Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Welcome to the neighborhood: It's Colonial week

      Each May, our neighborhood turns into a fortress. Fences are put up, tents are pitched, roads are closed, and we are practically in lockdown mode.
      It's not as bad as you might think. In fact, it's quite good.
      The PGA Tour is back at Colonial Country Club, which is just across the Trinity River from where we live. Fort Worth has much going for it, and the tournament at Colonial -- note how I am avoiding the corporate name -- is one of the city's biggest assets.
      It is one of the PGA Tour's biggest assets, in my opinion. Other than the Masters at Augusta National, no tournament on tour has been played on the same course annually as long as Colonial. When you see it describes as "historic" Colonial, it's true.
       It is a beautiful old course, a beautiful setting, built into the TCU-area neighborhood, next to the river, a course designed with lots of dogleg fairways and challenging carries over water, and shorter by today's standards (only two par-5s). So the long-drive bombers have to compromise and don't always prevail.
      And we are right here. The fourth green at Colonial -- the dastardly tough 247-yard par-3 hole which has never been aced in tournament history -- is about 100 yards (if that much) from the apartments where we live.
      Only a river, and a bridge, is between us and the golf tournament. Oh, and a ticket to get in the place. I usually manage to find one.
      We have lived in the Colonial neighborhood for nine years, and tournament week is exciting ... and it can be a traffic mess. But starting last year, the PGA Tour and Colonial officials -- with security in mind -- rearranged access to the course.
      The main entrance to the course, which used to be at either the front of Colonial or on Colonial Drive near the second-hole tee box and first green, now is just down the street from us.
      The open field across the street from the fourth fairway/green now is the site of Frost Park, and a huge stage-like base on which is built the "entry" pavilion. I knew tournament time was nearing when they began construction about five weeks ago.
      This week, they close off the street here at the bridge. Fans cross the street from the pavilion to enter the course midway down the No. 4 fairway.
      So, from there, it is quite a walk to either the No. 1 or No. 10 tee boxes, where players begin their Thursday-Friday rounds. But for me, it's a shortcut for walking all the around the fence to the previous entry spot.
      Besides, I don't mind the walk. I walk for exercise just about every day and go past No. 4 several times a week, and I have walked the Colonial course regularly during most of the nine tournaments since we've lived here. (Had to miss a year or two because of conflicts, family matters.)
      Love walking the course. Watching golf isn't easy, but it is easier if you prefer to sit at one hole -- or two, if it's within range of vision -- and watch all the groups come through.     
David Toms' children celebrate with him after his
2011 victory at Colonial (Getty Images photo)
      I'd rather follow a group all the way around, and enjoy all the course. It gets harder as we get older, but I can find the shortcuts, such as not walking the length of the 611-yard, par 5 No. 11 ... unless my guy is in contention and I need to take a closer look.
      The people who know me know that my guy -- years ago -- was Hal Sutton. Followed him in many a round here, in Memphis, in Shreveport (obviously not as part of the PGA Tour), even in Honolulu, and at The Players Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
       My guy now is David Toms, like Hal a resident of Shreveport. I don't know David personally, although we've met and I've written about him. I do have long-ago connections with his father and stepmother, and I know several of his friends.  
       I have followed David's rounds here every year I've been, and my favorite Colonial was four years ago when he finally (finally) won this tournament.
       He had been close several times, and he often has said it is one of his favorite courses and tournaments. One reason is the course suits his game; he's not among the long drivers on Tour but one of the best iron players.
       Another reason: He always has a strong following here, LSU fans and people from North Louisiana who make the drive over or the Metroplex residents with Louisiana/LSU ties who like to see him play.
       I'm in that group, and one of the reasons I so enjoy the Colonial crowds is there are always longtime friends I see there.
       We can only hope it will be as much fun as it was in 2011 when David posted his 13th career PGA Tour victory -- and a thrilling one, considering his wife and children were there and that he had met with disaster the week before, losing The Players Championship in playoff with K.J. Choi after leading most of the day. That had been his sixth runner-up finish since his previous victory (in 2006).
       In the first two rounds in 2011, David was on target -- 8-under 62 both days. I had to miss Saturday's round (out-of-town trip) and David faltered to a 4-over 74.
       On Sunday, as we were all nervous all day, he came through beautifully with a 3-under 67 and a one-shot victory. So he was 19 under for the three days I was there. Dang right, I was his good-luck charm (don't tell me otherwise).
       It was almost as much fun last year. After a 72 on Thursday, he shot 66-65 and we had that nervous feeling again Sunday. He had the lead at 9 under when he went to No. 10, but faltered and finished two shots behind Adam Scott (playoff winner) and Jason Dufner.
        Undaunted, I plan to follow David to another victory this week.
        I am not a golfer, never have been, never covered a golf tournament until I was in college, rarely had been to a golf course. But I always liked watching the big tournaments on TV, watching Arnie and Jack and the other greats and non-greats.
        My appreciation for the game -- and its difficulty -- has grown over the years. This observation will be no surprise to the millions who have played (or tried to play). I've seen some of my friends hack their way around the course. I've seen some who can really play.
        Still, what I know about the game -- technically -- would not fill the cup on the No. 4 green at Colonial. I do know some tournament history and know some of the players, and I have been on coverage teams for the Colonial and The Players Championship.
        Because we lived in the Jacksonville area and I worked for The Florida Times-Union for a half decade, I got to see some great golf on what I think is an outstanding and challenging course, the Stadium Course at PGA Tour headquarters. 
        Loved seeing the players up close, interviewing some of them and writing what little I could contribute. Even Greg Norman -- Bea and I were such fans, and he let us down quite a few times -- dominated The Players one year.
Three symbols of victory at Colonial: The Marvin Leonard
trophy, the plaid jacket ... and David Toms. (PGA.com photo)
        I usually try to watch The Players on TV, and it was great theater two weeks ago when the "overrated" Rickie Fowler won in a playoff (and birdied No. 17 three times on Sunday ... wow).
        Love that course, although I don't especially love the island hole, No. 17.
        If you made me choose between the Stadium Course and Colonial as my favorite, I'd have to split the vote. How's that for being decisive? I do think that getting around Colonial might be a bit easier than the hills and contours of TPC; both are easier than walking Augusta National.
        What I love most, though, is being near the golfers, and the caddies, and the media ... and the crowds. It's a fine place for people watching, and seeing old friends. 
         At Colonial, I particularly enjoy watching players take on the "Horrible Horseshoe," Nos. 3-4-5, as tough a three-hole stretch as any on Tour (similar to Nos. 16-17-18 at the TPC Stadium Course). I also enjoy all the par-3s here -- the long No. 4, then 8, 13 and 16 (the last two with carries over water, just as on Nos. 9 and 18). 
         I also know to stay away from No. 13 -- The Party Hole -- on Saturday and Sunday when crowds are large and especially rowdy there (it's bad enough on Thursday and Friday).
         That was the scene of the "caddy races," when bets were placed on which caddy will step on the green first. It was silly and wild, and the PGA Tour finally put a ban on them.
         Still, I want no part of No. 13. I'll watch from a distance, thank you. But if David Toms is playing well, and in contention, I might pay closer attention. Let's hope that's the case.
         The neighborhood is rocking, and I'm starting my walk toward to Colonial. I expect it will be a fun week.             
        
     

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Late Night, Late Show ... it's too late for me

A Letterman appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny
(from usatoday.com)
     Except for one month in 1994, I never watched David Letterman regularly. So what's all the fuss about these last few months?
    Was Letterman the greatest late-night talk show host ever? Ha! Are you kidding?
     Even he will tell you he's only No. 2 ... if that. Because it has been obvious over the years that he revered Johnny Carson -- the all-time King of late-night television.
     As I said in a blog piece almost 2 1/2 years ago, a year after I began this blog, Johnny was -- is -- my favorite entertainer ever.
     Shows how "old school" I am. Because Letterman, only two months and four days older than me, should have been my guy. But while I watched the Carson show as many nights as I could, and now I revisit the many Carson highlights out there (especially on YouTube), I don't often visit with Letterman.
      He was too hip for me, too contemporary maybe, too crazy, too weird. I wasn't into stupid pet tricks or throwing things off buildings, or his often sharp-edged comments and interviews.
      My bad perhaps?
      After Carson left, indeed, I watched Jay Leno on NBC, on The Tonight Show, much more often. Of course, Jay had become a semi-regular during Johnny's infrequent absences (yes, that's a joke).
      Then in the summer of 1994, I had nothing to do ... no regular job, just baseball and scorekeeping a lot of nights. And one night in the press box, the discussion turned to Leno vs. Letterman, which was then a hot topic, NBC having picked Leno to succeed Carson permanently (although Carson had publicly stated he preferred Letterman).
      So David went from Late Night on NBC to Late Show on CBS ... with a mega-deal, of course. The guys in the press box kept touting how much fun and how funny Letterman was.
      For the next month, the post-baseball routine at home for me was to watch Letterman. If baseball ran long, I recorded the show, then watched.
     I liked him, but not that much. The music was too loud, Paul Shaffer was too zany looking and acting. Doc Severinsen (loved him) dressed weird, but what a band he led, and I can't even tell you who Letterman's announcer was (or is). He was no Ed McMahon; that I can tell you.
     And nothing ever will equal The Tonight Show theme music. Period.
     I found Letterman's Top Ten lists funny at times, but too often a reach. Much preferred Carnac The Magnificent (but not necessarily Art Fern, Floyd R. Turbo or Aunt Blabby).
     I thought many of his stunts also were too wacky. And, yes, I know Carson had many skits that were duds.
     As for Leno, he was -- and many people still think he is -- a funny, witty stand-up comedian. I was not particularly impressed with his interviewing skills and he often was stiff/contrived doing skits. As he aged, I thought the humor in his monologues became too hard-edged.
     Eventually, I did not watch Letterman or Leno very often, except when I was aware -- through promos or TV listings -- of guests I wanted to watch. But I will say that I began to appreciate Letterman's poking fun at himself or being the butt of the jokes.
     His personal life, his flaws, his stalker, his health issues ... he didn't hide from it. Carson might've joked about his divorces, but we never really learned much about his private life and ways.
Our last live look at Johnny Carson on TV: A cameo, non-
speaking bit -- May 13, 1994 (www.people.com)
      Unlike Carson, who was almost always classy with his guests on the air but -- as we came to find out through stories and TV features -- could be dismissive with people he felt crossed him (good-bye, Joan Rivers), Letterman could be short with guests. But anyone who can put down Bill O'Reilly regularly or make fun of Sarah Palin is OK.
     One other comparison: Carson rarely, maybe never, turned serious about political and national matters on the air. I saw Letterman make some statements, after national tragedies such as 9-11, that were timely and inspiring. He hit the right tone.
      I think Letterman also is correct in making his exit. He realizes that the men in the 10:30 p.m. Central late-night spots -- Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon (our daughter's favorite) and Stephen Colbert (taking over for Letterman) -- are terrific entertainers and comedians ... and today's guys.
       Letterman has been humble as guests make their final appearances and offer tributes. And while the recent tribute show to him on CBS had many highlights, you can guess my favorite portion -- the Carson-Letterman relationship.
       Maybe we'll see more of Letterman in the future than we saw of Carson after his retirement. Johnny was on TV only a couple of times afterward, just cameo spots on the Letterman show. The audience response when he appeared unannounced on the May 13, 1994, show was one to remember.
       We kept hoping, but ... no more.
       So for those who'll miss Letterman, good for you. He had many, many great moments, and he was a great one, I suppose. He wasn't Carson.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Louisiana Tech a stepping stone? Yes and no

     The search is on for the next head coach in men's basketball at Louisiana Tech University. This will be interesting.
      Here is another situation where we see if Tech, as has been the case so often in the past, is a "stepping stone" place for head coaches. Take the job, have some success (or not) and move on to a supposedly bigger, better job.
      Frankly, because it is the place where I went to school and whose athletic program I've paid attention to since the early 1960s (although I am not a die-hard fan like I was way back) --  I don't like the "stepping stone" perception.
      Unfortunately, it does have merit.
      Michael White built an exciting, conference championship-level men's basketball program in four years at Tech. We all sensed he would be moving on soon, and last week he was announced as the new head coach at the University of Florida.
      With that, he joined a long line.
      In the "modern" era of Tech athletics -- the post-World War II era -- I count a dozen head coaches in football, men's basketball and women's basketball who took off and (immediately or eventually) became head coaches at "bigger" programs.
       In football, Sonny Dykes (to Cal), Derek Dooley (to Tennessee), Gary Crowton (to the Chicago Bears as offensive coordinator, then Brigham Young head coach), Carl Torbush (to North Carolina as defensive coordinator, then head coach), Billy Brewer (to Ole Miss).
       In men's basketball before White, Jim Wooldridge (to Chicago Bulls-NBA as an assistant, then to Kansas State head coach), Tommy Joe Eagles (to Auburn), Andy Russo (to U. of Washington), J.D. Barnett (to Virginia Commonwealth), Scotty Robertson (to the NBA).
       In women's basketball, Kurt Budke (to Oklahoma State) and Sonja Hogg (eventually to Baylor). (And that's not counting Kim Mulkey, the assistant coach who couldn't reach terms on the head coaching job succeeding Leon Barmore and then went to Baylor.)
       Mulkey, by far, is the most successful of that group, with national-title fame and fortune. Others had only moderate success ... if that.
       Yes, money is an issue to keep coaches at Tech -- maybe the most important issue.
       But prestige is a factor, too. Football bowl bids and at-large NCAA Tournament spots are hard to come by for the "mid-major" schools.
---
       As fine a university as Louisiana Tech is, and I don't want anyone telling me differently, it does have its financial limitations. I'm not versed enough on the subject to write with authority on the overall university needs, but it's obvious that meeting a budget for athletics is always going to be a challenge.
       The days of receiving state-government to fund athletics is decades past; once upon a time fund-raising was not a need. The powers-that-be at Tech have done a commendable job raising financial standards.
       Moving to Conference USA two years ago was a necessary and positive step for Tech. It is a good fit there, in my opinion, better than its years in the old Gulf States Conference and then its wandering -- in sports other than football -- through a maze of conferences -- Southland (1971-87), American South (1987-91), Sun Belt (1991-2001) and the wide-spread, travel-weary Western Athletic (2001-13).
        C-USA is a fit; the level of opponents is a fit. Tech teams can win, and win big, in this league. The football team played for the conference title last season; Mike White's basketball team won the regular-season title.
       And yet -- and I don't have the figures -- but Tech probably ranks low in the league in athletic finances -- operational expenses, recruiting budget, coaching salaries.
       It's called a "mid-major" conference for a reason.
       The Louisiana Techs of the world are not equal to the so-called "majors" -- not in facilities, not in attendance, not in financial status, not in prestige. 
       I know Tech people hate seeing that in words. They don't want to be "less than," say LSU. Great ideal ... but not realistic. 
       I use LSU because I have friends -- good friends -- who chide me for being an LSU fan. And last week, after my previous blog post, I heard from a couple of Tech faithful that I don't know. 
       But it's the same unreasonable view people have from the pretentious school in Lafayette, La., which is not the University of Louisiana. UL-L people are dreaming, too.
       LSU plays before 92,000 people every time it tees up the football in Baton Rouge. Tech, or UL-L, are happy to draw 30,000 at home ... when that happens. Basketball, baseball, track-field, I'm sure LSU attendance -- and interest -- far surpasses the mid-majors.
       And then there's this, from the financial standpoint: If La. Tech or ULL have 15 big-money boosters -- and I'm just throwing out numbers here -- LSU has triple that. And Texas, Florida, even Tennessee and Oklahoma might have double what LSU has.   
       Sure, a team from Tech can beat a "major" team and can compete with the majors. White's teams had a good number of significant victories over majors. Tech beat a Big Ten team in its football bowl game. But to do it year after year, that's tough.
       We have seen football programs located in small towns or playing at mid-major levels rise to power status; Clemson and Virginia Tech come to mind. We've seen mid-major basketball programs -- examples are Gonzaga, Butler, Virginia Commonwealth, Wichita State, George Mason -- reach "elite" status. Some stay there; some fall back. 
       Could it happen for Louisiana Tech? Reaching a BCS football game or an NCAA Tournament Final Four? I would never say never, but I would say highly unlikely. Competing well with the majors is the desirable goal.        
       Point is, when it comes to matching coaching salaries for a successful coach such as Michael White, there is a ceiling for La. Tech. So in this case, it became a stepping stone.
---
       For Leon Barmore, Louisiana Tech was not a stepping stone; it was home. Certainly as one of the nation's greatest women's basketball coaches, he had chances to move. But he grew up in Ruston, played basketball at Tech ... and he never left. He retired after 25 years of coaching at Tech.
       Joe Aillet coached football at Tech for 26 years, stayed four more years as athletic director. Maxie Lambright coached football at Tech for 12 years. Cecil Crowley was the men's basketball coach for 21 years, Scotty Robertson for 10 years. Jim Mize was a football assistant and head track coach for nearly three decades. Berry Hinton and Pat Patterson each coached baseball for 23 years. 
       You could say the days of the longtime coach at Tech are long gone, except ... Gary Stanley has been coaching track and field at Tech for three decades, and still is.
       Tech has had head coaches with some tenure, such as Jack Bicknell and Joe Raymond Peace, eight seasons each in football, Keith Richard (nine seasons in men's basketball) and most recently Teresa Weatherspoon (six seasons in women's basketball).
The common denominator: Each had moderate success, but not great success, and eventually their contracts were not renewed.
       There are those who feel that having a Tech graduate -- and ex-player -- as coach is an advantage, that the home ties will help keep them in place. But it didn't keep Eagles or Wooldridge from jumping from the basketball job.
       Now Skip Holtz has the football job, preparing for his third year. Is this a stepping stone for him, too? He's 51 and he headed up three "major" programs -- Connecticut, East Carolina and South Florida -- before Tech.
       The hope is that his tenure will be a lengthy one; that success, such as last season's vast improvement over his first season, won't bring other offers or that he won't go looking for them. We'll see.
---
       So where does Tech turn in men's basketball?
       Move up the top assistant coach, bring in a highly recommended assistant coach from a major program; find a successful coach from a smaller school or a junior college coach with a great record; bring back one of the school's great players; try a high school coach making the immediate big jump?
       I can cite examples of each type in Tech's major sports. Some worked out well;  some only worked short-range, then their programs faded rapidly; and some were outright disasters.
      If athletic director Tommy McClelland, Tech president Dr. Les Guice and the other people in on the search -- including the omnipresent "search committee" -- do as well as they did hiring a women's basketball head coach two years ago, it will be a success.
      Tyler Summitt -- son of Pat -- was a home-run hire, in my opinion.
      That is, in terms of national publicity and exposure for La. Tech. Success on the court might take longer. The Lady Techsters aren't what they used to be, haven't been for a while now, but at least there is hope it could happen.
      With Tyler came the return of one-time Tech player Mickie DeMoss as associate head coach, and she has years of head coaching/assistant coaching/national recruiting success. So it was home run ... and another extra-base hit.
 ---
       The top men's assistant coach now being touted by players and some boosters is Dusty May, a six-year staff assistant who was close to White and handled his share of coaching and recruiting. He hasn't been a college head coach, but his hiring would mean continuity in the program. Is that enough?
        My choice, and I'm sure others will agree, would be Mike McConathy, one of Tech's greatest players (mid-1970s) who has been the successful head coach at North Louisiana neighbor, Northwestern State, for 16 years and was at Bossier Parish Community College for 16 years before that.
         Perhaps twice before when the job came open and Mike was available, the connection could not be made. Now he and his family -- his real family and his basketball family -- are well-established in Natchitoches, he's 59 and likely unwilling to make the move.
         But, look, it's not me doing the search job ... and thank goodness for that. Nor am I even remotely closely involved. 
          I'm just hoping the best for Tech, and I trust Dr. Guice, McClelland and Co. will make a great hire. And if it turns out to be a stepping-stone choice, and it's as popular as Michael White was, that's good. 
       

       



Friday, May 8, 2015

This coach moving on really was just a matter of time

This was the collage of photos posted on the Louisiana Tech Bulldog
Basketball Facebook page after the announcement that Coach Michael
White was moving on to take the Florida job.
     Those of us with Louisiana Tech ties knew that what happened Thursday was inevitable: Michael White, the successful and bright men's basketball coach, took a bigger and better job.
     Well, better if -- if -- he wins big at the University of Florida. He is following one of the nation's most successful and brightest coaches -- two national championships and three Final Fours for Billy Donovan.
     When Donovan finally made his move to the NBA two weeks ago, and didn't change his mind as he did several years ago, I told several friends that Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley would be interested in hiring White.
     My wife likes to say that if I throw enough "predictions" out there -- like I do --  some of them will stick. Dang, I don't like being right this time.
     I am not close to either program, although I lived near Louisiana Tech for 30 years and went to school there, and we lived close to Florida for seven years and attended (or did newspaper stories) a dozen Gators games in various sports.
     Just had a feeling, though, that Michael White would be Foley's kind of hire. The Florida AD is one of the best in the country and White reminds me (and obviously Foley) so much of Donovan when Florida hired him in 1996.
     There is a star quality there -- a smooth, clean image, humble, dedicated to his school, administrators, assistant coaches, players, fans ... and most importantly, to his family.
     And a great basketball background, as a player and then as a coach whose teams are well-drilled, pressure all over the floor defensively, shoot a bunch of 3-pointers ... in sum, are exciting to watch ... and win most of their games.  
     OK, there is a sticking point in Michael White's career as a head coach.           
     In four years as head coach at Louisiana Tech, his teams won outright or shared three conference regular-season championships. Their success -- 101-40 (.716) record and renewed interest in the program, a great atmosphere for games at Thomas Assembly Center -- made him attractive to other schools.
     But he never took a team to the NCAA Tournament. So there's that; not all the goals were fulfilled.
     Florida is not aiming for three consecutive National Invitation Tournament (NIT) appearances, as Tech had to settle for. But like Missouri and Tennessee -- which each tried to hire White a year ago -- the Florida people thought he was a great candidate for their open job.
     We all knew it was just a matter of time when the right job would open, the money would be too great, and he would move on.
     And the contract offered this time -- six years, $2 million a year -- was far, far out of Louisiana Tech's reach. The reported $600,000 a year Tech paid White this past season was probably a stretch for a mid-major university that doesn't have the financial clout most of the majors do.
     As several friends have commented, we can't blame him for moving on up.
     If you are an ambitious, relatively young (38) coach, you aim higher. Billy Donovan, going to the NBA, is aiming higher.
     Same for Michael White, going to the SEC, a league in which he played and was an assistant coach (Ole Miss), and going back to a state where he spent much of his youth and where he has recruited regularly (five Tech players are from Florida).
     So we wish him well. I actually like the Gators ... in basketball. But as an LSU partisan and with a daughter and son-in-law with Tennessee degrees and a home in Knoxville, not too much luck, Michael.

          

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Shaq and Dale: It's not just about basketball

from ESPN.com
      "Shaq and Dale is a film about basketball, but it's a film about a relationship, a really special relationship between a huge megastar that we all know now in Shaquille O'Neal and his college head coach, Dale Brown, that dates back to when Shaq was quote/unquote a nobody in Germany on an Army base struggling with the decision to whether or not to even play basketball.
      "It's a story about love. It was a relationship that proved to Shaq there was one person who would always stand up for him regardless of what happened on the court and also off the court. And it gave this young man so much confidence. Shaq says that he wouldn't have become the player he did without Dale Brown. And I believe that wholeheartedly."
      -- ESPN anchor Hannah Storm, on the film she directed
---
      I have watched Shaq and Dale twice now, once to make notes for this piece. I have been thoroughly entertained.
      I recommend this film -- an hour, with commercials -- to anyone who likes a feel-good story. Sure, it's better if you are a basketball fan and/or an LSU fan. But if you are a fan of human beings with character, this fits.
from YouTube.com
      This is one of the newest in the ESPN Films Presents productions, an extension of the excellent  30 for 30 series, now developed for the SEC Network's SEC Storied features. I've seen a half dozen -- all wonderful, but none better than It's Time -- Chucky Mullins (of Ole Miss). That one, poignant and sad, brought many tears.
      Shaq and Dale is poignant, too, but joyful.
      Oh, there's controversy. Wouldn't be Dale Brown if there wasn't. Or Shaq, for that matter.
      Both are outspoken and honest (maybe to a fault). Part of the celebrity status they've had for decades is that the description controversial comes with it.
      I'm sure their critics will find something to knock in this film. Sorry, I can't find it.
      What I did find was a lot of humor; that's what Shaq is known for. Telling his stories, acting them out, talking about life on campus, finding his old dorm room and, after slowly opening the door, barging in and diving on his old bed, yelling, "It's still here; it's still here." Yes, 7-foot-1 and 350 pounds (or so) diving on this bed.
      And Dale, repeatedly, is seen laughing at the Shaq antics/stories. You will, too.
      What also comes through is Dale's earnestness and the fatherly guidance he gave to Shaq and so many others. Daddy Dale, indeed.
      And his motivational methods -- in so many ways. As Shaq points out early on, from right after he met Dale at age 13, he received a letter (or more) a week from the coach and still receives an e-mail regularly.
      I know; I've been on the mailing list for years. As I was writing this Tuesday night, an e-mail from Dale hit my inbox. From the time he became the LSU coach in 1972, those of us around the state received the messages from Dale -- notes complimenting a story he liked, encouragement on non-sports matters, the printouts such as "The Man in the Mirror" (I still have that one).
---
      My opinions:
      (1) Other than Charlie McClendon and Les Miles, Dale Brown is the most criticized coach in LSU history. Charlie Mac and Les, because it came with their position as the longest tenured Tigers football coaches of the past 70 years; Dale, because he was being Dale.
      (2) Dale Brown is the most interesting coach in LSU history, a man of the world. Maybe Skip Bertman (baseball guru) was in the ballpark and maybe Miles, the often hard-to-figure-out guy, will be his equal given another 10 years of news conferences and sound bytes and social media posts.
      But if you dealt with Dale, if you interviewed him, you weren't always sure where it was going.
He might talk about world hunger, or visiting the Taj Mahal or the rain forests in South America or the Himalayas; he's concerned about Middle East politics; and I can assure you that he is very much an American patriot.
      He was always willing to criticize the NCAA's investigative methods and its archaic rules concerning humane needs for players. He wanted to recruit Arvydas Sabonis from behind the Iron Curtain in the mid-1970s; he knew a great player when he saw one.
      OK, so maybe it's eccentric, maybe it's unlike how most coaches think and act. How many times have I heard Dale criticized (by my friends, coaches and sportswriters) for that?
      Plus, how much criticism have I heard of his coaching? Plenty.
      Couldn't coach really talented teams; did better with undermanned, underrated teams. Wasn't a good in-game coach. Couldn't get past the second round of the NCAA Tournament with the 1990 Shaq-Chris Jackson-Stanley Roberts team (a focal point early in this film). Couldn't beat Indiana and Bob Knight (0-3 in the NCAA Tournament).
      Lost a 31-point lead (with 15 1/2 minutes to play) and the game to Kentucky in February 1994 -- the biggest blown lead in NCAA Division I history to that point.
      I have to be honest -- I was among the early critics. My wife will tell you that. She reminds me of it often.
      It took Dale six seasons at LSU (1972-78) before one of his teams had a better-than-.500 record in the Southeastern Conference. And when I met Bea in the mid-1970s, I was not enamored with the LSU basketball program. Few people were.
      But she had worked with some LSU boosters, and Dale boosters, and she kept telling me how much those people respected Dale and his program.
      So when many thought he was on the verge of being told to leave this coaching job, his program turned for good. In 1979, LSU made the NCAA Tournament (as SEC champion) for the first time in 25 seasons. Two years later, LSU made the Final Four.
      Here is opinion No. 3: Dale Brown is the main reason people care about LSU basketball.
      Yes, Bob Pettit is a legend, and those 1952-53, 1953-54 teams he led to a combined 27-0 SEC record (and one Final Four) are legends. Yes, Pete Maravich is a legend -- the greatest scoring machine many of us have seen -- and the Assembly Center is named for him.
      But Dale lasted 25 years in the job, he coached more games (749) than any LSU basketball coach, he took 13 teams to the NCAA Tournament, he coached four SEC regular-season and one SEC Tournament champions; he took two teams to the Final Four; and -- although it didn't happen -- he set a goal: LSU winning the national championship.
      Some of us -- not going along with the thought that LSU doesn't care about basketball -- have always thought that should be an achievable goal.
      Anyway, LSU won 448 times with Dale coaching, and consider this -- 18 of those victories came against Kentucky. How significant is that?
      LSU was 0-19 all-time vs. Kentucky before a 1961 victory. Then it was 1-35 before a 1973 victory -- the last victory of Press Maravich's coaching stint at LSU. It took Dale only three games to beat Kentucky. OK, so his teams were 1-10 vs. Kentucky before they won six of eight from the Wildcats.
      And then his Tigers beat them 11 more times, including that memorable 1986 Elite Eight (NCAA Regional final) in Atlanta -- maybe the greatest victory of the Dale era. After that one, Dale was shown leaping in the air and racing off the floor toward the dressing room -- similar to his sprint off the Superdome floor when his team's first Final Four trip was assured in 1981.
      In '86, that was a totally surprising LSU Final Four team. Think about how many great coaches never took even one team to a Final Four? This so-so coach took two.
---
      So, yes, the 1989-90 team -- which Dale on this film said had "unlimited potential" -- didn't get it done. One reason: Shaq really wasn't the force he would become the next two years. Chris Jackson, as exciting a shooter as LSU ever had other than Maravich, wasn't enough. Stanley Roberts wasn't a good enough all-around player. There wasn't enough cohesion, or quality depth to overcome the shortcomings.
      "Great expectations ... maybe too great," says the film narrator, country-music star Tim McGraw (who grew up in Northeast Louisiana).
      "Disappointing. I could have recruited better. I could have motivated them better. I could have done this; I could have done that," Dale said of the season and the second-round NCAA loss to Georgia Tech on Tennessee's home floor. (Tech made the Final Four).
      No excuses. You wouldn't expect that from Dale.
      The film covers the many highlight (and lowlight) games of Shaq's three years at LSU. It was a spectacular era, not all it could have been, but it's worth seeing the clips from the games, and for the LSU faithful, there are many scenic shots of the campus ... including Tiger Stadium and the PMAC.
       For those of us with Shreveport ties, there's the play-by-play sounds of Jim Hawthorne and a couple of quick shots of longtime LSU basketball sports information man Kent Lowe. Those are from 25 years ago; we go back with those guys for 40-plus years.
---
      Shaq and Dale aren't the only controversial people in this film. Jerry Tarkanian is in there as the UNLV coach, but even he pales in comparison to ... David Duke and Bob Knight.
       The less I write about David Duke, the better.
       He makes even Bob Knight look decent. But I don't want to write much about Knight, either. Did not approve of his coaching style -- or any coach that thrives on intimidation --  and detest his mean-spirited public presence. Especially didn't like his criticisms of Dale Brown.
         Sure, he was a great coach; few have been better in terms of defense and motion offense, and knowledge. He has many devoted followers; he's been giving to the game in many ways and to people he considers loyal and friends. But few top him in arrogance, self-importance.
         I can tell you that I would rather deal with Dale more than Bob Knight 101 times out of 100.
         Enough negativity. Dale would not approve of it. But just for the record, there you have it.
---
         When we were at the Shreveport newspapers, we knew that if we called Dale, he would return the call. Maybe if he was busy, or off to practice or not in the office, it might take 24 hours for the callback, but you could count on it.
          Some big-name coaches, it was impossible. Eddie Sutton at Arkansas was either too busy or did not deem the Shreveport Journal important enough to talk to by phone; the return call several times came from his assistant, James Dickey.
          But Dale would give you something. When I was in Shreveport, in the '70s and '80s, we did not cover LSU daily; we didn't have a Glenn Guilbeau type on the scene. We would -- to use one of Dale's favorite expressions -- "parachute in" to cover games (and do interviews).
          Personally, I rarely covered LSU basketball. In fact, I never attended a game Shaquille O'Neal played for LSU. The only game I saw him play was his rookie year in the NBA for the Orlando Magic, the first time he faced the Boston Celtics and Robert Parish. And I wasn't there to see or talk to Shaq.
          I always thought Shaq was a man-child, an often silly, goofy guy who was serious only about winning basketball games. He was good at that at LSU, but much better in the NBA.
          When he joined the Inside the NBA panel on TBS (and other networks), I thought at first he wasn't a good fit; working with the irrepressible Charles Barkley and sidekick Kenny Smith is a formidable task. But, as Shaq points out in the film, he isn't one to be intimidated -- not since he was an LSU freshman -- and so he has (pun here) grown into the role. He's a big man on the show now.
          With this film, my admiration for him has grown. And while others can still be critical of Dale Brown, I'm not going there. The man proved long ago that there's much more depth there than just being eccentric and outspoken.
         Watch the film. You might agree.
              

Thursday, April 30, 2015

For the van de Kars, tragedy and triumph

Louis and Rose Van Thyn visiting with Jannie
van de Kar (center) in Israel, early 1980s

     Abraham and Marianne van de Kar, a couple whose marriage survived the Holocaust, played a huge role in what would become the Van Thyn family. As in, we could not have done it without them.
     As I wrote in a recent piece, they were most responsible for my parents meeting each other. http://nvanthyn.blogspot.com/2015/04/rose-and-her-camp-sisters.html
     (And recounting the friendship of Rozette and Marianne is among my personal favorites of the more than 300 blog pieces I've done in about 3 1/2 years.)
     Appie and Jannie, as we knew them, have a story as fascinating as my parents' story.
     If anything, theirs is more tragic -- the loss of most of their families of origin, but also the loss of two children -- one a baby, one an adult.
     With some of my mother's recollections, from her Shoah Foundation interview in 1996, and with the help of the van de Kars' survivor daughter, Kitty Wiener, who lives in Nahariya, Israel -- the family's adopted hometown -- what follows is part of their story.
---
      Our families were united through location (Amsterdam, their hometown) and circumstance (Auschwitz and the Holocaust aftermath).
      There are similarities -- the pre-World War II experiences, the suffering in the camps; the new beginnings; a son born in 1947, a daughter born in 1951; a move out of The Netherlands to new frontiers; long, productive and mostly happy lives; grandchildren; respect, admiration and love from so many they'd known in Holland and those they came to know in their new homes.
      As I mentioned in the previous blog, my father and Appie were more acquaintances than friends in the mostly Jewish neighborhood in which they grew up; my mother and Jannie were in school together, but not close friends ... until the day they arrived together in Auschwitz.
       Our fathers, Kitty noted, "did not have the same special bond our mothers had," but as the concentration camps were freed, it was the Russian Army which Dad and Appie first saw, which is why they wound up wearing Russian Army uniforms they were given.
       Unlike my parents, each married to someone else as the Holocaust began, Appie and Jannie were married -- the day before the Nazis "arrested" them and sent them to the Westerbork transition camp in eastern Holland.
      "My mother (maiden name Barend) was supposed to get a grant to go to high school," Kitty wrote, "but her father was against it, thought she needed to learn how to be a Jewish housewife since her mother passed away when she was 9. So surely [he was] thinking that she would marry a Jewish man; he thought that what was best in these times.
       "Our mothers arrived on the same day to Block 10 [at Auschwitz]," Kitty added, "and never separated until they were freed, and saved each other by supporting each other every time one of them was on a breaking point -- and there were many."
---
       And here, as my mother told the story in her Shoah Foundation interview, was one of those breaking points.
       In Block 10, the Nazi "doctors" -- and I use that term loosely -- soon began their medical experiments and because no one got much to eat, Mom recalled they all lost weight ... except Jannie, who gained weight.
       "Now all our periods started," Mom said. "Not mine, but most women. And she [Jannie] didn't have a period anymore, but she grew. And so after six weeks being in Auschwitz, we knew she probably was pregnant."
        If the Nazis on site had known, it could have meant immediate death for her. But there was a great turn of fortune.
       "Now in our block, we had a Czechoslovakian doctor who was a 'preferred' prisoner," Mom said. "Her husband had invented something for the Germans, and she was in Block 10, and she was downstairs and she was in her own room and she had her two boys with her. Jewish. One boy was 6 years old and one boy was 4. And we went to her and we talked to her. She was wonderful. She had rescued other women.
        "When I came in Auschwitz, several women had died because they gave up; they didn't want to eat. And they had women who got sick, who got scarlet fever, and they put them in the sick room. She [the doctor] knew exactly when the SS would come in. They would come in at times unexpected, but she knew because she had connections. She knew when they would come in.
      "They never went into the sick room because they were scared to death. They would ask her, 'What are those women? Are they sick?' She would say, 'Oh, yeah, they have a little bit of cold.' So she really rescued a lot of women.
      "So we went to her and she examined my friend, Jannie, and she said, 'You are expecting.' And she says you are too far gone (along) for an abortion. She said we cannot let you walk around here all the time because the SS might find out. But she said what I will do is, as long as you don't show that much, you can stay in your work, stay in your commando. But when I know that the SS is coming, I will let you know and I will keep you hidden in my room.
      "And she did. There were two other women who had babies. And in the sixth month, she gave her some shots and, I'll never forget it, we walked the stairs 24 hours up and down, and then she got into labor, in the doctor's room, and she delivered a little girl. And the child was alive, but she couldn't keep her.
      "By then she had heard from men who came in our block, to bring the soup, they had a little note from her husband; she was in Monowitz [aka Auschwitz III], and one of those men had been in Monowitz and was transferred back to [main camp] Auschwitz. Had a little note from her husband [Appie] that he was still alive. And so they took the baby, and that was it."
---
       A bittersweet story. But like my mother, the sterilization efforts the Nazis tried did not prevent Jannie from having children after the war.
      Louis D. -- called "Loek" (Luke, in English) -- was born April 15, 1947, in Amsterdam -- two months and one day before me. Kitty was born in Israel in 1951.
      Yes, Israel. Because that was the promised land for the van de Kars, just as the United States was for my family. But the van de Kars left Holland six years before we did.      
The Shreveport Times photo, 1977
       "My father decided in 1949 that he wanted to join the Jewish fighters during the independence war in Israel and told my mother to join him after he would find a proper place for them to live," Kitty wrote. "She did not want to leave Amsterdam since they already lived in a nice apartment, and a shop with a shoe repair shop and also sold material to other shoemakers."
        "And in 1949 they arrived in Israel -- first my father and a few months later my mother with Loek, and lived first for a few months in a small settlement like a kibbutz, but decided they want to live in something more similar to the Dutch villages, and so found Nahariya."
          So they settled there -- for good. But Appie -- shoemaker by trade -- was an Israeli patriot, and Kitty said, "My father served in the Defense Forces Reserves until he was 45, and then joined a civilian group that guarded our town, until he decided he was too old for it.
         "(He did like the feeling that he could defend his country. WWII left him scarred, but he never showed it the way my mother did. She could never stop talking about her terrible years in Block 10, but she kept talking about Ro as the sister she had during these years.)"
         Military service is part of the Israeli tradition. Luke served as a paratrooper in the Israeli army and fought in the Six-Day War of 1967, serving into 1968. Kitty served in the army two years and her husband Danny did from age 18 to 21, was injured in a small war in 1968, but despite that continued to serve in the reserves for three decades as a paratrooper "until the age of 51 (when I told him enough is enough ...")
---
        Appie and Jannie visited Shreveport in 1977; my parents took them on a trip to New Orleans. A  few years later, my parents went to Israel and saw the sights and, as Kitty remembers, were guests at a Passover Seder service with the van de Kar family.
        I have written in previous blogs that while my parents certainly took pride in being Jewish, neither was devoutly religious. Their families of origin were not, either.
        I bring this up because Kitty wrote that as she and Loek grew up in Nahariya, their parents "were so very much against religion. They just could not believe in anything anymore after the Holocaust."
       Plus, there were in "a village whose founders were all from Germany, and were very stubborn and independent and did not let anyone get involved in their decisions of how to build the village and how to educate the children." Part of that was very little of the Jewish tradition and education so prevalent throughout Israel.
---
      Loek van de Kar, like the Van Thyns, wound up living in the United States, and sadly, died in the Chicago area at age 57 (Sept. 4, 2004) of cancer. Much too soon, obviously.
      He lived in Israel until he finished his army service at age 21, studied in Amsterdam and then received a Fulbright scholarship to study in the U.S., graduated from the University of Iowa in 1978, and spent nearly 24 years as a professor at the Strich School of Medicine, Department of Pharmacology, at Loyola (Chicago) University.
     He was, according to a tribute (http://www.serotoninclub.org/newsletters/Nwsltr64.pdf) written by Dr. George Battaglia at Loyola, "an exceptionally creative, talented and forthright scientist and his research contributed to furthering many areas of scientific investigation," including cancer studies. He wrote more than 100 published papers.
      That tribute also noted -- of course I would like this -- that he was an avid soccer player, coach and fan. That's our Dutch heritage.
      As Kitty remembers, he made annual return visits to Israel and was usually introduced as "the professor from the U.S.," invited by the Hadassah Medican School or the universities.
       Loek was married for 25 years to Susan Schmitt and they lived in Hinsdale, Ill.
       "They never had children," Kitty wrote, "as he believed children should not live in this horrible world, and also believed the experiments done on our mother in Block 10 might affect the children in future generations."
       Kitty, who has been Facebook friends with my sister Elsa for years and visited with Elsa and husband Jim Wellen on their trip to Israel a couple of years ago, has been married to Danny Wiener for 40 years. For three decades, Danny was a quality control manager at a plant and Kitty,  now retired, was an administrative assistant to CEOs. Their daughter, Yael, is 39; their son, Uri, is 35.
---
       Appie van de Kar, Kitty wrote, "worked all his life as a shoemaker and had a very nice shop,"which he turned over to a man he took off a wayward path and taught him the profession."
       Appie's heart problems led to bypass surgery, after which he learned about EKG procedures and became a volunteer at the Nahariya hospital -- "and loved being there helping the staff," said his daughter.
       He died Oct. 6, 1993; mercifully well before his son's death.
       Jannie survived Appie by nearly 20 years, but had the heartbreak of losing Loek for almost a decade. She, like Appie, was a volunteer in the hospital, assisting people before and after colonoscopy tests.
       "After my father passed away," Kitty wrote, "she left her volunteer work at the hospital and regularly went to a place where she, with friends, prepared cakes, coffee and soft drinks for soldiers who came from the train to the bus station to be driven to their base in the north, passing through Nahariya on their way. She loved doing it, especially since the soldiers called them 'aunts.' ... They did it until they were 90; it gave them a sense of purpose and a lot of satisfaction."
       Jannie died April 26, 2013 -- nearly three years after my mother's death.
        Kitty plans "to translate my mother's memoirs" when she is "ready to deal with her horror memories. They suffered so much that it is unbelievable they managed to start all over after the war and seem normal to the outside world.
       "Only we know what really went on with them. People in our town only remember my mother as the beautiful Mrs. van de Kar, and remember her for the kindness she showed to everyone."
---
      Recalling the story of the van de Kars and the Van Thyns, Kitty Wiener says, "is less painful when you understand how powerless they were and to appreciate that despite all this horror they were strong enough to be able to start all over.
     "I think both our parents were remarkable by actually 'inventing' themselves and starting a new life in a new country, building a new home and having the faith in themselves to be able to raise children despite it all."
     To tell the story of Appie and Louie, and especially Rose and Jannie, she says, "would have meant a lot to my mother, who kept telling what happened to them during the war and how their friendship actually saved their lives. They supported each other and that meant everything to them."
      And to us.   

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Rose and her 'camp sisters'

Jannie and Rose: Reunited in Shreveport, 1977
 (The Shreveport Times photo)
       For my mother (Rose Van Thyn), out of the horrors of the Holocaust came some beautiful relationships, ones that lasted for the rest of her life.
       A few minutes after she stepped off the train -- the cattle car -- at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, she found perhaps the greatest friend she ever would -- Marianna van de Kar.
       Everyone close to her called her Jannie. Like my mother, she was from Amsterdam.
       She was the first of what Mom forever would call her "camp sisters." And, as you will see, she played a critical role in my mother's future.
---
       When she went to Auschwitz, Mom had an older sister, Anna (called Annie). What she didn't know then, what she wouldn't know until much later, was that Annie went to the gas chambers the day she and her husband (Nico Fierlier) arrived at Auschwitz.      
       Mom often said she and the others would not have survived 2 1/2 years in Auschwitz, in the cruel medical-experimentation program, without the support of her "sisters."
       Two other women -- Hilda Meier Kretsenstein (a German native who had married a Dutch citizen) and Trees Suttendorf Van Praag-Cigar (also from Holland) -- were in the group of four who suffered that time together in Block 10.
        The "sisters" group grew to 10 on the horrific "Death March," a couple of months of walking in the middle of nowhere in Poland and then Germany, from one concentration camp to another, in the middle of a typical brutal European winter.
       This, as my mother told it, with rags for clothing, some with shoes but some (such as Mom) with pieces of wood tied to their feet with string, and with less food than clothes.
        How? How did they survive all that?
        "You were really dependent (on others); you couldn't go through that yourself," Mom said in her 1996 Shoah Foundation interview about her life and the Holocaust. "You had to have people close to you. And we took care of each other."
         Through the dire circumstances in Block 10, the women somehow became Holocaust survivors ... and bonded forever. 
         The interviewer asked my mother: "Did you, among yourselves, the four women, talk about this?"
          "Oh, sure," Mom answered. "I always said when you spend almost 2 1/2 years, or over a year and a half, with women 24 hours a day, you know more about them. I spent more time with them than I spent with my own family. We knew everything about each other.
          "We knew everything about each other," she repeated, "and at night when the guards would leave -- and I know this sounds just crazy -- we would sing songs, and since my father taught us all kinds of songs, I knew songs the other women had never heard. And the four of us, we were very, very close."
          But to the very end of their lives, it was Rose and Jannie who were the closest. They each would wind up with their families far from The Netherlands -- Mom in the U.S., Jannie in Israel -- but they always remained in touch.
         There were joyful reunions in Nahariya, Israel, and in Shreveport -- and a 1977 story in The Shreveport Times about that, a subject I will return to in this piece.
          I cannot verify this, but I believe they lived longer than any of the "camp sisters." Mom died June 27, 2010; Jannie died April 26, 2013.
          Kitty Wiener, Jannie's daughter who lives in Israel, told me in a letter that although her mother was having memory issues near the end, "she kept telling what happened to them during the war and how their friendship actually saved their lives. They supported each other and that meant everything to them."
          Kitty added, in another note, "She could never stop talking about her terrible years in Block 10, but she kept talking about Ro as the sister she had during these years."
--- 
          The day in 1942 before they were "arrested" by the Nazis and sent to the Westerbork transition camp in eastern Holland, Jannie married Abraham "Appie" van de Kar -- who had grown up in the same (mostly Jewish) neighborhood as Louis Van Thyn and Rozette Lopes-Dias. (My mother had married Moses "Mo" Lezer in the same time frame; they also were sent to Westerbork).
          Louis and Appie knew each other. They were in Auschwitz, or nearby camps, at the same time. They met again just after the Russian Army came in to find the prisoners in the camps the Nazis had abandoned in 1945. At one point, both Dad and Appie wore Russian Army uniforms they'd been given.
           Now here is the connection.
           Jannie and Appie, reunited in Amsterdam as survivors, were housed in the same diamond-cutting warehouse turned into barracks for displaced Holocaust survivors. Because they were married, they were given a separate room in the attic; Rose was among the women sleeping on cots on the bottom floor (men were on the other side of the building).
            Dad had traveled back to Belgium, where he lived from 1936 to '42 and had married Estella (who died during the war), and had seen Appie, who suggested he come to a get-together of survivors.
            And so Jannie knew Rose, Appie knew Louis -- and they were introduced. They had grown up two blocks apart (Dad was two years older), but only knew of each other.
             They began dating, they married, and the marriage lasted a mere 62 years.
             It began because of the van de Kars.
---
             The first day at Auschwitz, Sept. 16, 1943 (Mom knew that date) ...
              "So when I came out of the car, in the car next to me was a woman my age," Mom said in her Shoah Foundation interview. "I had gone to school with her, to kindergarten, elementary school, high school, and then we lost track of each other. She went with another group [of friends] and I went with a group."
             That woman was Jannie.
             "Then when we got out of the cattle cars, she grabbed my hand," Mom said, "and we were waiting with those hundred women and she said, 'I don't know what's going to happen to us, but whatever is going to happen, we are going to stay together.
          "...  And we walked about 15 minutes and we came to the gate of Auschwitz with the sign, 'Arbeit Macht Frei.' And then we went to the sauna, Block One. We went in there, we had to undress, the SS was in there with us, and they shaved us, our hair everywhere, and they sprayed some disinfectant spray or powder on us, and then they gave us ice-cold showers.
           "And we were really upset. Still didn't register where we were. Ice-cold showers, I mean in the middle of September. No soap, no towels, no nothing. They threw us some clothes. We had no striped clothes. I had, for example, a navy-blue, polka-dot dress which came to my ankles and my friend, my childhood friend who was -- and still is -- a very good-looking woman, 5-foot-10, very tall, had a very short dress. So we changed. And the SS was in there and they were making fun of us, the way we went in and the way we got out."
"Camp sisters" -- that's Rose Van Thyn (bottom left)
 and Jannie van de Kar (top row left)

---
      Here is how close Rose and Jannie were. The number tattooed into my mother's left forearm by the Nazis was 62511. Jannie's number was 62506.
      That fact was in the story done by The Times when Jannie and Appie visited with my parents in Shreveport in 1977. A copy of that story is posted below, and the photo of Mom and Jannie was taken that day by a Times photographer.
      Kitty Wiener provided the group shot of nine of the 10 Dutch "Death March" sisters (right).           
      In her Shoah Foundation interview, Mom said, "I was very close to my sister, but I'm closer with them [the camp sisters] because what we went through, and the bond we had -- all survivors have a bond. I knew their families, although I didn't know them personally, I knew, I knew who they were, I knew where they came from. We are so close.
          "It's like one of the 10 women I was with went back to Holland and moved to South Africa. I had not seen her in 40 years. She came here and it was like I had talked to her the day before. It was like 40 years didn't mean anything. We really picked up right where we left off."
            But the Van Thyns and the van de Kars, that was a special bond.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

It's true: Welcome to The City of Byrd

       My Woodlawn friends are going to love this, or maybe not. But this happened, so they should accept it.
       I spent parts of last Saturday afternoon and evening figuratively visiting The City of Byrd -- and it was a good experience.
       OK, I "crashed" the Byrd High School Class of '65 50-year reunion, and no one stopped me. But crashed isn't exactly correct; I was invited. Visited with a couple of dozen old friends -- yes, I had friends over there -- and they did not make me sing We Are The Jackets.
       But I could have; I know the words. Heard them far too often in the 1960s. Same for the Notre Dame Victory March, which also is the Byrd Victory March.
       Actually, I went to school with some of these people when I lived in the Line Avenue area of Shreveport. And I went to Sunday School, religious school, at the Jewish places of worship, and was in the B'nai Zion Temple confirmation class of 1962 with a dozen future Byrd High graduates. By then, I was about to be a Woodlawn Knight.
       On Saturday -- when I drove from Fort Worth a day ahead of my speaking appearance at the annual Shreveport-Bossier Holocaust Remembrance Service -- I was invited to a reunion of those Temple/Byrd High people.
      Ben Sour Jr., my best friend among the Jewish kids from the time we first met in about 1958, organized the reunion. In the 50 years since we all graduated from high school, I had seen only a couple of them.
       The afternoon get-together at a Shreveport restaurant was -- honestly -- exciting. I was happy to see them, and vice versa. Because a few didn't make it, and were in town for the Byrd reunion -- plus I wanted to visit longer with some others -- Ben suggested I also attend the night dinner for the '65 Yellow Jackets at East Ridge Country Club.
       So, a drawing of Jack The Jacket was the only thing guarding the entryway. I joined the Jackets.
---
With my friends Ben Sour, Danny Goldberg, David Goldberg
       I have written this about the Sunset Acres/Oak Terrace/Woodlawn kids of the late 1950s/early
1960s: They welcomed me, and accepted me, and were my friends. They were a big part of my life.
       The same for the Temple kids. I always considered them a classy group, smart kids from good  families, and almost all were much better at and more dedicated to the religious teachings than I was.
       On Saturday, it was hello again to Ben Sour, Roy Adell, Jay Cheatham, Cyrelle Gerson, Robert Levy, Fred Phillips, twins Danny and David Goldberg, Stephen Katz, and Marilyn Meyer.
       I thank them for the friendships and the memories of classes with Mrs. Sylvia Katz and, in our ninth-grade year, the confirmation grind under Rabbi David Lefkowitz Jr.  We were all in it together.
        There is a unique bond with one of the girls in the class, which I will get to at the end of this piece.
         But there also is a bond with four of the guys who were athletes in junior high and then at Byrd -- Fred Phillips, the solidly built offensive guard in football; Danny Goldberg, the tough All-State defensive end; lanky David Goldberg, a starter in basketball; and Jay Cheatham, a good-looking dark-haired, strong All-State outfielder.
         I was a manager for the Oak Terrace and Woodlawn teams that competed against the teams with these guys, but I didn't root against my friends. I was proud of the Jewish kids.
         Didn't like losing to them, though, and as Danny Goldberg kept reminding me, "You guys didn't beat us in anything."
         Well, it's true. Woodlawn was 0-3 vs. Byrd in football in my high school years. And, as I've written previously, it was a bitter rivalry. That was the game each year in Shreveport-Bossier; crowds of 20,000-plus.
          One of my friends who played football said to me a couple of years ago that he "played terrible against Byrd; I always regretted that." I had to laugh at that; it's a little late for lament. Believe me, I got over the losses years ago.
           In basketball, after going 0-for-almost four seasons against Byrd, we routed them in my senior year -- one of our four wins (in 25 games) that season when one of my best friends, Ken Liberto, scored 37 points, hitting 19 free throws. That was in 19 attempts.
          And in baseball, best I can remember, we won six of eight games vs. Byrd in three years. So we didn't lose in everything.
          But, yes, Byrd was king in football those years, district champion twice and robbed of a chance for three in a row.
          Then, too, Woodlawn did quite well in football after we graduated -- five consecutive wins (all of them one-sided) against Byrd from '65 to '69, five district titles in a row, one state championship and six trips to the state semifinals in a 14-year period (1965-78).
           Byrd in that time: no district titles, no semifinals.
           I think the Woodlawn people can feel OK about the '60s and '70s. Besides, we also had a great school.
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          I always loved the history of the older schools in Shreveport-Bossier, the tradition -- whether it was Byrd, Fair Park, Bossier or St. John's (later Jesuit, now Loyola College Prep), Booker T. Washington. Once I became a sportswriter, it was a treat to go to the schools and visit.
          I was a fan of all of them, and now I have friends from all the schools in the area.
          My opinion: Byrd remains Shreveport-Bossier's "star" school -- the best academics, some of the best athletics. It was certainly that way in the 1960s. Those people at Saturday night's reunion have reason to be proud.
          All the schools were terrific then, but Byrd probably is the closest to what it was then. Its magnet-school program and its active alumni base have kept it that way, and they are updating the building and grounds, which have been there since the school's first year (1926).
          Here was one of the fun parts for me Saturday night -- not only seeing the Temple kids, but also talking with others who were athletes.
          There were old friends from baseball such as James Gillespie, who looks young enough to still pitch nine innings, and Glenn Theis; and some football players who I'd seen play but had never met -- Gene Hunt, the inspirational quarterback; Robert Pirtle; Bill Erwin, a tremendous all-around athlete in junior high and high school; and Joe Walker, who (as I told him) I considered the unsung hero of the team, a big-play guy at receiver and cornerback.
          Two other longtime friends from that Byrd Class of  '65: pitcher-turned-umpire/referee Clyde Oliver "T-Willie" Moore and Shreveport Captains owner-operator Taylor F. ("Frosty") Moore.
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Gene Hunt, still No. 10
        I wrote about Dr. Gene Hunt previously, in relation to the Byrd-Woodlawn rivalry and his opposing QB for two years, Trey Prather.   http://nvanthyn.blogspot.com/2012/04/dr-hunt-delivered-for-byrd.html
        Gene gave a rousing speech at the Class of '65 gathering Saturday morning in the Byrd auditorium. That night, as I approached him, he was busy talking to someone and, before I even spoke, he handed me a CD entitled The Sounds of Byrd.
          I didn't even have to ask.  But I did laugh, and I gladly accepted. A few minutes later, I had a nice talk with Gene.
          On the drive home to Fort Worth the next day, I listened to the 30-minute CD, which includes sound bytes from 1964-65 -- football practice with coaches revving up players, the "Go West Day" against Fair Park to end the regular season, tunes from the Byrd band, songs from the choir, skits and cheers from cheerleaders and the pep squad, pep rallies with the principal, J.H. Duncan, firing up the students, the P.A. describing game action while Byrd wrapped up the district title with a 14-0 win against a very good Fair Park team.
           And then the raising of the Victory Flag back at the school, a rousing version of We Are The Jackets (I got chills listening to it, and sang along), the students chanting "We're Number One" (and they were), and then the Byrd alma mater.
           I discovered about a year ago that the We Are The Jackets tune is adapted from the theme song of the movie Giant.
           Listening to the Byrd alma mater -- which the CD narration said has been used since 1943 -- I thought I was hearing Love Me Tender. So when I got home, I did some research.
           Wikipedia says Love Me Tender, written for Elvis Presley for the 1956 movie, "puts new words to a new musical adaptation of the Civil War song Aura Lee, published in 1861. ... It later became popular with college glee clubs and barbershop quartets. It was also sung at the U.S. Military Academy."
            Hey, do you people at Byrd do anything original? Aura Lee, Giant, Notre Dame Victory March ... At least -- I think -- the Woodlawn alma mater and fight song were original compositions by our first band director, Richard Jennings.
            But, look, I loved the CD. We are the Jackets -- best of all!
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            There was one more reunion within the reunion for me. Ben Sour happened to mention the name Stan Gove. When he did, I almost jumped. Stan graduated in the Byrd Class of '65, but in 1957-59, when we moved to Sunset Acres, he and his family lived just across the street from us. I jumped their back fence hundreds of times to get to the Sunset Acres Elementary playground.
            We were friends and playing companions; he was in my sixth-grade class. So to see Stan -- whose family moved to the Byrd district as we entered junior high -- after all these years was another treat.                        
             Of all the people at the reunion, though, I went back further with one girl -- Marilyn Meyer (married name Kaplan for the past six months). When I saw her Saturday afternoon, the first thing she said was, "I remember in third grade ..."
Marilyn Meyer Kaplan
        On Jan. 12, 1956, the day we arrived by train in Shreveport at 7 a.m.-- after leaving The Netherlands by boat 15 days earlier --  I was enrolled at Line Avenue Elementary School that afternoon. Marilyn was in my classroom that day; she was in my third- and fourth-grade classes, then again for five years in Sunday School.
        She was, as I told her, the smartest girl in the class -- in fact, in any class she was in.  
        Talking about those days was an emotional few minutes for me. I remember how difficult it was to make the adjustment to a foreign place. http://nvanthyn.blogspot.com/2012/05/at-first-i-got-in-line.html             
        "You were cute," she said, "and you were small. I was small, too, so I liked that. You ate strange food, and I remember that I was fascinated because you were from a different culture. That's always fascinated me throughout my life and career."
       She also remembered my frustration -- "books slamming and desk-pounding" -- and that "sometimes we liked each other, and sometimes we didn't." And, yes, I remember that, too. But when she apologized for her behavior, there was no need. Because I was not an easy kid to know.
       It's all ancient history now, and the seniors of 1965 -- Byrd, Woodlawn, etc. -- are somewhat ancient. But those of us still here are not history, and for that we're grateful. And I'm grateful that for one night, I hung out in The City of Byrd.
       Danny Goldberg laughingly told me that if I was around for their 60th class reunion, they might award me an honorary degree from Byrd.
       I told him that I have 10 years to think about it. I'm thinking my Woodlawn friends are not going to approve.