When this school year began, LeFlore County schools, coaches, athletic directors and administrators were going to be faced with a big challenge thanks to the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association. The OSSAA handed down two big rules. No. 1 — no games can take place on Wednesdays. No. 2 — no games can begin earlier than 4 p.m. and cannot start after 9 p.m.
For the Class A and B schools of the county, and state for that matter, it can pose a big problem.
“We always played junior high games on Wednesdays,” said Roy Butler, Cameron's softball coach and athletic director. “We started at 3:30 p.m. and ended at 5:30 p.m. because our rule is to be back by 6 p.m. (on road games) where everybody can go to church. It was working fine. Then, all of the sudden you can't do that. Now, I'm playing a junior high game and two high school games on one day, making us getting back (on road games) at 10 to 11 p.m. as opposed to 8 to 8:30 p.m. (when there was only high school games) so we could get them back to study before 10 p.m. Now, we're getting in at 10 to 11 p.m. before they can get home to study. Who's that helping?
“You can't start a game before 4 p.m. If we play our junior high game at that time, then we play our high school games. Maybe we're through at around 8 to 9 p.m. — then we have to ride home (if we're on the road). I was kind of surprised that not more small schools get up and say, 'Hey!' It may not be a big factor for larger schools because they already have coaches, but Class A and B schools are going to be hurt by this because of budget constraints. But they (OSSAA) have done stupid things like that before, like you can only miss five days of school (during a season) instead of 10.
“We never told our kids they couldn't go to church. We'd tell them that we'd get them out in time to go to church. I think it's ridiculous. I don't know where it (the decision to do this) was coming from, but it was a poor idea. Smaller schools are either going to have to hire junior high coaches, or your junior high program is going to suffer. So, I'm concerned about that, depending on the money available.”
In years past, the LeFlore County Softball Tournaments have always had games on Wednesday. When Talihina Public Schools, this fall's host school, was beginning to put the schedule for this week's tournament, they could not put games on Wednesday, so there's one later round of games on Tuesday and an earlier start to things on the final day on Thursday.
“We're awfully blessed with the facility because you can play this big a tournament in three days — and do so very comfortably,” said Jeff Oliver, Talihina's girls basketball coach and co-tournament director. “If we had to do this at one or two fields, then it would have been tough. So,we are fortunate to have this facility in LeFlore County.”
Oliver is one individual who is in favor of the rule changes.
“It made things a little trickier to schedule, but as far as they new rule by the OSSAA, I'm very supportive of it,” he said. “If we're going to say that academics matter and live in the Bible belt and say that God matters, then we don't need to be playing on Wednesday nights and we don't need to keep the kids out so late — and I'm a die-hard coach. But I do agree with that rule change.”
Yours truly then got to worrying about three-day basketball tournaments, which always begin at 11 a.m. or so on Days 1 and 2. However, Oliver said three-day tournaments, such as Talihina's Choctaw Nation Tournament, will not be affected by the new rules
“We're still going to be a three-day tournament,” Oliver said. “We'll still get to start games at 11 a.m. because it's not a full-week tournament. Full-week tournaments will have to start games no earlier than 4 p.m., but since ours is a three-day weekend tournament, we can actually start before 4 p.m. So, our format will stay the same. We'll just have to make sure that our last game is scheduled at 8:45 p.m. or before — and it's always been an 8:30 p.m. start on that last game. That was one of the things we looked at during the first coaches meeting — the ol' brackets. It's not going to affect our Choctaw Nation Tournament in any way. We could tell that we'd be just fine.”
Late last month, the concern about no games on Wednesday started to get the LeFlore County baseball coaches to wondering about the 2013 LeFlore County Baseball Tournament. Several of them met to discuss the matter, and it seems like a petition is the best way to go — like what was done to keep the LeFlore County Basketball Tournaments the way they are — with games on Wednesdays.
“We're trying to petition the OSSAA right now because our tournament is such a long-standing tradition,” said Eddie Combs, Pocola's baseball and assistant fast-pitch softball coach. “If we can put it in writing about the rare circumstances that we could be allowed to play on Wednesday. The vibes we're getting from the bigwigs up there that we won't have any problems once we submit the petition.”