Monday, June 29, 2015

On Fouth of July Week, a peek back and when things worked right

(From Sunday's TIMES and NEWS-STAR)

Louisiana and the Lusitania. Don’t see those two words in the same sentence often.

But on the eve of Fourth of July week and in light of the goings-on at home and in the world, something Louisiana did a century ago served as a bit of fortifying and even reviving news when I read about it recently in “Dead Wake,” a book by everyman historian Erik Larson about the sinking of the British ocean liner Lusitania.

It was 100 years ago last month — May 7, 1915 — that the Lusitania, for a while the largest passenger ship in the world, was torpedoed and sunk by German U-boat U-20. Nearly 1,200 people died, including American citizens. It would be 23 months before the United States would become involved in the actual fighting in World War I.

There are reasons. President Woodrow Wilson was reluctant to go to war, a sentiment that seemed shared by much of America, Larson writes. Of course, no one wants to go jumping into World Wars all over the place. It took the nation almost a year to become galvanized to the prospect that such a fight was inevitable.

But there was plenty of meaningful and telling dialogue in the aftermath of the sinking. Most of it reads as civilized, or the opposite of what you might expect to hear on a news talk show these days. Although the prospect of war was at hand, cooler heads, as they say, prevailed. And later, when America knew it was time, the war was fought, and then quickly won.

In Larson’s research, he came across this, a resolution from the state of Louisiana that Larson said was “refreshing … in light of the rancor in American politics that prevailed at the time I completed this book (2013-14).” It was written less than two weeks after the great liner’s sinking and after such a loss of life which, in retrospect, could likely have been easily avoided had the ocean liner’s captain known what British intelligence knew, which is another story.

From the U.S. National Archives in College Park, Md., here’s the post-Lusitania-sinking resolution from our state:

“Such a crisis as now confronts our country calls for coolness, deliberation, firmness and precision of mind on the part of those entrusted with the power of administration.

“Under the providence of God this country has such a leader in Woodrow Wilson … who with his advisers has shown the temper and courage and great humanity that reflects the sentiment of his loyal countrymen.” Resolution, May 20, 1915, Louisiana Legislature.

Respeck!, the teens might say. Wilson had earned it. And just to hear such phrases as “providence of God” and “loyal countrymen” coming from an American legislature is so rare today that you wonder if it happened at all.

But it did. Such was the norm, when America was a much different place than it is today. Here are words that were broadcast June 6, 1944. Guess who said them:

“Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

“Lead them straight and true...They will need thy blessings...

“And for us at us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice...

“Many people have urged that I call the Nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer...And O Lord, give us Faith. Give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united crusade...With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy...Lead us to the saving of our country...”

FDR. On D-Day. A fireside chat. He asked the entire nation, “...join with me in prayer.”

You’ll recall we won. It was in all the papers.

Think about what has changed since then, what’s not allowed, what’s been left out. Think about the news and arguments of the day. It’s not so much the symbols and flags and guns and daily cry for political correctness, which is just making America appear silly and cry “Uncle.” All that’s on the outside. It’s the stuff on the inside that needs fixing. But that involves some sort of personal responsibility, and that’s always the hardest thing to do. It’s easier for me to fight to fix what I think is wrong with you than it is for me to fix what I know is wrong with me.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

'But tonight, I know the people back home in Rayville are watching...'

From today's TIMES and NEWS-STAR

I wasn’t at the induction ceremony the night basketball great Elvin Hayes of Rayville and Eula D. Britton High joined the Class of 1988 in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. But I’ve been told.

The Class of 2015 is scheduled for induction Saturday night (June 27) before the biggest crowd in the event’s history. Organizers spent a part of this week planning how to comfortably adjust to the unprecedented response to Induction Weekend and Saturday’s banquet at the Special Events Center in Natchitoches, there on Front Street on the banks of the Cane River, which isn’t really a river.

But then, the banquet hall isn’t really a banquet hall as much as it’s a cozy stadium for the state’s best sports night of the year, one where fans and supporters and families get together and dress up to celebrate excellence demonstrated in an arena of entertainment and competition over a long period of time.

It’s a different kind of night, because you never know when an Elvin Hayes will happen.

An All-American and player of the year at Houston, an All-Star in 12 of his 16 NBA seasons, and a world champion with the Washington Bullets in 1978, Hayes, who played in an era before much cable television, said something really close to this during his happy and humble acceptance speech.

“When we beat UCLA and Lew Alcindor in ’68 before the biggest crowd to ever watch a basketball game at that time, I wondered if the people back home in Rayville were watching,” he said. “When we played in the Final Four and later in the NBA playoffs and finally in ’78 when we won the NBA title against the SuperSonics, even as they were in the locker room pouring champagne on my head and on the trophy, I wondered if the people back home in Rayville were watching…

“But tonight, a reason why this is so special, is I don’t have to wonder. Tonight, I know the people back home in Rayville, and all around Louisiana, are watching.”

Avery “Little General” Johnson, former NBA champ San Antonio Spur, former 5-4 basketball player in high school – he made it all the way to 5-10 – grew up on all the playgrounds that dotted the city, spread in points from the Lafitte Projects in New Orleans liked uneven spokes on the wheels of a bicycle, which is what he pedaled to get to games as a kid. From those asphalt courts he went to world champ, then NBA Coach of the Year in Dallas, and now to the SEC, where he’ll coach Alabama this winter.

But all those courts and moments and awards don’t have quite the pull of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, which he’ll join this weekend as a member of the 2015 Class. “This,” he said, “is the top of the line. My roots are still in Louisiana.”

Shaquille O’Neal declared the town “Shaqatish” two years ago during his induction. In 2011, Bobby Hebert performed a 25-minutes (or more?) unplanned comedy routine when introducing his kicking teammate, Morten Andersen. After 15 minutes, Hebert finally said, “Now … about Mort…” Even Andersen wondered if his friend had forgotten about him.

You never know.

You want class? Joe Ferguson was inducted in 1994, three weeks after Buffalo Bills teammate O.J. Simpson’s White Bronco incident. It was in the back of everyone’s mind, of course. At the end of Ferguson’s gracious speech, Hall of Fame Chairman Doug Ireland recalls Joe saying precisely this, while more than 100 of Ferguson’s fellow Woodlawn High of Shreveport alums, teachers, coaches and friends “hung on every syllable”:

“Before I go, I want to share something with you,” Ferguson said. “We’ve all watched the news from Los Angeles, and I’ve been asked about it a lot. I’d like to ask you all for a favor: please pray for my friend O.J.. Thank you very much.”

Stories about the inductees will be on the sports pages all week; I hope they’ll team to make Saturday another night they’ll remember fondly, as they remember big wins or big plays or big friendships they’ve earned or were granted through athletics.

It would be tough to get in with a shoehorn this weekend, but maybe it’s time you planned to go, if you never have been. The Class of 2016 will be announced in the fall. Keep an eye out and think about a weekend in Natchitoches and being part of a once-a-year-night, a night when all the people back home, and all around Louisiana, are watching.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

An new old-fashioned way to get your summer on

From today's TIMES and NEWS-STAR

Ready for a mountaintop experience?

In regard to full disclosure, I ask because I know Mike Mitton, who has developed a summer family resort on Mt. Snow in Vermont, a place filled with all sorts of fun things to do in July and August, when your children need a break from multiplication tables and mowing grass and you need a break from wondering how you can take a vacation without actually having to plan one.

I asked Mike, who we call Mitts, why he opened it only last year and not 10 years ago when we were coaching Little League together.

"Because I didn’t figure it all out until last year and because we were coaching Little League together," he said. "For us, that WAS a family vacation.”

He was one of the first people I met and I was one of the first people he met when I moved to Shreveport and he was thinking about moving there and marrying Catherine Watts, who has been Mrs. Mitts since around then, an impossible 30ish years ago. This was before children Michael and Megan, before he started managing golf courses and before he decided to open up a winter ski resort to summertime cross country biking, picnicking, lakeside games and fishing. And golf, naturally. If Mitts and Catherine have a third child, it’s called Mount Snow Family Camp.

“In the wintertime you ski there, but the summer family camp is my brainchild,” Mitts said. “What I wanted to do was offer a week’s vacation and build it similar to the vacations we used to take when we were kids with our families, and make it all inclusive so moms could enjoy it as much as dad and the kids.”

Open from the first week in July through the final week in August and for one price – all the information is at – the camp provides the snacks and meals, the lodging and the facilities, even the rides to and from town. You are not cut off from civilization – there is WiFi, there are televisions – but when the families are together, cell phones are left behind. The whole point, the theme, is “Unplug and Reconnect.”

“There’s plenty of time for adults to be connected (to the outside world) if necessary at night or in the morning,” Mitts said, “but the thing about Mount Snow is, this is the time to get to know your spouse and kids again.

“The basic way to understand it,” he said, “is that we have the kids in the mornings – we have fully licensed daycare for infants and camp counselors for the bigger kids – and grandma and grandpa or mom and dad can have a chance to do things by themselves: get a massage, go for a bike ride, ride the scenic ski lift. Then after lunch together we go as a family to kayak or ride pontoon boats or hike or swim. But you still have the option of just lying out by your private condo pool. Our goal is to give you as much to do as you can think of doing, but with the option of doing nothing.

“It doesn’t require much thinking; that’s the thing,” Mitts said. “We’ve done all that. That’s what it would be perfect for a guy … well, for a guy like you, for instance.”

Mitts can be a toughlove guy.

Mount Snow is four hours from New York City, 90 minutes from Hartford. Temps are in the low 80s daytime and 50-to-60 after sundown. You can arrive one afternoon and be sitting by a bonfire with a smore and a glass of wine that evening.

“We have family reunions there. We take people in town to shop. We’ll even chair lift you to the top of the mountain so you ride your mountain bike only one way,” Mitts said. “But the neatest thing is seeing the interaction between these families. I’ve looked outside and seen a 16-year-old playing four-square with an 80-year-old. When’s the last time you’ve seen kids and grownups playing Capture the Flag? It’s all about getting disconnected from the routine so you can get connected again.”

Monday, June 8, 2015

'Mic of Dreams' : Live Mic Sports Broadcasting Camps for Youth ... IT'S ON!!!

ULM Warhawk/ESPN 97.7 radio personality Nick White, shown here coaching up the troops in last year's very successful rookie camp, will join Louisiana Tech’s Malcolm Butler in hosting the second annual Live Mic Sports Broadcasting Camps in July. They will hold two sessions – one each in Ruston and Monroe. For more information, go to 

             RUSTON – Two of north Louisiana’s award winning radio broadcasters will hold a pair of camps designed for area youth who are interested in sports radio broadcasting.

            Louisiana Tech’s Malcolm Butler and ESPN 97.7/ULM’s Nick White will team up for the second annual Live Mic Sports Broadcasting Camp presented by Barry Ricks M.D. Pediatric Associates.

            The Ruston camp will be held at the Thomas Assembly Center on the Louisiana Tech Campus July 9-11 while the Monroe camp will be held at Ouachita Christian High School July 30 through August 1. 

            The camp is for boys and girls entering grades 7 through 12 this fall who are interested in gaining real-life knowledge and first-hand experience of the sports broadcasting business. It is for beginners; campers aren’t expected to have any type of broadcasting experience. 

            Individuals can get more information on the camps official website at  Last year’s inaugural camp drew positive reviews from campers.

“It was such a blessing to be able to attend this camp,” said Cedar Creek senior Tyler Mann. “It was an opportunity to get some experience in a field that I was already interested in by some of the best. Being thrown straight into the life of a play by play and color analyst painted a vivid picture of exactly what comes with the job and career. It was a great experience.

“I recommend this camp to anyone who enjoys the everyday life of a sports fan. If you have a passion for sports and don't mind public speaking this is a great opportunity to get a head start in a very rewarding career. If you have trouble speaking in front of others, this is a great way to confront the issue and improve your social skills.”

In addition to Barry Ricks M.D. Pediatric Associates presenter sponsorship, additional camp partners include Ruston Daily Leader, BBQ West in West Monroe, Community Trust Bank, Gregg Phillips State Farm Insurance, Circus Tees, ESPN 97.7 and Donnie Bell Design. 

“Nick and I are excited about the second year of the camp,” Butler said. “All of the feedback we received from last year’s campers and their parents was nothing but positive. We are really expecting our numbers to grow this year. We have had a lot of interest from some folks in the Monroe/West Monroe area so we are going to hold two camps this year.

“When we came up with the idea last summer, we thought this would be a different type of camp. You see summer camps for boys and girls interested in playing sports. Why not a camp for those interested in broadcasting or talking about sports? We are going to make it as interactive, entertaining and educational as we can. That is our goal.”

            Cost of the camp is $175 and includes refreshments and a camp T-shirt. Each camp will be limited to the first 16 individuals who sign up.

            The Ruston camp will run from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. on both Thursday (July 9) and Friday (July 10) as participants will get training and mock experience in play-by-play broadcasting as well as sports talk radio. 

The Ruston camp will conclude on Saturday (July 11) when participants meet at The Depot in Ruston at 8:30 a.m. The campers will be divided into small groups and each group will participate in a live segment on the Nick Brown Show on ESPN 97.7 FM.

The Monroe camp will run from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m.  On both Thursday (July 30) and Friday (July 31) participants will get training and mock experience in play-by-play broadcasting as well as sports talk radio. The Monroe camp will conclude on Saturday (August 1) when participants meet at a location to be determined in Monroe at 8:30 a.m. The campers will be divided into small groups and each group will participate in a live segment on the Nick Brown Show on ESPN 97.7 FM.

“With so many college and high school athletic programs in our area and with a 24-7 sports talk FM station, Gary McKinney at Red Peach Media is always looking for young radio talent,” White said. “There are a lot of radio stations throughout the area that are. This is a great chance to gain broadcasting experience from the ground up.”

Butler, the associate AD for Communications at Louisiana Tech, has called almost 500 collegiate basketball games and more than 800 total sporting events during his 16 years behind the mic at his alma mater. 

            Serving as the radio play-by-play voice of the Lady Techster basketball and softball programs and the sideline reporter for Bulldog football, Butler has received numerous accolades, including placing second behind LA Tech Hall of Famer Dave Nitz in the 2013 Louisiana Sports Writers Association statewide play-by-play contest.

            White boasts over 12 years of broadcast and sports talk radio show experience on ESPN 97.7 FM with more than 600 game broadcasts and 2000 talk shows. He currently serves as the voice of ULM men’s and women’s basketball, and baseball and has served as the play-by-play voice for numerous high schools throughout northeast Louisiana, including calling 27 high school state championship games in four different sports (football, basketball, softball and baseball). 

He has garnered several awards including Best of the Delta for talk radio as awarded by Delta Style Magazine (2010-2012) and Best High School Football Play-by-play Broadcaster for Northeast Louisiana, presented by The Ruston Daily Leader. He was a finalist for Sun Belt Conference broadcaster of the year in 2013. 

For more information on the camp, individuals can call Butler at 318-614-4513.