Behind the Mic: Hall of Fame

No matter how you look at it, it has been a good year for District XI.  Chairman Bob Hartman and his committee have managed 24 sports for 54 schools, but they have done that in the past.  This year, however, they managed many of those sports by adding two more classifications to the mix.  Where the maximum number of classifications before this year was four, they were forced to manage six this season.  That is a 33% gain in games and champions in those sports that were affected.  There were more playoffs, meaning more schools and more champions.

Last year at this time, when it seemed like it would be a nightmare for everyone to adjust, the District XI planned for the contingencies well in advance.  Therefore, for the most part (despite weather being a troubling factor), all was accomplished rather seamlessly.  One can argue the merits of adding more classes, but it would be hard to argue that District XI was not up to the challenge.

Another major accomplishment of the committee was the use of the PPL Center for the AAAAAA boys’ basketball semifinals.  With 7000+ fans in the stands, four outstanding teams, and some of the greatest Lehigh Valley high school players to play in the same place on the same night, it may very well have been the single most legendary night of District XI basketball.  Again, praise goes to Bob Hartman and his staff.

Instead of resting on their laurels after what had to be a trying year logistically, this past week it was unveiled that a District XI Hall of Fame will be organized “as a means of recognizing, preserving, and promoting the heritage of interscholastic sports in District XI”.  Those eligible for admittance will consist of athletes, contest officials, coaches, and contributors.

If you have been around District XI athletics for as long as, or even longer, than I have, you can imagine the monumental task of paring down the list of entrants to a manageable number each year.  The McDonald’s Lehigh Valley Hall of Fame has nearly 100 members and the VIA Lehigh Valley Basketball Hall of Fame is nearing the 200-member total.  That is just in two sports – basketball and football!  Now, consider the outstanding high school athletes who have passed through the Lehigh Valley in the past 30+ years in 21 other sports.  To use a pet phrase of mine – “Oh my!!!”

And, to their credit, this is not something that District XI needed to do.  They have placed this challenge upon themselves and, for that, they are to be commended.  And, if history is any proof of their ability to meet the challenge, it will get accomplished.

So when accolades are being tossed around at the end of this school term, all lists should include the work and accomplishments of District XI.  It bears repeating – District XI has had a very good year.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. “Familiarity breeds contempt” goes the adage. It is no more evident than in the NHL and NBA finals.  As any fan can see, play the same people day in and day out and things get particularly nasty and “chippy”.  Each additional match or game becomes that much more emotional.
  2. I’m sure at the time the New England Patriots were not very pleased to be trailing the Atlanta Falcons 28-3 in the third quarter of the most recent Super Bowl. But because of that deficit their Super Bowl championship rings contain 283 diamonds, the biggest Super Bowl ring ever made.  This almost makes a team want to fall behind!
  3. How much would you pay for a new pair of sneakers? Up to $150?  More?  This past Sunday morning, the sneakers Michael Jordan wore in the 1984 gold-medal win over Spain sold for $190,373!  Another pair of Jordan sneakers had previously sold for $104,765.
  1. As I write this, Liberty and Whitehall are still alive in the PIAA state baseball playoffs. Each needs to win this Monday to get to the title game at Penn State which will be played on Thursday and Friday.  Go Canes!  Go Zephs!
  2. This week on RCN-TV, we will start our Blue Mountain League baseball coverage. The Game of the Week will be on Tuesday nights at 9:30.  This week’s game features the two-time defending champion Limeport Bulls taking on the Hellertown Royals.  The McDonald’s All-Star Football Classic will be on Thursday, June 15, at 10:00.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Three Wrestling Season Surprises

While many things unfolded the way most Lehigh Valley HS wrestling experts thought the season would, there were still several big surprises during this year’s District XI team wrestling season.  Here are a few of the highlights:

Becahi’s Level of Dominance
The fact that the Golden Hawks ran through its 3A district competitors in this, its first year moving up from being a “Class 2-A”  team, is not really a surprise.  They have been scoring victories over many local wrestlers from larger schools for some time during their competition in the now-defunct Lehigh Valley Conference.  What was shocking was by HOW MUCH Becahi beat up on other Lehigh Valley powers Easton, Parkland, Nazareth & company.  Here’s a look at three of their biggest wins over conference opponents—all by healthy margins – this winter.

Expect the Hawks’ success to continue in the state tournament this weekend and once the “individual” playoffs get underway in a few weeks.

Freedom’s Amazing Season
Last year we had Patriots’ Head Coach Brandon Hall on our “RCN SportsTalk” show and he told us some great stories about what he, his coaches and players have had to overcome in trying to build up the program —a task especially difficult with the high level of competition in the Lehigh Valley.  His team took the next step in a big way—entering the playoffs with an amazing 24-0 record and an impressive win in the “American” Division of the highly competitive Virginia Duals tournament.  Freedom’s next step will be to continue this high level of success for the next few years against the powerhouse teams in the Eastern Pennsylvania region.  However, you have to give a huge congratulations to Coach Hall and his team for all of their success this year—and putting together a season that no one outside of the northern half of Bethlehem saw coming.

Aside from any match involving Becahi, Freedom and most of the other teams in the newly formed Eastern Pennsylvania Conference made for entertaining team competition this winter.  Here are a few of the best matches, including this past weekend’s “Ultimate Qualifier”:

Northern Lehigh’s 2A Championship
Becahi no longer competing in the 2A bracket left a wide-open district tournament for some team to come up and win this year’s crown—a title the Hawks have dominated over the last few seasons.  Saucon Valley headed a field of impressive smaller schools that had multiple talented wrestlers this season.  Head Coach Chad Spirk has done an amazing job over his career of building his program—which sometimes in the past was overshadowed by other teams’ performances from the LVC.  However, it was Northern Lehigh’s Steve Hluschak and his Bulldogs that pulled off the win over the Colonial League Champion Panthers to advance into this weekend’s PIAA tourney as the #1 2A representative from District XI.  Northern Lehigh was one of several teams that made for a great season, along with Northwestern, Notre Dame and Bangor.  Most of these head coaches were on “SportsTalk” recently—you can hear more about their teams and their thoughts on local wrestling by watching the show for free through RCN On-Demand.

Speaking of “SportsTalk,” this Thursday (Feb. 5th) at 6pm, we’ll have our “Ultimate” wrestling panel with local legends Gene Waas and Sam Burgio joining Jack Logic, Joe Craig and myself as we preview this weekend’s State Finals, the upcoming District XI Individual Wrestling Tournament and give our thoughts on some controversial decisions that were made in terms of forming the new playoff system.  We’ll also have wrestling experts Brad Wilson and Scott Barr on our February 19th live show to preview RCN’s coverage of that weekend’s “Individuals Championships” and also give their takes on local wrestling issues.

We’d love to hear your comments & questions about Lehigh Valley HS wrestling!  Who stood out in your mind as the top individual wrestlers…and which other team’s exceeded expectations?  Email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and we’ll read and respond to your emails on our upcoming live shows!

 

The SportsTalk Shop: State Basketball Preview 2014

The Pennsylvania state basketball playoffs will be commencing this weekend. It’s an exciting time of year—no more safety nets, as it’s a single-elimination tournament and the most talented players in the state might have their season, if not their scholastic careers, come to an end on a given night. We’re going to be broadcasting a number of exciting PIAA playoff games over the next few weeks and it’s going to be fun seeing the top players and teams across the state on RCN-TV.

We’re coming off of a thrilling District XI playoffs season in our RCN viewing area. In preparation for the state games, here are notes and video highlights of some of the teams we’ve had the pleasure of seeing over the last few weeks in postseason action.

PARKLAND (girls and boys teams)
Both teams are playing their best brand of basketball of the season as they head into the PIAAs. The boys team is incredibly deep and have been getting solid performances from all their starters, but what makes them even more dangerous are the players coming off the bench contributing without missing a beat. They pretty much dismantled all their opponents in the district playoffs and made this year’s district championship look easy.

Parkland has momentum and really has not shown any glaring weaknesses, save a slow first-half stretch to Stroudsburg in the semifinal game (the Mountaineers also got a gritty performance from Jacob Battle in the consolation game, which hopefully will propel them to a few wins in states).

The Parkland girls team also has a multitude of talent among both their starters and role players. Olivia Brown led her team in the girls district championship with a great all-around game and a clutch basket down the stretch run.

Erin Bross, Erica Bross, Aubrey Beidelman, Sarash Stagaard and Kristen McCarty are all solid ball handlers who can shoot, and the Trojans have a strong inside presence anchored by Brynne Brouse, Nadine Ewald and Brooke Robertson. They have a very formidable opponent in Central Bucks East, a team known this year for a stifling defense (allowing just 33 ppg) and an offense led by a double-double threat, Courtney Webster.

CENTRAL CATHOLIC (boys and girls)
The Vikettes battled state championship contender Bethlehem Catholic, but lost for a third time to the Hawks in the District XI Final. However, I was very impressed by the efforts of Olivia Roseman, Ashley Bross, Alyssa Mack and Emma Redding in their last two meetings with the Hawks, and they all made big plays again keeping the district title game close. They draw a tough opening round opponent in Abington Heights, a squad RCN SportsTalk guest Dave Troxell labeled a tremendous team on last week’s show. However, they have played—and defeated—a number of teams still alive in the state playoffs. They have solid balance and show great ball handling ability, and I see no reason why they can’t advance at least a couple rounds in states.

The boys team continues to dominate. Everyone knew they were going to be a great team this year, but to have the focus, night-in and night-out and be as solid a team throughout an entire season (they still haven’t lost a game all year) is truly a remarkable accomplishment. In addition to being outstanding athletes, the tandem of Muhammed-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Jean Lee Baez has guided a steady ship with no noticeable blemishes, on or off the court, this season. We debated on SportsTalk last month (the show is available on RCN On-Demand) about their state title chances, and I’ll stick with my prediction that, at worst, they reach the state quarterfinals.

EMMAUS (Boys)
I finally got a chance to see Emmaus in person last week, and I was tremendously impressed with their win over Liberty. I knew Nate Feirertag was a great all-around player who plays with as much heart as anyone in our coverage area. Fellow senior forward Joe Nicolini stepped up big time with 19 points (17 in the 2nd half) for the Hornets to advance to the district championship.

This team has lots of talent on the way up and should be vying for state playoff spots for the next several seasons. I know Emmaus fans were disappointed by their loss to Parkland in the district final, and face a tough matchup in District I power Abington, a team loaded with size, speed and several players looking to play at the quality college programs. But Emmaus has bounced back from a tough loss on more than one occasion this year and I would expect a hard fought game this weekend.

NORTHAMPTON (Girls)
The K-Kids shook off a tough loss to Parkland in the semifinals to beat a quality Pleasant Valley team and earn a state playoff bid.

Leandra Sterner is quietly having one of the top all-around performances of the entire high school sports year. Coming off an historic performance on the soccer field this fall, she currently leads the team in points per game, assists and steals. Ali Reppert has a smooth-looking jump shot and Aja Blount might become the best center in the area in the very near future. I think they have a favorable matchup facing Wallenpaupack this weekend and see no reason why the Kids can’t advance into the next round.

NOTRE DAME (Boys)
If you like “shoot-out” games, you would have loved the performances of Tannor Reed, Vicent Eze and the Notre Dame boys team in their District XI 2A Boys Championship.

I think the Crusaders will be the first to admit that their defense needs to play better to defeat Delaware Valley Charter this weekend, but their game might be the most entertaining of all the contests on RCN Saturday night. The Crusaders play extremely well as a team, have a balanced attack and come in with plenty of momentum (they’ve won 13 consecutive games). Tuning in just to see Reed shoot should be worth your time and Eze has improved all facets of his game (he’s averaging 14 points, 17 rebounds and 5 blocks per game), including his ability to score when given the ball outside the paint.

BETHLEHEM CATHOLIC (Girls)
The reigning LVC and District XI 3A Champs will be our guests on RCN SportsTalk this Thursday (live at 6pm), so you can tune in for in-depth conversations with their coaches and players. We’ll also showcase some of their awesome highlights so far this season, and get their expectations on the state playoffs. You can also email us comments and questions to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and we’ll read and respond to your opinions live on the air!

Be sure to check back for more highlights and notes on the teams playing in this year’s state playoffs. Also, feel free to email us or post your feelings about the schools competing for titles this winter.

 

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: ANTI-Poll Small Schools Regular Season Wrap

 

ANTI-Poll Small Schools Regular Season Wrap

Last week, we broke down the playoff possibilities and reviewed the regular season performances for the larger schools in the Lehigh Valley. This week, we’ll examine the Class A, 2A and 3A teams in the RCN coverage area.

PIUS X – The Royals have once again battled a very challenging independent schedule and find themselves in the fourth and final playoff spot in the Class A District standings. They enter their regular season finale against Colombia-Montour on Saturday. They have gotten great efforts by sophomore quarterback Tre Jordan and senior back Dashon Russell. Jordan is completing nearly 60 percent of his passes and has thrown for over 1,200 yards; while Russell eclipsed the 1,000 yard rushing mark in Pius’ game against Carson Long. Their chief competitors, Williams Valley, Tri-Valley and Schuylkill Haven all have some very strong skilled-position players themselves. The Class A playoffs just might be the most competitive race of any within District XI this fall.

PEN ARGYL – For the second consecutive year, some people started counting out the Green Knights after they picked up their second loss early in the season. That was before they had to battle Catasauqua and Northwestern in consecutive weeks. Pen Argyl also had significant injuries during the first four weeks of the season which resulted in some underclassmen gaining valuable ‘under-fire’ experience. As of today’s standings (not including their traditional rivalry game with Bangor this weekend), Pen Argyl would play Pine Grove in the first round of the playoffs, and then the winner between Catasauqua/Palisades for the title. Here’s the issue: I think Pen Argyl has a great shot at advancing to the championship game, but must beware of a rejuvenated Slater ball club this Friday. Bangor is playing much better than they did in the first half of the season and just missed upsetting the Tigers last weekend. It’s one of the most passionate rivalry games in Eastern Pennsylvania and Pen Argyl still needs to get a win to clinch a playoff spot. That being said, they can’t leave Bangor with any big injuries if they want to extend their season beyond next weekend.

BETHLEHEM CATHOLIC – The Hawks had a major struggle beating Freedom last weekend. The win meant a “Christmas City Championship” and guaranteed spot in the district playoffs. I think this Becahi team has the talent to go deep in the state playoffs – IF they play the way they did in the first half of the season and the way I saw them battle in the first half of their game against Whitehall. The team has already rejuvenated the Hawks fan base with its five wins so far. They have an opportunity to really deliver a message to all detractors if they can remain focused on the team-concept for the next month.

SOUTHERN LEHIGH – The Spartans continued to steamroll their opponents in the Colonial League by defeating a very strong Palisades team last Friday night. Their offensive line, which was a question mark at the beginning of the season, played about as well as any line in the league. It has proved to be protection for Travis Edmond, Jacob Del Priore and company to have excellent seasons. Southern Lehigh has been knocking on the door of a championship for some time. Any letdown by the Golden Hawks should pave the way for the Spartans to capture a long-awaited title.

CATASAUQUA – We have spent a ton of time and blog space this year discussing the Rough Riders, and rightly so. They have easily disposed of every team on their schedule this fall and are coming off another shutout, 40-0, over Northern Lehigh last Friday. Every week we get emails on RCN Sports Talk asking us to analyze this team and give our opinions of whether this team is good enough to win a state title. We received another one last week and we’ll address it on our October 31 RCN Sports Talk show at 6:00 PM. In the meantime, I want to give a shout-out to the Catty offensive linemen for their outstanding efforts so far this season. With exceptionally skilled guys like Burton, Bradley, Marshall, Stopay and others seeing their names in the spotlight (both for their offense and defense), the guys up front have been buying time for their teammates to do what they do best. They are a huge reason why this team will likely come home with at least one, if not more, championships this fall.

Which teams do you feel will bring home district gold medals in two weeks? Which players from our “small schools” in the RCN region deserve some extra mentions? Email your comments to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and we’ll respond to your insights on RCN Sports Talk every Thursday at 6:00 PM. During the district playoff season we’ll have special guests break down each of the playoff match-ups.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: LVC Expansion Proposal

 

LVC EXPANSION PROPOSAL

Last Wednesday, the presidents of the Lehigh Valley Conference  and Mountain Valley Conference  officially announced a merger of the two leagues for the 2014-2015 school year. We first mentioned the possibility of this event in January on our RCN Sports Talk show. We’ve also had different representatives from various parts of our viewing area discuss the “rumors” on our program over the last several months. I think the league presidents and school principals should be commended for coordinating a brief conference call to inform the local media and local sports fans of this major decision for the high school sports program in the District XI region.

Once the news of the merger became official, there was very little additional information presented. New league alignments, scheduling and other relevant issues were not discussed during the teleconference. The league officials instead stated that meetings will soon ensue to hash out all of the details. Without any indication of which direction this new league is headed, I would like to share my proposal on how the new conference could shake out.

THE ALIGNMENT
I can see three divisions based on geography, which would help in the area of travel expenses — an area in which some school districts have expressed concern. The divisions would be:
• Lehigh – Allen, Central Catholic, Dieruff, Emmaus, Parkland, and Whitehall
• Northampton – Easton, Freedom, Liberty, Bethlehem Catholic, Nazareth, and Northampton
• Monroe – Pocono Mountain East, Pocono Mountain West, East Stroudsburg North, East Stroudsburg South, Pleasant Valley, and Stroudsburg

THE SCHEDULES
For the sports that feature schedules with maximums of 20 or 22 games (e.g., basketball, baseball, softball), I would offer the following scheduling points:
• Teams will play the other teams in their division twice (home/home series)
• Teams will play three teams from the other two divisions once a year for a two-year cycle (home/home)
• Teams will play the “other” three teams in the following two-year cycle
• Teams will have four to six non-league games to play in tournaments and/or face teams from outside the area

For example, Allen Basketball would play Central Catholic, Dieruff, Emmaus, Parkland and Whitehall twice a year, and could play Pleasant Valley, Pocono Mountain East, Pocono Mountain West, Easton, Freedom and Nazareth once a season for two years (alternating home court during those two seasons). After the first two years, the Canaries could play the other six teams during the second two-year cycle. For football, you could do the following:

• Teams will play the other teams in their division once (alternating home field advantage each year)
• Teams will play two teams from the other two divisions once a year for a two-year cycle (home-and-home series)
• Teams will play four other teams (two from each division) in the following two-year cycle and the remaining four teams in the “fifth” and “sixth” year
• Teams would still have the benefit of one ‘non-conference’ game, in which they could schedule a team that don’t play that year, or can play a team outside the region (something I know head coaches like to have available)

For example, Pocono Mountain East could play their division rivals each season, and Liberty, Freedom, Allen and Dieruff for the first two seasons. For years three and four, they could play Central Catholic, Emmaus, Easton and Nazareth. For the next two years, they could play Parkland, Whitehall, Bethlehem Catholic and Northampton.

I think for some of the other sports, like wrestling, they could employ an idea of some of the other “super-conferences” and also incorporate the complex, but extremely effective, system used for districts. The “top-tier” wrestling programs compete against each other in one division, the “mid-level” wrestling programs compete in the second division, and the “rebuilding” programs compete in the third division. There are a number of wrestling tournaments that teams could incorporate into the “non-conference” portion of the schedule. I think the current committee has done an excellent job restructuring the District XI tournament in recent years. They could put a balanced alignment together that could be re-examined every two years, if necessary.

Please note: I am not a school administrator, and I’m sure each district would have individual issues that no doubt could arise and cause conflicts. I think our local athletic directors do an amazing and, most often underrated, job. This process will not be a simple endeavor. Nevertheless, I could see this as a starting point from which to work through other issues.

What are your thoughts on my proposal for the new league? What do you think the new conference should be named? Send your opinions and suggestions to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com. Tune in to this Thursday’s RCN Sports Talk at 6:00 PM as we discuss this issue and take a look at all of the fall high school sports news this season.

 

Behind the Mic: You Are Cordially Invited…

 

You Are Cordially Invited..

It was announced this past Friday that the Lehigh Valley Conference invited the Mountain Valley Conference (except for Lehighton) to join them in the creation of an 18-team super conference, tentatively maintaining the LVC name. And to do it by next season!

With Lehighton moving to the Anthracite League in football and the Schuylkill League in most other sports, the MVC was looking at the scheduling nightmare that goes along with just a 6-team league. Ironically, just a few months ago, the MVC invited the LVC to merge with them, but the request was not made to Central Catholic or Bethlehem Catholic. By omitting those two schools in the initial invitation, it gave the LVC the opportunity to “remind” both schools (particularly Beca) that there could be consequences to very overt recruiting. The message was delivered and the invitation was not accepted.

So now, the MVC has been “cordially invited” to join the LVC, bringing all the schools together. In terms of football and basketball, there are certainly plusses and minuses.

On the “plus” side, the super conference will now include all the AAAA schools in District XI. The merger would bring Allen and Dieruff back into the Lehigh Valley football picture and I certainly like that. By merging, all teams would battle for their spots in the District and State playoffs. This eliminates the complaint that some MVC teams got better seeding or easier qualifying because they played a much weaker schedule. Certainly, with 18 teams, the scheduling still may slightly favor one team over another, but that happens now. Also, the MVC will have no trouble filling their schedule.

On the “minus” side, an 18 team conference can certainly look a bit unwieldy when it does come to scheduling. In football, do you create two 9-team divisions and play for a championship? That sounds like a reasonable idea. In basketball, 3 divisions seem to be the best approach, but, if you play your division foes twice and the other teams once, you have the allotted 22 games filled. From there, a championship tournament could certainly be created. Even the “minuses” do not seem so bad.

Although I argued a few months ago, that the LVC was just fine the way it was and did not need to accept the MVC invitation, I do believe the “return to sender” invitation makes sense. I am quite certain the RSVP from the MVC will include acceptance. The nightmare will be for the AD’s to figure out the scheduling for all the other sports. And for a Sports Director at RCN to choose which League games to schedule for our viewers!!

 

Behind the Mic: Why not baseball?

This past Saturday night, second-base umpire Mike Estabrook called pinch runner Kyle Kendrick of the Phillies out at second base on a pick-off play in the ninth inning. Replay showed that the Milwaukee Brewer shortstop tagged Kendrick without the ball. No one saw the ball come free and roll into the bare hand of the shortstop. The Phils were down 4-3 at the time and the next Phillies batter doubled, but was left stranded. Right call = tie game; wrong call = lost game.

Baseball only uses replay for home run calls and, within the last two weeks, the umpires even got a home run call wrong. In the American league championship series last year, a Detroit player was called safe at second and TV replay showed the runner was out and the inning would have ended. Detroit scored two runs in the inning and won 3-0. There is a remedy to these bad calls. The NFL, NBA, NHL, major tennis tournaments, and some NCAA sports all use a form of instant replay. Why not baseball?

A subcommittee made up of Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa, and Atlanta Braves president John Schuerholtz will make recommendations for 2014. At first, consideration was to use replay only for a trap play and fair/foul. Now, all plays are being considered.

Baseball Instant Replay Concerns

  1. Do you allow a challenge system by the managers, much like NFL football?
  2. Do you use a replay official in the booth?
  3. Do you use replay for all situations?
  4. How much will replay disrupt the game?
  5. Will it add even more time to a game which most people think takes too long now?

All these questions will be answered soon. Eliminate the arguments, take some of the pressure off the umpires, and get the call right. After all, isn’t that the most important element?

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. Speaking of baseball, as of May 15, there were 21 weather-related postponements, the same total as all of last year.
  2. Did you know that no other state has hosted more USGA championships than Pennsylvania? The number is 80 entering 2013. Merion golf Club, the venue for the US Open in 2 weeks and Oakmont Country Club in Pittsburgh are the top two. They are the only two to host more USGA events than our own Saucon Valley Country Club which has hosted six. Saucon Valley will host their seventh in 2014 when 264 players converge at the club’s Old Course and the Weyhill course from September 5-11 for the Mid-Amateur Championship. 4,000 golfers attempt to qualify for this event. These are “true amateurs” who are over 25, with handicaps at 3.4 or less and have real jobs like the rest of us. The winner has an exemption for the Masters.
  3. The NHL hockey playoffs are experiencing some good ratings for NBC and, particularly, for the NBC Sports Network. The May 29 Western Conference Semifinal Game 7 between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings posted a 2.07 rating and averaged 3.354 million viewers, making it the highest-rated NHL game ever on NBC Sports Network, and the most-watched Semifinal game ever on cable.
  4. Congratulations to Parkland, Tamaqua, Salisbury, and Tri-Valley for winning District XI baseball championships this past week. On to states for them and for us. We have the PIAA state championships LIVE on PCN, Friday, June 14, beginning at 10:30 AM.
  5. I am hosting Sportstalk this Thursday (June 6) and the panel will be discussing the best 5 high school football players at various positions. Dick Tracy, Dennis Laub, Jack Logic and Joe Craig will offer their lists. I am putting my list together. There have been some great ones over the years Join us with your opinions. I am sure there will be many.

The SportsTalk Shop: Local Leaders Keeping Kids First

I have long admired the local athletic directors in the Eastern Pennsylvania region. From Dick Tracy (who was also my English and Journalism teacher while he was Athletic Director—(which is a story for another blog entry), to Mike Schneider to Bob Shriver, and several other former athletic directors that I’ve always admired, I have always felt (and would frequently hear them say) that they would always want to keep the student-athletes’ best interests in the forefront of any major decision that they would make. Even now that those gentlemen have retired and I have the good fortune of being able to talk with them, they continue to preach that mantra as the directive of all administrators. I also feel that the people who have succeeded them have very much continued with that message in mind.

That point was hammered home once again this week—with some help from other community leaders — as the District XI re-established the pact with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs to have their playoff championship games be played at a first-class facility, Coca-Cola Park. Here are some of the highlights from this week’s press conference (in order): Dylan Dando—LVBA Director of Baseball Operations, Scott Cooperman—District XI Baseball Chair, Kurt Landes, IronPigs General Manager and Terry Schadler from ECTB.

I think it’s so wonderful for the local athletes to continue to play in a Triple-A professional baseball venue. It’s a tribute to the local leaders to get together and work out a deal to continue this tradition. I’ve covered the PIAA Baseball and softball playoffs for several years. While the games are played at very nice facilities at present, there have been some places (sorry Shippensburg) that have not been worthy of playing the ultimate spring season championship game. You could argue the teams in District XI—thanks to this deal—may play in one of the finest facilities in the country for a high school contest. To play in a pro baseball site creates a memory that will last a lifetime, and in an age where many big business men and women are always looking for the best deal financially for themselves, it was refreshing to see these organizational leaders work out a pact that will see future athletes enjoy this rare and incredibly special experience.

Surely, there’s no drawbacks to this move. Other advantages include having a professional grounds keeping crew on hand to battle inclement weather, and the stadium lights allow games to be played later, which allows parents a rare chance to see their kids play without having to sacrifice their work schedule. What do you think of the news, and would there be any local sites that you think would do a better job hosting the playoffs? Feel free to post your comments below. This will be just one of the issues we’ll be discussing on this week’s “RCN SportsTalk” show featuring current ADs, in which we’ll show more video from the press conference.

Speaking of the former athletic directors in this region, they’ll be part of some very special “SportsTalk” shows coming up in May. Here are upcoming show lists for our program, which airs live on RCN-TV on Thursdays at 6pm:

April 25th: College Football Spring Recaps

May 2nd: Local Sports Issues w/Former Athletic Directors Bob Shriver, Dick Tracy, Les Kish

May 9th: “Radio Announcing Legends” featuring Al Raber, Dick Hammer, Tim Cain

May 16th: TBD

May 23rd: Former Major League Catcher Brian Schneider, plus Mike Schneider & Don Harakal

Giving Real Prognosticators Their Due – The SportsTalk Shop – March 22nd

With the madness getting underway and all the variations people have in taking their best guesses at bracketology, I think it’s appropriate and to give some real prognosticators credit where credit is due!

In March, there’s countless hours of sports programming and planning and studying and educated guessing for the NCAA tournament. People love to pick teams in the “Field of 68” and there’s all sorts of ways you can play your picks (none of them for any financial rewards, of course), but there’s all sorts of ways that the “experts” can accurately tell us how we should play the NCAA basketball tournament.

Yet each year, my non-sports family and friends around me come up with new ways of “strategically” putting forth their college basketball playoff picks. Among them, is choosing teams with uniform or logo colors they like, picking animal-related mascots to beat non-animal mascots (or, if two animals, picking the cuter animal), or even picking teams because the team name reminds them of their favorite cartoon characters. I’ve heard just about every possible way you could pick teams in the NCAA tourney, and every time I hear one more ridiculous than years past … that person usually come closer than many experts in ending up with the correct teams.

I recently had an example a bit closer to home on our own “RCN SportsTalk” show. Our weekly poll question a few shows ago dealt with picking the District XI 4A Girls & Boys champions. Pocono Mountain-West Girls were the #1 ranked team, yet the unanimous selection was Nazareth. This wasn’t a surprise since the Eagles have a loyal fan base and, even though they didn’t have as good a record as the Panthers, Nazareth played some very strong teams this year.

The other part of the poll was on the men’s side, where our audience (with three exceptions), unanimously picked Parkland to beat Freedom. While Parkland was a very strong team, on paper the match-up seemed to favor the Patriots. Joe Stellato, who has done a tremendous job as Freedom’s head coach, has become a Lehigh Valley sports fan’s favorite and I couldn’t find a person who didn’t WANT him to win a title. In the previous three matches, Parkland had one two, but by small margins, and it appeared that Freedom had some things working against them in the two losses and were at full strength for the district title game. Most of our guest panelists on our district preview show — all very knowledgeable basketball minds — had picked Freedom as well. It seems on paper, that the Patriots were the team to get the nod…and yet our audience disagreed.

But there’s more! I always have said that we have a very intelligent audience, but the “SportsTalk” viewers outdid themselves not just with the Parkland pick—but with the
score as well! When I looked back at some of our pollsters’ predictions, I saw the following insights:

  • Andy W.’s (from Nazareth) prediction 55-45
  • Shannon Z.’s (from Catty) prediction 60-50
  • Aaron’s (no town given) prediction 64-50.
  • The final score? Parkland 65, Freedom 50.

And the game didn’t seem close at all as Parkland jumped out to a big second quarter lead, and never looked back. I, and a number of us on the on-air staff, were shocked at how easily the Trojans appeared to win…but our audience never had a doubt, and I salute the great response we received and tip my cap that so many of you nailed both predictions.

We ask for the audience’s thoughts, questions, comments and poll predictions each week on our “RCN SportsTalk” show and would welcome you to participate at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com. We also invite you to tune in every Thursday, live at 6pm on RCN-TV, to talk sports & participate in those poll questions on our program.

One additional note regarding “William’s” comments replying to my most recent post—we will be providing HS baseball coverage on our “SportsTalk” show (the snow and school’s closings the past few days precluded us from going out to two local schools this past week) through interviews of local coaches and players. RCN-TV will also be providing coverage of baseball playoff games. Thanks for your comment and I will pass along your request for more full-game baseball coverage to the appropriate persons