Remembering Pat Summitt

Pat Summitt (1952-2016)

Pat Summitt (1952-2016) — AP photo

For the past nine years, I’ve lived in the state of Connecticut, which also means the state of UConn basketball.

Men’s basketball. Women’s basketball. It doesn’t matter.

Hoops is both king and queen here in the Nutmeg State, which is perhaps one of the best things about the state.

That’s also why so many people here are reeling from the death of Pat Summitt, the former women’s basketball coach at the University of Tennessee.

Summitt — who was diagnosed with early onset dementia a few years back — died on Tuesday. She was 64 years old.

Some call her a pioneer. Some call her a game-changer. Some call her simply a legend. Those who knew her best called her coach, mom and friend.

She was all those things and more to those who knew her.

Here in Connecticut, she was called the enemy — which is why her death hit so hard even as we all knew it was coming.

You want to beat your arch-rival as many times as possible and UConn, under Geno Auriemma, did just that, winning 13 of 22 match-ups, including four in NCAA championship games.

You don’t want to lose them in such a heart-wrenching way.

For the last six years, I’ve had the honor of covering the UConn women’s basketball team. I never had the honor of covering a UConn-Tennessee game, however.

Summitt took the rivalry away from all the women’s college basketball fans in the country when she opted to stop scheduling UConn — even though she had actually won the last three meetings.

It was like the Yankees refusing to play the Red Sox. It perhaps even raised the ire against her even more.

My own connection to Summitt traces back to 1988 when I was a 22-year-old sports writer at the Bangor Daily News.

A woman named Trish Roberts was named the new head coach of the University of Maine women’s basketball team, and she just  happened to be a Tennessee graduate and one of Summitt’s former players.

Summitt was already a legend back in 1988 — she was the John Wooden of the women’s game way before Auriemma won his 10th and 11th national titles.

Still, when I called her to interview her about Roberts getting the job, Summitt was more than gracious, giving the young reporter all the time he needed to do his job.

The class she had became even more evident three years later when Summitt agreed to bring her top-ranked team to the Bangor Auditorium to play Roberts’ Black Bears.

Usually, to get a big school and big-time program to come to your hole-in-the-wall backwoods gym you need to work out an agreement where you’ll agree to play a couple of road games in the belly of the beast in return.

Summitt said she’d come to Roberts for a home-and-home series to help her further develop UMaine growing women’s basketball. More impressive, though, Tennessee would travel to Maine before the Black Bears ever set their Nikes in the Volunteer State.

It was Dec. 13, 1990, and Tennessee defeated Maine 77-64.

Maine would finish 20-8 that season, but that 14-point loss to the Vols helped boost the team’s confidence and springboard the Black Bears to an eight-game winning streak that carried over into league play.

To me, though, it was proof that Summitt — who once again was gracious and approachable — cared as much about the big picture of women’s basketball as she did her own program.

Who goes to play Maine on the road in the dead of winter with nothing to lose, unless you have to?

Pat Summitt does.

And that’s all I really ever needed to know about her.

The death of future vacations

So long vacation to the tropics and more. (Photo courtesy of wallpaperswide.us).

So long vacation to the tropics and more. (Photo courtesy of wallpaperswide.us).

I was on vacation last week. Well, for about 17 1/2 hours of last week. Somehow, for the other 20 hours of my “work-free” week, I was working.

It’s not entirely my fault, I suppose, even though it is. I can’t just walk away, even though that is what a vacation is supposed to be. I’m just not wired to leave it all behind, especially when there is nobody there to pick up the slack.

Last week for the first (and probably last) time in my life I took two straight weeks off. I knew I had the staff to handle it.

That is no longer the case.

Thus, today, on Saturday, June 25th in the year of our God, 2016, I have discovered the one reality of my new-found professional life. Vacations are officially dead to me.

RIP, old friend. I hardly knew ye.

That’s it. Plain and simple in my black and white world.

The company I now work for — the one that bought my newspaper and gutted my staff from four employees down to one (me) — has left me with no choice moving forward.

Ok, there is a choice. Take a week off and let my Sports Section and, more importantly, my readers suffer.

Or, say screw it. Vacations are no longer part of the equation.

I’m going with the latter decision because that’s who I am and what I am. The news doesn’t stop.

Sure I get 15 “vacation” days every year on top of X-amount of personal days and X-amount of sick days and some holiday days accrued as I work them.

But taking five straight days off with a couple of weekends sandwiched around each side? That’s ancient history, my friends, and it won’t be happening again anytime soon.

It can’t. There is nobody there to pick up the pieces and do the job I’m being paid to do.

Granted, it’s a bad business plan — having just one person being responsible for the coverage of three towns and four high schools and countless other programs from within the world of sports.

One person can’t do the job properly by working a 37.5 hour week, which is why I’m a salaried kind of guy clocking 50 hour weeks on a regular basis. How is the job supposed to get done when there is nobody there to do it?

Yes, you can hire “freelancers” to cover a one event a day and stick it on your front cover and say, “Look — Local.”

But, readers aren’t stupid. The events we missed in the week I was “out” should not have been missed.

I, however, am stupid — I’m “stupid” enough to put my readers first and the athletes that I cover in front of my own well-being and time-off.

Thus, moving forward, for as long as I am a Hearst employee, I will not take another vacation.

There goes my trip to China … my bucket-list journey of taking a train trip across these United States of America … my renting another cabin or an RV and heading to my native Maine for a week of R&R (and mosquitoes … and ants).

If and when, as the schedule allows, I’ll try to steal days here and there. Maybe a three-day weekend or two this summer.

What I will not do, however, is leave my Sports section high and dry for another week.

We’re asking our readers to pay more while giving them less. How the hell am I supposed to look at them in the eye when I see them at a game or an event? It’s already hard enough to do.

I was trained in this business by the best of the best — the crew that ran the Bangor Daily News Sports Section from 1984 to 1997.

They taught me how to work hard, what was right and what was wrong in this business of sports journalism, and to take pride in the product we’re putting out seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.

Back then vacations were easy to take because you knew the rest of the staff had your back and was willing to step up and do more work to allow you your time to rest and recharge.

Today, that’s no longer possible for a couple of reasons — the most obvious being the straight-up fact that department sizes have shrunk so much that it’s almost impossible to pick up anybody’s slack when so much is already being piled upon another’s plate.

The  readers come first. If newspapers really plan on surviving, or finding a road back to profitability, that is something the business leads to remember.

Orlando

Ray Rivera, left, a DJ at Pulse Orlando nightclub, is consoled by a friend, outside of the Orlando Police Department after a shooting involving multiple fatalities at the nightclub, Sunday, June 12, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)

Ray Rivera, left, a DJ at Pulse Orlando nightclub, is consoled by a friend, outside of the Orlando Police Department after a shooting involving multiple fatalities at the nightclub, Sunday, June 12, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)

Twenty dead children in Newtown isn’t going to change anything, why would 51 people in Orlando?

Sorry. That’s cold. But that’s just how I feel.

I’m so disgusted by this country right now. By our leaders. By a certain part of our citizenry. By the Us vs. Them attitude that is so decisive that there is no room for any middle ground.

It’s wrong. It’s just wrong and people are dying every day because of it.

Orlando is supposed to be about Disney and Magic — both the NBA team that calls the city home and the bright-eyed wonderment of young children who get their first hug from Mickey Mouse, or take their first awe-inspiring trip through Spaceship Earth.

Over the past 48 hours, it’s been about madness and darkness coming together, leaving behind too many dead bodies to ignore.

Lives are shattered. Hearts are broken. Everybody says the right thing, but nobody does anything about it.

Here we go again.

This isn’t just about guns, but it is about guns. It’s also about mental illness. It’s about terrorism. It’s about hatred. It’s about a never-ending wave of violence coming to your neighborhood soon.

It’s about us looking into a mirror and saying is this really the country we want to be?

It’s about Littleton. Aurora. San Bernadino. Newtown.

And now it’s about Orlando.

Shots ring out, blood gets spilled, the spotlight hits and then it fades away until the next shots are fired in the next place you’d never expect it to happen.

This isn’t just about Sunday’s deadly massacre at The Pulse, either.

Twenty-eight hours before that a 22-year-old young woman whose talent was inspiring others was gunned down after she gave a concert to a group of her fans.

FILE - In this June 29, 2014 file photo, "The Voice" Season 6 contestant Christina Grimmie performs as part of "The Voice Tour" at Cobb Energy Centre, in Atlanta. Florida authorities say "The Voice" star Grimmie is in critical condition after being shot at a concert venue in Orlando by a suspect who then fatally shot himself after being tackled by the singer-songwriter's brother. Orlando Police Department officials tell WKMG-TV that Grimmie was shot Friday night at The Plaza Live, where she was scheduled to perform. (Photo by Robb D. Cohen/Invision/AP, File)

In this June 29, 2014 file photo, “The Voice” Season 6 contestant Christina Grimmie performs as part of “The Voice Tour” at Cobb Energy Centre, in Atlanta. (AP Photo)

Christina Grimmie’s death is in the shadows now. Few will know why her killer did what he did because some other sick son of a bitch was able to buy an assault weapon and a hand gun, and days later walk into an LGBT club and open fire.

Fifty people killed. Another 53 hurt. It’s being called the worst mass casualty shooting incident in the history of the United States of America.

And it happened on our watch, folks.

Before the shots rang out, both sites were all about celebration — a concert and a club. It didn’t matter who was inside and what was being celebrated. It was all about love and music and enjoying each other and the night together.

It was about what the United States of America is supposed to be about.

And then it wasn’t.

Yet because we are too weak as a country to find a solution, we can’t stop it.

We say the right things in small talk to each other. We find a way to send our prayers in 140 characters or less, and it feels like we’re doing something.

Asshats like me who put together their own soap box of a blog to bang away their frustration on a keyboard will spew forth all the things that need to be said. Yet nothing is going to be done.

These United States of America has become a war zone.

During the Blitz in World War II, you never knew for sure where the bombs were going to fall. One day is was a neighborhood across the city. A week later, it was your neighborhood being destroyed.

It’s a whole new century and we’re fighting this war on multiple fronts, never sure where the next blitz will come from.

We have terrorist overseas and those here who are “home grown” and being called “lone wolves.” We have the mentally ill who either fall through the cracks, or never even get a chance to get into the system to get any kind of help. We have those who were bullied, lashing back out at the world and dealing in retribution that is 10-fold from which they had received.

We’re barely fighting back, so today a mother was forced to stand outside of a hospital not sure if her son is dead, or hurt, or dropped their phone as her ran away from the hail of bullets and the carnage of fallen people behind him.

She’s heartbroken and it’s understandable.

We continue do nothing — NOTHING!!!! — and I don’t understand that at all.

A Kodak moment gone forever

Yours truly, ready to capture that moment ... except when I'm told not to.

Yours truly, ready to capture that moment … except when I’m told not to.

It was a Kodak moment and it was happening right in front of me; ready, willing and able to be captured for all of time by simple press of a button.

A girl named Shayne Rivard, a senior at Joel Barlow High School in Redding, Connecticut, had just scored the game-winning goal in overtime of a state girls lacrosse semifinal, saving the season for her team and her fellow seniors.

Right after scoring the goal, Rivard turned to her bench, stuck both of her arms out in celebration, as if to say, “Come get me” to her team. They obliged, burying her on the turf in a pile of winners who lived to play another day.

Before they got there, however, behind her all of her teammates who were on the field with her seemed to collectively leap into the air in celebration. In contrast, each of her opponents either collapsed to the ground in disbelief or hung their heads in heartbreak.

Like I said, a Kodak moment that summed the game with one click of a button, one-one thousandth of a second frozen forever by the click of a shutter.

Photography — especially sports photography — is a funny thing.

Yes, it takes a certain skill to take a good sports photo, and that is something I’ve learned to master over the 34 years I’ve been taking photos. It takes knowing the games, and anticipating what comes next.

But there is also a little bit of luck to it.

Sometimes you need to be in the right place at the right time and on Tuesday afternoon I was.

I was standing right next to the Joel Barlow bench when Rivard scored her game-winning goal.

I was able to capture Shayne Rivard of Joel Barlow High School, right, during another game earlier this season, but at one of the greatest moments of her athletic life, I let somebody else's decision handcuff me in doing what I do best. (Photo by John Nash)

I was able to capture Shayne Rivard of Joel Barlow High School, right, during another game earlier this season, but at one of the greatest moments of her athletic life, I let somebody else’s decision handcuff me in doing what I do best. (Photo by John Nash)

When she turned around to face her team, striking her victorious pose, it was as if she was posing for me.

The greatest moment of her athletic life ready to be captured with a photo that would tell 1,000 words.

I saw it. I saw everything and knew what could have been.

Yet I didn’t take a single picture.

For the last 20 years I’ve been a journalist, I’ve gone to an event with a camera slung over my shoulder and a reporter’s notebook shoved into my back pocket.

Not only can I do it all, but it do it all damn well, thank you very much.

Fifty-seven days ago, though, that all changed.

That’s the day my newspaper was sold to a larger conglomerate, a more corporate-minded approach to how to do local news.

It may not be the right way, but it’s their way, so get in line and march, folks.

So I found myself covering a game on Tuesday afternoon without my camera.

I asked The Powers That Be if they wanted me to shoot the game I was covering (For the record, I wasn’t even covering the game for my newspaper, but one of the four others owned by this company) because I was groomed to believe that if you’re going to cover local sports right, you’re going to do it 100 percent correct.

I was told, no; no pictures needed.

So I got in line and marched to the game, bearing witness to a great finish without the ability to capture it with a click of the button.

Thus, Shayne Rivard’s Kodak moment disappeared forever.

 

The second I was recognized the moment had slipped by, I was angry. And I’ve vowed that my camera is coming with me to every single game I’m covering from here until they burn me and my Nikon in the crematory where I’ll be cooked to a crisp.

The paper may not want to use it — and that’s there prerogative (space considerations and other game come into play, I know that) — but I will not let such an image slip by me again.

Bad luck is one thing. Being in the wrong place at the right time is another thing.

But when I punch that clock and go to work, my camera is coming with me no matter what.

I owe that to next Shayne Rivard, whose Kodak moment will not slip away forever into just mental imagery.

Four Chairs and an Ass

Or, perhaps I should title this, “Why I Hate The World, Exhibit 237.”

Anybody who knows anything about Connecticut Me knows I start my morning the same way: By making the two block journey up to my local deli for my breakfast sandwich and cup of Joe.

This deli has a public area that is sort of shaped like a backwards L. When you walk in the door, you can walk straight and go shopping for overpriced items that are the “convenient” part of the convenience store, or you can take a sharp left and walk past the newspapers, a wall of hard rolls and an ice machine and get to the coffee carafes and get your day off to a good start.

Immediately to the left of the coffee, along a window that overlooked the parking lot and street, sat four chairs next to a small shelf.

That’s it. Just four chairs, a small shelf, and a window.

Now it was here every morning where — depending on what time of the morning I actually rolled out of a bed — I would see a group of regulars hanging out, talking, telling stories and catching up.

There was Ivan, a man closing in on 100 years old, who — if he was gone too long — well, let’s just say, people would wonder the worst.

There was Charlie, a big hockey fan who in retirement decided he wasn’t going to just sit around doing nothing, and volunteers his time “working” at the local recreation department keeping an eye on its facilities.

There’s also Chuck and Annie, a country-traveling married couple; Joe, a proud father and grandfather whose son works at a newspaper upstate; and there is a guy whose name I don’t know, but he was, more often than not, the most regular of the regulars.

Today, when I walked into the deli, the chairs were gone. It dawned on me that I actually noticed this earlier in the week, but I thought it was just a one-day thing.

Today, I asked the lady behind the counter.

It appears that some Asshole came into the store one day and asked to use the bathroom. The store does not have a public bathroom and the customer was refused access.

Now the bathroom in this store is located out back, near the private offices where I’m sure some of the money is kept, so it’s the last place you want customers having access to. As such, I totally understand the owner’s right to refuse anybody access.

Well Mr. Asshole obviously didn’t. And because the deli had four chairs (no tables, mind you – just four chairs and a shelf) he reported them to the local health department who gave the deli’s owner an ultimatum: Either open your bathroom to the public, or get rid of the chairs.

So that’s why the four chairs are gone. That’s why the store’s regulars no longer hang out, greet each other and catch up on each others lives.

Because some asshole wasn’t allowed to go pee.

Now, I’m at a stage in my life where I don’t really tolerate such bullshit from people. If I knew who this person was, I would track them down and relieve myself right on their front stoop. (No. 2, too, by the way … none of this No. 1 stuff for this clown!)

What right did this person have to do that? … To go so far out of his way to do that, just for revenge over a business that didn’t want him – or her, I suppose – walking through the store’s private space?

There are so many things to hate about this world (cough *Donald Trump* cough) and this life and time in which we live in. My generation has really changed this country and not necessarily for the better.

One of those things the world really misses is a group of people sitting around talking with each other, getting to know each other, looking each other in the eye.

Remember when we did that? I do because I remember these regulars doing that for the last decade.

And there are so many big things I can get aggravated by, I don’t know why such a little thing gets under my craw so much. I don’t know why it behooves me to rush to this site, to spew off such venom here.

Maybe I feel a little better, but let’s be honest. It does nothing to fix the real problem of how we treat each other as a mankind.

 

 

Ape vs. Boy: Is this really an argument we’re having?

Harambe, the silverback gorilla, killed last week after a three-year-old boy fell into his pen at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Harambe, the silverback gorilla, killed last week after a three-year-old boy fell into his pen at the Cincinnati Zoo. (Photo courtesy of the Cincinnati Zoo)

A young boy falls into an enclosure that houses gorillas at a Cincinnati zoo and in order to save the boy’s life, a decision is made to kill a gorilla.

Sounds like a no-brainer to me.

Ape vs. Boy — I’m taking the boy each and every time.

Yet there are actually people who are stepping up and speaking out loud that more consideration should have been given to the gorilla in this situation. They speak as though the boy might have deserved what might have been coming to him had things gone wrong while tempting a wild  animal with a handful of bananas. Some of these people have even placed blame on the mother.

After 50 years of gracing God’s green Earth, society frustrates me at so many turns lately.

I never imagined how the world would come to this. It’s us vs. them, whether it’s in the halls of our government, or the cages of our zoos — both of which can be confused with each other from time to time.

Somehow, we are the land where a crazed young man can walk into an elementary school 20 miles from where I live, pull out an automatic weapon and slaughter innocent children.

Nothing changes when that happens.

Walk into an gorilla pen and kill a primate, though, and there are people stepping up — more than 100,000 thousand people in 48 hours, if you believe a CNN report — and have taken the gorilla’s side.

Go figure.

Look, I feel bad for the ape. I really do. I’m the guy who drives down the road and sees road kill and I feel bad for the animal, getting snuffed out by a passing car despite just trying to live its life in the woods and wild.

So when it comes to Harambe — that’s the name of the 450-pound silverback gorilla that was killed — it’s too bad he had to die.

When an inkling or two of that feeling creeps into me, though, I remember what the zookeeper said about him.

“I’ve seen him crush a coconut with his bare hands.”

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Shoot the ape. Save the boy. Period.

People will bring up a few other high-profile cases where children fell into a primate pit and seemed to be protected by the animals inside.

Is that a risk you’re willing to take, though?

Granted, you’re hoping Harambe will pick up the kid and start to burp him, or something cute that you can videotape with your iPhone and throw it up on You Tube, but those who know the gorilla best — the zookeepers — made the decision they felt was best.

Ape vs. Boy? Shoot the ape. Save the boy. Period.

“That child’s life was in danger,” zoo director Thane Maynard said. “People who question that don’t understand you can’t take a risk with a silverback gorilla — this is a dangerous animal. Looking back, we’d make the same decision. The child is safe.”

That’s what counts, isn’t it?

You would think so, but there are people out there who for some reason always put an animal’s right before a human being’s.

I can’t explain it.

I simply can’t understand how somebody’s synapses would work to trigger the ultimate siding of a wild animal in this case.

I understand the could-haves.

They could have shot the gorilla with a tranquilizer gun, but as officials have stated — those who know how such things work — it takes time to tranquilize an animal of that size and chances are shooting a gorilla with a dose of knock out juice is likely going to piss him off at little at first.

In short, it would be far too unpredictable to risk.

Maybe they could have walked in with a banana, or whatever food group would work best, and tried to lure the gorilla away from the boy. But do we even know when the gorilla last ate? Maybe Harambe would have invited the boy over for lunch, thereby not leaving his side at all.

Too many questions, far too many risks, and too few answers that totaled up 100 percent correct.

Save for one.

I was raised to love animals, always had pets who were part of the family. But I also feel I have common sense when it comes to animals vs. humans. It’s a pretty easy decision to make.

Ape vs. Boy? Shoot the ape. Save the boy. Period.