When That Door Of Opportunity Opened
Apr 15, 2021Posted by james

Colin Blackwell consistently has talked about believing in himself. He always has remained confident in his abilities from the day he set his sights on the NHL. Colin also has remained patient and optimistic that good things will occur for him on the ice. He knew that when the opportunity door fully opened, he would be ready to step over the threshold and succeed in the best hockey league in the world.

Colin has done just that this season with the New York Rangers. He had previous NHL experience with the Nashville Predators after playing in the minors with the San Jose and Buffalo organizations. However, the door never completely opened for him during those earlier stops on the circuit. Now, with the Rangers, he plays on all four lines and creates scoring chances from just about anywhere inside the opposition’s blue line. Colin has scored 12 goals in 32 games (as of April 14) this season after scoring only three in 33 previous games in the league.

This kind of open-door opportunity usually does not occur with the Rangers, a team with a heralded history and many big-name big-ticket players. Before this season’s training camp, the Rangers did not sign Colin, a labeled journeyman, to a huge contract or provide him with a bonus. In this league, at age 27, he already is considered a middle-aged player. Yet, the team pursued the free agent. They saw potential in him on the NHL level to blend nicely with the youth and the top line star players.

Colin quickly jumped into the flow, scoring goals and setting up goals for others. He knew the opportunities to produce in the NHL were few and none provided a guarantee that he would be in the league a day later. It just all came together at this time, with this team and with this coach. Colin felt engaged from the first day he joined the Rangers. He felt the support from teammates, the coaching staff and management.

“When the opportunity comes,” said Colin, “you have to make the most of it. I try to do that every single day.”

Loading His Bodybuilding Guns For Competition
Apr 01, 2021Posted by james

Joe Tolve always is chasing his next meal. Food is fuel according to this Ossining (Westchester County) police sergeant who is a firearms instructor and SWAT team member.

Joe has been an amateur bodybuilder since his teens. As with all his achievements, bodybuilding has required full-time discipline. Training is five days a week at 90-minute intervals.

As for food, Joe gobbles 2,200-3,200 calories daily. He said the science of bodybuilding is 70 percent diet. That might mean 40 ounces of chicken each day along with whey protein, avocados, peanut butter, oatmeal, walnuts and sweet potatoes. Proper diet is crucial, according to Joe. He said at least 10 friends have tried bodybuilding. The diet not the workout was their downfall.

Joe indicated that a bodybuilder cannot find a shortcut to success. There isn’t any negotiation with the body. Positive results push a person to the next level.

As a teen, Joe competed in local shows in the Hudson Valley. Then, he won the Mr. Teen Long Island competition. From 1991 to 2014, however, a period that included four years in the Air Force, Joe did not step onto a bodybuilding stage. A few years ago, determined to return to competition, he focused on a regimen for seven weeks. When the National Physique Committee (NPC), the largest amateur bodybuilding organization in the United States, introduced its Classic Bodybuilding division, Joe’s dimensions were perfect and he returned to the stage.

Joe won the Men’s Masters Classic Physique overall at the NPC Powerhouse Classic in Connecticut a few years ago. He then rolled right into the Team Universe competition and placed second among the over-40 men, third in the over-35s, and eighth overall in the open class of 26 competitors. His goal is to become a professional bodybuilder.

Joe is a wonderful story about discipline, focus and hard work. What I like most, though, is that the sport that is the foundation for Joe’s success is lacrosse.

In looking back at how he got to this point in his life, Joe said he had been a “scrawny” 15-year-old Ossining High School lacrosse player. His stepfather decided that lifting weights would help Joe bulk up. That led to the competitions mentioned above and many others since, his honorable military service and his success on the Ossining Police Department.

Lacrosse sure does wonders for a young man!

Empowering The Girls Of Long Island
Mar 15, 2021Posted by james

The girls of Long Island have great friends at Girls on the Run. The local council of Girls on the Run International is providing our young ladies with virtual and in-person programs during these unusual times.

Girls on the Run delivers a physical, activity-based, positive youth development program for girls from third to eighth grades. The girls who participate in the programs develop and improve competence, become more confident in themselves, develop strength of character, respond to others and themselves with care, create positive connections with peers and adults, and positively contribute to their community and society.

More than 100 girls in Nassau and Suffolk counties participated in last fall’s programs. All sessions are led by trained volunteer coaches.

Practices during the eight-week program are held outdoors. Participants and coaches maintain social distance and employ proper sanitary/protection materials that adhere to local COVID-19 guidelines. When weather isn’t favorable, rain dates or virtual lessons mirror in-person lessons.

Girls on the Run also offers financial assistance for families on a tight budget to ensure that no girl is unable to participate in the program.

Parents have been positive about the Girls on the Run programs. A mom of a fourth-grade student noticed “a very positive change in her overall attitude and behavior.” Another parent of a fifth-grade student indicated that her daughter “really enjoyed it and looked forward to going to practice very Wednesday and Friday.

Learn more about Girls on the Run Long Island at www.gotrlongisland.org . Besides girls for the programs, the organization seeks women and men as volunteers for a number of opportunities, including team coaches.

Congratulations to everyone who supports this wonderful program for the girls of Long Island.

Having Fun Asserts Leadership
Mar 01, 2021Posted by james

UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi became an internet sensation following her January 2019 floor routine. The online video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ic7RNS4Dfo) of that fabulous performance has captured almost 150 million views.

Katelyn is so athletic with energetic flips, splits and other moves. The judges awarded her a perfect 10. If you watch the two-minute clip, you also will notice so much more about her.

Katelyn is having fun. She “radiates warmth and glee,” wrote a columnist for The Wall Street Journal. “I think Ohashi’s routine is a radiant expression of what it means for a human being to be very, very good at something—and to want to share that with everyone.”

As you watch her routine, note the reaction of Katelyn’s teammates. They’re enthusiastically cheering for her. But, more than clapping and fist pumping, they’re synchronizing elements of the routine with her.

What we see, and what people who were in the arena that day personally witnessed, is not simply the athletics of an individual but the definition of teamwork. Research by psychologist Peter Totterdell (professor in the Psychology Department at Sheffield University, United Kingdom, and a Fellow of the British Psychological Society) indicated that a team’s collective mood often is in sync with the mood of the leader. When a leader is upbeat, the positive energy is transferred to individuals. Energy radiates from the top.

Happiness and positive attitude captivate others. In sports, in business and elsewhere in life, expressing joy and passion encourages other people to react positively, and this, in turn, provides an incentive for individual and group success. If you identify with Katelyn, then you, too, are inspiring the people around you.

Following the floor routine, Katelyn’s beaming statement circulated in the media: “At the end of the day, I just go out there and do my best and have as much fun as I can.”

That’s a leader!

Building The Better Lady Bowler –- In Nebraska
Feb 15, 2021Posted by admin

In the eastern Nebraska cornfields, where football turns a university stadium into the state’s third most populous city, Coach Bill Straub built a college women’s bowling dynasty. Before he retired during 2019, The University of Nebraska Lady Cornhuskers bowling squad, under his direction, captured 10 national titles at club and NCAA levels.

The practice facility features a tremendous number of trophies and plaques that document 110 tournament titles in 226 competitions. The walls are filled with the photos of the 75 All-Americans, eight of whom were selected as national collegiate bowlers of the year. These scholar-athletes hail from around the globe – Arizona and Australia, Indiana and Indonesia, New England and England. During his two decades as head coach, Bill never told his many recruits that they were awesome bowlers. Instead, he always enticed them to be successful with a personal promise – he would help each woman become a better bowler.

When Bill started at Nebraska as a volunteer with the men’s team during 1983, taking time off from the men’s professional tour, he didn’t know anything about coaching college students. Bill researched other sports for guidance and he found his foundation in the teachings of college basketball coaches John Wooden and Bob Knight, and in a video by golf coach Dalton McCrary, who promotes ideal swing speed mechanics that can be replicated in bowling.

Bill created 10 bullet points for success for the Lady Cornhuskers that include exaggerated push away of the ball, controlled body movement and straight follow-through when releasing the ball. Beyond the ability of the Lady Huskers to adhere to Bill’s coaching strategies and alley metrics, along with the university’s academic standards, a specific kind of bowler always interested this coach. Bill preferred to recruit bowlers with multiple sport experiences to support the athletic and group dynamic components of the competition.

You really can’t raise an argument about the foundation that was created by Bill Straub. He built the program higher and higher every season with championship after championship. Now, the program is moving forward under the leadership of Paul Klempa, who served as Bill’s assistant for 22 years.

Bronx Infielder Hopes To Return To Yankee Stadium
Feb 01, 2021Posted by admin

Andrew Velazquez is from the Morris Park section of The Bronx. He grew up at Yankee Stadium, too.

Andrew was good enough to play ball in the minor leagues, and after each season he returned to the big ballpark. Each visit served as personal motivation to improve his game as he strived to wear a major league uniform.

After playing ball all the time while growing up, Andrew toiled the infield at Fordham Prep, where he earned All-Bronx Player of the Year from “The New York Post.” He committed to Virginia Tech but opted to turn pro after high school. A seventh-round draft pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks during 2012, Andrew holds the record for reaching base in 74 consecutive minor league games, a mark he set with the 2014 Class-A South Bend Silver Hawks in the Midwest League. He broke the record of 71 that was held by a couple of players who would become Yankee rivals — Kevin Millar and Kevin Youkilis of the Boston Red Sox.

Andrew already has had his “cup of coffee” in the majors, playing briefly with the Tampa Bay Rays during 2018 and 40 games with the Baltimore Orioles last season. He played in three games at Yankee Stadium, with one plate appearance, as a member of the Rays. A personal dream, though, always has been to wear the Yankee pinstripes. That could occur this year. The 26-year-old infielder recently signed a minor league contract with the Yankees. By chance, Andrew’s personal trainer lives near Yankee Stadium, allowing the young player to picture himself playing at the ball yard as he passes it each day. More motivation.

Growing up a Yankees fan and as an infielder, we shouldn’t be surprised that Andrew wore #2 in tee-ball. But, there is a twist to Andrew’s story. When his father took him to a game at the stadium, Andrew became fascinated with an all-star infielder who happened to feature his number on a Yankees jersey. That is how Derek became Andrew’s favorite player.

“When I was in kindergarten [at St. Francis Xavier], I said I’d play in Yankee Stadium,’’ Andrew recently was quoted in a local newspaper. “I’m gonna bust my ass to get there again.”

The Legacy Of A Pioneer Sports Journalist
Jan 15, 2021Posted by admin

Jeannie Morris passed away at the age of 85 during December. Possibly you never heard her name. Then, you certainly were not aware of her significant contributions to the sports world.

Jeannie was a pioneer in Chicago sports journalism. Knowledge, writing and perseverance propelled her print and television success. Among her accomplishments:

  • First woman to report live from the Super Bowl (1975).
  • Multiple Emmy Awards.
  • First woman to receive the Ring Lardner award for excellence in sports journalism (2014).
  • When NFL press passes declared “No Women or Children Allowed in the Press Box” and she could not cover a Bears game, she sat on top of the press box during the icy game.
  • Her sports column, “Football Is a Woman’s Game,” ran on the “women’s pages” that once were prominent in newspapers.
  • Interviewed male and female sports stars, including Chris Evert, Joe Namath, Fran Tarkenton and Don Meredith. She never hesitated to tell an athlete, “Hey, you didn’t answer my question.’”

Possibly Jeannie’s most significant accomplishment, besides raising four children, was her 1971 book, Brian Piccolo: A Short Season. The story contributed to the legacy of the Bears’ running back who died from cancer. His life and friendship with teammate Gale Sayers were celebrated in the television movie Brian’s Song.

The book led to the success of the Brian Piccolo Cancer Research Fund. Jeannie allocated all proceeds to the fund and to the player’s daughters. Despite her own battle with cancer over the last year, Jeannie roused herself a couple of weeks before her death to request that any donations in her memory “go to the Brian Piccolo Cancer Research Fund.”

Jeannie was passionate about sports for almost all of her 85 years. Her love for athletics came from her mother, who was a huge sports fan. Her father, she once recalled, could care less about sports.

Celebrating The Achievements From A Difficult Year
Jan 01, 2021Posted by admin

The upside down year of 2020 affected youth sports across the country. Millions of athletes did not compete during their recent high school and college sports seasons, and many still will not be permitted to participate in this year’s spring sports. Scholastic sports careers never reached a conclusion for many seniors. Anticipated stories about their achievements, success, sportsmanship and teamwork never were featured in media, on social media, or in blogs such as this one.

In this forum, I’m unable to write about all the wonderful sports stories, locally and nationally, that involve student-athletes or even our professional athletes. So, to represent (and to celebrate) all the positive sports achievements that did occur during last year despite the unanticipated roadblocks, I decided to place the spotlight on three Westchester County young ladies. They successively navigated the COVID-19 sports shutdowns.

Exactly one year ago, shortly before the virus disrupted so many lives, Kelli Venezia scored her 1,000-point on the basketball court. Kelli is the second young lady at Putnam Valley High School in the northern part of the county to net that total. Kelli joined Kristi Dini in sharing that milestone. Kristi, by the way, is her coach at Putnam Valley.

According to Kristi, Kelli has worked hard, put in the time and has had a huge influence on the Putnam Valley program. Kelli’s achievement was a rewarding moment for her family, her many friends and fans, and for her coach.

Meanwhile, in Scarsdale, two tennis players developed a strong partnership on the court. Zoe Tucker and Natalie Hu are two years apart in school but they bonded in doubles play. They also enjoy a great relationship off the court.

As a team, Zoe and Natalie did place a year ago at states. They then finished 2020 with perfect records. Both were unbeaten in singles (5-0) and, as a team, they won all four matches at the regional tournament to win the Southern Westchester large-school doubles title. Though the states were cancelled due to COVID-19, Zoe and Natalie were selected as the Westchester/Putnam Players of the Year for girls’ tennis.
Kelli, Zoe and Natalie each enjoyed wonderful success in high school sports. (Natalie still has two years remaining). Years from now, the ladies will recall fantastic memories about their achievements and they will have many stories to tell about their navigation through sports, school and life during a very difficult year.

Bronx Kid Leads On The Gridiron, At Home And For The Country
Dec 15, 2020Posted by admin

Christian Anderson was preparing for his junior season at quarterback with the United States Military Academy at West Point. While in Miami during spring break, the 2017 graduate of Cardinal Hayes High School in The Bronx was called home.
Christian’s parents were quarantined for two weeks. They were among the first New York cases of COVID-19. Christian remained with his parents until June. While caring for them, he borrowed a lifting bar and some weights from his high school and trained in the basement of the family home. A disciplined strength and conditioning program added 20 pounds to his frame.
After four games this season with Army, Christian was the team’s second leading rusher. His coach’s praise includes “important player,” “impactful role” and “a guy New York City can really be proud of.”
His high school coach certainly is proud of Christian’s success at the academy. Christian had thrown for 3,653 yards during his senior season, earning him first-team all-state honors and leading Cardinal Hayes to the state final.
Unfortunately, injuries have mounted for Christian following the good start to the season. He now shares playing time with several other Black Knights. A systems engineering major at West Point, Christian became inspired about the academy when he attended the 2016 Army-Navy game. He was overwhelmed as he witnessed the spirit of the cadets as they rushed field when Army broke a 14-game losing streak to Navy.
Throughout the season, Christian’s focus has been to help Army accomplish all its goals on the gridiron. One of the primary goals every season is to defeat Navy. Though Christian did not play in that game just a handful of days ago, the Black Knights did place a checkmark next to that contest on the schedule.

He Had The Nerve To Play Again
Dec 01, 2020Posted by admin

He is the oldest-living former Major League Baseball player. Eddie Robinson celebrates his 100th birthday this month (December 15).
During a 13-year playing career, Eddie donned the uniforms of seven teams – Cleveland Indians, Washington Senators (now Minnesota Twins), Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers, Baltimore Orioles, and the Athletics in Philadelphia and Kansas City. Just as he was pursuing a major league job with a September debut for the Indians during the 1942 season, Eddie was called to duty during World War II. Then, while serving with the U.S. Navy, he was diagnosed with a potential life-long medical condition that placed a brace on his right leg and jeopardized his baseball career.
While in Hawaii during 1945, a bone tumor paralyzed Eddie’s leg. A nerve suture as thin as a razor blade was performed on his shin bone. The nerve needed time to rejuvenate. The positive prognosis was the nerve slowly would grow — about an inch every three months — though Eddie might never enjoy complete function of his leg.
Surprising the doctors, the nerve grew about an inch per month. The nerve healed within nine months. The next step for Eddie was to strengthen the leg. The brace was worn until the first day of the Indians’ 1946 spring training camp.
Eddie didn’t make the big club that year. Instead, he played first base for then Triple-A Baltimore. He played on a tired and painful leg, yet enjoyed a good first half of the season. Then, during early August, Eddie swung at a ball and felt it crash against his right ankle. A fracture ended his season.
During the next spring training, Eddie hit that same ankle, limiting his time on the field through the early part of the regular season. Again, Eddie pushed uphill. He was determined that the latest injury was not going to stop him from becoming the Indians regular first baseman. By mid-season, Eddie was playing every game.
Though he played more than a decade, Eddie’s name usually does not come up in conversations about historic Major League Baseball moments. Still, Eddie did have his time in the spotlight.
Eddie’s clutch eighth-inning single to right field off Warren Spahn of the Boston Braves in the decisive game of the 1948 World Series provided the margin of victory for the Indians in the 4-3 win. Eddie batted .300 during the World Series. His final hit drove in his lone RBI to give Cleveland its last championship.
But, before all this occurred, Eddie participated in an iconic baseball moment. On June 13, Cleveland was in New York as the Yankees celebrated the 25th anniversary of Yankee Stadium. The pregame ceremonies welcomed Babe Ruth in what would be the slugger’s final public appearance. Babe was dying and he struggled as he made his way through the dugout to mount the steps to the field. Eddie grabbed a bat from the bat rack and handed it to the slugger. Babe used it for support, a sort of brace, as he walked to the microphone. When Babe returned to the dugout, he handed the bat to Eddie and signed it.
That bat has been preserved all these years as a baseball treasure, and Eddie appears in the famous photograph as Babe emerges from the dugout with the bat in his right hand while doffing his cap for the fans with his left hand.
Eddie certainly has been blessed. It’s been a long and good life for a guy who wasn’t supposed to play another game in the major leagues.