Thoughts of a sports journalist

By Wes Holtsclaw

   All across the state, people have been talking about the upset.
   I have been bombarded with questions from this area and Sunday afternoon as I sat in the press box during halftime of the Tennessee Titans-Miami Dolphins game, four journalists from across the state wanted to know about the CAK-Cloudland game.
   It was hard to come up with the answers they were seeking.
   I simply told them that both teams played hard, but CAK played to win right down to the end and Cloudland came up a little short.
   During my time here at the STAR, people from around the county have always jokingly teased me about my Highlander football coverage and how I was too biased.
   Perhaps I have been to an extent, but it's hard not to be when you're covering guys you grew up with and coaches you sat across from in the classroom.
   The past two years after Cloudland's losses in the playoffs, I could point out a remark against "the private schools" or how "so and so did this or that."
   I couldn't do that Sunday.
   As with the other first round losses involving county schools, it was hard to imagine what was going through the minds of the guys who were out there on the field.
   It's hard to imagine what the coaches were thinking; what they would've done different if anything at all.
   I thought about Tim Whaley and the seniors at Happy Valley.
   The Warrior team fought around several obstacles this season and did better than many people expected.
   I was fortunate enough to do some weekly previews, features and games for that squad in 2002. After I met those boys and saw the hard work that Coach Stan Ogg and his staff put into every week, I became a Happy Valley fan.
   It was disappointing to discover that they had been defeated as it was to find out that Unaka failed in their first playoff bid since 1994.
   People have criticized the Rangers all year because of their schedule and numerous other things. Mike Ensor showed why he did those things this year and why those things are going to improve the program on Stoney Creek.
   In recent years, many of the athletes in that area wanted to focus on basketball or baseball because of its success. Hopefully, next season the Rangers will get more numbers out for football.
   The playoffs are just a small step and the squad will continue to get there in the future. For that work, I am a Ranger fan.
   The pain was also felt in Elizabethton, where the Cyclones fell in the first round to Cherokee.
   Thinking of Elizabethton's season, they turned a disappointment into a success. I wanted to see good things out of the Cyclone squad this season, not only because I often shot basketball with one of their star players in grade school.
   When I found out about Tommy Jenkins' health issues and how things allowed him to bounce back on the field, I was happy. I became a Cyclone fan because of their desire and dedication in striving for the Mountain Lakes Conference title.
   I saw my friends at Cloudland after their football game and they were visibly shocked and upset. The coaches were visibly shocked and upset.
   There was a sense of disappointment around the atmosphere and it was hard to find the words to say afterwards to guys like Mark Byrd and Dakota Benfield.
   I guess this weekend, I was disappointed that NONE of the county schools advanced. But everyone should be proud of what all of the seniors have accomplished during their tenures with their schools.
   Whether it be leading the region in rushing to making a tackle on special teams, the kids worked very hard. So what if they lost in the first round.
   That shouldn't take away from anything on and off the field of play.
   There are those who only play football and then there are those who will carry on as planned with the other sports.
   What happened Friday night should not effect what happens with their lives.
   That is the big picture and if one of those players feel they have let everyone down or nobody is proud of them, I am proud of them for just taking the time to play athletics and get involved around their school.
   Seasons change and now basketball is upon us, but for those players at all of our local schools, including Johnson County and Hampton, who gave their all on Friday nights for the past four years up until last week... congratulations on a job well done.
   Now it's time to predict the final regular season standings in Region 1-AA and 1-A this season. Will it happen? Probably not, because there are so many shake ups throughout the season.
   I believe this is the year of Volunteer in the Watauga Conference, with Charles Lindholm having a breakout campaign. Sullivan Central and Sullivan North will be tough, but Happy Valley, Elizabethton and Hampton aren't too far behind as they sport good coaching and could be around the top at the end of the year.
   1. Volunteer, 2. Sullivan Central, 3. Sullivan North, 4. Happy Valley, 5. Elizabethton, 6. Hampton, 7. Johnson County, 8. Unicoi County
   Ben Godsey has got the Lady Warrior squad better, this year is their chance to take it over. I believe the Happy Valley ladies will be talented enough to win the league, but the girls race in the Watauga will be closer than ever before.
   Any team in the top four could realistically come out on top.
   1. Happy Valley, 2. Sullivan Central, 3. Unicoi County, 4. Elizabethton (tie), 4. Hampton (tie), 6. Volunteer, 7. Sullivan North, 8. Johnson County
   It's no surprise that Unaka and Cloudland are at the top of this region. It was just last year that both teams came up a little short in the race towards the state tournament, while the third place team in the league, University High, advanced towards the state semi-finals.
   Both teams could easily win on their home court all season, but the Rangers are playing Science Hill and Tennessee High. That competition could be to their advantage.
   1. Unaka, 2. Cloudland, 3. University High, 4. North Greene, 5. Clinch
   With a returning group of talented juniors, the Unaka Lady Rangers should own the Watauga Valley Conference this year. Coach Ken Chambers has worked his squad hard during the offseason to prepare them for a possible state tournament berth.
   Cloudland and North Greene will battle for the second slot.
   1. Unaka, 2. Cloudland, 3. North Greene, 4. University High