"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Monday, August 30, 2010

More on Sam Smith, RIP, and his monument

The above photo shows the Sam Smith statue silhouetted in twilight at Summit Cemetery in Morris. Photo by B.W.

The Sam Smith statue in Morris is a monument not only to the fighting spirit of the Union cause, but the perseverance of the early residents in Stevens County. The spirit projected by that statue, which depicts a charging Union soldier, was transferred to the early development of this area.
Smith was part of the wave of immigrants who signed on with the Union cause. He was a native of Germany, having been born near Frankfurt in 1839. His name wasn't even Samuel Smith, it was Christian Zimmerman. The name change evolved out of his war commitments.
He came to America to harness this nation's opportunities when he was age 16. He worked on a farm and at a sawmill in the Red Wing area. He was age 22 when the rebellion by the southern states broke out and America found itself in crisis. It was a defining, seminal and unique chapter in the country's evolution, and profoundly painful.
Zimmerman entered the military service as a "substitute" for a Winona man, Samuel Smith. It was a commonly accepted practice then for men of means to "buy" their way out of military service. (Dick Cheney used deferments.)
It seems amazing today that such a practice would not be torched by controversy. But apparently it was not, at least not to a degree that would be recorded in history books. Smith embarked on a road that would take him through iconic battles. He was wounded at First Manassas (a battle also called Bull Run, the first major engagement of the war that was viewed by Washington D.C. socialites from their carriages).
Smith was hurt while reloading his rifle.
(Some would use the term "musket" rather than rifle but the Civil War did usher in the age of the lethal "rifled gun" that dispensed bullets that would spin and thus be more deadly and accurate, helping explain the huge casualty numbers incurred. The aged generals tended to use tactics more consistent with the older technology, e.g. massed formations.)
Smith lost part of his right thumb.
Smith continued paying his war dues when in 1862, near Harpers Ferry, he was thrown from a wagon pulled by horses. A train startled the horses. He was crushed by the wheels and fortunate to survive. His lifelong trait of resilience would show through again.
Smith recovered from chest and back wounds and joined the ambulance corps. He and other members of the fabled First Minnesota Regiment were discharged in May of 1864. But the war would rage for a year longer. Some of the most grisly stages of the war came in the final year when the Confederacy was in its death throes.
Smith wasn't prepared to walk away from the conflict. He got back in, "substituting" for another individual this time. He took the place of a Sand Creek (Scott County) man. Now he was in the Second Minnesota - Company K. He joined the fabled trek of General William Sherman's forces to the sea. This time he did not have to serve under the other individual's name (for the record, Theis).
The Smith name was his destiny and the name that would get passed down through generations. Legally though it would be some time before "Smith" became affixed to him.
Those Smiths are still around here, carrying on their forebear's legacy of commitment.
Samuel left the service for good in July of 1865 and came back to Red Wing and the sawmill. Oh, the tales he could share.
The next chapter in this amazing person's life was to settle as a civilian and start a family that would include 12 children. It would have been interesting to ask him if that challenge matched that of wartime!
He got married two years after war's end to the former Catherine Hartman. Eleven of their 12 children were boys.
He attended a reunion of the First Minnesota in 1874 in Lake City. He came to Stevens County, settling in Rendsville Township, destined to farm and raise that large family with Catherine. He became active with the GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) post here. It wasn't until 1880 that he became a naturalized citizen.
About a decade later he made it official with Smith as his last name, probably to ease the process by which he received pension benefits as a veteran.
Catherine died in 1915. That same year saw Sam attend the GAR's 50th review in the nation's capital. On the way home he visited the Gettysburg battlefield. There he probably became inspired to have a replica statue made of the First Minnesota statue that graces those grounds. The replica would be placed on the Smiths' own burial plot here at Summit Cemetery.
A famous misconception grew that Sam was a model for the creation of the statue at Gettysburg. Research by Thomas Rice, a Civil War "round table" enthusiast, has demonstrated that the "model" story is almost certainly myth. Sam's obituary in the Morris newspaper noted that the deceased "erected a monument to the charge of the First Minnesota at Gettysburg where so many of his comrades fell."
The Smith monument was similar by design to the Gettysburg monument, as that design could not have been topped for paying tribute to the unit. But the "model" story, fun as it may be to spin, is fiction, it would appear.
Intrepid researcher Rice wrote that "most likely, Smith ordered his statue to be based upon the pose of the First Minnesota monument and a photo of himself."
Rice deserves real kudos. Just reading his stuff shows he feels optimal historical curiosity and the zeal of a detective. He is gentle on the myth-spinners with the following passage: "Concluding that (Smith) posed for the Gettysburg monument would be an easy error to make."
Rice lauds Smith as someone with "a sense of history and his place in it."
It is the American story, underlined: an immigrant captivated by the brimming frontiers and opportunity of this still-young country, and dedicated to its freedom.
The Union cause ensured that the most fundamental ideals of this country would thrive coast to coast. One united land.
Samuel Smith, RIP.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Understanding better the Sam Smith statue

"There will never be anything more interesting than that American Civil War, never."
-Gertrude Stein

It seems strange reflecting on a war fought on American soil. The American Civil War has been remote in time for a very long time now. It ended six years before Morris was even established. The Civil War veterans who are cited in Morris history tended to be up in years by the time they settled here. The one most easily remembered is Samuel Smith, whose memorial at Summit Cemetery (see photo) is easily the most striking one there.
It appears that a wee bit of mythology has crept into the story about how the monument came to be. Smith himself was not at fault for this, and the misunderstanding has nothing to do with his record of service, which was as laudable as that of any Union Civil War veteran.
I think we can chalk it up to the small town tendency of speculation morphing into fact. We can also chalk it up to the Civil War being so remote in time, the facts of the war and its aftermath can get obscured or even obliterated.
Before proceeding further on the subject of the statue, I want to show how easily these mistakes can happen. I'll do this using another Civil War episode.
A magazine like "America's Civil War" fights doggedly to clarify the war's facts through the mists of time. Civil War enthusiasts are in fact known for a near-obsession with having a firm understanding of the facts right down to the minute details. Don't even try to be a Civil War artist unless you can show the belt buckles exactly as they were.
So when historian James O. Hall clarified an important aspect of the Battle of Gettysburg in the 1980s, it was like a tremor among those enthusiasts. It was also heartbreaking because the original story was so appealing. So appealing in fact, that when the definitive movie "Gettysburg" was made in 1993, the clarification was ignored. Poetic license, or sentimentality, won out.
The very first character we see in that movie is a non-uniformed man on horseback. He has a telescope. He instantly exudes an air of adventure. He's a spy! Yes, he's the famous "Harrison the spy" who came to life on the pages of the Pulitzer Prize-winning historical novel by Michael Shaara, "The Killer Angels."
Ken Burns was inspired by this book to do his noted TV documentary on the war. Personally I'd have to cite it as the best book I've ever read.
Shaara did the best he could following the known facts of the time about the battle. "The Killer Angels" came out in 1974. A writer couldn't help but feel captivated by someone like Harrison, who was believed to have been a professional stage actor. A Shakespearean actor, no less.
In the movie he is played engagingly by Cooper Huckabee, a rustic character actor. His time onscreen is limited but he sticks with you.
Harrison the spy worked for General James Longstreet of the Confederate ("reb") cause. General Robert E. Lee seemed almost reluctant to accept the words of "an actor," but he did. He almost had to, because his chief cavalry scout Jeb Stuart was off on a goose chase.
Longstreet was played in the movie by Tom Berenger, and Lee by Martin Sheen. People with a southern slant on things have assailed Sheen's performance and gushed over Robert Duvall's portrayal in a later movie ("Gods and Generals"). How ridiculous! Sheen was brilliant, showing the conflicted nature of this general at this point in the war - brilliant but at the same time weary and almost defeatist.
Longstreet and Harrison had true rapport.
But Harrison was hardly a pro stage actor. It turns out that he was confused with James Harrison who was performing in Richmond, Virginia, at that time. James Harrison had a nightly gig at the New Richmond Theater while Harrison was out plying his cloak-and-dagger trade in the Suffolk, Virginia, and Goldsboro, North Carolina, areas.
Lest there be any doubt, commuting was no-go.
The name coincidence isn't enough to explain how the two individuals would be confused. Here the story takes an interesting twist. Harrison the spy, whose full name was Henry T. Harrison, went onstage as a one-time proposition, prodded by a $50 bet! He played Lago the Villain in Shakespeare's Othello. The date was Sept. 10, 1863, which would have been two months after the Gettysburg battle.
An account at the time suggested that Harrison the spy was "fortified by drink" onstage. But he must have won the bet.
In the theater of war he had true impact. He arrived in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, with news that the Union army had crossed the Potomac and was in Frederick, Maryland. The Confederate Army was spread out and so it was vulnerable. Longstreet and Lee acted on Harrison's word which may have saved the Army of Northern Virgina from being destroyed piecemeal.
Ron Maxwell made the 1993 movie "Gettysburg" and appeared to be aware of the historical clarification that had been made about Harrison. Maxwell correctly identifies the spy as Henry T. Harrison and not James Harrison. But Maxwell couldn't bear making Harrison the movie character a more pedestrian sort than a professional actor. So he took the myth and ran with it!
At the end of the movie, where little thumbnails are presented of what the characters did in subsequent years, we learn that Harrison returned to the stage to play Shakespeare.
Hardly. The evidence shows that Henry T. Harrison "led a very private life and avoided notoriety," according to an historical account.
Maybe the original myth can be seen as a "white lie," because there is a tiny shred of truth about Harrison (the spy) acting.
Likewise, the misconception that many Morrissites have held about the Sam Smith statue is innocuous. The mythology here is that Smith, who was born with the last name Zimmerman but changed it due to war circumstances, "posed" for the sculpture of the First Minnesota Memorial statue in Gettysburg.
The Morris newspaper followed this storyline in a 1991 feature article. I didn't write it.
Thanks to some very exhaustive research by Thomas Rice, and made available to me by Melissa Yauk at the Morris Public Library, we learn that the Morris statue followed the Gettysburg statue in its basic design but it was sculpted as a separate venture. Sam wanted it on his gravesite as a tribute to his comrades and a reminder of the grand commitment and sacrifices they had all made.
A more striking memorial design could not possibly be conceived.
There is no documentation of any "posing" by Smith or anyone else. Rice's research is convincing. I have returned this material to Ms. Yauk at our library and I'm sure she could make it available to you.
The posing story seemed plausible at one time so it took on a life of its own, as small town stories tend to do. It's captivating but we ought to know that it isn't grounded in fact.
(I'm smiling here as I remember the scene in the movie "Airplane" where the Robert Hays character, lying on a military hospital bed, kills time by painting a picture with the help of a model who poses in a war combat scene. "Take five," the Hays character says. And the model, sounding irritated, says "thanks." In case you aren't aware, this was a comedy.)
The legend of Smith as artist's model is captivating like the "Shakespearean actor" who sneaked around in advance of the Union army. We can enjoy the myth-making and artistic license that weave a more compelling picture than what the sterile facts would tell us, unearthed through time.
Those facts are gospel to hardcore Civil War enthusiasts. The mythology helps spin epic movies and create small town legends.
Smith's story can stand on its own just with the sterile facts. Let's draw a line between that and the myth-making.
Here's a salute to you, Samuel Smith, devotee to the Union, RIP.
Click on the link below to read part 2 of my thoughts/reflections on the Sam Smith statue.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A night of music revival, tragedy in 2007

The above photo includes your blog host, Brian Williams, at left, with a fellow concert goer and a musician on August 1, 2007, at the Minnesota Music Cafe in St. Paul, "where the food's great and the music's cooking." At right is Del Sarlette of Sarlettes Music in Morris. When you write out a check there, be precise and don't write "Sartell's Music" or "Starlite Music," and don't use an apostrophe. It's "Sarlettes Music." At center in photo is G.G. Shinn who was once lead singer for the jazz-rock fusion group "Chase." The band had a reunion concert on this night, the same night as the I-35W bridge fell into the Mississippi River. The "squirrel" in photo was obviously put there as a computer trick when this was a fad, by Del. You also see an old album jacket that featured Shinn when he was getting started in music. This album was put out in 1968 for "Putt-Putt Golf Courses of America." G.G. was astonished and pleased when he saw we brought this obscure collector's item with us. His exact words were "where the hell did you get that?" and he proceeded to place a warm autograph note on it.

I can remember a time when you'd periodically hear that "big bands are coming back." Well, big bands have never really left. College jazz bands keep playing those dated "charts." Ballroom dancing will continue having its niche in the wide dance universe. None of it will be forgotten, but the Glenn Miller era has receded into history just like the heyday of the sport of boxing.
Boxing still exists naturally. But when was the last time we waited with breathless anticipation for a big heavyweight bout? A bout only on "closed circuit television?"
Perhaps the curtain was closed when Mike Tyson bit an opponent's ear off. (In wrestling they at least fake that.) Or maybe when sports medicine began telling us that boxing's participants were almost literally getting their brains beat out.
So boxing is most definitely marginalized in today's sports entertainment culture.
What about big bands? In the 1970s there was a small group of bands that young people everywhere flocked to see. You didn't dance to these bands, you listened to them.
Bill Chase advanced the sound to appeal to younger ears, better than anyone. Chase's band was nine members strong so it was surely "big." But few people would have referred to his group as a "big band." It seemed like a rock band.
Technically it was jazz-rock fusion.
It is mind-boggling to wonder where Chase's immense creative impulses would have taken him, had he lived. He died in a plane crash in our state of Minnesota. He was working on the group's fourth album at the time.
Bill Chase and band members were en route to the Jackson County Fair in southern Minnesota. The crash victims included Chase, age 39, and fellow musicians Wally Yohn (keyboard), Walter Clark (drums) and John Emma (guitar).
Chase had burst on the national scene in 1971. Perhaps if I cite the group's biggest hit, it will ring familiar. "Get It On" with the cascading trumpet section lines was on that seminal first album. It became the group's signature tune, and arrangements of it were played by school musical groups everywhere including here in Morris. Director John Woell had his musicians play "Get It On" at the old elementary auditorium.
"Get It On" spent 13 weeks on the charts. The band was nominated for the Best New Artist Grammy but got edged by Carly Simon who was just coming into her own.
The second album from Chase, "Ennea," came out in 1972. "Ennea" is the Greek word for "nine," the number of musicians in Chase's band. The whole band was pictured on the cover and they had very sober expressions. Is that why the album wasn't as successful? I don't know but I felt that artistically it was outstanding.
One whole side of this album was a "concept" piece (like what Jethro Tull was known for at that time) with tunes that segued one to the other. The old term for this is "medley." One critique said the concept stuff wasn't radio-friendly enough.
I loved it. In 1974 the group issued "Pure Music" which drove more into the field of jazz. In spite of that, Variety Magazine called this album "their most commercial." There was no reprise of the "Get It On" impact, though.
The fourth album never made it into pressing. We'll never know if Bill Chase could have reached those coveted chart positions again, or just be satisfied putting out artistically stimulating material.
Fast-forward to 2007. So much time had gone by since the heyday of the group "Chase." But there are still plenty of trumpet devotees who remember those cascading trumpet lines and rock-style intensity of the group.
In August of 2007, fans gathered at the Minnesota Music Cafe in St. Paul for a revival. "Alumni" of the Chase band were to be featured onstage along with other musicians in this event co-billed as a "trumpet summit."
The date was August 1, 2007. Something else of significance happened that evening. The I-35W Mississippi River bridge fell into the river. Yours truly and my companion for the concert began hearing reports on the bridge tragedy on the radio as we wound through the Twin Cities en route. The bridge was not on our route.
It sounded bad but we weren't sure just how bad. As time went on the enormity sank in. We called our respective homes from the parking area next to the Minnesota Music Cafe to say we were OK. My companion was Del Sarlette of Sarlettes Music in Morris. We both chose the trumpet as our "ax" when young.
We both attended concerts of some of the big traveling big bands in the 1970s. We heard the likes of Maynard Ferguson, Buddy Rich, Stan Kenton and Woody Herman, all of whom are deceased now. There were other young Morris musicians besides Del and me who were equally attracted to those sounds. Certainly I'd forget some names if I attempted listing, but let's throw out Steve Schaub and Tom Garberick as card-carrying members. Tom's dad Doug was a jazz patriarch here.
Those concerts seemed like true "events." Those bands had a sound that gave the foundation for Chase, who really tailored it for the particular young ears of the time.
I recall that Chase played in Morris once. I wasn't there. According to Morris legend, a huge portion of the crowd left after intermission, not necessarily because the music wasn't good but because it was too loud!
That could be a problem in those days. The youth really demanded that their music be loud. You were a prude if you didn't appreciate this. Today some of those boomers might wish they had kept the volume lower. Increasingly they might find themselves asking people to repeat things.
Del and I entered the Minnesota Music Cafe and found the surroundings to be pleasant enough. Just imagine a much larger Met Lounge. I had given the heads-up to an old high school classmate, Mike Eul, a trumpet player too, and was delighted to see him there in a party of three.
When we saw the stage all set up for the band, we felt an adrenalin rush like what we experienced when arriving at the old St. Paul Prom Ballroom for a Ferguson concert.
Just in case the music would be real loud, we sat along a bar counter a healthy distance from the stage.
This trumpet summit included Eric Miyashiro, who can deliver a sound much like Maynard Ferguson (RIP) himself. Or Chase. And it was Miyashiro's sound that we heard first as this reunion concert began. He played alone as the intro to "Open Up Wide." Pretty soon all the trumpet players were in action. The sound was totally loyal to the original group sound and the spirit behind it.
We could watch TV screens that had continuous live coverage of the bridge collapse. But the music went on.
The nostalgia really set in when vocalist G.G. Shinn joined in. Shinn has a singing voice that typified a whole breed of jazz-rock singers inspired by the group Blood, Sweat and Tears. Kenny Rogers fit right in. These singers sounded restless and energized with their sometimes gravelly intonations.
Shinn started in on the "Aphrodite" section of the mythology concept piece (from "Ennea") and it was spellbinding
Today Shinn operates a nightclub in Louisiana. I hope the oil spill hasn't dimmed his fortunes.
One by one the Chase reunion group played tunes from the all-too-brief heyday of "Chase."
The evening ended with the climactic "Get It On."
It would have been a joyous night had the bridge tragedy not cast a pall. In the back of my mind was the creepy feeling that this reunion concert for a band leader whose life ended so violently and suddenly, coincided with the bridge collapse. But it's foolish to believe in a hex.
I thought of my own mortality as I realized the odds weren't that far-fetched for Del and me to have crossed that bridge at the fateful time. Perhaps we would have gone down, survived and then performed some heroic act that would have gotten us on the Larry King show. (We're into a little levity here.)
Reportedly there is another Chase reunion event, "Chase Revisited II," planned for Boston, MA. We hope the sound lives on.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly 73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Al Michaels' gambling reference a faux pas

Al Michaels, voice of sports
NBC hyped the Sunday night Vikings game by focusing on Brett Favre. No amount of hype can really package a pre-season NFL game effectively. Most of the people who tune in to pre-season games are just starved for football. That circle includes me.
Pre-season games give us a frame of reference. Until Sunday night, though, I never realized that these games attract a fair amount of gambling interest. This revelation came at the very end of the Vikings' contest at San Francisco. I was watching live, which indicates just how football-starved I am (that I would watch this yawner to the end).
By the usual standard there was nothing dramatic about the ending. When I say "usual standard," I'm talking about how the typical fan watches - the healthy, proper perspective. There is another perspective in the shadows though. It's the way gamblers watch these things. And I listened in disbelief as the game's broadcast voices, Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth, acknowledged that perspective, boisterously in fact. Michaels got it started so he's the one with explaining to do.
Let's sketch out the background: The 49ers led by three points with nine seconds left. But if you had bet on the Minnesota Vikings, you were feeling good because the game's "pointspread" was 3.5 with the 49ers favored. Thus if the game ended with the score 13-10, the Vikes' bettors could collect.
But on the game's final play, rookie quarterback Joe Webb dropped back to pass but couldn't get the ball away. He also couldn't get out of the end zone. Safety. Two more points for San Francisco.
Absolutely no big deal, right? That's what I was thinking. Not Al Michaels in the NBC broadcast booth, though.
I really don't think Michaels was going to say anything to give away the gambling angle. Instead he slipped and did something that reminded me of a scene in "Mutiny on the Bounty" (Marlon Brando).
Michaels laughed.
We all think laughter brings joy but sometimes you have to explain its meaning. Laughter can be denigrating, fun-poking or irreverent in an improper way. In the movie, a ship hand chuckles about something involving the ship's commander and he fails to explain himself adequately, and is punished harshly.
When Al Michaels delivered his burst of laughter, it seemed out of place because nothing on the screen seemed to prompt this. I was instantly curious.
Michaels probably realized that the laughing might be misunderstood, as being directed at the awkwardness of a rookie quarterback (an African-American) getting sacked in the end zone. So he had to give an explanation even if he would fare no better than that ship hand in the movie.
By disclosing gambling interests, I think Michaels ran the risk of getting in trouble with the powers that be. Michaels was in the booth with Cris Collinsworth, the old Cincinnatti receiver. They are both proven announcers but even their talent was a stretch for selling a game in which Favre played just one series of downs.
Immediately after the game-ending safety, Michaels laughed and then said to his broadcasting compatriot: "You know why I'm laughing, don't you?"
(Well, I didn't, and I apologize for seeming like a prude. - BW)
Collinsworth: "Yeah."
Michaels: "Of course you do, Collinsworth. There are some people happy and some not so happy."
Seriously, this is very uncool. The NFL wants a firm line drawn between the sport and the people who gamble on it.
And I should add that I'm really not a prude. I used to put down sports bets in Las Vegas during my occasional jaunts there. I prided myself on my gambling approach. Rather than having to sweat and think at the blackjack tables, or manage piles of chips in other games, I placed a few well-thought-out sports bets and would then spend time poolside or in the cocktail lounge. Several hours later I would check back.
Everyone has their own approach.
So while I place no taboo on sports gambling, I feel strongly that this is a world apart from the real games. And no one would agree more wholeheartedly with me on this than Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, or his counterparts in other sports.
How big a deal is this? It's so big that baseball found it appropriate to clamp down on Pete Rose in such a way that the game's all-time hit leader would never get in the Hall of Fame.
Anyone with some experience in sports gambling understands that punishment completely. Why? Because once you place money on a game, you view that game from a completely different perspective from those who just want to enjoy the game. One of my companions to Las Vegas (an old high school classmate) once said "have you noticed that when you bet on a (baseball) game, it feels like your life savings are riding on every pitch?"
Sports gamblers know this all too well. Some popular advice is that when you bet on a game, don't watch it! A safety at the very end can cause a complete reversal of fortunes.
Fans who watch games for the "right" reasons can resent the intrusion of comments related to gambling. I don't blame them.
It has been years since I placed a sports bet, and I really don't care about that shadowy world of gambling anymore. So when Michaels felt he had to accent that angle at game's end Sunday, I was taken aback and resented it.
It took a couple of seconds for it to sink in. Because I just couldn't believe it.
I read the next day that "Al Michaels will usually reference the pointspread during telecasts."
But simply referencing the pointspread in a sober way isn't a cardinal sin, because the spread tells you something about how the teams compare.
But laughing and talking about how "some people are happy" crosses the line.
I wonder if Goodell contacted NBC executives in the wake of this. I suspect so. I even wondered if some harsh punishment could be meted out vs. Michaels. Collinsworth only got involved after Michaels dragged him into it.
Maybe there is a bigger question here: What kind of loser bets on NFL pre-season games?
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Whither football at St. Cloud State University?

Did St. Cloud State get carried away getting "new toys" during the good economic times? I remember a local conservative individual, now deceased, who said "we all like nice things." A public entity like a college has no trouble coming up with shopping lists for "nice things" if the money appears to be there. The advocates for these "nice things" then argue that these things are actually essential.
St. Cloud State University has added some nice attributes since my graduation there in the late 1970s. Those growth spasms might have been beyond what was truly reasonable. So an air of discomort has set in now.
When a school allows its name to get out there in the state's chief media with a proposal so drastic as cutting football, well. . .
You can read between the lines and conclude there are some budget issues causing cutthroat-like conflict and turf battles. Academia can get unpleasant that way.
There will be a certain element there now equating the college president to Attila the Hun. I don't have to be there to know this. Regardless of what the facts are, it's a horrible public relations black eye for this asinine proposal of cutting football to get headline treatment in front of the state's citizenry.
In case you don't know, St. Cloud State has a football stadium that was built just six years ago. In fact, Husky country has an athletic complex of buildings that could be described as opulent. I feel like an old geezer recalling the days when the fitness-conscious people on campus jogged laps at the bottom level of Halenbeck Hall. These were mere hallways that were never designed for that purpose. We joggers learned how many laps were a mile.
Reflecting on it now, I think this would be disallowed today for liability reasons. Joggers tearing around a corner could be a hazard. I witnessed at least one scolding incident because of this.
"Run single file!" someone yelled.
We were a tight community (us joggers) back then, in the days when "aerobics" was an unfamiliar term for most people.
Such quaint times.
Today St. Cloud State can undoubtedly feel pride in its sprawling athletic digs. First I was awestruck by the fieldhouse they added. Then came the celebrated hockey arena, the football stadium and a meandering biking-walking-running trail along the Mississippi River. All of these were most certainly "nice things" when they came into being. Let's throw in the new SCSU library which is palatial in its own right.
But then the economy changed. The party was over. Wall Street didn't bestow riches as if by magic anymore. Austerity has crept into the picture along with another factor that I frequently cite on this blog: the spectre of tech and the new media which may begin to start tearing down the whole traditional bricks and mortar higher education model.
Might this be a "perfect storm?"
No less a person than Governor Tim Pawlenty, who rarely gets kudos from this writer, said on The Daily Show that young people might start flocking to the Internet to get the knowledge they need to plot out the rest of their lives.
I expected to see this process proceed on a subtle basis. But with the headline trumpeting SCSU's possible elimination of football, maybe it won't be so subtle. Of course, one must ask how realistic this possibility is. Want to lay odds on it?
My instinct tells me we're seeing political posturing with this grim announcement. The pain caused by impending austerity must be pretty bad if we've reached this state.
Cutting football? At a major state university with a still-new football field? I can just imagine the tempest in campus circles, even among the non-football fans. Because, the proposal smacks of panic! And it will hurt the institution even if it turns out to have been empty posturing. Football recruiting will take a blow as SCSU will be perceived as on the margin.
Across-the-board fundraising could take a hit. Like it or not, many donors find athletics to be the most viable basis for their giving. It has an emotional or sentimental pull. It probably means a lot more for alumni than for current students. It's symbolic. People connect to their alma mater through sports reporting in the state's news media.
St. Cloud State has had a parallel experience to Morris with its football facilities. The Huskies used to play at Selke Field which was slightly off-campus and comparable to our old Coombe Field with its neighborhood setting. Fans could crowd around in standing clusters.
The powers that be seem to have turned thumbs down on that model for school football competition. SCSU now has Husky Stadium which is a larger version of our Big Cat Stadium.
The new model seems sterile and confining. These stadiums seem as though they were built only for the serious football watchers.
Will this design be proven sound in the long run?
The new football stadium for the Huskies doesn't seem to have propped up that school's athletic budget. I have read that the hockey team makes money but it's the exception. I took one peek inside the hockey center in 2006 and thought "my God, this is Nirvana."
But has my venerable alma mater expanded beyond its means? Football is just part of the budgetary wrangling we see there now. There are three proposals to reorganize academic affairs. An online news source reported July 30 that "it's been a rough past week for a couple dozen faculty members at SCSU."
Indeed, SCSU sent out 26 layoff notices on the same day, to "some unfortunate non-tenured staffers," the report reads.
Earl H. Potter III, the school's president, might need some sleep aids. The school is striving to escape a $13 million hole. It aims to shed 80-90 positions by the start of the new school year. It's desperately hoping to tap retirements in doing this. Some of the layoff notices could be withdrawn.
But football on the chopping block? Potter says he should have a decision made by the end of October. Personally I think the moon is more likely to fall out of the sky than for St. Cloud State to cut football. So why they would allow this proposal to go public is beyond me. It points to some disarray, and the person at the top ultimately answers for this.
This current weekend is "move-in weekend" at SCSU, a term that I don't recall ever hearing in the ancient times when I walked the campus. Giving it a name, of course, means giving students an excuse to carry on "celebrating" with the kinds of foolishness that have come to be associated, unfortunately, with SCSU.
I have read that some of the famous ebullience for Homecoming has been transferred to move-in weekend. I'm not sure it's been transferred. I think it's an addition!
The infamy of SCSU's Homecoming has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because, now the media contact law enforcement there annually to get the poop on Homecoming excessiveness. Indeed we're a fun-loving crowd, us Husky-ites.
I attended one game at the Husky football stadium in 2006. I didn't realize until I got seated that I was looking at two 0-4 football teams that day: SCSU and Mankato State. So the stands weren't as full as they might have been.
Some Mankato fans walked past me during the game looking for a more central seating location due to feeling the wind. I sense that this can also be a problem at Big Cat Stadium in Morris.
It wasn't a wasted afternoon but I definitely did not develop warm feelings toward the SCSU venue.
I probably had warmer feelings toward those hallways at Halenbeck Hall where the little fraternity of joggers on campus - the barriers came down between students and faculty - plied their hobby.
The new SCSU football season will begin on September 4 at Augustana College. The Huskies are picked by Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC) coaches to finish third in conference and second in the league's North Division.
The University of Minnesota-Morris Cougars used to be in the NSIC. The Cougars used to be able to defeat St. Cloud State. I was at Selke Field in 1980, working in the news media (and right down on the sidelines) when this happened. Eventually the landscape changed pretty drastically and UMM went through an excruciating dry spell in football.
But UMM might have the last laugh because football appears certain to at least survive here.
But is it really on the chopping block at SCSU?
I would suggest that the moon is more likely to fall out of the sky.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The mixed bag we feel holding a job

John F. Kennedy was once making his campaign rounds at a blue collar bastion - let's say it was a mine - and stuck out his hand to greet the common folk. Kennedy was a Democrat so this was his element. But he also carried with him a reputation of being aristocratic. He was from a "blue blood" family.
There was a memorable exchange where a miner seemed initially standoffish.
"I heard that you've never worked a day in your life," the miner said to JFK.
The politician paused for a moment and then said "you know, I suppose that's right."
Whereupon the miner smiled, stuck out his hand and said "well, you're not missing anything."
There is a growing feeling in America that work is a miserable proposition. We can ponder the old famous quote: "The majority of men lead lives of quiet desperation."
As a working person you stay quiet because you don't want to be a whiner. Your pride might prevent you from venting around friends or family.
People will say "I love my job" but they would quit in a heartbeat if they won the lottery.
I once read where lottery winners begin to get an odd feeling of social isolation which can actually bring sadness. Sad? When you're set for life? The problem is that most people have to work in order to make money to live. When you win the lottery you're not like them anymore.
Many lottery winners have had working class friends all their lives. They don't mix well with blue bloods. But if given the choice, we'd take the lottery.
Friendships in the workplace can themselves seem odd. Back when the Gannett (newspaper) company was laying off lots of people, where was a blog where people could vent, and I came across a typical lament: "My former co-workers aren't my friends anymore. I thought they were my friends." (I paraphrase.)
I'm reminded of 1960s baseball pitcher Jim Bouton writing about when he was cut from the roster of a team. I don't have to paraphrase here because the quote is vivid: "I felt a wall, invisible but real, forming around me."
I have been unemployed for just over four years and have felt my own share of isolation. Occasionally I get a pleasant surprise when someone with whom I associated (through work) befriends me.
I'm not talking about co-workers, with whom there's an unavoidable curtain, but members of the general public. Like a car salesman with whom I once dealt on a weekly basis.
I was walking home along Columbia Avenue one day, on the north end of Morris, when he pulled up beside me. Car salesmen are perhaps the most perceptive and intuitive of people. It's a natural inclination for people who seek top dollar in sales.
As a custom, you (the prospective customer) have to try to hold your own.
But my basic feeling about car salesmen is favorable. I admire their unfailing insights about human nature.
And this was no ordinary car salesman. It was Tony O'Keefe, who is no longer with us. This fleeting encounter with Mr. O'Keefe was the last I ever had with him. I'm so thankful it happened.
We engaged in the usual friendly talk and through the course of it, he asked about my employment status if any. Projecting a feeling of guilt - car salesmen don't miss anything - I said no, I wasn't working. Tony in effect shrugged. He said "well, do you have to work?"
I said "well, at this stage of my life, no." He smiled and said "well, don't," showing candor just like that miner did with JFK. "You don't work unless you have to."
It struck like a thud when I heard that Tony passed away. I couldn't imagine anyone else at his desk at Morris Auto Plaza.
There was such a huge crowd around Pedersen Funeral Home for the visitation, I couldn't get in. But it really didn't matter because, as my cousin Tom Williams, who has clergy credentials, would say: "Tony is gone. This is just a body."
I knew I'd see other family members in due course and keep up my friendship with them. Such as Tony's father Mike, who can be found along the counter at DeToy's Restaurant very early in the morning when the darkness is thick outside.
Mike was a stalwart car salesman for Arvid Beyer and then for the company that succeeded Arvid. When Mike departed from the latter, I'm not convinced he was fully prepared to do so. Many of us move on from jobs through a kind of gray area. Maybe we should attribute it all to sheer fate.
Yes, the world of work is truly a mixed bag. We try to like it. We say we like it. We act like we're friends with co-workers. But is it all just a charade? We work because we have to, as Tony pointed out using his inborn sage nature. (Car salesmen are born and not made?)
The huge leaps in technology have made the working world tougher. This is because so much of the tedium that was once associated with work has been eliminated.
So what's left? What's left is the work that requires judgment, analysis and education. A lot of people at the margins of society are being left behind.
At age 55 I'm just too old to make a lot of the adjustments. So I'm not sure what lies ahead. But I'm hardly alone. White males in their 50s have been hit hard by the recession.
Women who complain about historically being paid less should be thankful. By accepting lower pay they have a greater likelihood of keeping their jobs.
I normally abhor Bill O'Reilly of Fox News but he was right on, when saying "gone are the days when you could get a job by just showing up."
Work today requires specific skills. Again I'm concerned about people at the margins of society.
Here I must credit another deceased individual who was well-known in Stevens County: Erland Charles. Charles was known as a perceptive and articulate person and was once a delegate to a national political convention. We were sitting at the now-defunct Hardee's Restaurant one morning.
Everything I just wrote about the troubles coming for the so-called "marginal people" was basically just a paraphrase of what Erland told me. He acknowledged that technology has its obvious upside. Why do you think we develop it?
But. . . "You have to manage it," Erland said, "and a lot of people aren't going to be able to cut it. Look around this restaurant (at people who might face that difficulty)."
People up in years with limited education or obsolete skills, are going to face a tough road. I'm riding the same freight car as them.
When I was a kid we'd joke about how being a "carry out boy" was a last-resort type of job. We might call them "flunky" jobs. Let's retire that term because today, any job has demands that had better get your attention.
And besides, grocery stores are taking a hard look at whether they should even continue carry-out. They have to compete with Wal-Mart.
So you'd better be darn thankful for a job like that. And even those "checkout gals" in grocery stores had better watch their backs. Because tech could wipe out their positions eventually. Reportedly this is already starting to happen.
Are all these people going to be able to land on their feet doing something else? This is precisely what Mr. Charles was worried about.
All of these developments are chipping away at the storied "middle class" in America, that wonderful institution put in place in the years following WWII - a world of manageable and generally easy-to-comprehend job requirements.
Today it's a frenetic world that causes people like Steven Slater (the flight attendant) to become unhinged. The Slater incident should be a wakeup call to the issues I'm presenting in this blog post.
What kind of world, truly, are we headed into?
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, August 16, 2010

Harvin, Rice and Favre: what outcome?

I wish Percy Harvin's biggest problem was that he listens to too much country music. That way he'd be having heartaches instead of headaches. The mercurial wide receiver finally arrived for pre-season today (Monday) after taking what seemed like a sabbatical because of the death of a family member.
The Vikings organization has gained more sensitivity on these matters. That's because of their experience with Troy Williamson.
The organization learned greater empathy because of Williamson. Vikings fans would have had greater empathy for the man had he proven better at catching the football. Seriously though we grieve with anyone who has lost a loved one.
Back to the present and the Harvin subject: Reports have surfaced that his problem with migraines, which came to our attention last season, have re-surfaced. It's a supreme letdown for Minnesota Vikings fans.
Long-time NFL fans know, however, that it's too much to expect for your nucleus of key players to show up without incident or complication and proceed to follow the winning script.
We have another complication with another key Vikings receiver: Sidney Rice. This much we know: Rice has a hip problem. The extent of it is the huge question.
Rice, who had his breakout season last year and built special chemistry with QB Brett Favre, will arguably be underpaid for the coming season. Few pro athletes will shrug and accept that state of affairs. It's possible that a sweetening of the pot for Rice, contract-wise, will speed up the healing of that hip. Or make Rice more willing to play with a minor problem.
A problem like Rice's can be expected with a team like the Vikings, coming off a season with such a superb won-lost record. A lot of individuals had to excel for that kind of record to be achieved. It's unlikely that all of those individuals will subsequently find their contracts to be adequate. The "show me the money" refrain starts.
The NFL isn't dynasty-friendly anymore. The best teams usually catch lightning in a bottle with a mix of proven players and young surprises. Keeping a nucleus together for an extended time is a headache just like Harvin's.
The issues with Harvin and Rice create a third, much more sensational problem. Will Brett Favre feel enticed to come back if his two top wide receivers have huge question marks hovering over them?
Favre is not the kind of player who can just join any NFL team and inject the winning ingredient. He does has savvy and the kind of intangibles that one associates with "talent." We saw that at the end of the San Francisco game last year.
But he is very far up in age now. More than ever he needs that solid nucleus around him.
It's one reason he found the Vikings appealing to begin with. Without Harvin and Rice, it appears the Vikes would have a most pedestrian group of receivers. Frankly I wonder if Favre would consider coming back at all.
On Saturday the Vikings played their first pre-season game. A couple of weeks ago I actually took the trouble to watch part of the Hall of Fame Game - the annual start-of-season exhibition. For starved football fans, these season debut games are irresistible despite the fact that they're like drinking weak hot chocolate. It's interesting that the NFL, which is probably the premier pro sports league, begins and ends each season with such tepid attractions: the Hall of Fame Game and the Pro Bowl.
I had greater than usual interest in the Hall of Fame Game this year because it included the Dallas Cowboys, the favorite team of my waitress Felicia at DeToy's Restaurant in Morris. I need to stay well-versed on the Cowboys or I might get scolded by her.
Getting a Vikings fan to be interested in the Cowboys is a special challenge. Fans of my generation (boomers) have some unpleasant memories of purple conquests vs. Dallas. Tom Landry and that infernal hat of his - can you imagine a young coach wearing a hat like that? - is burned into the purple consciousness as a nemesis.
The "immaculate reception" gave us a hangover that may have lasted until our baseball Twins won the World Series in 1987. The Twins solved a lot with that success. The Vikes had lost four Super Bowls and the Twins lost the 1965 World Series. The '87 World Series just seemed to make things right.
Although I feel sorry for Harmon Killebrew.
Coach Landry and his retro hat gave way to Jimmy Johnson, whose picture could appear next to the word "feisty" in the dictionary. (Or course, print dictionaries are dying just like the Yellow Pages thanks to the Internet.)
Johnson might have the same hairstylist as Rod Blagojevich. He fits in perfectly today with those game-day panelists on TV who discuss highlights in a way that seems so free-flowing and spontaneous but which I'm sure is painstakingly crafted.
Terry Bradshaw is a master at that, although the older he gets, the more he reminds me of the Peter Boyle character in "Young Frankenstein."
Howie Long is the straight man.
Bill Parcells appeared to be installed for a lengthy tour of duty with Dallas, but he was dismissed after the infamous Tony Romo fumbled snap on a kick attempt. It's curious how fate works. Just like when Tarvaris Jackson was ceremoniously benched as Vikings quarterback (in favor of true journeyman Gus Frerotte) after a game in which Visanthe Shiancoe dropped a sure TD pass that would have beaten Peyton Manning and the Colts. Was Jackson on the verge of a breakthrough in that game? We'll never know. Frerotte came and went.
Now we have the Brett Favre circus, which we'll find entertaining until the purple fortunes fade. Without Harvin and Rice, the outlook is most clouded. If Adrian Peterson fumbles a couple of games away, the boos will come cascading.
By far the most interesting thing about the Vikings' first pre-season game was the showing of Joe Webb, the sixth-round draft pick. Quarterback Webb looks like a much quicker version of Daunte Culpepper. Assuming Favre does play, the Vikes will have to dispose of (or deactivate) either Sage Rosenfels or Jackson, because three QBs are the maximum and Vikes fans will insist on keeping Webb.
I would like to see Webb play an entire pre-season game even if he shows some rough edges. If he has a rough stretch, just have him complete a couple of passes under the coverage and prop his stats back up.
The Vikings may not have reached the Super Bowl last year but we trounced Dallas in the playoffs. Faint consolation.
The swashbuckling Romo has yet to look like a playoff quarterback. Felicia at DeToy's will surely hope that he'll get that monkey off his back. She has been quite excited about the Cowboys' top draft pick, "Dez" Bryant. Bryant made news in the pre-season by saying to heck with rookie hazing. He has a mind of his own but he might be able to contain this trait better than Terrell Owens.
So, Owens is now playing with Cincinnati? The same team that already has the eccentric Chad Ocho Cinco? My only question is this: Who's going to play the role of Curly?
Let's get past this pre-season and get to the "real deal!"
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Dayton, his dogs to reach finish line together

Harry Truman once said that if you want a friend in Washington D.C., "get a dog." Bud Grant said that one of the great things about having a dog is that "as long as you feed him, he's your friend." The threshold should be so reasonable for most of our human companions.
The iconic coach Grant likes hunting dogs. He's iconic but he lost four Super Bowls. By any criteria he was at the top of his profession, but people remember the four "super" setbacks. I'm sure coach Grant came home to his dogs each time and found them delighted to see him. Unconditional affection. As long as you feed them.
Now we have a political controversy, really just a passing kerfuffle, here in Minnesota involving dogs. I'm sure "Mesabi" and "Dakota" didn't want to enter the public spotlight. These are the dogs of Mark Dayton who I'm sure prizes them. They are grand German Shepherds. This was the breed showcased many years ago in the TV show "Rin Tin Tin."
Some people refer to German Shepherds as "police dogs."
The kerfuffle grew out of an incident on August 12. Democrat Dayton, freshly crowned with the DFL gubernatorial nod, held a press conference at the State Capitol. He probably wishes he had had his dogs at his side. Remember Richard Nixon's "Checkers speech?"
Nixon, for all his faults, had the political instincts to know that a charming dog might help people dismiss troubling issues connected to him.
Nixon was just vice president at the time and the nickname "Tricky Dick" was long from being coined. "Ike" Eisenhower ran the steady ship of state.
Dayton held his press conference while his dogs were out in the car. In this day and age of political "tracking," you don't dare even leave a too-small tip at a restaurant. (Are you reading this, Tom Emmer?) Any alleged indiscretion will get reported and have the potential to go "viral."
Dayton's alleged indiscretion with his dogs is exhibit "A" of how the new media (sometimes folded in with the traditional media) can be an annoying gadfly for politicians. The allegation, of course, is that the outside temperature was too hot for dogs to be kept in a car.
The Emmer camp was quick to trot out the "erratic behavior" accusation toward Dayton. The political silly season is setting in. It's problematic for the old media which are supposed to sift through the reams of information out there and report what's relevant. Often an ideological niche website or blog can cause enough of a ruckus to get a story at least on the periphery of the mainstream media. This is what happened with the Dayton/dogs story.
Political "tracking" yielded some gold nuggets, for a day or two anyway, for Republicans.
There are lots of dog lovers out there like yours truly. A story like this might well stick in your craw. I doubt that Dayton would feel his judgment was perfect in this case. But he was not oblivious to the dogs' welfare.
The "other side of the story" has it that the car was parked in the shade with windows open for the first half-hour, and then a staffer was dispatched to turn on the air conditioning.
Republicans pushed the "viral" potential and very soon we saw a Facebook group sprout: "Dog owners and lovers for Emmer." Which makes me realize that Betty White was probably right on, when she suggested on Saturday Night Live that Facebook is "a big waste of time."
To suggest that Republican Emmer is a more feeling person than Dayton makes me want to laugh harder than the Saturday Night Live audience.
The Humane Society says there is no safe temperature to leave your pets in the car. As a rule of thumb that's nice to observe, but real life calls for discretion sometimes. Dayton was totally aware of the welfare of his grand animals.
People who say there should be a law against leaving children unattended in a car should be asked: What about when you have to leave the car to pay for gas at a gas station? We must allow for discretion, and I wish this dictum had remained for seat belt use!
It's one thing to suggest seat belts in the Twin Cities where driving can entail real hazards on any given day. But here in Mayberry (Morris), where a typical motorist might be going just a few blocks to get a gallon of milk at Willie's?
And the fines seem more onerous out here where the average yearly income is lower. We ought to start a movement to get the state to lighten up on seat belt enforcement. And no, I haven't received a citation myself.
There is a law on the books about pets and vehicles. It's state statute 346.57 which reads: "A person may not leave a dog or a cat unattended in a standing or parked motor vehicle in a manner that endangers the dog's or cat's health or safety."
There is a lot of room for judgment there. Most of our domestic animals should just be thankful to have masters. Us masters must recognize our responsibility that comes with pet ownership. In the broad picture, "Mesabi" and "Dakota" are fortunate to have Mark Dayton as their owner.
This whole story makes me want to get familiar with these big wonderful animals.
This media story will prove to be the proverbial "blip" so typical in the Internet age. Emmer would love to see a similar fate for the story about the Target boycott. Attention pet owners: Don't buy your pet supplies at Target.
I wrote long ago that Dayton was likely to "put on his cape" and run for Minnesota governor. I'm proud of how I characterized it now. It will take a significant effort to defeat the Republicans and their crazed friends at Fox News, who have such a pied piper effect with so many shallow people.
I feel sorry for Margaret Anderson Kelliher who actually got my vote. But Dayton bypassed the endorsement process (a sticky issue for DFLers) and now he may be flying, adorned with cape, to the governor's mansion.
I first met Dayton at a house party in Morris way back when he was starting to build his political stock in Minnesota. Certainly this was the early 1980s. I had an immediate favorable impression. The handshake and eye contact were endearing.
Many years later, when my newspaper career was soon to crash on the shoals, I crossed paths with him again. His visit here, to Morris Area Elementary School, was coordinated by teacher Ken Gagner. The eye contact and handshake hadn't changed a bit.
I doubt he remembered me, although I should note that had this been Bill Clinton, based on what I've read, he would have remembered me!
Dayton is up to the battles that await him on the campaign trail. The "dog" story will barely be a trivia item when it's over. I wish him luck and extend my regards to "Mesabi" and "Dakota," who now relish getting back into the background I'm sure.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Morris Eagles baseball finishes 16-6

The above photo shows Jamie Van Kempen batting for the Morris Eagles at Chizek Field vs. Appleton. Photo by B.W.

It was hard to believe that the Morris Eagles' season could end with a single loss after a monumental win streak of ten. Tournaments can sometimes get so complicated with their various tiers, divisions and double-elimination systems, I'm hesitant to write with specificity about them.

Dumont 4, Eagles 0
Unfortunately, when the Eagles took the field to play the Dumont Saints and their feared pitcher Lee Arvold, they were in a position of having to win to advance. No second chances.
The Eagles entered that August 7 game having won ten straight times. But that didn't matter. Ouch. The Eagles' bats were silent in a 4-0 loss. Arnold ruled the day at the Madison diamond. Arvold is a southpaw draftee from the Chokio Coyotes.
Morris came up with only four hits, two of them by Dusty Sauter. On the bright side, Sauter could reflect on an outstanding rookie season that saw him bat a sizzling .422. Dusty led the team with 21 RBIs. He was also busy playing with the Morris American Legion baseball team.
Adam Torkelson was sent to the mound to vie against Arvold and the Saints. Torkelson was a little sub-par in the control department and he allowed a three-run rally in the fifth. The Litchfield native and former UMM Cougar was making his final start wearing the Eagle blue. The next chapter in his life will take him west to Colorado for graduate school. Eagles spokesman Matthew "Silver Squirrel" Carrington thanked Adam heartily for his commitment to the blue cause.
The blue cause had lots of success through the course of the 2010 season. Morris Eagles baseball posted a won-lost mark of 16-6. Too bad the season ended with a relative thud at the Madison diamond. In the long run the good memories will outweigh the bad.
Arvold had shown previous mastery vs. the Eagles. The lefty shut out the blue crew for six innings in a June contest. As for Torkelson, his pitching work spanned four and a third innings and he gave up five hits and three runs (two earned) while walking three batters and hitting two.
Carrington finished up the pitching work and his stint spanned four and two-thirds innings. Carrington set down four Coyote batters on strikes. His other stats included three hits allowed, one run (earned) and one walk.
In addition to Dusty Sauter's two hits, Ross Haugen and Torkelson each had one. The Eagles had two errors while Dumont had one.

Eagles 12, Appleton 10
The story was totally different when the Eagles hosted the Appleton A's on the first day of this month.
What a story on this day!
The situation seemed hopeless when the Eagles fell behind 9-1 after the top of the third inning. But instead of "garbage time" unfolding, the Eagles mounted a memorable comeback. In the end they won this playoff contest 12-10.
This writer was at the game when the Eagles were at their lowest. It truly seemed bleak. But the blue crew began clawing back with a three-run rally in the bottom of the third. The situation got brighter with a five-run outburst in the seventh. That outburst included a blast off Kirby Marquart's bat that struck within a foot of the top of the fence in center. The blast ended up a three-run triple.
The green-clad Appleton A's found some new life to tie the score in the top of the ninth. Too much wind had left their sails, though. The Eagles would make their final decisive statement led by Kirby Marquart.
First, Jamie Van Kempen recorded his fourth hit of the game: a single bounced into right field. The burly Marquart strode to the plate, determined to give the ball a ride again, and give it a ride he did! Marquart connected for a majestic home run to right-center.
"His huge day was a single short of the cycle," spokesman Carrington reported.
Kirby was a cog in the Eagles' never-say-day stance with his three-for-six boxscore numbers with his double, triple, home run and five RBIs.
Van Kempen had his superlative day from the "9 hole." He went four-for-five with two runs-batted-in. Chase Rambow rapped two hits and drove in a run.
Appleton outhit the Eagles 12-11. But Appleton committed a costly five errors to the Eagles' three.
Dusty Sauter scored a run and drove in a run. Ross Haugen went one-for-four and scored a run. Eric Asche recorded an RBI. Craig Knochenmus crossed home plate once. Torkelson went one-for-three with two runs scored.
"Silver Squirrel" Carrington had a run scored. Haugen and Van Kempen each stole two bases. Sauter and Haugen each reached via hit-by-pitch.
Appleton seemed to want to pitch around Sauter who was the recipient of three walks. Torkelson and Carrington each tossed the bat aside and trotted down to first base twice on walks, and Knochenmus reached once this way.
Torkelson looked unsteady on the mound and lasted two and a third innings. He gave up five hits and eight runs (six earned) while walking five batters. Carrington pitched the remaining six and two-thirds innings and was of course the winner. Matthew set down four A's batters on strikes. He allowed seven hits and two runs (earned) while walking two.
References like "Silver Squirrel" in connection with the veteran Carrington will probably ensure that the Eagles coverage on this blog will probably not get linked on the main Eagles website. That linking will likely remain an elusive dream, like getting on the cover of The Rolling Stone.
Matthew is to be commended for continuing his commitment to the most serious side of amateur baseball rather than slowing down to play in the seniors' circuit, not that the latter isn't a nice outlet for a lot of committed players.
"See you next season!" the enthused Carrington said.
The 16-6 won-lost mark of 2010 stokes optimism for when "play ball!" is heard next summer.
Thanks to all the fans too.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, August 9, 2010

Will new "country" Lutheran church fly here?

County Road 5 north of Morris has been striking for its placid air. It's the road that heads out of town where you find Cimaroc Kennels (run by Dan Sayles). It wasn't that long ago, in the scheme of things, that the road got paved. As a dirt road it wasn't that inviting.
It's more inviting now for bicyclists and "Sunday drivers." It also got the attention of a circle of spirituality-oriented people. In September a church building from a different location will be literally moved to along County Road 5 just outside of Morris. It will be quite an undertaking.
Surely there will be gawkers. (". . .and stop calling me Shirley.")
I doubt that the basic complexion of County Road 5 will change much. The new church (which I've seen before) has a definite "country church" look. In this sense it will complement the surroundings. It remains to be seen, obviously, how many people the new church will attract. Will cars be streaming to and from the place on a regular basis? Will it find its "legs" or struggle in terms of getting support?
I wrote a couple of weeks ago that Morris needs a new church like it needs a hole in the head. Everyone is free to do what they want and spend money as they wish, or course. The quantity of existing churches in the Morris area seems not to be a problem. There are certainly open pews in the church where I attend. From what I hear it's not an isolated deficiency.
So the idea of a new church being planted just outside of Morris strikes me as kind of a "shot across the bow." It must represent a set of ideas that its promoters feel are not adequately represented by the existing churches. I gather that the new church is being promoted by what I would call Lutheran traditionalists.
The ELCA has been inching forward into the 21st Century and this creates issues. Social issues are at the contentious focal point. There is pressure to tweak gender reference language in church literature, and to open the door wider to the gay community.
The forces of modernity seem always to win in these things.
Now, I can't speak with authority on matters of religion or theology - please muffle your laughter here - but I do understand small town dynamics and human nature, I think. If a career in newspapering doesn't teach you about human nature, nothing will.
Anything that smacks of rebellion in a small town is risky, regardless of any irresistible logic that appears to be behind it. You're naive if you think you can be bold, step on toes and come out looking clean and virtuous. You'll be dirty and with baggage. Even if a cause succeeds, there will be bodies strewn along the way (figuratively speaking).
There was a traumatic controversy in this town in about 1988 that even I couldn't emerge unscathed from. And it seems the dirty hands can never be cleansed. It is my assessment that the Lutheran churches in Morris cannot withstand the siphoning off of an appreciable number of members. And more importantly, they cannot withstand the loss of the money that those souls would contribute.
I'll quote my friend Glen Helberg here again: "Money talks and bulls--t walks."
There has to be some significant money behind the moving of that church building to the "Hufford neighborhood" north of Morris. That money could do a lot of good going through established church channels. Instead it's targeted to what I would call this "rebellion," this rejection of the existing network of Lutheran churches.
The church I attend is making extraordinary pleas for money and I assume the people beyond those pleas aren't lying. I have joked in the past that there's kind of a "cry wolf" quality to these pleas. But right now I'll take them at their word.
I wasn't going to name the church but I'm a journalist and journalists don't feel comfortable suppressing information. My church is First Lutheran and it recently bid farewell to its top pastor. The No. 2 person, Ali Boomershine, has done what I feel is a terrific job since. Let's move her up the "depth chart."
These perceived forces of modernity in the ELCA aren't distracting or bothering me. Of course, I'm not Mr. Spirituality but I'm typical of many churchgoers.
I didn't attend church for most of my adult life because I considered church to be part of the "establishment" web of institutions that seemed to collectively sit on its hands during the Viet Nam War. It fell into "irrelevance" to use the parlance of my generation when young.
I'm slowly getting over that now. Suggestions of rebellion in a small town usually end up that way: suggestions. In the case of the new church, it appears from all indications that it's past the talking stage and it's really headed here.
If it succeeds it will have bad consequences for the existing ELCA churches. But we're all assuming that those existing churches will just sit back and take the adversity. Institutions are more fluid than that.
The existing churches will strive to make accommodations for the "traditionalists." They will put a welcome mat out for them. And they will have the advantage of being well established with their systems and infrastructure.
The new church will have to confront a whole list of things to be set up - logistics - some of which maybe haven't been anticipated yet. I had a conversation with one of these individuals and I asked if the new church had a website. He responded that he wasn't sure but indicated that, well, that was something that would have to be done. I did a basic Google search and found no evidence yet. So add this task to your list, guys.
Morris doesn't need more churches, it needs more industry. The ELCA is trying to keep pace with our contemporary wold. Efforts like this by the mainstream usually win out in the end.
And personally I'd like to see County Road 5 stay as untouched and pristine in its surroundings as possible.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Sunday, August 8, 2010

morris mn - This site is seven months old!

We can take pride in two giant wind turbines churning away on the east edge of our community. They provide a majestic backdrop in this photo. The photo was taken from the "spur" along the bicycle path on the west side of Pomme de Terre River. The turbines are an object of pride for the University of Minnesota-Morris (UMM) and the West Central Research and Outreach Center, not to mention the whole community. (B.W. photo)

This site had its start in the dead of winter. It was New Year's Eve, not by design but by coincidence. I had been encouraged to do this by a lifelong Morrissite acquaintance who said it wouldn't be as difficult as I seemed to suspect.
I didn't own a computer and wasn't planning on getting one. It has been on the corner of my mind, but there is a cost factor along with a confusion factor. A computer seems to have endless possibilities but that's the problem: learning to harness all of them.
Another big consideration is the rapid path to obsolescence for all of that stuff. It was bad enough being active in photography, where obsolescence was a constant annoyance. And this stuff costs real money!
When I was a kid, buying a reasonably fancy 35mm camera (something other than a Kodak Instamatic) might have been considered a one-time purchase. As the years went on, the new generations of cameras (with "must-have" developments like auto-focus) came on the scene at a frantic pace. And then we arrived at digital cameras, which wiped out the whole previous model for picture-taking.
Digital cameras were primitive at the start, which meant - guess what? - that the whole process of "new generations" was going to start churning again. Where do people get the money for this?
We're told that we're in the grips of a serious recession. But look at the big league baseball parks - quite full of humanity, even though the total pricetag for a family might be $200.
So I guess people can keep stocking up on all the tech stuff. Discard a digital camera and get a new one. Get a new computer. Or move on to a laptop, or why not a netbook?
I can't keep up with it. And I'm sort of attached to my money so I don't want to part with it. So I use the resources at our local public library and senior citizens center. The Morris Public Library has six computer stations along with Wi-fi. I don't have a laptop so I use one of the six computers, where on any given day you'll find some interesting people situated. I'm sure they have different needs and different dreams.
Sometimes they are immersed in what they are doing and sometimes they're talkative. Some play games and some seek news.
The chief librarian is Melissa Yauk who is quite in command and insightful. I overheard her say recently that the library computers were set for an "upgrade." There is always potential for an upgrade with this stuff. I sometimes see Ms. Yauk wearing a very wide-brim hat which I suspect might have a story behind it.
I asked Karen Berget once if we'd ever reach an end point with all this technology (i.e. where we had progressed as far as we could) and she laughed and said "no."

Salute to 4-H
Sharon Ehlers of the Morris Public Library staff is someone who I associate with 4-H. She and husband Doug have been pillars with Stevens County 4-H and I was delighted to have my own long-time association through media work.
I'll be thinking about Stevens County 4-H when I visit the fair this coming week. These days my fair experience consists of going to the rest cottage area and, well, resting - sitting on a bench and watching the people go by.
Everyone comes to the fair. There are no socio-economic divisions.
I have had zero contact with Stevens County 4-H since my days in the "dead tree" newspaper industry. I miss the association (with 4-H, not the "dead tree" industry which is deservedly being run into the ground by the Internet).
Speaking of that industry, since there is a major boycott of the Target chain of stores, due to that company's big financial push behind Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, maybe the boycott should extend to newspapers that include the weekly Target advertising circular. Sounds reasonable to me.

Salute to countryside
I have some special rapport with Tammy Smith of the library staff because we both reside amidst the pastoral, peaceful country north of Morris. Tammy lives along County Road 5, where her family's dune buggy is a sight that might greet you. I live on Northridge Drive which is a short jaunt from getting on County Road 5.
You will stamp yourself as a true Morrissite if you call County Road 5 "Yankee Ridge Road." We once had a contest for naming the neighborhood where I live, and one of the nominations was "Rebel Ridge." Another, I might add, was "Snob Hill." The irreverent suggestions lost out to Northridge Drive.
I am surprised that Northridge Drive has not been paved all the way to County Road 5.
Anyone who feels stressed out should hop on a bicycle and get on County Road 5 going north. There's no better therapy. Eventually you'll reach the intersection with County Road 18 and you can go east to Pomme de Terre Lake (or is it Perkins Lake?). Official county maps use the "Perkins Lake" name. But when you arrive at the public access there you'll see a big sign welcoming you to "Pomme de Terre Lake."
I once brought this confusion to the attention of a Stevens County Historical Society staffer. But I'm not sure any probing or clarification has been done. I know that "Perkins" was a prominent name out there. But that's not the point. The lake should have an agreed-upon name.
The Pomme de Terre West neighborhood, on the shores of the lake in question, might be another candidate for the "Snob Hill" name. Just teasing, people, but this is a neighborhood that seems to appreciate a feeling of seclusion. It's understandable in this world of connectedness built up through new media and tech.
Media writer Jeff Jarvis observed recently that whereas privacy was once the norm, and we had to take pains or pay to achieve connectedness, today connectedness is free and plentiful and we must take pains to achieve privacy! So a secluded residence along the peaceful Pomme de Terre Lake shore seems like quite the prescription.
The road leading out there is a washboard-like dirt road not consistent with the quality of the neighborhood. There's a dead end eventually that isn't designed for easy turnarounds. The Pomme de Terre (Perkins?) Lake access is a stone's throw away but there's no connection.
In the past I have parked my bike at the access and walked through a couple blocks of weeds, undaunted, to come out on the dead end and then enjoy a stroll along this attractive neighborhood. I actually didn't want to subject my bike (a low-end Huffy) to the "washboard" that was presented via the direct route (coming off Highway 59 North).
The powers that be threw a curve at me last spring when they repaired a barbed wire fence at the access. Previously an opening had been carved out, suggesting that other people like me wanted unfettered movement in the area. I can get over the fence with some exertion, and take care with the crotch of your trousers!
Everyone should get a glimpse of the Pomme de Terre West neighborhood sometime.
Just to the north you'll find Luther Crest West, which was once known as Perkins Resort. The defunct Perkins Resort had a roller rink that was absolutely legendary. Many young couples found each other there. I have heard that swimming in the lake was common then. The water must have been cleaner.
Even today, though, water recreation is common there: fishing, along with kids getting pulled on inner tubes behind boats. I have often suggested to people that the Pomme de Terre Lake chain is one of the most overlooked resources of the Morris area.

morris mn - getting the accent going
I am proud of how my website, "I Love Morris," has developed in the seven months since its origination (on New Year's Eve, when I always watch a DVD of a 1954 Jack Benny New Year's TV special).
We're in the dead of summer now. Reflecting, I think this site has been an eye-opening experience in terms of all the ways it can be enhanced, even without owning a computer.
Inserting my own photos has been a big step forward. I still take photos on a 35mm (non-digital) camera. The photos are put on a CD.
There's one big unresolved question: How big an audience do I want? There are at least a handful of people who visit regularly. I appreciate that, you guys, but I'm totally unsure of how many people might have stumbled onto the site beyond that.
I was hoping that search engines would facilitate. I have discovered, though, that search engines only connect people to specific posts on my site and not directly to the site itself.
I'm hoping that people are sophisticated enough to make the leap to getting directly to the site (to see the current post etc.).
If you're reading this because of linking to this post, and want to go directly to the site, I'll make it easy: Just click on the line below!


The "73" denotes my year of graduation from Morris High School (not Morris Area, just Morris).
I was hoping there might be a "viral effect" attracting high school sports fans to some of the youth sports coverage here. But I'm disappointed to have discovered this apparently hasn't happened.
My late friend Delmar Holdgrafer, who left a void with his death that hasn't yet been filled in the Morris area, had a favorite saying: "Patience brings all things."
These are words I ought to heed as I continue trying to sharpen "I Love Morris."
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Saturday, August 7, 2010

St. Cloud has become cosmopolitan city

Skalicky Plaza, built in 2000, adorns the St. Cloud State University campus. (Ted Sherarts photo)

When Coborn's first came to town here in Morris MN, I felt like I was seeing an old friend.
"Coborn's!" It's where a St. Cloud State University student could go to write out a check for cash. No ATMs then. There was a Coborn's store just a few blocks from the SCSU campus, in between the campus and Division Street (the "main drag").
In my last two years at St. Cloud, I had a very modest sleeping room at a private residence in the northeast part of that central Minnesota city. I passed by Coborn's every day, walking to and from campus.
I also walked over the Mississippi River on the old DeSoto Bridge. That's the bridge that St. Cloud had to replace when inspections were stepped up in the wake of the Twin Cities bridge disaster. When I first heard the old bridge was coming down, I thought "wow, that will cause traffic mayhem there."
I gather that it turned out to be not quite that bad. I visited there because of a family medical situation and found that the re-routing was quite easy to accept. Today I hear that the new bridge is quite state of the art and pedestrian-friendly, with pausing areas where you can simply observe the majesty of the river.
St. Cloud is quite the resilient city. It's interesting coming from Morris, a town in which we always seem concerned about our future viability with population and the economy, to St. Cloud, which is worried about whether it can adjust fast enough to growth!
One might feel envy toward St. Cloud. But then there's the old saying "bigger isn't necessarily better." We want viability and at least some growth for Morris (or - let's be honest - a stanching of the decline) but we truly like the "small town" attributes of relative safety and quiet.
We have an Economic Improvement Commission because, well, we're just supposed to aspire to growth. We'd seem weird if we didn't.
There's a common joke around Morris these days that the people involved with "economic improvement" must be sitting on their hands. Indeed, the casual observer might well think we're becoming less like St. Cloud and more like Mayberry.
But I know there are many parents who are delighted to send their kids to the U of M-Morris precisely because Morris seems Mayberry-esque.
I remember covering the UMM Homecoming parade one year and jotting down names of young people on a float. A young man who said he was from St. Cloud had a last name that rang familiar from my college memories. I asked him if his father was the speech teacher from SCSU.
"Yes," he answered.
(I should note here that whenever I took down names of UMM students for photo captions, I liked getting hometowns because it was neat to see where all these young people came from. I could add that the Morris newspaper today will cover a big event like Prairie Pioneer Days and not even bother with captions for the full-page photo spread.)
Did the SCSU speech teacher like having his son attend college in a slower-paced community? That might have been one reason. Certain academic qualities might have been another. I didn't ask.
People will claim there are highly specific reasons for choosing one college over another, but I feel it's a little more impulsive. Any academic institution, even a community college, can challenge and enrich you.
At this stage of my life I trumpet the learning opportunities available online and have grown skeptical of the traditional bricks-and-mortar campus model. It's the kind of analysis heard from Governor Tim Pawlenty on The Daily Show.
My generation was completely plugged into the old model.
I was the opposite of that young man in the parade float, because I grew up in Morris and attended college in St. Cloud. I grew up hearing all the "elite" rhetoric about UMM, how only the cream of the crop would attend here, and I felt intimidated by it.
It was sort of nice "getting lost" in St. Cloud for a few years.
I have heard that St. Cloud State University has a reputation of being somewhat cold and impersonal. I was lucky because I never found that to be true in my own experiences.
My luck even continued when I visited "the old campus" in 2006 for Homecoming. I was there for the early-morning 5K run but wasn't sure exactly where it would start. A student working the front desk at a dormitory saw me outside apparently looking confused, and came out to see if she could help. I got directed properly.
I have always heard that St. Cloud is a little cold to non-Catholics. I think this is a fading stereotype just like the one about St. Cloud being an enclave of Germans. Like any area that is booming economically, the population is becoming steadily more diverse.
When I made that visit for the medical situation - my mother had a heart attack and today she's fine - I had to smile when I noticed an old building that was a hippie hangout when I was in college, which had become a Somali Grocery Store. The hippie hangout was the East Bank Bar and Cafe. (The owner growled at me once when I said "bar and grill.")
It didn't seem a very happy place. Today the building is emblematic of St. Cloud's evolution. Congratulations!
Cities develop stereotypes of course. I never sensed any prejudice toward non-Catholics. But it's not as if I were a Lutheran, I was an agnostic! Today I'm a Lutheran back in the mainstream.
I had Catholic friends when I was a kid who took me to "Catholic bingo." I later learned I wasn't eligible to be served communion at a Catholic funeral. I asked those friends about why I was welcome for one and not the other.
"We'll always take your money!" one said.
Interestingly, my landlords at the house where I spent much of my St. Cloud experience were a classic German Catholic couple - retired farmers. I had a wonderful relationship with them and looking back, I wish I had continued the friendship.
They had an adult son with developmental issues, but I was never fazed or distracted by that. Most likely this firmed up our bond.
My monthly rent was very reasonable, a figure that today would be unheard of. I was just a college kid so my demands weren't very great.
Lutherans did have their bastion in St. Cloud and there was a Lutheran church just down the street from my apartment. I'm ashamed to say I never attended a service there. On many weekends I came "home" to Morris. But I didn't attend church here either.
My old boss Jim Morrison says our generation never really took to church-going. We're dragging ourselves into that fold now. The passing years are impressing on us our mortality.
As young people we saw churches as part of that whole web we called "the establishment," which we thought was staid and unresponsive in a world moving forward on so many fronts like socio-economic, racial and gender empowerment. And relief from war, primarily.
Close your eyes and think what it would have been like if the iconic Billy Graham had called a press conference and made a sudden, bold statement calling for the U.S. to withdraw from Viet Nam! Think of the difference this could have made.
Graham could have endeared himself to the boomers forever (and in the long run, to everyone).
But the boomers were just "kids" at that time. We didn't have money. Yet. Yup, that makes the difference.
Graham had to hold his place in the firmament of "establishment" leaders. I hope that when he meets his maker, he can defend this. Perhaps he'll be assigned a room with Dick Nixon.
St. Cloud State U was a pretty left-of-center place in the 1970s. Prescriptions from the left seemed logical to us. Many professors were all too happy to lead us around by the nose with this.
I remember when the daughter of then-president Gerald Ford came to the SCSU campus to campaign for her father. The campus newspaper responded with a big blank block of space on the editorial page with a smart-aleck sentence at the top: "Below are highlights of the speech given by Susan Ford at SCS."
(Back then the "SCS" initials were typical because the "university" title hadn't yet been adopted. It was "college" then, and "SCSC" didn't quite roll off the tongue. It became a "university" when I was still a student.)
Gerald Ford was no Dick Nixon. He seemed to be a fundamentally good man who was in a tangle of post-war disillusionment and stagflation. Remember those pathetic "Whip Inflation Now" buttons?
Ford pardoned Nixon and that hurt him, but would we really have wanted it any other way? I mean, the powers that be clearly had Nixon by the balls anyway. He could just be deposited in the dumpster of history with other scoundrels.
Jimmy Carter was our president for my last two years at St. Cloud State. My landlords seemed captivated by him. A lot of us were, because he was unquestionably a nice, sincere and reverent man. We got a reprieve from the rat f--king of the Nixon years (the term associated with winning politically at all costs).
I'll be prejudiced here and say that Carter was a slow-moving and slow-thinking southerner, too much of an idle philosopher.
We were finally out of Viet Nam but our economy had seemed to become unhinged. What I remember most is that life seemed to move oh so slowly.
If you could accept the economic realities, it really wasn't such a bad time to be alive. I had a barely-serviceable apartment but it seemed wonderful to me. People weren't worried about identity theft and we didn't wake up in the morning concerned about how the S&P Futures were behaving.
People weren't nearly so defensive or paranoid as they are prone to being today. Parents would let their kids play outside unsupervised. Were there dangers? Yes, and pretty much the same dangers as exist today. But the media weren't inclined to sensationalize a lot of the bad things that happened.
Stories like the Scott Peterson murder case were handled on a regional basis - more toned down in quality. No Nancy Grace back then to express outrage.
We need to be vigilant vs. those dangers, no doubt, but we must not retreat into a cocoon either. Too much of the cocoon-like behavior is happening now: people never answering their phone, taking messages instead, for example.
Late in my newspaper career I was becoming troubled by how insulated people were becoming.
Whereas people once almost seemed flattered when contacted by "the newspaper," they were quite contrary toward the end.
I really wouldn't care that much but my job depended on people being a little more gregarious and responsive.
Eventually the rigors of the job, particularly under chain ownership - ugh - were unacceptable. I felt like one of those guys rowing in a Viking-like boat. I'm sure it's the same if you work for Jiffy Lube. You have to generate those numbers. You worship at the profit altar.
It makes me wax nostalgic for the Carter years when we seemed quite content with a more relaxed pace of life. Call it a "malaise" if you want but we had our share of good times (not including the "Smoky and the Bandit" movies).
St. Cloud seemed big in the '70s and it was stretching its legs, buoyed by its designation as an "All American City." A lot of us SCSU students thought that a bit dorky. We also didn't take too seriously the U.S. Bicentennial. We were too bitter about some of the more downbeat aspects of U.S. life then.
We found disco. I remember the Persian Club in St. Cloud having a dance floor with the big rotating ball projecting light.
Disco was a chapter that came and went. Ditto the Carter presidency. It all seems ancient now while St. Cloud continues stretching its legs, more diverse and cosmopolitan than ever I'm sure.
It's a terrific place. A part of me never left there. And the nostalgia goes beyond being able to cash a check at Coborn's.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Sound the trumpets, football is near!

I have never looked forward to football season so much in my life. We know the Minnesota Vikings will be interesting regardless of what the won-lost record says. We will get reacquainted with our "old friend" the HHH Metrodome, where the Minnesota Vikings are now the only big-time tenant.
The Dome motif is becoming very Vikings-specific with lots of purple around, according to what I've read.
The Metrodome was such a reliable rock for Minnesota sports fans over the past era. It has life left in it, as we'll be very clearly reminded when the Vikings take to the artificial turf there for the new campaign.
It's nice to see the Dome still viable. The decibel level will soar there again.
Lately it's the aggravation level that has risen among Vikings fans, due to the predictable ambivalence of their quarterback. Green Bay felt this circus had become too distracting. Minnesota took a chance on this Mississippi boy and he took us for an interesting ride last season. Of course, he was surrounded by superior talent.
He failed to dispose of a so-so Chicago Bears team late in the season, and for that we saw home field advantage slip away for the duration of the playoffs. That probably cost us a Super Bowl berth.
Brett Favre eventually threw one of his trademark "what was he thinking?" interceptions against the Saints in New Orleans, and this gave us a hangover for the off-season.
Experts have said that Favre had his best-ever season last year. I would say that the NFL has been continually tweaking the rules to encourage more of a passing game. Not just more passing but passing of more of a crowd-pleasing kind, with receivers hit in stride as they sprint downfield. Not the under-the-coverage stuff.
The astute Favre saw these developments and figured he could punch down on the accelerator, which he definitely did. He had the receivers and the line to make it all work, defying what his age might have suggested.
Kurt Warner capped off his NFL career with spectacular passing numbers, taking advantage of the game's more wide-open direction. Warner, an NFL senior citizen like Favre, battled Aaron Rodgers in the playoffs in a game epitomizing the new NFL look of frequent passing.
Warner's Cardinals and Rodgers' Packers battled in a pinball type of playoff battle. Back and forth and fast and furious. Entertaining, yes, but too much of a good thing?
Passing can get cheapened just like Barry Bonds cheapened home runs. The NFL is a precious entertainment product competing for the entertainment dollar in a most crowded universe of attractions. Not even the NFL can take its success for granted. So the game's architects are delicately managing the product to deal with the short attention span created by our limitless new media universe.
In the old days, Curt Gowdy could describe a dull NFL game with frequent off-tackle runs, and everyone just went home at the end of the day and picked up their paychecks. No one can afford that anymore. The NFL is looking closely at pre-season games as being a liability. Which they are. The most exciting thing about the Vikings' pre-season games will be to see when or if Brett Favre shows up for them.
There has even been talk that Favre could bypass the early portion of the real season, giving his apparently injured ankle more time to heal. This would be quite a drastic accommodation. Should we then root for the Vikings to lose so the door stays open for Favre? Oh, of course not.
But if Tarvaris Jackson catches fire, the way I think he can, how can you risk interrupting the momentum? It's all so distracting and disrupting. And Favre seems to be the only athlete capable of demanding that accommodation.
There is only one way that all of this will be worth it: if the Vikings win the Super Bowl. Anything short of that, and the season fades into obscurity. The odds are long.

What about those "rodents?"
The U of M Gophers are a distant second in terms of attracting the interest of Minnesota's fandom. Last year the novelty of a new stadium wasn't enough to attract the kind of student body support that the U expected. That's a very disappointing sign.
I have written before on this site that Division I football in Minnesota would benefit from an in-state rivalry. I have wondered if it might be practical for St. Cloud State to take the kind of steps we've seen with NDSU of Fargo. Any better suggestions?
The Gophers - "our beloved rodents," as scribe Patrick Reusse has long called them - will be the target for negative recruiting now because of the potential for playing in cold weather games up here. The Gophers sought the Metrodome in the first place to overcome this. Life can be perplexing.
Many season forecasts have the Gophers finishing at the bottom of the conference. People of my generation (boomers) have gotten gray or silver-haired waiting for the U of M football team to do something truly special. Lou Holtz gave us a glimmer of hope. But after that it was back into the abyss where we are now with coach Tim Brewster, another here-today-gone-tomorrow spoke in the wheel (i.e. a future answer to a trivia question).
In another month or so we'll all be mesmerized by the Vikings. It will be a joy to watch ESPN Sportscenter on Monday again.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com