Collins a blessing to the masters track and field community

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Bill Collins

Bill Collins runs every race like it could be his last. And in truth, every race really could be his last.
Collins, 66, blew away the competition in the 60-meter dash  in the 65-69 men’s final at the USA Track Field Masters Indoors Championships in Albuquerque, N.M. this past weekend.
It was yet another victory to add to the innumerable titles the masters track and field Hall-of-Famer has  won. His winning time of 7.79 seconds – and he did ease up near the finish line – would have made him a contender to win at least two of the younger age groups.
And Collins planned to add to his championship resume. He won his heat in the 200-meter dash prelims to move him into the Sunday, Feb. 19 finals.
Then Collins disappeared for a couple of hours.
When he returned, he told the local press, “My leg doesn’t work,” he said pointing to his upper-left thigh.
In the interim between his 200-meter prelim win early in the afternoon, and when he returned to the indoor track facility, Collins had seen a neurologist, and was told the nerves were not firing in that leg.
Collins, who planned to run the 200-meter final and the 4×200 relay with his Houston Elite teammates, was forced to withdraw.
This is the life that Collins now lives. He can’t predict with any certainty that the muscles in his legs will be working the next day, or even the next hour.
You see, Collins was dealt a pretty bad hand at age 60 when he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome. It’s an incurable, rare condition that systematically damages the nervous system causing rapid onset of muscle weakness and paralysis.
“Every morning when I wake up, I cramp up for 15 to 20 minutes. So it’s a hard start to get moving,” Collins said. “Some days the nerves work well and I can train, and sometimes they totally shut off – even midway through a race.”
In its most acute phases, Guillain-Barre Syndrome often leads to death, and Collins nearly died six years ago. He was given a 50-50 chance, he said.
“The doctors flipped a coin, and they said, ‘Bill, do you want the hemoglobin treatment for five days?'” Collins said. “The treatment killed the remaining cells in my body, and I either had to recover or not.”
It would be easy for Collins to dwell on his chronic condition. Most people are diagnosed with GBS in their early 40s, and Collins said, at age 60, he was one of the oldest people to contract the disease.
In a way, Collins’ fortunes on the track mirror the ups and downs we all experience in life. He was a teenager in 1968 when he made his first international track and field team, that after winning four New York State track and field titles.
He was an all-American college sprinter at TCU, and at age 26, made the 100-meter finals in the U.S. Olympic Trials with an opportunity to qualify for the 1976 Olympics at Montreal.  Twenty meters from the finish line – and in position to make the top three – he pulled up with a leg injury.
Still, he bounced back in 1977 taking part in the world record-breaking 400-meter relay timing 38.03 seconds. It was a record that stood for several years.
And, just months before the 1980 Olympics, Collins traveled south to Trinidad and Tobago for a race that included defending Olympic champion Hasely Crawford.
Collins won that race, and was among the favorites to win a gold medal at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
It’s every track and field athlete’s dream is to win an Olympic gold medal, but Collins, and the entire U.S. summer team, never had that chance as the United States boycotted the Olympics.
“Yeah, I think about it,” Collins said about missing the chance to medal at the Olympics. “But I’ve done everything else you can possibly do in track and field.”
Collins said that his doctors advised him that continuing to compete in track and field is doing more harm than good to his body. He sees the finish line to his career rapidly approaching, but feels fortunate that he can still set an example to other athletes.
“One thing my father taught me is that when you get up in the morning, you’ve already been blessed by God,” he said. “You have to go out and be a blessing for someone else. That’s my motto, and I try to help anybody I can.”

Rousey should hang up the gloves

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Ronda Rousey

The game didn’t catch up to Ronda Rousey. For all her physical gifts, Rousey’s skill set did not evolve beyond that of a brutish bully that threw opponents to the mat, and arm-barred them into submission in a minute or less.

The Olympic judo medalist possessed – and likely still possesses – world-class athleticism.  No one was immune to her bull rushes…until Holly Holm.

And now, Amanda Nunes.

Holm shattered that invincible aura with excellent footwork and counterpunching, but Nunes just picked Rousey apart from the first left jab. Let’s face it, Nunes did not piece up the same Rousey who seemed invincible just over a year ago.

That Rousey died with a swift kick to the head from Holm.

Other than Rousey’s one-punch knockout of an overmatched Bethe Correia and a well-placed knee to the gut that stopped Sarah McMann, Rousey was, and is, a glorified one-trick pony.

She didn’t have to learn serviceable boxing and striking because her one elite skill trumped the combined skills of a well-rounded opponent.

Sure, we all saw videos of Rousey pounding the mitts held by her trainer, Edmond Tarverdyan. Those mitts were not moving targets, though, and Rousey unleashed those powerful shots with impunity.

Ever known a trainer to punch back at a prized pupil?

Those two stoppage wins for Rousey were perhaps the worst outcomes of her career. The victories by strikes – not her patented armbar – launched a delusion that she could easily transition from MMA to boxing. If she so chose.

That delusion was relentlessly stroked by Tarverdyan, who often bragged of Rousey’s sparring achievements. Rousey was deftly derailed from the path that brought women’s mixed martial arts into the sports mainstream.

And it came from her own team.

Rousey abandoned her “X Factor” for boxing. In truth, the only boxing she has ever needed was to perfect tactical entries into close range in order to get her hands on her opponent.

Oh, and to maybe duck once in a while from an incoming punch.

Rousey didn’t really need to evolve much to beat 90 percent of the women in her division. She was the Ultimate Fight Championship’s ultimate specialist.

An athlete so good at her primary combat discipline, she didn’t need to be good at anything else.  If Rousey does decide to continue her fighting career, she would be wise to emulate UFC welterweight contender Demian Maia.

Maia came to the UFC a decorated jiu-jitsu practitioner with multiple world titles. Like Rousey, Maia picked up some serviceable striking, but he got away from his dominant skill.

Maia went 4-4 over a 3-year stretch culminating in a decision loss to Chris Weidman.  Since that time, he has returned to his jiu-jitsu roots picking up a number of submission wins. He makes no bones about it, either: His sole purpose is to bring the fight to the mat.

Maia bounced back into title contention by returning to his base.  Rousey can do the same thing, although Nunes may be the one stylistic matchup she cannot overcome.

Many say Rousey deserved this steep fall from the top. She made millions in the sport, has made millions more outside the cage, but has not typically displayed the humility and graciousness in victory – and defeat – that we expect of our sports heroes.

Sure, Rousey lifted women’s mixed martial arts out of obscurity. She was that transcendent athlete who became a household name outside of sports circles.

But a lasting impression in my mind is the post-fight snub she gave to Miesha Tate 3 1/2 years ago. There was long-term animosity between the two fighters stemming from Rousey’s first title win over Tate several years ago.

The two waged a rematch, and that mutual dislike for one another reared itself in the promotional build-up. Rousey dominated the rematch winning by – yes, you guessed it – armbar in the third round.

Tate was ready to bury the hatchet right away, and extended a congratulatory hand, but Rousey walked away, mean mug and all, toward her corner.

Rousey cited some disrespect toward Tarverdyan and another of her trainers as the reason she eschewed Tate’s concession of defeat.

Really?  Rousey’s own mother has made statements far more critical of Tarverdyan, and for the entire world’s consumption.

The old biblical verse, “you reap what you sow” is never more evident here. Even if it hurts to do so, the principle of sportsmanship should rise above the disappointment of failure.

No matter your athletic level, from rank amateur to professional athlete, one of the first things we learn from competition is respect for the sport and respect for the opponent.

Rousey was obliterated and embarrassed by Nunes due to an inability to adapt her fight skills, and from a monetary perspective, there is no reason to feel sorry for her.  She has banked millions from fighting with a lucrative post-fight career in the offing.

Rousey knows those basic tenets of sportsmanship from her Olympic experience.  We have seen her show sportsmanship from a front-runner’s role, but the truest test of character comes from how one handles adversity.

Rousey rose from living out of her car to a multinational sports star. Seems Rousey has also forgotten that person.

The Rousey who had to adapt, who had to persevere, and who had to overcome to survive, is now in the distant past. For that, she should never fight again.

 

We’re better than that

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Since Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president in the summer of 2015, the likelihood of the real estate magnate actually winning the presidency was somewhere between slim and hell no.

The pollsters concurred, almost unanimously, that Hillary Clinton was the presumptive president-elect.  Boy were those pollsters wrong — soooo wrong. Up until the day before the election, nearly every major poll predicted a Clinton victory, and some had Clinton accruing over 300 electoral college votes.

Sooo wrong.

Early Tuesday evening, the dominoes fell Trump’s way – Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio. Later on, Wisconsin, and…gasp, Pennsylvania.  Michigan has still not declared a winner, but Trump has the upper hand, and with that state secured, will have won 30 states and over 300 electoral votes.

A mandate for Trump?  Perhaps, but more so a mandate for the average Joe.

Who would’ve thought that the average blue collar worker with little to no college education would so strongly support a man born with a silver spoon in his mouth?

I’m sure stranger things have happened, but I can’t think of anything off the top of my head.

Trump may be a billionaire with several multi-million dollar homes all over the country and the world, but he speaks in manner that the common man finds agreeable.

Sure, he has tapped into a portion of the electorate that as Hillary Clinton said, is likely deplorable. But most of the people who voted for Donald Trump on Tuesday are no different than you and me.

While I am college educated, in many other ways, I fit the profile of the Trump voter.   I came from a middle class upbringing far from affluence, and from a financial standpoint, my wages have remained stagnant for most of the Obama presidency.

I spent a long time working in an industry that is now in decline, and I find myself underskilled and undertrained for today’s job market.  I have as much a right to complain as the typical Trump voter, but I’m not.

What makes me different from many of the Trump voters?  A global view.

And in this turbulent time when people are hurting, people are struggling, and people are frustrated with the leadership in Washington, Trump’s narrow purview struck a chord.

The essence of Trump’s philosophy is to take care of our own first, and let’s be honest, most people are driven by self-interest and self-preservation. Too, the typical Trump voter is concerned about one or two issues, and living within their own frame instead of looking at the big picture.

Keep it simple, and keep it close to home.

I can’t fault someone who doesn’t think the same way I do, and it’s not an American directive to consider every issue with the same weight.  Sure, it would be an ideal situation if everyone was well informed on social issues, fiscal issues, the environment, foreign relations, and on and on.

They’re not, and what is important to me may not be important to you. That’s the American way, and it’s unfair to characterize a Trump supporter as having some sort of flawed character because the real issues that concern them are not in concert with our own.

We’re better than that.

As much as Trump called the system rigged, he won the presidential election fair and square. I know many of my fellow Democrats are heartbroken, but we’ll regroup.

For all of his vitriolic statements, boneheaded remarks, and inappropriate comments, Donald J. Trump will be sworn in as our 45th President of the States on January 20, 2017. He will ascend to the leadership of the free world, and he’s ours – like it or not.

I’m an optimist by nature, and I hold out hope that the Trump we saw on the election trail was a character he was playing to get elected. The “real” Donald Trump will rise to the occasion and surprise us by making sound, well thought out, pragmatic decisions.

Maybe he won’t, and maybe President Trump will resemble candidate Trump. If that happens, then sure, criticize and oppose Trump to your heart’s content.

There are few people who opposed Trump more than I did, but even Trump deserves a grace period. He hasn’t done anything yet. Nothing.

Do we want to follow in the footsteps of Republicans, who worked to undermine the Obama presidency from day one?

No, we’re better than that.

It’s un-American to root for the failure of a president, especially since he has yet to unveil his agenda or  implement policy.

We all lose when the president is a failure, and it’s been a long time — Richard Nixon — since we had such an abject failure in the oval office.

So we, as Democrats — and Americans — have an obligation to at least give Trump at chance. President Obama didn’t get that opportunity, but you know what, we’re better than that.

My list of the greatest rock music singers

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Steve Perry

Note:  My youngest sister is a professional educator, but she has also been a professional musician for nearly 30 years. She is probably the more qualified Newell to write this piece, and I hope she does share some of her thoughts on this topic.

Let’s put this on the record:  The title of this piece comes from a completely subjective point of view. From my first album purchase, “Kiss Alive II,” the only music that moved me was Rock and Roll – and in particular, the harder stuff.  Sure, I grew up listening to plenty of Barry Manilow, Kool and the Gang, and Herb Alpert courtesy of my parents’ turntable, but nothing gave me that feeling of raw intensity that came from hard rock music. Plus, I had little in the way of listening options other than my dad’s albums until I started my own music collection.

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Robert Plant

First, here are my arbitrary exclusions from the list:

Elvis Presley. Choosing Elvis as the number one rock vocalist is like naming God as your favorite historical religious figure. Elvis is an implicit choice as rock music’s number one vocalist, so for my purposes, he’s off the list.

The Beatles’ Paul McCartney and John Lennon. What Elvis was to rock soloists, McCartney and Lennon were to rock bands. Plus, one of my caveats is that the singer did most if not all of the vocals for the band. McCartney and Lennon shared lead vocals, and let’s not forget George Harrison and Ringo Starr stepped up to lead vocals for a fair share of tunes.

Mick Jagger. The Rolling Stones’ lead singer may be one of the most significant singers in rock history, but that doesn’t mean he actually has vocal chops. He doesn’t, in my opinion. Just don’t care for his singing voice. Remember, this is the arbitrary (read as highly subjective) exclusion list.

Ozzy Osbourne. He may be one of rock’s most beloved figures, but if you assess his singing voice, he is pedestrian. He does have a unique tone, but his range and vocal phrasing are limited. To me, Ozzy has benefited from band lineups that were comprised of otherworldly musicians and songwriters.

So with those exclusions behind me, I have rated my personal list of great vocalists in the vein of guitar strings – bass guitar strings, since that is my preferred instrument – ranking them “E” for Elite; “A” for Accomplished; “D” for Distinctive; and “G” for grudgingly having to admit they’re great singers. From those lists, I break it down one step more to rate my overall top 10.

Defining those designations, my group of Elites are the best of the best for pure singing ability. They may or may not have charismatic stage presences, but there is no denying their ability to kick out a tune. These are the singers where you wouldn’t dare to imitate at a karaoke bar for fear of profound embarrassment.

The Accomplished front men have good or better-than-average singing voices, but they’re better known for their volume and longevity of success.

The distinctive members that made my list have unique styles and voices that suit their band’s music, but in terms of assessing their singing voices, that comes down to personal taste.

And the last group, the “G” men, were placed into this group because I don’t really care for their band’s music. However, I can’t deny talent, as much as I would like to cover my ears or turn the channel when the songs from these particular singers are played. While I respect the talent, there is no way any of these guys would make my top 10.

The grouping of singers from each category

The Elite:  Steve Perry, Journey; Bruce Dickinson, Iron Maiden; Rob Halford; Judas Priest; Chris Cornell, Soundgarden, Audioslave; Ronnie James Dio, Dio, Black Sabbath; Ian Gillan, Deep Purple; Geoff Tate, Queensryche; Freddie Mercury, Queen; Steve Winwood, Traffic, solo; Brad Delp, Boston.

The accomplished: Robert Plant, Led Zeppelin; Jon Bon Jovi, Bon Jovi; Roger Daltry, The Who; Paul Rodgers; Bad Company/solo; David Lee Roth, Van Halen/solo; Sammy Hagar, Montrose/Van Halen/solo; Dave Grohl, Foo Fighters; Axl Rose, Guns N Roses; Bono, U2; Paul Stanley, Kiss; Joe Elliott, Def Leppard; Klaus Meine, The Scorpions; Jon Anderson, Yes; Geddy Lee, Rush.

The distinctive:  Brian Johnson and Bon Scott/AC DC; James Hetfield, Metallica; Billy Gibbons, ZZ Top; Dave Mustaine, Megadeth; Roger Waters, Pink Floyd; Kurt Cobain, Nirvana; Vince Neil, Motley Crue; Jimi Hendrix; Janis Joplin; Jim Morrison, The Doors; David Bowie, solo; Bruce Springsteen; Eddie Vedder, Pearl Jam; David Draiman, Disturbed.

Grudgingly admit they are great:  Lou Gramm, Foreigner; David Coverdale, Whitesnake; Steven Tyler, Aerosmith; Phil Collins, Genesis; Brian Wilson and Mike Love, Beach Boys; Van Morrison, solo.

I’m sure there are a few left off this list, and if I forgot a name or two, they had no chance of making my overall top 10, anyway.  So…starting from number 10:

(10)  Jon Bon Jovi. So I was keen on Bon Jovi before the breakout Slippery When Wet album made the band a household name.  No denying his long history of success, songwriting ability, and solid singing voice. Wasn’t so keen on his ventures into other music genres, but you can’t take away what he did the first three-quarters of his career.

(9) Bruce Springsteen.  His singing voice is of the love-it-or-leave-it variety, but what a charismatic performer, lyricist, and showman. He’s a more dynamic, more rocking version of Bob Dylan. He built on Dylan’s ability to tell a story within a song, and for that, I have the ultimate respect for “The Boss.”

(8)  David Bowie.  His singing voice was actually much better than I originally thought, and it wasn’t until his death that I really delved into his volume of work. Bowie makes my list for his ability to shift with the times and stay ahead of musical trends. As a front man, few were better at connecting with the audience.

(7) Kurt Cobain. Again, not the strongest singing voice, but it suited Nirvana’s music. In less than five years’ time as a well-known musician, he forever made his mark and set the standard for grunge rock.

(6) Jim Morrison. Okay, so if they make a big-screen movie about you and your band, it’s a safe bet you’re among rock’s all-time elite.

(5)  Brian Johnson. His scratchy, wailing voice is unmatched and nearly impossible to replicate.  I may not have a great singing voice, but I know how to sing in key. I simply cannot come close to singing in Johnson’s key – almost ever.  Note:  I also like the original front man, Bon Scott, but Johnson has served as AC DC’s lead singer for 35 years, while Scott was lead singer for about six years.

(4) Chris Cornell. The top four are virtually interchangeable in my mind. Cornell has beautiful tone, tremendous range, and who else could pull off singing raging grunge for Soundgarden, and years later, voice the theme song for a James Bond movie?

(3)  Freddie Mercury. A gifted musician, singer, songwriter, arranger, and stage showman – there is nothing at which he didn’t excel.   Years ahead of his time and continually evolving as a performer, the basic tenet in Mercury’s toolbox of skills was his ability to sing his ass off.

(2) Robert Plant.  The lead singer and primary lyricist for what I consider the most influential rock band of all time – Led Zeppelin – Plant defined the Zeppelin sound with his vocal stylings, amazing range, and ability to easily mix rock, blues, and country vocal styles into his presentation.

(1)  Steve Perry. He was dubbed “the voice” for good reason. Some 35 years after I first heard Perry sing, his singing will still give me the occasional goose bumps. On the seminal “We are the World” single that featured dozens of the world’s most noted singers, Perry’s piece will always stand out. Amazing tone, and the emotion with which he sang was palpable.

 

The things that made growing up that much better

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We all have those memories growing up that we completely overlooked as nondescript activities we would typically chalk up to every-day life. In hindsight, it was those mundane occurrences that made our childhood and teen years so much better.

Do you remember some of these things? Or something similar?

* Hovering near the mixing bowl when mom was baking a cake or brownies so that you could lick the leftover cake batter off the beaters or the spatula. This became a first-come, first-served privilege amongst my siblings, who were as keen on licking up the batter as I was.

* Dad opening a can of beer at the dinner table, but before he took a sip – because our collective eyes were making a request – he poured a small swallow into the bottom of our cup.  I will say this, the leftover beer residue did not mix well with 1 percent milk.

* Nina’s Pizza on Thursdays.  Not every Thursday, but every once in a while because mom deserved a night off from kitchen duty.

* Going out to eat on a whim. As an adult and parent of many kids, I know how much it costs to feed a big family at a restaurant. I can only surmise, growing up in a family of six, that my parents’ checkbook balance must have looked good on those rare occasions.

* Living out in the country with not many neighbors, no cable television, and before the age of video games and the Internet, finding something interesting and fun to do. That despite the reality that there wasn’t much to do — except watch more reruns of Gilligan’s Island or I Dream of Jeannie.

* Mowing the lawn. Really? Yes.  While dad and I were out mowing our acre of lawn, a 2- to 2 1/2-hour job, mom used that as a cue to put out bottles of water in the sun with tea bags steeping under the hot sun. Sometimes mom sped up the process by starting the tea with warm water. Regardless, after two hours of mowing around trees and up and down the hilly terrain, there wasn’t a much better thirst quencher than freshly brewed sun tea.

* This one is personal to me:  Pulling all-day shifts at the golf course. Up until my senior year of high school, when my mom changed jobs and I started to work more at my part-time job, I used to live at the golf course.   Every day it wasn’t raining or there wasn’t a tournament scheduled, I would get up early with my mother so she could drop me off at the golf course before she went to work. I would pack my lunch for a 7:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. day at “my office.”

* Popcorn, made the old-fashioned way.  I can’t count the number of times mom uttered the well-timed suggestion of making popcorn when we were all feeling peckish between dinner and bed time.  Most of the time mom made the popcorn, but occasionally it was me or one of my three sisters who embarked on this work-intensive task. Little bit of oil at the bottom of the pan, the dispersing of the kernels, and a watchful eye along with the occasional vigorous shake of the pan were components of a well executed pop. The trick was the get as many kernels popped as possible with a minimum of burned ones.  Microwave popcorn or using an air-popping machine? Too easy.

* Making the stuffing on the morning of Thanksgiving. Okay, so I didn’t actually make the stuffing. But I did get to shred up a full loaf of bread in the blender. Call me the stuffing starter, and mom always gave me credit for assisting on the stuffing preparation.  Until a few years ago, I had no idea what happened to the stuffing after I blended up the bread crumbs. I just know it tasted awesome.

* Sunday dinner – which was more like a late lunch – with the elders of our family tree. My parents were old-school, and regularly entertained aunts, uncles, and close friends of the family for the “big meal” on Sunday afternoon. True to growing up in a family with deep Italian roots, even if older generation showed up unexpectedly just before serving time, my mom had prepared enough food to fill a couple more plates.

Perhaps you have special memories unique to your own family.

Why many coaches do not report their team’s results, and why sports sections struggle to maintain readership

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The number of times I shared the same sideline or press table with Rob Centorani, Kevin Stevens, Mike Mangan, Dean Russin, and many other sports writers in the Binghamton/Oneonta areas over my 20-year tenure working for The Evening Sun are too many to count. At big games – or just games their papers wanted hands-on coverage – we crossed paths. Although those gentlemen worked for papers in which we were competing for subscribers and readership, I never saw it as a competitive situation.

We had jobs to do, and I found every one of those gentleman generous in the supplying of information for which I was unaware. And I returned the favor.

Yesterday (Friday, Oct. 7), I read Rob’s recent column published in the Binghamton Press earlier this month (see link – http://www.pressconnects.com/story/sports/high-school/2016/10/06/centorani-give-us-another-shot-report-games/91689122/) in which he made his plea for coaches in his coverage area to give his publication another shot at covering local game results.

Rob made the analysis that on many evenings, only 60 to 70 percent of the games on the nightly schedule were actually reported by coaches. He also bemoaned the woeful lack of information that often accompanied the game reports that did come in – particularly by email or fax. When you do not have full names – first and last – or any details whatsoever about a game, it adds difficulty to writing a story.  That’s why you often see just a box score of the game with no game story.

The emergence of the email submission of a game result has proven a blessing and a curse to the newspaper sports-writing business. It’s great in terms of getting your statistics for the small-print box score; horrible in most cases in terms of actually writing an interesting story.

In truth, the good ol’ phone conversation with the coach is the tried-and-true method of getting the scoop.

I can only speak for the coaches with which I worked during my 20 years at The Evening Sun, and their particular dissatisfaction in reporting game results to “other” publications.

The most common complaint is that they spent several minutes on the phone – often on hold – would speak to a reporter for several minutes about a game, and then the next day’s paper had a simple box score with no accompanying game story. Or, the game story was barely a sentence, and occupied 0.3 inches of newspaper print space.

Full disclosure to those outside the newspaper business: Most newspapers  (not The Evening Sun) plan their sections and coverage in advance.  All of the space in the paper is dedicated to certain news items. Photographer A has his photo in one spot; reporter B has his football story in another spot (and the editor probably stated something to the effect, I need 550 words for your piece). And so on for each sports nugget.

When it comes down to publishing local sports roundups, the reporters have “X” amount of words that will fit into the section’s allotted space.  Even though a coach may spend 15 minutes on the phone with a reporter, there is a chance his team’s story will not make the local roundup.

The stories that make the sports roundup are arbitrarily edited by the sports editor or copy editor, and in inevitably, several game reports never see the light of day.

That equates to a number of kids’ names will not make it into the newspaper (unless you count that small print in the box score that we call agate). For some kids, it could be the first – or last time – their names would appear in the newspaper.

As Rob stated in his opening sentence, “there’s something cool about seeing one’s name in the sports section.”  The thing is, in today’s world, it is more likely than not that the young man or lady mentioned in a newspaper article is oblivious to that fact.

I’ve come to realize over the last 10 years that most high school kids do not read the newspaper. I’m talking about the actual, physical newspaper. Sure, some might look at the online versions of newspapers,  but there aren’t any defined numbers to prove that occurrence.

What happens is that a parent, a coach or maybe a teacher or adult acquaintance will mention a newspaper article. “Hey, I saw your name in the paper, nice game.”

Light bulb comes on for said kid, who then scours the Internet – likely on a smart phone – for the online story.  Maybe the school library has a copy of the paper, and the young lad or lady greedily reads the sports write-up.

Yeah, even the decade of the 2010s, it’s still pretty cool to see your name in print, but often it takes a third party to clue-in the athlete. Will that young person become a newspaper reader for life at mention of his or her name in the paper?  That depends.

Rob Centorani’s article did not speculate on why there is such a large gap between total games played versus those actually reported by coaches.  When you have 30 to 40 percent of coaches not reporting results, something is amiss.

I firmly believe that most coaches want to talk about their teams’ accomplishments. What they count on from the reporter – and newspaper – is consistency.  The game reporting requirements for a coach vary, but most are calling at least two newspapers to report the same result. Sometimes that list of calls includes television and radio stations.

Coaches often told me – before they called me – that they had spent the last half hour on the phone talking to this paper and then that paper.  Eventually, most of the coaches I spoke to called me – at The Evening Sun – first.

Coaches want to know that you’re interested in their team and their players. More importantly, if they are going to spend 15 minutes of their life – after a 12-hour day of working and coaching a game – that someone will show interest in their team, and actually write an accurate account of the game.

Not only does the coach expect an article in the paper, but  that it will appear the next day. And not a mere box score, not a sentence, and not several days later when it’s old news and everyone has moved on.

Consistency is also the key to converting the teenager from a first-time reader to a regular, and getting that reliable repeat-business from coaches who report. Yes, not only do kids like reading about themselves, but they also like reading about their school and their friends who also read the paper.  I also know that coaches often get a kick out of seeing their words in print.

Last winter, I put together a small website featuring Chenango County sports. It was free to the public, but you had to register your name as a reader to view the content.  Hundreds of people signed up to read about local sports, and you know what, dozens of those free subscribers were teenagers.

Yes, in an age when kids are more distracted than ever by their cell phones, video games, and social media, dozens upon dozens of kids signed up to read about local sports.

So how do media outlets retain and gain readers, and how do you ensure more coaches report game results?

What is it that we all want? Many things in our lives are beyond our control, but what balances that uncertainty and unpredictability are the things we can count on – the sure thing.

When reporting a result, coaches want to know that someone will answer their phone calls or at least respond to their voice messages in a timely fashion.  If they’re going to spend the precious remaining time left in their day talking on the phone about their game, they want to know that something will publish the result the next day.

As for the readers, it’s the same thing. If they know with absolute certainty that Johnny’s game will have a write-up in the paper the next day, you’re more apt to have a dedicated reader.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a teenager or a senior citizen, everyone likes a sure thing, and it’s incumbent upon newspapers – especially with dwindling subscribers at most daily papers – that we give people that sure thing.

Each night at The Evening Sun, I had the daily schedule of games written on my calendar. As each one was reported, I crossed them off the list. Toward the end of the evening, if games were not reported, I typically reached out to the coach by phone or by text message.  It was the dogged pursuit of getting the game result in the paper the next day.

I’m sure I was a pain in the ass for some coaches, but it was critical that I upheld my responsibilities to the readers. It was an implicit, yet simple promise I made that is now broken all-too-often:  To report the games that readers were expecting to see in the next day’s paper.

It’s really an obvious tenet that all newspapers and writers should subscribe to (pun intended) :  Earn the trust of your readers, and do your damnedest to retain that trust.

About the author:  Patrick Newell has worked as a sports writer and sports editor for more than two decades. He wrote for The Evening Sun for 20 years, and is currently a freelance writer for The Albuquerque Journal.

It’s business as usual for Rex Ryan, and that’s bad news for Bills fans

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I’ve written this blog before.  Rex Ashley Ryan (RAR, an acronym for Really Awful Record) is not the answer to Bills fans woes. I am a lifetime member of a dedicated, yet maligned brethren of Buffalo Bills supporters still waxing for the glory days of Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith, and Andre Reed.

Oh yeah, we lost four Super Bowls in a row. It’s an NFL record that may never be duplicated. Don’t remind me, I know we are the all-time best at losing the “big game.”  In every other way, though, we were winners. Hall-of-Fame coach Marv Levy led the Bills to the playoffs eight times in his 11 full seasons as head coach.

No, we weren’t on level of Bill Belichick and the Patriots, who have ruled the AFC East for 15 years, but we were damn close.

Since 1999, when “we” lost to Tennessee in the Music City Miracle game, “we” have had exactly two winning seasons. Mike Mularkey led us to a 9-7 record in the mid-2000s, and he subsequently left the job. Two years ago, Doug Marrone guided “us” to a 9-7 record.

Marrone left, too.

Now we have Rex Ryan, who is still making a living as a head coach off his first two seasons leading the Jets to the playoffs.  Full disclosure, Ryan did have one of the best defenses in the leagues, but he also had Mark Sanchez as his starting quarterback.  Yes, the Mark Sanchez who is football’s version of Rasputin.

Sanchez does dastardly things on the football field, yet still lands on his feet. Sanchez, he of the ignominious “butt fumble,” steered Ryan’s ship to 20 regular season wins in two playoff seasons.

Got to give credit where it’s due. Making the playoffs with Sanchez as your quarterback is a pretty nifty accomplishment.

Since that time, though, Ryan has alternated .500 seasons with losing seasons. Guess which one is next?  Yes, according to the Ryan coaching schedule, the Bills are due for a 5- or 6-win season.

And that’s a shame. There is talent on both sides of the ball, and after a couple of defensive stars return from injury – and suspension – we could again see the dominant defense that was fourth in the NFL in 2014  – the year before Ryan arrived.

What is most disappointing was today’s impotent offensive performance against a Baltimore Ravens team that had one of the worst defenses in the NFL in 2015.  Tyrod Taylor, LeSean McCoy, and Sammy Watkins are among the most dynamic athletes in the NFL.  Other than a Taylor scramble-and-pass to Charles Clay in the first half, we saw a “diet vanilla” offense that played its cards against the vest.

Would you ever see a Patriots team coached by Bill Belichick make such anemic play calls on offense?  How about the Steelers? The Seahawks? More often than not, aggressive, smart play-calling pays big dividends.

Rex Ryan stepped into the job known as the guy who preached defense, and his clubs regularly finished among the top 10 in total defense.  For the Bills, last year was z near historic regression on the defensive side of the ball.  The Bills went from a league-leading 54 sacks in ’14 to just 21 in ’15, and dropped to 19th in total defense.

Sure, there were some injuries, but nearly all of the same components that made Buffalo such a dominant defense were on the field a year later when the Bills’ defense often resembled a sieve.

It remains to be seen whether the Bills will make strides on defense this season. Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco lit up the Buffalo secondary in the 2016 season-opener, but the defense did play better in the second half.

What wasn’t better was the lack of discipline as numerous penalties again conspired against the Bills’ victory hopes. Buffalo led the league in penalty yards a season ago, and it is picking up where it left off.

So the product that was on display Sunday, Sept. 11 was an average defense, a subpar offense, and a club that is more apt to hurt than help itself.

That’s business as usual for Rex Ryan clubs, and unfortunately for Bills fans, history will likely repeat itself for the 17th straight season.