Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

From Kitchen to Ear

January 23rd, 2010

Even I have gotten a bit of politics fatigue with the fall and special election for U.S. Senator here. At our weekly podcast, we couldn’t seem to stop talking about what had, should, and might happen. This Tuesday, we sort of take a break.

FruitsWe’ll have a food-oriented show, with only minor political content. The Boston-based Chefs Collaborative‘s executive director, Melissa Kogut talks sustainable and local food.

I being I, there’s bound to be political overtones. Think is this a class thing for those who eat in fancy restaurants? What about the vast majority of middle-class as poor Americans who not only don’t know but couldn’t afford high-end politically correct groceries?

We’re sure Kogurt has considered all our questions. We look forward to learning what they’re up to and how the chefs got involved.

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Time Out for Cads

December 12th, 2009

Tiger and WoodsFor those of us who walk without a claque cheering each step, Tiger Woods’ temporary retreat is somewhat refreshing. We can hope he inspires other sinful billionaires and multi-millionaires.

While his adultery offenses seem to be in the civil, not criminal class, he shares much with disgraced quarterback/dog fighter Michael Vick. Both were on top the world, on top of their game. Both had lost their ability to see cause and effect — odd for bright folk. Both stand to lose considerable money from direct sports earning and endorsements.

Also, both came around to sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry.

In Woods’ case, his contrition may well be a gambit to restore his halo and general glow. In theory, he could return as the world’s best-ever golfer, chastened and somewhat humanized, ready to deposit those absurdly large checks as a fallen and risen hero.

It is more difficult to sympathize with Tiger. He is far beyond set up for life. There is no way he could have the time and attention to spend all his millions upon millions.

Yet whether his willingness to swap a polo shirt for a hair shirt publicly (including on his self-promotional site)  would be meaningful…if it serves as a societal model. He or his publicist leads on his site with:

I am deeply aware of the disappointment and hurt that my infidelity has caused to so many people, most of all my wife and children. I want to say again to everyone that I am profoundly sorry and that I ask forgiveness. It may not be possible to repair the damage I’ve done, but I want to do my best to try.

Contrast that with the more standard fare from criminals and klutzes. At its most risible, then President Bill Clinton ask us to parse the meaning of is in efforts to avoid personal responsibility for his adulteries.  More typically and seriously, pols on the take or violent criminals pull out the old, “I’m innocent until proven guilty,” “Everyone deserves a fair trial,” and “Because I bargained and was not convicted of the crime, I am totally innocent.”

Personal responsibility has been blown away in the gusts of obfuscation and nitpicking.

How refreshing (and cost saving) it would be if criminals accepted their guilt and took their punishment. Think a 1930s or 1940s movie with the malefactor thrusting his wrists out for the handcuffs, saying, “You caught me copper!”

On the other side, a matching huge need is for slate clearing afterward. Except for these piqué-collar transgressors like Woods, the larger society would dog criminals into continued poverty and to their death. Whether it’s our CORI laws that keep punishing ex-cons or the unwillingness of employers to hire them, we have also lost the concepts of rehabilitation, restitution, and payment of societal debt.

Even in prison, convicted criminals are targets of the self-appointed self-righteous. It is not only winger columnists and bloggers, ordinary folk speak of “country clubs” where prisoners can access books, TVs or adult-education courses. Somehow the loss of liberty, the right to vote, the power to earn income, and the contact with family and friend is not enough punishment to many who have all those privileges.

The idea of two or 10 or more years of prison as the penalty for a crime is to repay society and ideally to come out a chastened citizen ready to behave appropriately.  How did larger society lose that and demand perpetual punishment after the sentence served?

Regardless, Woods and Vick are on the big-shot end of the seesaw. As needed, they got and bought the high-end, nitpicking, plea-bargaining lawyers. They can emerge from court ordered or self-chosen exile to making more in a year than most people can fantasize about for a lifetime.

While that makes it difficult to be too sympathetic, wouldn’t it be great of Tiger’s confessions and acceptance of his resulting loses reinforced this as a trend? Just try not to be too cynical about the possibility that this is a ploy to hasten his return to big bucks and adoration.

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Rip ’em Up

November 20th, 2009

Tear ’em up. Cocks give ’em hell.

That was the common cheer when I was at University of South Carolina football games. I heard the cheer exhorting the team, the Gamecocks, many times. It wasn’t so much that I liked football. Rather the swim team, of which I was a member, had rights to sell programs and funnel the money to the underfunded sport.USC logo

As a journalism student, I was a reporter and editor on the newspaper. Of course it was The Gamecock. It is now a daily during the regular school year. My class expanded it from a weekly to three issues a week. When I arrived, the most popular feature was a Greek-society-oriented gossip column, Cock Tales. Yuk, yuk.

The  illegal cockfighting is apparently clandestine still occasionally happening and not just down South. This year, a bust in Connecticut was in the news. Just a few days ago, the more stereotypical version in rural South Carolina got the bad attention of state and federal police.

This goes back to the original European colonization in this hemisphere. The Spanish brought cockfighting to Mexico, New Mexico and California. While the Puritans banned it in New England as their like-minded chums did in England (but for the sin of gambling not animal cruelty), the other original colonies condoned or ignored it. Supposedly both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson bet on and otherwise participated in it, what was then considered a sport for gentlemen.

Not long after, in the first couple years of the 19th Century, South Carolina began and quickly adopted the gamecock as mascot and symbol. While the Confederate battle flag no longer flies officially there, the, well, cocky little bird remains ubiquitous. As well as on the university papers and anything of the sports teams, you can find that mascot on everything from beach towels to golf balls to cheese dip.

By law, cockfighting is illegal in this country except for the equivalent of colonies — Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Mariana Islands. However, the criminal nature varies widely, from felonies at the federal level and in 33 states to a misdemeanor likely to bring a fine…assuming a conviction. In Louisiana, the last state to outlaw it, cockfighting can bring $1,000 fine and six months in prison. In South Carolina, the maximum penalty for a first time is $100 and 30 days — not exactly a terrifying deterrent, rooster lovers.

Here in Massachusetts, cockfighting was outlawed in 1836, the first such formal ban n this country. Presently a detailed law (Chapter 272) lists such penalties as up to five years and $1,000 for owning fighting birds, a month in jail and a $250 fine for watching a cockfight, and loss of all birds and equipment of a fighting facility.

Gamecocks tee shirtAt least when I was there, locals and students had little interest in cockfighting. They did though enjoy the cheap related puns. Even now, I guess I never really got over it. I like wearing my tee shirt with eight-inch letters spelling COCKS.

Not everyone shares the humor of Carolina students. Consider PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals), which eight years ago tried to get the two schools with gamecock mascots (Alabama’s Jacksonville State being the other) to get the colleges to pick a less blood-sport symbol.

According to a piece in the State (S.C.’s biggest newspaper) at the time, PETA’s Kristie Phelps said, “It’s a safe bet that officials at the University of South Carolina would never dream of calling their athletic teams the Dogfighters, the Wifebeaters, the Looters or the Road-Ragers.” Predictably, the administrations said there was no interest in the change. Phelps may not have bolstered PETA’s stance with her response for alternatives:

The Gym Socks or the Pet Rocks or anything that doesn’t perpetuate animal cruelty. The Gamecocks can score points for kindness; they can be champions of compassion.

That may not be quite as absurd and baseless as it seems coming from that source. We should note that the Carolina motto is from Ovid [a widely used selection from his Letters from the Black Sea (Epistulae ex Ponto)].  He wrote concerning a liberal education:

Adde quod ingenuas didicisse fideliter artes
emollit mores nec sinit esse feros.

Many others, including Napoleon, used that as well. In South Carolina’s case, the literal translation, (liberal education) humanizes character and does not allow it to become fierce, has a vernacular definition — we make gentlemen out of roughnecks.The roughnecks, or rednecks as we Yankees are wont to call anyone south of New Jersey, aren’t much for cockfighting anymore. On the other hand, they aren’t much for being told from afar what’s proper for them.

I agree that any animal fighting for sport and gambling is cruel and should remain illegal. I don’t think that a legacy mascot will inspire a resurgence of it though.

It reminds me of my minor embarrassment of my high-school days at our mascot, a pretty but not very butch cardinal. A fighting rooster may also be just a bird, but it least it had an air of strength about it, an attitude that it could tackle more than a sunflower seed. As a member of the wrestling and swimming teams and sports editor, I rather envied the jungle cats and such mascots. …a cardinal?

For South Carolina, I’m pleased it turned its traditional sport into a crime. It should go all the way and make it a felony, but there’s time for that.

Thanksgiving Plus 2: Funny stuff for someone who cares little about football…Carolina did rip archrival Clemson today in their long-term T’day week battle (34-17).  The aggy school up in the hills was 15th in the nation, so it’s sort of too bad, but the folk in Columbia are likely callin’  “Give ’em hell!”

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Crank Returns

November 10th, 2009

My late mother does manifest through me. As in the tiny woman cowing the gigantic manager, I would shamelessly embarrass my children in pursuit of efficiency and clear thinking. Fortunately for them, none of my boys was at the Y yesterday to hear me.

non-sensical bike rack My mom may be dead, but the world is not missing a crank. I have replaced her.

At issue is the week-long parking-lot repaving that is into its third month. In fairness, we had some rain and other bad weather, but this is being done on contractor time.

The last piece was re-installing the bicycle rack. This is something I know a bit about, having spec’ed a rack for a church, having attended multiple Moving Together and other transportation conferences, having interviewed the bike coordinators of Cambridge and Boston, and being a very regular cyclist.

I had spoken with the Y’s staff, including the executive director. I said it would be a false economy not to replace the inadequate 1960s rack with a much more sensible Ribbon Rack. It holds more bikes and more types of bikes in less space.  I pointed them to one in the neighborhood at the public library. I noted that the city has an active program to place racks for free in likely places. I added that there were reimbursement programs that would require only paying for installation. Everyone responded with aggressive head nods and promises to follow up.

Horse feathers!

When the rack reappeared, not only was it the same lame old one whose upright members don’t accommodate any mountain bike or even modern road bikes, the solid-geometry deficient and cycling ignorant pavers had actually set it as in the above image (click for larger view). As the new placement is not even a wheel diameter away from the brick wall, the only way to lock a bike to it is is sideways, limiting it to three at best and more likely two bikes. Duh.

In other words, if the aim is to service the Y members or encourage visitors to leave cars at home, this fails. Cyclists I know and I would not ride a bike there if we knew that the racks would not be easy to use or in this case even possible to use.

Channeling my mother Wanda, I asked the staff to call the executive director. I led her to the rack and explained why it utterly failed at its aim. I discussed the options for free or reduced cost racks and insulted the intellect of the paving minions.

She alleged she would be interested in links to the rack programs.  Arriving home, I sent her links to:

  • Boston’s bike-rack request form
  • Boston’s Bike Coordinator Nicole Freedman
  • The MAPC rack-reimbursement program
  • Ribbon Rack

She replied quickly by return email that she was not aware of these and was delighted to have the information. Crank. Crank. Crank.

I shall watch eager to see whether and if so how long it will take to put a functional rack in the parking lot or in one of the two locations (Bellevue or Centre) I suggested for the free city ones that have to go in pubic spaces.

Like Wanda, I do not raise my voice. However, also like her, I am reasoned and relentless. It all seems to intensify with age.

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Explode or Erode

October 6th, 2009

Clichés attacked my brain yesterday while lifting weights. Those who knew me young will find that itself amusing, as I did not lift in my teens, in fact not until I was in my mid-50s, long after any bulk-up effects would ensue.

At just 15, my wrestling coach ordered those of us under 16 to keep off free weights and use push-ups and sit-ups instead. They were the way he got his own steely bod. The next year, I started my swimming career, in which the coaches opposed such muscle-tightening. Meanwhile, I developed with a million or two breast strokes.

When I had a big disk (L5-S1) pop into my spinal column, I began lifting as rehab. It helped keep the blood pumping around the renegade disk to resorb (dissolve) it, thus avoiding risky surgery. I did that for a couple of years, then didn’t and just started again at twice a week for upper body. I get plenty of leg work with cycling and hiking.

With that setup, I come to the clichés.

I grew up very WASPy, with pretty standard Boomer ethics. While our WWII parents often urged behavior they did not model, one regular message was that vanity was unmannerly and self-indulgent. I bought into that and in fact, my mother and her parents also acted accordingly.

Yet with my weight loss following my tib/fib fracture and related changes, has inspired me to look a bit. I am trimmer than since I began college, plus I keep tabs daily or weekly on blood pressure, weight and body fat percentage. I have a machine for each.

My trim trouser set is back in play. I might have tossed them a few decadumbbell workdes ago but am doubly glad I didn’t. Now I have new clothes, plus my ego is pleased enough to keep me monitoring my girth.

So yesterday, I was in the dank (two working sump pumps all the time) dungeon of the West Roxbury Y for my bi-weekly strain fest, 46 minutes of arm and chest thingummies. I was wearing a sleeveless shirt and let myself look.

One of the lifts is lateral dumbbell raises. As I finished, I saw that even on an old man, some muscles had changed a cut. The backs of the triceps brachii were evident. Moreover, sitting on the bench, I noticed that the delts rippled with definition.

Suddenly a philosophical question ensued. What would be sadder, for a tuned body to just stop, say car wreck or heart attack, or for it to wither and dissipate with age, disuse or disease?

In turn, the now rampant chestnut of when an elder dies, a library burned leapt to mind. That’s often attributed as an African proverb (of dubious provenance,  allegedly inspired by Caesar’s accidental destruction of the library at Alexandria). It’s still a powerful thought. Most of us do acquire knowledge, skill and judgment from repetition and correction if not native intellectual power.

The ultimate personal injustice of life is that death halts it all and the unrecorded and un-transferred treasures of mind go into the ground or melt in the crematorium’s heat, figuratively at least. We can pretend that each of us continues to be curious, keeps reading and analyzing, adds to instead of just reinforces our knowledge and sensitivity. Thus, death is a shared sadness beyond the emotional toll on the survivors. Humanity and its intrinsic store lessens a tiny bit with each corpse.

Being my mother’s son, I seldom allow such wallowing in self-absorption and admiration. I forgive myself this time only because my body changes in the past seven months have been profound.

Just after the long glances yesterday in the Y, I thought of dancers, yoginis and athletes I know. Many maintain a fluidity of motion and remarkable muscle tone over decades of human weathering and ripening. I am the equivalent only with aids — in the pool or on a bike. Yet, here too, those trained bodies parallel the discriminating and educated minds.

A Shared Sadness


Alas, through vicissitudes of age, illness, indulgence, lassitude or accident, the finely carved muscles become indistinct as surely as the failing mind. So, to the question, is the sudden or inexorable disintegration a greater sorrow? As long as we are rhetorical, does it even matter or does simply the demise or erosion stand alone?

The answer from my old and trained Protestant ethic would be that letting oneself go would be the worst.  It would be a failure of will and duty.

That involves a level of guilt and moralization I subscribe to no longer. People who are very fat or very thin are should not be a moral issue. Instead, blame and ridicule should fall heavier on those whose minds stagnate from repetition, be it golf or TV.

Let us each stay toned, certainly inside and perhaps out, as long as we are able. Each of us should live as though we expect all who know us or us to be to sad when our treasures go.

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Swimmers’ Toes

July 2nd, 2009

toes.jpgOther former team athletes must recognize their own as swimmers do.  I don’t know what the telltale signs are, even for another previous sport, wrestling.

Swimmers exhibit frequent acquired idiosyncrasies. Even when we have no intention of hitting the water, we stretch by folding one arm over the head, with the biceps on the ear and pushing on the elbow with the other hand.

Among the more subtle indicators are developed shoulders, particularly for women. I think of a new bartender at Redbones in Somerville last year.  The usual small gang of old farts was on the stools like crows on a fence when she took our draft orders. She wore a typical summer tank top. When she returned I asked whether she had been a swimmer, specifically fly. She smiled, said yes and we talked our teams. She knew why I had pegged her from her build and said she could recognize swimmers sometimes too.

Another swimmer connection came several years ago at work. At a conference table with a dozen or so of us around, I ended up across from Nancy, whom I knew but not well. She was in charge of version control (ClearCase) and was a serious software geek. As documentation manager, I had a stake in her business because that product was the only one with a native recognition of the binary files for my department’s major development tool, Framemaker.

We went on about the products we were developing, test schedules and on and on. I moved slightly back from the table to cross one leg over another when I saw a swimmer tic. Nancy was alternately moving her big toes over the second toes and reversing that.

Swimmers are almost prehensile with our toes. It may be the strokes or the years of gripping the starting block edges. It may also have to do with naked feet. Nearly every other team athlete practices and competes with socks and shoes.

Swimmers generally can pick up objects from the floor and move them to a trash can or into a hand…very chimp like.

On the way out of the meeting, I asked about swimming and we too talked teams and strokes. Amusingly enough, her best friend in the company, a guy I worked closely with was irritated when I mentioned that I was pleased to discover a swimmer among all the runners around. I was not aware that he had a great pride in knowing Nancy better than the rest of us. He had no idea about her wet background.

Of course, he had no reason to know or notice. When he saw her gesticulating with her toes, he probably thought nothing of it. It takes one to know one.

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The Sudden Disappearance of Thumper

January 22nd, 2009

The arena in the snow was white on white, but the agon was plain enough, if bloodless. While it was no lion bringing down a wildebeest, this was on a golf course in a fair-sized city, not on the tundra nor on the veldt.

On cross-country skis this morning, I had already felt pleased by yet another day out. We’ve had four feet in the past month. Also, unusual for a place with a steady moderating breeze from the Atlantic, the air has been cold enough to keep skiable amounts on the ground. That’s been fine and I wasn’t expecting a Mark Trail-style nature lesson as well.

Yet, the tiny rabbit tracks on the thick cover made me look. To the left and right, I could see larger tracks of big rabbits. The paddle-like pair of rear feet had smaller, rounder front paw prints between. The small tracks showed a bunny wee enough and light enough that the front prints barely left marks.

Visually following those tracks toward the nearby copse (and the burrows at the base of various trees), I saw that they didn’t go the entire 100 feet or so. Skiing over, I saw the rabbit-sad/hawk-glad story.

There was a bowl maybe two and one-half feet across. On each side were clear feather marks. The hawk has surprised the rabbit, grasped it, and struggled briefly with it, certainly leaving with its meal in its claws.

In the bowl were the dents left by the fight, but again, no blood. Likely the rabbit was still alive when the hawk took wing.

I confess that I regretted not having a camera handy. Moreover, tracks I had cut with my skis yesterday afternoon had blown over with snow, leaving just concave grooves. This also suggested that as all the rabbit tracks were clear and the wing marks still visible, that the raid had happened not long before I noticed. If I tried to return to document the scene, there would be nothing conclusive left.

Were I a preacher, except in the informal way so many writers and bloggers are, I might hold forth on the transience of life. Only in a few places do we humans have such natural predators as sharks or tigers. It’s fair to say that we are most in danger from other humans.

I’ve had many friends and acquaintances die from diseases or car wrecks or street violence, but none killed suddenly for food. The closest I can think of is a young, brilliant, beautiful musician who died freakishly when a horse out West leapt over a rise onto her car’s windshield. There too, no one was hunting anyone.

Even with no gigantic critters hunting us as we go about our business, there are reasons for the prevalence of the cliché about the fragility of life.

Skiers as Hood Ornaments

January 20th, 2009

Forest Hills Cemetery as ski resortOne of our in-town ski resorts may require stealth access. From Woodbourne, we are within walking distance of three undesignated cross-country ski areas — Franklin Park’s Devine golf course, the Arnold Arboretum and Forest Hills Cemetery.

The city owns the golf course and the dirt and roads of the arboretum (the plants belong to Harvard), but the graveyard has been private since it opened in 1848. However, FH is the second U.S. garden cemetery, meant for more than corpse storage. Unlike the nearby necropolises, St. Michael and Mt. Hope, FH was a park from the beginning, meant for contemplation, passive recreation and such human bonding as picnicking. It is also a sculpture garden with works by some of the nation’s most noted stone cutters and metal artists.

Pic Click Trick: Click on the thumbnail for a larger view or see a few more here.

For a quick spin, we’ve skied in FH for many years. The arboretum can seem like 128, with all its Brooklinites and surburban types unloading from their SUVs. The golf course is farther, but definitely less crowded and equally as rural in the snow. FH is right there and when the sidewalks haven’t been cleared, it’s an easy ski from Woodbourne, no car needed or wanted.

(Cue threatening music.) A couple of snows ago over the end-of-year holidays, we got the bum’s rush from a control-freak security guard. He wanted us to leave and not bring our skis back. The snowshoers, cars, trucks and bikes were okay, but no ski, no way.

He insisted skiing was forbidden, not passive recreation (did he think they had tiny motors hidden underneath?). We skied around and avoided him, but he looks like trouble.

Judgmentally, I figure him to be ex-military, but Army and not Marine from his unkempt sideburns. He was definitely a rules-are-rules type who will take charge until there is a superior officer at hand.

I can’t say I was amazed after several conversations along that line with a neighbor who has spent his career working there. He says when the crew puts the snowplows on its Jeeps, the operators hate cross-country skiers. The running joke over there is that cross-country skiers make nice hood ornaments.

We can set aside that:

  • No skier has ever been hit or run into a Jeep or caused any accident.
  • The cemetery has lots of traffic — motor vehicles, walkers, runners, dog people, cyclists.
  • Anyone operating a plow has open vistas making it easy to see any of those visitors well in advance.
  • Skiers there all seems to pay attention and there’s next to nowhere that a hill would let a skier travel fast onto a road.
  • Unleashed dogs are far more common and more likely to cause problems than a couple of skiers.

The point is that the employee folklore disses skiers. FH management would be stupid to ban skiers. After all, they are in the business of marketing their plots, which includes keeping FH a pleasant place to spend time, maybe a very long time.

We may have run across the one sour guardian. Alternately the perceived wisdom of occasional plowers may bubble up to the FH office. TBD

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Judges and Jackets Mix It Up

January 10th, 2009

Yet another subculture thrives from Waltham to Atlanta to Chicago. Last night, we were suddenly hip deep in UUA basketball. There are geeks galore, rapid Brandeis fans, wasp mascots and more.

Cost center two is a freshman at the University of Rochester. His school’s mens and womens’ basketball teams went palm to face with those from Brandeis yesterday. He didn’t really care to go the 12 to 15 miles from JP, but his parents did.

U who?

Note that the Brandeis Judges and Rochester Yellow Jackets are members of the University Athletic Association. Huh? That’s a scholar-first/athlete-second set of geeky schools — Brandeis, Carnegie Mellon, Case Western Reserve, Emory, NYU, Chicago, Rochester, and Washington University.

I went to undergraduate down South, where sports are big time, big business, big bucks, big deal. UAA seems to have teams that do this on the side after their studies.

On the other hand, teams that don’t stock store-bought scholarship members are often more fun to watch. They tend to be good, but not great or freakish physically in height or muscularity. The human scale of appearance and action is refreshing.

I confess as a former team athlete that I appreciated that the first such UR evening I attended, “my” team won both. The UR women beat the Judges 66-62 and the men won 73-69.  Yet, in these small schools where academics come first, the play is often pretty even, with scores close enough to keep everyone perking and peeking.

He’s Allen

No one was more alert and involved than the rotund amateur cheerleader, whom I have come to learn is Allen Karon (Brandeis ’91, from Canton).  As my mother might have said, he’s no Cary Grant, but he’s damned enthusiastic.

U of R mascotFrom the shoot-around, into every second of both games, including the break, he was all over the bleachers and in front of the crowd. He leads the cheers and clapping. His distinctive black shirt with white letters sums up what he’s about. The front has DEIS DEIS DEIS in three rows and the back reads I’M ALLEN.

He was occasionally sour, as when he’d yell to disrupt Rochester freeshooting. Yet, at the end, he came to the side where most UR fans sat (we were obvious in our yellow togs with those cartoon wasps. He looked us in the eyes, catch as catch can, and congratulated us on the teams’ wins.

No one enjoyed the games more than he, regardless of the outcome.

Cheek to Jowl

This year, the UR women are top ranked in this little group, closely followed by NYU and Brandeis.  The UR men are more toward the middle, following Carnegie Mellon, NYU and Washington. Yet the games are fun and exciting because, unlike powerhouse conferences, no one or two teams dominate and shame the others. On a given night…as the expression goes.

Showing my partisanship, I must note that the officiating was so partial that it was amusing. I hope when the teams play again in Rochester that they get fairer officials. The guys and woman in the striped shirts were very chummy with the Brandeis coaches, particularly the womens’. There were some outrageous fouls committed by the Judges with no whistle. A woman would put her hand on a UR woman’s chest and push, a man would leap and come down over a UR man’s head and knock him on his face, and so on. Basketball is as physical as any sport except perhaps sumo, but some of this was hard to watch.

Even with a bit of help, both Brandeis teams came up short. Yet, it was just a little short and there was no loss of face. It must have been a bit tougher for the women. They came in 11 and 0, so this was their first loss.

The short of it is that I’d recommend a Brandeis basketball double-header. It takes place in the Gosman center, which has a court very similar to and even a little smaller than UR’s. You’re on bleachers a few feet away from the action. There’s only one side with seats. Also, I assume that all games are also free, as was yesterday’s.

Wave to Allen.

Coach Liske’s Body Dies

September 26th, 2008

My high-school swimming coached died yesterday at 98. His hundreds of boys (and one girl) are in their 60s, 70s and 80s. We live his example and training every single day.

Coach was competitive in the water, but cared little for the least meaningful comparisons otherwise. Yes, he had 32 consecutive winning seasons at Plainfield (NJ). Yes, lived 98 years (he attributed longevity to his athleticism and good Ukrainian genes). Yes, he is in various halls of fame. In the pool and only in the pool, numbers mattered to Coach. That’s a lesson many in the all too shallow world never hear. Coach never measured himself or others by their income or height or anything trivial.

What he really cared about was that his boys were good people who acted well and tried hard. Moreover, his 80th and 90th birthday do’s were jammed with us and oozed love and respect.  I certainly could not have filled a banquet hall with people who adored me. He didn’t have to try.

For us, he was an all-around father figure, the best possible role model, and without stretching it, a hero. Coach had lost a couple of fingers and most a leg in a wreck as a child. He was still a highly competitive, record setting backstroker in high school and college.

He was totally unselfconscious about putting on his prosthetic leg or swimming. We certainly never complained about a sore muscle when we didn’t really feel like practicing on a given day.

I was one of many of his boys who looked to him for how a man should behave. My divorced mom raised my sister and me solo. In the summers and long holidays, her father was my example, and he was a fine one. In my key high-school years, Coach played that role five days a week, six months a year.

While I internalized his example, many others told me how he kept them focused in school and out of trouble. Instead of yielding to the urban perils of gangs, petty crime and alcohol or other drugs, we honestly wondered what would Coach think and acted accordingly. Sincere and soft-spoken, Coach was still the one person beyond ourselves we didn’t want to disappoint.

He’d drag us down to far inferior spots to give the other team the experience. I remember Asbury Park, where we swam in a near marsh of a dingy Y pool against guys I would have had retake Red Cross Intermediate classes. We were there for them, not for us. Coach had us work with them on strokes and practice with them. He minimized our score as best he could — I was breast, but swam against their two best crawl guys in the 100 free, for example.

In fact, he hated running up the score. We swam to exhaustion against as good or better Columbia or Westfield, but we kept it close with the others.

He outlived his three wives. He grieved each deeply, as he felt all his passions and compassion. It’s no surprise that women sought him out when he was widowed. Sure, he had great eyes and was good enough looking, but that wasn’t it. His relentless intensity and boundless empathy were a killer combination He was fully with the person before him, whether he was refining a stroke or talking over a meal.

As sports editor of the schools Entrée, I  wrote a column on his retirement as swimming coach. I should probably key that in and reproduce it here. He told me he framed it and kept it on his desk. I could have cried hearing that. None of us could have given him back what we got from him.

He never asked anything of any of us he didn’t do and hadn’t done. Honesty and candor, those were givens. Best effort (and a bit more), that was the base for behavior always.

Of course, as any good coach, he made us the best athletes we could be. In retrospect, I think of myself, showing up at 16 after my first year in high school on the wrestling team. Most on the team has been swimming competitively from elementary school days or not much later. I think most coaches would have told me to go away. Instead, Coach had me try the four strokes. It was probably the large muscular shoulders that had him focus me on breast, but later he’d joke that my huge feet were like flippers and gave me an advantage.

Within two years, I actually was a pretty good breaststroker, not the best in the state but in the top tier. Thanks for that, Coach, and the confidence that came with it. More than that, thank you for having faith in me, for inspiring me and for being what you would ask of others.

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