Gators’ practice field closed

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 21, 2001

THE GATORS PRACTICE Monday afternoon, behind their sign that says “No visitors beyond this point.”(The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN

[8/21/01] Bothered by distractions from fans and the possibility of opponents snooping on his team, Vicksburg High coach Alonzo Stevens has decided to keep his Gators away from them this week.

VHS’ practices will be closed to the public until Monday. Fans will still be allowed to watch from nearby hilltops and from behind fences, but no one other than staff and players will be allowed on the practice field.

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Monday, every gate leading onto the practice field was locked shortly after practice began, and an 8-foot-high sign featuring a snarling Gator and reading “No visitors beyond this point” was posted on the practice field.

“We have done that before in the past with Coach (Jim) Sizemore and Coach (Houston) Markham. I just feel like now we need to do it because of the opponent we are playing,” said Stevens, in his first year as coach. “When you’re playing a Callaway, you’re playing a Provine, it’s no big deal. But now you’re playing an out-of-state rival with a reputation, and I think we need the concentration and focus. I’m hoping to get my kids’ attention about how serious this is.

“We’re going to open it back up next week, but this week I want to learn as much as we can without any distractions,” Stevens said. “We’ve got the sign up, but they still wander a little too close. Then you try to holler at them, they try to holler at you, so we don’t worry about that. We just wanted to get them out of here.”

Stevens said the threat of spies also played a part in his decision. The Gators are beginning to install their game plan for the Aug. 31 Red Carpet Bowl game against John Ehret, and he was worried about fans or coaches from the school in suburban New Orleans scouting his team.

“With John Ehret coming from New Orleans, you don’t know who’s a John Ehret fan or what,” Stevens said.

Stevens decided to close the practices late last week, but hadn’t gotten word out to all of the VHS parents over the weekend.

He said he expected a few complaints, but nothing major.

“You’re going to get some gripes, always, but there’s no problem with that. That’s always understandable. But they have to adhere to the rules, and know that this is how we’re going to do it,” Stevens said. “And they still can come and see us, and stand there right on the fence. It’s no big deal. They just can’t come on the field.”

Vicksburg Warren athletic director Lum Wright Jr., a former coach who won a state championship at Magee in 1989, said he understood Stevens’ need for privacy and had no problems signing off on the idea.

“They do that in college all the time,” Wright said.

“Coach is from the college level, and he’s putting some things in that he feels will help them. I support him 110 percent.”

Wright said that he held closed practices from time to time, taking his players inside the stadium and locking the gates.

The VHS players, meanwhile, barely seemed to notice that the practices had been closed.

“It’s just part of the program. (Stevens) brings a lot more intensity to the practice,” offensive lineman Andre Bennett said.

Although this session of closed practices will be short-lived, Stevens didn’t rule out locking the gates again if the Gators start to lose focus.

“It depends on the mindframe of the team. I feel right now that we are a little too lax. I want them to be mistake-free,” Stevens said.

“We want to get to where we’re not making mistakes, not blowing plays, not looking up on the hill at Momma or their girlfriend. There’s so much distraction, and I want to eliminate it so we can have their utmost and undivided attention.”