Monday, December 31, 2012

A December of Adventures

This has been the busiest December in 10 years.  That December the Czarina and I ran the Tucson Marathon, I interviewed for a job in Fort Myers and the rest as they say is history.  This month has been one filled with travel and adventures.

The fun started with a quick trip to Atlanta.  It was our first vacation together in more than 2 years.  We played the part of tourists but I'm sure the Czarina would have enjoyed more stops along the way than I would allow.  We enjoyed visiting CNN and going through the Coca Cola Museum but the best part of Georgia was hiking the Appalachian Trail. 

I read a book about five years ago called "Walking the Happy Side of Misery."  It was one hiker's adventure from Georgia to Maine along the trail.  We spent a couple of days checking out the scenery in near perfect weather conditions.
The best part was hiking from Woody Gap to Preacher Point on Cedar Mountain.  I tried to imagine the perseverance it would take to make the trip up the entire trail.  It's a walk that takes a good four months or more depending on how fast you decide to move.  I certainly don't have the love of outdoor living to do it but I bet the Czarina could if she had a mind to try.

The second part of the fun came when the boy came from Los Angeles for Christmas.  His visits mean that we must do something that is beyond the normal routine, whether it's watching the sunrise on Miami Beach or NBA basketball, the fun usually comes at the Czarina's insistence. 

This time the adventure involved kayaking.  I hadn't tried it and neither had the Czarina.  So this trios went to Sanibel Island and Tarpon Bay where we paddled to our hearts content for almost 2 hours.  As my old colleague Nick Carlson pointed it, it's an activity that could be addictive.  It's a great alternative to pounding out the miles every day.  An investment in a double kayak might be in order.

The fun didn't end there.  The boy wanted more so I suggested horse back riding.  This has been an ongoing challenge, especially for the Czarina.  I've done more than my share of riding.  But she's scared silly of horses.  The boy wasn't very excited about it either, but the more he thought about it the more he liked the idea of the challenge.
So off the Lehigh Acres we went to go trail riding.  The Czarina was stone cold silent on the ride out.  I don't ever think I'd seen her that scared.  But they gave her a gentle horse named Duck and they got along famously.  The best part was watching Duck scramble up a small rise up with the Czarina holding on for dear life.  She didn't scream or panic, the Czarina just rode like an old pro.  It took more than 13 years of marriage but the Czarina overcame one of her biggest fears and earned her spurs.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

It's Time for a Change

In the my bedroom closet sits a gun, a rifle to be exact.  I have owned it for almost my entire life.  It was my father's Winchester.  I didn't learn to shoot it until I was about 10 years old.  My uncle Roy took me out into a North Central Kansas field with my .22 and taught me gun safety.

My uncle was a crack shot.  A champion shot who loved the Winchester.  He spent a large part of his life carefully carving the stocks of Winchester's for himself and for others, turning plain Jane rifles into works of art.  He taught me to enjoy and respect guns.

I haven't shot my rifle in more than 30 years.  I keep it as a reminder of my father who died before I was even a year old.  As much this family memento means to me I'm ready to give it up if it means that we can come to some sensible solution to America's gun obsession.

None of us needs ready access to semi-automatic rifles.  Yeah, these guns are fun to shoot, but in the scheme of things, these are weapons meant to do one thing and one thing only, kill other human beings.  We don't need handguns that can be loaded with more than 7 or 8 bullets.  Handguns loaded with a dozen or more bullets are really meant to do one thing, deliver maximum killing power.
Newtown may not wake up the NRA and the powerful gun lobby.  It may take 2 or 3 more Newtown's to do that, but our gun laws need to change.  Our founding fathers didn't envision the weaponry now at our disposal when they drafted the 2nd Amendment.  Gun ownership is a right, but with it comes responsibility.  I'm not saying we need to ban guns, we just need common sense about what weapons we make available to a nation of people suffering through an epidemic of mass murders.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Rink Knows Bo... sort of...

A very important piece of Bo Jackson's baseball legend was recorded thanks to yours truly.  Saturday night ESPN aired one of its great 30 for 30 series on the legendary Heisman Trophy winner from Auburn.  Bo Jackson's decision to play baseball and initially bypass the NFL was huge.  Bigger still was the fact that Jackson decided to play baseball for the Kansas City Royals. 

Back in the 1980's the Royals were one of the best baseball franchises in major league baseball.  I had the good fortune to work at WDAF which was the television home of the Kansas City Royals.  We would broadcast 40 plus road games a year.  We covered the Royals in a big way.  I can remember night's when then team co-owner Avron Fogelman would call the newsroom and ask for the satellite coordinates for that night's game. 

But back to Bo.  He was a baseball wonder.  It's been said and written, but the ball sounded different coming off Jackson's bat than any other major league player.  It exploded off his bat.  I saw Jim Rice play, Dave Winfield, Reggie Jackson, and even Hank Aaron play.  No one hit the ball as hard as Bo.  And no one was faster getting down the line to first base than Bo.  Watching Bo sprint to first base on a routine ground ball was a thing to behold.  No infielder could lob a throw to first was Jackson roaring into first.
Bo hit his first home run, a monstrous blast, against the Seattle Mariners, after being called up from the minors in September of 1986.  Back in the 1980's not every major league game was televised.  On most nights we could send a live truck out to Royals Stadium and plug into the satellite truck and feed back the highlights as they happened live.  Less than a dozen times a year a game wouldn't be televised and you would have to decide if it was worth sending a photographer to get the night's highlights.

The Monday night of September 15th was one of those nights.  I was the 10 p.m. producer at WDAF and it was my call whether to send a photographer that night.  Given the fact that I was a huge sports fan and loved the Royals along with my sports director Frank Boal, the decision was easy.  The only problem was that my only option for shooting the game was Phil Maslin.

Phil is a great photo journalist.  He has a wall full of awards to prove.  In fact, the only award I've ever won from the Society of Professional Journalists is thanks to Phil.  But Phil hated shooting baseball.  It wasn't his strong suit.  Every one of our photographers loved shooting baseball because it meant a night of free food and getting to watch a baseball game for free.  When I told Phil he was shooting baseball that night the look on his face said it all, he would have rather shot another stupid homicide than go to the stadium.

As fate would have it, Phil was the only photographer sent to the game.  KMBC and KCTV didn't send a shooter.  So Phil Maslin was the lone soldier that captured Bo Jackson's historic blast deep to center field in Royals Stadium.  It wasn't pretty, in fact it was a little herky jerky, but it shows the massive clout and thus added to the growing legend of Bo Jackson.

Thinking about that night still makes me feel good.  Royals baseball always made me feel good.  Whether it was Gordon Docking's epic live shot from the Royals' locker room in Toronto when Kansas City beat the Blue Jays to win the 1985 American League pennant or standing in the locker room with George Brett, Bret Saberhagen and Willie Wilson after they had beaten the Cardinals to win the World Series, my memories of baseball in KC are wonderfully endless.  It's a shame Kansas City hasn't seen even a division title in 37 years.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Thousand Miles, Music and other Memories

On Thursday I shuffled past 1 thousand miles of running for the year.  I'm pretty sure that makes 41 years in a row.  Since I didn't keep a log until I was 30 I can't officially confirm it but I was a fairly consistent runner through college and immediately after college.  Considering I missed 4 months of running because of various injuries I feel pretty good about it.

What's distressing about this comeback from the last round of injuries has been the less than stunning return of leg speed.  I've endured four major surgeries over the last 8 years and had to struggle to find my legs, but these last 2 months have been really difficult.  I simply don't feel like pushing myself to anything remotely approaching 9 minute pace.  I did one tempo run in the last three weeks where I average close to 9 minute pace.  I know I can run fast but I simply don't feel like it.  I better snap out of it because I signed up for a half marathon next month. 

As to the music I spent the week looking at the various lists from NPR, Rolling Stone and other publications, naming the top albums of the year.  Rolling Stone really surprised me.  I actually own 4 of their top albums for 2012.  The shocker is that Neil Young's "Pyschedelic Pill" came in at #10.  As I blogged earlier, the album has three great tunes, but the bulk of it is just self-indulgent jamming.  Bob Dylan's "Tempest" came in at #2 which made me think that Rolling Stone really isn't catering to what advertisers consider the "key demographics," or the 18 to 49 crowd.

As for the memories, the Czarina and I sat watching the live stream from the Footlocker High School Cross Country Championships this afternoon.  It made me sad when I realized that I only knew about 4 or 5 of the 80 runners competing in the boys and girls race.  The loss of Dyestat has really left me out of the loop when it comes to high school distance running.  It's a giant hole that other Internet running websites simply don't seem to be able to fill.  It makes me wish I had the resources and wherewith all to fill the void left by Dyestat's demise.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Great Kansas Distance Drought

My blog about Kent McDonald raised a question from one of my regular readers, Mason Duede.  He wondered whether if Kansas could lay claim to being a distance running power in the United States?  It’s funny that he brought that question up because when I was much younger, I would pour through the high school lists ranking not just the distance running prowess of the Sunflower State, but how it ranked in track and field as a whole.

Up until the late 1970’s, the state of Kansas was a track and field juggernaut.  A mythical team of boys featuring the best of Kansas from the 60’s and 70’s would have held its own against the other 49 states.  California, Texas and New York would have been tough to beat in a mythical track and field showdown, but Kansas would have been incredibly competitive thanks in large part to the prowess of Jim Ryun, assuming he would double, 400 IH freak Bob Bornkessel, the outstanding triple jumper Vince Parrette and throwers like Bob Obee and Clint Johnson. 
But back to Mason’s original query about the distance legacy of Kansas preps.  Per capita, I would say that Kansas was a distance power nationally up until the late 1970’s.  A large part of that lies at the feet of Jim Ryun.  But the list doesn’t end there.  By 1980 Kansas had 5 sub 4:10 milers. 

A string of Shawnee Missouri South runners, a school that was a distance powerhouse in the 1970's
I decided to look no further than California.  Distance runners have poured out of the Golden State for years.  The name of great runners seem endless, Tim Danielson, Ralph Serna, Curtis Beck, Eric Hulst to name just a few.  The all-time California list cuts off at 4:09.2 so comparing numbers wasn’t exact.  By 1980 California at 38 runners who had run a mile at 4:09.2 or faster.  California had a population of more than 23 and a half million people.  Kansas had about 2.3 million people.  California crushes Kansas for the number of elite high school milers in terms of population. 

But compare to Kansas to say Oregon and the numbers look a little better.  Oregon and Kansas both had 5 milers under 4:10 by 1980, but Oregon's population was larger so the nod goes to the Sunflower State.  But in the years since Oregon has added four more runners to that list while Kansas hasn't had one boy break 4:10.
It’s sad to think that since Steve Smith from Shawnee Misson South ran 4:07.56 in 1980 no other high school runner from Kansas has broken 4:10.  California now has 67 milers at 4:09.2 or better.  It makes you wonder why the drought?  Perhaps we miss the great prep coaches like Wichita East coaches Bob Timmons, J.D. Edmiston or Shawnee Mission South’s Verlyn Schmidt aren't around anymore willing to push kids to super performances. 

There are undoubtedly some very good high school coaches in Kansas.  Van Rose of Shawnee Mission Northwest is great and belongs in the company of Timmons, Edmiston and Schmidt.  But even Van will admit to only training his kids hard enough to win state championships.  Things like Footlocker and NXN are an afterthought in Van’s book and that’s not meant as a criticism.
I think two things are behind the lack of great times.  My guess is some of the best potential milers end up playing soccer.  The rise of soccer has hurt track and field, especially in a small state like Kansas.  The other is the old “Runner’s World” syndrome that I think inhabits the thought processes of the majority of high school coaches.  They don’t want to burn the kids out.  Thus high mileage of 70 or 80 miles a week is off the table.

 I look at the three great Lawrence High distance runners of the last three decades, David Johnston, Chris Williams and Roy Wedge, all state champions, none ascribed to high mileage.  I doubt that either topped 70 miles a week if that during their high school careers.  They chose to run quality over quantity and unless you have the god given speed of a Sebastian Coe than school records like that of Kent McDonald’s will stand for another 20 years.  And yes, Kent had a hand in coaching both Williams and Wedge.  And yes, it pains him that his record from 1971 is still standing.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

KU's Other Record Holder

An email from the Lawrence running group known as The MadDogs pointed out that Kent McDonald claimed first place in the 60 plus age group race at the recent Turkey Trot in my hometown of Lawrence.  You may wonder, who the heck is Kent McDonald.  I'll tell you.  He holds one of the oldest running records on the books at the University of Kansas and for a couple of summers, he was my training partner.

I was lucky to always have great training partners through my formative years of running.  I started with Greg Morgenson in Abilene who went on to be a state champion in the mile in Nebraska.  When I moved to Lawrence I eventually hooked up with Kent, another great mentor.

The first time I saw Kent McDonald run was in 1970 at the Kansas Relays.  I was with my childhood friend Gary Welsh watching the boys high school mile.  I remember a kid a year or so younger than us joining us that Gary knew, he excitedly pointed to a kid with coal black, curly hair in a Lawrence High uniform.  It was Kent's younger brother Greg all fired up about his big brother getting ready to toe the line.  Unfortunately Kent got his ass kick finishing back in the field and I didn't think much about it.

But then a few months later our paths crossed again.  This time it was on a cow pasture turned into a makeshift cross country course in Wamego, Kansas.  Heavy rains had forced the meet, traditionally run at a nearby golf course, onto a patty filled, muddy slab of rolling farmland.  I saw Kent with his Lawrence High teammates.  My teammates on the Abilene squad were more interested in pointing one of Kent's big rivals, Randy Smith from Wichita East.  Kent was injured that day and didn't run.  Smith crushed the field in his race and would go on to have a sensational senior season.

Kent didn't do too badly his senior year either.  He ran a school record in the mile, 4:18.9 if my memory serves me correctly.  That record was broken seven years later by another pretty good runner Doug Peterson.  But it was Kent's 2 mile record that has stood the test of time.  He clocked a 9:08.9 to win the Shawnee Mission North Night Relays. It was one of the fastest 2 miles run by any high school kid in 1971, but still a good 12 seconds behind Randy Smith who had run 8:57.8 at the Kansas Relays a week before.  Kent went on to finish second in both the 2 mile and mile run at state to Smith.

Kent and I didn't start running together until the summer after my sophomore year of track.  By then he already had 2 Big 8 steeplechase championships under his belt.  We would run together two or three times a week.  He usually took it pretty easy on me as we would run anywhere between 7 to 10 miles together.  Kent was always full of encouragement.

The tough days would come when Doug Schreve, a Lawrence High grad who turned into a very good miler at Pittsburg State would join us.  Egos were on the line.  Kent would push the flats and Doug would hammer the hills and I would hang on for dear life.  I learned that if I could engage them in conversation that it would usually put some slack in the pace.  We never timed our runs back then and I often wonder how fast some of those 10 milers were.  It could get downright blistering.

When Kent and I ran together we would rarely throw down the hammer.  Once in a while near the end we would play Paavo Nurmi versus Emil Zatopek.  Kent would be Nurmi and I would be Zatopek and he would always just cruise away in the last quarter mile of the run.  One time I put a scare in him during a nine mile run when we started jawing with each other and from about 4 miles out the gauntlet was thrown down.  I pushed his ass hard for more than 2 miles before I cracked.  He grinned and looked over at me and said he was trashed.

We ran summer races over in Shawnee Mission Park.  The drives to and from the races with Kent would be instructive in all things from rock and roll music to beer.  Kent's dad owned the local Budweiser distributorship.  I always looked forward to getting to run with him. 

The stories were endless.  My favorite was a heart stopping story about the time he was out on a training run with several Jayhawks, I think Jon Callen was among the group, when they flipped off a van that almost hit them on a road north of Lawrence.  The driver of the van turned around and chased the runners down.  The driver and passenger jumped out and a fight ensued.  It turned out the attackers were prison escapees.  Now that's a training run with a twist.

Our training time together had one final spurt during his senior year at Kansas.  I had just been kicked off the cross country team at K.U. as a freshman.  Kent's arm had just come out of a cast and he was redshirting that cross country season.  He had suffered a fall while on a trip to Egypt breaking his arm.  We ran together for a few weeks in October and November.  I was desperately clinging to the hope that I could round myself into shape and get back on the team.  Kent was on his way to a historic track season. 

A bad case of strep throat ended my dream in late November.  My body simply wore down between the demands of the classroom, running and too much college partying.  Kent went on to win his 4th consecutive Big 8 steeplechase championship and become an All-American for the second straight year at the NCAA track and field championships.
Kent McDonald racing alongside America's greatest steepler ever, Henry Marsh at 1976 Olympic Trials
Then that summer he chased Randy Smith to a still standing school record in the steeplechase, 8:28.54.  Kent finished 2nd at the AAU National Championships when he ran that record.  In 1975 his time placed him among the 10 greatest American steeplechasers ever.  I find it ironic that these 2 high school rivals would end up going 1-2 at our nation's national championships their senior years in college, after going 1-2 as high school seniors at the Kansas State Championships.

Both Kent and Randy aimed for the 1976 Olympic Games and both came away from the Olympic Trials disappointed.  Injuries caught up with these 2 great runners.  Smith walked away from the sport while Kent went on to become a fixture on the road racing scene in the south when he moved to Louisiana.  He was a force at everything from 10K to the marathon.  As he grew older he return to Lawrence and became an outstanding age group competitor at triathlons.  His success came despite going through the windshield of a van while out on a bike ride.

Kent is now a successful swim coach in Lawrence and he assists with the cross country team.  Our paths cross on occasion.  It's great to see that he still runs.  It's a shame that he doesn't get the recognition he deserves for that steeple record, but he's understandably overshadowed by a handful of older running records still on the books at Kansas set by a guy named Jim Ryun.  Each and everyone one of Ryun's outdoor records were world records at the time.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Train Wreck to Television Obscurity

One of the things I do to keep marital bliss alive and well in the household is watch a handful of reality shows with the Czarina.  I actually like watching "The Biggest Loser" and "The Amazing Race."  I could live without "American Idol" and "The X Factor."  And that brings me to the train wreck that "The X Factor" has become.

The first season was barely tolerable.  I like the snarkiness of Simon Cowell and L.A. Reid knows the music business.  Paula Abdul, is well, Paula Abdul, as worthless as tits on a boar.  But I liked the fights between Nicole Scherzinger and Cowell.  But in all honesty the show was a pale version of "American Idol" without the country crooners.

The start of the live edition of the show's second season was a signal that something was seriously wrong.  It was trick or treat as Khloe Kardashian's nipples stole center stage when she showed up as a co-host with Mario Lopez as one of the several unsuccessful makeovers for this stagnant program.  One thing I learned in 30 plus years of working in television is that cosmetics matter.  Khloe isn't beautiful, in fact she's not really cute.  How a person looks does matter, especially if that person is female, sorry.  She's as stiff as a board and shows no personality.  She makes Lopez look uncomfortable and Mario like it or not has personality.

Now add into this hot mess of a train wreck the mindless, mind numbing combo of Demi Lovato and Britney Spears and you have a complete waste of prime time television.  Demi knows as much about singing as I do about running a television network.  Britney is one insipid comment away from a complete meltdown.  In fact that's the only thing that makes the show worth watching, the possibility that Britney could go postal at any moment.

FOX is in a world of hurt.  I doubt that "The X Factor" can survive into a third season and we all know "Idol" is on its last legs.  FOX needs to take a hard look at its programming strategy if it expects to remain the prime time powerhouse that it has been for the last decade.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Just Reloading

Time to reflect on the early season promise of the 2012-2013 version of the Kansas Jayhawk basketball team.  This team folded up like a cheap suit at the end of an early season test against Michigan State but the Big 12 better watch out.  This may be one of Bill Self's best teams ever.

This team is basically three seniors and a bunch of freshman.  Fortunately, two of the freshman, Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor sat on the bench last year, getting schooled by last seasons Final 4 squad.  Ben McLemore will probably be a one and done.  But he's the best player to step on the floor for Kansas since Paul Pierce.  He's stunningly good.  McLemore disappeared in the Michigan State game and for Kansas to be great this year, he's got to demand the ball.

The most reassuring thing I've seen is Jeff Withey is every bit as dominating in the middle as he was a year ago.  He no longer has Thomas Robinson to rely on but Traylor has shown the kind of toughness that K.U. desperately needs in its interior defense to help Withey out.  Plus upperclassman Justin Wesley and Kevin Young have shown enough improvement that the Jayhawks inside game should be steady.

The three biggest concerns surround two of the seniors and one freshman.  The much heralded Perry Ellis has already shown that he needs a year of work in the weight room.  He's getting pushed around in the middle and lacks the strength to go up strong with his shots around the glass.  He reminds me of a young Marcus Morris.
Travis Releford needs to know his limitations.  He thinks because he's a senior he should be a focal point of the offense.  Releford is a role player.  He needs to focus on defense and leave the offense to others.  He's an inconsistent outside shooter to really contribute much offensively.  I hope he proves me wrong.

Finally, Elijah Johnson has shown glimmers that he can step into Tyshawn Taylor's very large shoes.  He can't disappear like he did at times last year.  Johnson has to play a consistent offensive game and stay out of foul trouble.  Naadir Tharpe is a capable back-up, but his defensive liabilities stick out like a sore thumb.

Despite the lack of a real superstar on this team, this could be Self's best squad ever.  If McLemore reaches his potential Kansas is an Elite 8 team.  The Jayhawks should roll through the Big 12 Conference and be a fun team to watch while they do it.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Waging Heavy Peace: Tempest in a Psychedelic Pill

It took weeks but I've waded through the music overload that started in the late summer with Bob Dylan's release of "Temptest" and ended with Neil Young's second offering of the year with Crazy Horse called "Psychedelic Pill."  On top of all the music from those two along with Mark Knopfler and Donald Fagen and Green Day, I've been reading Neil's autobiography, "Waging Heavy Peace."
Let's start with the book that serves mainly as a bitchfest about the state of sound served up today in music.  Neil Young hated the sound of CD's and hates mp3's even more.  So he wrote a book to push his solution to the lackluster state of audio called Pono.  The book is a major disappointment.  It pales in comparison to Bob Dylan's "Chronicles." 

Neil offers up a few alluring morsels about his rock and roll life.  But the writing is juvenile and really lacks any real feeling.  "Shakey," the book written a few years back by Jimmy McDonough offers a lot more insight into Neil Young.  "Waging Heavy Peace" only serves to re-enforce McDonough's observation that Neil is pretty much an asshole. 

Now don't get me wrong, Neil Young is a great artist.  He's done some great things like helping start Farm Aid and The Bridge School.  He's also written some of the most enduring music of the last 50 years, but I would think being a part of his inner sanctum would come with a very heavy price.  Which gets me to "Psychedelic Pill."  The new double disc with Crazy Horse is largely unremarkable.  It is a good album, but not a great one.  Only nine songs (one a repeat) grace the two discs with the first tune on the first disc "Driftin' Back" clocking in at an epic 27:36. 

Only four of the songs on this release are worth a listen.  "Walk Like A Giant" is an epic classic as is "Ramada Inn."  But for all of Neil's wailing in his book about sound "Psychedelic Pill" is one of the worst sounding albums that Neil has done in 25 years.  It is woefully under produced.  It's pretty clear Neil was trying to capture the live spirit that makes Neil Young and Crazy Horse so great, but the album simply lacks the power of a live performance of the band.
That brings us to Bob Dylan's latest album "Tempest."  The songs are great, certainly the best penned by Dylan since "Love and Theft."  But as great as the songs are, again the album is woefully under produced.  The opening song "Duquense Whistle" serves up a bundle of energy and promise.  But the sparse arraignments with Dylan's touring band along with David Hidalgo from Los Lobos just runs out of steam.  The songs deserve so much more.

Bob loves that old timey sound and he's surrounded by great musicians.  But since "Love and Theft" he's doggedly stripped away and stripped away at the full sound that some of his best albums have delivered.  As a producer Bob Dylan is his own worst enemy.  The songs on "Tempest" deserve better, irregardless, it is a fantastic album.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Football, American Style

A couple of weeks ago I covered my last high school football game of the year.  I'm not far enough up the food chain to get a plum playoff game but I was lucky enough to draw Naples at Lely, also known around here as the Coconut Bowl.

Naples High School is one of the best high school teams I've ever seen in person.  Offensively they are a powerhouse.  They have a super running back in Manny Morgan and a very good quarterback in Kilton Anderson and a stud wideout, Tyler Byrd, who is only a freshman.  All that Naples is missing is their normal dominating defense.  Their defense may keep them from winning the state championship this year.

But more important than the game was taking my son-in-law, Vlad Dorofeev, to his first American high school football game.  I wanted him to see a high school stadium filled with raucous fans, a great football team and a couple of pretty darn good high school marching bands.  I wanted him to smell the hot dogs on the fire and high school kids with grease paint smeared over their faces, rooting on their teams.

Vlad took the pictures that you see in this particular blog.  The whole affair was an eye-opening experience.  The stadium at Lely is better than 95 percent of the sports facilities in the entire country of Latvia, where Vlad was born.  He asked me who pays for all of it.  I smiled and said, "The taxpayers."  I explained that parents pay a small activities fee and that some fundraising goes on for special trips and what not but that by and large American high school sports, the cheerleaders and the marching band is an expense that the taxpayers pony up for.  He was duly impressed.

Naples romped to a 56 to 0 win.  I took him down on the field with me as I talked to Naples head coach Bill Kramer.  Vlad was impressed that the two teams that had fought so hard, kneeling down at mid-field together for some words of encouragement and a prayer.  I think he enjoyed the incredible spirit and competitive camaraderie that he saw between the players and coaches.

Vlad is here working hard on a plan that could bring his wife and children to America, to Southwest Florida specifically.  He wants this kind of America for his daughters, our grandchildren.  It's a small part of the American dream, but here's to his pursuit of that dream.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Perils of Running

Running is not without its dangers.  I have been hit twice by vehicles while out on a run.  The first time I was on a sidewalk blocked from view by a UPS truck when a driver in a minivan came flying up a driveway in south Kansas City.  I was actually being attentive because I was aware of the truck and the obstructed view so I was able to react by throwing myself up over the windshield.  I broke my ribs.  The woman driver thought she had killed me.  The UPS driver was at fault because he was sitting where he shouldn't have been and he tried to bail on the situation.  He was lucky I'm not litigious. 

Then three years later in Fargo it happened again as I crossed a sidewalk with a green light and a 14-year-old behind the wheel of a pick up.  The boy didn't bother to check the crosswalk as he made a right turn into me.  Again I jumped up on the hood and again I broke my ribs.  I jogged the last 2 miles home just as I did after the Kansas City incident. 

But the biggest danger is taking a nasty fall.  I've had three bad ones over the years.  Once as a teen I was running down a hill at K.U. through a construction zone and a wire had been strung across the sidewalk.  It was dark enough that I couldn't see it and I did a belly flop on the concrete.  Remarkably I was uninjured.

In 1996 I was running in south Kansas City when I stepped on a shoelace and face planted in the middle of a street.  I braced myself with my hands and ended up fracturing both of my arms near the elbow.  As I rolled in the street in pain an old couple got into their car and drove past me as if I didn't exist.  A postman stopped and assisted me.  I jogged/walked back the mile and a half to home and had a neighbor take me to the hospital.  I couldn't even get my shirt off over my head.

I did it again two years ago while running to pick up my car at the Ford dealership.  I only fractured my right arm as I crashed to the pavement when I somehow tripped myself.  I ran the 4 miles to the dealership, got my vehicle, then drove to the Quick Care clinic to get X-Rays. 
When it comes to falls the Czarina takes the crown, as well she should.  It seems that at least once a year she stumbles and falls while out on a run.  I've personally witnessed one of her epic falls.  The Czarina kind of shuffles when she runs which makes her susceptible to any type of edge or outcropping in the roadway.

She did it again tonight.  She was a couple of miles into a 4 mile run and yes, she finished it.  Fortunately she usually ends up just getting a nasty case of road rash on her knees.  She hasn't broken anything, probably because she doesn't have far to fall. 

It's actually not very funny.  As I get older I worry more and more about either the Czarina or myself getting hurt badly in a fall.  I admit it.  I'm less sure of myself on my feet as I'm out on a run, especially if it's dark out.  With winter running at hand and more running in the dark I think it's time to invest in a couple of running lamps.  I don't want the Czarina to run out of iodine!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

30 miles

I hit it last week and training but before I blogged about it I wanted to back it up with another week.  It was a long, horrible summer of almost no running.  I ran something less than 150 miles from the beginning of May to the end of September.  It started with a sore hamstring that erupted a few weeks later into a sore right knee which eventually destroyed my right calf.

After the right calf fiasco the left calf started giving me trouble.  The rotation was a week off with swimming, biking and elliptic followed by a couple of runs and then boom.  It was the story of my summer.  It resulted in a weight gain of 17 pounds but it didn't come without some positives.

My right hip which has been a disaster for three years finally doesn't hurt all of the time.  When the hip problem started I lived with a burning sensation down the back of my right leg that took nearly six months to get under control.  From there it just went into a nagging pain that would ebb and flow in terms of serious pain.  The combination of the semi-enforced rest and some good chiropractor therapy from Dr. Ziggy gives me hope that hip replacement won't happen anytime soon. 

I capped a pretty good October of training this morning by going on my first 10 mile run in more than five months.  It was the slowest 10 I've ever run in my life.  But it's a start.  I don't foresee any racing for at least another month.  A Thanksgiving Day 5K may be in the offing, but only if I can get my training runs in a consistent 9 minute pace and that doesn't seem likely.  Racing by January seems more realistic.  I fear unless I lose 10 pounds, running any times remotely in the range I managed last spring is going to be tough.

But I'm back in the game baby.  I love it that I'm logging miles of trials and trials of miles.  And my streak of hitting at least 1,000 miles for the last 41 years should remain alive.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


I wanted to take some time to digest the whole Lance Armstrong debacle.  I think it was around Tour de France win number five that I was pretty much convinced that Lance was doping.  I didn't care.  I watched and loved his kick ass riding.

You see, I come from the everybody dopes school of thought.  I had to adopt that posture a long, long time ago, given my love of track and field.  You see track athletes have been doping for better than 50 years.  It started with steroids and got more and more sophisticated as time went along.

Do I approve of doping?  Absolutely not, it's terrible.  But the system set up to catch the cheaters doesn't work.  It's never worked and it never will.  The cheaters will always be one step ahead of the testers.

Lance Armstrong was the greatest bike rider of his generation, one of the greatest ever, period. He was a doper who beat a bunch of other dopers. The mock outrage by the cycling federation is laughable. Stripping Armstrong of his titles is stupid. Give him an asterisk like Roger Maris.

Two things kill me about all of this.  First, why does anybody care?  NFL players have been roided to the teeth for 40 plus years.  Baseball players caught on about a decade later.  Given the popularity of the NFL it amazes me that journalists and fans alike continually turn a blind eye to use of performance enhancing drugs but get upset when track athletes or swimmers get caught.  Double standards anyone?

The second thing that kills me is the absolute loyalty of the Lance Armstrong apologists.  They point to all of the good deeds Lance has carried out in the name of cancer.  I say, ask Joe Paterno about 60 plus years of good deeds at Penn State.  One massive fuck up certainly did a lot for Paterno's legacy.  Armstrong has no legacy.  Plus, if you care to believe the mountain of articles that have come out in the wake of this scandal Lance is a major, blazing, asshole.  Karma's a bitch.

It's great that he beat cancer.  But don't show me your silly Livestrong bracelet.  A lot of great people who didn't dope have beaten cancer long before Lance came along and lost one of his balls.  And while we're at it, Kansas City's new soccer facility needs a new name. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Epic Bus Trip of 1973

A couple of tweets between old friends and thus a blog is born.  It was the summer of 1973.  I was 17 years old, training my ass off for fall cross country, when an opportunity came to make a trip to see my oldest sister Dianne in San Diego, California.  Dianne was getting hitched to Bob Throop.   She had met Bob while he served in the Army and she was working for the Selective Service, AKA, the Draft. 

The lovebirds had moved out to California to Bob's hometown where he returned to college after his time was finished with Uncle Sam and Dianne eventually landed a job with the U.S. Navy.  So somewhere along the line it was decided that I would take the bus from Lawrence to San Diego for their wedding.  Bus travel was super cheap comapred to flying.  My memory as to the cost is long gone but I know it was less than $100.  My middle sister Karen was to fly in later for the big event.

The bus trip was monumental with very little sleep.  I was carrying this ancient acoustic guitar to San Diego for Bob.  Somewhere along the road I met a hippie who tried to play the guitar.  I certainly couldn't and he barely could.  But he did have some marvelous marijuana and we took turns heading back to the bathroom in the back of the bus to light up.  I was pretty stoned when we hit Phoenix as the sun was coming up.  The only other thing I remember was how freaking hot Arizona was.  The bus was poorly air conditioned.

It took about 36 hours but I arrived in San Diego by late Saturday afternoon.  Bob and Dianne lived in a cramped apartment in a so-so part of San Diego.  I've got to give my brother-in-law to be credit.  He kept me entertained.  We went to a Dodgers-Padres game which meant to world to me.  I was a huge Dodger fan and had never seen them play in person.  In fact, it's the only time I've ever seen them play.  I remember Al Downing was pitching for L.A. and a rookie named Dave Winfield was playing the outfield for the Padres. 

The next night we saw an NFL exhibition game.  The Chargers had just acquired the greatest quarterback in NFL history, Johnny Unitas.  Sitting on the bench was a soon to be NFL great, rookie QB Dan Fouts.  I don't even remember the Chargers' opponent.  All I remember is that Unitas looked really old and the Chargers played really bad.

Bob also kept me well supplied with beer.  When your 17 beer is about as good as it gets.  I remember a tremendous shrimp dinner and I think I nearly drove poor Bob and Dianne out of their apartment because of all the gas I was passing. 

The trip came with a twist.  The twist that was the push behind this blog.  One of my best friends, Mark Booth, was staying in San Francisco for a couple of weeks with his older brother David Booth.  David worked for Wells Fargo.  Somehow I was invited to spend a few days with David and Mark as part of this cross country adventure.

While in San Diego Mark got word to me that David was going to have to leave town so if I was going to come up for a visit, I'd better come now.  Now I was in a pickle.  The wedding was still a couple of days away.   The choice was San Francisco or the wedding.  Then there was the matter of Karen joining us in the already cramped apartment.  In my 17-year-old mind it made perfect sense to choose San Francisco.  I'm not sure to this day what Bob and Dianne thought of my decision.  Looking back, it was a dick move, but it's in the past and I get along great with both so go figure.

Part of the reason I took off early is that I thought I would spend a day in Los Angeles.  But those plans quickly went out the window.  I took one step outside of the downtown Los Angeles bus station and saw skid row heaven.  It was more than this boy from Kansas could handle so I stepped back in the depot and hopped on the next bus headed to San Francisco.  Unfortunately it was not an express bus.  The bus made stop after stop up the Pacific coast.  I didn't land in San Francisco until just after midnight.

Somehow my suitcase hadn't made it onto the right bus.  So I quickly found a cabbie who gave me a Steve McQueen style taxi ride jumping the hills of San Francisco to David's apartment near Fisherman's Wharf.  Mark quickly informed me that David's palatial bachelor's pad cost an ungodly $1,000 a month. 

The next morning Mark and I made the trek back to the bus station to pick up my wayward suitcase.  On the way out of the bus station a hippie stopped us and promised us an incredible high if we would just join him in his apartment.  We politely refused his invitation and headed back to David's pad.  The two biggest highlights I remember is playing tennis with Mark in a park not far from Lombard Street.  San Francisco, even in the dreary 70's, was a beautiful city.  I also remember David buying me the best shrimp dinner I ever ate.  The fun was over all too soon and I was back on a bus for a marathon trip back to Kansas.

I want to point out a couple of things about Mark and David.  Mark went on to join MTV on the ground floor, started MTV Europe and ran it before running BSkyB for Rupert Murdoch and then NetJets Europe for Warren Buffett.  Mark retired a couple of years ago.  David run's his own mutual fund company in Texas.  As mentioned in my previous blog, they built, along with their sister Jane, the Booth Family Hall of Fame at K.U.'s Allen Field House.

The trip back was even more monotonous than the journey to Southern California.  I remember hitting Reno in the early morning hours.  The sun came up as we headed across the Nevada desert and the landscape was mind-numbing.  By the time we hit the Rockies it was pitch black so the incredible scenery that the mountains would have offered were veiled in darkness.

We arrived in Denver well before dawn.  A hippie got on our super crowded bus and sat next to me.  We talked and talked and laughed and laughed and laughed. I think we were both so exhausted we found everything funny, but the bus driver and weary passengers didn't. In St. Francis, Kansas the driver ordered the two of us off the bus and told us to wait 15 minutes for a baggage bus that was following us.

So the hippie and I were the lone passenger on this stinky, smelly bus, filled with the overflow of baggage. By the time we hit Oberlin, the rest of the hippies had decided to join us on our smelly fun bus. The hippie I was with and another hippie shared some peyote. I was curious but knew better. By the time we were nearing Lawrence my hippie companion asked me if I could hold onto his Fender Stratocaster while he looked for permanent lodgings. I agreed and when I got off the bus in Lawrence I carried both a suitcase and a guitar, just like I did when I had left.

It took at least a couple of weeks before my hippie friend came by the house to pick up his baby blue Strat. I never saw him again. I don't remember getting a lot of grief for skipping the wedding. If I did, I've blocked it from my memories. Despite my boorish behavior, it was an epic trip.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"There's No Place Like Home"

I rip on ESPN pretty regularly.  One of the few bright spots in recent years was the network's introduce of its 30 for 30 series.  The quality of these mini-movies or documentaries is outstanding.  But I have to be honest, last night's 30 for 30 which put my beloved University of Kansas front and center was a little weak.

"There's No Place Like Home" followed K.U. alum Josh Swade and his heroic efforts to bring the original rules of basketball to Lawrence.  The typewritten rules with James Naismith's scribbles are priceless.  Naismith invented the game while working in Springfield, Massachusetts but brought basketball with him to Kansas when he came to Lawrence to start the school's physical education program.

It took Forrest "Phog" Allen to invent coaching basketball.  Allen was no slouch winning titles and a record number of games.  From his lineage came other coaching greats such as Adolph Rupp at Kentucky, Dean Smith at North Carolina, Ralph Miller at Oregon State and John McClendon at North Carolina College.

 Swade's quest, while admirable, seemed hardly worth a network documentary.  I only found the last 10 minutes truly gripping, as he fought the powers that be at the University of Kansas, enlisting the help of Phog Allen's grandson, Mark Allen, to convince K.U.'s biggest benefactor David Booth to bid on Naismith's rules.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the story.  I think Swade's idea and hubris are terrific.  But the story appeals to a pretty narrow audience, namely Kansas fans.

The real twist in all of this is the lack of cooperation Swade received from K.U.  But that shouldn't surprise me, given the bureaucracy that surrounds the athletic department.  The fact that Swade got his project off the ground despite of the roadblocks is to be applauded.
Finally, I admire the Booth family for some very deep and personal reasons.  When I first moved back to Lawrence in the fall of 1970 David's younger brother Mark, was my first friend.  I spent hours with Mark playing Strat-o-matic baseball, summer nights watching "The Tonight Show" and playing ping pong in his basement at all hours.

Gib and Betty Booth lived at 1931 Naismith Drive.  I lived on the other side of the Booth's backyard fence at 1934 Emerald Drive.  Mark and David's parents were terrific.  They worked hard to raise three terrific children that included a daughter, Jane.

My Christmas wish that winter of 1970 was to have K.U. season basketball tickets.  Gib told my mom he'd take care of it.  For two years I enjoyed bleacher seats on the floor in the northwest corner of Allen Field House.  Then Gib asked me if I wanted an upgrade.  Who was I to say no.  My senior season in high school I sat eight rows back, center court, behind the scorers table.  I had those seats for four years.  I saw some incredible basketball and two K.U. teams make it to the Final 4. 

What the Booth family has done for the University of Kansas is beyond belief.  What Gib Booth did for me was to hand a rabid Jayhawk fan a lifetime worth of basketball memories.  I wish he was still with us so I could just say one thing, thanks!


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Converged to Oblivion

Two years ago the University of Kansas announced it was converging the newsroom of the campus newspaper, The Daily Kansan, with the newsroom of KUJH TV.  At the time it seemed like a good idea given the retirement of longtime TV newsroom leader Dick Nelson.  Newspaper reporters need to be exposed to the use of video cameras and editing video.  Plus, goodness knows the TV students needed to be exposed to the great writing that comes from the Kansan.

K.U.'s print journalism program has long been one of the top three in the country.  K.U's television journalism program, not so much.  When I attended Kansas we had great teachers, but we were short on equipment and a focal point of what real newsroom environment was like.

Then in the 1980's the university woke up and started hiring some great educators with deep ties to the University of Missouri's wonderful television journalism program to bulk of K.U.'s rather meager offerings.  That's right, I'm praising Mizzou.  They've got the best TV news program in the country.

By the beginning of the 1990's K.U.'s TV news program was hitting on all cylinders putting out very good reporters, producers and photographers that were on a par with the students coming out of Columbia, Missouri.  The last time I walked into Dick Nelson's newsroom classroom three or so years ago, before his retirement, the program was in full bloom.

Last week I made my first pilgrimmage to Dole Hall, which is home to the television program, in at least three years.  As I stepped up to the second floor and looked into the huge window which shows the KUJH newsroom I thought, what the fuck?  It was 9 a.m. on a Monday morning and there wasn't a soul in sight.

I wandered down the hallway where the faculty has their offices hoping to find my old friends Max Ustler or John Broholm to get an explanation, but I came across an old high school classmate now officed in Dole.  I stopped to say hi and introduce myself to Mike Williams, who obviously didn't recognize me (and why should he) and asked for a quick rundown on what was happening. 

Mike comes from a print background so him being officed in Dole, while surprising, led me to be that the convergence was at work.  And that was exactly the problem.  As Mike explained, it hadn't.  The print and TV students didn't play well together, but more accurately, the faculty that was supposed to lead them to this promised land of convergence didn't.  Not only is The Daily Kansan on life support, but the TV news program barely has a pulse.

K.U. has a great faculty.  But the faculty is only as good as its leadership.  The problem is the push to turn the journalism program into a research program.  K.U. made its bones as a place to learn how to be a great reporter, editor, producer or even a media salesman.  It was never a place about theory.  But that's not what the top dogs at K.U. want.  Okay, I can live with that and the University of Kansas can live without my meager donations.

The newspaper business is dying.  I don't know what the end game will be but the need for great reporters who know how to write a great story will exist even on the Internet.  The death of television news will take a lot longer.  Too much of what we do as TV journalists translates directly to the web.  While print journalists can do amazing things with graphics on the web, video is still the name of the game and that's an area where the TV folks dominate.

K.U.'s J-School Dean Ann Brill needs to wake up and fix the TV news program.  Dick Nelson's retirement was the first blow.  Failing to find an experienced replacement was the second.  The third will be when Professors like Broholm and Ustler retire and the Missouri influence which brought a heartbeat to the TV program will flatline. 

I'm pissed off. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

4 Days in the Land of Oz

Rushing off from work I had a 6 p.m. flight from Fort Myers through Atlanta into Kansas City.  It was my first trip home in more than a year.  Despite a bumpy ride across the southeast I was more than happy to touch down at KCI at 11:30 p.m.  I was struck by the ghost town that the airport had become.  Sure it was late, but gate after gate had been abandoned.

As I glided into Hertz to pick up my rental car the agent noted my Fort Myers address.  He said, “You know your airport has more traffic now than ours.”  We kibitzed about the advantages of winter living in Southwest Florida as he finished my paperwork in record time I hustled to my car and off to a nearby airport motel that came complete with bugs in the room.  I didn’t care.  I just wanted to sleep.

The next morning I managed to time my arrival at Bryant’s for a lunch with Chris Ronan.  It was a good time to commiserate about injuries while enjoying one of the best barbeque beef sandwiches ever.  Chris went for the pulled pork.  I’m betting Chris rode an extra 50 miles on his bike over the weekend to work off the excess fat.

Friday was spent with my sister Dianne and my brother-in-law Bob.  The evening turned into a music fest with Bob running through memory lane of the San Diego music scene in the mid to late 60’s where the various bands he played in would open for some pretty amazing acts.  The evening included a slate of bawdy rock and roll and country tunes that were in the vein of Jimmy Buffett’s epic “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw.”  It was awesomely naughty.

Saturday morning Dianne and I took a trip out to the family farm.  We walked across some beautiful pasture that I had never bothered to visit before.  It sits east across a creek from our fields that are normally teaming with corn and soybeans.  Needless to say the drought did a number on the crops this year.

The toughest moment came at the main farmhouse where a massive hay barn is showing its age.  It nearly brought tears to my eyes to see it in such a dilapidated state.  I doubt that it will be standing in another five years.  It had served as a mysterious playground for me as a young boy.  I used it to host an epic high school party in which we were allowed to tear down and set fire to an old chicken coop.  The barn’s current state is just too sad to put into words.

 I spent an hour on Saturday afternoon with Phil Wedge, an old friend from high school and college.  He’s been teaching English at the University of Kansas for more than 30 years now.  I think he’s more proud of his two sons, Roy and George, than he is about his teaching, his years of softball, or any championship he’s managed to snare playing ball park baseball.

That night I went to my sister Karen’s beautiful home south of Lawrence to spend an evening celebrating my late mother’s birthday.  It was a chance to catch up with the cousins and hear their latest triumphs and tribulations.  The crowning moment actually came the following morning when I got to see my 89-year-old Aunt Betty, a lovely woman who is everything a family matriarch should be.

Monday was spent on the K.U. campus where the television news program appears to be in a shambles.  All the work that folks like Max Ustler, John Broholm and Dick Nelson had done to build a very good television news learning environment has been torn apart.  I won’t go into details but it’s a mess.

I took a trip to the Booth Family Hall of Fame that was built into the front of Allen Field House.  It is a beautiful tribute to Kansas athletics.  Gib and Betty Booth, my old neighbors, would be proud of what their children and grandchildren brought to the University of Kansas.

The trip back home was a nightmare.  An hour on the tarmac at KCI before a rushed arrival into Atlanta and another half hour on the tarmac before arriving home nearly an hour late with plenty of turbulence in between.  At least I made it home. 

The result of the trip and the lack of sleep that came with it was a nasty sinus infection.   As I sat quietly suffering Friday night at my assigned high school football game wearing my Jayhawk polo shirt, the audio operator leaned over and told me I’d like St. John Neumann’s new fight song.  Sure enough, “I’m a Jayhawk” blared out of the stadium speakers as the Celtics jogged onto a rain soaked field.  Too bad they didn’t win. But that’s another blog for another time.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Goodell Gone

Roger Goodell in the last few weeks has undone decades worth of NFL credibility built by Pete Rozelle and Paul Tagliabue.  It is time for the owners to wake up and find a new commissioner.  The owners are in large part to blame for the fiasco involving the league's officials.  But Goodell is their waterboy.  Add in the mess of Bountygate and the NFL's atrocious handling of head injuries and it's clear Goodell's time has come and gone.

Thanks to the scab officials that are working NFL games, the sport is unwatchable.  Last night as I watched a defensive back run through a tight end with no pass interference being called it was enough to make me turn off the TV.  People watch pro football regardless of their rooting or betting interest because the game is entertaining.  Some of the best athletes in the world going full speed, blowing each other up and making mind-blowing plays is great fun to watch.

But seeing incompetent officials blow play after play and slow the game down to a crawl is not.  Unless you have a rooting interest or even money on the line, why watch?  I think the longer this strike goes on, the NFL is going to see its massive television appeal start to fade. 

The 2008 economic downturn should have been a wake up call for the NFL.  The league seemed to ignore the problem some teams were having selling out games.  The cost of seeing a game in person costs a small fortune.  Talk about taking a family of four to a game and you're looking at a house payment.  The owners and the players are pricing themselves out of the market.

Then there's Goodell's awful handling of the New Orleans Saints.  It's embarrassing that Goodell  holier than thou edict suspending Saints' players was overturned.  It looks as if the Commish went into the investigation with a predetermined outcome.  I'm not saying the player's shouldn't be held accountable but given the short careers NFL players enjoy, a year long suspension just seems unjust.  The players didn't commit a crime.  They played dirty football and that goes on all the time.  Just witness some of the recent hits in these scab officiated games.

And finally the NFL has a concussion problem.  Goodell has nothing to get out in front of the issue.  The problem has been lingering for the better part of two decades.  Stories like Mike Webster's and John Mackey's didn't wake up the NFL, nor did suicides like Dave Dureson's. 

The league is finally conducting the kind of studies and has instituted rules regarding concussions but Goodell was really late to admitting the league has a major problem.  NFL football is violent and that's a big part of the appeal.  But you can have great, hard hitting football without shots to the head.

The NFL needs a clean slate.  It needs the contract dispute with its referees brought to an end, now.  The owners then need to start the search for a new commissioner as soon as it gets its best officials back on the field.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Extreme Jogging

Inspiration struck this week when one of my favorite Southwest Florida runners, Maria Andrews, shared an anecdote from a runner she had coached.  The runner said his mother had called Maria a jogger.  Now, while Maria is a master of running at a sane pace, she is hardly a jogger.  In fact, Maria is an adventuresome ultra-marathoner with a work ethic and knowledge of running that puts me to shame.

Then Jami Maxwell, one of Maria's training partners and race companions went into jogger mode in a post of encouragement to Dana Pucin, a great gal who kept me company on a bicycle as I raced across the Lake Okeechobee dike last spring.  All of this Facebook fun started my simple mind churning, inspiring me to coin a new term which I now will  fully claim, extreme jogging.  Don't we need a new sport?

I have to admit my own faults when it comes to the fine line between running and jogging.  There was a time in my life when I considered any distance run at a pace of more than 8 minutes a mile, jogging.  A lot of  running snobs would tell you that anything over 7 minute pace qualifies as jogging, but I digress. 

It's been a half dozen years and 20 pounds ago since I've trained at sub-8 pace on a daily basis.  I rarely, if ever, do a training run anymore at a pace under 8:30 a mile.  In fact, thanks to four months worth of injuries, I'm quite happy to trudge through my runs at 10 minute a mile pace.  This is definitely jogging.  However, if you're like Maria or Jami, then you regularly crank out 10 to 20 plus miles or more at that pace. I would say we're into extreme jogging territory.

So I've decided to officially retire as a runner and become an extreme jogger.  I'm not quite ready for the 20 mile training runs, but that's the goal.  Extreme jogging should help me shed another 15 pounds or so and help keep me competitive in my age group at the local road racers.  Steve Riley do you hear me?  Extreme jogging is now the name of the game! 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Waging Neil

Neil Young is on a multimedia tear in 2012.  Just a few months ago Neil delivered a new album of old music called "Americana."  Neil and Crazy Horse ripped apart a slew of American folk ballads and other classics.  But that simply wasn't enough for the "Godfather of Grunge."

Neil Young and Crazy Horse will release a double disc set next month dubbed "Psychedelic Pill."  Coming right along with that release is Neil's autobiography which he had previously pledged never to write called "Waging Heavy Peace."  And if that weren't enough you can pick up Jonathan Demme's latest loving cinematic tribute to the great Canadian import called "Neil Young Journeys."  I almost feel like I'm on Neil Young overload, almost.

This week the New York Times trotted out one of the best sit down interviews ever with the enigmatic rocker.  The article is a delight and if it's any indication of what the autobiography will deliver, it should be a treat.  A lot has been made about the title of the article "Neil Young Comes Clean" and Neil's admission that he has smoked pot or used alcohol in a year or so.  I say big deal. 

Neil Young is 66 years old.  It doesn't surprise me that he would step away from pot use, which I suspect was a daily habit.  Smoking of any kind isn't the healthiest lifestyle.  Neil had a pretty heavy duty cocaine habit back in the 70's that likely stretched into the 80's.  His habits certainly haven't taken away from 45 years of some amazing music.

As for the autobiography, I suspect he wanted to get his own story on the record after the release of the biography "Shakey" about a decade ago.  Jimmy McDonough's book is a great read and it gives some delicious insights into Neil Young's insecurities and personality traits.  As much as I love Neil Young, it's pretty clear that he's not an easy man to maintain a friendship with for any length of time.

And then there's "Psychedelic Pill," I suspect we're in for an onslaught of screaming guitar solo's by Neil armed with Old Black, his fabled Gibson and some great rock and roll.  The jams should be epic, just like Neil's life.  2012, Year of the Horse revisited, oh, check out that movie too when you get the chance.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Guy Named Steve and His Father Named Ed

The National Football League is what it is today, not because of George Halas or Pete Rozelle or Johnny Unitas or Joe Montana.  The NFL is the most popular sport in the United States because of Ed Sabol and his son Steve.  Cancer took Steve's life too soon and that news today left me with an empty feeling.

Ed Sabol created NFL Films.  NFL Films was ESPN before America was connected by satellite and cable television.  NFL Films turned the shooting of sports highlights into high art.  The camera work was unparalleled, the writing was imaginative, the music memorable, all pulled together by the Voice of God that was the late great John Facenda.

Ed gave birth to NFL Films but it was his son Steve that made it the juggernaut that helped feed a nation's pro football Jones for the last 50 plus years.  It was sometime in the early 70's that the NFL eased it's way past Major League Baseball as America's favorite sport.  I would argue it was Ed and Steve Sabol are responsible for that success.

It took MLB another decade to catch on to the idea of making game highlights available to the nation on a nightly basis through SNS (Sports News Network) in the early 1980's and by then it cows were out of the barn.  Baseball would never catch back up.

The last NFL Films production I watched from beginning to end was a special they put together last winter on the memorable playoff game between in 1971 between the Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins that ended in double overtime and was the longest game in NFL history.  Footage, long thought lost, was discovered and NFL Films lovingly put together a wonderful remembrance of that epic game.  It was a game that I listened to on the radio on a Christmas drive out to Abilene, Kansas.  Finally getting to see it through the beautiful color footage brought a lot of pain because the Chiefs lost, but it brought back incredible memories of what it was like to live in America in the early 1970's.

Steve Sabol was a genius.  He may not have given birth to NFL Films but he made it an American institution.  The hundreds of films he produced and thousands of game highlights his photographers shot give the NFL an amazing historical archive that no other American sport can boast.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Legend of Dave

The angst of not being able to blog about politics (I don't want to lose my job) brought me to a subject I feel just as passionate about and dearly miss.  A Facebook post by the always lovely Suzanne Phan caught my attention and produced the inspiration for this bit of writing.  Dave Marquis celebrated his 19th year of work at News10 in Sacramento.

Most of you who read this blog regularly have no idea who Dave Marquis is or why I would take the time to write about him.  Dave, quite simply, is one of the most marvelous repositories of humanness that you will find walking this planet.  Dave has worked as a television news reporter for almost 40 years.  I've worked with smarter reporters, Dave Helling, I've worked with better looking reporters, Dale Schornack (who happens to be a work colleague of Dave's) better writers, here's to you Bob Thill, and better MMJ's, yes you Dr. Mel Stone.  But none of them could compare to the bundle of energy that Dave brings to the table everyday.

Dave is a student of history, politics, fine literature, and yes, even the ladies.  His only fault that I can see is that Dave will and has eaten any bit of food left lying about the newsroom.  He has a weakness for all things sweet.  And yet he remains rail thin and unbelievably healthy.

I knew who Dave Marquis was way back in 1987 when he worked at a competing station in Phoenix.  When we laid eyes on each other when I came to Sacramento in April 2010 to interview for a position at the station it was as if two long lost souls had found each other.  We became instant friends. 

Dave loved covering breaking news with a passion.  He can stand in front of a wildfire or a snow storm and spin a tale of whoa or about the enduring human spirit with the best of them.  Dave is fearless in trying to bring that something extra to a live shot or a standup.  His sense of reporting adventure is boundless.

The sad part is I only got to work with Dave for one year.  The great thing is Dave made a very difficult year in my life bearable.  We would share dinners together and talk about the world.  Dave had lived everywhere, had an amazing family history and had full experienced the 60's.  In many ways he lived the life of a big brother that I never had.  I could spend hours listening to him tell stories about his adventures, his family, his love of food and his love of the ladies.

For a time another News10 co-worker Brandon Atchison was posting Dave videos on Facebook where we would get a quick take on the woes of the day from the uniquely Marquis perspective.  One of his takes so well summed up the frustrations of working in television news I shared it with journalists in Russia during one of my seminars there.  They knew the angst that Dave and Brandon were enduring, it was a message that wasn't lost in translation. 

I can't wait until our paths cross again.  Here's to hoping Dave decides to visit Southwest Florida or perhaps a journey on my part to Northern California.  News10 has a treasure of endless reporting energy in Dave Marquis.  He's the last of a breed of television news reporters who actually understands the stories he reports.  For him it's not about being on TV, it's about a story well told.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Email Campaign of 2012

The politics of 2012 is largely fueled by email.  Yes, the television commercials touting both presidential candidates seem endless, especially in Florida, but the flood of email from the Republican Party and the Democratic Party makes up at least 25 percent of the incoming newsroom email these days.  I read almost none of it.  A quick scan and wham, into the trash.  Once and awhile I will file one because a particular candidate or office situated in our area is having an event.

I have received at least three phone calls from President Obama's local election office offering up someone to talk about one particular policy or another.  A couple of week's ago it was welfare reform and the other person on the phone couldn't understand why I wouldn't send a crew right away to listen to some lady pontificate about welfare.  Then the DNC called today asking if we wanted to do a satellite interview with Ken Salazar.  99 percent of the people in Southwest Florida don't even know who Ken Salazar is.  FYI, he's the Secretary of the Interior.  It makes me want to scream, stop, enough already!

But what's worse are the emails that come from the public.  A handful of folks love spamming us with emails to lay out blatant lies, always about President Obama.  The latest one touts that he's painted his campaign logo on Air Force One.  Another favorite bags on him for not visiting the World War II Memorial.  No, not the one in Washington, DC, but one in some far flung burg in Virginia.  Of course there are the birther cranks and other diatribes about the President's grand plan to bring socialism to America. I get at least one or two of those a week.

What's amazing is that so far none of this nonsense has come in regarding Mitt Romney.  The worst thing we've seen are emails from Senator Nelson's re-election campaign bashing his opponent Connie Mack for being a party boy.  That's news?  My guess is that supporters of President Obama have better things to do than bash Mitt with made up stories.  Then again, the same can't be said about half the crap I see on Facebook these days.  But that's a whole different blog!

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Death of Dyestat

John Dye
14 years ago a little website came along that literally changed the face of high school track and field across the United States.  John Dye cobbled together Dyestat and in doing so created a community that gave coaches, athletes and fans a chance to share stories, observations and ideas about the long suffering sport of track and field.  I personally believe Dyestat was responsible for the rebirth of American high school distance running which produced the likes of Alan Webb, Dathan Ritzenheim, Ryan Hall, Galen Rupp, German Fernandez, and Jordan Hasey.

Two years ago I wrote a blog which spelled out Dyestat's doom.  ESPN purchased the highly successful Dyestat and left it alone for awhile.  Then quietly rolled the board into its own high school banner called ESPN Rise and in doing so destroyed the sense of community.  There were several blunders when the change was made but the biggest involved dumping Dyestat's old message boards and starting from scratch.  Suddenly the once vibrant message board was a vast wasteland and everyone scattered to other boards and websites.

The old Dyestat had been easy to navigate and content wasn't hidden.  The new board was confusing, filled with nonsense stories written by people who didn't understand or appreciate the sport.  ESPN had dumbed it down and completely forgot its target audience.  It took just two years for ESPN to pull the plug.  Dyestat is gone.

ESPN's decision sent the handful of faithful into recovery mode.  California's Rich Gonzalez is desperately trying to set up a California version of Dyestat.  Rumors are also founder John Dye and one of the curmudgeonly writers Steve Underwood may try to put together a new website and why not.  The old Dyestat made money.  Not a lot, but it did make money.  No doubt John Dye sold it for a pot load of money.

The Internet has changed a great deal since Dyestat came along.  Social media now fills a major void in building communities and exchanging information.  I somehow doubt that John Dye can recapture the magic.  Second acts in American business rarely happen.  Here's hoping that John Dye can replicate his previous success.  I know I will be waiting, watching and hoping to rejoin the fun.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Little Lie

People lie all the time.  They lie about big things and they lie about little things.  Nothing gets under my skin more than someone who lies about their running.  It makes my skin crawl.  I know people who will tell me that they ran a 4 minute mile in high school or something ridiculously fast in the marathon and I'll just shake my head knowingly, all the while doing a slow burn.

It's a topic the Czarina and I discuss frequently.  She feels the same way.  While neither one of us are great runners, we aren't slouches either.  We're both happy with what we've accomplished in road races and even on the track.  The Czarina will immediately go to the Internet when someone tells them they run and babble about running this time or that.  She's generally suspicious about what others say about their running unless she's seen it for herself.  The Czarina will get really angry when she finds out that she's been lied to about a running accomplishment and it takes every fiber in her body to not call that individual out on their lie.

I've got friends who lie through their teeth about their running accomplishments.  I simply don't understand the need to exaggerate their abilities.  In fact, most of these guys are or were decent runners. I guess it's just human nature to stretch the truth but when it comes to running, the time and distance are something like sacred truths to me.

Don't get me wrong, I've told lies and I've stretched the truth about incidents relating to my life.  I'm better about not doing it as I've gotten older, but I'm not perfect.  Still, when it comes to my running exploits, I've always played it straight.  And in this day of the Internet, the consequences of lying are very unforgiving.

I get the feeling that the majority of serious runners feel the same way I do about running fibs.  It can lead to a tangled mess, whether you're a course cutting marathoner or a candidate for Vice President of the United States.  There will be hell to pay in the running community.  Which leads me to a head scratching moment about why someone would slice more than an hour off their marathon best in an interview with a reporter.  If someone is willing to tell that kind of whopper, where else are they cutting the corners when it comes to the truth?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Manny Being Manny

I probably attended my first high school football game back in 1965 or 1966.  It was in Abilene and I probably went because my older sisters were in the marching band.  I can remember one thing about my early exposure to high school football.  It was cold.

Through the years I've been lucky to cover high school football as a statistician, a game producer and now I do it was a freelance writer for the local newspaper.  I have to be honest.  Through the dozens upon dozens of games I've only seen a handful of truly great high school football players.  The first one I remember is Steve Little of Shawnee Mission South.  Little was an all state quarterback and placekicker who was all everything as a collegiate kicker, went to the NFL where he flopped.  He ended up in a wheelchair after a horrific car crash.

My alma mater, Lawrence High, had an incredible reputation as a national powerhouse.  LHS wasn't very good when I went to school there but Bill Freeman took over after I graduated and pretty soon the Lions were back to claiming state championships on a regular basis.  The first of Freeman's titles came against a very good Wichita Southeast team led by future NFL running back Jeff Smith.

I saw some pretty good players at Lawrence High.  My classmate Mike Wellman played in the NFL.  Running back Steve Jeltz played major league baseball.  The best back was Mike Coleman who now works as a sports anchor in Kansas City.

The best high school player I had seen in person until last night was a running back from Tempe McClintock.  Brian Drew ran for 225 yards in the state title game to lead his team to a victory back in 1989.  He never amounted to anything.  I'm not sure he had the grades to even get into college.  Drew was remarkable and I saw him shortly after I had watched Kenyon Rasheed at Rockhurst High School and he was a mind blowing bruiser of a back.  Rasheed went to Oklahoma and had a short stint in the NFL.

But last night I watched Naples High School's Manny Morgan for the second time in two weeks.  I knew he was a star.  His sophomore and junior years Morgan topped 1,000 yards and led Naples into the playoffs last year.  Manny was very good against Hialeah last week.  He ran for over 90 yards and barely played in the second half.

Friday night Manny shredded North Miami for 278 yards on the ground, 3 rushing touchdowns, plus a 73 yard touchdown reception.  He had a 37 yard touchdown run that made me gasp out loud.  I've seen a few spectacular TD runs in my day, but Manny's stop and go ability just took my breath away. 

Manny Morgan is built.  He's probably 5-9 and 180 pounds.  He's good speed but not spectacular speed.  He can't run over people like Rasheed or run away from people like Drew.  What's incredible is his elusiveness.  He makes a shoulder dip, a stutter step, or a complete jump stop that leaves defenders grasping at air.

He's a great high school player.  I have no way to judge whether he can do this on Saturday's and in my mind it doesn't really matter.  I've had a chance to have a couple of short chats with Manny.  He strikes me as a good kid with his head on straight.  Hopefully he'll play college football and get a degree. And who knows, maybe he'll be playing on Sunday's in five years and I can reminisce about the great player I got to see when he was just a hot shot running back out of Southwest Florida.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Little Engine that Could

It's good to know that after 30 plus years in television news there are things that I can still learn.  Tropical Storm Isaac provided this old cynic an excellent lesson in skilled planning and preparation.  It gave me a chance to share my knowledge along with a little bit of wisdom, while getting to see a first rate managers leading an understaffed and outgunned team to a stunning ratings feat.  The can do attitude permeated the entire station operation from promotions, to production, to engineering, to the newsroom, even into sales, traffic and our general manager.

Our news director Eric Maze, made the bold decision to unleash the hounds in the face of Isaac on Sunday.  A simple two-tiered approach would put us on the air as soon as Sunday's NFL football game ended on FOX at about 7 p.m. for continuous coverage until 9 a.m. the following morning.  Our station faces severe technical limitations when compared to the other stations in the market, plus the other station's boast staffs more than double what we can put out into the field and into key positions inside the newsroom.

Isaac was a massive storm that threatened to do a lot of damage to our viewing area.  Somehow we were spared by and large, while Florida's east coast suffered the brunt of this weird tropical system. Even though Isaac turned out to be a dud, we gave our viewers excellent coverage of the events in our area as they unfolded without sensationalizing the storm.  Eric set the bar very high and the news and production team at FOX 4 worked seamlessly together to the benefit of our viewers.  They repaid us in spades by watching our coverage in large numbers into the wee morning hours.

It leaves me wondering what will happen when the next major tropical system moves our way.  It may be game on from our competitors.  Regardless, we've shown our viewers and I'm betting some of our competitor's viewers that we're capable of giving them first rate weather coverage.  It's nice to beat the two neighborhood bullies with one armed tied behind your back.