Monday, September 11, 2017

Irma

I have been asked over and over, why did I stay.  It was a confluence of events that led me to ride the hurricane out in my home.  Trust me, I was ready to fly out to Kansas City on Wednesday but I don't want to get ahead of myself.

Saturday, September 2nd, I drove my wife to Fort Lauderdale where she boarded a flight for Riga, Latvia.  I knew Irma was out there.  All signs showed the storm was supposed to take a swing up the east coast and miss Florida entirely.

The next day it became clear that Irma was tracking further west.  That sickening feeling of anxiety swept over me as I watched the forecasts every three hours.  Given the size of the storm, it was going to do hit the entire state.  This wasn't anything like Hurricane Charley, which is the worst storm I had experienced.  Charley was small and intense.  Irma was a beast.

Monday my anxiety began to wane.  It looked for sure to be headed up the east side of Florida.  Being on the west side of a big hurricane isn't nearly as bad as being on the east side of the eye wall.  Little did I know how prophetic those thoughts would be.

Lee County was being swept up in hurricane insanity.  Every old fart was out on the road looking for gas, water and food.  It was pandemonium driving around the city.  By the end of the day, finding gas to fill up my car was a challenge.  My wife's children asked me for my big gas can that I had filled for the emergency, reluctantly I agreed to hand it over.

That night the thought crossed my mind to book a flight Wednesday to fly out to Kansas City.  Seats were still available and I had plenty of miles to cover it.  But here's the rub, I was sponsoring the county's biggest cross country meet on Saturday.  At that time, the meet was still on.  I had to be here for it, plus the storm was still tracking east.

Tuesday, the shit hit the fan.  At 11 a.m. I am informed by Fort Myers High School that our meet is being moved to Thursday afternoon.  I scrambled to make arraignments to get my friends from Saucony included in this change.  Two hours later the school district decided to cancel all events beginning Wednesday afternoon.  I think they overreacted.  But it is what it is.  Now I had to consider my options.  Flying out of Fort Myers was no longer one of them, plus I had to implement a plan to protect my home and my store.

Thursday I had a detailed approach to prepping the store and the house.  I had plenty of water.  I had a small generator.  I knew I would close the store on Friday.  Business the entire week had been paltry.  I brought in every item sitting outside that could end up turning into a missile.

Back at the house I sweated my ass off putting up the window shutters.  We hadn't used them in more than eight years and it was a bit of a challenge.  They are old and need to be replaced.  Oh, did I mention, we were supposed to have hurricane proof glass installed by August but that's another story.

Friday morning the son-in-law helped me get the big aluminum pieces in place over the large windows.  I eagerly watched the forecast and it was clear this storm was moving to the west and aimed at Southwest Florida.  I thought about driving out Friday afternoon.  I was talking to my wife, weighing my options when disaster struck.  At 5 p.m. my cell phone died.  It wouldn't charge.  I cleaned to contact points of the battery.  It was dead.

I desperately drove around town looking to see if T-Mobile was still open or WalMart.  Everything was closed.  Feeling betrayed, I decided to head out to Sarasota County, an hour north, where stores were still open.  As I left at 7:30 p.m. and headed to the interstate, I noticed a B.J. Wholesale store still open.  I went inside to a staff on full zombie mode.  Without a membership, they sold me a Samsung phone and a data plan for $158.  I was connected back to the world.  It was late and I didn't relish the thought of hitting the interstate but I did advise my step-kids to evacuate, which they did.

Saturday I woke up weighing my options.  I could flee and go to a friend's house in Orlando.  Flee and hope to find a hotel.  Flee and get caught in gnarly traffic.  I searched the internet for hotels.  Everything in the state appeared booked.  I thought carefully about what being on the east side of the storm would mean.  My guts told me east of Fort Myers might not be a good place to be.

I spent 30 minutes on Skype talking with the Czarina about the options.  Driving out of town into a gas starved state with uncertain traffic conditions at the beginning of tropical storm force conditions just seemed like a big risk.  I decided to stay.  I was at peace.  I knew the storm wouldn't kill me if I took the right precautions.

I prepared a safe place in an interior bathroom.  I had pillows, a helmet and a large mattress to cover me.  I made sure every door in the house was closed.  I carefully parked my truck up against the garage door to secure it against the wind.  Then I realized that I had left one of my most precious possessions in my store and hurried out just before dark to retrieve it.  I was ready.

I woke up earlier than I planned on Sunday.  It was very brisk outside but I wish I had gone for a run.  The run on Saturday was a joy.  The weather was almost crisp.  It was even better than Sunday morning.  Media friends began to reach out to me for Skype interviews and phoners.  As the weather worsened I started playing reporter.

My power finally went out at 2:28 p.m.  I began using my new phone as a hot spot and watched the live stream of the local station.  I could see that the most powerful part of the storm would pass to the east of I-75.  I live four miles to the west of it.  I knew it would be rough, but I was ready.

As the weather got worse, I continued to do interviews for various media.  Then disaster struck.  As hurricane force winds began to pound the house, I notice a shutter was banging violently against the window.  I stripped down, grabbed a pair of exercise shorts and a bike helmet and headed outside.  The pins that hold the shutter down had come free.  I rapidly put them back in place.  They both seemed tight and secure.

One hour later one of the pins had come free again.  The weather was bad but not awful, so I repeated the exercise.  I wish it had occurred to me to grab with plastic wire to tie it down but I was thinking too clearly.  30 minutes later it was loose again and now the storm was reaching its peak.  I made one last frantic dash outside and secured it only to watch it fail again 15 minutes later.  At this point the eye was on the house and I went and hid hoping the shutter wouldn't fly off.

Sometime in the next 45 minutes a large tree in front of the house split in half while another large limb next to my route to the bad shutter also came down.  I am so glad that I wasn't outside for that.
I must admit that last dash outside was exhilarating.  A couple of 100 mile per hour gusts slammed against my body was I was crouched down on the ground.  The rain was vertical and stinging my body.

The worst of the storm lasted less than 90 minutes.  I had survived.  The street had flooded.  My garage and lanai had minor flooding, but it was over and I was incredibly relieved.

I went out at 8 a.m. the next morning and saw the damage to my property and to my neighbors.  I carefully drove to my store which was in the heart of a zone that was supposed to be hit by terrible flooding.  The store was untouched.  As I drove through my community, the tree damage was abundant, but we had escaped what could have been a catastrophic storm.

Just 30 miles to the south in Naples, the people of Collier County were not so lucky.  Irma was still a very strong hurricane when it came ashore in Marco Island.  The flooding was much more intense.  It will take weeks if not months for some part of that county to recover.

 I'm guessing that the following six weeks will be very, very lean at Run Florida On McGregor.  Paying bills could be a challenge.  But it is much better than the alternative.

I am a very lucky man.  Next time I will button up and leave early.  Lesson learned.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Fail

Weather is the bread and butter of local television news.  How stations manage a weather crisis can well position a news operation as the market leader for years ahead.  This weekend the three newsrooms that cover Southwest Florida missed the mark in the midst and immediate aftermath of major floods that swept through Lee County.

While the nation is transfixed on the events surrounding Harvey and the awful destruction the storm has brought to the Texas gulf coast, a tropical system sat atop Southwest Florida dumping copious amounts of rain over a four day period.  The street where I live floods about every five years.  After two days of rain, water covered the road in front of our home on Saturday.  I must admit I didn't give it a second thought.

Heavy rains on Sunday changed the equation, completely.  By 3 p.m. Sunday, water was lapping at the front of my garage and creeping across its floor.  Cars began stalling out in my neighborhood as fools attempted to drive through 18 inches of water.  I flipped on the television expecting to see some coverage of what I suspected was a flooding mess that was sweeping across the county.  What I didn't see shocked me.

I flipped through the five channels that one could view local news on.  NBC had NASCAR, CBS golf, FOX was showing NFL, ABC the Little League World Series and the CW had a movie on.  The only consistent crawl I saw was on ABC warning about the flood danger across the area.  Now mind you, flooding was rampant, not just in my little slice of the world.  Roads were covered with dangerous amounts of water over a large area.  Houses a mere five miles from mine were filling up with water.

I saw no cut-in's, no urgent warnings, nothing from the local media outside of pictures on my Facebook feed which should the unfolding disaster.  It wasn't until 6 p.m. when the NBC station finally hit the air that you had a sense that something big was unfolding because all of their main anchors were on the set.  The ABC station took the same tact at 6:30 p.m. as did the CW although all of their main players weren't on the air as one would expect.  The CBS station which owns the CW didn't hit the air until 11 p.m.

All we got from each station was a 30 minute slice of the flooding.  Worse still, it was a mostly light, fluffy, look at the high water type of coverage, outside of the evacuation of a nursing home.  Meanwhile in the Island Park area of Lee County, people were getting water in their homes.  That news really didn't come to light for another 24 hours.

I knew in my guts by 5 p.m. Sunday that this weather event was an all hands on deck type of event for local journalists.  It was as bad as a tropical storm, without the winds.   A tropical storm would bring wall to wall coverage yet none of the stations made the effort.  Fortunately the damage was only in terms of property and not in lives lost.  But Fort Myers news directors need to reassess their coverage plans after Sundays big fail.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Resurrection

USA distance running is back baby.  The latest ten day run of the World Track and Field Championships in London confirmed the success the United States enjoyed last summer at the Olympics in Rio.  American runners are snapping necks and cashing checks.

From 800 meters to the marathon, the United States scored medals.  The highlight of this spectacular success was Friday night's one-two finish in the women's steeplechase where Emma Coburn claimed gold and an American Record while Courtney Frerich grabbed the silver, also dipping under the old AR.  Going into the race Coburn, who won Olympic bronze in Rio, was considered on the outside looking in when it came to a medal.  Frerich wasn't even in the conversation. The one-two finish by these two remarkable runners may well be the biggest upset scored by an American distance runner since Billy Mills took gold at 10,000 meters in Tokyo at the 1964 Olympics.

When you add Evan Jager's steeplechase bronze American runners out medaled Kenya in an event they have traditionally owned.  Jager joined Coburn, Paul Chelimo in the 5,000 and Jenny Simpson in the 1,500 as repeat medal winners from Rio.  Simpson's wonderful dash to silver over the last 100 meters was certainly the second biggest surprise springing from the championships.  Her joyous post-race celebration was awesome.  The medal also stamped Simpson as the greatest championship middle distance runner in American history, man or woman.

Amy Cragg's bronze medal in the marathon was the third biggest surprise in London.  A bevy of Kenyans and Ethiopians were expected to sweep all of the hardware.  But Hastings put in a gut-busting run over the last half mile to snatch her medal from a Kenyan rival.

The other American medal came from Ajee Wilson who took bronze at 800 meters.  Wilson's performance put it just a couple of steps behind the American Record.  And given the controversy surrounding the two women who finished in front of her, Wilson could be a favorite for gold in three years in Tokyo.

The only distance where America was shut out was over 10,000 meters.  But a bigger disappointment was over 1,500 meters where a season of injury and health issues caught up to Rio gold medalist Matt Centrowitz.  His body betrayed him over the last lap of the qualifying heat and he finished dead last.

Those are small blemishes over an otherwise incredible string of races by America.  A seven medal haul in London is one better than the six claimed in Rio.  Overall team USA took 30 track and field medals, a fine performance indeed.


Saturday, August 5, 2017

Justin

They booed him.  I understood why they were booing him but I chose to cheer him.  I've always had a soft spot for Justin Gatlin and now he had dethroned the greatest sprinter in running history, Usain Bolt.  12 years after winning his first World Championship 100 meter title, the ancient one, Justin Gatlin, was again World Champion.

Gatlin had always struck me as a gentle soul.  When he captured 100 meter Gold at the 2004 Olympics, he was the polar opposite of the man considered America's best sprinter, Maurice Greene.  I liked Greene, a native of Kansas City, Kansas.  He often raced at the Kansas Relays and was a fun interview. 
So that explains this picture.  Sorry for the quality but I took it with my phone, as the photo itself hangs on a wall in my house.  If you look closely you can see Maurice Greene far behind Gatlin as they competed in a 4 x 100 relay at the 2006 Kansas Relays.

The photo was taken by my stepson Andrei, as I stood behind him and we watched this incredible piece of running together.  Little did either one of know that shortly after this race, Gatlin would be drug tested.  He was found positive for a steroid and banned from racing for four years.  At age 26 a ban of that length was tantamount to death penalty for his track and field career.

Gatlin claimed that after the race his therapist rubbed a cream containing testosterone into his legs causing the positive.  Now, I believe that a lot of world class track and field athletes use illegal performance enhancing drugs.  But there was always a small part of me that wanted to believe Gatlin's story.

Despite the badge of dishonor, Andrei had taken such a great picture, the Czarina and I agreed to have the print framed and placed on the wall.  We were both fans.  It was a special moment in history that I had witness. 

Nine years later I would be in Eugene at the Prefontaine Classic.  While catching up with some friends at Track Town Pizza, I spied Gatlin enjoying a slice with some friends across the room.  I don't usually approach athletes or any celebrity, especially when they are eating.  But I walked over and introduced myself and told Justin that I was a big fan.

I was struck by how small he is.  Gatlin is not especially tall and while powerfully built, he didn't have the pitbull body of his one time rival, Maurice Greene.  Gatlin was incredibly gracious and kind.  A warm smile floated across his face.  I wanted to tell him that his picture hung in my house and the race it came from but I knew better than to uncover old wounds.

Gatlin's return to the sport after his suspension offered little promise.  He looked lost.  Few meets wanted him.  When Gatlin did race he looked ragged.  Somehow by 2012 he was an Olympian.  He would spent the next five years nipping at the heels of the great Usain Bolt.  Then came August 5, 2017 and the 100 meter final at the World Championships in London.

The smile on Gatlin's face as he hit the finish line summed it all up.  He knew he had won.  Bolt had no inkling that Gatlin had exploded over the final 20 meters to overtake him and Christian Coleman.  Gatlin, not surprisingly, bowed down to Bolt when the great champion turned to congratulate his rival.  And yet the fans booed.  Well let them boo.  It was a hell of a race. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Future Is Hugh

I've written a lot about the plentiful distance talent among the high school girls in Lee County.  Then, Hugh Brittenham wandered into the store Friday to look at cross country spikes.  Now, I could have sworn I had written something up about this outstanding, young distance talent, but alas I had only a few blurbs to Facebook.  The boys are getting short shrift.
Hugh is preparing for his junior season at Estero High School.  He has a chance to be the best male middle distance runner to ever lace on a pair of spikes in Lee County.  I first noticed his name when he was a mere freshman, breaking 10 minutes for the 3200 and 4:40 for the 1600.  Those kind of times will catch my attention.

The wake up call came like a thunder shot in early spring at a meet in March.  Hugh Brittenham clocked a stunning 1:52.84 800 coming out of the slow heat at the Florida State Relays.  Let me repeat this, 1:52.84 in the slow heat.  He was just a sophomore.

I was stunned because I had seen him run a couple of weeks before at the Edison Relays in Fort Myers.  At that meet he ran a respectable triple which included a leg on the 4 x 800, a 4th place in the 1600 in 4:26.69 and a somewhat surprising win in the 800 in 1:59.37.  The 800 should have been a tip off about what was coming.  He disposed rather easily of Fort Myers senior Evan Babitz who had run 1:56 the year before.  What I saw was a lot of strength by a young runner.  I just didn't realize Hugh had the speed to go with it.

An IT band issue kept him away from the track for a couple of weeks before Hugh returned to take both the 1600 and 800 at the county championships.  At state, Brittenham would finish 2nd in the 1600 in a PR 4:17.78 losing to senior Matt Clark by six tenths of a second.  It wouldn't be until the New Balance Outdoor Nationals that Hugh would show that he indeed had the goods.  He clocked a 1:52.88 800 to finish 2nd in the emerging elite segment of the meet. 

Assuming he stays healthy and continues to prosper under the fine coaching of Ben Pignatone, the sky is the limit.  I think Hugh Brittenham could be the first Lee County boy to break 1:50 in the 800 and 4:10 in the 1600.  He's humble, appears hungry and seems realistic about the path to running faster.  Let's he comes back in for those cross country spikes.  I wouldn't mind putting a pair of shoes on a future state champion.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Summer Of 67

50 years ago the nation watched transfixed as a young man from Kansas dominated the mile like no other American runner ever had or has since. Jim Ryun was finishing up his sophomore year at the University of Kansas preparing to defend his national championship in the mile and laying the groundwork for a trip to the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.

Ryun was a wunderkind who had burst upon American middle distance running three years earlier by shocking the world of track and field with the first sub-four minute mile by a high school boy. He topped that by snagging a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. He followed up his break through year at Wichita East High School by winning the 1965 A.A.U. National Championships in an American Record 3:55.3 in the mile and taking down Olympic Gold medalist Peter Snell from New Zealand in the process.

The four years that would follow at Kansas was unbelievable beyond any Greek heroic tragedy. His freshman year he broke the American Record for two miles, followed that up with a world record in the half mile and then added a pressure packed mile world record clocking a 3:51.3 in Berkeley. Ryun ended 1966 named as the nation's top amateur athlete, winning the Sullivan Award.

America and the world was watching for what Ryun would deliver for an encore in 1967. The whispers centered on whether he could be the first man to run under 3:50 in the mile. He would give a hint of things to come at the Kansas Relays in April clocking a 3:54.7 mile. Five weeks later he would run a 3:53.2 in Compton. Two weeks after that Ryun ran a seemingly pedestrian 4:03.5 mile to win the NCAA Championship. The time would be deceptive since it was run at 4,551 feet in Provo, Utah. Shockingly, it was the only outdoor NCAA title he ever won.

Five days later Ryun would find himself in California's central valley. He had traveled to Bakersfield to defend his AAU outdoor title for the third time. He clocked a leisurely 4:07.5 in winning his preliminary on Thursday June 22. 

The following day offered no hints of what was to come. Ryun told me in a 1997 interview that he didn't feel tip top going into the race. He was feeling sluggish, almost on the verge of a cold. When the gun sounded the field let Ryun slip easily into the lead at a very pedestrian pace. Rolling through the first two laps in a leisurely 1:58.6, there was no sense that something magic was about to happen. But as Ryun told me, the race was beginning to feel special.

Leading into the back stretch on the third lap Ryun began to pull away from the field opening up a sizable gap by the next turn. Now in full flight Ryun hit three laps somewhere in 2:57.6 and the only question was whether he could finish in 52 and break the 3:50 mile. With no one in sight to pressure him, Ryun glided to a new world record of 3:51.1, on a chopped up clay track. Back in 7th place Marty Liquori became the third high school athlete to dip under four minutes in the mile.

Ryun told me it was the easiest race of his life and he headed to altitude to begin preparation for his much anticipated showdown with Kenya's Kip Keino. The year before Keino had pushed Ryun to an American Record for two miles in the Los Angeles Coliseum. Ryun says the sessions at altitude left him exhausted, yearning only for sleep in the days leading up to the July 9th battle, again in Los Angeles.

I remember tuning into ABC's Wide World of Sports for the race and listening to the commentators wonder if Ryun could handle Keino, who had run World Records of his own over 3,000 and 5,000 meters. His best in the mile, 3:53.4, which showed the Kenyan had the speed to give Ryun a real match. I remember watching Keino jump into the lead threatening to run away from the field.

Ryun worked patiently to stay on Keino's heels. The duo hit the bell in 2:55.0 and on the back stretch with 300 yards to go Ryun easily sprinted away from his rival. When he hit the finish line the seven year old world record for 1500 meters had been smashed by more than two seconds with Ryun clocking 3:33.1. Ryun's coach, Bob Timmons, had clocked the last three laps in 2:46.6.

Ryun handed Keino another defeat in the mile one month later in London and finished his season in Germany where he blazed a 50.2 final 400 to win the 1500 meters in 3:38.2. Given the wins in Los Angeles and London over his Kenyan challenger, American track and field fans expected nothing less than gold the following year in Mexico City at the Summer Olympics. The experts knew all too well the challenges of Mexico City's altitude would favor Keino.

1968 would prove to be a challenging year, tragic in a sense. A bout with mononucleosis cost Ryun precious weeks of training. It nearly cost him a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. But in the end it was the altitude and an extraordinary run by Kip Keino would leave Ryun satisfied with a Silver medal. 

Ryun's achievement wasn't enough for many American track and field fans. It brought unmerited criticism to the world record holder and it in part, led to an ignominious end to his career the following summer when Ryun would step off the track mid-race at the AAU Championships in Miami leading him into a retirement that would last more than a year. He was over raced and over trained. Yet his legend remains, 50 years on.





Friday, May 19, 2017

A Fool's Race

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Lee County's GOAT, Krissy Gear

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Crap Fest That's Called Tegna

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Jim Ryun Turns 70

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Money Grab

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, March 31, 2017

Legends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 24, 2017

Sun Sets On KC Television Era

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.