Monday, July 13, 2020

Burt

I don't know why I started thinking last night about Burt Kennedy.  I suspect it's because one of the Czarina's overweight work colleagues died from a heart attack last week.  Between COVID and the news of the COVID death of a former Fort Myers co-worker, Dave Lombardi also last week, Burt came to mind.

When I wrote several years ago about my three years working at KTSP (now KSAZ) in Phoenix I failed to even mention Burt Kennedy.  It's a shame because Burt was a quiet force of nature in the newsroom.  Technically, he was the newsroom operations manager but in many ways he was a keeper of the flame of a station that had dominated the Phoenix television market when it was known as KOOL TV.

I didn't know what to make of Burt when I first arrived at the station.  He was quiet and down right studious and seemed out of place in a raucous newsroom.  But I soon realized that these still waters ran very deep.

Burt Kennedy was the first person I had worked with who understood how a personal computer worked.  Now that seems ridiculous in 2020 but in 1987 having a PC on your desk was a new thing.  I was used to banging out scripts on an IBM selectric typewriter, not a computer with a floppy disc.

Burt patiently taught me how to use the computer.  He showed me the ropes of the newsroom.  And perhaps the most important lesson he taught me was how to answer the newsroom phone.  I had worked for nearly a decade in television news but Burt always answered the phone politely and directly.  "Newscenter 10, this is Burt Kennedy, how can I help you?"  It struck me as professional and at Burt's insistent direction I started to copy his style.  I still do it to this day, 33 years later, although I say, "Run Florida On McGregor, this is John, how can I help you."

Burt knew the Valley of the Sun inside and out.  He had countless interesting stories about growing up in the Phoenix area and the amazing people that crossed his path.  Burt was especially proud of his namesake uncle, the Hollywood director Burt Kennedy.  Google him.  That Burt Kennedy was part a pretty big name in the film business and specialized in westerns.

The most important thing Burt imparted was the grand history of the station where I worked.  He yearned for the days when the station, when it was owned by Gene Autry, yes that Gene Autry, when no expense was spared to produce a top notch newscast and a lot of documentaries, many of which Burt helped to produce.  He was the part of a station legacy that included legendary anchorman Bill Close, the Walter Cronkite of the market, who had been the face of the station for a quarter of a century.

The other thing about Burt, was his size.  He was a big, big man.  He tipped the scales at well over 300 pounds and stood more than six feet tall.  Burt died in the 1990's, for the life of me I can't remember the year and can't find an obituary.  He was in his mid to late 40's.  He got a staph infection and I suspect his weight didn't help.

Burt Kennedy was a gentle soul in a rough and tumble business.  Most importantly he was a great journalist. He believed in doing great journalism.  He encouraged great journalism.  The world of television news could use a few Burt Kennedy's right now.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Nino

I remember the first time I saw a jaw dropping athlete.  It was at the Kansas State High School Basketball 4A Tournament in the winter of 1972 at Allen Field House.  I went to an opening round game featuring McPherson against Salina Central.  I went to see a player named Nino Samuels.

What I saw that night left me amazed.  Nino Samuels was a man playing among boys.  He overpowered the McPherson squad with slashing drives and rebound after rebound.  But McPherson had a better team and squeezed out a win on its way to a state title.

I was excited because the Salina Central All-American who averaged 31.1 points and a staggering 19.3 rebounds a game his senior year, was going to the University of Kansas.  He was a sure fire NBA prospect.  Back in the fall of 1972 freshman were not allowed to play varsity basketball.  That left Samuels to sharpen his skills on the freshman squad.

Suddenly, the NCAA decided to change its rules regarding freshman eligibility half way through Samuels freshman year.  The 72-73 Jayhawk squad was just this side of bad.  I had hoped that Nino's arrival to the varsity would lift K.U.'s hoop fortunes.  There was one problem.  Nino couldn't shoot.  I see it as a failure of the Kansas coaching staff.  They should have drilled him and drilled him on shooting the 15 footer. 

You could see that by the start of his sophomore year, this heralded player was disheartened.  His minutes were few on a Kansas team that would eventually would go to the Final 4. Averaging 4.4 points per game, Nino quit the team around Christmas and headed back to Salina and Marymount University.

I remember hearing stories from an English professor at K.U. who described Nino as a good kid but a lackluster student.  He told me about an essay Nino had written about the NBA which Samuels had summarized as, jock around for three quarters then hustle.  That story always stuck with me.

Samuels thrived at Marymount, a NAIA power.  By his senior year Nino had led his hometown team to a third place finish in the national tournament.  He never played a minute in the NBA.

Nino Samuels passed away Wednesday.  He was only 67.  Nino Samuels is still one of the three best high school basketball players I ever saw in person.  Darnell Valentine of Wichita Heights and Cole Anthony who now plays at North Carolina are the other two.  He may very well be the best all around high school athlete I ever saw.


Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Lots of Pain, No Gain

A lot of track coaches will tell you, no pain, no gain.  It's a point I won't argue.  You have to work if you want to be a good track and field athlete.  But this is the blog that I didn't want to write, prayed I wouldn't have to write and took more than a month to get around to.

Southwest Florida's high school track and field season came to a COVID-19 halt just as the season was beginning to get going.  By March the pandemic had brought the season to a screeching halt just as the area's top flight athletes were looking forward to big meets at FSU and Florida.  What's sad is this year promised as much history in the girl's middle distances as we saw last spring.

The Oliveira twins of ECS versus versus Jessica Edwards of Canterbury would have made for some epic battles over 400 and 800 meters.  Edwards was also aiming at joining the growing number of Lee County girls to have run 1600 meters under 5 minutes.  These wonderful athletes were robbed of making history.  The twins will go down as two of the best athletes in any sport to have represented their school.

The heartache extends to the boys distances where Estero's Kolton Pickard, Ida Baker's Franklin Caceres and Fort Myers' Liam Holston were rounding into shape for some epic races.  Caceres will take his talents to FGCU.  Fortunately Pickard and Holston will have another year to deepen their rivalry.

There are at least another half dozen athletes looking to make a name this spring.  Steph Ormsby comes to mind.  The Fort Myers senior could have done some special things on the track this spring.  Dunbar had an exceptional sprint team again and a brand new facility that was looking forward to hosting some major meets.  That will have to wait until next spring.

The good news is the finishing touches are being put on a new synthetic track at Cypress Lake High School which will mean good to first rate surfaces at five of the 14 Lee County public high schools.  Racing on asphalt is criminal.

Finally, I wish all of you could have seen a couple of the Instagram posts by the aforementioned Caceres and Edwards.  These two athletes were brave enough to share their time trials over the web as they tried to push themselves to PR's.  It was both entertaining and inspiring.  These two young athletes represent what is best about our sport.   

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The Streak

All running streaks come to an end.  Illness, injury, weather, travel, something always gets in the way  of getting out for a run.  I would have to go back through my running logs but I think the most days in a row I have ever strung together is around 120 days.  Right now I'm on a 46 day coronavirus induced streak.

So I was a little stunned Thursday morning to get a message from my old training partner, streak runner extraordinaire, Craig Davidson, that his epic 40 plus year streak had come to an end.  A nasty intestinal illness landed Craig in the hospital for four days and thus the streak that started on November 1, 1977 had come to an end.

I've written about Craig before.  He is probably the best known runner in the Phoenix area.  He's a fixture at the best running store in the Valley, a legendary store in its own right, Runner's Den. 

I moved to Phoenix for a job at the CBS station in 1987 and one of the first things I did at the suggestion of a co-worker was call Runner's Den in search of a long run group.  As fate would have it Craig answered the phone and immediately invited me to the Saturday morning, 7 a.m. long run that started in Scottsdale and looped around Mummy Mountain situated in Paradise Valley. 

First about that long run.  It is a 16 mile loop that at the time featured three water stops and one epic climb.  The first stop was at a tennis club, the second a spigot situated outside a wall of a home in the posh community.  The final stop was on a golf course and it featured an ice chest which at about 12 miles or more into the run was especially welcome on hot summer days.

I ran every one of those long runs except for two around that loop with Craig over the three years I lived in Phoenix.  He was an exceptional ultra marathoner at the time, one of the best in the nation.  He regularly logged 150 miles plus back in those days.  His day usually started with a pre-dawn 10 mile run and a post work 10 mile run.

One time Craig talked me into doing the long run an hour earlier than usual so we could go to an 8K race at another location in Scottsdale.  We did our a gentle 7:20 pace mile around the loop and headed to the race.  Craig, as usual, beat me by about a minute while I shocked myself by running a PR at the time of about 28 flat.

I only beat Craig once in my life.  It was at the St. George Marathon in 1990.  Craig had first taken me to St. George the year before and it was an incredible experience.  The following year I flew in from Kansas City and managed to catch him at around 16 miles and beat him by about four minutes. 

I've since run St. George two more times to help Craig celebrate running milestones and in both instances, Craig took me down. Those milestones by the way were his 100th and 150th marathons.  The last time in 2010 was the last marathon for me.  But Craig has kept running them.

I always thought an injury would stop the streak.  I saw him shuffle through a run at what could best be described a fast walk to keep the streak alive.  That was back in the mid-90's when I was on a work trip to Phoenix and as I recall he later found out that he had some sort of fracture going on in his back that managed to self heal. 

The best thing about Craig is just what an incredible person he is.  On those Mummy Mountain long runs he would always stay with a newcomer, no matter how fast, or how slow, he or she might be to make sure they knew the course.  He had a heart of gold and was a great running conversationalist. 

Craig informed me the streak is back on.  And that is a good thing indeed.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Five Things: Week 5

Sorry for being late with this take on the Southwest Florida high school distance running scene but as the world has spun out of control, I've been more than a little distracted.  Running is a minor piece of the equation as our nation grapples with this calamity.  Yet I feel certain while a price will be paid for all of this that none of us has come to terms with, we will move forward and survive.
1.  It kills me that we have a handful of incredible athletes who probably won't get a chance to make history this spring.  I was looking forward to Canterbury's Jessica Edwards breaking 5:00 in the 1,600 and closing in on 2:05 in the 800.  I wondered how the Oliveira twins, Moriah and Sierra, would end their remarkable careers at ECS.  I can only imagine how crushing this must be for these athletes.

2.  On the boy's side I was looking forward to some battle royals between Ida Baker's Franklin Caceres, Estero's Kolton Pickard and Fort Myer's Liam Holton.  Liam is on the comeback trail and his progress has been amazing.  Caceres just posted an incredible tempo run to his social media.  I feel deprived of what could of, would of, should of been a hell of a showdown at the county meet.

3.  Despite the probable loss of a season, the athletes must continue to train.  Edwards, Pickard and Holston have more seasons to come at the high school level.  I believe in my heart things will be returning to normal by the time cross country season arrives.  I can barely wait.

4.  I take heart that I can see the work progressing at Cypress Lake High School on the new synthetic track.  Despite the closing of the schools, the workers are out there, under the sun, making progress on what should be a great new facility.  Let's hope we get to put this new surface to the test soon.

5.  I will diverge from the high school scene to mention how heartbreaking it is to see Krissy Gear denied an almost guaranteed All-American award during her first season at Arkansas.  Her Distance Medley Relay team probably would have won the whole thing at NCAA Indoor Nationals and there is no telling what Miss Gear could have done in the open mile.  The lone bright spot is that Gear and Florida's Hugh Brittenham will get an extra outdoor season of eligibility should they choose to use it.  That's the only good news in the world of sports that I've learned all week.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Five Things: Week 4

We're one third of the way through the high school track and field season in Florida.  Distance runners have enjoyed cool, albeit windy conditions for their races.  We don't have a complete set of results from over the weekend.  For reasons unknown, the results from the Edison Relays at Fort Myers High School have not posted.  This historic meet featured only four teams and its future is in peril until the school gets a good surface to run on.  There are too many other meets with better surfaces on the schedule now.

1.  It's no surprise that Canterbury junior Jessica Edwards would post the first top double of the season.  Edwards wanted to chase a sub-five 1600 at the CSN Invitational in Naples and gave it a good go clocking a 5:08.43 in a solo effort.  Even more impressive was her 800 opener in 2:14.05.  It was an easy eight second victory over ECS rival Sierra Oliveira.

2.  We've got to give a little love for Sierra's sister, Moriah.  She scored an impressive triple victory in the 100, 200 and 400 at the CSN meet.  Moriah's 400 was an impressive 54.53, a great time for this early in the season.

3.  Estero's Kolton Pickard ran the fastest 1600 of the season in Southwest Florida at CSN.  His 4:29.32 gave him a clear victory over Lehigh sophomore Evan Meyer who ran 4:35.2.  It's early in the season but Pickard is going to have to run sub 4:20 to make noise at the state level.

4.  We had an Ethan Tank sighting at CSN.  The SFCA junior had so-so races early in the season but at CSN he captured the 3200 title in 9:54.64.  He was chased to the finish by Estero senior Brandon Palamino who also dipped under 10 joining Pickard and Ida Baker's Franklin Caceres as the only athletes to do so this season.

5.  Fort Myers junior Liam Holston is on the comeback trail.  Illness ruined the end of his cross country season and foot woes hampered the start of his training for track.  Holston doubled at Edison in roughly 2:05 and 4:42 for the 800 and 1600.  Another month and training and he should be in the mix with Caceres and Pickard as one of the top distance runners in the area.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Five Things: Week 3

This was a weird week.  There were three area meets, a quad at Dunbar early in the week, a girl's meet in Punta Gorda on Thursday with the week finishing with a major relay only meet at Naples.  So some of this is speculation because I don't know who ran which legs at Naples.

1.  Fort Myers sophomore Amy Meng  announced her arrival on the Southwest Florida running scene. Meng had popped off some impressive road race wins over the winter but Thursday she showed some major chops in the 3200.  Meng ran an impressive 11:35.57 to take second at the Lady Tarpon Invitational.  I suspect she's just scratching the surface.  She could run something big when the FSU Relays rolls around.

2.  I assume that Franklin Caceres turned in a big performance in Naples as Ida Baker took down Estero in the 4 x 1600.  Given Estero's distance depth it's a great showing for Ida Baker.  This is a program on the rise.

3.  Fort Myers distance ace Stephy Ormsby lost the 1600 finishing second by ten seconds in a respectable 5:30.89.   I would think at this time of the year Stephy should be easily able to run 5:15 but it's all a question of where she is in her training cycle and the current state of her health.  Please don't take my observations as a criticism, she is after all a high school athlete.

4.  It looks like Canterbury's Jessica Edwards enjoyed an unusual weekend double.  I'm guessing she had a major hand in her team's Distance Medley victory in Naples on Saturday.  Then she turned around Sunday morning and teamed up with older sister Emily to run a 6.5 mile leg in the Lazy Flamingo Half Marathon Relay.  Needless to say the Edwards sisters were the fastest relay team!

5.  I've got to turn away from the high school scene to talk about a couple of locals competing at the college level.  Estero grad Hugh Brittenham now at Florida helped his team to a scoring seventh place finish in the Distance Medley Relay at the SEC Indoor Championships.  He also qualified for the men's final of the mile, no mean feat for a freshman in the distance powerful conference.  Then there's the rejuvenation of Fort Myers grad Krissy Gear.  Her decision to transfer from Furman to Arkansas is paying off.  She anchor the Hogs to victory in the DMR at the SEC, qualified for the finals of the mile where she placed second and ran the 3000 to round out her Saturday.  Gear will run her first indoor nationals for the Razorbacks in the DMR.  I haven't seen the complete list of mile eligible athletes but she's also very close to being in that event as well.