fortunately, I’ve gotten all the other sports writers who have come and gone from the CNA newsroom to buy into the concept and they would often join me at those meetings to serve on a committee picking the all-state team of a different classification.

It wasn’t always easy to fit that duty into a busy weekend schedule, especially if we had a team playing in state competition the previous day. Sundays are big work days for a sports department preparing material for Monday’s edition.

Because of the time crunch and cost of travel, some newspapers didn’t send anyone. I frequently had to speak on behalf of players I knew about from other regions, because they had nobody from a local paper in the room. Fortunately, we usually had a panel of coaches there to help us as “advisers.”

In the end, I almost always walked out of there pleased that as a committee we had done a good job of getting the state’s best players some deserved recognition. Each honored player receives an all-state certificate from the INA, and of course, recognition in the all-state articles that would appear in papers across the state on the designated day of release.

Corroboration

The main reason we were able to put together a proper all-state team is the give-and-take we had with each other in the room, providing background material on kids that you don’t see in a statistical summary. It was the discussion before each vote that helped us arrive at a good decision.

Starting next month, we won’t have that. Those face-to-face meetings among sportswriters have been replaced by an online voting system, beginning with this fall’s all-state football selections.

Like so many other developments in our modern society, the networking and camaraderie we had with each other at those gatherings is replaced by a few clicks on a computer, alone in the office or at home. (Nobody really needs to actually talk to each other anymore, right?)

Ad hoc committee

Earlier this year a subcommittee comprised of INA staff, board members and the all-state committee (writers) met several times to discuss ongoing issues with the all-state program, mainly declining participation.

There were other issues as well. The INA’s website all-state nomination system leading up to each meeting was no longer going to be supported by the outsourced company that had maintained it. So, there were going to have to be changes made in some way, and the INA leaders decided this was a good time to explore all options.

It was pointed out that other states do a system of online voting. The theory was that we could garner more widespread participation, since there has been a decline in attendance for all-state selection meetings, particularly in the summer.

Frankly, I did not ever experience a meeting where we couldn’t pick a team in each class, and football and basketball were definitely attended by a large enough crowd of voters to make it viable. We had a good, diligent group each time that worked well together.

Anyway, the sub-committee made a recommendation to the INA board to move the voting process online beginning with the football selections to be done Nov. 13-15. Details of that process have yet to be released, but coach-led all-district teams will form the basis for our selections.

Meanwhile, the INA board chose not to allow my peers on the all-state committee to speak at its October meeting about concerns pertaining to this decision, and hopes of a “compromise” that could possibly still involve some personal interaction in the process.

Yes, I’m sure other states make it work online. But, Iowa has a proud tradition of excellence in the way it formed its all-state teams. In short, we believe it’s more thorough and accurate.

Nuances discussed

For example, in our meetings during discussions of kickers and punters, if the vote was close, we tended to side with someone who was also a good football player on those other downs, and not just a specialist. Sidney kicker Sergio Rodriguez is a heck of a player, as one example, and would get my vote as a complete player who happens to kick really well.

I’m not sure all-district teams are flawless. There can be agendas in how they are formed, as well. Or, if a player is selected to an all-district team at a utility spot, will all-state voters realize what position they shoud be considered for on all-state? We hashed those things out in the meetings.

The late Skip Weber wouldn’t have let it come to this. He understood athletics, and how much is involved in forming an all-state team.

I have no problems with those INA folks who dedicated their own time on those Sundays, such as Jana Shepherd. I appreciated their own sacrifices on the weekend.

But, those who steered this new concept through to INA board approval may not fully realize what is being lost here. We are no longer sitting around a table, presenting research we’ve done.

The question is, who will really sit down at a computer and study kids to make sure they are picking the right ones? It would take a lot of time to do it fairly and accurately without collaboration. Call me a skeptic, but I don’t see it happening to near the degree we had in our meetings.

Hopefully, I’ll be proven wrong, for the sake of the deserving kids.

Contact the writer:

Twitter: @larrypeterson

Email: lpeterson@crestonnews.com

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