The Future of Football

By Jarrett Standridge

In week two of the Oklahoma high school football season, Southwest Covenant was set to face Strother High School. Southwest Covenant player Peter Webb saw the snap go over the quarterback’s head. As the quarterback picked up the fumble, Webb caught him from behind, pulling him down on top of himself. During the tackle, the back of Webb’s head hit the ground, knocking him unconscious and was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. Webb died the following Sunday at age 16.

Two weeks later in Stratford during a game against Lexington Middle School, Riley Boatright of Lexington died from an injury. 

 While the cause of Boatright’s death has not been confirmed, both Webb and Boatright are tragic examples of the violent nature of football,  a hot topic for discussion for many years now. With rule changes such as the implementation of targeting and illegal blindside block penalties, one would think that football is becoming less violent.

On November 21, OU tight end Grant Calcaterra announced his retirement from football. Calcaterra cited his “fair share of concussions” as the reason for his premature retirement. His decision is one that many football players have made over the course of their careers

“What it really came down to is, ‘Do I want to have a bunch of money, possibly, (from) playing football and be 50 years old, but I can’t remember how to brush my teeth?” Or, ‘Cut my losses, pride myself on having a decent career in college and not be a millionaire, but be able to enjoy my family, be able to enjoy my friends?’ So, that’s what I choose to do.” Said Calcaterra.

For many places in America, high school football is everything. Entire towns shut down on Friday nights to watch their teams battle it out on the gridiron. School legends are born underneath the stadium lights. Fans celebrate victories and agonize in defeat.

 Despite this country’s love for football, the number of players has dipped in recent years. Many parents have grown weary of letting their children play and participation numbers around the country have started to reflect that. 

According to Football Scoop, high school football participation nationally has dropped more than 9% (around 106,300 players) since peaking in 2008 at 1,112,303 players. This decline is in part due to the growing concern of concussions and injuries. Some schools have even dropped the sport altogether because of the decline in participation. 

The National Federation of State High School Associations, however, maintains that high school football is the safest it has ever been.

“In 2016 and 2017, there were only two direct deaths each year compared to an average of 20 annually in the late 1960s and early 1970s,” a NFHS article states. “Moreover, as opposed to 50 years ago, today playing rules are in place at the high school level to manage a student who exhibits signs and symptoms of a concussion. Thanks to these guidelines and state laws in place, the incidence of high school players incurring a repeat concussion has been greatly reduced. In addition, practice restrictions and contact limits have been adopted by all member state associations,” 

In addition to rule changes, concussion protocols and better equipment, coaching staffs across the country have taken matters into their own hands. Through teaching a fairly new rugby-style tackling technique first used by the Seattle Seahawks in 2014, coaches at every level of the sport, from the pros to high school, are hoping to limit injuries. Locally, Coach Scott O’Hara, head football coach at Bridge Creek High School in Blanchard, has adopted this “hawk tackling” technique with his team.

“It’s kind of almost a wrestling technique, almost a rugby technique but it eliminates the head,” O’Hara said.

O’Hara believes that the hawk tackling technique is the safest and most effective technique in football.

“This is a technique that I can go and talk to parents and say we are teaching your kids not to use their head at all,” O’Hara says. “It made me feel so much better as a coach, as a person,”. 

The Seattle Seahawks and the Atlanta Falcons both used the technique during the 2015 season in which 199 concussions occurred, 76 more than in 2014, according to the Public Broadcasting Service Frontline Concussion Watch. Both the Falcons and the Seahawks saw lower numbers of concussions than the league average of six per team at four each. While there is still debate whether the technique is viable for getting ball carriers to the ground, its effectiveness in limiting helmet to helmet contact cannot be ignored. 

Despite attempts to make football safer, it remains a violent game. Even with the precautions and improved technique, participation in high school football is at its lowest point since the 1999-2000 school year. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, participation in 11-player has dipped to 1,006,013 players, just over 3,000 more than that of 1999-2000. With all the research about the effects of CTE and concussions, major players retiring early from concussions and football-related deaths on the news, parents are becoming more skeptical about letting their children play football. 

With national numbers down and schools dropping football altogether, high school football’s future looks challenging. As concerns about injuries grow, especially those to the head and neck, schools may not want to risk being sued.

“My head says this sport is doomed… the schools won’t want the liability,” O’Hara said.

He believes that the risk of being sued by a parent of an injured player will eventually outweigh the positives of having a football team in the eyes of many schools. This could mean that football is still played at these schools on a club level that is not directly associated with the school or that football could slowly start to disappear at the high school level.

On the other hand, college football and the NFL will likely not have to deal with declining numbers anytime soon. With their players being of legal age to make their own decisions, parents will not have as much say over whether their child plays or not. In addition, the prospect of making the NFL and being paid to play football will likely keep players enrolling in universities.

At the end of the day, football is a violent game by nature. Always has been and always will be. While the rule changes, new protocols, techniques and better equipment have significantly reduced the risk of injury, safety and well-being can not be completely ensured on the gridiron. If trends continue, more and more players will not participate in high school football, which might ultimately lead to the disappearance of the game at that level. The idea of not having “Friday Night Lights” might upset some, but it could become a reality.

“My heart says this game can’t stop… it’s all I know.” Says O’Hara, “It has got me to where I am today.”

Giddy Field

By Jarrett Standridge

Before Owen Pickard and his wife, Kelcie, bought their Blanchard house, the Jake FM radio personality saw potential in the backyard. He immediately noticed how flat the ground was and came up with an idea

First, though, he had to persuade his wife. 

He wanted to create a place for nieces and nephews, and eventually, his son Gideon to enjoy.

Today, a little over five months later, “Giddy Field” sits in his backyard. Nestled between his house and an open pasture, the field is a one-tenth scale replica of the University of Oklahoma’s Owen Field. Owen dubbed the 100-foot field “Giddy” after his 10-month-old son, Gideon. 

“I thought it would be vain or goofy calling it ‘mini Owen Field’ because ironically my name is Owen,” said Pickard. 

The name “Giddy Field” perfectly sums up what the field is all about for Pickard: family.

The Process

After moving into their new home around Memorial Day, Owen began to research grass, soil and all that comes with building a field. Even before they had purchased the house, he knew that he wanted to follow through with his idea. Owen had mentioned it to his wife, Kelcie, but she was not too keen on the idea. After begging for her permission, Kelcie finally gave in.

The inspiration for “Giddy Field” was not from Pickard’s love for the Sooners.

 “Having spent however long doing radio, that has included me having saturdays at remotes or car dealerships and stuff. So, for the past decade, I haven’t been a superfan like I was when I was a kid,” said Owen.

 It was not from the movie Field of Dreams, either. His inspiration came from the desire to have something to not only to enjoy with family but to share as well. 

“I was excited for the house but honestly, I was probably more excited about what to do in the backyard,” Pickard said.

With his wife’s permission finally granted, Owen set out to find everything he would need. During his search for adequate grass, he settled on Tahoma 31, a Bermuda hybrid that was engineered by OU’s in-state rival Oklahoma State. The name Tahoma 31 comes from the Native American word “Tahoma” which means “frozen water” to highlight the grass’s winter hardiness. But it was a struggle for Pickard to get ahold of Tahoma 31. The grass was engineered to be used for large athletic fields, such as the University of Arkansas’ football field and the Tennessee Titans’ practice field, not a miniature field in a backyard.

According to Sod Production Services, the marketing and licensing agent for Tahoma 31 Bermudagrass, “Tahoma 31 Bermudagrass is among the most winter-hardy of the improved hybrid bermudagrasses on the market today,”. Tahoma 31 was engineered to withstand winters and droughts as well as to tolerate consistent wear. These qualities make it best suited for athletic fields. 

Typically, this grass is sold in large quantities to be able to cover the specific playing surface it is being used for. This made it difficult for Pickard to find someone willing to sell him the smaller amount he needed.

After moving into his house and weeks of searching, Pickard finally found someone who would deliver the grass in the middle of June. Riverview Sod Ranch in Leonard, Oklahoma sold Owen 8,000 square foot of Tahoma 31 for around $2,400. After paying for delivery and having the grass rolled out, it cost $3,650. But that didn’t stop Pickard. Once the grass arrived, the work began. 

Building “Giddy Field” meant many hot summer nights after work moving dirt, laying the grass, mowing the grass and watering it. During July and August, Owen meticulously nurtured the grass, grooming it to look its best by early September, just in time for OU’s home opener against Houston on Labor Day weekend.

During the process of building the field, “Giddy Field” got its own Twitter Account. Owen created the account in July to showcase the work he was putting in. The account shows the entire process of the field’s creation, beginning with the first mowing of the grass.  

With gameday approaching, it was time to paint the field. Despite some rain, Pickard was able to get the field painted by kickoff with the help of his family. The numbers were painted with stencils that were hand-drawn by his grandfather. The OU mid-field logo and the “Oklahoma” wordmark for the end zones were from stencils that Owen found during his research. Pickard had reached out to Jeff Salmond, the former director of athletic field management at OU. Salmond referred him to World Class Athletic Surfaces in Leland, Mississippi. They were the company who made the full size Stencils for Owen Field at OU.

 Minus the red end zones and some hash marks between the yard lines, “Giddy Field” looked exactly like Owen Field in Norman.

Becoming a Tradition

While Pickard thought building a replica football field in the backyard was a great idea, his wife Kelcie was reluctant to let him start. The time it took to convince his wife to let him build the field was almost the same as the time spent mowing and watering the field. After continuously asking her for permission, Kelcie finally gave in. 

“I figured it would figure itself out,” Kelcie said. She realized that Owen would either complete the field or that he would eventually give up.

Once Owen had finished the field, however, Kelcie’s opinion changed. What was once a crazy idea will become a tradition for the Pickards. Owen plans on taking care of the grass all summer and then painting it for OU’s first game every year. 

While only nieces and nephews play on the field now, Owen’s son Gideon will walk on the field that was named after him soon. Next year, Gideon will be able to run and play on the field rather than trying to eat it as he does now.

Owen looks forward to being able to enjoy time in the back yard with his son. 

“That is what me and my dad did. We would play as I grew up and he taught me how to catch and things like that,” Pickard said. This is his motivation to keep the field nice. The field is something the Pickards will be able to look forward to every summer. 

Once Gideon is old enough, Owen says he will be helping his dad take care of the field. “He doesn’t know that yet but his butt will be down there helping,” says Owen.

“Giddy Field” has gained Pickard a few new titles. Typically, when someone meets Owen, they recognize his voice from the radio as he is part of “The Wake with Jake Show” on 93.3 Jake FM. But now, he is sometimes recognized from Twitter as “the guy who built the mini Owen Field”. The field has its own Twitter account with 180 followers currently. The account shows the work that Pickard put into bringing the field to fruition. 

When he called the company in Mississippi that he purchased the logo stencils from, the man on the phone asked him what they were for. For the most part when dealing with suppliers, Owen did not give much detail about his project in hopes to be taken more seriously. However, this time he told the man that he was building a football field in his yard. The man proceeded to tell Pickard that he had seen him and his field on Twitter.

Despite the following that the field has gained since its creation over the summer, Owen likes the fact that the field is somewhat secluded behind his house. He has had multiple people ask about taking photos on the field, some of which were even willing to pay for them. Although he appreciates the fascination with his field, he respectfully declined. 

While the paint on the field has faded, the dream of sharing “Giddy Field” with friends and family is alive and well. Hours and hours of research, work and sweat have culminated into a tradition unique to the Pickards. For 10-month-old Gideon, the field will become a special place to share with his father for years to come.

“I would love it if people would want to come and look at it, but for the most part it’s not necessarily open to the public,” said Pickard.

Who is Jonathan Dewhirst?

By Jarrett Standridge

“TO: All Norman Campus Students

Intramural Sports Update

Triathlon, Sand Volleyball, 4-Person Golf Scramble and Flag Football registration deadlines coming up soon!

Triathlon

FREE! 1.5 Mile Bike Ride, 100 Yard Swim, .75 Mile Run

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Sand Volleyball

$40/team – One game per week over four weeks

Season starts Sunday, September 8, 2019

4-Person Golf Scramble

$35/player, 4-Person Team

Friday, September 6, 2019

Preseason Flag Football

$20/team – Single Elimination Tournament

Tournament played the week of September 8, 2019

Regular Season Flag Football

$80/team – One game per week over five weeks

Season starts Sunday, September 15, 2019

All specifics and any additional information can be found at ou.edu/far/intramurals

Please direct any questions to Jonathan Dewhirst, Intramural Sports Coordinator, dewhirst@ou.edu

Jonathan Dewhirst, M.S.

Intramural Sports Coordinator

Fitness + Recreation

Sarkeys Fitness Center

The University of Oklahoma

405.325.3053

dewhirst@ou.edu

Jonathan Dewhirst

Fitness + Recreation”

Students at OU get this email and many others like it throughout the semester. By now, most probably recognize the name and automatically know the email is about intramural sports. However, no one would recognize the face behind that email. Who is Jonathan Dewhirst?

Jonathan is the intramural sports Director for OU Fitness and Recreation. Dewhirst joined the staff in January of 2009. His responsibilities include organizing sports leagues, training officials, and recruiting students to play. Most OU students may see his name and associate it with the bombardment of emails about intramurals that come with the beginning of a semester. But it is more than just meeting participation numbers or getting games played. For Dewhirst, it is about creating a place for students to stay active, hangout with friends and most importantly, to have fun.

There are many things students can do while they are not in class or studying, some good, others not so good. Intramural sports can be a positive outlet for students who want to stay active and escape the mental grind of studying for a while. Jonathan’s goal is for anyone and everyone, regardless of athletic ability, to get involved and have fun in a non-competitive atmosphere. Even the legendary Baker Mayfield has graced OU’s intramural fields. Many people have heard the stories of Mayfield tearing it up on the softball field, but Jonathan tells a different story about him.

When Baker Mayfield transferred to Oklahoma for Texas Tech, he came as regular college student. Only those who really paid attention to college football knew who he was. Jonathan had never heard of him before. Due to NCAA transfer rules and various other reasons, Baker was not quite yet on the OU football team. So, he signed up for intramural flag football. Of course, many of his opponents did not know who he was, and he played receiver rather than quarterback so that his team did not have an unfair advantage. Baker had not thrown one pass during the entire season.  Jonathan still remembers the moment when he figured out who Mayfield was. Baker’s team was losing late in the game and as a last-ditch effort, pitched him the ball. Being the athlete that he was, Baker was still the best player on his team despite not playing his true position. The entire other team swarmed Baker, thinking he was the only threat to score. Mayfield proceeded to throw a hail-mary pass for a touchdown down the far sideline to win as time expired. After that, everyone realized that he was more than a student having fun but was really a D-1 football player.

Once OU Fitness and Recreation figured out that Baker had played football collegiately, they did not allow him to participate in intramural flag football. But for those few weeks, everyday students got to hangout and play football with a guy who would soon be cast into the spotlight and become a true Sooner legend.

“I think what is better about the story is that the year he played the most and did the most was his redshirt year when he lived in Headington Hall. And I just think he felt like a regular ol’ student,” Dewhirst says. It is an example of what Jonathan wants intramural sports to be. A place where students can come make connections with others, build friendships, exercise and enjoy their time away from the responsibilities for life. In talking with Dewhirst, one quickly realizes that he is all about the students.

Jonathan, in addition to running the intramural sports at OU, is an official for basketball, baseball and softball. Dewhirst has officiated youth through high school in basketball and baseball and has officiated softball at the collegiate level. Jonathan has a genuine passion for sports that he wants to share with others through intramurals. Dewhirst says the most rewarding thing about what he does is “dealing and working with students.” Whether it be students participating in intramurals or the students who work with him, he enjoys seeing their growth and being a mentor for them.

The graduate assistants who work for Jonathan appreciate his approach to teaching and mentoring them. Mike Fox, one of Dewhirst’s graduate assistants, describes Jonathan as laid back. “He gives us a chance to learn instead of just being like this is how we are going to do it, and this is how you are going to have to do it,” says Fox. Lance Boehm, another Graduate Assistant, describes him as supportive. Boehm says, “Jonathan gives us a lot of freedom to help run the program here,”. “He’s always allowing us to learn and be able to learn by doing,” says Boehm. Dewhirst’s approach is obviously effective. Former assistants of his now work at the sports and recreation departments at Loyola Chicago, Emporia State and Samford University as intramural sports directors.

Dewhirst also believes students are the most challenging aspect of his job. Typically, when students become officials for Jonathan, they either do not know much about the sport or they do not have confidence in themselves as an official. “They are looking at you bug-eyed like ‘I don’t have a clue what I’m doing’,” says Dewhirst. By the end of the season, some are confident and really progressed while others have not. “It becomes disappointing sometimes, and it is not very often, but it’s just like you have so much potential and you’re not using that potential, you’re not using that ability to lead or grow… you’re not challenging yourself to be better,”.

Running intramural sports leagues does come with challenges. The biggest issue with intramurals is simply getting people to play. In his first five or six years at OU, participation in intramurals increased steadily. Now, their numbers have plateaued. Students choose not to participate for various reasons. Some students may not have time while others may stray away because of their athletic ability. Some just have no interest in sports or fitness at all.

Dewhirst believes that maintaining a balance between more competitive teams and less competitive teams helps encourage students to participate. There is a place for students looking to compete and win as well as students who just play to have fun. No matter where on that spectrum a student falls, there is an opportunity. Despite this, intramural numbers at campuses across the nation have started to drop off. While colleges are trying to maintain participation, it seems this trend will continue. Gerry Armstrong, Assistant Director of OU Fitness and Recreation, believes trends in participation are cyclical. “You’ll see times of increase and everybody is excited, and they are being a part of it. Then you’ll find maybe one or two classes that aren’t as involved in athletics, and then they start to decline. So, you kind of ride the wave,” says Armstrong.

While intramural sports may just be a way to pass time for most people, it is more than that to Jonathan Dewhirst. It is an opportunity for students to make friends and meet new people, to stay active, to get their mind off of school and responsibilities and to have fun. It is a way for him to be involved with the student body and to see growth in students of all backgrounds. It is more than a game of flag football or softball. It is more than teaching a student to be a referee. It is a place where anyone and everyone, even Baker Mayfield, can enjoy the fellowship and fun that comes with sports. Big or small, athletically gifted or not, Jonathan Dewhirst wants students to get involved.

Q&A with Matthew Welsh

By Jarrett Standridge

Matthew Welsh is a Journalism and Supply Chain dual degree student in his last semester at OU. Between classes for two degrees, work and trying to get into law school, Matthew is the epitome of a busy college student. On top of all that, he is from Houston and has no family currently living in Oklahoma. Despite these challenges, Matthew continues to balance his responsibilities and push forward.

Jarrett Standridge: So, you said that you are originally from Houston, what brought you to OU?

Matthew Welsh: I came to OU because it just felt like a fit compared to everywhere else. I didn’t really want to go to [Texas] A&M because that’d be like… that wasn’t my vibe and then UT would’ve been like high school 2.0. So, I came here, felt like a fit… and then later on I discovered it was like a family tradition so that felt good. So, just a mix of family and fit.

JS: Do you have family from around here?

MW: Yeah, I have family from Healdton. They aren’t around here anymore, my mom and her side of the family has all moved out from Oklahoma but her side of the family actually grew up in Oklahoma and she grew up outside of Ardmore.

JS: What is it like going to school with not much family around?

MW: Sometimes it’s tough because, you know, you can’t drive home for dinner or something, which you miss sometimes. But, it’s also kind of freeing because you don’t have to worry about your mom driving that hour and a half or whatever it is close by to make sure that you’re doing well and all that. You kind of have to develop that independence that a lot of people don’t necessarily have if they can drive home for whatever help they need.

JS: How do you balance your classes and responsibilities?

MW: I don’t know. I got work and all that too just like everybody else. So, I don’t know, I don’t balance it very well apparently. I mean, I’m real stressed out. I take it day by day. Everyone figures out a way to handle it and I’m still figuring out a way to handle it too.

JS: When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, were you here or were you at home?

MW: Yeah, I was here and then I drove home to help out.

JS: What was that like?

MW: It wasn’t great. I really developed the sense of empathy and the sense to do something because I saw the weather every day and I saw my hometown on the news, it was pretty devastating. I really couldn’t focus, couldn’t do anything in school so as soon as the roads cleared, I drove home to help out over the weekend. I skipped a few days of school because I really wasn’t doing anything in school anyways so that’s what I really wanted to be doing.

JS: Was your home affected?

MW: We evacuated but luckily, my home wasn’t affected. But, a lot of my neighbors were gutting their homes by the time I got home.

JS: What was the initial scene like when you got down there?

MW: You saw a lot of living rooms on lawns, you saw a lot of bedrooms like just laying out everywhere because people had to gut their homes because of mold and all that. It was kinda, well, it was really sad because these are the people I grew up with and these are the people I live with and they’ve had their whole homes destroyed and there wasn’t much you could do to stop it. It was different because I’ve slept through hurricanes before. I slept through Hurricane Ike, I slept through Rita, I slept through Katrina and all that. I mean, my family from Louisiana was hurt during Katrina but it wasn’t in my front yard like it was for Harvey.

JS: What is the progress [in Houston] like now?

MW: There are parts were it’s really bad and you can see Harvey damage but for the most part, it’s back to where.. it’s slowly getting back to where it should be.

A Summer Night in a One-Stoplight Town

By Jarrett Standridge, JMC 3023

Nothing too eventful ever happens in Bridge Creek, Oklahoma, but when something does, everyone knows about it. Our town is a quiet one. The only stop light blinks above the crosswalk at the school. The roads are riddled with potholes the county can’t afford to fill. Everyone knows everyone, and you always get a wave when you pass someone. To have fun around here, you either go to the city, go fishing or do things you probably should not be. For my friend Jack and some of his buddies, the latter was exactly what they chose that night.

It was a warm June evening when our little community echoed with the sounds of sirens. 

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was sixteen years old. School had been out for a couple of weeks. Many of my classmates had recently gotten their driver’s licenses, so there were plenty of new drivers out on the bumpy roads around town. It was warm but a nice breeze would blow here and there.  My brothers and I were out in the front yard, throwing a baseball around. My parents sat on the porch, watching us and talking about their days. Our night was going about like every night before. All of a sudden, my brothers and I heard sirens. Their wails were faint at first but grew louder and louder. I looked at my brother Chandler and he shrugged.We thought EMS was going to the house of the elderly lady who lived up the street. But in minutes, it seemed like an army of emergency vehicles were converging right down the road. 

“Man,” I looked at my parents and said, “that must’ve been a bad one!” 

It was clear to me that somebody might’ve gone a little too fast over “Butterfly Hill.” The hill is less than a mile from my house. It seems like your typical rolling Oklahoma hill. From either side of it, you can’t tell how steep it is. However, you quickly realize the danger of Butterfly Hill when you reach the top and head down. I’ve grown used to it over the years, but for many, their stomach still drops. It almost feels like going over the top of a roller-coaster. Most of the time, the wrecks there were never serious, nothing more than a wake-up call for a careless teenage driver. But that night was more.

As my family and I went back inside for dinner, I looked back one last time in the direction of the hill. I noticed a medi-flight helicopter was landing in the field north of the road.

Just after we finished our meal, my dad’s phone rang. He looked down at the number, puzzled and went into the other room to answer it. I didn’t think much of it and went about my chores, putting up dishes and whistling some country song. My dad called me into the other room, closed the door and sat on the bed. I vividly remember the tears in my father’s eyes as he told me that my friend Jack had been the one who wrecked down the road. He and few other guys I played ball with were bored and went for a drive. One they would never forget.

I had seen my dad cry only one time before. That was when my Grandpa Doug, his dad, passed out behind the wheel and hit an oncoming semi head-on (Thankfully, he lived). To him, tears don’t fix anything. When I saw him crying, I knew he wasn’t making this story up. I didn’t know what to do. I stared at the ground in disbelief for what seemed like forever. I had never dealt with news like that before. My mind was running through various scenarios of what might have happened. 

My dad explained to me that Jack and the others were on their way to the hospital, but no one knew how bad it really was. In minutes, it seemed as though the whole town had heard the news. My phone was buzzing with texts from friends, asking about what had happened and what to do next. My parents’ phones were constantly ringing. Word spread like wildfire.

My friends Tyler, Levi, Hunter and I piled into the car and drove to the hospital, not knowing what we would find out. The first thing I saw when I got there were familiar faces weeping in one another’s arms. I distinctly remember locking eyes with Scoots Hames, my little league football and baseball coach, as we weaved through the crowd. He made a beeline for us as soon he spotted us. The flashing red and blue lights lit up his face as he tried to round up as many of us athletes as he could. Scoots had coached us all the way up to the beginning of middle school. He was like a second father to most of us. We trusted him, so we asked him for more information about the accident. We dreaded it, but we needed to know.

We soon found out that Jack had died at the scene and the other two, Tristan and Johnny, were being treated for their injuries. They were left with some cuts and bruises, and the horrific memory of that day. Like Jack, Tristan had grown up playing ball with us. We weren’t necessarily friends but we got along fine. Johnny had just moved to Bridge Creek a couple of months prior and I had never talked to him. The story was that they wanted to jump Butterfly Hill. When they reached the top, another car was waiting for them. The two vehicles hit head on, shattering parts in every direction. 

Jack was driving and didn’t make it.

His life was taken too soon by a poor choice many had made before him. Plenty of people had jumped the hill and lived to brag about it. The name of the hill was coined by bored, adrenaline seeking highschoolers just like my friend. Our community was stunned at the death of a neighbor, a classmate, a son. As I lay in bed that night, all I could think of was how this whole situation could’ve been avoided, how one phone call could’ve maybe saved my friend. 

I had known Jack since kindergarten. Bridge Creek was, and still is, a small school. Growing up, we had always played sports with and against each other. As we reached middle school, we became friends. We didn’t hangout much outside of school or athletics, but we goofed around in class and practice together. He was energetic, funny, and lit up any room he was in. He had a great heart, though he’d never let you know that. He was a fantastic athlete with a bright future. His home life wasn’t the greatest, but my parents and friends’ parents always made sure he got to the games or practices and that he always had what he needed. I can’t think of anyone who disliked him. I remember it seeming like the entire town attended Jack’s funeral. The captains of the football team walked to the coin flip of every game with his jersey held proudly. The baseball team wore his number on the back of our hats and had a sign hung on the fence to honor our late teammate. His little brother, Ethan, became the whole town’s little brother. Our community bonded over the loss.

Toward the end of the school year before his accident, Jack started making some choices that weren’t really like him. He started to get himself into trouble and hanging with some people he shouldn’t have. This is typical highschool behavior, so most of us shrugged it off. He’d grow out of it, we thought. 

Deep down, I always had this feeling that I needed to sit down with him and try to help get him back on the right path. I never did. I didn’t want my friend to think that I was some goodie two-shoes who believed I was better than him. 

That will always be the biggest regret in my life. 

Every day as I pass that bare, scarred earth underneath that tree, black from the fire of my friend’s truck, I think about Jack. About how I could’ve reached out to him, maybe persuaded him that his future was more important than partying and making dumb decisions all the time. I think about how much he impacted our town in the short time he was here. Above all, I think about my own cowardice. How I let my fear of what my friend might think of me keep me from trying. 

When I pass the cross made of busted baseball bats, surrounded by flowers and pictures of Jack, my stomach drops. I remember how fast things can change. I remember that we never know when someone will be gone. I remember to reach out, to try. 

You never know when you could make a difference by just sitting someone down and listening. I’d like to think that I’ve become a better friend since then, though it should’ve never taken such a tragedy.

Story Behind the Story

https://oklahoman.com/article/5638906/ou-football-how-lincoln-riley-escapes-from-the-grind-of-coaching-with-fishing

The piece I chose was about Lincoln Riley and how he uses fishing trips to get some much needed relaxation during the off-season. This article was written by Ryan Aber of The Oklahoman. Ryan told me that this story started out as him just noticing Riley’s tweets about the fishing trips. Another media member asked Riley about it at Big 12 Media Days and Ryan decided to ask some follow up questions. Once Ryan had a solid base of information, he reached out to Bob Stoops after his induction into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame. Before Stoops retired, he had gone to Vermejo Park, New Mexico with Riley to fish. After talking to Stoops, Ryan then talked with Clarke Stroud, former OU Dean of Students and current director of football operations for Coach Riley, who shared an interest in fishing from the beginning of Lincoln’s time at OU.

Ryan wrote the piece the way he did to show that Riley’s love for fishing not only gives he and his staff an opportunity to escape, but also gave him a lifelong friendship with Stroud and a way to maintain his relationship with Stoops. I like the way he pivots from stories of recent trips to a story of Stoops’ first fishing with Riley. It shows how instrumental these simple trips were in forging relationships with the two.

As for Ryan’s backstory, he told me that he knew he wanted to be a sportswriter since he was 14. After a year in college and a year in the army, Ryan moved to eastern Oklahoma for school. One day, he walked into the Muskogee Phoenix and asked if he could help them cover high school football. After a year, Ryan became a full time writer covering business first before moving to sports. After his time there, he moved to Fort Smith, Arkansas where he covered high school sports. He then moved to Springdale, Arkansas, first covering high schools before covering the Arkansas Razorbacks. In October of 2006, he came back to Oklahoma, again covering high schools. In 2013, after covering minor-league baseball and hockey, Ryan transitioned to his current beat, The University of Oklahoma.

What I learned from talking with Ryan is that as a journalist, you need to be willing to bounce around. If you are flexible and willing, you will have a job. Another thing I took from our conversation is that you can not be afraid to put yourself out there. If he had not walked into that office in Muskogee, he may not be where he is now. Ryan told me that though it is cliche, his favorite part of his job is the people he has met including players, coaches, fans, and other media members. He enjoys being able to tell stories of who he covers.