Sunday, February 25, 2007

He said, she said, he said: Bell City in the thick of MSHSAA's mess

If you're not yet lost in the fog that hangs over the sports programs at Bell City, Naylor and Scott County Central, you're one of the lucky ones. Or maybe it's better not to know the sordid details, since the whole series of accusations is so ridiculously complex, ego-driven and routinely distorted, it's best left to the message boards and small-town coffee shops where the whole mess has sprouted like a fungus.

You probably at least know all the major players: Bell City despises Scott County Central, Scott Central doesn't like Bell City, Naylor doesn't like Bell City but does like Scott Central in part because of family and attorney ties, and in part because Scott Central doesn't like Bell City.

On the sidelines is a state sanctioning body whose rules enforcement ability changes with the weather, a newspaper with a list of ethical problems that would fill a Sunday edition, and gaggles of fans, coaches and administrators with an inability to set aside ego and pride.

The count, for those with scorecards: three investigations (Bell City, Naylor and Scott Central), two civil suits (one by Heeb, one by Naylor) one suspended coach (Heeb), one district basketball title wiped out(Naylor), two Cooksons (the Scott Central coach and Naylor superintendent) and one attorney (who represents both Heeb and the Naylor schools).

The only potential winners in any of this are the graduating seniors who, in a few months, will grab their diploma, walk out the door and get the hell out before more walls come tumbling down. Pity the juniors who have to stick around another year. With a little luck they'll learn from their peers' mistakes and in a few years find a better way to run our high schools and the groups responsible for their oversight. The losers: Naylor, for looking like a snitch; Scott Central, for appearing vindictive; and Bell City, for the uncanny ability to piss off so many people.

It's reality television played out on a Southeast Missouri stage, full of the same potentially divisive outcomes and legions of viewers that come and go with the storylines.

At least with reality TV, we can turn it off once it gets impossible to watch.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Local athletes on MySpace: How much do you want to see?

Maybe you're familiar with Maybe you're not.

But chances are, the next high-school-aged athlete you see probably is. And there's a good chance he or she has already created a page on MySpace, probably full of personal information, photos, likes and dislikes and comments from other MySpace users. And it's all there for you, me or anybody else to find within seconds.

In fact, MySpace pages have become so popular among high school and college athletes that schools like Louisiana State and Northwestern have suspended athletes because of inappropriate content. College coaches routinely scrutinize the pages of potential recruits, and some coaching staffs appoint assistant coaches to randomly check MySpace pages of current athletes throughout the school year to avoid potentially embarrassing or illegal content.

The athletes, of course, can avoid all of this by adhering to what one college coach calls the "Grandma rule." If your MySpace page includes anything that you wouldn't want your Grandma to see, you should remove it. Another solution: MySpace users have the option to click the "private" setting that prevents any unauthorized visitors from seeing the page's content. Consider it the online version of closing your curtains at night before you get undressed.

And now the dilemma: Would you look through those bedroom curtains if they're left wide open? already has already posted dozens and dozens of personal web sites of athletes and sports personalities from across the region, all of them available on our links page. But we're on the verge of taking what appears to be the unprecedented step of listing the links to the MySpace pages of familiar names in Southeast Missouri sports, whether they're athletes, coaches or others involved in local sports.

There are good arguments on both sides. Some people have told me that MySpace users never intended for their personal pages to be made available to the average web user, so they should remain that way. Others counter that unless users mark their profile as "private," it can be seen by parents, teachers, school administrators and coaches within seconds anyway. And besides, should they have something to hide?

I'm eager to hear your thoughts. So far there's a list of about 30 MySpace pages ready to add to our links page with more to come; most of them are mature, interesting and hardly scandalous, but some of them don't come close to meeting the Grandma rule.

The question is: What do we do?