As I was saying: Reaching out to the UIL

Happy September - or is it still August? I don’t really know if I’m coming or going these days. No doubt I am not in this leaky boat by myself. Am I right? Suzanne and I are headed to the NNA convention in Jacksonville, Fl., at the end of September and then slipping over to Orlando for the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World for some much-needed R&R. You might remember at the June TPA convention I mentioned we would be contacting the Texas University Interscholastic League (UIL) to discuss some problems some of us encountered last year at UIL events, such as the state football championship games in Arlington and the high school state track meet. Basically – weeklies were only allowed one representative, while dailies were allowed more people to cover teams that were not even their hometown teams. Now let me be quick to explain before I make some of my daily breth­­ren upset, because I was of that tribe in my younger days - we aren’t asking the UIL to reduce the number of daily reporters and/or photographers at UIL events. We are just asking for the same consideration for the hometown newspaper – in most cases a weekly – that is covering the team in the championship game. After all, outside larger media normally only come around when it’s the big game, while the hometown paper is there through the losing seasons and there for all the non-athletic competitions. So, I needed someone who spoke UIL. I reached out to our old friend Bobby Hawthorne, who is the retired UIL academic director. He is from White Oak and he has been in our trenches as a reporter and has had to deal with us Type A personality newspaper folks for the UIL. Who better to serve as a liaison for us to the UIL. After a few emails and calls, the UIL’s trouble-shooter Jamey Harrison gave me a buzz and we had a nice long talk. Probably a much longer talk than Jamey had planned – you all know me and how I can go on and on and on and on and … well, you get my point. Jamey explained that some of the problems last year were simply venue issues - ATT Stadium/NFL (football state championship games) and UT (state track meet) which imposed strict rules that the UIL couldn’t override. He assured me the UIL tried to intervene, but were unsuccessful in overriding the NFL and Jerry Jones for the football games and the University of Texas officials who control the venue. He said he wasn’t using that as an excuse, it was just what happened and he feels everyone learned a lot from last year’s pandemic-era events. Jamey said he believes this year will be better, even with COVID numbers on the rise around the state. Keep wearing those masks folks and wash those hands – there, that’s my public service message for this column. While Jamey said he couldn’t make any guarantees, he did say the UIL understands our concerns and the UIL wants to be very clear that the “UIL wants us at events and they need us.” Jamey said the UIL needs all the good relations with the press they can get and aren’t intentionally trying to cause us headaches. I assured him we just wanted to work with the UIL in a common goal of covering our kids at athletic and academic events, without having our hands tied behind our backs. As a gesture of cooperation, I suggested the UIL notify the TPA when problems first arise so we can share that with our TPA membership. That way no one is caught off guard and maybe we could assist in getting the problems resolved through our many connections before that mole hill grows into a mountain. He said that was a possibility and TPA executive director Mike Hodges suggested we use our sports distribution network for high school coaches’ polls to distribute info from UIL. So, I’ve made the offer. Now it is up to the UIL to take advantage of this offer. I told Jamey this is a team effort and we want to work with the UIL and not against it. And he said the UIL feels the same when working with Texas newspapers. Of course, I will believe last year was just a blip on the radar as soon as I see the media being given better access to UIL events, regardless of the venue. Our readers rely on us to keep them informed and involved with our communities and our local schools. While I think we need to give the UIL a chance to prove it wants to work with us, I do think we need to keep a record of when things go afoul. Jamey gave me his cell number and told me to call him anytime we have issues. Obviously, he doesn’t really know me, does he? I mean, I’ll call him with your problems. So, email me – jbardwell@gladewatermirror.com – when you have a serious UIL issue. Seriously, I’ll give Jamey a call, until he changes his phone number, that is.