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Archive for Omnibus

Sept. 20, 2017 — Thoughts on a retirement

I didn’t want to go too far along in the fall field hockey season without recognizing an excellent coach for whom this is her first year out of the game since the fall of 1972.

Judy Lee retired over the offseason, leaving an indelible mark as field hockey coach at Martinsville Pingry School (N.J.). She had previously coached at Roselle Park (N.J.), but it was at Pingry where she truly made a name for herself and her team.

Pingry is a college preparatory school which has, in the last few years, led a parallel existence between the state’s public and private schools. It joined with a public-school league for most of its athletic pursuits, sometimes participating in the state tournament in the private school ranks.

In field hockey, Lee was part of a trend which made the NJSIAA rewrite an entire section of its manual. Between 2000 and 2004, Pingry won four of five Group I titles. A decade later, fellow private schools Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.) and Pennsauken Bishop Eustace (N.J.) were also winning state titles.

By 2013, the NJSIAA had instituted a Non-Public state championship bracket for the various private and parochial schools whose field hockey teams were starting to rival the public schools for top honors year over year.

Lee finished with more than 500 career victories in field hockey.

But the thing is, it wasn’t her most impactful sport. Lee was the swim coach not only for Pingry (both boys’and girls’ teams), but also lent her summers to the recreational program in Westfield, N.J. for four decades.

Westfield, a community about 15 miles northeast of Martinsville, is a place where swimming runs deep in the community and in the soul of those who practice and compete, even the U-8s who dogpaddle a crooked line towards a wall that never seems to come quick enough.

Thousands of swimmers were under Lee’s influence over the years, and went on to varying degrees of success as state champions in their own right.

Lee’s effects on her students and athletes is undeniable. She will be missed.

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Sept. 2, 2017 — A preview of the future of high school sports?

This morning, in Somerset, N.J., hard by the banks of the Weston Canal that used to transport goods to the Atlantic Ocean, a girls’ soccer game will be played.

But instead of any of the local high schools taking part, the two teams are the U-14 teams representing Sky Blue-Players Development Academy and F.C. Virginia, two of the 69 teams in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy.

The Development Academy is an 11-month league which trains players who are committed to improving their soccer in an environment which eases transition to a potential youth national team.

A matchday between two clubs is not just one game, but four, as the clubs’ U-14, U-15, U-16, and U-18 sides will play games all day at one site.

This is the inaugural season of the girls’ Development Academy; the boys have had their own league for a decade. But the girls’ DA will have some immediate effects on the high-school athletic scene.

Of course, it will be interesting to see which young soccer phenoms will ditch their high school teams to play DA ball exclusively. It’s notable that, although there are currently 69 clubs in the DA, there are some large swaths of the country that do not have a team.

Note that the season for the Development Academy is 10 months: a good soccer player who happens to play three sports for their school won’t be able to play, say, basketball or lacrosse or softball with her schoolmates.

Ultimately, it will be notable to see what happens after the first year, with players deciding that the DA is not for them and rejoining their school teams in not only soccer, but other athletic pursuits at their old high schools.

I think, depending on the athletic culture of their particular states, the Development Academy will affect certain athletic teams more than other.

But as this site has prophesied, I think the national governing bodies of sport are looking to get more involved in high-level player development as the NCAA doubles down on football and men’s basketball.

Which means that it’s not going to be very long before you start seeing an all-day matchday between, say, XCalibur and the W.C. Eagles in field hockey, or Hero’s and the Yellowjackets in girls’ lacrosse.

How long do you think it will take for this to happen? Five years? Ten?

Sept. 1, 2017 — A milepost for 19 years

It was 19 years ago this month when the first words of this website were first set to HTML code.

Of course, much has happened since then. We’ve documented some of the excellence that has occurred in field hockey and lacrosse, and watching the ways that teams like Voorhees Eastern (N.J.), the University of Maryland, University of North Carolina, The College of New Jersey, and Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) have created dominant athletic powerhouses.

We’ve seen players and teams succeed, other manage spectacular failures. We’ve seen astounding growth in girls’ high school lacrosse which is just starting to flow through to the collegiate game. We’ve seen field hockey fighting to hang on with expansion in some places, albeit with retrenchments in others.

But something has also happened in the last couple of days that has given your founder sudden pause. USA Field Hockey has released the rosters of five women’s national Masters teams for upcoming international tournaments.

On these rosters are more than two dozen players whom the Founder has seen play in high school.

That’s when you know you’re getting up there in age.

Aug. 16, 2017 — The war on ice goes international

The last we checked with the two stalemated pro women’s ice hockey leagues in the United States, there were still four Canadian teams in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, the four U.S. franchises in the National Women’s Hockey League, and the city of Boston playing out as the battleground between the two, as the only market with two teams.

Recent plans for both leagues are showing that while the American league is remaining pat for a third season, the CWHL is looking east. Make that the Far East. China is the home of two new CWHL teams, Kunlun Red Star and the Vanke Rays. While Kunlun has rapidly organized, holding training camp and hiring a general manager, the Rays team’s plans have been on a stealth level. The Rays’ intention of joining the league were reflected in a social media post that disappeared on a weekend.

So, Thursday night is the CWHL’s entry draft. I’ll be interested to see of the Rays will participate.

 

Aug. 7, 2017 — An eye-opening story

Today, all over the world, there are athletic competitions taking place featuring everything from men and women running against the clock, men riding bicycles up steep mountain roads, and people chasing an inflatable bladder trying to put it into a goal using their feet, and people trying to hit a leather ball using a wooden stick.

And for those professional and amateur sports under the control of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), there is also a competition between people looking to cheat their way to high performance and doctors and scientists looking to catch them.

There is a new documentary out on Netflix called “Icarus,” and it follows documentarian Bryan Fogel as he goes from trying to prove the folly of the current anti-doping system through the acquisition of performance-enhancing drugs, to doing the same through helping to smuggle a key witness out of Russia.

And that Russian witness is why you see athletes of Russian nationality competing at the IAAF World Championships this week, but not under their flag.

This documentary should make you question just about every kind of control that has been on sports the last two decades.

Aug. 2, 2017 — A complete lack of integrity

It’s been said that summer basketball, such as AAU club ball, corporate-sponsored showcases, and even a nationwide high-stakes competition called The Basketball Tournament (TBT) are perhaps the most corrupt cesspool in all of sport.

Given what’s happened with the governance of world soccer and the Tour de France, that’s saying something.

The latest example occurred last week when LaVar Ball, a coach with a Los Angeles-based team The Big Ballers, pulled his team off the court after receiving a technical foul last Friday. The official assessing the technical was a female official, and Ball managed to get Adidas, the corporate sponsor of the tournament, to remove the game official and replace her with a male official.

The reaction has been swift and harsh. Court Club Elite, an organization that prepares basketball referees, is ending is relationship with Adidas over the matter. Everyone from ESPN journalist Jay Bilas to Naismith Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal have weighed in.

Ball is no ordinary basketball coach. His son Lonzo was drafted in the first round by the Los Angeles Lakers, and has not been shy about hyperbolic commentary as to how good he and his other sons LaMelo and LiAngelo are.

As such, his influence as shown in his actions at the Adidas tournament last week is a poor one. It’s a poor lesson in sportsmanship, as well as a failure to recognize that all decisions by game officials are final.

Coaches having a say over game officials is a dangerously slippery slope.

And yet, I know of at least two states where game officials making a state tournament are allowed to submit a list of preferred game officials to the state governing body of the sport. It’s a practice that has somehow survived to this very day.

July 31, 2017 — Falling sky

A couple of years ago, The Washington Post printed a story about a former University of Virginia basketball star named Schuye LaRue, who dropped out of college to play professionally in Italy, only to have her career and her life waylaid because of mental illness.

This story, as retold by ESPN’s Shelley Smith, will break your heart.