Sunday, December 2, 2018

On The Cheap

Television news operations underestimate the power of first rate local sports coverage in a major sports market.  The problem stems from consultants and their research that shows in the scheme of viewer desires, sports ranks near the bottom.  Well, duh.  It's a self fulfilling prophecy because far too many stations across the country give viewers half-assed local sports coverage.  Of course viewers are going to tell you it doesn't matter because you tell them it doesn't matter.

I'm writing this because WDAF is killing the last of its local sports legacy by letting Al Wallace and Jason Lamb go.  Less expensive reporters will fill their roles.  It's the final stake driven through the heart of an outstanding sports department that started when Frank Boal was let go more than nine years ago.  Few people are left that remember that Boal and others are a major reason for WDAF's ratings resurgence almost 40 years ago.

I joined WDAF in late October 1980.  Frank Boal came along about six month later and together along with Denny Trease and Gordon Docking we built a sports powerhouse.  Unlike a lot of news producers, I had a deep abiding love of sports.  WDAF at the time was the TV broadcast home of the Kansas City Royals, when the team was at the height of its popularity.

What I brought to Frank and news director Mike McDonald was something I had learned from the late great Steve Pascente, who was a major part of television sports in Phoenix for many years.  We had to own high school football.  It didn't take much to convince Boal that blanket coverage of high school football in the Kansas City metro area would bring us a lot of viewers.  Parents would come home after those Friday night lights and sample our 10 p.m. newscast if we covered as many games as possible.

WDAF created the dynamic high school football coverage format that is a major part of Kansas City television today.  Not only did we serve up a game of the week, we had a team of the week, a play of the week and our own weekly rankings of the top metro area prep teams.  I can't say enough about the hard work that Gordon Docking contributed to the success of this format.  Al Wallace was later a big part of it too.

The WDAF sports legacy was firmly led by Boal and was further cemented by later outstanding McDonald hires in the form of Wallace and Kansas City radio sports legend Kevin Keitzman.  WDAF owned local television sports.  That meant a heaping helping of Royals baseball, Chiefs football and Kansas City golf legend Tom Watson.  Then you add Kansas State, Missouri and K.U. sports coverage and you would think enough was enough.  But this team also bore down and covered high school sports beyond football.

I strongly believe our local approach to sports was an integral part of WDAF's ratings success.  When I joined the station WDAF was mired in last place in the local news game.  We were number one within two years thanks to a combination of the addition of a strong 6 p.m. newscast, better NBC programming, the Royals and our overall commitment to exceptional local sports coverage.

I firmly believe that commitment to sports by WDAF led to the creation of Metro Sports that blanketed the Kansas City sports for the better part of two decades.  The appetite is there.  Why else would Keitzman's WHB dominate the radio airwaves?  Why would blogs which cover Kansas basketball, Kansas State football, the Royals and the Chiefs enjoy such success?  Kansas City devours sports.    

Now the powers that be at WDAF have decided that the experience that Wallace and Lamb brought to the table matters little to its viewers.  That the return on that investment in experience just isn't worth it.  It sends a signal to its viewers that sports matters little when I would argue the opposite.  WDAF should own the Royals and the Chiefs and high school football.  Blogs, newspaper and radio can't give you the power that video with great experience reporting can deliver.        

Wallace's departure marks the end of a lineage of great sports anchors that can be traced all the way back to KCTV's Bruce Rice.  You can also add KMBC's Len Dawson, Don Fortune and Dave Stewart along with KSHB's Jack Harry and of course Frank Boal to that great legacy.  The circle is now broken.  I wonder if anyone will ever pick up the pieces?

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Question

It's that time of year when I give my thoughts on the University of Kansas basketball team.  It took a few more games than usual to pull together a cohesive narrative about where this year's squad is headed.  I'll cut to the chase.  This year's team has more talent than last year's that rolled to the Final 4.  The qualifier in that statement is the eligibility of Silvio DeSousa.

This edition of the Kansas Jayhawks serves up enough talent to let head coach Bill Self play the kind of high-low basketball that he likes.  Even without DeSousa, Kansas has two outstanding post players in Doke Azubuike and newcomer Dedrick Lawson.  Lawson is the most skilled interior player at Kansas since Thomas Robinson.  He is the best passing big man in school history, he's kills it on the boards, can hit the three and defends.  Lawson appears to lack the kind of strength at the glass on the offensive end but I suspect he will improve in that area as the season rolls along.

The team is at its best when Doke is on the floor.  It's not just the offense but his defensive presence cannot be underestimated.  That's why the team will need DeSousa.  He is the only interior defender that can match Doke's physicality.  I doubt the Silvio ever sees the floor this year.

The other "interior" players are more than serviceable.  Mitch Lightfoot is a ball of good energy even though he's over matched most of the time.  David McCormack is a year away from being a useful post player but if he progresses at all he could make up for the loss of DeSousa.  And then there is K.J. Lawson, Dedrick's older brother.  I don't know what to make of Lawson.  He seems to be a player in search of a game.

While the team offers guards aplenty, the long range talents of Svi Mykhailluik, Devonte Graham and Malik Newman are sorely missed.  Lagerald Vick has so far shown that he could be a terror from three point land.  But I worry that this early season hot streak is simply fools gold.  The freshman duo of Quinton Grimes and Devon Dotson can and must contribute from long range.  Marcus Garrett appears to have failed to work on his jump shooting so while his defense and driving ability will come in handy, he remains a major liability on the offensive end of the floor.

Yet the nugget, the true gem of this team is in the back court.  Devon Dotson is the best freshman guard I've seen on a Kansas team since Darnell Valentine.  He's better than Jacques Vaughn as a freshman and that's saying a lot.  Dotson drives the lane fearlessly like Frank Mason, he plays defense just a notch below Valentine and has shown a decent outside shot that will only get better.

Guard play wins at the college level.  Kansas will roll through the Big 12 but will be hard pressed to make it to the Final 4 this year unless Grimes and Dotson make major strides.  It's going to be an interesting team to watch because they play with a fearlessness that's surprising for such a young squad.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Shoulda Coulda Woulda

Another season of high school cross country has come to an end in Florida.  Surveying the landscape of the aftermath the fall left me a little disappointed when it came to the results for Southwest Florida harriers.  Just a little.  The problem is the best cross country runners in the area are both middle distance aces, trying to up their game to 5,000 meters but more on that later.

The surprise of the season came from tiny Southwest Florida Christian Academy which qualified both its boys and girls team for state.  That's a big upgrade for SFCA.  I would include annual powerhouse Fort Myers in the same category.  Coach Yancey Palmer had his hands full handling both the boys and girls squads.  The Green Wave girls survived this season thanks in large part to the surprising junior, Stephanie Ormsby.  A top 20 finish landed her squad in fifth at State, just a spot behind Naples, which had the returning talent to make a run for the podium, but it was not to be.

The Fort Myers boys seemed full of question marks.  It took a steely sophomore Liam Holston hold the squad together.  The tenth place finish at State, just one spot ahead of the always tough Estero Wildcats spoke volumes about the coaching job done by Palmer and even more so for Estero's head honcho Brian Olitsky.  If you had told me that those two teams would race past Gulf Coast at the end of the year I wouldn't have believed you.  Olitsky peaked his squad almost perfectly.

Another trio of Lee County squads made it to State in their respective classes.  The girls of Bishop Verot, Cape Coral and Cantebury made the trip to Tallahassee.  Cape Coral's Cheyenne Young seemed positioned at the beginning of the year to make the most noise at State.  Ongoing health issues kept her outside the expected top ten finish in 15th.

The only top ten finish on the girl's side came from Cantebury super sophomore Jessica Edwards.  Injuries slowed her at the end of the season but she capped off with a nice run at State.  She slipped from her 2017 eighth place finish to 9th but ran 14 seconds faster on the same course.  Edwards is positioned for a great outdoor season of track if she can stay healthy.

That leads us to Estero's Hugh Brittenham.  He established himself as the best cross country runner male or female in Southwest Florida this season.  The state 800 meter champion made it his goal to win it all this year.  He came up short with a fifth place finish, two spots ahead of his 2017 finish.  More importantly Brittenham announced his collegiate commitment to Florida.  The Gators are always in the thick of it when it comes to national titles in track and field.  Brittenham will fit in nicely.

Still this season left me wanting more.  It's not a slight against of the squads or the coaches.  They are doing their best.  But the intensity that used to reside here seems to have faded.  I don't know if it's due to the untimely death of the great Jeff Sommer, who molded Estero into a powerhouse, or if we are just in a down cycle.  But Southwest Florida its share of Footlocker finalists in the past.  I'm sure more are on the way because the coaching is there to see to that.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Marathon Madness

ESPN made a complete mess of the New York City Marathon.  The coverage, production, talent decisions, by and large, were among the worse I've seen in television.  I speak from knowledge.  I worked for 30 years in television.  I am an Emmy nominated sports producer.  ESPN simply was out of its depth.

Before I go into full blast mode I will compliment ESPN for a great primary announcing crew.  Jon Anderson is a big running fan.  He's shown his stripes in the network's track and field coverage.  Tim Hutchings and Carrie Tollefson have the knowledge to add color to any road race or track and field event.  If viewers could have gotten two and a half hours of that trio with a good dose of Paula Radcliffe from the in race vantage point and a true distance runner other than Matt Centrowitz in the men's race we would have had a great crew.

Instead the producers felt the need to start jamming pre-produced pieces offering the human aspect of the race about an hour into the coverage.  We were forced to endure Sage Steele, who interviewing skills leave much to be desired.  She has no insight into the sport, completely lacking in the abilities that Anderson consistently shows when he's handling interview duties at track meets.  ESPN should have put Anderson in Steele's role and left Hutchings and Tollefson to handle the race duties which both are more than capable of doing.

As the real racing unfolded shortly after the halfway point of the women's race, the soft-soap people features began to fill the screen.  The telecast missed the three key breaks in the women's race as Mary Keitany worked her magic on a talented field.  It was infuriating to realize that something significant had happened while we learned about someone's heart rate or some charity runner.

The men's coverage was almost as bad.  Matt Centrowitz offered little insight into the racing and the sound problems plagued his efforts and Radcliffe as well.  ESPN missed much of the early breaks in the men's race because it failed to utilize split screens in its coverage as it focused on Keitany who had already destroyed the women's field. 

Fortunately after Keitany hit the finish line we got a chance to watch the three way death match between Ethiopia's Lelisa Desisa, Shura Kitata and Kenya's Geoffrey Kamworor.  Kitata worked tirelessly throughout the race to inject pace and break up the field but Centrowitz seemed completely unaware of the tactic.  In the final three miles Desisa pulled away leaving Kamworor and Kitata for dead.  Yet Kitata summoned the strength that seemed otherworldly to try and chase Desisa to the finish.

The thrill of the men's battle couldn't make up for the flaws of the broadcast.  ESPN needs to take a page from the other world marathon majors.  Show the race.  Use the split screen more and stop trying to put a face on the race by highlighting the hobby runners.  Explain what it takes to be a pro and why these runners are the fittest athletes in the world.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Bob Delivers

You never really know what to expect when you go to a Bob Dylan concert.  Tuesday October 23rd marked the 15th time I've seen the living legend and he delivered.  It was an amazing performance of classic songs that had been re-crafted as Dylan is want to do in unexpectedly brilliant ways.  From the opening number, the Academy Award winning "Things Have Changed," Bob was determined to reinvent himself. 
Dylan performed 18 songs that spanned the 50 plus years of his incredible career.  From "Don't Think Twice It's Alright" to the epic "Like A Rolling Stone," Dylan worked his magic in the reinvention of many classic songs.  Then Bob would deliver a newer gem like "Scarlet Town" just as it sounded on the album.  It's never boring.

There were so many highlights to the performance it's hard to pull up enough superlatives to enshrine the concert.  Dylan sounded great playing a grand piano, whereas before when I had seen him playing an electric piano, the sounded seemed muddled and lost in the mix.  His harmonica playing was sterling.  On the handful of times in the past when I had seen him play it his command of the instrument sounded disinterested.

The centerpiece of the show was the sparkling guitar play of Charlie Sexton.  The handful of times Charlie was let loose, such as on an epic "Love Sick," Sexton's playing crackled.  The last time I had seen Bob 12 years ago Charlie had left the band and his absence was considerable.  Sexton playing alongside Donnie Heron who holds down the pedal steel is reminiscent of the days when the great Larry Campbell played with Bob's band in the late 90's and early 2000's.

The backbone of the band is the steady bass play of Tony Garnier who has played alongside Dylan for nearly 30 years now on his Never Ending Tour.  Garnier was locked in tight with drummer George Receli who delivered a knockout solo during "Thunder on the Mountain."  This may well be Dylan's best ever ensemble since his days with The Band.

I went in the night full of apprehension.  The current recordings you can find on YouTube of this tour don't fully deliver the power of Dylan and his band.  At age 77 he doesn't appear ready to slow down.  The troubadour seems like he's ready to deliver another decade of his remarkable music. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

It's All About The Miles

Time and again I get asked for training advice.  Time and again it comes down to one simple answer.  You've got to run the miles.  Just before my 30th birthday I decided I wanted to run a decent marathon.  When I sat down with Tom Dowling, a private coach with an amazing record of producing great runners, he kept it pretty simple.  He wanted me to do a weekly long run, a couple of medium long runs and at least one up tempo run a week that could be from two to six miles.

I came to him with a marathon PR of 2:57:14.  I told him I wanted to break 2:40.  I figured it could be done on 40 miles a week with a lot of intervals and a hard ten mile run once a week.  I lived in a world of folly.

When I first looked at his calendar that stretched out over six months I laughed in his face.  It had me going from 15 to 20 miles a week up to 50 plus miles a week.  The long run would gradually increase from six to 18 and then as he explained, eventually 21.  Impossible I responded, my life simply won't allow it.    But I looked around at the dozens of other runners Tom coached, many of them married with kids, with jobs far more demanding than mine.  Many of them were running 60 to 80 miles a week.

Starting in December of 1985 I tried to follow the calendar laid out before me as closely as possible.  By May I was cheating and joining the big group in the 21 mile Sunday long run.  It seemed as if overnight  I was running 60 miles a week.  Those 10 mile mid-week runs felt like three.  Intervals were expressly forbidden, although I cheated on occasion and usually paid a price for it. 

By October of 86 I talked Coach Dowling into letting me run a marathon and he said okay, as long as I made it a training run.  For 23 miles it was one of the easiest runs of my life.  The last two were hell but that three hour training run turned into a big PR of 2:49:24 on an extremely hilly course.

2:51 marathon at Grandma's in 1987.  My plans of a 2:45 were short-circuited by food poisoning
It took another four years to get to my goal of a sub-2:40 but I learned a lot of lessons of how not to train and the importance of just putting in the miles.  I ran a lot of what would be called junk miles.  I would guess out of a typical 200 mile month I would do three long runs, four tempo runs, six medium long runs from 10 to 15 miles and a lot of easy three to five mile runs.  About 40 percent of my runs were slower than 7:30 pace.  My long runs were rarely faster than 7:30 pace though the "books" out there with marathon training programs suggest I should have been running under 7 minute pace.

The point of all this is if you want to run a marathon and not suffer in complete agony you've got to put in miles and most of all you have to do a LOT of long runs.  I ran eight marathons while Tom was still alive, most following my own calendar while adhering to his tenants.  Even in races were I encountered tough issues like heat or being short on overall mileage, those long runs saved my ass.  I was so toughened that I could adjust and still run a reasonable marathon.

So when you come into my store and complain about how hard it is to run 30 miles a week I will shake my head.  Yes, it's hot in Southwest Florida.  But I point out that Ron Tabb ran 120 plus miles a week training in Houston, Texas in weather that is just as awful.  Heck, when I first moved to Fort Myers I was running 40 to 50 miles a week and I was in my mid-40's.  With discipline and dedication you can find the time to get the miles in.  You can build your long run into something that will truly benefit you.

Three month training programs that have to building a long run from six miles to 20 in that amount of time is pure folly.  If you want to tackle the marathon, take your time, give yourself six or seven months of serious training with a long, gradual buildup in miles.  Before Dowling I had run a 3:11 marathon in May of 1985 on 20 miles a week.  Ten months after meeting Tom I had 22 minutes faster and it hurt a hell of a lot less.  It's all about the miles with a long run front and center.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Teacher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Rethinking Cross Country

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Comes A Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 18, 2018

It's A Wrap... Almost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Two Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

History Round The Bend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 27, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 16, 2018

A Boston For The Ages

Shocking, stirring, unbelievable, those words fit Meb Keflezighi's stunning victory at the 2014 Boston Marathon.  The 2018 edition of this fabled race doubled down on this notion.  Des Linden's win over a weather ravaged field proves the old adage of preparation beats talent.  And Yuki Kawauchi's win in the men's race simply amplified that.

First there's Linden, a former track standout from Arizona State, who headed straight to the Hansen Brothers' training group in Michigan after college to focus on the marathon.  Linden served notice in 2011 finishing a close but no cigar 2nd at Boston.  Two Olympic teams would follow but Linden didn't have a major marathon title to show for all of her success.

The win came complete with a shocking detour to help Shalane Flanagan after an emergency potty stop.  Linden slowed to help Flanagan make her way back to the lead pack after the 14 second bathroom break somewhere around mile 11.  Linden admitted she was thinking of dropping out and slowing down to help out Shalene got her head back in the game.

The weather God's gave the gritty Linden the kind of  awful conditions guaranteed to lay the Africans low.  Then there's the moment, the moment Des Linden had to know the race was hers.  She had followed Kenya's Glady Chesir in chasing down Mamitu Daska of Ethiopia after the Newton Hills.  Chesir made the mistake of showing weakness by glancing back just before mile 22.  That's when Linden struck, battling awful, freezing headwinds and rain to win in 2:39:54.  Chesir and Daska would drop out leaving second to an unheralded American Sarah Sellers.

As Linden blew away the women's field by more than four minutes, a drama was unfolding in the men's race were respected, but little thought of Yuki Kawauchi was racing his third marathon of the year, unheard in this day and age for world class runners.  Kawauchi was watching Kenya's Geoffrey Kirui falling apart after a massive attack on the Newton Hills.  The Japanese runner, who has run more sub 2:20 marathons (77) than any competitor in history, managed to close a 90 gap that Kirui had built up over the gradual descent leading to the finish.

With around two miles to go Kawauchi had reeled Kirui in and the race was over.  The Kenyan looked to be jogging over the final miles while Kawauchi seized the day winning in 2:15:58, more than seven minutes off of his lifetime best.  For running fans Kawauchi is especially sweet as he works at a regular job and races often, without any sponsorship support. 

Linden victory follows Flanagan's New York City win marking the clear return of American women as a force to reckoned with on the world marathon stage.  And Kawauchi's improbable win ranks on my list up there along with Amby Burfoot's unlikely victory at Boston 50 years ago.  It was a win for a runner who likes to race, not the time trialing marathons we've come to expect at other world majors like London and Berlin.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Small Ball, Winning Ball

Almost four months ago I wrote that the University of Kansas basketball team was one injury away from being a .500 team.  Reflecting back, I'm amazed at how right I was about this team.  It was all about the guards.  But this season unfolded in ways I could have never imagined.

Devonte Graham more than filled Frank Mason's roll as floor general.  Graham proved to be a better fit than Mason with this guard heavy bunch.  He should win the Wooden Award.  No one played more minutes for Kansas since Danny Manning roamed the hardwood.

Then there was the heralded transfer Malik Newman who finally turned into Malik Newman over the last 30 days.  LeGerald Vick was up and down all season.  Fortunately he was mostly up when it counted.  And finally there's Svi Mykhailiuk.  Yeah, he shot great all season and he learned to drive to the bucket but what I think was overlooked was his massive improvement on the defensive end of the court.  Svi's effort on Sunday against Duke's Marvin Bagley was the cherry to his season on defense.

So the guards gave us everything we should have expected.  I never dreamed that Mitch Lightfoot and Silvio DeSouza would be major contributors.  Lightfoot is fearless.  He's got hops and simply refuses to back down on either end of the court.  I was right about Billy Preston.  He never saw a minute and it somehow didn't derail the season.  I was wrong about Doke Azubuike.  It turns out that he has more offensive skills than Greg Ostertag.  Sure, all he does is dunk but he his offensive game is pretty slick. 

The reason Kansas is in the Final 4 is Silvio DeSouza.  His transformation from a high school senior looking completely lost in his first few minutes in January to being a confident, physically compelling post presence is nothing short of miraculous.  Regardless of what happens in San Antonio the basketball future for the Jayhawks will remain bright indeed.  And Bill Self doesn't get enough credit for that.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

For What It's Worth

Estero's Hugh Brittenham leading Fort Myers Kyle Skinner 
All I hear is media silence as a history making season of track and field is unfolding as spring breaks in Southwest Florida.  Hugh Brittenham is setting records.  As of Saturday night it appears the Estero junior sits atop the national outdoor standings for both the 800 and 1600 meter runs.  It's all as a result of an epic Friday/Saturday double at the FSU Relays.

Brittenham has been on fire since the start of the season yet there's been nary a mention in the local newspapers or from the television folks.  Of course, the local sports journalists don't see much to get excited about when it comes to the sport. But when a kid in your own backyard is clawing his way to the top of the national rankings you would think there would be some excitement.

I was surprised Wednesday night when Hugh and his mother Angela stopped by our Wednesday night track workout to check out some shoes and go for a jog.  As we went at a pace that had to be achingly slow for him, Hugh shared with me how his outdoor season was going and I could tell he was really excited by a feeling that he was on the cusp of some big things.  I took note.  I knew he was going to run a fast 800 but I wasn't sure what he could do in the 1600.

Friday went probably as well as he could expect.  Brittenham broke his own school record winning in 1:51.92.  Looking at his splits it appears that with a faster opening 400 he could dip under 1:50 this spring.  He made it clear to me Wednesday that is his primary goal.

I wasn't holding out much hope that he would win the 1600 Saturday afternoon.  He was facing a couple of seniors who had both dipped under 9 minute on Friday in the 3200, outstanding times to be sure.  But Brittenham unleashed a sub 60 final 400 to win in 4:12.02, breaking Eric Montoya's four year old school record by a couple of seconds and marking himself as the best middle distance runner in Southwest Florida history.  Remember, he's only a junior.

I have no idea how fast he can run.  Brittenham doesn't run more than 50 miles a week.  And let's be honest, Southwest Florida isn't the best environment to produce middle distance or distance runners.  The brutal summer weather makes big miles insufferable.  Then there are the lack of hills.  It's pancake flat.  Hills help make great runners.  I think that causes some runners to runners to put in too much quality to make up for the lack of hills.  I'm not saying that's the case with Brittenham.

But based on his progress since his freshman year, I expect big things.  If he can stay healthy, I see no reason why Brittenham can't run under 1:48 and 4:05 his senior year.  If he can accomplish that, it would make Hugh not just the greatest middle distance/distance runner in Southwest Florida history, but it would him one of the greatest to ever come out of the state of Florida.  Heaven forbid he should decide to take a serious crack at the 3200!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018


I was late to the game as a boy when it came to sports.  I really couldn't give a hoot about professional or college athletics.  That all began to change in the late summer of 1965 when I became aware of an awesome southpaw, Sandy Koufax.  I quickly became fixated on the Dodgers' World Series match with the Minnesota Twins.  Koufax winning game seven on two days rest really started to stir my passion for sports.  But it took a night in late February to really cement my love.

It was a Kansas basketball game.  My family had made the trip to Lawrence from Abilene as my oldest sister was to perform with a high school dance troupe at half time.  I watched the game on television from 9th Street and Wellington Drive in the home of Jack Mason, a family friend.  It was the first time I had ever watched the Jayhawks.  It was the first time I ever saw JoJo White.

The Jayhawks blew out Nebraska that night 110 to 73 and I was hooked. Walt Wesley and JoJo White were my newest heroes. I cried when Kansas lost in double overtime to Texas Western (UTEP) due to an officials call that JoJo had stepped on the boundary on a game winning shot.

I begged my mother for a chance to see Kansas play in person.  I finally saw JoJo and the Jayhawks at Allen Field House in January 1968 against Iowa State.  It was an overwhelming experience.  I sat high up in the massive structure, the players looked like ants scrambling around on the raised court.  I remember watching JoJo take his familiar off center stance at the free throw line.  I remember the public address announcer telling the fans of Phog Allen's presence at the game.  It was about then I discovered that the legendary coach lived across the street from my grandmother, but that's another story.

JoJo was why I was at that game.  I remember how disheartened I was when the team was bounced by Dayton at the then prestigious NIT tournament that year.  And then how when JoJo had used up his eligibility, Kansas couldn't even make it out of the first round of the NIT.  White left Kansas twice being named an All American twice and with a gold medal from the 1968 Olympics.

White went on to enjoy a great career with the Boston Celtics where he helped win two NBA titles.  With his passing Tuesday night most of the obituaries and tributes centered on his place in basketball history and his run with Boston.

I'm here to state without question that JoJo White is the best point guard in Kansas history.  He played for a very good coach, Ted Owens, who ruined more guards than any coach in NCAA history.  Owens believed in feeding the big men and was quick to sit guards who missed open jump shots.  White could have averaged at least five points a game more if Owens had been more lax.

White could defend, almost as well as one of the other great guard's during Ted's tenure, Darnell Valentine.  The only other point guard that belongs in the conversation of these two is Jacque Vaughn.  He was a great distributor of the ball and he could score.  Jacque lacked the defensive chops of the other two.  Others might argue that Kirk Hinrich, Sherron Collins or Frank Mason should rate as number one.  White was the best ever.  He succeeded in an offense that wasn't suited to his skills.  He was a tremendous player in the NBA, something the other five guards we've mentioned can't claim.  And finally, he was a two-time All American, something that none of the others can claim.

Sunday, January 7, 2018


Ray Thomas is dead.  Those of my age will remember him as the flute player from The Moody Blues.  He was 76.  Why write about him?  Because I'm angry that he won't be part of the Moodies long overdue induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The Moody Blues were as big a band as any for a six year run from 1967 with the release of the ground breaking "Days of Futures Past" until the band's "Seventh Sojourn" in 1973.  Thomas only stood behind Jethro Tull's, Ian Anderson, as rock's great flute player.  Go listen to "Legend of a Mind" or his playing on the timeless "Nights in White Satin" and you'll hear some great progressive rock and roll.  They filled a place in British rock just a step behind The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and The Who.  The band sold out arenas.

For whatever reason, the mastermind of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Jan Wenner, hated The Moody Blues and kept them out of the hall for more than 20 years.  A lot of critics found the music created by The Moody Blues just to slick and pretentious.  But beneath the sheen of what was hated were some great songs, most of them penned by Justin Hayward, a couple of nuggets by the late Ray Thomas.

I had the great fortune of meeting Ray Thomas, Justin Hayward, John Lodge and Graeme Edge some 14 years ago when they opened one of their tours in Fort Myers.  It was one of the last tours Thomas was to make with the band as his health began to go into decline.  Ironically, the Moodies will be playing in Fort Myers this month.  I have seen the band more than a half dozen times.  As much as I want to go see them one final time, I won't ante up the money to see them in Germain Arena, where the acoustics are simply awful.

I was looking forward to seeing them, together, with Ray Thomas and hopefully with original keyboard man Mike Pinder, at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Now that won't happen and that makes me very sad.  Ray deserved better and so did his band mates.