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.