Monthly Archives: June 2009

Jackpot

final steps

Eleven years ago, a league commissioner stepped to the podium at Madison Square Garden in New York City and changed my sports life forever.  Thursday night, another league commissioner stepped to the podium at Madison Square Garden in New York City and changed my sports life forever, again.  Oddly enough both changes have landed me in the same place.  Eleven years ago, it was Paul Tagliabue when he announced that the Indianapolis Colts had selected Peyton Williams Manning with the 1st pick in the 1998 NFL draft.  Thursday night, it was David Stern when he announced that the Indiana Pacers had selected Andrew Tyler Hansbrough with the 13th pick in the 2009 NBA draft.  The NFL draft has since moved to Radio City Music Hall, but Madison Square Garden seems to be the place where people change my life.  Either that or the state of Indiana, and specifically the city of Indianapolis, is targeting its census growth towards me via professional league drafts.

Many years ago, I was a big NBA fan…a Chicago Bulls fan like nearly everyone else in the free world.  But it wasn’t just Michael Jordan.  Oh no…I had a Scottie Pippen jersey, and I knew every single player’s name.  I watched the parade rallies after every single one of their championships.  But sadly after the team was broken into pieces, it wasn’t the same and I cast the NBA to the side.  I stuck around in May and June every year to see the playoffs and who won the championship, and I paid attention to where former Tar Heels were playing, but other than that, I was just a casual observer.  Thursday night, I knocked on the door and asked if I could return to the party right around the time Tyler Hansbrough took the finals steps of his college career, which you see in the above picture.

For four years, all I ever heard was that Tyler would be a mid to late 20s pick.  That he’d be a player a team would find valuable in practice but not really helpful in a game situation.  That his game wouldn’t translate to the NBA.  That all remains to be seen even though (God help me) I share the opinion of Jay Bilas who has been one of Tyler’s biggest cheerleaders against the naysayers.  Until then, that player who can’t possibly be successful in the NBA was a lottery pick at lucky number 13.

57776754

Leading up to Thursday night, I had read a few reports during the pre-draft combine and the individual workouts with various teams.  It was comical to me as I read comments from league scouts, coaches, and executives who were just beside themselves with shock over his combine measurements and his agility tests and his workouts.  He was so much more than they thought he was.  Like Coach Williams, I keep shaking my head and laughing.  Most mock drafts had put him in the 12-20 range.  Some even had him going into the second round, which really made me laugh.  But by the time the actual draft rolled around, it had narrowed down to a lot of buzz about the Utah Jazz, two workouts with the New Jersey Nets, a long forgotten interest by the Chicago Bulls, and a solid workout with the Indiana Pacers.  In the end, I just wanted him to go to a team that would appreciate him, would help him become an even better player than he already is, and would be the best fit for him.  I think he has found just that in the Pacers.

His new teammates, his new coach, and his new front office staff (which includes former Tar Heel National Champion Sam Perkins) seem to think the world of him despite some very hateful comments by so called Pacer fans.  Larry Bird (president of the Pacers) especially appears to think he’s going to surprise a lot of people and prove a lot a people wrong even though Larry doesn’t really think he has anything to prove.  You see Larry Bird experienced some of the same criticism when he was drafted, and well, his career wasn’t too shabby.

Really no matter what you might think about Tyler’s game, he has worked his entire life to get to this point, and he deserves this moment and the benefit of his doubters.  Four years ago a scrappy teenager enrolled at North Carolina.  He didn’t look like much and the critics didn’t think much would ever come of him.  Four years later, that same scrappy teenager has become a muscular power forward bruiser with an incredible control over his body and is the leading free throw shooter in NCAA history, the leading scorer in ACC history, leading rebounder in the 100 year history of Carolina Basketball, a former consensus National Player of the Year, and a National Champion.  And now, he’s a lottery winner.  Watch his Introductory Press Conference.

Pacers Draft Hansbrough Basketball

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Other Tar Heels drafted on Thursday night:

lawson

Tywon Lawson was drafted #18 by the Minnesota Timberwolves, but was traded to the Denver Nuggets where he will back up and learn from one of the best point guards in the league, Chauncey Billups and be coached by former Tar Heel George Karl.

New Timberwolves Basketball

Wayne Ellington was drafted #28 by the Minnesota Timberwolves where he will apparently wear #19.  The Timberwolves have a crush on National Champion winning Tar Heel shooting guards as they chose Rashad McCants in the 2005 NBA draft.

Danny Green was drafted #46 by the Cleveland Cavaliers where he will join what is sure to be the most entertaining team next season as they had finalized a trade to get Shaquille O’Neal the morning of draft day.  Former Tar Heel Jawad Williams from the 2005 National Championship team also plays for the Cavs.

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Really Not That Different

HPIM2065

It’s odd to look back at your life and figure out how you turned out the way you did.  I really don’t have to look very far.

Contrary to what some people might think, I’m much more like my father than I am my mother.  My dad is calm under pressure.  Doesn’t really worry about much of anything until there’s something to worry about.  He’s fiercely loyal to his family and friends.  Kind and helpful to people whenever he can be.  He hates being made fun of.  Can’t sit still (unless he’s napping).  He’s smart and driven and takes charge.

Now, replace the “he’s” with “Leann’s” or “I am’s” and you’ve just described me.

I also get my love of sports from him.  He was a coach when he first started teaching.  Football and baseball.  In fact, my mom kept book for the baseball team when they were dating.  I get my fanaticism and vigor for the different teams I pull for from my mom.  But the basic and complete love of sports comes from dad.

It’s because of these things that I wouldn’t change one thing about the person I am because if I wanted to change who I am, then that somehow means I would want to change the person my father is.  Sometimes I think part of my problem finding someone to settle down with is because no one holds a candle to the example of a man my father is.  It’s a tall order and since my father’s one in a million, I’m pretty sure I’ve set myself up to be single for life.

I’m pretty sure this is OK with him since he told me I wasn’t allowed to date until I was 35.  Four more years, people, and I’m available!  Mark those calendars.  🙂

In all seriousness, I wish my nephew really knew how lucky he is to have the grandfather he has.  He’ll think it’s normal to have a grandpa who could spend 24/7/365 with him and not get his fill of Lincoln.  He won’t know that the amount of love my father has for him is truly immeasurable.  He won’t know that the simple act of sitting on grandpa’s lap while grandpa reads him a book is the single greatest human experience my father could ever dream of.  Because Lincoln will only see these things as standard operating procedure…what is expected of a grandfather.  But some day, when Lincoln has his own grandchildren, he’ll understand and he’ll have the best example in the world to mirror.

Happy Father’s Day, daddy!

Field of Dreams

CWS Stadium Baseball

I sat there stunned not knowing whether to scream or cry watching as the hopes and dreams of 30 outstanding young men fell to pieces right before my eyes.  For the last 4 years, they have come together from every corner of North Carolina and a couple from far out places like Nevada, Illinois, New York, and Connecticut.  They’ve come together for one reason, one goal: to make it to Omaha and bring home the school’s first national championship in the sport.  For the last 4 years, they have achieved half of that goal, and in every one of them, there was a time when we all really felt it was possible.  There were the back to back losses in 2006 and 2007 to Oregon State in the championship series.  There was the early exit in the bracket championship game to Fresno State in 2008.  And then there was Arizona State. (A lot of how I feel about Arizona State isn’t for public consumption, so I’m not going to waste any more of my blog space talking about them except to say GO TEXAS!)

I have never been a big major league baseball fan.  I’ve paid attention, sure, but my love of baseball lies with the college game.  This was the 63rd College World Series, and in those 63 occasions, 109 different schools have participated.  Only 10 of those schools have made it 4 or more consecutive years, and now UNC is one of them. So, as I sat on my couch wishing that the 7th inning had all been a horrible nightmare and as I watched Coach Fox do everything he could think of to get his team back in the game, mercifully substituting players so everyone could have a college world series game experience, my heart broke for Garrett Gore.

This is Garrett:

Garrett

He’s a 21 (almost 22) year old from Wilmington, NC.  He’s the kind of person that always has a smile on his face, always finds the silver lining, never has a bad day.  He’s gracious and humble and smart and funny and sweet.  He has green eyes that sparkle and light up his face.  His southern accent will make you melt, and his laugh is contagious.  He loves his teammates and his coaches and Carolina.  And he LOVES baseball.  Last night’s game was the final game of his baseball career.  The last 4 years, he has ended the season in Omaha a few games shy of the national championship.  The last 4 years he has given everything he had to his team to make sure that he was contributing in the best way he could.  This year, he gave up his second base position and moved to right field so that incoming freshman Levi Michael could take second.  And he hasn’t complained one bit about it.  In fact, I think the only thing Garrett would ever complain about is people not having fun.

Last weekend, I watched Field of Dreams for the millionth time because that movie just never gets old.  And when I heard Shoeless Joe describe how he felt about the game of baseball (“I’d wake up at night with the smell of the ball park in my nose, the cool of the grass on my feet… The thrill of the grass.”), I thought of Garrett.  I wonder now if he will wake up with the smell of the ballpark in his nose.  If he’ll long for the feel of his glove on his hand and the sound of the ball hitting the leather during a catch.  Will he ever grip a bat again without a twinge shooting through his heart?

Yes, my heart hurts for Garrett because I think if he was ever going to have a bad day in his life, last night was it.  In his last appearance on defense, Coach Fox moved him back to second.  The ESPN cameras zeroed in on him.  He was so focused as if whatever he did was going to change the game.  And then he got to turn a double play.

The guy who never thought he’d go to college (which he will graduate from in December with a degree in Communications) much less play baseball there or get to go to Omaha every single year, never met a pitch he didn’t like and had 2 hits (one of them a triple) and 1 run in his final game.  The guy who thanks God for the opportunity to go to Carolina to get an education before he even thinks about thanking God for the opportunity to play baseball, has appeared in more College World Series games than any player in its 63 year history.  His career stats will show that he has one grand slam, but what it won’t show is how much of his heart and soul he gave to the game.  He left his field of dreams in Omaha, Nebraska and walked away with 4 years of the greatest memories he could have ever imagined.  I’m really going to miss this guy in Carolina blue, but I know Garrett will continue inspiring people with just a smile on his face.  Thanks for the fun, Garrett, thanks for the immeasurable fun!

Bama Busted

Disclaimer: I graduated from The University of Alabama twice: one undergrad and one graduate degree.  I love every thing there is to love about football season from tailgating to shakers to Rammer Jammer to (yes) even the traffic.  I can describe in detail the opening of an Alabama gymnastics meet.  I can tell you where the best seat at the baseball stadium is.  I know how to sneak into the underbelly of Coleman Coliseum.  And I know every shortcut imaginable on that beautiful campus.  I am PROUD to be an Alabama fan and an alum.

That said, we are not perfect.  We make mistakes.  We sometimes play like our name alone should win us the game.  And more often than not in the 13 years that I’ve been in the Crimson Tide camp, we’ve been on probation by the NCAA…like right now.

You see what happened here is that several student athletes abused their textbook privileges.  You can read the full report here.  For a quick summary of it all go here.

Now here’s where my pride in my alma mater might come into question.  I know a lot of Bama fans who are really mad at the NCAA as if all this is the NCAA’s fault…as if just because we’ve broken the rules, the NCAA should just look the other way and go about their business.  I can’t do that.

So, this may make me a bad alum, but at this point, I don’t really care since I’m tired of the Alabama Athletic Department not monitoring themselves well enough to prevent this. This is not the NCAA’s fault. They are just enforcing the rules they have in place. The fact that the NCAA points out that it could have been worse had Bama not already taken corrective action is generous of them.  Technology is advanced enough for this to have been prevented with just a few diligent and NCAA law abiding people running the show. It doesn’t seem to me like it would be all that hard to have a computer program that told you exactly what classes every student athlete is registered for and whether or not he/she has picked up her books for that semester. And when they tried to pick up a book for a class they weren’t registered for, the person behind the counter should then be asking for proof that they are in fact in that class. How hard is this really? Thankfully, the NCAA is punishing the people who committed the infractions rather than punishing future student athletes who haven’t yet tried to do anything wrong or against the rules. I think it’s time to look internally and find ways to clean up the Athletic Department rather than blaming the NCAA.

I also realize that the NCAA is not a perfect entity in any way.  There’s a lot going on at USC that is fishy and needs more investigating.  And that whole thing with Memphis basketball and the SAT.  So they could certainly have their hands in a lot of other areas of the country.  Historically, the NCAA has not been consistent in their sanctioning.  They’ve given immunity to people who help their investigation despite those helpers having done the same things rather than sanctioning them, too.  They’ve slapped people on the wrist for things other people have lost scholarships for.  But, God love ’em, they’re NEVER, EVER the ones actually violating the rules governing student-athletes.

Someone needs to be held accountable.  And that someone does not reside in an office at NCAA headquarters.  Somewhere in Tuscaloosa, AL, someone dropped the ball.  It’s troubling to me that people will sit back and say, it’s just textbooks.  It’s not just textbooks people.  It’s being able to hold our head up high and actually be able to say we won these games fair and square with athletes who are following the rules.  That’s really all I want.  I just want to be able to have pride a school’s athletic department that does it right.

In the grand scheme of things, this could have been a WHOLE lot worse.  What exactly are we vacating?  A bunch of wins over three seasons that resulted in ONE…yes ONE bowl win in those 3 years.  We’re not losing scholarships.  We’re not losing our ability to play in the post season.  We’re being slapped on the wrist by having previous things taken away.  So I say we take this punishment and run with it.  And use it as a jumping off point for actually cleaning up the Athletic Department…this time.

Perhaps one day I’ll be able to say that in the last 13 years, we’ve been in good standing more often than not.

Crushin’

Shocking as it may be to all my readers out there, but I have a tiny bit of a crush on these guys…

Diamond Heels (team photo)

And these guys…

Diamond Heels

And these guys especially…

Diamond Heels (seniors)

And most definitely these guys…

Diamond Heels (senior prayer)

And, yes I realize they’re all the same team…all the same people.  But these guys are going to the College World Series for the 4th straight year.  Those 5 guys huddled in a prayer or holding up the 4 fingers are the 5 seniors on the team who have been one of the 8 teams headed to Omaha in every year of their college careers.  They’ve fought every year for one more shot, and this is their last “one more shot.”  They’ve got their work cut out for them, but they’re Tar Heels: hard work, dedication, desire, mission, commitment, and perseverance are writ in their DNA.  Git ‘er dun, Diamond Heels!

Joseph’s Technicolor World

Joseph 1

When I was in college, I had to do an internship in the spring of my senior year, so for 2 1/2 months I lived and worked in Clinton, MS (a suburb of Jackson) for MCI WorldCom (before the fall). I had a lot of interesting life experiences while I was there, but none of them compare to the people I met. In particular, I became fast friends with the Administrative Assistant for the department in which I interned. Marilyn is a former Marine (though she hates me putting those two words together…Marines aren’t former anything! Semper Fi!) and one of the best mothers I’ve ever met. She has two children: a son and a daughter. Her son, Joseph, was diagnosed at an early age with Asperger’s Syndrome, a condition on the Autism spectrum. On May 22, Joseph graduated from high school completing all the same necessary state graduation requirements as the other students in his class. The local newspaper printed an article about this fine young man. I have known Joseph since he was 10 years old.  He really would barely look at me or have a conversation with me mainly because he was shy around new people.  But over the years he’s warmed up to me (much more so than I warmed up to his pet snake) and can even start and carry on a conversation with me.  When I first met him, I could already see how remarkable he was at pushing forward despite his obstacles. He is an inspiration to say the least, and I wanted to share his story with you all. Best of luck getting through this without your eyes getting at least a little bit misty.  Click on the article title to go to the original publishing and see the reader comments.  It warms my heart to see such incredible feedback about someone that I’ve believed in from the moment I met him and to be reminded how incredibly important teachers are in our lives.

Disability does not stop Clinton graduate

Marquita Brown
mbrown13@clarionledger.com

Joseph Upton has been in school full time since he was 3 1/2 years old.

He has spent hours after school catching up on the school work he couldn’t finish during the day. Then he would spend about four hours on his homework each school night.

But Upton, who has Asperger’s syndrome, has graduated from Clinton High School despite the obstacles presented by the disorder, part of a group of conditions called autism spectrum disorders.

“My disorder makes things a little bit complicated for me to understand,” said Upton, 19. For example, sometimes he is unable to write fast enough to get lecture notes.

In Mississippi, 23.16 percent of students with disabilities completed school with a traditional diploma during the 2007-08 school year, according to the state Department of Education. Students with disabilities can complete school by receiving a traditional diploma, but to do so they must meet the same state graduation requirements as other students.

Students with disabilities also may receive an occupational diploma, a certificate or a GED.

Asked why her son pursued a diploma, Marilyn Upton said, “I think he’s capable. I felt all the time that he could do it, and I pushed him, I guess.”

She said she taught her children to not quit what they have started.

“You never reach a goal without working to get there,” Marilyn Upton said.

Unlike children with autism, those with Asperger’s syndrome “never really have a language problem,” said Kimberly Bellipanni, a behavioral specialist and certified school psychologist at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Children’s Center for Communication and Development.

Children with Asperger’s syndrome have cognitive development on par with most other children, and some are “really highly functioning, really bright,” she said.

Children with Asperger’s also have very rigid behavior and can be routine-oriented, Bellipanni said. They may not listen to everyone else, or may have trouble initiating or continuing a conversation. They may have an anger outburst or not be socially aware, she said.

Joseph Upton’s third-grade teacher had a class of gifted students similar to Joseph, and some who were worse, Marilyn Upton said. But the teacher, Ginger Vandeventer, “catered to the educational level of every one of them,” she said.

The students all worked on the same tasks, but at a different pace. Vandeventer would write assignments on the board, and had enrichment activities for those who finished early. That left more time to work with the children who needed extra help, she said.

Joseph “was easily distracted,” Vandeventer said.

If she told him to get back to work, he would “get mad, and everything would come to a halt,” she said. He would “talk back or stop or not want to do anything. … It took him awhile to cool off.”

Instead of calling for him to focus, Vandeventer said she would walk by and tap on his desk. Doing so “got the same point across, but it was a passive thing,” she said.

Vandeventer also learned Joseph was motivated by the animals she kept in her classroom – fish, lizards, even a snake.

Clinton High School special education teacher Regina Britt, who worked with Joseph, called him a hard worker.

“He always tried his best and was always concerned about his grades,” Britt said in an e-mail. “Joseph loves art and karate. These activities allow Joseph to express himself.”

Joseph worked hard on his school assignments during the week, and the family made the most of weekends, Marilyn Upton said. Another outlet for Joseph was TEAAM’s Camp Kaleidoscope, where he went every year until he was 15.

But when Joseph became a teenager, he felt the camp staff was treating him like a baby.

“It’s like saying I can’t do things normal people do,” he said.

In school, Joseph struggled with the state English test but eventually passed it. He called his mother, who was away at Camp Shelby, to tell her the good news.

“You want to see a soldier look like an idiot? I was standing there bawling,” said Marilyn Upton, an air defense officer in the National Guard. “I was so excited for him. I was so happy.”

On May 22, Joseph donned a red cap and gown and marched with Clinton High School’s Class of 2009.

“One of my greatest teaching moments was when I saw Joseph, dressed in his cap and gown, receive his high school diploma,” Britt said.

Asked how he felt about the ceremony, Joseph said, “I was kind of nervous, but I was good.”

His family raved about him. His father, Jeffrey Upton, called him “amazing.”

“His work ethic is absolutely astonishing,” Jeffrey Upton said. “It’s been a long wait, but I’m glad,” said Rebekah Upton, Joseph’s 16-year-old sister. “He’s had to struggle through school.”

Joseph now wants to attend college in Savannah, Ga., and hopes one day to be an animator.

Earlier, when asked what it meant for her son to graduate, Marilyn Upton said, “To say that a child has been in school full-time since they were 3 1/2 years old, I don’t know if anybody can really comprehend that.

“To think that somebody has had to put forth that much work to get a high school diploma … he’s just amazing.”

Joseph 2