Don’t Give up the Ship

   One of my all time heroes in American History is Commodore Oliver “Hazard” Perry of the U.S.Navy whose command was  during the War of 1812.  When you read about Perry, you discover that he had a very distinguished naval career prior to and following the Battle of Lake Erie.  His battle flag read,” Don’t Give up the Ship” in deference to his great friend Captain James Lawrence who commanded the original frigate in peril during the battle.  Lawrence was a fatality, but the command shifted to the frigate Niagra where Perry took over and eventually defeated the British Navy forcing them to surrender.  His famous line,” We have met the enemy and they are ours”  is a testament to the tenacity of an outgunned, undermanned U.S.Navy whose leadership under Perry was able to take on and defeat the most powerful navy in the world.  

     During my travels to Rochester, NY or Toledo, Ohio, I always had my road bike with me and made a point to stop and ride at Presque Isle on Lake Erie.  There is a monument there dedicated to the construction of the ships that made up Perry’s command during the War of 1812, in and around Presque Isle and the bay. A similar monument and visitors center is situated at Put In Bay in Ohio.  One of the famous Lake Erie Islands, Put In Bay is easily accessed by the ferry   at Port Clinton, Ohio. I always took a ride on the ferry, rode my bike along the quiet roads on the island and always stopped at the monument and took in the video presentation of the Battle of Lake Erie at the visitors center which is managed by the National Park Service.  .  The presentation by the Park Rangers is worth the listen and it is always a must on any trip to Put In Bay.  The scenic roads around Presque Isle in Erie, Pa and the country roads of the Lake Erie islands always remind me of my youth when my folks took us to the lKing James 2012photo800px-DONT_GIVE_UP_THE_SHIP_flag.svg264px-BattleofLakeErie489px-Portrait_of_Oliver_Hazard_Perry%2C_1818ake for vacation. As I peddle along and see the cottages along the routes, it reminds me of a time gone by with swims in the lake, penny candy, and evenings along the shore looking at the stars.  

     But perhaps my most recent memories are again centered around this famous battle flag….” Don’t Give Up the Ship.”  When my son Jack played AAU Basketball as a grade school kid, we always had tournaments in Erie, Pa.  I always took the boys and the parents down to this little restaurant on the bay which had good seafood but more importantly to me, had this flag proudly displayed behind the bar.  As we all assembled around the bar waiting for our table, I took the opportunity to tell the boys the story of the Battle of Lake Erie and the courageous actions of one Oliver “Hazard” Perry.  ” Don’t Give up the Ship” was a rallying cry for our teams as we faced teams from all over the east and Canada in the AAU Tournaments.  We saw talented players who were much bigger and faster than our guys and we knew we had to face them in the next round.  As I began to get carried away with my enthusiasm for the Battle and the success of the frigate Niagra, I would encourage the boys to not give up the ship and remember the heroics of Perry and his men.  As their eyes widened with my overachieving enthusiasm, I was able to incite a little courage and oftentimes our Davids defeated the Goliaths on the basketball courts and we advanced to the final rounds.  I like to think that my speech in front of that flag was enough to attain the victory and that the boys were encouraged enough to play their hearts out.  Well, in reality, I can’t take credit for that for sure.  But a little encouragement goes a long way and helps to fuel the fire of competition.  As the years went by, I repeated the story to several of my son’s teams and when they were juniors in high school and in their last years of AAU Tournaments, it got to the point where my son preempted my speech by saying,” Don’t say it Dad!!!”  ” We have all heard it and we know…………..Don’t Give up the Ship.”  We all laughed but I looked at that flag with a fire in my eyes for our team and for my hero- Oliver” Hazard” Perry.  

     I have always been a fan of the underdog.  The little guys on a team, the kid that always strikes out, the kid with little talent but a lot of heart, the friend who has lost his job, the divorced friend who is trying to find peace, the downtrodden, the parents facing a child’s medical procedure with a life in the balance.  These are the people in our lives who need encouragement.  These are the people who need a friend at the times when it might not be convenient.  These are the folks whose name I write on my pad at work so that I don’t forget to give them a call or get together with them.  My memory is a little sketchy these days.  But these are the folks whose hope needs restored.  My mom always said to have a friend is to be a friend.  She was so right.  Encouragement is the fuel for recovery and whether we invite a person to dinner, ride bikes, ski, hike, or any activity in which conversation can be shared, it is well worth it and no matter how badly the person is defeated, the care of a friend saying,” Don’t Give up the Ship” is appreciated and may turn the tide for that person………..just like the Battle of Lake Erie.  Call a friend today.  Thanks for reading.  

Know the Rules!

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AP570722027_t62014d7c856-bf4a-4b95-ada5-4359dd6b415cGOClogo-shannopin-country-club Its funny, people come up to me and ask if I play golf? I respond,” only if I have to.” I am a little too nervous and jerky for golf and I always remark that if they could pitch the golf ball to me, I might do better. In any event, outside of the occasional 9 holes for fun with Janet(my wife), I really don’t play much golf. However, I do have a history of sorts with the sport. I rented clubs at Ballybunion, the famous course on the west coast of Ireland, and promptly lost 6 balls on the first 6 holes because the rough was so high. I ended up returning the clubs because the shop was closed and walked the rest of the course just to see it. Very scenic but not a place for me to play golf.

When I was a kid, my dad played golf at Shannopin Country Club in Pittsburgh and being a child of the depression, he was father enough to say that,” I play golf here- you can work here.” Which is what I did, parking cars, working in the kitchen, and most of all caddying. Being a caddy was an enlightening endeavor in that you met the most interesting people and see how they react under competitive circumstances. Take the good guys- Gene Sutherland, Don McClelland, Bill McClelland, and whatever victim they could find as their fourth. My friend Tom Herder and I would park in the lot at about 3:00 AM so we could be the first on the list to assure two rounds of doubles on any given Saturday. If we were given these guys, we were assured of balls right down the middle and hilarious comments in the midst of a very competitive and financially lucrative competition. These guys would try to beat each other each weekend, get a shot and a beer at the turn, press the bets, and then continue the competition at the card table playing gin late into the night. If I was on the winning side, I got a nice tip. If not, they were still generous but not happy.

The other caddying experiences were not as fun with the hackers spewing drives and errant iron shots into the woods. If I found one close to the out of bounds marker, I would kick it back in bounds to keep the round going and also assure a nice tip because of the pleasant experience of finding a surely out of bounds ball miraculously in bounds. Smiles abounding and a nice financial reward at the end of the day. The ladies days were another story. There were the good ones like Carol Semple who was a national amateur champion but most of the ladies who participated were, shall we say, challenged. I was always polite but when they asked me what to hit on their 19th shot on the hole, did it really matter? Oh well.

All of the time spent at Shannopin yielded me a nice benefit one year. John Conley, who was the golf professional, asked me if I wanted to work in his place as a marshal on one of the holes at the US Open at Oakmont in 1973. That was the year Johnny Miller set the course record with 63 on the final round. I marveled at his focus as he seemed to float through my hole just staring into the distance and visually acknowledging no one. He was in the “zone” and the 63 was remarkable. As a marshal, I was representing the local chapter of the PGA and had a PGA hat on my head along with an official Oakmont US Open 1973 shirt and slacks. I sure looked official even though I was 18 and didn’t look anything like a golf professional. The moment of truth came about when Lionel Hebert, a veteran tour professional, hit his ball into the sand trap right in front of me. As he approached, my blood pressure started to escalate as he asked me if he could get some relief seeing that there was water in the trap. I looked for the USGA guy who was not in sight and fortunately I remembered the Rule Number 25 in the USGA Rules that addressed casual water. I remember from my caddy days that if you could bring up water by pushing your foot near the ball, it was considered “casual water” and the golfer would be granted a club length relief. I stated this and Lionel Hebert stepped near the ball, brought up water, and looked at me. Fortunately the blue jacket and the gray pants of the USGA Official came into sight as I gave my opinion, he nodded that this was the right call and granted Hebert a club length relief. Lionel placed the ball in a dry spot, took out an iron and sent the ball flying and thanked me for the ruling. I was relieved and the USGA guy nodded his approval and moved on. I couldn’t get off that course fast enough but what an experience for an 18 year old caddy and car parker from Shannopin. Whew!!!

Good thing my dad made me work as much as he did. It built character and understanding of life that I took with me to the box factory where I worked summers in my college years. It honed a work ethic that I have tried to pass on to my son Jack who is carrying the McCloskey torch with employment. It all seems so long ago but Shannopin and the US Open at Oakmont are etched in my brain forever. Thanks for reading.  Back to the trail and woodsy stuff next week. Fore!!!!!

Enjoy the Olympics

Lake Placid 1980 Winter Olympics  Olympic Video News Medals1625378_10_147x1101081918_10_147x110Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics - Olympic Tickets, Schedules, Games, Newsus%20ski%20team.finals2013 In February, the world will take another breather from the political and social pressure and focus on an event that happens every four years- The Winter Olympics. The Russians are the host of the 2014 Games in Sochi which will again be a spectaclar event shown to all of us on the NBC network. There have been the usual misgivings about whether Russia is ready to host and whether all the construction and supposed environmental issues have been put to rest. But to be sure, Vladmir Putin will make sure that it is all done well. He is not only a strong willed guy but he is also an avid skier. The Winter Olympics will not only be a showcase to the world for Russian commerce and tourism, but it will be a financial boom to an area that is starting to take it’s place on the main stage of winter destinations. One thing for sure, it is an event not to be missed. NBC will have expanded coverage of many events that are not familiar to many viewers, but if you take the time to appreciate the hard work and dedication of the athletes, and that this is the pinacle oftentimes of their careers, you can really enjoy the stories and events that make up the Winter Olympiad.

I love watching the Olympics. Not only because I am a winter sports nut but also I can appreciate the dedication that goes into putting on an event like this and the efforts of the athletes who participate. Unfortunately, this is lost on some local sportswriters who show their ignorance by writing articles that demean the Olympics. When your frame of reference is only football, basketball and baseball, you really should not be reporting on an event with which you have no familiarity. If you visit major metro areas, there are writers who are experts contributing to an enthusiastic reporting of the games. Also,in the cities that have winter sports as part of their infrastructure of tourism, you have this same feeling of support for the events. I have had the experience of writing to the editors of my local rag because their reports on the games have been jaded and lacking the proper information. One guy had the gaul to call the sporting events “games” and that they really are not sporting events. I responded that perhaps football games, baseball games and basketball games are played by gamers and not athletes? I informed him that if he ever took the time to attend a winter sports event, he would see athletic prowess in every sense of the word. A downhill skier rocketing down an icy slope at 70-90 MPH with legs like a fullback is hardly a gamer. A skater performing a triple axel or a hockey player digging it out in the corner against a tough Eastern European team is an athlete. Cross country skiing takes every bit of strength and aerobic capacity to compete at the international level with the athletes absolutely spent at the finish line. I threw a bone at the guy and said that I would maybe consider curling a game, but nothing else. This is the same guy who said that Tiger Woods was not an athlete because he wore pleated pants. I guess my point is to the local sportswriters to get informed and jump on the Olympic bandwagon instead of pooh pooing something that most of the world embraces. Ignorance is revealing in local sports writing and it always happens around the Winter Olympics.

I had the good fortune of attending the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. My cousin worked for Coke at the time and gave me $900.00 worth of tickets. My friends, the Durfees, and I attended most of the events but the hottest ticket was hockey. We could not trade or buy any tickets and ended up watching the Miracle on Ice in a bar across the street from the hockey venue. We stood at the top of the ski jumps and my heart was in my mouth as I imagined sliding down that steep pitch and jumping into the abyss only to land to the applause of the thousands of spectators attending those events. Ice dancing, figure skating, cross country skiing were all on our agenda as we made our way through the Olympic Village every day. It was real cold at those Olympics which was typical for the Adirondacks in February. When we arrived at the parking area and were waiting in monstrous lines to catch a school bus to the events, the cold really sunk in and as I admired the Olympic Flame in the distance, the guy next to me who had a distinct Brooklyn accent said,” I’d like to sit my ass in that flame right about now.” We all laughed heartly at that one and the comraderie made the cold bearable. Trading pins was the rage and it became a mission to try to get as many supplier, and team pins as possible. We had the good fortune to see Eric Heiden win all of his speed skating medals and it was amusing to see the Russians hunkering in fear as they saw him take the oval in his gold Descente speed suit. I tried the skates out at the Oval one other year and believe me, it is hard to stand up on those things let alone fly around the rink like Heiden did. He was an impressive athlete who went on to cycling fame with the 7-11 Team and eventually made it through med school and now practices medicine out in California. I met him at a road race one time when we all were staying at the same hotel as the 7-11 team. Even though he had lost some upper body mass, his legs still would be the envy of the Incredible Hulk. You could not meet a nicer guy and for some local sports hack to call what he did a game, is appalling.

If you ever get the chance to attend the spectacle that is the Olympics, don’t pass it up. The energy in the Oympic Village, the opening and closing ceremonies, the pins, the athletes walking around and being accessible for conversation, is something you will never forget. This winter, in February, take the time to watch the events. It is amazing to see athletes participating in short track speed skating, skiing, ice dancing, hockey, and the reported stories of how they sacrificed to get to the Olympics and realize their dreams. Some of them realized and some of them dashed with the agony of defeat. It is a spectacle to embrace. Don’t get caught up in a local rag who publishes writings of some uninformed and jaded reporter. Look for publications and internet stories that are informative and promote the goodwill that is the Olympic Games and foster the Olympic Spirit. Hey, the world needs a break every once in a while to compete against each other in sport and not on the economic or military platform. Enjoy the Olympics and thanks for reading.

The Toilet Bowl

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QCBFL_-_Snow_Game_2011_Vander_Veer_Park%2C_Davenport_IowaYou know ,we all are really like a piece of malleable iron. Life’s experiences mold us, shape us, prod us, squeeze us, as we go through the refiner’s fire of life. This shaping process makes us what we are as adults and forms our basic personalities. A lot of this happens during the formative years of our lives. Take for instance when I learned to swim as a boy. I took lessons and was pretty good in the shallow end. When it came time for the test, I was afraid of the deep water. My mother who was sitting in the lounges with all of her girlfriends in hysterectomy row, as the lifeguards called it, was observing the proceedings. She instructed Don Geyer the pool manager to throw me in much to the horror of her friends. She said,” ladies- that water is going to get deeper and deeper every year.” Don threw me in and I swam to the side and with jubilation I said to my mom, I did it! My mom said,” Patrick- you can do anything you want to do in life.” With that, Don dropped me off the low board and eventually the high board and I passed the test.

A few years later, I swam in the winter for a team at the Northside YMCA and witnessed a lot of interesting happenings in the bowels of the city. One night while we were waiting to be picked up, two guys came running into the lobby where we were, wielding knives as two city police officers chased and eventually apprehended them. I told my parents what went on that night and my mom said,” Patrick- life is not the suburbs. It is good for you to see the other side of life and how tough it is in the city.” I would learn to appreciate that as I was bullied and had to defend myself with city kids. I held my own and usually was invited to their birthday parties after a few punches and pushes in the pool gained their respect. I was not a fighter but the refiner’s fire of the Northside forced me to defend my adolescent position in life. I worked most of my young life because my dad thought it was important for me to learn to be responsible to a job. Lots of molding, shaping, prodding, squeezing in those days.

Other lessons were learned by our daily routine at this time of year. Touch football on the Nicolette’s front lawn in our neighborhood. We had a posse of kids. Richard and John Nicolette, Cliff Forrest, Glen and Ron Zankey, Carl Shultz, and our hero- Rick Cuneo who was dating Jane Nicolette at the time and was headed off soon to Vietnam. Rick was an amazing athlete and every day after school, we all would play on the slanted, tight field which was the front yard of the Nicolette family. There we tested our athletic prowess every day with Rick proving to us all that he was the superior athlete much to the admiration of Jane as she watched the games. So, one day Rick goes off to Vietnam and we were a little shaken until we got a letter back from him stating that he was teaching surfing in Chu Lai which was a base on the ocean. Not too bad a duty for our star athlete. But Rick had prepared us for the annual challenge of the older kids from Woodland Road across the street from our neighborhood. Every Thanksgiving, we had the Toilet Bowl and the challenge was always paramount in the minds of all of us. The guys from across the street included the Rose brothers who skateboarded down a very steep Woodland Road on each other’s shoulders. They had a little screw loose which made them dangerous at bowl time. The Fisher brothers were good athletes, Michael Martin,  and some of the other guys brought their friends who were freshman football players from Slippery Rock University. I remember clearly after all the trash talking, having a clear shot at the quarterback only to be knocked into the middle of next week by the pulling guard from SRU. As I sat dazed and confused, the plays went on and once again the boys of Richmond Circle were defeated by the Woodland Road gang. As we made our way back across Siebert Road, we were taunted by a couple of hoods- Buster Livingston and his sister. Both sported leather jackets and those cyclone fence climbing pointy shoes with the Cuban heels. They didn’t play but they made sure we knew they were badasses and that thier posse had beaten our posse.

The Toilet Bowl went on for a few years and then faded into the memory of all of us as we made our way to college.Thanksgiving football games are really popular and these days there are even official tournaments for Turkey Bowls and Toilet Bowls as we all prepare for the eating and the subsequent snoozefest that is the Thanksgiving feast. A lot of the games are a little too organized for me as I see these types of official tournaments, teams and leagues that are common among the youth of America. What happened to the old pickup games? Everybody today has to get a trophy, a uniform, and accolades from adoring parents and coaches. The old days of the pickup baseball games and football games seem to be fading like the setting sun. Some of that refining fire took place when you picked teams, learned how to take it if you were the last guy picked, got into scuffles, and played all day until your parents went crazy calling you home for dinner. Touch football in the neighborhood taught me how to take a hit, how to grin and bear it when you cut yourself and got stitches, and basically got clean fresh air until the time change forced the early ending of the neighborhood clashes on the Nicolette front lawn.Those guys from Woodland Road always got the best of us but we always were up for the challenge which taught us how to compete with older kids who relished taking their aggressions out on the younger guys from Richmond Circle. We gave them a run for their money one year after Rick returned from his tour of duty and they balked at his participaton. But all was fair when we brought Rick and they brought their testosterone heads from SRU to play. Even the hoods shut up on those days. Yes- the Toilet Bowl and the neighborhood games were another part of my molding.I wouldn’t change a thing and I am happy the way that the refiner’s fire spit me out. Thanks for reading and get ready for the Bird. He is coming soon.