Loaves, fishes, the Great Eclipse and another beginning

Another school year is here, though the start of classes at Wingate University is still six days away. Our preparation for the work ahead begins each year with two or three days of meetings and workshops, usually on some pedagogical topic.

But what I really like most about this annual event — other than the opportunity to greet and catch up with my colleagues — is the way it starts.

We no longer have a denominational affiliation, but Wingate’s Baptist heritage and the idea of faith as a component of a student’s education is still important. So it all begins with a devotional, drawing on Biblical sources to provide inspiration for the upcoming task. 

For years one of our faculty legends, religion professor Byrns Coleman handled that duty remarkably. But since his retirement a couple of years ago, the mantle has fallen to one of his able colleagues, Edwin Bagley. And I hate to use a sports metaphor in this context, but this year he knocked it out of the park.

As a bit of background, by the end of this week, we will welcome our largest class of freshmen by far, just over 1,200 students. I’ve been around long enough — starting my 24th year — to remember when our total undergraduate enrollment didn’t reach that number.

So the story from the book of Mark which describes Jesus feeding the multitude with five loaves of bread and two fish is an especially apt metaphor. (Our food services folks may want to look into this.)

There’s the obvious analogy of our welcoming — and welcoming back — students that we hope have a hunger for knowledge. And if it doesn’t come naturally, maybe we can help instill it.

But Edwin’s perspective on this familiar story dug a little deeper.

“It’s fun to teach (the story) because of what it doesn’t say,” he said. “Many assume that magic baskets multiplied food from the bottom up. It’s not there — the details are left to creative listeners. One of my favorite takes on this is the realistic view that many people had food but they were not inclined to share until a few people set a good example. The miracle worked on this day was the miracle of creating generosity in hard hearts.”

Educators can face similar challenges, many of which have been a long time in the making.

“In our world we have many problems, very few of which were created by the current generation (of students),” Bagley said. “Every kind of bigotry and violence in this world has its roots in our ancestors’ lives. We inherited many of our shortcomings.”

Quoting a line from Felix Mendelssohn’s “Elijah,” he said, “What’s relevant to us in a place like this is that whatever goes unchecked here will be ‘visited on the children to the third and fourth generation.’”

It goes without saying that higher education is taking place in an increasingly turbulent time — the most recent evidence coming from this past weekend’s events in Charlottesville, Va. (As a matter of fact, I find myself clipping articles and taking notes for use in class every time I consume the news.)

And Edwin noted that we owe it to the students to attempt to have reasonable conversations about often emotionally-charged issues. He said that in an ethics class last year a student asked him, “Don’t you think that discrimination against white people makes it harder for us than for anyone else?”

Bagley said he told the student, “No, I don’t agree with that, but tell me what you mean and let’s talk about it.

“The discussion wasn’t great, but that young man needed someone to take his fears and his inherited views seriously enough to help him work through to a better place. A society like ours where the worst actors get the most coverage would do well to look instead to the masterful teachings of Jesus.”

As I noted above, in addition to such words of encouragement, I enjoy the opportunity this time of the year to interact with colleagues, especially ones I won’t see that often in the months ahead, even on our small campus. There’s a lot to be said for working with smart people who know and do interesting things. 

I shared a table at lunch with Dr. Sylvia Little-Sweat, an English professor who taught her first class at Wingate 55 years ago, when the school was still a junior college — and I was 10 years old. Earlier this year she was named the university’s first Writer-in-Residence and is teaching fewer classes in 2017-18 so that she can work on some creative writing projects.

Sylvia, another of those campus legends, has been around Wingate for most of her life. A Union County native, she told me about coming to campus at the age of 12 to take piano lessons from the school’s music professors.

She’s working on a volume of poetry whose framework will be our school’s motto: “Faith, Knowledge, Service”  or “Fides, Scientia, Pietas” if you really want to be academic about it.

We talked about the notion of faith as part of the school’s mission and Sylvia’s observation was that faith included the idea that it’s important for us to have faith in our students, a good number of whom are the first in their family to attend college, and hope that they’ll respond to that.

But the first poem in her book will be about Monday’s upcoming solar eclipse, she says. I can’t wait.

We’re going to observe the celestial rarity in style here. It’s the first day of classes and professors who are teaching in the prime viewing time between 2 and 3 p.m. are being encouraged to adjust their schedules to let the students get outside to watch. 

And since we don’t want to ruin young — or older — eyes, each faculty and staff member and student has the opportunity to get a free pair of eclipse glasses. Physics professor Grant Thompson, who teaches our astronomy classes, got a grant to purchase them near the end of last school year.

It’ll be a memorable way to start the school year. If you’re a teacher at any level reading this, I hope this year eclipses any other one you’ve ever had.

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An innocent in a lacrosse press box

I’m sure I’ve written a few hundred thousand words about sports in almost 45 years of journalism and blogging. But I’m also sure these are the first I’ve written about lacrosse.

It’s always fun to watch my students in out-of-classroom contexts and I decided this week that I was long overdue to watch Wingate’s women’s lacrosse team play. So I turned out for the Bulldogs’ South Atlantic Conference semifinal game against Coker on Friday night at the Queens University Athletic Complex in Charlotte.

I saw the second-seeded Bulldogs take a rousing 15-14 comeback victory over the No. 3-seed Cobras, and I’ll write more about it momentarily.

The experience made me think about one of my favorite writers, the Southern novelist William Faulkner. OK, I’ll walk you through it.

One of my favorite bits of writing by Faulkner is a piece he penned for Sports Illustrated in January 1955 called “An Innocent at Rinkside.” The magazine sent the Mississippian, who had never seen an ice hockey game before, to a New York Rangers-Montreal Canadiens game at Madison Square Garden to get his impressions of the sport.

What he produced was one of the best examples of the “fish out of water” trope that I’ve ever read. So that’s my model for this effort. In his essay, Faulkner made the connection — just as he always did in his fiction — between man and his relationship to the natural world around him and, interestingly, speculated that many sports events in the future that had been exclusively staged outdoors would be played in domed stadiums (this was 10 years before the Astrodome opened in Houston.) I won’t be that profound or prescient.

But like Faulkner at the hockey game, I was fascinated by the energy and motion of events that I didn’t entirely understand taking place in front of me Friday night. It was literally the second time I’d seen lacrosse being played, having attended maybe one half of one of our men’s games a few years back.

It’s a fast and physical game, I found out. And the ball went into that little goal (6 feet high by 6 feet wide) more often than I expected. In this photo, I tried to get both the lacrosse goal and the soccer goal — which looks like the Grand Canyon by comparison — into the shot to provide some perspective.


And the game itself was a great introduction to the sport for a newcomer. The pertinent facts if you’re actually reading this for some lacrosse coverage:

2017 was the fourth season for the Wingate women’s lacrosse program, which has been coached from its beginning by Caline McHenry Olmstead, an All-American in her own playing career at Duke about a decade ago. (And she’s also a former student of mine, having acquitted herself well in a graduate course in PR, Media and Technology in Sport which I taught in our Master’s program in Sport Management. I don’t think I just committed a FERPA violation.)

The team finished 13-5 this season, the best record in program history.

And that last victory, in front of a loud crowd of 207, was hard-earned. Coker led for the great majority of the game, grabbing an early four-goal lead which held up for a 10-6 halftime advantage. Haley McCusker scored five of her game-high six goals in the first half for the Cobras.

But they could never shake the Bulldogs, who scored the last four goals of the game — the winner by freshman midfielder Casey Roux with 7:41 to play — and played solid defense at the finish to close out the victory.

Paulena Dempsey, a senior midfielder, led Wingate with four goals and Roux and freshman attack Joanna King added three each.

There are all sorts of other statistics in lacrosse, like ground balls, draw controls — I assume it’s like winning a hockey face-off —and free-position shots. I’ve got some catching up to do in this department, but it will have to wait till next season.

The Bulldogs couldn’t carry over that post-season magic for one more game, losing to top-seeded and No. 8 nationally-ranked Queens 16-0 in Saturday’s championship — the only time they were shut out in their best season ever.

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A PR artifact

The school year is hitting the home stretch and spare time is getting harder and harder to find. But sometimes it’s just fun to go down the proverbial rabbit hole for a little while.

I did that this afternoon, actually while in search of something related to a course in public relations and social media that I’ll be teaching this fall. On one of my bookshelves I unearthed this notebook that I hadn’t opened in a while.


Longtime PR practitioners may recognize this publication. It’s a wonderful newsletter called pr reporter, to use creator, editor and publisher Patrick Jackson‘s idiosyncratic non-capitalization, and its last issue was published 16 years ago.

I intended to look at it for a few minutes and then move on to more urgent matters. Then I discovered the website I’ve linked to above and that was it for a while. I’ve got two years of it in three-ring binders that I’ve had since my early years at Wingate, but out there in cyberspace, the entire 22-year run of the newsletter has been digitized. If you’re in public relations, it’s worth a long visit.

Before I go on, a little background on Patrick Jackson, who died in March 2001,  and one brief anecdote.  I found this blog post which explains better than I can his approach to PR. He was years ahead of his time in his belief that PR should consist of multi-way communication, that people should have a voice in the decisions that have impact on them, and that face-to-face communication, even in an era of rapidly-developing technology was still the best way to develop trust.

And he found interesting ways to get his message across. I was fortunate enough to attend one presentation by the great man, at a convention of the National School PR Association in Phoenix in the summer of 1981. What I specifically remember about that encounter was the point that communicators shouldn’t be afraid of incongruity — a point that Jackson told us he had hoped to make by conducting his workshop in a t-shirt and walking shorts. He admitted that the message was undercut a little by the fact that it was 110 degrees outside and pretty much everyone was dressed that way. But the point has lingered with me all these years, so mission accomplished.

But back to the newsletters. My afternoon diversion was a pretty cool trip back in time, as the subject matter touched on many issues timely to that almost quarter-century, from the PR implications of AIDS testing in the workplace, to the impact of FCC de-regulation and striking a balance between recognition of diversity and political correctness.

It was also interesting to re-visit what it was like in the days before the Internet and social media (ironically, the subject of my original search) became an integral part of PR practice.

In this day and time, of course, the most efficient way to deliver a newsletter is digitally. But pr reporter is a reminder that regardless of how it gets to a reader, a newsletter is still a great tool to get information to a niche audience with a high level of interest in the topic.

And now back to work…….

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And the streak goes on…

WINGATE — There are no ugly wins in February, Wingate University men’s basketball coach Brian Good says.

“The only ugly ones are in November or December,” he said after his team’s 85-77 South Atlantic Conference victory over Newberry on Wednesday night in Cuddy Arena.

Senior forward Josh Dominguez led four Bulldog players in double figures with 19 points and sophomore  forward Mike Baez added 16 points and 13 rebounds for Wingate.

Ugly or otherwise, winning is all the Bulldogs (14-7, 11-4 SAC) have done since a 78-56 victory at Brevard back on Dec. 17 started the team’s current 11-game unbeaten streak.  It’s the longest one since the team hit that mark during the 2000-2001 season.

And it has propelled Wingate to third place in the league standing after a 1-4 start in SAC play.

“They’ve all been a little bit different,” Good says of the wins in the streak. “Some nights our defense has gotten us through, others we’ve had guys come off the bench to make a difference. It just says a lot about our guys. We could have blamed each other and felt sorry for ourselves, but we showed that we have a lot of fight left in us.”

Wednesday night’s game wasn’t easy. Both team struggled to crack the 30 percent field-goal shooting barrier in the first 10 minutes and Wingate held on to a precarious 35-34 lead at halftime on a driving layup by Zeriq Lolar five seconds before the buzzer.

Newberry kept it close for most of the second half, and Wingate didn’t take the lead for good until Dominguez’ layup with 3:31 to play gave the Bulldogs a 73-71 lead.

Stout defense, including a couple of big blocked shots by senior forward Isiah Cureton, sealed the deal for Wingate.

“We got some big stops in the last three minutes,” Good said.

The win gave the Bulldogs a split in the season series with Newberry, which won 101-98 at Newberry on Nov. 30 – before the streak got started. That was a score that’s more typical of how things go for anybody who plays the Wolves, who as the Eighties buzzword goes, thrive on chaos.

Newberry’s frenetic up-and-down-the-court style is actually a little more subdued than it used to be. Coach Dave Davis didn’t employ the five-for-five substitutions every two or three minutes as he has in the past in his tenure at both Newberry and Pfeiffer – the basketball equivalent of the hockey coach “rolling lines.”

But it’s still hard to resist getting sucked into a track meet against his teams. Good said his team did a good job of avoiding that.

“There’s really no way you can prepare for it in practice,” he said. “We just managed to find a feel for the game.”

The Bulldogs’ winning streak, and the arc of their season, faces its biggest challenge in the next two games.  On Saturday, Wingate is on the road to face No. 21-nationally ranked Lincoln Memorial, the defending conference champion. And next Wednesday the Bulldogs are back in Cuddy Arena to play Queens, the current league leader and No. 4-ranked team in Division II.

The Bulldogs handed the Royals their only loss of the season by a 71-64 score on Jan. 18 in Charlotte.

“I think we’ll have their attention,” Good said.

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A story to tell

Every other Spring Semester, I teach a class in Digital Journalism. The course objective is to introduce students to ways of sharing a story with an audience that don’t necessarily involve paper and ink. It’s not the wave of the future, it’s what’s happening now.

We’ll look at a variety of platforms for storytelling — social media, blogs (each member of the class will keep his/her own), apps for creating maps and timelines, and collaborative methods such as wikis and crowdsourcing. (Stuff that I couldn’t even conceive of when I started a newspaper career back in the mid-1970s.)

Anyway, to kick off the semester we’ve been talking about how to tell a story and as an in-class exercise, I got the students to do short videos of a fellow classmate telling a story about themselves or their family that they thought was memorable.

I told them that I’d like for them to get used to having an audience for their work and we reached a more-or-less consensus that I could share them on my blog until they get their own blogs for the class up and running. (We had a room full of conversations going on, so the audio on some of these may be a challenge, but worth the effort.)


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Mallo Cups: A love story

Note: I want to give credit where it’s due on this post. My wonderful wife posted this on her Facebook page yesterday. It’s quite literally a sweet little story and I wanted to add a little love to the Internet today. 

See this sweet old couple? And that sweet old candy? Believe it or not, there’s a connection.

Keith and I had been dating about three months back in June 1984. We were perfect for each other from Day One – peas and carrots, as they say. One Sunday afternoon we went for a drive in the country, out in Union County, S.C., just riding, laughing and talking.

We stopped to buy gas and a drink at a little country store. While there, we noticed the yellow wrapper with red letters – Mallo Cups! We had both eaten Mallo Cups as kids but the company had been sold in the late 1960s and it had been hard to find the chocolate-coconut-marshmallow candy. We were excited and bought two two-cup packages.

Back in the car, Keith ate his Mallo Cups with joy. I ate one of mine and saved the second one for later. Then I fell asleep.

When we got back to my house, I started to gather my things. I couldn’t find my Mallo Cup. “I’m sorry,” Keith said. “I ate it.”

Don’t you hate it when you save something really good to eat for later and somebody steals it out of the refrigerator? Such disappointment! But what could I do? The nearest Mallo Cup was almost an hour away. mallocup

Five nights later, on Friday night I cooked dinner for us and Keith said he’d bring dessert. He arrived with a paper bag in his hand. “I brought dessert,” he said. We both laughed because the last time he promised to bring dessert he arrived with apple fritters and orange sherbet, a quick find at the grocery store a few blocks from my house. I couldn’t imagine what could be in the bag this time.

Instead of putting the bag down, he said, “Let’s eat dessert now.”

He was pretty insistent so I opened the bag. Inside was a package of six individually wrapped Mallo Cups. He said he’d felt bad about eating my second cup on Sunday so he wanted to make amends.

I moved to open the package and he pointed to one of the cups. “Eat this one,” he said.

So I poked a knife into the package and pulled out the Mallo Cup he’d pointed to.

And inside the package, wrapped in tissue on top of the chocolate-coconut-marshmallow candy, was a diamond ring.

He’d driven all over creation to find that candy and he used an Exacto knife and clear tape to open the package and hide the ring and close it back.

That’s my Mallo Cup love story. Today we went for a Saturday drive – we sang, talked and laughed. And we split a Mallo Cup.

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Remembering a sad Sunday

There are some days you can’t forget even if you’d like to. Twenty-three years ago today was one of them.

I was on the way back home to Pittsburgh from four days in Long Island, N.Y. after covering a couple of games in the New York Islanders-Pittsburgh Penguins National Hockey League playoff series. (Writers always said four days in Uniondale, the outpost where the already decrepit home of the Islanders, Nassau Coliseum, was located was like a couple of weeks anywhere else. But I digress.)

It was early on a Sunday afternoon, and it was Mothers’ Day so I decided to call my Mom in South Carolina while waiting to board my flight at LaGuardia Airport. Back then, of course, you had to find a pay phone. We had a nice chat to catch up on things, and I asked if Dad were around. She said he was out in the garden. That was a bit of a walk back to the house, so I just told her to tell him hello for me and I’d talk to him later.

I arrived back in Pittsburgh in the late afternoon/early evening. When you cover a professional sports team in season, you don’t get many days off, so I had to spend a few hours working on some stuff that would run in my paper over the next couple of days.

I called Jayne to let her know I was back in town and that I’d be home later, then got down to the work at hand.

When I got home, she gave me the news that she had gotten within the last hour — and didn’t want to tell me on the phone. My Dad had died.

Always good with money, he was the treasurer of the church that I grew up in. And he was giving the monthly treasurer’s report at a church business meeting following the evening service when he said he wasn’t feeling well and needed to sit down.

He collapsed, struck down by what we later learned was an aneurysm. He died on the way to the hospital.

It’s hard to write these words and I would much rather remember the way he lived — an intelligent man of strong faith, yet possessed of a sly and sometimes even ribald sense of humor. He had a Southerner’s  love of the land — as noted before, to plant seeds and grow things in it, and he could have lived off the fish and the wildlife which inhabited it  had he needed to. As it was, we enjoyed plenty of vegetables, venison, etc., year-round. 

I loved him and miss him to this day. And it’s a reminder of what I was saying to a cousin of mine on Facebook just the other day. The hardest part of growing old is not our own aches, pains and troubles, but the loss of those who matter to us.

But I also believe that people are never really gone as long as they survive in someone’s memory. And that’s a comfort as I sit here in front of a laptop on another  evening here in the 21st century.

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