Sunday, June 28, 2009

4th of July, Claremont, Calif.

July 4, 1980, in Claremont, Calif. This float (see the photos--sorry for the quality) was the highlight of the annual parade, as guys in togas and cowboy hats ran alongside down Indian Hill Blvd. It's hard to believe anyone would allow a parade float today with Uncle Sam drinking a huge can of Coors (the arm moved by the way), with keg mounted on the side. The keg was empty, but there were plenty of other adult refreshments along the parade route. The most amazing thing, however, was that the float won an award from the city. Not sure who those guys were, anyway (but I think I still have the trophy stashed somewhere).

Friday, June 19, 2009

Down The Stretch They Come

LA Sketchbook's Steve Greenberg in LA Observed

Los Angeles Times wrote recently that Hollywood Park racetrack could soon give way to a $2 billion real estate development.

While rumors of the demise of Southern California’s major horseracing venues have been making the rounds for several years, this time it might actually happen. Given the state of the economy it’s no surprise that
Hollywood Park ownership would rather invest in a development project that could bring big returns, as opposed to sinking more money into a sport that continues to decline.

Inglewood City Council on June 3 approved the final environmental impact report for a proposed development on the Hollywood Park property, thus replacing the racetrack with a retail center.

The next step is for the council to approve an ordinance for the development agreement, and that is s
cheduled to happen on July 8.

I watch this with interest, not only because Hollywood Park was where I had my first “real” career job out of college, but because the closure of the 71-year-old racetrack would be another nail in the coffin for the sport in Southern California. Or, it could mean that the horse racing industry will try to stay alive by looking elsewhere to fill the void. And if it does, then Fairplex Park in Pomona could be a possible candidate.

For that to happen, the track probably would likely have to be expanded from its current 5/8-mile configuration, to a main-track oval of at least a mile. And the grandstand, which was constructed in 1933, would have to be rebuilt. Of course, that takes money, not only to expand the track, but also to raze or relocate the current structures that stand within the footprint of the bigger track.

I suspect that if the industry wants thoroughbred racing to continue in Southern California, it will find the bucks to construct what would essentially be a brand new racetrack. If not, then the sport will probably continue its slow decline, trusting fans will still visit the old venues at Santa Anita and Del Mar, plus the Los Angeles County Fair meeting at Fairplex thrown in every September (recently shortened to 15 days). Without something to attract new fans and rejuvenate the faithful followers, I don’t know that there would be enough to keep horse racing alive. A new track and grandstand could make Fairplex Park the premier racing venue in California.

But would that be enough to revive horse racing? Hollywood Park had to cancel a day of racing earlier this season, and the track is now running four days a week instead of the traditional five. Del Mar and Fairplex Park have had reduced the number of days they race, too. Santa Anita is reportedly in bankruptcy protection, and the track is for sale.

Since I haven’t worked at Fairplex in many years, I don’t know if the Fair Association even wants to expand the track to a mile anymore. If it makes good business sense, then I’m sure they’ll consider it. But it will take OPM (other people’s money) to make it happen, and I have no idea if it’s a priority. The investment will have to come from the various sources throughout the horse racing industry. And it won’t be cheap.

The idea of expanding Fairplex Park to a mile has been tossed around for years – as far back as 1995, when I still worked there. Back in 1985, the track was expanded from one-half-mile to 5/8-mile, which was fine for the Fair meeting, but not for a regular horse racing season like those held at the major racetracks. So engineers and architects plotted out the new track configuration, and experts estimated the construction costs at around $10 million. I wouldn’t be surprised if the same project today is 10 times that price, if not more. Just a few years ago, Fairplex Park officials presented a new expansion plan to the California Horse Racing Board.

The cost was the prohibitive factor years ago, and there wasn’t interest from the industry or other investors to add another racetrack to the Southern California circuit back then, either. Nor was there a need. The industry had other priorities than to spend money to expand a perfectly good track that was only used for a few weeks of racing every September. Without outside interest in building a new mile-long track at Fairplex and granting the racetrack additional racing dates, the Fair Association considered dropping the sport completely.

But horse racing during the Fair has remained a money-maker, even with the limited schedule and bullring track. Even with today’s continued downward spiral in popularity, I assume horse racing still contributes greatly to the bottom line. And so the idea of expanding the track probably still has merit. Only now, it appears that it’s the horse racing industry that needs Fairplex Park, rather than the other way around.

Last year, Blood-Horse magazine speculated that if Hollywood Park should close, the Inglewood track’s dates could be moved to Pomona. The article noted that legislation was in the works to provide financial assistance for a proposed Fairplex Park expansion plan.

No racetrack will ever relive the pre-satellite wagering days when the grandstands would be packed for horse racing, but the Pomona track has an incredible advantage over other tracks in reaching out to potential new fans. There are tens of thousands of people on the grounds every day during the Los Angeles County Fair, and usually more than 100,000 every weekend day. All they have to do is go inside to watch the horses run. The wagers will follow.

Seems simple enough, but the current configuration of the facility doesn’t exactly say “come on in.” But back in 1933, the people who built the place were probably trying to keep the masses out instead of bringing them in. They had no trouble filling the house and had to turn people away.

But trends change. This time around, architects and industry experts need to take a careful look at their audience and the state of their sport. Horse racing needs to reinvent itself if it wants to survive. Some traditions are fine, but this is an activity that’s gasping for air. It needs a big shot of something strong.

The architectural design of the physical plant can make Fairplex Park the boost the industry needs -- an entertainment destination that separates itself from the racetrack grandstands throughout Southern California that were built in the 1930s. It needs to be so unique that it is a lure for those people already on the fairgrounds, but also for anyone looking for a leisure-time alternative. Done right, it would be more than a racetrack. It would be the entertainment anchor to support the addition of other developments at Fairplex like restaurants and retail outlets, and it would boost the Fair, NHRA drag races and the other events at the complex.

Whatever direction this goes, the idea of expanding the Fairplex Park track is either a really great one, or an incredibly bad one. There’s no middle ground (unless, of course, it really is done with other people's money). It would be a risky move, but it might be more of a risk for the horse racing industry to not do something like this.

So before I get too much farther ahead of myself, especially in this economy, let’s see what happens next in Inglewood. These things never seem to happen fast, but Southern California horse racing needs a big stretch run before it gets clipped at the finish line…or even worse, comes up lame around the turn.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Random thoughts

I’ve got to hand it to my son Sam. He has no experience, and he’s really not a strong swimmer, but he’s now playing water polo at CHS. He may be years behind the other guys, but I don’t see him giving up on this. He’s just one of those kids who needs a change of pace, and if he wants to improve as a baseball player, he needs a break. And it won’t hurt that he’ll come back in much better shape, physically and mentally. New experiences are good, especially when you’re that age. I’m glad he’s embracing high school, because these kinds of opportunities won’t always be there, and so I’m glad he’s making an effort to better himself and have fun at the same time. Plus, I think he secretly likes wearing the Speedo…

Son Sid took advantage of his high school fortune to run track, something he had never done before his sophomore year at Upland High. He turned into a pretty good quarter-miler and advanced all the way to the state championship meet as part of the Upland High 4 x 400 relay team, and he even got to compete for a year in college for a former Olympian and U.S. record-holder in the mile, coach Steve Scott. But this year Sid turned his attention toward school, his fraternity and his job at Project Walk. Yeah, they grow up quickly…

This picture is just too good not to share. Len fell off his bike…

Congratulations to all of this year’s new high school graduates, including Lauren Seligman from Upland High and going to UCLA in the fall, Spencer Eckert from Claremont High (headed to Dominican University in San Rafael to play soccer), and Kristen DesCombes from Mission Viejo High, who is headed to USC’s theater arts program (and we look forward to attending her shows). And to college grad Megan Moore, who graduated from Sonoma State and looks to embark on a teaching career, and to new Vanderbilt alumna Lauren DesCombes, who has internships lined up at Rolling Stone, Marie Claire, Shape, Lancome over the next six months… Claremont High held its graduation ceremonies Thursday, followed by the traditional all-night grad night event at some secret location. Upland held its graduation last week, and Cal State San Bernardino will hold commencement exercises the weekend of June 20-21. After that, the university moves to its always-anticipated 4/10 summer schedule. Aahh, yes... summer Fridays...

Sam celebrated the last day of school Thursday with his friends over in Claremont. That’s the one bad thing about living in a different town. Most of his friends are over there, and many of ours are, too, which means we don’t have a lot of people just dropping in to visit in Upland. That wasn’t the case when Sid still lived at home, because his friends frequently visited. But he’s working this summer in Carlsbad and spending most of his time there. I still want to move back to Claremont, but only in the right place at the right price. And I still have to convince my wife that it’s a good idea. Throwing a big red dog in the mix might help...

Congratulations to Josh Fellhauer, who was drafted in the seventh round by the Cincinnati Reds Wednesday. That has to rank right up there with being the first overall choice by the Upland National Little League Minor “B” Dodgers back in 1996
when I drafted him as an 8-year-old (as noted in my blog last summer). Clearly, the UNLL coach had a keen eye for talent. I might as well take some credit, no matter how undeserved. Before he jumps into negotiations with the Reds, Josh will lead Cal State Fullerton into the College World Series this weekend in Omaha. All he did this year was bat .399 with six home runs for the Titans...

Richard Brehaut’s first experience at college must have been a whirlwind. He just finished his first quarter at UCLA, but he was supposed to spend the past several months finishing up his senior year of high school, but he graduated early. He walked in commencement ceremonies at Los Osos this week while also finishing spring quarter final exams at UCLA. He enrolled at UCLA in March, moved into his dorm room on a Sunday, started classes the next day, started spring football on that Thursday and within 10 days was playing in a scrimmage with his new teammates. Two weeks after that he was playing quarterback in the Rose Bowl in the Bruins’ spring scrimmage (pictured above). But the thing that has to be hardest for him to grasp is that when he walks around campus, people notice him. Not that he hasn’t had the spotlight in recent years, but that was in high school, and now he’s suddenly a celebrity in the big city of Los Angeles. Somebody has even created a Richard Brehaut Web site. He might not yet be the starter, but he’s the UCLA quarterback…

Years ago, my sons and their friends assembled their own fantasy football league to play along with their dads. Looking back, those kids have grown up and include some guys who are still enjoying athletic success of their own. Josh Fellhauer is on his way after being drafted by the Reds. Richard Brehaut is embarking on a college football career at UCLA, nephew Kevin Bosson enjoyed a great freshman baseball season at Cal Poly Pomona and Rudy Muniz is pitching at Mt. San Antonio College. Good thing it wasn’t a betting league…

Checking back on my old team in Upland National Little League, the Major League Braves failed to make the playoffs this year. That may not seem like a big deal, but the Braves qualified for the playoffs for 10 years in a row, and were in the championship game in each of the past nine years, winning five titles (great coaching again). I’d put that in the dynasty category…

Congratulations to Steve Jackson on the completion of his first season as head baseball coach at Claremont High. No, the Wolfpack didn’t make the CIF playoffs, but the program is headed in the right direction and, overall, the season was a success for the CHS varsity, despite losing the final three games and falling to fifth place. That happens when the pitching is inconsistent and the defense has its lapses. But this was the first season in many that the year didn’t end in controversy. There was near unanimous support for the coach and the program. Steve’s the fifth coach in five years, but if the reaction from most of the players (and families) is any indication, he should be back. His players and many parents gave him two standing ovations at last week’s end-of-the season awards banquet, and 13 senior players graduated with the Class of 2009 on Thursday. A big tip of the cap…

I love the Lakers, but I have a hard time watching them...

Len's okay, although still banged up. See, he's already doing better, as evidenced in this picture.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Changing Perceptions Daily

I’ve been to some pretty good fundraising events, but I was blown away by the organization and response to the Be Perfect Foundation’s second annual dinner this past Saturday at the Hafif Estate in La Verne.

We missed the inaugural event in 2008, but it’s obvious that in just two years, this has quickly become a “can’t miss” affair. I’m sure the 800 people in attendance would echo that feeing.

It might be the first time I’ve been to a dinner with 800 people and it still felt intimate. I just added this slide show, so see for yourself.

The astonishing exhibition of support for Hal Hargrave, who founded the Be Perfect Foundation, and for others who have suffered spinal cord injuries is a testament to a great community. But the birth of the foundation and its remarkable progress is because of “Li’l Hal” and his drive and determination. It’s pretty hard not to be impressed with a kid who graduated from high school just two years ago and has had his life turned upside down – only to make the most of his tragic truck accident to try to make the world a better place for others with spinal cord injuries.

He’s making an impact in a big way. I hear Saturday’s event netted an incredible $250,000, matching the funds raised in 2008. The proceeds help purchase wheelchairs, ramps, equipment and therapy sessions at rehabilitation hospitals and facilities such as Casa Colina, the Claremont Club and Project Walk, which are all closely tied with the Be Perfect Foundation and where Hal and others, including locals like Brian Goodwin and Jared Andreason, go for exercise-based therapy.

I’m sure many of the people at the event were there for the social aspects (and they weren’t disappointed), but they had to be inspired by the progress being made toward stem cell treatments for SCI, as explained by Dr. Hans
Keirstead from the Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center at UC Irvine. And by the therapy work that Eric Harness described is being done at Project Walk, the internationally recognized spinal cord injury recovery center in Carlsbad. After they delivered their messages, Li’l Hal talked about his experiences and how perceptions about spinal cord injuries are changing daily, both from the perspective of those with the injuries and those who are treating them. He's even adopted the slogan "Changing Perceptions Daily" for his foundation.

Many of the speakers talked about Project Walk, which was special for us, since our son Sid works there as an aid and frequently works with Hal. He says Hal is his favorite patient because he is the hardest worker. It’s truly gratifying to know Sid has the opportunity to be a part of an organization that is making such a difference. I hope he is able to continue to work there through college as he pursues his degree in kinesiology, and to have the good fortune to return to work at a place like that someday. I'm thrilled he wants to.

I’m glad Sid and his brother Sam were able to work the event Saturday, just to gain a greater appreciation for some of the tests and turns that life can take.

It was because of the Hargraves that Sid works at Project Walk, and he loves it. And it is because of the Hargrave family that the Be Perfect Foundation dinner event was again such a success, and why 800 people had a good time on Saturday. Naturally, they showed up to support an important cause, but they also showed up because Hal and Lori and their kids are good people. The entire family should be congratulated, as well as the committee members and other volunteers who made the event happen.

Beth and I went Saturday not knowing who else would be there. But it didn’t take long to see a confluence of friends from so many parts and pieces of our lives. People from different places and phases were around every corner, seemingly somehow intertwined with each other, too. Somewhat magically, they all came together to enjoy themselves and each other, as the LCR Band played deep into the night. My favorite part of the entire evening came as Beth and I rocked out alongside many longtime friends as the band jammed to “Freebird.” As I looked up, I noticed my nephew Kevin on stage singing with friends, and son Sam up front in the middle of the action – us watching him dance while he watched us…

Ah yes, some perceptions do change daily.

Here are links to the event preview story in the Claremont Courier and San Bernardino Sun/Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.