Miscommunication costs MHS softball players state recognition

By Steve Sell
June 19, 2014

Anyone who was at the Class 4A Division I Softball Tournament last month in Salina knows that runner-up McPherson High had some of the top players in the state.

After all, there has to be some quality talent on a team to make it all the way to the championship game.

But when the All-State selections were announced last week, not a single Bullpup was among the 33 selections.

Immediately, bells and whistles went off and red flags began flapping in the breeze.

First-year McPherson High coach Danica Fitzmorris knew that something had gone terribly wrong when she saw the list. She and MHS Athletic Director Shane Backhus had gotten together and sent in list of nominations into the Kansas Softball Coaches Association, assuming they were received. The name on the form to send entries, according to Fitzmorris and Backhus, was a 6A rep, who normally would forward them on to the 4A chairperson. 

For whatever reason — and this is still unfathomable to me — they were not forwarded on to 4A representative Crystal Kohman-Smith of Pratt, who indicated to Fitzmorris that they have been forwarded in the past. They apparently were left dangling in the wind. Surely the 6A rep had to know the entries needed to go to 4A. All it would have taken was a simple phone call, email or text.

Kohman-Smith’s team was in 4A Division II and maybe she didn’t closely follow 4A Division I. I’m sure had Pratt been at the same state tournament as McPherson, she would have realized something was amiss.

The end result was that some Bullpup players were not accorded the recognition they deserved. I believe at least three or four players would have been honored had the nominations reached the proper channel.

Certainly Madison Hoffman and Chelsey Kerr would have been first-team worthy. Hoffman pitched her arm off at state, and even had she not been chosen first-team pitcher, she would have been a first-team infielder as she had few peers at third base. Kerr was one of the top hitters and shortstops in the state and had a sensational tournament as well. Sixteen players were chosen to the first team and I can assure you Hoffman and Kerr were just as deserving as them.

Hannah Marshall and Jasmine Wann also could have been considered for the first team and at worst been second team. That core of four underclassmen were the engine that drove the Bullpup machine.

“I am very disappointed that this situation occurred for our deserving athletes,” a distraught Fitzmorris said. “There obviously needs to be a better checks-and-balances system for this All-State team recognition system from the Coaches Association. It maybe needs to be organized more like the All-League system where attendance is required from coaches. A series of unfortunate events led to a frustrating conclusion to a great season. I am grateful most of these athletes were awarded other recognition this season, from area newspapers to All-League team appointments. I am also grateful that most of the nominated athletes will have another chance to be awarded this honor.”

But I think something can still be done. In this day and age of emails, faxes and texts, it wouldn’t take long at all to send out a memo to the 4A coaches and have them indicate where they would have placed the Bullpups who were nominated and explain the circumstances for their omission. Players already selected wouldn’t have to be bumped, just add the MHS players to the team. It can’t be that hard, can it? Why penalize these players for errors made by those in charge? Every player dreams of being All-State. That’s the ultimate achievement. Also, college recruiters look at these teams to help form their recruiting lists. Have you seen the price of tuition these days? Getting an athletic scholarship can certainly ease a family’s burden.

“It is an obvious disappointment that our players were not recognized, as we had several that were deserving,” Backhus said. “In the future, we will be much more diligent in our communication with the KSBCA.”

Fitzmorris said she received an apology from Kohman-Smith about the confusion caused. But how does that ease the emotional scars for Hoffman, Kerr, Marshall and Wann? They played their tails off, led MHS to its first-ever state tournament and propelled the Bullpups into the title game.

What the KSBCA doesn’t realize is that making first-team All-State goes a long way toward building a resume for potential Wall of Fame status at MHS. There has never been a softball player make the Wall of Fame, but there are players on this team who have a good start. Kerr was only a sophomore and she figures to be one of the state’s best players for the next two years. Hoffman, Marshall and Wann were juniors and will be among the best at their positions next year as well. The latter three also excel in other sports and could earn honors in those next year, which only enhances their chances at the Wall. Being on that Wall myself, I can tell you how much of an honor it is.

A wrong needs to be righted. Maybe Fitzmorris and Backhus can petition the organization for a special ballot. If the coaches don’t vote for the Bullpup players, that’s their right. But at least they should be given the chance. The best players should be on the team. Right now, they aren’t. It would be like having an All-State basketball team without Kyler Kinnamon or Katelyn Loecker. And you know that would never have happened.