Sunday, April 10, 2011

Content is King

I still read several newspapers every day. I watch the morning news before I go to work, and I try to catch a few highlights at night. I listen to the top headlines on the radio, and I traverse the Internet searching for more. I’m always connected to the world on my iPhone, which gives me access to as much information as I can find.

I don’t know if we’re spoiled in today’s information age, but if we want to know something right now, we can. Think about where we’ve come in our lifetimes. If you wanted to find out about something that happened in the past, you could only hope that information was included in your family’s encyclopedia collection. Otherwise, it was off to the library to look it up in books or on microfiche.  News that happened today wouldn’t be known to the world until tomorrow morning, unless it was big enough for the television news. In the pre-ESPN days, we’d wait until 11:25 p.m. to get a few baseball scores. Jim Hill’s “Sunday Sports Final,” gave us a full 15 minutes of sports highlights once a week on Sunday nights after the regular late news. When I was young, I used to race my dad to get the morning newspaper so I could read the sports section first.

Still today, one of my favorite things is to read the local high school football coverage in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin on fall Saturday mornings. Unfortunately, because newspapers have merged or folded, local papers like the Daily Bulletin are more regional. So those local football stories include games 30 or 40 miles away. The local paper isn’t as local anymore. And because the coverage area is much bigger and there has been a dramatic increase in the number of schools, most of the games only get a paragraph or two. Sometimes, the scores don’t even get in.

When I was still in college, I covered local high school and college sports for the Pomona Progress Bulletin, which later merged with the Ontario Daily Report to become the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. The newspaper’s circulation area went about as far east as Cucamonga and west to San Dimas, but coverage expanded beyond those areas to include every school in the leagues that were located in the Pomona Valley. Even with a full-time sports staff of four or five guys, they covered almost every local high school game. That’s because there were plenty of “stringers” like me, working for $15 a game. We all did it for experience, because our journalism teachers told us we should. I ended up covering high school football and basketball for about four years. It certainly wasn’t for the money. I loved it, because I’ve always loved sports, no matter what the level of competition. In fact, I still go to high school sporting events regularly from September through May, and I rarely miss a Friday night of football.

We didn’t have laptop computers when I strung for the Progress Bulletin, so we had to write the story back at the newsroom. When I first started, the newsroom didn’t even have computers. We keyed the stories on Selectric typewriters, with special codes that were picked up by the machines that would covert the text for the typesetters.

By the time an evening football or basketball game ended, the building was locked up for the night. I’d have to ring a doorbell and hope somebody would hurry down while I waited on the corner of Third and Thomas streets in downtown Pomona. It wasn’t the best neighborhood, although I think it was pretty lively in its heyday. I always remembered when I was much younger going to the movies at the Fox Theater a block away on Garey Avenue. It was a great place then, but by the time I was in college, the area had changed dramatically. I never had problems as I waited to get into the building, but there were plenty of times I held my breath as I stood on the empty, dark streets and a car would slowly cruise by. Once inside the massive front door, the long, majestic old staircase on the right led to the newsroom upstairs. The vast open room filled with desks was mostly empty at that hour, except for the sports staff and stringers, along with a reporter or two covering the police beats.   

That night’s game pairings were all written on a whiteboard, and each reporter filled in the score from his game as he came in. If it was an important game late in the season, the sound of the typewriters fell silent as all eyes watched with curiosity as the reporter posted the numbers. Assistant sports editor Don Bradley would inevitably get mad at somebody, and he’d end up yelling at a coach calling in to find out scores of other games. Then it was back to business, because the deadline was near. I usually had less than an hour to compile the game stats, format a box score and then write my story. Adrenaline took over and we all got it done. I think the “rush” that came from writing on deadline was what kept me going back year after year. Seeing my by-line only a few hours later on the front page of the sports section (and sometimes the front page of the entire newspaper) certainly added to the personal satisfaction as well.

The beauty of local sports coverage was that it used to be truly confined to the surrounding communities. The local newspaper would pick up the Associated Press coverage of the professional and major college teams, but they’d also send their own reporters to cover those games on occasion, too. Don Bradley often went out to the big games, but usually only to watch the game and eat the free press box food before returning to print the AP story of the game he just attended. But for the most part, the readers in the Pomona Valley got the perspective from the reporters who lived in their community or the one next door. You felt like you knew the local kid who made it big.

Mark McGwire was one of those guys. I covered some of his basketball and baseball games when he was at Damien High, and then later when he played on the Claremont American Legion team that played for the state championship. Although his acclaim to that point had come as a pitcher, he started hitting home runs at a frantic pace that summer for the American Legion team. He hit a ball out of the Claremont McKenna College field that went over the tall juniper trees that lined the outfield fence. He later went to play at USC, where our paths would occasionally cross while I was there as a graduate student. I’d also go watch games at Dedeaux Field on campus, where another Claremonter, Randy Robertson was also on the team, as was a tall, raw left-hander named Randy Johnson. Since I continued to contribute to the Prog, sports editor Bill Langley asked me to write a feature story on McGwire. I was living in L.A. at the time, but I came home to file the story on a day when Langley was off and Bradley was in charge. My story ran longer than Bradley wanted, and he barked at me that McGwire would never be big enough to deserve that much attention.  

I wish we still had the local sports coverage, but the newspapers are struggling to survive, and their financial and personnel resources are limited. Still, you’d think that since the greatest appeal of a local newspaper is its local news coverage, there would be a higher priority on “backyard” stories and less on the wire-generated stories that anybody can find almost anywhere online. The local stories are what make the local media unique. Aside from local game coverage, the best thing in the current Daily Bulletin sports section is Louie Brewster’s weekly column.

Today’s newspapers are fighting a losing battle. I love them, but unless you grew up reading them, there is no logic in starting now. Unlike free online content, newspapers cost money only carry yesterday’s news.

Instead of sending out reporters to cover all of the local games, sports editors today rely on coaches to call in their scores and game highlights. If a coach doesn’t call, then the game didn’t happen.  Like it or not, coaches now have the responsibility of being a reporter, too – or at least assigning it to someone else. The good thing is that today there are other alternatives to the daily newspapers, including a host of online sites. Most colleges and high schools have their own athletics websites, with separate sites for every sport. And MaxPreps is a great one-stop site that has information from every high school in the nation. It not only includes scores, but also box scores from every game and complete statistics, as well as league leaders and standings. MaxPreps has become the best option for fans wanting quick information. In most cases, it’s the only alternative. But if the content on MaxPreps isn’t kept current, or if individual team websites aren’t providing up-to-date information, then the technology is useless. It’s like not updating your blog in a timely manner.

No matter how technology changes the world, the medium that best delivers the information will be the most relevant, because it is the content that matters, not the method of delivery. It’s true: content is king.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Must Have Hit the Snooze Button

Okay, I’m overdue with my blog posts again… Sorry – that seems to be a trend with me. As any blogger knows, you need to have time to dedicate to these things and topics to write about. I started my blog as a way of sharing good news about people I know. No, I didn’t run out of good news, but it doesn’t always come flowing like that, and so my blog has taken different turns along the way. I seem to write about whatever inspires me at the time. 

By design, I haven’t focused on one single topic or theme, which goes against the advice of most good bloggers. My lack of focus is probably why I go long stretches without updating my blog. I know – the first rule of blogging is to stay current. I’ve failed in that respect. But I didn’t want this to become a daily journal, because I want it to be at least somewhat interesting. Instead, I write when I can or when something strikes me.

So this blog is about blogs. There are thousands and thousands of them out there, but most people I know don’t have their own blog. Perhaps because most my friends really don’t want to put themselves out there for the world to see, even in today’s world of social media. If they do, it’s so much easier to post tidbits and pictures on Facebook and stay current that way. Then again, there are still plenty of my friends who don’t even have a Facebook account. They only recently got their first cell phones, moved from VHS to DVD, and finally moved their Internet service from Prodigy or Earthlink.

The world has changed, and all of us can pretty much tell our own stories any way we want. It no longer matters if you are a credible journalist. If you have a blog, you’re instantly a published writer. And in this world of social media, you can bet people are paying attention. I found that out when I posted some things about the former baseball coach at Claremont High, and when I reminisced about things that aren’t here anymore.

I prefer to write my blog entries when I have something to say. I realize I’m rambling with this post, without much new information to offer. I commend those people who can do this with regularity and keep people interested. It’s tough. I’ve seen great pieces from people who don’t have blogs and really should be sharing their material with the world (you know who you are), except they likely run into the same challenge of being able to maintain a blog. Instead, their work goes unseen by most, when it really should be shared. If you fall in to that category, please feel free to cut and paste your story into the comments section of one of my posts, and maybe that way the handful of people who read this will also see your masterpieces, too.

Then again, there are a few people I know who have joined the blogging world. In fact, I’m writing this one because my friend Bill Baldwin recently started blogging on behalf of his company, Hartman/Baldwin Design Build. Bill’s goals are to shed light on home remodeling topics while promoting his company’s services. Good approach.

Another friend, Katrina Grabowski, writes about her family in more of a personal journal format. It’s a great way for her to share what’s happening, and it sure beats those silly letters that people still insist on sending as their Christmas cards every year (okay Ginz, yours are good). This is much more personal and meaningful.

Those are key ingredients to a good blog, and that’s what our intern blogger at Cal State San Bernardino is trying to capture with the new Coyote Calling blog. We’ll eventually add more bloggers to the mix, but Caitlin Elgin is doing a great job of telling her college experiences. She’s good. I hope future college students take the time to read and get a taste of campus life at CSUSB.

And while I’m on the subject of future college students, I’ve read the Wise Like Us blog religiously over the past year as Sam went through the process of applying for college, and the preparation and anxiety that comes with taking that next step. Definitely a blog to share.

The best blogs I’ve read are a lot more focused than mine. Typically, they are written by newspaper reporters or former reporters who have zeroed in on a specific “beat.” For example, I enjoy reading Daily Bulletin columnist David Allen’s blog, because he finds offbeat tidbits and observations about local places and people.

Most major newspapers now have blogs for most of their beats. They’re broken down by communities or by traditional newspaper section, such as sports, entertainment, local news and business. Within each of those sections there might be even more separate blogs. In the sports section, for instance, you’ll find separate blogs for every local professional and college team, as well as a high school sports blog. I frequently check out the Varsity Insider blog from the LA Times, as well as Fred Robledo’s Best High School Sports Blog from the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.

I always read blogs about the local sports teams to find out the latest new sooner and in more detail than I’ll find in the morning newspaper. The Inside UCLA, Dodgers Thoughts and the Dodgers Blog blogs are a couple of my favorites, because I know the main topic they’ll cover and that they’ll be updated several times a day. In both cases (and plenty of others), the same material appears in the newspaper the next day. I read the Inside UCLA blog daily to track media reports about Richard Brehaut, and to keep his dad up to date about what is being written. Another UCLA blog called Bruins Nation incorporates posts from “members.” I assume most are fans, but the tone often gets negative and even hateful. There are countless blogs for pretty much every professional and college sports team around. The bigger the sport, the more blogs there are, including many that charge a fee and have fan forums that are downright nasty.

Perhaps the best baseball blog is Major League Baseball Trade Rumors, which taps the nation’s baseball writers for insights into personnel moves around the major leagues. It has been known to break news about a trade before the players were even notified.

There are blogs that cover the news and the business of news. LA Observed  and Gary Scott both follow what’s happening in newsrooms, as well as what is making news.

Along with those written by newspapers, most communities seem to have a few additional blogs. I found a number of others that give me news about Claremont, as well as plenty of others that cover Upland, Pomona and other local cities. Visit any of those and they likely link to the others. The Claremont Insider has its place as a watchdog over Claremont decision makers. Opinionated, entertaining and sometimes sensational, it’s a must-read for city residents, businesses and especially politicos. I don't always agree with the Insider, and I'm sure it gets under the skin of a few people, but that's part of its role and appeal. It's especially good.

Blogs can be pretty addicting, and I really do check out several every day, with the same routine that I read the morning newspaper. There’s no shortage to pick from, so find a few to satisfy your thirst for information. I find they keep me clued-in and entertained. I just hope this one serves the same purpose for you, even if I don’t have a focus.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Keeping Track

Time again to check in on some friends…

Congratulations to the University of Puget Sound for making the very wise decision to accept Allie Seligman to its freshman class in the fall. Allie was accepted as an early-decision applicant, so she already knows she’ll head to Tacoma, Wash., to become a Logger…

Most other high school seniors I know haven’t yet finalized their college decisions, because many institutions haven’t yet sent their acceptance or rejection letters. I’ll try to update a few others in a month or so, including my son Sam, who continues to give consideration to several universities…

Among those who have committed is Marie Bradvica, who will play softball at Boston College in the ACC next year. Marie’s already a bit of an entrepreneur as a senior at Carlsbad High, after developing “Marie’s Words,” a vocabulary flash card product to assist high school seniors memorize and retain SAT vocabulary words. The cards have an illustration on the front with the word, and the pronunciation, part of speech, definition, sentence, synonyms, and antonyms on the back. 
Marie’s Words is actually a family affair, with other Bradvicas taking on various roles in the promotion and marketing of the product, as explained by her brother Nick in this video at the Student Innovator Showcase at USC, where he’s currently a sophomore. Maries’ Words has its own website, Facebook page and the product is available online

Speaking of USC, Kristen DesCombes is galloping along as a member of the Trojan Equestrian Club Team, when she’s not on stage at the USC School of Theatre…

Her brother Jack had a bit of an eye-opener when he anchored a relay team during a recent swim meet. As he waited for his turn, he looked to the next lane to find seven-time Olympic medalist Jason Lesak, who anchored the 2008 Olympic Gold Medal-winning 4x100 freestyle relay, where he swam the fastest 100 split in history. Jack couldn’t catch Lesak, but his team did finish second in that relay…

And while we’re in the pool, the DesCombes family alerted us that our good friend and former Upland neighbor Nick Hadinger currently has the 29th fastest 100-meter backstroke time in the nation, swimming for the University of Arizona. Nick is also 33rd fastest in the 200 backstroke, and ranks 30th fastest 100 freestyle 56th in the 50 freestyle, according to College His University Of Arizona team is currently ranked sixth in NCAA Division I.

The Hadingers were among the original owners on our cul-de-sac in Upland when we all moved into our new homes in 1986. They moved to Tucson in 1993 as part of the General Dynamics reorganization, and have been there ever since. Nick’s brother Kyle also attends the U of A. When our kids were younger, we made our annual trip to visit the Hadingers and take in some spring training games, as well as Arizona Wildcat events, but it’s been a few years since we’ve made that journey. Son Sid dropped in for a quick visit during his New Orleans road trip over the holidays…

Great to see nephew Kevin Bosson on the mound again for Cal Poly Pomona. After sitting out last year because of an injury, he started this season 2-0 before dropping a decision to Chico State, in which he started and pitched into the seventh inning. A couple of Sam’s one-time teammates are also on the Cal Poly roster…

And Richard Brehaut is doubling up his activities at UCLA, trying out and making the baseball team after a couple of years away from the sport. He doesn’t figure to see a lot of action, but it’s still remarkable that he made the team, given the heavy demands of his role as the Bruins quarterback. Football remains his priority, but I’m sure it’s great to be back on the diamond again…

From a fan’s standpoint, it’s just nice to see baseball again. I’m sorry we weren’t able to get in the annual alumni baseball game at Claremont High this year because of the weather. But the season is just ahead. Yep, baseball’s back, and so is volleyball, which will help make the spring sports season a welcome relief from the current “down” period after football ends.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Rained Out

The Claremont High baseball alumni game scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 19, has been canceled because of rain (and a lot more anticipated rain on the way). We'll try it again next year instead.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Claremont High alumni baseball game on Saturday, Feb. 19

The Claremont High baseball program will host its annual alumni game again this Saturday, Feb. 19. This is a great event, as former CHS players from many eras return to re-acquaint themselves with old teammates and guys from other eras. It's just a great day of guys hanging out and sharing a lot of laughs. This year, former longtime Claremont coach Jack Helber will throw out the ceremonial first pitch. This event has become a nice tradition, and I hope we have a few surprise participants this year. In the meantime, take a look at my post from last year with first-person accounts from former players Mil Pompa and Rob Haerr. 

Below is the press release with details about the game, and here's a story that appeared in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. If you know any former Wolfpack players who'd like to participate or just say hi to old friends (no matter when they played), encourage them to come out on Saturday.

Claremont High to host “opening day” and alumni baseball game Feb. 19
The Claremont High baseball program will kick off its 2011 season with special "opening day" ceremonies, an alumni game and a family barbecue on Saturday, Feb. 19, at Claremont High School.
The CHS varsity baseball team will take on former Wolfpack players in the annual alumni game Saturday as a preview to kick off the 2011 season. The game will culminate two days of special activities at the CHS varsity field to open the new baseball campaign.
Festivities are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., followed by the game and a home run derby.
The CHS junior varsity and freshman teams will play at 3 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 18.
On Saturday, Feb. 19, the varsity will take to the field against Wolfpack players from the past. All former CHS baseball players are invited to participate in the game or in pre-game batting practice. Former longtime Wolfpack coach Jack Helber will throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the game. 
The Saturday activities also will include special opening ceremonies and introductions on the field of all players on the freshman, junior varsity and varsity team, followed by first-pitch ceremonies.
A family barbecue will take place throughout the day, and refreshments will be available. In addition, Wolfpack baseball merchandise will be on sale. A home run competition will follow the alumni game.
Alumni game participants should arrive at the CHS varsity field on the Claremont High campus by 9 a.m.
Additional details are available on the Claremont High baseball Web site at
Former CHS baseball players interested in participating should contact Sid Robinson at (909) 227-9589 or

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts...

...Can’t Lose.

Unfortunately, too many people did lose, because they weren’t part of the relatively small portion of the public that tuned in regularly to watch the television series “Friday Night Lights.”

For those of us who were loyal viewers, we may have lost our TV companion from the past five years, but we definitely went away winners.

The series concluded its final season this week on DirecTV’s 101 Network (but the final season will air on NBC beginning in April). Friday Night Lights may have been the best television drama I’ve ever seen.

If you haven’t watched, or were only a part-time viewer, take the time to rent the DVDs on Netflix and watch the full seasons. All of them (the final season will be available on DVD in April, too). The TV show picked up where the novel and film of the same name left off, and it brought you in and out of the lives of the people in the fictional town of Dillon, Texas, as they struggled to get by. There was nothing forced about this program. It was as real as I can possibly imagine life in the heart of Texas could be. Football is a sacred religion, but the show wasn’t just about the football. It was about life the way they know it. The Dillon Panthers, and later the East Dillon Lions, simply provided the backdrop for the rest of life in the slow, country pace of the rural south. Even for those characters who managed to move on, their lives were entrenched in “Texas forever,” by choice or by circumstance.

If you’ve ever read the critics, Friday Night Lights really may go down as one of the greatest television dramas of all time. But it was never successful in the ratings (it even failed in a brief syndication run on the ABC Family network). It has been critically acclaimed and has won its share of awards). Like films such as the holiday classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” it may take years before it finally catches on.

No other show left me shaking my head every week for the past five years saying, “wow, that is a quality program.” Every episode. It was heavy and humorous at the same time. It broke our hearts and lifted our spirits. The characters were seemingly real people living real lives with real problems and real happiness. It was about good people in small-town Middle America trying to do the right thing.

Over the years, the writers did a brilliant job of moving characters out as they graduated from high school and moved on with their lives. As Friday Night Lights came to its final weeks, some of the characters who were stars in the early years found their way back into the storyline. Not as cameo performers, but in primary roles. They were all part of the Dillon family, even if their characters had moved on. They came back gracefully and found their place among the current season’s new personalities.

When the curtain came down on the final episode, the series ended the way it was supposed to end. In its own unique way, the ribbons were tied perfectly and there were no loose ends. It left me smiling, but sad that it was over. But I wasn’t longing for more. The game ended.

The pinnacle moment of the final football game in the closing episode couldn’t have been done more appropriately, even though you never see it. The closing segment that followed was a captivating look forward to the next chapters in the lives of the people of Dillon. It was nothing short of what you would expect from Friday Night Lights.

In the end, it was just a TV show, but a great one that stood above most. Coach Eric Taylor’s frequent inspirational call to his players summed up what the show was all about: “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose.”

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Winter Woes

A month ago Southern Californians were getting ready for the holidays while dodging the buckets of rain that drenched the Southland. Temperatures dipped into the 30s and winter arrived early.

Glad that’s over. Okay, I realize the recent springtime conditions were probably Mother Nature’s way of teasing us, since we had a little rain Sunday and there is likely more winter weather ahead. Even if the 80-degree days with crystal blue skies were only temporary, I’m ready for spring. It’s hard not to look ahead after weekends of wearing shorts, barbecuing in the back yard and driving around town with the top down on my convertible.  I’m ready for Friday nights at the Tiki Bar.

Naturally, I think that’s the way most of us sports fans feel about this time of year. With only the Super Bowl remaining on the football schedule, this is the most boring time of the year. Baseball’s spring training is still more than a month away, and both college basketball and the NBA are in the middle of the most tedious and meaningless parts of their respective schedules. At least last year we had the Winter Olympics to keep some of the monotony away. How many days until pitchers and catchers report?

I’m not complaining (okay, maybe a little). It’s this way every year, and it’s silly to whine when there really is so much to do around here and the weather is great. When we have rain, cold and no good sports, then winter isn't much fun. Either way, I'm definitely glad to be living in Southern California...

One thing I’m not doing this winter for the first time in 16 years is watching at least one of my sons prepare for an upcoming baseball season. I admit it’s not been easy. Even last year, when Sam eventually transferred his attention to volleyball, he was still taking daily batting practice and focused on baseball in January and early February. But his attention is elsewhere this year, for the right reasons. He’s doing the things that matter to him.

And completely aside from sports, one thing clearly weighing on his mind is graduating from high school. I know he’s excited about headed to college next year, wherever that might be, but I also suspect he’s a little sad realizing his four-year run at Claremont High is about to end. No question he’s enjoyed CHS. We’re all hoping the next chapter reads as well as this one. Naturally, Beth and I continue to think about his college choices daily. Sam would rather wait until all the notifications come in and he can decide among those universities that want him.

He doesn’t know it yet, but he has a lot to look forward to, no matter where he decides to go to college. His summer is already almost full, with hopes for a summer job wedged between several summer trips. And that doesn’t event take into account his and the other graduation parties that await. Yeah, it will be a fun summer for all of us. For now, I’ll just look forward to the seasonal opening of the Tiki Bar instead.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Town and Gown Memories

With the recent passing of the legendary Olympic documentary filmmaker Bud Greenspan, and following my recent post about how USC really is a great university (even if I am still a UCLA sports fan), I started remembering some of the people I had the chance to meet and things I got to do during the two years I attended USC earning my master’s degree.

Bud Greenspan
Greenspan was among those people. He was a guest speaker on campus one night, and I was invited by a faculty member to join the two of them for dinner. Though I’d seen many of his documentaries growing up, I’m sure I didn’t realize at the time just what an important and influential person I was chatting with. Maybe that’s because it was somewhat common to cross paths with people who had some degree of celebrity status during the time I was at USC. In fact, the list is somewhat remarkable. Not that I’m impressed by that kind of thing, but it is a testimony to the environment that encompasses the university and the accomplished people who are around there. And it’s just another reason why I think it would be a great fit for Sam. The opportunities are seemingly endless, and the contacts are golden.

It’s hard to convey what an extraordinary and invaluable experience this was without sounding like a pompous namedropper. That’s not my intent. It’s simply a reflection back on the things I was fortunate to encounter over a two-year period nearly 30 years ago.

Truth be told, I never expected to find myself at USC, since I was a lifelong UCLA sports fan. The university had a very strong school of journalism and public relations program. The opportunity to attend USC was simply too powerful to ignore.

I still remember visiting campus for the first time in 1981 and meeting with one of the public relations faculty. I didn’t know it at the time, but Kenneth Owler Smith was somewhat of a legend in the field of public relations. As I was doing my best to impress, he was doing a bit of recruiting on his own. He spoke glowingly about some of his former students, including Hall of Fame wide receiver Lynn Swann, who was also one of his protégés. By that time, Swann was in his last year with the Pittsburgh Steelers before working for ABC. When Doc died in 1988, Swann was among the speakers at his funeral.

Although I always assumed I’d head into my professional career after graduating from Cal Poly Pomona in 1982, the idea of continuing my education was suddenly very intriguing. And when Doc called to tell me that I was not only accepted to the graduate program, but that I’d been offered a teaching assistant position that would virtually pay for all of my education, the path for my next two years was crystal clear.

Still many months before enrolling in my first class, I got a jump on my USC experience and began working as a student assistant in the sports information office. That’s when I had first encounter with someone influential on campus. Football coach John Robinson happened to be standing at the adjacent urinal in a Heritage Hall restroom. I introduced myself, but we didn’t shake hands (not quite the right place for that), although he did make a politically incorrect joke about our common last name.
Heritage Hall

My good friend from Cal Poly, Nick Salata, was also accepted to the graduate program, and we rented an apartment together in L.A. We both took internships in the USC sports information office, which was a “who’s who” of recognizable personalities, from Los Angeles sports media to current and former athletes. I’d certainly been around public figures in the past, but not with this frequency. Broadcaster Tom Kelly came by the office regularly, as did well-known LA newspaper reporters like Allan Malamud, Mal Florence, Scott Ostler and John Hall, and TV personalities like Jim Hill, Stu Nahan and Roy Firestone. It was just a bit overwhelming to me, but, as I discovered, pretty commonplace around there. Before long, the players started funneling in regularly during the summer with the start of fall practice, and by that time, I was becoming somewhat familiar with the campus.

One of my assignments was to write a feature story for every “Game Day” home game program. Rather than single out individual players, we focused on all of the players at a certain position. I wrote one feature about the offensive line, which included four players who would eventually play in the NFL: Don Mosebar (Raiders), Bruce Mathews (Oilers-Titans), Kelly Thomas (Buccaneers, Rams) and Tony Slaton (Rams). They weren’t the only eventual NFL players who I interviewed from the team in fall 1982. That group included Joey Browner (Vikings, Buccaneers), Keith Browner (Buccaneers, 49ers, Raiders, Chargers), Duane Bickett (Colts, Seahawks, Panthers), George Achica (Colts), Fred Cornwell (Cowboys), Riki Ellison (49ers, Raiders), Jeff Simmons (Rams), August Curley (Lions), Byron Darby (Eagles, Colts, Lions), Lou Brock Jr. (Lions, Seahawks), Michael Harper (Jets), Darrel Hopper (Chargers), John Kamana (Rams, Falcons), Zeph Lee (Broncos, Raiders), Ken Ruettgers (Packers), Scott Tinsley (Eagles), Troy West (Eagles), Jack Del Rio (Saints, Chiefs, Cowboys, Vikings and current Jaguars coach) and Sean Salisbury (Seahawks, Colts, Vikings, Chargers).

As far as I was concerned, they were just a bunch of big guys who were all relatively unknown. In hindsight, they turned out to be good enough to play professionally. Somewhat surprisingly (at least in retrospect), that team finished only 8-3 and tied for third in the Pac-10.

On game days, we worked in the press box at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, making sure statistics and game notes were distributed to the media. My job after the game was to get post-game quotes from the visiting coach. The first home game was against Indiana, whose head coach at the time was Lee Corso. He wasn’t really a “big deal” at the time, but today he’s a mainstay on ESPN’s College Game Day.

Later in the season, I had the chance to work the UCLA-USC game for ABC over at the Rose Bowl. I jumped at the opportunity, but my duties put me in the TV truck outside the stadium tracking the down and distance for the graphics operator. Beth took her brother Dave with our 50-yard-line tickets, while I was trapped in the TV truck. Definitely not the way I wanted to watch that game (but Beth and Dave enjoyed themselves, cheering for UCLA while surrounded by Trojan fans). So when the offer came up a week later to work for CBS during the Notre Dame-USC game at the Coliseum, I was assured this job would be much better. That week, I was assigned to assist sideline reporter Pat O’Brien and help set up arrange interviews. When I arranged for him to speak to Trojan legend Anthony Davis, O’Brien gave me a leaping high-five. That experience was worth the disappointment of the previous week.

There was a day after the football season had ended when a group of guys came into the sports information office looking for tickets to the USC-UCLA basketball game that night over at Pauley Pavilion. There was no mistaking the identities of this trio – O.J. Simpson, Al Cowlings and Marcus Allen. After the game that night, Nick and I were at a club in Westwood Village when Allen came into the place with women on both arms and others clawing their way to be near him. At the time, it was just a good story to tell people, but it’s a little creepy today, knowing what was going to happen with O.J. and Cowlings a decade later.

Nick and I had all of the same classes together, including a television broadcasting class. One assignment was to go to the Los Angeles Rams’ practice and interview players and then edit a “remote” piece for a news program. It was a big deal for me to interview guys like Jack Youngblood and Carl Ekern, since the Rams had been my favorite team since I was about 8. I also got to go to KNBC and sit in on an editing session with reporter John Marshall, and stuck around to watch the nightly news from inside the studio. That’s the first time I ever saw the “magic” of the green screen for weather reports. It was an entire world that was new to me at the time, but eventually became commonplace in my professional career. I have my education and experiences at USC to thank for that.

As much as I enjoyed graduate school, Nick and I didn’t always make it to class. There was one Monday night when we were headed to our 6 p.m. class, but instead decided to walk across the street to the Coliseum to watch the Los Angeles Raiders play the Miami Dolphins. It was nice having those kinds of convenient distractions.

My most memorable class was during my second year, when my professor Felix Gutierrez arranged for me and another student, Marty Zogg, to do a major research project for the Dodgers. Marty and I put together a team that surveyed fans about the scorecard-program. We tabulated the results using computer punch cards, and presented a full report to the Dogers. Back then, that actually was sophisticated technology. Ironically, years later I ended up working for the Dodgers writing stories and editing the program.

Most of my classes were great. I had instructors who worked for the LA Times, KNBC and were leaders in public relations. I had another who produced the slide-show effect opening to “The Rockford Files,” and our classes were at his studio at the old Helms Bakery building.

Nick and I were also both teaching assistants for the undergraduate sports information major, which they called “SPIN.” It was a hybrid program that combined courses from the school of journalism (before it was known as the Annenberg School for Journalism and Communication) and physical education, with some courses rooted in sports public relations. Doc Smith was one of the chairs of the program, and he became my mentor and good friend.

The other program chair was Ruth Sparhawk, who was friends with Greenspan and the professor who invited me to that memorable dinner. Funny thing, but Doc Smith and Dr. Sparhawk were always butting heads, and I felt like I was in the middle of their disputes, yet they were both very passionate about the progam.

While our graduate classes were interesting, the SPIN courses were just as good, because of the types of people who spoke at the classes, including Jerry West, Dick Enberg, Gil Stratton, Irv Kaze and many more that I’m not remembering right now. Even the faculty had certain panache, like Ted Brock from NFL Properties; Bob Steiner from California Sports (Jerry Buss’ company that owns the Lakers); Larry Knuth, who was a track coach at USC; and Dan Avey, the former Kings broadcaster and radio personality who recently died. I still remember listening to Avey on Kings broadcasts when I was young.

Avey helped Doc Smith launch SPIN-TV, which was a hands-on television venture run entirely by students. I coordinated the operation. Back then, cable television sports were still in their infancy, and a local TV channel called Prime Ticket was just getting started. The local teams had home games telecast over a pay service called “On-TV.” High school sports were never televised – until we started SPIN-TV. We purchased some video cameras and sound and editing equipment, and arranged with a small cable provider in Pasadena to allow us to videotape local football games and then show them several days later over the local access channel. SPIN students did everything. They were the announcers, sideline reporters, sound technicians, video editors, camera operators, graphics people, statisticians and anything else that needed to be done.

One time the SPIN class met off campus over at the Forum. Bob Steiner had Jerry Buss speak to the group of students (which, ironically, included Buss’ latest girlfriend at the time). We then had dinner in the Forum Club with Buss and his entourage before going to our seats about four rows from the floor for the Lakers’ season opener. After the game, Steiner walked me into the Lakers locker room and introduced me to Michael Cooper and others. I remember watching how Kareem avoided the media by darting into the shower. So Sven Nater was the guy getting the attention. It was a blowout, so he probably had a good game that night. For me, it was just another “pinch myself” moment.

SPIN students had the opportunity to do internships with virtually every sports-related organization in Southern California. That allowed me to meet people from those organizations, including the brand-new Los Angeles Express from the USFL. We placed several students in internships with the Express, and I was invited to work game days at the Coliseum. I ended up on the sidelines for the team’s first USFL game against Hershel Walker and Donald Trump’s New Jersey Generals.

Besides assisting the faculty, we also advised undergraduates about the classes they needed. I was somewhat in awe when Steve Riley, a big offensive lineman from the Minnesota Vikings, returned to campus to be advised about the few classes he still needed to take to graduate. Oh, and there were a couple other students that I advised who would later go on to bigger notoriety: football player Sean Salisbury and basketball player Cheryl Miller.

Elsewhere on campus, I’d frequently run into Mark McGwire, who I knew from Claremont and whose dad was my dentist. And it wasn’t uncommon to see actress Ally Sheedy at the bookstore.

By the end of our first year, Nick had taken a full-time job in the sports information office, while I continued working toward my master’s degree. Olympic fever hit the campus hard. People like Greenspan were common visitors. Construction on the Olympic pool on campus was completed, and I worked some pre-Olympic swimming, diving and synchronized swimming events. Former USC swimmer and Olympic gold medalist John Naber spoke to one of my classes. Yes, Olympic fever was in full swing, and I had a bad case.

Doc Smith was a huge fan of the Olympics. He had been to several Games, including the Moscow Olympics in 1980 that the U.S. boycotted. He made it possible for me to work for Track and Field News during the U.S. Olympic Trials and the 1984 Olympics, and to have a pass into the USC Olympic Village. Back in 1983, Beth and I purchased tickets for many other sports, which allowed me to attend something almost every day of the 1984 Olympics. That still remains the most incredible 16 days I can remember.

The Olympics came just a couple of months after I graduated, and when they ended I turned the page on another chapter of my life. But those two years at USC were probably the most significant in shaping my direction in life.

Although Kenneth Owler Smith died in 1988, several years after I graduated, his legacy remains strong at USC. In fact, the university continues to present an annual speaker symposium in his name. I’m proud that “Doc” was able to make it to my wedding in 1985, because he’s the person who made so many things possible for me while I was there. He seemed to take a liking to me, and the feeling was mutual. He opened doors I never thought possible.