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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It’s tournament time: 2016 edition

GREENVILLE, S.C. — A media room in the bowels of a college basketball arena is an odd place to be reminded of how small the modern world is.

I’m covering the South Atlantic Conference basketball tournament for the Charlotte Observer this weekend, an assignment I always enjoy — not just for the basketball, but for the under-the-radar stories you encounter.

Saturday’s women’s semifinal game between Wingate and Newberry at Furman University’s Timmons Arena was entertaining enough, with the No. 3-seeded Bulldogs making up for some regular-season frustration against the No. 2-seeded Wolves with a 61-54 victory to advance to Sunday’s championship.

Wingate won its 20th game of the season in part thanks to a work woman like (that’s the best I can do as autocorrect — mired in the 19th century — keeps wanting to change it to “workmanlike”) performance from 6-foot-4 sophomore forward Marta Miscenko, a transfer from Texas-El Paso by way of high school ball in Fayetteville, N.C., and her native Riga, Latvia.

She scored 14 of Wingate’s 19 points in the fourth quarter, finishing the game with 24 points and five rebounds.

“I told myself and my teammates that I wasn’t going home today and neither were they,” Miscenko said in the post-game presser. “I  wanted to make every shot I took.”

I liked the confidence in that, and it was as quotable as anything any American athlete who’s grown up watching ESPN could come up with.

But as great as that win was for the Bulldogs, as I often tell my students, I often find the losers more interesting, as the emotions can be more “real.”

But what caught my ears in the Newberry portion of the post-game was the accents — the kind you don’t expect from folks from a tiny Lutheran school in the middle of South Carolina. Eight of the Wolves’ players and their coach, Sean Page, are Australian.

Page seemed to bristle at the request by SAC sports information people to make an opening comment: “What do you want me to say? They won. We lost. They outplayed us.”

But turns out that the coach’s sense of humor is a little quirky and he quickly warmed to the task of praising his team for its 12th straight winning season — which Page says is a record for women’s college basketball in the Palmetto State.

“I want to make sure we get some credit for that,” he said.

He also talked about the team’s four seniors, including forward Samantha Creed, who scored 15 points.

She’s from a suburb of Melbourne and her journey has included a pair of knee surgeries which limited her college career to three seasons. She still finishes as the No. 3 all-time women’s scorer for the Wolves.

I asked her what she planned to do next, which appeared to be a question that she didn’t expect.

“I’m probably going to go home and spend some time with my family after graduation, because I ended up spending five years here rather than the four I had planned on,” Creed said. “Then I hope I’ll have some opportunities to keep playing basketball.”

I started to ask her if she had ever tried the hash and rice at Wise’s, an iconic BBQ joint near Newberry that’s a must-stop if you like that sort of thing. But I figured that would be pushing the meeting of cultures thing too far.

It is indeed a small world, after all.

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Help a blogger out….

Two writers in the family, two blogs….

Here’s some blatant cross-promotion for my wonderful wife’s blog, located at www.jaynecannon.com. She writes with wit and verve about food, travel and culture.

Check out her latest post about North Carolina-made Texas Pete hot sauce. What do you put your hot sauce on?

And thank you for your support.

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It’s tournament time 2015: hoops, Zen and old friends

Over a lot of years as a working sportswriter, I’ve occasionally been asked, “What’s your favorite sport to cover?

 It’s basketball, baby. And this is my favorite month to be a sports journalist — I’m usually at one or more NCAA Division II conference tournament games, but it hasn’t been that way the last couple of years. I sat out the 2013 postseason while recovering from a broken hip and last year no teams that I cover advanced past the first round.

So it was fun to make a quick trip to Greenville, S.C., this past weekend to cover the South Atlantic Conference semifinals. Some random observations:

It matters what list you’re on: Every now and then things slip through the cracks, and I’m left at the entrance to a sports event having to explain who I am and what I’m doing here because there’s no media pass waiting for me. I had that experience Saturday as I arrived for the SAC tournament men’s semifinal game between Lincoln Memorial and Queens at Furman University’s Timmons Arena.

I wasn’t on their pass list, so I must have presented a convincing argument as I explained — again, who I am and what I’m doing there, without the benefit of a full-time press ID. The nice young man wrote down “Charlotte Observer” under another name and said I could come on in.

The other name was that of Nield Gordon, who has connections both to Furman and the SAC. Gordon, a star player for the Paladins back in the early Fifties, coached some great teams at conference member Newberry in the Seventies, when the school was an NAIA District 6 powerhouse. Gordon was the first men’s basketball coach at Winthrop when that school started a program in the early Eighties.

So I’ve joined a South Carolina college basketball legend on a list of people who can walk into the South Atlantic Conference on their own recognizance? I’ll take it.


The press vantage point was as close as I’ve been to the on-court action this year, which has its advantages but also requires extra vigilance to protect the laptop, the major tool of the trade.

Potent quotes: In the game I covered, No. 4-seeded Queens gave top-seed Lincoln Memorial a battle before falling 67-64 to the Railsplitters — for my money one of the best nicknames in college sports and a great one for headline writers, with all those thin letters.

A tournament game gives me an opportunity that I don’t often get during the regular season — an opportunity to talk to the opposing coach and one of his/her players. And in the case of Lincoln Memorial, it’s a great thing.

The Railsplitters are coached by Josh Schertz, a former Queens assistant who is building a perennial powerhouse in Harrogate, Tenn., just north of Knoxville and south of the Kentucky state line.

I try not to make generalizations about coaches or athletes, but I find that a lot of the people in sports I enjoy talking to the most are in basketball. Not everyone in the sport is an intellectual — not everyone in journalism is an intellectual — but you find a lot of evidence that players and coaches have thought about the game.

Schertz is quite quotable. He was ask about the old “it’s tough to beat a team three times” cliche — it’s a standby question in conference tournaments where teams often meet after playing each other twice in the regular season.

“It’s all a mosaic,” he said. “Each game is its own event.” Then he launched a brief meditation on how the past doesn’t predict the future. Zen-like stuff from Division II’s answer to Phil Jackson.

If you think that sounds too complicated for basketball, the results say otherwise. Lincoln Memorial’s seniors improved their four-year record to 108-16 with Saturday’s win. They improved to 29-1 with the win, their ninth straight.

“There aren’t many situations we haven’t been in,” said guard Gerel Simmons, who hit a three-pointer with nine seconds left to seal the win against Queens. “We’ve got a lot of confidence.”

Wait till next year: The Royals, who lose only two seniors, want to be where the Railsplitters are right now. 

“We ended the season one step shy of where we wanted to be,” Queens coach Bart Lundy said. “But we’re hungry and we know what we need to do to improve.”

Queens finished its season 17-13 after a 2-5 start and had come into the Lincoln Memorial game on a three-game winning streak. They got to the semifinals with a convincing 84-66 quarterfinal win over Wingate. The Bulldogs had won both regular season meetings —- giving credence to Schertz’ point above.

“At the end of the day, it’s just doing what we like to do, playing basketball,” said Queens junior guard Marquis Rankin, a former Vance standout and Virginia Tech transfer. He scored 15 points to lead the Royals. “We came together.”

The rest of the story: Lincoln Memorial’s narrow escape Saturday was followed by a 63-48 loss to Carson-Newman in Sunday’s championship game. But the Railsplitters still earned the right to host a regional tournament this weekend.  I wasn’t around to see the final as there were no teams remaining from the Observer’s coverage area — the women’s final between Newberry and Anderson didn’t make the cut either.  

(I have little success convincing newspapers that at the Division II level, there’s nearly as much interest in women’s basketball as there is in the men’s game. But that’s another post for another time.)

I enjoyed an opportunity to catch up over the weekend with a long-time friend and former college roommate, Robin Smith. He’s recently retired from Met Life after a long career for them in IT — I joke with him that he’s so old that when he started his job had a different name, data processing. OK, not so hilarious.


Here we are at lunch. Nice finish to a great weekend.

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Mentors and friends

If you’re my age, you’re possibly having the following experience from time to time these days.

You haven’t thought about someone in a while, they’re not on social media, and you wonder whatever happened to them. You do a Google search. And you find they’ve passed on.

I’ve started the past two years that way. My former doctoral dissertation adviser Dr. Philip T. West of Texas A&M University passed away on Jan. 2  last year. I met him at a school public relations conference in Phoenix in the summer of 1981 and three years later I became his student.

He was a scholar, but no ivory tower academic — a U.S. Navy veteran and a former insurance executive and PR man, he had a good working knowledge of the “real world.” He loved electronic gadgets, Blue Bell coffee ice cream and American literature. And he was a heck of a dissertation adviser, equally adept at telling his advisees what they were doing wrong and protecting you from difficult members of your own committee. (Anybody who’s ever worked on a doctorate will appreciate what that means.)

His advice and counsel was valuable to me long after I finished my degree and started a career in academics. We were in touch less often over the last decade  — a little ironic since in that same time period so many people have reconnected with one another via social media. But Dr. West wasn’t much on the “look at me” kind of thing, so I suspect I wouldn’t have found him there anyway.

  He was a great role model and many of the teaching methods and strategies that I use are a result of his influence.

Fast forward to a couple of days ago, when I got to thinking about another person who was an influence on me in an even earlier and formative time.

A search revealed that my former colleague Janos Shoemyen had died back in December in Gainesville, Fla., at age 93.

The term “colleague” is probably a little presumptuous of me, as I was a lowly graduate assistant in the mid-1970s in the editorial department of University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) when I got to know Janos, who was one of the top editors in this statewide organization.

Janos, a native Hungarian who fled to the United States as a young man after World War II, was a wizard at — as he put it — “correcting the natives’ English.” And he was a great help to me in my job, which was working with professors to turn their sometimes arcane research and incomprehensible writing into feature stories for newspapers.

Away from the office, Janos wrote fiction under the nom de plume Lawrence Dorr.  He lived on a working ranch, raising horses and cattle in nearby Alachua with his wife Clare, an elegant English woman whose family tree had roots in colonial South Carolina. They invited me out there for a memorable summer day’s outing.

It’s been a long time, but I remember talking with him about writing on a number of occasions — we both loved Flannery O’Connor’s stories and novels. A reviewer once called him “a Christian Hemingway,” and it’s a pretty good description. His writing was spare and muscular, but suffused with what the Catholic novelist J.F. Powers termed “the presence of grace.”

A brief example from the beginning of a short story, “Once You Were No People,” from his 1973 collection “A Slow, Soft River”: (see photo):

photo (3)

“The land rose only a few feet, but in Central Florida this was enough to turn the scrub palmettos into the threatening crest of an ocean wave. The man leading the way carried his son’s .22 presumably against snakes — it was closed season — though he knew there was little chance of meeting anything. It was too hot even for snakes, but he would have felt foolish trampling the fields without a firearm in his hand. This feeling, like the heirloom cufflinks packed in his immigrant’s suitcase, had survived the 4,000-mile journey.”

He encouraged me to write fiction, something I never caught the bug for, but I have held on to his advice. “You have something to say,” he exhorted. “Say it! Write it down!”

As I think about Janos and Dr. West, I’m reminded of a line from the wonderful sportswriter Robert Lipsyte’s recent memoir, “An Accidental Sportswriter.” In recounting a list of people who have been influential in his career, he mentions several who “are dead, but not to me.”

I thought that was a very felicitous phrase and it pretty much sums up the way I’m feeling right now.

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