Friday, August 30, 2013

Old school? Yes and no

       I am old school; I am not old school. Going back and forth on this as I thought about it the past week or two.
       Yes, some changes from "the old days" -- the 1950s and '60s when I was a kid -- bother me. But I  love today's world. We have so many advantages now, and it's silly to want to turn back progress.
       But "old school" means I like my watch with hour and second hands pointing to numbers going clockwise (bad pun) around the face; I don't want a digital watch. But a digital alarm clock next to my bed, that's fine.
       Old school: I don't want an electric can opener. The old-fashioned turn-the-handle kind is good ... but then how often do we open cans these days?
       Don't want to use an electric razor; I never did. I'm an old-school blade guy, and not the three-, four- or five-blade type, either.
       I much prefer air conditioning. There was a time when we had very little of it -- at home, in school, in stores.
       I am certainly not old school about television, about the 24-hour news cycle. I'm not old school about the Internet and Facebook and Twitter; we are so connected with the world, with our friends, and it's good.
        We have so many choices. We're looking for something to watch on TV the other night and click on the U-Verse guide to check the old movies on Channel 790. Channel 790?
         Remember when we only had two channels to watch in Shreveport-Bossier, and they went off the air at midnight when it became test-pattern time?
         Cable TV was 30 years away, maybe; you had to get up to change the channel manually -- remote-control clickers, are you kidding? -- and if news broke, you might find out about it hours later ... unless you were listening to the radio.
         And if you listened to ballgames on the radio -- for us that meant the Cardinals or, in the '60s, the Colt 45s/Astros and, for some reason, the White Sox -- you might get up-to-the-moment scores and an occasional game detail.
         I am old school about dressing up -- suit and tie -- for most weddings (but not every wedding party requires that) and certainly for funerals.
         But where I used to dress nicely for work almost daily -- slacks, shirt (but no T-shirt) and regular shoes -- I turned into a tennis shoes/T-shirts/shorts or jeans guy a couple of decades ago. Thought people might faint on the (very) rare occasions I would show up at the office in coat-and-tie.
         Here's an old-school wish: Can we turn gasoline prices back to 19 and 23 cents per gallon? Sure, my wife says -- and then you also have to do with a standard-shift transmission (I never did learn to operate that) and without power steering, automatic turn signals and seat belts, and the various safety measures.
          Let me assure you that putting out newspapers these days is SO much easier than when I broke into the field in the 1960s. Now a story or a photo can be on a page in a matter of moments; a process that used to take hours.
         I have no longing for the old-school days of newspapering. When they did away with composing rooms and the people in them -- they were, to be tactful, often a pain in the rear end -- it was a great day. Sorry if that offends some of my old buddies.
         However, I am very old school about writing and editing. I will not use -- it hurts me to even type this -- "newbies" or call people "dudes" or abbreviate all sorts of things -- and I believe in putting commas where they belong, such as in front of but or then when a sentence is in transition. I have hundreds of editing quirks, and I'm not apologizing for them.
         Of course, newspapers themselves now are becoming "old school" because there are far less readers and they generate far less revenue. I don't like that because it was a good way to make a living.
         I was fond of my VCR and video tapes; what great technology when they were introduced. Now they're old-school, and I'm up for whatever is next.
         Cellphones are one of the great inventions of our time. Don't want to go back to rotary-dial phones or -- oh, my gosh -- party lines.
       Now, turning to sports ...
       I am old school in some baseball traditions -- stirrups (socks) showing (but not too much); to heck with today's players who wear their pantslegs down to the ground. I liked it when relief pitchers worked two, three or four innings, not just one inning (or one batter). Talk about slowing down games; how about all those pitching changes.
      But I'm OK with the designated hitter; not crazy about it, but OK. Only thing is, when pitchers in the American League feel like throwing at batters, they don't have to worry about coming to bat -- and being thrown at -- themselves.
      I liked it when they began putting players' names on the back of uniforms. However -- old school -- the Yankees are the only team in the major leagues that doesn't ever do that, and I hope it stays that way.
      I am not old school about football; the game today is faster and, because of that, more violent in a sense, but it's always been violent when you consider the rules in the old days that often meant dirty play went unpunished.
      I don't have a problem with the increased protection for quarterbacks and other skill-position players. I don't like seeing anyone get hurt, but if you're going to play that sport, you know the risk.
The photo and story that inspired this blog
(from Sports Illustrated, Aug. 14, 2013)
      I am somewhat old school about football uniforms, which is one reason that brought this blog to mind. Looking at Sports Illustrated's college football issue two weeks ago, a picture of a 1965 UCLA team huddle reminded me how much I loved the Bruins' uniforms -- powder blue jerseys, old-gold helmets and pants ... but nothing written that said "UCLA." Still, I knew that was UCLA.
      I remember, too, how LSU had the gold helmets with just a player's uniform number on them, and the jerseys didn't say LSU. Same gold-white-gold look, though, and it was cool. I remember Louisiana Tech's red helmets ... before the logo of the state of Louisiana and the "T" coming out of it.
      And I believe that's it's wonderful that some teams have the "old school" helmets without any decals -- Notre Dame's gold and the Cleveland Browns come to mind. But is there any football team out there without some sort of identification on its uniform?
      I'm not a big fan of the no-huddle, hurry-up spread offenses. I like a huddle-up, run-the-football-when-you-need-to offense (and give your defense a good rest), but maybe that's old-time thinking and I should adapt.
       I actually like the 3-point basket in basketball now, although I didn't care for it much at first. It gives the trailing team, or the team with lesser talent, a chance to catch up. The long shorts players wear today? Silly at first, but now I've gotten used to the fashion.
      Sometimes I wish they'd take the shot clock out of college basketball, and give a team the chance to spread the court and hold the ball. Sure, it was boring -- very boring -- but it was a strategy that could give a lesser, smaller team an equalizing weapon. Just an old-school thought.
      Women's basketball? Great, especially once they made it a five-on-five full-court game, not the three-on-offense, three-on-defense '40s-'50s-'60s version (so old school).
      Instant replay, video replays -- fabulous. It changed our world. No old-school wishes there.
      Wish they'd expand the use of instant replay in baseball. I am very much in favor of the way it's used in college football and the NFL. Yeah, it slows down the game a bit, but it also means the calls are correct 95 percent of the time.
      Here's something I wish was "old school" -- baseball (or sports in general) without steroids or performance-enhancing drugs or blood doping (hello, cycling). Just get sick and tired of reading or hearing about it.
      I'm not for the pre-players' union days, but I wish the players didn't have as much bargaining power as they have now. In baseball, the players' union -- not Bud Selig and his cronies -- really run the game. Don't believe otherwise.
      We could use more "old school" compromising in American politics; is that even possible these days? I do have dreams. Civil rights, social rights ... I would hate to see us turn the clock back on so much that has been done.
      And that's the point, I suppose -- we shouldn't turn back progress. Today's world -- in general and in sports -- is a wonderful place to be. "Old school" might be good in a few instances, but mostly it's not and I like it that way.             

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Memories of Shaw Hill

      I never became a very good fisherman, although Howard Shaw -- my father-in-law -- did his best to help me pursue that desire. He loved fishing and knew all he needed to know about it.
      I did become a very good fish eater, and still am, partly because Laura Alice Dickson Shaw fried up plates and plates of bream and white perch (crappie) and put them in front of me, and also taught her oldest daughter Beatrice how to do that.
       Give me bream, crappie or catfish -- fried, of course -- and I'm happy anytime. Even if it's bad  for my cholesterol.
Laura Alice and Howard Shaw, 50-plus years together
       One of those good fortunes in my life was our visits to the little house on Shaw Hill -- that was our name for the homeplace -- in Jamestown, La. I think our Jason and Rachel, two of the Shaws' 13 grandchildren, will tell you the same.
        There are plenty of people we miss, and Granny and Paw-Paw -- that's what our family came to call them -- are among those we miss most.
        We lost them 20 and 18 years ago. It hardly seems possible that it's been that long. But the memories are sweet ones.
         Those who know me might find this hard to believe, but there was never a cross word for me from either of them. I could not have been treated with more love and respect, and I hope I returned that because they deserved it. And I kind of liked their oldest daughter.
         They were country people living in rural conditions, without a lot of modern conveniences. Don't take that wrong -- they were good as gold, with plenty of smarts. They made do with what they had, but at times it was tough, especially when Bea and Howard Jr. and Brenda were small.
          The baby, Alice, came along a few years after that, and soon the family moved from a farmhouse on the property to the new home -- the one we knew -- built on cinder blocks. A company put up the frame, but Mr. Shaw did all the inside work -- the three bedrooms, the living room, the kitchen and, after a few years, the plumbing for the bathroom. None of it was very roomy.
           This was Paw-Paw -- he could do most anything. He loved that piece of land; he'd always lived there. On it, he kept extensive garden; he'd plow the land and work it. He could build things, do plumbing, fix motors (cars, lawnmowers), and people from all around -- Ringgold, Castor, Jamestown -- would come to him for help. Sometimes, but not often, he'd accept money for it, usually at their insistence.
             And the kids all remember this -- he kept a wormbed, a big one, thousands of worms. He'd sell them; better yet, he'd use them for our fishing trips.
              Here's where I came in, in 1976, having fished only a few times in my life but really liking it. Liked the quiet, and the challenge, and here was a man who loved to take people fishing. Mrs. Shaw loved fishing, too, and so did all the kids -- they'd been out there on Lake Bistineau and other places with him often.
             So off we'd go; Bea often went with us. He'd hook up the trailer/boat to his truck and travel the back roads to the launching spot at Lake Bistineau. He  knew practically every inch of that lake, had a bunch of favorite fishing holes, and he so wanted me to have fun, and to catch fish. So if they weren't biting pretty quickly, he'd move on to another spot.
             In time, I even learned to bait my own hook, tie on a hook (after losing one when I would invariably get the line caught). We'd spent hours out there -- if it wasn't too hot -- and we had some very good days, and some very dry ones.
             Best thing was, after the good ones, we'd come home and scale the fish, gut them and clean them -- I learned to do that, too -- and then Mrs. Shaw would go to work in the kitchen. If we didn't bring home any fish, she always had a ready supply in the freezer.
               And, yes, eventually, I could cook them, too. But only when Bea didn't want to.
               But the most memorable thing about Paw-Paw: his stories. Despite not much of a formal education, he had an education of the world -- he saw some of the country in the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s and some of the world in the U.S. Army during World War II. He had tales of his boyhood, of hunting and fishing, and of adventures with the kids -- often featuring "lil' ol' Buster" (Howard Jr.).
                Or he'd make up stories. Bea remembers those from the early days and she and her siblings would often urge him to "tell the one about ..." He was more than happy to comply.
                When he'd finish a story and he knew you were pleased, and so saw he, he'd chuckle: heh, heh. The chuckle was part of it.
                He was at times, Bea said, a stern and demanding father. I never saw that side; only saw him be adamant once. I know what it was about, but it doesn't matter. I knew he meant business when he addressed Bea as "Annett" -- her middle name (without a final e) by which she was known in her younger days.
               One of his stories, and mine, in his later years was about the day we went into the woods just down Highway 154 from the house in search of what he referred to as Black Lake. It was actually a stream that had been good for fishing. Jason, about 4 or 5, went with us. We walked for 15-20 minutes, and couldn't find it. It had dried up so much, apparently, and Mr. Shaw was wandering around.
               "Are we too lost, Paw-Paw?" Jay asked. Mr. Shaw loved that one.             
                We did find enough water to go fishing, and brought back a nice string that day. And Paw-Paw had a story.
                 Mrs. Shaw was quiet, a dutiful wife and mother and grandmother wanting to please everyone. She was sweet and lovable, and every now and then, she'd contribute a thought to the conversation. Mostly, she was always busy in the kitchen, preparing butter beans and greens and whatever else she could put on the table.
                 Bea remembered how beautiful she looked in her younger days and how when Bea was young, she'd greet her every day when she'd get home from school, sit and work with her on homework and draw; she had artistic ability.
               Rachel, too, remembers Granny sitting and drawing with her and how she'd always spread her arms for a hug and ask for "sugar" (some kisses), and how she'd give Rachel a spoon to let her play in the dirt outside. Jason remembers her lumpy mashed potatoes and the Tang to drink ("only place I'd ever get that") and, at meals, how Paw-Paw loved to mix the cornbread with his buttermilk.
             They were both pretty upset when we decided to move to Hawaii in 1980 for my job with The Honolulu Advertiser. Jason was 5, Rachel was 10 months; they thought they might not see them. But we were back in a couple of years, so the trips from Bossier City to Jamestown came often in the 1980s.
             Then when we moved to Florida in 1988, the trips back home, to Jamestown, were really special.  Really special was their 50th wedding anniversary party, a family gathering on the old place.
They were so proud that day.
             Little more than a year later -- on May 29, 1993 -- we got one of those calls, though. Granny had died, in her typical fashion, very peacefully in her sleep. It wasn't a total surprise, but it was still a shock.
              Paw-Paw's grace at the visitation and funeral was admirable. Life was tougher for him after that, and his health declined. It was probably cancer, although never officially called that. His body really just wore out, but his mind didn't. The stories were still there to the end, and so was the chuckle.
               And he gave us one memorable moment. He could hardly walk on his own, but as we sat at the kitchen table one day, while Jason -- now a student at LSU -- mowed the grass in the back on Paw-Paw's riding lawnmower. Suddenly Jay ran the lawnmower up one of the poles on a swing set.
               Paw-Paw, sensing that Jay might flip over with the mower, hurried from the table to the back door; I don't know how he moved that fast, except his oldest grandson might be hurt. He wasn't, and Paw-Paw was relieved.
               Mr. Shaw died two years, two months and two days after Mrs. Shaw. His youngest sister, Lola Mae Hammett, still lives in Jamestown -- right across the street from Shaw Hill.
               They are buried, with much of the Shaw family, in Providence Cemetery on Highway 154 between Ringgold and Jamestown, and we don't get there often. Rachel stopped by on a trip from her home in Knoxville, Tenn., to our home in Fort Worth and let Josie see where one set of her great-grandparents are buried. Josie was too young to grasp it then, but someday hopefully she'll appreciate it.                                           
             Granny was a sweetheart; Paw-Paw was a man's man. We love the memories.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Reading 'Tides,' football and coaches

                It is mid to late August, and football season is coming -- I don't count the NFL preseason -- but my life has changed, and I'm not obsessed about it.
photo from

          In a previous life, for about 45 years, I would have been writing and/or editing stories on football, visiting high school (and some college) campuses and talking to coaches, and otherwise to to them on the phone.
            I love and admire most coaches. I've written that previously on this blog many times, and coaches have been my subject matter repeatedly. They were a huge part of my life.
            However, one of my obsessions these days is reading -- especially reading books. Part of that is our little book club here, another is that for 1-3 years, I had eight books sitting here by my desk that I had intended to read.
            And I have done it, thank you. In fact, thanks to a lot of time at the nearby Barnes & Noble (yes, free reading), I have done 16 books in four months (several provided by Celeste Williams at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram).
            One needs an asterisk: We listened to the audio discs of Rob Lowe's autobiography, sent to us by our reading-obsessed daughter.
             Of course, most of those books are sports books -- four on the New York Yankees. There was one on the Connecticut Yankee (by Mark Twain).
             I have to credit Rachel -- perhaps the most avid reader I know -- for spurring my interest, and also my wife, who is an eclectic reader, too. They encourage me and support the effort. Plus, my sister a couple of weeks ago suggested I read The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy; she was listening to the audio discs for the eighth time.
             Elsa thought I would like it because the narrator/protagonist is a high school football coach, Tom Wingo, who once was a very good high school and college player.
             Rachel, of course, has read it; she thinks the prologue is one of the finest pieces ever written. Bea had read it three times, but she was ready to read it again.
             Two weeks later, we are finished -- 664 pages of the paperback version. It is a powerful, dramatic, and often sad, book. At times, it was so riveting, and so deflating, I couldn't go on that day.
             It's mostly about a shrimper family's fractured relationships, life in a rural South Carolina lowlands setting and then in New York City, about love and hate and therapy, psychologically complex, about  murder, rape and mayhem, infidelity, manipulation and deceit, politics and much more. First published in 1986, this novel is beautifully written by Conroy and he also helped with the screen play for the 1991 movie directed and starring Barbra Streisand (with Nick Nolte).
             But if you're more of a novel reader than I am, you probably knew all that.
             Really, the book has little to do with football, but it's obvious that Conroy had played the game and studied it, and studied coaches. I want to stress that a lot more of the book stuck with me in the family dynamics realm, but he wrote one section about coaching that I loved.
             A coach occupies a high place in a boy's life. It is the one grand component of my arguably useless vocation. If they are lucky, good coaches can become the perfect unobtainable fathers that young boys dream about and rarely find in their own homes. Good coaches shape and exhort and urge. There is something beautiful about watching the process of sport. I have spent almost all the autumns of my life moving crowds of young boys across acres of divided grass. Beneath the sun of late August, I have listened to the chants of calisthenics, watched the initial clumsiness of overgrown boys and the eyes of small boys conquering their fear, and I have monitored the violence of blocking sleds and gang tackling. I can measure my life by the teams I have fielded and I remember by name every player I ever coached. Patiently, I have waited each year for that moment when I had merged all the skills and weaknesses of the boys placed in my care. I have watched for that miraculous synthesis. When it comes I look around my field, I look at my boys, and in a rush of creative omnipotence, I want to shout to the sun: "By God, I have created a team." 
            The boy is precious because he stands on the threshold of his generation and he is always afraid. The coach knows that innocence is always sacred, but fear is not. Through sports a coach can offer a boy a secret way to sneak up on the mystery that is manhood.
           Now Pat Conroy has made a helluva lot more money writing books than I have (millions for him, zero for me) and he -- and many others -- can write this a lot better than I can.
           What he says here is so, so true. I think about the coaches I knew, those who were part of my life and affected it -- as a team manager and then a sportswriter -- and I am so thankful for those people and their roles, and the path that I traveled.
           And now I'm thankful for my reading time, too.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Weighing in on what we should eat

     I love red meat and potatoes -- a T-bone steak, ribeye, porterhouse, filet mignon, roast beef (rare, please), and mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, fried potatoes, french fries, steamed or smothered potatoes.  
Mint chocolate chip ice cream: Oh, how I love you
(photo from
     I love ice cream -- most any kind, really, but especially mint chocolate chip and that plain soft vanilla from Dairy Queen. Love banana splits and banana pudding and pies with whipped cream.
     Love cookies, especially chocolate chip and Oreos. But just about any kind will do. Love candy and chocolate. I have a lifetime history with Mr. Goodbars, and Tootsie Roll pops are close.
     Love fried fish -- catfish, bream, white perch. Those all-the-catfish-you-can-eat nights we had many years ago at the old (now burned-down) Cypress Inn in north Bossier were a Shreveport Journal sports department special. John James Marshall called them soirees, all-you-can-ram.
      And in the all-you-can category, crawfish. Put me at a crawfish boil and give me a couple of hours. If I have a "favorite meal," this is it.
      My folks loved to eat, and so do I.
      Well, so did I.
      When I kept looking at my expanding waist, and my clothes didn't fit so well anymore, and then when my vision kept getting blurry at work, and indigestion was becoming a daily problem, it was a miserable feeling.
        So miserable that -- at my wife's insistence -- I went to get my eyes checked by an opthamologist. And the result was ... there was nothing wrong with my eyes. But the doctor suggested I go see my general physician because the cause of my blurred vision might be that roll around my waist.
         When I stepped on the scales at the doctor's office, it read "178." (To be honest, I had been avoiding stepping on any scales.) I couldn't believe it. It was a long way from 125, which is what I weighed coming out of college.
          The doctor suggested we do a complete physical; I hadn't had one in years. When the results came back, he was adamant: My cholesterol was too high; my triglycerides -- whatever those are -- were out of sight.
          I needed to lose weight, or he said I needed to take medicine (statins). I had no desire to do that; Bea knew that the statins can have uncomfortable side effects.
          I really wasn't a total physical wreck; I still was doing my daily walk, 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours, and had been for 15 years or so -- not fast walking, but steady. But then I would eat anything I wanted (see above), and I would eat late at night -- after work -- and I never ate breakfast (worked nights, so I wouldn't started my day until about 10 a.m. and didn't feel like eating.)
           It was time for some changes, and Bea -- also not happy with her weight -- felt the same way.
           This was some three years ago, just after our vacation/return trip to Hawaii, where the pictures of me with my old friends from The Honolulu Advertiser show just how prominent a belly I had. I would post some of those "before" photos but, gee, I can't locate them right now.
          We cut down on the white stuff -- white bread, mashed potatoes, most potatoes, white rice, white pasta -- and cakes, cookies, candy. Cut back on using butter and on French bread with garlic, which we both loved. Very little red meat. Very little ice cream. Very little canned goods of any kind.
           We began reading the many articles available on the best things to eat, and we began to check the packaging/ingredients. Sweet potatoes are on that list; those who know me know that was one of my least favorite things to eat; I always avoided them. But we substituted sweet-potato fries (baked) for french fries, and I actually like them.
           We now eat wheat bread and wheat pasta, and lots of salads -- spinach-based, with fruit and mushrooms and green peas, raw vegetables, avocados, olive oil. Sometimes Bea adorns the salads with salmon or tuna salad and sardines (oily fish are highly recommended). Nuts are a good thing to eat, too, and we buy some every week.
         So we eat lots of raw stuff. There are some side effects -- well-known, but we won't talk about that here.
         I'm eating kale, and okra, and turnip greens -- would've been very reluctant in the past on all those. But spinach and broccoli have always been favorites.
          And every day I eat breakfast -- usually a bowl of cereal (with almost no sugar), blueberries and almond milk.
          I used to drink one Diet Dr. Pepper a day (sometimes two). No more. Now it's lots of water, some tea (mostly green tea) and one cup of coffee a day (supposed to be good for you).
          We cut back on salt. I did use it liberally; now I use it sparingly. We try to stay away from sugary stuff. Now when we get something with salt or sugar in it, the taste is exaggerated.
          We've tried to eliminate milk chocolate; we do buy a dark-chocolate bar weekly ... one piece a day. We have substituted low-fat yogurt for ice cream.  
           At Bea's direction, we now take a daily regimen of pills -- vitamin supplements, Prilosec (to control the indigestion), fish oil, L-Lysine, magnesium, a baby aspirin. I don't like taking pills, but I do it because I'm told to.
           OK, I want to stress this: We are not perfect at this; we don't think we are obsessed; we are not weight watchers to the point of getting on the scale every day and fretting about it. Every now and then -- once a week, once every two weeks -- we both feel like eating an "old" meal. So we go get a hamburger, and maybe some fries, or a corned-beef sandwich at Jason's Deli, and then we have the ice cream, too.
           We might even have some mashed potatoes once a month or a small steak -- a real small steak. Still eat more cheese than we need -- goes with our wheat-bread sandwiches -- but not nearly as much as before.
            Candy, or chocolate, still tempts me when we walk into a place with a candy jar. But because I don't go to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram sports department all that much any more, I can stay away from all that candy in Celeste Williams' office. Always love visiting with Celeste, but that candy was not doing my waist or health much good. Good thing, too, that I don't get to Strawn's in Shreveport too often for a piece of banana pie (or the whole pie) with whipped cream as the topping.
           And then there's crawfish. Our son, Jason, puts on crawfish boils, and we went to one this spring. I ate and ate and ate -- crawfish, plus the small potatoes and the corn and the sausage -- and I was so full when I was done. Felt absolutely miserable the next few days; didn't even want to look at much food.
            Portion control remains an issue some days. Snacking remains an issue. My problem is still too much of a good thing.
           So these days the scale reads between 155 and 160, a loss of about 20 pounds. It actually happened pretty quickly, once we changed our diet and our eating routine; it was only a couple of weeks before people began noticing and asking if I'd lost weight.
           After a couple of additional visits to the doctor's office, the doctor read the cholesterol and triglycerides numbers and was very pleased, saying, "You've done good work. Keep it up."
            My weight has stabilized. Meanwhile, Bea -- having stepped up her exercise routine -- has lost more than I have, weighs less than I do, is still losing some. She not only feels good, she looks good (not that she's ever looked bad).
            We've each had to buy new clothes because some of our stuff is now too roomy. I've gone from a 36-38 waist to 34-36; I can again wear a suit that I had outgrown, but I had to give up some of my Dad's handdowns that once fit but now are too loose.
            I probably could lose another five pounds or another half-inch off my waist, and be even more fit. But that might mean buying even more new clothes, so I'm fine for now. I feel healthier, my vision is OK, and my wife seems satisfied with our efforts.
             But, gosh, how about a big T-bone steak, mashed potatoes, and a gallon of mint chocolate chip ice cream?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The would-be diamond cutter

(Eighth in a series)
      My Dad -- Louis Van Thyn -- was 17 when he left home in 1936, left his country (Holland) to pursue what had become his career goal: to be a diamond cutter.
       It could have been a noble and lifelong occupation, and a potentially lucrative one. But it never happened.
       The Dutch army intervened, and then the Germans -- the Nazis -- intervened, and World War II happened and Dad wound up in a concentration camp (Auschwitz) and nearby prison/work camps.
       When he survived, by the grace of God and luck and perseverance,  those three harrowing years, diamond cutting was still on his mind. But when he went back to that goal, he found he didn't have the desire for it, he couldn't sit quietly for hours enclosed in a manufactory and concentrate on the task.
      "I had to get out [outside]," he explained in his 1996 Holocaust interview with the USC Shoah Foundation.
       So that dream ended, but life -- thankfully -- went on. Still, it was a memory of those years just before Europe, and the world, went through hell.
The last time my Dad (second from right)
saw his family: at the June 1940 wedding
 of my uncle Hyman (right). That's my
grandmother Sara (left), my grandfather
Hyman, and my uncle Jonas (young boy). 
       He was a school dropout at age 14, a trade school dropout, because in the Depression years of the early 1930s, his family needed him to work. So he spent a couple of years working for his Amsterdam neighborhood textile manufacturing plant, De Vries van Buuren & Co., as several members of his extended family -- including his mother -- did.
       He did odd jobs for the company, including delivering the work clothes, etc., that the plant produced. Then, at the urging of his uncle, who was a diamond cutter, and that uncle's son (Dad's first cousin) in Antwerp, Belgium -- two hours south by train -- he found a route he could take.
       It was a prestigious industry and Amsterdam, for more than 400 years, had been known as the "City of Diamonds." But by the mid-1930s, the powerful labor unions had made working conditions in the diamond centers so strict that much of the work force had shifted to Antwerp, which by then had become known as the "World Diamond Center."
       Because Dad didn't have an "in" to the business in Amsterdam, Antwerp was the answer.
       "I went to Antwerp to learn diamond polishing," he explained. "I was a polisher. First I was in the trade school and then later on someone was teaching me in the manufactory.
       "I could not do that in Amsterdam. You had to be a union man; your father had to be a diamond worker. My father was not, but my uncle (Hyman Scholte)  -- the husband of my mother's sister (Lena Van Beem-Scholte) -- was a diamond cutter, and he sponsored me to go to Antwerp and learn the trade there. I could not learn that in Amsterdam; no one wanted to take us."
       His cousin, Joopie Scholte, also was a diamond-cutting apprentice then. Dad not only moved in with the family -- replacing his grandmother, Eva, who had died -- he and Joopie would be best friends.  And it remained that way for the rest of their lives. Joopie, too, was a Holocaust survivor who came back having lost a wife and a daughter. Unlike Dad, he did become a diamond cutter post-war.
       (There's more to the story, but I'll visit that near the end of the series).
       As he did his apprentice work in diamond polishing, Dad still had to do other work to help pay for his housing and support himself.
       "My uncle was working for a newspaper; he was selling weekly papers, and he became director of the chevra kidisha (the Jewish "holy society" for preparing dead bodies for burial)," Dad said in his interview, "and I took his job. After I was learning [the diamond business], in the afternoon, I'd go on my bicycle and deliver papers to homes. My uncle and aunt helped me get through [those years]."
Dad, in his Dutch army uniform
       The German/Nazi threat was rumbling. The world had seen the possible might of it, seen and heard the propaganda in full blast at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, and by September 1939, the German army invaded Poland.
       By then, just before he turned 20, even though he was in Belgium, he was in the military.
       "My parents were still in Amsterdam, and I was drafted by the army, and I started on April 11, 1939," he recalled. "I stayed in the army until May 1940 when the war broke out [in Holland]. Then [the Germans] made us POWs. So I spent one month in Holland as a POW, and they let us go home.
       "We were in Fort de Bilt, in a town near Utrecht, and they [the German army] took our whole group and put us in a big farm, with 400 or 500 people in the barns, and they kept us there."
       It was only a beginning, and a strange one. What happened?
       "We had to do nothing there. They did nothing to us," he said. "They were planning [for us] to go to Germany to one of the POW camps, but there were so many [people] that I think they were waiting, and then they decided to send us home. They sent the Dutch army home."
       He later learned that after a while, when labor work was needed in Germany, much of the Dutch army personnel were picked again and sent to those POW camps. But Dad wasn't in that group; he was no longer in the Dutch army, or what remained of it.
       He went back to Belgium, back to where he had been living, back to his uncle and aunt and two cousins (Joopie and brother Jonas), and in June 1940, he made a trip back to Amsterdam -- by bicycle -- because his older brother Hyman married Regina Kok.
       "It was the last time I saw the family," Dad said, the last time he saw his father, mother and two brothers. He never saw Hyman's baby boy, Nico, born June 23, 1941.
       There was a good reason Dad went back to Belgium -- he was in love.
       Next: Estella, and a short-lived marriage



Monday, August 12, 2013

No. 19 was The Man

        It's impossible, in my opinion, to designate "the greatest quarterback of all time," as I discussed in a previous blog (June 20, 2013). But the most important quarterback of all time -- there's no doubt.
        Johnny U., No. 19, Baltimore Colts.
        The crewcut, the high-top cleats, the white helmet with the horseshoe, the all-white, or blue-on-white uniforms, the cool, the class. "The Golden Arm."
        If you were a kid of the late 1950s/early 1960s, if you were an NFL fan then, Johnny Unitas was the guy. And if you were like me, and you hopped on a winning bandwagon, the Colts were your team.
        Before Dandy Don and Roger the Dodger and Troy (if you became a Dallas Cowboys fan), before Laird, Prather, Bradshaw and Ferguson (if you were a Woodlawn High School fan), there were the Colts and Unitas.
        I actually thought that the horseshoe on the Colts' helmet was a "U" because of Unitas.
 Hey, what did I know?
        Like millions of others, I was enchanted by the 1958 NFL Championship Game -- "The Greatest Game Ever Played," as it's known -- when Unitas brought the Colts from behind and drove them the length of the field twice in the final minutes to first force the first overtime game in NFL history and then deliver the winning touchdown, Alan Ameche's 1-yard plunge through a huge gap in the New York Giants' defense.  
        That was the day the Unitas legend really began, the day Unitas-to-Raymond Berry became arguably the NFL's best-ever pass-catch combination. That's the day, they say, the NFL became America's Game.
         That's the title of a book I read recently, the best history of the NFL I've seen. Then at the end of an e-mail exchange with a friend after he responded to one of my recent blogs on the NFL (well, the one on Jerry Jones), he suggested, "Why don't you write about Unitas?"
           So I went to the library and checked out a biography: Johnny U: The Life and Times of John Unitas, by Tom Callahan. And here's what reading it confirmed: He deserves to be considered a hero. So I'm writing about him.
            Consider these quarterbacks who also said Unitas their hero: Bart Starr (who watched Johnny U. become a star while Bart was still finding his way with the Packers); Joe Namath (who wore jersey No. 19 in high school and was known as "Joey U."); Joe Montana (who wore No. 19 in high school and again at the end of his career with the Kansas City Chiefs); Dan Fouts, who as a rookie replaced Unitas as a starter in John's ill-fated last season with the San Diego Chargers (what an ugly sight, Unitas in a Chargers' uniform); and Archie Manning (see the closing on this blog).
             The greatest quote I've read about Unitas came from his Hall of Fame tight end, John Mackey: "Playing with Johnny Unitas was like being in the huddle with God."
             He was the first NFL QB to throw for 40,000 career yards. He was named the NFL's Quarterback of the Century. His 47-games-in-a-row with a touchdown pass was the most prominent of the 22 NFL passing records he held when he retired after 17 seasons.
             He was, by all accounts, the most competitive, the toughest son-of-a-gun. Played in an era when defenses could rough up people within (and beyond) the rules; Johnny U. played through some horrific injuries (he had a dozen football-related surgeries).
             He wasn't a great-looking athlete, almost frail when he was young, a somewhat plodding runner but a tough one. But he delivered passes in classic form, an easy ball to handle, and he was a sensational deep-ball passer.
              His best attribute through was his cool, especially in clutch game situations, and his  leadership qualities were equal to anyone who's ever played. He was straight forward, plain-spoken, but a terrific teammate, just a nice guy who was courteous to the media and fans and cooperative, but didn't call attention to himself.
              Liked his jokes, could tell stories, and liked his drinks (but not excessively). Still, he remained somewhat aloof from teammates, knowing -- similar to a coach -- he would have to make decisions on the field that not everyone would like.
              Called his own plays, always, and ran the offense, and at times, didn't think his coaches were making the right calls personnel-wise, but didn't make an issue of that publicly.
              Above all, he was a winner -- even if the Packers surpassed the Colts as the NFL's dominant team of the '60s.
              I never stopped pulling for Unitas and the Colts, although the Cowboys became my No. 1 team. But if the Cowboys had to lose their first Super Bowl, and they did in the infamous Super Bowl V (my worst NFL memory), at least it was to Baltimore and Johnny U.
              The Colts, and North Louisiana, had quite a few connections. Three Unitas teammates were linebacker Leo Sanford (Fair Park/Louisiana Tech) on the 1958 championship Colts; defensive tackle Fred Miller (Homer/LSU); and punter David Lee (Minden/Louisiana Tech). I would imagine they will all tell you that Johnny U. was their hero, too.
              Sanford, 84 and a lifelong Shreveport resident, is mentioned in the Johnny U. biography because he left the championship game with a knee injury just after kickoff. But he did return for a couple of snaps on PAT and field-goal kicks, including Steve Myrha's game-tying field goal with 0:07 remaining in regulation.
              It was Myrha who replaced Leo at linebacker in that game. Which is significant because David Lee remembers that soon after joining the Colts in 1966, Unitas told him that he thought the kickers should be position players, too (that's the way it'd always been; Lou Michaels, for instance, was the team's placekicker and a defensive end at the time).
              "He was just being honest, that was John, that's how he felt," Lee said. "But after he saw that I was going to help the team (he was an All-Pro punter in 1966), he accepted me a lot easier."
              Lee can laugh about his first meeting with Unitas.
              "It was in training camp and he came up and extended his hand and said, 'I'm John Unitas,' " David recalled. "I'm thinking to myself, 'Do you think I'm stupid? I know who you are.' "
              Here's what else David learned from watching Unitas, Berry, Lenny Moore & Co.: "Total commitment. They were committed to being the best they could be, always.
              "John was just so confident in his ability," he added. "Not cocky. He was just sure of what he was doing."
               The Colts/Louisiana connection would carry on, even the year Unitas left, with Bert Jones (Ruston/LSU) at quarterback and Roger Carr (Cotton Valley/Louisiana Tech) at receiver and Larry Anderson (Neville-Monroe/Louisiana Tech) at cornerback/kick returner.
              Bert was the Colts' No. 1 QB for most of nine seasons and 16 years after he retired, yet another Louisiana high school QB would take over the Colts. Peyton Manning was there for 13 years, shattering many Unitas records and winning one Super Bowl title, and his uniform number (18) only one digit from The Man himself.
              In the Johnny U. book, Peyton is quoted as saying that his dad, Archie -- himself a folk hero in Mississippi and South Louisiana -- had two sports heroes as a young man: Mickey Mantle and Johnny Unitas.
              That is good enough for me.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Are you positive about your attitude?

      I'm taking an attitude check. How's my attitude toward life today? How's yours?
      Mine's good, thank you, and I try to remember to keep it that way each day. Wasn't always so, but perhaps age, and retirement, have put it into focus.
       In addition to the graditude journal I've kept for the past year and a half -- at my wife's suggestion and example, of course -- I try to reflect on my mind-set daily. 
       Mostly, I try to remember that there are many, many things out there I cannot control or influence, that I have to deal with the things that directly affect me.
       No use railing about our government (national or state), or world politics, or even -- yes, go ahead and laugh -- a baseball team that doesn't hit all that much this season or an NFL team whose management is off-track.
       In the grand picture, do the games really make a difference? Only temporarily.
       Sure, there are times that I lose sight and rail/complain anyway. But I really hate falling into that negative state.
       It's easier to keep a positive attitude now that I am no longer involved in a work situation, where people who surround you can steer you in the wrong direction. It was a work situation many, many years ago that I often recall and, really, is the basis for this blog piece.
       I had been at my first fulltime job for little more than a year, was making $95 a week and working an average of 10 hours a day, maybe six days a week. I'm not bragging about this, or being a martyr; you have to understand where I was in life at that point.
       That job meant almost everything to me. Honestly, I didn't have much of a life outside of sports and the newspaper, and I was so driven. I thought that even if I didn't have as much ability as others in the business, no one was going to outwork me. So I was in that office almost every day, even on my assigned days off.
       I wasn't in it for the money, that's for damn sure.
       One day -- on one of those "extra" days that I was in there -- a managing editor suggested I could do a story on ... I don't even remember what it was. But it was beyond my normal range of the stories I did.
       The suggestion didn't hit me right and I snapped, "Maybe if you paid me more, I could do that."
       Wrong reply. Not appropriate. This managing editor was a nice person and a very good newspaper person.
       The next day I was in the editor-in-chief's office, with my boss, the sports editor, also in there. And the editor-in-chief opened the conversation (lecture, actually) by saying, "I don't like your attitude."y
       That stung. Obviously, I never forgot it.
       My immediate thoughts were (1) well, I don't like your attitude either; I did not think he appreciated sports or knew much about it. He merely tolerated it; (2) dammit, you're not paying me all that much; and (3) me, a bad attitude? You should pay attention to what some other people in the office are saying and doing.
       Look, I was young and naive and immature, and I wasn't always compliant. Through the years, I was never always compliant; I didn't always do what was expected or the conventional way, especially if I felt management was not being practical or being unreasonable.
        But I never lost my work ethic or my desire to excel. I didn't have to apologize for lack of effort.
       And I learned from that day in the editor's office. I vowed never to ask for a raise again, and I don't believe I ever did. Received plenty of raises over the years, but not at my request. At the end of my career, I even took a good salary cut, considering an across-the-board newspaper cut and furlough times.
       Still, I didn't completely avoid salary issues. Here's what I found: Two of the times I changed jobs because my salary was going to increase -- when I let money influence the decision -- were the two most miserable jobs I had. 
       Another time, when I interviewed for a job at one of America's top newspapers  (and sports sections) and asked about salary, the sports editor gave me a figure that was really subpar, considerably less than what I was already making in a smaller market. Obviously, I wasn't a prime candidate.
       In any subsequent job interview, I always let the interviewer bring up the salary figure ... and I didn't hold out for more.
       So, at least my attitude changed in that regard.
       I also learned to have a life, that there were women out there and fun things to do other than watching games or attending them. That being a workaholic leads to burnout; that it's not always productive. That working hard was important but not everything. That, most importantly, working smart and doing good work is better than putting in a ton of hours.
       Now, I had days when I wasn't happy with things, and I didn't handle those days well, and there were personal mistakes that went far beyond anything I could have imagined when I was younger.
       But all those unhappy, stupid moments/days contained lessons and attitude adjustments, and have brought me to today.    
       Can't say that I'm a 24-hours-a-day happy guy, or an always-sunshine person, or that I don't lose my head -- why can't we hit the ball and score some runs? -- but I'm better at reminding myself that the world's not perfect and neither are the people in it. And that starts with me.
       So I try to reason, and try to remain positive. Because I don't want anyone telling me they don't like my attitude.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Another error for A-Rod

Alex Rodriguez, as a young Seattle Mariner
(photo from
      Is is too late to change a baseball scoring decision from 1994?
      If so, if the Southern League permits it, I want to change a hit for some long-forgotten player and give an error to shortstop Alex Rodriguez of the Jacksonville Suns. Because an error is how I first scored the play.
      Then, after the game was over and after Suns manager Marc Hill called me in the press box to suggest I should change the call -- and he did that nicely -- I changed it to a hit.
      Now, giving it second thought 19 years later, I want to make it an error ... just on principle. Just because it's A-Rod, and he didn't deserve the break.
      He was only 18 then, in his first pro season and on his way to the major leagues, to the Seattle Mariners. It was a year after he had been the No. 1 overall pick in the Major League Baseball draft, but because he didn't sign until Aug. 30 of that year, he didn't begin his career until the spring of '94.
       He was then just as big a prima donna as he is now, at least in my one encounter with him.
      OK, it's pick on A-Rod Day in the wake of Major League Baseball giving him a 211-game suspension ... pending his appeal, of course. And who out there thinks A-Rod isn't guilty of  yet another performance-enhancing-drugs violation?
       So he's fighting MLB on this -- the only player appealing in the current set of suspensions -- just as he's fought the New York Yankees on a few matters in recent weeks (and acted out on more than a few matters over the 10 seasons he's been with them).
       As a fan of the Yankees since 1956, I will say this: Alex Rodriguez has been one of the most talented, and most frustrating, players we've had on our side.
       Frankly, at this point, it's hard to root for him. There have been plenty of Yankees I was not fond of -- Roger Clemens, Rickey Henderson, Dave Winfield, to name a few Hall of Fame-caliber players -- and A-Rod has worked his way into that group.        
        It's not just that he's been so disappointing in so many playoff series. It's not that he's been one of the Yankees' biggest chokers ever (gosh, I hate that word, but it applies here). It's all the stupid things he's done, his totally out-of-whack contracts, all his weak-ass apologies, all his off-the-field ... let's say adventures, all his women, all the  tabloid fodder, his arrogant bubble gum-blowing, his showoff high-socks looks, his white shoes for the All-Star Game, his high-and-mighty strut back to the dugout after another strikeout in a key situation.
         Sick of looking at him, reading about him, hearing people talk about him. Make him go away.
         MLB is trying. He left it no choice with his continued involvement with PEDs. Not once. Twice. How stupid. How arrogant.
          I don't believe the Yankees' management wants him in the lineup, no matter what the public statements have been. When general manager Brian Cashman said that A-Rod should just "shut the (bleep) up" a few weeks ago, that was all you needed to know.
           This season's team badly needs offense, so the A-Rod who could provide it would be a boost. But I don't believe one big bat is going to turn this season around and lead to a playoff spot because the pitching has been spotty, too.  So I don't believe a vintage A-Rod will matter.
            But do we really want A-Rod at all? Do we really want to win that badly? Haven't we suffered enough with him?
             When the Yankees traded for him in 2004, getting him from the Texas Rangers, we all believed it would lead to a string of World Series championships. We are 1-for-9 with A-Rod, and that one -- when he was spectacular in the 2009 playoffs/World Series -- now has a PED smell to it. I mean, we'll take it, but you have to wonder.
            A-Rod has turned into a Yankees fans' nightmare. And I'm thinking of one play in 1994.
            In '94, A-Rod had started the season with Class A Appleton, Wis., where in 65 games he .319 with 17 doubles, six triples, 14 home runs and 55 RBIs (one of his teammates was Raul Ibanez). Then he was promoted to Class AA Jacksonville.
            I was a $25-a-game official scorer for Suns' games at old Wolfson Park. It was a fun job, nice to watch players on the way up or in one case (third baseman Luis Quinones) on the way down. The Suns team wasn't very good, 60-77, but the roster included future big leaguers Derek Lowe, Jim Mecir, Ron Villone, Mac Suzuki, Chris Widger, Jacksonville's own Desi Relaford and the guy A-Rod replaced at shortstop, ex-LSU player Andy Sheets.
            (Later that summer, because the big league players went on strike, Mariners manager Lou Piniella came to Wolfson to watch a game and check on some of the organization's prospects.)
            A-Rod played 17 games for Jacksonville, 69 plate appearances. He hit .288 with four doubles, one triple, one home run and eight RBI. And he was charged with three errors at shortstop. It could've been four.
             The play in question was a hard grounder up the middle. A-Rod was shaded to his left and moved several steps left to reach the ball on the right side of second base. When the ball bounced up to him, he dropped it. I called it an error.
              Tough error; a 50-50 call, really. But I felt he should have fielded it, and if he had, he's have thrown out the batter.
             At game's end, as I was totaling up the box score and filling out the league form (this was before electronic scoring), the manager called and said he thought it should have been ruled a hit.
             I didn't mind changing it; it was a tough call; and the change made everyone happy. The batter got a hit; A-Rod lost an error.
             I had never talked to A-Rod, only saw him in one of my few trips to the clubhouse (I didn't hang out there). But he obviously knew I was the scorer because after that game, as I was going to my car, he was coming out of the clubhouse, too. He looked at me, shook his head and laughed.
             And that smirk ...
             Even then, at age 18, it seemed to me he was pretty full of himself.
             Now we all know that, don't we?

Friday, August 2, 2013

Bully for you, bully for me

         This is about bullies, about bullying. I have given this a great deal of thought, mulled over this piece for a couple of months. I hope you'll understand.
         Asked to speak to an eighth-grade honors class about the Holocaust and my family's ties to it made me think about what my mother's message was in her presentations to similar groups over three decades.
         It was about prejudice, and tolerance for others, and what can happen if the world doesn't pay attention, or doesn't do something about those who dehumanize others.
         How to convey that to a group of eighth-graders? How could they relate?
         My tie-in was bullying. It is, we keep hearing, so prevalent in schools today, at the middle-school level, in high schools, maybe even in elementary schools. So maybe this is a reach, but wouldn't you say that the Germans, in the 1930s and early 1940s, were the ultimate bullies.
          Actually, the suggestion, the link, came from my daughter, who as a middle-school librarian in the Greater Knoxville (Tenn.) area does a presentation on the Holocaust each year. She feels that her students need the message on bullying, the need to convey that each person deserves respect.
          And, believe me, I can identify with bullying.
          A confession: I have been a bully.
          It's true. I have bullied family, co-workers, some people I don't know. I have done it physically, or tried to, and verbally. I tried to intimidate them, and sometimes did. I have threatened, and I've screamed, and I've hurt them, and gotten hurt.
           I'm certainly not proud of it. I was -- I am -- ashamed.
           And, I have been bullied. As the "runt" in school, I was bullied a couple of times in elementary school and, strangely perhaps, only once in junior high -- an age-group highly susceptible to bullying.
           And once, only once, in high school -- by a star athlete, a team leader, a hero of mine who one day as I came into the locker room grabbed me, slammed me against a locker and yelled right into my face to the effect of "you have a loud mouth, and I'm tired of hearing it, and if you keep it up, I'm going to do something about it."
            Several people saw it; don't think they'll remember. He won't remember doing it, and he never did it again, and he had a brilliant career in athletics and in business. He was, and is, a great guy.
          Only a couple of people know this story and don't bother asking for a name because I won't give it to you. But it happened.
           The good thing was I didn't react, I kept quiet. For one thing, I was shook up. Also, I had too much respect for the program, and for my coaches, to cause a scene. But knowing myself, knowing my temper, how often I reacted violently in situations, no telling what I would've done if it had happened again.
            To be honest, too, I was bullied at work, in the newspaper business. In composing rooms, I found some obstinate people who -- hiding behind union backing -- refused to be cooperative and literally laughed in my face. I was verbally assaulted, and grabbed physically, by one person in charge. Again, I took it ... but obviously never forgot.
             I had a couple of bosses who, in my opinion, were bullies. They intimidated with power. No physical stuff, but threats of dismissal, or they were totally dismissive of any suggestions or opinions you might offer. Their opinion was the only one that counted.
             And that's OK, to an extent. Someone has to be in charge and if the direction is solid -- and I found that most bosses' direction was -- I had no problem with it. But I also have never been very good at being told how I should think; I'd rather make up my own mind.
             I had bosses I considered extremely arrogant and one who had, in my opinion, a mean streak. I saw him fire someone right there in the middle of the newsroom. I thought that was totally inappropriate.
             Several times I have gotten after guys in my department that I thought were bullies, who pushed people around verbally or with their actions, and those instance got me in trouble with my bosses. But at least I stood up.
             Once after one of these incidents, a female co-worker saw what happened and blurted that I was a bully. I didn't disagree. I just  pointed out that we'd all been bullied for years by this guy, and I was tired of it.
              It became an office joke -- guys teased me about it -- because while I had stepped out, he apparently tearfully said "he didn't deserve that." Oh, yes, he did.
              The point is that bullying happens everywhere. How many times have you felt that you've been bullied by a store manager or a policeman or in a bank or by someone in an athletic setting?
              Happened to me last year with a football stadium manager who was adamant that the press box would be cleared 30 minutes after game's end, no matter that I couldn't get my story and statistics done and filed with the office in that time.
               If I didn't want to leave, he told me, he would get me a police escort out. I considered that a threat, and told him so. His answer, in short: tough. Trying to reason with him was a waste of time; he had to show how important he was, how he could be an enforcer.
                Yes, I sent a letter of complaint to the school district superintendent and athletic director saying that I didn't like the rule and the guy's attitude -- it was a bunch of bull(y) -- and he didn't like my attitude.
             Where is the line between bullying and being "obsessive" or "demanding" or "hard-nosed?" How do you define what's acceptable?
Bob Knight: the baddest coaching
bully (Reuters photo)
           Let's talk about coaching and bullying. A lifetime of observing coaches, dealing with them or reading/hearing about them, proved to me that there are "bullies" out there, very successful coaches who intimidate their players, their assistants and can carry it over the media and the public.
          There are people who swear by Bob Knight -- the players and/or assistants that stayed with him and were his loyal "defenders" -- and people who swear about him. To me, he's the biggest bully in athletics -- ever -- but I'm sure he has some challengers in the NFL  and NBA.
            Pat Summitt was as tough on her players as any coach I know about. But that toughness didn't carry over in her dealings with the media and the public; she handled those with grace.
              Knight didn't. Nick Saban, just to pick one current college coach, is often disdainful/condescending with the media. Gary Patterson, right here in Fort Worth, has been known to yell in media members' faces. People making millions of dollars yelling at people making maybe 2 percent of that.
              I've known coaches who had a literal hands-on approach. I don't approve. Coaching, in my opinion, is teaching, and I don't think intimidation is the proper way to teach.
             But it can work, and coaches can be highly successful, plus -- and you hear this about Knight, Saban, Patterson, Summitt -- the players that endure will tell you they were better people for having gone through the demanding process.
              Talking to a couple of coaching friends, their view is that if the intent of the coach is to motivate or teach the players, it's acceptable. If the intent is to demean the individuals, to try to destroy their self-worth or to slap them around or grab them, making it personal, that's crossing the line. That's bullying.
               Back to a personal view. For the most part, I cared about the people I worked with; I hope they understood that. But I didn't care for everyone's work ethic, or lack thereof, and I didn't care for sloppy work and certainly not for lack of effort. I did not aim to be a bully; I just wanted what was best for the place I worked.
               My message to those eighth-graders about the Germans was that the world didn't challenge them soon enough, that the bullies grew so out of control that millions died. I told those kids that if they saw kids being bullied by other kids on their campus or in public, they needed to let someone in authority know, that something could -- should -- be done about it.
               We've read too much about kids being bullied and being unable to cope, to disastrous and sad endings.
               Like I said, maybe my message was a reach. My mother could've told them how bizarre the world can be. There's no place for bullies anywhere.