Friday, February 15, 2019

 

Jumpin' Johnny Wilson




Occasionally, I am lucky enough to have a wonderful story placed right in front of me to share with you. Such is the case this week.


A good friend of ours, here at Majestic Palms, comes from a town in Indiana. His name is Mike Richey, and the town is Anderson. He spent his high school years there, and got to meet two of the town's fine citizens: Carl Erskine and “Jumping” Johnny Wilson. I wrote previously about Erskine, a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.


Richey is a Vietnam veteran, and he shared with me the honours he received while in the forces: The Combat Infantry Badge, the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, an Army Commendation, A good conduct Badge, Vietnam Campaign Ribbons, The Cross of Gallantry, and the National Defence Medal. I had to prod that information out of him because he is a remarkably modest person.


Erskine, Wilson, and a third pal, Jack Rector, often went to the movies in Anderson. They sat in the balcony. This was in the 1940s, a time when African Americans had to sit in the balcony in the theatres. But they were pals, and they stuck together.


In 1946, Wilson captained his high school basketball team to the state championship, scoring 30 of the team's 65 points. He was named Indiana's “Mr. Basketball”, and earned the nickname because he was the only player on the team who could dunk the ball. He wanted to attend Indiana University, but was denied because of the “Big Ten's” unspoken policy of not recruiting African Americans. He attended Anderson University, and was named as an All-American twice.

He went on to play with the Chicago American Giants in the “Negro League”, and played for the Harlem Globetrotters from 1949 to 1954. One of his tricks was to drop kick the basketball from centre court to the basket. He was successful 70 times out of 300 tries. He received a bonus of $ 100 for every successful kick! Not too shabby, in those days!


He eventually completed his degree in education at Anderson. He coached for 8 years at Wood High School in Indianapolis, followed by 16 years as head coach and athletic director at Malcolm X College. He coached in Anderson as well, and, he recruited students from Anderson who would not have gone to college without his assistance. At the time of his death, two weeks ago, he was the assistant basketball coach at Lock Haven University. He was 91 years old.


Jumpin'” Johnny Wilson is a member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, and the Anderson University Athletic Hall of Fame. He was also named as one of Indiana's 50 best basketball players. And yes, a chap named Larry Bird, from French Lick, Indiana, would also be on that list.


Thanks, Mike.





Tuesday, February 12, 2019

 

We Wuz Robbed!!



I cannot remember the first time that expression was used to describe an unfavourable decision made by an umpire, a referee, or any other adjudicating official.


It certainly applies to the way that New Orleans Saints felt after their team lost the Conference Championship against the Los Angeles Rams. As you will recall, there was a blatant case of pass interference in the end zone on a Saints' receiver. No call was made. The call could have been made by at least two officials: the side judge, Gary Cavaletto, or the back judge, Todd Prukop. No flags flew on that play.


A columnist for USA Today, Mike Jones, reported after the game that Saints' coach Sean Payton received an apology from the league. One can just imagine how that would have been received. That play most certainly determined the outcome of the game. The Rams are playing in the SuperBowl this weekend. The Saints will be watching from the sidelines.


Jones suggested that a replay would have helped in that situation. League rules currently do not allow replays on pass interference calls. League officials have not allowed such a ruling because it might lengthen the game too much. I am sure they will rethink this during the off-season. The Canadian Football League does allow replays on pass interference calls. Without question, the injustice that took place against New Orleans would have been corrected in the CFL.


I know that many of you have officiated at some time in your lives. There are many situations where an interpretation must be made; however, with the advent of spectacular television coverage, most incorrect calls can be rectified.


Consider the situations at first base in baseball. Was the batter safe or out? Was the fielder's foot on the bag? Was the ball in his glove? Did he have control of the ball? Did the runner touch the base before the ball touched the fielder's glove? Before we had replays, the unwritten rule was that “a tie went in favour of the runner”! Such is not the case nowadays, as that fine line rarely exists. Most of the time, the umpires are correct.

There is nothing that drives us fans more crazy than incorrect calls on balls and strikes. Television has designed “Strike Zones” to help the viewer decide on calls. And then an umpire makes a blatant error when he calls a pitch a ball, after it was thrown down the middle of the plate. There is no restitution in that case. No replays on balls and strikes. Pitchers complain, catchers howl, managers rush from the dugout to protest. To no avail.


The National Hockey League was wise to implement a two referee system for its games. It is by no means perfect. It does cut down on the nasty business “behind the play”. Too often, referees only caught retaliatory measures taken by players. And the like of Bobby Clarke, Ken Linseman and other pests skated away, smiling. The league no longer has to rely on goal judges. All of that is now handled by replay.


I did referee basketball games years ago. Not today, thanks. Despite all of their best efforts to clarify rules of players driving to the basket, about half the time the calls are correct. Was in charging? Was the defender stationary? Was the ball touched, and not the hand? Was there body contact? Truly difficult decisions, even hard to determine with the replays.


There is no choice. The game is in the hands of the officials. And yes, the replay officials as well.


James Hurst
January, 2019.

 

Blue and White in Florida




The Florida Panthers limped into the past weekend. They had lost seven consecutive games, with little hope for improvement. To make matters worse, they faced the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday night, then had to travel to Nashville for a game on Saturday night.


Not only did they win both of those games, they also welcomed back Vincent Trocheck from the injured list. He had been out several weeks with a broken ankle. The Panthers have a wonderful group of very talented athletes. Such a group always needs a straw to stir the drink, especially young athletes. Trocheck leads this group on and off the ice.


The Leafs were impressive on Thursday night as they bested the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2, with an empty net goal. As is usually the case, the last few minutes were frantic for the Leafs, as Stamkos and Kucherov fired bullets at Freddie Andersen. Mitch Marner, with his 19th goal of the season, had given the Leafs the lead with less than five minutes remaining.


On Friday night, the Leafs broke out quickly and Hainsey scored less than two minutes into the first period. The Panthers replied on goals from Hoffman, his 23rd, and Matheson. That lead carried into the third period. Trocheck picked up an assist on Matheson's goal.


We surmised that the Leafs would come out flying against the Panthers in the second and third periods. You can just imagine what coach Mike Babcock might have shared with them during the intermissions. Apparently, on deaf ears.


We shared a spot at the game with my good friend Bob Page. An avowed Michigan supporter, Page spent years chatting with athletes, as a television commentator, in Detroit, and in New York City, primarily at Madison Square Garden. When a photo of Ric “Nature Boy” Flair was shown on the big screen as he watched the game, Page confessed to me that he did not recognize the wrestler. That shocked me slightly, as the recognition was instantaneous with me. I had seen Flair in action countless times, parading around the ring, howling to the heavens. ( I was forced to watch it because my boys outvoted me on programming choices.)


After the game, gimping along to the exit, I heard a voice behind me. “Let me go in front of you. I will clear a path so you can get through.” I turned to find Mr. Flair and his family. He was most gracious, and agreed to be photographed by fans in the area. He took a moment to say hello to Joe Bowen, the Leafs radio announcer.


On Sunday night, the Leafs faced the Coyotes in Toronto. There are two local boys on the Coyotes roster, Nick Cousins and Brad Richardson. Richardson is currently sidelined, but has had a fine season up to this point. He is second in the league for short-handed goals. Cousins began his NHL career with the Philadelphia Flyers. His dad Brian played his junior hockey with the Bobcats in Belleville. His grandfather, Earl, was also an outstanding athlete in the city. The Coyotes left town with a 4-2 victory. The Leafs face the Washington Capitals before the All Star break.


The New England Patriots will play the Los Angeles Rams in the LIII SuperBowl. A series of very questionable calls aided their overtime victories on Sunday. Canadian Adam Hadwin had to settle for second place in the PGA event last weekend. He faltered slightly down the stretch, but did pick up more than half a million American bucks for his efforts.


Another fine week in the world of sport.

James Hurst
January 21, 2019.

Monday, January 21, 2019

 

Swamp Rabbits Come to Town!



The Swamp Rabbits hail from Greenville, North Carolina. It is just far enough to be one of those proverbial “extended bus trips in the minors” that one must endure to move up the ladder to the Big Leagues. It is almost 700 miles, about a 12 hour trip on the main interstate routes.


League officials in the ECHL have determined, to curb expenses, that when the Rabbits come all the way to Fort Myers, they will play more than one game. In early December, they had a two game series. Last weekend, they stayed for three games. That gave the team an opportunity to catch a few rays, play a little beach volleyball, tour historic sites. They played three games in four nights, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Considering the nature of the game, that can lead to nasty play, especially in the final game. The players are not children; most are the best players from the Canadian Hockey League or from American Colleges. Some have been sent down for several reasons from their American Hockey League affiliate. Many of them have had a cup of coffee in the NHL.


One of the Swamp Rabbits plying his trade is Austen Brassard. Many of you will recall Brassard's work with the Belleville Bulls. He spent three and a half seasons in “The Friendly City”. (Does that moniker still apply?) He has spent time in the American Hockey League, and has been a professional hockey player for six years. In a recent conversation, he told me that he appreciates the opportunity to play. “Last summer I did construction work with my father. That made me grateful for the chance to play the kid's game for a pay cheque.”


The Greenville squad lost the opened last Wednesday night, 7-3. Brassard chipped in a goal and an assist in the game. On Friday night, the Swamp Rabbits were skunked 5-0. On Saturday night, The Everblades showed no mercy, dumping the Rabbits 10-4. Brassard added a goal and two assists in the losing effort. He stands third in scoring on the team. He commands a presence in front of the opposition net, a la Phil Esposito. It was the last time that the Rabbits have had the pleasure of playing the Blades this year. Pleasure? Wrong choice of words. They have lost every game.


The Everblades are now playing in a re-named arena. The Hertz corporation, with headquarters in this arena, took over the naming rights this year. They also purchased enough paint to splash a lot of yellow on the exterior. Traveling south on Route # 75 at Estero, you won't miss it.
The Blades are enjoying a remarkable season under third year coach Brad Ralph. Last week he was named as the head coach for the Eastern Conference All Stars. His record with the team in that time is an impressive 125-41-16. What makes that even more remarkable is the constant transition of the team, with players moving up and down, moving from team to team in the off-season as well. Most of the time, there is only a handful of players suiting up from the previous year.


Logan Roe is playing his fourth season for the Everblades. Worth note is that he was born in Cape Coral, just across the Caloosahatchee River from Fort Myers. He attended Canisius College before turning pro. There is an extensive developmental program in this area for young players, working their way through the ranks of the great game of hockey!


This coming Sunday, the semi-final games will take place in the NFL: the Rams at New Orleans, and New England at Kansas City.


James Hurst
January 14, 2019

Monday, January 14, 2019

 

The Football Scene in America



The American College football season wrapped up last Monday night. In the final game, the Clemson Tigers surprised the Alabama Crimson Tide in convincing fashion, winning 44-16. It was expected to be a close affair. Both teams went into the game with 13-0 records. Alabama was the favourite by a southern country mile.


The Tigers had freshman Trevor Lawrence at the helm, a gangly six foot six inch kid, not yet twenty years old. Alabama's quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa, had led the Tide to the championship last year, and was expected to do the same this year.


Teams traded touchdowns in the first half, with Clemson scoring first on an interception which A. J. Terrell ran into the Tide's end zone. Alabama led 16-14. At that point, Lawrence went to work, putting his team up 31-16 at the conclusion of the first half.


Alabama attempted a fake field goal on a fourth down play early in the second half. Clemson sniffed it out, as did the announcers, prior to the play. The Tigers went on to add additional points to their total, shutting out the Crimson Tide with a stingy defense. The Tigers protected Lawrence well throughout the game, not allowing a sack, giving him plenty of time to find his receivers.


Meanwhile, at the professional level, the Philadelphia Eagles squeaked by the vaunted Chicago Bears 16-15 to move on to face the New Orleans Saints this coming Sunday. With less than a minute remaining in the game, Eagles' quarterback Nick Foles hit Golden Tate for a touchdown on a fourth down play. The Bears moved down the field after receiving the ensuing kickoff, preparing for a game-winning field goal. Place kicker Cody Parkey, a former Eagle, lined up to pooch the ball through the uprights. The ball hit the left pole, fell to the crossbar, then to the ground. That ended the Bears' hopes for continued play.



Also next Sunday, the Los Angeles Chargers will play in New England after getting by the Baltimore Ravens 23-17. At one point in the fourth quarter, the Ravens trailed 23-3. Lamar Jackson, the Ravens quarterback, then hit for two touchdowns to narrow the lead. The Chargers relied on kicker Michael Badgely for most of their points, as he put five field goals between the posts.


Next Saturday night, the Dallas Cowboys will face the Rams in California. The Cowboys' quarterback Zak Prescott won his first playoff game, besting Russell Wilson and the Seahawks 24-22.


The Indianapolis Colts defeated the Texans in Houston to earn the right to play the Kansas City Chiefs in the afternoon next Saturday, final score 21-7. The Chiefs are led by rookie Patrick Mahomes, who just might lead the Chiefs to the Super Bowl with a couple of victories.

To conclude, that wraps up the college season, and leaves us with a few weeks of professional football. The networks are poking a little fun at the other three major sports: “One and done”, they say. “Win, and play again”. “Lose, and go home”.


It is what it is. Baseball, hockey and basketball have devised playoff schemes that require several games to determine a winner. Football owners would like to have it that way, filling their stadia for many more weeks. Not happening. For many reasons. None of the owners has declared bankruptcy, rest assured.


January 8, 2019
James Hurst



Thursday, January 03, 2019

 

The Hockey Hall of Fame



The book is simply entitled “The Hall”. It is a compendium of just about everything you would ever want to know about hockey's shrine. I have lost track, but I think it is about the twentieth book that Kevin Shea has released. Lanny McDonald, the guy with the mustache, has been inducted into the Hall of Fame, and now serves as its Chairman of the Board. He prepared one of the two Forewords to the book. The other was penned by Jeff Denomme, the President and CEO of The Hall.


The book belongs on the coffee tables of serious hockey fans. It contains chapters like the “Birth of the Hall”, its “Growing Pains”, and several others introducing the reader to the history of the game, and its players.


Understandably, this is not the only hall of fame. You will find similar institutions in Springfield, Massachusetts, (Basketball), Canton, Ohio, (NFL Football), Hamilton, Ontario, (CFL Football), and Cooperstown, New York, (Baseball). As a keen student in the history of all of the major sports, I have visited all of those locations. Many of you have been to the hockey hall of fame, and perhaps to Cooperstown as well. I am sure you realized that special feeling one gets from the visit.


There will always be great debate about the birthplace of the game. Kingston, Ontario, Montreal, Quebec, and Halifax, Nova Scotia, all lay claim to the place where the game was first played. The idea that the hall of fame should have been located at the original site makes good sense. It likely stems from the Cooperstown connection to baseball. Of course we now know that baseball's roots are in Beachburg, Ontario!


Kingston's noted author and hockey historian Bill Fitsell has chronicled the dismay felt by Captain James T. Sutherland who wanted the Hall located in the Limestone City. Alas, to no avail. There is a building located near the Memorial Arena in Kingston that once served as a hockey hall of fame. It contained many important artifacts of the game. Many of the readers of this column toured that site. But its location lacked the necessary wheels for major funding for the Hall, and it died a slow and painful demise.


The Hockey Hall of Fame was originally located on the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. My next door neighbour for many years, Mike “Dime” Walsh, visited the site almost daily as it was under construction. He chauffeured around Conn Smythe, the chief proponent of the Toronto location. He also picked up many other celebrities at the airport as part of the job: Elvis, the Beatles, the Stones, to name just a few. But that is another story!


The downtown location is perfect for out-of-town fans attending a Leafs game. A stone's throw from the arena, it is most impressive as an historic site, as well as a display for the memorabilia. The Hall also has a Resource Centre in the Lakeshore West area of Toronto, housing artifacts and important documents.


Photographs of all inductees are in the book, as well as wonderful pictures from the Hall. Naturally, the Stanley Cup, in its various stages of development, is prominent in the book.


At the old Hall at the CNE, I noticed one object that was prominently displayed. It was an NHL puck, and it came from a game that Bob Kilger officiated. It was in pretty rough shape. At the end of the first two periods, when play ended, Kilger stuffed the puck in his pocket. At the end of the game, the scorekeeper collected the puck and sent it to the Hall. It was the only puck used in the game!!


My copy of the book will be in the Wellington Public Library very soon. You can get yours at most book stores.


Happy New Year!!!!


James Hurst
January, 2019

Monday, December 24, 2018

 

Football Bowls-Big Business



Many of you will be tuning in to an American phenomenon during the next few weeks. In the early 1950s, my parents transported the family to California, at Christmas time, to spend a few weeks of sunshine. An interesting trip, as we traveled by train. It was the first year of Disneyland, which we enjoyed, as well as the Rose Bowl parade. My dad scalped a couple of tickets for himself and my older brother to attend the Rose Bowl game. The teams in that game were the UCLA Bruins and the Michigan State Spartans


At that point in time, there were very few bowl games. It has snowballed since then. There are now more than forty bowl games. I will not bore you with all of their names. Some are much more important than others. The most important championship game is supposed to be played between the two best teams in the nation. For years, that became a contentious issue. Nowadays, a system is in place which is by no means foolproof, but is pretty close to being accurate.


The records of all teams, wins and losses, are used as a basis of determining the best teams in the league. Experts then look at the schedules that the teams play. The University of Central Florida has not lost a game this year; however the school is ranked lower than some teams with poorer records. That is because UCF did not play against really strong opponents all year.


There are three divisions in American College sports. Last weekend, the Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders defeated the Mount Union Purple Raiders 24-16 to win the Division III title. Valdosta State won the Division II title, squeaking by Ferris State 49-47.


Most American college football fans pay more heed to the Division I games which take place over the next three weeks, culminating with the College Football Championship, taking place on January 7th in Santa Clara, California. It will feature the winners of the Cotton Bowl and the Orange Bowl.


The Celebration Bowl was played last weekend in Atlanta. North Carolina A&T defeated Alcorn State 24-22 for that title. In Albuquerque, Utah State hammered North Texas 52-13. At Orlando, Florida, Tulane won the Cure Bowl with a victory over Louisiana-Lafayette41-24. In Montgomery, Alabama, Eastern Michigan Eagles lost to Georgia Southern Eagles 23-21 for the right to hoist the Camellia Bowl. Finally, last weekend, Appalachian State Mountaineers defeated the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders 45-13 for the New Orleans Bowl.


On Saturday, December 29th, the semi-finals for the National Championship take place. Clemson (13-0) will play Notre Dame (12-0) in the Cotton Bowl. Alabama (13-0) plays Oklahoma (12-0) for the Orange Bowl in Miami Gardens.


In the meantime, you will be able to watch the following bowls: Camping World, Alamo, Belk, Pinstripe, (in Yankee Stadium, naturally,) Dollar General, Arizona, Armed Forces, Peach, Military, Outback, Gator, Sun........and almost 20 more!


The traditional Rose Bowl Game will be between Ohio State and Washington, on the 1st of January.

Mind you, College Basketball is well underway at this time, so you should have plenty to keep you busy. Keep extra batteries handy for the channel changer!!

Of the four teams in the hunt for the national championship, Notre Dame comes out on top, financially. The school is guaranteed six million dollars, plus travel expenses of more than two million!! And you know how much the players get from this!


James Hurst
December 2018

Saturday, December 15, 2018

 

Hazing-Part Two



I do not often spread a topic over two weeks. Such is the case, this time.

In last weeks blurb, the issue of hazing was tied to bullying. Both of these topics relate to power, to the people who have it and how they use, or abuse it. As a result of the hazing, and the abuse of power, individuals are subjected to traumatic experiences, and needlessly suffer from them.

I am not wearing rose-coloured glasses here. We have all experienced trauma, on many different occasions. We learn how to deal with it, how to cope with it. Hazing involves unnecessary trauma, making it just plain wrong.

Ryan Munce experienced this type of trauma as a rookie goaltender with the Sarnia Sting in 2002-2003. “I was shocked when it happened. It goes against the fabric of what you're supposed to be doing,” he stated in the radio interview. He was supposed to be involved in a team- building exercise.

He was supporting the position taken by Daniel Carcillo, an NHL player who retired in 2015. Carcillo has been experiencing the effects of too many shots to the head, and is no longer involved in the game. Carcillo played 429 games in the National Hockey League, for the Coyotes, the Black Hawks, the Kings and the Rangers. He amassed 1233 penalty minutes in those games, and had 100 points.

As is the case in all walks of life, there is a code of behaviour, often unwritten, to which members of the group must conform. Hazing generally falls into that category with sports teams. Shoulders are shrugged, there may be some quiet mumbling among the coaches and management, activities are condoned.

But when the hazing involves serious physical or sexual abuse, the line of appropriate behaviour has been crossed. It should not be tolerated. It should be reported.

Many of the sports in question are physical in nature. Football players must be strong and aggressive to be successful. Hockey players also need to be aggressive, must be able to perform well on skates, and carry sticks to bang on opponents, legally. Neither game is for the feint of heart.

Veteran players feel that hazing is sort of a test of a young player's heart. If he, or she, can take the abuse, then they belong. Bizarre thinking, but that's the way it is.

Ryan Munce was asked in the interview why he just didn't leave when he was hazed. “I did not want to give up on my dreams. Occasionally, some players (in that situation) get traded. Some get sent home.

Munce never did make it to the NHL. He played three years for the Sting, then several years in the American Hockey League, and the ECHL. He retired from hockey as a player in 2011. He is still involved in the game. I am certain he keeps a close eye on “rookie activities”. And that is a good thing.

He is helping to break the chain of unnecessary violence.

James Hurst
December 2018.

 

Hazing-A Nasty Business





It has always been my position that if a player has the talent and the skills to become a member of a team, he or she should not be subjected to the activity commonly known as hazing. The topic has been in the news recently, due to the information that came out of St. Michael's School in Toronto, and several other incidents which have taken place over the years.

I recently noticed on Sean Kelly's Facebook page that he was discussing that topic with a former hockey player, along with a doctor from Belleville, Dr. Julie Gowthorpe. The player in question was Ryan Munce, and he was mainly referring to his time with the Sarnia Sting. Another of his teammates, Daniel Carcillo, has also discussed hazing incidents from that time with the Sting, recently reported in The Globe and Mail.

I was able to listen to the show via the internet, as I currently reside in Fort Myers. I have always been keenly interested in the topic, and, for the most part, I am completely against any dehumanizing behaviour that goes under the guise of “hazing”. Many schools entertain activities to “welcome” new members, particularly sororities and fraternities. I believe there are no fraternities nor sororities at Queen's University in Kingston, because there were serious injuries that resulted from those activities, many years ago.

Hazing is usually done by older members of the organization to “initiate” the new members or the rookies. The intent is to bring the new members into the family, so that they get to develope the team attitude or spirit. Unfortunately, in many situations, the veterans go far over the line. Therein lies the tragedy.

In Junior Hockey in Canada, some of the veteran players are 21 years old. Many of the rookies are barely 16, and do not live at home. In some instances, far from home, with billets. Many of the billets, families who provide a home for the players, are wonderful, and offer a great comfort to the young players. Others are horrific, in the game to collect money from the team, but supplying little to the players. These young men have voracious appetites, and need plenty of nutrients to survive. There are cases of billets who lock fridges and cupboards; there are others who provided a can of beans and an opener for dinner. Teams attempt to screen for good billets, but there are a few who slip through the cracks.

Essentially, these horrible hazing practices involve bullies. The whole topic of bullying has become an important one in our society. I hinted that the difference in age is a factor in junior hockey. There is more to it than that. The older players are usually larger and stronger. They have been together for 3 or 4 years, and may hang around together. The “veterans” were bullied and hazed when they were the rookies. They believe it is their right to dish it out to the new kids. Occasionally, they go too far.

Hazing arises from bullying. Bullies exist in all walks of life. To name a few: sports, religion, education, politics, business, certainly in the military. I am certain you could add many other categories to this list, individual areas that might have affected you.

During the interview, it was pointed out on several occasions by Dr. Gowthorpe that hazing can be a traumatic experience, and a very unnecessary one. For Ryan Munce, and Daniel Carcillo, it was indeed traumatic.

To be continued next week.


James Hurst

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