Jan 16 2021

The Legacy Of A Pioneer Sports Journalist

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.

Dec 01 2020

He Had The Nerve To Play Again

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.

Jul 17 2017

Attitude Changer: Positive Thinking Raises Her Game

When times get tough, a tennis player has been known to fire a coach. It is rare, though, that a coach fires a player. But, that was the case earlier this year when Simona Halep’s coach stepped away from the Romanian player.

The coach, Australian Darren Cahill, has an outstanding reputation. He coached Andre Agassi. When he agreed to coach Halep, Cahill was not aware of her complex personality.

Halep’s game did not cause any issues. It was her mental attitude. Yes, she is passionate, intense and downright demanding of herself. All of this, however, is a bad mix for tennis.

About 15 months into their partnership, Halep’s pessimism became too much for Cahill. At one competition, she called Cahill to the court for a pep talk, but she spent much of the time belittling herself.

Halep lost. Cahill pulled out, claiming her bad attitude was unacceptable and he needed to take a break from their coaching arrangement. The tough-love strategy changed the dynamic.

Halep realized she needed to reform. She pushed out the negativity and rushed in the positive thoughts. Cahill watched from afar. When, on her own with her new attitude, Halep reached the semifinals in a tournament, she placed a call to Cahill to ask him to return.

Working together again with Cahill, Halep defended her Madrid title and became a finalist in the Italian Open. She claims she now is confident and composed, indicating that her new attitude helps her see the game better. She plays relaxed and with a positive outlook.

Similar to a tennis player, each of us in business must perform, at times, a personal mental evaluation. We must shake off any negative attitude and rework our game plan. Whenever we do this, our foresight becomes a bit clearer, we become more relaxed and we are able to approach each day, each meeting and each roadblock with a positive outlook.

Sep 02 2016

It Was A Tough Start For One Olympic Champion

U.S. Olympian Simone Biles is on top of the world.Many consider Simone to be the best female gymnast in the world. At age 19, she already is the most decorated gold medalist in world championship gymnastics history. At Rio, Simone collected several additional gold medals.

Hidden behind her success and her beautiful smile is a very different story. Her journey has not been an easy one.

Simone was born to drug-addicted parents and her father abandoned the family. She and her siblings were shuffled between foster homes and Ohio state care. One of those foster homes became a catalyst to Simone’s current success. She often mentions that the home had a trampoline but neither she nor her siblings were allowed to jump on it.

Eventually, when she was six, Simone and her sister were adopted by their grandparents and they moved to Texas. Grandma Nellie then had a talk with Simone and sister Adria. Grandma left it up to the girls if they wanted to call her and her husband “grandma” and “grandpa” or if they wanted to consider them as “mom” and “dad.”

Simone practiced the words while looking into a mirror. She said the words ‘mom” and ‘dad” countless times. Then, she went downstairs to the kitchen, looked up at her grandma and called out.

“Mom?” Nellie quickly responded “Yes! ”

Congratulations to Simone Biles on overcoming childhood challenges and for all the success she has earned at such a young age. She is just getting started!

Aug 01 2016

Good Luck To Nick DiPietro

The high school lacrosse awards continued to flow on Long Island during June and I did not want too much time to pass before I congratulate senior Half Hollow Hills High School East lacrosse defensemen Nick DiPietro.

That’s my alma mater, and Nick received the 2016 James C. Metzger Outstanding Player Award that is presented annually to the outstanding boys lacrosse player at the Suffolk County school. He also received the John Fernandez Courage Award presented by the Suffolk County Lacrosse Coaches Association. This award recognizes a player who has overcome difficult circumstances with the same spirit as U.S. Army Lieutenant John Fernandez. Nick was honored for his work ethic to overcome a major sports injury at such a young age to return to the game and to lead his team on an off the field.

Nick was a five-year varsity starter, a two-time Thunderbirds co-captain and a 2016 team co-most valuable player. His 2016 statistics were 71 ground balls, three goals, three assists and an average of three takeaways per game. His high school career statistics are 201 ground balls, 130 caused turnovers, six assists and seven goals.

Named to the Newsday Top 20 preseason players list for 2015 and 2016, Nick also was named to the 2015 and 2016 USA Today pre-season All-American team. He was a 2016 USA U19 (under age 19) invitee, 2016 Lacrosse Insider top two tristate defenseman and a Nike Lacrosse The Ride invitee (top 50 players in the country).

Nick also received 2016 first team All-American honors and was named to the 2016 Newsday All-Long Island boys lacrosse second team.

For a while, Nick’s lacrosse play was in jeopardy. His junior year season ended early when he tore an ACL and suffered additional knee damage. After surgery and during rehabilitation, Nick’s continued leadership, dedication and determination to recover helped guide the team to a league championship and playoff appearance that season and this past season.

Nick’s high school days now are behind him. He’s off to Syracuse University, where he had committed since his sophomore year. More awards should be on the horizon for Nick as long as he maintains his love and spirit for the game.

- Jim

May 16 2016

Come Right Up And Meet The Matz

You can learn a lot from a high school coach. The coach will tell you about a player’s work ethic, dedication and outlook on life.

Lou Petrucci has coached baseball at Long Island’s Ward Melville High School in East Setauket for 10 years. He’s been around baseball for more than 25 years. Besides coaching, he has been an umpire and a sports writer.

When a corporate buyout released Lou from Newsday, he returned to college and earned a master’s in education from Hofstra University. He became a sixth-grade teacher and then he was offered the coaching position.

Lou knows a lot about a former player for Ward Melville — New York Mets pitcher Steven Matz. Here are just a few of Lou’s insights about the young man:

When he tore a pitching arm ligament that resulted in surgery, Steven was very young and he faced some difficult decisions. According to Lou, he worked through the disappointment and became more determined to pitch in the big leagues. Future success, said Lou, now is all up to him.

Steven also has a commitment to community. According to his former coach, Steven always gives back to his community and his team. Every winter and fall, Steven works with the current kids on his old high school team. He also has traveled to Honduras to help distribute supplies and to interact with children. At the year-end holidays, he visits the Stony Brook Children’s Hospital just to talk with the kids and sign autographs.

Lou indicated that Steven’s ability to give of himself to others at this young age while he still is reaching for his professional success can be attributed to many personal traits and the support of family. Mostly, though, the coach believes he is reciprocating for all the times he was on the receiving end of other people’s generosity — high school teammates who turned into his role models, former major leaguers who provided countless pitching lessons and an entire town that adorned street signs and lampposts with blue and orange ribbons when he pitched during the World Series. Steven has taken to heart the generosity of others. Now, he wants to do the same for others.

Lou said that the many people in Steven’s camp always have had his back. His high school coach attributes this to one thing – Steven is a fabulous person.

A strong arm and a good upbringing will take you far in major league baseball and in life.

Feb 02 2016

Rebuilding A College Program — Twice

Four years ago, Denise Bierly had her most trying season as the coach of the Eastern Connecticut State women’s basketball team. The university dismissed five players for team rules violations, including four players who contributed 80 percent of the offense.

That season, the team consisted of only eight players, with one pulled from the softball team. Some of the ladies played every second of every game as the team won just eight games. Two wins came against much stronger schools. Coach Bierly felt that those victories were the most satisfying wins for the devastated team and that it opened the doors to future success.

Last season, the players who were holding the team together just a few years earlier as freshmen advanced to the Division III Sweet 16. The coach even recorded her 400th career win.

Bierly had arrived at the school about 17 years earlier. She never had been a head coach. She took over a program that had been highly successful for 20 years until it stumbled badly under an interim coach. But, slowly, she pulled the team from its lows, eventually getting the squad to the Final Four before losing an emotional game by a basket.

Even more difficult than that loss was the subsequent decision to dismiss the five key players. Bierly was as transparent as possible about the matter with recruits and their families. She told them the program had recovered once and that it would do so again with everyone’s support.

Through all this, Coach Bierly feels she has grown immensely in her role as a coach, mentor and friend. She said her fuse was short earlier in her career. Now, she has learned to handle her players with kid gloves. One current player admits that Coach Bierly is tough, but that she is fair. The ultimate tribute – “She’s made me a better leader.”

Sep 02 2015

Lessons From A Storyteller

Fans of Seinfeld are familiar with the show’s J. Peterman character. He certainly liked to tell long-winded stories during a show about nothing.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that the art of storytelling is an actual attribute of the actor who portrayed Peterman. John O’Hurley’s real stories, however, are based on a successful business career and each one offers a significant lesson about the pursuit of personal goals.

After graduating college with a degree in acting, John was unable to find relevant work. His first job was wrapping boxes for the in-house public relations and advertising agency of a machine tools company in Hartford, Connecticut. He arrived every day with a suit and tie. At the plant, he would remove the tie and roll up his sleeves to wrap the boxes, but he never allowed himself to think for one moment that success was not within his grasp. He used his lunch hour wisely, talking to everyone and learning about their jobs. He spoke with the art director, the typesetter, the person responsible for paste-ups and those involved with graphics. He learned about printing and copywriting.

Within two years, John had moved on to the position of public relations director for one of the teaching affiliates at Yale School of Medicine. From there, he became director of public relations for the Connecticut Red Cross.

John certainly did not fail in business, but he knew at the time that he was not satisfied in his career choice. He had defined himself as an actor since he was three years old. It was about time that he pursued his passion.

John relied on everything that he had learned in business as he toiled in a variety of acting roles. Eventually, he ended up on Seinfeld as, in his words, a “mock Shakespearean legend in his own mind with no particular point when he gets to the end [of one of his stories].” John’s success in television continued to other shows, and he also became part owner of the real J. Peterman Company (“I liked the role so much that I bought the company,” he says often).

Along the way, John also became a pretty good golfer. He says there are a lot of parallels between hitting that little ball and taking personal responsibility to reach the top. He says that if the ball is not moving, then it also is possible that one’s career is not moving. There is only person, he says, who can be responsible for moving that ball and moving a career to achieve personal goals.

As for storytelling, John has a definitive take on it that he readily shares with anyone who will take a moment to listen: “If you’re going to tell a story, tell it from an interesting perspective. Attack your listener, your audience, so that they listen to you.”

- Jim

Mar 15 2015

A Big Splash At 60

Pool water is in his blood and soul. It has been since he was a kid on Long Island.

Roger Kahn was an all-state swimmer for Hewlett High School and he broke records at Penn State. From there, he has never stopped swimming. When he turned 45, he won a Masters national championship in the 50-meter freestyle.

During 2013, Roger was named an All-American in the 200 medley relay for his age group. The relay team was ranked number one in the U.S. and number three in the world. Roger’s part in the relay also was ranked one and three, respectively.

Just last year, as he moved closer to 60, he competed in the 50-meter freestyle and the 50-meter butterfly, along with a couple of relays, during the U.S. Masters Swimming Summer National Championship. Now, as he prepares for this year’s event, he has graduated from the 55-59 age group to join the 60-64 class.

He considers the change as just one advantage to getting a little older. He feels that the younger a swimmer is in an age group, the better the chance of winning a medal. He said the faster guys are the younger guys.

Roger, who owns a business in Garden City, is married with two children. Yet, with all the work and family issues to manage, he still adheres to his training schedule. He takes a training dip for an hour four times each week. He does a half-hour of dry-land exercises three days each week. Years of dedication helps him compete successfully against swimmers who can afford to spend more time in the pool.

One of the best tributes of Roger came from a friend who is the director at the pool where the swimmer trains: “Not only does he maintain a level of excellence…he’s been a great model for other people to stay dedicated.”

According to Roger, the focus required first to achieve success as a young student-athlete and then as a business executive helps provide balance in life. He said it all helps a person learn how to juggle responsibilities, balance priorities and concentrate on the most important things.

Jim

Feb 16 2015

Trying To Become One Of The World’s Best

Joshua Colas is a neatly dressed skinny kid with glasses. Nothing flashy–he’s just a regular 16-year-old high school junior.

The family home, an apartment, is filled with scores of trophies of various shapes and sizes. Space is limited. Room now must be found as more trophies may be on the horizon since Joshua may be close to stardom. He doesn’t play sports nor does he have a singing, music, or acting talent. Joshua’s talent is found at the table with a board game.

Joshua is a chess whiz. No, he’s a chess champion. No, check that, he’s a prodigy whose ambition is to become one of the world’s best players.

Joshua learned to play from his father. It began when the boy was just seven years of age. In a few months, son was beating dad. He has a photographic memory and he memorizes the board.

Joshua compares his skill to finding his way home. Do it enough times and the route becomes second nature. No wonder his career highlights are longer than five pages. His chess rating has risen each year. At 10, he was third best in the nation in that age group. At 12, Joshua was the youngest African-American Chess Master (his family is from Haiti). At 13, he topped all players in that group.

Now, Joshua is ranked 231 out of more than 52,000 chess players of all ages who are registered with the United States Chess Federation. He has been selected to the 2015 All-American Chess Team.

For intense chess players, or should I say chess masters, the four-hour matches can become tiresome. Joshua, though, never gets too high or too low. He relaxes his brain before each match so as not to place too much pressure on himself.

Joshua’s goal is to become the first American-born black Grandmaster. To do this, he first must become an International Master. He will face that challenge during a European tour this coming summer. That goal is not cheap. Joshua is raising about $24,000 for travel, hotels and tournament entry fees.

With the help of family and friends, Joshua will be on that tour. Then, he just needs his second nature to kick in.

Checkmate!

Jim