Clearing out the clutter of too much sports data

Brief history of Flag Alley
December 9, 2022

Temptations - “Keep on walking and don’t look back.” Sports, over a bevy of years, generates tons of data, and like a coon hound with ear mites, sometimes I just shake my head until my ears flap, trying to clear out the clutter.  I’m cursed with remembering too much that the vast number of people I interact with could not care less about. Last Saturday, photographing thousands of runners, I was overstimulated, focusing on faces while reading shirts. Some shirts tell a sad story of a person who left the planet too soon and had a race named after them. Many messages reflect motivation to support worthy charities and you just sense the runner was personally touched by what I call “exotic illness syndrome.” “And when you smile for the camera, I know I’ll love you better.” - Steely Dan. 

Silent partner- A sporting competition brings together diverse talents of people, from athletic directors and coaches to those who prepare the venue, along with the clock operators and scorekeepers. The actual athletes are all playing according to a handbook of federation rules, specifying every contingency that could arise and how to resolve it. The officials control the venue and the game. They are above reproach. It’s best not to mess with them during or days after a contest. Old media dogs like me are always reminded where they can’t be, either for their own protection or because they are a distraction to attention-wavering athletes who sometimes take rocket ship rides to Pluto during competition instead of concentrating on escaping from the bottom while being ridden like a rodeo calf. Everyone thinks the game is about them, and partly that is true, but on the totem pole of sports  importance, I and my media buddies own the bottom. And without us, the totem topples and all we’re left with is  silence and selfies. 

I’m a fool to care - Major League Baseball is throwing high heat at our heads and we fans are not wearing helmets with earflaps. The whole capitalist enterprise is being stuck in our ear like a Wawa banana. Contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars being given to free agents. We listen, can't comprehend and certainly can’t relate, so we fans quickly forget about it. Some athletes are spoiled and it affects everything from work ethic to attitudes toward media and fans. And/or you can be an unspoiled great and generous person who creates a foundation and gives money away and visits children's hospitals. But I’m not caring about the outcome of a game beyond five minutes after it’s over. 

Knockin’ on heaven’s door - I lost a buddy last week with the passing of Mike Richardson, an age contemporary from the running community. Mike was born in Allentown, Pa., in 1947. He attended William Allen High then East Stroudsburg University. Mike loved to start stories with “this buddy of mine …” He reminded me of a late cousin Larry O'Rourke who worked for Allentown Morning Call covering the Eagles. Larry was always talking about his buddies – grown men with buddies is a great indicator of relatability. Mike was a Dodgers fan, while Larry loved the Bengals. Mike ran and biked, sometimes walked the 5K, often volunteered at the finish line. He had coached football and wrestling at Emmaus High, and also threw the javelin. He was fit and friendly without vices, yet a stroke happened and he didn’t recover. Buddies are bereft. Mike was so in the world, then he was suddenly gone. He and Deidre were married 53 years. I’m not sure what gobsmacked means, but it sure does hurt.    

Flag Alley - The back story by Brad Dennehy: “Like all good stories, it started in a bar the night before with, ‘we should go down to the marathon tomorrow and hand out some waters and cheer some runners on,’ which we did with exactly two flags – a Delaware state flag and a Delaware State Police flag. That's how it started: two runners supporting other runners. Next year, I think we may have had four or five flags and a few more helpers. The idea came from an immigrant (me) standing on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway with trepidation at the Philadelphia Marathon many moons ago wondering, like all runners, ‘have I done enough? … will I run my pace? ... will I survive?’ Looking up and seeing all those flags at the start line and seeing the New Zealand flag silhouetted in the early morning sun gave me a sense that no matter what the day brought, I would be OK. I finished that marathon running with tears in my eyes past the art museum and joined a club that it is an honor to belong to. As runners, we all know the sacrifices, early morning and late-night training runs ... ‘can we leave this party, I need to run tomorrow?’ … yeah, I know. In some ways, I think a big-city marathon is easier; the crowd will run you through. I've stood on the Marine Corps Marathon starting line more than once and if a SEAL team parachuting into the start line doesn't get you pumped up, nothing will. A small marathon is different in so many ways. There is so much more internal looking inside yourself, coaching yourself forward, telling yourself ‘I’ve got this ... I've done enough ... I'm OK ... breathe ... one more step forward.’ So Flag Alley morphed. I just looked at that section of that trail and thought, ‘we need more flags and a DJ,’ and it just so happened I knew a DJ and I knew a gem of a lady named Mary Beth Hanna Hutton and I said, ‘what do you think?’ And that gem of a lady said, ‘I will buy the flags.’ So the other thing with Flag Alley is that it takes a lot of work; to get there early to set all of that up – and we do it gladly – to see a runner be lifted albeit briefly brings us tremendous joy. The 'misfits' running Flag Alley are also a bunch of surfers, and we also have a foundation, Surf Gimp, for a dear friend of ours who through injury ended up not being able to walk, let alone run. It didn’t stop us, however, from taking him surfing on a modified surfboard through Hawaii, Puerto Rico, California and North Carolina, to name a few. Unfortunately, Jay passed away, but his memory lives on and we help other athletes with disabilities chase their dreams. We also have a hell of a party in Dewey over winter at the Rudder and ‘you're all invited’ … we are fun people.” 

Snippets - Only Slam Dunk to the Beach historians remember the indoor blimp, Christopher, and the band called Cheers. Go on now, git! 

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