Tuesday, May 3, 2016

1976 Condors Turn 40

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Row 1, Pete Bednar, Robert Bendas, Dave Bettick, Ron Sowal, Ed Washuta, Mike Swatt, Steve Sidisky.  Row 2, David Martin, head coach, Paul Petrovich, Rich Carsto, Carl Bielski, Shawn Chesney, Bill Hayes, Mike Gurski, and Phil Santor, assistant coach. 

In 1976, the country was celebrating the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence, Watergate was still fresh in the nation's mind, and the Starland Vocal Band sang something about afternoon delight.  This group of rag tag neighborhood friends, family and school mates managed to finish 2nd in the Twin County Little League. 

The Twin County League was made up from two parochial teams from Shamokin, and community teams from Gratz, Pillow, Herndon, Rebuck and Dalmatia.  We weren't affiliated with Little League international but due to some geographically restrictions it would have been hard for most teams to field a team due to being in very rural areas.

Our coaches were two great ones.  David Martin and Phil Santor piloted the 1976 version of the Condors.  Take notice to the fact that their names don't match any of the players.  Maybe for a 5th cousin once removed, they were not related to any of the players.  Family or not, they were dedicated. Mr. Martin traveled 50 miles one-way to work and in turn drive another 40-mile round trip to away games in the evening.

Many players lived within walking, running or biking distance to our home field.  Practice was held everyday except on Tuesday and Saturday game days.  Saturday was extra special.  We played at home under the lights after a 5 pm mass at St. Stan's.  Most of our road games involved 20 mile caravans to the opposing teams fields.  Our season started in the middle of May while ending in late July.  An inaugural tournament held in Shamokin that season extended our season into early August. 

I don't remember much from those individual games.  I do remember we split a regular season games with Pillow losing 7-6 in a continuation of a game halted by rain and beating them 12-3 at home.  After the conclusion of the regular season, we were all tied with a winner take all single game for the championship at Pillow.  We gathered at our usually meeting spot waiting for our coach.  He had been delayed getting home from work due to construction (imagine that in 1976) so the team was left to entertain ourselves in the meantime.  Trying to copy WWF wrestling moves was the preferred method of side entertainment that day.  Our caravan took off 45 minutes to an hour behind schedule for 25 mile ride to Pillow.  The final score that day Pillow - 21, St. Stan's - 0.   Yep, we did the Super Bowl flop before it became popular.

We would get one more shot at Pillow in the Shamokin Tournament.  Looking to advance to the final three in a double-elimination tournament, Pillow got the better of us by one run with a walk off hit in the bottom of 6th.  It was our last game together.

Some of us never played baseball formally again, others reunited in teener league, high school and recreation softball.  Some served our country with distinction, others went to college and medical school. Incredible in this day and age as we have all kissed 50, all of us our still living.  Mr. Santor left us first followed by Mr. Martin two years ago.  Although we didn't claim a championship that season, our coaches left us with championship rules of sportsmanship and values.  It was a great year to be 10 years old. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Villanova......Party Like It's 1985!

Bruce Springsteen, Madonna
Way before Nirvana
There was U2 and Blondie
And music still on MTV
Her two kids in high school
They tell her that she’s uncool
Cause she's still preoccupied
With 19, 19, 1985

Some of the lyrics above are from a song performed by "Bowling for Soup" back in 2004.  Villanova basketball's recent run to the Final Four and to the 2016 NCAA Championship conjured up some memories from the magic run in 1985 and the "Perfect Game" against Georgetown in a 66-64 thriller. This writer was a freshman at Villanova living in St. Mary's in the spring of 1985. 

So many things have been written about the basketball and sports side of this story.  I will leave that part to the pro's.  Remembering the team and Coach Mass vividly, the only things that are similar between 1985 and 2016 is both are champions and both have created a family atmosphere on the team. While I was beginning to have doubts about the 4-guard system, all doubt has been buried deep.

Roughly around the time the team made it to the Final Four in Houston, someone created a Villanova Class of 1988 page on Facebook.  Not only were classmates able to share memories from that magic March in 1985, but were also to renew old and make some new friendships.  Even though most of us were not on the team or involved with the team's operation, April 1st united us forever.  No matter where our lives traveled around the globe after graduation, April 1st, 1985 taught us that anything can be achieved doing it the right way. 

With interaction and banter exchanged during the week leading up to the championship, it was nice to read several classmates had children who were freshmen in 2016.  The table was set to pass the torch to a new generation of Villanovans and bring out the pride and emotions of generations past.  Seeing news reports on television and reading stories in the newspaper, it was like reliving 1985 again.  Most people in 1985 said they could not believe what Wildcats have achieved.

I was looking for something leaning our way for the championship. First, I thought maybe Jay and Rollie were the same age when they won their championships.  Jay at 54 has four years on Rollie's age 50 in 1985.  I read a story about the number "44" being part championship. For my point of view, the number 31 played big.  Big Five team LaSalle won in '54.  Villanova won 31 years later in 1985.  31 years later in 2016, it was the Wildcats.  Our only scholarship play in the Class of 1988 wore jersey #31.  Finally, I went to one game this season.  Villanova beat Xavier at home by 31 on December 31, 2015.  We don't know what the college basketball landscape will look like in 2047, but I will go on record not to rule out the Wildcats.

Rollie now has Jay.  Eddie has "Archie."  1985 has embraced 2016.  1985 has the "Perfect Game." 2016 has "The Shot" and the dominating run.  Classes of  '85, '86, '87, and '88 are now joined by '16, '17, '18, and '19 with championships being the foundation to bridge the generations.  Like we remember April 1st, 1985, April 4th 2016 will never be forgotten.  For Villanovans everywhere, those days are ours and no one can take them away.


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.