Chris Michael

About Chris Michael

Chris handles play-by-play for RCN sports events, including baseball, football & basketball games and produces/hosts the station’s 60-minute live call-in show. Among Chris’s other responsibilities include reporting on local news & sports stories, conducting “Take 5” interviews with community and political leaders, producing commercials, voiceovers and promos; and generating blog entries and videos on the internet. Click here to listen to the weekly Sports Talk podcast.

The SportsTalk Shop: The “Pokemon Go Effect” on Sports

There is a charming game (that nearly everyone probably knows by now) that has been sweeping the world, that everyone can play for free (for the ‘basics’ anyway) on their cell phones and tablets, called “Pokémon Go.”

While my son is an expert (or he better be, with all the cards and accessories that I’ve paid for) and I know very little about the game itself, I do admit there are a number of benefits to participating in this activity.  It encourages people to get out, walk around and get some exercise and fresh air.  Also, it is a nice “unifying” event that helps bring people together, and it is something that people of many different ages, classes and demographics can participate in.

There are also times when I see parents so engaged in their cell phone activities that their little kids are getting into trouble or nearly get hurt themselves—being oblivious to things going on around them.  It’s also quite common now for couples to be holding hands while simultaneously frantically typing on their screens with the other hand while never exclaiming a word to each other.

But I am not here to pass judgment on social issues…and if that’s how love looks in 2017, then so be it.

The “disturbing” feeling that I sometimes get while watching people overly addicted to this activity at the expense of everything else around them, is the same emotion I have felt a few times during this school year when some (but certainly not all) teams seem to be trending down a similar path.

Let me explain.

I’ve noticed more than a handful of individual athletes—at different schools in different areas and in different sports—who seem largely focused on what is clearly most important to them—themselves.   Players who seem more interested in padding their stats, doing what’s in their best interest, and, in many cases, doing what their parents are telling them to do—even when in direct contradiction with his/her head coach.

The primary interest of these athletes’ parents appears to be to do what is best for them, for now and for their immediate future and, oh yeah, the coach better keep winning games so that my son/daughter can continue to get more and more exposure.

This year, I’ve noticed a slight spike in the already excessive amount of student-athletes (do people still use this term?) who coincidently/ironically/purposefully transfer out of schools at a time when their team’s win total is declining, and “moving” into school districts in which their new team’s win total is increasing.  More wins equal more media/internet coverage, which equals more exposure to college scouts which translates to scholarships and dollars in other areas.

Once the family makes this commitment, then the “new” coaches’ philosophies better change to accommodate their son/daughter or there’s going to be conflicts that quite frequently escalate to the school’s administration and school boards, which, as we’ve seen over time, frequently leads to the removal of coaches that parents don’t “approve” of—regardless of how successful or how many wins that coach has achieved in the past—or is currently achieving.

In one school district, speculation (in the absence of clear specified reasons) has left the very strong impression that the style in which a coach wins games is (now was) even more important than if the team succeeds.  This “theory” becomes more palpable when the new coach indicates operating in a style that will be more beneficial to the individual player(s).

Keeping your eye on your own game is key to having success in the world of Pokémon Go.  But encouraging an atmosphere where it’s acceptable for athletes to only care about their own self-interests at the risk of their school and community will undoubtedly continue to erode the waning interest in many high school sports programs that numerous districts are now facing.

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Don’t forget to stop by Buffalo Wild Wings on Grape St. in Whitehall this Thursday for our special “SportsTalk” show, honoring the Allentown Central Catholic Girls Volleyball Team for capturing a state championship title.  We’ll talk with members of the Vikettes during the hour- long program and you can have the opportunity to ask a question or make a comment, supporting their tremendous achievement. Also check out ways here on the website how you can also support a local charity at the same time! This week’s charity is LLS.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Bangor Baseball & More HS Spring Sports Notes

As we embark on the final month of the spring scholastic sports season, here are a few important news items you should know about.

One of the nice spring sports storylines—over the last two seasons, in fact—is that of the Bangor baseball team.

Last spring, the Slaters went on an almost unthinkable run of 23 consecutive victories, culminating with the school’s first Colonial League baseball championship since 1981.  While they lost significant talent to graduation, they brought back roughly half of their roster and were the odds-on favorite to repeat again this spring.

The league is clearly more balanced this spring; however, with many of last year’s up-and-coming prospects on other teams making the jump to becoming prime-time varsity talents this season.

The top of the standings have rotated schools almost on a weekly basis, with most every Colonial League game being very competitive—regardless of the competing teams’ win/loss record.

Despite many close games, Bangor clinched a berth in the playoffs last week with a 5-1 win over Catasauqua, thereby earning the right to truly defend its title in the league playoffs.

We had a chance to catch up with Head Coach Greg Hartman, pitcher Landon LaBar (who pitched a one-run complete game in the win over the Rough Riders, along with fellow senior, shortstop John Raub about last year’s record breaking season, the win over Catty, and the road ahead.

I’ve had the pleasure of being around a few of these athletes a few times over the last couple years, and they have always impressed me with their attitude, their obvious athletic talents and the way they pick each other up and grind out wins, regardless of the opponent.

The Colonial League baseball playoffs always seem to be very competitive all the way around, and the way the regular season has played out, I doubt very much this year’s post-season will be any less dramatic.
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Just a passing observation as I certainly don’t get a chance to see every game in person, but the local baseball games overall seem to have been have been much closer and more competitive than many of the high school softball games played this spring (“SportsTalk” co-host Keith Groller seemed to support this statement on last week’s show).

Both the Colonial League and the EPC have rotated different schools playing the role of “favorites” a few times, which defending Colonial champion Bangor falling as low as 4th at one point in their divisional standings.  Notre Dame, Wilson, Pen Argyl, Palisades, Southern Lehigh and Northwestern all have had strong springs and have chances to go deep in both leagues and districts.

By contrast, you could almost guarantee who wins the local softball teams in advance, with the top teams having their way with the rebuilding teams…and some significant territory separating the “haves” from the “don’t have just yets.”

Moreover, (again, it maybe just odd timing on my part), but every local baseball team I’ve seen has been decided by no more than three or four runs.

The “closest” softball game I’ve seen so far this spring was a 15-4 contest, although even that game was somewhat bizarre–the team that eventually lost initially had held a 4-0 lead going into the 5th inning, only to allow 15 consecutive runs in the fifth and loss by “mercy rule.”  Every other game I’ve seen has either had a wider margin of victory or some were even “mercy ruled” after just three innings of play.

Nevertheless, there have been some outstanding individual softball athletes this spring…the EPC just released its All-Star team this past weekend…

EPC Softball 2017 1st Team All

But now, records, individual accomplishments and margins of victory get placed on the back burner as we embark on the playoffs for most sports (tennis already started several weeks ago) and the excitement level and competitiveness start to rise this time of year.  It’s a great time to follow local sports!
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Also, the track and field post-season tournaments also have just begun.  Here’s the latest information received on our local boys and girls track athletes as they embark on the district, state team and individual playoff tournaments.

http://www.districtxi.com/spring/track–field-bg
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In addition, RCN’s full production schedule gets back in action this week.  Tune in for our high school baseball playoff coverage as Gary Laubach and Scott Barr will be calling the EPC semifinal games (on Wednesday) and the EPC Championship game live on Friday.  Remember to bookmark our broadcast schedule page here at RCN-TV and check back to get the latest details on RCN’s coverage of the District XI 6-A baseball championship coming your way in two weeks (weather permitting).

I’ll also be out-and-about over the next few weeks continuing to bring you high school sports and pro baseball interviews for “RCN SportsTalk” and here on the RCN-TV website!

The SportsTalk Shop: “Twin Peaks: The Return”

Most people who know me would probably label me as a “sports guy.”  I work in sports, I write about sports, I interview sports personalities…and when I’m home, I’m reading about and/or watching–when my son lets me have the remote–sports.  It’s pretty much what I’ve wanted to do with my life since I was very little.

But for once here at “The Shop,” I’m going to break my own mold and actually talk about a small part of my personality that was actually sparked by a quirky, landscape-changing television show from decades ago.  A program that, not coincidently, is returning to television this month.

The program is “Twin Peaks.”

Twin Peaks

Granted, I’m well aware that most people who were around when this show initially aired probably have a negative view of this show.  First, it was bizarre and cerebral, and if you don’t have the patience or a predilection to give a television program time to evolve, “Peaks” would probably not be for you.

Secondly, people assumed that it was a traditional mystery story—one that would reveal its penultimate puzzle, “Who killed Laura Palmer?” in a standard way, and in a short amount of time.  Instead, the mystery carried over into its second season, slowly losing fans who grew tired of every episode ending with a new cliffhanger—never fully answering the primary question that kept people coming back each week.   Ironically, the original show’s fate was sealed when its original broadcast network forced the show’s creators (David Lynch & Mark Frost) to reveal/capture/kill off Laura’s chilling killer…only to see its ratings (along with frequent network scheduling changes) plummet, forcing the cancellation of the show.

Until now.

It was truly groundbreaking television—one that has inspired many of today’s most popular directors, writers and movie/TV creators in a current climate more forgiving of people who like to “break the mold.” And, as someone who spent two years of my childhood following along with the “Twin Peaks” mysteries, the cliffhangers (naysayers called it ‘teases’) and all the twists and turns, it did inspire me to learn more about the film industry and put together a few short experimental films of my own.  It also taught me to think beyond the norm, don’t be afraid to try new things, and, for heaven’s sake, don’t ever take a single critic’s opinion too seriously.

The show holds a special place in my own personal history—and now, for a “limited run,” it’s back.

I don’t work on commission, so I can honestly say, with no personal gain, do yourself a favor and add Showtime to your RCN digital package if you don’t already subscribe. It is sure to be a very entertaining 18-episode run that will culminate with an early September finale.

But first, a few warnings!

Don’t expect instant gratification…don’t expect everything to be clearly presented to you…and by all means, give yourself time to let everything soak in and don’t make a quick opinion of the show—like many people do—mere minutes into watching it.  It’s been years since I first watched the program but I’ve kept coming back to it many times for its freshness and its creativity in its presentation.  I’ve given lectures on it when teaching college and high school radio/TV/film appreciation courses and I always find something new each time I go back and revisit the “Twin Peaks” television program and movies.

It’s been refreshing to hear younger viewers discover, watch and enjoy this show over the years…and I enjoy discussing other people’s views of the show—whether they understood its many otherworldly elements, or not.

Surely, not everyone will love it…and most certainly many viewers won’t necessarily ‘get it’… at least not right away.  But here we are, more than 26 years after the show went off the air. And it’s still something that is very fresh in my mind—both in terms of its creativity, its boldness and, for at least a little while, its inspiration.

The fact that demand has forced the show’s original creators to pick up the series where it left off almost three decades later, enforces something that I realized some time ago. Creating a different mold, doing things that may seem bizarre to some initially, or by going about things the “wrong way” (inside joke to the original series’ final episode intended) when developing something…might be the best possible thing you could ever do.

So as we approach the “debut” of the show’s return, here are a few pressing questions/issues I am most curious about…

SPOILER ALERT:  If you have not seen the original “Twin Peaks,” I suggest you binge watch Seasons One and Two (29 episodes total) through On-Demand, as continued reading will reveal major plot points.  You have plenty of time to get caught up on these episodes to gain an understanding of what this show is about.  Watching the full-length movie “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” (a prequel to the series) is also available, although you really should watch the television episodes first to “get” the hidden storylines woven throughout the film. 

  • How will the “good” Agent Cooper “get back” to Twin Peaks?

Will this be revealed in the initial episode, or will this quest be the plot that drives the entire Season Three?

  • Where’s Annie?

Even die-hard “Peaks freaks” must admit episodes 10-16 in Season Two are not the strongest of the series, but the Annie Blackburn story arc was one worth watching—leading to the grand series cliffhanger than fans have waited 27 years to see resolved.  However, Heather Graham, who portrayed Annie, is not listed in the show’s actor credits, so how can this question be resolved without this key figure on board?

  • What about Catherine?

Piper Laurie’s Catherine Martell was not one of the major characters as the show plotlines unfolded, yet Lynch has tried very hard to bring back nearly all of the shows initial leading characters (save Lara Flynn Boyle—who reportedly did not get along with certain cast members and Joan Chen—who ask to be written off the show during season two, a move she later regretted).  Laurie has always been a huge fan of Lynch and reportedly was shocked she was not asked to return.  But fans will remember she was already thought to be dead once during the show’s initial run (her name was taken out of the credits) only to return as another character…might history repeat itself?

  • How did Audrey Horne survive?

One of the Season Two cliffhangers involve a number or characters being blown up in a bank—nearly all of the actors portraying those characters have since passed, and the fictional reasoning for their characters’ fate is that they perished in the blast.  However, Audrey’s character (Sherilyn Fenn) is said to figure prominently in Season Three, so how does Lynch explain her return?

  • What about BOB?

One of the show’s key “bad guys” also died in 1995.  It’s hard to believe the series’ main story arc can continue without this central character’s image that was so engrained in the Peaks mythology.  Do they use stock footage of him?  Do they find a look-alike actor to portray him?  Does another character take his “role?”  Of course, this new season is said to contain several characters who died during the series—how these characters get driven back into the new episodes will be an intriguing issue to see resolved.

“Twin Peaks: The Return” premiers at 9pm on May 21 on Showtime.

The SportsTalk Shop: NFL Draft “Recap Thoughts”

As the dust beings to settle from this year’s NFL draft, a few observations on the picks by the Eagles and Redskins:

Most of these players were, in fact, available and, although I was very high on Eagles adding Foster to shore-up their linebacker core, I can’t argue with the logic of either team’s number-one selection.

      • Talking with Redskins insiders in the days leading up to the draft, they were unanimous in that Washington had multiple holes still to fill and that adding the “best available” player in each round was the way to go.  They did that, picking up a stud defensive lineman in Allen with their top pick and acquired value at several positions—all of them should benefit from the added depth.
      • Fabian Moreau was a good gamble for Washington to take with their third round pick. Unlike rounds 1 and 2 (see below), I don’t have a problem with selecting a top-tier player buoyed by injury concerns in round three.  Moreau clearly will not be available for training camp, but hopefully we can start to see his potential by the season’s second half.  With the league moving towards a more wide open/pass-happy offensive sets (and three WR looks becoming more prevalent), adding a physical corner with Moreau’s speed could be an excellent pickup for the Redskins.
      • The Eagles also had multiple options to strengthen areas of need, specifically cornerback, running back, offensive line and wide receiver. Their biggest gap was a corner—an area I thought the Birds needed to add at least three quality CBs in order to have a “successful” draft.  They responded by added one-and-a-half (Sidney Jones will probably not be available to play this fall). IF (and that’s a big IF) he returns in 2018 and plays up to his pre-injury capability, it will be a tremendous selection.  However,…
      • The Eagles still have gaping holes at corner, with their only other CB selection (and a good one at that) being Rasul Douglas. You could argue that Philadelphia will not be a realistic playoff contender this fall, so they could afford to wait a year and hope that Jones recovers completely from his Achilles tendon tear (same injury that felled Ryan Howard, btw).  But, you won’t really know how good Jones will be by this time next year, leaving the Eagles will virtually the same concerns in their secondary going into NEXT year’s draft.

Another somewhat questionable decision by the Eagles was to NOT target a bruising running back who get can you yards between the tackles.  In fact, with the Eagles decision to NOT bring a proven, short-yardage back and not adding depth along the offensive line, you may even have the same number of holes a year from now: corner, o-linemen, wide receiver (if either Alshon Jeffery and/or Torrey Smith don’t return), running back…clearly, this would be a ‘worst case scenario,’ but by gambling with your second round pick, this is a legit concern.

Now, if the Eagles are setting their sights on next year, when Penn State highly touted running back Saquon Barkley might be available…?

We’ll have more insights and analysis of this year’s NFL Drafts with NFL Beat Reporters Nick Fierro and George Wallace on this Thursday’s program, live at 7pm on RCN-TV.   Email us (rcnsportstalk@rcn.com) your thoughts on this year’s draft along with questions as teams get ready for “voluntary” workouts.
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Again, big “thanks” are in order for some of our local “AD-s” for sending us this week’s top track and field performers:

4-28-17 boys frosh
4-28-17 girls top 60
4-28-17 girls relays
4-28-17 girls frosh
4-28-17 boys top 60
4-28-17 boys relays

Colonial League Boys Week 5 Link
http://www.colonialleague.org/sports/boys/boys-track-field/

Colonial League Girls Week 5 Link
http://www.colonialleague.org/sports/girls/girls-track-field/

School administrators:  don’t forget to send us your news notes, top athletes and other special achievements to us as we continue to spotlight local student-athletes in the RCN viewing area each week.  Also, be sure to catch our local sports features on this week’s “SportsTalk” show as well!

The SportsTalk Shop: NFL Draft Thoughts/Sports Interviews

We had some great analysis and insights for this week’s NFL Draft on the most recent “RCN SportsTalk presented by The Morning Call” which you can see on RCN On-Demand or hear the podcast: rcn.com/rcntv/sports-talk.

Here are a few more insights/observations that either didn’t make it to air or should be emphasized as we approach this week’s Draft:

1.  Neither the Eagles nor the Redskins should be picky: take the best available player!
Both teams have multiple holes to fill and are not any one position player away for making a major jump to becoming a Super Bowl contender. Take the best option / most talented player at the spot you pick — whether you move up or down — and find a place for him to utilize his talents!

2.  Stay away from Christian McCaffrey.
Unless you move down later into the first round he’s not going to be your best available player. Durable running backs can be found much later in the draft and NFL beat writers are mixed as far as how well McCaffrey will hold up as a between-the-tackles rusher. He’s a great talent and will be a great compliment player to a team that is already close to Super Bowl contention but neither the Redskins nor Eagles find themselves in that position right now and, although he’d be a great storyline for us in the media, avoid people that encourage picking up this Stanford back.

Our beat writers on this week’s “SportsTalk” discussed in more detail some areas that should concern fans that are going “all-in” for McCaffrey that you need to hear.

3.  Although not necessarily all flashy names, there are some outstanding talents both the Redskins and/or Eagles could pick up throughout the draft who could go a long way in helping each organization. 
Some of my top names for round one who could be available “mid-round” include:

  • LB Reuben Foster, Alabama  (although he’s MY pick, word is Arizona is heavily in on him) 

On our program, Al Thompson and Rock Hoffman also had an interesting rumor regarding a certain team’s interest in the controversial but ultra-talented running back Joe Mixon, along with some great insights on “diamonds in the rough” among later round draft picks that you can hear on the podcast.
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In addition to our pro sports coverage, our “SportsTalk” cameras have also been busy keeping up with local high school sports, including this past weekend’s Colonial League “Play Day” tournament…

We’d also like to thank Lehigh Valley track-and-field Chairs Bob Hartman and Brian Geist (EPC & Colonial League, respectively) for sending me the updated “performance list” for us to highlight the top male and female track athletes and their performances to date:

4-21-17 girls top 60
4-21-17 girls relay
4-21-17 girls frosh
4-21-17 boys top 60
4-21-17 boys relay
4-21-17 boys frosh

Colonial League Boys Week 4 Link: http://www.colonialleague.org/sports/boys/boys-track-field/
Colonial League Girls Week 4 Link : http://www.colonialleague.org/sports/girls/girls-track-field/

You can catch high school sports videos and interviews on this Thursday’s program, live at 7pm on RCN-TV, including a feature on the Saucon Valley track team that posted a major tri-meet win for both its girls and boys teams last week.  We’ll also have coverage a big girls lacrosse battle—tune in for details!

The SportsTalk Shop: HS Sports: Mid-Season Report

It’s been a rough first month for local athletes, coaches and athletic directors with rain/melting snow making it impossible for many spring sports to start on schedule. Nearly every team in our Pennsylvania viewing area has had massive rescheduling with a ton of make-up games coming up over the next few weeks.

With the end of the school year and most sports playoffs scheduled to begin in less than a month, some sports have already pushed back the start of their post-season to a later date.

That being said, there have been some very good games and some excellent individual performances—here is a small clip of just one of the recent games we covered at the “SportsTalk Shop” (catch more videos and interviews on our Thursday program, live at 7pm on RCN-TV or On-Demand).

A few weeks back we asked local athletic directors in the RCN viewing area to pass along special accomplishments and honors for young student-athletes.  We’re happy to report that we received the list of top swimming/diving performers in District XI and would like to recognize them here.

2016-17 EPC Swimming-Diving Allstars

Also, I wanted to take a moment to highlight this year’s top basketball performers in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference this past season.  Here is a rundown of this year’s boys and girls EPC All-League team members:

1 st Team
Tyrese Martin – William Allen – Senior (League MVP)
David Kachelries – Emmaus – Senior
Sam Iorio – Parkland – Senior
Jalen Vaughn – Pocono Mountain West – Senior
Talek Williams – William Allen – Senior

2 nd Team
Isaiah Wiggins – Pocono Mountain West – Senior
Matt Kachelries – Emmaus – Senior
Kevin Wagner – Nazareth – Senior
Mikey Esquilin – Whitehall – Junior
Ryan Young – Bethlehem Catholic – Junior
Nick King – Freedom – Senior

3 rd Team
Logan McGinley – Whitehall – Senior
Lance Singh – Pocono Mountain West – Senior
Arnel Lewis – Easton – Senior
Dyony Bueno – Stroudsburg – Senior
Jeremy Johnson – Liberty – Senior

Once again, I’d like to encourage even more athletic directors, coaches and parents to pass along outstanding achievements by the student-athletes in the RCN viewing area by emailing me awards, honors or other special accomplishments at rcnsportstalk@rcn.com and we’ll try to highlight those young people both here on our blog and on the “SportsTalk” television show!

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Nationals/Phillies Season Outlook & Interviews

We had an opportunity on last week’s “SportsTalk” show to get insights and predictions for both the Washington Nationals

…as well as interviews with some of the Phillies top prospects on spring training performances and their thoughts on opening the season in Triple-A…

 

 

 

For more of these interviews and videos on both of these teams, be sure to watch last week’s “SportTalk” through RCN On-Demand or check out our podcast: rcn.com/rcntv/sports-talk

 

A few more points/observations about both the Nationals and Phillies’ 2017 expectations…

*  Like last year, there are completely different expectations for both teams.  As I predicted (correctly, I might add) at this time last year, I will once again predict the Nationals will win the NL East and the Phillies will improve their win total from last year (I’m looking at 73 victories for 2017).

*  I think both the Phillies and the Nationals have greatly improved their bullpen staff.  After a few years of various question marks, Washington has about as solid a 7-reliever set as anyone in the National League—with both flame throwers and guys who have really good stuff.  Joe Blanton’s addition during spring training gave the Nats a veteran presence who can pitch multiple innings.

The Phillies also increased their depth this offseason with the additions of proven, late-inning guys Pat Neshek and Joaquin Benoit to join youngsters Edubray Ramos and Hector Neris.  While neither Blake Treinen nor Jeanmar Gomez has a solid track record as a closer, both teams have options (and neither team’s pen has the “Papelbon-esque” ego) which could allow for a rather seamless transition if needed.

*  While the rest of the NL East is improved, I think both organizations front offices made solid moves that will keep the Phillies and National ahead of the curve overall in the division.  The Nats should outlast the Mets thanks to Washington’s deeper pitching and more offensive weapons (and New York has more injuries to content with).  Meanwhile, the Phillies’ offseason improvements should give them an opportunity to pass the Marlins this year and give the team a decent shot at finishing third in the division—even if they don’t play .500 ball.

 

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Finally, after a slow start for the spring sports teams (for the ones that play outdoors, anyway), local high school baseball and softball teams finally got a few games in under their belt this past week.  Our cameras recently stopped by the Dieruff/Northampton girls softball game for their thoughts on the season thus far…

 

 

You can catch more local sports interviews on this Thursday’s “SportsTalk” program.

One note for our scholastic sports readers:   I’d like to encourage athletic directors, coaches or parents to pass along outstanding achievements by the student-athletes in the RCN viewing area by emailing me awards, honors or other special accomplishments at rcnsportstalk@rcn.com and we’ll try to highlight those young people both here on our blog and on the television show!

 

The SportsTalk Shop: HS Basketball Recap (Part 2)

As promised in last week’s blog, I did want to share a few of my reflections on the high school basketball season before we jump full force into our Lehigh Valley spring sports coverage.

Let’s start with the “good” things:

  • The District Semifinal contest at the PPL Center may have been a once in a lifetime experience for many associated with the event. Perhaps the biggest crowd we’ll ever see at a Lehigh Valley basketball playoff game was enhanced by two great games and many of the participating schools’ best players of all time converging at the same time. You could argue that the teams featured the four largest fan bases of any team in the region, which certainly make for a truly special night for many fans, athletes, parents and administrators.
  • The 6A boys and girls brackets were very competitive. Both Easton and Nazareth (in my opinion) were two of the best large school teams in the state entering the PIAAs, and both were eliminated in the first round.  The boys’ matchups were almost always entertaining as well in the league, district and state levels.  While there were a few blowouts and quite a few ‘lower seeds’ advancing deeper into the state playoffs than normal, these teams were usually quite talented and the contests were very competitive.
  • The nice-sized crowds at many of the larger schools featuring girls’ games as well as for both boys and girls teams at some of the smaller schools were encouraging. While not getting the media attention the EPC does, the Colonial League has some great crowds at most of their playoff games.   Bangor is an area that always supports its sports programs that followed its team well. Notre Dame fans were out in full force for both their boys and girls playoff runs.

Also, the Becahi girls had a nice turnout for many of their playoff games—most of them very one-sided with their Hawks dominating the opposition, and we already talked about the four schools (Allen, Emmaus, Parkland, Pocono Mountain West) who showed up in droves at the PPL Center.

  • Last and certainly not least, congratulations to the Nazareth wrestling squad and the Bethlehem Catholic girls basketball team for their dominating seasons, culminating with raising the state championship trophy. The Blue Eagles and Golden Hawks are two of a handful of teams from the Lehigh Valley that have state titles so far this school year.  We’ll be honoring Nazareth’s program on this week’s “SportsTalk” show (live, Thursday at 7pm) and we will be featuring more of this year’s PIAA champions (and hopefully we’ll add a few more title winners this spring) to upcoming editions of our Thursday night program—so keep checking back to the RCN-TV website for the dates and more details on when we’ll feature more championship teams.

And now…a few areas of concern:

  • As I predicted several weeks ago, the level of competition in many of the classifications below 6A was not nearly as strong as in years past. While I applaud the idea to get more schools involved and to try to create a “winning atmosphere” for as many kids as possible, it certainly diluted the overall quality of playoff games.  There were some very close—and very competitive–games overall, but there were also more blowout games in which the outcome of the game was never in question.  In 20 years of watching high school games as a media member and as a fan, I had only seen one “mercy rule” game in my life (many fans didn’t even know this rule existed for basketball until this year).  This year I sat through three games (including one state game) in which the contest’s clock just continued to run in order to let the losing team ‘off the hook.’  The combined margin of victory in the last four playoff games I broadcast was 108. Looking over the statewide brackets, there were many more games that were either “mercy games” or came close to invoking this dubious “rule” in league, district and state rounds.  To combat this, there is talk that the PIAA is putting together a “competitive committee” to balance the playing field for some schools.  Considering the state’s governing body just revamped their entire system and it resulted in more lopsided victories than ever before, I am very skeptical that things will change any time soon.
  • The attendance at a number of the mid-sized and smaller schools was not good (and, for some games, I’m being kind with that term) for premiere playoff games. I can understand smaller turnouts for mid-week games played in the afternoon and/or schools that have a far distance to travel.  But when the fans from Jim Thorpe outnumber three other Lehigh Valley schools for a district semifinal game, followed by a similar scene for the title game—and both were at sites in the heart of the Lehigh Valley—it did not represent the area very well.  One of the mid-sized classification’s championship games featured–at best–half-capacity and was not played at a gym that has a huge bleacher sections.

Granted, the overwhelming support at the bigger school games I’m sure made up for the games featuring lower turnouts.  Also, by having many more playoff games and inviting more teams in, I don’t think there’ll be any question that the final numbers of total playoff tickets will (and should) be higher than in years past.

I think overall it was a very good season for high school basketball.  With the graduation of many talented people this June, the summer basketball leagues will be even more intriguing as coaches look for people to step up and fill in some gaping holes.  Check back to the “SportsTalk Shop” in the coming weeks and months as we feature interviews and video of your local teams participating in spring and summer events.

The SportsTalk Shop: John Thompson III Dismissal/HS Hoops Videos

I was disappointed to hear of Georgetown University’s decision to part ways with John Thompson III as the head coach of their men’s basketball season last week.   On our “SportsTalk” program, we had a chance to talk with the Washington Post’s Gene Wang, who covered the press conference announcing the change and had very comprehensive coverage of this big news in the DMV as well as the latest on the Hoyas’ search for a new head coach…

I first met Coach Thompson while announcing basketball games at Princeton University, before John left to follow in his legendary father’s footsteps as the head coach of the Hoyas program.  Coach Thompson was incredibly nice and always insightful each time I had the opportunity to speak with him and it was a tremendous experience to spend time with the son of a legend—who clearly learned a great deal from his father and was putting it to good use during his time while with the Tigers.

John Thompson Jr. put Georgetown basketball on a national stage for decades, and, initially, his son also had great success.  Among John Thompson III’s achievements during the first nine seasons as head coach:

  • Georgetown has been selected to the NCAA Tournament eight times
  • In six of the team’s eight NCAA Tournament appearances, the Blue & Gray have been seeded among the top four teams, earning three No. 2 seeds (2007, 2008, 2013), two No. 3 seeds (2010, 2012) and a No. 4 seed (2015).
  • In 2006-07, Thompson led the program to a 30-7 record as the Hoyas won the BIG EAST Tournament Championship, the NCAA East Regional and advanced to the Final Four for the first time since 1985.
  • In 2007-08, the Hoyas won back-to-back BIG EAST Regular Season titles (2006-07, 2007-08), posting a two-year record of 28-6 against conference opponents.
  • In 2012-13, Georgetown won the BIG EAST Regular Season Championship, winning 11-straight games at one point, and Thompson was named the BIG EAST Coach of the Year.
  • He had led the Hoyas to three appearances in the BIG EAST Tournament Championship game

As we talked about in the interview (which you can check out through RCN On-Demand), things soured greatly for Thompson during the last few years, with even some of his former players calling the program “a mess” and calling for “fresh air” for the program.

While it became a necessary change for Georgetown, I believe John Thompson III to be a great collegiate basketball coach, and I’m hoping he finds another big time coaching opportunity very soon.
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Also in this week’s blog, it will be our last time showcasing HS hoops videos until the summer leagues get underway in just a few months (and if you hate the cold weather like I do—this is a very pleasant notion).  We’ll already be turning the best on this Thursday’s live “SportsTalk” show, as we look ahead to the upcoming Major League Baseball Season with a live report from Florida with an update from spring training and a look at the National League East (you can hear the podcast at rcn.com/rcntv/sports-talk).

After taking some time to reflect on the new basketball classifications, the new expanded playoff seeding and a realigned format for the games, I’m going to be giving my reflections on this winter’s high school basketball season and all the changes in an upcoming blog entry.  Keith Groller and myself discussed our thoughts briefly on the most recent “SportsTalk” program, but I want to take some time to “digest” all the changes and the new expanded formats and to also take some time to get feedback from local coaches and administrators—the ones that are directly involved and affected by the new policies.

Now, here’s the last round of video highlights from this winter’s high school basketball coverage on RCN-TV:

We’ll gather more thoughts from the winter sports season as well as look ahead to the upcoming Major League Baseball season, with a live report from Florida with MLB Beat Writer Steven Gross, on this Thursday’s “RCN SportsTalk presented by the Morning Call” at 7pm on RCN-TV.

Last but not least, a big shout-out to my colleagues at RCN once again for their involvement in the local community.  RCN will be participating in the Pediatric Cancer Foundation 5K/8K Run held at one of my own stomping grounds—the Ironton Rail Trail in Coplay (there’s a nearby little league field in which the event benefits the Pediatric Cancer Foundation of the Lehigh Valley and we would encourage people to participate and also support this very worthwhile local organization.  More information about this weekend’s event can be found here: https://runsignup.com/Race/PA/Coplay/RunToLive2017

 

The SportsTalk Shop: “State” Basketball – Semifinals

We are heading down the home stretch of the scholastic basketball playoff action in Pennsylvania as we approach the semifinal round of the State PIAA Tournament.

A part of the statewide attention now focuses on the Bethlehem Catholic girls, who will now play Gwynedd Mercy Academy in the Class 4A semifinals this Tuesday at Spring-Ford High School in Royersford.  Click here for our broadcast schedule.

The Golden Hawks have looked dominant in all three of its previous state playoff contests.  The state’s second-ranked team has not trailed in any of its recent games over the last few weeks.  Becahi has won by rather significant margins in nearly every game played since the local EPC playoffs concluded, including jumping out to a 16-1 lead early in last Saturday’s game against a very young but talented Lower Moreland squad that was probably a year away from being a state championship contender.

We’ll be talking about the basketball playoffs and other local sports issues, but also include a unique twist as our in-studio guests will be those who are also very involved in their school’s spring play productions.  Both student-athletes and performance-students individually are working hard this time of year, but those who do both truly have a hectic schedule this month—and we’ll address that on Thursday’s “RCN SportsTalk presented by The Morning Call,” live at 7pm on RCN-TV.

Also, since last week’s show was postponed due to the weather altering our basketball productions schedule, Phillies Play-by-play Announcer Scott Franzke was kind enough to reschedule and will chat with us this week to talk about the National League East and Major League Baseball spring training news and issues.

To get you caught up on the recent sports action on RCN-TV and get you set for the final week of the high school basketball season, here are clips of our recent broadcasts of PIAA playoff action: