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Saturday, October 1, 2022

Paris to Face First of Three Conference Road Tests This Friday at Little Rock Baptist Prep

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No doubt, it is fun to win. Who doesn’t enjoy winning? We all do, but perhaps most impressive to the Eagles’ 5-0 start to the 2020 football season is the process that got the program to where it is today. And two people, head coach Tyler Clark, and school resource officer Mike Haney, deserve a lot of credit for getting the football program to where it is today.

College football fans may have heard Alabama football coach Nick Saban talk about winning as a “process” and not an “outcome”. Successful programs focus on every aspect of the program to build a winning culture that is successful every year, and not just sporadically and one random year every so often. When Coach Clark arrived at Paris three years ago, there were problems within the Eagles football program. For privacy reasons, I will not go into those problems, but it is fair to say that Coach Clark faced a significant rebuilding challenge when he arrived from Marion High School.

Coach Clark had to establish a winning culture at Paris, and in doing so, he had to set the parameters of what behavior was acceptable and what was not. It was very much a “tough love” approach, and an investment in the long-term success of the program. And in his first year, the program went 0-10. Perhaps he could have sacrificed some of his standards with player behavior and maybe won a few games. But he didn’t. And in year two, the team went 3-7, and Coach Clark held firm; maintaining his program standards and developing not only good players, but good men. And now in 2020, the Paris fan base is seeing the fruits of his “process” and development of players, and the program is off to its best season start in years. Best of all, the Paris community can be proud of the quality of the behavior of the players on this team, not just their undefeated record.

In those earlier months and years of rebuilding the program, one of Coach Clark’s biggest assets was school resource officer Mike Haney. Officer Haney was a valuable resource to the program, not only in tough situations, but in positive ones as well. A member of the Paris Quarterback Club shared with me last Friday that when that organization was attempting to revitalize its support role for the football program, Officer Haney was the very first contributor to donate his money to help the organization get re-started.

When I asked Paris coach Tyler Clark about what Officer Haney meant to him and the Paris football program, he commented, “He meant a lot to us. There were a lot of things that he did for our team that were well behind the scenes that no one will probably ever know. And a lot of times it was tough love. But, he always tried to do what was right by us. He would always come by and talk with us and he was just there for the kids. I don’t think there is a person out there that wasn’t a fan of his. He was always a huge supporter of the football program, and he will be greatly missed.”

Officer Haney appeared this summer on The Sports Brew Show, and Resident Press published a story the day after his appearance, telling Paris community members about his appearance and his love for the children of Paris.

In an article published by the Resident Press in June of 2020, RP recapped his appearance on the The Sports Brew Show that month. In his interview, Officer Haney spoke of his love for the students and staff of the Paris schools, as well as the parents and citizens of the community in light of current-day fears of school safety. In his interview, Resident Press reported: “Officer Haney offered words of comfort and security to the parents of students in the Paris schools. With the safeguards and procedures in place in the district, Haney stated that students are often safer at school now than when they are at home. I appreciated his comment. Schools, in my opinion, have been victimized by acts of violence over the past twenty-five years, but have received a negative image in the eyes of media and the general public with the respect to protecting the safety of everyone in school. Haney said, “You (parents) have to remember, these are my kids too.”

Paris School District Resource Office Mike Haney During a June 2020 Appearance on The Sports Brew Show (Resident Press File Photo)

Last Friday night, the Paris stadium announcer read an emotional tribute to Officer Haney before kickoff. As did everyone in the stadium that night, the announcer became very emotional and had difficulty getting the words out that described the person and the supporter that Officer Haney was for many students, staff, and community members in Paris. Officer Haney will be missed, and the Paris community will gather one more time to honor his life and legacy at a service that will be held Tuesday at Eagles Stadium. A fitting place for a man who was so important to the football program at Paris, and to all students and members of the Paris community. Eagles Stadium is often a gathering point of celebration for the Paris citizens, and on Tuesday, it will also be a place to honor a man who supported others for his entire career. Officer Haney’s memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. on Tuesday.

It seems trivial to move on to Friday’s football game of Paris at Little Rock Baptist, but it is what Officer Haney would want.

The Eagles will play just their second road game of the season this Friday at Baptist Prep. It will be the first of three consecutive weeks the Eagles will play away from home. Paris will travel to Little Rock this Friday, and will play in two weeks at Atkins, and again on October 23 at Perryville. But first things first. Paris cannot afford to look past the Baptist Prep Eagles in anticipation of their trip to Atkins. The games at Atkins and Perryville will diminish in importance if the Eagles were to lose this week.

After Friday’s conference games, the standings in the 3A-4 conference are:

Atkins 2-0

Paris 1-0

Booneville 1-0

Perryville 1-1

Mayflower 1-1

Danville 0-1

Two Rivers 0-1

Baptist Prep 0-2

The schedule for this week’s conference games is:

Paris at Little Rock Baptist Prep

Atkins vs Danville

Booneville vs Mayflower

Two Rivers vs Perryville

No significant movement in the standings is expected this week. Key games will be played on October 16 that will begin to shape the conference race and the potential order of finish and state tournament seeds. So the theme for the conference leaders this week is to take care of business and win games that they are supposed to win and not have a let down before next week.

Paris, having an unexpected change in schedule last week with the cancellation by Two Rivers, played a good Class 2A Hector team. Paris coach Tyler Clark expressed his excitement immediately after the game with how his defense continues to play. Coach Clark said on the field, “It has been a very wild day (referring to the Two Rivers cancellation and the quick scheduling of the game with Hector). Just happy to get a win. We were lucky enough that Hector was open (was looking for a game due to a cancellation) and thank goodness they were open. They were real hospitable and it worked out well. They are a good football team and I expect them to do well in their conference. We’re banged up a little bit, but that’s what happens in football season sometimes. We’ll be alright. Man, our defense is playing so well. Jimmy Dikeman has had two wonderful games in a row. Our offense, when we get going, we can score in bunches. It’s encouraging. So really, just a good team effort. I am proud of all of them.”

On Sunday, after Coach Clark and his staff had time to evaluate Friday’s game tape, I asked him how the team looked on Friday. Coach Clark said, “Things looked good. Defensively, we’re flying to the football. Offensively, we’re not executing perfectly, but we’re executing at a high-enough level to win ball games, so, that’s good.”

Due to the margin of victory that Paris has enjoyed for most of the season, the Eagles have had the opportunity to develop their team depth. Many of the Eagles reserve players have already had significant playing time, and players such as Tyler Gierke and Mason Bradley have come on to be major contributors. Coach Clark said, “These programs that win year-in and year-out usually win because they “mercy rule” so many of their opponents that their backups get in often when everyone else’s backups are on the sidelines. Those programs’ backups get three or four games a year on the field. It’s definitely a benefit.”

Case in point was Coach Clark’s decision to start Duke Walker at running back with Tyler Gierke alternating during the game. The two were able to provide rest for Ely Fore so that he is 100% heading into the critical stretch of the conference race.

And speaking of the conference race, Coach Clark continues to emphasize with his team that each week’s preparation is against a “nameless and faceless opponent”, meaning that to the Eagles it does not matter who they are playing each week, the team will continue to focus on what they need to do to win the game. This is a great approach heading into the October stretch run of the conference race. The Eagles will prepare the same way for Baptist Prep as they will for Atkins and Perryville in the next two weeks. Paris must respect Baptist Prep before they begin to think about Atkins on October 16.

Baptist Prep Was Upset Earlier in the Season by Marvell (Photo Credit: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

Speaking of Baptist Prep, Coach Clark commented, “they know how to win games. They went to the playoffs last year. I think very highly of their coach (Zach Wetchman). Once again, we have to worry about us.”

Paris should have a size advantage on the line of scrimmage against Baptist Prep. But a cautious Coach Clark explained, “We should, and obviously size is a good thing, but there are teams out there that have really skilled players that are real quick. So, we’re going to have to do a real good job with our techniques.”

It will be an emotional week for both the Paris community and the school district. The Lady Eagles volleyball team, who has been quarantined for over a week, is beginning to emerge from quarantine and will hopefully resume play on Thursday. The community will say good-bye to one of their greatest friends in Mike Haney on Tuesday. And on Friday, a grateful Paris football program will take Officer Haney with them in mind and spirit as they will honor him Friday and for the rest of the season by wearing helmet decals with the letters “MH”.

Mike Haney will be missed, but will never be forgotten. His Paris community, whom he served faithfully for so many years, will never forget his legacy.

Paris Tribute to the Loss of Its Long Time Friend, Supporter, and Police Officer, Mike Haney (Resident Press Photo)

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Jim Best
Jim Best is a man of many talents. His storied career in Arkansas education led him to a new passion, and hidden gifts in sports journalism.
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