Thursday, February 23, 2006

Fielder’s Choice
By Barry Burleson

Notes from State

I was taught by the best in the weekly newspaper business to focus on the positives first.

Friday and Saturday, I visited the Class AA State Tournament at East Rankin Academy in Pelahatchie. My son Andy joined me.

The facilities are first class. The gym is one of the nicest I’ve seen in AA.

East Rankin was a good host. The folks were nice and well prepared. Hosting a tournament of this magnitude is no simple task. Their hard work before and during the event was obvious.

The hospitality room, always one of my favorite spots at any tournament, ranked right up there with the best.

No fault of East Rankin Academy, there was just not enough room. The gym was beyond packed, and the staff there managed it as well as possible. Fans of some teams were lined up, waiting on fans of other squads to exit.

On arrival Saturday night for the boys’ consolation contest, fans of one of the two teams in the championship game had left bleacher seats in the gym (from the earlier girls’ session). They were reserving their spots and who could blame them?

It was standing room only.

I would urge the MPSA to look at moving the State Tournament to a neutral site, like is already being done with the Overall Tournament, and to a facility with a lot more seating capacity.

I do have one personal complaint. Friday night, when Marshall was playing Leake, a referee walked to the scorer’s table and called over one of the tournament administrators.

The next thing I knew I was being asked not to use my camera flash. I was told some of the players were complaining.

I had driven three and a half hours to cover my hometown team, the Marshall Academy Patriots. I was in shock. It was crazy, to say the least.

Another gentleman was shooting, too, and had two lights (big flashes) in two corners of the court. They were bright, bouncing off the floor repeatedly.

Another tournament adminstrator (I guess) came up to me and was a bit more firm, telling me the men in the striped suits (the refs) were in charge and my flash had to go. I asked about the other guy and was told he worked for the tournament sponsor so he could shoot and I couldn’t.

Then I got even more upset.

I asked for the headmaster at East Rankin or the one in charge of the tournament. Then I motioned for the headmaster from MA, Tommy Gunn.

Coach Gunn saw I was having a problem and came to my defense, but still I was told no flash by the headmaster or whoever.

It’s impossible for me, a member of the working press, to take quality photos without a flash. I’ve been covering sports in Mississippi for 20 years, including numerous state tournaments in all sports. Never had I faced such an obstacle in performing my duties.

Finally, after about five minutes of conflict, pleading my case and no shooting, one of the tournament administrators had a brief conversation with the same referee. I was suddenly told I could shoot again.

Then after the game, one person involved (I believe the head basktball coach at East Rankin) apologized. He said it was the fans complaining to the ref about a flash bouncing off the court. He was embarrased by the whole ordeal.

Should a ref stop the flow of the game because of such a ridiculous complaint from the fans? No.

Should a photographer be denied the opportunity to do his job? No. The press is publicizing MPSA, the state tournament, the individual schools and the players and coaches involved.

This individual experience cast a black eye on an otherwise enjoyable, first-ever trip to East Rankin.

But there are no hard feelings, thanks to that one individual who stepped forward with “I’m sorry.”

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