Tuesday, February 26, 2013

No. 70726 was a permanent reminder

      (Second in a series)
      For two years and three-plus months, Louis Van Thyn ceased to be, but in name only. He was known as No. 70726.
      It was tattooed right there on his left forearm. It was his "name," according to his Nazi capturers. It was how he identified himself to them almost every day.
       For the rest of his life, 63 years, my dad had a permanent reminder of being a Holocaust concentration camp survivor. And as it was with all Holocaust survivors, it was a prominent reminder. It was very much
a symbol of oppression.
        It's not unusual for someone who knew my father, or met him, to recall that the number was one of the first things they noticed.
          As the Jews came off the trains and into the camps -- in my Dad's case, Birkenau -- they were ordered to take off all their clothes, they were shaved of all body hair, and the numbers were tattooed into a forearm.
           Dad described this in his 1996 Holocaust testimony for the Shoah Foundation, rolling up his sleeve when the interviewer requested he do so. 
          But the number wasn't the only mark on his forearm. He pointed to a mark just to the left and above the number.
           "They started here, and they made a mistake," he explained. "Thus, they start over again and they put that number down. It's not a small number, too."
            The interviewer asked him to say the number. He answered in English, then added with a laugh, "And I cannot say it in German no more. I say it so many times, but I forgot now."
           Below the number is a triangle. The interviewer asked him if he knew what that meant.
           "Yes," he replied, "that meant you were Jewish. There are many people who say they were in Auschwitz, and I say what is your number, and they say we not have a number.           
           "That is not possible. You have to have a number if you were in Auschwitz. There is not one Jewish man or woman that stay in Auschwitz that does not have a number."
           What did that number mean?
            "They [the Germans] used that instead of your name," Dad answered. "You not had a name anymore, you had a number. That is all that they asked you for, your number."
           Do you remember what you were thinking when they were putting your number on?
           "Now I'm thinking it looked like [we were] cattle," he answered, laughing. "Now I'm thinking that. Many years after that, you think that. You was not normal no more in the camp, nobody was normal anymore in the camp."
            People who weren't in the camp, he added, "they not understand that."
 ---
            But here is what Louis Van Thyn's kids understood from the time they were little: That number on his arm, and the not-as-large number (62511) on my mother's arm were not normal. They stood for something, and it wasn't a nice reminder.
             At Dad's memorial service -- Aug. 29, 2008, two days after his death -- I made a reference to him sometimes using the number to his advantage. Say if he were in a long line at customs on an international trip, he might make sure that the customs agents noticed the number on his left forearm and give him a break to move through the line more quickly.
              I said that in a light moment, trying for a laugh -- and maybe Dad would've laughed about that, too. I do remember him talking more than a few times about people asking him about the number.
               It was no joking matter, though.
               No. 70726 was basically a kind, non-aggressive, generous man. A proud man. He proved long, long ago that he was tough enough and that he knew how to survive.
               And he wasn't just a number. He preferred to be called Louie.

Next: Beaten but never defeated
                                        


Friday, February 22, 2013

On the bandwagon: It's all about winning

       Other than family and friends, nothing is more important to me than my teams -- or the people I root for -- winning.
       When I told my wife that's what my lead to this piece was going to say, she corrected me. "There are days when winning is a lot more important to you than your family and friends," she said. But at least she was laughing.
       Being competitive is good ... but not good enough for me. Sorry if that's not sportsmanlike.
       Here's where I'm really lucky -- I have experienced my share of winners, and lots of other people's shares, too. When you're a Yankees-Cowboys-LSU fan, just for starters, you have been to the mountain top ... often.
        This is the "Legacy of Winning" blog I promised near the end of my Jan. 7 "Legacy of Losing" piece. So here comes some gloating/bragging. It will be fun to write and remember.
---
My idea of a great victory: The 2009 Yankees celebrate the
 World Series title. That's 27. (wordpress.com) 
       OK, quickly, a sample: 40 American League pennants, 27 World Series titles for the Yankees; five Super Bowl championships, eight NFC titles for the Cowboys; four state championships for Woodlawn High School; three national football titles for LSU and six national baseball titles; one national title for Louisiana Tech football, three for Lady Techsters basketball; one very satisfying NBA championship for the Dallas Mavericks; PGA championships for Hal Sutton and David Toms; some huge victories for the Dutch national soccer team, including a European championship.
        Then there's all the state championship teams I covered as a high school sports writer. That was part of the job, I suppose, but it was fun, too.
        One thing's for sure -- winning never happens that easily (ask Cubs, Rangers or Astros fans). The victories, the titles, are more glorious because you realize how difficult it is. It's hard work, even being a fan.
---
        My buddies always kid me that I'm a bandwagon fan -- I jump on with the winners. I've always denied that, saying that I stick with my teams through great days and bad ones.
        Thinking about this, I'm going to confess: It's (mostly) true. I have a nice seat on some  bandwagons. Keep reading, and I'll give you the details.
         I became an Ajax (Amsterdam) fan as soon as I figured out what sports (and winning) was about; Ajax was always Holland's most glamorous soccer team (31 league titles). Bandwagon.
        An exception -- when it comes to winning -- is the Dutch national team, my first love. For the first two decades of my life, Holland wasn't close to a soccer power; it was mostly mediocre. But when the guys in my age range began winning, and winning big, in the early 1970s, it created thrills that are unmatched on my personal list. Not the ultimate prize -- the World Cup championship -- but oh-so-close.
          Yes, unmatched. Bigger even than the Yankees.   
 ---
         The year (1956) I came to the United States, the Yankees won the World Series. Of course, they'd already won 16 World Series before that. Besides, they had the biggest star in the game that year, Mickey Mantle. Bandwagon.
           I can give you details on every Series-winning season (11) since I've been a fan; they're all special. My favorites? The 1961 Mantle-Maris home-run derby year;  the 1977 team that won the first title in 15 seasons; the 1978 comeback champs (14 1/2 games behind at one point, then won the AL East playoff game with the Red Sox); the 1996 team that ended the 17-year drought; the 1998 team that won 114 regular-season games and went 11-2 in the playoffs; and the 2009 team that ended another eight-year drought.
            And now it's been three seasons, and three playoff disappointments (at least losing to the Rangers made a lot of my friends happy).
---
           The year I became an NFL fan, 1958, was the year the Baltimore Colts -- Johnny U. and Raymond Berry -- won the championship in the first sudden-death overtime game ever. Bandwagon.
            I stayed a Colts' fan through 1965. The next year the Dallas Cowboys began winning big -- with their flashy offense, their flashy uniforms, their flashy coach (well, their brilliant coach). Bandwagon.
           No Cowboys victory ever will be better than Jan. 16, 1972, at Tulane Stadium when the '71 Cowboys finally won the Super Bowl after all those close misses.
          The 1992 team, delivering the first title in 14 seasons, is a close second, with that rout of the Bills in Super Bowl 27. In the middle of that season, I told Pete Prisco -- our NFL writer at the Florida Times-Union and now the NFL guru with cbssports.com -- that I thought the Cowboys were coming on and could win it all.
          Any win over the Redskins or 49ers or Steelers in any year is good, though.
--- 
         Jumped on the LSU football bandwagon in 1958, and why not? Until the Tigers go undefeated again -- came close two seasons ago ... until the Alabama repeat game -- no season will match 1958. But the 2003 and 2007 national titles were sweet.
          Favorite victories? I can give you dozens. Any victory against Ole Miss, but especially 1958 and 1959 (Billy Cannon punt return on Halloween), and 1972 (set your clocks back one second). Cotton Bowl wins against Texas (1962 season) and defending national champion Arkansas (1965) and Texas A&M three seasons ago. The absolutely stunning comeback against Florida at Tiger Stadium in 2007; the best one I've seen in person. Any victory against Florida, Georgia or Tennessee (the best ones coming in the SEC Championship Games). Any victory against Alabama, but especially the showdown in Tuscaloosa (9-6 in overtime) two years ago -- no matter how boring many thought it was.
         And, switching schools, how about Louisiana Tech's victories against Alabama in 1997 and 1999, especially the latter against a team that would win the SEC championship. But no Tech victory, personally, will ever be better for me than the 1968 State Fair Game with Northwestern State ... (http://nvanthyn.blogspot.com/2012/10/bradshaw-to-liberto-82-yards-td-013.html   
        Almost as sweet, though, were the two Tech basketball victories against USL in my sophomore year there, especially the one in Ruston before an overflow crowd at old Memorial Gym that basically decided the conference championship. And there was a Tech win in Shreveport against Centenary in my freshman year that fell in the "impossible" category -- six points behind with 21 seconds remaining -- and will be detailed in a future blog.
---
         In the NBA, 1958 was the year the St. Louis Hawks -- with Bob Pettit -- beat the
Boston Celtics in the Finals. Hawks' bandwagon.
          Then when the HawksI switched to the Lakers in the 1960s, mostly because I loved Jerry West. No titles, though, until 1972, but I was on the bandwagon ... until the 1980s when I jumped to the Celtics. I'd never rooted for them -- admired them, but didn't want them to win -- until they traded for Robert Parish. Bandwagon for his 13 years with Boston.
            After my NBA interest lapsed for more than a decade, my wife became a Dallas Mavericks' fan and so I became a partial bandwagon fan. Still there. The long-awaited NBA title two years ago was sweet, but -- honestly -- I couldn't watch. Too nervous. I still don't relish the NBA.
 ---
           Jumped on the LSU men's basketball bandwagon for Final Four rides three times, for the Pete Maravich experience, and some other terribly exciting seasons. Of course, LSU baseball has exceeded everything (except maybe football) and, if I was more of a college baseball fan, that would be great.
             Loved Arnie in his heyday and then Greg Norman through his decade of triumphs (and deflating losses). But I've stayed on the Hal Sutton golf bandwagon through all his pro  years; his score and David Toms' are the first I look for in any Champions Tour or PGA Tour event these days.
             Relished all their victories, but especially when Hal held off Jack Nicklaus in the 1983 PGA and then Tiger Woods in the 2000 Players Championship. And I've followed Toms whenever I can at Colonial Country Club -- just across the Trinity River from our apartments here in Fort Worth. When he won the tournament there two years ago, I was with him for three rounds (62-62-67, 19 under) and he was 4 over (74) on Saturday when I couldn't attend.  I thought I deserved a cut of the prize money.       
             It wasn't a "personal" victory because everyone in the U.S. loved it, but was there ever a greater moment in American sports than the ice hockey "Miracle on Ice" at the 1980 Winter Olympics? Everyone loved it, except maybe the Russians. 
---
         Those of us with Woodlawn ties had more memorable football victories in the 1960s than we can almost count. I'd say, though, that the state-championship victory in 1968, 25-14 against Sulphur, made the journey complete.
        Joe Ferguson and his teammates delivered the title that could have been ours, too, with a few more breaks or belief in '64, '65, '66 and even in 1970 with, in my opinion, the most talented team of the decade (although depth-depleted because of Southwood opening).
        Then, three months after the football title in the 1968-69 school year, to see the basketball team -- after some poor early seasons -- win the state championship was amazing. Three years later, the Robert Parish-led team won another title (a year after losing in the finals). And in 1980, again after a loss in the previous state-title game, the Knights won a third state basketball trophy with Melvin Russell, Woodlawn's first black athlete and a star of the 1969 team, also winning as the coach. 
---
        I could go on and on, but this is more than enough. I've backed a lot of winners.
        But it's never enough, is it? It never gets old, really.
        There's still one big one out there, though -- Holland winning the World Cup in soccer. That's the holy grail. Give me that one, and I'll retire as a fan.
        (Not really, but it sounds good. The bandwagon should keep on rolling.)           
                         
       
      

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The toughest/best coaches in Jacksonville

      A few weeks ago, I wrote about the most memorable high school coach of my time in the Jacksonville, Fla., area (Iate '80s/early '90s), and I promised to revisit some of the other top coaches there.
      Other than Corky Rogers, the football coach who most made an impression on me was Bob Withrow, perhaps the most rock-hard coach I've encountered.
      Withrow was an offensive lineman at East Carolina in the late 1960s; in fact, when we first began talking after I came to the Florida Times-Union during the 1988 football season, he remembered playing against Louisiana Tech a couple of times.
      We (I was the student sports information assistant/statistician) played East Carolina in 1968; in fact, it the first game at the new Joe Aillet Stadium, and the Tech quarterback in our 35-7 victory was Terry Bradshaw.
      Bradshaw also led the Bulldogs to a 24-6 win at East Carolina in 1969, the last year that Withrow was part of the run-heavy old single-wing offense used by Pirates coach Clarence Stankovich, who was regarded as one of the nation's top mid-major coaches in the 1960s.
      I remember Withrow well because (1) he was a good source, a knowledgable guy to talk to about football in the Jacksonville area and (2) his coaching philosophy.
      He believed in having his players go full speed, full contact ... every day, every drill of the season (and probably off-season). He pushed them to the limit to play physically.
      It's rare, it's not how I believe it should be, but it worked for Withrow and his kids. 
      He had three separate stints at Sandalwood. He took the Saints to the state semifinals before I came to Florida, then got out of coaching after a conflict with a new school principal; then came back after that principal left, took charge again of a program that had diminished greatly, and in only two years had his team back in the the state semifinals.
      I noted from Internet research that he came back to Sandalwood for a third stint in 2008, but he's since retired.       

      I think of Fred Pickard, a Florida State star running back of the late 1950s who was a college head coach (UT-Martin and then  head coach for 21 years at Terry Parker High, and Jerry Disch, the longtime coach at Forest and Englewood and when I was at the Times-Union, the very cooperative and helpful athletic director for Duval County schools.
        Freddie Stephens, whose Raines teams beat a lot of folks in my time there; Joe Montgomery, who had dominant teams at Lake City Columbia, then went to Gaffney, S.C., and Rock Hill, S.C., and had some big winners; and the late Bob Williams, a veteran who knew what he was doing at my son's high school, Orange Park, at the end of a long, successful career.
        There was Dan Disch, the young coach at Ed White High on Jacksonville's West side, son of Coach Jerry. Dan's Commanders teams were competitive and fun to watch, not big winners, but you knew the coach had something going for him. He went from Ed White to the University of Florida staff with Ron Zook, moved to Illinois with Zooker, then joined Larry Fedora's staff at Southern Mississippi as defensive coordinator/secondary coach, and now is in the same roles under Fedora at North Carolina. I'm not surprised.
       Baseball gave us Howard May at Terry Parker and Bob West at Bishop Kenny, Jack Spencer at Englewood -- all big winners.
      In track, it was James Day of Raines, who introduced Bob Hayes to the world, and Paul Nowicki of Wolfson. Swimming was future University of Florida and U.S. team coach Gregg Troy, then at Bolles School.

Bernard Wilkes
 (photo from fhsaa.org) 
       In basketball, Buddy Ward was a classy state championship coach at Bolles, and Al Austin was the dominant girls coach/athletic director at Ribault, who had eight state-title teams.
        But the most memorable basketball coach was Bernard Wilkes, the barrel-chested, deep-voiced showman whose Ribault boys teams were almost always the best in the area in the 1980s/early 1990s.
        Although I wasn't covering games -- I was the prep sports editor in charge of young people who did cover and wrote about the events -- I met Bernard a few times and watched his teams play a couple of times. His kids played hard for him.
        He'd put on a show, as longtime Times-Union columnist Gene Frenette wrote -- inevitably whipping off his coat in dramatic fashion and urging on his kids in, let's say boisterous ways.
       Loved to talk to Bernard on the phone when he'd call in games, or just to chat, because it was always great to hear him laugh. He was a jovial character, a big, friendly teddy bear.
      And I loved to kid him that I was his good-luck charm. Here's why.
      When I arrived in Jacksonville before the 1988-89 basketball season, Bernard had taken his Ribault Trojans to the state tournament seven times, and he had no state championships.
       By the time I left in October 1995, Bernard and Ribault had four state championships.
I reminded him of that whenever we talked.
       The Trojans won in 1989, '90, '94 and '95 -- but none before and none after I was there, although they made the state semifinals 16 times (they finished second four times).
        He was at Ribault for 30 seasons and 758 victories -- the most by any Florida high-school coach at the end of his career -- and 21 district championships. And it was against strong competition, but Wilkes taught pressure defense and up-tempo play as well as anyone.
        Sadly, he passed away suddenly March 5, 2006, at age 57, a victim of diabetes and heart disease. And the guy had a big heart. Gene Frenette wrote a beautiful piece on him the day after he died. It's worth re-reading.

http://jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/030706/spf_21283563.shtml


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Before he was "The Chief," he was "Slim"

        More on the Jan. 25 Boston Globe story about Robert Parish and his desire for a job in the NBA: When I read the quotes from Robert, I thought about how far he's come.
        When I first interviewed him, in his junior year at Woodlawn High School, he was a tough quote. He didn't talk a lot anyway, certainly not to little (or big) sportswriters buzzing around in the dressing room. He was polite, but not expansive.
        When I did a centerpiece cover story on him early in his senior season, it wasn't easy to draw out much information, much less memorable quotes. Perhaps the unseasoned sportswriter didn't ask the right questions.
          The best part of the effort, I suppose, was the corny part -- the photos of me interviewing him and lacing up my shoes to take him in a game of one-on-one (yeah, right).
        (Go ahead and laugh at this accompanying photo. Robert and I each had a lot more hair back then.)
At Woodlawn High School, fall, 1971
(Shreveport Times photo)
         One of the questions I remember asking him was if he had a nickname. He thought for a moment, shrugged and said, "Slim, I guess. Just like my dad; that's what they call him at work."
         I met Mr. Parish -- Robert Sr. -- a couple of times. Robert Jr. looked much like him, except for the difference in height, about 8-9 inches. The original "Slim" was soft-spoken, maybe even more stoic than his son.
         Anyway, I never heard anyone call Robert Jr. "Slim." I heard, and saw in print, people refer to him as "Bob." That didn't stick at all. Robert was his preference ... until he was nicknamed "Chief" early in his  NBA career. That one obviously stuck.
---       
         As the SID at Centenary College most of his senior season, I saw a lot of interviews with him, took part in some with him later. He answered the questions, but many of the answers were not revealing.
         So reading The Boston Globe story, I was so impressed with the quotes from him and the substance of his pitch for a job in the NBA. As I wrote previously, there are some contradictions, but Robert's communications skills -- despite his admitted reticence for public interaction -- have improved a great deal.
          I saw this first-hand one night in Orlando on Dec. 8, 1992, after Robert's first game against then-Magic rookie center Shaquille O'Neal. It was Robert's 16th NBA season, but the Celtics' first since Larry Bird had retired. For some reason, Kevin McHale -- the other member of "The Big Three" -- didn't start that night, but played well in a reserve role.
          Shaq, fresh out of LSU, had 26 points, 15 rebounds, four assists, four blocked shots. There were times he was too much for Parish.
          Parish had 17 points, 10 rebounds, three blocked shots. There were times his experience was too much for Shaq.
          The Celtics won by 15 (117-102).
          Boston's record at the time was 8-10; Orlando's was 8-7. But the Celtics would wind up with a much better season, although not anything close to a championship one. Shaq, in the near future, would lead the Magic to the NBA Finals.
           That night, when the media approached Parish afterward, he immediately was asked about Shaq. His response was modest praise, basically "he's a nice player, but he's a rookie, he's got a lot to learn."
           As media members moved in and out, he answered the same questions repeatedly. But after a few minutes, he rethought his reaction and began predicting that Shaq "is going to be a great player; he's going to dominate games."
           Just watching him handle the media, my thought was that he had gained so much polish over the years.
---
           Once he went to the NBA, it was not easy for the Shreveport media to reach Parish by phone -- at least it wasn't for me. Leaving word with the Golden State and then Boston team PR officials for a callback didn't work; Robert -- as he noted in The Boston Globe story -- was never very good about returning calls, nor about wanting to do interviews (except postgame sessions).
           I found it easier, in the '80s and '90s, to reach him at the team hotel when the Celtics were on the road -- at the time, the players' security obviously wasn't as guarded. Robert was always cooperative when I reached him.
            His sense of humor came through, too, concerning a difficult story. A wire story in 1985 caught our attention: Shortly after Robert received a lucrative new contract from the Celtics, he was sued by a Shreveport woman for being behind on child support payments for two daughters. Those children were born while he was at Woodlawn and then at Centenary.
            I called Robert, and apologizing, I told him I had to ask him about the case for a story. He said he understood, but wouldn't elaborate. I asked about his other kids. He had one out west, he said, and one in St. Louis.
           "Man, you got kids everywhere," I said.
           "Ain't got none in Europe," he replied, with a loud laugh.
---
          Another bit of humor. Prior to the game in Orlando, I called him -- again on a Celtics' road trip -- and told him I would see him when he faced the Magic. I had not seen him in 15 years; I wasn't exactly slender anymore.
          Thanks to my media pass, I got access to the Celtics' dressing room before the game. Robert was sitting by his locker, talking to teammates and then a couple of media people.
          When they left, I said hello and we shook hands. Then he grabbed my belly.
           "Van Thyn," he said, with that deep laugh, "what's this?" 
---
           As I wrote in the previous blog, Parish was known for his placid demeanor and was rarely ruffled. But one time he did react violently was memorable: His attack on Detroit Pistols center Bill Laimbeer in Game 5 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals in 1987.
           Laimbeer was one of Detroit's main "Bad Boys," with Dennis Rodman and Rick Mahorn, the roughhouse gang of thugs that would go on to win two NBA titles. But in retaliation for a violent Laimbeer takedown of Larry Bird (when Robert was on the bench), Robert later retaliated, coldcocking Laimbeer from behind with a couple of violent punches to the face, a sneak attack. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=idA9Vym1F54
Robert's sneak attack on Bill
Laimbeer, 1987 (www.boston.com)
          He was -- strangely -- not ejected (the officials didn't clearly see the incident and it was before replay was part of the rules). But after the Celtics' "miracle" victory on a Bird steal and assist to Dennis Johnson in the closing seconds, the NBA fined Robert $7,500 and suspended him for Game 6 in Detroit. Robert apologized for his loss of cool.
          When he came back for Game 7 in Boston, the Celtics delayed Detroit's NBA title march for another year.
           Robert had sent his message; nice guy, calm guy, but not always a guy to be pushed around.
           It's a point of pride to know that he battled Kareem Abdul-Jabbar -- the greatest player in my age group (or most any age group) -- almost evenly through 19 NBA Finals games.
           "Slim," "The Chief" wasn't flawless, as a player or a person. He was fun to cover and to be around, he was a winner on the court enough times to make him an all-time great -- at any level he played. And I hope he can find the job, and the peace, he desires.  
                    
              
         
         

Monday, February 11, 2013

Parish stood tall ... very tall

       If you had told me in 1976 that Robert Parish would play the most regular-season games in NBA history -- by far -- I would not have believed it.
      There was no question that Robert would play in the NBA, maybe even become a starter. But there were questions back then about the 7-foot giant who had been dominant at Union and Woodlawn High Schools in Shreveport and Centenary College.
       Did he have the skills to be a star? Did he have the toughness? The durability? The desire?
        I think we have our answers. Yes, in every way.
       First time I saw him play was at the end of his sophomore year at Union -- just before integration sent him to Woodlawn. It was a Shreveport-Bossier all-black schools all-star game and, of course, he stood out.
       He was so much taller than anyone else, and you could tell he had a terrific shooting touch and timing, good hands, could jump quickly. He wasn't smooth; he never was. There was a herky-jerky motion in his shot and often in his moves toward the basket.
       It wasn't until he went to the Boston Celtics in a surprising 1980 trade -- he was replacing the retired Dave Cowens -- that the world (and maybe Robert) found out how well he could run the court.
       He went from a so-so NBA player -- a one-start rookie year, four underachieving years with Golden State to perfect puzzle piece in Boston's dynamic 1980s teams, the reliable, consistent, unselfish part of a Hall of Fame "Big Three," then to a diminished role as backup and veteran mentor -- oldest player in the league by far -- with several other teams.
       Here he is at age 59, retired for almost 16 seasons, and his 1,611 regular-season games over 21 seasons is way out there. He scored 23,334 points and had 14,715 rebounds ... and then there were 184 playoff games, 2,820 points and 1,765 rebounds.
       And four NBA championships -- three with Celtics, Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, one as a reserve with the '97 (Michael Jordan) Chicago Bulls.
       He was chosen one of the NBA's Top 50 players in history; he was a nine-time NBA All-Star; he's in the Basketball Hall of Fame (inducted the same time as another state legend, Louisiana Tech women's coach Leon Barmore); his No. 00 jersey is retired in the rafters at the new Boston Garden.
        The man who became known as "The Chief" is Top 50 all-time; tops, period, from Shreveport-Bossier.
---
        He was in the news again recently when The Boston Globe's Stan Grossfeld did an in-depth story about Robert's desire for a job in the NBA.
http://www.boston.com/sports/basketball/2013/01/25/robert-parish-yearns-for-nba-coaching-job/2nHzPnNCisC5pEv5R2eqWP/story.html
A smiling Robert Parish (Boston Globe photo)
         It's a confusing story, at times. Robert, living in a home near a golf course in Charlotte, seems content with life, but it's hard to tell where he is financially and says he "needs" to work. He had a job with the Celtics a few years back, but living in the cold in Boston wasn't to his liking and the $80,000-a-year P.R. job wasn't enough.
         I hope it works out for him, and he gains satisfaction. If it works out as well as his playing career did, no problem.
        What I liked was the photo accompanying the story -- a huge Parish smile. You rarely saw that in his playing days, in high school, college and the NBA. You, in fact, saw little emotion. He was one of the most placid, expressionless players I've seen anywhere. And to be such a big star, one of the most unselfish; he was a team guy.
         He was -- as this story notes -- quiet and private. But if you were around him in the locker room or off the court, you knew he was also funny -- he could gently rib teammates and sportswriters. For instance, he called Larry Little, his head coach at Centenary, "Vince," as in Vince Lombardi.              
          In high school and college, I never saw him get ruffled on the court, even though he was -- pun here -- the center of attention in every game he played. And even though he usually got hammered pretty good under the basket.
          The smile in the Boston Globe story reminds me of another big smile, in the locker room after Woodlawn's Class AAA state championship victory, by one point over Rummel, in 1972. He had to watch his teammates hold on after he fouled out with 3:42 remaining, but he was a very happy man after finally winning a state title following three near-misses in state tournament trips, including a Woodlawn loss in the 1971 finals.
           Another loss -- and the rare show of emotion -- showed me how badly he wanted to win. 
---
           Centenary, as many people remember, won the recruiting battle for Robert because their coaches -- who worked hard to woo him -- made an impression and he wanted to stay in his hometown. Plus, he didn't score well at all on his academic tests, scaring off a lot of schools. But Centenary had a sliding grade-point average/academic ratings scale that it used for Robert -- and others -- to establish enrollment.
          However, the NCAA didn't agree. Long story short, its staff ruled Parish and other players ineligible (but free to transfer if they could qualify elsewhere), and made Centenary ineligible for postseason play and NCAA statistics.
          Robert chose to stay, the players filed suit against the NCAA ... and lost in court. So for four years at Centenary, Parish was persona non grata with the NCAA. The program was banned from postseason play; its statistics, including Parish's numbers that were among the best in the nation, were not recognized.
           Thus, the All-College Tournament in Oklahoma City was Centenary's tournament chance in the 1974-75 and '75-'76 seasons, Parish's last two college years. The Gents won it impressively in December '74, but the bid for a repeat title in '75 was spoiled in a late-game collapse against the Long Island Blackbirds, who won by a point on a basket in the final minute of the championship game.
           Standing with him in an entryway overlooking the court some 20 minutes after the game, I saw the tears in Robert's eyes. That loss hurt.
           So his college career was played somewhat in anonymity. But the NBA and (at the time) ABA scouts knew where he was.
---
           Atlanta had the No. 1 pick in the 1976 NBA Draft, and they were watching Robert closely. Before Centenary's last game of the season at UNC-Charlotte, Bob Kauffman -- an ex-NBA center/forward and the Hawks' assistant general manager -- was in a hotel room visiting with Centenary's coaches, and I was listening in. 
            Most of the discussion was about Robert, and Kauffman liked him ... but he saw a lot of technique deficiencies scouts can see. One example, Robert mostly turned to his right close to the basket and put the ball on the floor too often.
            So Kauffman was hesistant to say the Hawks would draft him. I told him -- tactfully, of course -- in so many words that he was nuts, that Atlanta would be crazy not to pick Robert.
            On draft day, the Hawks traded the No. 1 pick to Houston, which took guard John Lucas out of Maryland. Robert fell to the No. 8 pick by Golden State, which had won the NBA championship a year earlier.
            It cost Parish some money. The "crazy" Hawks? They're still looking for their first NBA title. Robert has four.     
            Next: He wasn't always "The Chief" 
          
          
                 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

"Hoss" and "Pop" were keys to Adams' football life

       Jerry Adams was, the oldtimers tell me and I've read, a helluva football player at Ruston High School, an All-State fullback in 1949, a tough, tough guy. He carried that toughness with him to Woodlawn High School in the 1960s for his first coaching job. 
       He was a coaching natural, although at first he wasn't totally sure of how it would go. But working under head coach Lee Hedges was, he'll tell you, just a continuation of the football legacy with which he grew up.
       Adams and the Woodlawn staff, as I have written previously, drilled on the fundamentals and their early teams -- usually much smaller physically than many opponents -- won a lot of games just by being in better shape and outlasting the other guys.
       Adams, too, as I wrote in Part I, very much emphasized the proper mental approach.
       He revered his high school coach, the legendary L.J. "Hoss" Garrett, and Mrs. Garrett became like a second mom to him.
        He was good enough to earn a scholarship to LSU. But he had a terrible knee -- many Woodlawn players will remember that -- and his playing time with the Tigers was limited his first couple of years.
        Then he went in the U.S. Army, and after a couple of years, returned to LSU. But when Gaynell Tinsley, the Tigers' coach when he first arrived, was let go and Paul Dietzel came in (1955), Adams decided to transfer to Tech. He sat out one season, then played his final season for another legend, Coach Joe Aillet.
Coach and Pat Adams, in Lawrenceburg, Tenn.
       And he married into a football family. Pat Ruple was the daughter of, yes, another legendary coach, Bill Ruple of Neville (Monroe). Hard to imagine: Neville and Ruston were bitter rivals; Garrett vs. Ruple, although they were friends, was an intense matchup for years.
       Ruple became "Pop" to Adams.
       I have heard so many Ruple stories, so many comparisons of coaching philosophies at Neville and at Woodlawn. And believe me, Adams considers Ruple to be one of the toughest coaches, and men, he ever encountered. And one of the dearest.
      Adams' only son is named Bill. When I was at Woodlawn (1962-65), he was the little boy, maybe 3, 4, 5 years old wearing the little black-and-gold jacket with an "N," hanging around practice -- and taking a ribbing from the other Woodlawn coaches. But little Bill Adams wasn't going to part with the jacket given to him by "Pop."
       He grew up with sisters Mary, Sarah and the baby, Teri. They're all close, and close to Coach and Miss Pat in Lawrenceburg, Tenn. The family has extended; there are three in-law kids, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
---
          Adams left Woodlawn after five consecutive district titles and went to a four-year stint as the first head football coach/athletic director at Southwood High School. 
        Two early Southwood recollections: (1) When the kids at the school built a papier-mache Cowboy mascot -- an imposing guy -- they named it "Big Jerry" and (2) Adams wanted the school colors to be orange and the sharp-looking 49ers gold -- tan, or khaki -- but Dr. Earl Turner, who also had moved from Woodlawn to become Southwood's first principal, wanted blue and orange.
        Adams and I had many a talk when I did stories on those teams at Southwood, but again those talks were about a lot more than football.
       His football teams had a rough couple of years, and I kept hearing that fans were being critical. But the 1973 team caught fire, shared the district title with A.L. Williams' last team at Woodlawn, then won a couple of playoff games. Adams' last game as Southwood coach was a Class 4A state semifinal loss in Baton Rouge.
       I covered that game. I knew he was leaving; a lot of people didn't. I wrote the game story, but I couldn't write about the sadness I felt.
---
       So  why Lawrenceburg, Tenn., the one-time home of Davey Crockett and hometown of ex-U.S. Senator and parttime actor Fred Thompson? That's where the Adams family moved in December 1973. 
Coach Adams and great grandson Ben.
      Coach and Pat believed their family would be better off in Lawrenceburg, some 80 miles south of Nashville, a place a doctor friend and neighbor had moved (to his hometown) and paved the way for Coach to join the high school football coaching staff there.
      He had two separate stints as an assistant, but got out of coaching and into the rent-all business. The Adams family owns a store -- Bill runs it now -- and practically everyone in Lawrenceburg knows Coach.    
     He can hold court in the store or in any restaurant in town, or he can spend time "piddling" as he does, making knives or talking to the Amish people who live in the area and come to the store for working supplies.
       Jerry Adams, just as long ago, remains the philosopher, a man of the people. I can tell you: It's wise to listen to him. I'll never forget his reminder to remain humble.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The man who reminds me to be humble

      My senior year in high school, near the end of basketball season, Shreveport Journal sports writer Jerry Byrd wrote a column about a Woodlawn team manager. Not sure why he chose me, but it was quite an honor.
      It was in the paper on the afternoon of a school day. Throughout the next day, kids and teachers at school who had seen it commented on it, or congratulated me.
Jerry Adams at Woodlawn
in the early 1960s
      As I headed into the foyer of the Woodlawn gym at about 2 p.m., headed for basketball practice, someone was waiting for me. As I rounded the corner to the hallway toward the dressing room -- right by the classroom/film room (Woodlawn athletes will remember where) -- Coach Jerry Adams grabbed me.
       He backed me against a wall and then, with no one around, said, sternly: "That was a nice story, and you deserved it,  but don't let this go to your head. Just be the same person you've been. Take care of your business!"
       Lesson never forgotten.
---
       Jerry Adams has been my conscience ever since. He's in his 80s now, living a good life in Lawrenceburg, Tenn., surrounded by a large, loving family, and we talk a few times a year.
       Because if I've got questions about football, but more importantly, about life, Coach Adams still has answers. I'm still listening.
       He is one of those half-dozen people I trust most to give me honest assessments of what's going on that I'm concerned about. He is one of the most sensible people I know.
      He inspired the title of my blog -- see the first post (Here's the idea, Jan. 29, 2012) --  with the statue of the little knight that was on his desk at Woodlawn and also led to the patch he had put on the Knights' baseball uniforms (he sent me a leftover one). 
      He knows my family; I know his. We've been on trips together; we've been guests at Coach and Miss Pat's nice old home in Lawrenceburg several times. Coach and I have sat up into the middle of the night watching football, and mostly just exchanging ideas of coaches and programs.
       He's a willing story teller, and a good one -- much like our old friend, James Farrar, who passed away last year. Adams might not be as funny as Farrar -- few are -- but he has all sorts of stories from the old days. He often starts those with "I'll never forget ... " But he's as studied about current times as he needs to be, and he has an IPad now, so don't think of him as entirely old-school.
       He does, however, think old-school worked well. He, like me, thinks no one knew football better or were better teachers than Coach Joe Aillet at Louisiana Tech and Lee Hedges.
---
       He was Woodlawn's "fire-up" coach in football, the assistant in charge of the defensive line and linebackers, the de facto defensive coordinator through the 1960s on Woodlawn's first, great, coaching staff headed by Lee Hedges. It was Adams' first coaching job.
        He was the school's first baseball coach, too, and while he wasn't a baseball man per se -- didn't really deal with all the nuances and techniques of the game -- he was a good strategist. More importantly, he worked his players hard, he expected a lot ... and he was tremendously fun to play for. 
         While Fair Park's tremendous teams dominated the area in the early and mid 1960s, no team gave the Indians more trouble than Woodlawn. When Fair Park went 44-4-1 and won the state championship in 1963, two of the four losses were to Woodlawn. In a three-year period when the Indians were absolutely dominant, Woodlawn won four games against them.
       But it was football that ruled Woodlawn, and it was Adams' defenses that were so critical to Woodlawn being the winningest Class AAA team in Louisiana in the '60s. Five district championships, three district runner-ups and one glorious state championship (1968) with the "Big Red" defense giving all-time QB star Joe Ferguson and the offense a huge assist.
---
        He wasn't a psychology major, but he could've been. I call him Dr. Adams because he worked on people's heads as much as he demanded physical effort. When the Woodlawn teams needed a good "talking to," Adams was usually the one doing the talking.
         I can hear him now on the practice field: "You've got to want it!" Or "show us some pride, people." Or jokingly referring to the "B" team or young players as the "rinky dinks." Or encouraging his troops by yelling, "Let's go, girls" (it wouldn't be politically correct today.)
         But Adams, like offensive line coach Billy Joe Adcox, was a stickler for proper technique. Adams taught defenders how to get off double-team blocks, how to read and react to the offense, how to teach linebackers to shoot gaps, how to slant them through those gaps.              
         He demanded dedication and effort. All the Woodlawn coaches did, but they had kids willing to provide it.
          Adams was the motivator on paper, too -- with written reminders on the dressing room walls, with his yearly "Will this man be smiling Saturday morning?" letter every year before the game against Bossier -- a picture of a widely smiling Lee Hedges (who was a serious guy), then switched to A.L. Williams when he became head coach in 1966.
         The Knights never lost to Bossier for nine years in a row; every year the letter grew longer, the previous year's letter and score added on.
---
        Privately, the Woodlawn coaches sometimes called him "Jack Adams" because the LSU assistant coach recruiting the area -- who we won't name -- called him that (he couldn't remember Jerry).
        Privately, the Woodlawn kids called him "Mr. Clean." Well, he looked like the cartoon character in the TV ads ... the bald head and all. BUT we didn't dare call him that to his face. We just said "yes, sir" and "no, sir." You didn't mess much with Coach Adams.
         But he would mess with you. Can't tell you how many times I would leave after practice, be practically out the door, and he'd yell, "Hey, Nico." I came back, and he'd say, "See ya."
          And he'd always kid me and my dad about our "synagogue pass," his way of saying we always managed to get into games without paying.
         He could be a sight sometimes, with his forehead scabbed, sometimes bleeding, after a demonstration on the practice field. You think we were laughing at him? Yeah, right.
         But he and Coach Williams would banter almost every day while taping ankles in the training room, and it was Adams who was most tender when dealing with player injuries.
---
         I remember him on out-of-town baseball or basketball trips (he was the B team coach for my years at Woodlawn) driving the school bus and singing, "Have you ever been 'a-fishin' on a bright and sunny day ..." and telling us that if the hood of the car on the corner in the bend of Highway 80 in Gibsland was up, it meant moonshine was available at the house there. 
         He was fun, but he was serious about winning. On one trip to Cotton Valley, a Class B school, our baseball team got beat. Players weren't all that quiet on the ride home.
         When we turned to go into the neighborhood by Woodlawn, he called me up to the front of the bus and said, "Here's my keys; you know where the lights are (it was the first year Woodlawn had lights on the football practice field/track). When we stop, go turn them on."
          I did as I was told. The team stayed on the bus for a little talk by Coach Adams. Then the players headed for the track, and spent the next 20 minutes running it.
          You also didn't mess around much when Coach Adams was involved.
          Next: Legendary coaches were Adams' football foundation

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Real friendships stand the test of time

     I've thought a lot about friendships this week.
     The words of Dr. James C. Farrar -- dear Coach Farrar -- keep coming back. He said his daddy told him this early in his life and Coach mentioned it often in our conversations. It was in his obit last November:
      "In this life you will have a lot of acquaintances but few friends, and you make damn sure you know the difference!"
      The wisdom to know the difference. Last line of the Serenity Prayer.
       So, through years of school, athletics, journalism and life, I have lots of acquaintances, or on Facebook "friends." It's been nice to reacquaint with many of them.
       The real friends ... still sorting them out.
       Some of my blogs are "memory lane," some are opinion, some are frivolous, and this one -- like some others -- is personal philosophy and introspection. Feel free to think, "uh-oh."
 ---
       As I was talking with Bea about writing this, she pointed out, "You need to define friendship." OK, I'll give it a shot
      Real friendship is trust, sharing, loyalty. It's give-and-take, mutual (not one-sided). It's the right to disagree, and be civil about it. It's respect. It's time-tested.
       I've written about some of the people who I consider true friends, who go back years and years, who know a lot about me and I know a lot about them. I'll write about a few more  in upcoming blogs.     
       There are many more people of whom I'm very fond. Went to school with some; some were coaches or people in athletics; others were in journalism. I like some of them a lot, and I'm an open book ... to an extent. But they don't know some of the intimacies of my life, nor do they need to.
         And then there are some who, at one time, I thought were close friends. Turns out they weren't.
---
         In these blogs, I try to be mostly positive. Not much use being negative or critical; been there much too often in life. But this one, I'm afraid, is going to  turn critical.
          I worked with some jerks over the years, or I thought they were jerks. They might've thought I was a jerk, and they were often right. I worked with some selfish, self-serving, self-important, myopic, arrogant, childish, braggarts, and even crude "acquaintances." They were fools, or foolish.
           (Hey, I know I fit some of these categories at times. I love to brag on my kids and my grandkids, and even my wife sometimes. Dang right, the blog is self-serving.)
          Some were co-workers; some were bosses. No question, some had talent -- big talent. Some were mediocre. Some didn't belong in journalism.
           Some weeded themselves out pretty quickly; I knew they weren't friends. Some I attacked verbally, if not physically (I've had far too many abusive moments; it's a real negative). Some took a hike out of journalism ... for everyone's good.
          I was naive to think a few were real friends, and they were good friends at some point, some for years. They did me some big favors; I did them some big favors. And I admired their talent ... for their time.
          But things change, people grow apart. I hesitate to say that I outgrew them; that's too judgmental. I just reached the point where what they were saying or doing did not interest me anymore ... at all.
---
         And so, what prompted this piece, is that a friend-turned-acquaintance split with me this week. Long overdue. I haven't been comfortable with the relationship for a long time. I'm not into a non-stop ego trip.          
         Nothing new was forthcoming from this person ... for years. It was a strain to endure the conversations or e-mails. It was time to move on, for both of us. That's fine with me.
          Let's just say our values, our priorities are no longer the same. The test of time just wasn't met.  Sometimes you no longer care.
          You put yourself out there, you put your views out there, you tell people what you think ... not everyone is going like it, or agree. I learned that 45 years ago at the start of my journalism career, and I realize it's part of writing this blog.
            Time changes how you view some people, and often how they view you. And you find the wisdom to know the difference in yourself.