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Archive for October, 2006

Oct. 30, 2006 — The seeds of discontent

Manahawkin Southern Regional (N.J.) dropped its first-round match in the South Jersey Group IV Tournament to Linwood Mainland (N.J.). That result, in and of itself, is not the reason for today’s entry.

Instead, the talking point on this game is that Southern was handed the No. 1 seed in this section instead of the state’s No. 1 team, Voorhees Eastern (N.J.).

Some may say that the seeding formula for the New Jersey state tournament is an impartial way to give top teams home-field advantage. But if that is the case, Eastern — a team with seven straight state championships — would not have had the home field in the sectional championship if Southern had advanced.

Imagine, if you will, the field hockey team with a relatively weak league schedule. That team could schedule a number of very weak large New Jersey schools to harvest those Group III and Group IV points, thereby getting a larger seed. The team could also alter its home pitch to its advantage, either keeping the grass to its maximum allowable length under current Federation rules or by playing on waterlogged artificial grass.

That wouldn’t be very fair. And neither is the current NJSIAA seeding formula. I like the Maryland system, in which the state tournament committee seeds the two (or four if the bracket has 16 or more entries) best teams in each section.

This does two things. One, it prevents the two best teams from meeting before the championship final. Two, it prevents any possible manipulation of seeding criteria.

In fact, I’ve been working on an Ultimate State Tournament in my head the last couple of years, combining the best practices of the various state, district, sectional, and league championships I have witnessed over the years. Subjective seeding is a major part of it.

New Jersey isn’t the lone state which could use subjective seeding. Pennsylvania seeds its 16 qualifiers ahead of time, regardless of which team is likely to qualify in the state’s district system.

The problem here is that, in both brackets, two of the best teams in the state will meet in the semifinals rather than the final; Selinsgrove (Pa.) and Kingston Wyoming Seminary (Pa.) in Class AA, and Emmaus (Pa.) and Hummelstown Lower Dauphin (Pa.) in Class AAA.

Regrettably, matches between these teams will bear the designation, “time and location TBA.” And in mid-week, too.

Oct. 29, 2006 — Behind the video

Went to RFK Stadium to witness D.C. United’s 2-1 aggregate win over Red Bull New York in the Major League Soccer playoffs.

After the match, I went to the team’s afterparty on Capitol Hill. I didn’t see any team members at The Pour House, but there were plenty of members of the United front office in the room.

At the table where there were hot and cold appetizers, I accidentally bumped into a young woman with straight blonde hair and eyeglasses.

Our conversation settled on the game being played on the big screen between Houston and Chivas USA, then I remarked on how much she resembled a television personality I knew from watching one of the sports channels on DirecTV.

“Well, seeing as I am Michelle Lissel ….”

I was sooooo embarrassed.

She had left her job as a broadcaster of The Fox Sports World Report a few months ago to join the front office of the new Major League Soccer franchise in Toronto, and was part of a delegation visiting DC United’s front office to understand what it takes to build a fan base and run a team successfully.

I did have to ask her one thing before the night was over, though. How did the 2003 Champions’ Challenge of women’s field hockey get into the nightly report when no other major field hockey competitions have?

“I think that was called ‘a lack of content,’ ” she said.

These days, The Fox Sports World Report is now shown on Fox Soccer Channel and is almost exclusively about soccer. The occasional footage of rugby, cricket, sailing, motorsports, and other sports are now often relegated to the closing credits.

It’s a far cry from the halcyon days of Fox Sports World when it was on Channel 31 in New York and showed everything from Euroleague basketball to rugby to tennis to touring-car racing.

Oct. 28, 2006 — The rain in Maine stays mainly in the plain

The weekend field hockey action was without one major component today: the Maine state finals in Class A, B, and C.

The Maine Principals’ Association decided to postpone the matches in the face of a storm that wound up bringing about six inches of rain Down East, knocking out power to some 35,000 people.

The matches were to be played in Portland’s Fitzgerald Stadium.

What was odd was that the floor of Fitzgerald Stadium is artificial grass, which drains a lot better than any natural grass surface under such a rainfall. In fact, this state final tripleheader should be able to be played under monsoon conditions.

I’m not so sure about this decision, frankly. Better to play under six inches of rain than six inches of snow.

Oct. 27, 2006 — Pauses for causes

I ordered two tickets to see recording artist Madeleine Peyroux, hoping to take a friend of mine who’s been having a tough time lately in her personal and professional lives. But she backed out three days before the concert leaving me with an extra ticket.

On the steps of the auditorium, there I was standing in the rain with a ticket I didn’t need in a city which bans the resale of event tickets whether the transaction is above, below, or at the face value.

But it didn’t say anything about giving them away. There was a young woman who didn’t look any older than 20 (she was, though) chatting on her cellphone about not being able to get into the performance. Once she got off the telephone, I offered to give her the ticket if she would give what she thought the ticket was worth to her favorite charity.

Her eyes lit up. “Thank you,” she said, as the glint on her corneas matched the glitter sewn into her hat. “But I don’t have one. Have you any suggestions?”

I paused. A purple icon with flashing yellow letters popped into my head: The Maria Whitehead Fund.

Of course, it would pop in, seeing as it’s been on the front of the site since the redesign earlier this month. But then again, wasn’t I slighting my childhood friend, the head field hockey coach of The Pennington (N.J.) School, who is going on a Lupus walk this weekend?

Or my pen-pal Jennifer, who is running a half-marathon for St. Jude Children’s Hospital in December?

Or the Los Gatos varsity field hockey team, who lost all of their equipment in a fire more than two weeks ago?

Or the Sally Nyborg Foundation? Or Kelsey Henderson, a New Jersey player fighting cancer?

So many causes, so little time, so few resources.

These are all great needs. Help with what you can.

Oct. 26, 2006 — The TopOfTheCircle.com Third Law of Field Hockey

One of the tools in my professional and personal development is my membership in Toastmasters. I was introduced to this public speaking group 14 years ago in graduate school. Through a curriculum of small exercises, you get experience getting up in front of people.

I used to belong to a group north of Princeton, but joined the group in my building. After attaining the rank of CTM, I have moved on to a manual called “Communicating on Television.” My second exercise in the manual was to be the guest on a talk show, and thanks to my facilitator Hilary, I expounded on the Florida International-Miami University football donnybrook which saw 31 players suspended.

I went on to explain about how it was the worst possible scenario for this incident; a game televised on a sports cable network and continually rebroadcast for two solid weeks.

It led to copycat violence, but very little footage exists of the fight between the football teams of Dartmouth College and Holy Cross. And the publicity surrounding it has been much more guarded.

Now, there has been an uptick in youth sports violence over the last few years, I noted. There were the incidents involving youth football in California and in Wilkes-Barre which were captured on amateur home video and broadcast on TV. Youth hockey fights are now a regular feature on the YouTube video sharing service.

I explained the problems in the light of how sportsmanship norms in many sports have gone out the window, from the football player in West Virginia rushing for 10 touchdowns and about 2/5 of a mile in one game, to the field hockey teams scoring more than 15 goals in a game since 2002 (in major forms of the sport in the Americas, this has happened at least 34 times).

This was a 10-minute exercise and I got through many of my points in just about nine minutes; I had time for one more question. Hilary pulled a Ryan Stiles on me, adding an unexpected detail to the scenario, expecting me to improvise using the fact.

She said, “You’re an Under-12 field hockey coach in your spare time, aren’t you? What do you teach your own players about sportsmanship?”

Thankfully without stammering, I replied, “We get the players and the parents together before the season starts and make sure everyone understands their role: ‘Players play, coaches coach, spectators spectate, officials officiate, administrators administer … and ne’er the twain shall meet.”

Oops. I thought. “Twain” doesn’t imply five disinct roles; it implies two.

Still, I got a good evaluation on the exercise … and I also got my “Third Law Of Field Hockey,” about how the roles of all participants in the game need to be distinct. Blurring them can only mean trouble. It’s now part of the lexicon of terms on the site.

Oct. 25, 2006 — Penalized for being good?

If one of the best field hockey teams in the country are to make it through to its respective state championship games — heck, to make it out of its region — it’ll have to earn its way through by circumstances completely beyond its control.

Voorhees Eastern (N.J.), the No. 3 team in the TopOfTheCircle.com Top 10, may find itself playing the South Jersey Group IV final away from home. Because of the formula used to seed teams, Manahawkin Southern Regional (N.J.) is the top seed in that section, not Eastern.

The New Jersey seeding criteria are as follows: 1)  winning percentage; 2) head-to-head; 3) record against common opponents; 4) A power-point system giving weight to large schools — a Group IV school being worth four points, a Group III school three points, and so forth.

Eastern is undefeated and untied on the season, Southern Regional has a pair of draws and even lost a game after the state cutoff.

Kind of makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Oct. 24, 2006 — A personal book club

I normally buy two books a year.

It’s something my 83-year-old father probably doesn’t like to hear. He has been so voracious a reader during his lifetime that he has had to donate a sizable portion of his personal collection to Liberia just so he can move around his study. Books have often been stacked on the floor around his bed, with newspaper clippings on the comforter.

He reads in bed, sometimes at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning. I can understand; time means nothing to one who is retired.

I have not been a tireless reader of the classics, or foreign-language texts, or history, or modern political science, or religion. And so it is with many young people, who get their information from radio, television, the internet, or friends.

My contributions to keeping the literary genre alive are my two regular book purchases: The Best American Sports Writing, which hit bookshelves a couple of weeks ago; and the annual Spenser novel by Robert B. Parker, which came out today.

I started purchasing the Best American Sportswriting anthology in 1992. Edited by Glenn Stout, stories in these books have returned to a few major themes.

The first theme is how the life of a professional athlete can spiral out of control after the spotlight fades. Stories written over the years on athletes such as Golden Richards, Roscoe Tanner, Len Dykstra, and Riddick Bowe show athletes down on their luck through drugs, gambling, bad investments, and misfortune.

The second theme often found in these anthologies is the invasion of real-life issues into the cocoon of an athlete’s life. Terrorism, gay rights, crushing poverty, and the end of the Cold War have found their way into some stories.

The third theme is the discovery of meaning in unusual sporting activities or unusual places. Stories on everything from bullfighting to women’s boxing to curling to the demolition derby have been in the series. And there are different takes on the major sports: a memorable story on a boys’ basketball team in Montana led to a book on the girls’ basketball team from the same reservation.

I have always looked to these books for inspiration on how to become a better writer. Heck, I was even nominated for this year’s book, edited by Michael Lewis. (I didn’t get in.)

This afternoon, I purchased the other book I buy every year, Parker’s latest Spenser novel called “Hundred Dollar Baby.” The reason I got into the Spenser novels was because the ABC television series based on the books was filmed on location in Boston and vicinity while I was attending Harvard. They closed down the Harvard Square news stand one day to film in the fall of 1984.

I liked watching “Spenser: For Hire” during its three-year run just to pick out landmarks like Storrow Drive, Faneuil Hall, Boston Common, Kendall Square, and the Pru. It was more difficult to develop the enthusiasm for the subsequent TV movies at first because most of the action was filmed in Toronto.

Boston, however, remains a strong character in Parker’s books. Even when main protagonist Spenser goes to far-flung places like Georgia and Arizona and New York for his sleuthing, he always comes back home.