Gymnast Becomes A Model And Breaks Stereotypes
Jul 01, 2020Posted by james

Chelsea Werner is a gymnast from Danville, California. She also has entered the modeling world to showcase her unique perfection.

Chelsea was just a four-year-old when gymnastics came into her life as a way to strengthen her muscles. As a gymnast, Chelsea has earned national and international accolades for her routines. She became a champion and, according to Chelsea, gymnastics has taught her new skills and infused her with confidence.

Chelsea needed that confidence and family support in the modeling arena. She faced rejections, because a market did not exist for someone as unique as Chelsea. But, she persisted, and her family never gave up on her.

Patience and perseverance paid dividends. Chelsea was discovered through social media by We Speak, an agency that operates with the motive of promoting body positivity and inclusion in the modeling world. We Speak’s founder saw Chelsea’s bubbly optimistic energy in a viral video, and she immediately decided that Chelsea had the potential to succeed in the fashion world.

Since her first photoshoot, Chelsea has emerged as a global sensation. She can accept all kinds of feedback and she learns quickly about the steps required to succeed. According to many in the business, Chelsea has a bright future as a model.

Now, a little more about Chelsea. Her success in gymnastics came in the Special Olympics United States National Championships (four-time champion) and the World Championships (two-time champion). Chelsea has Down Syndrome.

Chelsea’s path to success in gymnastics and modeling has provided hope to parents with children diagnosed with Down Syndrome. She has shown that nothing can or should stop any person from pursuing interests, fulfilling dreams and achieving success.

Chelsea has proven that each of us is beautiful in our own way.

America’s First Sports Spectacle – Part II
Jun 16, 2020Posted by james

Just a few weeks ago, I teased you with some background about our country’s first sports spectacle. If you haven’t determined yet which event is associated with this designation, I won’t continue the suspense. The event was a horse race, and here’s the rest of the story.

During 1822, a braggart plantation owner dared the owners of Eclipse, an undefeated Northern thoroughbred, to race against Sir Charles, the fastest horse in Virginia, at the National Course in Washington. Before a mostly Southern crowd, Sir Charles pulled up lame a half mile before the finish line. Visiting New Yorkers hurled taunts and insults at the stunned Southern fans.

One man in the crowd called for a rematch. William Ransom Johnson, a renowned horse owner and trainer from North Carolina, offered an amazing proposal – a North-South race at the new Union Course in Jamaica, New York. Eclipse would run against a Southern horse to be named on the day of the race. The purse was stunning for the times: $40,000.

The offer was a trap. Johnson, who was known as the Napoleon of the Turf, stacked the deck in his favor. He felt that Eclipse was not the best horse in America. Southern horse breeders and trainers such as himself always had dominated racing. He believed the North was known for inferior horses and that it did not have the same passion for horse racing as the South.

During the months before the great match race, Johnson scouted the best horses in the South and he trained multiple candidates leading up to the May 27, 1823 race day. He selected Sir Henry. Johnson anticipated a dream win.

Meanwhile, Eclipse’s trainer, Cornelius Van Ranst (known as “the old wizard”), was worried about his horse. Eclipse was eight years old. Deciding to inject some youth on his side, Van Ranst replaced Eclipse’s jockey, veteran winner Samuel Purdy, with an untested youngster.

On race day, 60,000 spectators, a third of them having made the long journey from the South, packed the Union Course grounds and stands. The stock exchange closed. Congress shut down. Andrew Jackson took time off from his presidential campaign to attend the race. Betting reached new heights. Some Southerners wagered their estates.

At the time, horses raced in heats, with the first to win two heats declared the winner. The distances were nothing compared to our Triple Crown races of today. Eclipse and Sir Henry would race four miles, rest for a half-hour and go right back to the racing oval for a second race. A third race, if it was needed, would declare a winner.

Eclipse and Sir Henry split the first two heats by narrow margins. For the final heat, Eclipse’s owners summoned the veteran Purdy from the crowd and begged him to take over for their inexperienced jockey. Purdy, who came to the track dressed in his racing silks, hopped aboard Eclipse.

Two exhausted but determined horses, neither of which ever had found it necessary to race a third heat, fought every furlong of the final four-mile race. At the finish line, Eclipse and Purdy brought home the prize for the North, proving that older and wiser, at least in a horse race that history recognizes as America’s First Sports Spectacle, can be a winning combination.

America’s First Sports Spectacle – Part I
Jun 01, 2020Posted by james

Can you name America’s first national sports spectacle? Could it have been the first Super Bowl? Maybe the 1951 playoff series between the Dodgers and Giants? Or Babe Ruth’s dominance of baseball? Was it the first Kentucky Derby?

The answer would be none of the above. Probably any event that came to mind also would not qualify. You would need to travel farther back into America’s past to find the first sporting event that captured the hearts and minds of a significant portion of the population.

The story is a fascinating one. Here is some background and a few facts, but I won’t reveal the answer, at least not yet.

The event pitted northerners against southerners, a preview of an increasingly bitter sectional rivalry. Many people did not know or understand the sport, and it was banned in several parts of the country, but they knew that they were rooting for the north, or rooting for the south.

This little hint tells you that the spectacle occurred before the Civil War. Slaves were involved in the event, which was held on what was then the outskirts of America’s center for business and commerce. The location even was beyond Brooklyn, which was its own city at the time.

Much of New York City, along with people who traveled here from across the country, flocked by ferry from Manhattan to awaiting carriages and coaches to take them to the fields in Jamaica, Queens. The people associated with this major sporting event included presidential candidate William Ransom Johnson, sportsman Cornelius Van Ranst and participant Samuel Purdy.

Bands played marching and other tunes, and the crowds kicked up dust on their way to the spectacle. Clever marketing was employed by a Manhattan coffee house and the Fulton markets. You couldn’t watch the match from either location. But, you could enjoy refreshments at either location with a great view of a flag pole in Brooklyn that would announce the winner by raising either a white or blue flag.

One key participant became ill on the day of the event. Another was replaced after a poor showing. Betting, which was frowned upon and even unlawful in many places, including New York, reached the highest levels anywhere up to that time.

Give this some thought. I’ll reveal the rest of the story in a few weeks in America’s First Sports Spectacle – Part II.

From Feeding Umpires To A Multi-Million Dollar Cookie Business
May 15, 2020Posted by james

You just never know when an opportunity will appear and where it will lead you.

Debra Sivyer was raised in Oakland, California, the youngest of eight daughters. Her father was a welder for the U.S. Navy. Her mother was a housewife.

During the 1968 baseball season, innovative Charles O. Finley, the owner of MLB’s Oakland Athletics, introduced ball girls to the game. The young ladies were placed in foul territory during games to retrieve grounded foul balls. When Debbi was just 13, she became a ball girl with the help of an older sister, who was a secretary in the A’s corporate office. Debbi received five dollars an hour when she was on the field.

Debbi was an entrepreneur at that tender age, using her earnings to purchase ingredients to bake chocolate chip cookies. She created a “milk-and-cookies” break for umpires at the park, perfecting her cookie recipe that she found on the back of a package of Toll House chocolate morsels. Fast forwarding a few years to 1977, Debbi married her first husband, Randall Keith Fields. She began marketing these homemade cookies that same year, grossing $75 the first day. Eventually, the cookies would make her a millionaire.

With little investment enthusiasm from outside sources, Debbi secured a loan and supervised operations, brand management, public relations, customer service and product development to grow the business. At its peak under her leadership, the company featured more than 900 owned and franchised stores in the U.S. and in 11 other countries. Debbi eventually sold the business to an investment group, but she has remained the company’s spokesperson while concentrating on her philanthropic interests.

So, who is this cookie girl whose idea was such a success on a major league baseball field when she was just 13? You know her as the founder of Mrs. Fields Cookies.

Lending A Helpful Glove
May 01, 2020Posted by james

“Friends of the Champ” is a non-profit organization that supports ex-boxers in The Bronx and beyond who face a variety of personal challenges.

According to Michael Bernard, a founding member of the organization, “our main goal is to help individual souls living a destitute life.” The program traces its beginnings to a day more than 30 years ago when Michael first met three-time World Boxing Champion and Bronx native Iran Barkley.

Michael has been a physical education teacher for 40 years. A former student who became a police officer called Michael one day as he patrolled the streets. The officer reported that he found the champ sleeping on a bench outside the Patterson Houses. According to the officer, Iran appeared ill.

Realizing that many poorly educated older ex-fighters were experiencing financial and health issues, Michael, Iran and others founded “Friends of the Champ.” Today, Iran is living comfortably with his wife in a two-bedroom apartment.

The 40-member group recently held its first fundraising gala. Not every member is a boxing fan. However, each member is concerned about the plight of all former athletes who once worked hard at their chosen crafts but now face various hardships.

“Friends of the Champ” (718-823-5083) is looking to continue to raise awareness about the mission and spur growth in the organization. The group plans to contact boxing legends Tommy Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran and others as it expands its reach to help additional ex-boxers.

High school, college, amateur and professional athletes regularly support a variety of causes. For many years now, “Friends of the Champ” has reversed the game plan, lending its helpful glove to former boxers.

A New York Crusader Becomes A North Carolina Tar Heel
Apr 15, 2020Posted by james

The fallout from COVID-19 has touched every one of us. Our health, finances, routines and lifestyles have been compromised and only time will heal us.

I am specifically heartbroken for our high school students, especially our seniors. In many instances, their lessons, events, spring sports and, likely, proms and graduations, have been erased from the calendars. In the athletic departments, many seniors will not enjoy their final seasons in such spring sports as baseball and lacrosse.

R.J. Davis, though, is one senior who was lucky to salvage his last hurrah at Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains. He was named Mr. New York State Basketball for the past season by the Basketball Coaches Association of New York. R.J. averaged 26.5 points, eight rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.1 steals per game in leading the Crusaders to an 18-9 record and the Archdiocese of New York championship. He shot 87 percent from the free-throw line, 51 percent from two-point range and 34 percent from the three-point arc.

R.J.’s coach praised the guard as a leader for the program throughout his four years at the school. This year, R.J. embraced his senior role and became more vocal for his teammates in practice, during games and even off the court.

R.J. was selected to play in the 43rd McDonald’s All-American game in Houston but, unfortunately, the contest was canceled due to the health care crisis. Let’s hope that R.J. can get his college career started on time this fall at the University of North Carolina.

Everyone, according to R.J.’s coach, knows about his on-the-court ability, but more people need to know that this young man is an all-around student-athlete. He holds a 3.8 GPA, volunteers in his community and embraces public speaking opportunities.

R.J. is driven, a hard worker and seeks success. I’m confident success will find him.

Good luck, R.J.!

Working Together Brings Us Closer
Apr 01, 2020Posted by james

While all the major professional and college sports leagues and associations have postponed game schedules and public events, the various leagues, associations, teams and players have not abandoned the countless staff members and arena employees who, so quickly, lost their major sources of income and family benefits. The sports world also has come to the rescue of medical and emergency personal who are on the front lines to battle the coronavirus.

In our corner of the world, the Yankees immediately initiated a program that supports its staff and vendor employees at the stadium. The Mets, too, have joined with Major League Baseball to address income shortfalls and family health concerns during the crises.

On the gridiron, the Giants are funding a program at the Meadowlands YMCA that provides free childcare for emergency response personnel for 10 weeks. The YMCA has continued to operate its daycare program in consultation with medical personnel for the children of these essential workers. The funding expanded the program to up to 42 children. The Jets are engaged by providing financial support for the COVID-19 Community Fund for low-income residents offered by the United Way of New York City.

The NBA, involving the Knicks and Nets, launched NBA Together, expecting to raise more than $50 million “to support people impacted by the coronavirus and community and healthcare organizations providing vital services around the world.” About $30 million has been pledged by teams and players. The program is supported by four pillars that focus on the latest global health and safety information, sharing guidelines and resources, working on mental and physical health, and keeping people socially connected. The league also is collaborating with fans, asking them to share stories, photos and videos focused on small acts of kindness.

All NHL teams, including our Rangers, Islanders and Devils, also are providing financial assistance for team staff members and arena workers.

With the suspension of all athletics, we certainly have a huge void in our social lives. As you can see, though, the sports world has not remained idle, joining forces with others (while maintaining social distance) to help people across the country and worldwide.

Let’s be patient and let’s support our family, friends and our communities when we can. Join me in looking forward to good days that certainly are within reach.

From Health Crises To NHL King For A Day
Mar 15, 2020Posted by james

Did you hear about David Ayres? If you don’t follow hockey, you may have missed this wonderful moment, the most magical night of David’s life.

More than 15 years ago, David was an aspiring NHL goalie. A few weeks ago, at the age of 42, he finally played in a game. He was the winning goalie for the Carolina Hurricanes in a 6-3 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs. David, though, was not on the Carolina roster at the start of the game.

David works a regular job, coaches kids and suits up as Toronto’s practice goalie. He also drives the Zamboni at the Toronto arena and he serves as the game-day emergency backup goalie. When both goalies on a team leave a game, the emergency backup at each NHL arena quickly signs a contract for $500, suits up and gets on the ice. He could play for the home team or the visiting team. He could play for one shift or the remainder of the game.

The starting Carolina goalie on this night left at 6:10 of the first period with a lower-body injury. His replacement was body checked and left the game with 28:41 remaining in the game. Enter David, who made eight saves on 10 shots, recorded a shot on goal that appeared on the score sheet and then was credited with the win.

The Hurricanes players entered their locker room laughing, cheering loudly and chanting “Dave! Dave! Dave!” Their winning goalie was the last to leave the ice and then he was stopped halfway up the tunnel. David had to return to the ice, because he was named the first star of the game.

When David finally got to the locker room, he was doused by sprays of water by his new teammates. In the Toronto locker room, the Maple Leafs coach was unhappy with the loss but he felt good for David. The Toronto coach once had been David’s minor league coach.

While playing in the minors, David had faced a very serious medical issue. He underwent a kidney transplant with his mother as his donor. David’s career became secondary as he just was pleased to be alive.

Following David’s NHL debut, the Hurricanes announced a donation would be made to a kidney foundation to honor their goalie. His game-used goalie stick immediately appeared in the hockey hall of fame. The governor of North Carolina announced that David now was an honorary member of the state. David also made the rounds on television in Canada and the U.S.

“What a moment for him that he can have the rest of his life,” Hurricanes coach and former NHL star Rod Brind’Amour told his team and the media. “That’s incredible. That’s why you do this.”

David left the arena that night carrying a case of beer and his game-worn Hurricanes No. 90 jersey. He said he is going to look at that jersey every day.

Smart As A Fox
Mar 03, 2020Posted by james

Adam Fox is from Jericho right here on Long Island. He is playing professional hockey for his favorite team. Sorry, Islanders fans—he’s an emerging star for the New York Rangers.

Adam is a Harvard University graduate who was drafted by the Calgary Flames and then traded to the Carolina Hurricanes organization. He became Rangers property almost a year ago.

Adam has been listed by scouts as a stud player with fantastic offensive ability. He passes the puck quickly and moves well in all zones of the ice. His defense originally may have been labeled as “unknown” or “developing,” but during his first NHL season he has positioned himself as an anchor on the Rangers blueline. Adam also maintains a high IQ on the ice. He understands game situations, he reads plays well as each unfolds in front of him and he quickly makes necessary adjustments on the ice.

The hockey journey for Adam since he first put on his skates on Long Island has provided him with success at every level. His achievements include:

  • 2017 World Junior Hockey Championships gold medal with Team USA, recording four points in seven games.
  • 2018 World Junior Hockey Championships bronze medal with Team USA, leading the defense in assists and points as alternate captain.
  • At Harvard, became the only defenseman in college hockey to average more than a point-and-a-half per game. Led Harvard to the NCAA Tournament on several occasions.
  • Finalist for the Hobey Baker Award that is presented to the best college hockey player.

According to former Rangers defenseman Dave Maloney, Adam has the potential to become a major factor on the backline for New York for many years. “…it’s going to be his ability,” said Dave, “to have the sense of where he needs to be and how he needs to get there [that is going to help him succeed].”

Promising Lacrosse Program For Bronx Middle Schoolers
Feb 15, 2020Posted by james

Many Bronxites have played football, baseball and soccer on the borough’s limited number of public and school fields. Kids across multiple generations also have enjoyed stickball on side streets, roller hockey in school yards, basketball in the asphalt parks, boxball on sidewalks, and many other sports and games against stoops and building walls.

Now, a sport long popular on green suburban fields, has moved into NYC’s concrete jungle. Dan Leventhal is the founder and president of Bronx Lacrosse. For the past two years, his program has been a success at two middle schools — Highbridge Green Middle School and Rafael Hernandez Dual Language Magnet School (P.S./I.S. 218).

Dan was inspired to start the program when he began teaching at Highbridge Green during 2015. He realized extracurricular activities were minimal for students. Dan had played lacrosse for 20 years and he was seeking an opportunity to connect with students outside the classroom.

Dan injected a lot of enthusiasm and compassion to “sell” lacrosse to the kids. During just one year, he gathered gear for 30 players and then officially started the lacrosse team at Highbridge Green during the spring of 2016. Bronx Lacrosse was founded the following year. The program at the magnet school began during the fall of 2018.

After a few months of practice, scrimmages and individual tutoring sessions with kids, the parents and teachers noticed the sport provided positive reinforcement among the students.

“I remember the principal calling me in to office and telling me how well the kids in the program were doing,” said Dan. “That’s when I realized we had a good recipe going there.”

Dan emphasized that the initiative is an academic program that uses lacrosse to build student confidence. Tutors assist students with their studies. Players record a 96 percent attendance record and a 100 percent graduation rating. The program also offers incentives for participating students through special outings, encouraging them to want more out of life.

“Lacrosse is so embedded into the school now,” said Dan about Highbridge Green, that “fifth graders coming into the school are excited about trying out.”

This past July, the boys and girls teams at Highbridge Green won the Middle School Athletic City Lacrosse Championships, the first time that a Bronx team won the title. Dan hopes the program will enjoy similar success at P.S./I.S. 218, and then he plans to introduce the game at area high schools.