Joann Szczepkowski drives an Outback, but she’s leaving a Legacy

Sports people like to kick back and share stories
July 9, 2021

Joann Szczepkowski - Runner Joann and I share the same year and day of birth. She recently asked me what time of the day I was born. I told her, “It was a dark and stormy night under a waxing moon and the north Philly trolley cars were rumbling like thunder while beagles were howling.” Joann showed up on the running scene 10 years ago and has since set 13 state records over three age groups at eight different distances. Newly arrived in the 75-79 age group, she is looking at even more records to claim. Joann may drive an Outback, but the woman is leaving a Legacy.    

Dissociating professor - Rich Paperno was a student at the College of Marine Studies in the late 1980s. He was a runner whom I called The Dissociating Professor because in order to train long distances, you need something to think about other than what you are doing. Intellectual abstract thinkers can run for hours while concrete thinkers who live in the moment only are like, “Freak this mess!! What is the point?” Dr. Paperno holds the Delaware resident 10K record of 30:39 set in 1988.

The Bridge - “Take a good look around, this is your hometown.” - Bruce Springsteen. That song played on my satellite radio as I pulled out of the DMV inspection lane Tuesday. It took me back to May of 1976, when Cape boys’ track had just won the Division II state championship held at Delaware State College. I was the new coach, along with Bill Collick and Charlie Hickox. What we had in common: We were not coach Tom Hickman – no one had property on that mountain. The athletes grabbed the trophy and circled the track backward. Tattered gold sweats and faded white uniforms looked like peeled bananas. Their ragged randomness was harmonious, a melded team of community characters who would maintain lifetime loyalties to each other and coaches. Tom Hickman was there and said to me, “Take a good look around [This is your hometown]; those kids do more to bring this community together than any school board member or politician. We can only learn from them.” There were Tyrone Gibbs, Gilbert Maull, Dennis Robinson, Bilbo Dunning, Vaughn Trammel, Wayne Warren, Jay Reed, Lance White, Kirwan Street, Ronnie Jefferson, Quinton Phillips, Jon McNair, Chico Beckett, Angelo Shugart, Billy Duffy, Nick Miller, Hiram Carter. Gay Allen was a girl on the boys’ team. I’m doing this from memory, and I’m sure I’m missing a few people. Sesame Street by the Sea. If you were born in the village and go back five generations, just be careful you don’t marry your cousin, and, yes, this is your hometown, but as we say on the “Streets of Philadelphia” (Bruce), “Who’d you ever beat?” May not be my hometown, but nevertheless I am a homie.

Going Tex Flannery - John Francis Tex Flannery was a longtime football coach at LaSalle College High School in Philly. Tex passed away in November 2007. Every sports person in Philly knew Tex, a former bar owner. After retirement from coaching, he sometimes just went to a practice and sat in the bleachers waiting for someone with whom to share stories. If you knew him, he knew you. I talked to him one afternoon at a Temple practice after delivering Cape’s Tommy Sheehan to the Owl’s Nest. Sports guys passing an afternoon sharing stories – it just doesn’t get any better. Last week, I stayed away from open fields field hockey on Lina Fred’s first night and later skipped the Mid-Atlantic Lifeguard Championships, where Mikey Fred competed for the Dewey Beach Patrol. “They don’t need to be tracked by a grandfather with a camera that weighs more than his head,” I told Susan. “I’m stepping off.” “Just go Tex Flannery, sit on a bench and talk to people and leave your camera at home. Can you do that?” The answer is I have not attained that level of Zen and most likely never will.    

Snippets - “If you see something, say something” – you know, like results from a travel tournament. I don’t know the appropriateness or derivation of the phrase “all over hell and half of Georgia,” but there are local athletes across the pantheon of sports competing someplace every day of the week. And the culture for each sport is different, but the bottom line is somebody is getting paid while others have their Venmo accounts debited. “Rules are rules” is a truism. Eventually, some rules are deemed dumb and discarded. I’d say keep the athlete alive and suspend the dumb rule, and we all live with that. Go on now, git! 

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