Nov 01 2018

Keeping An Eye On What Is Important

Cazenovia High School sophomore Jake Tobin was in the lead at the boys’ junior varsity cross-country race during the Auburn Invitational in upstate New York. He had about 200 meters to cover when another runner passed him.

Luke Fortner, a Fairport High School senior, is legally blind. He passed Jake as they were running up the final steep hill. The crowd was cheering for Luke when he slipped in the mud and fell.

Without hesitation, Jake, who also had been supportive of Luke’s competitive spirit, helped lift his fellow runner with the assistance of Luke’s aide. The three then crossed the finish line.

“Jake got down and lifted him up with his guide, and then helped push him up the hill,” Cazenovia cross-country coach Jason Hyatt told the local newspaper. “It was touching to see, and it will be a memory I’ll carry with me for a long time. A great example of true sportsmanship.”

Luke’s coach applauded Jake in an email to Cazenovia High School. “It was an awesome display of sportsmanship and kindness,” he wrote. “Jake deserves to be commended!!!!”

Other coaches and parents recounted that Jake spontaneously aided Luke and helped push him up the hill. “It was one of those moments that kind of makes your day,” said one parent. “Jake is a really good kid, and I’m not surprised he did it.”

Another email was sent to Cazenovia:

“Wanted to write your school to tell you how impressed I was by your XC team member today at the Auburn Invitational. He was running towards the finish when a Fairport team member passed him. The crowd was cheering for the Fairport team member due to his vision impairment. Your XC team member did not only cheer and clap for him as the student tried to run up the hill in front of him, but stopped and helped him to his feet when he slipped…wanted to commend him and his great sportsmanship he showed to his fellow competitor.”

Soon after, the story went viral and it ran around the world. Well done, Jake!

Feb 18 2016

Get In There 28 And Give It The Old College Try

An 89-year-old veteran of World War II ran for a touchdown last April during a Kansas University alumni flag football game. About 40 alumni were on the field. While most participants weren’t too far removed from their glory days on the gridiron, it was the Kansas standout from 1946-1948 who stole the show.

Bryan Sperry was a three-year letterman whose career highlights included a clutch bowl game catch. During 1948, he snagged a long pass to set up a KU touchdown in the Orange Bowl. As was common back then, Bryan played on both sides of the ball.

He was clutch at the alumni game, too. He managed to evade tackles after his number — 28 — was called for the last play. He caught the shuffle pass around midfield and then let his guards do their job. The play was slow to unfold but Bryan — and his blockers — could not help but smile as he weaved in and out of players pretending to be crashing and falling into each other. The players were close to Bryan during the entire run and seemed intent on making the run as realistic as possible. When he crossed the end zone, he was embraced by both sides.

More than 60 years ago, Bryan had enrolled at Kansas after serving in the U.S. Army. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Much time had passed since he ran as far as he did during that alumni game, but he had promised himself not to miss out on the action.

While disappointed that none of his old remaining teammates could attend the game, he did give a wink to a reporter when he said that he enjoyed every moment once he convinced everyone that he still could play.

I love these stories about the members of our greatest generation who continue to maintain the passion and drive to score one more touchdown in life.

- Jim

Oct 03 2015

NBA Player Returns With Lessons For LI Youth

Tobias Harris plays for the NBA Orlando Magic. Last season he averaged 17 points per game. Tobias plays with the world’s elite professional basketball players, but he has not forgotten his Long Island roots.

Tobias played for Half Hollow Hills High School West, joining the team as an eighth grade student. He then transferred to Long Island Lutheran Middle and High School in Brookville before returning to the Dix Hills school for his senior year. Tobias then played one season for the University of Tennessee before declaring for the 2011 NBA draft.

Back on the Island this past summer, he hosted the Tobias Harris Basketball and Life Skills Workshop. The clinic taught young athletes about basketball while also providing invaluable life skills.

Though only 23, Tobias already is looking ahead and he is concerned about the future for the next generation of boys and girls. He indicated that these kids are ready to be molded to take advantage of opportunities and to plan for their journey to success. Too many kids, according to Tobias, are not fulfilling their potential. His clinic helped point them in the right direction.

The boys and girls came from Westbury, New Cassel, Jericho and Freeport. The middle and high school athletes spent their time at the five-day clinic running basketball drills to improve their skills, experiencing the excitement of competition and learning more about game strategy.

But, the clinic offered much more than basketball. Tobias said that every kid has a gift just to be able to play and that he wants to show all kids that they can achieve anything they really want in school and in life. He gave the boys and girls some straight talk that success is more than becoming a professional athlete, since the percentage of that occurring is super low. He told the kids that they have a huge variety of life options in and out of sports.

The clinic required mandatory attendance at sessions about career assessment, good health and nutrition, and character development. In these sessions, Tobias stressed that the primary goals for the kids were to be good students and good people, to be respectful and to hang with the right crowd.

Feb 02 2015

Friendships Trumped His Football Legacy

Though Glenn “Dean” Loucks was born without the use of his right arm, he still led a storied life that centered on athletics. Through it all, he willed his way to success.

As a youngster, Dean had begged his father not to let others know about his arm. While he favored his left arm, which grew strong, with the help of doctors and specialists he eventually obtained the use of his right one. Years later, he became a quarterback who had the ability to throw accurately with both arms.

Dean was an All-American high school player who led his team to three consecutive undefeated seasons during the early 1950s. He went on to play at Yale University, where he earned All-Ivy League and All-East honors.

After graduation, Dean returned to his high school as a social studies teacher. He also coached his old football team from 1960 to 1968. He then coached at Fordham University and Iona College.

Many people who saw Dean on the football field claim that he was an innovator. That came from his ability to throw with both arms and his knack to understand the mental part of the game. Some have said he was way ahead of his time in quarterback intelligence, calling a lot of his plays at the line of scrimmage after looking over the defense.

At age 79, Dean passed away last October. Only then did many people learn that, with all his success, Dean most treasured all the friendships he had made along the way.

Innovation, the will to succeed and simply cherishing the people befriended during the journey is a wonderful philosophy to follow for a successful and happy life.

Jim

Nov 17 2014

Take A Sports “Step Back” With Rick Wolff

With each year that passes, competitive athletics become more ingrained in our daily lives. Every television network seems to broadcast at least one of the traditional sports, the secondary sports, high school games, or even some of the events created specifically for television. Six different networks or channels handled the just completed baseball playoffs and World Series. In New York, we have two radio stations that just talk sports for 24 hours each day.

The increased coverage of sports hypes the excitement and engages the public in dialogue, but it also has opened the door to an ugly side of the games. We have learned about football players dealing with brain injuries later in life, athletes and coaches who administer mental and physical abuse, players caught with performance enhancement drugs, legal battles and lockouts, inappropriate behavior by fans and players, and too many athletes who create needless controversy on Twitter.

All of these issues have a trickle-down effect on our young athletes. Parents and coaches from grade school through college often wonder how they should explain these complex issues to their kids, and they also need advice to help them address the many problems that arise in their own world of youth athletics.

For years, WFAN has aired a great sports program—Rick Wolff’s The Sports Edge (Sunday, 8-9 a.m., WFAN)—that too frequently passes under the sports talk radar. Focused solely on youth athletics, the conversations debate the opportunities and obstacles facing student athletes, parents and coaches.

Recent topics have been plucked from the sports headlines: putting an end to hazing, concussion concerns that affect high school football programs, cutting players for controversial tweets, dealing with the lack of playing time and the proper reaction when a coach wants a player to change positions on the field in the best interests of the team.

That’s not all. Other topics have focused on the safety of aluminum baseball bats, high school codes of conduct, holding parents accountable for their obnoxious behavior at games, privacy issues regarding athletes and online networks, and if cheerleading should be sanctioned as an official high school sport.

Wow! Amateur athletics certainly have changed over our lifetimes. Remember when you would just run outside to get some fresh air and enjoyed a pick-up game of baseball or touch football with friends in the street or park? Today, however, on almost every level, the games have become too organized and highly competitive.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place for the competition, for the rewards of success and for the learning curve that comes with failure. Sometimes, though, with all that is going on in the sports world, I think we need a reality check. We need to take a step back to allow us to recapture the fun of sports that we enjoyed when we were kids. We need to do this for today’s young athletes.

That’s where The Sports Edge comes in, and each conversation is a walk-off home run.

Jim


Aug 04 2014

Ice Cream Rewards For A Job Well Done

At the U.S. Women’s Open a little more than a month ago, the debut for one player was marred by a couple of double bogeys and a triple bogey. She failed to find the fairway on one shot. She hit another into a bunker. The shot out of the sand rolled past the flag and off the green. She hit her chip about 20 feet past the hole.

This new player on the circuit finished the day at eight-over-par 78. Despite the problems and probably some jitters, she remained upbeat. “It was a lot of fun,” said Lucy Li. “I kind of struggled today, but it was great.”

Then she took a bite from a pink ice cream bar. As she continued to talk with the media, she occasionally giggled and grinned, revealing a mouthful of braces.

Lucy Li is just 11 years old, and on this day she beat a few other players who posted first-round 79s. More than a dozen players did not break 80.

One player said that while Lucy may look 11, she doesn’t speak as most 11-year-olds and she certainly doesn’t hit a golf ball the way other children do at that age.

At such a tender age, Lucy already knows how to place her game in perspective. “I learned that you’ve got to be patient,” she said. “One shot at a time. Try to get rid of the big numbers.”

That’s much the same way we operate around the office. We remain patient. We address one issue at a time with our clients. We try not to overwhelm them and ourselves with big problems.

When a workday is over, whether it was spent on the golf course or in the office, we all must remember to reward ourselves for a job well done no matter the outcome. Lucy already knows what to do. When she was asked about her plans for the rest of the day after her debut, she grinned and said: “Eat some more ice cream.”

My favorite is chocolate. What’s yours?

- Jim

Jul 03 2014

More Than Just Another Insurance Guy

Ed Petrazzolo never attended Notre Dame University. But, a few months ago, he was overjoyed to meet Brian Kelly, the head coach of the Irish, during the Notre Dame Club of Staten Island’s 25th anniversary celebration.

That night, Kelly and many others honored Ed for his commitment to his family, his faith, his country and his community. The club presented its highest honor to the 90-year-old one-time athlete and war veteran for “devotion to the ideals and spirit” of the university and for a life that “clearly reflects the values and mission of Our Lady’s University.”

Instead of attending college, Brooklyn-raised Ed fought his way across Europe during World War II as part of the 371st Ordinance Battalion of the First Army. He landed at Utah Beach a few days after D-Day, participated in the liberation of France, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, crossed the Rhine River and helped liberate survivors at the Nordhausen concentration camp.

Before the war, Ed had been a pretty good and promising baseball player. He was a lefty pitcher who signed with the rival Yankees, but his sports career, as with so many at the time, was placed on hold for the war. So were his plans for higher education. When he returned from Europe, he made it to the AAA Newark Bears. But, with a first child on the way soon after, baseball at that time would not have been the best career choice to support his family.

So, Ed became a proofreader and he worked with the New York Journal-American for 25 years. Then, he switched careers to enter, of all things, the insurance business. By then, Ed and his wife had moved from Brooklyn to Staten Island. He became active immediately in that borough’s community affairs, supporting veterans groups, youth baseball camps and activities at his local church. Somewhere during all of this he became involved with the Notre Dame Club.

One of Ed’s fondest memories is not of baseball, his newspaper work, or even his success in insurance. Instead, he remembered a chance meeting with a young Belgian student during the war. The student had been deported for civil unrest and then liberated from a camp. Ed assisted him with clothes and a pistol for protection as the student had to walk miles upon miles to his home.
“I went back again 60 years later in 2005,” Ed told a local newspaper, “and located him and spent some time discussing things. He said he had me always in his mind.”

During his travels through baseball, war, the newspaper business and insurance, a commitment to support others became deeply imbedded within the soul of Ed Petrazzalo. It is fitting that such an institution as Notre Dame has recognized Ed for his life-long contributions to so many people.

Jim

Apr 01 2014

Silver Still Should Shine Bright For Local Hockey Gal

They had a two-goal lead with four minutes remaining in the game. A long shot, actually a zone clearing attempt, clanged off the post of an empty net. Two questionable penalties in overtime set up the winning gold medal goal for the opposing team.

Josephine Pucci and her teammates figured this would be the year to defeat Canada for the Olympic hockey gold. The U.S. team proclaimed that silver would not be a consolation. Unfortunately, sometimes situations do not work out as planned.

Pucci knew that since 2012, when she suffered a severe concussion during a game against Canada. She needed a year to recover. The injury cost Pucci her senior year at Harvard and it forced her to take a long break away from the U.S. national team. The odds were against her to make the Team USA women’s hockey squad.

But, she did it, and the Olympic experience made it all worthwhile.

“It’s been unbelievable,” she said before the gold medal game. “Living in the village is great. It’s cool meeting other athletes from Team USA. So many languages, backgrounds, everybody in one dining hall. It’s pretty cool.”

The journey did not end with the desired gold medal for Pucci and her teammates, but she personally triumphed.

She will not get back that lost year on the ice. She can’t recapture her senior year at Harvard. She still needs to be careful about her health and future head injuries. But, Josephine Pucci made it all the way back against difficult odds to represent her country in an Olympic gold medal game.

That’s someone I want on my team!

Jim