Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Four Things I Want For Christmas

Yesterday on Twitter I noticed the hashtag #FOURThingsIWantForChristmas was trending. I was curious to see what everyone's top four Christmas wishes were. Unfortunately, I was quickly disappointed when I discovered the majority of tweets mentioned the newest cell phones, concert tickets, and worst of all, just plain old money. Pretty shortsighted if you ask me. It got me thinking what four things I want for Christmas. As you can imagine, my wish list pertains exclusively to Ohio high school sports. I know these items won't make it under my tree this Thursday, but perhaps I might receive them by another Christmas in the near future...

#1 - Return football to six divisions
I liked the playoffs better in 2012, back when there were only six divisions. I realize when the sport expanded to seven divisions in 2013 the reason given was to level the playing field in Division I. Fine, we tried it for a couple years, but I don't like it. It just feels a little "watered down" right now. Maybe this years state championship three-peat by the MAC influences my opinion. No need to worry MAC fans, prior to expanding to seven divisions you still won something like 22 conference state titles.

Minster won D-VI this year and also D-V in 1989

#2 - Live video at the state cross county meet
Cross country athletes run 3.1 miles across fields and through woods, so some might argue it's the least spectator-friendly sport out there. I'll estimate that the majority of fans at the state meet can see about 15-20% of the race from the grandstands located around the 3/4 mile mark and finish line of the course. I wish several video cameras could be located at different spots on the course and perhaps on the vehicle that leads the race. The action could then be displayed on a video board in front of the grandstands. You see this at college championships and it would give folks something to cheer about the entire race.

Cross country fans would cheer for a video board like this

#3 - Modernize basketball with a shot clock
The National Federation of State High School Associations doesn't mandate it. It's been talked about for years in Ohio. Several other states use them. I've heard the cons. Some say high school basketball is already exciting enough. Others say training volunteers how to operate them would be difficult. Have you seen some of the scoreboards in gyms today that include player numbers, individual scoring and fouls? I'm confident there are enough intelligent people out there. Let's modernize the sport with the college game like we did with the three-point line in 1987.

Basketball is exciting, unless a team is stalling

#4 - Wood bat baseball
I'm all for technology and keeping current with the times, but when it comes to baseball I'm a traditionalist. I like baseball stirrups and wood bats. The decision in 2012 that all aluminum bats must meet BBCOR testing standards was a good thing. Prior to that, the speed at which the ball was coming off the bat was scary. However, hearing the crack of a wood bat instead of the ping of an aluminum bat would be music to my ears. Think of it this way... have you ever gone to a Cincinnati Reds game and wished they were swinging aluminum bats? I didn't think so.

Good hitters can hit with an aluminum or wood bat

There's my list, #FOURThingsIWantForChristmas. Of course I imagine all those items might be easier with money. On second thought, maybe I want just plain old money too!

Merry Christmas everyone.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Piano Man in Versailles

This past weekend I attended my first-ever concert at BMI Indoor Speedway in Versailles. I picked a good one too, because according to the internet the show I was going to see was "the world's most authentic tribute to the legendary Billy Joel". The official billing was: The Stanger: The Ultimate Billy Joel Tribute Show. I was looking forward to this for a couple reasons. For one, this was a very popular show at House of Blues in Myrtle Beach, SC, which has been a regular vacation destination of mine. Also, BMI has hosted some major acts in the last couple of years and I'd been wanting to experience this concert venue that's located just a few miles from my home.

The actual Billy Joel imitator was a Long Island native by the name of Mike Santoro. The show website claims that Mike "not only has an uncanny resemblance to Billy Joel, but sounds so much like Joel himself that it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference." My skepticism alarm went off... nearly impossible to tell the difference? I actually saw the real Billy Joel back in 1994 in Cincinnati when he was on tour with Elton John. The Piano Man and Rocket Man joined forces to belt out a tremendous playlist of duets and solos that highlighted decades of their hits. It was one of those moments you went home afterward and checked another item off your bucket list. Granted it was 20 years ago and my seat was in the nosebleed section, but I felt I was certainly qualified to decide if this impersonator was legit.

As you can see, my seat for this Billy Joel tribute was better 
than my nosebleed seat for the real Billy Joel in 1994

The tribute show was sponsored in part by Catholic Social Service of the Miami Valley and was booked by a local lady who has seen this act several times. The band included five guys that all traveled up from Charlotte, NC.  I believe at their shows in the Carolina's, like House of Blues, the band might add a few extra back-up singers. At center stage of course is the Piano Man and surrounding him are a drummer, a couple guitar players, and a keyboard player that doubles on the saxophone. The front man, Mike (Billy Joel), even played lead guitar a few times. 

The concert started with the song "Angry Young Man" which is a rousing Billy Joel hit from the 70's that displayed just what kind of piano player we had. Make no mistake, the guy can play piano! It was a great start to the show, but then the band went into several B-side songs that nobody on my table was familiar with. To Mike's credit, he interacted well with the crowd and even asked us if we wanted to hear more B-side stuff. He then went into all the hits, both old and new, including tunes like "My Life", "Just The Way You Are", "We Didn't Start The Fire", "An Innocent Man", "Keeping The Faith" and "New York State of Mind". With about five or six songs left the band broke out "Uptown Girl" and a large part of the audience immediately marched to the dance floor, which had been mostly unoccupied until then. After that, the band played several more hits including "It's Only Rock and Roll to Me" and ultimately the sing-a-long "Piano Man". Interestingly, they ended the night with the Paul McCartney/Beatles hit "Let It Be". 

So, does Mike Santoro resemble a young or old Billy Joel? No, not to me. Does he sound like Billy Joel? Most definitely, both his voice and piano playing. I would recommend the show to anyone, Billy Joel fan or not. Also, unlike that concert I attended in 1994, this show was cheaper than the ticket price back then and the traffic to get home took me all of five minutes.

Mike Santoro (right) might not look like the real Billy Joel
to me, but he could have fooled this Piano Man fan 

Finally, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I was also excited to experience my first concert at BMI Indoor Speedway. This arena has hosted such acts as Joe Diffe, Quiet Riot, Petra, Winger and Molly Hatchet to name a few. I have to admit, my first impression was that it was a little odd seeing the stage setup in the middle of a banked go-kart track. However, the unique venue created a memorable experience and the folks at BMI did a wonderful job putting it on. Will I go back on Decemeber 6th when BMI hosts a Midget Wrestling event? Uhh, I think I'll stick to the musical acts!

Friday, October 31, 2014

End of a Rivalry

Perhaps a rivalry was born in 2012 when sophomore Sarah Kanney of 
Coldwater took the top spot on the podium that Liberty Center sophomore  
Brittany Atkinson occupied the year before. Brittany is 2nd in this photo.

Individual sports rivalries are pretty unique. It typically takes two elite athletes that dominate their sport and are fortunate enough to compete head to head for an extended length of time. For the rivalry to be legitimate the opponents almost always bring out the best in each other, and if one athlete consistently wins it's usually not considered much of a rivalry.

This Saturday will mark the finale of one truly special high school sports rivalry. Senior cross country runners Sarah Kanney from Coldwater and Brittany Atkinson from Liberty Center will meet for one last time on their sports biggest stage, the OHSAA state cross country course. Over the span of four seasons these two girls have been widely regarded as two of Ohio's best distance runners, and not just in Division III, in all divisions. Their careers against one another have defined what a rivalry is. In 2011 as freshman they met at the regional and state meets. Brittany beat Sarah at both, including winning the state championship. In 2012 as sophomores they met again at the regional and state meets. Sarah beat Brittany at both this time, including winning the state championship. In 2013 as juniors they met for a third time at the regional and state meets. Sarah won the regional, but Brittany won state. In 2014 as seniors they met during the regular season for the first time at the Tiffin Carnival. Sarah ran an eye-popping time of 17:57.87 to win, while Brittany ran a 17:59.78 for second place. The two rivals also met again last Saturday at the regional meet. Sarah won and Brittany finished second. For those keeping score, their record against one another is Sarah 5 - Brittany 3 or Brittany 2 state titles - Sarah 1 state title, depending on how you're counting.

In 2013 both girls ran together for much of the first half of the 
state race. In the end Brittany won her second state title.

I've had the opportunity to meet both runners and both are class acts. Sarah will be heading to NC State after graduation to begin her collegiate running career and Brittany hasn't decided on a college yet, but has six official visits scheduled after the state meet. Until then, high school cross country fans will enjoy one last battle this Saturday at National Trail Raceway in Hebron. I'm not predicting who will win this final showdown, but I predict both girls will be running side-by-side as they pass in front of the grandstands for the first time around the 1/2 mile mark. The crowd will come to their feet and the rest of Ohio's best runners will likely be a distant third at that point. Enjoy it folks, it's the end of a rivalry.

With close to 10,000 spectators, the OHSAA State Cross Country 
Championships is one of the largest meets in the nation.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Troy Regional Preview

Hundreds of cross country fans will convene on the levee 
bank of the Great Miami River in Troy this Saturday

If by any chance you need to get in touch with me this Saturday morning or early afternoon, I'll be standing on the levee bank of the Great Miami River just south of Troy Memorial Stadium. That's because high school cross country runners from all over southwest Ohio will compete in the Troy Regional with hopes of advancing to the State Tournament the following Saturday. I've said it before and I'll say it again, this day is simply of my favorites of the year. Last year the weather was brutally cold and this Saturday the forecast is near picture perfect. The elements are of little concern to me though, I'll be there rain or shine.

While I have some interest in the Division I and II races, my focus is clearly on the Division III boys and girls. I'll start with my preview of the D-III boys race which starts at 11:00 am. The field will consist of 16 teams and 23 individual qualifiers, which equals 135 runners from 32 schools. Here's a spoiler alert - quit reading this now if you don't want to know how this race ends. Okay, here you go... This will be a huge morning for the boys from Cincinnati Summit Country Day. Their team should dominate in a big way and they're lead by seniors Mason Moore and John Murdock who will likely finish 1-2 in the race. Keep your eye on the clock with Mason Moore. With ideal conditions Mason might threaten the course record of 15:32.7 set by Sam Prakel of Versailles back in 2011.

Last year Mason Moore won in Troy with a 16:11.53
and this year he may challenge the course record

The only real drama will be for the remaining three team spots that advance to state and the individual qualifiers. I see Russia and Anna grabbing two of the team spots. I think Botkins, West Liberty-Salem and Versailles will battle for the final spot. Individuals that finishes in the top 16 will qualify for state as well. Here are some of the local individuals I expect to challenge for the top 16:
  • Richie Ware, Senior - Versailles
  • Joey Adams, Junior - West Liberty-Salem
  • Brady McBride, Junior - Newton
  • Cameron Flora, Junior - Botkins
  • Nate Dunn, Senior - Covington
  • Alex Steiner, Senior - West Liberty-Salem
  • Caleb Ball, Junior - Russia
  • Devon Jester, Senior - Houston
  • Aaron Fullenkamp, Junior - Botkins
  • Joe Spitzer, Freshman - Versailles
  • Tyler McKee, Junior - Anna
  • Lucas Huber, Sophomore - Anna
  • Alex Seger, Sophomore - Russia
  • Tom Ballas, Sophomore - Ft. Loramie

The D-III girls race starts at 1:30 pm. Their field will consist of 16 teams and 17 individuals, which equals 129 runners from 31 schools. Last year the Russia girls won their first regional cross country championship in school history and this year I believe they'll do it again. The Lady Raiders have all the ingredients for a repeat, including a senior leader in Emily Borchers and a couple of veteran juniors in Lauren Heaton and Molly Kearns. If that isn't enough, the trio of freshman Megan Frazier, sophomore Shae Goubeaux, and senior Claudia Monnin all ran season best times last Saturday to bring home a district championship. The next two teams I think will advance to state are Versailles and Xenia Christian. That fourth and final spot should give hope to a lot of schools, but ultimately I believe the CCC champs from Miami East will celebrating a trip to Hebron. 

Expect these three girls in the lead pack early,
which one has the most kick at the end is the question

When I look at the individual competition I see a lot of parity. The course record of 17:51.6 set by Sunni Olding of Minster in 2003 seems ancient and will no doubt survive another year. The big star in this area all season has been Botkins junior Chloe Flora and I expect her to lead early with Purcell Marion senior Kansas Greenwell. West Liberty-Salem's emerging freshman Reghan Bieleski, Russia's Emily Borchers, and Covington sophomore Anna Dunn should also be part of that front pack that may result in a wild ending. Here is my list of local individuals I feel could qualify for state by finishing in the top 16:
  • Chloe Flora, Junior - Botkins
  • Reghan Bieleski, Freshman - West Liberty-Salem
  • Emily Borchers, Senior - Russia
  • Anna Dunn, Sophomore - Covington
  • Megan Frazier, Freshman - Russia
  • Lorenza Savani, Sophomore - Miami East
  • Lauren Heaton, Junior - Russia
  • Madison Grilliot, Junior - Versailles
  • Molly Kearns, Junior - Russia
  • Marie Ewing, Sophomore - Miami East
  • Carly Shell, Junior - Covington
  • Alanna O'Leary, Freshman - Lehman
  • Rachel Schmitmeyer, Junior - Ft. Loramie
  • Lindsey Yingst, Freshman - Miami East
  • Kenia McEldowney, Freshman - Versailles
  • Morgan Ely, Freshman - Houston

There you have it, my regional preview. Now, join me on the levee bank this Saturday and watch the kids prove me wrong! 

Note: If you're a Russia Raiders fan like I am, you're invited to the annual pre-game tailgate party that follows the Russia school buses to Troy. And if you don't follow the buses to Troy, just look for the largest RV in the Troy Memorial Stadium parking lot with all the people dressed in Blue & Gold. A large pot will be cooking chicken noodle soup to be served between the boys race at 11:00 am and the girls race at 1:30 pm. Feel free to bring your own chicken noodle soup to add to the pot and whatever else you like! 
Chicken noodle soup is an annual tailgate tradition 
for Russia fans between the boys and girls races

Friday, August 15, 2014

Shelby County boys preview...

The area high school cross country season is set to start on August 19th with the annual Shelby County Preview. The Preview gives running fans their first look at teams from the Shelby County Athletic League, as well as those from Sidney and Lehman. The rotating role of host school has been given to Sidney this year after Anna previously hosted last year. I gave my opinions last week on the girls race and I'm following that up this week with my opinions on the boys race.

Video highlights of the top five finishers at the 2013 Preview

The colors blue and gold have dominated the Shelby County Preview the last three years. Lehman's Joe Fuller was the top individual runner in 2011, 2012 and 2013, but graduated this past spring after his remarkable accomplishment. During that span the Russia boys team also collected three titles with what seems like an endless supply of really good runners. Who might win this year and will those dominating school colors change? Below is my preview of some of the individuals and teams I'll be watching in Sidney on the 19th.

You can't blame the Russia boys if they come into the Preview feeling confident. After all, they've won the team title seven of the last eight years with the only blip being 2010 when they finished runner-up. The Raiders lost a couple of their top seniors from last season in Bryan Drees and Steven Stickel, but the cupboard is still full for head coach Doug Foster. For starters, back is junior Caleb Ball who finished 11th at the Preview last year and then made folks take notice when he won the SCAL title at the end of the season. Caleb likely will be running stride for stride with his senior teammate, Jordan Gariety, a 4th-place finisher at the Preview last year who is very capable of having a big season. Battling for the other five varsity spots in my opinion will be a host of Raiders, including senior Alex Herron, junior Trevor Monnin, and sophomores Alex Seger, Ethan Monnier, Kevin Drees and Drew Sherman. Also, keep your eye on freshman Zachary Bell who was one of the top 8th-graders in the area last year. Russia is in position to win another Preview this year and, if they stay healthy, return to the State Meet for the ninth consecutive year.

Expect Russia's Jordan Gariety and Caleb Ball to push each other

It's always nice when you can return a few of your top runners. Botkins head coach Ryan Gutman returns more than a few after finishing runner-up to Russia last year at the Preview by just 11 points. It starts with the 1-2 punch of senior Austin Jones and junior Cameron Flora. Austin finished 3rd at the Preview last year before fighting through a nagging IT band injury that ended his season at the Regional Meet. Cameron finished 7th at the Preview and later ran at the State Meet as the lone Botkins boy. Austin and Cameron have been doing everything together in the pre-season according to their coach and are on course for fantastic years. The Trojans #3 runner I believe will be junior Aaron Fullenkamp with senior Reid Manger not far behind. Botkins has a deep program this year and points can be scored by a number of boys. Two Trojans to keep on your radar include junior Jared Goubeaux and incoming freshman Austin Fullenkamp. Jared was injured last year and may surprise some people this season, and Austin finished runner-up at the junior high Preview last year. All said, Botkins has a legitimate shot to win the Preview.

Botkins' Austin Jones was the fastest in the junior class at the 2013 Preview

While Anna graduated some big-time talent in Corey Abbot, Adam Larger and Derek Steinke, there's a tradition of cross country success with Dean Stewart's Rockets that always makes them a factor. Leading the team this year will no doubt be senior Luke Gaier. Luke has historically started the season slow, but then comes on strong at the end. Proof of this was his 9th-place finish at the Preview last year followed by a superb 2nd-place finish at the SCAL Championship. Another senior I'm expecting to make a big impact after battling some health issues last fall is Jonathan Berning. Jonathan and Luke were on the same 4x800 relay team this spring that finished 10th at the State Track Meet. If you're looking for a rising star in the Rockets program, they might have one in sophomore Lucas Huber who reportedly had a very good summer of training. Finally, Coach Stewart will need sophomores Brad Axe and Joel Gaier to score points if Anna is going to be competitive this season.

Ft. Loramie
It's taken the Ft. Loramie boys a while to re-establish their cross country program since the inception of football almost ten years ago, but head coach Dennis Prenger has a foundation built for the Redskins to experience success someday really soon. This years team will be lead by the youth of sophomore Tom Ballas. Tom had a fantastic freshman year, but he's also his own toughest critic, so he increased his summer mileage considerably and I expect a big improvement from his 12th-place finish at last years Preview. Senior runners on the team include Caleb Hoelscher, Tom Meyer and Ty Frilling who will all provide different kinds of leadership. The underclassman are key for Ft. Loramie to be successful in my opinion. Juniors Riley Holland and John Chaney have matured and will be counted on to step up this season and score points. Another runner with a ton of potential that could develop this year is sophomore Alan Holdheide. There are 13 boys in the program, including some additional talent in the sophomore and freshman classes. Look for this group to start making the Redskins significant again.

Third-year Sidney coach Ken Kellner had two Yellow Jackets swarming the front of the pack at the Preview last year in Chris Musser and Jared Tangeman. Chris finished an impressive 2nd-place and was my immediate pick to win it all this year. Unfortunately, he ended his track season this spring with knee surgery and was told he would never run again. Chris, like a lot of top runners, apparently didn't like being told "never" and is in the process of a comeback. While the junior is running strong right now according to his coach, he will be a question mark as the season unfolds. Jared, on the other hand, appears in top form. The senior is poised to have a big year after clocking a blazing 15:48 this summer during his last 5K road race. With that kind of performance Jared is more than capable of winning the Preview. The rest of the Yellow Jackets runners will need to do their part for Sidney to perform well as a team.

One guy that's been steadily improving each year at the Preview since his freshman season is Houston senior star Devon Jester. As a freshman he finished 18th, his sophomore year he was 9th, and last year he finished 8th. This week head coach Joni Dunham told me Devon is running as strong as ever coming into the season and would like nothing more than to return to the State Meet again in November. A couple of other returning juniors who are battling injuries right now and won't be up to full speed for the Preview are Troy Riley and Azen Reier. Troy recently had surgery on his calf and Azen is dealing with a stress fracture. Incoming freshman Dakota Francis ran well last year in junior high and will be the fourth and final Wildcat. With just four boys on the roster Houston will not be eligible to place as a team.

Senior Devon Jester worked hard over the summer to make this fall memorable

Last year at the Preview, Fairlawn fielded the required five runners to qualify for a team score. This year there is only one full-time runner, but he's a good one. Junior Troy Fletcher returns for his third season and will run for first-year head coach Chris North, who takes over both the high school and junior high program. Last year Troy made huge strides from the beginning of the season to the end. At the Preview on Anna's course he ran a 21:18 and later followed that up at the SCAL Championship on the same course with a 19:12. Troy came into practice in great shape after running all summer according to his coach and could be running in the 18:00's this season. Fairlawn will also get some part-time running help from sophomore Nick Brautigam who is playing multiple sports, but is expected to participate in approximately four meets.

Fish Report's Preview Predictions
Top Five Teams
1. Russia
2. Botkins
3. Anna
4. Ft. Loramie
5. Sidney

Top Five Individuals
1. Jared Tangeman - Sidney
2. Caleb Ball - Russia
3. Austin Jones - Botkins
4. Luke Gaier - Anna
5. Devon Jester - Houston

Top Five Freshman
1. Austin Fullenkamp - Botkins
2. Zachary Bell - Russia
3. Collin Luthman - Ft. Loramie
4. Noah Siegel - Ft. Loramie
5. Jay Kacin - Ft. Loramie

To see results of the Shelby County Preview from 2006-Present, click here!

Course maps for Tuesday's Shelby County Preview at Sidney:  High School / Junior High

Friday, August 8, 2014

Shelby County girls preview...

The area high school cross country season is set to start on August 19th with the annual Shelby County Preview. The Preview gives running fans their first look at teams from the Shelby County Athletic League, as well as those from Sidney and Lehman. The rotating role of host school has been given to Sidney this year after Anna previously hosted last year. Below are my opinions on the girls race and I'll follow that up next week with a look at the boys race.

The Russia girls team has a five year winning streak at the Preview

Shelby County has produced some outstanding female runners recently. In the last seven years at least one girl from the SCAL has stood on the podium every year at the State Meet to receive All-Ohio recognition. Of course, the quality of running you see in the post season almost always trumps the running you see at the Preview. Most experienced runners realize it's all about peaking in late October or early November, not August, and it typically takes new freshman several races to get used to high school competition. Therefore, the Preview is a little like a football scrimmage... everyone plays and you're just hoping not to get hurt. Here are a few of the teams and individuals I'm looking forward to seeing in Sidney on the 19th:

The Russia girls have been the school to watch at the Preview for the last five years. Head coach Doug Foster and his Lady Raiders have won the team title every year since 2010 and did it convincingly last year, 23-56 over Ft. Loramie. Gone are Kirsten Voisard and Emilie Frazier to graduation and Russia will also be without the benefit of senior Claudia Monnin, who is still recovering from ACL surgery back in January. Losing those three runners will be an adjustment, but the Lady Raiders still have plenty of strength lead by senior Emily Borchers. Emily finished 2nd at the Preview last year and then won eight out of the next ten races, the only non-wins being 3rd in Tiffin and 7th at the State Meet. On Emily's heels should be junior Lauren Heaton. Lauren is fresh off a state track title this past June in the 400 dash and was the team's #2 runner all of last season. Junior Molly Kearns was a dependable #3 runner last year and I expect another solid season from her after spending time at an Ohio State running camp this summer. Battling it out for Russia's #4 & #5 positions most likely will be sophomore Shea Goubeaux and junior Karissa Voisard. One new runner to watch for is incoming freshman Megan Frazier. Megan won the junior high Preview last year and also took home the SCAL title at the end of the season.

Russia senior Emily Borchers returns to lead the Lady Raiders

Ft. Loramie
Prior to Russia's five year winning streak at the Preview, Ft. Loramie dominated the meet from 2006-2009. Head coach Dennis Prenger will no doubt feel like something is missing this year and that's because gone is Meg Westerheide who graduated after a storied career, including an individual victory at last years Preview. The Lady Redskins also graduated another top five runner on the team in Tara Luebke. The junior class will determine the strength of Ft. Loramie and running up front should be junior Rachel Schmitmeyer who impressed last year with a 5th-place finish at the SCAL Championship. Rachel has shown flashes of being a top runner in the past and reportedly has worked hard over the summer to put herself in position as a team leader. Other key juniors include Claire Kazmaier, Taylor Gasson, Sam Bensman, Melanie Kremer and Makenna Geise. Sophomore Kaitlyn Luebke developed into a nice runner last season and is important for Ft. Loramie to perform well at the Preview and during the season. One thing is for sure, with 23 runners in the program this year, the Lady Redskins have the depth to be successful.

Rachel Schmitmeyer is part of a strong junior class at Ft. Loramie

The Botkins fans will have a lot to look forward to this season. While the graduation of Bethany Christman is a loss from last year, the program has a competitive bunch from seniors down to freshman. The team will be lead by one of the stars in the SCAL, junior Chloe Flora. Chloe finished 4th at last years Preview and was 3rd at the SCAL Championship. Head coach Ryan Gutman told me this week when Chloe showed up for the first day of practice on August 1st he asked her why she was smiling so big. Chloe responded, "it's just so good to be back". Botkins has six seniors and two of those seniors I expect in the top seven for the team at the Preview includes Mackenzie Brown and Tayler Weatherhead. The key to the Lady Trojans might be junior Kayla Hueker. Kayla battled injury last season, but had a big spring in track and could surprise a few people. Another junior I expect to be running varsity is Sarah Knoop. Lastly, it's always hard to predict freshman success, but Coach Gutman has an incoming group that won the junior high SCAL team title last year. I look for freshman Cassie McGowan and Brooklyn Flora to be in the mix at the Preview.

Coach Gutman has built a contender this year with the Lady Trojans

You might see three Lehman runners crack the top ten at this years Preview and two of them shouldn't be a surprise. Head coach Kyle Hermiller has a couple of the best back in sophomore Jenna Zimmerman who finished 5th at last years Preview and junior Caroline Heitmeyer who finished 7th. Both girls ended the season with strong showings at the State Meet. I talked to Coach Hermiller this week and Caroline is looking very fast coming into the early part of the season. Junior Janelle Gravunder is back as well after qualifying for the Regional Meet last year as an individual. Also, sophomore Theresa Schmiesing returns for her second season and brings along her cousin, Clare Schmiesing, who will likely battle each other for the #5 and #6 positions on the team. Finally, I expect big things from incoming freshman Alanna O'Leary. Alanna impressed me last year in junior high as runner-up at the Preview and is capable of a top ten finish this year in my opinion. With no seniors on the Lady Cavaliers roster, Lehman is one team to keep on your radar.

The last time the Lady Rockets made headlines at the Preview was 2006 when Sarah Schulze won the individual title and lead her team to a runner-up finish behind Ft. Loramie. The Anna girls program has good numbers this year, 13 to be exact, and that's a tribute to head coach Dean Stewart. Running up front should be a couple of 2nd-team All-SCAL girls from last year in junior Jennifer Robinson and senior Bonnie Alstaetter. Two other girls I expect in the top five for the team includes juniors Nicole Smith and Jenna Harshbarger. There's also one freshman I believe will score for Anna at the Preview and that's Kara Steinke, who was one of the top junior high runners in the SCAL last season. The Lady Rockets won't make headlines at the Preview this year, but they have a solid team that could show up at the Regional Meet in October.

It wasn't that long ago that Houston had the top female runner at the Preview in Allison Roeth who won back-to-back individual titles in 2010 and 2011. Like last year though, this will be another rebuilding year for the Lady Wildcats program and head coach Joni Dunham. Sophomore Emma Mertz will lead again after being the teams top runner last year. Emma comes into the season strong and healthy from the summer and could compete for a top 15 finish at the Preview. Another sophomore, Kaitlyn Ellison, also returns for her second year of varsity running. Houston will have two new runners this season in junior Brayden Murray, who joins the team for the first time, and freshman Morgan Ely. With only four Lady Wildcats on the roster, the girls won't meet the requirement of five runners for a team score.

Fish Report's Preview Predictions
Top Five Teams
1. Russia
2. Ft. Loramie
3. Botkins
4. Lehman
5. Anna

Top Five Individuals
1. Emily Borchers - Russia
2. Chloe Flora - Botkins
3. Lauren Heaton - Russia
4. Caroline Heitmeyer - Lehman
5. Rachel Schmitmeyer - Ft. Loramie

Top Five Freshman
1. Alanna O'Leary - Lehman
2. Megan Frazier - Russia
3. Cassie McGowan - Botkins
4. Brooklyn Flora - Botkins
5. Kara Steinke - Anna

Fab Freshman - Keep an eye on freshman Megan Frazier of Russia, 
Alanna O'Leary of Lehman and Cassie McGowan of Botkins

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Remembering two of the good guys...

A couple weeks ago I blogged about Season finales and farewells and included an audio clip from the last broadcast of locally-known WMVR disc jockey Gordy Price. That same evening a friend of mine commented to me that as a kid, he too listened to Gordy, and even delivered his Sidney Daily News every day after school. He told me Gordy was the same in person as he was on the radio - full of life. This past Sunday the other radio deejay I listened to as a teen passed away. Casey Kasem, who was nationally known for his "American Top 40" music countdown, died at age 82. I especially enjoyed his long distance dedications and the positive stories that came out of them. Like Gordy, Casey was full of life. It's hard to find guys like that these days when shock jocks seem to dominate the airwaves. Casey said it best at the end of each and every broadcast with his signature sign-off, "keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars."

Casey Kasem's final countdown in July 2009 ended an era

We also said good bye on Monday to another one of the real good guys, San Diego's "Mr. Padre" Tony Gwynn. When I was a kid, you were only as good as your baseball card. I loved collecting cards and if your baseball card was worth a lot, well, then so were you. In 1983 the three most valuable players in my book were Topps rookie cards #83 Ryne Sandberg from the Cubs, #498 Wade Boggs from the Red Sox, and #482 Tony Gwynn from the Padres. Those cards were worth $20-$30 back then, which was a small fortune to me. I never had the opportunity to watch Tony play much on television, since he was a west coast guy, but I certainly followed the stats on his baseball cards every year and always watched the All-Star game, which he played in 15 times during his career. Of course an all-star appearance meant an additional baseball card in next years edition. Those cards of the 80's have lost popularity in today's market, so my investment is worth about half of what it once was. But comparing Tony Gwynn and all his achievements to the players that came after him, he's no doubt one of the most valuable players that ever played the game! 

I still have the three best baseball players in 1983

Friday, June 13, 2014

Shop until you drop...

I read in the Dayton Daily News on Tuesday that the Dayton area has plans for another shopping complex. Apparently there's a proposal for 38 acres of the Montgomery County Fairgrounds to be redeveloped into a "Midtown District" composed of 60% residential-40% commercial similar to The Greene Town Center in Beavercreek. Is it just me or does it seem like Dayton is already saturated with shopping options? I remember when the Dayton Mall and Salem Mall were the two main choices if I was heading south. I usually stopped at the Piqua Mall and found everything I needed there.

Rike's once anchored the old Salem Mall that became a dead mall in the mid-late 90's

While the Dayton Mall has managed to survive, the old Salem Mall died about the same time as the cassette tape. Some of the other major shopping options in the Dayton area, in addition to the The Greene, include The Mall at Fairfield Commons and the 142-acre Austin Landing that's currently under development 15 minutes south of Dayton. Both The Green and Austin Landing seem to have a similar theme as the proposed Midtown District complex. All three seem to cater to a younger, hipper and wealthier crowd. The Green offers luxury living, valet service and trendy retail. Austin Landing advertises that Dayton's wealthiest zip codes surround it. And the developer of this newest project says it's intended to attract UD-graduates and young professionals ages 22-35.

If this Midtown District proposal is approved, and a lot has to happen, it will feature 600 residential units, at least one hotel, and create or retain 800 jobs. I work in the building products industry, so I'm all for new construction. I also would also be thrilled to see 800 decent-paying jobs available in this economy. I just wonder how much retail is too much and will we see another dead mall in the near future?

An artist rendering of the proposed Midtown District as seen in the Dayton Daily News

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Prayers to a great coach....

Following up on what was a spectacular state track & field meet, I got some sad news on Wednesday. Long time Findlay Liberty-Benton High School girls track and cross country coach Pat Wagner, who coached a sophomore sprinter to a state title this past Saturday, suffered a stroke on Monday and is currently not doing well at all. At age 65, Coach Wagner has been the track coach at Liberty-Benton for over 40 years and the cross country coach for over 30. Below is a write-up on Pat from 2008 when he received the distinguished Ed Barker Award from the Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches:
"Pat Wagner from Liberty-Benton High School is this year’s Ed Barker Award winner. Pat has been, and continues to be, an outstanding example of dedication to both Track and Field and Cross Country. He has been a track coach for 37 years and has coached Cross Country for 25 years. His combined teams have won 40 District titles and 20 Regional titles. He has 6 State-Runner-up titles to his credit and his teams have won 4 State Championships in Cross Country and one in Indoor Track. 
Pat has earned several State awards including State Honored Coach of the Year twice. He was elected to the OATCCC Hall of Fame and was also inducted into the Hancock County Hall of Fame. Coach Wagner further earned the Ohio Association of USA Track and Field Achievement Award.
As a tireless worker for our organization, Pat Wagner has served as District 7 Representative for 11 years keeping the districts coaches involved through numerous memos, letters and off-season clinics that he organized. He further served as Vice President in 1996-1997, as President in 1998-1999, and as Past President in 2000-2001. Mr. Wagner has served on the Cross Country Poll Committee since its beginning and was Chairmen of the committee to write the Cross Country booklet in 1991. Pat further served as the Mid East Coach and is a registered track official. His tireless energy and dedication to the sports have earned him this award."
My thoughts and prayers go out to Coach Wagner, his family and his supporters.

Coach Pat Wagner is also the PE teacher at Liberty-Benton

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A few notes from State Track...

Now that the 2014 State Track & Field Championships is in the record book, and a spectacular one it was, here are a few notes from my perspective...

I heard one track coach from another conference comment how well fans from the SCAL and MAC travel to support their athletes. I had never thought about that until it was mentioned, but it's true. Schools like Russia, Ft. Loramie, Minster and Versailles had a lot of "non-family fans" in the stands from what I saw. I guess it shows the pride those communities have in their schools and athletes!

The Russia fans had a strong turnout at the state meet

One "problem" I dread seeing almost every year at the state meet is when an athlete scratches an event. Scratch means they qualified for the event, but decided not to compete in it. This can happen in any event, but it's not uncommon to see it in the distance runs. For example, an athlete qualified at regionals to run both the 1600 and 3200 at state. But because those are the two longest distance races, the athlete decides to scratch the 1600 and better their chances in the 3200. Sometimes it pays off and sometimes it doesn't. What I don't like is that someone else could have ran in that spot if it's just being given up. It's part of track and will probably always be, but that doesn't mean I have to like it!

Liberty Center's Brittany Atkinson (#9) scratched the 
1600 and it paid off with a 23 second victory in the 3200

Finally, as I mentioned in my previous blog post last Friday, the state meet always has more stories than a media person can handle. This year was no exception. As much as I prefer stories about local athletes and their outstanding achievements, my favorite of the weekend wasn't about a hometown kid. It was the story of Defiance Tinora senior Tori Abdul. Tori had a tougher childhood than I could ever imagine, in foster care for five years and could have easily taken the wrong path in life. Instead, she used track and God to help her out of some ruts in life. On Saturday it all paid off and she took home four 1st-place medals in the D-III 100, 200, 4x100 and 4x200. Listen to this post-race interview with Tori from WOSN-TV!

Tori Abdul gives thanks to God for her four victories

Thursday, June 5, 2014

D-III State Track - What it takes and what to watch

I'm a fan of most all high school sports. Boys and girls, team and individual, indoor and outdoor. I also appreciate what it takes to get to the highest level, rather the state tournament. It's not an easy task in any sport. I've watched plenty of team practices, attended hundreds of games, and talked to a lot of coaches and athletes over the years. In my opinion, those that advance to the state tournament do so for the following reasons. 1) They work harder 2) They play smarter 3) They are mentally tougher. Contrary to what some might think, nobody gets to state because they are lucky. Tell me someone that did and I'll tell you it was a result of the three reasons I just mentioned.

That being said, this weekend's OHSAA Track & Field State Championships on June 6 & 7 epitomizes what it takes to work hard, play smart, and be mentally tough. It's also, in my opinion, the best of all the high school state tournaments. Below are my reasons why:

Something For Everyone - My favorite team is the Russia Raiders, that's no secret. However, I told a few track fans this past weekend I'd be heading to Columbus even if there weren't any Russia kids competing (there are six by the way). No matter where you live in Ohio, there's a good chance you can watch someone from a community near you. They'll all be competing for a state title and how cool is that?! The state meet has 34 different events (17 boys events, 17 girls events) and almost every one is decided by inches or seconds. Rarely do you get a blowout, so excitement is never a problem. $10 gets you in the gate and you can stick around for all three divisions of boys and girls if you like.

Jesse Owens Stadium - Have you been to Jessie O? There's no arguing, it's the best track & field facility in Ohio. It's also centrally located, has plenty of close parking, and not a single bad seat in the house. It certainly beats the days of the state meet at Ohio Stadium or Welcome Stadium and I hope it never changes. One bit of advice if you're coming to Jesse Owens: Use the Ackerman Road exit off State Route 315. The Lane Avenue exit is typically slow due to several high school graduations going on at the Schottenstein Center.

Media Stories Galore - The state meet always has more stories than a media person can handle. So many interesting individuals and teams it's often hard to focus on just one or two. At least it's hard for me and that's why I'm most interested in the following local stories in Division III this weekend:

The Minster Girls Team - 12 state championship banners from girls track & field hang in the Minster gymnasium. The most recent is from 2004, the final of four consecutive titles the girls took home 10 years ago. With 11 girls heading to Columbus this year in eight different events, and coming off a southwest regional championship, the Wildcats are no doubt contenders for the team title.

The Minster Boys Team - 0 state championship banners from boys track & field hang in the Minster gym. Is this the year? I'm not sure about that, but I like their chances at improving on last year's 4th place finish. Like the girls, the Wildcats have 11 boys in eight events. Included in that are four good relay teams and opportunities in the 800, discus, shot, and pole vault.

Jackie Siefring - It's a pretty remarkable accomplishment to qualify for state in the maximum allowed four events. Nine different girls have done that in Division III this year. However, eight of those nine will be running in at least two relays and have teammates to support them. Covington senior Jackie Siefring is heading to state as the lone Buccaneer girl and will be the only girl competing in four individual events. That's even more remarkable.

Lane White - I always thought Lane White was a cool name for a track runner? It would sure sound cool if the Covington senior had his name announced as the winner of the 400 dash. He has the fastest 400 time coming in. Perhaps Lane might hear his name again if he gets on the podium for the 200 dash a little later in the meet.

The Montgomery Brothers - How many schools have two brothers competing in the same event? How about in two of the same events?  Lehman Catholic does with senior Brad Montgomery and junior Ben Montgomery. The brothers have been dominating back home all season in the shot put and discus throw and now compete together on OHSAA's biggest stage.

Meg Westerheide - Ft. Loramie senior Meg Westerheide has been to the state tournament four times in cross country, two times in basketball, and this is her fourth time in track. She's a coach's dream to say the least. Meg qualified in the 4x200 relay and the 4x400 relay, but her best shot is the 800 run where she has the fastest time of the 16 contenders. I'll be rooting for Meg.

Logan Konst - Last weekend at the four regional meets, two pole vaulters reached 14'-08" to win. One was a senior from Seneca East and the other was freshman Logan Konst from Anna. I already think those pole vaulters are crazy. But a freshman winning a title in pole vault?! That would be even crazier.

Lauren Heaton - Russia sophomore Lauren Heaton will have a busy weekend having qualified in three events. The 4x200 relay, the 400 dash, and the 200 dash will probaly all be decided by 100/ths of a second. Last year Lauren anchored the 4x800 relay team to a state title and knows what it takes to win. Maybe more importantly, she knows what it feels like after you win.

Emily Borchers - She's only competing in one event and that's a good thing. Russia junior Emily Borchers will be running the 3200 and it's the longest event of the day at 11:25am. She's the southwest regional champ and has the second fastest time coming into the weekend. She also shined last year on that 4x800 relay team that won a state title, passing a long pack of runners during her third leg to put the Raiders in first. By the way, she watched her sister winner a state title on the same track four years ago.

The rest of the Raiders - Like I said, I'm a big Russia fan. Russia junior Leah Francis is seeded 6th in the 100 hurdles. So what, you say? Last year she was seeded 8th in the same event and finished 4th on the podium. - How many schools this weekend will have sisters competing together in the same event? I don't know, but Russia does. Senior Kirsten Voisard will take the baton from sophomore sister Karissa Voisard in the 4x200 relay. - Junior Nick Colby makes his first appearance at state in the discus throw. I was at a graduation party this past weekend and someone asked Nick how it sounded that he was heading to Columbus with five girls. Nick said, "I actually like the sound of that"!

Jessie Owens will be a fun place to be this weekend. And it why wouldn't it be. After all, it's the best post season tournament in Ohio.

Season finales and farewells...

Just a week ago last Wednesday was the Season 3 finale of our webcast Fish Report LIVE! After 32 broadcasts that began in September and ran through May, it was definitely time for our yearly break! The FRL crew loves producing the show, but we also look forward to our summer vacation when we can recharge our batteries. I always enjoy making a big deal out of the season finale thing, just as we did last week. It got me thinking about why I like season finales, farewells and show-enders (or whatever you want to call them). Apparently, it goes back to when I was a kid. Below are some of my favorites finales from my youth, maybe you can recall a few of these as well!

  • Before iTunes and XM you actually had to tune into FM radio to hear the hit songs. As a 10-12 year old kid in the early 80's, I used to listen to local disc jockey Gordy Price on WMVR in Sidney. Gordy took dedications, played new music and was a star to boys and girls my age. I remember being disappointed when he left Sidney and moved on to Lima radio. Sadly, he has since passed away, but here was his final sign-off on WMVR from December 30, 1983!

  • Growing up in Ft. Loramie I used to walk the hallways of a school building that no longer exists today. In the summer of 2009 Ft. Loramie Elementary was demolished and local photographer Jack Hoying did a wonderful job preserving the history. Although I wasn't present for the demolition, I can clearly remember sitting on the locker room benches below for a couple 'season finales' as a junior high basketball player!

  • The Big Red Machine had split up, and my heroes on the Cincinnati Reds were guys like Ron Oester, Buddy Bell and Paul O'Neil. I lost interest in the Reds after high school, but now I see my 9-year old son enjoying their games like I once did. One thing has remained constant from when I was a kiddo to him, and that's Hall of Fame radio announcer Marty Brennaman's famous game-ending call whenever the Reds win!

  • You can find sports highlights on the television 24/7 these days, but back in the mid-80's it wasn't so easy. ESPN was certainly around, but our family didn't have cable, so on Sunday nights I would tune into George Michael's Sports Machine on NBC channel 22 for all the highlights. I especially looked forward to his year-ending plays of the year! 

  • Perhaps the Country Concert at Hickory Hills stirred my interest in country music, but at some point in high school I became a big fan. One of my favorites acts was a mother-daughter duo called The Judds. While I was in college at Wright State University I went to their farewell concert tour at the the Ervin J. Nutter Center. By the way, the opening act was some new guy named Garth Brooks!

All memories of finales I enjoyed at one time! Fortunately, I'm not looking to hang it up anytime soon and the FRL show hasn't been cancelled by our host NK Telco (thanks guys!). We'll look forward to starting Season 4 next fall and eventually making a big deal out of another season finale!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Flyin' To The Hoop...

We had the best seats in the house for the best game of the night

The last time I visited Kettering Fairmont's Trent Arena for a high school boys basketball game was last year's D-IV regional final between Troy Christian and Delphos St. Johns. The place was packed and the game went down to the buzzer. Fast forward to this past Saturday. I returned to Trent Arena for the annual Flyin' To The Hoop high school boys basketball showcase. More specifically, I was there for the sold-out marquee match-up between HCYA (TX) vs Franklin (OH). It was a showdown between University of North Carolina signee Justin Jackson for HCYA and the guy every college in the country would like to have, Franklin junior Luke Kennard. Once again, the place was packed and the game went down to the buzzer.

Thanks to some basketball buddies, my son Ross and I had seats in the front row behind the scorers table directly at half court. The only other person with an equally better seat was the guy the building was named after, Mr. James Trent, who sat front row half court directly across from us. Oh yea, Kentucky coach John Calipari didn't have a bad seat either. He was front row too, about even with the foul line and in a good spot to watch Kennard, who Calipari has already offered a scholarship to. Kennard and Jackson didn't disappoint. Luke finished with 38 points and Justin 35. For highlight from both, see below.

The only disappointment came with 8 second left and Franklin down by three points. HCYA inbounded the ball and Kennard found himself as the lone Franklin player guarding the ball. Already with four fouls, Kennard looked around for a teammate to commit the foul and stop the clock. When nobody was able to step up, Kennard fouled out with four seconds left and sent HCYA to the line. HCYA missed the front end of the 1-and-1. Franklin brought the ball down court and got off a nice 3-point attempt that just missed as the buzzer sounded. Fans were left to wonder what might have happened if Kennard would have taken the shot.

The game lived up to the hype and Ross and I sure got our money's worth. Heck, our tickets were only $12 a piece, which included a few more games we watched as well. Perhaps I'll get to watch Kennard and Jackson square off again in the future, and it wouldn't surprise me if it was an NCAA tournament game. I'm just guessing I wouldn't get half court seats for $12 again.

After Coach Calipari watched Kennard's game, he gave a hug to 
the father of Kentucky commit Tyler Ulis who played in the next game

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