Alpha dogs don’t bite; Alderman players say ‘Thank you, coach’

July 10, 2020

Alpha dogs don’t bite - A symmetry of sadness I want to share. My brother Tom died Nov. 28. His last days were spent in a hospital bed in the family room that was a garage when I lived there. Susan and I walked into the room filled with children and grandchildren. One of the girls said, ”Poppy, your brother is here.” Big Tom gave a thumbs-up and everyone in the room gasped. It was a sign he was still with us. Susan leaned close to his ear and said, “Thank you.” Thank you to the Big Guy, a teacher-coach and lineman for life for being such a great person. On Monday, I got a call at 7 a.m. from Bill Lorah, who along with Ralph Karl just got off speaker phone with coach Jim Alderman, wife Kathy and daughter Abby in Florida. Alderman was home hospice grounded; a priest was there giving last rites. To use a football metaphor, it’s an inside trap play – pancreas, liver and heart – no way you’re kicking Alderman out of the game if he sees you coming. Bill said, “We just wanted him to know how much he means to us back here at Cape. We wanted to say, ‘Thank you.’” Kathy told the boys from the 1979 state championship team, “Coach just gave a thumbs-up!”  

Power of personality - It’s safe to say all sports teams reflect the projected personality of the head coach. And it can’t be faked. Athletes understand authenticity, and if you ain’t got it, then you ain’t got them either. Coach Jim Alderman was unapologetically authentic, roaring through football practices and games, and in the hallways and classrooms. Young men across the spectrum of colors, attitudes and accomplishments were attracted to Alderman. Jim would bark in anyone’s face. He had a deep staff who went to work for him: Lou Norbeck, Bob Cassady, Rob Schroeder, Bill Collick, Steve Wolak and Dan Cook. Everyone brought expertise to the program and was given the opportunity to use it. Alderman was impulsive; he might stop at a field hockey game on his way to practice and let his coaches get stretching started. He became an environmentalist working with the Inland Bays. I wouldn’t know an estuary from a dromedary, but coach Jim would tell me all about the back bays. I once interrupted, “If there is something I’m less interested in than baby turtles, I haven’t found it yet.” He would remind me I was a hybrid “between a smartass and a horse’s ass.” Big bark, big heart and soft bite, hard-headed like a Chesapeake Bay retriever. A Cape Legend whose image should be lag-bolted onto the Legends Stadium Fieldhouse. 

Mixed messages - Human psychology is easy to understand. When you are stuck inside a web of mixed messages, just choose the one you like the best. I read of Delaware youth teams going out of state to compete in tournaments or playing on teams from other states that are less restrictive than Delaware. I also read that that colleges in the Division III Centennial Athletic Conference have decided not to play fall sports in 2020. Member schools include Bryn Mawr, Dickinson, Franklin and Marshall, Gettysburg, Haverford, Johns Hopkins, Muhlenberg, Swarthmore, Ursinus and Washington College. Cape graduates affected include hockey players Darby Klopp (F&M), Anna Harrington (Washington College) and Anna Stancofski (Swarthmore). Patrick Tkach plays football at Muhlenberg. On Wednesday, the Ivy League also announced cancellation of fall sports. 

Slaughter Neck on pause - The Slaughter Neck Basketball League was rocking on Monday and Wednesday nights this summer with three games twice a week at the Slaughter Neck Community Center, but now they are holding the ball and the shot clock is on pause because of the coronavirus and state regulation limitations. The oddity is you don’t have to travel far from The Cage to find a lacrosse tournament, field hockey game or soccer scrimmage. Late-breaking news: After working on corona accommodations, the league is expected to resume play next week. 

Busted Buster - I was coming out of the Kitchen & Company store near Wawa and had been looking for refrigerator magnets to give my wife for a birthday present. I stood on the sidewalk and pulled my face mask just below my nose.  A woman in a beater shirt – no joke, reminded me of a gym teacher in a sitcom – approached the entrance, pointed at me and said, “Above the nose, Buster.” I broke bad and pulled it above my nose and gave her a thumbs-up and said, “You right!” I was upset for a moment, didn’t like being called Buster; it reminded me of my first day in Catholic high school when the teacher said, “Turn around, meathead.” My mea culpa for this sports column is I believe in being a team player. I'm just not very good at it. I have convinced myself after years of teaching, coaching and living in gyms that I have acquired immunity to every airborne contagion known to man, bats and pangolins.   

White Noise - The White House is talking big noise about schools reopening on time at full capacity. Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany has said, “Although the president listens to the health experts, it’s up to him if he follows any of their guidelines.” McEnany has a degree in international politics from Georgetown and a law degree from Harvard, a bio that blows my mind because the 32-year old at times seems a bit ditzy. This back-to-school bogart will blow up as soon as lunch ladies start getting sick and classroom teachers are seen pulling oxygen tanks down the halls like luggage through an airport. The president threatened no funds for schools that don’t fully reopen. I don’t need Marvin Gaye to sing “What’s going on?” to realize, apparently nothing.  

Snippets - What happens to an airborne virus during a hurricane? A busy season is predicted here in the Atlantic basin, so maybe we should all play outside and hope it just blows away. Late breaking: Stanford University has dropped 11 sports effective the end of the 2020-21 school year. Field hockey, wrestling and men’s volleyball are among the sports being cut. Go on now, git! 


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