Pat's Reporter Blog

Sports Editor’s Playbook, Dec. 8, 2014

Monday, December 8th, 2014
Patrick Newell

Sports stories can come at any place, any time. This one isn’t so much a story, but a welcomed experience. Since I was a little kid, I followed boxing closely. Remember the days when boxing’s biggest stars appeared on “cable television?” I do, although it was so long ago, this generation completely missed out on that free experience. This past Saturday night, I traveled down to Oxford to cover the Clyde Cole Wrestling Tournament finals. The schedule said the tournament dedication was slated at 5 p.m., with introductions and matches to follow. Let’s just say, the schedule was off a good 90 minutes or so, but that extra time allowed me to mix with some old friends…and meet one of boxing’s greats from the 1990s.
About 10 minutes after I arrived, Sun staff photographer, Frank Speziale, found me sitting near the head table, and he was smiling ear to ear. He told about a picture he had just taken of Ray “Merciless” Mercer. I thought to myself, you mean “Merciless” Ray Mercer. I didn’t correct Frank, he was beyond excited.
First question I ask Frank: “Why is Ray Mercer in Oxford?” Frank didn’t have all of the details, but he hurried back to his contact person to grab more information. I learned that Mercer was working with Eddy Pezzino (a Greene High grad and former athlete). Pezzino owns American Sports Equity, and part of the company’s message is to deliver the anti-bullying message to schools in the Southern Tier. Oxford was the latest stop, and Mercer was the special guest helping deliver that message.
Pezzino, who was well aware of the Clyde Cole tourney as a former wrestler, had Mercer stay on until Saturday, and Mercer helped present medals to the weight class winners. Mercer was seated matside, and I took the seat right next to him prior to the opening bout. I got to chat with Mercer for a good 30 minutes (during breaks in the wrestling action), and was able to pick his brain a little bit. Mercer is an avid outdoorsman, and particularly enjoys fishing. I talked up the great outdoors opportunities in Chenango County, so maybe we’ll see Mercer back here some day. Mercer hails from Jacksonville, Fla., although I’m not sure he lives there now. He remarked about the quiet, safe atmosphere during his stay in Oxford. “I’ve been here a day and a half, and I haven’t heard a siren,” he said. If I had the right platform, I would have asked him all about his career, one that took off after he won the heavyweight gold medal at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea. Mercer was already in his late 20s when he won the gold medal, so his window was fairly short. He captured a world title in 1991, and during that era, fought nearly all of the great heavyweights during that era including Larry Holmes, Tommy Morrison, Michael Moorer, Evander Holyfield, and many others. Turns out, his career as a fighter lasted until he was 48 years old when he took an MMA fight against former UFC heavyweight champion, Tim Sylvia in 200.
Mercer gave away seven inches in height and about 50 pounds, but recorded one of the fastest knockouts ever recorded – a one-punch knockout in nine seconds. That was a great way to end a career, and Mercer agreed. “I knew if I caught him on the chin, I would knock him out,” Mercer said. Mercer’s obligations ended after he handed out the first series of awards up to the 125-pound weight class before slipping out for the evening. I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye, but I was certainly pleased to share some time with a boxing legend.

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Sports Editor’s Playbook, Nov. 4, 2014

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014
Patrick Newell

I have a column running in the Wednesday, Nov. 5 edition, and below is a portion of the piece. Check out the full version in tomorrow’s online and print editions:


Although Oxford fans may not fully agree, the Blackhawks’ 40-39 loss to Deposit-Hancock Thursday, Oct. 30, is a perfect example of why I love sports.
You never know what is going to happen.
CBS television staple, “Survivor,” has spawned dozens upon dozens of so-called reality shows where real people are placed in real-life situations. Alas, nearly every one of those real-life situations is contrived or manufactured, and ultimately hours and hours of footage is edited into a drama-inducing one-hour weekly show.
The protagonists, real men and women like you and me, are complicit in these farces.
With sports, what you see is what you get. You may not see a cliffhanger where you curse the program because you have to wait until next week’s show to find out how Jimmy or Susie resolved their conflict.
But you will often see a nail-biter that has you screaming at the top of your lungs…and there will be a resolution.
Back to Oxford’s football game.
I often wonder why teams with nothing to play for, other than pride, schedule a meaningless week nine game. Deposit-Hancock lost the previous week in the Class D playoffs – badly to Tioga – and had about five starters out of the lineup.
Oxford, meanwhile, was coming off its first victory in four games. With a .500 record, it could have packed up the jerseys and pads, and called the first season under head coach Jeff Newton a success.
The Blackhawks won just a single game in nine offerings in 2013, and in most of those games, it wasn’t close to competitive. The 2014 Oxford version was much improved, that despite a number of young players seeing starting minutes, and rampant injuries on the offensive and defensive lines.
The game was scheduled for a Thursday evening, instead of Friday, and the only explanation I heard for that was a potential conflict with Halloween trick-or-treaters on the ensuing night.
Two other local teams, Bainbridge-Guilford and Unadilla Valley, had games scheduled on Thursday as well, but the game times and sites of those football games conflicted with my schedule. (My stepson had his final Norwich modified football game of the season, and I couldn’t miss that!).
I knew I would be cutting it close with the modified game ending around 6:30 p.m. I rushed (within the speed limit, of course) down Route 12 to Tony Abbott Field (née Blackhawks Stadium), and made it just as the teams were lining up for the opening kickoff.
Oxford scored on its opening drive, but there was nothing good about the rest of the half for the hometown Blackhawks. The first two quarters reminded me of my most recent viewing of Oxford two weeks earlier – the bad parts.

The past three seasons, I’ve had an able fill-in photographer, Missy Hayes, who regularly attends home and away Norwich football games. She had a vested interest in previous years with her son Ryan, who was a member of the Tornado until graduating last year. She has continued to take pictures (quite well) this season, and her photos are available for viewing and free to download at http://s1158.photobucket.com/user/purpletornadofootball/library/2014-2015%20Football%20Season. It’s a site started by Cindy Ashton, who also supplied our paper with many good photos. Missy has kept the site alive and full of great Norwich photos.


Norwich football coach, Mike Chrystie, gave me a great idea for a future column. He suggested a column about the superstitions of coaches. One look at Mike, and I surmised his superstition was growing out his beard (like hockey players), until his team lost. After six-plus weeks, Mike is about one-quarter of the way to James Harden’s beard.

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Numbers do tell the occasional white lie

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014
Patrick Newell

ESPN has a daily show titled, “Numbers Don’t Lie.” I’m a numbers guy, and I noticed a bit of anomaly to that truism when it comes to football statistics. Of late, Norwich football has lied smack in the face of stat geeks.
The percentages may vary from season to season, but it is a fair bet in high school football that the team that gains the most yards will win the majority of games. Without any empirical data, I guessed that the winning team won the total yardage battle at least 80 percent of the time.
I decided to put that estimate to the test with the 45 games involving local clubs this season. Of those contests, the winning team outgained the losing team 38 out of 45 times, or 84.4 percent.
Oxford and Bainbridge-Guilford won games with less yards, but also lost games with more yards. Actually Bainbridge-Guilford won a second game with less yards – one yard, in fact – earlier this season against Unadilla Valley.
In all cases involving those two ballclubs, the total yardage difference was less than 75 yards, either way.
Then there is Norwich.
Two weeks ago, Norwich stunned Susquehanna Valley in overtime, 20-17. The Sabers outgained Norwich by 119 yards, although the margin was much wider at halftime.
Sometimes you have to look deeper to find insights, but still, nothing stood out. Turnovers were even, and the field position battle, often dictated by punts, was about equal. Sus Valley did have more penalty yards, but over four quarters and overtime, that proved insignificant.
Really, the only conclusion to draw is that Sus Valley moved the ball well and didn’t finish drives, while Norwich took advantage of its fewer opportunities to score.
If you happened to catch a glimpse of Norwich’s victory at Oneonta last week, there was a good chance you saw Oneonta in possession of the ball – and moving it well.
Norwich won the game comfortably, 38-12, but was outgained by 159 yards. Unlike the Sus Valley game, the final score is easily explained.
The Yellowjackets turned it over five times, often leaving Norwich with a short path to the endzone. Oneonta also committed 11 penalties for 100 yards, again shortening the Norwich field on multiple occasions.
Norwich was outgained by an average of 139 yards over the last two games, and came away winners each time.
Yes, numbers usually give you the truth, but they also tell a few white lies.

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I don’t mind getting it wrong

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014
Patrick Newell

More so than any of my previous 19 seasons covering local football, unpredictability has reared its head. By the second or third week, the games typically play out according to script. This season, the scripts have seen a number of re-writes.
Every local team has surprised me at some point this season beating a team I thought – on paper – had the upper hand. Yeah, yeah, games aren’t won on paper, they’re won on the football field. Still, after two or three weeks of football, you know where each team stands. This isn’t the NFL or high-level college football where upsets are commonplace on an week-by-week basis
To my chagrin, I’ve been called out by players and supporters of teams that I picked against after said team pulled out the victory. Truthfully, I couldn’t be any happier getting it wrong.
Creditability in this business comes from objectivity, so you make your honest analysis, and declare a prediction based on that analysis. We get it wrong – I get it wrong – a lot.
The games that have stood out the most were Sherburne-Earlville’s victory over Section III’s defending Class C champion, General Brown. I’m not sure many people outside of Sherburne-Earlville predicted that one. My second most significant prognosticating faux pas was Norwich’s 20-17 upset win over Susquehanna Valley last Friday. Again, outside of the die-hard Norwich faithful, players, and coaches, who had the confidence the Purple Tornado would pull out the win?
Not many.
In terms of upset victories for Norwich, it’s among my top three in two decades covering local football. The other two standouts came in 2000 when Norwich knocked off state-ranked Corning East, then in 2011 when Norwich beat Johnson City in the Class B playoffs, 35-0.
I’ve covered about 180 Norwich football games, and I remember those three upset victories the most.

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Sports Editor’s Playbook, Sept. 25, 2014

Thursday, September 25th, 2014
Patrick Newell

So I guess my plug of an athlete is not the kiss of death for an athlete’s upcoming game. Sherburne-Earlville’s Matt Hull, touted in last week’s blog, rushed for over 100 yards and scored three touchdowns in a 56-6 victory over Sauquoit Valley. The Marauders were the 13th-ranked Class C team in the state in a poll released by the New York Sports Writers Association last week. In the Sept. 24 release, the Marauders moved up a spot to number 12, while this week’s opponent, Utica Notre Dame, is ranked number eight.

Unadilla Valley’s football team is 0-3 overall, but two of its three losses have come to unbeaten Class D state-ranked teams. The Storm lost on the last play of the game to number 15 Moravia, 24-18, and last week, UV gave up a late touchdown to number eight-ranked Walton in a 36-32 defeat. Both results came as a result of big-play passing, and a nonexistent running game. UV looks to break into the win column this week against fellow winless club, Sidney.

High school tennis is not known as one of the marquee sports, but in terms of sheer consistency and contending for division and sectional championships each year, Norwich is among the best. For about as long as I’ve worked at the newspaper, NHS head coach John Stewart has produced teams with winning records, and nearly every year he has a doubles team in the mix for a bid at the state qualifier. Wednesday, Norwich won its eighth straight match to improve to 9-1, and is just about assured of another division title. Hat’s off to the Tornado girls, who will gain entry into the STAC team tournament next month.

Shifting away from sports for a moment and to the recently-completed murder trial of Ganesh Remy Ramsaran. I knew the defendant for many years prior to his arrest and eventual conviction of second-degree murder. The following link is a summary of my recollections from those interactions: http://patricklnewell.wordpress.com/2014/09/24/remy-ramsaran-recollections-my-3-12-year-former-friendship-with-a-convicted-murderer/

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Sports Editor’s Playbook, Sept. 15, 2014

Monday, September 15th, 2014
Patrick Newell

At the Sherburne-Earlville home football game last Friday, I asked assistant coach Ed Holmquist, “Did Matt Hull play last year?”
“Yeah. He was a skinny kid last year who worked really hard in the weight room in the offseason,” Holmquist said.
Hull’s name was not mentioned in my preseason interview with head coach Mike Jasper, and not a word was mentioned about Hull in the Fall Sports Preview feature article on the Marauders.
Assuming Hull stays healthy, I’ll have some space reserved for the sophomore in next year’s article.
“Matt Hull was amazing,” Jasper said after a 40-21 victory over General Brown.
Hull did a little bit of everything running for the team’s first first down, catching a TD pass, and he returned the opening kickoff of the second half for a touchdown. His running style is ideal for kickoffs as he launches himself forward with no lateral movement. He may make a simple cut left or right, but he’s north and south all the way. Holmquist, who calls the offensive plays said Hull has excellent running form that complements his speed. “He squares his pads up and he runs low,” the S-E coach said.
We already knew the Marauders had offensive weapons in quarterback Cody Marango, running backs Brodie Roebuck and Brady Sopchak, and receivers Ben Khoury along with tight end Gavin Giroux. Hull gives the opposing teams one more headache to consider when defending the Marauders’ offense.
Through two games, Hull has two rushing TDs, a receiving TD, a special teams return TD, and he drew a key defensive pass interference penalty in the second half against General Brown that led to another touchdown.

I don’t think I’ve ever covered a football game where one player accounted for a higher percentage of his team’s offense (assuming the team gained at least 150 total yards) than Mike Oralls did last week. The Norwich senior ran for 172 yards and Norwich finished with 186 total yards (all rushing).That figures to 92.4 percent of NHS’s total yards. Unfortunately, Oralls’ big day came in a 20-12 loss.

I had to go back to the Fall Sports Preview to verify what Bainbridge-Guilford boys’ soccer coach Pete Feltham said about his team’s prospects this season. I’ve worked with Pete for over a decade, and at his brashest, he is cautiously optimistic, and effusively complimentary of his opponents. Feltham always gives his opponent due respect, but I did elicit some information from our preseason interview that made me believe he was playing possum. Off a .500 team from last year he had eight returning starters. The Bobcats were also successful in putting goals on the board, and have taken it to another level this season. Entering Monday night’s home game against Norwich, B-G’s record was 4-0, the first time that has occurred in my nearly two decades covering Bobcats soccer. Said Feltham in the preseason interview: “It would be nice to give the top teams in the league a challenge.”
Pete, you are.

Follow Patrick Newell on Twitter @PatrickLNewell

Reviving an old golf column

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014
Patrick Newell

This week we are reviving an old column, one in which I play golf at a local or regional course – along side a willing partner – and submit a review of the course, while also sharing any humorous happenings during our excursion. For years, I teamed up with the late Bob McNitt, who had a lifetime of golf experiences, and stories to share from just about every course we played. Bob was a consummate raconteur who always provided plenty of fuel for the story. This year, one of my buddies and golf partners, Mike McCormack, has agreed to step in and offer his insights from our day on the links. Mike is not a native of Chenango County, but he is no less entertaining than Bob. Since I just recently returned to the newspaper and fall sports are just around the corner, we will likely have about three or four golf columns this year before resuming the feature full-time next year. Our first stop: Afton Golf Course.

Anyone enjoy trivia? I sure do, especially of the sports variety. As a matter of fact – and my wife Aida will attest – I store hundreds of seemingly pointless and meaningless tidbits of sports information that are just waiting to one day surface. I’m sure there are plenty of other people just as interested in sports factoids, and thrice weekly, I will supplement the sports section with a trivia question. Yes, the answer is easily found with a quick Internet search, but the idea is to test one’s sports knowledge. I will delve into all sports topics, and provide the answer on an inside sports page. The goal is to publish trivia questions Monday, Wednesday, and Friday each week (assuming we have enough space). If I receive positive feedback through the first month, I’ll continue the feature throughout the year.

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Where have I been the last four months?

Thursday, July 10th, 2014
Patrick Newell

According to our website, March 4, 2014 was the last time I posted a blog. In case you were off the grid the past few months, I left the newspaper for New Mexico, and recently returned after a 3 1/2-month absence. I wrote back-to-back columns over the past two weeks detailing my time away from the paper, although I steered clear of the specific details of my return.
I won’t delve too deep into my decision to return to New York, but let’s just say finding a job in the newspaper business in 2014 is an extremely difficult task. Those who already have a steady job in the media hold on to said position until retirement or death – whatever comes first.
With the impending departure of Shaun Savarese, the sports editor during my hiatus, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to once again step back into my old role. Thank you Shaun for your time covering Chenango County sports, and I wish you well in your next endeavor.
To the Chenango County readers, it is truly a blessing for me to chronicle the achievements of local athletes. I’ve said it many times and I’ll write it again: Yes, this is a job, but it never feels like work.

Two of the biggest summer events that I have covered the past 19 years are right around the corner. This weekend, hoops will dominate the center of Norwich with the return of Gus Macker. It seems so long ago when then-Norwich mayor, Joe Biviano, sought out ideas to spice up Norwich’s summers. I can’t remember anything else Joe did while in office other than rubber-stamping Gus Macker, but this tournament has proven a smashing success for nearly two decades, and it shows no sign of slowing down.
The second big event, and this applies to my personal affinity for golf, is the annual Canasawacta Country Club Men’s Member-Guest tournament. I have covered several local tournament, but this one is the biggest, draws the best overall competition, and oozes camaraderie, family, and fellowship. As a lifelong golfer, It really doesn’t get much better.

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Thank you 21st century technology

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014
Patrick Newell

I love wrestling, and to this day, I wonder why I didn’t compete on the Norwich High School wrestling team. I played junior varsity basketball for the Purple Tornado, but I knew in seventh and eighth grade that accolades were not coming my way on the hardwood floor.
Post high school I have heard more than a few times: “Did you wrestle in high school?”
“No.”
“Well, you would have been pretty good.”
“Thanks for telling me that 25 years too late.”
From a professional – and personal – standpoint, it crushed me when I had to decide what event I would cover Saturday, March 1. In Binghamton, Norwich was playing in back-to-back Section IV basketball championship games. In Albany at the Times Union Arena, the New York State High School Wrestling Championships were being held.
In the end, I chose the basketball games because I like dealing in certainties.
Driving to Albany early Saturday morning, there was no guarantee any of the local wrestlers would advance to the evening’s finals. But, I did have an ace in the hole: 21st century technology, and a couple of close friends giving me updates.
If this was 1997, I would have never had the details that appeared in Monday’s sports section.
While covering the basketball games, I received text messages from my longtime buddies, John Klockowski and Charlie McMullen. Both were standout wrestlers during their high school days, and each remains passionate about the sport.
Time Warner Sports aired the state finals, and as events transpired, JK sent me messages. I had period by period updates of Tristan Rifanburg’s 7-1 state finals win over Laken Cook, and two weight classes later, received a summary of Frankie Garcia’s state title victory. I remember smiling when Klock gave me a second-period update on Garcia: “Garcia is up 4-0 with two tilts in the second.”
Thank you to my friends, thank you to the inventor of text messaging, and thank you Time Warner for airing the state championships.

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Sports Editor’s Playbook, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014
Patrick Newell

Norwich’s boys basketball team is justifiably gaining notice in the state rankings, and recently ascended to the number seven spot in the New York State Sportwriters Association’s Class B poll., As the only unbeaten team left in the Southern Tier Athletic Conference, Norwich enters each game with a target on its back, said head coach Tom Collier. “We’re getting everyone’s best game; we’re their Super Bowl,” Collier said following last Thursday’s victory over Susquehanna Valley. The community has taken notice, too, and attendance numbers are on the rise at the pared-down Norwich High School gymnasium. A few years ago, the bleachers were updated to meet building code regulations, and the result was a loss of about 33 percent of the total capacity. It’s fair to say the maximum seating was exceeded Tuesday, Jan. 21 when Norwich entertained longtime rival Oneonta. Every bleacher seat was taken, and it was standing-room-only at each exit. It won’t be long before Norwich will need to set up a closed circuit viewing to accommodate the additional patrons. Norwich loves a winner, and the dominant start to the 2013-2014 season is rekindling some memories of the state championship teams of 1993 and 1994. While this year’s team is not facing the likes of Binghamton, Ithaca, Vestal, and Union-Endicott (maybe in the STAC tournament), similar to the state title teams, the manner in which the Tornado are winning is nearly identical. The 1993 team that went 29-0 averaged well over 70 points per game, and had a victory margin of about 23 points per game. This year’s NHS club is giving up less points per game than the ’93 team, but it, too, is winning by 23 points a game. In 13 Norwich wins this season, only two have been decided by less than 10 points – one against Section IV opposition.

No love for Sherburne-Earlville?
Sherburne-Earlville’s girls have battled injuries, illness, and other circumstances that have kept one or two starters out of the lineup multiple times since the turn of the calendar. Still, the Marauders have extended their unbeaten winning streak to 15 games after two more wins. The pollsters who compile the high school state rankings remain unimpressed as S-E remains in the 19 spot in the latest Class B iteration, released Jan. 31. S-E entered the rankings several weeks ago, but have barely moved in the standings. Still, S-E is on the verge of surpassing the school’s single-season victory record of 17. Just think, as recently as 2006, the Marauders had not compiled a single winning season in Section III or in the Susquenango Association in Section IV. Now, winning seasons are the norm as are division championships in the Center State Conference.

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