Connections though sports transcend rivalries

December 15, 2017

Father and son - I spoke to Michael Wright when the junior was an eighth-grader at the Milford Middle School wrestling tournament on a Saturday morning three years ago  He was with his father Dan Wright. Mike’s grandfather Bill had passed that very morning under hospice care at the age of 78. I wrote “there was a hole in their hearts, but father and son decided to fly through it.” I coached Danny in track back in his Cape athletic days. Michael’s a great kid. The relationship between father and so is so solid. Amidst the swirling emotions inside the Central gym Wednesday night, Chip Illian came up to me to offer condolences on the recent loss of my son Tom. Inside the rivalry of sports, there has to be that crossover bonding, the laying down of track has got to mean the train keeps rolling. Joe Booth was at the match too. I remember writing a column on the passing of his brother Al Booth 25 years ago at football practice as his son Bucky was on the team. There is a rise above it, faith that persists through sports, and the real warriors learn that life lesson and carry it through the tough times.

The Punch - John Feinstein wrote a book about the 1977 NBA incident when Kermit Washington of the Lakers punched Rudy Tomjanavich squarely in the face, literally almost killing him. Lakers coach Jerry West resigned after the incident. I have always told athletes, “You are big and strong, so never throw a punch inside a game because if it’s a good one, it will destroy your life.” I am happy for everybody that the punch thrown by Central’s Jevon Saffold at the back of Anthony Caruso’s head wasn’t a good one – he was wearing his head gear – and as I told some Central people, “You know your kid, now it’s time you get to know the sophomore better.” Crossroads moments in the lives of young athletes ... good coaches make them count, often saving a kid from himself. I know coaches did it for me. Basketball coach John Clark called me Kid Galahad after I threw a punch at the head of a Lasalle High School player that thankfully mostly missed. (Kid Galahad was a 1962 musical about a fighter, starring Elvis Presley) And here all this time I thought he was real.

Ascertaining expertise - I can spot a bogus coach with a 500-yard stare. Focusing on football, many coaches run the three-end offense – tight end, split end and loose ends. A coach who could lose me on the chalkboard was George Glenn. I never was around a guy who could X and O like Glenn. He’d always add, “I’m not that smart, but how we gonna cover this guy?” Another concept coach was Bill Muhleisen. He not only knew the game, but could break it down and coach it up. Years ago football coach Al Black, of Springfield Montco, then later at Coatesville High in Pennsylvania, was running clinics on the Wing T belly option. Black instructed his assistants to stay mostly quiet while putting players through drills because while you talk they are standing around thinking about their girlfriends. There should be a Praxis test for sports. We talkin’ Praxis man.   

Snippets - The Caesar Rodney boys’ basketball team is 3-0 and has been rocking people. Their closest margin of victory has been 33 points. Cape plays at the Riders on Friday night. The Vikings will be the first true test for the Riders, who have demolished Polytech, Sussex Central and Dover. Coach Freeman Williams can coach ‘em up and likewise Steve Re. This game will be worth the price of admission. Back on the home side, the Cape girls host the Riders of coach Bill Victory, whose booming voice can be heard all the way to WaWa. The Riders (3-1) just lost 67-58 at St. Elizabeth’s. They are a tough matchup for the 2-1 Vikings. The Beast of the East wrestling tournament is set for this weekend at Bob Carpenter Center in Newark. Find the websites and watch avatars get after each other. I have turned the Lewes Polar Bears over to Greg Mack. I am now Poppa Bear Emeritus, who elects to stay dry and not pull a quad muscle rushing into the ocean on New Year’s Day. I once witnessed friends Dennis and Bruce smear pig lard on each other back in the single-digit days, but let’s leave IQ scores out of this one-sided conversation. Go on now, git!