Where’s All-State Gone?
Prestigious Award Might Be History
HARRISONBURG – Of all the accolades earned by former Harrisonburg High School football star Michael Holmes, the most prestigious honor probably was being named Group AA Player of the Year by the Associated Press in 2009 and 2010.
Turns out, he might be the last of a kind.
If you’re wondering why you didn’t see a story in 2011 or 2012 about a local standout receiving AP all-state recognition, the answer is simple: There hasn’t been an AP all-state football team since the 2010 season.
That doesn’t mean they’re dead, but they certainly are on life support.
In the changing landscape of the media and high school sports, the ability to produce a fair, wide-reaching all-state football team is becoming increasingly difficult, and that won’t change in the next academic year as the Virginia High School League doubles its classifications from three to six.
Hank Kurz, the AP’s veteran sports writer for Virginia, said all-state awards have become “a casualty” of cutbacks and smaller staffs at some of the wire service’s newspapers.
“We didn’t pick an all-state team last year and we haven’t picked one this year,” said Kurz, who left open the possibility of still having an AP list this year but cast serious doubts on having six all-state teams in future seasons. “I can’t imagine there would be six [all-state teams].”
For decades, the Associated Press and Virginia High School Coaches Association each chose all-state football teams. Holmes, for example, was also picked as the Group AA Offensive Player of the Year twice by the VHSCA, which was established in 1957.
The coaches still pick all-state teams, but theirs already are divided into five divisions (Divisions 1-4 plus Group AAA), making them less exclusive than the Group A, AA and AAA teams the AP has traditionally chosen.
“One of the issues we have this year,” Kurz said, “is there are gaps in the coverage in terms of newspapers that are members of the AP that could participate in the process.”
In other words, AP member newspapers are not covering all areas of the state nowadays. For example, the Daily Press in Newport News — one of Hampton Roads’ two major papers — is no longer an AP member and has no votes on all-state teams.
Those gaps leave open the possibility that a deserving player might not be nominated, making the AP hesitant to compile an all-state list that might lack credibility.
Those same gaps have caused the temporary disappearance of the state’s AP high school basketball polls this season. Without enough voters for Group AAA schools, the AP has yet to release any basketball polls — and only about two weeks remain in the regular season.
According to the Associated Press, 19 Virginia newspapers (including the Daily News-Record) and an array of broadcasters are members of the wire service – but that doesn’t mean all members are voting in the polls. Also, some outlets vote only for lower classifications because there are no Group AAA schools in their coverage area.
All-state accolades, though, have long held more weight than polls in the eyes of coaches.
Turner Ashby football coach Charlie Newman liked having the AP all-state teams in conjunction with the VHSCA’s teams, noting that the media could be more objective than coaches.
“Coaches can be swayed a little bit and be biased,” said Newman, adding that coaches might push for their own players or region at award meetings. “… It might be a region where a coach from one area that’s voting hasn’t even seen your kid play, and he’s just going based on what stats might be available.”
Coaches voting in the all-state meetings also have a more restricted sample from which to choose. In the VHSCA selection process, a player must be selected first-team all-district to be on the all-region team and must be picked first-team all-region to be on the all-state team.
The AP has no such limitations.
Kurz, a staunch proponent of honoring “as many kids as possible” under the three-classification format, believes if there are significant holes in state representation, the AP all-state teams ultimately aren’t worth doing.
In the future, if only coaches pick all-state teams, the honor might be severely diluted — and not just for football.
Former HHS football coach Tim Sarver, who is the Group AA coordinator for the VHSCA, said the coaches are leaning toward having six all-state teams each in football and boys’ and girls’ basketball, based on a straw poll conducted in January, starting in the 2013-14 school year with the onset of the VHSL’s new 6A system.
Why not maintain the exclusivity of the all-state teams by picking three teams from the six classifications, which is what the AP has done in football (under its soon-to-be-discarded system, the VHSL still has Groups A, AA and AAA, but it divides those in two and awards football championships in Divisions 1-6)?
“There was talk about it,” Sarver said. “But I think the consensus with it… was to have six divisions. It will almost be like an All-Region team when you look at the numbers.”
One silver lining, at least from a trivia standpoint? Harrisonburg could be a permanent part of all-state lore: Holmes might be the last Group AA Player of the Year.