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.

 

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.

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!

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.

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.

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?

 

 

 

 

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!

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.

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!

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. . .