The first person to address the joint meeting was Ronnie Baines, a Talladega High School alum who has coached football, baseball and basketball all over the state, and currently works for the National Football League.
“I am a product of Talladega,” he said. “I am a product of good teachers and a good recreation program. My dad coached at (Alabama School for the Deaf), and I’ve been coaching ever since I graduated from Auburn.”
Baines went on to say, “I want to share a little bit of what I’ve learned in the 52 years since I graduated. I made some mistakes, but I learned from them, and I’ve had some successes, too. So when you’re looking for a new coach, you may want to go back to the fundamentals, to the basics. I recommend that you back to the fundamentals and to the basics. I’m not pointing any fingers, and I’m not trying to tell you what to do. But I will tell you this. You could get the reincarnation of Paul Bryant coaching and you wouldn’t win right now. You’ve had some good coaches in the last few years. And there are a lot of positives in this town. This is a good sports town, and that’s not going to change. I’m sorry to see you going from 6A to 5A, but it will give you an opportunity to play some schools you can be competitive with.”
Baines described his ideal sports program as a triangle, beginning with younger children at the widest point.
“At the bottom, you want some sports education. You teach health, you teach fundamentals, drills. You need kids understanding the dangers of drugs and alcohol and tobacco, and they need that in a formatted form that fits in with everything else. You need to teach them running, throwing, catching, hitting, dribbling, shooting. Then you teach them health, how to get along with others and how to play by the rules. You need to get involved citywide. You can improve skills and responsibilities with things like bike rides, runs and jump rope contests.”
The next, narrower component of the triangle involves intramural sports. He said he had coached three different baseball teams (high school, Little League and Babe Ruth League, with 13-year-old All-Stars in the summer) at Tallassee, and it had made a difference. “The coach has to be involved at all levels,” he said. “That’s very important for success in a town this size.”
Then, of course, the top of the triangle is interscholastic competition.
“When I coached baseball at Mountain Brook, they wanted me to coach seventh and eighth graders, but I didn’t want to do that,” he said. “I’d rather have 70 or 80 playing instead of 15.”
In football, for instance, he suggested teaching the fundamentals from first through third grade, then tag or flag football for fifth and sixth graders, adding some contact at the intramural level. Whether or not seventh and eighth graders play competitively should be up to the coach. The same is true for basketball, he said.
He also stressed the importance of getting the larger community and local churches involved. “There’s an economic benefit, too. “In Tallassee, I finally got something going after seven or eight years. We had three pitchers that could throw faster than 90 miles per hour. All three of them got scholarships and all three went pro. Two of them were from the projects, and were able to help move their mothers out of the projects.”
In response to a question from Council President Donnie Miller, Baines said there is a benefit to having more children at the junior high school level on the team, even if they don’t play. “They all learn, even if they don’t ever get in the game.”
In response to a question from board member James Braswell, “You need the whole community supporting the program starting at the recreation level, and then you’ve got to stick with the basics.”
City Parks and Recreation Director Stacy Jones was the other major speaker, and he said “I’m not from here, I live in Attalla, and I went to Etowah County High School. I had been working in Talladega for a full year before I ever saw anybody in a Talladega High School shirt. I still haven’t seen a bumper sticker. I want to start get our youth teams into the homecoming parade, and I want to see people here step up. We had phenomenal teams when I was in high school, and that went down to the middle school level. We had a basketball coach that ran people off if they didn’t show up for practice on time. People need to rally around our sports and our schools. We have our kids traveling now, and when they come home, they’re chanting ‘Dega, Dega’ not Red Team or Orange Team. They need to be challenged early and have something to look forward to. These kids took pride.”
Councilman Joe Ballow said that Talladega High School kids weren’t interested because the teams had been losing for so long.
“But,” Jones said, “once they start finally overcoming that, getting some close scores, it really resonates.”
Andrea Montgomery pointed out that she had read once that “the best thing a small community can have is a winning football team.
Jones also pointed out that the numbers start dropping off in sixth and seventh grade, when students transition to middle school. This is the point where parents are most likely to move or send their children to other schools.
“I am lucky to be here, and I love working with the youth here,” he concluded. “But I want to see some bumper stickers.”
Miller speculated that video games were one major factor in the decline of youth sports, and encouraged the board members to revive the more athletic aspects of elementary school field days. He also lamented the loss of local radio stations to broadcast game schedules for people who don’t read the newspaper.
Jones concluded that, “When parents don’t hear what they want to hear, they’ll go up to the next person, all the way up to where they’re complaining to the school board. Let your coach do his job, without having to worry what’s going on behind his back.”
He also speculated that expectations were too low at every level.
Contact Chris Norwood at email@example.com.