published Sunday, May 6th, 2012

Gerber: Bringing the best for Best of Preps

The Times Free Press preps staff logged more than 12,000 miles — roughly the distance from New York City to Los Angeles and back and back again — covering high school sports from Aug. 1 through the upcoming Spring Fling.

The newspaper covers 66 schools in 18 counties in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. We have more full-time prep writers — Stephen Hargis, Ward Gossett, Lindsey Young, Kelley Smiddie and Gene Henley — than any newspaper in the state of Tennessee.

We take high school sports seriously.

We also celebrate the achievements of high school athletes every year at the newspaper’s Best of Preps banquet, a celebration of all-star players, coaches and teams.

This year, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning — two-time Superbowl MVP and little brother to Tennessee icon Peyton — will be the speaker at the June 7 banquet.

Manning’s had a busy year. He started 2012 leading his team to Super Bowl victory, and last night hosted “Saturday Night Live.”

He follows an impressive list of speakers at Best of Preps banquets, including Drew Brees, Venus and Serena Williams, Michael Phelps, Phil Fulmer, David Cutcliffe and Steve Spurrier.

Even though the famous and familiar names headline the evening, our area standouts are the real stars.

We’re there to celebrate their achievements on fields, courts, tracks and golf courses across this region. The tradition of high school athletics in this part of the world also is why we devote so much space, so many resources and so many reporters and photographers to the task of covering prep sports.

On Fridays in the fall, the results of as many as 40 games can be called in to the Times Free Press newsroom during a 20-minute window. The sports department works in an organized frenzy on a razor-sharp deadline and hustles to cram as many scores into the newspaper as possible.

On some spring nights, more than 100 games or events involving thousands of area athletes will happen, and we do our best to get all of them in print and online.

Things will be a little different this year when we honor the best of those athletes.

We’ve changed how we select Best of Preps athletes. In years

past, we would have an all-city team for schools in Hamilton County and an all-area team. In a few sports we’d have an all-North Georgia team, too. All of the first team selections were invited to the banquet.

Now, we have a Best of Preps team in every sport and pick the first, second, and third teams, and each athlete is invited to the banquet.

We made this change for a couple of big reasons. We had sports that were being ignored, such as North Georgia girls soccer and all of North Georgia golf, because they competed in different seasons than their Tennessee counterparts.

Secondly, we had several sports that can be dominated by specific areas.

There may be certain years in which, for example, the high school basketball may be better in Hamilton County or the high school football may have more elite players in North Georgia. And we wanted to make sure our goal is to select the best players in each sport, not the best players in each zip code.

Finally, we wanted to make it feel like a bigger deal to be a first-team Best of Preps selection. Before there were 78 first-team Best of Preps football players. Now there are 25.

We are still inviting the same number of kids to the banquet, of course. But there are still some folks who think Sports Editor Jay Greeson ranks somewhere between an IRS auditor and the New Jersey mom accused of putting her 6-year-old in the tanning bed for making the change.

The idea, though, is to reward deserving players who may be in tougher geographical areas while still honoring the same number of athletes. And honoring them for being the Best of Preps.

Alison Gerber is the managing editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Reach her at agerber@timesfreepress.com. Send suggestions to readerfeed back@timesfreepress.com.

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