Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University where he pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeyes from 1971 through 1974. He furthered his baseball experience as a minor league umpire for seven seasons, working for the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA). He has written for numerous websites, and for the past fourteen years has served as columnist and photo editor for The Gettysburg Magazine, published by the University of Nebraska Press, in Lincoln Nebraska. His interests include history, support for amateur baseball, the outdoors, and he has a music degree from Ohio State University.

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Proponents of competitive balance will say, “I told you so.”  But proponents of Dave Miller will also tell you after his win over Alter in Thursday’s opener, “I told you so.”

There was a part of me that regretted missing Fairmont’s rousing 13-12 win over Kettering Alter in Thursday’s opening to the 2017 high school football season.

It marked the first time in a generation (13 years) that the Firebirds had beaten the Knights, a Div. III team in 2017 due to the competitive balance mandate by the OHSAA;  and an “I told you so” for those who believe that because a team has been successful for a long time against teams of their own size…the only way to level the playing field is to make them play bigger schools.  Alter was a Division IV team prior to this year.  Kettering is Division I.

So, score one for the football culturally correct.

But score one, too, for Dave Miller, whose consistent success at Covington (Division VII) for all those years, and all those wins,  eventually wore thin for his commitment to what was perceived as an unpopular offense (the triple option), and Miller’s refusal to change.  His critics still point to the 2013 regional final game with Marion Local and bristle.  Covington, and running back A.J. Ouellette, had the perennial champion Flyers on the ropes that night, but lacking a passing game, Miller’s Buccaneers could not close the deal in a heart-breaking defeat.  Those same critics would say that his style was like playing with one hand tied behind your back.

He left after the ’15 season, taking the job at Kettering, a program that had flagged in recent years, losing regularly to teams not nearly as competitive, or good, as Alter.  The initial returns were not impressive.  Miller’s Firebirds promptly went 1-9, winning only against lowly West Carrollton as he taught the nuances, and the discipline, that represent triple option football.  The man REALLY believes in it.

DaveMiller_inset“It’s just a great offense, especially in high school football,”  he told me more than once during his years at Covington.  “It’s simply hard for other teams to defend.”

And opponents do not disagree.

“They had us on the ropes,” says Marion Local’s Tim Goodwin over that 2013 game.  “We couldn’t stop them so we went for it on fourth and ten in the fourth quarter rather than punt the ball back to them.  We didn’t think we could stop them with A.J. Ouellette.”

It’s not clear, of course,  after just one game as to how far Miller has brought the Kettering program after just one year, for they still have the likes of Miamisburg, Centerville, and Wayne on their schedule.  It’s not likely he’ll go 10-0, as he regularly did in Covington.

But for that one night on Thursday, when Dave Miller’s resistant commitment to what he truly believes paid a shocking dividend….well, I wish I had been there to see him quietly nod his head in self-affirmation.  Believe in who you are, in what you do, and working harder than an opponent does pay off.  I’ve heard him say it dozens of times.  I haven’t forgotten.

Well done, Dave.

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As to the topic of competitive balance, nobody knows what it’ll turn out to be.  My own thought, though, is that good teams, with good coaches, and good traditions, are going to continue to win unless you pit them against the very highest competition available – i.e. make Coldwater play not just Division III and II teams, but make them play the very best Div. III and II teams, like LaSalle, out of Cincinnati.  And how do you mandate, and pay, for that?

Locals, like Sidney, Piqua, and Troy, want nothing to do with playing Coldwater and Marion Local because, they’ll tell you, there’s nothing to gain.  If you lose you lose a lot of computer points for playoff consideration.  and if you win…well, you might not.

And, what was the justification for putting Coldwater (whose been in Div. V forever) and Marion Local (Div. VI and VII) together in Division VI this year, where they’ll ultimately have to play each other to get to the state finals? Neither has changed significantly in enrollment, and St. Henry, another MAC powerhouse is also in Division VI, which ensures that the MAC will no longer go to Massillon with the prospect of winning three of the OHSAA’s seven division titles, as they did with Minster, Coldwater, and Marion in 2014.  There are those in the conference who believe just that, citing political pressure from other regions across the state.  If you can’t beat ’em, well, make ’em beat each other.

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Here’s a thought.  Why all the talk, or interest, in the Jacksonville Jaguars and who starts at quarterback?  Blake Bortles or Chad Henne?  They’re both bad.  The Jaguars have always been bad.  And there has to be better sports news.  The Jacksonville Jaguars?

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Finally, this has nothing to do with opening football tonight, but it is a sign that the apocalypse is surely near.  If you saw the fight on Thursday night between the Yankees and the Detroit Tigers, the idiots on ESPN this morning were complaining that the umpires should have done better with their position of enforcement.

Enforcement?  There’s nothing four umpires can do if fifty baseball players decide to fight!

The beanball rule in professional baseball has always been a lousy rule, where you warn one team after they hit the other, and then eject the opposing team’s pitcher and manager when they retaliate.  There’s really nothing fair about, and all it does is create heightened tension for a fight like what happened, not once, but twice.  There’s nothing that four umpires, that have no whip, chair, or gun, as the circus lion tamers once carried, can do to stop what happened Thursday.

Sonny_thumb0216Frankly, it has always been the conversation that baseball polices itself.  And having been close to the game, I still believe that major league baseball has no interest in actually cracking down pitchers intentionally throwing at hitters.  From many perspectives, it’s entertaining to watch…to see grown men act like frustrated little boys…and it’s the only reason to talk about a baseball season that lasts too long, with no drama (the Dodgers are up by 20 games),  in August and September.

But please, blame anything you want.  Just don’t blame the umpires.

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