Back-to-school supply inventory speaks a harsh reality

It’s “go time” for high school students as they return today to their respective campuses in Caddo and Bossier. Elementary school and middle school students in Caddo got a head start by beginning their school year last week. 

For the past 12 years, part of the Byrd Family tradition on the opening day of school has been to end our day by wading through the mass of late back-to-school shopping humanity at Target, Office Max, and Office Depot along Youree Drive in South Shreveport. 

It’s not for the faint of heart. 

Last year, while hunting for the perfect three-ring binder for my daughter, I saw a backpack which included a new feature for 2021-2022 … bulletproof backing at Office Max. Usually, backpacks will advertise stain resistance or liners in the pockets. I guess we have moved away from those bells and whistles to advertise how well it can hold up to a bullet.

Strange and sad times, indeed.

While I had heard that these were a thing, there was a different feeling seeing it in person hanging in the store and parents checking it out. 

My initial thought: manufacturers playing to the fears of the public – perpetuated by mainstream media. 

Then May 24, 2022 happened. 

Nineteen children and two adults were killed at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, the third deadliest school shooting in United States history.

There are no words in the dictionary to adequately describe what that community experienced on that day or has experienced in the 78 days since.

On June 21-22, my school year ended. As an assistant principal at C.E. Byrd High School, my last assignment was to attend the Louisiana’s Safe Schools Conference held by the Louisiana School Resource Officers, at the Shreveport Convention Center.

The keynote speaker, Phil Chalmers, talked to a room full of school administrators, school resource officers, sheriffs from around the state, and district level security personnel. 

As he talked to the attendees, calls came in over the sound system. These calls were from prisoners who had committed school shootings.

After Chalmers would briefly interview the school shooter, asking them what was going through their mind when they carried out the violence, and what–if anything–would have prevented them from doing it in the first place, he asked the convention attendees if they had any questions for the school shooter. 

Some law enforcement in the audience did, in fact, ask questions. I did not. 

This happened two or three times.

Chalmers interviewed these cold-blooded killers like a sleep-deprived sportswriter interviewing the quarterback after a high school football game. 

Later, Chalmers showed actual video footage of school shootings.

I’ve been an educator of 27 years, and it made me physically ill to watch the reactions of the bodies of students and teachers going limp from bullets received inside the classroom — to the point that I almost got up and walked out. 

Why am I watching this? What is the point?

I’ve thought about that convention and those questions in the seven weeks since. I’ve also thought about the mothers and fathers, the brothers and sisters, in Uvalde, Texas who are starting the school year without a child. Without a parent. Without a classmate.

Again, no words.

There is no back-to-school shopping excitement this year in that Southwest Texas town. Only horrific memories, anxiety, and emptiness left from the innocence lost on that day in Uvalde. 

While the mainstream media and politicians continue the blame game from a procedural standpoint, educators and school leaders across the country begin this school year adding emergency management protocols, lock down procedures, and active shooter trainings to their 2022-2023 lesson plans.

Sadly, it’s the new normal. Like loading up new back-to-school supplies in a bulletproof backpack.

Contact Jerry Byrd at sbjjerrybyrd@gmail.com


Johnson’s Bearkats won’t shy away from lofty expectations

Sophomore Quintarion Scott (at left) didn’t play football last season, but he’s earned the starting quarterback job since joining coach DeAumante Johnson’s second Bossier HS team for spring practice.

By JERRY BYRD JR., Journal Sports

It’s year No. 2 of the DeAumante Johnson era on Bearkat Drive, and while Bossier High School will move up from Class 3A to 4A in 2022, Johnson’s expectations for his football team remain the same.

“Nothing has changed,” Johnson said. “The mindset will always be to win a state championship. I told our guys that when the level of competition rises, we rise with it. That’s why we push them every single day. We aren’t going to shy away from anybody.”

Johnson, who went 6-5 during his first year at the helm, finishing with a 36-7 loss in the first round of the LHSAA playoffs to Iowa, lost a couple of big-time players to graduation in Sedric Applewhite (McNeese State) and Marquise Harris (Arkansas State). But there is still plenty of talent on the Bearkat roster. And like most high school coaches this time of year, Johnson is excited about the product he will soon put on the artificial grass at Bossier’s Memorial Stadium. 

One of the main sources of Johnson’s excitement is his new sophomore quarterback, Quintarion Scott, who played basketball last year, then decided to come out for football.

“He watched from the stands last year,” Johnson said. “He liked what he saw and wanted to be a part of something special. He has really bought in to what we are doing.”

While Scott is relatively new to football, Johnson said that fans will not be able to tell when they watch him on game nights. 

Blocking up front for Scott will be one of Johnson’s best leaders on the team – senior offensive lineman Keith Hall.

“Keith can play left tackle or he can play center,” Johnson said. “The thing I like about him is that he is vocal and very positive. There is not a negative bone in his body.”

On the defensive side of the ball, the Bearkats return their leading tackler from a year ago, linebacker and defensive end Christian Johnson (6-1, 205), who won a state championship for the Bossier wrestling program during the offseason.

“He has a high motor,” Johnson said. “He loves contact. He is not very vocal, but he leads by example.”

If you attended a Bossier football practice last year, you probably heard Johnson tell his players to “be a shark” and noticed how the practices were high-tempo, high-energy.

“I use it every single day,” Johnson said. “I love sharks. I love what they stand for, and that’s how I want my guys to play. As far as the tempo goes, we are even faster this year now that we are in year No. 2. The expectations are even higher.”

While numbers in the past have been a problem at Bossier, those concerns do not appear to be an issue. The Bearkats finished 2021 with 46 players, and with additions, like Scott, there are currently 52 players on the roster.

Additions have been made on the coaching staff as well, where Johnson brought in former Evangel coach Virgil Williams in the spring and added Mississippi State graduate assistant C.J. Morgan during the summer. Williams will coach corners and Morgan will coach safeties.

“Those two guys bring a ton of knowledge with them,” Johnson said. “From drops to different coverages and eye placement, they know what they are talking about and our players understand that these guys have been there.”

The Bearkats will get a taste of where they are on Friday, Aug. 19 when they host Red River in a 6 p.m. scrimmage. A week later, the Bearkats host their annual Bossier Jamboree, battling with Plain Dealing before opening the 2022 season on the road at North Caddo on Thursday, Sept. 1.

Contact Jerry at sbjjerrybyrd@gmail.com

https://shreveportbossierjournal.com/2022/07/18/bossier-back-in-district-1-4a-for-2022-season/

https://shreveportbossierjournal.com/2022/06/22/bearkats-guice-should-shine-at-db-at-the-next-level/

Photo by JERRY BYRD, Journal Sports


SPAR drops ball on Battle on the Border

The Five P’s are important.

“Prior planning prevents poor performance.”

This week, local high school football coaches are talking to their teams about the Five P’s as most have begun practice for the 2022 season.

Shreveport Public Assembly and Recreation would do well to go out to some of the practices and take notes on the subject as the 11th annual Battle on the Border will be held Sept. 2-3 (Friday/Saturday) — with next to no representation from Caddo-Bossier teams.

The reason? A lack of attention to detail on the part of SPAR.

C.E. Byrd head coach Stacy Ballew likes the BOTB, but when he was contacted in early spring about participating, the details were lacking.

“They couldn’t tell me who I would be playing, when I would be playing, the compensation I would receive, or even a list of teams involved in the event,” Ballew said. “The way it was presented, I didn’t trust that it would be an event that we wanted to be a part of.”

Even last week, SPAR representatives told the Shreveport-Bossier Journal they had recently reached out to local coaches in hopes of getting teams in the event this year — just over a month away. Yet nobody from SPAR has contacted Ballew since early spring.

“Four years ago, it was a great event,” Ballew said. “It was well run, and we always enjoyed participating.”

That is obviously no longer the case.

Even if SPAR were to have its footballs in a row and be able to give Ballew and other local head coaches more details, early spring is already too late to ask high school football coaches to participate. The schedules are already set.

“Those conversations take place in December,” Ballew said. “I’ll pick up the phone in December and call Rodney (Guin) at Calvary and say ‘Hey, you want to play?’” Ballew said. 

This is not the first year where there have been signs of mismanagement by SPAR’s BOTB event management crew.

Instead of BOTB officials telling Ballew who his opponent would be in last year’s BOTB, he had to go out on his own and find a foe.

“I had to call and get Tioga,” Ballew said. “Then Coach (Mike) Suggs called Tioga and had to help us talk them into participating.” 

A conversation with Parkway head coach Coy Brotherton suggests more evidence that SPAR has simply dropped the ball.

“Didn’t even know that was still a thing,” Brotherton replied when asked if he had been contacted by SPAR to participate in the BOTB. “I haven’t talked to anyone.”

“We would have probably considered it since our turf wasn’t done,” Brotherton said. “Instead, we had to move our game to Bossier High.”

Brotherton said it looks like the turf will be finished in time for the Panthers to play Minden at home on Week No. 1. 

SPAR assistant director Joe Mero told the Journal last week that “once we moved to the first weekend, a lot of teams already had their schedules in place. I’m wishing and hoping.”

It’s early August. It’s more than a little late in the game for Mero and his staff to be “wishing and hoping” for local teams to participate. What they should have been doing last December was picking up a phone and calling. 

The last-minute push wasn’t completely futile. Mansfield was persuaded to give up its home opener and will play Huntington at Independence Stadium in the BOTB’s final game at 7:30 on September’s first Saturday night.

But I have yet to see a full list of teams participating. Why? Because the Battle on the Border website, with the first game less than 30 days away, had not been updated Wednesday afternoon.

SPAR does many good things — especially for the young people in our community — but as it relates to the mismanagement of the Battle on the Border and providing local high school football fans with a true showcase … C’mon man!

Contact Jerry at sbjjerrybyrd@gmail.com


Been a while, but what a year to make it back to Natty

Natchitoches was a sweet spot to be this weekend, and I’m not talking about just enjoying the banana pudding at Lasyone’s. I’m talking about being in Natty for the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Induction Celebration.

For most of the last decade, Dad duties have had me at summer track meets during the last weekend of June, and the decade before that, summer workouts and various 7-on-7 tournaments.  

I couldn’t have picked a better year to come back to the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.

Nothing stopped me from attending in 1996 when my father received the Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism, the highest award a scribe can receive in the state of Louisiana. Introducing him that night was Teddy Allen, who – at the time – had already established himself as a rising star in the profession. 

As he introduced my father, he talked about people “carrying pieces of Jerry Byrd” with them in their scrapbooks, or folded up in their wallets, or calling their friend to see if their friend had read what “Mr. Byrd” had written about the Dallas Cowboys.

But I guess it’s true what they say, that people will forget what you say, but they will never forget how you make them feel. I wasn’t sitting by my dad, but I was watching across the room when Teddy Allen walked over and had him autograph a baseball. I forgot most of what Teddy said about my father that night, but I will always remember the way it made me feel. Proud. 

Saturday night at the Natchitoches Event Center, it was Teddy’s turn to enter the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame as a Distinguished Service Award winner. He actually pulled double duty serving as emcee and as inductee.

When he was interviewed as part of his induction, Allen told a story about a tipsy public address announcer urinating in the restroom-less press box at a Waterproof vs. Wisner high school football game.

While it was a great story, and got a roar from the crowd, I’ll probably forget all about the Waterproof-Wisner public address announcer. What I will never forget is a middle schooler doing his American history homework during a Thursday night prep tilt in the press box at Caddo Parish Stadium, now known as Lee Hedges Stadium.

How do I remember it being a Thursday night? Because one, it was a rare event that I even took my homework to the press box, and two, I never took my homework to a Friday night game. Weekend homework was saved for Sunday nights.

“What are you working on, Lil’ Jerry?” Allen said. Family, both blood and my Shreveport Journal family, called me ‘Little Jerry’ to distinguish between my father and me. 

I told Teddy that I was working on a report about Andrew Jackson. 

“Ol’ Hickory!” Allen said, giving me Jackson’s nickname. 

It started a nice conversation which led us to discuss the merits of the Battle of 1812. In the press box at Caddo Parish Stadium.

For several years after that, whenever we met, we called each other “Ol’ Hickory.” 

We were probably still calling each other Ol’ Hickory years later in the Food Court of Pierre Bossier Mall participating in a media taco eating contest. Teddy was representing the Shreveport Times. I had interned that summer for the Shreveport Journal and this was my last assignment. I was well qualified.

The judges, who were probably the managers for the Taco Tico, said we tied for first place, but gave me the nod because I didn’t leave any lettuce on my tray. 

Teddy Allen may not dangle modifiers, but you have to watch him with his lettuce when a soft taco is in the equation. 

Saturday night, he spotted me and my wife sitting in the back of the ballroom at the Natchitoches Events Center. It was my turn to get his autograph.

“Am I the only one who is going to be signing this baseball?”

“Yes.”

“Then I’m taking the sweet spot!”

Have it, big fella!

It wasn’t the only sweet spot Teddy made his mark on Saturday night. He now has one, permanently, at 800 Front Street in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. There is nobody any more worthy.

Contact Jerry at sbjjerrybyrd@gmail.com


What might have been for Robert Williams III? A football coach can’t help wondering

Do you ever watch Boston Celtics center Robert Williams III and wonder what he could do on the football field? If so, you’re not alone. I’ve been wondering the same thing for 10 years, starting when he was a freshman and I was a football coach at North Caddo Magnet High School.

I don’t remember the first conversation, but even at 6-foot-5, I do remember having to look up to talk to a freshman and quickly realizing it was a first.

He politely listened to what I had to say and smiled. He didn’t block my recruiting advances and throw my pitch back in my face, like he did with Golden State’s Draymond Green in Game 4 of the NBA Finals last Friday night. 

So, you’re saying there’s a chance? Williams never said “No.” And I never stopped wondering “What if?”

Beginning his sophomore year of high school, Williams was already the “big man on campus,” and not because he was tall and a basketball star. Great personality. Always cracking jokes. Fun-loving guy. Never a bad day. And one day during the first week of school, he reeled me in. 

“I’m coming out (to practice) today,” Williams told me, as I stood at lunch duty.

I wanted to believe it was true, but it wasn’t.

To add insult to injury, I had to see him every day in my English II class — a daily reminder of my recruiting failures.

I left North Caddo after Williams’ sophomore year and went into administration. He left North Caddo after his senior year and went to College Station where in 2017 he was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year. 

But, I’ve never been able to shake my quandary. Where would you put him on the football field? During his early years in high school, he was all bones. A toothpick. I was thinking of a slightly taller version of Michael Irvin. Randy Moss, even. 

Now? Tight end, all the way. The weightlifting program at Texas A&M helped him tremendously. Are you kidding me? Run five to seven yards, depending how many yards you need for a first down, and turn around. Tell the QB to throw it where the other team isn’t. How could you stop that? Williams’ wingspan is 7-6! Just put the ball in the general area code and he can pull it in. 

Oh, well. Football isn’t for everybody, and to say it has worked out well for Williams is an understatement. 

If you’re a Boston fan, you know him as “Time Lord,” a nickname he received soon after being drafted with the 27th pick in 2018. He overslept and missed his initial conference call with Boston media. Then he missed his flight to Boston. Quite an underwhelming first week of Williams’ NBA career for sure.

While “Time Lord” started as a way for cynical Celtic fans to explain away the rookie’s mistakes, it has taken a different meaning during this season – his first year as a fulltime starter.  Now, “Time Lord” stops time as he moves across the court to block or disrupt shots.

Williams, still possessing the fun-loving personality he had in high school, has owned the nickname in the same way he has owned many of his opponents who have failed to score against him.  

Although he had 12 blocked shots in four games during the NBA Finals – including four blocks in Boston’s two victories — Williams is much more than a one-trick Celtic. He had a postseason high 12 rebounds Friday night, scored seven points, and added four assists. Monday night, he had 10 points, 8 rebounds and contested a game-high 15 shots, and was the only Celtic to have a positive plus/minus rating as Boston outscored Golden State by 11 in his 30 minutes of action.

His old English teacher can overlook his football denial as he plays through a left knee injury which has limited his minutes during the postseason. The thing that impresses me the most is his grit — especially late in the game — and instincts, which are demonstrated by the assists.

Back at North Caddo? He was – and will always be – known as “BooButt.” I don’t know how he got that nickname, and I’m a little afraid to ask. 

What I do know is that “BooButt” fans in North Caddo are watching the NBA Finals, and commenting on social media. They will be watching their favorite NBA player again tonight during Game 6.

If I’m being honest, I haven’t followed Williams’ career as closely as I should have. It took a Shreveport-Bossier Journal reader to send me a message on Facebook to light a fire under my boobutt. There are other scribes on the SBJ roster who have their finger on the pulse of the NBA. 

It hasn’t been easy for me to face my football recruiting failures, but we had a breakthrough Friday night and a painful Monday evening, sitting there pulling for the Boston Celtics and No. 44.

And wondering, “What if we change that to No. 88 and put him at tight end for the Dallas Cowboys?”


Dedicated to the one I love, the Class of 2022

Some people say they have “skin in the game” when they are invested in something. With the Class of 2022, I had kin in the game.

My daughter, Caitlin Byrd, marches in cap and gown tonight at Independence Stadium in the 97th graduation class of The City of Byrd, aka C.E. Byrd High School. As an assistant principal at Byrd High, I will have a front row seat, but then again, I’ve had a front row seat watching this graduating class through every step of their education. 

The Class of 2022 had a taste of normal before COVID-19 turned formal education upside down near the ides of March during their sophomore year. 

Graduates, I guess I’ll start there — on Friday, March 13th of your sophomore year. Remember that day? I do. With one tweet from Gov. Jon Bel Edwards, you and your classmates went home, many for a spring break which extended into summer. I saw you get on buses and head home. I saw teachers scrambling around in an emergency faculty meeting trying to find out if they would be able to communicate with all of their students, or not. And then I walked across the street to Walgreens, thankful they still had some toilet paper on the shelves. Strange times, indeed.

And all of this just when many of you were getting your driver’s license! Bummer! In fact, at least one of you hurried to the Express DMV and obtained your vehicular freedom before the Louisiana Department of Transportation was closed due to the pandemic.

Most of you knew what Google Classroom was before that Friday the 13th, but most of you also had teachers who had no clue. They heroically had to learn on the run, and most you understood and helped them navigate – or Zoom – through those unchartered waters. COVID-19 definitely had its way with the education system in our state, and across the nation, and around the world.

When school started back in the fall of your junior year, it didn’t look like school at all. It looked  -and felt – more like a prison. You had face masks. Your teachers had face masks or taught behind plexiglass. And many of you had to clean your desks, something that was usually the responsibility of the custodial staff. It was the first time I remember teachers complaining that they couldn’t get students to talk in class. Usually, it’s the other way around, trying to get you to be quiet.

And then there was the dreaded contact tracing. Many of you were quarantined, either because you tested positive for the virus or you sat beside someone who did.

Ask me how I know. (It suddenly fit my job description.)

Now, during this graduation season, some of you will sit and listen to graduation speakers tell you how to live the next part of your life. Some speakers will even talk to you about overcoming adversity.

They mean well, but, in all due respect, Adversity might as well be your middle name. It will be like telling Noah about the flood. You get it. You have lived it over these last four years. 

I simply want to say, thank you! Thank you for not giving up. Thank you for pushing through. Thank you for wearing the masks, Thank you for standing six feet behind your friends in lunch line, and Thank you for doing all of the hundreds of things which were asked of you during these (I cannot stand these words) unprecedented times. 

I’m going to take a page out of Green Day’s playbook, but switch it up just a bit. I hope you have the time of your lives. Not have had, but have.

I know that your high school experience was anything but normal, but as you have learned over these years, there is a reason God gave you eyes in the front of your head. It’s time to move on to the next chapter, whatever that looks like. Whether you go to college, begin a career, or take a gap year to figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life, I hope it is nothing short of amazing. You definitely deserve it. There are so many who are proud not only of what you have accomplished, but – more importantly – the person you have become. I am in that number. 

Apologies to Carly Simon (ask your parents…or grandparents), but, as far as I’m concerned, Class of 2022…Nobody Did It Better!


Nil chance that LHSAA’s NIL stance wasn’t rushed

One week ago today, the LHSAA’s executive committee and the organization’s director, Eddie Bonine, dropped a bombshell by producing a “positioning statement” allowing Louisiana high school student-athletes to benefit from their name, image, and likeness.

“Education. Not regulation,” Bonine told the media. For some, this raised the question whether or not the association, which governs Louisiana high school athletics, has lost its collective mind. The sudden education thrust concerning NIL comes after a presentation by Eccker Sports last week to the LHSAA executive committee, made of up principals from around the state. This company will partner with the LHSAA to educate principals and athletic directors with online training.

Last week’s statement says Eccker Sports has 60 years of experience in the sports industry, but the website – ecckersports.com – makes no mention of what the company has been doing for the first 59. The website is solely devoted to NIL, which only came to the forefront on July 1 when college athletes received the NIL green light from the NCAA after some states around the nation passed laws forcing its hand.

Money grab? Too early to tell, but it is always prudent to follow the money on “partnerships.”

Who educated the LHSAA executive committee and Bonine? Eccker Sports?

Was nothing learned from watching the NCAA struggle to keep up with NIL, and the lack of regulation, during football season? Did they miss the news about the University of Texas’ “Pancake Factory,” which starting this fall will give every full scholarship offensive lineman at the University of Texas $50,000 per year for their NIL?

This foundation – and the “Pancake Factory” – has little to do with being able to use the names, image, and likenesses of the offensive linemen, and everything to do with attracting the best offensive linemen in the nation into burnt orange to help the UT fat cats’ beloved Longhorns to win championships.

Think there might be deep-pocketed boosters at high schools across the state who are pooling their resources to attract athletes to form the best high school team money can buy?

You can take it to the bank, and that’s ironic, because that’s exactly where some Louisiana middle school athletes are headed.

The LHSAA leadership obviously missed Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin warning with NIL and the transfer portal, the NCAA has created “free agency” in college football. Many other high-profile coaches, even with more resources than Kiffin, have voiced concerns.

Despite the NCAA’s inevitable NIL growing pains, at least universities have compliance departments tasked with assuring all NCAA rules and regulations are followed.

Who will be the “compliance department” at the high school level? Invariably, this will fall to athletic directors, who are already under the gun to certify the tiniest details on every document from physicals to waivers, and everything between, for each student-athlete on campus.

The same athletic directors must verify an athlete lives where they say they live when a new arrival shows up at the school wanting to participate in sports.

More questions.

Why would the LHSAA come out with this statement at this time, without taking it before the principals during their annual meeting in January?

I think I know the answer.

It seems the LHSAA is quite proud of getting out “ahead” of NIL.

“There is a lot to NIL and it’s a moving target that we need to stay on top of,” Bonine was quoted in the release.

Over half of all state associations (26) in the United States got “on top” of NIL by prohibiting student-athletes in their state from accepting benefits. I guess those associations saw what they needed from the disruptive impact NIL has had on the NCAA landscape.

Like the nickname of the LHSAA’s first commissioner – T.H. “Muddy” Waters – there are more questions than answers with the association’s one-week old statement on NIL.

One thing is clear: the divide between the LHSAA leadership and those who coach the student-athletes in Louisiana has never been wider.

 

SPOTLIGHT: LHSAA addresses NIL, stresses education on issue

 

Navigating the cloudy, new NIL world in college sports