Monday, March 31, 2014

A Flawed Project


I don't spend much time reading the paper these days, but I did happen to scan the comments from readers on page 2 of Sunday's sports section regarding what went wrong with Iowa's 2013-2014 basketball team.

I have some thoughts about those comments and the entire project.

First of all, I don't think it was a good idea for the editors to ask readers for their opinions on what went haywire with the Big Ten Conference team.

But the editors did ask readers for their thoughts, and they got basically the same type of stuff that appears on the many fan websites that are on the Internet.

At least the paper is trying to make us believe that the people quoted in Sunday's project used their correct names, not the phony names that appear on the fan sites.

A much better idea at the paper would have been to assign a writer to a project in which he or she would have interviewed people who know basketball--guys like the retired Tom Davis and other former coaches  and players who have gone into broadcasting, such as Seth Greenberg, Bobby Knight, Doug Gottlieb, Dan Dakich and Dick Vitale.

It was the outspoken Dakich who, on telecasts of Hawkeye games, was particularly critical of the team during its late-season swoon.

Dakich consistently raved about all the talent on Iowa's roster, but said a lack of communication was one of the reasons the Hawkeyes were having problems in the final weeks.

I'd like to know what "lack of communication" means when it comes to a major-college basketball team. I guess I'll have to call Dakich myself to find out.

People who have coached and played the game would have given the paper's readers a much better handle on what the Hawkeyes' problems  were, instead of what fans thought.

Who knows, maybe some of those "fans" who were quoted are fans of teams other than Iowa.

As for the people who contributed to the paper's story, I certainly hope somebody in the department checked their identities.

I mean, there were some far-away hometowns listed for a number of those who did the commenting. Like Kfar Saba, Israel, Tucson and Sun City West in Arizona, Beverly Hills, Fla., Fort Wayne, Ind., Lansing, Mich., and San Antonio, TX.

I assume those people read the paper on their computers and emailed their comments to the editors. I doubt they subscribe to the print edition.

All of those types of comments are supposed to be checked and re-checked by editors to see if the letter-writers and email-writers are actually who they say they are, and I hope that was done because people who still work in the sports department are well aware of cases when readers have used phony names, and gotten by with it, to make a point in letters to the editor.

Those letters are not supposed to be like My 2 Cents Worth, the garbage that is published in the front [news] section of the paper.  People use phony names--there's one signed "Burp" in today's paper--in that feature, and the paper promotes junk like that.

I also thought it was interesting in the paper's page 2 sports project that there was some massive editing of the responses.

Someone named Dr. Craig Nadler of Kfar Saba, Israel was quoted on page 2 this way:  "Most big teams are rugged and have attitude. We have oodles of talent on our team but we seem to lack that rugged, aggressive attitude on the whole."

Oodles of talent?  Man, I haven't heard the term oodles in a long, long time.

I checked the online version of what Nadler wrote, and found a much longer text. Here it is in its entirety:

"Like most Hawkeye fans, I have spent lots of thought trying to understand why things turned so sour in such a short time. Sports editor Chad Leistikow is right: There are no obvious explanations for all of us on the outside looking in.

"But nothing that happened this year changes my opinion that Fran McCaffery is a very talented and terrific coach. I have listened to him carefully and he is clearly a hard worker, passionate about his task and extremely skilled. So what went wrong?

"I did not see signs of problems with team chemistry or locker-room issues. Not having been inside, I cannot be sure but the players’ demeanor always seemed to convey a mutual liking and respect amongst the players and with their coaches. I did not sense panic on the coaches’ part and, hence, do not believe panic filtered to the players from above.

"There are two explanations that seem likely. The first has to do with team and individual psychological factors. Anyone who plays or has played sports knows how important self-belief is.

"When a few players start to lose that self belief, it can spread. My guess is that there was a combination of fatigue and self-doubt that begin to affect the team after the losses to Wisconsin and Minnesota. It just seems to have spread. In competition, when the opponent senses that self-doubt, his confidence grows, which seemed to happen to our opposition as they began shooting with amazing proficiency and confidence.

"The second factor has to do with how our team is built. Most big teams are rugged and have attitude. We have oodles of talent on our team but we seem to lack that rugged, aggressive attitude, on the whole. For example, those who are veteran fans like me will remember Jeff Moe and Bill Jones. More recently, we had Jeff Horner and Greg Brunner. Another example was Brody Boyd. These players had an attitude and knew the ball was going in if they shot it.

"During coach McCaffery’s time as head coach, it has seemed that he has constantly searched for the player to take that last shot. Devyn Marble was terrific and was not afraid. But he was not that player with attitude and grit who was going to score, no matter what. It is not a matter of skill. The player I remember best exemplifying those attributes was Scott Skiles of Michigan State. He was extraordinary. If the game came down to one shot he was going to be the one taking it and more likely than not, making it.

"My hope is that coach McCaffery is searching for players of Skiles’ ilk. I really feel that is what we need to complete the puzzle and get us through these tough stretches."

— Dr. Craig Nadler, Kfar Saba, Israel

If the texts submitted by the other writers were sliced and diced to that extent, I'd say it's another reason the project wasn't worth it.

Anyway, judging by the names of the ex-Hawkeyes brought up by Nadler, I guess he's been watching Iowa basketball for a long time.

Heck, I didn't know the Big Ten Network's signal was so strong that it carries into Israel.

Another thing. If I were a reporter or columnist in the sports department of the paper these days, I would be mad as hell that the editors chose to invite readers to comment on why the Hawkeyes had one of the biggest late-season collapses in Big Ten Conference basketball history.

The paper spent a ton of money sending reporters and columnists to Iowa [and Iowa State] basketball games this season, and those reporters and columnists are supposed to know what they're doing and they're expected to identify what went wrong and why things went wrong with the teams they covered.

It shouldn't be left to fans off the street and emailers to do an autopsy for the paper on the Hawkeyes after they lost seven of their last eight games.

Yet, I can't recall any newspaper reporter or columnist from this state writing during that maddening late-season slide that the coach was the problem.

However, someone identified as Frank Copple of Sun City West, AZ, wrote in yesterday's paper: "I feel the majority of the blame goes on the coach..."

Sportswriters and sports columnists who work for newspapers these days don't hold coaches accountable for what goes wrong with teams.

I know a thing or two about holding coaches [Lute Olson, Ray Nagel, Frank Lauterbur, Jim Walden, Jim Criner, Bob Ortegel and Ken Trickey among them] accountable, and I never felt I was doing my job if I didn't.

But sportswriters and sports columnists these days obviously want to stay on the positive, chummy side of the coaches they cover.

The reason is simple.

Those writers and columnists are fearful of losing their jobs when times get tough financially in the newsroom, which seems to always be the case now.

Fired sports columnists and writers at the paper such as Sean Keeler, Mark Emmert, Dan McCool and Dan Johnson can tell you all about that.

At best, asking readers to write about a team's problems was a somewhat interesting project. But, face it, we don't know any more about what caused Iowa to go 1-7 in its last eight games than we knew a week ago. 

However, maybe this idea of asking fans for their opinions on why teams can't win will continue.

Perhaps next season when the Hawkeyes  aren't doing well, the editors will take the next step and tell the sportswriters and columnists to stay home,  with this explanation: "We're asking readers to write the story about the next game. They'll watch it on TV, then email us with their comments. We're sending you guys to a high school game." 

Don't laugh.

The way the newspaper business is going, anything can happen.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

I've Got It All Figured Out for You


After vowing to myself that I wouldn't write anything else about the NCAA basketball tournament after my favorite teams--the Hawkeyes, Cyclones, Wichita State and Dayton--were eliminated, I weakened. I watched the first half of today's Michigan State loss to Connecticut and most of Michigan's loss to Kentucky. During the afternoon, I also worked in a baseball game my grandson played on the Valley High School field. The kid played well, and so did his team. Frankly, I considered it a significant victory that I was able to sit in the sun and wind on a Sunday afternoon in March in this state and watch my grandson play baseball.  It doesn't get much better than that.  Getting back to basketball,  after seeing the  teams that'll be playing in the Final Four, I have made my decisions on how the rest of the tournament will go. In the semifinal round, Kentucky will rally in the last 5 minutes to beat Wisconsin, 72-68, and Florida will lead all the way en route to an 85-70 clobbering of Connecticut. Wisconsin's loss to Kentucky will, of course, mean that there are no Big Ten teams remaining in the tournament, and people in the midwest can go back to doing what they do best at this time of year--wondering how things are going in spring football practice. Florida will play Kentucky for the basketball championship, and the Gators will prevail, 78-73. That's a game I may or may not watch. I mean, if there's a good movie on TCM, I may skip the game. I've skipped plenty of Florida-Kentucky games in past seasons. But the fact that Florida is going to beat Kentucky for all of the marbles next week will make me very happy because I always want John Calipari, the Wildcats' coach, to lose. I've never cared much for the guy.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Somehow, some way, I thought Iowa State would pull this one out. Somehow, some way, I figured coach Fred Hoiberg would find a way to get his Cyclones into the NCAA basketball tournament's Elite Eight. I'd watched too many games in this magical season in which Iowa State dug itself an early hole, then scrambled back in the final minutes to win. Not tonight, though. The Cyclones did manage to get themselves into that hole I mentioned--they trailed by 10 points at halftime and they stared at a 17-point deficit with less than 9 minutes to play--but this time they faced an opponent at Madison Square Garden in New York City that wouldn't buckle. DeAndre Daniels scored 18 of his 26 points in the last half as Connecticut got past Iowa State, 81-76, in the Sweet Sixteen of the Big Dance. The Cyclones lost despite a monster 34-point, 6-rebound performance by Dustin Hogue. However, the usually-dependable Melvin Ejim was pretty much a no-show for the Cyclones, making just three of 13 field goal attempts and scoring 7 points in a game in which his team needed something a whole lot better. You know and I know that Iowa State would have won this game had Georges Niang not been sitting on the bench with a broken foot. But injuries are part of competitive athletics, and Niang's injury early in this tournament was....well, a tremendously bad break. One of these years, Iowa State will get to the Elite Eight, get to the Final Four and win a national championship with Fred Hoiberg as its coach. I picked them to do all of those things in this 2014 event. Unfortunately, it didn't happen.

Well, there's no need for John Wooden to roll over in his grave. And the family of the Wizard Of Westwood doesn't need to worry about Steve Alford or anyone else tarnishing Wooden's basketball coaching image this season, this decade or probably not even this century. Alford, who was run out of Iowa City after a very ordinary coaching era with the Hawkeyes, bowed out of the NCAA tournament last night with his first UCLA team. No one was mentioning Alford's name in the same breath as Wooden [who won seven consecutive NCAA championships and 10 in a 12-season period when he was at UCLA] anyway, but Stevie-boy's exit from the Big Dance in the round of 16 wasn't exactly unexpected. After all, he was matched up against Florida, which is the second-best collegiate team in the U.S., behind Iowa State. I'm well aware of some people who are happy Alford didn't advance any further in in The Dance. I'm referring to people at the paper. Had Alford and his Bruins won another game, whatever editor down there who is in charge of the paper's Sports Hall Of Fame might have been tempted to put Alford into the group, even though he was pretty much a flop as Iowa's coach. But the paper did put Dick Schultz into the Sports Hall Of Fame a number of years ago, and Schultz was an even worse coach than Alford. So anything can happen these days when it comes to the Sports Hall Of Fame. Anyone who came across the state in a covered wagon, and stopped to take a leak outside of a teepee at Tama seems to be eligible for the Sports Hall Of Fame, especially if he or she had a whistle and knew how to run a practice. Now that Alford and UCLA are history in The Dance, we can get onto the important stuff--like the Cyclones beating Connecticut tonight in its NCAA game at Madison Square Garden. I'm on record as picking Iowa State to not only win tonight, but to capture the NCAA title with two more victories after tonight. That's what I think of Fred Hoiberg's coaching and leadership abilities. I watched parts of all four games that were played last night, and happened to have the last few minutes of Arizona's 70-64 victory over San Diego State when the TV cameras showed Lute Olson cheering on the Wildcats. Frankly, I wish I had shut off my TV before the network chose to put God's Gift To Basketball Coaching [Olson's estimation only] on for all of America to see. I felt sorry for the man. He was shaking uncontrollably in front of the cameras. I feel I should protect him these days because I realize I am his favorite sportswriter after he devoted an entire page to me in his autobiography a few years ago. I covered a lot of Olson's games, of course, when he was Iowa's coach, and I consistently attempted to point him in the right direction both on and off the court. Now I don't like it when he's shown shaking on TV. He has said that it's a "vicious rumor" that he has Parkinson's Disease,adding that the shaking is the result of a stroke he suffered a few years ago. However, I thought I noticed him shaking while I was watching him standing at attention during the playing of the National Anthem a few seasons ago, prior to the start of one of his NCAA tournament games with Arizona. That, of course, was before the stroke. Oh, well. If Olson wants people to think the shaking is due to the stroke, so be it. He's God's Gift To Basketball Coaching, so I believe anything he says. For all I know, he's got another book in the works and will need me to help with it again.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Happier Times

Miquie Bruzek [right] visits with Mary Le Smyth at the 2013 Koehn Family Reunion in Cedar Rapids

Friday, March 21, 2014

What a bummer. Iowa State is my choice to win the NCAA basketball championship, and I was feeling very good about things for a while. Now I see that Georges Niang, who scored 24 points and grabbed a half-dozen rebounds in last night's 93-75 second-round victory over North Carolina Central, will miss the rest of the tournament because of a broken right foot. Niang headed to the locker room with more than 7 minutes left the game because of the injury, and now will miss the rest of the tournament because of the injury. "Adversity hit us [last night], and hit us hard," quoted coach Fred Hoiberg as saying. "We'll see what we're made of." Niang tried to encourage Hoiberg and his players in the arena at San Antonio, TX. "This doesn't change anything with this team," Niang said. "I still believe in these guys. My role just changes from being on the floor to being their biggest fan on the sideline." Niang sank four three-point field goals as Iowa State, which won the Big 12 Conference tournament, seized its fifth straight victory. Now Iowa State faces North Carolina on Sunday with just six players on the roster who average more than 6.2 minutes per game. "This is definitely a damper," Cyclone forward Melvin Ejim was quoted as saying by It sucks. But now guys have to step to the occasion."

Mildred [Miquie] Bruzek

Mildred (Miquie) Koehn Bruzek, 84, of Cedar Rapids, died at Mercy Medical Center on Friday, March 21, 2014, following a brief illness. Services will be held at Trinity Lutheran Church on Monday, March 24 at 10:00 a.m. with Pastor David Renfro officiating.  Burial: Cedar Memorial Park Cemetery. Cedar Memorial West Side Chapel is in charge of arrangements. Friends may call from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. on Sunday at Cedar Memorial West Side Chapel and after 9:00 a.m. on Monday at the church.

Miquie was born May 8, 1929, in Victor, the daughter of Katherine Sheda and Henry Carl Koehn. She was baptized and confirmed at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Victor. She attended St. John’s Lutheran School south of Victor, then later moved to Marengo and eventually to Cedar Rapids.  She met her husband, Stuart Bruzek of Cedar Rapids, when they were both students at Roosevelt High School. Stuart rode Miquie to school on the handlebars of his bicycle, her hair flying in the wind.

After she graduated from high school, she worked in the office at Penick and Ford.  Later she moved to Des Moines and worked for the Department of Agriculture.  She married Stuart in 1952.  Following their wedding, they moved to Fort Belvoir, Virginia, where Stuart was stationed with the army. While in the DC area, she worked for the General Accountability Office for “prices paid by farmers.”  After Stuart served in Korea, they returned to Iowa and remained in Cedar Rapids the rest of their lives, owning and operating Cedar Rapids Sheet Metal until Stuart’s death in 2001.

Miquie and Stuart were lifelong members of the United States Power Squadron, spending glorious summer days exploring the Iowa waters with their children.  Her active membership in Trinity Lutheran Church included serving in many different ways. Miquie had a huge heart for helping people and animals, and she deeply loved the many dogs, doves, and parrot she brought into her home, including her dogs Essie and Lulu.

She was preceded in death by her husband, their son Andrew, her parents, sisters Irene Timm and Mary Benyshek, brother Ervin Koehn, and brother-in-law Bill Bruzek.

Surviving are three sons, Steven (Lori) of Cedar Rapids, Scott (Kirby) of Wheaton, Illinois, John (Emily) of Iowa City, and six grandchildren: Clare, Laine, Christopher, Tyler, Ella, and Zachariah. She is also survived by sister Maxine (Ron) Maly of West Des Moines, sister-in-law Kay (Bob) Hamed of Ohio, sister-in-law Dorothea Bruzek of Michigan, and many nieces and nephews.

Miquie’s faith was unwavering.  She believed that Jesus died and rose again for her sins and the sins of all people. Miquie now lives on in God’s heavenly home, reunited with her husband Stuart and their son Andy.

Instead of flowers, memorials may be made to Trinity Lutheran Church or in Miquie’s name to Dogs Forever at 809 Rockford Rd SW, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 52404.  Precious lifesaving gifts may also be made to Blood Donor Service of Mercy Medical Center.

[Obituary courtesy of Cedar Memorial West Side Chapel].

Tumor Removed From Patrick McCaffery Malignant

The following statement is from Iowa  basketball coach Fran McCaffery:  “Today, we received word from doctors that the [thyroid] tumor that was removed during our son Patrick’s surgery on Wednesday is malignant. We will visit with doctors as soon as possible to determine Patrick’s treatment. Margaret and I would like to thank everyone again for the outpouring of support from across the country for our son Patrick and family this past week. We appreciate everyone’s thoughts and prayers.”

Thursday, March 20, 2014

It was the kind of car trip that we all make at one time or another. The kind of car trip that everyone dreads. You gas up the car, buy an egg mcmuffin and coffee at the drive-up window at McDonald's, drive 2 hours east, find a place in the parking ramp at the hospital, ask where the intensive care area is, then look for room 6. In room 6, you find the little lady, who has already had 84 birthdays. She is lying there, a mask covering most of her face. Her lungs are very weak, she is badly in need of oxygen, her heart is damaged and her kidneys have quit working. Her family and her friends have gathered, and everyone knows what is ahead. Things had happened suddenly. A week earlier the deeply religious little lady, who had lost her husband a dozen years earlier, had seemed so vibrant. People guessed she'd probably live to be 90. Maybe 95. But last Friday there were signs that the little body wasn't working quite so well. After tests took place, doctors mentioned the probability of a blood infection. Those are words that no one wants to hear. Certainly people in the medical community do not want to say those words. Those people know how devastating a blood infection can be. The little lady had called 911 herself at 10 o'clock Monday night, and the ambulance transported her to the emergency room. When people began hearing the words blood infection, phone calls began. The sons made sure all of the relatives were aware of what was going on, Mention was made of the damage the infection had done on the little lady's body. People were gassing up their cars from 2 hours away, from 2 minutes away. They came into room 6, said hello to those already there with hugs and handshakes. They moved slowly to the bed where the little lady was fighting for each breath. They held her hand, kissed her forehead, said their words softly. There were many tears. It was especially difficult for the sons, the daughters-in-law, the grandchildren and the little lady's only surviving sibling. Some stayed for 6 hours, some stayed one hour. Some were staying overnight, some longer. Some were making the 2-hour trip west. Those folks said goodbye to others in the crowded room, and said they'd see them at the visitation, the funeral service at her church and the burial. Everyone knew those things would happen very soon. Everyone knew the little lady would be joining her husband, one of her sons who had died tragically in an airplane crash many years earlier, her parents, her brother and two of her sisters and their husbands in Heaven. UPDATE--Jesus lifted Miquie Bruzek of Cedar Rapids into his loving arms early Friday morning.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Indeed, it was a very difficult way for Iowa's basketball season to end. Tennessee outscored the Hawkeyes, 14-1, in overtime tonight and moved through the play-in round of the NCAA tournament with a 78-65 victory at Dayton, Ohio. Iowa lost for the seventh time in its final eight games of what turned into a disappointing 2013-2014 season, but it looked early like things would go differently. The Hawkeyes blew a 12-point lead they built over their Southeastern Conference opponent. Unbelievable as it seems, lowa missed on all eight of its field goal attempts in overtime, and finished the season with a 21-13 record after once being ranked No. 10 nationally. The guessing will go on well into the off-season on what happened to the Hawkeyes to cause their collapse in the final weeks of the season. It was a very emotional day and night for Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, whose son Patrick underwent surgery for a tumor on his thyroid this morning in Iowa City. McCaffery had flown back to Iowa City to be on hand for the surgery, and flew back to Dayton later in the day. Center Adam Woodbury scored a career-high 16 points and had eight rebounds for Iowa, However, Devyn Marble, Iowa's offensive leader all season, was limited to seven points and was 3-for-15 from the field while playing his final collegiate game. Those numbers are hard to believe, too. The seven points matched Marble's season low. The victory sent the Volunteers [22-12] into a Friday game against Massachusetts in the Midwest Regional at Raleigh, N.C. Jarnell Stokes scored 18 points and had 13 rebounds tonight for Tennessee.

Following is a statement from Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery regarding his son Patrick’s surgery this morning in Iowa City. McCaffery is currently on a plane heading back to Dayton, Ohio, to coach the Hawkeyes in tonight’s NCAA tournament first-round game against Tennessee at 8:10: “Today’s surgery for my son Patrick went as planned. Doctors will continue tests in the coming days to determine further treatment. Patrick was in good spirits after the operation. Our family would like to thank the surgeons who performed the operation and the doctors and nurses at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics who have helped treat Patrick during this process. The outpouring of support and encouragement Patrick and our family have received this past week has been overwhelming; words cannot express how genuinely thankful we are to everyone who has offered their thoughts and prayers.”

Yes, Virginia, There Is Religion In Collegiate Basketball


A friend of mine emailed me a link to a newspaper story about Tony Bennett. Not the Tony Bennett who left his heart in San Francisco. The Tony Bennett who coaches the University of Virgina  basketball team that takes a 28-6 record and a No. 1 seed into the  NCAA tournament this week. The story in The Daily Progress of Charlottesville, Va., calls Bennett "a devout Christian" and says, "Inside their locker room, just
Tony Bennett. Courtesy of The Daily Progress
before every game, Virginia's players and coaches take part in a moment of silence. 'Guys on the team who aren't religious can just reflect what they need to reflect on,' a player says, 'and the guys who are--we can just pray to ourselves and get our mindset to praise God through our actions on the court.'" My friend, also a longtime devout Christian, tells me that Virginia is one of the teams he'll be rooting for this week in the Big Dance.

We all have bad days. You. Me. All of us. But the next time things aren't working out for you, consider Bruce Pearl. Yes, Bruce Pearl, the basketball coach. He's had more than a few bad days, too. I mean, lots of 'em. But now the man is a classic example of the "Yes, Crime Does Pay" program. Pearl, who got Iowa's basketball program in trouble with the NCAA when he was an assistant coach in the Tom Davis years, and later he got into trouble with the NCAA again when he was the head coach at Tennessee. So what did all of that trouble leave him with? Well, after an announcing job with ESPN, he now has a reported six-year deal worth $14.7 million to be Auburn's new coach. Not bad for a guy who not only got a second chance in coaching, but a third one, too. All right, the rest of you go back to having your usual bad day.

Bruce Pearl. Photo courtesy of Google.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Sunday, March 16, 2014

I'm Picking Iowa State To Win the National Championship


Nice going, Iowa State and Iowa. 

It's good to have both of you among the 68 teams chosen today to play in the NCAA's Big Dance basketball extravaganza.

The Cyclones are a No. 3 seed, Iowa faces a play-in game Wednesday night against Tennessee just to become a No. 11 seed.

No surprise there.

Iowa State is a much better team than Iowa.

The Cyclones defeated the Hawkeyes at Ames in December, and there's a much wider separation  between the strength of the teams now. 

Indeed, the Cyclones [who just won the tournament championship in the Big 12, the toughest collegiate conference in America] are much better than a lot of teams now. 

In fact, I'm so sold on coach Fred Hoiberg and his players that I'm picking them to win the national championship. 

[I'm writing that partially because I just saw Dick Vitale and several other non-stop talkers on ESPN predict that Michigan State will win the title, and beat Iowa State en route to the Final Four]. 

I'll take Iowa State in a matchup with the Spartans anytime. 

Hoiberg is my choice for national coach of the year, and I think his team will continue to improve through the NCAA tournament.

Some teams get better as the season moves along,  and Iowa State is one of them.

I covered Hoiberg in his days as a Cyclone player, and I was sold on him then, just as I'm sold on him now. 

The man is a winner, and his coaching has made Iowa State a huge winner. 

I think his Cyclones can now beat any team in the nation. 

As for Iowa, it has lost six of its last seven games and everyone is looking for answers to questions about what has gone wrong with a team that was very good early at the start and middle of the season to very bad at the end of the season. 

I hope the team shrink or somebody can figure out what's happened to the offense and the defense because March would be a lot more fun for the fans who keep wondering how players who were supposed to have all that talent can keep losing.

But the way the Hawkeyes have been playing, it's difficult to expect them to beat Tennessee in Wednesday's play-in game. 

They couldn't survive against Big Ten also-rans Illinois and Northwestern in their last two games, so I can see no logical reason why they should be able to make a magical recovery now.

One of these years, a team other than Iowa City West will win Iowa's class 4-A state high school boys' basketball championship. But the history books won't say that it happened in the 2013-2014 season. West seized its third consecutive title last night by ending Valley's magical tournament run with a 57-45 victory in the title game at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. Valley, an eight-time loser during the regular season, was making a Cinderella journey in the tournament--upsetting Ankeny Centennial in the substate title game at Ankeny, then ambushing top-ranked Dubuque Senior and Sioux City North in its first two games of the state tournament. But there was no magic against Iowa City West. the Tigers couldn't hang in there against a talented touirnament-tested team. They didn't shoot as well as West, they didn't rebound as well, they didn't play defense as well. Valley tried to slow the game down against West, but all did was slow the Tigers down. They were out of synch all night. Even if they'd have tried to implement a running game, I doubt it would've worked. West was that good. The only positive things that happened to Valley all night were that sophomore guard Turner Scott was voted to the all-tournament team and coach Jeff Horner was inducted into the Iowa High School Athletic Association's Hall of Fame at halftime. It was interesting to watch Horner being honored while his players sat on the Valley bench and watched just before the last half began. After a lackluster first half, I wondered if the ceremony might spur Valley to something better in the third quarter. It didn't. Things just got worse for the Tigers. It was that kind of night. Oh, well, Horner and his players have something to hang their hats on for next season. The boys' basketball program at Valley is alive and well, even though the only state basketball championship banner hanging in the Bill Coldiron Fieldhouse on the Valley campus is still the one from 1993 when Bill Harris was the coach.

Box Score Of Championship Game
                          TOT-FG  3-PT         REBOUNDS
No. Player Name            FG-FGA FG-FGA FT-FTA OF DE TOT PF  TP  A TO BLK S MIN
04 MASON, TYUS......... *  2-9    0-2    0-0    2  2  4   2   4  3  3  0  2  26
10 SCOTT, TURNER....... *  3-9    1-4    2-2    0  1  1   1   9  0  1  0  1  27
20 UMBLE, LUKE......... *  1-4    0-2    0-0    1  2  3   1   2  0  0  0  0  18
34 WILLIAMS, TYLER..... *  5-8    0-0    1-2    5  3  8   3  11  1  3  0  2  25
44 CURRY, QUINTON...... *  0-3    0-0    0-2    1  1  2   2   0  0  1  0  1  18
02 MITCHELL, TREI......    3-6    1-1    4-6    0  0  0   3  11  1  1  0  2  15
14 LAGRONE, CONNOR.....    1-1    1-1    0-0    0  0  0   1   3  0  0  0  0   4
22 MARBLE, CARLO.......    0-4    0-1    2-2    1  0  1   4   2  0  0  0  0  10
24 DAFNEY, DOMINIQUE...    0-1    0-0    0-0    0  1  1   1   0  0  1  0  1  10
30 KRILE, JACK.........    1-1    1-1    0-0    0  0  0   0   3  1  0  0  0   1
32 MILES, BEN..........    0-0    0-0    0-0    0  0  0   0   0  0  0  0  0   1
40 NOLIN, BRAZE........    0-0    0-0    0-0    0  0  0   0   0  0  0  0  0   1
50 HOLMES, ANTHONY.....    0-0    0-0    0-0    0  0  0   0   0  0  2  0  0   3
52 GROTNES, BEN........    0-0    0-0    0-0    0  0  0   0   0  0  0  0  0   1
   TEAM................                         3     3
   Totals..............   16-46   4-12   9-14  13 10 23  18  45  6 12  0  9 160

TOTAL FG% 1st Half:  6-20 30.0%   2nd Half: 10-26 38.5%   Game: 34.8%  DEADB
3-Pt. FG% 1st Half:  1-4  25.0%   2nd Half:  3-8  37.5%   Game: 33.3%   REBS
F Throw % 1st Half:  0-1   0.0%   2nd Half:  9-13 69.2%   Game: 64.3%    2

                          TOT-FG  3-PT         REBOUNDS
No. Player Name            FG-FGA FG-FGA FT-FTA OF DE TOT PF  TP  A TO BLK S MIN
22 LOHAUS, WYATT....... *  5-14   0-2    3-3    1  3  4   4  13  2  3  0  0  28
24 GALLAGHER, NICK..... *  4-7    1-2    4-4    2  1  3   3  13  0  3  0  1  24
30 MCCAFFERY, CONNOR... *  1-3    1-2    0-0    0  0  0   1   3  7  2  1  0  28
34 DILEO, DAVID........ *  5-6    3-4    0-1    0  5  5   1  13  2  3  2  1  29
54 UKAH, CHIKE......... *  4-5    0-0    5-8    4  9 13   2  13  1  1  2  1  28
02 KLEIN, ADAM.........    0-1    0-1    0-0    0  0  0   0   0  0  0  0  0   1
04 YARBROUGH, MARQUISE.    0-0    0-0    0-0    0  0  0   0   0  0  0  0  0   1
10 SHEAR, HARLEY.......    0-0    0-0    0-0    0  0  0   0   0  0  0  0  0   1
12 GRIMSMAN, GARRETT...    0-0    0-0    0-0    0  0  0   1   0  0  0  0  0   7
14 LANE, DEVONTAE......    0-1    0-1    0-0    0  0  0   1   0  0  2  0  0   5
20 LOHAUS, TANNER......    0-0    0-0    0-0    0  1  1   0   0  0  0  0  0   5
32 WILLIAMS, MALIK.....    0-1    0-1    0-0    1  0  1   0   0  1  0  0  0   1
44 SPIESS, NICK........    1-1    0-0    0-0    1  0  1   0   2  0  0  0  0   1
   TEAM................                         1  1  2
   Totals..............   20-39   5-13  12-16  10 20 30  13  57 13 14  5  3 159

TOTAL FG% 1st Half:  8-21 38.1%   2nd Half: 12-18 66.7%   Game: 51.3%  DEADB
3-Pt. FG% 1st Half:  2-6  33.3%   2nd Half:  3-7  42.9%   Game: 38.5%   REBS
F Throw % 1st Half:  3-3  100 %   2nd Half:  9-13 69.2%   Game: 75.0%    3

Officials: Robert Smith, Brent Sharf, Royce Ranniger
Technical fouls: VALLEY-None. IOWA CITY-None.

Score by Periods                1st  2nd  3rd  4th   Total
VALLEY........................    5    8    7   25  -   45
IOWA CITY.....................   14    7   12   24  -   57

Points in the paint-VALLEY 18,IA-CITY 24. Points off turnovers-VALLEY 9,IA-CITY 16.
2nd chance points-VALLEY 14,IA-CITY 7. Fast break points-VALLEY 2,IA-CITY 4.
Bench points-VALLEY 19,IA-CITY 2. Score tied-0 times. Lead changed-2 times.
Last FG-VALLEY 4th-00:26, IA-CITY 4th-00:35.
Largest lead-VALLEY by 1 1st-06:20, IA-CITY by 21 4th-03:45.
[Box score courtesy of Iowa High School Athletic Association]. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz liked what he and his players experienced last spring when they practiced at Valley Stadium in West Des Moines on a Sunday afternoon. So they're going to do it again, except this time it will be on a Saturday afternoon. The people at Iowa have informed me that the Hawkeyes will practice at Valley Stadium at 1 p.m. April 12. “We are pleased to be able to bring our squad to West Des Moines and central Iowa for a second straight year,” Ferentz said. “We felt a year ago that the event was successful and well received by our players and coaches and our fans in central and western Iowa. The assistance and cooperation we received from everyone involved from the West Des Moines Community School District and Valley High School played a major role in the success of the event. We appreciate their willingness to work with our program again in the planning and organization of this event.” The Hy-Vee grocery chain had a big role in last year's practice. Fans could obtain free tickets at most Hy-Vee stores throughout Iowa. I hope that's the case this time, too. The free admission allowed people from central Iowa a chance to see what a Hawkeye practice is all about, and the price was right. I don't care if Hy-Vee gives away the tickets, I just hope some sponsor does. Last year's practice here was certainly good for me. At the time, I was in the process of researching material for the third edition of my "Tales from the Iowa Sidelines" book, and the practice, plus the interview opportunities following the practice, helped me do that research. At this time last year, the Hawkeyes were coming off a 4-8 season, but bounced back to go 8-5 in 2013.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Valley Gives Another Team With Stronger Credentials 'L At The Well.' This Time the Tigers Ambushed Sioux City North, 53-49, To Reach Saturday Night's Class 4-A Boys' State High School Championship Game Against 2-Time Defending Champion Iowa City West


Like I wrote yesterday, records mean absolutely nothing at this stage of the basketball season.

And, as I predicted, a Valley team with an attitude that seems to say, "Put an impressive record and a high ranking in front of us and
we'll give you 'L' at The Well" knocked off another opponent with stronger credentials today and now finds itself in the championship game of the class 4-A high school tournament at Wells Fargo Arena. 

The Tigers, riding a "we-get-no-respect-and-we-thrive-on-it" philosophy put forth by coach Jeff Horner, never trailed en route to a 53-49 victory over Sioux City North as a huge crowd that took up most of one entire side of the arena cheered them on. 

Sophomore guard Turner Scott scored 20 points to lead a Valley team that stumbled through a lackluster regular season. 

But the Tigers caught fire in the substate tournament, ambushed Ankeny Centennial, 51-48, in the championship game of that event at Ankeny, then pulled off a real shocker--a 42-41 victory over top-ranked Dubuque Senior Wednesday night in their state tournament opener. 

Now Valley, with a 17-8 record, plays Iowa City West, which has won the past two 4-A championships, at 8:05 p.m. Saturday for the title.  

Everyone knows Valley has been a football powerhouse since Gary Swenson became the Tigers' coach. 

Swenson has won five state championships at Valley, but only one state basketball championship hangs on the wall of the Bill Coldiron Fieldhouse on the Valley campus. 

That one was won by a Bill Harris-coached team in 1993. 

In most years, Valley's marching band, the drama club, the show choir and the girls' softball players win more championships than the boys' basketball team.

Valley will certainly be considered the underdog tomorrow night against Iowa City West, and I'm guessing that's the way Horner and his players want it. 

They like this "no-respect" thinking about the Tigers, who sometimes drove their fans crazy with their inconsistency during the regular season. 

Now Valley is playing well at both ends of the court. 

Not to say they're perfect by any means.

I mean, they built a 26-19 halftime lead into a 38-19 advantage with a tremendous start to the third quarter. 

But Sioux City North kept coming at the Tigers, and cut its deficit to three points before Valley again took charge. 

Freshman Quinton Curry scored 12 points--four of them on impressive slam-dunks--and had 11 rebounds for the Tigers. 

Now, about tomorrow night.

Well, here's what I think.

Iowa City West is a very good team that knows all about playing [and winning] in the state tournament.

But I don't think Valley has yet played its best game of what has turned into a hard-to-believe postseason run. 

I don't even think the Tigers have played as well in the state tournament as they did in the substate finale against Ankeny Centennial. 

Maybe the best will come tomorrow night. 

We'll see.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Valley's basketball team is on a roll, and I frankly don't see any reason why the Tigers can't defeat Sioux City North tomorrow afternoon in the semifinal round of the class 4-A state high school tournament at Wells Fargo Arena in downtown Des Moines. I thought Valley needed to bring its 'A' game last night to have a chance against top-ranked Dubuque Senior. However, the Tigers managed to win, 42-41, without its 'A' game. Valley clearly didn't play as well against Senior as it did in its substate finale against Ankeny Centennial. I had thought all along that Dubuque Senior might be overrated, and I was right. It was a down year in the Central Iowa Metro League in which Valley plays, but I thought there were several teams in addition to Valley that could have beaten Senior. I'm thinking about Waukee, Ankeny Centennial and North specifically. Valley underachieved a number of times while losing eight games during the regular season. Indeed, for a majority of the season, the Tigers were pretty much an after-thought at their own school. The Valley girls' team, which was ranked No. 2 or No. 3 throughout the state all winter, captured lots of the fans' attention. Valley's girls made it to the state tournament, but lost in the opening round to Southeast Polk. I now think coach Jeff Horner has his Valley players in the correct frame of mind at the right time [tournament time], so I fully expect the Tigers to continue playing well in tomorrow's 3:15 p.m. game against Sioux City North [22-3]. Records at this point in the season are, of course, meaningless.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

''Whatever it Takes' and 'Survive & Advance' Were the Fighting Words Of Underdog Valley, Which Took a 15-8 Record Into Its Class 4-A Quarterfinal Round Boys' State Tournament Game Tonight Against Top-Ranked 22-1 Dubuque Senior. But Don't Pay Any Attention To the Numbers [And Certainly Not the Records] At This Stage Of the Season. Valley Didn't Play As Well As It Did In a Victory Over Ankeny Centennial In the Substate Final [Missed Free Throws Drove Tiger Fans Crazy Throughout the Game], But Performed Well Enough to Knock Off Heavily-Favored Dubuque Senior, 42-41, In a Stunning Game. Some People Were Calling It a Controversial Finish Because a Foul Was Called On Senior With Less Than a Second To Play, and Valley's Carlo Marble Made the Ensuing Free Throw To Win It for Valley. Hey, Listen, I'm a Guy Who Spent a Lot Of Years Covering Controversial Things and Controversial Finishes In Basketball and Football Games. One of the Officials Called a Foul On Senior In the Last Second, So It Must've Been a Foul. Bottom Line: Valley Stood Up To Senior All Night. The Tigers Certainly Weren't Intimidated By a Team With a Better Record. Indeed, Senior Appeared To Be the Team That Was Intimidated. Senior Was Never Able To Show Any Domination, and the Longer Valley Stayed In Contention, the Greater Confidence the Tigers Had That They Could Win. And Win They Did, Controversy Or Not.

State tournament tickets

Valley poster

Valley T-shirt front

Valley pulls off a stunning 42-41 victory

And made these Tiger fans happy.


Cedar Rapids Gazette story on the game:

DES MOINES – No one was paying attention.

Not coaches:

“I didn’t see it, I wasn’t looking. I was watching the ball go in the hoop,” said Dubuque Senior Coach Wendell Eimers.

“I didn’t see the play, if it was a foul or if it wasn’t,” said West Des Moines Valley Coach Jeff Horner.

Or most players:

“I didn’t see it, I was watching (Kyle) Haber, I was trying to put the rebound back in if he missed it,” said Senior forward Luke McDonnell.

Everyone was paying attention to Senior guard Kyle Haber, who tied last night’s Class 4A quarterfinal in the final seconds with a running jumper from the elbow, seemingly sending the game to overtime at 41-41.

But under the basket, Rams’ forward Lucas LeGrand was called for an away-from-the-ball foul for a push-off of Valley’s Carlo Marble.

The foul put Marble on the line with 0.5 seconds left – referees conferred to put time back on the clock, as the buzzer sounded after Haber’s make – where he made one of two and sent the Tigers into the semifinals, 42-41.

“They said LeGrand, after the shot was made, gave the kid a shove,” Eimers said. “I know Kyle Haber made a heck of a shot. Unbelievable shot.

“It’s a tough way to lose. Very, very tough way to lose for my guys.”

As for the man who was fouled?

Marble and LeGrand may have been the only two people paying attention to their play in all of Wells Fargo Arena. He, of course, agreed with the call.

“I went to box my man out,” Marble said, “and he pushed me in the back.”

Horner acknowledged Eimers’ viewpoint after the game, saying he’s only ever seen a game end that way once before, “when Glen Worely was playing (against) Des Moines Hoover in the state championship, and I think I was about a freshman in high school. They won the state championship that way.”

But that doesn’t mean he won’t take the win. His Tigers played stout defense on the No. 1 team in Class 4A the entire game, and frustrated a Rams team used to having its way offensively to keep themselves in the game in the first place.

“It’s definitely tough to win that way and lose that way,” Horner said. “But our kids battled, and fortunately it went that way for us.

“We really went into a press and man to man, and were trying to wear them down with our depth. Our kids did a very good job of battling in the post, too.”

The Rams were forced to play away from the basket for much of the night, a departure from most of the season, when their 6-foot-9, 6-foot-9 and 6-foot-5 front line in McDonnell, Seth Bonifas and LeGrand could dominate the paint.

The Tigers also were able to stifle Senior’s leading scorer, Haber, who finished with 11 points on 3 of 9 shooting after averaging 19.7 coming in.

“We just couldn’t get anything going. It seemed like when we did get the ball inside, we couldn’t finish,” Eimers said. “My point guard, Kyle Haber, he just couldn’t get anywhere. It seemed like (Valley’s Tyus Mason) was just in his face. He couldn’t cut, he couldn’t move anywhere.

“It seemed like we were a step slow tonight. They definitely came out and played the better game tonight.”
Haber didn’t shrink from anything post-game, and acknowledged his opponent’s success defensively in a hard-fought game.

He also didn’t deny how hard it was to end his high school career in such a brutal fashion after appearing to extend the game with a clutch shot.

“They really changed up defenses a lot. Every time down the court they were in a different defense – always having a guy on me,” Haber said. “We just couldn’t finish tonight. A couple missed layups (hurt us). We needed a better night offensively.

“It’s pretty hard. You never want to see a loose-ball foul at the buzzer, but if it was a foul, it was a foul. I didn’t see it, I was on the ground."

Sports Illustrated is calling its cover photos this week a tribute to Larry Bird. I'm wondering if the magazine simply ran out of ideas. The magazine's cover photo [right] features Doug McDermott, the young man from Ames who has saved his dad's coaching career by becoming a standout player at Creighton. The cover featuring McDermott is virtually a carbon copy of the 1977 Sports Illustrated cover featuring Larry Bird [left], then of Indiana State. That cover 37 years ago called Bird 'College Basketball's Secret Weapon.' Doug McDermott, pictured with a couple of Creighton cheerleaders, is certainly no secret. He has been at, or near, the top of collegiate basketball's popularity ladder for four years, and figures to be named the Naismith Player of the Year. He originally was headed to Northern Iowa, but when his dad, Greg,accepted the Creighton job as it became more and more evident to him and just about everyone else who knew anything about basketball that he wasn't getting the job done at Iowa State, the kid also became a Bluejay. Smart moves by both father and son. Something I'm wondering about is what Creighton basketball will be like next season without Doug McDermott, but right now everyone--me included--appreciates the things The Kid has done for The Dad and all of collegiate basketball. It's certainly a feel-good story.

{Photos courtesy of Sports Illustrated via Twitter]

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

My thoughts and prayers are with Patrick McCaffery, his mother Margaret and his father Fran. Fran McCaffery, Iowa's basketball coach, issued a statement today in Iowa City saying that Patrick has a tumor on his thyroid. Fran McCaffery's statement was emailed to me by Matt Weitzel of Iowa's sports information staff. The statement from Fran McCaffery: “Last week it was discovered that our son, Patrick, has a tumor on his thyroid. Patrick is currently undergoing tests and is scheduled to undergo surgery next Wednesday, March 19, at the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics. Once the mass is removed, additional tests will determine a further course of action. I was made aware of Patrick’s condition prior to traveling to East Lansing, Michigan, last Wednesday. Margaret and I notified our players and staff of Patrick’s health issue after a biopsy was done on Monday. We appreciate your concern and ask that you respect our family’s privacy as we address Patrick’s health.”

My Neighbor Al, The Health Nut, Has Mixed Emotions About This New Test for Alzheimer's Disease. He'd Like To Save Time By Having That Blood Test Done At the Same Time His Cholesterol Is Checked. But Then the Doctor Might Say, 'Al, Your Cholesterol Is Great. The Bad News Is You're Going To Start Showing Signs Of Alzheimer's In 3 Weeks'


My neighbor Al, the Health Nut, stopped by this morning for a cup of Italian Dark Roast, and immediately began talking about....what else?  


"I was reading the latest health news on the Internet," Al said, "and saw a story that said there's a new blood test that can predict with 90 percent certainty whether old people will get Alzheimer's Disease," Al said.

"I saw that, too, Al," I said.  "It kind of sounds like you could go to a doctor and get tested for Alzheimer's on the same visit when you have your cholesterol checked.  Are you planning to have the test?"

"I'm not sure," Al answered. "I have mixed emotions about something like that."

"Why?" I asked.

Al said, "Well,  if I had the test done, my doctor might say, 'Al, your cholesterol is outstanding. Your total cholesterol is low and so is your LDL, the bad cholesterol. 

"'You're doing everything the right way. You're sticking to a low-fat diet and you're taking the statin for your cholesterol that I prescribed.'"

"'So you're pretty certain then that I should live to be 90 or 100?' I might say to the doctor.

"'Not so fast, Al,' the doctor might say.   'The other test wasn't so hot. It showed that you're going to start showing signs of Alzheimer's in three weeks.'"

"I see your point, Al," I said. 

"Pour me another cup," Al told me. "Let's talk about Valley's game tomorrow night in the boys'  basketball tournament."

Monday, March 10, 2014

Parents Get Into the Act At Valley's Rousing Show Choir Season Finale

Valley High School's show choirs concluded a spectacular, award-winning season tonight with
a rousing show for parents, grandparents and other family members at Valley Southwoods Freshman High School in West Des Moines. 

Some of the parents wrapped up the night by going on-stage to do a show choir routine of their own, which is pictured at the top. 

Valley's Choralation wound up a highly-successful season over the weekend by being named the grand champion, with best vocals and best choreography, at the Emmetsburg Extravaganza. 

Urbandale's Studio was first runnerup; Dowling Catholic's Dimensions was second runnerup, with the best male vocalist and best female vocalist; Sheldon's  Impact was third runnerup; Valley's Ignition was fourth runnerup, followed by Indianola's Side One and Urbandale's Vitality. 

Valley's Ignition was grand champion of the Prep division.

'Tough 4-Game Run. Exciting!' Coach Gary Swenson Tweets About Valley's Challenging Opening Month Of the 2014 Football Season. Tigers Open Auig. 29 At Waukee, Then Play Iowa City West In Their Home Opener, Followed By Southeast Polk On the Road, Then the Always Highly-Anticipated Game Against Dowling At Valley Stadium


High school football schedules for the next couple of seasons have been finalized, and they certainly do no favors to perennial class 4-A powerhouse Valley of West Des Moines. At
Gary Swenson
least in the first four weeks. In 2014, the Tigers are at Waukee on Aug. 29, play their home opener Sept. 5 against Iowa City West, visit Southeast Polk on Sept. 12, then face crosstown rival Dowling Sept. 19 at Valley Stadium.  Challenging to say the least. It was Dowling which ended Valley's 10-3 season in 2013 with a 17-3 victory in the semifinal round of the state championship playoffs at the UNI Dome in Cedar Falls, and the Maroons figure to be loaded again in the upcoming season. Here's what Valley coach Gary Swenson tweeted about the 2014 schedule:

2014 FB Schedule released on IHSAA web site.1st 4 games for Valley. Waukee, IowaCity West, SE Polk, Dowling. Tough 4game run. Exciting!


Aug. 29--At Waukee

Sept., 5--Iowa City West

Sept. 12--At Southeast Polk

Sept. 19--West Des Moines Dowling

Sept. 26--At Des Moines Hoover

Oct. 3--At Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln

Oct. 10--Sioux City West

Oct. 17--At Ankeny Centennial

Oct. 24--Des Moines Lincoln


Aug. 28--Waukee

Sept. 4--At Iowa City West

Sept. 11--Southeast Pollk

Sept. 18--At West Des Moines Dowling

Sept. 25--Des Moines Hoover

Oct. 2--Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln

Oct. 9--At Sioux City West

Oct. 16--Ankeny Centennial

Oct. 23--At Des Moines Lincoln

FOOTNOTE: Other than the Oct. 17 trip to Ankeny Centennial [a team Valley whipped, 41-21, last season], the last five games of the Tigers' 2014 schedule aren't nearly as daunting as the first four.  The late-season games include
matchups with Des Moines high schools Hoover and Lincoln, and I think you know how I feel about that. The Des Moines schools are no longer competitive in football, and it's my feeling that teams such as Valley, Dowling,  Waukee, Urbandale, the two Ankeny schools and Johnston shouldn't have to be cluttering up their schedules with them. But every team needs a breather or several, and the weak Des Moines teams furnish that to the powerful suburban schools, which now have many more talented athletes to choose from. The Council Bluffs and Sioux City schools also aren't competitive, but they've got  to play somebody [unless they drop to class 3-A or 2-A], so they're sometimes matched up with the Valleys and Waukees of the world. At least Valley doesn't have to waste its time in 2014 and 2015 playing Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson, a team it hammered, 88-0, last season in Council Bluffs.  It's hard to believe Thomas Jefferson was so weak that it got clobbered by 88 points even with a "mercy" rule in effect, which meant the clock ran non-stop after Valley went ahead by 35 points. The only good thing about playing weak teams from the Des Moines schools, Council Bluffs and Sioux City is that Gary Swenson can clear his bench early and let everyone--maybe event he waterboys--on the team play.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

At Least the Grim Reaper Wasn't Invited


We went to breakfast with a few other people after church today, and the conversation quickly centered on Hawkeye basketball.

Iowa is playing as poorly as any team in the Big Ten Conference these days and nights, of
Grim Reaper
course, and anyone who ever laced up a pair of athletic shoes has some sort of comment about coach Fran McCaffery and his players.

Iowa's latest loss was to Illinois, 66-63, last night in the home finale at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Among those in our group at the breakfast table were Frank, Amy, Bill and LaVonne, all of whom claim to be Hawkeye fans or at least basketball fans in general.

The Grim Reaper wasn't at our table [he receives an invitation only when the newspaper business is being discussed] but, considering the comments about what's been going on with the black-and-gold, he might as well have been there.

"I heard coach Fran McCaffery's postgame show on the radio,"  Frank said, "and he said Iowa's defense was unacceptable against Illinois. I fully agree with him about that.  

"The Hawkeyes were playing one of the worst teams in the country, and their offense was unaccptable, too. So was McCaffery's coaching.

"What an embarrassment on Senior Night."

That got Amy into it.

"Frank, I agree with you about McCaffery," she said. "The guy has been blasting his defense, his players, the referees and his fans for weeks now.  It's about time the coach shouldered the blame himself. 

"He recruited the players, and he should be the guy held accountable for Iowa's terrible play at the end of the regular season.

"They can't even win or play well at home now. It wasn't long ago that people were saying Iowa might win the Big Ten championship.  Now they can't beat anybody."

Bill said he can't figure out what's happened to Iowa's defense.

"When the team was ranked 10th in the nation they seemed to be playing pretty good defense," Bill said. "Did they suddenly forget how to guard people, or do they just refuse to guard people now?

"I played high school basketball," LaVonne said, "and playing defense takes a lot of effort. McCaffery isn't getting that effort out of his players. I agree that most of Iowa's problems rest with McCaffery and his staff.

"By the way, Ron, if you write anything about this conversation, feel free to use my name."

I just did,  LaVonne.

The season isn't over yet, of course.  Iowa, with records of 9-9 in the Big Ten and 20-11 overall, still has a conference tournament and an NCAA tournament to play.

I'm guessing they won't last long in either one of those tournaments," Amy said.

"One-and-done is the way I look at it."

Well, at least all of us had great breakfasts.

I'm glad the Grim Reaper didn't show up. 

We usually have to buy his meal because he says he left his checkbook at home.

[Illustration of the Grim Reaper courtesy of Google].

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Too Bad We Won't See Another Edward R. Murrow On TV Again


I woke up at some ridiculous time, and did something I don't normally do on a Saturday morning. 

I turned on the TV--specifically to channel 8, the CBS outlet. 

Because it's the weekend, I figured Charlie Rose wouldn't be on the air, and thank goodness he wasn't. 
Edward R. Murrow

Hopefully, he was asleep. 

He needs all he can get. 

Sleep, I mean. 

I've written about Charlie before, saying something like it's impossible to see his face because the bags under his eyes are so big that they cover up everything else. 

Enough of that. 

Frankly, I don't want to make fun of 72-year-old Charlie's face anymore [and I don't want to make fun of 81-year-old Kim Novak's doctored-up face either], so I don't plan to watch the CBS-TV news or re-runs of the ABC-TV Academy Awards show on weekday mornings in the future. 

They had the Happy Team [well, one of them tried to giggle and look happy, especially when they interviewed a cook who brought food to the set for everyone] on CBS today, the announcing cast made up of a 30-something woman with perfectly-done hair down to her shoulders and Anthony Mason, an older guy [he's 57] who isn't as old as Charlie Rose, but who is probably waiting for his TV contract to expire so he can sit in a rocking chair for the last 10 or 12 years of his life. 

Mason is a veteran of hard news, stuff like business in the U.S. and turmoil in Europe and the mideast, and doesn't look comfortable co-hosting a Saturday morning show on which everybody tries to act giggly and happy. 

Mason did his best best to be part of the Happy Team, but it was a struggle. 

Anyway, something the Happy Team mentioned was that tomorrow is the 60th anniversary of the See It Now TV show on CBS which pictured announcer Edward R. Murrow being critical of Joe McCarthy, a  goofy senator from Wisconsin who was hung up on finding Communists anywhere Communists might be hanging out. 

I recall seeing McCarthy on black-and-white TV in the 1950s hammering away at people he thought were Communists. 

Joe McCarthy

The guy was sick. 

In more ways than one.

And Murrow went after him bigtime on See It Now. 

The Murrow-McCarthy confrontations were classic TV. 

In those days, we got hard-hitting stuff like that the on the tube. Now we get The Bachelor and Dancing With the Stars and Melissa McCarthy.

Today's viewers don't know what they're missing.

Murrow went after a lot of people and a lot of issues bigtime when he was on CBS-TV.  

Murrow eventually became so big that he got in trouble with his network and the sponsors of his show. 

I mean that's big. 

Neither McCarthy nor Murrow lived long. 

McCarthy died in 1957 at the age of 48.  Liver disease was the cause.  It's no wonder. He was  an alcoholic.

I hope this nation or this world never sees another Joe McCarthy.

Murrow was a chain smoker who died of lung cancer  in 1965 at 57.
There hasn't been another Edward R. Murrow on TV since, and I doubt there ever will be. 

He was one of a kind, a newsman on a mission. 

I miss the kind of stuff he used to do. 

Too bad we won't see it again.

Friday, March 7, 2014



So Ray Giacoletti's first season as Drake's basketball coach is history. 

The Bulldogs waved a very early goodbye  last night to the Missouri Valley Conference tournament with a 69-61 loss to Evansville.

Consequently, they finished with under-.500
records for the full season [15-16] as well as in the Valley [6-12].

I'll be honest, I'm disappointed in how the season finished for Giacoletti and his players. 

I've lived in this area since 1959, and I've seen some very good  Drake teams and coaches [thank you, Maury John, Bob Ortegel, Gary Garner, Tom Davis and Keno Davis].  

I've also seen very bad Drake teams [I'm thinking of some of those coached by you, Kurt Kanaskie, Tom Abatemarco and Rudy Washington].  

I guess I thought Giacoletti was going to better in his first season here. 

I guess I got my hopes up after the Bulldogs broke to a 10-3 record, including a 94-66 victory over Evansville on New Year's Night in their Valley opener. 

But, for some reason [or reasons], they won only five more games the rest of the way. 

Very surprising because there was only one outstanding team in the league, and that was [and still is] the 32-0, second-ranked Wichita State squad that now is everybody's national darling. 

On any given night, the Missouri States, Illinois States, Evansvilles, Northern Iowas and
Bradleys of a very ordinary Valley could be had. 

The highlight of  Drake's Valley schedule was beating UNI, 70-67. 

When things were going badly for the Bulldogs, I wrote that I thought the they would still win some games they shouldn't. 

The only time it happened was Feb. 18 against UNI at the Knapp Center, and Drake almost let that game get away in the final minutes.

The Bulldogs were picked to finish last in the Valley standings, but didn't. 

The 6-12 record gave them a tie for eighth and ninth places in the 10-team league. 

It was left to Loyola of Chicago, in its first season in the Valley, to finish last. 

Good basketball teams get better as the season progresses. 

Drake didn't. 

Drake was poorer in February and March than it was in November and December. 

Taking everything into consideration, I'll give the Bulldogs a C-minus grade for the season.

Barely passing. 

Certainly nothing special. 

Giacoletti has had his honeymoon season. 

He's supposed to have a good recruiting class coming in. 

I hope so.


I was surprised the paper's sports columnist  didn't produce a Drake season wrapup for this morning's city edition.

The Bulldogs' game last night was certainly over early enough for it to be done.

Instead, the columnist wrote something that was pretty much a repeat of a story done by the beat writer earlier in the season on senior Aaron Hawley, who returned to the team in 2013-2014 after being  kicked out of the program for a year by former coach Mark Phelps.

The paper's columnist and the the paper's Drake beat writer were both in St. Louis for the Valley tournament. 

The way things are going at the paper these days, they probably drove down there in the

same car and maybe even stayed in the same hotel room.

I'm surprised the columnist didn't know that the beat writer had already written the Hawley story.

That's called a horrible lack of communication in the communications business. 

Or else not paying attention to what's in your own newspaper.

By the way, in neither the story nor the column  about Hawley were there any quotes from Phelps [who now is an assistant coach at Missouri], or something saying the writers attempted to contact him.

Phelps deserves to be able to tell his side of the story.

My take on all of this is piss-poor work by columnist Bryce Miller, who should know better.

[Photos and illustrations courtesy of Google].

Thursday, March 6, 2014

For some, it was hard-nosed basketball in the girls' state tournament at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines one day, then soft music at Valley Southwoods Freshman High School in West Des Moines just over 24 hours later. The sounds of clarinets, flutes, oboes, bassoons, saxophones, trumpets, French horns, trombones, euphoniums, tubas and percussion were in the air tonight as the Valley Southwoods band performed in its "Perspectives" concert. The students did Albanian Dance, Alligator Alley, Celebration Tribalesque, The Seal Lullaby and Forever Shining. Great stuff in the Valley Southwoods Forum.

A Summit Meeting At The Well


It was good to see old friends Jim Ecker, Pat Harty and Carl Gonder at or near press row yesterday during the girls' state high school basketball tournament at Wells Fargo Arena. 

Gonder, the area director at Eastern Iowa Fellowship of Christian Athletes  in Cedar Rapids, spotted me when I first came through the media entrance and began walking to my seat in the front row of the press area. 

Gonder is a former standout collegiate basketball player at Augustana [S.D.], and he's the son of Ron Gonder, the semi-retired announcer at WMT-radio and KGAN-TV in Cedar Rapids. 

I haven't seen Ron Gonder since we had lunch with Bob Brooks and Phil Haddy last fall at the University Athletic Club in Iowa City.

I asked Carl how his dad was doing, and he said, "Very well. He and my mother are on one of their traveling ventures right now. I'm not exactly sure where they are." 

Well, I hope they're someplace warm. 

Like the rest of you, I've certainly had enough winter. 

The weather has been lousy here ever since we returned from a cruise to Hawaii in December. 

I saw Ecker sitting at press row during the Valley-Southeast Polk game. 

He was in town to cover the City High of Iowa City-Kennedy of Cedar Rapids game [City High won easily] for his website. 

We talked for several minutes. Mostly about  newspapers, of course.  

Ecker was canned by the Cedar Rapids Gazette several years ago despite being one of the best reporters in the state. 

As the late George Wine used to say, "Ecker covered every sports story with a fiery attitude, like he was working on the police beat." 

Indeed, Ecker was, and still is, a bulldog of a reporter. 

I told him I haven't seen his byline in the paper here for a quite some time. 

For a while, he covered various events in eastern Iowa, such as Northern Iowa football and basketball games, for the Register on a freelance basis. 

However, that has stopped, and the Register now uses stories from th Waterloo/Cedar Falls Courier, if it uses anything at all. 

I blame it on the paper's bean-counters. 

They refuse to pay, or even use, freelancers for anything anymore. 

Ecker did say, though, that he's had to turn down some freelance offers because  his website is keeping him busier than ever. 

"We're now covering Coe College and Kirkwood Community College in addition to all of our metropolitan high schools," Ecker said. 

The next time I see him, I'll mention that he should expand his coverage and start covering Drake and Grand View here. 

Both schools get continually short-changed by the Register. 

I glanced at Ecker's site and saw that there's plenty of advertising on it. I'm glad he's doing well. 

He deserves a break after what happened to him in the dying newspaper business.

Another guy who is getting a bigtime screwing from his paper is Pat Harty, a no-holds-barred guy who has a history of writing some of the best commentary in the state about men's and women's athletics at the University of Iowa for the Iowa City Press-Citizen. 

But because of the cheapness of the Gannett Co., Harty has been relegated to writing a lot about high school sports now. 

Harty saw me watching Valley's 68-60 loss to Southeast Polk, and stopped by to talk. 

Several months ago, the Press-Citizen fired its sports editor, its chief high school reporter retired, and I think there have been other personnel cutbacks there, too. 

Harty used to cover all or most of Iowa's football and basketball road games, but Gannett pulled the plug on that. 

The Press-Citizen now uses stories written by Register writers. Both papers are owned by Gannett.  

The Press-Citizen is the only paper in a Big Ten city that doesn't send reporters to road games. 

That's horrible. 

Harty told me the problems at the Gannett papers aren't tied so much to not being willing to spend money to cover events anymore, but that people are needed to put out the paper because there have been so many firings, layoffs and retirements, and no one has been replaced. 

That still doesn't explain why the Register didn't send a reporter to Iowa's basketball game last week at Indiana. 

That was inexcusable.

It had to be tied to the refusal of the company to pay for the trip a week after the original Iowa at Indiana game was postponed.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

It's a Bittersweet Wacky Wednesday for Me. I Talked About Writing To 5 Groups Of Wacky-Dressed Kids and Teachers At Mount Olive Lutheran School, Then Watched Valley's Girls' Basketball Season End At 22-2 With a 68-60 Loss To Southeast Polk In the Class 5-A State Tournament. 'When We Got To 22-1, We Thought We Could Win It All. But It Just Wasn't In the Cards,' Tigers Coach Joe Sigrist Tells Me


I wasn't aware that this was Wacky Wednesday until the day actually got here.

Then it really got wacky for me.

A good news/bad news Wacky Wednesday, actually.

Julie DenHerder, the worship and music ministry director at Mount Olive Lutheran Church and School in Des Moines, contacted me a while back to see if I'd be interested in participating on fine arts day during National Lutheran Schools Week, which happens to be this week.

Wacky Wednesday at Mount Olive
Julie explained that she wanted me and three or four other people to talk to Mount Olive's students about what it is we do.

My assignment, obviously, would be to talk with the students about writing. Julie knew that I've had a long career as a writer and that I'm still practicing the craft in the form of authoring books and writing columns on 15 Internet websites.

I agreed to be at the school from 1 p.m. to 3:10 p.m. today.

However, little did I know then that the Valley High School girls' basketball team I've been following closely all season would be playing in the class 5-A state tournament on the day Wacky Wednesday was being celebrated at Mount Olive.
By the way, Wacky Wednesday at the school consisted of the teachers, staff and students dressing as wacky as they wanted throughout the day. You'll see the outfits in the photos below and at the right side.

Because of  it being Wacky Wednesday at Mount Olive, and because I had every intention of getting to Wells Fargo Arena in downtown Des Moines for at least some of the Valley-Southeast Polk basketball game that began at 3:15 p.m., the day got wackier for me than for a lot of others.

The 20-minute sessions--five in all--with the kids went smoothly at school. I told 'em how I'd gotten hooked on writing when, as a fourth-grader at Lincoln School in Cedar Rapids, I finished second in a city-wide essay contest.

In my essay, I wrote about why Joe DiMaggio of the New York Yankees was my favorite baseball player, and I received a  Louisville Slugger bat as my prize.

I told the kids that when Miss Dennis, the principal at Lincoln, found out I did so well in the essay contest, she asked me to give a speech to all of the other students at the school.

I told the kids today that everyone needs confidence-builders throughout their lives, and that was one I received.  Many thanks, Miss Dennis.

I also told the kids at Mount Olive about how one of my teachers at Wilson High School in Cedar Rapids--I think her name was Miss Jeffries--told me in an 11th-grade class, loudly enough so everyone else could hear, "Ron, I think you should go into some sort of journalism or writing career because I think you write very well."

Another confidence-builder, obviously.

I treasure the memory of Miss Jeffries to this day.

The second part of  Wacky Wednesday didn't go well for me.

After leading early in the game, 17-4, Valley lost to Southeast Polk, 68-60.

Thus ended the Tigers' marvelous season.

A 22-2 record. The disappointment of seeing their hopes for a state championship halted in the late afternoon of a cold, gray day in March.

I had watched the progress made throughout the season by Joe Sigrist's Valley team. The only loss in the Tigers' first 23 games was at Dowling.

I had a one-on-one conversation with Sigrist in the quiet of the interview room late in the day at Wells Fargo Arena. 

It was difficult listening to him talk about the costly defeat.

"Tough loss, Joe," I said. "But when the season began, did you envision getting this far with this team?"

"I did," Sigrist said. "Getting here [to the state tournament] was our big goal. And, when we got to 22-1, we thought we could win  it all.  But it just wasn't in the cards."

I made it to my seat on press row at the arena at halftime after the drive down I-235 and finally finding a place to park.

So I wasn't there early enough to see Valley's spurt to a 17-4 lead.

When I asked Sigrist what happened after that, he said, "We missed  a couple of assignments defensively and we let Southeast Polk get hot behind the arc. But they're great shooters.  We tried to get out on their good shooters and sag back for help on the non-shooters."

Sigrist said Valley didn't execute its game plan "the way we thought we could. They have tremendous shooters, and got those second-chance rebounds at crucial moments. Tip your hat to Southeast Polk."

This was Sigrist's second season as Valley's coach. He went 14-8 in his first season.

"I knew we'd be be better this season," he said. "We came in at 6 a.m. three days a week during the summer, and these girls worked hard to achieve this goal of getting to the state tournament. I'm so proud of them for winning our conference outright.

"It hurts right now, but we need to look at our tremendous accomplishments this season. I'm just so proud of our seniors, who got us to the state tournament for the first time in seven years. It's an honor to be their coach. The seniors can hold their heads high, knowing they put this program back on the map."

Sigrist, 32, said he's been teaching in the West Des Moines school system for seven years.

He teaches math at Valley Southwoods Freshman High School, and told me he has "worked my way up" the coaching ladder.

"I was an eighth-grade boys' coach ,at Stilwell Junior High, then when Jeff Horner got theValley boys' job, I joined his staff as a sophomore coach," he said. "When this girls' coaching job became available, I put my name into the hat, and I was fortunate enough to be chosen.

"I have no regrets. I love coaching these girls. They're an amazing group."

The extent of Sigrist's girls' coaching are the two seasons at Valley.

"I coached boys for nine years," he said. "That was in Ohio, Arizona and Iowa.

Sigrist was born in Massillon, Ohio--a city known more for football than its basketball--and said he's "a big Ohio State fan."

But he didn't attend Ohio State.

"I went to a small Catholic school, Walsh University, where I played basketball and baseball," he said.

Valley's administration and fans should feel fortunate he's here now.

The guy did an outstanding job in his second season as the girls'  basketball coach.

Wacky Wednesday at Mount Olive Lutheran, courtesy of Facebook
Ron at Wacky Wednesday With Kids I
Ron at Wacky Wednesday With Kids II
Ron at Wacky Wednesday With Kids III
Ron at Wacky Wednesday With Kids IV
Ron at Wacky Wednesday With Kids V
Valley's orange-clad fans at Wells Fargo Arena on Wacky Wednesday
[Photos by Mount Olive teachers and staff and Ron Maly]