Archive for March, 2008

You play table tennis? I play ping pong

Monday, March 31st, 2008
Patrick Newell

So I slipped out of New York for a week earlier this month, a stealthy exit perhaps unbeknownst to local readers.
Let’s just say that local sports are on the down low from the midpoint of March until early-April. It is an ideal time of year to take a breather from the longest of our three high school sports seasons, and I decided to vacation in Florida and visit my best friend in the world, Aidamarie Rull. Aida and I spoke on the phone frequently discussing a to-do list for my seven-day stay. Hearing about her routine, my interest immediately piqued when she mentioned her ping pong games three times a week at the local YMCA in Navarre. Aida grew up playing the game frequently with her family, but had not played regularly in years. She made the acquaintance of two retired gentlemen, John Lawlor and Grant Urquhart (sounds like “Erk-hart.”), who had their own high-level table stored at the YMCA’s facility. Aida befriended John and Grant, and she was soon joining them along with others in round-robin type matchups. She recounted her daily experiences of table tennis, and I admitted to some envy. I, too, grew up playing ping pong recreationally, but had played sparsely since my college days almost 18 years ago. (Note my flip-flopping use of ping pong and table tennis depending on who I am talking about. My pointed usage will be explained later).
We resolved to make ping pong a part of our morning regimen after working out in the YMCA’s fitness area. Sidenote: Aida is a certified personal trainer and children’s fitness specialist, and she trains and teaches classes at the YMCA.
I was so hyped up to play ping pong, two days before I took my flight out of Syracuse, I resolved to buy the absolute “best” paddle Wal-Mart had to offer. After dispensing a tad over $6 after tax, I was ready to take on all comers.
Early in my stay, Aida and I purchased some ping pong balls so we could play on the weekend before I actually met John and Grant for their thrice-weekly games on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. It was a nice tuneup for the both of us, and a heck of a lot of fun. Doing some research for this blog, I learned that table tennis is one of the world’s most popular games. Considering how I have never met anyone who didn’t enjoy the game upon trying it, I should have assumed that in the first place.
Monday, I was introduced to John and Grant, and therein, the differences between ping pong and table tennis were laid before me. The YMCA’s dynamic table tennis duo usually do a warmup in the YMCA fitness room before embarking on their ball striking fun. Within their duffle bag contains multiple paddles protected with their own form-fitted cover, a buffing and cleaning instrument to wipe the surface of their paddles clean, and multiple balls that are of tournament-level caliber. These two gentlemen come to play table tennis with paddles that cost possibly 10 times what I paid at Wal-Mart. In comparison, I am a hack who has never invested a penny in the game, and the Wal-Mart paddle is the first piece of table tennis equipment I ever purchased.
Summary: Table tennis is not just the formal name for the game, it also describes – in my opinion – the caliber of player. I, Patrick Newell, play ping pong – an informal name for the sport adopted some time ago, and an accurate allocation for informal/novice players.
I learned some nuances of the game during the week (keep your serves low or they will be smacked back at you down your throat was lesson numero uno) I also picked up on rules changes that were implemented a few years ago to increase fan interest among world-class players.
For instance: Games are now played to 11 instead of 21. Two serves are awarded for each player and rotated until someone reaches 11 points. Players must win by two points — the same as the old rules — and in the event of a tie, 10-10, each player alternates one serve at a time until a person wins by two points. The second more glaring rules change is that a player can no longer serve out of his hand, thereby hiding the ball until striking the ball. A ball toss of at least six inches is required before serving. I would imagine that rules change would presently affect a large number of novice players.
A playing buddy of Grant, John, and Aida, whom I met during the week, Kenny, is just a big ol’ cheater. (Just kidding Kenny). He whistles serves at break-neck speed utilizing the hidden-ball-in-hand technique. Kenny, a retired EMT and firefighter, is another great guy I met, and I thank all of the gentlemen — and Aida of course — who reinvigorated my interest in a game I loved for years.

A sincere apology

Friday, March 28th, 2008
Michael McGuire

Sorry for the long break in between blog updates. I was suspended for two weeks, nearly fired, in the wake of my controversial Tom Petty and Bobby Brown opinion pieces.

The break gave me time to think, long and hard. And I’m here today to apologize and, with your blessing, to start over.

I made two unfortunate, and clearly damaging, mistakes. Both Mr. Petty and Mr. Brown are American heroes. You folks made me realize that. For attempting to tarnish their legacies, I am truly sorry.

As an act of contrition, I’m enrolling my five-year-old son in a Bobby Brown drug seminar. No, no, Mike Jr. doesn’t have a drug problem, yet. This was a preemptive measure. My hope is he’ll learn from the best how to be a man and how to do the right thing. Clearly, I can’t offer him that. But after finally hearing all the songs Mr. Brown did with his childhood group, New Edition, I’m confident that he will get my son started on the right path (giving my boy the chance I never had).

As for my personal thoughts on Mr. Petty. I love Tom Petty. I own all his records. The truth is, Jeff Lynne, his former and least known band-mate in the Traveling Wilburys, forced me to write all that bad stuff about him. If I didn’t, Lynne, also the frontman for Electric Light Orchestra, was going to make me wear a wig afro and dark tinted sunglasses at gunpoint and videotape me singing “Don’t Bring Me Down” and put it on YouTube. It was all part of his sinister plot to get back at Tom for not only overshadowing his role in the Wilburys, but for Tom’s overall status in the music business. (Lynne never got over being underrated as a guitarist, lead singer, songwriter and producer). The national embarrassment I would’ve faced couldn’t compare to the pain I caused. Sorry.

Never the less, I must choose my blog topics more carefully, given the sensitivity expressed by my readers. So I’ll quit chasing waterfalls, and stick to subjects I’m used to. Like deep-fryers. That said, If they dunked salad in bubbling-hot peanut oil, I’d eat it. And I’m not afraid to say it…

Loomis gets due respect

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008
Patrick Newell

Otselic Valley has one of the best kept secrets in head varsity boys’ basketball coach Dave Loomis. He’s self-effacing to the point where the Amish would admire his modesty. Completely deferential to his players’ efforts, Loomis was justly – and duly – noted for his coaching exploits last month. Section III named Loomis its 2007-2008 Class D-2 Coach of Year. Admittedly, I had no idea he won this award, as Loomis certainly was not going to tell me. Fortunately, an Otselic Valley fan and patron informed by telephone of Loomis’ honor, and I pledged to follow up.
For 21 seasons, Loomis has piloted a successful Vikings club. In my tenure, his team has made two Section III finals, and this past season, a 20-2 mark overall, was one of the school’s best-ever seasons. Often, coaches get too much credit for winning or too much of the blame for losing. In Dave’s case, he’d prefer to fade into the shadows and remain unnoticed.
I congratulated Dave on his award in a recent conversation, and his response: “It’s (the award) more the result of the program and what it has done in previous years,” he said. “If a coach wins the award, it is usually due to the success of the team.”
“Talent wins games” is a bit of a misstatement, in my estimation. If all other things are equal, superior talent does usually win games. Yet, unharnessed talent or skills that are not properly realized can lead to unfulfilled expectations. Working with Dave for 13 seasons and having bore witness to his coaching, he knows how to properly utilize talent. His teams play the game the right way: Plenty of hustle, oodles of hard work, in-your-face defense, working for the best shot in offensive sets, and playing unselfishly and together.
In case you haven’t met Dave, he is not a physically imposing gentleman. He is often times the smallest man on the basketball floor, but he commands the respect of his players, and from the recent vote of Section III coaches, has earned the respect of his peers. Congratulations again Mr. Loomis.

When will they learn?

Monday, March 10th, 2008
Jessica Lewis

Political scandals are nothing new. Whether it is having not so appropriate relations in the oval office, sending scandalous instant messages to under age boys, getting caught literally with your pants down in an airport bathroom or being involved in a high end prostitution ring, it seems politicians never think they are going to be caught.

With the hundreds of political scandals that make the news everyday, I’m not sure why countless politicians assume they are above the law, and that they will never get caught. When it comes to public figures, someone is always watching, and few people are going to miss the opportunity to rat you out.

Perhaps these people aren’t afraid of getting caught because they feel they can get away with it. I guess generally, that is the case, but as a voter, I feel the American people deserve a little more from our political leaders. I’m not asking for perfection, just honesty. If you’re going to fight adamantly against something in the political world, try to keep your nose out of it in your private life.

Bobby Brown: It’s my prerogative – to be a mentor?

Monday, March 3rd, 2008
Michael McGuire

It’s not shocking that the once-famous R&B singer Bobby Brown got busted for having cocaine.

What is shocking is that anyone, a judge no less, would think Bobby’s got something to teach kids about the dangers of drugs.

Brown was court-ordered last week to be a mentor to teenagers as “punishment” for possession. Reports say that’s the judgment he “wanted” anyway.

This case is proof that the patients are running the asylum.

Not only does Brown escape punishment, but the court puts him on a pedestal as someone people, kids, should look up to. Exactly what he was hoping for! (What better way to reinforce negative behavior than by letting it go unpunished and giving it a seal of approval).

So what if he used to be a celebrity? The question is: What positive message can he send to teenagers about drug use? That, apparently, we don’t have to held accountable for our actions. And that before we’ve even proven we can overcome our addictions, we – if we had a few hit singles almost 20 years ago – get a free pass to be the voice of sobriety.

If the courts want to let celebrities skate the law, then just let them. Let them go free and don’t even give a reason. But don’t add insult to injury. Don’t make them mentors!

What’s next? Will Joe Francis, the creator of “Girls Gone Wild,” start teaching seminars on the importance of morality in order to skirt his legal troubles.

Kids are smart. They can see right through BS, better than most adults. If we keep giving them role models that aren’t credible, they’ll keep following our lead.

If you want to make an example out of Bobby Brown, about the consequences of drug use, send him to jail.