COVER: Bottom line Jeff Kessinger Sports

I’m not advocating for reinventing the wheel when it comes to the Sertoma Grin Iron Classic, but maybe there’s something that can be done about the treads.

The West All-Stars defeated the East 42-3 June 4, in the 17th installment of the charity all-star game, which features southwest Missouri’s recently-graduated high school seniors and raises money for the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile, an on-the-go dental clinic known as the Tooth Truck. It was a dominant performance in what has been a dominant series for the West.

The game launched in 2002 and the West side — using U.S. 65 as the dividing line — won 11 of the first 12 games. In 2014, the East picked up its second victory, a 40-20 blowout. But it’s been all West since then. After this year’s hammering, the series record stands 15 for the West, two for the East.

Not all of the games have been blowouts, though. Just last year, Nixa’s Nicos Oropeza scored the game-winning touchdown in the first quarter of a 7-6 West victory. He was named his squad’s offensive MVP.

The 2016 game went down to the wire, with a last-minute goal line stand allowing the West to secure a 16-15 win. Back in 2013, Webb City quarterback John Roderique scored on a 1-yard keeper with 50 seconds remaining to give the West a thrilling 21-17 win.

There have, clearly, been some very competitive games, even though the results are lopsided in the West’s favor. That, however, doesn’t include games like the 2015 Grin Iron Classic, which the West won 27-0.

It doesn’t help that some of the football epicenters of southwest Missouri lie to the left of U.S. 65. That includes Webb City, which is the standard all programs measure themselves against. The Cardinals won their second state championship in four years last season, giving the program 14 state titles. There are also Carl Junction and Carthage, standout Central Ozark Conference programs in their own rights.

On a smaller-school level, there’s seven-time defending state champion Lamar. The Tigers currently own the nation’s fourth-longest active winning streak. Mt. Vernon played for a Class 3 state championship in 2017, while Monett won the Class 3 title in 2016.

It’s a pretty stacked deck for the West. It doesn’t mean there aren’t talented players and programs east of the highway, there just aren’t as many of them. The East will, eventually, win another one, but it’s hard to predict when that will be. Why not shake up the format in the meantime and breath some new life into the game?

There’s no easy way to break up the triplets. Carl Junction, Carthage and Webb City are all huddled together in Jasper County — as is a Joplin program that went has averaged seven wins over the past four seasons after averaging just four in the previous four seasons. You can’t easily break those schools up into North and South, at least not with anything resembling a straight line.

That is one possibility, though. Put Joplin and Webb City in the South, Carl Junction and Carthage in the North, then finagle that line as you move east in an attempt to create some sort of competitive balance.


Another possibility is for the organizers of the game to recruit the players as normal, then pick two head coaches, say two coaches who just guided their teams to successful seasons. Those coaches then hold a draft to pick their teams. It’s a little more work, but the results could be two teams a narrow talent gap.

To be fair, the game works fine as it’s held now. But if the East doesn’t have a few more successful outcomes soon, it might be time to take another look at that wheel.

Grin Action Classic

Sertoma’s Grin Action Classic once again provided an exciting volleyball tournament the day after the Grin Iron Classic. This year’s format featured just four teams, down from five. There were still North, South, East and West all-stars, but no Springfield team.

That made for a shorter morning of round-robin play between four pretty evenly matched teams. The South All-Stars, for instance, split two of three matches and managed to earn a spot in the title match.

There looked like a bigger crowd than normal for the Grin Action Classic, which was great to see considering there were fewer players involved. It’s always an entertaining event, which doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. If you haven’t checked it out yet, give it a shot in 2019.

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