Thursday, March 29, 2012

Ramblings: The Passing of Best Friends

Ramblings: The Passing of Best Friends: It's difficult losing a best friend -- especially the four-legged ones. In the past several weeks several friends have seen the passing of ...

The Passing of Best Friends

It's difficult losing a best friend -- especially the four-legged ones.

In the past several weeks several friends have seen the passing of their dogs. Phoebe died last week at age 11 and stanley passed away this week at age 10. My next door neighbor's Golden Retriever, Chadwick, crossed the Rainbow Bridge last month at age 13.

I feel the sadness in my friends' hearts because my Bucky died five months ago. He was only 8 1/2. It's a painful and heartbreaking experience that pet owners truly understand. 

There was an article this week in the Washington Post  by  Joe Yonan about his grieving after the passing of his dog, Red, four months ago. It's an insightful piece about the closeness between humans and canines.

For those who love pets, it's an article that I highly recommend because it deals with the wonderful relationship we have with our four-legged friends, from the joyous time they enter our lives until the sad day they bid farewell.

As one of my friends told me -- some say they are like family; no, they ARE family.

Until the next time...

Monday, March 26, 2012

Ramblings: Homegrown Talent in Final Four

Ramblings: Homegrown Talent in Final Four: We're down to the Final Four teams in the NCAA men's basketball tournament . I was curious to see how many of the four remaining teams had...

Homegrown Talent in Final Four

We're down to the Final Four teams in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

I was curious to see how many of the four remaining teams had home-state players in their starting lineups.

Ohio State (31-7) leads the way with three -- guards William Buford of Toledo and Aaron Craft of Findlay, and forward Jared Sullinger of Columbus.  The other starters are guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. of Zion, Ill., and forward Deshaun Thomas of Fort Wayne, Ind.

The other teams don't have homegrown starters although Louisville freshman Chane Behanan, whose hometown is Cincinnati, played his last two seasons at Bowling Green High School in Kentucky. The other starters for the Cardinals (30-9) are guards Peyton Siva of Seattle, Wash., Chris Smith of Millstone, N.J., and Kyle Kuric of Evansville, Ind., and center Gorgui Dieng of Keberner, Sengal.

Kansas (31-6) starts guards Travis Releford of Kansas City, Mo., Elijan Johnson of Las Vegas, and Tyshawn Taylor of Hoboken, N.J., forward Thomas Robinson of Washington, D.C., and center Jeff Withey of San Diego.

And top-ranked Kentucky (36-2) showcases guards Marquis Teague of Indianapolis, Doron Lamb of Queens, N.Y., and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist of Somerdale, N.J., forward Terrence Jones of Portland, Ore., and center Anthony Davis of Chicago.

As for the entire rosters, Ohio State has six, Kansas has two, Louisville has three, and Kentucky has four homegrown products.

One thing it shows is that national programs recruit on a national level for the most part. Ohio is a populous state so it was fertile recruiting territory for the Ohio State coaching staff. And the Northeast is a hotbed for great players on this year's teams.

Regardless of where the players are from, I'm sure the fans of their respective teams have embraced them as one of their own.

Until the next time...

Friday, March 23, 2012

Game Changer

I usually watch "Charlie Rose" on PBS to gain some insights on politics, world events, the economy, the arts, and other interesting and timely topics.

I was mildly surprised this week when I turned on his program and watched an interview with ESPN basketball analysis Jay Bilas about this year's NCAA basketball tournament.

Bilas is one of the best commentators on the sport. He's a former player at Duke (played on the NCAA runner-up squad in 1986), played professionally overseas, served as an assistant coach to Mike Krzyewski (including 1992 championship team), and has been with ESPN since 1995. He also earned a law degree during his years as a Duke assistant.

Bilas believes the NCAA needs to make some adjustments to the game because "the product on the floor is not what it should be."

He mentioned "clutch and grab" defenses and charges being "handed out like Halloween candy." He asserted that the college game is more physical than what you see in the National Basketball Association.

He said the NCAA needs to put someone in charge of the sport and that officials need "to be mandated on what to call" in games. He pointed out that college basketball has the shot clock and 3-point shot and scoring keeps going down.

Bilas also defended players leaving after one season to play in the NBA.  He said players should encouraged to "chase that (NBA) dream...being an athlete is a noble thing."

Click here to listen to the entire interview.

Two changes I always thought to improve the game -- and they've been mentioned by several coaches --- are to raise the goal to 12-feet and widen the foul lane to international dimensions to relieve the congestion and rough play under the basket.

I believe it was Coach Marv Harshman who said years ago that the only reason the goal was 10-feet high was because that was the highest spot on an elevated track where James Naismith could nail the peach basket. If it had been at 12 feet, or some other height, that's where it would be today. Players have simply outgrown the 10-foot standard.

One other thing, be sure and check out the "Charlie Rose" because you'll hear people discussing all kinds of interesting things.

Until the next time...

Monday, March 19, 2012

Hat's Off to Coach K

Like a lot of folks across America, I've been watching the NCAA men's basketball tournament on television. They're have been some great games and several yawners.

An aspect of sports that I've always observed is how coaches, players and fans deal with defeat. Some people handle it with dignity; others are bad sports. We see it all all levels of athletics. Some of it gets really ugly.

In this year's first round, I was impressed with Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski  after his second-seeded Blue Devils were upset by No. 15 Lehigh 75-70. There wasn't a blame game. He didn't make excuses. He gave credit to unheralded Lehigh for what they did on the court.

"I've been in it for 37 years and it takes you to incredible highs," the 65-year-old coach said. "And it also takes you to incredible lows....But it wasn't just our doing, they played well. They played that well. And again my hat's off to them."

Kryzewski, in his 32 seasons at Duke, has led the Blue Devils to four national championships, four runners-up and 11 trips to the Final Four. He's men's Division I college basketball's all-time winning coach with a 927-289 record. And he's in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

I first came into contact with Kryzewski when he was the coach at Army and I was a sportswriter at the Lexington Herald in the late 1970s. He called one evening to announce that he had signed a player (David Couch) from Kentucky. I found him to be very professional and polite (even when he patiently spelled his last name a couple times for me).

While there are few things as exhilarating as winning, Kryzewski shows that you can lose with class and dignity. 

Until the next time...

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Let Teachers Set Their Standards

I was casually listening to a legislative committee hearing on teacher standards on TV this week when I heard something from a legislator that caught my attention.

The lawmaker noted that doctors and lawyers determine standards for their professions through state and federal associations but teacher standards are determined by governmental agencies that include people who aren't teachers or have little background in education.

He went on to mention a recent study from the Alliance for Excellent Education that found that many of those who enter the teaching profession don't stay very long -- 14 percent leave after the first year; 33 percent exit within three years; and nearly half move on to something else after five years.

For a profession that should be so gratifying, it doesn't sound very inviting.

I've known several teachers who've had 15 or more years in the classroom and were counting the years, months, or days until they could retire. They told me they were tired of the paperwork, fed up with trying to please everyone, and upset about teaching students to score well on standardized tests rather than using the skills they were trained to use in the classroom.

The AEE study also revealed that only 69 percent of students earn their high school diploma. That's a shameful statistic for the 21st century.

Perhaps it's time teachers set the standards for what's taught and how it's taught in the classroom. They're the professionals.  Let them do what they know is best for our schoolchildren.

Until the next time...

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Write Components

Putting together the right words into sentences, into paragraphs, into chapters, and into a completed manuscript takes time, discipline, dedication, and commitment.

Those who have written a novel should be proud of their accomplishment. Many people have attempted that journey but only a few have reached the end.

But sometimes writer's judge their success by the number of books sold.

Some writers produce great novels that sell lots of copies. There are others who write great novels that hardly see the light of day. Then there are others who write novels (good and bad) that become bestsellers. And then there are those who write novels (good and bad) that drift off into oblivion, never to be seen or read from again.

Success should be judged by the process rather than sales because there are a lot of components in turning a novel into a product that readers want to purchase, such as promotion, marketing, and visibility. The main component is to write a good story. Everything else can sometimes be the roll of the dice.

When I complete a novel, it's mission accomplished. Everything else is icing on the cake. And I admit I don't mind the sweet icing but that's not the reason I write. Writing is my form of creative expression. 

Writers simply need to think about on the process -- the first draft, edits, rewrites, proofreading, and finally the novel -- to know they reached their goal.

Until the next time...

Monday, March 5, 2012

Ramblings: Writing and Reading

Ramblings: Writing and Reading: Sometimes being an author requires more than writing a book. You may be asked to read from your work at book signings, libraries, churches, ...

Writing and Reading

Sometimes being an author requires more than writing a book. You may be asked to read from your work at book signings, libraries, churches, learning centers, schools, book fairs, and other gatherings.

For readers, this is a special treat. They are able to put a voice to the words they see on the pages. And it's also a time to meet those writers you admire.

Last week I attended readings by several Wind Publications authors at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington, Ky. It marked the 20th celebration of the Nicholasville, Ky., publishing house, owned by poet Charlie Hughes.

Among those taking part were poets Harry Brown, Sherry Chandler, Dorothy Sutton, and Steve Rhodes; fiction writers Normandi Ellis and Georgia Green Stamper; and non-fiction writer Steve Flairty. Charlie also shared some of his poetry. (You can find some of their titles at the Wind Publications website.)

A reading provides a chance for an author to see how his or her words resonate with readers. It just might be music to their ears.

Until the next time...

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Ramblings: Great Music for the Mind

Ramblings: Great Music for the Mind: For me, one of the best ways to recharge my batteries is to listen to music. I often put music on my stereo, or play something from an Inter...

Great Music for the Mind

For me, one of the best ways to recharge my batteries is to listen to music. I often put music on my stereo, or play something from an Internet site such as Spotify or Pandora, while I write. It helps me get into a rhythm.

But when my batteries are really low, the best remedy is to go to a concert and hear it live and up close. I do it several times a year in all genres of music.

This week I went to the Eastern Kentucky University Center for the Arts and enjoyed  a great performance by jazz trumpeter Chris Botti and his band. He's one of my favorites and I'm glad I got the opportunity to see him in person.

Botti is a top-tier musician (some consider him the best jazz trumpeter, and I agree), as well as his band members, and it was pure joy watching them on the stage -- the way they communicate and feed off each other in making great music for an appreciative audience.

You also gain a deeper appreciation for the skills of professional musicians, who practice many hours to reach that high level of proficiency. That's a lesson for all of us in whatever endeavors we may have in our lives.

Until the next time...