From Football Star To TV Star
Feb 01, 2023Posted by james

One doesn’t become the “Sexiest Man Alive” overnight. People bestowed that title upon Mark Harmon during 1986. He was a star on the St. Elsewhere television program. By then, though, the actor was not new to the star scene. He had played college football and then portrayed a police officer with a dog partner in Sam (1977) and a helicopter rescue hero in 240-Robert (1979).

After attending a community college, Mark made the quantum leap to the big time at the University of California, Los Angeles. As the quarterback, Mark led UCLA during the 1972 and 1973 seasons. In his first game as a starter, his Bruins recorded a shocking upset over two-time defending champions Nebraska.

Mark was photogenic and now he was successful on the field. Plus, he was just a few miles away from the Hollywood studios. But, Mark needed a little more help to move him into his acting career. The push came from sister Kristin and Dragnet creator Jack Webb.

Kristin had married teen idol Rick Nelson and enjoyed a role on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Mark was just 12 at this time, so he was not quite ready for his primetime debut on television or the sports field. However, during 1973, after his star role at UCLA, a reboot show, Ozzie’s Girls, brought Ozzie and Harriet back to television. Through his sister, Mark nabbed a walk-on role. Kristin would enjoy only one other significant recurring role on television — portraying Jean Reed, the wife of Officer Jim Reed (Kent McCord) on Adam-12. But, that show’s connection to Jack Webb helped Mark.

Mark had turned down offers to play pro football. He dabbled with law school, worked at an ad agency and sold shoes. Finally, with his sister’s support, he sought advice from Jack, who secured guest spots for Mark on Emergency! and Adam-12. The football rolled from there – Sam, 240-Robert, St. Elsewhere and then NCIS along with plenty of appearances on other television shows and in films.

So, you just never know when or how a break will lead to a lifetime of success on or off the sports field.

Powerlifting Despite Injuries
Jan 15, 2023Posted by james

Matt Sohmer was a successful Long Island high school football player from Farmingdale. Until he tore his meniscus and then his ACL. Then, in college, a late hit ended any future football plans. Prior to these injuries, and during his rehabs, powerlifting had become a significant tool in Matt’s training. After football moved to the rearview mirror, lifting became his focus.

Concentrating on powerlifting full time improved his strength and he decided to compete in the United States of America Powerlifting RAW* Nationals for 2015 and 2016. Another leg injury forced him to skip the 2017 tournament and almost ended his career in that sport, too.

Matt traveled a long road to recovery. Doctors proclaimed that lifting, or any physical activity, was not in his future. Those diagnoses didn’t stop Matt when he endured the football injuries and he was determined that the medical advice would not stop him now. Research to strengthen his leg and minimize the effect of the injury were part of the rehab process.

Matt made a comeback. He competed in his third RAW nationals but was not a favorite to win the tournament. He thrived as an underdog and in the spotlight. Matt always has had the drive to do better than others expect of him. He used his injuries, rehabs, advice from doctors and the comments from others as motivation.

Happy ending! Matt became the national champion in the 264-weight class. He set personal highs in all three lifts – an 843-pound square, 355—pound bench and 810-pound deadlift. That’s a total of 2,008 pounds! This was the first time he passed the 2,000-pound mark and he was only seven pounds from the class world record for squats and 12 pounds from the deadlifts record.

With determination, Matt overcame setbacks with injuries, work and life. He went from a no-name to, as he stated at the time, “smoking everybody.”

Matt holds more than 40 U.S and world records and he is the youngest competitor to squat 800-plus pounds RAW without kneewraps. A little determination and motivation can go a long way on the road to success.

*“Raw” powerlifting is lifting with little to no additional equipment. In practice, “Raw” powerlifting means, in competition, athletes are only allowed to use approved lifting belts, singlet, wrist wraps and knee sleeves along with chalk.

It’s Yes We Can And That’s Because We Can
Dec 15, 2022Posted by james

Sal Fabozzi wanted to transform his passion for basketball into athletic opportunities for young athletes with special needs. So, a handful of years ago, he created Because We Can Sports on Staten Island.

The organization offers children ages five to 18 the option to participate in basketball along with soccer, football and track and field in a judgement-free environment. The program explains the nuances of each sport, Fun, as in F-U-N, is the ultimate objective.

Sal’s plan does not advance children to the next level of athletic skill. The goal is to advance them in life. The program has a connection to the local Catholic Youth Organization (CYO). Sal created the concept based on his basketball clinics for special needs children. He and Anthony Passalacqua, who played CYO basketball and founded a local youth basketball program, are the program’s head coaches. They are supported by many volunteers.

Autistic children are among the participants. The program helps the children interact with their peers and this encourages them to foster relationships in their neighborhoods and at their schools. Success in the classroom also has been associated to the dynamics of program. One 14-year-old boy took his game to the next level, competing in the Special Olympics New York Winter Games.

If you are on Staten Island or know someone there, let them know about Sal and Anthony and Because We Can Sports. For information:

A Hockey Uniform Of Stripes
Dec 01, 2022Posted by james

Just about every young hockey player dreams about scoring that seventh game overtime goal to capture a championship cup or medal. As each player rises to the next tier of competition on travel, high school, college and junior teams, he or she spends countless hours on and off the ice to build strength and stamina, and to hone various skills that just might turn a dream into hockey reality.

The path to a hockey career, should he decide to pursue that route, might be different for Bentley Cyr. He learned to skate when he was five years old. He continues to play the game. But, he also referees ice and roller hockey. He spends a lot of time, sometimes all day, at the rinks in California.

While playing a game a few years back, Bentley noticed that one referee was only a handful of years older. This inspired him to investigate and then pursue that angle of the game. He worked his first game as an official when he was just six years old.

Bentley has received full support from hockey’s adults. With encouragement from mom and dad, Bentley has received countless opportunities to work many games, including three, four or more on any given day. Rink personnel, team administrators and coaches encouraged him to become a certified referee, and he earned that certification this past July. Bentley is nine now and he’s one of the youngest registered USA Hockey referees.

Bentley has received many compliments for his on-ice professionalism and his focus on calling games. Whether or not Bentley decides to pursue a professional career in hockey, his thoughts already are formulating plans for the creation of a training facility and camp for young officials. Until that day comes, he remains satisfied with just sharing some advice, specifically within his age group, as he inspires other youngsters to pursue officiating. Bentley tells everyone to follow his lead—continue to play hockey, refine skating skills and observe the work of officials at games and on television.

Bentley is a busy young man on both sides of the game. He enjoys spending an entire day at the rinks. The perk, he said, is eating a lot of pizza.

Broken Sticks Get New Life For New Purpose
Nov 15, 2022Posted by james

Jack Vissar is the equipment manager for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program. He always tossed broken hockey sticks in the trash. Then, he found a new use for smashed and shattered twigs.

That new life for old sticks was created by John Ufland and Eric Bourgoujian. They were tired of watching players and equipment guys such as Jack toss expensive broken carbon hockey sticks into the trash bin. They wondered if the sticks could be reused in some way, leading them to create Requip’d. The organization partnered with teams and manufacturers in the U.S. and Canada to not simply recycle but to upcycle old sticks to create barbeque sets.

Once this idea recorded winning goals, John and Eric added bottle openers, snow brushes, plungers and a goalie paddle ring toss game to the product line. Requip’d repurposed more than 100,000 sticks. The organization worked with USA Hockey plus the NHL, AHL, ECHL and the NCAA. About a year ago, the guys sold the operation to ABLE Force (Richboro, Pennsylvania), a nonprofit that employs adults with special needs. The game plan did not change for the used sticks. The mission is to continue to repurpose tossed hockey sticks into unique items.

The partnership between the organization, which provides employees with meaningful jobs, and the leagues is a win-win. USA Hockey’s program initially prevented almost 600 sticks from filling landfills. Now, the number has risen to about 5,000. Add that number to the countless additions made by the college and pro leagues.

So, if you’re looking for a unique holiday gift for that hockey player or fan, get into the game and pick up an item upcycled from a used hockey stick.

Remembering Pat Tillman
Nov 01, 2022Posted by james

Pat Tillman was born on November 6 in Fremont, California. The oldest of three sons, he matured into a star athlete and a better person.

Pat was awarded a football scholarship to Arizona State University. He was selected 1997 Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and ASU’s MVP. Pat graduated with a marketing degree in less than four years with a 3.85 GPA.  The Arizona Cardinals drafted him and he became an All-Pro safety.

Pat, whose great-grandfather served at Pearl Harbor, was deeply affected by 9/11. During an interview, he said, “I play football, and it just seems so goddamn unimportant compared to everything that has taken place.”

Following the 2001 season, Pat declined a $3.6 million three-year contract with the Cardinals to enlist in the U.S. Army with his brother, Kevin, who declined an offer to play baseball for the Cleveland Indians. Pat married his high school sweetheart, Marie, before exchanging his football jersey for a military uniform.

The brothers completed training as Army Rangers and Pat was deployed for the initial invasion of Iraq during September 2003. Both brothers later were deployed to Afghanistan. On April 22, 2004, Kevin was in a convoy behind his brother when Pat was killed by friendly fire while on patrol in Spera, Khost Province, Afghanistan.

Pat had prepared a “just in case” letter for Marie that included, in part, “Through the years, I’ve asked a great deal of you. Therefore it should surprise you little that I have another favor to ask. I ask that you live.’’ Pat Tillman was 27 years old. He would have celebrated his 45th birthday this month.

Marie eventually remarried and is a mother of five children. A decade following Pat’s death, she established the Pat Tillman Foundation that provides scholarships for veterans and their spouses.

“Loss is not just something that happens,” said Marie. “It really becomes a part of you and I feel like I have learned so much…and it really has made me more conscious of life and how I want to spend mine and really making the most of it.”

Anthony Lifted Her Heart
Oct 15, 2022Posted by james

Audrey Soape had lost her father to a tragic accident. She was just 11 years old at the time and now she would not be able to attend a father-daughter dance with her dad. Audrey asked her mom, Holly, to take her. Trying to ease her daughter’s sadness, Holly came up with the idea to contact the family’s favorite athlete and ask if he would escort the girl to the church dance.

That pro player is Anthony Harris. Now a free safety with the Denver Broncos, he was with the Philadelphia Eagles at the time. Holly is from Minnesota and she had followed Anthony’s career since he first played for the Vikings. Holly respected Anthony as an athlete and also for his deep religious faith. Periodically, Holly had sent Scriptures and uplifting messages to Anthony on social media. He often responded to her.

The family lived in Texas. Holly sent a message to Anthony and explained Audrey’s situation. Then, she asked if Anthony would consider escorting her daughter to the dance.

No doubt Anthony receives hundreds of requests along with many other professional athletes. At the time, he was focused on football. But, while not a father, Anthony is an uncle. The message got him thinking about his niece and nephew and what he would do for them if they faced a similar situation.

Anthony immediately replied to Holly, indicating that he would escort Audrey if football, specifically a playoff game, did not take preference. It all worked out for Anthony and Audrey.

The team did not have a game. Anthony sent money for a dress and to cover hair and makeup expenses. On the day of the dance, he flew to Austin and drove to the Soape’s home. He placed a corsage on Audrey’s wrist and posed for photos with the family.

At the dance, Holly’s friends didn’t know anything about Anthony. But, their fathers recognized Anthony and thanked him for escorting Audrey. Anthony and Audrey danced, talked and laughed. They participated in a scavenger hunt and Anthony even gave Audrey some football tips for her flag football team.

Audrey’s hero (Molly’s too!) manages The Anthony Harris Foundation to serve at-risk youth. He said he was honored to be asked to escort Audrey. She said that he made her feel “super special, and it was just amazing. I will never forget it.”

From the many photos taken of them that day, neither will Anthony.

Mini-Pitch Gets Everyone Into The Game
Oct 01, 2022Posted by james

Tim Howard, the U.S. Soccer Foundation, the City of Yonkers and a corporate sponsor recently opened a mini-pitch at the city’s Pelton Park. Among the participants at the ribbon cutting were students from the local Boys & Girls Club. The event launched the Tim Howard Foundation to provide resources, experiences and opportunities for children facing challenges in their families or communities. The foundation also supports youth with Tourette Syndrome and associated disorders.

Tim is a former U.S. Men’s National Team goalkeeper from New Jersey. When he left the game, Tim held multiple records, including 121 caps (when competing internationally, the number of appearances by a player for a national team), 119 starts, 62 wins and eight World Cup appearances.

The Yonkers mini-pitch project was funded by Tim’s foundation and corporate donations. Mini-pitches are artificial turf or hard surfaces surrounded by a rebound board system with integrated goals. The ball remains constantly in-play and the field generates greater soccer engagement with increased ball contact, more in-game decisions by players and more goals to create a faster, more intensive experience than a game on a regular pitch. Techniques, movement and reaction speeds can be tested on a mini-pitch.

The Pelton Park mini-pitch marked the latest project by the U.S. Soccer Foundation’s “It’s Everyone’s Game” national movement to ensure children in underserved communities enjoy the health and youth development benefits of the game. The U.S. Soccer Foundation has installed more than 500 mini-pitches nationwide with the goal to install 1,000 by 2026. The field transforms a location by enabling sports to be played in a small space.

Everyone involved with the Yonkers ceremony during September praised the success of another public-private partnership to benefit our youth and our communities.

Finding His Path To Happiness
Sep 15, 2022Posted by james

Paul Asaro has overcome many challenges to achieve success and happiness.

Recently, in sports competition, Paul won gold and silver medals at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Florida. He earned gold in men’s open water swimming, posting a time of 36 minutes, 6.6 seconds for more than 1,000 meters. He claimed silver in the men’s triathlon (440-yard swim, 10.8-mile bike ride and 3.1-mile run) in one hour, 33 minutes, 35.4 seconds.

When Paul returned home to Westchester County, he draped the medals around his neck to showcase his achievements for fellow parishioners at his church. For several decades, he has been an inspiration to adults and children at his place of worship and also within his community.

The 43-year-old has been involved with Special Olympics in the Hudson Valley as an athlete since 1994 and as a coach since 2008. Paul was named 2005 New York State Male Athlete of the Year and 2017 Hudson Valley Male Athlete of the Year. He has represented the United States at the 2003 World Games in Ireland and the 2019 World Games in the United Arab Emirates. Paul also has held several New York executive positions with Special Olympics.

Paul was born with duodenal atresia, a blockage between his duodenum and small intestine that led to complications with brain swelling and lack of oxygen to the brain. Despite this significant challenge at the start of his life, Paul was attracted to sports as a child. He participated in the Eastchester Youth Soccer League and was a distance runner in the track program at Eastchester High School. He was nominated for the school’s 1995 Athlete of the Year.

Paul never has allowed his disability to prevent him from enjoying life. An important part of his life is a passion for service. He is a volunteer firefighter. At his church, Paul is an altar server, usher, member of the Knights of Columbus and member of the parish council.

Though dealt a tough hand at birth, throughout the years Paul has met many challenges with his own personal philosophy: “There is always a path that makes us happy.”

This Broadway Blue Often Is Black And Blue
Sep 01, 2022Posted by james

Our local hockey teams will begin respective training camps within a few days and the fan bases of the New York Rangers, New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils hope that their players have recovered from black and blues, pulls, off-season surgeries and anything else that afflicted them in the waning weeks of last season.

The local player who has earned the award for most body blows is Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren. He is known as the blackest-and-bluest Ranger, yet he keeps popping up, as one journalist wrote, in “Whac-A-Mole no matter how hard and often he would be conked by the mallet.”

Rarely does Ryan play at 100 percent of health, but he plays each game with 100 percent of his ability. Iron and grit appear next to his name in the NHL dictionary.

Ryan has created a professional career by handling plays that never make the scoresheet but impact each game. He makes the critical checks, chases the puck, blocks shots, grinds in the defensive corners and clears the zone while getting knocked to the ice. Did I mention the checks? During many games, Ryan often leaves the bench for the locker room to be attended by athletic trainers, maybe even the team doctor, to address some pain somewhere on his body.

Fans of the Rangers love Ryan Lindgren. He is that blue collar player who brings his lunch pail to work on Broadway. By now, he should be healed from last season’s bruises but certainly he will add new aches and pains with the first game this season. Make that the first pre-season game. No, make that the first scrimmage in training camp.