RAMBLINGS • A Word Or Two On Sports Stats

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Journal-News apologies go to Hillsboro quarterback Zane Duff, whose stats under the "passing" category were close to correct (I had him for 25 completions, not 23), but whose name was not. I’m sure Connor Overby was a capable quarterback for Nokomis, but he didn’t play for the Toppers.

Let me explain how the misprint may have happened. For the first time since 1970 I wasn’t the official stats person for the Toppers (call me if you want to know why). Technology was involved instead; Huddle, the service that distributes game films to schools and individuals who subscribe to their services, provides statistical reports per game based on reports they receive electronically from the school. This season Coach Reeds’ brother–in–law drove from Edwardsville to film the games; he replaced Felix Powell, who had braved the weather on top of press boxes for years to tape the games.

Stats were taken via Chromebook (or a similar device that I won’t use–ever) by Chase Connor and Chad Zimmerman on the sidelines. Previously I had sat in the stands at away games or in the press box at Sawyer Field and recorded what I saw offensively on a self-devised play-by-play sheet; an assistant coach, most recently Roger Fath, kept defensive stats. on the sideline. After the games I would trot out to the post-game huddle to retrieve that sheet; at home I would transcribe both sheets into a collection sheet–copies of one I first used when I agreed to do the job for Coaches Dave Ball and Ralph Ward. (Of course that ages me, but both are older than I, so I don’t mind).

By not being the official scorer this year, I saved myself some time, but by the third game of the season I realized  I couldn’t write accurate game stories without stats of some sort. The Journal-News has access to Huddle and Max Preps, but I needed the stats. Saturday as I wrote the stories to turn in Sunday for Monday publication. I began the old system again.

After that, each game had two sets of stats, and I tried to use that to help me. Defensively it did; working solo, I couldn’t record the number of the ball carries, the number of yards gained or lost, first downs converted, etc., and also the name or number of the person who made the tackle and who had the assist. Complicating issues for scorers are uniforms whose numbers are hard to read even on dry fields (a yellow number on a white jersey isn’t a good idea), and muddy fields obliterate numbers altogether. Kyle Herschelman, the papers’ sports editor who tolerates my technological shortcomings, printed out the defensive stats to be included with the stories and the offensive stats as well, but I preferred my own offensive numbers.

Those provided and the ones I keep often have small differences, significant only to the players involved. I am sometimes distracted by the shenanigans around me (I still chuckle about comments I heard between Guy Sheridan and Gary Shannon at the Staunton game there; Sheridan will never receive what he claims is owed him). I suspect Chad and Chase miss a play or two as well. That’s why home teams are required to have an official scorekeeper at games to provide the final word if a dispute arises.

In basketball, especially after the requirement that the person called for a foul raise his hand disappeared, scorebooks often differ; I would check number of fouls as well as the official score with the other team’s scorekeeper at half and after a game. The scoreboard is never the last word; the home scorebook is. (I won’t be that for the Toppers this season if we have any home games, but I’ll have my own book in the stands, so I’m sure at times there will be three different versions in existence. Mine will be right if not official.)

The last few years discrepancies have existed in HHS baseball stats. I kept the official book so I could write the articles after the games, but I would take the book to the coach before the next game so he could fill in the lineup. Last year assistant coaches Matt Burke and Evan Malloy kept score digitally; they sat at one end of the dugout while I sat at the other (when Hillsboro was on defense) and stood outside by the dugout while we batted. Coach Kyle McBrain didn’t need to see the book after each game because of the digital device.

Baseball scoring is more subjective than football or basketball because umpires don’t say whether a batter reaches first on a hit or an error. In all levels of play that’s up to the person on the book, and that in turn depends on the scorer’s past experiences. To me, a batted ball that goes through a fielder’s legs is an error, no matter how hard it’s hit. A slow roller can be a hit, even if it’s mishandled, if the runner headed to first is fast – but fast is a relative term. Usually the coach of the batter will want the play to be called a hit (the batter always thinks it’s a hit) if the fielder had a choice, he’d want it to be a hit too–ruling it a hit helps the batter’s average while not harming the defender’s fielding percentage. Besides, in my long lifetime, I’ve seen fast runners, so my standard may be different from that of others. Coaches in general prefer could-go-either-way calls to be hits because they feel the call is a reflection on them, but a good scorer blocks out the coach’s wishes.

Of course there’s the old story, repeated too often during Cardinal broadcasts, about a Yankee player-turned-commentator who marked his scorebook "WW." When his partner glanced over and then asked what WW described, the answer was “Wasn’t Watching.”

I’ve never used a soccer, volleyball, or track scorebook, so I’d be lost, at least in the beginning. Back in the day, when I taught Sports Lit to upperclassmen at HHS as an English credit (it gradually did more for reading comprehension than any of the other classes I taught), I included units on keeping stats and scoring football, basketball, and baseball games. For students football seemed to be the most complicated; more than one said, “too much math.”

One of the reasons I included scorekeeping in the curriculum was I hoped to train my replacement. Not all academic goals are realized, and I proved that 50 years ago.

Though I’m no longer the official scorekeeper for any sport, high school or otherwise, I’ll write for the paper as long as I’m able and The Journal-News wants my services. All but one of my grandchildren have graduated; most of those with whom I taught and coached have moved on. The only students and faculty members with whom I have contact now are those I see at athletic events.

I have surrendered many past activities to old age, which means I treasure those I have left, those that give me involvement to look forward to, even more.

I’ve said before there would be worse places at which to pass away than at an athletic event.

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