Monthly Archives: June 2016

COLUMN: Fighting for a following

Pat Summitt passed away on Tuesday.

If you aren’t familiar with her, she is the all-time leader in coaching wins in NCAA Division I basketball history. Not just women’s basketball, but men’s too; more wins than names like Mike Krzyzewski, Bob Knight, Dean Smith and Adolph Rupp.

Pat Summitt was a pioneer.

If you aren’t familiar with her, unfortunately you are not alone.

Women’s sports are on the rise across the country, but there’s still a long way to go.

One of the biggest areas lacking is respect.

June 23 marked the 44th anniversary of the passing of Title IX. While it has created opportunities that previously weren’t there for women, it hasn’t had a big effect on the perception of those sports and the respect the players get.

After the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA Finals, headlines were written about how Cleveland is no longer the sports market with at least three major sports teams suffering the longest title droughts in pro sports.

The new title-holder, according to many, is Minneapolis-St. Paul.

There’s only one problem with that – it’s not true.

In fact, Minneapolis-St. Paul had a pro sports team at the White House on Monday to be recognized as the reigning champs. The Minnesota Lynx have won three championships in the last five years.

It’s not good enough for many sports fans.

Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve recognizes this and has gone on the offensive. Whether on social media or in press conferences, she’s not afraid to speak her mind about how the WNBA is portrayed. It’s not about men’s sports vs. women’s sports for her though, saying in a recent tweet, “I like the men’s game too! We can do both.”

Not everyone sees it the same way, but Reeve won’t give up.

“We feel like every day we’re fighting it but it’s worth the fight,” she said in a recent column by Chip Scoggins of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “It drains the heck out of you. There are some days you walk out of here so angry at some of the things that you hear and see because it’s not right.”

One of the upsetting remarks I’ve heard is that a high school boys basketball team could beat a WNBA team. Who cares? It’s a different level of basketball, but that doesn’t make one better or worse than the other.

We’ve been blessed with some great female athletes in the Marshall area over the years – from Mary Jo Miller to Shannon Bolden to Riley Nordgaard, Taylor Reiss and Marah Mulso. Many of these players had high school careers you could put up against any area male athletes and they’d easily hold their own.

The list of names will continue to grow as women’s sports continue to grow. People like Pat Summitt have been pioneers, but it’s the pioneers of today who are trying to take it to the next step.

Cheryl Reeve and her players are part of the growth that will happen. But the biggest growth needs to come from you, the fan.

Give women’s sports a chance. It doesn’t matter what game you go to; just go. You just might be watching the area’s next pioneer for women’s sports.

 -This column was published in the June 30 edition of the Marshall Independent. Direct link: http://www.marshallindependent.com/page/content.detail/id/585871/COLUMN–Fighting-for-a-Following.html

AREA BASKETBALL: SW MN Stars to host Drake Bigler Memorial Invite

MARSHALL – Thirty high school teams are competing in the fourth annual Drake Bigler Memorial Invite today in Marshall.

The first games of the day tip off at 8:45 a.m. with games running all day at Marshall High School and at Southwest Minnesota State.

The tournament is hosted by the Southwest Minnesota Stars AAU program and teams come from southwestern Minnesota, eastern South Dakota and northwestern Iowa.

The tournament was named after Drake Bigler, the five-month-old son of Brad and Heather Bigler who was killed in a 2012 drunk driving collision.

“We are thankful to the Southwest Minnesota Stars program for using Drake’s name to help improve awareness for drunk driving,” Brad Bigler said. “I am thankful for Ross and Ryan’s relationship being more than just basketball. They do things the right way and it is an honor to have them use Drake’s name to make a difference.”

A portion of the event proceeds will be donated to the Drake Bigler Memorial Fund.

Stars director Ryan Reitsma says Bigler and SMSU have been a great supporter of the Stars over the years, which includes letting the program use SMSU facilities for player development and team practices.

“My brother Ross approached Brad about naming this tournament after Drake,” Reitsma said. “At the time, we wanted to simply wanted to help remember Drake and help give a reminder to young people of how important it is to make solid choices and to understand the potential impact of choices you make every day on the lives of others. Hopefully running a tournament named after Drake for years to come will generate reminders for people directly outside of the Marshall and SMSU communities who are familiar with Brad and Heather’s story.”

Many of the players who are in the Stars program will be playing in today’s tournament.

In addition to three Marshall teams, other schools participating include Jackson County Central, Mountain Lake Area, Sioux Falls Washington, Tracy-Milroy-Balaton, Russell-Tyler-Ruthton, Dawson-Boyd, Westbrook-Walnut Grove and Murray County Central.

“One unique thing is having many of our players compete with their high school team in one tournament on the same day, which allows them to support each other while playing on their high school team,” Reitsma said. “Directing and operating this tournament also gives us an opportunity to personally engage with high school coaches directly and get to know them as people who mentor players in our program.”

That relationship is something rare in AAU basketball.

For the Stars, they strive to be step in step with the high school coaches.

“We value relationships with high school coaches as we greatly appreciate their dedication and time invested into the lives of young men through coaching and mentoring,” Reitsma said. “Very few people fully understand and appreciate the dynamics of their role and investment they are making into their role of coaching. As a program, we work to be something that will supplement what high school coaches are working to accomplish in developing skills and solid basketball fundamentals, but also challenging them to be outstanding teammates.”

Price of admission is $7 for adults and $3 for children.

Wyoming’s Hill won’t be a secret for long

There are a lot of good running backs in college football, but one of the best may be a kid you’ve never heard of.

Oh, who am I kidding?! I’m writing on a website devoted to Wyoming Cowboys fans, you’ve all heard of him. But outside of Laramie and the UW community, the name Brian Hill goes largely unnoticed.

I shouldn’t need to list all of his accomplishments for you, but I will anyways. He was a 2015 Doak Walker Award semifinalist and was named 2015 second-team all-Mountain West. His 2015 season was ninth-best in the country and led the Mountain West. He set the UW single-season rushing record by nearly 200 yards and he now sits fifth on the UW career rushing list, just 536 yards shy of the top spot.

So what is it that people are missing?

I think the biggest thing that goes unnoticed is his intangibles. Just ask his position coach:

“Our strength coach will tell you he’s the hardest working guy in the weight room,” Mike Bath told the Belleville (Illinois) News-Democrat in December. “He wants to be the best and when you find a coachable kid like that, you have somebody’s that’s really special … his football IQ is so high. His ‘want to’ is off the charts.”

On the field, Hill is an old-school RB. He will run you over if you get in his way. At 6-foot-1 and 219 pounds, Hill is built to take a beating. He’s tough enough to play through injury, as seen in his freshman season against Fresno State.

Speaking of the Fresno State game, has a dominant performance ever gotten as little publicity as Hill got after that one. He got a bit of recognition in the week following the game, but it pales in comparison to the hype some other college RBs would’ve received with a similar performance.

In case you’ve forgotten, Hill ran for 281 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries and caught three passes for 106 yards. His 387 all-purpose yards were a Mountain West Conference record. Oh yeah, and that was the first start of his career for the true freshman.

Even opposing coaches are noticing. One MWC rival’s coach sees similarities between Hill and one of the NFL’s best young RBs.

“He runs a little upright like Todd (Gurley) but still has the ability to get behind his pads and break tackles, which is impressive,” CSU coach Mike Bobo told The Coloradoan in November. “I think that’s how you judge a great back. It’s almost never going to be big every time. It’s the ability to break tackles and get yards after contact and then when you do give him a hole, he’s able to take it the distance.”

Still, Hill flies under the radar in terms of national perception. I expect that to continue through most of the season. That’s actually something that could work in our favor, as he may decide to stay at UW for his senior season. The depth at RB will push him down draft boards, and he may want to improve that draft stock.

He’s a bit limited right now in his overall skill set as a RB. He still needs to improve both his pass-blocking and pass-catching if he wants to potentially be more than a two-down back in the NFL. Still, his ability with the ball in his hands will translate across any era. There will always be a need for physical runners inside the tackle.

Yet he still goes unnoticed on a national scale. Why?

He’s in a loaded class. The 2015 sophomore class featured Christian McCaffrey, Leonard Fournette, Royce Freeman and Dalvin Cook. All from Power 5 schools, and all with more rushing yards than Hill. Those guys have been on the national scene since high school, while Wyoming was one of just three Group of 5 offers. Even in the greater St. Louis area, he was overshadowed by the higher-profile Ezekiel Elliott, who was a year ahead of him in school just 23 miles down the road.

It’s also tougher to get noticed in the West. The exposure seems to always be heavily weighted towards the East Coast teams and players. Top teams of the West will usually get their due, but even that can take a little longer than it should. I’m not sure how many expect him to declare for the draft early either, as it tends to be less common at lower-profile schools.

Last year’s schedule also works against Hill, because even the highest-profile games weren’t seen by a wide audience. The highest-profile game was against Washington State. Though it was a relatively early start, the game went up against Stanford-USC for ratings. Good luck with that! None of the four games on the ESPN family of networks started before 10:15 p.m. on the East Coast. Going up against that schedule will always make it more difficult to be seen.

This season can go a long way to Hill being recognized on a larger scale. Week 2 at Nebraska will be Hill’s first opportunity to make a statement. Nebraska is a national brand. Even if the Huskers aren’t what they once were, they still finished second in the Big Ten in rushing defense in 2015. It will be a good test and I expect Hill to be up for the challenge.

Thankfully, the Cowboys should be better in 2016. With more wins comes more exposure.

Whether we have him for one year or two, let’s not take the Brian Hill era for granted. It’d be easy to gloss over the era because it hasn’t started with much team success, but we are witnessing history every time he hits the field from here on out.

Everyone around Laramie and the UW community knows the name Brian Hill and it won’t be long before the world knows his name.