Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Teacher

38 years ago my career in television news was at a crossroads.  I had a "dream" job that was more like a nightmare in a top 20 market.  I was being offered a chance to move from the news side of the station into the sports department which would have had me doing back flips not more than 18 months earlier.  WTCN, the new NBC affiliate in Minneapolis/St. Paul was a hot mess with no ratings.

I had learned a lot about writing and organization from the 10 p.m. producer Paul Adelmann.  I was just something short of a disaster as a weekend producer.  I had been pushed and bullied by the coke head who anchored the weekend news, Stan Bohrman.  He was steamrolling his way to the main anchor job and I was just a casualty in his quest. 

So here I was, Brink Chipman was giving me a choice to head back to producing weekends or become the lacky of sports tyrant Tom Ryther.  Yeah, this newsroom was full of assholes, Brink and Paul being notable exceptions.  But then came a phone call from the man who had lost his bid for the news director's job to Chipman in a well executed man to man showdown to dethrone Gil Amundson who was in over his head when the affiliate switch came.

The call from John Hudgens offered a new job in Little Rock, Arkansas at the NBC station, KARK.  Hudgens had fled Minneapolis and returned to Little Rock as the Managing Editor.  He had convinced Gary Long I was the right guy to produce their 10 p.m. weekday news.

Long hired me sight unseen in March 1980 and off to Arkansas I drove.  The first month was a breeze.  Long was at the horse track almost every day and I was left to my own devices to learn the ropes from Hudgens, the 6 p.m./Executive Producer Leo Greene and a lot of other salty journalists including current WPSD news director Perry Boxx.

Once the horse racing season ended my hell had begun.  Every day I would be invited into Gary's office and be told in no uncertain terms why my newscast sucked.  Gary Long was the Michelangelo of news directors.  He chipped, chided and molded me.  I hated every minute of it. 

By the summer it just got hotter.  In fact it was one of the hottest summers on record.  I can remember my daily drive into work, passing a massive electronic bank clock where the temperature never dipped below triple digits.  By the end of August I was ready to bail.  The CBS station in Little Rock had approached me about a job.  Then came offers from Tulsa and a possible job in Wichita.  It slowly dawned on me that I needed to hold on and learn.  It was a good decision.

By October of 1980 WDAF in Kansas City came calling with a job.  And that would be my home for the next seven years.  Gary tried to convince me to stay even offering to match Kansas City's money.  Three years later Gary would try to hire me again in Oklahoma City where he ran a station alongside Perry Boxx.  I had to say no.  Gary was just too tough.

Yet he taught me more in those short seven months than I would learn during any other period of my career in television news.  Gary Long made me a journalist.  He had bullied and berated me into being a pretty good producer.  I never got to tell him, thank you.

I found out tonight that Gary passed away back in March.  Apparently, his death had almost gone unnoticed by the many, many lives he had touched because he had become a recluse over the last decade or so.  Gary lived hard, he worked hard and he demanded the same of those who worked for him.  I could never measure up.  But I'm okay with that because he gave me the tools I needed to succeed.  Thank you.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Rethinking Cross Country

I've had the good fortune to have run, coached and written about high school cross country.  Back in the stone age when I competed we raced over two mile courses.  The weather in Kansas when racing started, usually the first weekend in September could be unpredictable.  It was generally cool and rarely was it hot.  Once the state championship was held, your season was over

A lot has changed in the last 45 plus years.  The vast majority of races are competed over 5,000 meters.  It's stinking hot in Kansas in September and brutally hot and humid in Florida where I live now.  And the season seems to have moved up a week or two in some instances making it even more likely that the weather is going to be brutal.  And the number of post season races after state have multiplied considerably.

I have a lot of thoughts about this that would make for better racing and better conditioned athletes.  It boils down to two simple approaches; shorten the season and thus limit the number of races.  Starting the cross country season at the end of September would certainly make for more favorable weather for racing, especially in states like Florida in the Southeast and across the South and Southwest.  It would also make for runners who are actually in shape for racing.  Let me explain.

A handful of committed high school coaches work with their athletes over the course of the summer.  Many even take their kids away to camps just before the start of school.  This does not happen at the vast majority of schools.  The kids are on their own and "training" for most of these runners doesn't start until usually a week before the start of school.  Many athletes compete in their first race of the season with two or three weeks of training under their belts.

The number of races is a big issue.  Smart coaches hold out their top athletes out of two or more meets over the course of the season that can feature as many as eight or nine meets before qualifying begins for a chance to run at the state championships.  Plus, there is a big difference between running two miles over 5,000 meters.  Don't kid yourself, a 5K puts considerably more wear and tear on the body especially in the hot months of August and September.

Most kids race every weekend from the last weekend of August until the end of October or the first weekend of November.  Some athletes race as many as 12 times leading up the the state championships.  That's a lot of 5K's.  Then if you go to Footlocker or the Nike post season meet, the number goes up from there.  I really think less is more when it comes to distance running.  These young athletes don't need to run more than six or seven regular season meets.

If you question my thinking then look at the collegiate system.  Yes, the athletes there are competing at longer distances.  But most schools race their top runners no more than six or seven times over the entire three months of their season.  That includes the NCAA Championship if you make it that far.  And we are talking about older athletes who are certainly in better shape.

I honestly believe less is more when it comes to racing, even for younger athletes.  Far too many high school coaches actually know how to properly condition their runners that giving these teenagers a chance to get at least a month of running under their belt before racing would make for a more positive experience.  I've grown weary of watching heat exhausted kids fall across the finish line at far too many races.  It's time for a change.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Comes A Time

Formal practice for high school cross country is just around the corner.  The teams that will dominate  have already put in a summer's worth of work in June and July.  Then there are the coaches that know how to coach and whip kids into shape who are short on miles that manage miracles year after year.  But unfortunately the majority of schools employ coaches who can't make the time commitments to ride herd on their athletes through the summer and allow their teams to become fodder for those who put in the miles.

Since I've lived in Southwest Florida, Estero High School has been the dominant school when it comes to boys and girls cross country.  The late, great Jeff Sommers believed in working hard and working early though the hot, humid months, that dominate the weather here.  His athletes were up well before dawn putting in the kind of miles that leads to success.  That recipe has stayed in place under the current regime at Estero led by Brian Olitsky.

Over the last half decade the only area school to consistently challenge Estero's dominance has been Fort Myers High School.  This year both the boys and girls team will be shepherded by Yancey Palmer.  Since Palmer's arrival the Green Wave have proven to be a major rival to Estero.  This season should be no different.

Looking first at the boys side the bright spots are Estero track star Hugh Brittenham and proven cross country challenger Kyle Skinner from Fort Myers.  Brittenham wants to put a stamp on his historic career by showing that he can bring to cross country what he's brought to the 800 and 1600 where he's stamped himself as the greatest distance runner in Lee County history.  Skinner, entering his junior campaign, will prove to be a gritty rival and seems better suited for the rugged toughness that cross country running demands.

Among the Lee County girls only one seems to stand out.  Jessica Edwards, a super 800 runner, appears poised to elbow her way into the conversation when it comes to all time cross country runners in Southwest Florida.  As good as Krissy Gear was as an all round distance runner, in the last decade Estero's Bona Jones and Community School's Kathryn Fluehr remain the gold standard in girls cross country.

The strongest team boys or girls appears to be the ladies competing for Naples High School.  They finished 7th at state each of the last two years.  Given the extra year of experience for the slew of freshman and sophomore that make up the Naples roster they could make a charge for the podium.

The wild card as we head into this season is the amazing building program led by Jorge Fleitas at Bishop Verot High School.  The Vikings could be the surprise team in Southwest Florida.  I say this based solely on the number of athletes from his store coming into my store buying shoes.  I've never seen such a procession of runners coming from Verot committed to putting in the miles over the summer.

Stay tuned, the first meet is just two weeks away.

Monday, June 18, 2018

It's A Wrap... Almost

I was waiting for this weekend to write a wrap up of the amazing season of high school track and field that graced Southwest Florida.  A trio of middle distance runners ran some pretty spectacular times.  The final competition was Sunday in North Carolina where Estero senior to be Hugh Brittenham ran a disappointing 2:01.86 to wrap up a spectacular season.

My guess is that a couple of factors led to his slowest 800 of the season.  He's been competing at a high level since February.  Hugh did a lot of traveling in the last month snagging two big wins in The Bahamas before a respectable showing last weekend in Seattle against the best group of 800 meter runners in the nation.  I think the east/west/north trifecta of travel plus the cold nasty conditions of the Pacific Northwest took a toll on Brittenham.  A senior season awaits with a goal of break 1:50 and I'm betting his eyes squarely on a sub 4:05 1600 plus another state title or two.

The fireworks on the girl's side came from a couple of freshman who dueled for the Class 1A tate championships over 800 meters.  Jessica Edwards from Cantebury bested former state champ Sierra Oliveira of Evangelical Christian.  Edwards clocked 2:13.33 to Oliveira's 2:13.96.  Edwards also grabbed 2nd in the 1600.  The two girl's appear to have the gifts to break 2:10.  I like Edwards in the long run because of her coaching.  Plus Edwards runs cross country which only adds to her strength.

While she's a year out of high school the spectre of Krissy Gear still looms large.  She followed up her three state championships from last spring with a trip to the NCAA track and field championships this spring in the steeplechase.  Eugene proved disappointing as Gear failed to advance out of the prelims.

She more than made it up a week later at the USATF junior nationals.  Gear captured gold in the steeple claiming a spot on the U.S. national team that will compete at the World junior championships this July in Finland.

Making the podium in Finland will be a tall order.  She will be competing against East Africans of questionable age and will certainly have to run considerably faster than her personal best of 9:52, which is a great time for a college freshman.

A national team is a great accomplishment for Gear and it should help build her confidence as she approaches her second year at Furman.  She's certainly help set the stage for focusing attention on the hotbed of high school distance running that you can now find in Southwest Florida.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Two Years

Two years.  I went two years almost to the date without running a race.  I don't think I had done that since I was 15.  There were a lot of issues that went into the two year drought.  I broke a toe, I broke an elbow, I had a really nasty scar tissue issue and then there's the fact that I've devoted the last three years working with the Fort Myers Track Club. 

So I was determined to run a race or two this spring, especially in light of last years missed chance to run the Riga Half Marathon.  That's Riga, Latvia all the way in Eastern Europe.  I missed the race last year because of a health scare.  In fact I missed the whole freaking trip to Europe because my doctor said I didn't need to spend any of it in an emergency room over there.

Training the last couple of years has been nothing but a slow, easy slog.  I have done nothing in the way that would qualify as speed work.  I haven't done anything resembling a tempo run.  I did manage to get my long run up to 12 miles but that's not saying much.  I didn't even know if I could run 13.1 miles in under 10 minute pace.  Heck, I didn't even know if I could beat my wife.

The trip to Riga was highlighted by a two day stay in Stockholm.  What a beautiful city and it will certainly merit a return visit especially for a Diamond League track meet.  We got to Riga on May 18th with the half scheduled for Sunday the 21st.  I had run a 5K in Riga nine years earlier so I was familiar with parts of the course and I felt pretty sure the weather would be good and that the bridge crossings wouldn't kill me.

The race itself started with about four thousand competitors along with another thousand running the marathon.  I placed myself somewhere just behind what I thought was the four hour marathon pace group.  The first mile and a half were a hot mess.  The streets were too narrow to handle that many runners and it was a full time job to stay on my feet and off the pavement.  A lot of runners thought nothing of pushing their way past you just to run something akin to 9 minute pace. 

I got to the first 5K and over the first bridge crossing in something just over 30 minutes.  The course was finally starting to clear out and I thought I might just survive the next 10 miles if I run smart.  It was back over the gentle climb of the bridge and into old town Riga where folk dancers lined the course just after 10K.  They had them situated up on tables for about 200 meters while you headed into the heart of downtown where a huge chorus of singers greeted you at a turn around that headed you back to old town.  The singers were a real highlight of the race.

Old town featured a tough 600 meter stretch of cobblestones which can make for some challenging footing.  I had caught sight of the Czarina while heading back into old town and she was about two minutes behind me.  I had promised her that I would beat her by three minutes.  I wasn't feeling too sure about that at 12 kilometers as I climbed the second bridge while enjoying the picture perfect weather.

Shortly after 9 miles I saw the Czarina again as we looped along a river toward the final bridge which would come with about 3000 meters left in the race.  I wasn't trying to race and it wasn't until 9 miles that I actually looked at my watch and saw that I was running 9:30 pace.  The final bridge was the worst of the bunch but the climb was nothing like crossing the Caloosahatchee River on the Edison Bridge so I knew I was home free.   I managed to catch what I thought was the four hour marathon pace group but it turned out to be the 4:15 group so I could scratch off the idea of breaking two hours.

The only thing bothering me were my nipples.  I had forgotten to apply Run Guard to my nipples, which had started chaffing pretty badly after 9 miles.  I managed to pick up the pace over the last 1,000 meters and the clock read something over 2:05 when I crossed the Chronotrak mats.  Looking at my Garmin it read 2:04:30 and later I would learn my chip time was two seconds slower than what my Garmin showed.

I picked up my finishers medal and turned around to wait for the Czarina.  I figured she would hit the finish line in a couple of minutes.  What I didn't know is she had taken a nasty spill at around 10 miles and was suffering to make it to the finish, which she did in 2:10, at almost exactly the same moment the winner of the full marathon finished.

She was bloodied but happy and so was I.  I had run just under 9:30 pace and my slowest half marathon ever by about 10 minutes.  When  I checked my splits I had consistently run between 9:20 and 9:30 pace.  I was tired but not very sore.  I had raced in a pair of Saucony Freedoms and they served my feet well.  I raced in light trainers for my last half marathon four years before and my feet felt like crap at the finish.

I like the sensation of running in a race.  I don't necessarily care about training hard to run faster times.  At this point at age 62 I don't see much difference in running a 5K in under 25 minutes or in 27 minutes.  What matters is I can't go two years without running a race.  I need to work at running three or four races a year.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

History Round The Bend

A handful of track and field athletes from Lee County will journey to Jacksonville this weekend with a chance of making some pretty amazing history this weekend at the Florida State High School Track and Field Championships.  The Krissy Gear era of jaw dropping performances is gone.  She's busy turning heads at Furman.  While she will be missed we will be served by a diverse group of athletes in a myriad of events that should make for some sensational competition.

I have written for the last two years about the wealth of middle distance talent in Lee County on both the boys and girls side.  This year won't be any different.  But first I want to delve into the chance that a couple of field athletes, a jumper and a thrower both from Fort Myers High could make serious noise at State.  First there is junior pole vaulting standout Alexandra Chlumsky.  As a sophomore she placed a respectable 5th in an event in which she holds the school record.  Chlumsky set it at the Regional meet last week skying 11 feet 9 inches on her way to gold.  She's the clear favorite for the 3A title and appears ready to clear the 12 foot barrier this weekend.

Even more impressive is the performance of her teammate, junior discus thrower Jacob Lemmon.  He started the year out throwing bombs and thrusting his name onto the top of the high school list.  Now he sits in fourth nationally with an incredible throw of 196 feet 2 inches.  If conditions allow, Lemmon could breach the magical 200 foot barrier which would put him in rare air in the world of high school discus throwers.  He's almost a cinch to win the 3A title.

I've written about Estero junior Hugh Brittenham.  He's already staked his claim as the greatest middle distance runner in Southwest Florida history.  Brittenham is gunning for a tough 800/1600 double at State.  Reaching that goal may well take two more school records which would put him close at a 1:50 flat 800 and a 4:10 1600.  Both amazing times and remember, he's just a junior.

 The real fireworks will come in the girl's 800 meter Class 1A.  Two locals will battle it out for the title, Cantebury's Jessica Edwards and Evangelical's Sierra Oliveira.  Edwards snagged 2nd last year as an 8th grader as Oliveira, the 2016 800 champion as a mere 8th grader was sidelined in 2017. 

Edwards has the top time among the 1A ranks with a 2:13.05, stellar for a 9th grader.  Oliveira is not behind and has run 2:15 in the past.  If the weather cooperates we could see a race in the 2:10 range.  And least we forget, Sierra's twin sister, Moriah, will be attempting to win her third consecutive Class 1A 400 meter title. 

Edwards also has a chance for double victory like Brittenham.  She has a much tougher hill to climb to win the 1600 title.  A win on Friday in the 800 and a victory Saturday in the 1600 would be a big step forward and put her on a path to stake her claim as one of the all time best middle distance runners to emerge from Lee County.

Friday, April 27, 2018


The last weekend of April always features the best that collegiate track and field relay running has to offer. Schools from around the nation always had two choices when it came to putting their best on the track.  The Penn Relays is the grand daddy of such spectacles.  Though largely dominated through the years by Villanova, west coast schools such as Stanford and Oregon would venture east to strut their stuff.

Then there are the Drake Relays in the Midwest.  Drake featured a bevy of powerhouse schools from the South, West and Midwest racing in the Distance Medley Relay, 4 x 1500, and all manner of relay distances.  My beloved Jayhawks set a world record at Drake in the Distance Medley Relay back in 1967.  Yes, both meets are steeped in history.

So why in the world did Arkansas decide this weekend would be right for holding what the Razorbacks are calling the National Relay Championships?!?  Sorry, but Arkansas head coach Chris Bucknam is just plain stupid.  The sport has enough trouble getting the public's attention and now Bucknam wants to further dilute the quality of fields competing in Des Moines and Philadelphia.  Arkansas, ironically, has been a relay fixture at Penn.

This reminds me of a hissy fit thrown by the great John McDonnell, another Arkansas track and field coach.  McDonnell felt his squad was cheated at the Kansas Relays in the late 70's and stopped bringing his teams to Lawrence and instead started his own meet to compete against the event.  McDonnell's move was just one of many twists of the knife that put the K.U. Relays into a major decline. 

I have no problem with the idea of a big national relay event.  I just have a problem with the schedule.  And given the fact that the Kansas Relays are now just an over-glorified high school meet Arkansas could have scheduled its relay showcase the same weekend as the K.U. event.  That would put the meet two weeks away from Penn and Drake.  Shame on Arkansas.