The SportsTalk Shop: All-Star Accomplishments

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

 

From time to time we like to honor the young athletes in the RCN viewing area when they are named to special teams or reach accomplishments.

First, here are the current Track & Field performance results for boys and girls student athletes in the Lehigh Valley’s Colonial League:

Boys

Girls

Here are the final results from the Eastern Pennsylvania Conferences Cheering competition: Congrats Easton!

Here is the All-Star list for the EPC wrestling team (Nazareth’s Sammy Sasso was named the league’s MVP).

1st Team

Nate Lackman, Becahi

Matt Maloney, Liberty

Cameron Enriquez, Stroudsburg

Patrick Noonan, Stroudsburg

Patrick Gould, E. Stroudsburg South

Steven Storm, Pocono Mt. East

Cole Handlovic, Becahi

Luca Frinzi, Becahi

Caden Wright, Emmaus

Sammy Sasso, Nazareth

Adam Lizak, Parkland

Cade Wilson, Nazareth

Jacob Frank, Easton

Sami Khamis, Stroudsburg

2nd Team

Peyton Brown, Emmaus

Evan Gleason, Easton

Matt Lackman, Becahi

Kenny Herrman, Becahi

Jonathan Miers, Easton

Ryan Anderson, Becahi

Zach Ortman, Parkland

Lenny Pinto, Stroudsburg

Kevin Vrablik, Parkland

Tyler Delorenzo, E. Stroudsburg South

Tavion Banks, Becahi

Robert Spezza, Becahi

Damen Moyer, Liberty

Hunter Werkheiser, Northampton

Last but not least, the Colonial League basketball All-Star teams for the girls

…and the boys

As we get closer to the end of this scholastic school year, don’t forget to send us your lists and/or encourage your school’s athletic directors to pass honors and accolades along to us here at the “SportsTalk Shop” by email at chris.michael@rcn.net and we’ll try to mention them in an upcoming post.

The Sports Talk Shop: Summer Hoops: Final Report

We hope you enjoyed our coverage here at the “SportsTalk Shop” and on our TV show over the last several weeks of summer basketball action in the Eastern Pennsylvania and Washington, DC regions.

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Here are some of my final thoughts along with observations and predictions involving the teams and athletes in our coverage area, along with pictures of local competitions.

  • The Catty basketball team was one of the smallest schools—in terms of both school enrollment and height—last season. But this summer the returning players are all getting bigger and stronger. Isaiah Graves is among the players who has an increased wing span and looked solid on the court the last few weeks. The word is the Bangor will once again be the team to beat in the Colonial League, but the Rough Riders, who just missed the league playoffs a year ago, look like they will definitely be in post-season contention for the upcoming scholastic year

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  • I was very encouraged by what I saw and heard from the Dieruff players. They seem very mature regarding what they need to do, and are very enthusiastic about making a name for themselves, and putting the Huskies back in the competitive field. Fortunately, a number of their players (as of now) are back in the fold and seem genuinely excited to prove people wrong during the scholastic season. I believe they certainly can hang with some of the top teams in the area and I’m excited to see if the Huskies can achieve some of the lofty goals that they have set for themselves.

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  • It was great to see some former high school standouts return for the summer league action—among them Matt and David Kachelries (from Emmaus) and Northampton’s Aja Blount. Those players got quite a bit of publicity (and rightly so) during their high school playing days and to see them back and supporting their former schools, along with local Lehigh Valley sports, speaks volumes about how many quality people we had the pleasure to experience the last few years.

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Don’t forget to catch the final game of the Catasauqua “Tournament of Champions” event to be seen on RCN-TV. This year’s “TOC” finale will be played at the Catty Playground near the Catasauqua Middle School next Thursday. Check back to the RCN-TV website for more details on air dates and times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EPC Softball 2017 1st Team All

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

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

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

The SportsTalk Shop: The “Other” Spring Battle

There’s plenty of good sports battles going on in the Lehigh and Delaware Valley areas this spring. The Phillies have looked decent so far and find themselves just behind Atlanta and Washington in the standings. There’s also some great rivalries at the collegiate and scholastic levels in many of the sports going on this spring, and many of the battles between the larger schools will get plenty of attention over the next few months.

But there’s one great rivalry that has been brewing in the RCN-TV viewing area. One that won’t garnish nearly as much attention as those mentioned above, and will not exactly capture the thousands of fans some of those big matchups will attract. In fact, the rivalry I would like to focus on involves two of the smallest schools in our coverage area. That of the battle between the Catasauqua and Pen Argyl girls’ softball teams.

Here’s a few statistical reasons why this rivalry has become so special in the Lehigh Valley:

• They played four times in 2013, with each team winning two games

• Catasauqua trumped Pen Argyl for the 2013 Colonial League Championship; the Green Knights returned the favor in the District XI Title game a few weeks later

• In as competitive a year for Colonial League softball as many people can remember, Catty & Pen Argyl are the two teams that nearly everyone agreed are the #1 and #2 teams in the league’s preseason polls (and the Lehigh Valley is LOADED with exceptionally good softball players this spring)

• In the first meeting this season, Pen Argyl jumped out to a 5-1 lead early, only to have the Rough Riders come back and win the game late

When Mother Nature allows, both teams have continued to rack up wins when playing other opponents, and seem destined to play each other at least two more times in very meaningful contests this spring.

I could continue comparing the on-the-field similarities, including how strong both teams’ pitching is, both squads’ ‘big game’ experience, the players’ ability to come up clutch hits, et al. Instead, I was struck by something not as clearly visible.

I had the opportunity over the past two weeks to meet with both teams as a part of the features we produce for our Thursday night sports show. In speaking with the players, I found that each of them exhibited a tremendous level of respect for the game, a passion to play it, and an incredibly strong knowledge and awareness of the game.

For people who haven’t regularly followed high school sports in recent years, this is far more unique than one might think. I have heard numerous, off-the-record stories in recent years regarding players who you’d have to drag to practice…or players who deal well with their teammates, and/or gruesome stories of an athlete not only making a bonehead play, but not understanding the game enough to realize what he or she did wrong. Living in an era frequently described as “me first” has lent itself to less team-focused play and not nearly as much desire, let alone passion, to practice or to work on improving skills and sports knowledge.

This was not the case when I stopped by the team’s practices. It was great to hear players genuinely looking forward to coming to practice—whether indoors or out, expressing a strong desire to encourage their teammates and working to improve the overall team. There was no talk about what an individual needed to do to enhance their opportunity for a scholarship (although there are a few at each school looking to do so). It was refreshing to hear the players’ insights about their school, their league and their sport.

I have to believe a large part of the credit for this team’s outlook—not to mention all the wins the last several seasons—has to belong to their respective coaching staffs. You won’t find a nicer group of coaches than the ones at Pen Argyl. Bill Schankel, Ron Singer, Tom Rosser, Brian Schriner, and James Trach, Jr. have always embodied that wonderful spirit of sportsmanship and good-nature that you find attending an event in Green Knight’s territory. I also enjoyed meeting Catty Skipper Bobby Thomas for the first time last week. He clearly “gets it” with a tremendous knowledge of softball and sports in general here in this area. The fact that the Rough Riders do not have enough players to field a JV team yet continue to produce topline talent the last several seasons is a direct result of Thomas’ coaching skills and the drive that his players have.

So while the Phillies will continue to battle the Nationals and Braves for the top spot in the National League East, Emmaus, Parkland, and a few other teams will have fierce battles on the baseball diamond, and local colleges will no doubt have their annual rivalry battles, let’s not forget about all the young ladies from Catasauqua and Pen Arygl. They will continue to make for some great on-field confrontations, and, more importantly, represent their school and their sport, with an amazing level of pride and professionalism.

What other sports programs do you feel deserve some extra attention? Which players have stood out and have overcome challenges this spring? Email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and tune in for this Thursday’s live show at 6pm as we look back at the first half of the high school spring sports season and look ahead to the second half and the playoffs.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: HS Winter Sports ’14 Highlights

 

I know high school wrestling and boys basketball get the lion’s share of fans’ attention in the Lehigh Valley area, but there are tremendous accomplishments being made by a number of scholastic sports programs currently in session.

Here’s a video sample of some of our features on different local sports programs produced recently for our “RCN SportsTalk” show (to see more of these features, they are available for free on RCN On-Demand for the next several weeks), and then we have some additional highlights and accomplishments by local teams and athletes deserving mentions this winter.

Some other local sports highlights include:

 • Bethlehem Catholic girls basketball team. Chosen by many to make it to the PIAA championship game again this year, the Golden Hawks have lost just two games so far this season—both to formidable opponents. Kalista Walters could very well repeat as the Lehigh Valley Conference’s MVP again this season, but among several other talented players on the roster include Janelle Robinson. Robinson is a guard by trade, but I continue to be impressed by what a great all-around contribution she makes to the team (she recently led the team in one game with nine rebounds).

 • Becahi is not the only local girls programs that have a shot at going to the PIAAs. In fact, this might be one of the most competitive LVC and Colonial Leagues playoff races in some time. Nazareth, a team that lost four starters to graduation, is back with a group of tall and athletic young ladies that have been drawing impressive results. Central Catholic is back to being one of the top teams in the state—their only loss thus far was their epic 74-72 double-overtime defeat to Becahi. Parkland is also looking very solid and is coming off a terrific summer basketball season. In the Colonial League, Southern Lehigh, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Salisbury and others all have legitimate shots to qualify for the playoffs. With very few exceptions, these teams playing each during the regular season have resulted other so far in down-to-the-wire finishes.

• Parkland has a long line of dominance in the sport of swimming and diving—for both the girls and boys teams. This year, there’s an abundance of outstanding athletes from many different schools, including Emmaus, Easton, Liberty and Freedom. Their district championships are usually held on two of the busiest Saturdays—local-sports-wise–in the Lehigh Valley, when district and state wrestling and boys and girls basketball games are scheduled, but if you have a chance to check out the local diving and swimming title events, you should have a number of great races to watch on February 22nd and March 1st.

• Pius X has very quietly had an impressive wrestling season. They do not belong to either the LVC or the Colonial League, nor do they have enough wrestlers to compete for team title. They DO have several impressive young athletes led by state candidates Dante Albanese, Michael Comunale and Vinny Vonelli. The Royals, under first year Head Coach Peter Stoelzl, jumped out to two impressive wins over Palisades and Central Catholic to start the season. Despite injuries, they’re still racking up wins and will look to make an impact in the District XI Wrestling Individuals Tournament, which will be broadcast on RCN-TV on Saturday, February 22.

Which other local sports athletes deserve more attention? Which teams, besides boys basketball and wrestling, do you think can bring home league, district, or even state championships this winter? Post your comments below or email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and tune in Thursdays at 6pm as we continue to spotlight local teams and athletes on our show.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Local Baseball Championships

While most of the RCN crew was broadcasting the LVC Baseball Championships, “SportsTalk” cameraman Mike Kingsley and I had the privilege of reporting on the Colonial League Championship in Limeport. It was a special night for a few reasons.

First … what a tremendous turnout! I decided to drive my personal car to the event and allowed Mike to have our “press spot”, not realizing that I would end up parking about a quarter-mile away due to the tremendous turnout and a completely overloaded parking area. Needless to say, it was a beautiful night and I NEEDED some exercise, so everything worked out fine. Too often, baseball (and other spring sports) are hurt by having to play games in the afternoon when parents/family members/friends, etc. are working and can’t see their kids in action. With this event, the under-the-lights atmosphere of the historic/unique Limeport Stadium (complete with cows in the right field “bullpen”) was heightened by the jammed-packed stands. It was great representation for the Colonial League to have so many people in attendance.

Second … thanks to the fans who came up to me and had so many nice things to say about the spring sports season, the kids, the teams, the great ball games and the numerous complements our “SportsTalk” team members received for our coverage of local teams and players. There are so many wonderful people in this area. It’s always good to talk about the positives in the community when dealing with high school athletics.

Third … Congratulations to the championship-winning Falcons, who are getting used to quality performances in big game situations. The Salisbury baseball team won their second consecutive league title, and fourth championship in the last five years (3-leagues & one district title). The “kids” were great to speak with and truly handled themselves with class and respect for the runner-ups, a very good Southern Lehigh team. The Falcons know how to play the game and appreciate their accomplishments, without letting it inflate egos or affect their focus.

Salisbury Baseball

You can view the segment at http://youtu.be/Wt3wS3W8isI

Justin Aungst had a particularly spectacular night; keeping hitters off-balance all evening on the mound, while providing the only offense the team would need–a first-inning, two-run home run over the left field fence. The team made some great plays behind him and they didn’t hurt themselves with mental errors (this team rarely does under Manager Mike Pochron). Their “celebrity” status (see the number of Youtube hits for their basketball game’s last second playoff win over highly-touted Wilson) hasn’t affected the players during their near-perfect baseball season to date (ironically, their only loss thus far was to Wilson). This group of underclassmen, most of whom have played together since third-grade, look for even higher goals the rest of this season.

Likewise, we had produced a feature on the Whitehall baseball team a few weeks ago on our “RCN SportsTalk” show (available on video-on-demand), and they, too, have envisioned some lofty goals thanks to their very workmanlike approach and success. Here are some of the highlights from the Zephyrs’ LVC championship win.

Lehigh Valley Conference HS Baseball Championship 2013 Highlights

You can view the segment at http://youtu.be/WwU7R1cQ1RE

Post below who you would like to win the District XI baseball playoffs. Can any teams from the RCN viewing area make a run in the state playoffs? Selfishly, I hope so. Gary Laubach, Scott Barr and I will once again be working with the RCN crew to broadcast the PIAA state finals at State College again this year. While I find it interesting to meet and interview new people every year at this event, it’s also nice to see some familiar faces in the title games.

The SportsTalk Shop: The Latest on the “Super Conference”

The Latest on the “Super Conference”

First of all, thanks to all for the comments about our “Former Athletic Directors/Lehigh Valley Super Conference” edition of “SportsTalk” on May 2nd. We certainly had a ton of responses about the program. I’m glad to see the feedback highlights that we tried to balance the conversation and look at opposing points of view, addressing different sides of the issues, and also the potential impact for many of the schools in our coverage area. Clearly, the credit lies with our great panelists on the program.

Here’s a video clip with just a few opinions from our show—the entire program is available on RCN’s Video on Demand. I also have a few observations and comments that were made off-air that might be of interest to you.

Watch Sports Talk on YouTube

Watch Sports Talk on YouTube

Watch on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QEn_GV2249k

 Here are a few items addressed during our commercial breaks and some “general consensus” points that were achieved by our panel.

Sports Talk panelists debate.

I was glad the panelists universally agreed that no team should be left out of whatever the new league may or may not be. There are clearly differing opinions on how the private schools should be grouped with the public schools. They range from having schools like Becahi and Central Catholic move to 4A classification to having a separate division of private schools—naming a private-school division winner and then having them play the public school division winner(s) for an overall league champion.

The topic of “super conference” is discussed.

An idea raised about a “super conference” involving “weighting teams” into separate divisions according to their abilities seems utopian, yet very problematic. The suggestion is that every two years, schools are basically placed into three categories based on past success: the best teams in one division, the “middle-of-the-road” teams in a second, and the struggling teams in a third. While that would be great for schools like Allen, Dieruff and Pocono Mountain-West for many of their sports, I see nothing but arguing over “which teams belong where,” and complaints about the success of teams in the “weaker division” while schools who play tougher competition suffer more losses. In addition, when you factor in the stipulation that teams must have a .500-or-better record to make the playoffs, the possibilities of griping and protesting of final outcomes could be endless.

The pros and cons of the“weighted points system”.

I do, however, personally like the “weighted points system” that District XI has come up with for its playoffs. If something like that could be tailored to a new league (maybe including ALL teams from the MVC, LVC, Colonial League and Pius X?), I think that has a better chance of success. Do we really need a league champion and/or would “division titles” be sufficient? In some cases (usually for bigger schools), a loss early in the district playoffs obliterates the success of winning a league championship. I’ve gotten the sense from some people in recent years that winning a league honor is not nearly as important in the Valley as it once was. The area has been so competitive recently that it almost seems that winning a league championship is the kiss-of-death for that team having long-term post-season success. For some sports, like basketball, the league champ almost never seems to win the district title—which also means a primo spot entering the all important state playoffs.

A wide range of topics are discussed by the panelists.

I thought it was interesting to hear the wide ranging opinions among just the people on our show, and can only imagine how tough it will be to try to make “everyone” happy in the region. Our panelists’ thoughts on the latest league news ranged from “it’s nothing new” and “nothing will come of this” to truly strong regret that this idea has been raised and heartfelt sadness that some schools might very possibly be forced to look outside the Valley to find teams to play for next year’s school calendar.

Don’t forget … the MVC asked for a decision by the LVC teams by the end of May. At the very least, there will be heated discussions around the Valley for the next several weeks. I do have confidence, however, that things will be resolved with the student-athletes’ best interests in mind.

One other note NOT related to the super-conference. My thanks to Northampton softball head coach Sally Whittaker-Kahan and her Konkrete Kids for being so gracious and classy when we stopped by with our “SportsTalk” camera to do a feature on the team for this week’s show.

After winning its first 17-straight games, the K-Kids lost its first ever game right before we stopped by to interview the squad about their great success this year. As is often the case and is the nature of “our world,” we had tried on several occasions to either stop by their practice or take in one of their games earlier this year to do a feature on their success, and had to reschedule our interviews multiple times because of scheduling conflicts, weather postponements and the like. When we finally stopped by to talk with them, they were coming off a tough loss to a really good Whitehall squad; yet the K-Kids paid the Zephyrs their proper respect and still answered our questions very eagerly and intelligently, not sulking or hanging their heads about the defeat.

I know coaches hate when I say this, but a loss this time of year is not necessarily the worst thing to happen this time of a sports-year. Sometimes, it can re-focus a team and make them remember how unpleasant it is to lose a game. Northampton certainly had nothing to be down about in its effort against Whitehall. A sloppy and/or one-sided loss this time of year is a different story, but a hard fought 1-0 defeat might only be a bump in the road. I won’t be surprised if it’s a few more weeks before we see another “L.” FYI: I’ll be out with our “SportsTalk” camera quite a bit in the next week, taking in tennis, volleyball and baseball games for features on our upcoming programs.

Your comments on the league realignment possibilities are most welcome, and any schools who have made notable achievements this year, like both the Northampton and Whitehall softball teams, would be appreciated posts to make her on our site. Be sure to check out our May 9th “SportsTalk” program (live at 6pm) featuring great sports radio voices from the area: Alan Rabler, Dick Hammer & Tim Cain, who all have promised some great local sports stories to reveal. (A shout-out to Glen Remaly for the use of his digital camera work for this post.)

The SportsTalk Shop: League Expansions & Super Conference

There’s been quite a bit of talk over the last few months regarding changes and speculations to our local Lehigh Valley Conference and Colonial League. We greatly appreciated local athletic directors coming on our recent “RCN SportsTalk” show (which you can watch for yourself for free on RCN Video-On-Demand). I have posted a short clip of our recent show below. I try to limit my own opinions on the program as much as I can as I try to focus and devote our time for our guests to give their views; however, there were several points I wanted to address on the show and did not have the opportunity to do so on that particular program.

First, I think the schools are absolutely justified in trying to look at options that would result in the best opportunities for their student athletes. I think the current alignment of teams in both the Lehigh Valley Conference and the Colonial League are overall very fair and make for genuinely good competition in most teams and sports. There are some “size discrepancies” (e.g., Bangor vs. Catasauqua) that sometimes directly affect their team’s abilities to succeed. However, if you look across the board at the different athletic events, a team like the Rough Riders not only defends their honor quite nicely, but in some sports, has held a strong advantage over bigger schools (among them football and softball). Is it perfect system? No . . . nor will it ever be. I think the school administrators must provide due diligence in looking to see if it can better the current alignments.

Secondly, there are some schools that have significant challenges in traveling to away games—especially during the winter sports season. The most obvious examples are Bangor and Northwestern going to Palisades and vice versa, which results in what amounts to a huge expense in travel costs and commuting time for not just the school districts, but also for the parents and family members, who already make sacrifices for their sons and daughters to participate in athletics. Does one trip from one end of the District XI map to the other sabotage one’s budget? Not really…but why make several trips from, say Bangor to Hellertown, Kintersville and Center Valley each season, when you have teams from up north at much closer distances.

Thirdly, I’d like to discuss the “super-conference” that we have discussed on our show and the suggestions proposed by Keith Groller of the Morning Call in a recent column. There are benefits to grouping teams together according to classifications, distances, and program strengths that could involve all the teams currently in the LVC, MVC and Colonial League in one way or another. Several weeks ago on “SportsTalk”, the Express-Times’ Bruce Buratti thought it was possible that a couple schools from the Poconos might want to “go north” and get more involved in teams from District 2, which, of course, would be right to do so if they feel that would be in the best interest of their schools. However, if any more teams leave the MVC— to the Anthracite League, Schuylkill League or wherever—I think you will have to look at assimilating teams from the Poconos into any rebranding of the LVC, even if they themselves have their own section which would limit their long-distance travel to the District’s southern region (most of those schools already schedule Lehigh Valley teams as part of their non-conference schedule).

There are other super-conference rumors that have not been spoken about publicly in recent weeks. As you might imagine, the current athletic directors cannot comment directly on any speculation that a plan could be in the works. That net will not apply for our May 2nd “SportsTalk” show, in which will be talking with former athletic directors from the region that have no obligations (nor a propensity) to limit what they can address.

Here’s some of the recent news and comments about the local leagues’ changes from last week’s show:

What are your thoughts on the changes that have already taken place, and in what direction do you think local administrators should move towards? Feel free to post comments below and email your comments and questions to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and we’ll read and respond to you emails on our live May 2nd show at 6pm on RCN-TV.

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!

Reflections on the 2012-13 Basketball Season – The SportsTalk Shop

High School Basketball Thoughts: Reflections on the 2012/2013 Season

First of all, this is for amusement purposes only.  It is simply based on my memory of the games that I saw in person this year, and not a collective decision of all games in our coverage area this season. There were some tremendous accomplishments by young people in the Lehigh & Delaware Valley areas, and some moments that will stick with me for quite a while.  I’m glad to have the opportunity to share some of these experiences with you—and you’re more than welcome to add your own on our “comments” section to highlight the young men and women’s outstanding achievements this winter!

In no particular order, some of my “honors” for this year’s HS boys and girls basketball seasons include:

BEST GROUP OF SOPHOMORES –Constitution High School. These guys practiced against the State Single-A champs as freshmen a year ago, and looked impressive enough to defend their titles when I saw them play.  They can not only play up-tempo basketball with the best of them, but they seem like a very smart group and have a really quality head coach in Rob Moore. Don’t be surprised if they make a regular appearance in PIAA championship games for the next several years.

BEST DYNAMIC DUO — CCHS’s Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman & Jean Lee Baez. They were not only two of the most talented players in the Eastern PA region coming into this season, but they actually got BETTER as the year went along.  MAAR started the season as the single-biggest scoring threat in the Lehigh Valley Conference, and as the year unfolded, developed the challenging skill of making his teammates better, while still being one of the most dynamic scoring machines in the region. Baez also improved in all facets of his game (which includes adding 30-percentage points to his free throw average) and should become the most dominate post player in the area for next year. They have solid role players around them — all of whom will get better with a year of experience with their new system and by having these two players on their team. As of this writing, Central’s final chapter hasn’t been completed yet for this season, but I have no doubt that they will win titles again in 2014 and go deep into the state playoffs in the senior seasons for both Abdur-Rahkman and Baez.

BEST BASKETBALL IQ – Nazareth Girls team. They showed on RCN SportsTalk that they can have some fun (although I couldn’t get them to sing like the boys team did a few years ago), but when the whistle blows, they are a no-nonsense team that is very focused and always seems to make the smart play, on offense or on defense. On highlights after making a basket, when our cameras get a “reaction shot,” they’re always looking at the opponent’s defense, pointing out opponents making adjustments or cuts down-court, or sniffing out an outlet pass to make a play on it.  They can play “junk” defenses with the best of them, and had a perfect balance of talent (one of the most prolific 3-point shooting teams of all time) and smarts (knowing WHEN to shoot the 3) to become the first-ever Nazareth team to win two major titles in one school year.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT – Freedom’s loss in the state playoffs.  If I heard it once, I heard it a hundred times this year,  “Joe Stellato is such a nice guy.”  And he absolutely is. But I also don’t know of another coach who works harder or is better prepared or has a better understanding of his team.  I thought (and many people were rooting for) his team to earn some semblance of a post-season honor this year; either a title or a state playoff win. They lost to two quality teams in the league & district playoffs.  I don’t want to take anything away from Upper Darby, but the Patriots had the lead several times in their opening round state playoff game and just took some mind-numbing bad shots when they didn’t have to.  I know that loss will stick with me until next season … and I can’t imagine how tough it’ll be for Coach Joe and the absolutely fabulous “Riot Squad” fan base to bounce back from (hey guys, don’t forget to put my face on a poster for next year—if you can find enough trees for all the paper you’ll need).

NICEST “EVENT” – Bangor Boys basketball team. I’m identifying them for a few reasons. One, their ‘almost win’ over a streaking Wilson team up at the Pensyl Gym in mid-January. They were without four regulars for the game and had the potential to be blown-out in one of the biggest regular season matchups of the year (I had thought so anyway). But Bron Holland’s team battled and was down by two possessions late in the game (they did get a bad break late as well) before Wilson won the game and continued their tremendous regular season run. The team also got a chance to witness a major Top 25 NCAA upset in person at Gola Arena. Then, of course, they battled back to win a thrilling Colonial League Championship (their first in 25 years) in OT and avenge the Wilson loss.

MOST OVERACHIEVING TEAM (although they shouldn’t have been) – Parkland Boys basketball. I’m giving them the nod for this because I was shocked at how many pre-season prognosticators didn’t expect this team to do as well as they did. Sure, they were picked to win the North Division in the LVC this year, but I was amazed by some of my announcing colleagues who labeled some of the Trojans’ early season wins as “upsets.”  Even late in the year, a number of our local experts thought the way they matched up against Freedom would be too much for the Trojans to overcome—and those predictions ended up looking disastrous, with Parkland making the district championship victory look seemingly easy. They had a solid all-around player in Austin Beidleman (and I do have to give credit as always to Mr. Keith Groller who continued to have a solid “Stone-Cold Lock” by making Austin THE player to watch this year on our “SportsTalk” HS Basketball Preview show in December), a very heady point guard in Jimmy Hahn, a inside and outside threat in Justin Zajko, a player I had touted last year in Nick Rindock (insert my “see-I-told-you-so” line here), and some nice “role” performances by the likes of Austin Jones, Nick Selvaggi (boy did he come up looking solid in the playoffs) and others. Most of these players are back next year, so be on alert and don’t try to underestimate this team again in 2014.

BIGGEST INDIVIDUAL MATCH-UP FOR NEXT YEAR – Vincent Eze vs. Phil Pierfy.  Both of these underclassmen have made great strides over the last two years. Both have the potential to be major players at the college level—although each one has their own, very different style. The Notre Dame/Wilson match-up is always a fierce rivalry and is competitive at least twice a year regardless of the team’s records and standings position, but I’m hoping I can see these two players do battle at least once next year.  I’d hate to be one of the people that might have to choose between one or the other for the best center in the Colonial League next year.

PLAYER MOST SORRY TO SEE LEAVE –Liberty’s Greg Noack. No player came over to the announcers’ table more often in 2013 and say “hey how you doing,” or “thanks for doing our game” than Mr. Noack this year and no one had more pressure put on him to do well this season. The Canes season ended a bit earlier than I had thought this year (they got a TOUGH matchup with Williamsport in the “Chester” bracket), but through all the ups-and-downs, this year, Greg helped his team earn an LVC title this year and made for some great memories for the loyal-Liberty fan base.

PLAYER(S) MOST GLAD TO SEE RETURNING –Liberty’s DeShawn Oyeniyi & K J Williams. No player made more of a difference for his team nor improved from last year more than the guy whose last name no one can correctly pronounce (except of course for the RCN announcers). Oyeniyi proved to be a solid double-double threat on nearly every night, and should become one of the premiere LVC players next year—ifLiberty can find another player to take some of the post-presence heat off of him (this will not be an easy task).

Also, Tom Stoudt called K J Williams the most athletic player in the league this year, and I cannot disagree with him. He’s one of the premiere players to watch in both football and basketball (seriously, think about how many players we’ve seen as good as Williams in two different sports the last few years!), and I’m looking forward to seeing him racing down the sidelines & making unbelievable catches in the fall.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FRESHMAN — Allen’s Zay Jennings. No team went through more ups-and-downs this year than the William Allen Boys Basketball team. Through it all (and one of the ‘benefits’ of the off-the-court issues), there were several outstanding contributions by the Canaries underclassmen, who made the most of the earlier-than-expected increase in playing time.Jennings quickly established himself as a premiere perimeter jump shooter and a very heady player—his ninth grade status notwithstanding. Expect Allen to made a bigger splash in the post-season in 2014 and don’t be surprised to see Zay’s name on an All-LVC team or two in the future.

“STONE-COLD LOCK” FOR BASKETBALL IN 2014 –Southern Lehigh’s Girls team will be in the Colonial League Championship. A very smart, versatile and athletic team, with many returning parts from this year’s league title squad will definitely be playing for a chance to defend its title — again. They play a very tough schedule and gave the District Champion Golden Hawks all they could handle in the district championship game, and I have no doubt we will see them again doing great things in the post-season next year.

TEAM THAT COULD SURPRISE YOU IN 2014 — Emmaus Boys team.  They gave us some great moments in 2013 and they are absolutely LOADED with talent in the underclass levels.  The JV team looked impressive the two times I saw them this year against opponents with traditionally strong programs.  I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see the Hornets advancing further in the playoffs a year from now.

OK, who did I miss? And what teams and players stick out in YOUR mind as the high school basketball season winds down? Post a comment here and email me at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com. We’ll be wrapping up the winter sports season on our next show, Thursday at 6pm on RCN-TV.

One other note:  in response to a blog follower’s comments in a previous post regarding the Phillies broadcasts and our channel lineup, I wanted to thank you for your opinions and I can assure you that I passed your comments along to my supervisor and alerted the appropriate persons of your views.  Please feel free to email me your concerns and questions and I’ll do my best to give you the best response I can.