Category Archives: sports

Speed and edges

When I first learned to snowboard, I fell. Often and hard. I fell on my wrists. I fell on my ass. I was black and blue and wet.

The second time, I got a little better.

The third time, something clicked. A light bulb went on and I realized the two things that make snowboarding easier.

Speed and edges.

Unlike learning to downhill ski, you need to build up a certain amount of speed in snowboarding for your edges to work. Starting on the bunny hill doesn’t work for snowboarding because it’s hard to build up enough speed to make a turn.

You’re always on your edges. This simple truth is the one thing I would tell any beginning snowboarder (and the one thing I wish someone had told me). The only time your snowboard is flat against the mountain is when you’re transitioning from one edge to the other. You go from heel edge to toe edge and back again. It’s only when your board is flat against the snow that it’s easy to catch an edge and fall hard.

The same is true in business.

Inertia kills.

Going faster is actually safer.

Speed begets speed and allows you to find and use your edges.

What can you do to go faster?

[Photo credit: Gatto Ashutto]


Mine That Bird

You want to talk about a longshot?

The trainer, Bennie Wooley, Jr:

Already had a shattered right leg, not exactly good karma in horse racing.

Total number of wins in 2009? One. Uno. And not even a graded-stakes race.

Former job? Rodeo rider. Wooley looks somewhere across between Tim McGraw and Richard Petty. He brought some ‘cowboy’ to the uppity Derby, usually ruled by sheiks, captains of industry and women in fancy hats and dresses.

The horse, Mine That Bird:

Sold as a yearling to his original owners for $9,500, roughly the price of a used 2003 Accord. (By comparison, Dunkirk, another horse in the race, was sold at auction for $3.7 million.)

Last finish? Fourth, in the Sunland Derby, not even a graded-stakes race.

Last win? Oct. 5, 2008, back when he was under different ownership and doing his work at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto.

Vanned 1700 miles from New Mexico to Louisville by Wooley with his broken leg. (Can you picture Bob Baffert behind the wheel of a horse van, hauling a Derby colt across the country?)

Only gelding in the race.

50-1 odds.

Started the race dead last. Way last. After a quarter mile of the 1¼-mile race, the horse was six lengths behind the 18th-place horse.

None of that mattered.

Improbably, Mine That Bird stunned the field to win the Kentucky Derby with a dynamic stretch run through the mud. Now legendary jockey Calvin Borel did what he does best and hugged the rail deep in the stretch, then pulled away from the rest of the field like they were running in quicksand. It was Borel’s second Derby win in three years.

So next time you think you’re outclassed, outgunned, outspent and don’t belong in the game, remember the odds that Bennie, Calvin and Mine That Bird faced.

Then, hug the rail.

(Watch the replay in the video below. The overhead view, from 7:30 – 8:00 and again from 9:30 to 10:09 is the most best angle to see the amazing stretch run.)

It’s not about the bracket.

The killjoys over at at Challenger, Gray and Christmas waste a bunch of money running an annual study of (ironically) the money and productivity lost by people checking out the NCAA tournament while at work. CGC calculates it to be as much as $1.7 billion in wasted work time over the 16 business days of the tournament.

I don’t buy it.

It’s not about the bracket. It’s not about the entry fee or the prize money.

It’s about the incremental camaraderie.


It’s about the shift of power when the mousy receptionist taunting the big shot sales guy about her team upsetting his.

It’s about the invisible IT guy gaining respect by hacking together a system for the office to enter their pools ‘online’ (in 1998).

It’s about the female CFO finding out that the janitor majored in finance at Syracuse, a year ahead of her.

It’s about the new connections and conversations that occur every March.

Challenger, Gray and Christmas can’t put a dollar value on that.

Out of tragedy, sportsmanship has a shining moment

The list of things that are wrong with sports seems endless. Steroid scandals. Rising ticket prices. Greed trumping loyalty. Individual statistics over team accomplishments. A lack of accountability. Fewer and fewer role models.
So it is refreshing to see the level of class shown by Darius McNeal in Milwaukee on February 7th.  It’s stories like this that keeps my passion for sports alive.

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

At first, Johntell Franklin just wanted to watch his friends play basketball.

“I wanted to go and support my team,” said Franklin, an 18-year-old senior at Milwaukee Madison High School. “I’m a captain. I set an example.”

As it turned out, Franklin wound up teaching everyone in the Madison gymnasium a lesson – about friendship, about the value of sports, about themselves.

A somber cloud hung over the Knights as they played DeKalb, Ill., High School on Saturday, Feb. 7. News spread quickly that Franklin’s mother, Carlitha, had died earlier that day after a five-year battle with cervical cancer. She was 39.

Madison coach Aaron Womack Jr. was in Madison’s laundry room, washing the Knights’ uniforms from the previous night’s game, when he got the news.

“I didn’t have my cell phone with me back there, so by the time I heard, the junior varsity game had already started,” Womack said. “I headed straight to the hospital. Johntell, understandably, he was despondent.”

Carlitha Franklin had been in remission recently. But Womack said she had begun to hemorrhage on Saturday morning – while Johntell was at Wauwatosa East High School, taking his college entrance ACT exam. By late Saturday afternoon, the decision had been made to turn off the life-support system.

At the hospital, Womack asked Franklin if he should call off that evening’s game. “He said, ‘No, tell the guys to go out and do their best,’ ” the coach said. “I told him we would, and I went back to school.”

So Womack gasped with surprise when he saw Franklin walk into the gym early during the second quarter.

“A few seconds after I spotted Johntell, all the people in the stands did, too. They surrounded him. The players, his friends in the stands, the cheerleaders,” Womack said.

“They were showing me that they were supporting me, comforting me,” Franklin said. “Yeah, on a hard day, that’s a nice feeling to have.”

Then came another surprise: Franklin didn’t just want to watch. He wanted to play.

“I’m a competitor. I can’t just sit there and watch,” he said.

Womack sent Franklin, a 6-foot-2 forward, to suit up. He returned to the cheers of the crowd – including the coaches and players from DeKalb, whose amazing display of fellowship and sportsmanship had just begun.

“I was late getting back from the hospital, and they could have called us on that,” Womack said. “But they were great about it.”

“We were sympathetic to the circumstances and the events,” said DeKalb coach Dave Rohlman. “We even told Coach Womack that it’d be OK to call off the game, but he said we had driven 2 1/2 hours to get here and the kids wanted to play. So we said, ‘Spend some time with your team and come out when you’re ready.’ ”

Since some of Franklin’s teammates had joined him at the hospital, Womack entered only eight names into Madison’s official scorebook. The game began almost two hours behind schedule.

But Franklin’s desire to play created another problem: The referees were required to call a technical foul against Womack for failing to list Franklin in the scorebook.

“I told the referees I knew there would be a technical,” Womack said. “I put Johntell in after DeKalb called a timeout (midway through the second quarter), and the next thing I heard was DeKalb’s coaches complaining that they didn’t want a technical.”

“We argued, but the referees said those were the rules, even if there were extenuating circumstances,” Rohlman said.

The discussion lasted more than seven minutes. Eventually, Rohlman devised a solution: His team had to shoot two technical free throws  . . . but didn’t have to make them.

“I gathered my kids and said, ‘Who wants to take these free throws?’ Darius McNeal (a 5-11 senior point guard) put up his hand. I said, ‘You realize you’re going to miss, right?’ He nodded his head.”

During technical free throws, no other players are allowed around the free-throw lane. So Womack gathered Madison’s players around his bench, on the other end of the court, and was trying to reel in their emotions when he saw something odd out of the corner of his eye:

Instead of swishing through the basket, the ball rolled slowly across the end line.

“I turned around and saw the ref pick up the ball and hand it back to the player,” Womack said, “and then he did the same thing again.”

“Darius set up for a regular free throw, but he only shot it two or three feet in front of him,” Rohlman said. “It bounced once or twice and just rolled past the basket.”

“I did it for the guy who lost his mom,” McNeal said. “It was the right thing to do.”

After the second shot, everyone in the gym – including all the Madison players – stood and applauded the gesture of sportsmanship.

“Any one of my teammates would have done the same thing, and I think anyone on the Madison team would have done the same for us,” McNeal said.

Madison broke open a close game after the timeout and went on to win, 62-47. Franklin finished with 10 points, matching his season average.

“Just being in the game was a good feeling,” Franklin said. “I knew my Mom would have wanted me to play. She was always proud of me playing basketball.”
A friendly rivalry

This was the third straight year that DeKalb and Madison have played a non-conference game, and as in the other visits, both teams gathered for dinner afterward. “We set it up so that there were four kids to a pizza, two Madison kids and two DeKalb kids,” Womack said.

Franklin stayed for only a minute and didn’t have a chance to thank McNeal for his gesture.

“It’s OK,” McNeal said. “I just would have told him I was sorry for his loss.”

Womack was so moved by the events of the day that he wrote a letter to the DeKalb Daily Chronicle, praising the Barbs’ coaching staff and players.

“That letter became a big deal in DeKalb,” said Rohlman, whose team is 14-10 with three regular-season games remaining. “We got lots of positive calls and e-mails because of it. Even though we lost the game, it was a true-life lesson, and it’s not one our kids are going to forget anytime soon.”

Carlitha Franklin’s funeral on Friday was attended by dozens of Johntell’s Madison friends, teammates, coaches and administrators . . . plus the cheerleading squad, in full uniform.

“Even the cooks from the lunchroom came,” said Womack, whose team is 6-10 overall but upset Milwaukee King, 46-43, on Jan. 27. “You never know how much you’re loved until a tragedy happens. It was amazing. It shows what a good kid Johntell is.”

“I’m all right now. It helps to have so many people behind me,” Franklin said. “This will be my first week back in practice, and we have a big game (tonight) against (Milwaukee) Hamilton that I’m looking forward to.”

An all-City Conference linebacker, Franklin has drawn some interest from Division I and II programs, most notably Ball State.

“That’s what I want to do next. I really want to play college football,” he said. “I want to keep competing.”

(end article)