When pigs fly

On Friday, I posted about Mean Girls. Today, it’s about a single mean girl, whose comment spurred a runner to victory more than a decade later. 25-year-old Caitlin Keen won the female division of the 2018 Flying Pig Marathon yesterday.

When she was 12 and living in Cincinnati, she watched that year’s Flying Pig and said “I’m going to win that one day”…. another girl said “no you won’t.”

Caitlin got pretty emotional talking about breaking the tape for the first time, and her overall running journey.

“I was an OK high school runner. I never won a state championship. I walked on to a Division I school. I went to Southern Methodist University,” Keen said. “I ended up getting a full ride by my senior year but I never was a winner ever. Never was an all-American … I’m so happy. It means everything.” 

Watch this interview video – it’s hard not to be moved by it:

A record number of people (43,000 plus) took part in this year’s Flying Pig events.

Participants included Mrs. Dubbatrubba and her friends, who finished the half-marathon.

The races (plural now – marathon, half marathon, 10K, kids run, etc.) raise more than a million dollars for local charities each year. Not bad for a race that started with a small group of local runners scribbling notes on a cocktail napkin.

Sometimes all it takes is a dream, and then following through, step by step.

Evel. Pure evil.

As a 70s kid, I grew up with Evel Knievel on the brain. Motorcycle stuntman extraordinaire. (But “Skycycle” failure.)

It was the 70s. ‘Nuff said.

A perennial performer on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Jumping fountains, jumping buses, jumping a pool of sharks before Fonzie did.

Before Bodyglove wetsuits existed, people often wore their leather jackets in the ocean.

Evel was all the rage, and so were his toys.

Naturally my brother and I would attempt to emulate Evel. Usually that involved setting up a piece of plywood on a log as a makeshift ramp and attempting to jump over some obstacle on our Schwinn bikes with slick back tires and banana seats.

But once we just decided to try a long jump – sans bicycles – in our living room. We marked out a launch line and would track our landing spots, trying to jump a bit farther with each attempt (and probably making motorcycle “vroom-vroom” sounds with every launch). On my final attempt (and the reason it was final will become perfectly clear by the end of this sentence), I set a new record… but in true homage to my hero Evel, I got a bit wobbly on the landing, stumbled, lost my balance, and tried to stop my fall… by putting my hand through one of the panes in a living room window.

Luckily, my hand came out unscathed. But the window wasn’t as lucky. Because my father wasn’t much of a handyman and our meager household budget didn’t have room for repairs, we just thumbtacked a Hefty garbage bag over the missing windowpane. That damn garbage bag was up for years, a constant reminder of my failed stuntman career. Which is why I force my kids to take out the trash… the Cinch-Sak memories are simply too painful.

Why do you taunt me so?

On a brighter note, a few decades later, I stumbled again… but this time it was stumbling across a true gem of an album.

If you ever see this album at a flea market, buy it! It has excerpts of Evel interviews prior to the ill-fated Snake River Jump, and even a song sung by Evel himself (and I’m using the term “sung” very liberally). The album wraps up with this lovely ballad (and by “lovely” I mean “cheesier than a pound of Swiss”).

He can move a mountain

Leap across a winding river

Once he’s made his mind up, there’s nothing he won’t try

There’s something deep inside him, lusting for the thrills that drive him.

Yet he knows someday he’s gonna have to face that canyon in the sky.

I miss you, Evel. The world needs more risk-takers like you. And stronger windows.

 

A dream deferred for a decade

Perhaps you’ve already heard about Andre Ingram. Maybe you’re a big fan of the Utah Flash, or the Los Angeles D-Fenders, or the South Bay Lakers.

Those are the NBA G-league teams for which Mr. Ingram has been toiling for the past 10 years. A decade of cheap hotels, bus rides and mostly empty bleachers. 10 years of working side jobs just to make ends meet. Chasing that dream.

On Monday, he got the call-up to the NBA… the one that he’s always hoped for. Not just hoped for, but worked for. Check out this excerpt from an article on ESPN.com.

Ingram makes it clear he is not bitter or filled with regrets after waiting this long to make it to the NBA. He says he remembers it all.

“Just staying with it,” Ingram says of what has been toughest about his journey here. “I mean, you get commended for kind of hanging in there and sticking with it like there wasn’t any doubt at any point. There was doubt. There were hard times. There was uncertainty.”

“They were fond memories. They’re not like, you know, angry memories: Man, I should be here. No it’s not any of that,” Ingram added. “… It’s a handsome reward for time put in. I’m thankful I have the opportunity, but there’s a lot of people that work hard. I’m grateful man. That’s all it is. I’m grateful.”

Last night, Andre Ingram made his NBA debut, in a playing-out-the-string game for the Lakers. He scored 19 points, going 6-for-8 from the field, including 4-for-5 on 3-pointers. By the end of the game, the home crowd at the Staples Center was serenading him with chants of “MVP!”

In that game, in that moment, the hard times are forgotten, the thousands of yesterdays don’t matter anymore.

How old is “too old” to chase your dreams? When is it time to give up? Never.

 

The baller and the bawler

Yet another Xavier basketball coach has decide to leave my alma mater (and in this case his alma mater) for greener pastures.

Chris Mack is headed 90 miles south to take over at Louisville. (He’d better bring his Swiffer Wet Jet… there are a lot of messes to clean up.) I used to ask “why?” but having witnessed six coaches leave in my 36 years of rooting for the Muskies, I don’t cry and ask why anymore. I already know the reasons:

  • More cash – $30 million for a seven-year contract, which is waaay more coin than he earned at Xavier. In the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of college b-ball, where one bad season can get you fired in many places, that’s some darn good peace of mind for a 49-year-old in a young man’s game.
  • Family ties – Mack is born and raised in Cincinnati and his parents still live here. He played for Xavier, and was an assistant coach before taking the helm nine seasons ago. But his wife is from Louisville, and her family still lives there. Anyone who has ever had to play grandbaby tug of war at Thanksgiving or Christmas can appreciate that it’s his wife’s family’s “turn” with their three kids.
  • Prestige – as much as many Xavier fans hate to admit it, Xavier is still a notch or two below the blue blood programs. Louisville plays in the ACC, and has a storied basketball history. Two official titles (they had to vacate a third, in 2013) and eight Final Fours. Meanwhile X has yet to make a Final Four.
  • Bigger – U of L plays in the new Yum! Center in downtown Louisville, which holds 22,090 for b-ball… nearly twice the capacity of Xavier’s Cintas Center and the third largest arena in the country. Also, as a public university with an enrollment of 22,000 each year (more than three times Xavier’s annual enrollment), they have a much larger fan and donor base. (And lower academic standards… which matters greatly when you are recruiting basketball “student-athletes.”)
  • A new challenge – when Chris Mack’s Xavier mentor Skip Prosser left XU for Wake Forest, he quoted Faulkner: Sometimes you have to say goodbye to the things you know and hello to the things you don’t. (Skip was a man of letters… a perfect fit for Xavier. Yet he left too.)
  • Bigger fish in a smaller pond – Cincinnati has the Reds, Bengals and another Top 25 program three miles from Xavier’s campus. In Louisville, the Cardinals reign supreme.
  • Timing – Mack probably felt he had taken Xavier as far as he could take them. This year they won the Big East regular season for the first time, rose as high as #3 in the Top 25, and got a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. With four key players from this year’s team departing and a weaker class of incoming recruits, next season was going to be a letdown with or without him.

Before he cut ties, he cut down a few nets.

It was a great nine-year run: Mack became Xavier’s career leader in coaching wins this season (215 overall), won conference championships in the Atlantic 10 and the Big East, and made the NCAA tourney eight times, with three Sweet Sixteens and an Elite Eight.

So I wish Mack well in his new adventure. And I agree with what Xavier AD Greg Christopher said yesterday:

“At the end of the day, this program is beyond any one player, any one coach, any one president. At the end of the day, this program has been built over four decades with great coaches, great players and great administrators who have helped build it to where it is. I would hope a program transcends any one single person. Now, our all-time winningest coach is really important and was a big part of that. (Mack) deserves a lot of credit, both as a player, an assistant, and head coach, so, again we wish him the best as he moves forward.” 

Basketballs out my eyeballs

I took vacation days this past Thursday and Friday, and have spent the last four days camped out in my basement man-cave, watching college hoops. Three TVs and a laptop… feasting on the Madness of March (I had to put it that way to avoid the trademarked term… aw, what the heck: March Madness. March Madness.)

Yesterday’s action didn’t end well. First the University of Cincinnati Bearcats (a 2-seed), blew a 22-point second-half lead. Then my beloved Xavier Musketeers (a 1-seed) blew a 12-point second-half lead. Worst sports day in the history of the city, easily.

But it’s still the best sports weekend ever invented. A 16-seed knocked out a #1 seed in the first round, for the first time ever.

Loyola-Chicago and their 98-year-old nun chaplain are headed to the Sweet 16.

DALLAS, TX – MARCH 17: Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt celebrates after the Loyola Ramblers beat the Tennessee Volunteers 63-62 in the second round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament at the American Airlines Center on March 17, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

 

Buzzer beaters galore.

Tons of favorites getting knocked off. It truly is madness.

It’s not called Selection Saturday

College hoops fans, want to free up about 30 hours of your time? Here’s how: instead of spending all that time over this past week (including today) worrying and wondering about where your favorite team will be seeded (or if they even will be in the field at all) and where they might be playing, and who they might be playing, just tune in tomorrow evening for the official selection show.

Because any time spent on the “what ifs” before that is wasted worrying. And I hate to burst your bubble, but unless you’re one of the 10 folks in New York City who are part of the selection committee, your vote doesn’t count (talk about gerrymandering!).

I know “bracketology” has become a cottage industry. Heck, there’s even a site that rates all the bracket predictors. (FWIW, ESPN’s alleged expert Joe Lunardi isn’t even close to being the most accurate.)

But none of their brackets matter come Sunday night at 6 p.m. (Also, the official selection show is on TBS this year, not CBS… and don’t forget to spring forward!)

So you can spend countless hours searching for “expert” brackets, and watching talking heads chattering about “last 4 in” and “first 4 out” all you want… or you can take a hike, read a book or three, play with your kids, call your grandma, paint a masterpiece, read boring blogs (thanks!)…

 

 

 

For whom the final buzzer sounds

Tonight’s the final home game for the Xavier University men’s basketball team.

I’ve had season tickets for years, and Senior Day is always bittersweet… and not just because it leaves me lacking good excuses for “Dad’s Night Out.”

Most Xavier players stick around for four years. That’s becoming a rarity for top programs, where one-and-done is standard operating procedure. Schools like Kentucky turn over nearly their entire roster every season, as half a dozen blue chippers get drafted by the NBA, and more blue chippers take their place. You can’t even tell the players with a program. (John Calipari, the UK coach, has made this his M.O. and recruiting pitch… and then every year whines about how young his team is. You can’t have it both ways, JC. This is the path you’ve chosen.)

Heck, Duke has a freshman who “reclassified” to start college a year earlier than his high school counterparts, mainly to speed up his journey to NBA riches.

I’m glad Xavier gets the “second tier” kids who don’t bolt. (A few have left early, and two of those are ones that are now on the list of players who might have taken money from agents before or during college… once a shortcutter, always a shortcutter, apparently.) Over the course of four seasons, you get to know the players better – you get to see them grow. You see hard work pay dividends. Sean O’Mara has gone from a benchwarmer, a lumbering ox, to a guy with strong (and smooth) post skills.

J.P. Macura is a classic pest, in the mold of a Danny Ainge, a Dennis Rodman, a Bobby Hurley (or pretty much any Duke player). If he’s on your team, you love him… if he’s on the other side, you absolutely despise him. It’s been fun to see him torture opponents for four seasons.

Trevon Bluiett will graduate as Xavier’s #2 all-time scorer.

He just passed David West, who was lightly recruited in high school… and kept working hard, eventually became college player of the year as a senior and has had a brilliant 15-year career in the NBA.

When it isn’t handed to you on a silver platter, when you haven’t had everyone telling you how great you are since 8th grade, it probably feels sweeter. This year’s seniors have led Xavier to their highest ranking ever (#3), and have a chance to finally wrest the Big East regular season title from Villanova (fingers crossed). They’ve also gotten to enjoy their early adulthood, instead of being yet another piece of meat on an NBA (or D-League) roster. I don’t know about you, but my college years were some of the most memorable and fun times in my life. You can’t put a price tag on that.

 

Second generation famous

I’m not a doctor, and I never even played one on TV. But at least some relatives of mine are getting their star turns.

My cousin Tom’s daughter Jamie just wrapped up her second season as a New England Patriots cheerleader.

(Pro tip for Jamie: stand next to Tom Brady on the sidelines and you’ll be on TV roughly 10,000 times during a game.)

My niece Julia just moved up the TV food chain from Myrtle Beach, SC (#101 in market size) to Greenville, SC (#38) where she is the weekend sports anchor for the NBC affiliate, WYFF.

Last but certainly not least, my cousin’s daughter Erika will be playing the role of Cady Heron in the Broadway-bound musical adaptation of the iconic movie Mean Girls. She’s getting all sorts of kudos for her performance (they had a short sneak preview/tune-up run in D.C., and Broadway previews begin March 12th). You can read more here. And here. And here. Or you can check out the article in the latest issue of Vogue, along with a photo by Annie Freakin’ Leibovitz! NBD.

HT to my sister Jeanne for letting me know about the Vogue article… she’s the fashionista in the family.

I remember going to visit my cousin and her family in Northern California back when Erika was about 6 years old, and she was already performing plays for her family, friends — and house guests like us –on their back patio. (So basically, “I knew her when…”)

One of the characters in Mean Girls is named Damian…

Here’s hoping Erika thinks of me, her old pal and early theater patron, whenever she hears that name.

“You know I couldn’t invite you. I had to pretend to be plastic.”

 

 

 

 

Bowlers are cool

My son Peter and daughter Leah are on the bowling teams for Walnut Hills High School. For several decades, it seemed like bowling was a relic from the Stone Age.

But now bowling appears to be catching on again. It has cachet.

The sport (or “activity” depending on where you stand on the “anything you can do while holding a drink is not a sport” spectrum) has been great for our kids.

The bowlers are a wonderful group of kids, and they definitely have a lot of fun together. I suppose it’s because you have a lot of time to chat with each other while you’re waiting for your next turn.

Here’s a video that recently appeared on Cincinnati.com, about a high schooler who bowled a perfect game (and then some). But don’t watch the interviewees, watch the bowler’s teammates in the background. They are blissfully unaware that the camera is rolling, and they’re just hanging out, goofing off and having fun.

Ultimately, that’s what matters more than your score… making friends, having fun, enjoying life, frame by frame.

 

 

The best decision on Super Bowl Sunday

Game over, Eagles win.

Our 18-year-old leaves his friend’s house to come home. Light snow had melted but then froze into a thin sheet of ice on the main road to our house. It caught folks off guard… and the salt truck drivers must’ve been watching the game instead of hitting the roads.

Our son sees cars slipping, sliding, spinning, careening, crashing into each other like a demolition derby.

At least six cars got dinged. He’s less than two blocks from our house, but it’s enough of a downhill slide to make continuing risky business, especially with a couple of crashed cars up ahead in his lane. He pulls over, hits the hazards and calls home.

“Patience is a virtue, Possess it if you can, Seldom found in woman, Never found in man.” 

When you’re 18, the waiting is the hardest part.

But it can also be the smartest part. Wait it out. Call for backup. This too shall pass.

Here’s to Gabriel, our Super Bowl MVP.