13 May, 2008

Women's College Softball team goes 0-25, learns sports greatest lesson...

The Rosemont College softball team just finished their season, unfortunately they failed to record a single victory finishing 0-25, and 0-20 in the Pennsylvania Athletic Conference, finishing dead last. Sadly, none of the Ramblers games made it past the 5-inning 'mercy rule'. This season, as bad as it seems, isn't a far cry from the 1-23 season they posted just a year ago. "I had to start with the basics: This is a ball. This is a glove. This is a bat," Ramblers coach Joe Long (top: pictured middle) said in an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer. "That first practice, I used rag balls and Wiffle balls and we still had girls jumping out of the way when I threw them a ball."

This isn't exactly a story of champions, but it is one of athletes who acted like champions. Rosemont, a 400-student, all-women, liberal-arts Catholic college nearly lost its program prior to this season when it graduated 4 seniors and 5 of its players didn't return for another season. The players who did stay played with heart and determination though.

"Quit? No, I never felt like quitting at all," said Tammy Do (top: pictured left, bottom: pitching), 21, a junior from Philadelphia PA who was 0-11 as one of two pitchers on the squad. "I couldn't be more proud."

Karen Boyle (top: pictured right), 19, a freshman infielder from Swarthmore PA, feels the same way. "It's hard to explain," Boyle said. "It has definitely made me stronger, and it helped make me realize that winning isn't everything."

"This was by far the best group of girls I've ever coached," Long said. "They stuck up for each other, and they never once got down on each other. I have never had a team bond like this. These kids have character."

This is really what sports should be all about. The games have become so much about winning, that this spectacle is hard to fathom for most sports fans, casual and die-hard alike. But it did happen and it should be remembered as a lesson for the ages. It is the real-life example of 'It's not whether you win or lose, its whether you have fun playing the game.' And isn't that the lesson we should be teaching the young athletes today?

And as for the Rosemont Ramblers hopes for next season, according to coach Long, "The goal for next year is to get past five innings." It's that simple, and it should be that easy for all athletes and coaches. Maybe we should all endure a winless season at some point in our lifetimes, it would surely make the victories that much sweeter. This season did have a bright spot after all the losses though. The Ramblers, who only have 10 girls on their squad, were awarded the 2008 Pennsylvania Athletic Conference Softball Team Sportsmanship Award. A fitting recognition for a deserving team.

06 May, 2008

To the winners go the spoils. Which Trophy is the best though?

Everyone grows up wanting to be a champion of something. Whether you have dreams of hitting that grand-slam home run in the bottom of the ninth to win the World Series, or sinking that three-pointer to close out game seven of the NBA championships. Everyone wants to win, but which trophy is the one worth winning? Here they are, and you can decide. Be sure to vote for your choice on the poll in the right column.

The Commissioner's Trophy is awarded each year by Major League Baseball to the team winning the World Series. The trophy was first awarded in 1967, when the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Boston Red Sox. The current trophy, which was redesigned slightly in 1999 and made by Tiffany & Co., is 24 inches tall, excluding the base, and 11 inches around. It weighs approximately 30 pounds and is made of sterling silver. The trophy features 30 gold-plated, hand-furled flags, one for each of the Major League teams, which rise above an arched silver ox baseball with latitude and longitude lines that symbolize the world. The baseball also contains 24-karat vermeil baseball stitches. The baseball itself weighs over 10 pounds. The base contains an inscription and the signature of the commissioner. It has an estimated value of $15,000. It was presented for the first time at the conclusion of the 2000 World Series, which was won by the New York Yankees. It is the only championship trophy of the Big Four that is not named after a particular person.

The Vince Lombardi Trophy is the trophy awarded each year to the winning team of the National Football League's annual championship game, the Super Bowl. The trophy was originally called the "World Championship Game Trophy" in 1967, when the Super Bowl was originally named the AFL-NFL World Championship Game. It was renamed in 1970 in memory of legendary Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi to commemorate his victories in the first two Super Bowls. Since Super Bowl XXX, it is presented to the winning team's owner on the field following the game. Previously, the trophy was presented inside the winning team's locker room. The trophy is valued at $25,000. The trophy depicts a regulation-size football in kicking position that is made entirely of sterling silver. It stands 23 inches (55 cm) tall, weighs seven pounds (3 kg), and takes approximately four months and 72 man-hours to create. The words "Vince Lombardi Trophy" and the NFL logo are engraved on the base. After the trophy is awarded, it is sent back to Tiffany & Co. to be engraved with the winning team's name, the date and final score of the Super Bowl. The winning team is rewarded the trophy afterward.

The Stanley Cup, awarded annually to the National Hockey League (NHL) champion, is the most coveted ice hockey club championship trophy in the world. The Stanley Cup is the oldest professional sports trophy in North America. Originally inscribed the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup, the trophy was donated by former Governor General of Canada Lord Stanley of Preston in 1892 as an award for Canada's top-ranking amateur ice hockey club. In 1915, the two professional ice hockey organizations, the National Hockey Association (NHA) and the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA), reached a gentlemen's agreement in which their respective champions would face each other for the Stanley Cup. After a series of league mergers and folds, it became the de facto championship trophy of the NHL in 1926. The Cup later became the official NHL championship prize in 1947. The Stanley Cup is surrounded by numerous legends and traditions, the oldest of which is the celebratory drinking of champagne out of the cup by the winning team. Unlike the trophies awarded by the other three major professional sports leagues of North America, a new Stanley Cup is not made each year; Cup winners keep it until a new champion is crowned. It is the only trophy in professional sports that has the name of the winning players, coaches, management, and club staff engraved on it. The original bowl was made of silver and has a dimension of 18.5 cm (7.28 inches) in height and 29 cm (11.42 inches) in diameter. The current Stanley Cup is made of silver and nickel alloy. It has a height of 89.54 cm (35.25 inches) and weighs 15.5 kg (34.5 lb).

The Larry O'Brien NBA Championship Trophy is awarded to the National Basketball Association team who wins the NBA Finals at the conclusion of every basketball season. The current NBA Championship Trophy was created for the 1978 NBA Finals, replacing the previous trophy design. Originally named after Walter A. Brown, it was renamed in 1984 in honor of former NBA commissioner Larry O'Brien. The trophy is made of approximately sixteen pounds of sterling silver and vermeil (with a 24 karat gold overlay) and stands about two feet tall. It is designed to look like a basketball about to enter a basketball net. The basketball itself is the same size as a regulation size NBA basketball. The trophy is created each year in the Tiffany & Co. Silver Shop. A new Larry O'Brien Trophy is made every year, and the winning team maintains permanent possession of that trophy. The trophy is engraved with the year and team name, and the trophies are often prominently displayed in the team's arena.

05 May, 2008

On Charging the Mound

For the most part, baseball is a passive aggressive sport. You focus all of your aggression and take it out on the baseball. What happens when the player is hit by the ball is something completely different though. It can be both comical and/or violent, depending on how the batter decides to react.

Every pitcher can only hope they are as lucky as this Japanese pitcher, when he beans Tony Batista. Sorry for the Japanese commentary, unless you speak Japanese in which case you're welcome.

Sometimes, it's not the pitcher that should be worried. If the batter happens to be Izzy Alcantara, maybe the catcher should be ready to defend himself.

Finally, when you think of the worst thing that can happen after you bean someone with a baseball, it would be this act by Jose Offerman. Offerman really uses all of his .373 career batting average on this one.

Just a word for the wise, be sure you know what you are getting into when you decide to charge that mound. Because, as Robin Ventura found out when he charged Hall-of-Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan in 1993, sometimes that pitcher just might be able to beat the crap out of you; even if he is in the final year of a 27 year MLB career.

Salem State Lacrosse Tournament Bound

The Salem State men's lacrosse team reaped the rewards of their hard work and determination today, when it was announced that they had received the fifth seed in this weeks Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) New England Lacrosse Championship Post-season Tournament. SSC, who posted an 8-4 record this year as an independent after returning to the varsity level for the first time since 2003, will play an opening round match at No. 4 seed Castleton (VT) State University (12-6) at 4:00 pm on Wednesday, May 7.

The winner of the SSC/CSU match will advance to the semifinal round and play at No. 1 seed Endicott College (16-3) on Saturday, May 10 at 12:00 pm. The other semifinal round match, between No. 2 seed Plymouth State University (12-5) and No. 3 seed Lasell College (9-6) will be played later that day at 3:00 pm at Endicott.

The championship match is scheduled for Sunday, May 11 at 1:00 pm at Endicott.

04 May, 2008

"Success Through Preparation, Teamwork and Leadership" with Bill Belichick

When it was announced that the mastermind behind the dynasty that is the New England Patriots, Bill Belichick, was the next featured speaker in the Salem State College series, I knew that I had to be there. After realizing that the tickets had sold out quicker than any speaker before, or so it seemed, I had to join the majority of students that had missed out on what should be a once in a lifetime experience. However, as Sports Editor at The Salem State Log I was fortunate enough to find my way into the lecture, in the top balcony with the rest of the local media. In accordance with Coach Belichick's contract, there were only local credentials in attendance. This wasn't the only thing Belichick had termed into his deal. Photography was only allowed for the first five minutes of the lecture, and only from your seat.

The capacity crowd at Rockett Arena was first greeted by new president of Salem State College, President Patricia Maguire Meservey, Ph.D., R.N. She proclaimed that she 'deeply treasures' her new position as president of the college, and received a loud cheer from the crowd upon mentioning the Patriots' prefect 16-0 season. Following the president was a short video collage of the Patriots' and Coach Belichick accompanied with Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir". The video covered all the major accomplishments of Coach Belichick's career, which are numerous.

Bill Belichick is a 33 year veteran of the NFL, and is the only coach in NFL history to win three Super Bowl titles in a four-year span. In 2007, Belichick led the Patriots to the fourth perfect (no losses or ties) regular season in the NFL's 88-year history and the first since the NFL established a 16-game schedule in 1978. He has led the patriots to the Super Bowl four times in the last seven season and has produced five straight AFC East titles and six division championships in the last seven seasons. Belichick's Patriots teams own the all-time NFL records for cosecutive total victories, 21 from 2003-04, consecutive regular-season victories, 19 from 2006-07, and consecutive playoff victories, 10 from 2001-05. Belichick owns the second best postseason record in NFL history, 15-4, and is the winningest NFL head coach since 2001 at 100-29. Belichick has spent more seasons in the league than any other current NFL head coach, and in that time has been a part of five Super Bowl championship teams. His overall record of 105-40 with the Patriots gives him the most victories and the best winning percentage of any head coach in franchise history.

This man is truly a football genius, but his humor is probably what makes him such a great coach. After a roaring ovation, coach Belichick commented on his apparent 'genius',

"I've been called a football genius, but I've also been called a moron by my kids; when I forget to take out the trash or I let the dogs off the leash.... So that kind of goes both ways."

Coach Belichick also offered some kind words about the City of Salem.

"We just finished the college draft last weekend and it seems like, in those later rounds, your always looking for those gems; similar to what Salem is to the state of Massachusetts.."

Take that Mass. Belichick thinks Salem is better than you. At least that's what he told us. Next, Coach Belichick reminded students to "Follow your heart, do what you love, and take a shot at it." He warned that years from now the things that you want most will only be yours if you get out there and make it happen. He says that you have to "Give it a chance to work out."

Next, Coach touched on the old cliche, "There's no 'i' in team; but there is an 'i' in win." The 'i', he says, stands for 'individuals'. He says that "if you want to win, then every one has to do their job, and go out there and out perform the competition..."

In the Belichick dictionary, under 'Leadership', it reads 'Attitude'. Attitude is the number one quality of leadership according to Coach Belichick. A leader does the following things:
1. He does his job.
2. He puts the team first.
3. He works hard.
4. He pays attention to the details, trying to get everything right.

A perfect mold for a perfect player, according to Belichick. Coach goes on to talk about Troy Brown and his leadership on the Patriots. He says that Troy is a quiet captain, but he just goes out there and 'does his job'. A leader in Belichick's book. The Coach admits that his weekly meetings with the Captains, where they 'talk about things that are important for winning', are the most helpful thing that he has done here in New England. Something that he admits he did not do while he was a coach for the Cleveland Browns. These meetings allow him and his coaches to let the captains know what the coaching staff needs from the team, but it also allows the captains to let the coaches know what the team expects from them. The captains then convey what needs to be done to the rest of the team, acting as liaisons to the coaches who are too busy to meet with every player about every problem. This is just one of the ways that the organization tries to be better prepared to do the best job possible.

A funny moment with Coach Belichick followed, when speaking about discipline he spoke about how sometimes you need to punish the whole team instead of just punishing just one player to make a larger statement. "When a player goes out there and makes a mistake, the team can suffer from that mistake. Conversely, when a player goes out there and successfully executes a play, the whole team benefits from that." He recalled a time on the practice field, when he was a defensive coordinator with the New York Giants, and the line continued jumping offsides. He started out by talking with the team, telling them how bad it was for the team to get the offsides calls. When that didn't work, he pulled guys out separately to tell them about it. He said he'd 'yell at 'em, and swear at 'em' and that didn't work either. Coach Belichick finally found his solution to the problem,

"If we jumped offsides, then the whole defense would just run a lap all the way around the field. And while they were running that lap, all the guys that didn't jump offsides were letting the guy who jumped know about it. And it really helped take care of the offsides problem, not that we don't jump offside, but I'll tell ya there's not a lot of it; and whenever it happens, they're running."

This was just the first comical story that Coach Belichick would share with the crowd. Next he recalled a time during training camp, where Matt Light kept asking for a night off for the team during August practices. Belichick says that he looked at Matt like "You gotta be kiddin' me!", which garners laughter from the crowd. He believes that training camp is the time where you need to be working everyday to be ready for the late game situations. This is where you build your stamina. He jokes with Light though, and says "You don't get something for nothing." Belichick challenged Matt Light, having him stand down field and catch a punt. If he catches it, then they get the night off; if he misses it then they will double the number of sprints they have to do that day. "To make a long story short, there was a lot of team building that went on in that next minute or so," he said, "Troy Brown was showing him how to shield the sun from his eyes, and Kevin Faulk was teaching him about rotation. Well, Light caught it." This was met with another booming applause from the crowd, but this story wasn't over yet. Next year, Vince Wilfork was the one who had to catch the punt. He caught it. So this past year, Wilfork was made to do it again; but this time he had to hold a football in his hand and catch the punt. "We won 18 straight games last year," Belichick said, "but when Wilfork caught that punt, that was one of the high points of the entire season." Even pro's like the New England Patriots know how to have fun. Belichick went on to say this though;

"When you are in charge of a group of people, like a team, first thing you do is put down some ground rules. And if they don't do it, then you immediately know that this guy is not part of the team, and that this guy is going to be a problem."

Belichick says that everyone should have the attitude that Randy Moss brought to New England. He came to the head coach and said to him, "Just tell me what I gotta do." Belichick called it the 'Randy Moss Attitude'. So thats what it is from now on, add it to the Belichick dictionary. The coach went on to talk about how football has changed in his long time with football. He talked about changes in formations and technology along his career. 'It's like that in every other job too," he reminds the crowd, "the landscape is gunna change." He says that learning to change and adapt is vital to making it in the work place, as well as on the football field.

Next, Coach Belichick spoke about a specific play that had received a lot of coverage the past season. It was a double-reverse pass ran against the Pittsburgh Steelers; where Brady lateral passed the ball to Moss, who dropped it (which he was not supposed to do) and picked it up and passed lateral passed it back to Brady, who found Jabar Gaffney deep into the Steelers end zone. "We initially put that play in against the Ravens," coach said, "so we called it 'raven'" he finished tapping his shoulder to emphasize how clearly things need to be stated in the football world. He says that they had been working on this play in practice and it had been going pretty good, but they realized that the play would work better if they flipped it over. So they practiced it until they had it right, and when they ran it in a game, it worked just as they had planned. 'Practice makes perfect' is the idea here.

This is where the evening got monumental. Coach Belichick began to break down practice and game films with the crowd at Salem State. "I know this is a little unconventional. Not like what President Clinton or President Bush or all those guys did," he claimed. He started with some punt coverage formations. A 'picket fence' move that he describes is supposed to trap the ball deep in the zone, before it gets to the goal line. He shows this play a few times through in practice films, then he shows it during game situations against the Redskins, the Chargers, and the Jets where it is clear that practicing the play makes it easier and more likely to happen during a game.

"Practice preparation become game reality."

The next video cues up, showing a bunch of large men jogging slowly around a football practice field. "Tell me what you think happened here." Belichick says evoking more laughter from from the crowd. Then he shows the clips of Light and Wilfork catching the punts at the training camp practices; the catch by Wilfork with the ball in his hand created the loudest cheer, and the biggest celebration from the Patriots on the practice film. This was priceless stuff for a fan of the organization.

Next, he showed the 'raven' play. He started breaking it down in the game film, rewinding constantly with his hand-held remote to make sure everyone sees what he is talking about. It went like this;

"Moss drops back, so it's a lateral, and Gaffney lined up right here is gunna go down and fake like he is going to block. See, this adds a lot of draw to the play when Moss drops it. We were planning on having him run around right over here for a little but and then throw it back but it all happened too fast. Nice perfect throw (from Moss to Brady)." Followed by loud applause from the crowd when Gaffney caught Brady's touchdown bomb.

Then Coach Belichick went back to practice, noting that they had been practicing the play from the other side of the field. The Patriot defense covers the play well the whole time, making Brady find other options than the Gaffney deep out. "Because the defense has seen it too many times," says Belichick. Finally, Coach Belichick runs the Steelers tape again, with the final result of Jabar Gaffney striding into the end zone in front of the trash talking Anthony Smith, who had "guaranteed" a victory over the Patriots and he wasn't sorry he had. "There's our boy Smitty," joked Coach Belichick, showing that he does take some offense to the trash talk that goes on in the game.

After this Coach Belichick mentioned Super Bowl XXXVI, where the Patriots team chose to be announced as a team. Which has become common practice for both teams in the Super Bowl.

To end the evening, Belichick fielded six questions that were previously submitted by Salem State students and one from faculty/staff. They went as follows:

1) Who is the most talent athlete you have ever worked with? Why?
- Lawrence Taylor. "Coming out of college, at North Carolina, he could run the 40 in 4.6. That's real good for a guy his size." Brady would have to be the best football player though.

2) After things didn't work out in Cleveland, were you ever worried that people might think of you as a defensive coordinator not a head coach?
- "I didn't get into football to be a head coach. I just love coaching."

3) How much of your success is attributed to you knowing someone rather than knowing something; in other words, how does "it's not what you know, it's who you know" pertain to your career?
- Belichick agrees with this statement. "Relationships that are based on respect are going to be the most meaningful to you."

4) What was the purpose of drafting Jerod Mayo in the first round of this years NFL Draft, and coach please don't tell us that you couldn't pass on the Mayo.
- "We just try to do what is best for our football team." Belichick refers to the incoming rookie as a '4 down player' who is very 'versitle'.

5) Does your uncanny ability to breakdown offenses stem from your patience on the golf course?
- "Definitely not. You obviously haven't seen me golf."

6) Has the media ever tried to get you to say things that would compromise your image as a head coach?
- Coach Belichick says that he meets with the media six times a week, "everyday but Thursday', and that he has ' a lot of respect for what they do.' He sees the media as the connection between the team and the fans.

7) What do you predict for the 2008-09 season?
- "We just try and keep short-term focus." He says that there is no need to think about the future. Training camp comes first, then they take it one game at a time.

That was the perfect way for Coach Belichick to end this amazing and exciting evening with probably the smartest football mind ever involved in the game. It was a once in a lifetime experience and I am so grateful to have been there for it.

I would just like to thank Jim Glynn of College Relations at Salem State College for allowing
me the credentials.

02 May, 2008

Football's Future at Salem State College

Salem State College has been making leaps and bounds in the past few years. It has added new dorms on Central Campus, acquired new parking for commuter students off of Canal Street, and has begun construction on new athletic fields behind the new dorms. All of these additions have greatly improved student life on campus, but some associated with the college still feel something is missing.

"What's Homecoming Weekend without a football game?" is the question asked by Salem State College Trustee Howard Wayne as he spearheads the campaign to create a Viking's Football team. This is a question that has been echoed across Salem State for years, and though it is well received, it seems to be no closer to reality. The process, which could involve the widening of Alumni Field, the expanding of the current field house, and the possible construction of a private training facility, is in the early stages of planning but would ultimately cost the school 'millions of dollars' to complete according to Salem State College Athletic Director and Women's basketball head coach Tim Shea.

AD Shea sees an on campus field as the right way to have a team. "The best programs are the ones that play on campus," Mr. Shea said. This feeling is evident presently in the construction of a baseball field on Central Campus to bring the Viking's baseball team on school grounds. In the past, they have had to share a field with Salem High school and play their games at Palmer Cove field in Salem's 'Point' neighborhood. Mr. Shea went on to say, "If we are going to add a program, we would like to do it in a way that they have a reasonable chance for success." This success would come at great expenses to the school.

On top of the renovations and constructions, a football team would require an initial $200,000 for equipment (blocking sleds, uniforms, pads, helmets...) as well as $65,000 annually for training supplies and regular team upgrades. These costs do not include the salaries for the staff that would need to be hired to make the team successful. The staff would have to include coaches (more than any team currently on campus), a personal equipment manager, a team secretary, and possibly more janitorial and training staffers to accommodate a team of 80-90 players (the lacrosse team currently has the most players per team, with around 30).

This influx of athletes also creates a problem in what AD Shea called "gender equity." This is the need for the College to keep a balance of men's and women's programs. Creating a football team would require Salem State to improve it's women's athletic programs also, to keep the two on an even keel. This can been seen in the Viking's lacrosse programs. Since the Men's Lacrosse team has been promoted to Division III status, the athletic department has brought back the Women's Club Lacrosse program to balance the scales, a football team would need the same counter element (Women's Hockey is one of the possible additions). The addition of a football team will ultimately require a recommendation from then school's new president Dr. Patricia Maguire Meservey, with advice from her staff and the Board of Trustees, to move forward. "I'm real passionate about the idea," said Trustee Wayne, "I feel football is the natural unifier for current students and our Alumni."