Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Giving Up the Best Seat in the House

I never went to high school football game in Texas nor a high school basketball game in Indiana.  I did have the pleasure of covering high school sports since 1988 in print for 7 years and on the radio as a play-by-play man for the rest of the ride in the anthracite coal region of Pennsylvania.  There were numerous state and district championships along with many near misses and great individual performances many too numerous to mention. 

Back in 1988 while graduating college, a local newspaper reporter said they needed sports stringers and asked if I would be interested.  I submitted a writing sample and was asked to tag along with a reporter for a few assignments until I was unleashed on our local sporting scene.  As a 22-year-old, it was nice to have people read your "stuff" and give you feed back.  Back in 1988, it seemed everyone read the newspaper.  Once relationships were developed with coaches, it was great to have those inside conversations. 

While covering game one day in 1995 for the newspaper, a broadcaster working for the local radio station asked if I would like to be a halftime guest.  I really can't remember the game, but I became hooked.  I did a few more guest spots and more as color analyst.  Eventually, I had my own full slate of games.  The first few years were spent broadcasting Mount Carmel Area who lead the state in all-time football wins.  The last decade or so was spent under the teepee at Shamokin Area and Southern Columbia. In 26 years, I missed to games.  One for a health emergency in 2001 and one for a work emergency in 1995.

So why would I walk away?

The first thing that comes to mind is my broadcasting personality.  I would describe myself as "anal OCD." Everything had time and place in the schedule.  This is not only about the time I am on the air, but all the little things that go into it.  There is roster and statistic prep, coaches interviews, calls to game sights, equipment checks and the list sometimes can be endless to make the two hours run so smooth.  There is no way to be perfect, but you strive for excellence. 

Recently, I read local hall of fame broadcaster Jim Doyle's book Best Seat in the House. In the book, Doyle list his top 10 commandments to be a broadcaster. Doyle's number one commandment was

I followed that for every broadcast as most people can attest.  Although Doyle on had it as number 6, I would rank
Bingo!  There it was in black and white!

I don't know how many, if any, tapes of my broadcasts exist.  I am sure the enthusiasm at the end of 2014 did not match the work I did two decades earlier.  Although I chose to broadcast two more seasons when my son was on the field taking notes from Bob Griese being a color analyst on his son's games while a quarterback for Michigan.  With my older son entering his junior season and a younger son entering 8th grade, I decided to focus on them.  The love and attraction I had for the media was gone.  Twenty years early, I couldn't wait for Friday night.  Toward the end, I couldn't wait for week 10. 

It was time to be honest with myself.  It was time to think about not only my kids, but the other players and their fans listening at home.  I knew it was time to walk away for now.  Maybe go to bleacher for a bit.  You can never say never in life.  Maybe I will return, maybe last season's Montoursville's semifinal victory over Southern was my last game on the air.  We don't know what life presents us, but I was glad to have the opportunity I did for a quarter century. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

May is Primary Time in Northumberland County

      I haven't blogged for awhile due to other commitments, but May and spring seem like a good time to start again. Tucked in between Mother's Day, proms, graduations and other spring time activities, there is a primary election to place candidates in on the ballot for the November election.  The primary will be held in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, May 19th.

There is currently an 8 person race for Northumberland County commissioner.  Incumbent Independent Stephen Bridy has until August to get a spot on the ballot.

The Democratic candidates are as follows: Tom Aber, of Milton; Kymberly Best, of Sunbury; Nathan Savidge, of Sunbury; Myron Turlis, of Kulpmont, and George Zalar of Coal Township.

The Republican candidates are: Michael Millett, of Pottsgrove; Sam Schiccatano, of Coal Township; and Rich Shoch, of Sunbury.  Shoch is an incumbent Northumberland County Commissioner.

A fire that leveled the county prison back in January has put this election (pardon the pun) on the front burner of local races.  The decisions they make in the next four years will affect Northumberland County residents for years to come. 

Of the candidates listed, only Shoch and Zalar have held an elected office and are both known throughout most of the county.  Zalar lost a hotly contested battle a few years ago to Kurt Masser in a race for the 107th State District.  Out of the rest of the group, Best has been chief clerk of Northumberland County in the past. 

While I have personally met or already have know 5 of the 8 candidates count 6 if Bridy adds to the ballot, I believe the citizens of Northumberland County want a dialogue between their elected officials no matter who will be elected.

Another issue that lies beneath the surface will be county employees.  On the board is a possible early retirement plan that has some traction of passing.  Basically, people at a specific age and years of service will be offered a retirement incentive to leave the county early freeing up payroll.  The result could be one of the biggest turnover of employees in county government.  This along with the prison and courthouse issue make this election very important. 

Many of our county newspapers have done an excellent job of profiling the candidates and what their positions are on the big issues. Many organization and the candidates themselves have done meet and greets.  Do your own due diligence. 

Like Pennsylvania Governor Gifford Pinchot once said, "Try to do the greatest about of good, for the greatest amount of people, for the longest time."

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Losing Legends, Icons and Growing in 2014

This is a late but better than never.  It seems like when a year comes to a close, most if not all media outlets do a year in review.  As individuals, we pause to reflect on our own lives and make resolutions for the future.  The resolutions may life changing or they could end up on the scrap heap in our throw away society.

In reporting and broadcasting high school sports for the past 25 years, no two coaches dominate a conversation like that of Joseph "Jazz" Diminick of Mount Carmel Area and Robert Probert of Shamokin Area.  Diminick was a football and track coach often receiving statewide and national attention in football while Probert had statewide and collegiate coaching respect throughout the state and country.  They were also PIAA officials in various sports.

We lost both this past year.  I only played two games against Coach Diminick and none against Coach Probert.  Both were in the twilight of their coaching careers while I was in the dawn of reporting and broadcasting.  Most of their personal interaction with me came from genuine mutual respect.  Both actually liked my work and complimented me personally.  I even got to officiate with Mr. Diminick.

I can't speak for former players if they loved or hated playing for either.  I am sure as time went on in former players lives, they were glad they did with much appreciation.  I don't know what the world of scholastic sports will bring in the next half century in the coal region.  I knew at one time when you left the region, you were looked at in high regard due to the influence of these two men.  They will be missed.

On August 16th, 2014, Shamokin said goodbye to Harry's Grille.  The eatery opened by Harry Sanzatto in 1941 and remained in the same spot operated by the same family for generations.  The restaurant was known for a variety of fine food at reasonable prices. 
2014 was a bridge for change in my and my sons' lives.   Jonathan, my younger of two boys, completed his final year of Little League Baseball.  Although sports are far from being the be all cure all, his final year and final play brought about some excitement and pride.
It started out with Jonathan not wanting to play in his final season.  It then moved to reluctant practice and playing a new position.  As the season wore on, the team started to click together.  Jonathan was having fun playing a kids game.  Isn't that what it is all about?  
In his final play as a Little League player, Jonathan had the walk off hit to deliver the league championship for his team.  Although most of this will be forgotten by players and fans who were there by opening day 2015, he was able to see that you can overcame anything with hard work and perseverance.  That is what he will keep in his trophy case.  

Sunday, January 11, 2015

My Day with Stuart Scott

ESPN personality Stuart Scott was laid to rest yesterday after his bout with cancer ended on Sunday, January 4th.  During tributes over the past week, video of Scott inside the "treatment room" jarred memories of my own battle with the dreaded c-word.  Although one has love support, you are often left to wonder how much time one has left in the world.  No matter how many people are in your life, it can be a lonely experience. 

I never met Mr. Scott or ever saw him at a sporting venue where I was in attendance.  My presence at a professional event has been on a steep decline over the past decade or so.  How did I spend a day with Mr. Scott?  Flashback to March 24th, 1985.

That day fell on a Sunday.  The location was the campus of Alabama-Birmingham.  The event was the Southeast Regional Final with the Villanova Wildcats going up Dean Smith's North Carolina Tar Heels.  We all know how the tournament would unfold over the next 9 days. 

Due to a very limited spending account (I was broke), I was a freshman back at campus in St. Mary's dorm on Villanova's  watching the game.  Did Scott hitch a ride with the university radio station?  Probably one of his friends or colleagues will know.  I do know that we both watched the game with high intensity rooting for our university and a trip to the Final Four.  For two hours in our lives, it was shared together.

As the days, months and years go by, I will remember Scott not so much for his hip-hop commentary.  I will remember him for how he lived life to the fullest.  I will remember to try to do the same with my second chance given to me over 12 years ago when I have doubt.  I will also remember the excitement that March 24th, 1985 brought us both. 

RIP Stuart Scott - "Cool as the other side of the pillow"

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Last College Football Head Coach

When Bill O'Brien left PSU last week for the NFL's Houston Texans, it marked the second time in two years that Nittany Lions are searching for a new head football coach.  From 1950 until 2011, Penn State were only led by Rip Engle and Joe Paterno. They were the only two head coaches most of us knew.  If you count the interims, the Lions will be on 5th head coach in 26 months.  For now, it is "Nervous Valley" for Happy Valley, but not for the rest of us.

Like it or not, scandal or no scandal, the stability at Penn State over the last half century was living on borrowed time.  With the advent of the BCS, internet, conference television networks, and radio, college head coaching gigs are now approaching 6 million dollars on what we know.  Then there are other endorsements. 

As a fan of the University of Notre Dame, I would tease my PSU brethren that there are going to be some rough patches in the post-Paterno era.  When you look at coaches like the Bear, Bo, and Woody (date yourself if you know their last names and universities), all of their universities had some trouble after they left their respective post.  Alabama has won 4 titles without the Bear, Ohio State and Michigan each have 1 title without Woody and Bo. 

The last few days have yielded the hiring of James Franklin for the Nittany Lions and the departure of Larry Johnson.  Johnson was the last coaching link to the Paterno era at Penn State.

I would ask Penn State fans to look at the Red River rivalry between Oklahoma and Texas.  Bob Stoups and Mack Brown only have one year separating them in years of service at their respective schools.  Brown has one more year at Texas and has decided to step down.  Even with a national championship in 2005, he is referred to as "Mr. February" in some parts.  Stoops also has one championship plus is only 53 years old.  He has been mentioned for some job both NFL and college, but has not been the white hot candidates that Franklin and O'Brien have been.

No one how a playoff system and monopoly money with effect coaching staff and universities in the future, but the landscape is about to change once again.  My advice to Penn State fans is this:

  1. Joe Paterno was the last of the great coaches in a wonderful time of college football.  Appreciate and savor it.  His time at State College built the university (A trial in the future may have an effect good or bad on his lasting legacy.)
  2. Don't worry about statue.
  3. A playoff system will help the game in the long run.
  4. 2014 will be a trying one with only 10 seniors, the Lions are still young.  With that in mind and the recruits on the way, the Nittany Lions will survive the sanctions more than people thought.
  5. Franklin is Pennsylvania guy.
  6. He played college football in the Poconos and could relate to recruits what is like being from an urban area and life in central PA.
  7. Franklin is 0-0.
  8. He is 2 years away from being 15-9 or 9-15 where he might be judged with greater scrutiny.
  9. Franklin has two young daughters which would help him staying put for awhile. 
  10. Franklin will make sure Beaver Stadium is full in 2014 and beyond.
Head football coaches are kind of like Supreme Court Justices, Popes and Presidents.  You don't know where your getting until they step into the command chair.  Stay tuned.