Football Teammates Became Wild West Buds
Apr 18, 2022Posted by james

The University of Southern California won its first college football national championship during 1928. The Trojan’s success during previous seasons, partly attributed to the big uglies in the gridiron trenches, helped prep USC for that championship season. ”Uglies” had become a term used with affection. By chance, a couple of those trench teammates, following their college football careers, became Hollywood stars.

When John Ford was seeking talent for his 1929 football film “Salute” that centered around the Army-Navy rivalry, the director decided to cast some of the “uglies” as Midshipmen. “Get me that one with the ugly face,” Ford reportedly said as he gestured toward one player who was given the role of Midshipman Harold. A teammate and close friend of the handpicked player worked as a prop boy and uncredited extra for the film. The two players remained close friends for life and together they became huge talents on the big and small screens.

Midshipman Harold’s actual name was Ward Bond. His friend the prop guy was Marion Morrison, better known as John Wayne. They worked together with John Ford again on the film “Stagecoach” and often teamed on other western films.

While John would become an icon on the screen, Ward settled into a prosperous career as a stuntman, toughie, baddie, or ugly. He estimated that he played these roles in about 150 films. During the late 1950s, after two decades of sensational supporting work, Ward finally received a leading role in television’s “Wagon Train.”

Ward died suddenly after only a few years starring in the role as the wagon master on that show. His loss impacted everyone in the business, including his former USC teammate. Their friendship was deep. In his will, as a way to tweak John for his masterful handling of guns in all those westerns, Ward left “The Duke” the shotgun that the star had accidently fired during a hunting trip. With that shotgun, John had injured his friend, one of USC’s top Uglies.

Seeing Baseball With Ed Lucas
Apr 01, 2022Posted by james

This is the first baseball season in 82 years without Ed Lucas. The name might, as with a 100 mph fastball, whiz by you. But, if you have followed the New York teams the last handful of decades, you’ve heard about him, watched interviews with him, or read his articles. A close friend was Phil Rizzuto, who frequently mentioned Ed on Yankee broadcasts.

The New York Giants had just won the 1951 pennant when 12-year-old Ed ran from his Jersey City apartment to play baseball with his friends. He didn’t pitch often due to poor vision (he was legally blind), but he took the ball that day when several other boys had left the field. Without his thick glasses, Ed threw and the batter swung at the pitch. The ball struck Ed between the eyes.

The accident detached Ed’s retinas. His vision continued to deteriorate and he became fully blind on December 11, a day he always associated with the retirement of Joe DiMaggio. Surgery was unsuccessful to reattach Ed’s retinas, which had been weakened at birth due to insufficient oxygen. Mom Rosanna tried to raise her son’s spirits by writing letters to the Giants, Yankees and Dodgers with the hope that players, coaches and broadcasters from the game Ed loved would offer encouragement.

Giants’ manager Leo Durocher invited Ed to the Polo Grounds. When Rosanna learned that the Yankees shortstop worked during the off-season at a men’s clothing store in Newark, she and her husband took Ed to see him and to buy a suit. This started a five decades friendship.

To continue his education, Ed attended St. Joseph’s School for the Blind in Jersey City and then the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind in the Bronx. His love for the game remained strong though he no longer could see the field or the players. At the Bronx school, he formed a group of baseball fans who invited players to speak to the class. Jackie Robinson and Mickey Mantle were among several who visited the students.

Ed then attended Seton Hall University, earning a bachelor’s degree in communications and hosting a show on the school’s radio station that featured interviews with baseball personalities. He also wrote part-time about the game for several newspapers, including The Hudson Dispatch and The Journal. Unfortunately, a full-time professional job in the sports business following graduation did not develop for Ed. It’s not an easy profession to crack even for a cub reporter who could see the game.

To earn a living, Ed became an insurance salesman. He later became a public relations director at Meadowview Psychiatric Hospital in Secaucus and served as an ambassador, fund-raiser and board member of the St. Joseph’s School.

Then, during the 1980s, Ed decided to pursue baseball full-time. Assignments included a weekly radio show on WMCA-AM during the baseball seasons. His contributions to the Yankees’ YES Network website earned him a 2009 New York Emmy Award. The majority of his work was conducted at Yankee Stadium, surrounded by many players, coaches, managers and executives. One of them was Joe DiMaggio, who sat next to him in the press box on opening day of the 1976 season. Joe told Ed to turn off his transistor radio and remove the headset that he always used to follow the games. The Yankee Clipper delivered a personal play-by-play.

From Basketball To The Hollywood Spotlight
Mar 15, 2022Posted by james

Krekor Ohanian, Jr., was from California. His parents were Armenian, with his father an attorney who represented many from the home country who had little money and barely spoke English.

Krekor became an avid basketball fan. He was a good player in high school. Teammates called him “Touch,” because he always liked to touch the ball. Upon graduation, Krekor enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II. Following the war, he attended the University of California at Los Angeles on the G.I. Bill and a basketball scholarship. He played for legendary coach John Wooden.

Though he had decided to attend law school and follow his farther into the profession, a basketball game caused him to change direction. Eventually, he landed in the Hollywood spotlight. Following one of UCLA’s games, Krekor was introduced to William A. Wellman. The film director liked the young man’s voice and his expressive face as he played the game. He encouraged Krekor to consider an acting career.

Placing law school on the bench for at least a while, Krekor explored the suggestion and found himself taking various roles in films and television programs. Eventually, he would star in a television series of his own, relying on his athletic ability to perform his own stunts despite breaking a wrist and dislocating a shoulder in the pilot episode. His character, “Joe,” was depicted as an Armenian-American. Krekor occasionally spoke Armenian in several episodes and sometimes he quoted Armenian proverbs.

By this time, he wasn’t Krekor Ohanian, Jr., the basketball player or future lawyer. Hollywood fans now knew him as Mike Connors, the star of the television program “Mannix.”

Dad Was Watching Over Queens Hockey Player
Mar 01, 2022Posted by james

We might not see Anthony Greco in a New York Rangers uniform again, but he already has achieved one of his life goals. He pulled on the red, white and blue jersey a few weeks ago in San Jose for his first game with the team he rooted for as a child. He inherited his passion for the Rangers from parents Paul and Mary Jane.

Anthony’s mom and an aunt watched the game from Mary Jane’s Massapequa Park home. Everyone said that Paul watched from above. A firefighter for the Fire Department of New York, he died during May 2020 from illnesses caused by breathing toxic air at Ground Zero following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Mary Jane was overwhelmed to watch her son fulfill his childhood dream after enduring such hardship. But she never expected to feel her late husband’s presence as much as she did. After the first 20 minutes of the game, Anthony had logged 3:43 of ice time. On September 11, 2001, 343 firefighters died at the World Trade Center.

Anthony signed with the Rangers as a free agent during October 2020. His father knew all about it before he succumbed to his illnesses. As with most hockey parents, Paul and Mary Jane had invested significantly in their son’s hockey career. Paul drove Anthony to games and practices at all hours, and then he moved the family to Minnesota for a while to allow Anthony to attend a prominent school with a hockey tradition. Paul still was an active firefighter at the time, driving back and forth for hours between Minnesota and New York for his assigned shifts with the FDNY.

Except for the one game against San Jose, Anthony has spent his Rangers days with the team’s AHL affiliate. His time in the Rangers spotlight was created by roster fluctuations to address the National Hockey League’s coronavirus protocol. Anthony is the first Queens native to play for the Rangers.

Anthony’s future is unknown with the Rangers and in the NHL. However, he always will have and cherish January 13, 2022, the night played for his beloved Rangers with many members of his family and the FDNY family rooting for him. Plus one more fan—a special husband and father from above.

An Italian Cyclist Who Saved Lives
Feb 15, 2022Posted by james

The world commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day at the end of January. For more than 75 years, many stories have emerged about the heroes who risked their lives by defying the Nazis to save their countries and to save the lives of persecuted men, women and children. One story that I did not know until recently involved an Italian athlete.

Cyclist Gino Bartali was from Ponte a Ema. It’s a town near Florence. A son of modest farmers, he began working in a bicycle shop when he was only 13 years old. Racing bicycles became a passion. By the age of 21, he was competing professionally. A year later, 1936, Gino won the Giro d’Italia, an annual multiple-stage bicycle race.  He won this race three times along with many other race stages, including the Tour de France. Gino’s cycling achievements on the Alps and Pyrenees were legendary, earning him the nickname “Giant of the Mountains.”

A star on the bicycle, Gino also became revered for his actions during World War II. He hid a Jewish family from Nazi occupiers in his cellar, placing himself and his family at great risk. Gino also became a bicycle courier for the Italian Resistance.

Gino became so popular with the Italian people that neither the Fascist nor the German troops dared to act on their suspicions about him. They did not arrest him for fear of violent backlash from the Italian people. Pretending to train on rides that were over thousands of miles long, Gino saved numerous Jews by hiding them or alerting them about raids on safehouses. He later assisted in helping Jews escape from Italy and into Switzerland by cycling with an attached wagon that contained a secret compartment to hide people. Whenever he was stopped by authorities, he simply stated that the wagon was part of his training.

Gino Bartali’s courage saved hundreds of lives. But, he never spoke about any of it. Upon Gino’s passing during 2000, his son recounted that when people called Gino a hero, he would say, “No, no - I want to be remembered for my sporting achievements. Real heroes are others, those who have suffered in their soul, in their heart, in their spirit, in their mind, for their loved ones. Those are the real heroes. I’m just a cyclist.”

We need to listen closely to Gino’s words, because too often many of us, consciously or unconsciously, bestow “hero worship” upon athletes. In this instance, however, during a critical time for the world, just imagine all the people Gino helped with his bicycle. He provided them with the opportunities to live long and enjoy prosperous lives.

Gino was an excellent award-winning cyclist. He also was much more—Gino Bartali Was A Hero!

A Snow Of Support
Feb 01, 2022Posted by james

Maybe you heard about this story from January as wintry weather passed through the northeast. A high school football coach followed a school tradition. His players learned about the importance of “giving back” and the school’s bonds with the community were strengthened through their acts of kindness.

The weather in Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, forced cancellation of the team’s scheduled weight lifting practice. But, the team still got together to shovel, for free, the snow from driveways and walkways of neighbors who required some assistance.

In a tweet posted on January 16, Bethel Park High School Head Football Coach Brian DeLallo wrote: “Due to expected severe weather, Monday’s weightlifting workout has been canceled.  Find an elderly or disabled neighbor and shovel their driveway.  Don’t accept any money – that’s our Monday workout.”

A previous coach, Jeff Metheny, started the community activity more 20 years ago. Brian just was following the trail blazed by Jeff. No doubt that the new players, under his guidance and the support of older teammates, quickly learned that there is more to life than football.

Student-athletes David Shelpman, 16, and Aidan Campbell, 17, were among the 40 teammates who moved snow for neighbors. David shoveled for about seven hours and Campbell toiled for about five hours. When he put his shovel aside, David and his mom volunteered to serve a spaghetti dinner for homeless veterans.

Helping his neighbors “makes me feel like a part of something bigger than myself,” said David. “I definitely always do feel good about being able to help others out.”

As the players cleared snow, they enjoyed many opportunities to interact with their neighbors. Education and sports are important to Bethel Park, and Mother Nature’s winter blankets showcases the kindness of its young residents.

Wheelchair Tennis Anyone?
Jan 15, 2022Posted by james

Popularity continues to rise for recreational and competitive sports that engage youth and adults with disabilities. Their training and skillsets are rising, too.

One of the oldest adaptive sports is wheelchair tennis. It has been on the court for more than 40 years.

Dana Mathewson is a top-ranking American wheelchair tennis player. She competes at the U.S. Open. She has represented the country on World Cup teams and she has won a gold medal in doubles and a bronze medal in singles at the Pan-American Games. Dana had been a soccer player, but, at age 10, she was diagnosed with a rare neurological disease. One day she was running on the field and then, suddenly, she was paralyzed from the waist down. Anyone with a disability or other hardship who plays a sport is, according to Dana, a very resilient person. She sees that resilience and the competitive spirit in many men, women and youth who play basketball, race or ski from a wheelchair, or participate in hockey from a sled.

The rules for wheelchair tennis are the same as for the conventional game. The one exception is that two bounces of the ball are permitted if players require additional time to maneuver on the court. When using the chair, a move to the left or right requires the player to turn the chair and push forward. A player isn’t able to side-step or cross-step.

Players hit tough shots. When on the receiving side, they must quickly steer their chair, often moving in a figure eight, so they can track the ball and position themselves to return a shot. Some of the most talented tennis stars, such as Novak Djokovic and Frances Tiafoe, have tried the adaptive version of tennis and discovered that the game is difficult to play from a wheelchair.

Besides all the routine daily challenges off the court, tennis players with disabilities also face an additional challenge that the rest of us who play tennis, or attempt to play, never experience on the court. A player can blow a tire. When this mechanical mishap occurs at a tournament, players rely on a wheelchair repair technician who is available at courtside.

Mike Zangari is one of the more well-known technicians. He is a wheelchair tennis pioneer. He played for 35 years and he also played wheelchair basketball. At the major tennis events, Mike repairs the lightweight, high-end titanium chairs that cost thousands of dollars. For years, he has joined with young stars such as Dana to showcase the sport and create competitive opportunities for adults and children around the world.

A Child’s Baseball Hero
Jan 01, 2022Posted by james

The following was written a long time ago. I don’t know who wrote it or when it was written. I also don’t know the name of the child in the story. But, we all know “The Babe.” He was magical. I wish that I had seen him play.

This story about kindness has not been edited.

_______

Babe Ruth had hit 714 home runs during his baseball career and was playing one of his last full major league games. It was the Braves vs. the Reds in Cincinnati. But the great Bambino was no longer as agile as he had been. He fumbled the ball and threw badly, and in one inning alone his errors were responsible for most of the five runs scored by Cincinnati.

As the Babe walked off the field and headed toward the dugout after the third out, a crescendo of yelling and booing reached his ears. Just then a boy jumped over the railing onto the playing field. With tears streaming down his face, he threw his arms around the legs of his hero.

Ruth didn’t hesitate for a second. He picked up the boy, hugged him and set him down on his feet, patting his head gently. The noise from the stands came to an abrupt halt. Suddenly, there was no more booing. In fact, a hush fell over the entire ballpark. In those brief moments, the fans saw two heroes: Ruth, who, in spite of his dismal day on the field, could still care about a little boy; and the small lad, who cared about the feelings of another human being. Both had melted the hearts of the crowd.

Anonymous

Suzanne Is Hot To Trot
Dec 15, 2021Posted by james

Did you ever hear about dressage? Some call it horse ballet. Others refer to it as dancing with your horse. It is an Olympic sport.

Suzanne Ament, a professor of history at Radford University in Virginia, made her own history outside the classroom earlier this year as the winner of the Spring Fling Schooling Dressage Show at the Lloyd Harbor Equestrian Center here on Long Island. Suzanne is blind. She said that similar to the relationship with a Seeing Eye dog, comradery with a horse has provided her with confidence. She also said that the riding experience, including the show, has been filled with fun.

The professor entered the Long Island competition to raise awareness for visually impaired riding and for para-dressage, in which the sport is adapted for riders with disabilities. Suzanne firmly believes that her disability doesn’t place her in the vulnerable situation to fall from a horse. But she and other horse lovers who are visually impaired encounter obstacles not known to other riders. Stables often don’t wish to accommodate riders who aren’t sighted. This possibly might be an insurance issue but also many stable owners and wranglers aren’t equipped or trained to engage people with compromised vision.

The professor of Russian and world history currently is with her fourth Seeing Eye dog. Suzanne has relied on a service dog since 1986. Long before that, when Suzanne was in third grade, she became interested in horses but that passion waned as she pursued her education and began losing her sight. When Suzanne married 10 years ago, she and her husband wanted to share an enjoyable activity. She suggested tandem bicycle riding. He wasn’t interested but they did try horse riding. From that experience, Suzanne gradually returned to serious riding and then to dressage.

The couple now own two horses, Zippy and Hank, and Suzanne enjoys her time in the barn to feed, groom and clean the horses. She finds it relaxing. Comparing the care with that of her dog, Suzanne said it’s similar but just a lot bigger.

A Really Big Equality “Shew”
Dec 01, 2021Posted by james

Ed Sullivan was one of the most famous and beloved television presenters in American history. As the host of the long-running The Ed Sullivan Show, he won hearts across the world for his exceptional talent to select the biggest stars of the future to appear on his show.

Ed was from Harlem. His Irish-American family flourished with the love of music and entertainment. From an early age, Ed’s first taste of the big stage came in roles on the school baseball, basketball and football teams. His teamwork would define his character throughout his life.

Ed befriended teammates and opponents of all races, and he would become a champion of anti-racism. His athletic career during his early years also was steeped in romance—and later in tragedy. Ed and Olympic swimmer Sybil Bauer became engaged but she died from cancer at the age of 23.

About two years after losing Sybil, Ed met Sylvia Weinstein. When her Jewish parents didn’t approve, she pretended that Ed’s surname was Solomon. Though the family learned the truth, the couple married during 1930. At the time, Sybil didn’t realize that her husband was destined to become one of the biggest stars of all time.

After settling down, Ed gradually segued from sports reporting to the news and entertainment industry. He wrote columns for the Evening Graphic and then the New York Daily News that focused on theatre and entertainment gossip.

By 1941, Ed was so popular that he was invited by CBS to host a television program. The opportunity led to The Ed Sullivan Show. Creating the foundation for the show, Ed incorporated the lessons from his youth when he first became aware of the importance of tolerance and inclusion. For a while, he was the only presenter to showcase African-American entertainers such as The Supremes, James Brown, Nat King Cole, Marvin Gaye, Lena Horn, Ray Charles and Louis Armstrong.

Despite opposition and criticism, Ed refused to listen to the prejudice toward these and other entertainers. He continued to provide them with a platform to showcase their talents. One performer became a dear friend. When singer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson died, Ed paid for his funeral expenses.

From sports to entertainment, Ed provided the world a huge lesson about equality and anti-racism. More people need to know about this magnificent chapter of the Ed Sullivan story and share it across today’s media platforms.