By John Stepp
DuPont Manual High School
A fan making a trip to a Hot Rod’s baseball game in Bowling Green, Kentucky, can expect a day of excitement, laughter and a whole lot of memories.
The Hot Rods, which hosts minor league baseball, is striving to make their stadium as much of a community center to the public as possible. They are finding ways to bring in people of many different age groups.
“We are big with entertainment with our baseball games and that’s what kind of gives us our family atmosphere,” said Brad Taylor, Hot Rod general manager.
To get younger children involved with the stadium’s new image, the staff opens up the stadium to a variety of events for them, including birthday parties and Boy Scout sleepovers.
On game night, kids even have a playground to keep them entertained.
“We have a big inflatable slide,” said Kyle Hanrahan, who works in community relations for the team.
“It blows up to where it touches the net.”
Kate McElroy, a 15-year-old Bowling Green resident, said her family loves attending games.
“At the game, is a fun atmosphere and it appeals to a huge age range because the toddlers can play and adults can watch the game,” she said.
“I’ve been to three or four games. My brother played on the playground one time. It was beneficial because we didn’t have to get up to leave in the fifth inning and go home because he was tired.”
The Hot Rod stadium is even opening up its doors to high school and college baseball teams.
Last year, Western Kentucky University and the University of Kentucky baseball teams competed.
“We had 6,100 folks here for the UK- Western game,” said Hanrahan.
Capacity is 4,229.
Although men dominate the typical sports audience, the Hot Rods staff is finding ways to get more women involved.
According to Hanrahan, 48% of the Hot Rod audience is female. The staff has even introduced a line of Hot Rod apparel and clothing to the female fans.
“What appeals to me about the Hot Rods is that they are trying to reach out to women,” said McElroy.
“I haven’t always seen sports teams create an almost equal amount of apparel for women. It’s almost always to men. I appreciate the Hot Rods are trying to branch out and reach the female audience,” she said.
The teenager said there is a variety of merchandise to choose.
“They have t-shirts. They have actual sports shorts that look like the baseball uniforms. They have stuff for kids too – little (stuffed) animals,” she said. “It’s a very diverse group of merchandise that you can buy from the Hot Rods.”
A day out at Hot Rod Stadium has also become a romantic getaway for many couples looking for entertainment, Hanrahan said.
“One lady said she enjoyed coming here because she and her husband got a chance to have a babysitter and go out for a night,” he said.
“They came here and instead of going to a movie, they got to talk to each other here. At a movie, you have to be quiet for ninety minutes or two hours because you don’t want to interrupt the people around you,” said Hanrahan.
Hanrahan said it’s also a chance for couples to just be together with no kids to distract them.
McElroy said fun at Hot Rod stadium doesn’t cost much either.
“It’s not very expensive,” she said. “It’s definitely not as expensive as it is to go to a water park. You can still be with your family and not have to pay $100 for a day like you do at the water park.”
Another one of Hot Rod’s features that fans appreciate is easy access to the ballpark.
“When you go in, you don’t have to have tickets in advance to get in quickly,” said McElroy. “You can just walk up to the gate and buy your ticket and go straight in. There’s no long line.
“People don’t want to stand around waiting in the hot sun watching a baseball game,” she said.
The Hot Rods also pride themselves on the maintenance and appearance of their stadium. The field is maintained daily to make sure the grass is green and no cracks are on the ground. The infield and outfield are grown with Bermuda and rye grass mix.
“It’s a very clean park,” said McElroy. “At some parks, you see sometimes trash under the seats. But at the Hot Rod stadium, it really isn’t any of that. They care about not only the appearance of the park, but how others see it as well.”
By Charley Nold
DuPont Manual High School
From a practice facility that includes the artificial turf of a pressurized dome—otherwise known as “the Bubble”— to a workout room with rows of weights and a walls of mirrors, the Tennessee Titans prepare for two challenges: the opposing teams and the press.
“We try to control what’s out there so we can keep the people excited,” said Dwight Spradlin, the organization’s assistant director of media relations.
Spradlin recently hosted the Xposure journalism workshop on a tour of the Titans’ facilities and an interview. Spradlin, a Titans employee since 2001, told the students of the team’s efforts to be open with media.
“As soon as practice is over, the coach is made available for interviews, and we have an open locker room for reporters to come and ask questions,” Spradlin said.
Spradlin said that he and his department work daily with The Tennessean – Nashville’s daily newspaper – as well as local television and radio stations in order to keep the media up to date on the ins and outs of the Titans.
The team produces Titans All-Access, an online and televised look into what goes on with the team every week.
As part of Spradlin’s job, he has to deal with the media and the way the players interact with them. He brought in one player who he said was especially apt at dealing with the press, veteran linebacker David Thornton.
With a towel draped around his neck and dressed in workout clothes, Thornton was calm and smiling as he spoke to the group in the Titans’ team meeting room. But his casual demeanor was a contrast to his game-day reputation as one of the Titans’ leading tacklers.
“The same you things you do in a classroom at school are done in the NFL, so if you fail to plan, you plan on failing,” Thornton told the group.
Steve Watterson, the Titans’ strength and conditioning coach, spoke to a few Xposure students as they toured the workout room. He talked about his work with the public.
“I act as a good will ambassador to schools and government advocating health and nutrition,” Watterson said.
Back in the meeting room, Thornton talked about what he felt made a player suitable for cooperating with the media.
He said that it is necessary to have a thick skin with teammates because of locker room teasing. That same thick skin can help in dealing with the press.
“If you bleed easily, you’ll bleed all the time,” he said.
Having thick skin, Thornton said he wasn’t bothered when the press began questioning him over a six-game losing streak in the middle of the 2009 season.
He knew answering the reporters’ questions might be tough, but he said, “For me personally, I try to always find the positive, even in negative situations.”
Though the Titans next season are facing a group of teams with a 54 percent winning average, giving them one of the hardest sets of opponents in the NFL, Thornton said he wasn’t worrying.
“A team’s record may tell a story, but no team is going to lay down for you,” Thornton said. “You need to be prepared for each and every Sunday.”
By Darian Jackson
Bowling Green High School
Although Western Kentucky University’s football team is on a 20-game losing streak, the longest in the nation, new head coach Willie Taggart said his team is undefeated.
The former standout quarterback for Western, recently hired to turn around the struggling program, said this is a new day.
“I’m not 0-20,” said Taggart. “We’re undefeated. We haven’t lost any games… we haven’t won any either,” he said with a chuckle.
Players agree a new era has begun.
“ I agree that’s in the past,” said Bobby Rainey, a Hilltopper running back on moving beyond the 20-game slide. “We have a new coach and a new staff,” he said.
Taggart’s plans are pretty clear – start winning football games.
“We’re not 2A anymore,” said Taggart. “We are 1A and everybody has to step up their game – coaches, players and fans.”
Taggart, who coached the Stanford Cardinal running backs to second in the PAC-10 in rushing in 2008, wants to bring that same winning mentality to Western.
“I want to help get the program back to where it belongs,” the coach. said
“We will win some games. (The fans) just have to have my back… our back.”
Hilltopper fans didn’t have much to celebrate last season, watching their team go winless. Attendance went down the drain as well, with a number of empty seats at home games. It’s one of the reasons former head coach David Elson was fired and Taggart hired, to turn around the struggling program.
“The people in the football program have paid the heaviest price for the tough times,” said Taggart. “And now that the price has been paid, there’s a new sheriff in town.”
Taggart’s own jersey at Western was retired, following a stellar career that included 11 broken NCAA records. He spent eight seasons as an assistant coach at WKU, before moving to Stanford.
“I want the fans to jump on board and be with us while we’re down – it will help us a lot,” said the former WKU offensive coordinator. “They better get on the bandwagon now because there will be no room later.”
Markell Rice, a former defensive back and assistant coach at Western, who recruited Taggart out of high school and also worked with him on WKU’s staff, said he hopes fans and administrators alike give Taggart the time he needs to get the program back on track.
“You can’t turn around an 0-20 team in one year,” said Rice. “If given time to recruit and get his own guys, we’ll do great.”
According to Recruit.com, Taggart’s 2010 recruiting class is No. 1 in the Sun Belt conference. Rice said recruiting is key to Taggart’s success.
“He shouldn’t be measured on last year, but measured on this point forward, judged on how far he takes Western,” said Rice.
Taggart, meanwhile, has clear expectations for the direction of his program and his players.
“ I have three expectations,” said the coach. “I want them to be the best football players they can be, the best students they can be and have the best character they can have.”
He also wants to be highly competitive.
“We need to define ourselves,” said Taggart. “I want to put Bowling Green and Western back on the map.”
Part of getting Western back to its former glory days, is installing a new offense – the west coach style – popular in the PAC-10.
The coach said he has been pleasantly surprised at how well his team has caught on to the new style of offense.
“Better than what I thought,” he said of the team’s progress. “I thought they would struggle with the terminology and remembering the plays.”
Rainey loves the fast pace offense.
“We get to utilize the athletes’ ability in every aspect of the game and to be able to run downhill. Something I’m real good at and used to,” said the running back.
With a new year, a new offense and a new philosophy, Hilltopper nation is hoping to be smiling again, right along with its new head coach.