Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Not champs, but still a special season

After a mild ice storm that forced the conference to re-schedule the championship game to Tuesday, my Eagles finally got to play the most anticipated girls basketball game in Scholars Academy history. Unfortunately, we didn't play very well, we didn't coach very well, our opponent did both extremely well, and we came up short.

It's never easy to smile while holding the 
Conference Runner-Up trophy
just minutes after a tough loss, 
but most of the girls managed to do it.

Despite the final outcome, it is impossible to call our season anything but a huge success. We finished 15-4 - recording more than twice as many victories as last season, my first as a head coach. All five returning players improved, and our five newcomers for this season - none of whom had ever played competitive basketball - got so much better from the first practice to the final buzzer that it's hard to describe in words.

We reached the championship game for the first time in the school's 15-year history and had a season filled with memorable moments --  some of which I'll chronicle in a later post, after the sting of Tuesday's loss is a little less fresh in my mind.

I'll wrap this up by saying I am so proud to have been associated with this group of dedicated, hard-working, smart and fun ladies. These last four months have been special, and I'll never forget them.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Radio Shack is kaput, but my memories are not

When you get to be 106 years old like me, you sometimes get wistful when you hear certain news.

So it was last week when I heard that Radio Shack was going out of business.

I haven't stepped inside a Radio Shack store in years -- a fact that obviously doesn't make me unique, seeing as how the company has been bleeding red ink for years. And though I was a bit of a nerd as a kid, I wasn't really the kind of geek who frequented Radio Shack. My father was the electronics guy; my eyes glazed over whenever he talked about such stuff.

So what about Radio Shack's demise brought about my wistfulness?

Well, I credit the company's little TRS-80 Model 100 laptop computer with saving my sanity. Had it not come along when it did, I might be in a loony bin right now.

I first saw a TRS-80 in 1984 when I was a 23-year-old reporter in Madison, Wis. My AP colleague, Rich Eggleston, had just bought one with his own money -- more than a thousand bucks for the little 8-line device with precious little memory and limited editing capabilities. The machine had just been introduced a few months earlier.

When I covered a Wisconsin football or basketball game back then, I had two choices: dictate my story to an editor in the Milwaukee bureau or use a Teleram Portabubble unit when the Milwaukee folks made it available.

The Portabubble was an evil device that regularly ate copy and couldn't handle crowd noise. It weighed a ton but had a tiny screen that was difficult to read. It had no memory. I hated that freakin' thing! So the few times Rich let me borrow his TRS-80, I was in heaven. Unfortunately, he needed it both for work (he was one of AP's political reporters) and for personal use, so I rarely had it. I actually preferred dictating stories off the top of my head than using the Portabubble.

When I was promoted to AP Minnesota Sports Editor the following year, I was issued a Portabubble to use at Vikings, Twins, North Stars and Gophers games. It was the source of much consternation. The cord was frayed and the device sometimes would shut off, which instantly made the work go away forever. When I managed to get an entire story ready to transmit to the Minneapolis bureau or to AP Sports HQ in New York, I had to attach the phone into holes on the top of the machine. If the crowd noise was too loud, it would result in garbled text -- if the story managed to make it at all.

By 1986, AP had been issuing TRS-80s to many sportswriters but I still had the Portabubble. I was working the state high school hockey tournament at the old St. Paul Civic Center, about 12 hours into what would be an 18-hour day, when the machine ate a story just as I was ready to transmit it. I called my boss and demanded we buy one of the Radio Shack laptops. I told him that if I lost another story, I was going to hurl the Portabubble out of the press box onto the ice below!

My boss probably could have fired me for insubordination but instead, nicely, talked me off the ledge. He also promised he'd seriously look into getting me a TRS-80. Sure enough, within about a month, he made it happen.

And I lived happily ever after. The End.

OK ... not quite The End. The TRS-80s had their own issues, including having to send through "accoustic couplers" that also could be sensitive to crowd noise. Within a couple of years, though, I was upgraded to a TRS-80 Model 200, which had a flip-up screen and more memory, and it came with a "direct connect" cable that made accoustic couplers unnecessary. Wow!

Eventually, AP started investing in "real" laptop computers for all of its reporters. More than a decade later, however, many sportswriters -- especially those at smaller newspapers -- were still using TRS-80s. Those little suckers were durable!

So although Radio Shack soon will be gone forever, I always will have fond memories of its little laptop that saved my sanity -- and very possibly saved the life of a high school hockey player who might have been killed by the Portabubble I'd have thrown out of  the press box.


And speaking of wistful memories of bygone days ...

Remember when Tiger Woods was good at golf? Now he chips like me ... and believe me, that's no compliment.

But I digress. That's a different blog post for a different time. Like maybe when he's shooting an 86 at Augusta National.

I sure hope his career doesn't go the way of the TRS-80, because golf needs Tiger a lot more than the rest of us need Radio Shack.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

One wonderful week guarantees that there will be another

All I wanted was one more week with my fun, fabulous Eagles ... and I'm thrilled to say they gave it to me!

We won two tournament games this week, including Thursday's victory over a team that had beaten us just 16 days earlier, and now we are the first Scholars Academy basketball team ever to reach the league championship game.

My girls -- 8th-graders Sienna, Margaret and Susanna; 7th-graders Ruta, Malika, Sholeh, Olivia, Celeste and Beijul; and 6th-grader Ritika -- are peaking at just the right time. Until a couple weeks ago, we had been struggling a little on offense. We made a few tweaks to our attack and we haven't lost since, playing progressively better each game.

We take a 15-3 record into the title game next Thursday (2/19). Two of our losses were to the team we will play for the championship, including a gut-wrenching 2-point loss in our most recent meeting. They haven't seen our new offense, which should do well against their defense. I am not worried about our defense -- it is the best in the league, IMHO -- or our effort. Nobody out-works or out-hustles my Eagles.

As satisfying as it was to win our semifinal game, I now find myself mostly thinking about other stuff.

Like how much fun we have together. And how much the girls love and support each other. And what nice kids they are. And how much they have improved since January and December and November ... not to mention since early last season, when I honestly wondered if we would win a single game!

My daughter Katie is visiting from Seattle this week and she served as my assistant for both games, as well as two practices. As we drove to Thursday's game, I confided in her that I was more nervous than I had been in a long, long time. I also told her my primary motivation for wanting to win so badly was this:

I wasn't ready for the season to end!!!

And thanks to Ruta, Ritika, Malika, Margaret, Susanna, Sholeh, Sienna, Olivia, Celeste and Beijul, the season has one more wonderful week to go.