Forced out as the head football coach at Eagle Point High in January, Jacob Schauffler wasn't sure what direction he would go in the early aftermath...
The conclusion of any regular season schedule also brings about the need for that sport's all-conference voting as a means to put things in perspective and recognize the achievements by the athletes involved.
Truth be told, many of these lists are laughable, if only for the number of players who ultimately get some sort of honor. When I find myself feeling the need to question a list that we receive from the coaches — and, yes, they are exclusively responsible for the all-star voting — it usually stems from the sheer numbers involved. When a first-team listing has almost twice as many players as you would field for a starting lineup in that sport, you've gone a little overboard.
I know why it's done, to give more players a chance for the all-state voting and to keep up with other leagues up north who maybe aren't as selective. I get it. I don't like it, but I get it.
I didn't think I'd feel compelled to take to task an all-conference vote for who it didn't have on it, however, but here we are. The Southern Oregon Hybrid girls basketball coaches made sure of that.
The Mail Tribune used to oversee many of the all-conference coaches meetings with nicely catered meals and open discussion, much of which never saw the light of day because there's a certain diplomacy one needs to adhere to when it comes to such meetings. But with all that transpired when the SOH girls basketball coaches got together on their own, it just didn't seem right to not shed light on some events.
From the selection process of the player of the year to the ensuing all-SOH honorees and other prevailing issues, there's really not much that doesn't leave one shaking their head.
"There were a couple votes that were interesting, to say the least," said Roseburg head coach Jeff Thomas.
Added Crater head coach J.T. Thomas: "There were a lot of things about that night that fall into the category of embarrassing. ... If you're looking at the result of that stuff, you scratch your head on some of that."
The first and foremost point that needs to be made is none of my commentary is meant to demean any of the young ladies who were fortunate enough to have their names fall on the list. I have personally seen almost all of them play at some point and would never belittle their hard work and dedication to the sport. In all honesty, there is not a single name on the list that doesn't deserve a pat on their back for their accomplishments this season.
That said, the final ranking of some of the names involved is a little intriguing, to say the least.
As much as I appreciate the considerable efforts of Grants Pass senior Annie Edgar, and she is a wonderful example of hard work and determination, she is a first-team all-conference player — no more, no less — given the company she keeps. To have Edgar chosen as player of the year in a league dominated by South Medford, ranked No. 1 in the state and among the top 25 in two national polls, is a travesty and one that will undoubtedly raise eyebrows throughout the state.
It's nothing she did, Edgar just went out and played hard each night, but her accomplishments are just not on the same level as any number of Panthers, who just wrapped up their second straight undefeated SOH campaign and first unbeaten regular season at 25-0.
As far as impact for their team on a nightly basis, few could stack up with the efforts of South Medford junior guards Yaremi Mejia and Kylie Towry, whose eye-popping numbers filled the stat sheets on every line even with diminished playing time — or having the brakes applied by head coach Tom Cole — due to the Panthers' routine blowouts. For Mejia it was 12 points, seven assists, five rebounds and four steals per game, and her counterpart Towry averaged nearly 19 points, four assists, four rebounds and three steals per game. All that for the first-place and defending champions, not the SOH's No. 3 team.
Combined with the efforts of fellow starters Tess Picknell, Luisa Tago, Ashley Bolston and Andee Ritter — South rotated six players into the starting five this season — that group's average margin of victory in SOH games was by 36 points. For perspective, SOH runner-up Crater scored an average of 53 points per game this season, second-best to you-know-who in the league.
"I don't want to take anything away from those girls, Towry and Mejia in my mind are definitely player of the year-type kids," said GP head coach Scott Wakefield, "but I also think Annie's a deserving candidate. To what magnitude, that's what the other coaches vote for."
Coaches nominate players for first-team consideration and from that list typically has come a conversation that whittles down to a final vote on who should be named player of the year. All the 6A coaches are involved, as well as 5A hybrid mates Ashland and Eagle Point — which is another matter to be addressed later.
Given his team's dominance and a personal feeling that he couldn't single out one player above another, Cole opted to nominate the aforementioned six leaders of his team for consideration. In his mind, that's what his players rightfully deserved given the season they just completed. The Panthers are No. 19 in the MaxPreps Freeman rankings and No. 22 in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 national polls.
"Did I expect that all of them would be first-team kids, no, but I really felt that our kids had earned the other coaches' respect to be considered for more than what the voting ended up," added Cole.
The problem there is, when you make a case for how much better six of your players are than just about everyone else, it tends to tick some people off. No matter how your team fared in the season, each coach tends to have that one special player or two who is near and dear to their heart because of all the blood, sweat and tears they've given in pursuit of success. As a coach, you don't want to hear that those players don't stack up against the others, even if it is mostly by you reading between the lines instead of how it was outwardly presented.
In reality, Cole should have made the hard choice coaches need to make, paring down his list to one or two for player of the year voting and then trying for a third first-teamer. Does that mean a deserving player or two falls to the second team, absolutely, but there is a sense of community that needs to be adhered to in these situations. No matter how great the South Medford boys teams have been in the past with the likes of the Singlers and Fiegis and Johnsons, I can't recall an all-conference team that had more than three Panthers on the first team.
Did Cole's decision to let the rest of the coaches sort out his "all equals" dilemma muddy the waters? It's hard to tell. Edgar received three of the seven player-of-the-year votes while Mejia and Towry got two votes apiece. Since coaches aren't allowed to vote for their own player, Cole's vote went to Edgar and Wakefield's went to Mejia, who also got the nod from J.T. Thomas.
"I think Annie Edgar is a great kid and she was very deserving of a first-team all-conference place, she really was," said Cole. "I just think it's hard for me to understand how two more people thought she was better than anybody South put on the floor."
To be honest, though, the player of the year voting wasn't nearly as egregious as what transpired when the final balloting was complete. To provide a numerical breakdown to help settle matters, the SOH girls coaches adopted the boys coaches' way of handling matters, which meant ranking 10 players from those nominated by their peers. Again, a coach can't vote for their own players and the best player gets a value of 10, the next is nine and so on.
On one list, Mejia was listed ninth and Towry 10th, both just behind North Medford's leading scorer McKensey Peters in overall ranking.
"There were purposeful attempts to leave off our kids and that was not debatable," noted Cole, who quite naturally was fuming at such a lack of integrity by at least one of his peers.
To be clear, even throwing that one ballot out of the equation wouldn't have altered the final team standing for any of the girls other than having one or two leapfrog another on the first or second team.
Still, any system you use is only as good as the integrity of those voting in it. Such voting practices, and it's worth noting the boys list wasn't without its notable quirks, simply should not be tolerated.
"Why that happens, I don't know," said J.T. Thomas. "When you take a look at it, it's like, 'Wow, how personal could that have been?' rather than, 'Was that really a fair evaluation into those kids?'"
Which brings me to the final point, that this odd pairing of having the 6A SOH and 5A SOH coaches collaborate on a vote is not a reasonable solution for the coaches or players. When you see a team only once a year, as opposed to the 6A teams which play each other three times and see each other considerably in the offseason, it's difficult to have a true barometer on how each player stacks up against the rest.
If Annie Edgar turned an ankle and didn't play against Eagle Point, which went 3-19 this year, or Yaremi Mejia played only one half against Ashland, which lost by 52 points to South this year, how accurately can they be judged in good conscience? What if a team's fourth-leading scorer erupts for 30 points in that one meeting but averages only eight points against everyone else?
It's a situation that doesn't seem to work for either party, which is why the voting should be split, with 6A coaches making their list and the 5A coaches making a five or six-player first team.
"We're in a hybrid league for whatever reason it was determined but I don't think it's fair for me to vote for them as much as it's fair for them to vote for us," said J.T. Thomas. "It does them no good in a state balloting if they have no kids anywhere to be seen on any part of the ballot. There's no recognition for 5A kids down here and no coach of the year for 5A, and that's not fair. It's not their choice to be part of this with only two teams down here, and I feel for them, but this is not a fair process for any of us."