John Collins and service dog Mahi show respect during national anthem

Police chief Tom Spell is a wrestling ref with three kids at West Point
December 7, 2018

Head on a swivel - I call the gym at Sussex Central “The Happy House” after the Golden Knights won the school’s first state championship in football in 50 years. Celebration is in the air, and the Cape basketball girls walked right into that ceiling fan Dec. 4, as an electric crowd energized the team on the court. They  came out uptempo and caught Cape sleepwalking. “It’s a contagious feeling for all our teams,” said Principal Bradley Layfield. Sussex Central is a cultural pocket of peoples from Georgetown to Millsboro, and I’ve always said, “when you go to play them, you’re getting a dose of traditions represented through generations of families.” During the national anthem, I spotted a man and his service dog standing in respectful attention. Our nation loves service dogs, and the image of George H.W. Bush’s service dog Sully laying next to his casket in the capitol rotunda made tough people tear up. The man in the photo is John Collins and service dog is Mahi. John is the father of Kathie Collins, a health teacher at Sussex Central.

Wrestling referee - There is no more interactive and crucial official in sports than the referee of scholastic wrestling. Their individual style may vary, but almost always these guys are quick and decisive to make calls.They are the ones who keep potentially dangerous predicaments from evolving into twisting and wrenching ball-and-socket injuries. At Beacon Dec. 3 and at Cape Dec. 5, I ran into my new friend Tom Spell, the Lewes chief of police, who is back on the mats after his third and last child went off to college. “I’m an empty nester, so needed something to do,” said the former State College grappler who graduated from Penn State in the mid-1980s. Tom’s oldest daughter Emma, 23, graduated from West Point in 2017. Emma is a first lieutenant stationed at Fort Bliss in the farthest western portion of Texas. His second child Thomas is a senior at West Point. He will graduate in 2019 and take his commission working in the armored tank division. Daughter Alyssa is a freshman (Plebe) at West Point. Tom laughed: “she’s not liking it too much right now, but she’ll be okay.” Tom was lead official for the JV match versus Lake, then stayed and served as backup for the varsity match. Tom came to Lewes from Kennett Square, Pa., and worked 25 years for the City of Wilmington Police Department, where he said, “we had more felonies in one day than we have in a year in the City of Lewes.”

Rainbow warrior - I’ve added a black chair and hard plastic-molded maroon chair I’ve nicknamed “Maroon 255” to my color schematic because they have a friendly rail construction base and not the four-post design that digs into wrestling mats and field turf. I was marooned Dec. 3 snapping photos of the Beacon wrestling team, which opened the home season with a 60-26 loss to Postlethwait followed by a Dec. 5 road loss to Smyrna 72-18. Beacon has plenty of kids, along with 17 cheerleaders. Coach Patrick Irelan stepped off after going 9-1 last season and now Garrett Smith, assisted by his brother Austin, is running the show. Middle school afternoon sports is a scene. Wrestling matches and basketball games are well attended and admission is free. I’d like to know who the athletes are, but perhaps a program and roster would take all the fun out of it.     

The Past is prologue - “As fast as he was, I understand why you would incorrectly spell his last name, Wheel. It was Weal. [Sprinter Jim Weal]. At that time, I was coaching football, basketball and baseball at Woodbridge.” – Jim VanSciver. I noticed that email on my phone Dec. 5 just before exiting my 4Runner to go into Cape to snag Athletes of the Week. I’ve known Jim since 1975. We were on the Rehoboth Beach Patrol together. He became Dr. Jim and was inducted into Eastern Shore Baseball Hall of Fame. He’s also an author. I hadn’t seen him in like forever. And so I’m inside Cape standing in a hallway snapping a photo of Kris Rushin when I feel a tap on the shoulder. I turn around and it’s Jim VanSciver. Now that was just weird. I told Jim I planned to someday host an end-of-career sports banquet where honored guests wear name tags with their names misspelled or a sibling’s name or female coaches with maiden names or just the wrong name. Jim was concerned that possibly I’d be insulted that he corrected me, but I told him it’s more a clarification, and now I know it’s Jim Weal - he’s at least a 10-wheeler in my column over the last 36 years.

Snippets - The Milford Invitational wrestling tournament is set for Friday and Saturday and the Rehoboth Marathon will step off Saturday morning. I’ll be at both of them, but sitting outside for five hours in sub-40-degree weather watching runners finish doesn’t sound like fun, no matter what color chair is supporting me. Where is the heated Popemobile? I know there’s one in a garage in Baltimore. I’ll bring it back, but I’m not driving it on the Beltway. Go on now, git!