Well, this is it. My very first column for On the Fly. It will appear on this Web site every Thursday. That's all you readers need. Something else to keep you on the 'Net. But there's a good reason for this. In many ways, this column will be a solution to a problem that all weeklies face: There ain't enough room for sports. In fact, most weeklies don't even bother with sports. The Memphis Flyer is something of an anomaly because our own Dennis Freeland carved a niche in the paper through his good works.
But despite his labors and my poor efforts in imitation, the Flyer can only give so much. In a town like Memphis, where practically every other remark is about sports, that's a shame. Despite the myriad things going on with Tigers football, Grizzlies basketball, Redbirds baseball, River Kings hockey, as well as the college and prep sports, the Flyer publishes only one sports column a week. What we publish is helpful, but it necessarily ignores too many deserving teams each week.
You see, I go to all these press conferences. They're one of the perks of the job and one of the downers. It's a perk because I'm usually well-fed. There's a reason for this and it isn't because PR people like sportswriters.
It's because the PR people are trying to suck up so that we will write about what is going on. Let's face it, if they didn't feed us, they would need a story bigger than Tigers football or Grizzlies basketball to get us there. And the Tigers and Grizzlies hand out food as well, so the smaller guys are still at a disadvantage.
But even the promise of food isn't enough, because when the PR people get all the writers and TV people and photographers and radio people there, they have to beg for attention. They have to convince us that their sport is worth our prime real estate (a measly few hundred words) or the proverbial promised land (a full column).
And I know for a fact that there are plenty of athletes in this area giving everything they have for their team. They're the ones without contracts, without agents, etc.
To be sure, this is not to bring down those professional and pre-professional athletes out there. This is to raise those sports up to the same level in this small, virtual way.
So, to begin, let's talk about CBU. The Buccaneers are making serious noise. Their men's and women's soccer clubs, their women's volleyball team, and their basketball squads deserve notice as well.
Also important is that the school dedicates itself to paying for many of these athletes' education. Of course, that costs money. Enter CBU's upcoming (and newly established) Athletes Celebration. This first-annual event will be held Sunday, October 7th, 5:30-10 p.m., and will feature MC Silky O'Sullivan, owner of that rather popular bar of the same name on Beale Street. All proceeds from the $50-a-couple dinner will go to the athletic scholarship fund. "The University made a decision," says athletic director Michael Daush of CBU's interest in beefing up scholarship moneys. "We see athletics as a means to tell our story better." That story includes a private, affordable education, an urban campus, a 130-year tradition, and a 33% minority enrollment. "They're the kind of kids people can be proud of," Daush says. Daush's ultimate goal is simple and clear. "I am trying to stake a claim as the number 2 athletic university in this town," he says. You see? He's honest and humble. A nice combination in an AD. It's a good story -- how sports can be more than dollar signs, shoe contracts, and multimillion dollar arenas. Sports are more than superstar-caliber coaches and recruits. It's a story about how sports help kids by giving them chances. And if those kids can kick some butt while they're at it, why not give them some virtual ink? At the very least, you won't find the typical sports column here.
- Let's hear it for the Grizzlies for finally nailing down Pau Gasol's contract. This really wasn't the team's fault. Apparently, Gasol's team was playing hardball as well they should. In the recent European Championship playoffs, the seven-foot small forward (small forward!) averaged 17.5 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. Granted, the European league is not the NBA, but Gasol will only improve with time. It makes sense that his Spanish team would want rights to him, should he play again in Europe.
- Tigers football coach Tommy West said that this past week's practices were "some of the best I've seen since I've been here." The Tigers are taking the best approach to their 41-10 trouncing of UT-Chattanooga. Playing and handily beating the smaller team will give the team confidence and let them run plays to completion rather than to frustration, as was often the case against the U of M's first opponent, Mississippi State. The Tigers' main goal is to take it to upstart South Florida fresh off its first-ever 1A victory. The Memphis team will need that momentum as they travel up to Louisville and their first conference game of the season. The Louisville Cardinals are currently undefeated.
- And, finally, who else is going to watch that South Carolina/Mississippi State game? I know I will, especially after watching the Gamecocks beat Georgia at Georgia. Okay, I confess, I was at the Liberty Bowl for the Tiger/UTC game, but the TV had that game on and it was far better than the one on the field. Sue me. I can't wait to see this one play out.