Never on Sunday – Behind the Mic – April 8th

After doing this job for over 41 years, I have tried to maintain one rule of thumb. Do not work on Sunday, if at all possible. With so many weeknights and weekends away from home, I have always tried to keep Sunday as a day I can spend with my wife and/or my family. Obviously, over the years, there have been occasions that have superseded my wish, but when I am in control, I try hard to abide by the rule.

About three weeks ago, the Salisbury Athletic Director called to see if I would attend their boys’ basketball banquet. I hesitated in responding prior to knowing the date and day because, very often, I turn down these requests. To attend one, sort of obligates one to attend them all, if possible. To attend them all, however, is not possible. This request for me to attend centered around the highlight of their season – beating a team that had beaten them three times during the year and doing it in dramatic fashion: a half-court shot, trailing by one, as time expired in overtime, in the first round of the District playoffs!!

The Booster Club and the AD wanted to relive that moment and do it by reliving our broadcast and my call of the shot. Obviously, flattery usually is a great enticement. I did not decline the invitation, nor did I accept it. I asked for the date and was told April 7, a Sunday!

Well, I am sure many of you have accepted challenges that sound like a good thing, only to question your reasoning when the day actually arrives. That was my disposition this past Sunday. It was a beautiful day – the perfect day to spend with my wife. My granddaughter was home from college; my oldest daughter invited us to spend the day in the mountains; and my son-in-law (an accountant) wanted to get our 2012 tax returns completed. I said “no” to all of the options. You see, I had already accepted the invitation to the Salisbury basketball banquet.

When I arrived, I was greeted by the Booster Club president, many parents, the AD, her parents, and the players. It was a very, very warm atmosphere. The meal was excellent, the company at my table was congenial, and the setting was simple. I was asked to speak. I thanked everyone for the invitation, talked a bit about the thrill of competing, asked the players to make sure they understood that their parents, faculty, coaches, school, and the Booster Club make everything possible. We relived the “big shot” together and my job was done.

Then the coaches spoke. They spoke, like many coaches, about the season, the dedication, the work, the hours, the development of the players, etc. But the coaches, also, spoke of a player who had never scored less than 100 on any test so far in high school. He was #1 in his class. They spoke of a player who had garnered a perfect math score on his SAT’s and was headed to Lehigh to become an engineer. They spoke of a JV player who volunteered to perform the task of doing varsity stats (a job nobody wanted and had to be ordered to do in the past). They spoke of a highly energetic manager who just beamed when he was presented with a little gift of appreciation. They talked of the tremendous parental and community support they received throughout the season.

And as I listened, I got a sense that this is what sports should be all about. There was acknowledgement, but it was all done in the right way. There were tokens of appreciation, but they were not elaborate. There was praise, even for those who simply practiced hard. There was a sense of community, a sense of family. I left, sincerely hoping that these kinds of banquets happen throughout the Lehigh Valley.

So despite missing a Sunday with my family, I enjoyed the invitation to join another “family”. It was nice.

 


 

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

1. I usually give Saturday Night Live a chance to entertain me. I am often disappointed. Some of the skits are just awful. However, if you can, call up the VOD of this past Saturday’s show. Melissa McCarthy is the host and she literally had me in tears in the first half hour. Her opening, trying to walk in the latest style of shoes for women, was hilarious and her takeoff of Rutger’s basketball coach, Mike Rice, is absolute comedy genius. Check it out!

2. Speaking of the infamous Mike Rice practice video, those of us who have played sports probably spent this past week thinking of coaches we have played for who, in some fashion, berated and belittled us into performing better. I practiced basketball for 3 hours in galoshes because the night before we played so poorly. The next day, I could not lift my legs. I had football coaches who would “jack” us up against the wall to get our attention and make us tougher. I had coaches keep us on the football practice field for hours on end until we “got it”. The list is long. Now, Big Brother is watching. Cell phones and video cameras are everywhere. This requires a better way to coach and that is a good thing.

3. The Phillies and the Yankees are off to awful starts and there are no signs to indicate things are going to get better. Even the Iron Pigs look dismal early on. It could be a very long year for local fans.

4. The Masters starts on Thursday. Try not to bother me.

5. Jim Best will be a guest blogger next week talking about his trip to the National Wrestling Championships in Des Moines, Iowa. Enjoy!

The Sports Talk Shop – January 22nd

“SportsTalk Shop: HS Basketball Parody vs. Mediocrity”

Every few years, we have a high school basketball season like the one we have this year – lots of teams with similar records and “common opponents” knocking each other off with seemingly no single team, or even a couple squads, distancing themselves from the rest of the pack. Inevitably, we, as local sports fans, start to debate. Do we have a lot of really good teams this year, or are most teams merely average?

I actually feel we have more of the former. Here are some of the reasons why: field goal percentage, defensive points allowed, average, and turnovers.

First, field goal percentage. I don’t recall so many teams in recent memory that were shooting near 50-percent as a unit (no, I’m not going to bring up the woeful free-throw shooting percentage—that’s a whole other issue). The solid “FG” numbers indicate a good deal of high percentage shots being taken, which is a direct result of good execution. We’re seeing quite a bit of quality passes, good pick & rolls (yes, it’s back in style again), solid picks and some all-around good play. You could argue that this is a result of shoddy defense, but when you look at the points allowed, most teams’ numbers are down from a year ago, indicating an improvement in defensive performance. As for teams that are giving up more points than normal, like Easton, the Rovers have played in four overtime games, including two that went into double overtime. With the extra periods, it inflates their per game averages. However, if you look at quarter by quarter numbers, you’ll find nearly every team is playing better defense.

Secondly, the turnover numbers. Local teams are bucking the trend of actually cutting down on the number of turnovers per game. This despite a few teams trying to play a more up-tempo style of basketball. Most teams over the last few years averaged in the mid-teens, but I’ve seen quite a few teams averaging ten or 11 turnovers per game, which also supports the theory that teams are taking better control of the basketball, and, therefore, the quality is up from recent years.

One other point that supports more quality basketball in both the boys and the girls basketball teams, is that of depth. We’re seeing quite a few teams, shall we say “missing” players for various reasons (let’s just say I’ve heard a number of stories why players are not available to play this winter). Injuries or otherwise, teams are having to use their bench quite a bit more. In fact, both the Bangor girls and boys teams were without key players last weekend. Yet they got outstanding efforts from their reserves & younger players, and even members of their JV squad, that stepped up and battled some very strong teams last week. With more and more teams going deeper to their bench and getting quality efforts, it’s clear that there is an upswing right now in the level of play here in the Lehigh Valley. (Bangor, by the way, will be guests on “SportsTalk” this Thursday at 6pm to talk about their season).

Do I see any one Lehigh Valley team knocking off the powerhouse programs from the Philadelphia area, or even some of the top teams from the western part of the state? Probably not. But it has made for an entertaining season thus far. Do you think high school basketball is improving, or are we continuing down a trend of playing more of a ‘playground’ style that a number of long-time local sports fans have been lamenting the last several years? Send your comments to us at rcnsportstalk@rcn.com & we’ll discuss on our upcoming shows.