Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sunset Acres was home

      Back to our early days in the United States and in Shreveport ...
      We left off a couple of months ago with our move to the Sunset Acres neighborhood on the Fourth of July, 1957. After 1 1/2 years in the Line Avenue area, one of the oldest parts in town, we were going to the suburbs, in southwest Shreveport.
        It was, other than the move to the U.S. from Holland as 1955 turned to '56, the most significant move of my early life. I never regretted it. I was unsure of it then, but not for long. I'm certainly not now.
       I loved that neighborhood.
       I'm not alone. If you look on Facebook, and see the "Sunset Acres Elementary Alumni" and "Sunset Acres Neighborhood" pages, you'll see I have lots of company.
       Ask me where I'm from, and I could answer Holland, or Amsterdam, or Shreveport, or some of the other places we've lived, and right now I will say Fort Worth. But what I really like to say is, I'm from Sunset Acres. I was a Sunset Acres kid. Proud of it.
        It is what I consider "home."
       It is probably going to take me several blog pieces to write all I want about Sunset Acres. Might be more than you want. Bear with me.
       We lived there a little more than 10 years, 1957 to 1967, ages 10 to 20 for me. Formative years. Fun years. Great fun.
        That house, painted green on the outside, at 2921 Amhurst (later changed to Amherst), was the first house my parents owned, which was remarkable because we'd only been in the U.S. for a short time.
       Obviously, the price wasn't too high -- my dad was not one to live above his means -- and I suspect the Gilbert family and Mrs. Cahn -- whom I've written about previously -- helped us afford it.
       In my life -- 65 years -- I've never lived in one house longer than those 10 years.
      The house wasn't much -- living room, kitchen, one not-so-large bathroom, parents' bedroom, two smaller kids bedrooms, narrow hallway, no central air/heating -- two space heaters, two window air conditioning units. It was a big help when my dad, through work contacts, got a den/television room added on behind the carport and kitchen a couple of years later.
        An air conditioning repairman as one next-door neighbor, the fabulous C.J. Hamaker, and his new wife, the mother of two kids about my age, Glen and Nancy Gordon). Soon, Randy Hamaker was born.
          On the other side, the Gwins -- railroad engineer Howard, Lou and the girls, Sherry and Debbie, both just younger than my sister Elsa. For the next 50 years, Lou Gwin would be as close a friend as my mother would ever have.

This is not our Snowball, but you get
 the idea of what he looked like
when we got him as a puppy.
           For the first time ever, we had a yard -- and a dog. Two yards, front and back. Unfenced in the back at first. But as soon as we added Snowball, the feisty Spitz who would generate great adventures and great love for the next 14 years or so, a fence went up in the back. Occasionally, it would keep Snowball locked in.
           He was a helluva digger and hell-raiser. Got his tail run over and broke a back leg the first month we had him. Lost his tail, but the leg -- put in a cast -- mended. He didn't lose any speed. When he got out, it was work to catch him and haul him back. Only happened hundreds of times.
           When we came to Sunset Acres, it was almost new. The trees were young and small; urban sprawl hadn't really hit. There weren't many strip malls, if any. A few stores here and there. A new Pak-A-Sak close by (it would become 7-11).
           We were the second family to live in our house, but most people living in Sunset Acres homes were the original occupants.
            It was a distinctly middle-class, working-class neighborhood. Few families with a lot of money here; not a great deal of poverty, either. Not many lawyers or doctors or city leaders; those were across town. Conservative, Democractic and, yes, even redneck. Some folks were still fighting the Civil War.
           My great friend, Casey Baker, says the neighborhood was developed starting in about 1950-51, mostly for GIs, the returning World War II veterans who could afford to buy the homes under the GI Bill. The Bakers were among the first families in Sunset Acres, on Bowie Street, one block from Mansfield Road.
            The heart of the community was Sunset Acres Elementary School, located almost in the center of the neighborhood, at the corner of West Canal and Sunnybrook. The school year we arrived was the school's fourth. Casey and his buddies were there when it opened, our second-grade year (1954-55).
            When I first got to know the Bakers, they lived on "the other side of the canal." The canal. Other than the school -- and later the brand-new Oak Terrace Junior High just a few blocks away -- nothing was more distinctive than the canal which ran north-south right through the middle of Sunset Acres.
            You either lived "on this side of the canal" or "the other side of the canal." And, believe me, you knew where most of the kids in Sunset Acres lived, if not the exact house, at least the vicinity. You knew all the streets; you traveled those streets by bike or on foot. Many, many times.              
         The canal ran parallel to and between -- surprise -- West Canal Street, where the elementary school was located, and Canal Street. It was really a concrete ditch and, while we called it a canal, it never had much water in it. What water it had was great breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
          It was tough to get into the canal because the banks were steep, and the area between it and the backyard fences was overgrown with bushes and brambles. You could get quite scratched up playing around it.
         But you'd see kids playing in there. I didn't have much desire -- or the guts -- to do that. (However, there's a story there. I'll get to it soon.)
         The canal, though, split the neighborhood only geographically. Not in spirit. You made friends, no matter where they lived. And the friendships lasted; looking at my Facebook friends today, I counted 26 with Sunset Acres ties (and there's probably more). I like that.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

These kids are grand

Josie announcing  that she is going
to be a cat for Halloween.
     We are driving out of Little Rock headed toward Memphis when we reach the I-30/I-40 split. Of course, I'm in the wrong lane, too far left when I should be going to I-40 on the right. Cars are flying by, and I'm having trouble getting to where I want to be.  
     Have to pull up in the median at the split and wait for space to open. Finally, it's calm and I scoot the car to the right, then pick up speed.
       Josie, 4 1/2, has been watching from her seat in the back, not saying anything. Once we get going again, she blurts out, "That was awful, Opa."
      Jacob is 3 1/2, and averse to taking naps these days. He's told that when he comes to Granny Bea and Opa Nico's house, he will be taking a nap. "I don't want to go night-night," he says. It turns into a crying, screaming fit -- the kind I never saw his daddy do some 30-plus years ago (Aunt Rachel, yes; Josie, yes).
       Finally, I get him quiet and on the bed. He's calm, and we're talking. He's stalling -- asking for something to eat or drink or to read another book or put on a different type of music. But Opa insists he's going to go to sleep.
        A quiet half-minute. And then Jacob says, "You are not my friend, Nico."
        And he grins, that grin just like his daddy's.
        Opa is laughing so hard he's crying.
        Kaden is 1 1/2, doesn't have words yet, but he can babble -- a lot. He has straight hair -- blond like his brother, but nothing like Jacob's curly mop. He loves balls, any kind, and there are plenty of them at Granny and Opa's apartment.
        Kaden can pitch those balls. He winds up, he's got perfect form and he sends the balls flying. Then he poses, foot forward, determined look on his puckered-up face. He's a pitcher.
         Then he's laughing.
        Oh, the grandkids. They're better than any ballgame. They are the joys of our lives. Can't say that anything I've ever done, any role I've ever played, is more enjoyable than being Opa. Granny Bea will agree.
Kaden and Jacob sharing a shaved ice.
         Nothing better than hearing their laughter, or receiving their hugs and kisses. It's not even so bad changing their diapers. Fortunately, Kaden is the only one remaining in that category; the battles with Jacob finally having taken hold.
         The kids come quickly in a marriage; in fact, Jason was almost 3 when Bea and I got married in 1977. Rachel came along two years later. You're young and you're working, and you feel pressure, and perhaps you're uncertain that what you're doing with your kids is the correct thing to do.
         Maybe I didn't enjoy our kids as much as I could have; I was too harsh with them, too demanding. Too much turmoil at home. Lots of regret there, although they came through it all, and they're young adults now, settled with their own families and their own lives.
         The grandkids are the reward for those 30-something years of marriage. You wait so long for them. When the kids are expecting, it's a time of anxiety. But those three days when they arrived -- Oct. 23, 2007 (Josie), Feb. 8, 2009 (Jacob) and March 1, 2011 (Kaden) -- are three of the greatest days of our lives.
         What a joy. We love taking care of them -- and we get the boys quite often because Jay and Ann are busy with their Cajun food truck business. We had Josie for a week in May; her first stay with us without her mother.
        But it's not that easy; we're not as young as we used to be. They demand attention; they need some oversight. The boys are into everything and Jacob, who loves his little brother, does not always love sharing his toys. At times, he'll hide them under a pile of stuffed animals so Kaden can't get to them.
        I can see a lot of possession battles in the future, and we are the referees.
        Josie reminds us so much of the young Rachel -- she looks like her, and she's bright and curious, creative, talkative, dramatic, has loved her videos and books since she was tiny, memorizes the scripts and the words and recites them to you, can draw and paint, and does so with great intensity.
        She behaved admirably in the week she was with us, only one meltdown for about 10 seconds. She was a delight. She only asked about her parents -- and going home -- a couple of times. But she was obviously happy to get back to Knoxville.
       After her first day back at her daycare, we went to pick her up. As we pulled away, she timidly asked, "Are we going back to Texas?" She was quite relieved to learn we were going to her house.
         Looking at Jacob is like looking at the young Jason. He's built like him; he sounds like him, but his face is Ann's face and his hair -- the curly hair -- is Ann's hair. It is Jacob's trademark now; everywhere we go, any pictures we show of him, that's what people comment on.
        He's as busy as Jay was back then, and he's just as bright. Doesn't forget much. He has his routines around our apartment, and he sticks to them ... too many to list. He can sing the LSU fight song, too. Not that I ever encourage him to do that.
        Kaden can say "cat" and "light" and "Ja-cob," and he's getting too big to stay in his pack-and-play; he's on the verge of being able to climb out. He can climb on the fold-out chair Jacob has been using, and he can let you know that he wants a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich just like Jacob has.
       Soon enough for Kaden: Hey Fightin' Tigers.
        When they came to the apartment last Saturday, I was wearing my purple LSU jersey.
        "Why you wearing LSU?" Jacob asked. I told him because it was gameday. Did he want to watch football with Opa? "No, I want to watch cartoons," he answered. So it was Team Umizoomi and  Wonder Pets before Arkansas-Alabama.
          It reminded me, though, of last fall when, on a Friday, we were at Jason and Ann's house babysitting and I had to change Jacob's clothes. Pulled out an LSU shirt and he said, "No, Opa, it's not gameday."
         Of course, in Knoxville, I'm trying to get my granddaughter to say, "Go Tigers." Invariably, she will answer, "Go Vols."
        Now that's awful.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Making the writer look good

        Editing sports stories for newspapers -- and these days for the Internet and Internet blogs -- can be tricky. Not difficult (unless you're on deadline), just tricky.
         The sports copy editor's job is to make the writer look good. Many writers are outstanding, and don't need much editing or any help looking good. But most copy needs a second (and third) look. Some stories need an overhaul.
         Mike Richey, my old buddy from Monroe, La., and the first sports editor I worked with at the Florida Times-Union, used to remind me that if the writers were all that good, we (sports copy editors) wouldn't be necessary.
          In newspapers, I was a sports editor, assistant sports editor, high school editor (making assignments, editing copy), writer/sometimes columnist and -- mostly for the past 25 years -- sports copy editor.
          In editing copy, your objective is to give the story clarity, to eliminate the clutter and  repetitiveness, to make it flow and easy to read, to give it the proper grammar and punctuation, but mostly -- in my view -- to be sure it's accurate. Correct facts and names are top priorities.
          Opinions should be left alone ... unless the facts are just wrong. Then you need to check with the writer.
           And that's the tricky part. Some writers don't want to be corrected, don't want you messing with their stories, don't want you -- as I heard so often at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram -- "taking their voice."
            It can be an adversarial situation -- the writer and the copy editor. It doesn't have to be, but if egos become involved, and they often do, there can be problems.
            I've found plenty of writers with plenty of ego. Didn't like them complaining, especially to the higher-ups. I always found that unbecoming. If they had a problem with something I changed, I could explain it to them.
            So you do have to be careful making changes. I've had my share of screwups, believe me, and I know what it's like to have changes made to things I've written -- changes I didn't like. What I learned to do years ago was not go back and see what was done to my stories, and -- because I've been a copy editor -- not to complain about those changes. What's done is done.
            Never considered myself a "wordsmith," whatever that is, or an expert on grammar or punctuation. I've worked with many copy editors with more ability and knowledge than I had.
            But I did try to edit with sensitivity and integrity. I saw some editors rewrite people's stories completely, without feedback from the writer. That wasn't cool, in my opinion. Sure, I've rewritten stories -- especially ones by young writers -- but I tried to explain to those writers what I was doing, and what they could do to improve.
              Some listened and learned; some ignored everything you pointed out, and never or seldom got better.
             One example of improvement: Matt Hayes came to us at the Florida Times-Union right out of the University of Florida. He was just learning as a writer and not many days went by that I didn't go over his stories with him, pointing out what he could do better, take a better angle, improve his grammar, whatever. 
Matt Hayes

      Encouraged him -- as I would encourage any young writer -- to read good writers, see what they did. And he did. He improved, kept improving, to the point that he now is one of the national college football writers for Sporting News, and -- if you don't see his stuff -- he is a bigtime writer.
            One of my problems reading the papers these days, and the Internet, and even Sports Illustrated or Sporting News, is that I read it like a copy editor. I still see plenty I could change.
            From reading copy at our local newspaper, I know we have writers/columnists who don't punctuate well -- don't know what takes a possessive and what doesn't and wouldn't know where a comma belongs if it lands in their laps. One writes run-on sentence tacked onto run-on sentence, with no commas in sight.
             (Reminds me of the time at the Times-Union when I inserted several commas into a guy's story. He was a very good writer, but his sentences that day needed some stops. Offended by my editing, the next story he turned in had NO punctuation at all. That petulant act cost him a suspension and a week's pay.)
          Just as I wrote about my cliche' quirks, I have my editing quirks. I share them with some fellow sports copy editors; we discussed these things, and I tried to listen.
          Here are a few items for Copy Editing 102:
          Why -- and I see this almost every day in the paper are there references to runs scored, or touchdowns scored, or innings pitched? What else are you going to do with runs, touchdowns or innings? Just writing runs, touchdowns or innings will work.
           Why write the pitcher allowed so many runs and/or hits? That sounds like permission. The pitcher gave us those runs and hits. Same with the usage of may instead of might ... may connotes permission.
           My friend Ken -- who I mentioned in the previous blog -- never liked the use of straight ... as in nine straight victories (rather than wins) or nine straight seasons. It's used every day, but his point is that it is used incorrectly. So we always tried to change it to consecutive victories or, say, nine victories in a row.
           He also felt that teams don't have their winning streaks snapped (again, that connotes permission). The Nationals' winning streak was snapped.
           We can write that a team won its third game in a row. No, actually it might be, say, its 122nd game in a row, but it was its third victory in a row. See the difference?
            Again, some people -- some copy editors -- would say these are needless changes, nitpicking, personal preferences. All true.
            What I'm seeing often now: A sentence that starts in one direction then twists in another direction. BUT there's no comma before "then." It's a run-on sentence. In my world, if the thought changes, if the sentence needs a pause, always use the comma.
             Here is the error that I find most common in today's sports stories: the use of it and they. I see this from the very best writers to those who don't have a clue (and possibly never will). I learned the correct usage as a kid because Jim McLain at The Shreveport Times corrected me on it a dozen times before I caught on.
              The rule is this: Common name -- Dallas, New York, LSU -- is followed by it. Team nickname -- Cowboys, Yankees, Tigers -- is followed by they or them.
             Correct: Dallas won its season opener. (NOT Dallas won their season opener.) The Cowboys won their season opener.
             Correct: New York has blown its 10-game lead in the AL East. (NOT New York still thinks they are the team to beat.) The Yankees still think they are the team to beat.
             Correct: LSU has as good a defense as it had last year. (NOT LSU likes their chances for a national championship.) LSU likes its chances.)
             OK, got it? I can find incorrect usages of it/they a half dozen times a day in the newspaper, maybe even a dozen times.
            A week ago Thursday, on Page 2 of my paper in the "High School Huddle," there were 23 incorrect usages -- mostly "they" instead of "it" when referring to teams. Yes, 23 ... I am not making that up.
           My opinion: shameful. If the writers got it wrong, they should be told. And a copy editor should correct it. No one looks good here. 
             This old-school sports copy editor has a tough time with that kind of journalism. But maybe it doesn't matter these days.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

If it's a cliche, get rid of it

   Cliche': (1) a trite phrase of expression; also: the idea expressed by it; (2) a hackneyed theme, characterization, or situation; (3) something that has become overly familiar or commonplace.
     My friend Ken wrote on Facebook that he had his "first week of work under my belt."
    My friend Gil wrote in the newspaper that "the visiting Tigers ... already had a game ... under their belts."
     Why, I ask, under their belts? Are they hiding something?
     I'm picking on my friends because I can. One is one of the best sports copy editors I've worked with in a long career. The other is one of my favorite columnists, a guy who requires very little editing.
      Cliches, my daughter reminds me, are a part of everyday speech. Unfortunately -- in my opinion -- they are a part of everyday newspaper/Internet stories and blogs.
      One of my goals as a sports copy editor for 40-something years was to eliminate cliches. OK, it was more than a goal. It was part of my curmudgeonly, obsessive side.
      So I don't want to see "under by belt," or someone being "given the nod," or someone being inked"(signed will do every time). Pitchers don't toss games; they're throwing the ball. You don't nab a victory; you nab criminals or animals. Just take a victory, or claim it, or earn it. Same for captured a win or a title (captured is one of the most overused verbs in sports journalism). Again, save it for criminals or animals.
        Teams aren't involved in contests; they are games. They don't trek places; they take trips. It's not intermission in football or basketball; it's halftime. Save intermission for the theater. Pitchers don't pitch frames; they pitch innings. They don't have three innings of work; three innings will do.
         Don't want people doing most of the heavy lifting. You can write they did most of the work, and that's no cliche'. 
         Those aren't buckets; it's not bucketball. It's not treys; it's 3-pointers. I know everyone camps out in the paint now; they used to be in the lane.
         I'm really tired, too, of reading about people stepping up.
         Birdies (in golf) aren't bagged; they're made. Saved the bagged for hunting.
         Don't want to see gridiron, or hardcourt, or diamond, or on the links, or references to gridders, cagers, flannel-clads, thinclads. Don't really need a biscuit in the basket (that's the old hockey cliche' for a goal).
         Quarterbacks, if you want the cliche', are signal-callers.
          This is '30s, '40s, '50s and '60s-type sportswriting. Still, I see many of these cliches in today's local newspaper and on the Internet and -- unbelievably -- in Sports Illustrated or Sporting News.
         I've got hundreds of them. Writers easily fall back on them. Even if you make note of it, it requires some discipline -- or maybe in my case, obsessiveness -- to avoid them.
          I think it clutters writing; it makes me want to stop reading. Frankly, it irritates me. My wife thinks it doesn't matter to the reader, who simply wants information or to be entertained or to read someone's opinion on a subject. 
          And here's one of my least favorite ones: Never looked back. I used to tell the young people I "coached" in sports journalism that if they wrote that phrase, they were not going to write for us again (I was kidding, but hopefully they got the point.)
          LSU took the lead and never looked back. The Yankees took the lead and never looked back. Does that mean the team never gave up the lead, never gave up the momentum, never ran into any trouble? Then write it that way, without the cliche'.
          If you're reading the game story, or you're thinking back on the game, you are looking back.
          But if you read this blog regularly, you'll know that looking back is one of the things I do best. 
           So, there you have my distaste for cliches. I delete them out of copy or change them because I think it improves the writing. It doesn't hurt the copy. Or maybe I do it because of personal preference. 
          Next time I will write about copy editing in sports in general. But for now, I'm happy to have gotten this view of cliches out from under my belt.           

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Not a black-and-white world

Clifford Pennywell
     The death of Coach Clifford Pennywell at age 80 last week in Shreveport brought to the forefront a blog piece I've planned to write for some time.
      When I saw that Clifford had passed away, I had a feeling of regret. He was an interesting guy, a guy I wish I had gone back and visited, just to touch base and rehash the years. Because, even though our relationship was fine, I always felt I hadn't know him well enough.
      How many times do we wish for that one more conversation? I could give you a quick list of a hundred people that would fit that category? Anyway, more about Pennywell in a moment.
      The integration of schools in Caddo and Bossier Parishes -- court-ordered, of course -- in January 1970 was a difficult time for everyone -- administration, faculties, students, the public, even the media.
       It began with the shifting of administrators and faculty members, including coaching staffs. Whites were sent to all-black schools; blacks were sent to all-white (with a few exceptions) schools.
       Longtime coaching staffs were broken up. No one was very happy. The ones sent to other schools didn't want to be there; the people remaining at those schools didn't want them there.
       And that was only the preliminary steps. Beginning with the next school year in the fall, students were shifted. Previous all-black high schools -- such as Union, Valencia, Eden Gardens, Walnut Hill, Charlotte Mitchell (Bossier) -- were closed; those students were integrated into previous all-white schools such as Woodlawn, Southwood, Captain Shreve, Byrd, Fair Park and Northwood.
          Some all-black high schools -- Booker T. Washington, Bethune and Linear -- remained open. But the LIALO, the athletics association for blacks, folded into the LHSAA.
          Schools in Shreveport-Bossier -- and other places -- changed for good; so did athletics. For the better? In some ways, yes; in some ways, probably not. It's an individual judgment. Certainly, I'd say the quality of athletes was as good as it'd ever been. Attendance and public interest weren't.
           In Caddo Parish, and Bossier, head coaches in football and basketball remained intact wherever possible. But the men who had been head coaches at the all-black schools that closed were forced to move, most of them to assistant-coach positions, with the promise of first shots at head coaching jobs that came open.
           Which brings me back to Clifford Pennywell, who of all the coaches forced to move might've gotten the most unfortunate deal for one major reason.
           Pennywell was Robert Parish's first high school basketball coach. But not his last.
           In Parish's freshman and sophomore years, the still raw but already 7-foot center led Union High -- with Pennywell as coach -- to the LIALO state semifinals. But when Parish and the rest of the Union students were sent to all-white schools -- most of them to nearby Woodlawn -- Pennywell didn't go with them.
             Woodlawn already had a very successful coach, Ken Ivy, who had taken his 1968-69 team to the Class AAA state championship (a team that included one black starter, an All-State point guard named Melvin Russell, who had come to Woodlawn from Union on a "freedom of choice," or minority-to-majority, transfer allowable at that time.)
           Pennywell, meanwhile, was able to continue as a head coach when there was an opening at Booker T. Washington, and he was also the athletic director there. And for the next decade, BTW was usually one tough basketball team to face. Pennywell knew what he was doing.
           That first school year of integration, 1969-70, was also my first year as a fulltime sportswriter at The Shreveport Times. We had an all-white sports staff and we rarely, if ever, covered the LIALO school games.
          We left that to a correspondent named Andrew Harris, sports editor of the Shreveport Sun, which served the black public. He was a decent writer and reliable, friendly guy who, if things had been different, could have been on our sports staff.
           The next school year, when the all-black schools merged into the LHSAA and our realm, I was beginning to take over direction of the prep coverage. I went to each Caddo-Bossier school -- more than a dozen -- before that football season for a preview and to meet the coaching staffs, to let them know we were interested.
           Here's what I found: Coaches were coaches, people were people.
           Many of the black coaches whom I hadn't met before were classy and capable and friendly. Some proved not to be as capable, and left the feeling they didn't trust you. Some were easily accessible; some were extremely difficult to reach, even by phone.
             Some consistently had winning teams and lasted a long time in the job. Some did not win, and left coaching in a short time. Some did not win, but were great with the kids, dealt well with people, and lasted a long time because the Caddo Parish School Board did not emphasize winning.
            Some were bitter about their schools being closed and their positions taken away, and that was understandable.
          Some appreciated what was written about them and their teams; most did not say much in that regard. (Same as white coaches, I must add).
            One coach, a year or two after leaving coaching, was flat-out ugly to me verbally one day, accusing me of racism.
           Another, a successful basketball coach, screamed at me one day in his team's locker room after a game, telling me to "get out and leave my kids alone." The story was this: A couple of times driving away from the school, I had seen three of his top players walking home after a game, asked if they needed a ride, and gave it to them. I'm not sure what he thought I was doing other than trying to be helpful.
            Another basketball coach, a popular guy I really liked, ordered me out of his gym during practice one day because he was mad that his team had dropped in The Times' area poll. He blamed me for that; actually, I was only one of about 10 voters in the poll.
            A baseball coach, on the phone calling in statistics, point-blank accused me of being prejudiced against his team one day.
            But mostly there were friendships made and a mutual respect, and I found so many good guys who wanted to coach, who loved the kids, and who wanted to win.
        Clifford Pennywell was an "old-school" guy. He had grown up in Shreveport when being a black person meant tough times. He had attended the Colored Central school which preceded BTW's opening on Milam Street in 1949. He began coaching in 1956 and was comfortable in his setting at Union.
          So moving to BTW in 1970, staying in an all-black setting, was probably OK with him. Still, it had to be bittersweet for him to see Parish and some of the other kids he had coached at Union go to Woodlawn and have back-to-back seasons of 35-2 and 36-2, state runner-up and state championship teams. And to have his BTW teams play against Parish and Woodlawn.
         Clifford was, I know, tough on his players, worked them hard. A friend told me he stressed being at practice and being on time and, if the kids were late or misbehaving, "he'd lay the wood on them" (paddled them).
          He was one of the great whistlers I've seen in coaching (Louisiana Tech football assistant/baseball coach Pat "Gravy" Patterson was the other). When Pennywell whistled in the cozy BTW gym, you could hear it on nearby Milam Street. It caught everyone's attention, but especially his players.
           BTW had some very competitive teams that made the playoffs and one wonderful guard named Billy Burton, who was our Times co-Player of the Year with Airline's Mike McConathy in 1973 because I didn't want to pick one over the other.
         But Clifford was a hard guy to figure. Many people felt he was arrogant, or haughty -- and I could see why. He was sure of himself, but also pretty guarded. To me, he was like the Wizard of Oz; there was something behind the Pennywell curtain you weren't going to see.
         He wasn't expansive with answers to questions, but he didn't make excuses for his team, wasn't all that critical of referees (but there would be veiled hints) and when he was done with an interview or a conversation, he sometimes just turned and walked off without a good-bye. He had, as a friend noted, "an attitude."
        I know, though, that he liked me because he would joke with people he liked, and he'd often have a wisecrack for me when I'd cover a game involving BTW  (I did more than a couple of "Soul Bowl" BTW-Green Oaks football games.) 
        I do remember he never complained about coverage, and that extended to the coverage of his son, Carlos, who -- because the Pennywells lived across town from BTW -- played for Captain Shreve.
         Carlos was one of the great all-around athletes in Shreveport-Bossier history -- a football/basketball/baseball star, the best player (an explosive wide receiver) on Shreve's 1973 state football championship team, and also a sometimes demonstrative talent not well-liked by opponents. (He went on to star in football at Grambling, then spent four seasons -- 1978-81 -- with the New England Patriots, and probably should have been in the NFL longer than that.)
          Again, as with Parish, it must've been tough for Coach Pennywell to see his own son play (and beat) the teams he coached.
          One of his coaching contemporaries talked about how organized he was, how -- as a P.E. teacher and coach -- he held to the values he had learned at Grambling under Prez Jones and Eddie Robinson, and how much of a role model he was for younger black coaches, how he worked to get his players college opportunities. And, yes, he didn't socialize or mix much with other coaches; thus, the reputation for being his own man.
           I learned this week that Clifford had been in a nursing home for some eight years, and I'm so sorry to hear that. He was, above all, a good family man. And to me, he was a symbol of a difficult but important transition in Shreveport-Bossier athletics.               

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Ready to geaux ... Tigers

       It must be gameday for LSU football. That nervous feeling I've had all week tells me so.
       Yes, nervous, even though the opponent -- North Texas -- isn't quite Alabama or Arkansas or Florida or Auburn or Ole Miss. Doesn't matter. Don't know about the Tigers, but I don't take any opponent lightly. As I tell my buddies at the newspaper, they can all beat you.
        That's why they play the games.
Here we geaux down Victory Hill.
        Yeah, nervous. When my thoughts all week keep coming back to the game -- like every minute or so -- I know I'm nervous.
        It's always been that way -- whether it was Oak Terrace or Woodlawn athletics in the '60s, the Yankees since 1956, the Cowboys from the mid-1960s through the next three decades (not any more, though) and Dutch soccer since forever. I'm not a relaxed fan.
          But LSU football is what really gets to me these days. I've been back on the bandwagon ever since my son, Jason, started school there in the fall of '92 (he graduated five years later, but he's still like a student there when it comes to being a football fan).
           Of course, as a kid, listening to LSU games on the radio was an every Saturday happening in the fall from 1958 until I went to college. Oh, I loved those elongated "Go Tigers" and "Tiger Bait" chants and listening to the band, to the alma mater, to John Ferguson saying, "He's got 3 yards, 4, 5" or "Pat Screen rolls out ... shoots a pass upfield ..."
           In a different era of rock-hard defensive, run-oriented football, the game was almost always low-scoring, tight, tense.  And I was as nervous then, listening to my little transitor radio, as I am now watching almost every LSU game on TV.
           The greatest play in LSU football history -- Billy Cannon's punt return against Ole Miss, Halloween night, 1959 -- sent me running out of the house into the street, screaming. Not kidding. (So did Chris Chambliss' pennant-winning home run for the Yankees in '76 and the Bucky Dent home run vs. the Red Sox in '78.)
            I'm a bit calmer now -- most of the time. But you can ask the guys at the Star-Telegram what happened the night Ole Miss blocked LSU's extra-point kick that would have won the game with seconds left. Chairs went flying, and not figuratively. Luckily, the Tigers won in overtime.
          Jason, my son, was at that game. When I talked to him a few minutes after it was over, he said, "Dad, I wasn't worried. I knew we'd win in overtime. We had all the momentum." Great, Jay. Glad you were so confident.
           I've got a lot of LSU's football history stored away, but I'm not as versed on it as my friends who covered the Tigers for years -- Bob Tompkins, Scooter Hobbs, Marty Mule', Gil LeBreton, Glenn Guilbeau, Jim Kleinpeter, John Adams, among many others. Not as sure about past players and games on LSU as I am about the Yankees, Cowboys or Dutch soccer.
           What I am sure of is that all of those sports entities have tremendous fans. Heck, yeah, I'm prejudiced. But none of them have an atmosphere like LSU football has.
           In sports, there's not much that's quite as good as gameday on the LSU campus. It's a wonderful atmosphere and we -- Jay and his buddies -- like following the band on its march to the stadium, the stop at the top of Victory Hill, the traditional "four corners" salute, and then the run down the hill.
           Love all the LSU traditions and numbers the band plays.
           I've been to gamedays at Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Kentucky, and La. Tech, and they're all good.  Everyone is excited; everyone is happy, and looking forward to the game. Drinks flow freely.
           The difference at most places now from the "old days" is the all-day tailgating, and here is why LSU tops them all: The food -- the Cajun food -- is the best. And LSU fans, mostly, don't mind sharing. Most seem to be sober, at least until sundown.
            I love to listen to those people from South Louisiana, with their Cajun lilt, trade views on what's happening with the Tigers and what's going to happen.
            Wish I could be there every home game. But I can't; in fact, I seldom go these days. It's a tough trip from Fort Worth. Haven't seen a game at Tiger Stadium since 2007 -- the fabulous Florida game -- but I've seen at least one game almost every season (home or away) since 2001.
              Love the sight of that purple, gold and white crowd of 92,000-93,000 at Tiger Stadium; it's quite a view from our seats high in the south end zone, upper deck, right under the scoreboard. It's quite a sight from the press box, too.
              Love the LSU uniforms, always have. When I was a kid and newspaper photos were black-and-white, I would color the uniforms for both teams. Of course, I was always partial to red-and-blue (Woodlawn and La. Tech), and purple-and-gold was Byrd High School, so that didn't add up. It didn't help that Ole Miss -- damn Ole Miss -- was red-and-blue, and it was LSU's toughest (and most hated) opponent.
              Honestly, I still have a lot of love for Louisiana Tech -- and the traditions and the fight songs -- and I think its football uniforms are among the best in the nation. Hate it when Tech plays LSU.
                But, of course, LSU has among the best programs in the nation. Had the best last year (until the final game) and, well, the Tigers did beat every team they played. Won the "game of the year" on the opponents' field. I'm bitter about this, but I felt -- and will always feel -- that it should not have been forced to play that opponent again in the BCS title game.
                Can't imagine this LSU team being more dominant than last year's team. It would be nice, but every season requires some luck. Good as the Tigers were last season, they were some fortunate moments, some game-turning plays -- the good bounces vs. Oregon, Morris Claiborne's kickoff return vs. West Virginia, Tyrone Mathieu's punt returns vs. Arkansas and Georgia.
                It might feel good to have a quarterback who can throw the ball up the field with authority. But it's solid to have a ball-control running offense and a defense that can shut down the run and pressure the QB.
                The schedule is tough -- a four-game stretch that will test our resolve (at Florida, South Carolina home, at Texas A&M, Ala-bucking-bama home). But, first, North Texas, the Mean Green. Tonight.
                 And I'm nervous about it.