The Legacy Of A Pioneer Sports Journalist
Jan 16, 2021Posted by james

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 james

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 16, 2020Posted by james

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 james

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.

Marty Lyons Grants 8,000 Wishes For Ill Children
Nov 15, 2020Posted by james

On March 4, 1982, Rocky was born to New York Jets defensive tackle Marty Lyons and his wife. Marty recalls that the moment was a tremendous joy.

Unfortunately, tragedy struck the Lyons family during the following days. His father died from a heart attack at the age of 58. Two days later, a boy of five who Marty served as a Big Brother, died from leukemia.

What should have been a happy time for Marty instead left him shaken. Known for his toughness on the field, he now was searching for answers.

Eventually, Marty realized that highs and lows are part of life. Then, he said, it dawned on him that “this was the platform God gave me, to play in the NFL, and use that platform to help terminally ill children.”

The pain now made sense to Marty and it gave him a purpose beyond professional football.

The Marty Lyons Foundation began later that year. The organization’s mission is to grant wishes to children between three and 17 years old who have a terminal or life-threatening illness. Wishes can be a trip to Disney World or a laptop for schoolwork from the hospital.

Marty clearly remembers the first wish that came to the foundation. The young man, Steven, hoped to attend the Super Bowl in Tampa when the Oakland Raiders played the Washington Redskins.  Marty asked the Jets organization for guidance. The Jets organized a press conference to announce that they would be granting the wish and raised awareness for the new foundation. Unfortunately, Steven passed away before the foundation granted his wish. Despite only briefly knowing each other, Steven impacted Marty’s life.

Steven was proud to be the first wish for the new foundation. The boy’s father, shortly after his son died, gave Marty some insight on how to proceed — “Just remember one thing: do it because you want to do it. Don’t do it because you want to read about it.”

Close to 40 years later, Marty’s foundation now has operations in 13 states. Almost 8,000 children have received their wishes. Hundreds of wishes await funds to be granted.

The foundation actively is fundraising and seeking donations as the number of wishes far exceeds the financial resources provided by donations. Ninety percent of all donations are dedicated to the wish program.

Marty accomplished much on the field, placing him in the Jets Ring of Honor. His legacy, though, will be his work with the foundation, though he insists his contributions are nothing compared to the young people who are fighting life-altering diseases. He always states that the boys and girls who pass away are teachers and that the rest of us need to take the time to develop relationships with them and listen to their messages.

Bronx Student Reports To West Point
Nov 01, 2020Posted by james

Jayden Jenkins fell in love with football at an early age. But the young man always has been realistic, knowing that sports can only get a kid so far in life. Jayden quickly learned that education is key for career and life advancement.

As classes ended this past June at Stepinac High School in White Plains, Jayden announced that he planned to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point to play football and build a career in the military.

“I’m ready to leave,” Jayden announced at the time.

Jayden was raised in the South Bronx. He wanted to play basketball to follow in the footsteps of his father. But, when he was introduced to football by older cousins, he became hooked on the game by the age of six.

Through middle school, Jayden played for the Harlem Jets, the oldest and largest of the Jet’s community programs with more than 250 boys between the ages of five and 18. He was a running back and a scoring machine. He enjoyed the contact.

When it came time to explore high schools, Jayden noticed that many kids who played football at that level were built much larger than his slim frame. So, when he got to Stepinac, he hit the weight room, bulked up and practiced. He helped his school win two state championships.

Football has allowed Jayden to mature and become a leader, and he repeatedly has acknowledged the significant support he has received from coaches along the way. He also praises his parents, Ronald and Lanel, who kept him focused on education.

Jayden learned that many kids, especially in his Bronx neighborhood, aren’t as fortunate to have his drive, coaches who care and two involved loving parents. He credits football and basketball for keeping him off the streets and out of trouble. He credits his parents for helping him strive for success in the classroom.

As his high school play improved, Columbia, Sacred Heart, Army and Navy watched him. Nothing, though, felt right until he visited West Point. The size of the school and its atmosphere made him feel welcome.

“I was shocked,” he said when he learned that he had been accepted at the U.S. Military Academy. “My parents told me my time is going to come.”

Lacrosse Offers Hope, Sense Of Family In Film
Oct 15, 2020Posted by james

“The Grizzlies” is a recent film that tells the inspiring true story about a town that suffered the highest suicide rate in North America. The residents found hope through the introduction of a lacrosse program for their teens.

Back during 1998, a recent college graduate (the film character Russ Sheppard) takes a job as a history teacher at Kugluktuk High School in the Canadian Arctic territory of Nunavut. Russ, a Caucasian, found that many of the Native students didn’t attend classes. They drank or took drugs, and the suicide rate was high. Crosses in the cemetery multiplied at an alarming rate.

Russ played lacrosse in college. He wondered if the game would give the kids a focus in life. He started a hard sell to spark interest, first speaking with the school’s principal and then promoting the program among the students with a flyer.

Russ was naïve about the culture. One girl helped him. She said that if he convinced two specific students to try lacrosse, the others would follow their lead. She told Russ to approach the students personally to show respect, rather than just hand them a flyer.

Russ learned that the problems faced by the teens extended into the home. Poverty, hunger, domestic violence and homelessness were part of the equation. One parent was drunk on the couch, forcing a student to forage for food for himself and a little brother. The girl helping Russ was abused at home. Another boy witnessed his father’s abuse of his mother.

These troubled teens, each suffering with his or her own problems, eventually found lacrosse as a new kind a family. Russ learned as much from his students as they from him. It’s the teens who build the team and keep it together.

“The Grizzlies” tells an interesting tale that brings a teacher and teens together through the sport of lacrosse. I would be interested in learning more about the actual teacher and his students who are the subject of this film, and where they are today.

The Sports Legacy Of Mary Pratt
Oct 01, 2020Posted by james

Mary Pratt passed away earlier this year at the age of 101. She had been identified as the last surviving member of the 1943 Rockford (Illinois) Peaches. Mary was a left-handed pitcher and hitter who also played for the Kenosha (Wisconsin) Comets.

The teams were part of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League that existed from 1943 until 1954. The league was immortalized in the 1992 film “A League of Their Own.”

Mary was born on November 30, 1918, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and grew up in Quincy, Massachusetts. She attended Boston University’s Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. During her college years, Mary participated in numerous sports — basketball, softball, volleyball, lacrosse, field hockey, tennis, archery and sailing. She earned a degree in physical education and began her career as an instructor in Quincy.

Mary joined the Peaches at the start of the league’s inaugural season, playing in 24 games with a 5–11 win-loss record on the mound and a .235 batting average. She played five years in the league, which had a unique competitive rule. To maintain a high level of competition, players were shifted or traded at the discretion of league officials. After one year with the Peaches, Mary played for Kenosha.

During her first year with the Comets, Mary won 21 games and pitched a no-hitter. She led Kenosha to the league championship series. According to an article for the Society of American Baseball Research, Mary “was very effective using a controlled slingshot or windmill windup to get hitters out.” Unfortunately, her subsequent years with Kenosha were not as successful as the 1944 season. Mary won just one game during the final two years she played in the league.

Back home, Mary continued to teach physical education classes until 1986. She coached the school softball, basketball, soccer and tennis teams, and her softball teams won 10 state championships. Mary also officiated basketball, softball, field hockey and lacrosse games.

Mary Pratt enjoyed a stellar athletic career. She was a trailblazer for the many women who have enjoyed athletic competition over the last eight decades. Her legacy is secured with induction into the New England Sports Museum, Boston University Hall of Fame and the Boston Garden Hall of Fame.

Babe Ruth Always Drew Crowds…Even During A Health Crisis
Sep 15, 2020Posted by james

Baseball has been here before – playing its games during a national health crisis.

It was 1918. The nation was at war. The people of Hartford, Connecticut, decided to raise money for sports equipment they would send to France, hoping the local boys in the U.S. Army could occupy their idle time with baseball and football.

James Clarkin owned the Eastern League’s Hartford Senators. On September 9, he traveled to Boston to see the Red Sox and Chicago Cubs finish the World Series at Fenway Park. The series was played early that year, following the regular season that had been reduced to 130 games due to The Great War. The Hartford owner pitched an idea to the players, offering each team $1,000 and a share of the gate, for a quick post-series trip to Hartford for a game or two to raise money for Hartford’s Doughboys.

The proposal struck out. Many players were going into the service, or fulfilling “work or fight” orders in factories. Others just wanted to return home. Babe Ruth, however, liked the idea. So, with Babe in his pocket, James Clarkin created a weeklong barnstorming trip through New England, with stops in Hartford at the beginning and again at the end of the series.

Babe already was a huge attraction for the game. He would fill the stands. Never mind that the pandemic – the Spanish Flu – was spreading through New England at the time. “The grip” had caused panic during the spring and now it had returned in a more deadly second wave.

Warnings from health officials in Connecticut attempted to separate Ruth from his fans. However, his personality was not compatible with “social distancing.” While we know a lot about Ruth’s life, many people are not aware that earlier that year he was hospitalized with a rough case of the Spanish Flu. He suffered with a 104-degree fever and a swelled larynx. He nearly died but enjoyed a successful season with 13 wins and 11 home runs (tying the league record) following his recovery.

The first game in Hartford was scheduled for 4 p.m. Trolleys were added to the schedule to get about 5,000 people to the ballpark. As fans flocked to the game, doctors made house calls (remember these?) and the city’s hospitals were crowded with victims of the flu. When the players returned to Hartford a week later, Ruth again packed fans into the park. Local newspapers pleaded with the public to avoid crowds but also tempted them to see Babe play in a doubleheader.

About 3,000 fans were in the park for the twin bill while 500 convalesced in hospitals and others remained in bed at home. An unknown number of fans who attended the Hartford games were infected with the flu, but they just didn’t understand that avoiding crowds would suppress the spread of the disease. Most of them, luckily, recovered from the illness and bragged for years that they saw 23-year-old Babe Ruth storm through Hartford to raise funds for the local boys “over there.”

A Season To Bond For Hempstead PAL Lacrosse
Sep 01, 2020Posted by james

Hempstead PAL Lacrosse, as with all sports at all levels, was required to cancel its spring practices and games this year due to the COVID-19 virus. This came as a huge disappointment for the team’s fourth, fifth and sixth graders. The 22 kids on the roster were excited and ready to learn the game and, for some,play it competitively for the first time.

The Tigers are part of the Nassau-Suffolk County Police Athletic Lacrosse League. The nine-year Hempstead program, led by Coach Alan Hodish, has introduced the game to more than 100 African-American and Hispanic youngsters, several of whom are from single-parent homes.

Alan is a longtime friend of mine. He is a Garden City attorneyand a revered former lacrosse and football coach at Hempstead High School. He has cherished every opportunity to coach and teach lacrosse on Long Island. Recently, with his induction into the Long Island Metropolitan Lacrosse Hall of Fame, Alan has been recognized for his decades of dedication to our student-athletes.

Hempstead PAL Lacrosse also has the commitment of Coach Bernard Williams and former high school players and other Long Island lacrosse standouts who serve as assistant coaches, role models, communicators and friends for the kids in the program. The team enjoyed several practices during the early spring before the crises paused the program. Only last month, once approved by the village, was the team allowed to gather for a handful of practices and learning sessions.

I have been involved with the program since its inception, providing the support required for these great kids to learn and enjoy a fantastic game. While the on-field activities stopped for a while, I did not pause my commitment to support Alan and the others as they continue to strengthen the program to welcomemore young players.

In honor of Alan’s ongoing devotion to the game and this specific program, an additional $10,000 has been donated to Hempstead PAL Lacrosse. My gift guarantees continued support of team operations, equipment, uniforms, expenses for officials and league registration, and an awards presentation at the end of each season. Even if these youngsters do not pursue lacrosse in high school, college, or professionally, the lessons, teamwork and camaraderie surelywill be a positive experience that the players will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

It has been a tough handful of months for these kids, and for all of us. I want the 2020 Hempstead PAL team to know that Alanand the other coaches will ensure that this season’s disappointment will be converted into a valuable lifetime lessonfor each of them.

2020 Hempstead PAL Roster

The 2020 Hempstead PAL Lacrosse Tigers roster consists of 22 players from fourth to sixth grades.

KayJay Benjamin – sixth grade

Jaden Bolling – fifth grade

Bentley Cannon – fourth grade

Amare Collins – sixth grade

Jonathan Davis – sixth grade

Keon Grier – sixth grade

Josh Hagler – sixth grade

Blake Harris – fourth grade

Jeremy Henderson – fifth grade

Tristan Herron – fourth grade

Jordan Hines – sixth grade

Steph Love – fifth grade

Julius McCloud – fifth grade

Zayden Mendez – fifth grade

Seth Montgomery – fourth grade

Aaden Sarduy – sixth grade

Riley Sarduy – fifth grade

Zyaire Thompson – sixth grade

Michael Toney – fourth grade

Morrell Toney – fifth grade

Ramon Washington – sixth grade

Jalil Watts – sixth grade