Sports column by Andy Kikaldy: Feedback and criticism always welcome here

Every now and then a reminder comes my way that once again we need to explain how we do things around here — we being my editors and I — and that our relationship with readers really is, or at least ideally should be, a two-way street.
The latest reminder came courtesy of my ongoing participation on the Burlington Free Press sports blogs, which the folks up at that paper are kind enough to allow.
As I’ve stated in print here before, in a Clippings column, when I post up at the BFP I’m MiddAK. (How did I ever come up with that handle?) If anyone ever reads boston.com sports, I’m Vermontk, for the record.
As readers of Alex Abrami’s “Varsity Insider” boys’ basketball blog already know, I spent a lot of the winter defending the Middlebury Union boys against those who thought they were, well, paper Tigers, and didn’t understand how good they were.
One commenter, not realizing who “MiddAK” was, recently criticized this paper and my reporting. I identified myself, and we went back-and-forth respectfully in a series of posts that dealt with larger journalism issues, about which I won’t get into details here.
The more important one for sports came courtesy of someone calling him/herself “snacks,” who did me a favor — truly — by essentially accusing me of not liking some sports and favoring others in our coverage. Specifically, he or she wrote:
“The addison independent only reports on sports that its main writer likes. Hence why every season there are all county teams selected for Soccer, Basketball, Baseball, Field Hockey… but no Football and Boys Lacrosse. Midd AK has an obvious bias against these sports is pretty known throughout the communities of Bristol, Midd and Vergennes.”
Well, there’s a lot to respond to here, something I want to do because if one person feels this way, it’s more than likely others do as well.
To start with, there are reasons I don’t do boys’ lacrosse and football all-star teams, and I thank “snacks” for letting me know I should explain.
In boys’ lacrosse, I can’t yet realistically compare experienced programs like Middlebury’s with less experienced programs like those in the other three communities. MUHS has an established feeder program that gives its athletes a tremendous advantage in skill development and experience on their way to high school.
Let me offer an example: In 1998, before there were two divisions, the Tiger boys had to travel for a semifinal to U-32, which compiled a better record against an inferior schedule of what are now D-II teams. MUHS won, 25-8.
In time, the other local programs will catch up with the Tigers, just as the rest of the state caught up with Woodstock and MUHS, which combined for 11 straight boys’ lacrosse titles between 1993 and 2002 (I covered and enjoyed the last seven of those championship games, more so the ones the Tigers won). At that point, we will add an Independent boys’ lacrosse all-star team.
As for football, I base all my Independent all-star team selections on observation, as well as coaches’ input and stats. Because I have to keep my own stats for football when I cover games, I can only watch and record who has the ball. I can’t analyze line play.
I thus cannot make any reasonable comparisons between linemen on different teams, and have no basis to make picks. I don’t know who the best linemen are except by reputation, and that’s no way to pick an all-star team. I try to compensate for that by making sure I name the linemen when I cover a football game so they can get some recognition.
As far as coverage bias, I don’t know what I could do to be any more fair to the teams in our readership area. If anything, I attend in person a higher percentage of Tiger football games than those of any other local team — that is just a fact. In 2011, when the Tigers enjoyed home-field advantage in the playoffs, I saw at least half of all their games. Last fall I saw two of the Mount Abe-Vergennes football team’s eight games, and four of the Tiger games.
In the spring, I covered the VUHS, Eagle, and Tiger boys’ lacrosse teams twice each in the regular season, as I did the Tiger girls’ lacrosse team. Without going any further, I can assure you the numbers are about the same for the Tiger, Eagle and Commodore baseball teams in the regular season. This winter, for example, I saw the MUHS, VUHS and Mount Abe girls’ basketball teams three times each in the longer winter regular season.
Sometimes the schedule gets a little funky, and one team or another gets covered more than another, but it has nothing to do with any bias on the part of the paper. We are interested in reaching as many readers as possible — it would be self-defeating to ignore teams.
One note: Perhaps the perception of bias comes from the extra coverage teams get when they make playoff runs. Right now, the VUHS boys’ and Eagle girls’ hoop teams are getting the spotlight. Last spring, the Commodore baseball and the Tiger girls’ lax teams made postseason runs. This past fall, the Tiger boys’ soccer team was rolling, like the Tiger football team the year before. A few years back, the Eagle boys made annual trips to Barre.
As noted above, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Tiger boys ruled Vermont lax. I would be thrilled to see them do so again under the new coaching team I understand will be taking over. I hope I have to find someone to fill in and cover a baseball final because I can’t be two places at once.
Beneath this all there is another, larger issue. If the perception of bias is out there, we need to know. I appreciated hearing from “snacks,” really, even in that forum, and the other poster who asked tough journalism questions, “commodore1.”
Better though, would be this: [email protected] or 388-4944. Those who have called or emailed with questions, concerns or complaints — including the parent with a Nordic skiing issue at the same time all this was happening on the blog — will tell you they are listened to.
If you feel your team or athlete is being short shrifted, or wonder why an issue isn’t being covered, or have a story idea, or you think I’m way off base on something, please get in touch. I’ll be happy to hear from you directly. That’s why this is on the bottom of almost every story or column:
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

Share this story:

More News
News Uncategorized

Fresh Air Fund youths returning to county

The Fresh Air Fund, initiated in 1877 to give kids from New York City the opportunity to e … (read more)

Obituaries Uncategorized

Mark A. Nelson of Bristol

BRISTOL — A memorial service for Mark A. Nelson of Bristol will be held 1 p.m. on Saturday … (read more)

Sports Uncategorized

High school athletes ready for fall playoffs this week

See when your favorite high school team is competing in the fall sports playoffs.

Share this story: