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ALBRIGHT: Kennedy Award voting process is a disservice to the kids

The voices are still ringing.

First came a local coach sounding so sure all season long. Then, one of the assistant coaches from the best team in the state couldn’t say enough positives about his young man at the Super Six meeting. After this, more and more men spoke passionately and decisively about their deserving player.

Messages didn’t get much clearer. Each leader stood convinced the best football player in the state (i.e. the Kennedy Award winner) played on their team.

All of them were right.

This year was unlike any other in recent memory for “West Virginia’s most prestigious football honor” according to the Kennedy Award website, as voted on by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association. Attention and considerations spanned from Parkersburg to Martinsburg and Wheeling to Bluefield. Rick Ryan of the Charleston Gazette Mail even wrote a column covering the topic and the unprecedented number of legitimate candidates up for the Kennedy. Here is just a sample of those performances:

Jarod Bowie consistently proved his best-player-on-the-best-team-in-the-state status for Class AAA champion Martinsburg. Cabell Midland’s education came up close as soon as the ball kicked off at the state title game. The wide receiver’s three scores, including one after his own kickoff return, broke a 14-14 game wide-open.

On the other side of the state, Parkersburg South’s Brandon Penn expertly pulled off a triple-threat season (punter, quarterback, top defender) the entire year for the Class AAA semifinalist Patriots. One performance largely coming out of nowhere after Penn saw all of 40 offensive snaps at QB his first three seasons.

Musselman’s Blake Hartman, Fairmont Senior’s Gage Michaels and Poca’s Ethan Payne equaled double trouble for the opposition. All five also helped lead their team to the postseason.

Impressive, right?

Objective conversations surely took place at the football all-state meeting? Writers breaking protocol to ensure each person their chance to shine was a superb idea. Regional alliances took a back seat. Every stat, intangible and strengths of schedule, not just the list of offensive numbers sent out to voters, were on the table. All other statewide awards receive some amount of debate and consideration before a final determination, after all.

Well, no. And this fact is insane.

There is no adequate avenue for writers to see each candidate. Fully informed decisions only happen if someone saw each player. Schedules don’t exactly include trips to every major population hub in the state. Basketball, wrestling, softball and baseball trumped the gridiron sport in exposure for athletes.

Requests to correct this with a functional Hudl account have been shot down. Access to game film would at least allow voters to see each candidate at his best.

These requests were wishful thinking, really. The email about this year’s voting to WVSWA supreme leader Doug Huff went ignored as I thought it would. Changes to the Kennedy Award voting? Forget about it. One of the most important honors the WVSWA awards every season was untouchable. The selection process based on the Heisman Trophy criteria was perfect.

And so, we trudged on in a subjective and outdated manner.

All the while, voting for the Heisman modernized. All 870 voters split into six regions of 145 benefited from upgrades in technology and access to every critical piece of information, highlight, and profile on character about players from Boston College to the University of Southern California, but the Kennedy Award would not follow suit. The Mountain State would still rely on a system where a single region could sway the outcome and offensive numbers reigned supreme, regardless of class or strength of schedule. One where the cold lack of exposure could freeze over candidates hopes.

Yes, you heard correctly coaches and fans. And yes, defensive numbers being omitted is a travesty.

The WVSWA already selects three offensive top player awards (running back, wide receiver, quarterback), why do we need a fourth? Our search is for the “Player of the Year,” as the website also states on the homepage.

Mr. Payne had an outstanding season. As I stated above, his candidacy was clearly deserved and congratulations to the Dots and himself on a run to the Class AA quarterfinals. Congratulations to him on winning the Kennedy Award.

If this would have been the same outcome through a discussion there would be no problems, either. However, talent levels on the gridiron have exploded around the state. The writers who attend the all-state meeting discuss this development every December. Great seasons from multiple high school players are the normal.

Each one of those young people worked tirelessly for their coaches and schools throughout the entire season. The top five at least deserve to have their accomplishments, all of their accomplishments on both sides of the ball, heard in the voting process. These are not college kids, who have a way to promote themselves across the nation.

All of these high school players have earned their time in the light.

I think it is way past time everyone receives their dues. Let the old ways be altered for the better WVSWA. It might be a painful conversation, but the option to at least add a conversation in challenging years needs to exist.

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In the interest of full transparency, here is my Kennedy Award ballot as submitted to Mr. Huff: 1. Brandon Penn; 2. Jarod Bowie; 3. Blake Hartman.

Contact Joe Albright at jalbright@newsandsentinel.com.

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