Gary Laubach

About Gary Laubach

Gary began his broadcasting career with Twin County in 1972. Twin County eventually became C-TEC and then RCN. Gary holds the dual role of Director of Media Services and Sports Director/Broadcaster. He currently broadcasts about 140 sports and entertainment broadcasts a year, and oversees the scheduling of all sporting events for RCN.

Behind the Mic: Activity Suspended

“Activity suspended” – believe it or not, that is one of the definitions of a vacation.  Well, I just returned from vacation and, trust me when I tell you, activity was not suspended.

Before I get into the details, I want to thank John Leone, Scott Barr, Jim Best, and Randy Kane for filling my blog space while I was away.  They did wonderful pieces on a variety of topics and you should take the time to go back and read them if you haven’t done so.

While they were helping me, my wife and I were sailing on a two-week cruise on the Harmony of the Seas for our “suspension of activities” after the football and basketball seasons.

The ship (do not call it a boat) is the largest sailing vessel on the seas.  6,000 passengers are on board each week.  There are seven different “neighborhoods” to be found throughout the five stories–

  • A royal promenade (think shopping mall)
  • Central Park (think New York with live trees, upscale New York restaurants, and expensive jewelry stores and a beautiful open-air walkway)
  • A boardwalk (complete with a merry-go-round, two dry nine-story slides, two restaurants, a hot-dog shop and an aquatic theater)
  • An entertainment area (think a major theater, an ice theater, a comedy club, a jazz club, and a karaoke bar)
  • The pool area and water park (think three water slides and three pools)
  • A sports zone (think zip line, miniature golf, surfboarding, a basketball court, and ping-pong)
  • A spa (think “suspension of activities”)

If you think that is enough to keep you busy, let me get to the entertainment:

  • Two full-scale production shows (Grease and Columbus, the Musical)
  • A headliner show (a ventriloquist in week one and an a cappella group in week two)
  • Two full production ice shows
  • Two aquatic shows featuring high diving from 10 stories above the theater pool at the back of a moving ship
  • A comedy club featuring two new comedians each week
  • Three game shows
  • A major casino
  • An art auction, etc.

And, of course, there is the food and drink.  There is always food – all the time, anytime.  In fact there are 25 different places to eat (at least that’s what I counted) and 37 bars (no, I did not try each one).

To attempt to see and do everything in a week, or even two, leads me to believe that Merriam-Webster, Dictionary.com, and the Cambridge Dictionary need to re-think their vacation definition when it comes to cruising – please drop “suspension of activity”.

It is much more restful at my desk.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. I will watch the NBA finals between Golden State and Cleveland. Now that should be great basketball.
  2. It is not easy to keep up with the sports scene on the ship. Upon returning, I realized the Phillies were 2-11 while I was gone.  I was glad I could not keep up while away.
  3. The 76’ers will get the #3 draft pick this year, so the franchise can continue to add good players. I just hope they add a player who can actually play and not be on the injury list for most of the season.  When will the Philadelphia fans finally see a competitive product?
  4. Parkland won the EPC baseball championship by beating Liberty. It was their 20th league championship, far more than any other school.  Congratulations!
  5. Once again, on Memorial Day, we will replay some of our most memorable football, basketball, and wrestling contests this past season (see schedule here). Everyone is a classic if you want to relive the memories.

Behind the Mic: Grandview’s Bruce Rogers

I’ll return with a new blog post on May 22.  This week, I’ve asked race announcer Randy Kane to guest blog.  RCN-TV viewers should recognize Randy from the Grandview Speedway broadcasts airing April through August each year.  Click here to read Randy’s bio from the RCN-TV “Our Broadcasters” page.

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Grandview Speedway Owner-Promoter Bruce Rogers Certainly Will Be Missed 

Longtime Grandview Speedway owner-promoter Bruce Rogers, who passed away in late March after a long battle with a number of health issues over the past year, was an icon in the local auto racing community. He certainly will be missed.

Rogers had been running the show at the Bechtelsville-based, high-banked third-mile dirt track since it opened back in 1963.  His father, Forrest Rogers, owned 100 acres of land and for many years was a race fan, who took his son along to all the weekly local tracks. After several tracks closed up, Forrest decided to plow under his farmland and build his own race track. Ground was broken in 1962 and the first race was held in August 1963.  The new speedway got its name simply from Forrest Rogers looking out over the area while standing on the back straightaway and telling everybody it was a “grand view.” Truly, that name just stuck.

When Forrest passed away in 1966, Bruce and his mother took over as speedway promoters.  Bruce’s mother sold admission tickets for $2 each out of the back of a station wagon parked at the main entrance.  Bruce had a full-time job in addition to the race track position, but he loved his part in the family business.  Eventually, the annual Forrest Rogers Memorial became a race every driver wanted to win. In recent years, drivers have earned as much as $20,000 for the win on those special nights.  The first race ever on August 11, 1963 paid $350 to win and was won by Lauden Potts.  Together, the Rogers family – Bruce, wife Theresa, son Kenny and daughter Tina – turned the track into a huge success. Grandson Brad recently joined the staff as well.

Grandview Speedway has long been known for its smooth racing surface and superb track preparations, with Bruce Rogers the main man operating the grader.  Rogers brought many different types of racing to the track through the years, from winged sprint cars to midgets to the 358 Modified cars of today, along with the Late Models and Sportsman.  Thunder on The Hill mid-week racing specials were brought to life by Rogers and promoter Bob Miller. NASCAR greats raced at the track on special nights as well.  The track today continues to present some of the finest weekly competition around and the grandstands continue to fill up.

RCN TV joined forces with Grandview Speedway back in the 2001 racing season. The very first television broadcast took place on May 5, 2001. Today, after 17 consecutive seasons, Grandview remains a solid partner with RCN TV bringing the local fans some of the finest local dirt track racing around.  In the past, RCN TV brought the fans local racing events from Nazareth Speedway, the Flemington Fair Speedway in New Jersey, races from Pocono, Nazareth National Speedway and other places, but the most success has been brought by the marriage with Grandview Speedway.

Throughout it all, Bruce Rogers was there for every minute of it until earlier this year in late March.

Bruce Rogers no longer is calling the shots at the track, but the foundation he built continues to be strong today. Bruce Rogers certainly will be missed, but the track will continue on, running every Saturday night throughout the summer in his memory. Rogers truly was an icon in local racing.

Behind the Mic: The State of District XI Wrestling Address

Gary will be returning with a new blog on May 22.  This week, he’s asked RCN’s Jim Best to guest blog.  Viewers should recognize Jim from RCN-TV’s coverage of high school wrestling.

The State of District XI Wrestling Address:

The 2016-17 high school wrestling season has come and gone. At face value, what a great season it was. In the AAA ranks, Nazareth and Bethlehem Catholic had three epic dual meets, and Nazareth finally cracked the code to knock off the Golden Hawks for a District XI team title and then went on to capture a coveted Pennsylvania State Championship team title by defeating the Golden Hawks in a come-from-behind victory in the finals of the team championships. In the AA ranks, Saucon Valley continued their dominance, but Wilson High School showed that they are back in the mix of things with a young and talented team. At the conclusion of the individual post- season, District XI crowned four state champions in the AAA division, and Nazareth, Bethlehem Catholic and Northampton placed first through third respectively in the team standings. Many fans of District XI wrestling are chanting the phrase, “We’re back!” in reference to the statewide dominance of District XI wrestling in the 1980s and 1990s.

So, it’s all good in the District XI wrestling world, or is it? Dig a bit deeper, and an argument can be made that District XI wrestling is struggling. Why? For starters, the balance of wrestling power weighs heavy towards five teams. In AAA, Nazareth, Bethlehem Catholic and Northampton have separated themselves from the rest of the AAA field. In fact, those four AAA state champions were all from either Nazareth (2), Bethlehem Catholic (1) or Northampton (1). In AA, the balance is a bit more distributed, but Saucon Valley and Wilson appear to have distanced themselves from the rest of the competition. I happened to have spent a lot of time at the District XI Junior High Championships in February, and I can tell you, based on what I saw at that tournament, that those five teams are going to continue their dominance for at least the next six years. Meanwhile, the majority of the other District XI wrestling teams are left hoping for a slightly above average team record and, if they have a really over-achieving season, they qualify for the team districts where they will eventually run into one of the five “superpower” teams and suffer a humiliating defeat. The result…as evidenced by steadily declining entry numbers in the junior high district tournament, participation numbers in the sport of wrestling are down across the district (as they are across the state) and a classic case of “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” is in full process. Good news for District XI wrestling? I don’t think so.

A second hint that something is amiss in the District XI wrestling world is the resignation of several prominent coaches across the district following this past season. When at least three quality head coaches decide to resign in the same year, you have to scratch your head and ask, “Why is this happening”? While I don’t think there is any one specific reason, I do think that the time and energy commitment it takes to build a top team in the district has taken a toll on the personal lives of many head coaches. In addition, those coaches who have not seen their expected level of success over many years, despite their non-stop effort to build a top program, eventually get to the point when the say, “Why am I doing this”? It is admirable to want to help wrestlers become better wrestlers, and better people in the process, but to keep running into the same wall over and over again, and not see different results, is frustrating. Quality coaches resigning from their positions while still in their prime coaching years should be a big red flag to all District XI Wrestling fans.

I apologize if I have painted a grim picture of District XI wrestling. From a broadcaster’s perspective, the District XI wrestling world couldn’t be better. My partner (Scott Barr) and I get to call some great dual meets, and the finals of the District XI individual championships seem to get more action packed every year. As a fan of wrestling, with no invested interest in the success of any one team, all IS good in the District XI wrestling world. However, as an ex-District XI wrestler and head coach, with an invested interest in helping to maintain or grow interest levels in the sport of wrestling, I have serious concerns about the current “state of affairs” within the district. In my humble opinion, an honest and in-depth conversation which begins the process of solving the existing problems is long overdue. Where, and with whom, does that conversation begin?

 

 

 

 

Behind the Mic: More Kids Should Play Baseball

This week, I’ve asked RCN’s John Leone to guest blog.  RCN-TV viewers should recognize John from the Lafayette College basketball broadcasts on the Lafayette Sports Network.
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More kids should play baseball.

So I’m watching a game the other evening, and an ex-player by the name of Tim Flaherty was quoted as saying, “There are two kinds of baseball players – those who are humble, and those who are about to be humbled”. If you follow the game, or if you’ve played it, you know how true that rings.

In an age of highlights and swag, of touchdown dances and trash talk, it’s possible that baseball has become the last bastion of sanity. Patience is still a virtue and 162 games over six months demands persistence. To get to a safe space you have to earn it, and there are no consolation prizes for those who fail – and fail they do, most more than 70% of the time. Not everyone gets a trophy, at least a real one.

I know that football – a game I enjoy completely and follow religiously – has been called “the ultimate team sport”. And basketball – my one true love – requires a synchronization and non-verbal communication that can transform it into a ballet in sneakers. But baseball is different.

The whole team concept in baseball is more substantive, it can be argued, because it happens mostly out of the glare of the TV cameras and the crowd. A guy standing alone in the batter’s box and facing a 97 mile per hour fastball, shares a visceral bond with not only the guy on deck, but those other 23 teammates in the dugout who’ve been there, or are about to be sooner or later. They know to keep a respectful distance after a strikeout, and the hugs and high fives after a hit are genuine. He also shares a curious bond with the guy throwing a 97 mph fastball at him; a bond reflected at times by a simple tip of the cap, signifying a mutual respect.

An error belongs to one guy. And it’s actually called for what it is – an error.

There’s no sugar coating or camouflaging failure in baseball. A guy owns it and wears it, and his teammates know it. They’ve all walked in those same shoes, or understand completely that at some point, they will. A top young prospect who has dominated his way to “The Show”, suddenly can’t find his release point and can’t get out of the inning. The mound is elevated no longer for any advantage to him, but suddenly as a focal point for 30,000 partisans to voice their frustrations, or revel in his. It’s a long walk to the mound for his coach, and an even longer walk for him to the solitude of the dugout. There’s nowhere else to look but inside. What a concept.

Most of the lessons I try to impart on my kids come by way of sports metaphors, admittedly a narrow and sometimes myopic view of things. That’s on me, but for the most part, I’d like to think I’ve had some positive effect. And the more I watch baseball, the more I see parallels for good living. It’s hard, but as Jimmy Duggan, Tom Hanks’ character in “A League of Their Own” said, “It’s supposed to be hard. It’s the hard that makes it great”. How hard is baseball? Well, the mere fact that it’s the only sport where the offense doesn’t even have the ball should tell us something.

I’m not sure that we make enough things hard enough for our kids these days. I’m lucky to have lived long enough now – long enough to have listened to the stories of my father and grandfather who grew up in a very different time. Their hard times were real. These days what’s left for so many of us – those of us more fortunate –   are metaphors and games; facsimiles of challenges and opportunities. But you have to work with what you have. Sort of like ….in baseball.

Like life, baseball is a complicated game, and its rulebook seems to keep expanding as the game evolves. Again, a lot like life. But the fact that there seem to be more unwritten rules in baseball than in any other sport speaks to the natural, almost organic structure of the game, and a fundamental reason why it endures. After all, “habits are better than rules; you don’t have to keep them. They keep you”. And baseball is a game of habits. And good habits get rewarded.

Yeah, more kids should play baseball.

Behind the Mic: “Scott’s Super Scheduler”

This week’s “Behind the Mic” blog is written by long time RCN personality Scott Barr. He has covered a wide range of sports, including kick boxing, track and field, lacrosse, soccer, volleyball, football, and baseball. Most of our viewers, of course, will know him for his work with District XI wrestling. Fans across the valley have heard him call “Give him six!” after a pin, while working with three legends of Lehigh Valley sports—Gary Laubach, Ray Nunamaker, and Jim Best. Outside of RCN, Scott helps small businesses set up retirement plans for their employees, and lives in Macungie with his wife, Melissa, and their four children.
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There can be no doubt, if there ever was, that the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference is the nation’s toughest wrestling league.   In the coal-stoked furnace that is PA High School wrestling, our own little geography is feared from here to the banks of the Youghiogheny River.  Our wrestlers are tough, talented, and fierce.  Our teams are packed with blue chippers who always win, and peppered with scrappers who always fight.  The dual meet season, outsiders must think, is a complete meat grinder of one terrific matchup after another.

But it’s not.

The past two seasons have “featured” long drives on school nights to see horrible mismatches, and a near complete absence of headline matchups between elite programs.  Packed gymnasiums, once a hallmark across District XI, have become an endangered species.  Saturday night marquee events were an excuse for all-day, armchair coaching by devout fans.  These, too, have nearly disappeared.

It’s hard to find any supporters of the newly aligned schedule of dual meets.  In private, coaches, wrestlers, and even referees have complained about the lack of intensity, the absence of close dual meets, and driving “up north” for a 72-0 dual meet punctuated by five or more forfeits.  Fans also complain, but not privately.  I hear, often, that the current offering is “killing wrestling”.  That’s an exaggeration, but it’s definitely not helping, either.

Selfishly, I want to broadcast two great dual meets every week.  Unfortunately, the past two years, I’ve only pointed to one or two great matchups in our entire broadcast season.  RCN is committed to bringing you the best that high school wrestling has to offer, but none of us wants to show a blowout.  Several times, I’ve said, “There has to be something better,” on a particular night.  Usually, there is not.

The good news is that a correction is pretty simple.  The alignment of the conference would have to change, but this would receive almost no resistance.  The coaches want it, and so do the fans.  So here is my off-season gift to you:  Scott’s Super Scheduler

  1. Division Rohrbach—Named for the first four-time champion in DXI history, Russ RohrbachBeca, Northampton, Parkland, Nazareth, Liberty, and Easton
  2. Division Oliver—Named for @that_dude_JO, Jordan Oliver: Freedom, Emmaus, Whitehall, Stroudsburg, ES South, and Pleasant Valley
  3. Division Nunamaker—For Nunny: Dieruff, PM West, ES North, PM East, Allen, and Central Catholic

Wrestle five dual meets within your division, plus anyone else you want.  At the end of the year, the last- place team from Rohrbach drops down to Oliver, and the top Oliver team moves up to Rohrbach.  Same between Oliver and Nunamaker.  This keeps the divisions aligned by strength, which is what we all want to see.

This gives us, without exception, the most competitive dual meets we can have, every single year, every single week.  If you want to have an EPC Championship day, with the #1 and #2 from each division, that’s fantastic.

Nobody wins when we have the need for a long caravan of parents driving to Swiftwater, PA to watch their son receive a forfeit, and getting home after 11:00 p.m.  My schedule fixes that.

Teams don’t chew up “points” on their schedule for mismatches that don’t even qualify as a decent workout.  We aren’t paying officials for 30 minutes of hand-raising.  We aren’t wasting money on staff for gymnasiums that are devoid of fans.

It works, and it’s simple.  It doesn’t cure everything, but it’s on the right track.  My final fix is to get us down to 10 or 11 weight classes.  Next time Laubach gives up his blog, I’ll let you in on that one. . .

 

Behind the Mic: Bryce Harper – Enough Already!

Easter Sunday was a really nice day.  The whole family was present with everyone making it to the house.  Once again, my wife put together an extensive dinner, maintaining the traditions of a Ukrainian Easter; paska (Ukrainian bread); one egg shared by all to start the dinner; and a Ukrainian hymn signifying that Christ had risen.  It was sunny and warm outside and inside.  Even sports took a respite for the day.

And then at 11:00pm, I watched the news which has become the most dramatic program on TV these days.  And I always check out the Phillies results.  The Phillies lost.  Bryce Harper hit his second home run of the day on a 3-2 count with the Phils leading 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and two on to Washington.    Do the math – a 6-4 loss.  It was Harper’s 18th home run against the Phillies in his five years with the Nationals.

If you root for any team other than the Nationals, Bryce Harper is not your favorite player.  He just seems to have a way of ruining one’s day.

But, let’s face it – Bryce Harper is REALLY, REALLY good.  He is a baseball superstar who truly lives up to the description every day he steps on the field.  I knew a bit about his journey to the major leagues, but I decided to investigate a bit further.  Wikipedia is always a good place to start.

  • He received his GED after his sophomore year in high school so he could begin his path to professional baseball career at the age of 17.
  • He played one season for the College of Southern Nevada as a catcher with his older brother pitching on the team. Harper was the Player of the Year in the conference.  He topped that honor by being named the best amateur player in the country.  And he played only one collegiate season.
  • He was drafted #1 by the Nationals in 2010; signed a 5-year, $9.9 million contract with 26 seconds left before the signing deadline. His signing bonus was $6.25 million.
  • He struggled early in his minor league career because as an optometrist told him, “You have some of the worst eyes I’ve ever seen.” Once he received contact lenses, he hit an amazing .480.
  • His major league debut occurred on April 28, 2012; he was an All-Star that year; and he was named the National League’s Rookie of the Year.
  • Including this season, he has hit a home run on opening day every year in the majors.
  • His longest career home run (461-feet) is, naturally, against the Phillies.
  • He is a Seventh Day Adventist and drinks no alcohol.

A 4-3 Phillies win at the end of a nice Easter Sunday would have been a perfect way to end the day, but now that I know more about Bryce Harper and his road to the majors, it’s very hard not to respect his talents and his work ethic.  I wish he just wouldn’t be so hard on the Phillies.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. The Eagles might want to consider hiring the “Easter Bunny” as a linebacker. Take a look.

https://twitter.com/Nationals/status/853686707555840000/photo/1

And it was a legal hit – the bunny did not lead with his EARS!!

  1. Image, either good or bad, is so important for professional athletes. It often determines their future once they decide to leave the game they play.  Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning always appeared to be one of those squeaky clean guys, much like his brother Peyton.  Now we hear he may be involved in a memorabilia scam to sell items advertised as game-used when they were not and is being sued.  I have never been enamored with sports mementos, but this should be an interesting story.
  2. Last week, I spoke of some potential rule changes to shorten baseball games. The first report is out for this season and the games are averaging over five minutes longer than last year.
  3. The Chicago Cubs passed out their championship rings this past week. 108 white diamonds, 33 custom-cut red rubies and 46 blue sapphires make up the face.  The inner band features the infamous goat.

Cubs Rings        5.  Our first look at Lafayette’s new head coach, John Garrett, will take place on Saturday, April 29, when we televise the Lafayette Maroon-White game. The action is LIVE at 1:00pm.

Behind the Mic: Strike Two – Y’er Out!

Play ball!  Major League baseball has begun.  And, once again, a new radical idea to shorten the length of games has surfaced.  Former Mets’ general manager Steve Philips recently suggested changing walks to three balls and strikeouts to two strikes – in other words every at-bat starts with a 1-1 count on the batter.  His research indicates that 40% of the time a batter faces a 1-1 count anyway.  This is drastic, to say the least, but creates interesting discussion.  There have been many other suggestions and some have even been tried in lower levels of professional baseball.

Do you like any of these changes?

  1. A pitcher must deliver a pitch within 20 seconds. The batter must be in the box for all 20 seconds and the clock stops the second the pitcher starts his pitching motion.  If the batter steps out of the box during the 20 seconds, the pitcher may throw an official pitch anyway.
  2. The batter must keep one foot in the box throughout the at-bat. There are some exceptions.  What would big Papi do?
  3. Intentional walks would require no pitches, just an indication from the manger to the home plate umpire.
  4. Some want to limit the number of commercials, while some want to put a between- innings time limit – 2:30. At the 2:15 mark, the batter must be in the box and the 20-second clock for the pitcher begins.
  5. Pitching changes must be completed and ready for play in 2:30. Failure to accomplish this would result in a ball being called by the umpire.
  6. Only three player conferences between pitcher-catcher, player-player, or manager-player would be allowed per game. This rule would not apply to pitching changes or player substitutions.
  7. Place a runner on second base with no outs to start an extra-inning game. Statistically, a game would end after ten innings 50% of the time and 75% of the time in the eleventh inning.

It is estimated that implementation of some of these rules could save between 10 and 15 minutes in the length of the game and games would average less than three hours.

Does baseball really need to drastically change to keep their fan base and, more importantly, to grow the base of the younger generation?  For now, I do not see any of these suggestions (with, perhaps, the intentional walk modification) happening soon.

And I, for one think that’s a good idea.

Play ball (as we know it!)

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. I lost around nine hours this weekend watching the Masters. If you are a golf fan, I’m sure you found both Saturday and Sunday riveting.  Thank goodness for TiVo – speeding through commercials helps, but the Masters limits the number of commercials so it doesn’t help much.  It sure was dramatic and Sergio’s emotional win was not to be missed.
  2. Speaking of golf, in the recently completed Western Intercollegiate golf tournament at San Jose University, there were five holes-in-one. They were by four players from three teams.  Hunter Epson of Pepperdine in a shotgun start made one on his very first shot in the tournament.  His teammate made one in the same round.  Daniel List made one during the final round, but the topper occurred when Cal’s William Aldred made one in the second round and another in the third round.  They all used a different club, did not shoot under par, nor finished in the top 20.
  3. Did you notice that Tim Tebow, former Heisman winner at Florida and NFL player, hit a home run in his first at-bat as a professional baseball player.

  1. I, for one, would love to see the Eagles draft Stanford RB/WR Christian McCaffrey in the NFL draft. The McCaffrey family – Aunt Monica, Uncle Billy, and father Ed all went to, and excelled in, basketball at Allentown Central Catholic and Ed, of course, also played football at Central.  He went on to play at Stanford and starred for the Denver Broncos in the NFL.  Bring Christian to Philadelphia!
  2. We found out this week that former Pitt and Dallas Cowboy Hall of Fame running back Tony Dorsett has been diagnosed with CTE, a degenerative condition linked to dementia and depression. This neurological disease has already claimed the lives of more than 50 former NFL players.  The players make a great deal of money, but there is a steep cost.

Behind the Mic: Winter Bye-Bye

The season of 2016-17 officially came to an end this past weekend with the VIA All-Star basketball games being played.  Outstanding seniors donned their school’s uniforms for the last time and Lehigh Valley basketball was officially over.  There is no better time to reminisce…  Here are my top ten memories of this past season.

  1. The RCN TV team – I have spent more than 40+ years with this group and they never cease to amaze me with their work ethic, their dedication and their skills. Imagine over 100 winter productions laying wire, setting up cameras at the top of arenas, preparing the announcers’ booth, working the game and reversing the whole process when the game ends.  Now imagine doing that over and over and over again.
  1. East Stroudsburg North – This team had to put together a winning streak down the stretch just to get into the EPC playoffs and districts. They lost to Bethlehem Catholic in the EPC semis on a last second shot but came back to beat Whitehall, Central Catholic, and Pottsville to win their first District championship in school history.  The icing on the cake was their first-round state win (also, the first in school history) before finally falling.  It was a memorable season to say the least.
  1. Lafayette women win at home – On February 25, the Lafayette women were playing Colgate in the final home game of the year. They had not won a game at home all season.  In as entertaining game as you could see, the Leopards prevailed by a 90-85 score.  I’ll never forget how happy the women were along with their staff that they got this win on Senior Day.  Then, despite winning only two league games all year, they went on to win the first round game in the Patriot League Tournament.  More smiles.
  1. Lafayette hires new head football coach – Despite the winter sports season being about basketball and wrestling, the news that Lafayette hired a new head football coach makes my top ten. I loved working with former head coach Frank Tavani and, obviously, was saddened by his departure.  John Garrett was named the new head coach on December 21.  He enters Lafayette with a tremendous resume with both college and NFL experience.   Having attended some spring practices, there is a renewed energy in the staff and the players.  I’ll take that same energy into next season.  Go Leopards!
  1. Tom and John – All the respect and praise I feel for the RCN staff carries over to my color analysts for high school and college basketball, Tom Stoudt and John Leone. Obviously, the three of us spend a great deal of time together and it is full of conversation, joking, ribbing, and good times.  The winter goes very quickly when you are around these guys!
  1. Allen’s fan base – Many of us in the media have been lamenting the absence of good crowds for the high school basketball games in the past few years. Interest just seemed to lag.  Not this year.  Gyms were filled, for the most part, and the Allen fan base wins the award for the greatest support.  I think interest was up throughout the Valley, but no team had more support, both adult and student-based than the Allen Canaries.  There is nothing better than a high school gym filled with two good teams and an enthusiastic crowd.  There were plenty of both this season.
  1. Emmaus’ run in the PIAA state playoffs – This team went in as the #4 seed from District XI – a seed we had never had before the increase in classifications. In other words, before this year, they would not have even gotten into the playoffs.  They sure made the opportunity pay off.  No boys’ team from the Lehigh Valley went further into the playoffs.  They beat Cheltenham and Harrisburg before losing in double overtime to Carlisle in the most exciting game of the year.  Talk about seizing the moment.
  1. The individual talent – I have never experienced a year with so much talent on so many teams, both boys and girls. It did not seem to matter which gym you would walk into. You knew that there would be two or three or sometimes eight great players.  One night a doubleheader featured eight 1,000 point scorers (unheard of).  Martin, Williams, Iorio, Kachelries, Kachelries, Johnson, Singh, etc. on the boys’ side, and Blount, Brugler, Cyr, Luma, Zamolyi, Medina, Bloshuk, etc. on the girls’ side.  Most graduate but, hopefully, the next group is ready to make history as well.
  1. The Bethlehem Catholic state championship – This team won a school-record thirty games, breezed through the PIAA state playoffs and won their first state title in history. They were led by Jose Medina, who has won 75 games in three years as their head coach.  His team won the five state games by an average of 21.2 points (oh, my!!).  I just loved the way they played and the demeanor of the entire staff.  You can feel good about rooting for this team.
  1. I think #1 on every fans’ list this season was the amazing crowd (8,000 +) at the PPL Center for the EPC semifinals.  It featured four great teams – Allen, Parkland, Emmaus, and Pocono Mountain West.  The games did not disappoint, the venue was spectacular, and the crowd was awesome.  When I think back to my playing days (no snickering here, please), we had to travel to the State Farm Show Arena in Harrisburg to handle the crowd for a Lehigh Valley District semifinals and finals. Going to the PPL Center may have been one of the best nights ever for Lehigh Valley basketball.  It’s my #1!

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. How about Mississippi State stopping the Connecticut women’s basketball winning streak at 111 games. Last year, UCONN beat Mississippi State 98-38.  The tables were turned in overtime this year 66-64.  UCONN was going for their fifth straight NCAA title.  They started their streak on December 23, 2014.  Look at the recap:

http://pmd.cdn.turner.com/ncaa/big/2017/04/01/1337884/1491026111912-uconn-missst-v3-mov-1337884_960x540_2104.mp4

  1. Sunday marked the 31st anniversary of the three-point shot (19’ 9”) in college basketball. It is perhaps the most dramatic change in modern basketball.
  2. The Flyers will not make the NHL playoffs. They were finally eliminated after losing on Sunday.
  3. The Dodgers and the Indians are the favorites to win the National and American League pennants with the Cubs and the Red Sox close behind.
  4. The Phillies won 71 games last year. Manager Pete MacKanin said he hopes to win ten more this season or one-half of the 162 games they play.  Based on last year, 81 wins would have put them in third place in the NL East behind the Mets and the Nationals.  A fan can only hope.

 

Behind the Mic: Dead Pool

I am the Sports Director at RCN.  RCN has only one Sports Director.  I am their guru of sports, right?

The RCN Fun Committee (notice the word “Fun”) runs an NCAA pool every year.  There is no money involved.  Anyone can enter and the prizes are donated by the company and are minimal.  In other words, it’s “for entertainment purposes only.”

One would think the Sports Director would have the inside track to victory or, at the very least, a top three spot or a top ten spot.  Or a place with the word “top” in it.  One would think that, right?

There are 63 games played in the tournament.  I already know that I will only get 35 right or 56% correct (I rounded up).  You see, I only have North Carolina in the Final Four and I have them losing that game.  My pool is over – Kaput!  Who would have guessed that Gonzaga, South Carolina, and Oregon would be in the semifinals?  Gonzaga and South Carolina have never been there and Oregon only once before even I was born.

Before Sunday’s games, I was trailing sixteen other fellow workers.  That’s not so bad, I guess.  Okay, Mr. Sports Director, it’s VERY bad!

To make matters worse, I have an arch–enemy in the pool.  Let’s call her Laura because that’s her name.  She takes great pleasure in challenging me and is not shy about rubbing it in when she is ahead.  She beat me last year and was quite obnoxious about predicting that she would do it again this year.  I considered last year a fluke.  She did not. And she took any opportunity to announce to everyone that she had embarrassed the Sports Director.  I was determined not to let that happen again.

I guess I was not determined enough.  Not only is she beating me, Laura is currently beating everyone.  She is in FIRST PLACE!  Out of 38 players, she has the lead!  Now, she may not win (she has Kansas to win the Championship), but she will certainly beat me and beat me badly.  I cannot earn another point with the three games that are yet to be played.  I have Duke and Kansas winning the semifinals.  Since their uniforms are washed and stored away for another year, that will not happen.  In fact, I can only go down; I cannot go up.

So Laura will beat me again!  Do you know how hard that is to type?

So for those of you who think that Sports Director is, obviously, a misnomer for me, then I can guarantee you that so is “Fun Committee” and “for entertainment purposes only”.  You see, again this year, I have had neither fun, nor entertainment.  Now if the company would just form an Embarrassment Committee, I would be the first to sign up.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. The Bethlehem Catholic AAAA girls’ basketball team won the PIAA State Championship! It was their first state championship in girls’ basketball.  They thumped Villa Marie -Erie 46-27 and finished the season with a 30-2 record.  They won all five of their state games with double-digit wins.  They were dominating.  Congratulations to Coach Medina and the girls.
  2. In the ESPN MLB power rankings, they have the Phillies as #24 out of thirty teams. They also picked them last in the NL East.  This doesn’t offer up much hope for the season.
  3. Speaking of Philadelphia desperation, the Flyers are six points behind for a wild card berth in the NHL and there are three other teams ahead of them. The Sixers, well, are the Sixers – no playoffs again this year.
  4. It appears that the Oakland Raiders will relocate to Las Vegas. 24 votes were needed as I write this and the league office said the result will be “positive”.  I bet (no pun intended) legal gambling across the country on NFL games will soon follow.
  5. The Giant Center held all 12 boys’ and girls’ PIAA championship games this past week. The highlight was the Reading-Pine Richland AAAAAA game. 9, 531 fans filled the Center, as Reading won their first state title in school history 64-60.  Reading has played basketball for 118 years; has won over 2000 games, but they had never won a state title.  Until now.

 

Behind the Mic: Thrill; Agony

From 1961-1998, I regularly would watch The Wide World of Sports on ABC.  Jim McKay was the host and the show’s introductory video and catchphrase was “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat”.  Those words were spoken over a celebration of a great win followed by a ski jumper severely crashing during a competition.  The pictures and the phrase became ingrained into the psyche of every regular viewer.

That phrase came back to me this past week while broadcasting the two Emmaus state basketball games.

Let’s start with the “thrill of victory”.  Emmaus had beaten Cheltenham 68-67 the previous Saturday to advance to the PIAA State second round.  They were the only AAAAAA boys’ team left from the Lehigh Valley because both Allen and Parkland had already been beaten.  The irony of their participation is that up until this year when the PIAA added six classifications, Emmaus would not have even gotten into the state playoffs.  With the additional classes, four teams were eligible and Emmaus was the fourth.

That set up a one day snow-delayed matchup with the Harrisburg Cougars, the #1 team out of a very strong District 3 at Reading High School.  Harrisburg had beaten Reading in their District playoffs and they were now considered the favorite to make it to the state championship game.  In a thrilling game with a nail-biting finish, Emmaus won 64-61 and, for the first time in school history, would move on to play in the state quarterfinals.  They would be part of, in NCAA March Madness lingo, the Elite Eight!  The celebration that followed was the definition of “the thrill of victory”.

That set up a return trip to Reading for Emmaus as they would take on the Carlisle Thundering Herd for a place in the state semi-finals.  Harrisburg had beaten Carlisle twice and they were in the same district as the Cougars.  They entered the playoffs as the #5 team in District 3.  Emmaus certainly could enter this game knowing they were every bit as good as their opponent.  And they were.

Emmaus led by six at the end of one period and by ten at the half.  They still led by ten with just 3:05 to go in the game.  But… Carlisle waged a comeback.  Emmaus still could clinch the win as they led 62-59 with 7.9 seconds to go.  Emmaus’ all-time leading scorer, David Kachelries, a 76% free-throw shooter, went to the line to shoot one free throw (he had made his first six of the game, but missed his previous three).  Make it and the Hornets are in the state semi-final; miss it and the Herd still needed to make a three-point shot to send the game into overtime.  He missed and Ben Milligan made a three at the buzzer to tie the game at 62.  “Thrill” and “agony” by anyone would be delayed.

Emmaus needed three free throws on one trip to the foul line by David’s twin brother, Matt Kachelries, to send the game into a second overtime.  He calmly went to the foul line and made all three.  The first overtime ended 69-69.

But the second overtime period ended with Carlisle controlling the scoreboard and the Thundering Herd galloped to a 78-74 win.  The Emmaus season was over.  The Kachelries twins had scored an amazing 57 points in the game and that was still not enough.

David ended his career with 1,910 points and Matt finished with 1,027.  Matt had missed two-thirds of his sophomore year due to injury or his total would have been much higher.  Emmaus finished with one their greatest and most memorable seasons ever.

None of that mattered though at @ 6:30pm on Saturday night as the Green Hornets and Coach Steve Yoder walked off the floor in Reading.  Much like the skier in the Wide World of Sports intro, they were severely suffering from “the agony of defeat”.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. The Bethlehem Catholic AAAA girls’ basketball team is the last team standing from the Lehigh Valley. As I write this, they are preparing to play Gwyned Mercy in the PIAA semifinals.  A win would get them into the state championship game.  Congratulations to Coach Medina and the girls.  Go Hawks!!
  2. How are you doing on your NCAA bracket? I assume many of you had Villanova and Duke to go far into the tournament and even winning it all.  I had Duke making it to the Final Four.  I still have Arizona, Kansas, and North Carolina alive to make the Final Four.  I heard a lot of moans and groans this past weekend.
  3. It is hard to imagine that the next Eastern Pennsylvania Conference basketball season could match this one. Losing so many stars like Sam Iorio, Kevin Wagner, the Kachelries twins, Tyrese Martin, Talek Williams, etc. will be hard to duplicate for a very long time.
  4. He gets a mention every week – Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman of Central Catholic is still playing in the NCAA tournament. Muhhammad starts and plays as many minutes as anyone for Michigan.  He scored 16 against Oklahoma State and some vital points down the stretch against Louisville as his team moved on to the Sweet Sixteen.
  5. My usual reaction at the end of the basketball season is how fast winter flew by. Except this year, the season has come to a close and winter continues to rear its ugly head.  C’mon!  What’s a golfer to do?