Garcia, Rifanburg in twilight of their great careers

Wednesday, Jan. 28, I reported from Norwich High School. It was a significant day, at least if you’re a wrestling fan as defending state champions Tristan Rifanburg and Frank Garcia were among the four seniors honored before the team’s final home match. (Trey Muserallo and Stephen Kuhn were also recognized with their families.) Every school in every sport that I cover reserves a night near the end of the season to pause and appreciate the outgoing senior class. I miss the majority of those occasions, but I wanted to be on hand for this one if only to be on site for the final home appearance of what is likely the best one-two punch Norwich wrestling has had.
The Purple Tornado have a long and distinguished wrestling history, and one of the first great NHS wrestlers, Don Manley, is part of the 2015 Norwich High School Sports Hall of Fame induction class. I don’t have Manley’s biography, but I believe he lost just one match his entire wrestling career.
Rifanburg and Garcia have each lost more than once, but neither one ever lost on the home mat. In fact, Rifanburg never lost a match in a dual meet with all of his defeats coming in tournament competition. I don’t have the same verifiable documentation for Garcia, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was undefeated in dual meets. That’s six straight years, folks.
Norwich coach Terry Hagenbuch said it was nice to know that he had those two wrestlers in his pocket for dual meets. With perhaps a scant few exceptions, the phenomenal wrestling duo has wrestled in back-to-back matches in dual meets – one weight class apart – and quite often, in tournament finals. Each young man is in the twilight of his high school wrestling career, but the good news is that they aren’t going far, and they will be easy to track.
Rifanburg and Garcia each received wrestling scholarships to Binghamton University, and I’m sure each will write more exciting chapters to their athletics stories.
Note: I wrote the above piece on Friday, Jan. 30. Rifanburg and Garcia helped lead Norwich to its first STAC team title in 24 years. Rifanburg was also named the most outstanding wrestler after winning his fifth league championship. One more line added to the duo’s long wrestling resume.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickLNewell

Sports Editor’s playbook, Jan. 8, 2015

Athlete of the Week
Friday, we re-install our Athlete of the Week series for the remainder of the winter sports season. The criteria in selecting an athlete is based on either the prior week’s performance or an accumulation of performances throughout the season. While we take nominations from coaches, the decision is usually a subjective one from yours truly. Hope you enjoy the feature the next seven weeks.

Jones legacy
Jack Jones first gained prominence around the Southern Tier as a state championship-winning basketball coach at Sidney who amassed an incredible winning percentage. He went on to a distinguished career in athletics administration finishing up his tenure at Norwich High School.
ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) claimed the life of the Hall of Fame coach and administrator, but his legacy continues on the basketball court. Jones’ grandsons, Sean and Ryan Jones, are key members of this year’s Bainbridge-Guilford varsity basketball team. Earlier this week, Sean Jones had one of his best performances of the season scoring eight points and pulling down 10 rebounds against Sidney. Ryan Jones is among the team’s leading scorers averaging 10.6 points per game for the Bobcats. Ryan Jones also scored a season-high 22 points in a win over Afton last month, and has two other 15-point games this year.

Norwich grad gets new coaching appointment
Joe Casamento, a 1965 Norwich High School graduate, recently accepted a position associate head football coach at St. John’s College High School, a prestigious private school in Washington D.C. Casamento has coached Syracuse Christian Brothers Academy the past 17 seasons compiling a 143-27 mark including a Class AA state championship win in 2004. Casamento was on the sidelines in 1999 when the Brothers beat Casamento’s alma mater, 55-20, in the Class B regional finals, the last time Norwich qualified for the state playoffs.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickLNewell

A place in the Sun.

It’s been a ridiculously cold week here in Chenango County to say the least. Despite windchills hovering on the negative side of the mercury, things have been steadily heating up in terms of deadline pressure for all of us here at the Evening Sun as we place finishing touches on 2015′s Progress Chenango edition—due to hit shelves in just a few short weeks.
As a part of that extra workload, I toured the Raymond facility in Greene for the first time ever on Wednesday. What an experience.
As if the sheer size plant wasn’t deceiving from the glimpse you catch of it on route 12 at 55 mph, the level of morale, integrity and quality was equally fascinating.
I’ve worked in several fabrication shops, factories, ect. over the years— let me tell you—those were all small-time compared to what Raymond has going on. Moreover, each of the 1,600-plus employees that work there all seem to be happy and proud to be a part of the Raymond family.
And why wouldn’t they?
I’m willing to bet that there are very few local companies—small or large—that have made as deep of an impact on their particular industry as Raymond has had in the field of material handling. Raymond invented, patented and made the pallet an industry standard three years after the invention of the first pallet jack… all right here in Chenango County, NY… in the tiny Village of Greene.
Consider this. Every single item you have touched today has traveled through a chain of distribution that is based upon pallets invented in Greene. Those simple wooden pallets are basically the DNA of commerce. Tractor trailers that you see driving down the road were designed around the pallet. 100 percent of anything you can buy off a shelf in a store came in through the receiving door on a pallet —more often than not— moved out of a trailer by a Raymond fork truck designed, manufactured and assembled from the ground-up in Chenango County.

The pride runs deep there, and that’s something I can definitely  get behind.
Needless to say, I’m excited to write at least one of my Progress stories.
Also of notable mention this week, I received confirmation earlier today that  the Chenango United Way has reached their $421,000 goal. What an amazing feat!.
For a bit there it seemed as if the organization would only top 85 percent of that goal, but with a healthy combination of tenacity on the parts of Victoria Mitchell and Elizabeth Monaco, and the generous giving spirit of Chenango county citizenry — it all worked out in the end. Great job ladies!
With that, I need to get to work.

Here’s to a great 2015, folks!

Seth Rogen’s new claim to fame

It blows my mind that a movie that sets unprecedented threats of terrorism in the U.S. also stars Seth Rogen.

Of course I’m talking about the recent decision made by Sony Pictures to scrap “The Interview,” a movie about two idiots hired to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un (who’s just a teddy bear of a man, according to Dennis Rodman. With Rodman’s trustworthy face and reputable history of well balanced behavior, I can’t think of reason not to believe him).

The film that was originally scheduled to be released in theaters on Christmas Day will instead set on the storage shelves of Sony Pictures indefinitely due to terrorist threats. Sony received messages from cyber hackers this week stating there would be 9/11 style repercussions if the film ever made it to projectors. On Thursday, federal investigators released information suggesting that hackers left behind digital fingerprints which could connect the hack to North Korea. Surprising, I know.

Since pulling the movie, Sony has received a backlash of criticism for giving in to terrorist threats. Even President Obama weighed in Friday, saying Sony “made a mistake” by pulling the movie, which I wholeheartedly agree. But the debate over freedom of speech and giving into the demands of terrorists aside, lets’ focus a moment on what I think is a bigger issue… the movie starred Seth Rogen. The same Seth Rogen who had leading roles in noncontroversial films like “Pineapple Express,” the non-Academy Award winning “This is the End,” and the heartfelt and delightfully charming “Knocked Up.”

In some way, I think part of me always knew that guy would be the one responsible the next potential American tragedy.

Sports Editor’s Playbook, Dec. 8, 2014

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.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickLNewell

A time to give back to those who give back

With Thanksgiving tomorrow, I found it appropriate to write my blog about an event tonight that is to help benefit a Norwich native who has been providing aid to Jamaican children for years.
Thanksgiving eve is known to be one of — if not the biggest — bar night of the year. Many folks have traveled home for the holiday and go out to see friends they haven’t seen in perhaps years.
This year, Norwich band Seek the Lion is playing at Rita’s Tavern in Norwich and is passing a hat around the establishment for those individuals who are feeling the mood to give to a cause; the endeavors of Jeffrey Neadom.
Neadom travels to Jamaica to aid children in need.
Neadom said, “The seed for helping out Jamaica was planted in 1993 when I camped there for 3 weeks. “In 2012 on my birthday eve I started the Jamaican Schools Project on Facebook in memory of my mom.”
Neadom added that he teamed up with the president of the PTA at Craighton Primary School and raised funds to renovate the boys and girls bathrooms.
Last year, Neadom returned to Jamaica and renovated the nurse’s office and sick bay, supplied them with beds, mattresses, bedding and medicine, and painted the canteen and principals office. He additionally tiled and pained in the nurse’s office and the sick bay.
Neadom plans to head out to Jamaica again, and there are funds necessary in order to complete the projects to help out the children in need.
“This year I’m hoping to resurface the playground and do a small library/reading room,” said Neadom.
Seek the Lion’s guitarist Nate Collins said, “With all the terrible things happening in the country and world right now, we’re just glad that we can help Jeff make a positive difference in people’s lives.”
Drummer Nick Andrews said anything that individuals are willing or able to spare to help Neadom out is greatly appreciated.
“We have known (Neadom) for years and for years he has helped to rebuild schools in Jamaica,” said Andrews. “Tonight we are passing a hat to raise money for his next trip. Hopefully with what we raise he can at least get the kids some more things they need.”
Neadom said, “Now I’m just trying to give them (the children) a safe place for recess. There are 125 students so it’s cramped, but the resurfacing will give them a lot more room.”
A woman who donated money to Neadom’s fund, Sandy Myers, said, “After my recent trip to Jamaica, I can completely appreciate the work (Neadom is) doing. Keep it up Jeff, you’re doing a good thing.”
As a group, Seek the Lion shared its goal. Any money raised to send out with Neadom will help guarantee a safe and healthy schoolhouse for less fortunate children. The group said they want the youth to succeed and one of the best ways to do that is give them the opportunity to do so.
“Thanks everyone it means a lot to us and the kids,” said Andrews.
Seek the Lion describes its sound as “reggae dance music.” The show at Rita’s Tavern begins at 9 p.m.
Local musician Ben Miner is set to open for the band beginning at 8:30 p.m.
“I’ve got a few donations so far, and several people have committed to giving, so I’m feeling good,” said Neadom. “Family helps.”
Those unable to make the show due to the snow, or due to being out of the area, but who still would like to donate to the cause can visit Neadom’s GoFundMe page at gofundme.com/jamaicanschools.

A smoke-screen of progress, or the real deal? You decide.

Progress is great, Especially when economic progress takes hold right here in the heart of Chenango County. If you were to take a look back at a snapshot of our beloved Route 12 corridor say 20 or even 10 years ago, it’s easy to see that things have dramatically changed in our ever-evolving bit of small town USA.
Back when Burger King was Carrol’s, and the Great American was in the South Plaza there was only one shopping center south of the city, an area which now hosts several big-box retailers and three or four shopping plazas for your consumption pleasure.
In the next month or so, the Town of Norwich will become home to two more brick and mortar businesses that are new to our area, both of which are in the process of developing and building those locations from the ground-up.
As I sat at the traffic light in between two shopping plazas with – empty storefronts in each, I couldn’t help but wonder why those locations were overlooked by developers scouting-out prime retail space.
I was confronted by the fact that for some time now, both of those plaza’s, emblazoned with “AVAILABLE” banners have historically served our community – but have nonetheless been dealt the short shrift in favor of new construction.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not one for conserving just any old building, but one site in particular – which I can only assume will be razed shortly after this publication – once housed several residential apartments.
It already possessed a potential profit return in an economy so unwilling to offer mortgages to home buyers. To put it bluntly, there aren’t enough rental properties in Chenango County, and that’s especially the in the case of the City of Norwich. So why would tear down an apartment building to toss up what I’m told will be another auto parts store… in front of an auto parts store—one-half mile down the street from yet another auto parts store?
I am in no way trying to get in the way of business, nor am I condemning economical development to our largely sagging local market – but I am questioning the common sense that was put to task in making these types of decisions. Not just the market analysis, or need for such retail additions in our community, but the rationale behind brushing existing retail space aside.
It’s my feeling that businesses should be both interested and concerned with the long-term effects that their developments and plans have on the local livelihood, and that these concerns should be taken into consideration when the plans are drawn up and laid out.
Likewise, local officials involved with green-lighting PILOT programs and tax write-offs to potential businesses looking for a new opportunity in our hometown should put the screws to developers when they come to town, because—lets face it—who wants to see another new-old empty storefront in Chenango?
Honestly, wouldn’t it have made more sense to utilize one of the several existing structures for a mattress outlet or chain auto parts store and preserve the much-needed affordable housing?
How would that not have been a win-win?
Developers would undoubtedly balk that it would be too costly to update those older locations to meet their specifications, but as a former tradesman I beg to differ.
Even if building new cost “them” less, I’ve got a feeling that it will be us taxpayers footing the bill if or when the new site goes belly-up.
I could be wrong, but what if I’m right?
Food for thought.

Sports Editor’s Playbook, Nov. 4, 2014

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.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickLNewell

Numbers do tell the occasional white lie

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.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickLNewell

I don’t mind getting it wrong

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.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickLNewell

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