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Thunder clinch playoff spot as NBA locks in return plan

By Michael Kinney

Despite being out of work for the past three months, the Oklahoma City Thunder accomplished an impressive feat last week. The franchise essentially clinched a spot in the postseason without having to lift a finger.

When the NBA Board of Governor’s and the NBA Player’s union approved the plan to resume the season, it put the Thunder in a position to where all the work they had done in the regular season was enough to guarantee them a spot in the upcoming playoffs.

“I think it’s great. It’s been a great group of guys, and our players and our coaches have done a really good job of looking at the season as a whole and not getting like too high or too low as the season had rolled around,” Thunder General Manager Sam Presti said. “Everybody has contributed. You know, and I don’t think any of us had an idea where we would be, quite frankly. We certainly didn’t expect to be in the situation that we’re in going down to Orlando. No one predicted that.”

However, the NBA’s plan to restart the season wasn’t just a snap of the fingers. It took weeks of negotiation for all sides involved to come up with a way to finish the season but also keep everyone safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

The regular season will resume July 31 for 22 of the 30 teams in the league. Those 22 teams (13 in the West, 9 in the East) were within six games of being in the top eight in each conference. The other eight teams saw their season come to an end.

The qualifying squads will play eight games on their schedule on Orlando’s Walt Disney World Campus.

Of the 22 teams, 16 will make the playoffs. The order in the standings will be determined by winning percentage.

But here is where things get complicated.  A possible play-in tournament for the eighth seed in each conference would then be held if the ninth seed finishes the regular season within four games of the eighth seed.

In order to advance, the ninth seed would need to defeat the eighth seed twice, while the eighth seed would just need one win to eliminate the ninth seed. The NBA’s regular playoff format would then proceed as normal. The NBA Finals will end no later than Oct. 12.

Currently, the Thunder sit in fifth place in the West. However, they are just one game behind the Utah Jazz for fourth place and two and half behind third-place Denver.

Because the Thunder are exactly eight games ahead of the current No. 8 seed Memphis, they are locked into the postseason.

“The format is not really a concern for us. We were going to go with whatever was best for the league,” Presti said. “You know, we’ll play anywhere, so we’re perfectly happy with what the league chose to go with. I think everyone has to be. There’s no choice. The one thing about this format or this event is that it’s– everyone is dealing with the same thing, so as competitors, that should be all you ask for.”

All remaining regular season games and the playoffs will take place on the Walt Disney World Campus.

The NBA and the NBPA are working with infectious disease specialists, public health experts and government officials to establish a program to decrease the risk of contracting COVID-19.

 “I think being there is I think going to be a great thing to be a part of something like that. We don’t have any idea what this is going to be like, so we’re going in with no preconceived notions other than we’re going to have to be adaptable, and we’re going to have to get comfortable with the fact that things are not going to be the way we’re used to them being,” Presti said. “Once you get past that, I think you can get into kind of really embracing that kind of like uncertainty, because as I said earlier, everyone is dealing with that.”

Thunder GM says ‘we can do more’ to fight racial injustice

By Michael Kinney

Late last week, Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager Sam Presti found himself in Tulsa. It is a trip he has made countless times since the NBA franchise first came to the state in 2008.

However, this trip was different. It was the first time Presti had ever visited the site of Black Wallstreet and the Tulsa Race Massacre.

The 99-year anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre happened to fall right in the middle of one of the biggest social justice uprisings the country has seen in some time. Presti felt it was a perfect opportunity to go and learn.

“I took the chance to drive up there the other day just to see that area and see the Greenwood District,” Presti said. “I hadn’t done that, and that was extraordinarily informative. For me, I was astounded when I was in Tulsa learning about that, and I’m going to learn more about it because I think it’s a fascinating piece of history in a lot of different ways. I just think there is more — as an organization, I do feel like we’ve put our best foot forward in the community, but we can do more, and I think we should. I think it’s healthy to say that.”

Like almost everyone else around the state, Presti has been focused on the death of George Floyd at the hands of four police officers in Minneapolis on May 25 and the protests and civil unrest that sprung from it.

When Presti held his virtual press conference with local media Sunday afternoon, he felt it was time to speak out and let the Thunder fans and community know where the organization stands.

“I’ve thought a lot about how I wanted to use my words and the way I feel. Obviously, it’s an extraordinarily sad moment for our country and for I think a lot of us as individuals to realize that there’s so much more opportunity for us to do more than we’ve been willing to,” Presti said. “I don’t really have the words. I don’t have them. But I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, either, in these situations, because I think what we need more now than words are actions. And the steps that we often take in these situations often revert to short-term solutions to what is really a problem that’s plagued this country for centuries.”

Presti said in the past, whenever an event like the death of Floyd would happen, people would act passionately, but without long term solutions. He said that has been a recipe for failure.

The Thunder organization does not want to get caught up in that trap again. He talked about wanting to do something more effective and long-lasting and not something to just make themselves look or feel good.  

“The steps that we often take are steps to soothe, when, in fact, what we’re doing is failing to heal, and I think that’s something that we as a nation really need to let sink in,” Presti said. “Of course we have to listen, but the goal of listening is not to soothe the listener, it’s to equip the listener to act and to lift those up that are doing the speaking, in this case our black community that is voicing the real issues of social mobility, police brutality, socioeconomic disparity. These things are part of the fabric of our country, and I think that we also have to take heart that it’s also part of our responsibility to work to affect them in positive fashion.”

Presti made a point to acknowledge the peaceful protests that took place in Tulsa, Lawton and Oklahoma City over the past two weeks.

I just have a lot of respect for the people that protested peacefully, which I think is a great statement,” Presti said. “I think that it’s important that people recognize the peaceful avenue that’s been taken in a lot of places because that I think has the most effect, and I support those people, anybody that uses their voice in that way.”

Presti pointed out systemic racism has been part of America for centuries and there is no quick fix to it. But he said individuals can start by recognizing it and acknowledging the effect it has had on the black community.

“I don’t think it’s bad for us to sit with this and be ashamed by it,” Presti said. “I don’t think it’s bad at all. I think it’s actually probably helpful because what it can do to inspire us to take a different path than maybe we’ve taken in the past and really work for long-ranging plans that can impact things in a positive way to be scaled beyond a month or a conversation or a session.”

Presti didn’t give a timetable on when he wants the Thunder to start implementing some long-term solutions to real issues that are affecting the black communities in the state.

“Really what I’m trying to say is when the protests dissipate and slow and the anger turns to sadness and sorrow, that is when the work of an organization like the Thunder or any organization should be building to its crescendo,” Presti said. “That’s when we should be doing our best work so we can make this meaningful and not just short-term. I really truly believe in my heart that the Thunder is all about bringing people together, and it’s about lifting people up, and those words are hollow, obviously, until the actions consistently back that up, and we’re prepared to do that.”

Michael Kinney is a Content Provider

The spark of protests (and conflict) hits Oklahoma

By Michael Kinney

Photos by Michael Kinney

Lynda Williams had to be there. Having grown up in Lawton and now raisin two young boys in the city, the 47-year old Child Welfare Specialist had to see it for herself.

The event was the Lawton Peace Rally Sunday afternoon. It was spurred on by the death of another unarmed black man by police in a state hundreds of miles away. But it still hit close to home for Williams.

“I went to show my support for our African American community and let them know that we all need to stand together to stop the senseless killing of African Americans in this county,” Williams said. “It was important because there is racial injustice everywhere even in Lawton and our voices need to be heard.”

On May 25, a video was released on social media of a 46-year black man being detained by four members of the Minneapolis Police Department. They had been called when a shop owner accused George Floyd of using a fake $20 bill to buy a pack of cigarettes.

Less than 30 minutes later, Floyd was dead.

The video showed in detail a white officer, Derek Chauvin, placing his left knee on the back of Floyd’s neck as he laid on the ground.  He kept the knee there for nearly nine minutes while Floyd was saying “I can’t breathe” and asking for his mom.

When it was found out the Floyd died after the incident, the video went viral and made Floyd, a household name as the country was left to grapple with another death of an unarmed black man in police custody.

Chauvin and the other three officers were fired the next day. However, it took several more days of protests and violent conflict before Chauvin was arrested and charged with murder.

But by then, it was too late. The spark had been lit and it set off a tidal wave of protests, rallies and marches across the country. It also brought about acts of looting, vandalism and violence.

“I am not surprised nor am I apologetic on the efforts of black people forcing the conversation for people to listen to our cries as a nation,” said 28-year old Jacobi Crowley, who organized the peace rally. “No one wants to see riots and protest, but when we have done peaceful protest we were ignored and told to stand up instead of taking a knee. I now see a people feed up with seeing no action and the same results. As a nations I believe we have to bring this conversation to the front and make sure everyone is aware that we as a nation can not move forward and heal until we are honest about the systemic racism and oppression in this county.”

Many cities have had to find ways to deal with what has become a national tragedy.

That includes Lawton, which is why Crowley put together the Peace Rally after being encouraged by citizens in the community.

“I was asked by fellow citizens to organize and put together a peaceful rally. I thought it was a great opportunity for the Lawton community to show the nation we are in solidarity with the black community on George Floyd’s death,” Crowley said. “As a diverse communit,y I think it is important to take a stand for things like systemic racism that happens within this county. In order for us to truly have a conversation that will show solidarity and togetherness, we must first have a real conversation that deeply impacts the black community.” 

For many of those in attendance, it was something the city needed.

“My husband and I attended the rally due to us wanting to be a part of the conversation of change in Lawton, 44-year old Monica Hamilton said. “Both of us being born and raised in Lawton and now raising our four kids of color, we saw it important to be there. Lawton for years, and within my family’s and my own personal experiences, has been divided. If we, as a community look at the bigger picture, Lawton needed this rally. With the unfortunate death of George Floyd, I instantly felt compassion and a sense of connection, among other feelings. I’ve gone over my father’s, my kids and my own memories of racism. I thought of the ‘what ifs’ those experiences would have gone badly. What if? Today, Lawton felt the same. Today’s rally showed Lawton in a very positive light.”

The organizers of the event seemed to work in concert with the City of Lawton, who granted a permit for the rally. That made for a more relaxed environment that was inviting to all.

“What stood out to me was the amount of young people in the crowd and the size of the crowd is what stood out to me,” said Williams. “When I drove up the rally had already started and there was barely anywhere to park. To see Lawton show up like that was really heartwarming.”

More than 60 miles away in Oklahoma City, a much larger protest march was taken place on Sunday.

Led by the local chapter of Black Lives Matter, thousands of people arrived at NE 36th and Kelly to hear a few speakers before they made their way to the Oklahoma State Capitol.

The crowd was filled with men and women of all races and nationalities. The marchers filled the streets as they chanted and waved signs before they congregated on the front steps of the capitol.

“Today’s protest and march in Northeast OKC was well-attended and entirely peaceful,” Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt said. “When someone defaced our Capitol, a group of people removed their shirts and began cleaning. My gratitude to the organizers and those who attended.”

It was one of the largest marches Oklahoma City has seen in quite some time. While it was peaceful, many of the attendees felt they had been heard.

After an hour, the bulk of the marchers headed back to the starting point in Northeast Oklahoma. However, another smaller group of a couple hundred young men and women diverted back downtown to the Oklahoma City Courthouse.

Because of what took place Saturday, the police were on high alert and had called in help from other departments in the area. Every officer was in riot gear and they also brought in a armored vehicle, which they parked on the front lawn behind a barricade.  

Things stayed calm until the sun went down. Then there was a replay of the night before. Objects being thrown at the police, including fireworks and rocks and tear gas tossed at the protesters.

At 9:45 p.m., Holt announced a curfew for downtown Oklahoma City started at 10 p.m.

The police were able to push the group to outside the curfew zone and they tangled until around 2 .m. before they finally got things under control.

Once again, small businesses saw their property vandalized. That included Valir Health, which was looted.

“In our form of government, the City Manager and the Police Chief are the leads on our law enforcement response and our Charter prohibits the Mayor from directing the operations of the police department,” Holt said. “I have confidence in the expertise of our city’s law enforcement leadership, but I am absolutely monitoring the situation very closely. We’re all in this together. I will always believe that.”

This all came on the heals of Saturday’s protest event that started out well, but quickly spiraled out of control after demonstrators stopped traffic at the intersection of NW 23rd and Classen.

At that point, around eight Oklahoma City Police officers pulled up and told the protesters to get back onto the sidewalk and stop interfering with traffic.

Two or three individuals were taken away by the police and later arrested.

Members of the Oklahoma City Police Department take down a protester Saturday before arresting him. Photo by Michael Kinney

As soon as the police left, the group got back into the street and took over the intersection for the rest of the night. After a couple of more altercations with the authorities, they group, which numbers a couple of hundred, made their way throughout the city and ended up at the Oklahoma City Police Headquarters.

For several hours, the protesters squared off with the police. During that time people in the crowd threw water bottles rocks and bricks at the police as they formed a protective line around the station.

The police used tear gas, flash bangs, rubber bullets and bean bags on the agitated crowd. However, there are differing accounts on who began the crowd.

Throughout the evening, several storefronts had windows broken and graffiti tagged on their buildings. A total of 25 individuals were arrested throughout the evening.

“Destruction of property or threats of violence are not acceptable. It doesn’t serve a higher purpose and it distracts from the important issues at hand,” Holt stated after the situation was under control. “It is not something we will ever condone in Oklahoma City. I am especially disappointed in property damage to small businesses, who have suffered enough from the pandemic. Having said that, I’ve heard many anecdotes tonight about people who spoke out against vandalism and violence. Those anecdotes hearten me, but don’t surprise me. The vast majority of people in this city, even those who are angry right now, do not want to harm our people.”

It is believed by many, that the violent and destructive parts of the weekend were led by outside groups who’s only intention were to create problems. This has been a reoccurring picture around the country as protests have been hijacked by those seeking to exploit the situation for criminal activities.

However, since it has not been proven, the peaceful protesters have also been labeled rioters and looters.

The question that remains what is next? After the nights of protests and riots, what needs to happen going forward to improve the nation and state.

“I pray and hope these conversations continue,” Hamilton said. “Changes are made. Lawton grows. Lawtonians realize their biggest voice is in the ballot booth.”

Lance Miles has similar hopes.

“First and foremost, I hope that it will force our politicians to create a dialogue with the leaders of the African American Community. Not fake dialogue but true dialogue. With national and state leaders who truly want to listen and make a difference,” said Miles. “I hope that it brings forth a new crop of leaders to the forefront. Leaders who have empathy, new ideas and have the strength to withstand the backlash that will obviously come from those who are scared of change.”

For Williams, the question is bigger than just the city she grew up in. She looked at what was taking place across the nation and wants better for the next generation of young, black kids.

“My hope is that America will open its eyes to the racism that is in this country. It exists and is alive well in 2020,” Williams said. “My hope going forward is that my black son, husband and grandsons will not be considered a threat just because of the color of their skin.”

Michael Kinney Media

Calls for social justice runs in NBA star’s family.

By Michael Kinney

When the NBA put a pause on its season in early March due to the spread of COVID-19, Trae Young decided to come home. The Atlanta Hawks All-Star packed up a few bags and headed back to his hometown of Norman, which is also where he started at the University of Oklahoma.

Young didn’t know how much time he was going to be back home, but it gave him an opportunity to catch up with friends and family. That included his younger sister Caitlyn Young, who is currently a 20-year-old sophomore at TCU.

Anyone who has been around the pair for any significant amount of time can automatically tell they have polar opposite personalities. In fact, it would be fair to say Caitlyn is the fire to Trae’s ice.

Those differences showed themselves this week as they both grappled, like most Americans, with how to respond to the events surround the death of George Floyd at the hands of four police officers in Minneapolis on May 25.

“It’s been a lot of different things. For me, I’ve seen all the riots and the looting and people are saying they want peaceful protests,” Trae Young said. “And for me, I’m in the middle. I mean, I see both sides. I see protesting peacefully is a good way to go about it. But also, I see the anger in these people, in our people. We’ve been protesting peacefully for years and it hasn’t changed.”

While her older brother was more diplomatic, Caitlyn Young didn’t mince words. As an active member in the Black Lives Matter movement, she was a little more direct in her anger over the situation her country finds itself in.

“Anger is the number one feeling that I’ve felt all week,” Caitlyn Young said.  “And any type of happiness or joy that I do experience for a split second, I let that subside quickly because I don’t think for me personally, there hasn’t been any room or time or space for that. In my opinion, in regard to the protests, there is no right or wrong way to go about it. People are angry. There hasn’t been any change. It’s not like what happened last week to George Floyd is the first time it’s happened.”

It is evident by their responses that the two siblings are at different points in their lives.

As a major in strategic communications, Caitlyn is the firebrand of the family who has seemingly never had a problem speaking her mind fully on subjects she is passionate about. That includes the fault line that has been built between the police and the black community.

“Just in quarantine, there’s been multiple shootings, multiple killings of black people and people are angry,” Caitlyn Young said. “So there is no way to go about saying these protests have been too violent, too peaceful. I generally think however black people are choosing to respond right now is the right way to respond.”

Photo Credit: Michael Kinney/Michael Kinney Media Above, Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young and his sister, Caitlyn Young, attend social justice rally in their hometown of Norman on June 1.

For Trae, who is not only the face of the Atlanta Hawks, but has also become one of the rising stars in the NBA since he was drafted No. 5 overall in 2018.

At the age of 21, it seems Trae Young is still learning how to represent himself, his team and Atlanta, which saw his teammates leading peaceful protest marches and individuals destroying property and looting.

“It was sad and it was also something I understand,” Trae Young said. “I’m not there right now, but I’m talking to people in Atlanta. I know Jaylen Brown. I know Justin Anderson who was in the walk, in the protest, and it’s crazy what’s going on in Atlanta. But these people want change and we want to change. I feel like that’s the way that they’re thinking and I’m behind them.

So I see the reason why the aggressive protest and the looting and the rioting have been this way this past week. But I feel at the same time, I think there’s a lot of different ways to go about it. And honestly, I’m in the middle of how it is.”

The entire Young family took part in a variety of events during the weekend. That included the Black Lives Matter march in Oklahoma City on Sunday.

While the march was an amazing experience for them, they could not say the same about the peaceful protest rally of racial injustice that was held in Norman on Monday afternoon.

Even though her brother was one of the featured speakers, Caitlyn Young, who is also a double minor in Comparative Race Relations and Ethnic Studies and Religion, found very few positives about the event.

“Today’s event did nothing for me. I think it was something that is to be expected from the city of Norman,” Caitlyn Young said. “I feel like it’s a lot of white people being comfortable, applauding black people for being very patient and calm in their anger about things. I think a lot of black people were monitoring themselves in what they were saying today to make the white people here feel comfortable. And I don’t think that’s productive. I don’t think it’s making any systemic change and that’s what’s necessary now.”

Trae Young has come to not only expect his sister’s full-throated honesty, he respects it and counts on it.

“One thing about Caitlyn, she’s going to keep it real. She’s not going to bullshit you,” Trae Young said. “And that’s something that makes her who she is and makes our family who we are.  I’ll keep it real with her. She keeps it real with me. That’s how it is.”

While they do not always agree, Trae and Caitlyn can always discuss anything with each other with honesty and without fear. That is a trait that is much needed these days. “It’s very comfortable for us. Nobody holds back. You’re going to say your opinion,” Caitlyn said. “You’re going to be truthful about it. No one’s scared to step on each other’s toes. I think our family does a pretty good job of even when tensions and emotions are high, there’s still respect for at least the basics of each other’s opinions. And the way that we go about developing our opinions. We put a lot of thought and logic behind it so that helps foster a lot of respect.”

Michael Kinney Media

OSSAA board rejects COVID-19 proposal

By Michael Kinney

 In a decision that caught many people off-guard, the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association board of directors rejected their own association’s reopening proposal Friday.

The plan called for a slow reintegration of high school sports in three phases that would have begun June 1. However, the proposal was rejected by a vote of 7-6.

According to OSSAA Executive Director David Jackson, summertime activities in accordance with current rules and policies as stated in the Administrators Handbook are in place.
With the committee’s plan failing, it is now up to school districts to decide how to prepare for high school athletics while still keeping student-athletes safe from the coronavirus.

This did not sit well with many coaches and administrators.

“I am not comfortable with districts handling their own protocol,” Lawton MacArthur High School coach Odell Gunter said. “There needs to be one system for everyone and I thought OSSAA was going to handle that.”

Jackson, who led the proposal to the board, said school districts can start summer activities immediately.

Programs such as the Elgin High School football team announced later in the day on social media that their annual Summer Pride will start June 1.

“To say that I’m disappointed that the OSSAA voted to not approve guidelines for member schools to follow for reopening athletics, would be an understatement,” Southmoore High Athletic Trainer Chris Trobaugh said. “This would’ve been the perfect opportunity for the OSSAA to lead the way and put student athlete safety and health on the forefront. The NFHS (National Federation of State High School Associations) plan already mentions athletic trainers being an important part of this process. They could have taken the baton and ran with it. Instead, they excluded their Sports Med Advisory committee and made the decision to let board members, who don’t adequately represent their membership, decide for the masses.”

The decision to reject the three-phase proposal was announced Friday afternoon at the OSSAA’s virtual Board of Director’s meeting.

Board members who voted no include Craig McVay of El Reno, Jason Sternberger of Kingfisher, Jerry Needham of Oktaha, Rusty Puffinbarger of Leedey, Rex Trent of Binger-Oney, Bryan McNutt of Antlers and Don Schneberger of Boone-Apache.

Those who voted yes were Rick Pool (Kiowa), Darren Melton (Lincoln Christian), Duane Merideth (Durant), Mike Simpson (Guthrie), Dr. Sean McDaniel (OKCPS) and Jerry Olanson (Glenpool).

Phase one of the proposal would have taken place June 1-28. It would’ve just included strength and conditioning and one-on-one personal instruction. But not group or team practices or camps. It also detailed specific cleaning and disinfecting parameters that needed to be adhered to daily.

Phase two would have started June 29 and ran through July 31. Phase three is when sports such as allowed fastpitch softball, fall baseball, cross country, cheer would have been able to conducts full and open practices starting Aug. 1.

While most school districts have yet to release any of their own guidelines on how they plan to move forward, that hasn’t stopped coaches from raising concerns.

Adam Helms, who coaches track and cross country at Putnam City High said it will be a difficult choice for him. Helms was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) in 2018.

He has been battling the condition since the diagnosis. Because COVID-19 is especially dangerous for those with underlying medical conditions, the OSSAA’s decision to not take the lead is troubling.

“I have to choose between seeing my kids or not,” Helms said. “If they get exposed working out and give it me…it’s most likely a death sentence. Or they wait to participate and get behind. If they would have followed what the association recommended, it allowed for activity to start but remain within healthy parameters and limit the possibility of exposure.”

Board members did not offer any explanation on why they decided to deny the OSSAA proposal.

Jackson told the board beforehand that it was better to be too cautious considering what the ramifications could turn into if something goes wrong.

“I know you don’t want as a board to have to tell any more kids that you can’t have your season, that you can’t have your state tournament,” Jackson said to the board before the vote. “We hope we never have to do that again. So that was kind of our guide as we’ve worked through this.”

Coaches will now wait to hear what COVID-19 precautions and guidelines their school districts will put in place, if any. But because all districts will be on their own game plan, that leaves a lot of unanswered questions.

“I believe this virus is serious,” Gunter said. “I have a feeling there are going to be coaches acting like we are back to normal. We will never have normalcy for a while.”

Michael Kinney Media

Class of 2020 is on a unique path

By Michael Kinney

In the next few weeks, the class of 2020 will be seeing an end to their high school careers. For the majority of them, it was like almost any other class that had come before it.

But that changed in March when all a sudden, the normal school days were turned upside down and they were left wondering what was going to happen on a daily basis.

“It has been pretty normal up until the week of Spring Break, then everything turned into a crazy set of events that initially felt like unbelief,” said Hunter Molloy. “Then I went into denial. Really, this has been a grieving cycle that has been all over the place.”

Molloy is an 18-year old at Elgin High School. Like thousands of seniors around the country, what was supposed to be the most rememberable time in high school turned into a time of uncertainty. Many of the plans he had to close out his high school career was canceled due to the spread of COVID-19 throughout the state and country.

“It was probably two to three weeks into the entire situation that it became real,” Molloy said. “It was real that I would not be able to see or talk to some of my classmates that I may never see again.”

It was pretty much the same way for McKenna Morrison, an 18-year old senior at Massilon Jackson High School in Ohio.

“This year just hasn’t felt real. Everyone is out of school but it’s not summer,” said Morrison, whose mother is a native of Lawton. “It hasn’t really hit me yet that March 14th was my last day ever at Jackson. I still feel like we’re on a long break and everything is going to go back to being normal.”

It wasn’t until March 25 that The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted to close public schools statewide for the remainder of the school year.

The board also voted to turn to distance learning as a way to finish out the school year. This also meant an end to any extracurricular activities.

“We were devastated,” said Eisenhower High’s Landon Augusta. “We had been fighting all season long in soccer and did not get to finish our season. I missed out on my final moments with my team and not being able to fulfill something we had dreamed of for four years.”

For an athlete like Molloy, not being able to finish off all of the hard work he and his teammates had put in made the situation worse.

“I can remember when I found out that baseball and all sports for the spring season came out to be canceled by the OSSAA, it became real and quite frankly, devastating. Our baseball team was on the brink of another promising season and we were all hungry for another run in the state tournament,” Molloy said. “I do believe when I heard that this was over, I felt like I had been hit by a huge truck. I have played baseball since I could walk and all of a sudden that last season was ripped out right from underneath me.”

Morrison, who will attend Ohio University, is also an athlete, but her sport of soccer concluded in the fall. What she missed out on the most were the normal traditions that go along with being a senior.

“Covid-19 really took away my last memories at Jackson. I didn’t have a prom, I have no official last day of school, and the thing that I’m most missing out on is my graduation,” Morrison said. “You only get to graduate once from high school and unfortunately, we do not get to do that. Yes, we all graduate but there’s no actual ceremony. When I heard that we weren’t going to get to walk across the stage I was very upset I may not have shown it but I was. That’s the one thing I was looking forward to. I didn’t care so much about prom but graduation was the one thing I wanted to have.”

At her school, Morrison said they have graduation plans for a drive-by ceremony on March 28. It is not how she envisioned it.

“Each graduate will be allowed one car and we can fit as many people in the car legally. We are supposed to wear our cap and gown as well. When we drive up the staff will hand us the case to our diploma and take a picture but we are not allowed out of the car,” Morrison said. “We are assigned a certain time to arrive. Then they will mail us our diploma. This is all happening on the day we were supposed to graduate.  I think it’s every kid’s goal to walk across that stage and graduate. We spent 12 years trying to get to that point and now that’s taken from us. All our hard work won’t be celebrated the right way. Walking across that stage is an accomplishment. I think it’s very upsetting to the grandparents and parents. They always look forward to watching their grandkid/kid walk across the stage.”

In Oklahoma, different school districts have varying plans for graduation ceremonies. Lawton Public Schools is scheduled to have virtual graduation for three high schools and Gateway Success Center on May 22.

The Moore School district has pushed their ceremonies back into late June and will have their seniors walk the stage at Cox Convention Center. If they have to postpone the services, they will be moved to July.

Molloy, who is heading to Cameron University,  is still hoping he will be able to walk the stage as well, but the odds are against him. His graduation is set for March 15th.

“Thankfully, Elgin Public Schools is still working on finding a way to try their very best to make this happen for us,” Molloy said. “I am so very grateful to them and our community for rallying around us and finding ways to honor our class even during this time. We do not know if or when this may happen, but it is not out of the question. I, along with most of my classmates, continue to pray that we will get the full graduation experience.”

For Augusta, he is coming to grips with not being able to complete his high school career as he wanted. As he heads off to trade school, he is looking forward to getting the next chapter in his life started.

“I regret it. I want to go back and still have all those memories with my friends,” Augusta said. “But on another note, getting into the real world fast and moving on getting a job wasn’t too bad either. The one thing I have learned is don’t take anything for granted. Our last moments in high school were stripped away, it makes you realize all the things you would go back and redo.”

While they are unable to go back and get a redo, the graduating seniors are in a position to still do amazing things. During his virtual commencement speech May 16, former President Barack Obama pointed that out to the class.

“No one does big things by themselves,” Obama said. “If we’re going to save the environment and defeat future pandemics, we’re going to have to do it together. So be alive to one another’s struggles. Stand up for one another’s rights. Leave behind all the old ways of thinking that divide us.

“When everything’s up for grabs, this is your generation’s world to shape.”

Michael Kinney Media

Riley: “We have one good shot at it.”

By Michael Kinney

Since mid-March the sports world has been in a standstill. Whether it is professional leagues, the college ranks or even youth athletics, the overwhelming majority of athletes have been in a wait and see mode as the country deals with the COVID-19.

That includes the University of Oklahoma football team. The Sooners missed out on spring football and workouts due to the limitations and guidelines put in place by state officials to stop the spread of COVID-19.

However, OU coach Lincoln Riley doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to get his players back on campus. During a virtual conference call Thursday with reporters, he expressed his worries that things may be moving too fast.

“All the talk about these schools wanting to bring players back on June 1 is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard,” Riley said. “We’ve got to be patient. We have one good shot at it. “It would be completely irresponsible to bring these guys in too early. We need to bring these guys in as late as we can. Every day they come in could be a day we could’ve gotten better, learned more about the virus, the PPE gets better, a day closer to a vaccine, the testing capabilities get better. It’s just not worth it.”

This differs completely with remarks Oklahoma State University football coach Mike Gundy made in April about getting players back on campus as soon as possible.

“The NCAA, the presidents of the universities, the conference commissioners, the athletic directors all need to be meeting right now, and we need to start coming up with answers,” Gundy said. “In my opinion, if we have to bring our players back, test them. They’re in good shape, they’re all 18, 19, 20, 21, 22 years old, they’re healthy. A lot of them can fight it off with their natural body, the antibodies and build that they have. There are some people that are asymptomatic. If that’s true, then yeah, we sequester them. And people say, ‘That’s crazy.’ No, it’s not crazy, because we need to continue to budget and run money through the state of Oklahoma.”

Gundy has since apologized for the controversy his statement caused. But he did not back down from his opinion.

Riley’s apprehensions stem from the recent conversations revolving around professional sports moving toward making a comeback in the near future. The NBA, the NFL, MLB and NHL all seem to be making progress to resuming their seasons.

College athletics are hoping to join right behind them.

The commissioners of the Power 5 conferences (Big 12, ACC, SEC, Big 10, Pac 12) had a conference call with Roger Goodell to hear his thoughts on how they can get the college football season up and running.

“They’re ahead of us in terms of developing protocols as to how they can bring players back, and how they would test, and if they are playing before when a full stadium of fans were allowed, how many fans would be allowed in the stadium,” ACC commissioner John Swofford told the media Thursday. “They have to deal with different state regulations just like we may have to deal with that, but from a medical standpoint, I think we can certainly learn from them as they move into their training camps and playing games because their cycle is ahead of ours.”

Yet, Riley doesn’t seem to believe the college level can take the same path as pro leagues. Especially since universities have more than just billionaire owners to listen to.

This was shown last week when the California State University System, the largest four-year public university in the country, announced that it plans to offer primarily online remote classes this fall. That includes 23 campuses across the state.

This has many wondering the rest of the school on the West coast will soon follow and if that also means no fall sports.

Riley doesn’t believe that is going to happen in Oklahoma. But, he also isn’t sure.

“I definitely think we’ll play. “When we play? I just think everybody, whether it’s our decision-makers, our coaches, our players, fans, I think everybody’s gotta have a very open mind about this,” Riley said. “We’re not the NFL. There are some huge, huge differences in us being able to put on a successful season versus a professional league. We’re not the NBA. We don’t just have 15 players. This is a totally different deal.”

However, like with most issues, the decision to come back has a lot to do with money.

Several of the elite football programs, such as the Sooners, could survive having to sit out one season if they had to. But the revenue those programs take in also funds most of the other sports on campus.

If there is no football, many believe some non-revenue (Olympic) sports will be cut.

While the SEC is set to vote May 22 on making their athletic facilities available for student-athletes as soon as June 1, the Big 12 has yet to put forth a timetable. However, Riley does believe there will be some type of season.

“I do believe if we do it right and we don’t get ahead of ourselves, we will be able to play a season. Whether that’s this fall, whether that’s in the spring, whether it’s a combination, whether that’s a full schedule, shortened schedule, I don’t know,” Riley said. “I know all those options are on the table, and we’re gonna have to have an open mind and we’re probably gonna have to make some adjustments along the way. But I have a high, high confidence that we are gonna play football this year.”

Michael Kinney Media

Will the NBA return this season?

By Michael Kinney

On March 11, the Oklahoma City Thunder rang the Coronavirus alarm in the sports world. That night a visiting member of the Utah Jazz tested positive for COVID-19 and forced the game to be canceled.

From that moment on the NBA has been at a standstill. The season was suspended as the world dealt with the pandemic.

But that didn’t mean officials and owners weren’t looking for toward the point where they could restart the 2019-20 campaign and finish off the season in some manner.

“I just think it’s incumbent on the teams to really follow the lead of the league leadership in this situation because there’s not going to be a perfect solution.” Oklahoma City Vice President/General Manager Sam Presti said.  “In the event we are in a position to play again, obviously the health and wellness of staff, players, fans, everybody involved, that’s a decision that needs to be made way above anyone at a team level.”

Some of the options that have been talked about include playing in empty arenas without fans or shipping playoff teams off to Disney World to play a month-long tournament. It would be like their own bubble, with no contact from the outside world.

“Relative to coming back, whatever they provide to us, I know from our point of view, we’ll work with whatever it is as long as it’s been vetted by the league medical folks and everybody is working with the same schedule,” Presti said. “I can’t give you a perfect answer because I just don’t know. We’re in uncharted territory.”

Several of the league’s biggest stars have come out in recent weeks proclaiming they want to finish the season. They have included the likes of the Lakers’ LeBron James and Thunder guard Chris Paul.

“Saw some reports about execs and agents wanting to cancel season??? That’s absolutely not true,” James stated on his social media account. “Nobody I know saying anything like that. As soon as it’s safe we would like to finish our season. I’m ready and our team is ready. Nobody should be canceling anything.”

Publicly, everyone involved seems to be saying they want to play out the year. Right now, it’s the logistics, along with the safety, that has NBA officials stymied.

“We’re just not ready to set a date yet in terms of how long we can wait before we no longer would be able to continue this season,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said. “I would just say everything is on the table, including potentially delaying the start of next season. We just need more information.”

When the season was shut down, there were still 259 regular season games left on the schedule. And while most playoff teams seemed to be set, there were still chances for franchises to fall out of contention. (Oklahoma City (40-24) is currently in fifth place in the Western Conference and just two and a half games out of third place.)

So, if the league decide whether to just restart the season in the playoffs, or allow the teams several games to prepare for the postseason.

None of these questions have been answered publicly yet. Or even if they will for sure finish the season. It’s still up in the air.

However, last week the NBA took a step closer when it announced that teams would be able to start opening its facilities for players to work out and shoot around. That is scheduled to begin May 8.

Oklahoma has been one of the more aggressive states in relaxing its shelter at home guidelines. THe state has already allowed gyms to reopen under certain restrictions.

That could be seen as an advantage for the Thunder in being able to get their players back on the practice court sooner.

Presti doesn’t necessarily see it that way.

“I don’t know that there are any advantages in this situation, and I don’t mean from a basketball standpoint; I just mean in general. And a big part of that is just because of the amount of uncertainty that everybody is working with,” Presti said. “I just — I don’t know that there’s an advantage. You can make the argument that coming back too soon is a disadvantage; know what I mean?”

Regardless, Presti doesn’t want to have to make any decisions on whether to start allowing his players back into the practice facilities until he is positive that they will be safe from contracting the COVID-19. And that may not come until after May 8.

“With respect to the May 8 date, what I can say is that the league has stated it’s a target date, and we’re still a week or so away from that before we even can get there,” Presti said. “And I think what we’ve all seen and lived through this experience is that things are changing like literally day by day. We’re evaluating that. I wouldn’t say that we’re committed to doing that. We have to work through that a little bit. We’re going to continue to speak with our players about that whole entire concept of coming back, but the league has given some flexibility, obviously, to the teams to determine what is best for them. And for us, we’re operating on the assumption that the league wouldn’t be permitting players and staff members back into facilities unless they felt it was absolutely safe.”

Michael Kinney Media

 

Sherriff candidate shows support for the unknown essential workers

By Michael Kinney

Ever since the Coronavirus has spread into Oklahoma, there are several groups of people who have stayed on their job because of their essential status. They include nurses and first responders.

However, there is one group that has continued to work in the same conditions, but are much less herald. They are those in the public transportation realm. The bus drivers have been on the job in Oklahoma City and other parts of the state keeping the economy moving.

That is why Tommie Johnson found himself at the EMBARK headquarters Wednesday evening. The Norman police officer wanted to give back to the underappreciated group.

“We wanted to give back to our community, definitely give back to people who have been servicing Oklahoma County,” Johnson said. “Now I’m a police officer. I realize that the community has poured so much love and attention to us, as first responders, and I appreciate that. But as a cop, you see other sides of things and how other people are investing, especially during this COVID crisis as well.”

Johnson decided the best way to show his gratitude was by feeding the EMBARK employees.

He enlisted the help of his old high school baseball teammate Abel Deloera, who is the manager of San Marcos Mexican Restaurant.

Deloera’s family established San Marcos in 1993. The business has grown to five locations during the past 27 years.

“I went to school with him at U.S. Grant. We played on the same baseball team, so our ties go way back,” Johnson said. “We brought food here today and fed approximately 30 people. We brought enough for 30 meals, full setups, fajitas, enchiladas, the whole works.”

According to Johnson, the EMBARK personnel was very appreciative of the gift.

“When I called in to schedule this, the lady who answered the phone was like, ‘Sir, I appreciate that more than anything, because somebody is thinking about us,’” Johnson said. “And when you get that response, I mean, that made me feel so good. I mean, even bringing the food here, just hearing her say, “Somebody’s thinking about us.” That made me feel good.”

TJ photo
Oklahoma County Sherriff candidate, Tommie Johnson, right, dropped off dinner for the transit workers in Oklahoma County April 29

Johnson, who is also running for Oklahoma County Sheriff, said he knows the men and women who transport people are the ones who are keeping the economy going in every city and town. He wanted to show them that their work has not gone unnoticed.

“I believe situations like this, you feel you’re forgotten. Their toeing the front line like first responders are, and their job is very important,” Johnson said. “And I didn’t want them to think it would be overlooked, and I didn’t want the community to overlook them either. We need to shed light on the people who are doing positive things that may just not be in the nursing field, or on police or the fire side. But they are just as easily exposed to this as we are. So I just wanted to just show appreciation. Abel wanted to show appreciation, and San Marcos did as well.”

Johnson said what he and Deloera did is just being part of a community.

“I think all too often, police and a lot of first responders are put in a box, like it’s just enforcement that we do,” Johnson said. “Police are involved in the community at a level much greater than that. We see when situations like the COVID-19 hit, we see how that affects communities at a ground level, and we see how it affects people in their homes. And so I just think from that perspective, I think this is why this fits so well, and why I’m running for Oklahoma County Sheriff is because I want to be more than an enforcer. I want to be involved in my community in a bigger capacity. I want them to know that they have me for more than just enforcing the laws on the street. They have somebody who’s going to be invested as well.”

Michael Kinney Media

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