Friday, January 6, 2012

Myths and truths about Players of the Week

Our high school sports Players of the Week feature is one of the most popular parts of our sports section, online and in print. Whether readers are looking for the top athletes or goofy hobbies from the honorees, they draw eyeballs.

Sometimes I wish we had a different title for them, though. By the strictest definition, it would be the absolute best performances of the previous seven days, and that's how they're sometimes interpreted. Readers occasionally wonder why what would seem like an obvious Player-of-the-Week performance didn't make it.

Players of the Week serves a couple purposes:

1) It allows us to highlight performances we missed in our regular coverage. We can't be at every game, and this allows us to make up for that.

2) They're economical. It's like putting eight small features in the space of one big one.

We also a have a few ground rules:

- We only take nominations from coaches or those appointed by the coach.

- We encourage nominations, but we don't seek out specific ones. We get more than enough just by publicizing the weekly deadline. One exception: A few years ago, we hadn't received any lacrosse nominations in the first few weeks of the spring season. We thought perhaps coaches weren't aware we include lacrosse. So we notified area schools that, indeed, we would like to include lacrosse in Players of the Week, but we can't until someone is nominated.

- An athlete can only be a Player of the Week once per season (fall, winter, spring). No matter how good the performance is, it defeats the purpose of the feature to take a spot away from someone else to honor an athlete for a second time in a season.

When the strict interpretation of the title and our reasons for doing Players of the Week collide, it makes for some funny moments.

In a recent year (I'm avoiding specifics so as not to identify the party), we did a big preseason story on an athlete who had a Division I scholarship. A couple weeks into the season, the athlete's coach nominated him for Player of the Week. He and another athlete had comparable weeks. For us, it was an easy call - we picked the other kid.

The coach sent us a scathing email, incredulous as to how we didn't pick his Division I recruit over the other athlete. We were equally incredulous - why would we pick someone we just wrote a big story about a couple weeks prior? To us, Players of the Week are not MVP trophies or an all-out, Darwinistic battle for supremacy. They're about getting names and pictures in the paper.

Instances like those come up from time to time. So do imbalances in which sports are selected. This week, for example, we had four basketball players, two wrestlers and a swimmer. Why? Because those were the sports that were nominated. We would love to include the other winter sports, and we encourage nominations from hockey, bowling and gymnastics. But nominations are voluntary -- we're not the government. We can't make anyone do it.

- Howard Primer



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