Friday, March 29, 2013

Scribing to daylight at the Journal

           Sports writing at the old Shreveport Journal, Part II:
          Jerry Byrd was the first outstanding sports writer at the Journal; Rick Woodson was the second. Those of us across the hall from them, at The Shreveport Times, in the early 1970s, had tough "opponents."
Shreveport Journal sports staff, December 1985, at
under-construction Fair Grounds Field: from left, Ed
Cassiere, Gary West, Jerry Byrd, Nico, John James Marshall.
          The Times and Journal was a competition, not a rivalry. It wasn't bitter like  Byrd High vs. Fair Park, or Woodlawn-Byrd.
         Each paper wanted to do good work, better than the other paper. We pushed each other.
          From my standpoint, just beginning my fulltime journalism career, I tried to learn from the people I worked with -- and from the Journal guys. Lots of respect for them.
          As I mentioned in Part I about Byrd's development as a writer, Woodson too -- I believe -- would have said he had a lot to learn in the 1960s. But once Rick, like Jerry, figured out how to do more than the routine '60s writing style, he was on his way to a prolific, productive writing career. Both earned respect and praise from thousands.
            Rick died two weeks ago at age 72, still a regular sports columnist for the Rochester (N.Y.) Business Journal, a radio sports talk show host (mostly on golf, a game he absolutely loved and loved to write and talk about) and a respected college journalism teacher.
            As I wrote in the previous piece, sports writing at the Shreveport Journal was as good -- or better -- than any paper in Louisiana during the '70s and '80s. Byrd and Woodson started that trend.
            What they did, the style they developed in our area, was more sharp analysis, and a more opinionated style than anyone had seen. The only other comparable sports writer -- again, this is my opinion -- in Shreveport to that point had been Jack Fiser at The Times in the 1950s and early 1960s.
             Jerry was unequaled in using historical perspective in his stories/columns. What Rick added humor; he admired the style of legendary Los Angeles Times sports columnist Jim Murray, and did a pretty nice imitation in his writing. Which means a lot of clever phrases one-liners that could make the reader laugh, and an often hard-edged look at the sports world. 
           Woodson, thinking of Vince Lombardi's "run to daylight" football philosophy, came up with "scribing to daylight" to describe what we did.
            As I wrote to a Rochester columnist who did a couple of beautiful tribute to Rick last week, Woodson scribed to daylight as well as anyone I've worked with in 40-plus years.
 ---
           But following Byrd and Woodson at the Journal in the paper's final 20 years, there were many, many people who could sports-scribe to daylight, and kept the tradition going.
            When Wally Rugg joined the Journal staff in 1972, and became the lead high school writer, he brought an aggressive, opinionated style, and he was excellent at finding hidden story angles. He also tended to make some readers mad (gee, I never did that). 
            Byrd-Woodson-Rugg was a helluva combination, and they won a bunch of awards in a three-year period. Modesty wasn't a strong suit, as I noted before in the blog on Byrd, and Byrd never hesitated to keep a count of the Journal sports awards and let the public read about them. If you can do it, Jerry would remind us, it ain't braggin'.
             (And we kept count in the '80s, too.)
             From the time Rugg left the staff in '74, and Woodson left the next year, the Journal sports staff had -- as I count it -- 20 fulltime people in seven years (see chart below). Quite a turnover; what a revolving door it became.
             The formula became to hire young people in their first or second jobs, almost a dozen of them straight out of college. But to bring in people from the J-schools at LSU, Missouri, Texas and, yes, Louisiana Tech wasn't a bad idea.
             They didn't have salary demands, so starting pay helped the Journal save money; most weren't married and were willing to work their rears end off for a demanding boss (Byrd) in a demanding situation (small staff, ambitious agenda).
              And most of them were very, very talented. No question. I was a parttimer -- the SID at Centenary and PR guy with the Shreveport Captains -- and it was fun to see how much talent came into town ... and soon left. Lots were looking for another job not long after arriving.
             But the Journal's sports tradition was the benefactor. And the Journal was a helluva stepping stone.             
---
             Here's where Journal sports writers of the 20-year period (1970-1991) became well-known names ... 
             -- Larry White: After sports information jobs at LSU, the University of Alabama and SMU, he returned to Alabama as the SID at the end of the Paul "Bear" Bryant era and years thereafter.
             -- Bob Tompkins, longtime sports columnist, Alexandria Daily Town Talk.
             -- John Adams, longtime sports editor/columnist, Knoxville News Sentinel, and radio sports talk host.
             -- Joel Bierig, baseball writer, Chicago Sun-Times (out of newspapers, but still doing some baseball writing).
              -- Steve "Tiger" Richardson, longtime executive director of the Football Writers Association of America and prolific book author, Dallas-based, ex-Dallas Morning News  writer on college football and college basketball  
              -- Jeff Rude, former Dallas Morning News assistant sports editor now longtime columnist/senior writer for Golfweek magazine
              -- Alvin Hollins, sports information director at Florida A&M University for three decades.
              -- Phil Rogers, baseball writer/columnist, Chicago Tribune, still one of the best in the country.
              -- Jerry Briggs, longtime writer/columnist, San Antonio Express-News.
              -- Paul Finebaum, longtime sports columnist in Mississippi and Alabama but even better known for his radio sports talk show, one of the best in the South; often appears on national television on matters concerning college athletics.
             -- Ed Cassiere, longtime SID at University of New Orleans and now Xavier (New Orleans).
            -- John James Marshall, still at Loyola College Prep (which he and Cassiere  attended when it was Jesuit, and JJ quarterbacked the 1976 football team to an unbeaten season and the Class AAA state championship). He's now director of alumni and public relations at the school.
            -- Ron Higgins, longtime columnist/writer, (Memphis) Commercial Appeal, multiple book author, one of the most prominent writers on all things SEC.
             -- Gary West, longtime horse racing writer for the Dallas Morning News around two stints at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (we were reunited there in the mid-2000s). Now writing about the ponies for ESPN.com.
             -- Teddy Allen, publications writer at Louisiana Tech but still a popular man-about-town columnist for The Shreveport Times and Monroe News-Star.
             -- Scott Ferrell, longtime sports editor, The Shreveport Times, now its online editor.
             -- Tom Murphy, longtime Arkansas Democrat-Gazette beat writer covering the Razorbacks (ask him about Bobby Petrino).
             -- Will Weathers, after newspaper jobs in South Louisiana, he's managing editor of Tigerbait.com, one of the all-LSU web sites. 
             There were others who got out of the media business -- Rugg, Robert Steckel, Ed English, Tom Kleckner, Harriet Prothro, among them -- who were terrific journalists.  
              It was quite a collection of talent.
---
              Very biased here: In my return to the Journal, from February 1982 to August 1987, we had a tremendous sports staff.
               For almost five years, we had the same staff. Four of us were from Shreveport -- Byrd, Marshall, Cassiere, me -- with the great Mr. West (from New Orleans), who could write anything (book reviews, restaurant reviews, any sports topic) well and worked some 18-hour days). Not many better "kids" then in our occupation than JJ and Ed.
               At various points, we also big writing talents in Higgins and Teddy.
               We worked hard, and we produced tons of stories -- and awards. We were close, and we had tons of fun.
               Best time in Journal sports staff history? Tough to judge; many people scribed to daylight well at this old newspaper. But -- not modestly -- here's one vote for it.

The Journal sports line ...
(dates and order are approximate)
Sports editors: Otis Harris (mid 1930-mid 1950s), Jimmy Bullock (mid 1950s-1970), Jerry Byrd (1970-91); *Larry Stephenson (1981); *Nico Van Thyn (1982-87); *Tom Seltzer (1987-88); *John James Marshall (1988-91).
*executive sports editor   
Sports writers: Jerry Byrd (1957-70), Jimmy Bullock (1970-72), Rick Woodson (1964-65, 1969-75), Ronnie Crain (1967-72), Ken Rominger (1972-74), Wally Rugg (1972-74), Larry White (1974-75); Bob Tompkins (1975), Robert Steckel (1975-77), Anthony Lacour (1975), Joel Bierig (1975-76), Steve Richardson (1975-76), Jeff Rude (1976-78), Ed English (1977-79), John Adams (1977), Jerry Briggs (1977-78), Paul Finebaum (1978-79), Larry Feese (1979), Alvin Hollins (1978-79), Phil Rogers (1978-80), Tom Kleckner (1979-80), Keith Hartstein (1979-80), Bill Banks (1980-81), Ed Cassiere (1981-86), John James Marshall (1981-88), Gary West (1982-86), Ron Higgins (1982-83), Teddy Allen (1986-87), Harriet Prothro (1986-91), Scott Ferrell (1987-89), Tom Murphy (1989-90), Will Weathers (1990-91).
Parttimers: R.C. "Cotton" McCoy (bowling; high school football; desk); Harvey Laing (college/high school coverage; desk); Ed Pettis (newsside editor; high school football); Betty Ghio (golf, mid-1970s); David Garland (Two-Dollar Bettor, 1981); John Sands (bowling, 1980s); Glynn Harris (outdoors, 1980s).

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

At the Journal, it was more than the score

         The death of Rick Woodson a couple of weeks ago brings to the forefront a blog piece I'd been planning to write about the glory days of the Shreveport Journal sports department.
          Later this week, it will be 21 years since the last edition of the Journal -- March 30, 1991. Shreveport's afternoon paper died that day, and so did a tradition of outstanding sportswriting.
           Heck, yeah, I'm biased -- I worked for the Journal in the 1970s and '80s for 10 years, 4 1/2 as a parttimer/high school correspondent, 5 1/2 as executive sports editor. Beginning in 1957, it was the newspaper to which my parents subscribed.
           The Journal was always The Little Paper That Could.
            The morning newspaper, The Shreveport Times, was "the opponent." It had a bigger staff, more resources, most days more news space, 3-4 times the bigger circulation, and the bigger reputation.
            What The Times didn't have, and the Journal did -- this is my opinion -- was a publisher and editor who were sports fans, who cared about sports.
            I worked for both papers; I can assure you that those of us who worked in The Times sports had pride and wanted to do a good job.
             But it was evident to me over the years that sports was more important at the Journal.
             That became even more true when Stanley R. Tiner -- a bigger sports fan than most of us and a knowledgable one -- became the Journal editor in the mid-1970s. But even before then, the Journal became known for its sports writing.
             It was a good all-around paper, with some strong writers, reporters and editors in every area -- The Times had its talents, too -- but we felt that sports was the Journal's biggest selling point.
             (Trouble was, it only sold 20,000-30,000 copies daily in the '70s and '80s).
              This is subjective, and it's my opinion: The Journal sports pages, from about 1970 through the next two decades, were as good as any in the state of Louisiana.
             The larger daily papers such as the New Orleans Times-Picayune and States-Item and the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate had some top-notch sports writers and much more space, and some strong sports staffs and some good years, and LSU and the Saints right there to cover. There were good writers, too, in Alexandria and Lake Charles and Monroe.
              Can't tell you how many times I heard how "great" the Morning Advocate sports pages were. Trying not to be critical of anyone, but quantity (of space) -- and that paper had it for sports -- doesn't mean quality.
               Journal sports meant quality.
---
                 It began with Jerry Byrd. That's easy to write. He set the standard for quality writing, and sports, at the Journal. And it ended with Jerry Byrd; he was there when the paper folded, to that point his only job since the day after he graduated from college in May 1957.                  
                I have written a blog on Jerry (http://nvanthyn.blogspot.com/2012/06/legendary-man-mr-byrd.html, June 8, 2012); it is one of my most "viewed" blogs.
              Jerry will tell you, I think, that he wasn't a special writer his first few years at the Journal. He wrote the standard play-by-play stories, with rote quotes. Not much depth.
               Then he began using historical research, primarily on high school sports, to enhance his stories, and more background information on teams and individuals, and better quotes.
              Someone at the Journal -- maybe it was Jerry -- came up with the slogan "more than the score." And that was the underlying thought behind the sports approach at the paper.  
               A few years later, Jerry loved the song by Carly Simon: Nobody Does It Better. Jerry would sing it -- loudly, of course, in that Byrd way -- around the office. He also applied it as the theme for Journal sports.
---
              It wasn't so much the presentation, or the page layouts. We in sports got lots of help from some outstanding photographers and artists (especially Ron Rice in the '80s). The quality came from the writing.
               In my time there in the '80s, part of the reason for that was story ideas, many of them generated by Tiner. As the late Bailey Thomson noted in the Journal's farewell edition, Stanley came up with 100 ideas every day. Many of them were sports ideas, and he wanted them executed ... in the next 10 minutes.
                Stanley liked reading Sports Illustrated, and he wanted us to be like SI, dig deeper for stories and angles. Honestly, we didn't have SI-type talent -- good as we were -- and we didn't get SI-type pay (still waiting), but what we had, what the Journal always had, was people dedicated to being good, and willing to work all hours.
              At the Journal, working all hours was a requirement in sports. There was no other way.
             You came in at 6 a.m. or so to put out the paper -- a first edition done by 9 a.m., then a clean-up, find-a-new angle, deal with breaking stories for the city edition by noon. Then, it was phone calls or in-person interviews for next-day or later-in-the-week stories. If you had to cover games, that was almost always at night. If you were going out of town, it was time to hit the road.
             In football season, it was cover games on Thursday and Friday nights, write your story in the office that night, and sometimes (more often than I want to remember), get a couple of hours sleep and be back in the morning at 6. That couch at the front of the office wasn't all that great for sleeping.
            Part of the fun was coming back to the office with the people covering other games, and rehashing what you'd seen. At some point, though, it was time to write.
            A great story, or a readable one, and a strong package of game stories the next day made it worthwhile.
            We weren't the "paper of record" -- whatever that means; we left that to The Times. But we wanted to do the sports stories people in town were talking about, and reading.
             It took commitment, by those who worked in Journal sports, and a commitment to allow space for the in-depth stories. In the '70s and '80s, the Journal game stories -- high school, college, pros -- were generally much longer than those in The Times. More to the point, we took subjects and did a "major crank" (a term John James Marshall originated) -- the personality pieces, the "What Happened To ..." series, the "project" stories. Those took as much space as we needed.
              Many of those became award winners.
              We didn't do the job just to win awards. We did it because we loved doing it (and they paid us). But beginning with Byrd and Woodson in about 1970, winning awards was part of the legacy.
               Next: The run of sports writing talent at the Journal              


Thursday, March 21, 2013

In the 1960s, Woodlawn was our "Camelot"

     Don't let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot.
Woodlawn: A beautiful sight for us Knights
       My wife, bless her heart, refers to the 1960s Woodlawn High School years, as "Camelot."
       "Just on what I've heard," she explains. She wasn't there; she's from Jamestown and went to school at Ringgold, some 35 miles from Shreveport.
       But it was our Camelot, like the ideal land of folklore, of King Arthur; like in the early '60s, the Kennedy White House, or so we heard and read. Civility and nobility, and all that.
        I'm writing this because this weekend the Woodlawn Class of '63 -- the first class to attend the school for all three years -- is having its 50th reunion. Members from other classes are invited. There will be some memories.
       They'll remember our sparkling new buildings and the beautiful quadrangle -- my favorite spot on campus, although the gymnasium and the varsity dressing room and equipment storage areas were where I spent hours.
       They'll remember the Camelot theme. We were the Woodlawn Knights. The school was located in the Sherwood Park neighborhood; not Sherwood Forest, but close. We called our place the Castle.
Woodlawn's Sir Knight
       We had Sir Knight -- the lifesize replica suit of armor standing guard in the lobby of the Woodlawn gym and also the live mascot at games, a person inside a suit of armor.
       We had the Herald (school newspaper) and the Accolade (yearbook) and an Accolade pageant and a Knights' ball in which we had a king and a queen, senior Knights (actually "knighted" by the king) and Ladies, junior squires and ladies-in-waiting, and sophomore pages and maids. I remember references to the Round Table ... maybe that was our Student Council.
       We had, we thought, the best school colors (scarlet and royal blue), the best alma mater, fight song, cheerleaders, pep squad, band, the best 4-H group, the top faculty and administrators ... and the best kids in town.
       We know we had the best fans anywhere. The deeper we went into the 1960s, the more fans we had. Especially for the football team because in the '60s no Class AAA school in Louisiana had a better record.
       And by the time the '60s were done, we thought we had the best tradition.
       All those kids -- from Sunset Acres, Southern Hills, Cedar Grove, Summer Grove and from points in the Werner Park and Caddo Heights areas -- were pretty proud of that place.
---
       We carried the Woodlawn tradition out into the world. When I went into sportswriting at The Shreveport Times, it was difficult to be impartial because I was still very much a Knight.
         But here's what I found as I began visiting other schools regularly -- I loved them all, I loved all their traditions. Loved visiting the athletic departments and school offices, walking the hallways, admiring the memorabilia in the trophy cases.
          Especially at Byrd and Fair Park, and Bossier, and Jesuit -- our city rivals in the '60s. All of them with wonderful traditions. And -- yes, you're reading this correctly -- they were all terrific schools with great kids.
          Lots to be said for the City of Byrd, the Reservation at Fair Park, the River Rats at Bossier, and Snoopy's Squadron at Jesuit. Extend that, though, to any school in North Louisiana; it was neat to visit them all.
            And Ringgold became a special place to me, too. I knew Ringgold from its two state basketball championships in the early 1960s. Beatrice says, "It was one of the best schools academically on its level in the state, tight-knit and nurturing, and filled with tradition, just like the big schools."
             One difference: We had about 550 in my graduating class, about 1,500 students at Woodlawn in the early 1960s. Bea had 26 in her graduating class, about 125 students in grades 10-12, and Ringgold's school/campus had kids from kindergarden through senior year.
---
             Our school had this: togetherness.
The Woodlawn shield
             Most of us were from "average" families, economic-wise -- hard-working parents, lots of them blue-collar workers. We had some kids/families with money, some not well off at all, but most of us were in the middle class.
              In that regard, we were like one of our neighbor school, Fair Park. There were more well-off kids at Byrd and Jesuit, more of a military presence at Bossier (and later Airline) because of Barksdale Air Force Base.
              Most of our dads were World War II veterans; most of our mothers were stay-at-home moms, maybe with a parttime job but most often not.
              At Woodlawn, there was a spirit, a bond that's hard to describe. I felt as if those kids, that school, "belonged" to me, and I belonged there. I'd like to think others felt the same way.
               I was asked by a Class of '63 member for some memories of the '62-63 school year, my sophomore year. I began with this: From the first day -- actually starting in spring football practice when I was still a ninth-grader at Oak Terrace -- you realized how important, how business-like, football was at Woodlawn. Winning football.
               When we got there on Aug. 15, the start of football practice, we were totally dedicated to that program. And, yet, those coaches made it a lot of fun, too, because they were some of the best people I've known. So were the young men who dressed in those Knights' uniforms ... for years.
               But there was great enthusiasm about every program at Woodlawn, far beyond athletics.
               As the school grew through the '60s, and enrollment increased, Woodlawn became a power in every sport, peaking in 1968-69 with state championships in football and basketball, a third-place in track and field, and a baseball team that went to the state tournament for the first time.
                And I'm sure that every other aspect of Woodlawn grew, too.
                The school began changing in 1970 when Southwood opened, followed a few months later when Shreveport schools integrated almost totally. Woodlawn remained a wonderful place for a couple more decades, but it wasn't the same. It wasn't Camelot anymore.
 ---
              Yet, I think about this -- it wasn't ideal; it was just real life. We had kids that drank -- yes, even at the Knights' Ball, I heard; we had those who smoked (if caught, that meant a suspension or dismissal from the athletic teams); drug use -- marijuana -- was still a few years away. I also heard we had kids who engaged in sex (couldn't prove it by me).
              There was little, or no, talk about gays -- the word used in that context then was always offensive to me -- or same-sex marriage. No talk of mixed-race marriage; most of us never went to school with a black person, even in college.
              Blacks were a separate world; they might as well have been on a separate continent (and that's what many people suggested in those days). Yet Union High School was maybe not more than a mile from Woodlawn; in our sophomore year, because of roadwork, we went by there every day on the way to school.
              We had future alcoholics (maybe alcoholics even then), future drug users, those whose marriages failed (some many times), those who married while still in high school; those who married other Woodlawn kids, and made it work -- even through today.
              The early 1960s were a much simpler time, and it was mostly, a good time. But  Camelot -- the folktale, play and movie, and the Kennedy White House -- didn't have happy endings.
We had, in Sunset Acres and at Woodlawn, a future serial killer and a serial bank robber; both died in prison, the convicted killer in the electric chair.
               Real life.
               Woodlawn was special, but not perfect. Great memories, though, and the Class of '63 reunion will respark those. Maybe those Knights and Ladies will talk about the Castle in Sherwood Park this weekend while they wear scarlet and royal blue, and sit around round tables.                              
           

Monday, March 18, 2013

We're going dancing ... tonight

       Posted this on Facebook on Sunday night: Why all this talk/analysis of NCAAs? Dancing With The Stars' new season begins Monday night. That is the real Big Dance!
       Seriously, we love Dancing With The Stars. You can have the basketball tournament.
       It's not that I'm not interested in the NCAAs, or the NIT; I am. But other than the Northwestern State Demons in the NCAAs and the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs in the NIT, I don't really give a flip of the channels who wins.
       Dancing With The Stars, now that matters. Beatrice and I wouldn't miss it. If we do have to miss a show or two, we tape them -- and watch them as soon as we get home.
        We've been watching since Season 4. This is how it goes with us in our TV watching -- Bea (or one of the kids) will find a show they like, and talk me into watching.
          I remember watching the shows in Seasons 1-3 from a distance on one of the TVs in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram sports department. The Season 2 contestants included Jerry Rice, the great wide receiver, and Michele Machado, who sat right by the TV, watched to watch her 49ers hero dance. He finished second that season.
Our favorite DWTS couple: Cheryl Burke and Emmitt Smith
(ABC photo from ibtimes.com)
         Season 3 included Emmitt Smith, which caught my attention but not my undivided attention. Just as he did with the Dallas Cowboys, Emmitt wound up as the champion; the man danced almost as well as he ran with the football. 
         I think Bea had watched some of the first three seasons, but she watched all of Season 4, and so did I, because Laili Ali, daughter of the great Muhammad, was one of the contestants. We still think that was one of the best seasons, although the seasons seemingly have gotten better and better lately. Tonight begins Season 16 (two a year, starting June 1, 2005).
          So we were just going to watch Season 4. Then Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was on the Season 5 cast. Bea really likes Mark; we think he's a great team owner (no matter what Randy Galloway thinks), and while he didn't last all that long in the dancing, he brought fun to the show.
         In fact, the show was so much fun, we got hooked..
         Watching from the start of seasons to the end, we have come to appreciate the difficulty of ballroom dancing, and appreciate the improvement so many of the celebrities have made within the seasons. These are nice-paying gigs, but they aren't easy ones. It's not easy to put yourself on a dance floor before millions of viewers when you can't dance.   
---             
         Bea loved dancing, back in the day. I can't dance a lick, don't want to dance, don't like the embarrassment. I managed my father-daughter dance at Rachel's wedding, but gosh, it was Rachel; I had to do that. 
         Dancing is not why Bea and I got married. Glad it wasn't a stringent requirement. She's a nice lady.
          I can't sing well, either. Awful would be the description.
          But I love music and big bands, orchestras, Broadway music, Golden Oldies ('50s, '60s, '70s), Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Andy Williams, Glenn Miller, John Denver, Barbra, Dionne, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, The Highwaymen, Johnny Mathis, The BeeGees, Sarah Brightman, Andrea Bocelli, Neil Diamond ... did I leave out anyone?
          Of course, I did ... Barry Manilow. Yes, I love Barry's music. He's my favorite. And I don't like people joking about it (that's you, John Henry!).
           Barry has been a musical guest on Dancing With The Stars. A great night.
---
            Loved the variety/music shows and American Bandstand on '50s and '60s television. DWTS is a throwback to those. As much as we love the dancing, we love the music (and the orchestra, directed by Harold Wheeler, and singers).
            But, of course, it is the celebrity dancers who make the show what it is. You never know what to expect. But what we've come to expect that if they last a few weeks, the celebrities improve greatly.
            Some of them start in poor physical shape; some much overweight. We've seen them not only lose pounds and pounds, but become really good dancers. Kelly Osbourne is one example; she wound up as one of three finalists in Season 9. The zany Kirstie Alley, who finished second in Season 12, was another. 
            We've seen some dancers who were up there in age (Cloris Leachman, Florence Henderson, George Hamilton, Priscilla Presley, among others). Betty White, only 88 then, was invited, but declined.
            We've seen Disney kids who were, naturally, among the show's best contestants.
            We have seen many terrible dancers; it was obvious they weren't going to last long. We have seen heartthrobs we hadn't heard of who had female audience members screaming (Cristian de la Fuente, Gilles Marini, William Leavy); we've seen sex symbols (Pam Anderson, Holly Madison, Kendra Wilkinson) who were on the show because ... aw, you know why.
           We realized after a few seasons that supermodels -- Kathy Ireland was one -- weren't built for this show and were always among the first people eliminated. That was true with some athletes, too -- Monica Seles and Clyde Drexler.
            But athletes have ruled this show -- the list of champions includes football players (Emmitt, Hines Ward and Donald Driver), a speed skater (Apolo Anton Ohno), a figure skater (Kristi Yamaguchi), a gymnast (Shawn Johnson) and, almost unbelievably, a race-car driver (Helio Castroneves). And several football players proved to be nimble dancers; Jason Taylor and Warren Sapp came close to winning the unspectacular mirror-ball trophy. 
            Athletes know how to perform -- so much of the show is "selling" the dance -- and how to train. So do showbusiness types, such as Donny Osmond, the surprise Season 9 champion.
            We've come to love so many of the professional dancers, the teachers. We do miss Julianne Hough, who has gone on to a musical and movie career, and we don't think we will miss Maksim, the "bad boy" of the pros who says he's done with the show. 
            One thing we love, always, is the variety in the casts. ABC has been innovative that way, and also with a number of different twists in the format of the show -- the set, the requirements for the dancers season to season, the musical guests, etc.
            That's why last season, the All-Star season that brought back many champions and popular celebs from seasons past, was the best season yet. We again were rooting for Emmitt, who was as good a performer as he was dancer.
            We do appreciate one bit of continuity -- the host, Tom Bergeron, who is genial and timely with his comments (especially the ones that don't seem to be scripted), and the judges. They've been there from the start -- the effervescent Carrie Ann Inaba, the curmudgeonly Len Goodman and the flamboyant Bruno Toniolli.
             The judges are predictably unpredictable.  But Beatrice and I have come to guess their scoring pretty accurately.                    
             Judges as the judges often argue -- some of it obviously staged -- we've come to know that the pros and celebrities will quarrel. There have been some real head cases, drama queens and kings, among the celebs.
             Beatrice believes, and has always believed, that much of the show is scripted, to the point that some celebrities are signed only for a certain amount of weeks, that the show's producers/directors know who's staying and who's leaving (no matter how much they tell you the fans' vote counts so much).
             So we've gotten to know about the cha-cha-cha, samba, tango, Paso doble, Viennese Waltz, and the quickstep and jive (my favorites), foxtrot, Argentine tango, etc. But it's usually the freestyle at the end of the season that produces the "10" scores ... and the champion.
             Just don't ask me to dance. We'll just watch, and enjoy. Basketball comes later.






               
          

Friday, March 15, 2013

"Gentleman Jim" a Tech treasure, always

Coach Mize and Miss Minnie (from latechsports.com)
        Louisiana Tech University track and field athletes from the 1950s, '60s and '70s will gather at a reunion this weekend in Ruston, and no question the two most special people attending will be their coach and his wife.
        The occasion is the Jim Mize Invitational at the Jim Mize Track and Field Complex.
        Jimmy Mize, a young 96, and Minnie Mize, his wife for 64 years, are expected to be there. They long have been among Louisiana Tech and Ruston's favorite couples, although they now reside in assisted living in Baton Rouge near their daughter Sallie. Son Alec isn't that far away in Houston.
        Coach and Miss Minnie have outlived most of their contemporaries, and many of his athletes. Until a few years ago, they were a dashing, dancing pair. They were engaging, always fun to be around. I'm sure they still are.
        Family members say Miss Minnie remains "a fireball" and that Coach, while slowed physically, is mentally sharp, which I found to be true when I spoke to him briefly Thursday evening. 
        Coach Mize is a Tech legend, but he was that already when we were students in the mid to late 1960s. When we think of Coach Joe Aillet -- who was at Tech from 1940 to 1970 -- we also think of Coach Mize. They were a team. (There were others in that same era I could mention, but that's for future blogs.)
           They were much alike: dignified, soft-spoken, thorough, dedicated. They stressed academics and emphasized values, taking care of business away from the playing field. Their teams won; sometimes won big.  From my experience, Coach Aillet was more  scholarly, more professor-like. Coach Mize was accessible ... and interesting.
           They were such ... gentlemen. That word just fits.
           Tech made the Mize legend official when he was inducted into the university's Hall of Distinguished Alumni two years ago.
           My question: What took them so long? The man's affiliation with Tech dated 77 years then; he had been retired, out of coaching for 34 years.
            There is an excellent article on Coach Mize and the induction, written by Teddy Allen, in the 2011 summer edition of the Louisiana Tech Magazine entitled "Gentleman Jim."
http://latechalumni.com/techmag/no26/26.pdf (Page 4)
           And because Teddy has given me permission, I'm going to use some of the information in the article.
---
            The tall, thin, always-fit man who came out of Shreveport's Fair Park High School to study at Tech, and play football and basketball, first arrived on campus in 1934. 
           He began coaching at Ruston High -- just down the street from Tech -- under another legend, L.J. "Hoss" Garrett upon graduation in 1938. After two years, Garrett insisted Mize taking the vacant coaching job at Arcadia High, 20 miles west, and in that year, 1940, Arcadia won the Class B state championship.
          And then came five years in the military, more than two years as a pilot in the Southwest Pacific during World War II, 3,800-plus flying hours and 300 missions -- some of them, I would guess, harrowing in the midst of Japanese warfare. And post-war, 18 more years as an Air Force reserve unit commander in Ruston.
          Jimmy Mize served his country well before he came back to serve Louisiana Tech.
          (Remember the pilot role; I'm coming back to that in a bit.)
          And then, Coach Aillet in 1946 made him his offensive line coach -- his second-in-command, really -- and Tech's track and field and cross-country coach. He stayed with football through 1970, one of two holdovers on the staff (with E.J. Lewis) when Maxie Lambright took over the program in 1967, and then he remained as track/field coach through 1977, producing (with Lewis' recruiting help) some of his finest teams and athletes in the mid-1970s.
 ---
        Coach Mize was a meticulous planner and organizer. He kept his track practice plans, his track lineups for meets, results, football playbooks and game plans ... probably all dating to 1946. His office was, well, cluttered.
         As a student assistant in sports information (and sometimes acting SID), I spent many an hour in that office. I didn't remain as close to Coach Mize as some of the other men and coaches I've written about in this blog, but being around him many days for four years was worthwhile.
         It was fun to listen to him; he could reference most any game, event, athlete, opposing coach -- and his life experiences, including war tales -- into stories. And, yes, he could talk.
          Not only that, but he was one of those people -- this might sound funny -- who talked with his hands, too. (Watch Dick Vitale and baseball analyst Harold Reynolds on TV; their hands are constantly moving.) Coach Mize's hands were always demonstrating.
          He could break down blocking techniques, even for the uninformed (like me), and the progress of his linemen, and of his track and field athletes. He could project how track meets would score, and he wasn't often far off. He knew where Tech's team stood.
        He was so genuine, and so cooperative, and unfailingly polite -- to everyone. To be honest, there were those -- other coaches, people on campus -- who he didn't think represented the values he believed in. But he was never harsh in those discussions.
        I especially liked the many weekend afternoons when young Alec -- as polite as his dad -- would join him around the office. Alec is now a semi-retired successful businessman, and he's 60; I can't imagine that.
---
        Coach Mize was a fast driver, very fast. The old plane pilot had the need for speed -- from his linemen, on the track -- and behind the wheel. I'm talking 85 in a 60 mph zone.
          If you ever rode with him on the highway, in one of the old white Tech station wagons, you didn't forget it. He could make the Ruston-Shreveport trip -- more than an hour for most of us -- seem like a breeze.
         My great friend, the late Ken Liberto, used to do a good imitation of Coach Mize behind the wheel ... the straight posture, leaned back, right foot pressing the pedal ... whoosh!
          "Coach Mize," Liberto wryly observed, "still thinks he's flying that plane, on the highway."
          And he could tell stories while he drove, using his hands. Hands-free driving?          
          I don't know if he ever got pulled over for speeding, or how many times, but I can imagine Coach could have charmed his way out of a ticket. 
---
         In the spring of my senior year (1969), we hosted the conference track and field meet, and I was the acting SID, so I was in charge of producing a small program and getting the meet results to the media. It was enough work, and I was trying to finish my final classes, so it was a challenge.
          After the meet, about the time I graduated, I received a handwritten note from Coach Mize thanking me for my work and telling me to "keep telling it like it is" as I went into the newspaper field. It was a much-appreciated note then ... and now.
         When I wrote him a letter a few years ago again thanking him for all he had done for me and so many at Tech, I received a return letter -- again handwritten -- a week later, as usual with his gracious touch.
         Wouldn't expect anything else from this admirable gentleman. 
         "I enjoyed all my years at Louisiana Tech, with Coach Aillet and Coach Lambright, and everyone," Coach Mize said Thursday night. "Those were some great times."    
---
        For more on Coach Mize, here's a separate blog with quotes from other Tech people who share my gratitude: http://nvanthyn.blogspot.com/2013/03/we-all-admired-coach-mize.html

We all admired Coach Mize

Jimmy Mize
(www.latechalumni.org)
          Few people who have graced the campus of Louisiana Tech University are more beloved, more admired, more respected than Jimmy Mize.
          Some of the athletes he coached -- offensive linemen in football and one conference champion discus thrower and track/field team captain -- and a former Tech sports information director share their thoughts about Coach Mize, who will be honored again this weekend as part of the Jim Mize Invitational meet at the Jim Mize Track and Field Complex.

          Jesse Carrigan (offensive guard/tackle, 1965-68): "Off the field, we played New Mexico State at Las Cruces in '67. Coach Mize was a pilot in World War II and I sat behind him on the plane ride. He was very happy to be in the air, we were on a prop aircraft, and he told stories all the way there about flying without radar, etc., during the war. He used hand gestures to explain all the combat moves and we were all so entertained.
          "That Friday night, we went to a movie, Bonnie and Clyde, and he went with us. When we got back to the motel, we all stood in the parking lot as he told the story of seeing Bonnie and Clyde after they were killed in his hometown, Arcadia.
           "On the field, he was the best. I rarely, if ever, saw him lose his temper, and he loved what he was doing. He was kind and courteous.
           "Coach Mize was the consummate gentleman, and a gentle man. I loved Coach Mize. He was great to me.

          Glenn Murphy  (offensive guard, 1965-68): "Thanks for allowing me to write about a man who was my hero next to my Dad. I wrote Coach Mize a letter about 7-8 years ago. I told him it has only taken me 40 years to tell him how much I appreciated the values that were taught to me by him. Coach Mize was a man of values.
          "He would take time to illustrate the proper way to block someone step-by-step. He wanted us to shape our lives using values taught to us through our spiritual leaders. Along with being a tough-nosed football player, he wanted us to be tough-nosed when temptation arose. He wanted us to grow into fine men and good citizens.
        "I thank my God often that I had the opportunity to play for Coach Mize and learn to 'keep those white socks movin'.
         "I talked with Coach Mize three weeks ago. ... Still sounds great and still Mr. Positive."

         Tim Hall (conference discus champion, 1965-66): "When asked to write something about Jim Mize, my initial thoughts were along the lines of 'no problem.' But as I thought about it for some time, I became aware that it was going to be a lot harder than I originally thought. You see, there are many layers in the myriad memories I have about the five years I spent under his tutelage.
        "First and foremost, Jim Mize is one of the first and one of the few, real gentlemen I have ever known. He was at once compassionate and understanding, yet demanding in an almost imperceptible manner. He was all about shouldering your responsibilities ... 'saddling up and handling your business,' as he would say.
photo from latechsports.com
       "He never seemed to get ruffled and he lived on the most even keel I have ever observed. Too bad I didn't learn that lesson!
        "In my last two years at Tech, we spent quite a bit of time together and largely by observation I learned life lessons that have withstood the test of time ... 46 years, to be exact.
       "Last March, Carol and I spent some time with him and Miss Minnie in Baton Rouge. It was a most enjoyable visit and, no surprise to me, he was as he was the first time I met him ... gentlemanly, polite, and smooth ... and if he had told me, as he once did, to jump out on the track and stride out a quarter mile, I might have tried to do it."

      Butch Williams (offensive tackle, 1966-69): "I have the utmost respect for coach Mize as both a coach and as a person. He served as my offensive line coach along with Pat Patterson during the time I was at Louisiana Tech. I came to school as a linebacker, so everything I know about offensive line I learned from these two men.
       "Coach Mize had a unique way of teaching you without hardly raising his voice. He was so much like Coach Joe Aillet in that sense.
        "His favorite saying was, "OK, guys, you have got to keep those little white socks moving." We all thought it was kind of funny, but it was a simple way to tell us that we had to keep our feet moving if we wanted to make our block.
         "He was a great coach, but I respect him even more as a man. I never heard him speak down to any player nor did I ever him use profanity on or off the field. If he ever met you, he knew you forever. He could get up at the football banquet, and without a list in front of him, call out every player, his hometown, parents' names, and high school coaches'  names. He has an unbelivable memory.
       "Coach Jim Mize and his dear wife Minnie are two of my favorite people."

       Keith Prince: "In 25 years as Tech's SID (starting in 1969), I never had a better relationship with a coach than I did Coach Mize. He loved his athletes so much, and he loved representing Louisiana Tech so much that it was always a pleasure to work with him.
       "I've never met any man with higher morals or character than Coach Mize. And his memory still amazes me to this day. He served as my 'living history book' on Tech athletics -- even for many years after his retirement.
      "He and Minnie are truly the 'Grand Couple' of Louisiana Tech and I feel fortunate to have known them both for the past 40-plus years."


           

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

It's not that difficult to be original

        Plagiarism: An act or instance of using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of another author without authorization and the representation of that author's work as one's own, as by not crediting the original author.

        OK, I plagiarized the above from definitions at dictionary.com. Just want to give credit where it's due.
        Point is, I just don't get plagiarism, or actually, I don't understand why people resort to plagiarism. And it's everywhere -- books, magazines, school work, music, television.
        But I really don't get it in the newspaper business.
        In 40-plus years of newspapering, I experienced a half dozen people being fired for plagiarism at the time I was working for the same publication. Here's the odd part of that: In each case, I felt the person had a lot of talent.
        So why resort to copying someone else's work -- or in other words, stealing it? There are so many ways it can be detected these days; it's so much easier in the computer age.
        Really, I was surprised each time it happened at my newspaper. And only once did I suspect it was happening, the only time that the firing occurred in the sports department.
        In this case, it was with book reviews, and it was apparent that the person doing the writing -- or the copying -- was churning out the reviews far too rapidly to actually have read all of the books. So the book review material was coming from a borrowed source.
        Which -- and it was only a matter of when -- added up to ... see ya. Please seek employment elsewhere.
        It's just a rule of Journalism 101: Don't plagiarize.
---
        I've been guilty of thousands of mistakes, some of them more serious than I want to detail. But I never intentionally borrowed any written material from another source, at least not without attribution.
          So the material under my byline were my own thoughts, stupid as they might be at times. There were a couple of instances, though, when "The Associated Press contributed to this report" line was omitted. Didn't mean for that to happen.
        A case of plagiarism hit me hard when I was in college. It left a lasting impression.
        Midway through the 1967 football season at Louisiana Tech, I came into the sports information office one day after a mid-morning class, and the sports information director -- who will go nameless here -- was gone to lunch. On his desk was a copy of The Daily Oklahoman sports section.
        In his typewriter was the day's Tech football release. I couldn't help but notice because I also was due to write something that day. 
        I also noticed that the release in the typewriter was worded exactly like the story on the University of Oklahoma football story in the newspaper on the desk. The only difference was "Louisiana Tech" instead of "Oklahoma" and Tech players' names subbed in for Oklahoma players.
        What the heck was this?
        What it was was plagiarism.
        I knew it was wrong. I didn't take it well. When the man returned from lunch, I confronted him (no one else was there), and it wasn't pretty. I made it clear that I didn't want anything to do with it -- or him.
        Talked to Coach Joe Aillet, in his first year as athletic director only after his brilliant 26-year football coaching career, and we decided that I should go work in the journalism department editing The Tech Talk. Journalism professors Kenneth Hewins and Pete Dosher were happy to have me there, and I was able to continue drawing my work-study supplement.                                 
        Giving up the student SID job certainly was not my preference. It was difficult.
        Some three months later, the SID was gone -- by mutual agreement. As soon as it became known that he was leaving, Coach Aillet sent word that I could return to and run the SID department for the rest of the school year, through the end of basketball season and the spring sports.
        (In fact, that was the case each of my last three years at Tech, with the SID leaving early each year. Guess I kept running those guys off.)
        Anyway, that was my first significant lesson in plagiarism.
 ---
        Still, I made a big mistake early in my career ... as a copy editor. A fellow staffer, covering an NFC Championship Game, sent in his story and it was a couple of inches short for my layout. Instead of adjusting the layout (making a photo larger, which wasn't easy in those days before digital), I used a wire story to add a couple of paragraphs to the story and give it a different (and what I thought, cute) ending.
        I spoiled the guy's story. He wasn't happy, and rightfully so. I should have adjusted the layout or made the story a sidebar or separate element. Another lesson learned.
        I know people who were accused by others in their sports department of plagiarizing material for their columns. I can't judge if it was true or not, but they kept their job.
        I knew one columnist who used the same column -- a humor column -- he wrote in three different cities (three different jobs), and maybe even a fourth time. I suppose, it was kosher to plagiarize himself. 
        It's also not unusual for a writer or columnists to use portions of previous columns or stories for background and simply top them with fresh facts or fresh angles ... or maybe even just one fresh fact or angle.
        Plagiarism? Probably not. Laziness? Maybe. Convenience? Certainly.
---
        The worst case of plagiarism I saw, though, happened in Louisiana in the mid-1980s. A friend of mine, one of the state's veteran sportswriters and one of its most respected, wrote a column about Ralph Ward, the longtime basketball coach at McNeese State. Much of the column was about Ward's great success with his teams of the 1950s.
        A much younger writer from downstate "borrowed" much of the column, word for word -- including personal references of 1950s tales from the older writer. He didn't even change the "I" references ... and he didn't attribute the column to the original writer.
        It was ridiculous, a joke.
        The guy not only kept his job, he later was awarded the Distinguished Service in Journalism Award in Louisiana.
        Figure that one out.      
        And, well, I'm not making up this story -- or borrowing it. It's an original.
                                                

Friday, March 8, 2013

Dr. Ponder: A class act from the start

Dr. Leonard D. Ponder
       The man sitting next to me at the LSU-at-Texas A&M men's basketball game Wednesday night is my favorite Aggies fan. Also, one of the important people in my life.
        A number of coaches and journalists were special to me. Leonard D. Ponder was the first of those coaches.
         He's been a part of Aggieland since 1972, but Ponder's roots are in Louisiana -- Pleasant Hill, Northwestern State and, where we met, the brand-new Oak Terrace Junior High School in 1959-62.
         He was Coach Ponder to me in September 1959 when we first met, the first male teacher I'd ever had.  I was one of a dozen nervous seventh-graders in first period P.E., the first class of his 40-plus years of teaching. It was one of my most fortuitous connections.
        He is now Dr. Ponder -- visiting professor/emeritus, head of A&M's Health and Physical Education department (later changed to Health and Kinesiology) for 13 years (1979-92), guiding force for the Thomas and Joan Read-inspired Deerfoot youth sports camp for boys 10-14 each summer for 35 years.
        When he retired from A&M in August 2001, the Leonard D. Ponder Chair for Research and Development was established in his department.
         No ordinary Aggie. No ordinary friend of mine. Many, I'm sure, share this opinion of the tall, slender, poised, neat, classy young man -- and one-time almost basketball star -- from Pleasant Hill, one of those small Sabine Parish hoops hotbeds, about 60 miles south of Shreveport.
         He's still Coach Ponder to me. The friendship has carried through the years, much to my great benefit. He's been very generous, as he is with so many.
---
        I can't write about Leonard Ponder without also including Ellace Bruce. I've mentioned their influence before in a couple of blogs; they are the two coaches who started me on my career path -- as a team manager and as the correspondent for The Shreveport Times calling in results of home football and basketball games -- my first newspaper connection.       
Ellace Bruce
         Bruce was the first head coach at Oak Terrace; he had been in coaching several years before moving to the new school with Stanley Powell, who had left coaching (at North Caddo High) to become the school principal.
        After 10 years as Oak Terrace's coach, Bruce moved into administration, as the school's assistant principal for 14 years. He now lives in northwest Arkansas (Alma) and is a longtime Razorbacks fan. Some things -- such as Ponder as an Aggies fan -- can be forgiven.
         Both men "took care" of me long ago. I was honored that both came to Shreveport for my mother's memorial service in July 2010 and it was wonderful to see them together again last May at a reunion of Oak Terrace and Woodlawn coaches and athletes.
---
Coaching buddies a long time ago at Oak Terrace:
 Bruce and Ponder
        My mother called Ponder "the shiniest man in Shreveport." Even as a young man, he was polite, soft-spoken, smooth, well-dressed, well-groomed ... he really did shine, literally and figuratively. Nothing's changed; he's still that way.
         In my three years at Oak Terrace, he became a frequent dinner guest at our house, a bachelor happily taking in a well-cooked meal. My parents liked him as much as I did -- and he liked them.
         Just as the coaches at Woodlawn would a few years later, Bruce and Ponder made my Dad feel at home in the coaches' office and gymnasium at Oak Terrace. Always a sports fan, this was a connection my Dad cherished.
          One of Ponder's memories is that when the faculty vs. students basketball game came around in 1961 and 1962, Dad -- billed as "The Flying Dutchman" -- was part of the faculty team. In his early 40s, he had little hesitation firing off those long, European-style two-handed set shots.
           As my first homeroom teacher and in his P.E. classes, it didn't take long -- even for a seventh-grader -- to figure out that Coach Ponder was very organized, a thorough and patient teacher, interested in all his students and, most importantly, approachable.
           But you didn't mess around a lot in his classes and you had to make an effort and be prepared for his tests, the written ones and the physical ones. I was the runt of the class, so I was never going to do that well in the physical tests, save for the six-weeks sessions in soccer. I was the only kid familiar with the sport then; those were my only A's in P.E.
            Ponder quickly figured out that I was a sports nut. He knew I loved the Yankees and baseball, and he saw me at every Oak Terrace home game in football and basketball, usually hanging close to the teams. Which led him to suggest, near the end of my seventh-grade year, that I become a team manager the next fall.
            That was my introduction to school athletics, the start of the road.
---         
         Here is why Oak Terrace was always a fond memory for Ponder: In the third year there, he met a blonde English teacher from Wisner, La., and began courting her. In the summer of 1962, Sue Ann Kiper became Mrs. Ponder. A couple of years later, Jenny was born, and a couple of decades later, she twice made them grandparents with Dr. Andrew de Jong (whose father was a native Dutchman).
         A special memory: My Dad and I were the first dinner guests for the newly married Ponders in the summer of 1962 (when my mother and sister were on their first trip back to Holland). Coach has a picture of the occasion and remembers how nervous Sue Ann was that night.
         And speaking of nervous, Ponder recalls our first meeting, too.
         "It is understandable that you would be a little nervous," he wrote of that September 1959 day. " It may not have occurred to you, but that also was my first day. I had student-taught, but you were in the first class where I, for the first time, was totally responsible for the class. I too was more than a little nervous."
---
           Bruce and Ponder were my favorites at Oak Terrace, but it was -- in my estimation -- an outstanding faculty; Stan Powell had a knack for picking good people/teachers, as he did later as the first principal at Captain Shreve High (fall 1967). Many of the best teachers I had came in my junior high years; better even than a very good Woodlawn faculty.
           As coaches, Bruce and Ponder were hampered by the lack of a lot of good athletes, so there wasn't a great deal of winning in those days -- many good lessons in how to lose. Later, when the quality of athletes improved, the coaches used their P.E. classes to seek out kids who could run -- and Oak Terrace dominated the city in track and field for a three-year period.
       By the summer of 1966, after six years at Oak Terrace, the Ponders moved on. He went to Southeastern Louisiana University to teach P.E. and earn his master's degree, so I had a "host" in Hammond for several football/basketball trips with Louisiana Tech in my days as student sports information assistant).
       His five years with SLU included a two-year sabbatical at the University of Tennessee, where he  earned his doctorate (I would work in Knoxville some 25 years later). And then Dr. Ponder became part of the A&M faculty in 1972.
---
       I took my family to College Station in the spring of 1979, six weeks after Rachel was born, to meet the Ponders. We stayed in touch over the years, but I didn't see them again until 1987, when I covered the Louisiana Tech at A&M football game. I spent a couple of hours visiting with Coach and Sue Ann.
       I lost touch during my travels to Florida and then Tennessee until early in 1998. Sadly, when I called Coach, he had bad news: Sue Ann had died from breast cancer only a few months earlier.
       Beginning then, Coach and I became regular e-mail partners, and he has often touted A&M's great tradition and the uniqueness of the university and its loyal fans. And I've become an admirer, if not a fan. 
        Good fortune for Coach: He found another woman to love, and vice versa, and Linda has been his wife since July 1999, and a gracious host, great cook and fun conversationalist. She  takes good care of the man she calls "Professor."
---
       We have traded views on many, many sports matters and, better yet, on life views. We sometimes disagree, but always, always politely. And I assure you that to receive frequent bits of wisdom and wit and encouragement from Leonard Ponder is a treasure.
        We've shared a couple of rounds at the Colonial and a day at Augusta National, on the Tuesday  before the 2002 Masters, because if there is anything Ponder likes better than basketball it is golf. He plays as often as he can and, as with anything, he is a student of what he's doing.
         He made sure that Bea and I and my parents were part of his retirement banquet/roast in August 2001, and I was honored to be asked to be one of the speakers.
         In a brilliant idea, I had a stack of notecards with quotes from his e-mails -- his philosophical bits on life. Trouble was, it was a thick stack and I took twice as much time as any other speaker. Plus, I tried an Aggie joke that fell completely flat (and wasn't well received ... horrible idea).
         I think Coach forgave me. Pretty sure some of the other Aggies are still grumbling.
         Anyway, I tried to impart how genial a guy Coach Ponder/Dr. Ponder is. I could have talked from then to now about him.
          So, while we rooted for separate teams Wednesday night, I know I was sitting with a wise man -- and a true friend -- in Aggieland. From that first class in '59 to today, he's been a class act.