Friday, May 19, 2017

A Fool's Race

Fort Myers or shall I say, Southwest Florida, needs a good marathon.  The current edition of the Fort Myers Marathon just doesn't cut it.  Word is a "new" management group has taken control of this race.  Something tells me that not much has changed.

The first problem is the course, it stinks.  Four trips over bridges is disheartening over what should be a pancake flat course. Going hand in hand with that is the course management, which also stinks.  Since this sham of a race was first launched on Fort Myers Beach four years ago, going off course has become a big part of the tradition.  Maybe the new management will solve the ongoing problem of runners running more than 26.2 miles.

The second problem is the weather.  Early November for a marathon in Southwest Florida is an invitation to disaster.  The fact that no one ended up in the hospital in 2015 from heat stroke is beyond belief.  A marathon in this part of the world needs to happen from mid-December to mid-February, otherwise the risk of heat and humidity is always at hand.

The third problem is the lack of support from the Lee County Sports Authority.  With the right amount of TLC, Lee County could host an event that would surpass the Naples Daily News Half Marathon.  There is no reason why the right course, in the right part of Lee County, a quality race could attract five thousand plus runners.  The desire alone to run a Boston qualifying time should draw a ton of runners.

So here's my advice, if you're looking to run a marathon, stir clear of the Fort Myers Marathon.  If you want to run the half or one of their shorter offerings be my guest.  But Fort Myers deserves better when it comes to 26.2 miles.  
 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Lee County's GOAT, Krissy Gear

I've been lucky to have been around countless outstanding high school distance runners over the last 40 plus years.  I've been lucky enough to have witnessed, trained with, even coached, young men and women who eventually made national teams including the United States Olympic Team.  Given my background as a coach and journalist I think I can accurately assess runners and their accomplishments.

Krissy Gear has established herself as the greatest distance runner in Lee County history.  Middle distance is defined as the 800/1600/3200.  Friday she swept to a remarkable distance double at the Florida State High School Track and Field Championships.  She captured gold in the 800 in 2:10.29, a school record and the fastest time in Lee County history.  About three hours later she hit the track and made up a stagger gap over the last 800 meters to capture the 3200 meter title in a school record and lifetime best of 10:40.5.  That also stands as one of the fastest times in county history.

On a windy Saturday and with a 800 meter relay leg in her legs, Gear finished up an incredible triple capturing the 1600 meter gold in an outstanding time of 4:56.04.  She ends her high school career at Fort Myers High School with six state championship golds.  She won three titles at 1600 meters.  In the span of those same three years she was 2nd, 5th and 1st in the 800 and captured back to back titles in the 3200.  Oh, and don't forget she scored in the pole vault as a sophomore.

It is fair to mention Gear with other great prep distance runners in Florida High School history, Betty Jo Springs, Ashley Brasovan, Nicole Tully and Jenny Simpson, world champion and Olympic medalist.  And soon Gear will add to her honors representing the U.S.A. in a international competition upcoming in Cuba.

Gear has one final prize she would like before she puts a cap on her outstanding prep career and heads to Furman.  She will travel to North Carolina in June with Coach Rob Strong looking to add run a fast mile.  The goal is a sub 4:45 which would rank her among the best five in the nation.  I suspect deep down inside she would like to take a crack at running the fastest mile by a Florida girl, ever.  With her 800 meter speed it's not beyond her grasp.  Regardless, Gear can stake her claim as Lee County's GOAT.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Crap Fest That's Called Tegna

Once upon a time Gannett had a sterling reputation as a television news operator.  Most of their stations were among the best of the best.  Then the Internet came along destroying their newspapers while the 2008 recession blew up TV station budgets everywhere.  Gannett got cheap.  And to compound things instead of splitting up its television and newspaper operations 10 years ago it bled its TV operations to support its dying newspaper chain.

The split finally came two years ago and a company called Tegna was created.  It has quickly sunk the lowest depths of television news that would rival renowned TV bottom feeders, Sinclair and Nexstar.  A handful of their stations, in Denver and Minneapolis, are still producing amazing work.  But many high profile names have been chased out of their jobs even at those stations, in order to save money.

How bad is the cutting?  Look at News10 in Sacramento.  I worked there for one year from 2010 to 2011.  It was a very rough environment, manned by incredible people.  Tonight news surfaced that the two main anchors that I worked with, Dale Schornack and Cristina Mendonsa, are being let go.  That means that of all the on-air people I worked with in 2011, save one, is left.  And I'm betting meteorologist Monica Wood will be gone when her contract is up.

The station has shipped off or chased off more than two dozen very experienced and very talented anchors, reporters and photojournalists.  The station, despite limited support and resources, when compared to market powerhouse KCRA, did a very good job of holding its own.  But money matters and losing 200 plus years of experience in the newsroom just doesn't appear to matter.

And it just wasn't the faces on air that have been chased off.  As best as I can tell, every single producer that I managed is gone.  My replacement, who was eventually named assistant news director is gone.  All of the web people I worked with are gone.  And only one soldier from the assignment desk remains.  Oh... and the station is on its third news director since 2011... not exactly a sign of great station stability.

Sacramento isn't some backwater small market station where massive turnover is the norm.  Experienced is valued in top 20 markets.  The NBC and CBS stations in that market have very, very experienced staffs.  But it appears Tegna has turned its back on great story telling and great journalism.  It's a disservice to the public that the company pledges to serve by broadcasting over the public airwaves.  Shame on Tegna and mark my words, the bloodletting at their stations is far from over.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Jim Ryun Turns 70

It's scrolled across my Facebook feed all day long.  Jim Ryun is 70.  Jim Ryun, more than any individual outside of my mother, is why I am, who I am today.  He made me a runner, he cultivated my love of sport and in an more important way, made me realize my shortcomings as a human.

You see Jim Ryun epitomized what it meant to be dedicated to the pursuit of a singular goal.  He pursued impossible, unbelievable goals, that in the end fell just short of what an entire nation expected of him.  It nearly destroyed his career, yet he had the strength few men had to return and dare to dream the dream every great runner dreams, that of winning Olympic gold.

I was a late bloomer when it came to sports. I didn't really dial into the fact that something remarkable was happening just 60 miles away from where I was growing up in Abilene, Kansas.  At Wichita East High School, Jim Ryun along with coaches, Bob Timmons and J.D. Edmiston were re-writing the rules of what was possible for a high school miler.

By 1967 I was fully aware of who Jim Ryun was and what he was doing.  I can remember watching amazed on television as he destroyed Kenya's Kip Keino in running a world record for 1500 meters at the historic Coliseum in Los Angeles.  I knew that Jim Ryun was destined for Olympic glory. 

The following summer I watched in agony as Kip Keino ran, perhaps the greatest 1500 ever run in the altitude of Mexico City to snatch Olympic gold from my hero.  Looking back at the disappointment of that day, there can be no doubt that in defeat and with his Olympic silver, Ryun had in fact run a tremendous race of his own.

I can remember in the fall of my 8th grade year running in a large vacant lot hoping that I had run approximately a mile to see what I was capable of at the distance of my hero from the University of Kansas.  It wasn't until the spring of 1969 I would travel to Lawrence to see him run in person for the first time.  His world record anchor in the Distance Medley Relay was a sort of last hurrah for what been a very difficult season for him.  His career would appear to end a couple of months later as he stepped off the track in Miami during the AAU National Championships and into retirement.

I was just beginning my track career that spring.  I wanted to be a miler.  In those days, 8th graders couldn't run more than 440 yards.  So I can remember running a mile to see what I had in me.  The coach time me and somehow I ran just under six months, a good two minutes slower than my hero.

What was happening to me was happening all over the country.  Ryun and in no lesser extent, Gerry Lindgren, sparked a distance running revolution across the nation for high school boys.  It changed the face of the sport for more than a decade before running out of steam by the dawn of the 1980's when high school coaches started paying too much attention to the pablum served up by Runner's World and not studying the challenging approach taken by athletes like Ryun and Lindgren.

I saw it in my own neighborhood where high school looming for me, a boy down the street who was a couple of years older than me and who shared a love of all things Ryun took me by the hand and led me into the world of cross country.  My path was set and running became deeply ingrained in my life. Little did a know that four years later I would be following Ryun in workouts at Kansas.  From that, two decades later I would help create the defining documentary that chronicled the great milers career.

I became a runner because of Jim Ryun, that sparked my love of sport and led me to a long career as a journalist.  In the intervening years I coached and eventually came to own a running store.  And to this day, let there be no doubt, that Jim Ryun is the greatest American miler, period.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Money Grab

This picture made me mad.  It looks innocent enough, seven runners celebrating the finish at the 2017 Boston Marathon.  Forget the fact that they blocked a clear path to the finish for four or five other runners.  Forget the fact that they ruined the finish line photo for those runners and likely some others.  I'm mad because this is Boston, not Disney.  It's the holy grail of any runner who dreamt of trying to challenge 26.2 miles.

For 80 years or so, Boston drew a handful of elite athletes and a lot of very good local runners.  The first qualifying time didn't appear until 1970, a mere four hour standard.  The jogging boom eventually brought some serious qualifying standards by the end of the 70's.  I remember having to run a sub 2:50 marathon.  I didn't accomplish that until I was 30 years old.  Even then, I passed on the opportunity to run Boston.

By the time I ran the race in 1994 about ten thousand runners gathered for the mass start in Hopkinton.  A lot of my friends talked about running the 100th in 1996 and my only thought was who would want to deal with 20,000 runners in this cramped area.  I returned to run it again in 2003 with 17,000 other runners.  By this time facilities at the start had been improved and the race went off in two waves.  I ended up not running due to an injury.

I noticed in 2003 the large number of runners given entry thanks to ties to the race sponsors.  Few, if any, had qualified by time. Shortly after that came the deluge of charity runners.  They received invitations to run the prestigious race by raising money for a worthy cause.  That forced organizers to use a third wave at the start.  In the last four years, it started squeezing out runners who had qualified.

That's a big part of my beef.  Yeah, I'm old school and Boston to me should mean something.  Letting charity runners in at the expense of runners who ran a qualifying time is wrong.  It's the tail wagging the dog.  And the picture above is an example of why it's wrong.  I can only imagine having to that gaggle if they ran a large portion of the race together.

Running a Boston qualifier is hard.  It requires a lot of dedication.  Looking back, I took it for granted.  I never really stopped to think how lucky I was.  It's the best race I've ever experienced.   The thrill of running through the scream tunnel at Wellesley will stay with me forever.  Running up Heartbreak Hill was incredible.  The finish, gathering with my friends, sharing their racing adventure, it was heartwarming.  Even watching from the finish line for my wife to finish in 2003 was tremendous.

But money now rules at Boston.  The city still fills the streets to support the runners, even though the drama is now drawn out over more than six hours rather than four.  My words won't change the direction organizers have taken the race, nor should it.  But if you run Boston, respect it and those who are running it with you.


Friday, March 31, 2017

Legends

It is rare in life when one can say they have enjoyed the opportunity to work with a living legend.  I was lucky enough to do it twice.  I worked from 1987 until 1990 with Bill Close.  He was a television icon in Phoenix, Arizona.  He was gruff, opinionated, hard but fair.  He was a great journalist.

The second opportunity happened in 1983 and 84 during my short stint in Paducah, Kentucky as a news director.  Tom Butler was my boss.  He had been at WPSD for more than 20 years at that point.  He was the polar opposite of Bill.  Tom was smooth, warm, and doled out wisdom rather than force feeding you his considerable knowledge.

Tom passed away today after a rough ride health-wise the last few years. It's a big loss for Western Kentucky.  And it brings me back to a time while I dealt with a personal life fraught with turmoil, along side a man who tried to gently guide me through the challenges of being a news manager.

Tom Butler had created a bible for running his newsroom.  It was there in black and white, bound together in a massive book.  While I initially didn't agree with everything in that book, we both shared a love of crisp, sharp, television news writing.

During my tenure I slowly came to realize the deep sense of community that was ingrained in Tom's newsroom bible.  The things that had rubbed me the wrong way now began to make sense.  All the while, Tom offered his sage counsel, only when I sought it.  He never force fed me his beliefs about running a newsroom.

My favorite Tom moment came in the aftermath of a fierce winter storm that had left a thick layer of ice and snow across Paducah.  Tom had called me at sometime before 3 a.m. to warn me of the challenge he was facing getting to work.  I ended up putting on my running clothes and heading over to his house about a mile away to try and help push his huge car out of his driveway.  It wouldn't budge.  He waited at home for a tow truck that would never come while I ran to the station and due to the nature of the day, took his place on the air for the first and only time in my life where I "anchored" the news.

When I left the station a couple of months later, Tom's kindness and encouraging words helped make my departure a little less painful.  He was the gentlest soul that ever graced a newsroom.  I am so grateful that our paths crossed.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Sun Sets On KC Television Era

This photo is from another time and place in television news history.  It was August 1984 at the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco.  It comes from a golden era when stations traveled to big stories.

The man in the glasses was a great photojournalist, John Roach.  The man in the white shirt and tie is Phil Witt.  You can see me looming large on the right.  I'm writing this because Phil Witt announced that he will retire sometime in June.

It's the end of an era in Kansas City television news.  I say this because Phil is the last of the great trio of male news anchors who ruled over the TV news scene for more than 40 years.  I include Phil in the ranks of KMBC's Larry Moore and KCTV's Wendall Anschutz.  These three were above all reporters, great reporters.  They led their newsrooms, in different ways.

My first job in television news was at KMBC with Larry Moore looming large.  He was loud, brash, fun and a win at all costs kind of journalist.  A year later KCTV would promote weekend anchor Wendall Anschutz into its main anchor chair.  Wendall appeared to be a kinder, easier going type, than Larry.  Wendall was more Charles Osgood as opposed to Larry's, Shepard Smith, for those of you too young to remember them.  KMBC was a strong number one in the ratings with KCTV in second and WDAF a distant third.

Phil was a weekend anchor when I joined WDAF in 1980.  In three years he would be tabbed to be the main anchor at the station as he had helped Action 4 News climb to the top of the ratings.  Moore had abandoned Kansas City for San Francisco and Wendall enjoyed a brief run at the top of the ratings heap before WDAF made a nice four year run at the top.

Phil didn't miss a beat with co-anchor Cynthia Smith, weatherman Dan Henry, and sports director Frank Boal.  He never lost his love for reporting while sitting in the anchor chair.  And more importantly, he was a patient teacher and leader.  God knows how he put up with this hot headed producer.  Phil never lost his cool.  He just wanted to get the work done and get it done right.

Eventually Larry came back to Kansas City and WDAF lost its mind and let the Oprah franchise slip away and KMBC climbed back atop the ratings.  Yet, despite several ownership changes, Phil Witt remained a steady leader at the station along with long time news director Mike McDonald.  What made Phil unique is that he could co-anchor with anyone and make it work.  The ratings through the years prove that. 

My favorite Phil memory came sometime in the mid-80's.  I was tired of all the attention we gave to high school sports stars.  I asked Phil, wouldn't it be great if we could highlight regular high school students who were outstanding in other areas, academics, as community leaders, etc;  Thus, Reaching 4 Excellence was born and Phil Witt made it a weekly standard.  And I still grin when I remember a Phil faux pas involving bowling pigs.  Don't ask.

Wendall Anschutz left the anchor desk in the 90's.  Cancer took his life in 2010.  Larry Moore stepped down in 2013 and that left Phil as the last man left who had sat at a Kansas City news desk as far back as the 70's.  He did it with grace... a simple grace that always held true to his Nebraska roots.