Where are the Olympics heading

2300

The dictionary explains the condition “disappointment” with many words: dissatisfaction, distress, discontent, disenchantment and regret. In brief, it means the feeling of being let down, a result of something unexpected and frustration.

In 1980, I saw all these things in the faces of 219 United States Athletes who would not get a chance to compete. They had trained diligently and tirelessly for years preparing themselves for this event… for minutes in the sunlight.

With a single stroke of his pen, President Jimmy Carter completely wiped out their dreams, the dreams of their families, and the dreams of their friends and the hopes of a nation.

To these athletes, it was beyond belief. Years of hard work went for naught.

I shall get back to this premise later in my article, but I want to pay attention to something that happened at this year‘s Olympiad. You know, it takes years to build respect if you can possibly do it. Over the years, I have had the distinct pleasure of being part, or associated with 5 Olympiads.  In that time, I have seen both the good and the bad.

I have had the opportunity to work up close with some of the finest people I have ever known. As well as some of the most opportunistic executives I have ever known. My friend Rene Henry, also a veteran of many Olympiads, has pointed out how the Fat Cats get rich off the sweat and toil of the athletes and as dollars increased, greed has permeated the Halls of Power.

Just look at the fall of FIFA… and that is only the tip of the Ice Berg.

Also, over the years my professional career has seen me plying my wares and working in over 50 nations. This learning experience can never be replaced.

Certainly, not by people who sit at desks, write stories, do research and develop hypotheses without first-hand knowledge.  Neither can academics and sociologists who complete study upon study to reach only the conclusions that make up their theses give answers.

I look on these as exercises in futility. It is the man, or woman who has stuck their big toes in the water of life that have the answers.

William Shakespeare once wrote in part during the soliloquy that Marc Antony delivered at Julius Caesar’s burial, “The good is often interred with their bones.” Simply said, that means you can do something good forever, but one misstep and all the good is forgotten.  The misstep is what people remember.

Among the knowledge I have acquired in the years of being in both the sports and entertainment fields on foreign soil is that the United States was once respected, but never liked.

Do you remember a movie starring the late Marlon Brando entitled the Ugly American? Unfortunately, whether we, in our patriotism and yes, even our smugness, would ever admit it, among most countries; the United States has never been the most liked.

We were, however, always respected.  This respect allowed us to build a great trading nation and overcome dislike. I served in Korea and for a time was stationed in Japan.  For quite a while, wherever we walked we were looked on as the enemy, the conqueror to be feared.

Through careful indoctrination, constant effort and guide lines that our military leaders during a peace time transition, were able to infuse us with, we learned how to properly treat a nation that was once our enemy with dignity.  It worked.

I learned in great part from the Japanese how to be respectful and appreciate the differences. With my Japanese associates, Tee Kuboki in particular, I was able to meet with success.

According to research, the first Olympic games started back in 776 B.C… however, it was generally accepted that they had already been going on for over 500 years at that time.  They were dedicated to the Olympian Gods and were staged on the ancient plains of Olympia.

They continued uninterrupted for nearly 12 centuries until Roman Emperor Theodosius in 393 A.D. enacted a law banning all such “pagan cults”. Thus, this athletic endeavor settling differences on the playing field, rather than the battlefield was outlawed.

It wasn’t until 1500 years later, 1896 to be exact, that King Georgios I of Greece lifted the ban and along with 60,000 spectators welcomed athletes from 13 nations to the first international competition. In Athens, there were 280 athletes from 13 nations competing in 43 events: track and field, swimming, gymnastics, cycling, wrestling, weightlifting, fencing, shooting and tennis. Americans won 9 out of 12 of these events.

The 1896 Olympics featured the first marathon competition. The marathon followed the route run by the Greek Soldier Phidipidies who ran from the site of the battle in Marathon to Athens bringing news of the Greek victory over the Persians.

The next year, 1897, the Boston Marathon was founded and for decades was America’s only Marathon. In addition, it was always free and anyone could enter… the winner’s only prize was a Laurel Wreath following the Greek Olympic tradition. In the 1960’s corporate sponsors put up big prize money. The race requirements changed! Since the potential entrants times are checked for qualifying, plus a fee has to be paid.

Prior to that, everybody who entered was welcomed as a guest in Boston’s home. Our parents always taught us to be respectful when visiting. We also learned that “a man makes money, but money doesn’t make a man”.

The Summer Olympics which costs a fortune to stage, with the exception of L.A. 1984, has never produced a profit for the host city. Yet, the Olympiad  which is held every four years, is constantly sought after by cities with hopes it would add prestige to their municipality. It is hoped the end result would cast a favorable light on the city and help bring notoriety and good will.

Any athlete, who represents his, or her country, is expected to carry on with dignity.  They are not expected to be rowdy and “spit in the face” of their host. Ryan Lochte and three of his swim teammates did just that.  They compounded a minor misdemeanor by making up a falsehood, which brought worldwide attention to the American Team. This was done especially in a country that was facing so many problems and was already being called the worst run Olympics in history.

I started this column talking about President Carter’s misguided Boycott of the 1980 Moscow games. While I created an Olympic week in Washington to help assuage the hurt of our 219 athletes that were going nowhere, I saw how devastated they were.

Thus, when athletes who are privileged to go, have the audacity to undermine the excellent efforts of so many others, to me, it is time for the so-called executives who receive monies out of proportion for what they do, to take stock and somehow penalize the wrong doers.

At these games, the United States team has enjoyed so many outstanding moments.  Their Medal total and victories have been off the wall. It is a shame that one foolish act performed in a moment of weakness might overshadow these feats and not shine the light on those who have accomplished them.

“The good is often interred in their bones”.

WHAT TO DO? WHAT TO DO?

unnamed-5

Today was a beautiful August morning, which I had truly been enjoying. That is until now!

As I write this, I am one of the lucky ones.  You see I Live on a small lake in Southern California. In this little Hamlet, my computer is right by a large picture window that looks over the lake where today and every day, I look at Swans, a family of Ducks, a flock of Canadian Geese and once in a while, an Egret, or two… oh! Oh! There are two Kayaks passing under my window right now!

I imagine I probably feel like Henry David Thoreau as he wrote about his beloved Walden Pond…only one problem, a little rain has fallen today in the form of the front page of the local newspaper. Our village is so small, that paper is appropriately named the Acorn. Someday, when it gets bigger, it might actually grow to be the Oak Tree.

In the meantime, it brings us up to date on what’s happening in our Village.  Today’s headline was quite disturbing. It read, “Post-game puncher K.O.’d in court.”  The sub-headline went on to say “Judge orders him to pay victim $800,000”.

The reason for this heavy punishment was because a parent aggravated by the fact that his son had not, (at least in his eyes), enjoyed enough playing time in the game that just ended. As a result, the irate father attacked the coach as he was getting into his car in the parking lot.

He set upon the unsuspecting coach and sucker-punched him.  The coach fell to the pavement, hit his head and to this day he suffers from cognitive issues, lost his job, has difficulty putting complete sentences together, cannot read for any length of time and still is in his early thirty’s, his eyesight remains impaired.

Where this happened is at a small local Ball Field about a half- mile from my house. Which brings me to the reason for this story.  I think it fits easily into the series of Fan articles that I have been writing.

Many years ago, I was having lunch with two of my closest friends who have since passed on, Dr. Ernie Vandeweghe and John Chafetz. At the time, John had recently been appointed AYSO Commissioner. We were there to celebrate his good fortune. In the job only three months, John stunned us when he said, “ I plan to quit!”.

Realizing that I was looking for something to do, he asked if I would be interested in replacing him.

It was intriguing! Both Ernie and I asked why he was quitting.

John explained that there are thousands of volunteers. However, the parents were impossible to deal with.  Argumentative, overly proud of little Johnny as he was the best at everything etc.

The mothers were the worst.  They always refused to listen to any reasoning.

Enough said.

Unfortunately, this parental interference trickles down directly to the playing field.

Imagine a beautiful sunny afternoon at a local youth soccer match. The game starts simply enough in an atmosphere that is both enjoyable and exciting. The children are playing their hearts out running up and down the field.  Suddenly little Paul, or Suzie accidentally trips and quickly gets up unhurt. But the player’s parent erupts in a torrent of invectives claiming their child was fouled.

In fact, the parent gets louder and when the coach goes over to calm he, or she, down, the parent hauls off and whacks the coach, he is met with a punch…  a fight ensues, the game is halted and everyone goes home disappointed.

We have all seen it with our own eyes where a parent’s obnoxious behavior escalates to irrational violence. Like so many parents when my children were young, I coached many of their teams. My motto was simple!  Teach the youngsters the best you can, let everyone play and enjoy the learning experience.

To me, that’s what youth sports should be about.  However, there are too many adults who are there for other reasons. The wrong reasons. All too often they become overinvolved. As a rule, there are warning signs that make them easy to spot at a youth game.

There’s the danger of the overzealous parent. He/she is the one who becomes involved in the child’s efforts and may not be able to distinguish between his/her own needs and those of the child. Sports is often more important to the parent than to the child.

The clearest and scariest sign that the parent is merging with the child is when the parent enters the “We” zone… “We won today”, or “We have a tough opponent next week”.

Many  “We” parents, especially those who have never achieved in sports, live vicariously through their children.  It’s healthy to encourage the kids. It’s normal and healthy to be excited for their successes and be disappointed for their failures.

Yet, sharing the child’s participation should not be… living through them.

It’s tough being a kid these days. They have a lot on their shoulders: school, family, social participation. When the parent becomes over invested in the child’s sports, an extra responsibility is put on their young shoulders… one they do not need!

The worst thing that happens is when a parent loses perspective. The seductiveness of sports means to many that their child might bring fame and fortune. Who knows Johnny may be the player to break Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game streak, Ted William’s .406 average, or score that all important tie-breaking goal in the Olympics.

This kind of dream and the pressure it puts on the child cause many parents to lose perspective. Such loss of perception has caused many heinous moments connected to youth sports.

There are many cases of undoing the good that organized youth sports are trying to achieve.

In Stockton, California, youth football coach Cory Petero rammed and hurt a player who had just cleanly tackled his son.  He was charged with felony child abuse.

A father in Philadelphia pulled a .357 Magnum on his son’s football coach.  He was enraged that his son was not getting enough playing time in an Under-7 Pee Wee football game…WOW!

How about the T-ball coach in a Pittsburg suburb who received a six year sentence for offering one of his players, an 8-year-old boy, $25 to throw the ball at a teammate during warm-ups. The teammate was a mildly autistic 9-year-old.  The coach felt if the 9-year-old was injured so he would be too sore to play in a playoff game… WOW!

The 8-year-old testified that he first hit him in the groin.  The irate coach told him to throw another, only harder. This time, following instructions, he threw the ball at his head, hitting his ear. Yet, the sad thing is that this is T-ball where teams don’t even have pitchers, the young children hit off a tee. Still winning was so important to this coach who had two of his own children on the team, he had one of his own players beaned.

The coach was convicted of conspiracy to commit simple assault and corruption of minors. At the sentencing the judge was so incensed, he sent the errant coach directly to prison.

The epitome of the seriousness and the rise of this type of activity is the Massachusetts Hockey Father, angered at another parent during a practice feeling that the man had pushed his son he attacked the other father after practice with a Hockey Stick. The victim never regained consciousness.

Such bad parental behavior is a severe problem.  It brings about pressure-filled, unhappy situations for everybody involved. Instead of being supportive, many parents become verbally and physically abusive. I have an idea, but I don’t know if it will work… let’s try it!

The by-laws of every league should contain a stipulation that before a child is allowed to sign up to participate, all parents should be mandated to attend a seminar on good sportsmanship and good behavior taught by a coach who has already been screened and accepted…. Plus a child psychologist paid for by the league.

Once evaluated, the parent, if qualified, can be part of the coaching staff, or allowed to attend. I like the idea, but I know it can never pass.

In addition, I go back to the days I held an Executive position with the Los Angeles Lakers.  At the time Pat Riley, the great coach was the team’s 6th man.

Whenever a request came in from any organization for the Lakers to provide a speaker, Pat was the first to have his hand up. He was a one-man goodwill ambassador. This gives me an idea.

Every contract in every professional Major league should have a clause that each team member… players, coaches etc.; must do so many hours visiting youth teams in meetings before and during each season.  The message should be one of cooperation, team play and togetherness.

This alone won’t solve the myriad of problems that manifest themselves every season, but it could go a long way toward helping.  After all, these are professionals both the parents and children look up to and aspire to emulate.  In fact, the various commissioners’ offices could make this a negotiating mandate.

What do you think?

SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!

SOME FANS GET CARRIED AWAY

Eaglesfans1

“Rage is an intense uncontrolled anger or a great force. An example of rage is someone screaming at the top of their lungs holding a bat and charging forward”

………. Miriam-Webster Dictionary.

In my last column, I wrote about the value of being a good fan. I talked about the enjoyment and pleasure that it brings and how, in many cases, such support actually plays a role in helping a favorite team win. I cited the Seattle Seahawks and how their noisy fans, in the eyes of Coach Pete Carroll, effectively make up the “12th man” giving visiting teams more to worry about. Also, the Green Bay Packers with its 100,000 shareholders were mentioned.

However, there is a dark-side! I call it “Fan Rage”. Most of us know and understand “Road Rage”. This is the same, but without the wheels.

So, I decided to take a look at a few selected incidents that took place over the past decade. New research has come about due to a great extent because of the increased violence in recent years among sports fans. There are some long-held ideas the link between highly competitive games and the fans they enthrall.

Both psychologists and sociologists now have come to the conclusion that much of the violence occurs when there are traditional rivalries, personal relationships involving participants, or many times possessing an overreaching ego, which tells the enraged fan that he knows more, then the coaches, or the officials.

“Fan Rage” is nothing new. This phenomenon has been around for centuries. In 532 A.D., the rivalry between supporters Blue and Green chariot-racing teams in Constantinople, (today: Istanbul), led to 30,000 deaths in the Nika Riots.

However, modern instances are numerous in all walks of sports and for multitude of reasons. Let’s look at a few examples.

In 1975, cyclist Eddy Mercx was viciously punched by a spectator as he climbed the Puy de Dome in the Tour de France. Earlier, he had won the Tour five times and at the time of the incident was leading. He finished the stage barely able to breathe and went to finish the Tour in second place overall.

In 1980 at London’s Wembley Arena, Boxer Marvin Hagler scored a three round knockout over Englishman Alan Minter. Many of Minter’s fans began to throw beer cans, bottles and other objects into the ring. The fighters had to be escorted out by Scotland Yard.

In 1984, a Braves/Padres game degenerated into a Beanball war. At least five Atlanta fans were dragged from the stadium in handcuffs after being part of a bench-clearing brawl.

In 2000 at Reading, Massachusetts, the beating death of a volunteer youth hockey coach, sent shockwaves throughout the country regarding the escalating violence being displayed among adults at youth athletic events.

Death is the epitome of “Fan Rage”. It is an unspeakable indication of how far rage can be carried. However, as heinous as the previous action was, what happened at Dodger Stadium on opening day 2011 was another indication how “Fan Rage”, in this case, fueled by alcohol, can get out of hand.

After the game, a San Francisco Giant fan named Bryan Stow was accosted in the Dodger parking lot. In front of a milling crowd and in the presence of his young children, two hooligans set him upon as he walked to his car. He was beaten to an inch of his life and was forever left Brain damaged, a paraplegic who will never walk again.

His only crime he was dressed in a San Francisco Giants jacket.

There have been countless studies as to what causes such outbursts of fury. Some researchers say it has a great deal to do with the easy access to violence on TV, or the massive number of video games which show little regard for life and limb giving impressionable minds with the belief that life and well-being are cheap commodities.

Others say it’s the ranting and raving of those who have the public’s ear emphasizing victory at whatever the cost may be. Sometimes it’s related to nationalism or as an outlet for social tensions.

Basically though, most studies agree. A person’s home atmosphere often spills out into how that person reacts in societal situations.

The days when we could go to a Ball Game, a Tournament, a Match, or a Race, just for the simple enjoyment seem to be gone. For a myriad of reasons: we are checked by security guards, we are not allowed to bring in certain items and we are constantly being scrutinized as we sit in the stands.

In many Ball Parks, because of unruly instances over the years, alcoholic beverages are not served after a definitive time. For example, that time in Baseball, is after the 6th inning. Also, because glass bottles and cans have been used as missiles of destruction. The beverages are served in plastic containers.

The times are tense. An afternoon at the Ballpark is supposed to relieve tension. It is supposed to be entertainment, not life, or death.

After all, they are just games.

THE LEGACY OF AL CAMPANIS

“I’m sad not only for his passing but the way people will remember him. That’s not the way I will remember him. There are a lot of racists in the world, on both sides , and he wasn’t one of them. He helped Roy so much when he was coming through the major leagues. He molded a lot of young men into men.”…   Roxie Campanella, Dodger Hall of Fame Catcher Roy Campanella’s widow

 

campanis

This is a love story, a story of compassion, both understanding and misunderstanding.

About a month ago, my friend Bob Perlberg asked me to join him for lunch with Jimmy Campanis.  This excited me because I had heard so much about Jimmy from my friend Al Campanis.

Al had been the Vice President and General Manager of the Dodgers and on many an occasion would host my son Steven and myself to a steak and eggs brunch in his box at Dodger Stadium  Sunday during doubleheaders… Remember them?

I thought Bob was talking about Al’s son Jimmy when he was really speaking of Jimmy, Al’s grandson. Subsequently, I got to talk to young Jimmy who was kind enough to send me his book, ”BORN INTO BASEBALL”.

The book itself is easy reading and gave me an insight even deeper into my late friend Al. In this day and age of so much disrespect and animas, it was great to read about parental and family love that started with a grandfather, (Al), a Greek Immigrant who rose to one of the most coveted positions in what has often been called, “America’s Pastime…Baseball”.

He was born in the Dodecanese Islands, graduated from New York University and was a Navy Chief Petty Officer during World War II. He loved this country and everything about it. He appreciated what the U.S.A.

had given him. Al was a man without prejudice.

So much so, that when Branch Rickey brought Jackie Robinson into the Dodger organization he asked Al to be Jackie’s roommate and in essence, help in anyway possible to make Jackie feel wanted and to be Jackie’s mentor. While playing for the Dodger’s Montreal farm team, they became the first interracial roommates in all of Baseball.

At the time, Al, himself, was to endure a lot of personal taunts and insults. You can use your imagination the names he was called.

Al stood alongside Jackie, together fighting many a battle against those who would slander him or intend to harm him.  It was Al’s chore to make number 42’s integration into the Dodger organization as smooth as possible. The task was well done and a strong bond between the two men was formed until Jackie passed.

To show you the closeness that developed between Jackie and Al, is best exemplified in what young Jimmy wrote in “BORN INTO BASEBALL”

It seems that Al’s son, 12-year-old Jimmy, asked his dad to help him with a school “show and tell” project. His subject was Jackie Robinson and the project was due the next day.  He figured his dad could perhaps get one of Robinson’s bat, or his glove for Jimmy to bring.

Jimmy told his dad he prepared a speech and he had to recite it to the class the next morning at 10. The next morning, as Jimmy was wrapping up ‘tell’, he saw his dad standing in the hall outside the classroom.

The teacher said to Jimmy,” your ‘tell’ was great, now what do you have to show me?”

Young Jimmy said ‘”let me go get it”. He went out into the hall. To his surprise, there was Jackie Robinson.

Jimmy brought him into the room and for well over thirty minutes he answered questions and signed autographs.  All the time, telling the class how happy he was to do this for his friend Al, Jimmy’s dad.

On most of those Summer Sundays at Dodger Stadium, Al would introduce me to many of his friends. This included Don Newcombe, Murray Wills, Roy Campanella and Jim Gilliam… all African- Americans ballplayers.

Unfortunately, Al’s illustrious and successful career with the Dodgers came to a crashing and ignominious end on April 6, 1987. On the wall of his office, this non-biased man man who beside family pictures had only three other pictures… Don Newcombe, an African- American; Sandy Koufax, a Jew; and Roberto Clemente, Hispanic.

This man who had embraced Jackie Robinson when it wasn’t popular to do it, on ABC’S Nightline after praising the superior athletic ability that Black Ballplayers possessed, went on to make some statements that were construed as prejudicial.

A hue and cry immediately labeled him as a racist.  Both Mr. Campanis and the Dodgers quickly apologized, but their pleas fell on deaf ears and the Dodgers, in fear of offending their fans, unceremoniously fired Al.

I have written this column today, because I feel my voice has to be added to many others, viewing today’s tensions in our society, are asking for calm, understanding and clarity of thought.

I am the son of an immigrant mother.  Over the years, I have felt the slings and arrows of prejudice. However, unlike the Black Man, I am not an obvious target.

For years, the locker and the arena have been my milieu. This area is occupied by teams.  In order for a team to succeed, they must react as one.  Color, has no place in the Locker Room. I am no different!  I am like every man!

I use the phrase, “Some of my best friends are people!’ America built its reputation over the years as a ‘melting pot’. Unfortunately, with the good, comes the bad. In every barrel of apples, there are always a few bad ones. There are those who hate and those who care.  Too often, those that hate outshout those who care.

To me, Al Campanis, a devoted man, a good citizen and a great friend got a bad rap. He is a good example of how knee jerk reactions without thought can ruin someone’s life.  Before we do something regrettable, we need to take a deep breath and reflect.  Or as my Mom used to say, “we must think before we act”.

AL Campanis knew his way around a Baseball Field like few others.  He was not trained in being a TV Personality. When asked any question realizing that millions of people are watching, it is easy to get sidetracked and flustered.  It is said in the Broadcast Industry, “Your tongue gets in the way of your eye teeth”. That night on ABC, not schooled, or versed in TV, Al was like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights once the cameras were turned on.

This I am convinced is what happened to Al Campanis

Misunderstanding that brings about violence is never the answer.

THE THUNDERING HERD

McConahey

Through the movies and sports, my life has always been full. About ten years ago, I saw a motion picture entitled “We Are Marshall”. It was also there that the movies introduced me to Mathew McConaughey. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me take you back and eventually you will see where I am heading.

When I was a kid growing up in Boston anything that had to do with athletics, I wanted to be a part of.  My mom always knew where I was.

If I wasn’t at school, or hadn’t walked the six, or seven miles to either Fenway Park, or Braves field, I could be found on a nearby sandlot playing in a pickup game of Baseball.  There were always enough guys to make some sort of teams.

Usually, it was behind the local Super Market. In order to get to our field of combat, we would pry a wooden slat off of a fence behind the projects where we lived. After playing. We would make sure to replace the board in the exact place, so the Super Market people would never know how we got there.

There was always one Baseball! It was kept in tact by black electric tape, and was always on its last legs. Unfortunately, Morrill, the worst player, owned the ball.  However, if we didn’t let him play in the game there would be no game.  We made sure we were nice to Morrill except when his mom called him for supper and he would not leave the ball.

In football season, we rag-a-muffins would walk all the way to Harvard Square and look for a pickup game on the hard dirt infield of Cambridge Commons.  We often played under the Elm Tree where George Washington once took command of the Continental Army.

Sometimes the authorities bothered us, but never when the Kennedy kids were there… Teddy et al, (that’s right the future Senator).

In Basketball season we would sneak into the MIT Gym where little Bobby O’Neal was our lookout.

When the weather wasn’t good and we had at least eleven cents (that’s right, 11pennies… that was all it cost), we would go en mass to the movies.  It was great! There were always two pictures: –  (a double feature), a cartoon and a News Reel.  Many days the auditorium was hot until some special theaters had refrigeration, or swamp coolers.

It was at the Cinema, (the Movies), where I was first introduced to Sports Movies, That was to become the genre I loved most of all. Thus, in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, I discovered Knute Rockne, the Gipper, Lou Gehrig and all the sports heroes past and present.

It was in such a way that Jimmy Stewart, Ronald Reagan, Pat O’Brien, Kirk Douglas, Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster all entered my life. They played bigger than life characters, (my heroes), who had graced our Sports pages.

Of course, there was always Jack Oakie.  No matter what the sport was, the studios always put this amiable, jovial rotund fellow into them.  Although he seemed to always to be stumbling over himself, yet he would emerge victorious.  Whether playing a fictitious Quarterback, a Pitcher, First Basemen, or a Track Star, we always rooted for him.

His movies, however, were always comedies and good inevitably triumphed over evil.  Real sports pictures, as they developed over the years, started to look at not only the seamy side of life, but also the hardships that had to be overcome.  Many had messages filled with pathos where in real life, good did not always defeat the bad.

One such movie was “We are Marshall” and the real life hero was Coach Jack Lengyel.  Mathew McConaughey portrayed Coach Lengyel.

Now, dear reader please understand I have never met the Coach.  However, he sits on many illustrious Boards, including the United States Sports Academy Advisory Board of which I am proud to serve also.  My mentor Bob Block who is a founding member of the Academy brought Coach Lengyel’s heartfelt story to my attention.

It was Bob who suggested I write a story about the Coach… and what a story it is!

Let me share it with you…The story is about a man who not only has been a winning coach, but also a man who has been an inspiration to all those he taught… teaching them about life and how to be good citizens.

Although he had been a football coach since he was graduated from Akron University and became the Freshman FOOTBALL coach and then became the Assistant Varsity Football Coach , his story really began in 1971 at the age of 36.  Until then he had been coaching at various colleges and universities when fate intervened and he was ready for the challenge.

On November 14, 1970, Lengyel, who was in his 5th year as coach of the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio, was watching TV with his family.  The news came across that the Southern Airways Flight 932 had crashed.  On board the plane were 75 Marshall University football players, coaches, administrative officers and fans… everybody perished.

It was a few hours after Marshall had lost to East Carolina and they were heading home to Huntington, West Virginia. With a heavy heart, Jack determined perhaps he could help the devastated University.

His first thought was “that there for the grace of God, could have been him and his team”. He applied to be the new head coach. Fortunately, for Marshall they had the foresight to hire him.

In that hiring, they got not only a qualified leader on the football field, but part of his package was understanding and compassion.

That move would change lives forever, including Lengyel’s. Prior to hiring him as coach, the downhearted and sad University was thinking seriously of permanently eliminating Football from their schedule.

Fortunately, they did not surgically remove Football as part of their school activities. Lengyel went about rebuilding a non-existent program with a Freshman team that was not eligible to compete intercollegiatly .

Upon his arrival, since no one was left, he was forced to recruit athletes from other sports (Baseball and Basketball etc.;) as well as a large number of walk-ons in order to field a team.

Although the team struggled in Lengyel’s  first season. A miracle happened in his second game. The rag-tag Marshall Team upset a heavily favored Xavier team on the final play of the game with no time left on the clock.  It was so exciting that when the team went into the locker room they threw everyone into the showers, uniforms and all, including the priest who was travelling with them.

Two hours later when the team returned to the field, the fans were still there. People were crying and hugging each other because everybody knew a teammate, classmate, a friend, or neighbor on the ill-fated flight.

It was a very emotional game, but it gave everyone hope. This unexpected victory brought about a euphoric feeling of unity and was an uplifting spirit for not only the University, but also for the entire Huntington, West Virginia Community whose residents felt deeply the lose of the Marshall athletes.

The true story was so uplifting, that in 2006, Warner Brothers released the Biopic  “We are Marshall”. The brilliant and eventual Academy Award winning Mathew McConaughey played Coach Lengyel.

Lengyel, his rebuilding job completed, after four years, went on expand his illustrious career.  He continued as   as a coach and teacher, but also became Athletic Director at some of America’s foremost bastions of education including his fourteen years as AD of the United States Naval Academy where his two sons David and Peter graduated. The strength training facility is named in Coach Lengyel’s honor.

Today, he is a member of the United States Sports Academy Board of Advisors and was inducted into the Collegiate Hall of Fame.

Jack Lengyel, a name Sports Fans everywhere should know. His emphasis on strategic planning and core values which he used in rebuilding Marshall, is something all of us can use in our daily lives.

He is the true embodiment of what sports an acadamua should be all about.

That Germanotta Kid Can Really Sing

Lady Gaga

February 3, 2016

Super Bowl 50, the 2016 version, is history. For me, the game itself was uneventful. It was a defensive battle that disappointed those of us who wished to truly see the passing of the torch.

The torch, of course, was the expected performances of one great quarterback in perhaps his last game and a young gun who possibly will inherit his mantle of greatness.

It was Peyton Manning at the helm of the victorious Denver Broncos and the reigning MVP, Cam Newton, of the Carolina Panthers who suffered the loss. It was a game marred by too many penalties, fumbles, interceptions and assorted miscues.

The commercials which all of us, glued to the TV set, thought would be terrific, for the most part turned out to be filled with duds. If I thought I was disappointed, imagine how the sponsors felt who had shelled out millions of dollars for seconds worth of exposure.

As for the Halftime Show which everyone raved about, I thought it was overkill. The performances by Beyonce and Bruno Mars with their music and the choreography were magnificent. Coldplay, at least to me, did not live up to expectations.
Maybe, I am a purist … and I guess I am. I like the days when the Halftime Shows featured Marching Bands, Card Sections and formations all directly related to the game itself. The game was the show!

Furthermore, the Halftime Show should never be used as a political platform for any cause…no matter how worthy it might be. Unless, of course, the entire event is for the purpose of calling attention to the cause.

It is wrong to take advantage of those who paid a lot of money to see the game and to impose a social cause message on an unsuspecting viewing audience… as I wrote above, no matter what the cause might be.

But there was one highlight that I found thrilling. It was when Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, better known as “Lady Gaga”, sang the Star Spangled Banner… the National Anthem. It was stirring and it made a song that most musicians fear singing into something special. It is difficult because of the key changes, but she made it sound like one for the ages.

Her rendition was brilliant. Only once before has there been such an inspirational rendering. The late Whitney Houston did it. However, you can ask any singer, if when asked to perform the Star Spangle Banner, how they tried everything to sing any other song… Either “God Bless America”, or Kathryn Lee Bates’ “America the Beautiful”.

The key constantly changes, the words can only be sung without error when you are singing in conjunction with others and watching their lip movements. The late great singer Robert Goulet would readily attest to that. He forgot the words in front of an audience of millions.

The song has been the graveyard for many a noted singer. Especially, when trying to reach the awkwardly, almost unreachable high notes. However, Lady Gaga handled it with ease.

Back in 1977, along with the late Andy Williams we tried to get the National Anthem changed to “America the Beautiful” Have you ever really listened to the lyrics of both songs.

The Star Spangled Banner, a song of war,— “Bombs Bursting Air” etc;, or “America the Beautiful” that is a song of peace and tranquility… “it’s Purple Mountains Majesty”, and “ for Patriots’ Dream” and “Thine Alabaster Cities Gleam”.

It is a song of pride about a nation built by Pilgrims from everywhere. It is melodically pleasing to the ear and easy to sing.

The Star Spangled Banner became our National Anthem by a congressional resolution in 1931, the year I was born. However, until I was in the 8th grade, we were still singing “Hail Columbia”, or “My Country ‘tis of Thee” the latter melody was identical to “God Save the Queen which is the British National Anthem, as we pledged our allegiance to the flag every morning.

Prior to becoming officially our National Anthem, The Star Spangled Banner was a popular drinking song sung in many Pubs, especially throughout Maryland after the Battle of Fort McHenry. With a range of one octave and one fifth (a semitone more than an octave and a half), it is difficult to sing.

Andy and myself in 1977, presented to House Speaker “Tip” O’Neill, a petition signed by 30,000 citizens, to a great extent, musicians, to change the National Anthem. He brought the petition to committee , where it was soundly defeated.

However, to hear Lady GaGa sing it, gave new meaning to beauty in a voice. When praised about her performance, she simply said: “I just sang from my heart”.

Thank you, Lady Gaga… you have earned not only my respect and admiration, but also, I am now your fan for life.