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.

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.