Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Money Grab

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, March 31, 2017

Legends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 24, 2017

Sun Sets On KC Television Era

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Krissy

I know it's only March and six weeks of running remain in Florida's high school running scene but I just want to tell you, I told you so.  Last spring I wrote about the incredible potential of distance talent among the high school girl's of Lee County.  Krissy Gear is making me look really smart right now.

On a warm, wind swept Saturday afternoon the senior from Fort Myers High School ran what I believe is the fastest 800 by any girl from this neck of the woods.  Krissy clocked a 2:11.89.  That's a personal best by about four seconds.

Last spring I touted the incredible wealth of talent in the 800 in Southwest Florida.  I predicted that Krissy along with Moriah and Sierra Oliveira could be under 2:15.  Gear certainly stood up to the challenge.  The question is now, just how fast can she run this spring.

Gear will face some formidable challenges from North Fort Myers senior Kayla Easterly.  Gear has a habit of relying heavily on her strong kick.  If she sticks her nose into the middle of a competitive 1600 she could find herself running under 4:40.  A time like that would put her among the all time greats among Florida high school girls.  The greatest of them all, Jenny Simpson, an Olympic bronze medalist, ran 4:48 in high school.

I know, that's setting the bar mighty high. The competition to run some incredibly fast times will come the next two weeks with meets in Tallahassee and Gainesville.  If the weather is good and Gear doesn't hold back she could make some more history.  As a track and field fan, watching an athlete make a run at history is rare opportunity to watch.  Here's to six more weeks of great track and field history for this deserving Furman recruit.  

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Hooters, 10 Years

More than a decade ago, Mike Pemberton dreamed of putting on a first rate half marathon in Fort Myers.  He wanted a race to rival the crown jewel of Southwest Florida road racing, the Naples Daily News Half Marathon, run every year in January.  Putting on a great road race in Fort Myers comes with a whole slew of problems, especially the longer races.

Mike zeroed in on a race that would carry runners from the Hooters restaurant on U.S. 41 to the Hooters on Fort Myers Beach.  Hooters was on board, but unfortunately, the Florida Department of Transportation didn't like the idea of tying up a main travel corridor like U.S. 41 or San Carlos Boulevard for a road race.  That resulted in the design of a course that put runners near the Hooters on U.S. 41 and looping them around Fort Myers before depositing runners back at the Hooters on 41.

The course serves up a first class tour of the fancy neighborhoods that line McGregor Boulevard before sending you up, over and back on the Edison Bridge shortly after hitting the midpoint of the race. Then comes a challenging stretch over the last three miles that serves up a flat, straight shot, south to the Edison Mall and a hop, skip and a jump back to the Hooters.  There you will find a bevy of Hooters gals serving up free beer and wings.

This year marks the tenth year for Hooters to Hooters.  It has staked out a unique place in Southwest Florida's racing landscape.  Unlike the two other high marks of the racing scene in the Naples and Fort Myers area, the NDN Half Marathon and the Edison Festival of Lights 5K, Hooters doesn't offer any prize money.  It hearkens back to the days when runners raced for the pleasure of competition, a chance at a door prize and a post-race brew with friends.

It takes a lot of hard work, hundreds of volunteer hours and dozens upon dozensof volunteers to pull off this race. The best part is every dollar goes to a couple of great Southwest Florida charities.  Ten years and going strong, Hooters Half Maraton.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Killing My Joy

Sometimes you just have to bitch.  Here's mine, right or wrong.  All week long I have looked forward to watching a live stream of the Dubai Marathon which started at 9:30 p.m. Eastern Time.  One of the greatest distance runners ever, Ethiopia's Kenesia Bekele is going to make a bid for a world record.

Eversport was providing the feed for free.  The hardcore running community was looking forward to a night of great competition.  The race has been front and center on Letsrun.com, the website that the slavishly devoted to the sport of distance running relies on.

This morning Letsrun dropped a bombshell, killing my joy.  Flotrak decided to buy the rights to the race for the United States and Canada, thus killing the free live web feed.  Now if I wanted to watch the race I would have to join Flotrak for $20 and then quickly end my membership so I'm not on the hook for a lot of content that is quite frankly, unwatchable. 

Flotrak does a lot of good work.  They offer up a lot of content that is worth the price of admission for many hardcore fans of running.  It's just not my cup of tea, largely because their production of track and field meets border on the quality of a high school produced newscast.  In other words, it's largely unpalatable.

My biggest gripe is if Flotrak wanted to make a quick buck they could have offered a pay-per-view, in which a lot of people like me would have coughed up $10 to watch this race.  Instead, they saw an opportunity and shut out thousands of running fans from viewing a great running event.

Flotrak needs to focus on what it does best, which is provide solid reporting, interesting interviews and video insights into the best running programs, both college and high school in the United States.  It shouldn't try to be ESPN, NBC or Universal Sports.  It's ill-equiped to do it. 

Flotrak needs to do some serious soul searching and do more to promote the sport it purports to love.