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Please feel free to rip these apart...

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by mltru2tx, Jan 3, 2007.

  1. mltru2tx

    mltru2tx Member

    These are, in my opinion, the best columns I've written over the past year. Whether that's not such a bad thing, or a horrible commentary on my talent, is up to you guys. Thanks.

    If Mom aint happy, nobody’s happy
    Top-secret trip to Ada on Signing Day leads to wild story.

    Just the other day while watching a rerun of “That 70s Show,” something hit me.

    Never make a brash decision without alerting your mother.

    You see, the show’s central character, Eric Foreman, a high school senior, went to California to save the love of his life, Donna, without telling his parents.

    Eric returns with the gang thinking his parents don’t know.

    Unfortunately for Eric, Hyde fessed up to Red and Kitty, and Eric was in some serious trouble.

    This brings me to last Wednesday, known in the prep world as National Signing Day.

    Sherman defensive lineman Marcus Harris was unaccounted for all day. His coach couldn’t find him, and more importantly his momma couldn’t find him.

    Apparently, Harris was part of a top-secret operation with Sherman teammate Donny Benedict.

    For the sake of anonymity, we’ll call it “Operation Tiger Claw.”

    The following is a detailed timeline of the events that unfolded Wednesday and a look into one particularly crazy signing story.

    5:27 p.m. — A call rings into the Herald Democrat from Sherman head coach Drew Young. After originally hearing no one from Sherman was slated to sign, Young calls to say Harris has signed with East Central.

    Young is perplexed.

    “Normally, the college gets the papers to the coach because a lot of the times if they send it to the kids, the kids will lose them,” Young said.

    Young’s phone calls to the East Central staff inquiring about his player’s apparent signing weren’t returned.

    “I’m in the blue yonder on this deal,” Young said. “I’ve never had this happen before. I’ve always had the papers on my desk.”

    I asked Young how to get a hold of Harris, he gives me a number, and using my cunning reporter’s intuition, I immediately call it.

    5:31 p.m. — Terrie Allen, Harris’ unaware mother, answers her phone to hear from a stranger that her 18-year-old son has decided on his college future.

    I picture someone waiting for Ashton Kutcher to pop out from behind a bush and tell her she’s “Punk’d.”

    I tell her if she sees Harris, to have him give me a shout.

    6:30 p.m. — Allen calls me back. I was disappointed when she told me Harris wasn’t home yet, but she seemed shocked to have just heard her son had signed with the Tigers on the 6 p.m. KTEN sportscast.

    Allen said she hadn’t received papers either, but had gotten a call from East Central assistant coach Bobby Hoover saying the scholarship papers were en route via FedEx.

    “I can’t say he won’t sign, but it hasn’t happened yet,” she said over the phone. “I can for sure say that. I definitely haven’t signed anything, and won’t until (head coach Kurt) Nichols or someone explains what the hell is going on.

    “Marcus is not doing anything until we understand everything that’s going on.”

    6:31 p.m. — While on the phone with Allen, her doorbell rings. It’s the FedEx man. He has papers.

    “We got papers just now from head coach Kurt Nichols,” she said. “It says, ‘Congratulations on your decision to become a Tiger.’”

    Allen had misunderstood the rule saying a student under 18 must have a signature from a parent or legal guardian before the athlete is considered signed, sealed and delivered.

    Harris didn’t need his mother’s permission at all.

    “If Marcus has signed, he hasn’t said anything to me,” Allen said.

    Then Allen said her older son, Darnell Harris, is an assistant coach at East Central. Uh oh, the hush-hush operation might be close to being outed.

    9:10 p.m. — Nichols is tracked down at an East Central basketball game.

    “His brother said he just got through talking to him and that he and Donny signed,” Nichols said. “His mother didn’t know because she couldn’t find him. I have verbal confirmation from his brother.”

    9:27 p.m. — Finally. Time to hear it from the horse’s mouth. I get Marcus on the horn, and it’s true. He’s officially a Tiger.

    “I got the papers in (Wednesday) morning,” he said. “I signed. Donny Benedict signed too. We were together, and we both got our letters in today.”

    9:29 p.m. — After asking a few football questions of Harris, there’s a noticeable amount of people talking in the background of the Allen/Harris household, including a happy Allen.

    I made a comment about the impressive stealth with which his signing took place, then the important part.

    “Marcus, this whole ordeal was pretty confusing. Sorry if I got you in trouble with your mom,” I said referring to my telling Allen her baby had signed without her knowing.

    A chuckle came out followed by a slightly sheepish reply.

    “Nah, man, it’s cool.”

    For some reason, I have to believe those first few moments Allen realized it was official weren’t so “cool.”

    Maybe Marcus should start watching “That 70s Show.”
  2. mltru2tx

    mltru2tx Member

    Attempt No. 2:

    The hidden gem of high school sports

    AUSTIN — One kid, three races, one and a half hours.

    Could you do it? Keep dreaming.

    Tom Bean’s Jerrod Hodge couldn’t do it either, but he sure came close, and for some reason I don’t think it bothered him much.

    It could’ve been the two medals he won, including a gold in the 400 meters.

    Hodge epitomized what it means to be a high school kid running in Austin come May.

    Hodge started his day at 7:25 p.m. Friday in the 100. He came in third to earn his first medal in as many races, but he had two more coming.

    Next up, 40 minutes later, Hodge ran in his bread and butter race — the 400. Hodge said his goal coming to Austin was to take home the gold in the 400 and he did just that.

    That’s when things got hairy.

    The popular saying down here is, “I want to head north, not south.”

    You see, the medalists go north to the medal stand after their race, the rest of the pack heads south after coming up short of their dream.

    Assembled in the gaggle of family and fans around the medal tent was a Hodge cheering section. They were hard to miss with their bright orange T-shirts with the words “Triple Threat” cleverly worked off Tom Bean’s “double T” logo.

    My attempt to talk to one of Hodge’s supporters quickly became a cold slap in the face.

    “He’s puking right now,” said a Hodge fan.

    Surely he’s just saying that figuratively, I doubt he’s throwing up on the medal stand, I thought.

    Sure enough, he was. Luckily for the Mike A. Myers janitorial staff, he found a trash can and was hovered over it for about the next 10 minutes.

    Hodge later decided to pull out of the 200, which was scheduled just 50 minutes after the 400, which is widely known in track as the most physically demanding event.

    “It was more than worth the pain,” Hodge said after earning his second medal and pulling out of what would’ve been his final high school race.

    Even though he didn’t run in his final race, Hodge didn’t have any regrets. He said he knew he wasn’t going to finish in the top 3 in the 200, so there was no point in making himself sicker.

    His story of sheer gut and determination is what the state track and field meet is all about.

    The only thing that would’ve topped it would’ve been if he had pulled a Willis Reed, thrown up behind the starting blocks and won the 200, but this was real life, not a movie.

    Then, there’s Sherman’s Alicia Peterson.

    Peterson, just a freshman, is refreshing to watch. Her youthful exuberance leads to almost a naivety to the magnitude of the stage in Austin.

    Peterson’s theme for this meet was, “Hey, I’m just a freshman.” A 14-year-old one at that, who performed well beyond her years, winning two bronze medals in the high jump and the 400.

    By all accounts, including that of her coach, Donald Butler, Peterson’s tremendous work ethic and desire to win will have her making the trip down I-35 for years to come.

    Butler would know. Peterson reminds him of his brother, James, who was ranked No. 1 in the world in the 200 in 1980.

    While Hodge and Peterson were both ecstatic after their days, the emotions on high school track’s biggest stage run both ways.

    Take Keith Craddock, for instance.

    The Sherman senior, who along with Justin Taylor, were running their final races in Bearcat uniforms on the 4x200 relay team.

    The four sprinters knew mistakes in Austin are where dreams die, and the rule made no exception for Sherman.

    Two botched handoffs killed any chance for the Bearcats, who finished last but were bumped to seventh after a disqualification.

    Just after the race, Craddock’s demeanor showed a mixture of utter disappointment and awe of the atmosphere, which once the sun sets is one of the greatest in high school sports.

    “No, we didn’t run anywhere near our best,” said Craddock, shoulders shrugged. “I know coach (Greg Baldwin) is gonna be mad, but it’s over now.”

    Mad probably wasn’t the right choice of words. After all, the team was one of eight teams in the largest of the lower 48 states to make it as far as it did.

    There are so many great sights and sounds every year at the event. There’s something about sitting on the cool infield grass, barefoot, watching teenagers with intense, focused looks on their faces.

    Four years ago, I came to the conclusion that the state track meet was one of my all-time favorite sporting events ever attended, as a fan. Now, I can add it to the list of all-time favorite events to cover.

    In 2002, a family friend ran in the girls 4x400 relay and I had the pleasure of watching a UIL rarity when Jeremy Wariner doubled up, winning the 200 and 400.

    For those who don’t know, Jeremy Wariner’s now the reigning Olympic 400 champion and ran the third leg on the U.S. mile relay Olympic championship team.

    Maybe they’ll be saying the same thing about Hodge or Peterson five or six years from now.

    If you love sports, make a trip to Austin next May. It might not be the most high-profile sport, but it’s sport in its truest form.
  3. mltru2tx

    mltru2tx Member

    Third and final column (I promise)
    Please try to overlook any ethical problems here like me taking a picture with him (if that is even a problem, not really sure).

    Aldridge aiming high

    We all know the inconvenience of airport layovers.

    Last Monday, my 21/2-hour layover in Denver turned into a five-hour one. Yuck.

    An unexpected pleasant surprise came to spell my boredom in the form of a 6-11, 240-pound man — LaMarcus Aldridge.

    I observed a very tall man in a Portland Trail Blazers T-shirt and workout shorts sitting alone at the gate next to mine — the one for the Denver to Dallas flight, which was originally scheduled to leave at 7:05 p.m. MDT and arrive at 10:35 p.m. CDT. That changed to 10:58 p.m. MDT, arriving at 1:45 a.m. CDT. Again, yuck.

    As a cunning sports reporter, I decided to take action. I walked over to the tall man and then my prediction came true. It was Aldridge, the 20-year-old big man who was a thorn in my Texas Tech side for two years.

    After deciding to not worry about trying not to be annoying, I spoke the first words.

    “Hey, you’re LaMarcus Aldridge, right?”

    “Yeah man, how you doin’?” the Seagoville native answered.

    From that point on, it was like we were long-lost friends.

    We spent the next two hours chatting about his draft prospects, UT coach Rick Barnes, Texas Tech coach Bob Knight, who earned Aldridge’s affection after referring to him as “the best big man” he’d ever coached against, and that was as a wide-eyed freshman shortly before his first year at UT was cut short due to a hip injury.

    It was then that I realized it might not be all fun being a potential No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.

    While he ended up going No. 2 to Portland, by way of Chicago, Wednesday night, Aldridge has plenty of things (hassles) being thrown at him now.

    I listened to him make phone calls to friends, Barnes and countless other people (probably a couple to his agent, Arn Tellem).

    The phone calls, coming in from numerous angles (three different cell phones) gave the laundry list of things on his platter for the week and a half leading up to Wednesday, including waiting for endorsement checks to come through so he could buy a BMW 750i, which starts at $71,000, waiting to see which suit he’d wear to meet David Stern and a long list of activities the NBA had set up for him in the week before the draft.

    But don’t get the wrong idea about Aldridge. The kid seemed to have a very good head on his shoulders, saying how he didn’t like to go out at night because it could lead to trouble. He prefers to spend his time in the gym, constantly working to improve his jump shot.

    He also has a sense of humor. Case in point: We had both tried to go standby on the one flight before our scheduled one at 10:58 p.m.

    Neither of us were successful, and it ended up being a blessing.

    He moseyed over to the gate lady, talked to her for a few minutes and came back to his seat.

    “Man, I’m glad we didn’t get on that flight,” he said.


    It turns out the flight we were trying to get on was forced to turn around and land shortly after takeoff due to cabin pressure problems.

    Think oxygen masks and flotation devices.

    I wasn’t too happy to hear this news, especially when we were waiting to get on the next flight on the same airline. Needless to say, it wasn’t a good night for the friendly folks at United.

    “I had to tell you man,” Aldridge said. “I couldn’t be the only one that was scared. I had to tell someone else.”

    “Thanks a lot,” I said with a half smile.

    While that flight only got to 8,000 feet before turning around, Aldridge had some lofty expectations for himself.

  4. mltru2tx

    mltru2tx Member

    He chose to work out for just three teams: Toronto, which picked first; Chicago and Portland, which originally was his fall-back crutch at No. 4. That’s confidence.

    The big guy wasn’t impressed with Toronto and new GM Jerry Colangelo. Plus he’d have had to fight for playing time with fellow Dallasite, and friend, Chris Bosh.

    He hoped to luck in to Chicago, which acquired the No. 2 pick in a trade with the Knicks even though the Bulls were in the playoffs this year and have one of the best young teams in the league.

    It almost worked out, until the trade.

    I’m sure Aldridge is a happy camper today, either way. The day we met, he was on his way back to the Big D from his final workout in Portland, I, from vacation in Seattle.

    That gym rat mentality apparently paid off. Barring a fisherman’s tale, Aldridge said he hit 13-of-15 in a 3-point shooting drill.

    He raved about Portland head coach Nate McMillan, who’s known as a players’ coach. He was pleased with the position ideas. He wants to be a power forward in the NBA, not a center, which frankly, he can’t be due to his lack of bulk.

    That was Toronto’s downfall in Aldridge’s eyes. The Raptors told him he’d be a center and Bosh would be the power forward. His job would be to “get rebounds and block shots.”

    “I’m the not a guy that’s gonna just get boards and blocks in the NBA,” he told me.

    He said he enjoyed Portland and “got a good vibe from the city.” Plus, the weather will definitely beat Texas’.

    While waiting in line to finally board our flight, four hours late, I decided to not worry about not being annoying again.

    “Hey, would you mind snapping a picture with me real quick?” I said under my breath, trying not to draw more attention to him. “I don’t want to set off a picture firestorm.”

    “Nah, that’s cool. Get this guy to take it. He already introduced himself to me.”

    We snapped a picture on my newly purchased digital camera. At the last second, I flashed the “Horns down” sign. As the camera flashed he tried to push my hand down. It looks like he’s rubbing my belly. Weird.

    “Why you gotta disrespect me?” he asked, chuckling. “I take my picture with you, and you’ve gotta disrespect my school.”

    I made it up to him. That’s right, I swallowed my pride and took another one with my “Hook ‘em Horns” sign. Then, I ran for a quick shower and vomit before boarding the plane.
  5. DyePack

    DyePack New Member

    As Weird Al would say, this is the point when we stare at the sun until we damage our eyes.
  6. mltru2tx

    mltru2tx Member

    Uhhh. Great. Thanks?
  7. Angola!

    Angola! Guest

    I will say this: I am a big That 70s Show fan, but I am not sure that many of your readers will get all of the jokes. I try to stay away from using too many pop culture references in columns.
  8. DyePack

    DyePack New Member

    Before I say anything more, I'm curious. What is the response to these in your office?
  9. spnited

    spnited Active Member

    Every now and then I heed the words of my father...
    if you don't have anything good to say about someone, don't say anything.
  10. Flash

    Flash Guest

    Especially if you need to take this much time ...

    Just the other day while watching a rerun of “That 70s Show,” something hit me.

    Never make a brash decision without alerting your mother.

    You see, the show’s central character, Eric Foreman, a high school senior, went to California to save the love of his life, Donna, without telling his parents.

    Eric returns with the gang thinking his parents don’t know.

    Unfortunately for Eric, Hyde fessed up to Red and Kitty, and Eric was in some serious trouble.

    ... to explain it.
  11. Jones

    Jones Active Member

    mlt, thanks for posting.

    Like others, I have stated repeatedly how much I dislike popular culture references in sports stories. It's a bit of a modern plague, propogated by SI and ESPN -- all it does is date your stuff, put off a chunk of readers who have no idea what you're talking about, and in the case of your first column, distract from what might have been a fun little story about a kid going his own way.

    I think there, you were right to peg on the mother not knowing... That's a good moment. But I think then, instead of the That 70s Show stuff, you could have spent more time talking about the kid asserting his independence; it's almost like he's left home before he's left it, you know? I think that would have set you up better -- and to more universal appeal, because everybody's left home. Everybody remembers when they became their own person. Not everybody knows who Red and Kitty are.

    The second one is fine. I might have opened with the barfing. That's a good moment.

    The third one, I think, is a real missed opportunity. Just because you have a column, and therefore can insert yourself into the story, doesn't mean you have to. Had you just been happy with your luck and taken the opportunity to have a long, exclusive interview with Aldridge, given this nice slice of life portrait, and taken some of the interesting things he said about the teams he'd worked out for... you would have been much better off.

    The photo scene is particularly bad. I dunno. I don't want to sound too harsh, but just write the story, you know? Putting in that "cunning sports reporter" stuff, which you did twice, and which you might think is a nice little wink... It's not good. Again, not trying to be harsh. But just write the story. Don't look for a little gimmick or a gag, and don't look for ways to put yourself into each one. You are in each of these stories; I guarantee that each would have been better served without your being in them.

    Again, thanks for posting. I hope you understand where I'm coming from.
  12. mltru2tx

    mltru2tx Member

    I do understand, and that's kind of what I was expecting to get. Column writing definitely isn't my strong suit and I'm trying to get better. Thank you for actually giving me some constructive criticism.
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