Opinion by Ray Wolf
A few days ago, I posted an editorial questioning the legitimacy of the selection process for All Section teams. The next day I received an email from Kevin Askeland, who politely took exception to the suggestion that the process wasn’t legitimate. He also provided some detailed information on the history and selection process of the All-Section teams.
For those who may not know, Askeland is somewhat of a North Section sports reporting legend. He was certainly one of the people I took note of several years ago, when I first started covering sports. Askeland started a company that later became MaxPreps, a website that just about every coach and player is familiar with. He currently works for MaxPreps and is one of the people who was involved in selecting the first All-Section team, in 1991. His columns regularly appear in the Record Searchlight, as well.
According to Askeland, the first time an All-Section team was selected, “every newspaper in the Northern Section was invited.” And, looking at the list he provided, it appears that just about every newspaper sent a representative. However, slowly but surely there was less and less participation. Now, only sports writers from the Redding Record Searchlight, Enterprise Record and Appeal Democrat, plus Askeland are involved in the actual selection process.
Askeland describe the selection process in this way:
The process starts with me collecting every all-league team in the section. This is our starting point, our pool of athletes. I then contact as many key coaches as I can to determine who the best candidates are. I regularly check with coaches in the outlying areas, such as Yreka, Modoc and Lassen, to get an idea if they have players who should be represented. In volleyball, I try to get opinions of coaches to see who the best players are and who should be considered. I ask coaches from the top football teams in the section to rank their players in order starting with the most deserving player so we make sure to include the top players from those teams.
I then pick a preliminary team based on all-league teams, stats posted on MaxPreps and coaches recommendations. I send this team out to the writers at the Searchlight, Enterprise Record and Appeal Democrat. Writers at those papers give their input and provide additional info on players or possible solutions to get the best players in the right spot. We go through several rounds of this until everyone agrees that we have the best team possible. We don’t always agree on the picks and each writer works hard to pitch the players in their area, but we try to come up with the best team possible without showing bias toward one area of the Northern Section.
Askeland also said that he has consulted with many weeklies over the years. Although he didn’t say it this way, most of the weeklies have just dropped the ball for various reasons.
What was obvious from Askeland’s email is that he cares about getting the right players on the team, and he vouched for the other writers that they are also interested in getting the best of the best from the section.
While I do believe that Askeland makes an effort to get input from outlying areas, it doesn’t address the built in bias that comes from having a limited number of people making the actual selection. Everyone, no matter how well intentioned, has bias. People who see particular players on a regular basis get to see them at their very best, as well as on an average night. When you interview a player and come away with a positive impression, that tends to influence your thinking about that player’s abilities. Sometimes sports writers meet the parents, or maybe have followed the careers of multiple players from a single family. Over time, it is normal to form some level of relationship with that family. The same thing happens with particular coaches and schools over a period of time. It’s inevitable, and even the best, least biased journalist will be influenced to a greater or lesser extent by those relationships. It’s the same for sports writers in Redding, Chico, Yreka, Lassen, or any other area. (more…)
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