Hanging with the Hornets

I’ve always believed that one of the journalism educator’s biggest responsibilities — in addition to teaching students how to report, write and edit — is to give them a sense of the realities of the business.

Not that learning how to write leads from a fact sheet isn’t important. But I believe that the exposure I give them to real-life reporting situations is just as significant to them.

That’s one of the reasons I love to teach Sports Reporting. It’s a class that allows me to take advantage of connections I’ve made in my media work in Charlotte to arrange off-campus experiences to cover professional sports events and gatherings of sports media people in Charlotte. (“Field trips” sounds so sixth grade.)

I took some of them to a Charlotte Hornets NBA game against the Memphis Grizzlies last week at the Spectrum Center for a taste of covering professional basketball. Here’s our group in the media interview room before the game.


The Hornets very generously provided us not only with seats in the secondary media area, but we got access to nearly everything a fully-credential member of the media would. We arrived too late for Charlotte coach Steve Clifford’s 5:15 p.m. pre-game media availability, but were able to have an informative conversation with one of the Charlotte Observer’s Hornets beat reporters, Brendan Marks. Here’s our group listening attentively as Brendan describes a typical game day.

(It’s nice when the working media guys back up all the points that you’ve been trying to get across all semester. I try to emphasize that the experience of a reporter covering the game is far different from the experience of the average fan, including showing up to work a couple of hours before the game starts. To their credit, they’ve especially taken to heart the “no cheering in the press box” dictum.)


I like to have the journalists who talk to my students describe their career paths, something that I think is particularly valuable to students who are planning theirs. I think it’s always helpful for them to see that the route to where they want to go isn’t always a straight line. Brendan, a Raleigh native and a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill a few years ago, started his career at Sports Illustrated in New York after doing an internship there as an undergraduate. He decided that he would rather work closer to home and joined the Observer staff last fall.

Even the pre-game meal in the media dining room provided some educational experiences. Thanks to veteran area journalists Brett McMillan and Steve Goldberg for talking briefly with the group and adding their insights.

We go to the seating chart pictured below in the media workroom and find our seats. I’m sure that most journalists who cover professional sports regularly don’t think twice about this, but I guess I’ve always viewed this as proof I belong to the brotherhood or sisterhood of scribes — or something like that. Anyway, that’s us from Wingate at the bottom of the middle column.


And what about the game? I honestly didn’t expect much from a meeting between two teams destined for this summer’s NBA lottery who were each playing the second game of a back-to-back, sports talk for games on consecutive days.

That expectation was largely met with a 140-79 rout of the godawful Grizzlies by Charlotte. The win improved Charlotte to 32-41 on the season. Memphis (19-53) lost for the 22nd time in their last 23 games. I remember saying something like “worst NBA team I’ve ever seen in person” to the students. In fairness, they were missing most of the players whom the casual NBA fan might have heard of. 

But — and here was another good journalism lesson — there were still some good story angles, despite the fact that the game was essentially over after the first quarter. The win was the biggest margin of victory for the Hornets over anyone ever, and only five games in NBA history have been bigger routs.  Charlotte missed by one point tying the franchise record for most points in a single game.

And then there was Hornets guard Kemba Walker, who scored 46 points, 35 of them in the first half, and hit 10 three-pointers in one of the best individual Charlotte performances of the season. And that was in only 28 minutes of play. He sat out the fourth quarter and the last couple minutes of the third.

Charlotte had benefitted from another outstanding individual effort in the previous night’s game — 32 points and 30 rebounds from forward Dwight Howard in a Hornets’ win at Brooklyn. He had to sit out this game on a one-game suspension for drawing his 16th technical foul of the season, one over the league’s bad behavior limit.

“Two nights in a row, it’s been fun,” Hornets coach Clifford said.  “I mean what Dwight did last night and what Kemba did tonight was just fun to watch. It’s deserving for both guys.”

That quote was from Clifford’s post-game news conference, and that was pretty much it for our evening. The Hornets had let us know that we wouldn’t be able under team policies about student visitors to do the post-game locker room routine — an overrated experience sometimes, in my opinion, though I would have liked for them to talk to the players.

But as one of my media colleagues suggested, it would have been instructive to have them go into the Grizzlies’ locker room. The losing team’s emotions are more real and closer to the surface, I’ve always felt.

Still, it was a good night for the Hornets at the end of another dreary season, and a good night for education, too.

Posted in sports, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s tournament time, 2018 edition: A clean sweep for Wingate

In the under-appreciated and often unfairly ignored world of Division II, March Madness starts a little early.

It came bearing a lively evening’s entertainment to Cuddy Arena at Wingate University on the last day of February, with a men’s and women’’s South Atlantic Conference tournament quarterfinal doubleheader on Wednesday night.

Wingate’s women, ranked No. 21 nationally, defeated Newberry 65-42 and the men took a rousing 76-75 overtime victory over Coker. Both will advance to Saturday’s semifinal games in Greenville, S.C.

Some observations on a good night to be a Bulldog:

*“If you don’t go after it, you’re not going to get it, so give it a try.” — Wingate women’s coach Ann Hancock. *

It’s rebounding that the Bulldogs’ coach, herself a star player and sharpshooter on Wingate College teams of the late Eighties and early Nineties was talking about.

A 53-28 advantage on the boards was a key to No. 2-seeded Wingate (24-4) rolling to its third victory of the season over the No. 7-seeded Wolves. The Bulldogs, led by guard Caroline Averette’s 15 points, including 6-of-9 shooting from the field, led from start to finish.

Wingate won on a night when it didn’t get its best game from its best player. 6-foot-4 center Marta Miscenko, a Latvian-born transfer from Texas-El Paso, was named the SAC Women’s Player of the Year on Thursday. A collapsing Newberry defense limited her to 4 points — about 12 below her average — on 1-for-7 shooting from the field.

But the Bulldogs responded with what seems like the rarest of commodities in modern college basketball — an effective mid-range shooting game, led by Averette. Forward Danasia Witherspoon scored 12 points and guard Courtney Robinson added 10.

“We don’t always want to settle for jump shots, but we responded well and hit some big shots when we needed them,” Hancock said.

And then there were those rebounds. Witherspoon led the way with 13, including 10 on the offensive boards. And her total of 11 at halftime matched Newberry’s team total for the first 20 minutes. Jasmine Stephen added 8 and Miscenko 7 for Wingate. At the end of the third quarter every player who had seen action for Wingate had at least one.

“That’s been a focus for us and everybody’s been involved,” Hancock said.

A couple of notes on Newberry, which is known around the conference for its Antipodean  pipeline — Coach Sean Page and half of his 16-player roster hail from Australia.

The other thing that the Wolves are usually known for is deadly three-point shooting, which wasn’t in evidence on Wednesday. Newberry hit only 3-of-16 from behind the arc.

So the Bulldogs, in search of their third straight tournament championship and fourth in five seasons, move on to play No. 3 seed Anderson at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in the semifinals at Furman University.

“I’m happy for us to have a chance to win another championship,” Hancock said.

“It was just a rag-tag ugly game. There were two teams who wanted to win one more game. And we made one more play than they did.”  — Wingate men’s coach Brian Good.

The season has had a different trajectory for the Bulldogs’ men’s team (15-14) which had neither won nor lost more than three in a row going into Wednesday’s game.

And No. 4-seeded Wingate launched a one-game winning streak with a hard-fought one-point win which featured 15 lead changes and 10 ties.

It was made all the more challenging for the Bulldogs, already on a short bench, when starting guard Zeriq Lolar was lost for the rest of the game with a foot injury after playing just eight minutes.

Quantra Taylor’s only basket of the game, a buzzer-beating layup, gave Wingate a 35-33 halftime lead. But the Cobras (12-17) went on a 12-0 run early in the second half to take an 11-point lead with 14 minutes and 40 seconds left in the game.

It was a good example, as Good described it, of basketball’s unending chain of causation. (My term, not his….)

“We committed some turnovers which led to some more turnovers, which led to some bad defense, which led to some bad offense,” he said.

Yet the Bulldogs were able to turn things around.

A pair of big free throws by 6-foot-7 senior forward Devarious Christian – who led Wingate with 16 points and 10 rebounds – with 21 seconds to play gave the Bulldogs a 69-67 lead. But Coker’s Khalil Halls, who led all scorers with 27 points (5 three-pointers), sent the game to overtime with a tip-in with 12 seconds left. It was the Cobras’ only field goal in the last four minutes of regulation.

The extra period was pretty much the first 40 minutes of the game writ small, with Wingate guard Emarius Logan getting the winning points on a jump shot with 22 seconds left. A turnover for each team, a miss by Coker’s Smalls in the last two seconds and it was all over.

Wingate advances to a 5 p.m. semifinal game Saturday against the No. 1-ranked Division II team in the country, the Lincoln Memorial Railsplitters (27-1 and quite possibly the No. 1-ranked nickname in the country).

It’s an opportunity for the Bulldogs, and it’s not unprecedented for a team on the men’s side of this tournament to come from obscurity and make a little noise. What would it take for Wingate to be that team, I asked Good. (The Bulldogs haven’t won the tournament since taking back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013.)

Using an analogy familiar to regular March Madness watchers, he said he didn’t consider his team like a 16-seed tilting at a  No. 1 with no chance to win.

“It’s more like a 3-14 game, an upset you know has happened before,” he said. “We have to have confidence that we can compete and you just have to ask yourself, ‘Why not us?’”

Posted in college basketball | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

London calling, Part 2: Churchill, Cambridge, papers and kings

Fleet Street, as I noted in the previous post, is the historic home of the newspaper industry in London. The papers left in the 1980s, for reasons we’ll touch on momentarily. But there’s still plenty to see in that area and we start the first of a couple of media-focused days with a walk around this historic area.

Fleet Street is still the home of the legal profession and many of the former newspaper buildings now house law firms or other businesses. My favorite one is this Art Deco classic built in 1932, and formerly the home of the Daily Express. My own photo didn’t turn out so great so click here to see it. 

Our guide for the morning is a knowledegable woman named Joanne Lee, who gives us some insight on newspaper culture in London, where media outlets have historically been upfront about their political affiliations and biases. The aforementioned Express, for example, is sympathetic to the anti-immigration UKIP party. They’re also notorious for publishing conspiracy theories about Princess Diana’s 1997 death in a car crash in Paris, earning the nickname of the “Daily Ex-Princess.”

Joanne gets booed by a passerby as she holds up a copy of the paper to explain all of this to us.

The beginning of the end for Fleet Street came in the late 1970s with advances in printing technology which made many veteran linotype operators “redundant,” as they say over there. Union-busting activities by many of the owners, led by future Fox Network founder Rupert Murdoch, also played a role.

Our two stops on the Fleet Street walk are among my favorites on the tour — first, a visit to St. Bride’s, the “Church of the Press.” Its tiered spire is the model for many a modern-day bride’s wedding cake. There’s a lot of history here from the time of the Romans through the total destruction of the church in a Nazi bombing raid on Dec. 29, 1940. It was rebuilt and reopened 17 years later, with the Queen in attendance. The church still has a strong connection to the media industry and there are touching tributes here to English and other journalists who have been killed or gone missing while doing their jobs.

Hidden in an out-of-the-way alley off Fleet Street is the last home of Dr. Samuel Johnson, author and lexicographer and one of the towering figures of 18th century British literature. He’s also the originator of one of my favorite quotes: “He who is tired of London is tired of life.” So true.

Our afternoon stop is the literally awesome Westminster Abbey, which always leaves an impression on students and this time is no exception. Here’s the group about to go in. 


In addition to being a working Anglican church, It’s the home of important artifacts of British history, from the Coronation Chair in use since 1308, to the tombs of Queen Elizabeth I and other monarchs.

But for the purposes of my course, I like the memorials to English notables from a variety of disciplines, from music (Georg Friedrich Handel, who lived in London for a time), to literature (Geoffrey Chaucer) to science (Sir Isaac Newton). They are meaningful points of reference for students from a variety of majors.

This year, I can finally say that I’ve personally seen one of the people who is memorialized. Maybe I’ve just missed it all these years, but in the scientists’ corner is a floor plaque for British physicist Paul Dirac, one of the fathers of quantum mechanics. (Look it up… )  As a Clemson student in the early Seventies, I attended a lecture he gave on a visit to our campus. He was teaching at Florida State at the time. Didn’t understand a word, but it was cool to be in the presence of greatness.

Unlike the Abbey, our next day’s stops won’t be on the itinerary of many tour groups. It’s a day for us to visit media sites, a newspaper called City AM in the morning, and The Economist in the afternoon.

I’m not sure there’s an equivalent in the U.S. to City AM, which is a free newspaper covering business whose readership of almost 400,000 comes from its distribution near Underground stations. Its editor, Christian May, talks with us about the business model and how they cover London and U.K. news. May came to the paper from the world of political communications.

He talked about the challenges of keeping a free print paper viable in a city with a lot of competition. (In our course we talked about the fact that most U.S. cities have only one daily newspaper while London has almost a dozen, including several free ones.) He didn’t seem overly optimistic about the business prospects of London papers. “We’re all headed for the same car crash, just at different speeds,” he said.

The Economist may be more familiar to readers of this blog, as the magazine, which celebrates its 175th year in print in 2018, has significant circulation in the U.S.

We had the opportunity to talk with several editors and reporters from the magazine and were impressed with the amount of time they spent with us.  I couldn’t resist having one of the students take a photo of me with the iconic logo. 


The students had good questions for the journalists, especially for a couple of reporters who cover the U.S., and whose names, in a journalistic lapse, I didn’t write down. They were asked whether British media outlets were as blindsided by the Trump victory as American media seemed to be (answer was essentially yes), and what they found interesting about our country.

One reporter said he was attracted to American politics because of its “sheer bare-knuckle nastiness,” which seems about as good a description of the last few years as any I’ve heard.

The last few days go by quickly. I always like to include a day trip outside London to show that there’s more to England than its largest city. That destination is usually Oxford, but this year I chose Cambridge. The students find it interesting that the University of Cambridge is not one campus, but 31 separate colleges which date from as early as the 13th century. We have a fish and chips lunch in the Eagle pub,  where scientists James Watson and Francis Crick compared notes on their research on the DNA double helix.  One of the beers on tap, a lager called the Eagle DNA, is a nod to that history. Many British and American airmen also left their mark on the roof of the RAF bar there during World War II.



Our final day includes tours of a couple of key sites related to World War II. The students take the train out to Bletchley Park. the home of British codebreakers who intercepted and “translated” Nazi communications. In the afternoon, another one of my favorite stops in the course — the Churchill War Rooms and Museum in Westminster.

It’s been a turbulent 2017 in the UK. Not exactly the existential threat that the English people faced down during World War II, but five terror attacks in London, one as recently as September, have the city extra vigilant. To be honest, I didn’t think all that much about it during our visit, but the presence on a Saturday afternoon of two machine-gun toting soldiers in the Westminster tube station — near the Houses of Parliament, 10 Downing Street and numerous government departments — is a reminder.

The War Rooms were the below-ground command center for the British government during the war and have been preserved essentially as they were when the Germans surrendered in 1945.


The photo is of a makeshift BBC studio from which the prime minister broadcast to the English people. There’s also a museum chronicling the entire life of Winston Churchill (1874-1965), who’s front and center in popular culture once again these days as the subject of the movie “Darkest Hour.”

We end our time in London with a farewell dinner at a Nando’s, one of my favorite London restaurants which — in addition to spicy grilled chicken — offers a couple of things Americans tend to miss at most eating places here: lots of ice for drinks and free refills. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our guide for the week, Clive Fuller, whom the kids recognized at dinner for his service to us. I have no idea how old Clive, who looks the part of an older English gentleman, is. But he has an easy manner which quickly gained the trust and affection of the students.

He’s with us all the way to check-in at Heathrow the following morning. An uneventful flight, and when we get back to Charlotte we’re greeted by the Arctic weather we’ve been lucky enough to miss during the past week-and-a-half. (It’s been in the 40s most days in London.)  

It’s good to be home, but  I can’t wait to do it again.


Posted in Higher education, journalism, London | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

London calling, Part 1


My wife Jayne and I have the poster above in our TV room as a reminder of our favorite city  in the world. And we took its advice and visited London for a few days (10 to be exact) after Christmas — accompanied by 23 Wingate University students and one of my colleagues as part of our school’s Winternational program.

About every three years since the turn of the Milennium, I’ve had a proposal accepted for this program, in which faculty members select an international destination and teach a course on a topic related to it, followed by a trip there at the end of the semester. London has always held a fascination for me as a world center of media, business and culture and my course deals with the role of news media and communication in British society.

I’ve called it “Ghosts of Fleet Street,” which sounds more lurid than the course actually is, referencing the former home of newspapers in London. It was another good trip with another good group of young people and I thought some highlights of it were worth sharing, so here goes:

Despite what the classic cruise ship ad said, getting there isn’t close to half the fun on an international flight and we arrive at Heathrow Airport on the morning of Dec. 30 a little tired but ready for adventure — it’s been the first time that a couple of students have ever been on a plane, but you wouldn’t know it.

We get to our hotel in Central London, the St. Giles, which truth be told is rather non-descript — it’s a former youth hostel, we find out this time — but it’s in a great location not far from the Tottenham Court Road station on the Underground. After stowing our luggage for later check-in, the group heads for the day’s tour, a visit to the Tower of London, highlighting some of the darker moments of the city’s history.

(I hate to adopt a “been there, done that” attitude towards — as I said — one of my favorite cities in the world, but this isn’t going to be a complete travelogue. So feel free to do your own research on what I leave out.)

After hotel check-in and a chance to freshen up, there’s a welcome dinner for us at a gastropub in South Kensington and then back to the hotel for some much needed rest.

The last day of 2017 is a busy one, starting with a Thames River cruise over to Greenwich and a visit to a quirky little place called the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising — a place which I suspect a lot of Londoners wouldn’t be able to find in the Portobello Road area. It’s the brainchild of a London advertising agency man named Robert Opie, whose collection of ads and supermarket packaging dating back to Victorian times provided the starting point for the museum more than 30 years ago. It’s a fascinating look at the development of consumer culture.


For our last couple of trips here, we haven’t arrived in the city until New Year’s Day, so we’ve missed out on a really charming London tradition, a New Year’s Eve concert of Strauss music by the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican Centre. (That’s me with my class before the concert.) It’s as rollicking and fun as I remembered it, ending with the audience joining hands and singing “Auld Lang Syne” at the end.

I figure that the music students we have on the trip are going to enjoy this, but it seems to go over well with the group as a whole. And I am reminded that it’s a good idea not to make assumptions about shared culture when we deal with young people. One of my students asks me about the song as we leave. “It’s ‘Auld Lang Syne.” It’s an old traditional New Year’s song,” I say. 

“Yeah, I know that,” the student says. “But are we supposed to know the words?”

When 2018 actually gets here, Jayne and I are in a 24-hour restaurant adjacent to the hotel, which turns out to be a regular gathering place for our crowd. Smiles and “Happy New Years” all around with mostly total strangers. It’s a nice moment and a cool way to turn the page.

For the next two days, we’re pretty much at leisure, with only a stop at the Victoria and Albert Museum on New Year’s Day afternoon officially on the schedule. It’s my favorite museum in London, to me much more accessible than the gargantuan British Museum. It’s focus is decorative arts and design and I enjoy the occasional exhibits about media and printing.

The next day is a free day. Jayne and I spend part of it at Fortnum & Mason, purveyors of tea, coffee and food at their Picadilly location since 1707. We take a leisurely afternoon tea with delicious sandwiches and pastries and a friendly waitress from Romania, and head back to the hotel to get ready for our evening’s entertainment.

We’ve bought tickets to the Dominion Theatre’s production of “An American In Paris,” less than a five minute walk from our hotel. It’s in the last couple days of its holiday run. It’s a wonderful adaptation of the 1951 film of the same name which won the Oscar for Best Picture that year. Great songs by George Gershwin and marvelous dancing.

And this evening we’re treated to one of those theater moments you thought only happened in the movies. About 30 minutes into the show, there’s a break in the action and it’s announced that the female lead has taken ill and will be replaced by her understudy. It’s a seamless transition, as it turns out the back-up is more than ready for the spotlight.

We buy a program (pictured above) and I always wonder whether 10 years from now we’ll have the “I saw them when” moment when one of these actors and actresses will have hit it big.

The students have — as I encouraged them during our preparation for the trip — not wasted their off day. One tennis aficionado took the Underground out to Wimbledon to visit the museum there. And about half of them figured out how to get to Windsor Castle on the train to see the royal residence.

They’re proving to be resourceful, self-reliant and even intrepid — as important in many ways as their having familiarity with the course material. And that makes me happy. More to come.


Posted in education | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Higher education | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in sports media, Wingate University | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

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…….

Posted in communications, public relations, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in college basketball, Wingate University | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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.)


Posted in journalism | Tagged , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in candy | Tagged , | Leave a comment