July 22, 2012
I wrote a version of the following article for the August 8, 2004, issue of Parade magazine, hot on the heels of the publication of my book, Swifter, Higher, Stronger: A Photographic History of the Summer Olympics. I've updated the article for the London Olympics, which start this coming Friday.
Watching the Olympics with your kids offers a great opportunity to share some lessons in geography, math, and character education. Here are some tips for making the Olympics a family experience:
If you don’t know where the home country of a competitor is, look it up. Athletes from 205 nations will compete in London. Considering how national boundaries have changed in the last 25 years, it’s likely that adults as well as kids could use a refresher course in geography. Keep an up-to-date world map handy and reference it to find the locations of the homes of prominent athletes. (For a variety of current maps, visit the Web site of The World Factbook, an annual published by the CIA, and click on “Regional Maps.”)
Help your kids get a handle on the speeds, heights, and distances that athletes achieve. Olympic platform divers plunge 10 meters into the water. Is that higher than a stoplight? (Yes.) The tree in your backyard? (Possibly.) Your house? (Yes, unless your house rises up three stories or more.) Help kids visualize Olympic times and distances by comparing them to measurements from everyday life. See how many strands of uncooked spaghetti you have to stretch end-to-end to equal the winning distance in the long jump. Time your kids to see if they can recite the entire “Pledge of Allegiance” before a runner crosses the finish line in the 100-meter sprint.
Talk about the athletes’ talent and commitment. Even if your kids aren’t natural athletes, there’s a good chance they have some special talents or passions that set them apart. Do they play musical instruments? Have beautiful singing voices? Like to write, cook, dance, or draw? Help your kids explore their own special gifts after they learn about the dedication and commitment of Olympic athletes. Are your kids willing to pursue their passions with the same determination as the Olympians? Ask them why or why not.
Discuss the losers as well as the winners. Athletes know better than anybody that they can’t win every time. As you watch the Olympics, ask your kids how they think the athletes who didn’t win the gold medal feel. Is it better to lose the gold by a tiny margin or a large one? Is representing one’s country in the Olympic Games honor enough for an athlete, or should the Olympian be disappointed unless he or she takes home a medal?
Follow the Olympics Online. This year in the United States, NBC will show EVERY Olympic event on either their broadcast, cable, or online outlets. You and your kids can check out NBC’s Olympics Web site for the online broadcasts, as well as for schedules, results, blogs, athletes’ Twitter feeds, polls, and lots more. You can even find out which Olympians have connections to your state or town.
Let the games begin!
October 25, 2011
Thirty years ago, I picked up a copy of Women’s Sports magazine and saw a Letter to the Editor that changed my life. The letter was from Fran Janssen of South Bend, Indiana, and it reported that some women who played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) in the 1940s and 50s were looking for their teammates and opponents in the hopes of holding a reunion in 1982. As it happened, I had started searching for information about the AAGPBL a few months before, finding some articles from the league’s heyday, but no links to actual players. I quickly called Fran, who put me in touch with June Peppas, another former player who had compiled a list of the current addresses of more than 100 league veterans. I had hit the mother load.
Me, with the irrepressible--and irreplaceable—ballplayer Maybelle Blair
I attended the 1982 reunion and have gone to countless more. (I really have lost count. It’s somewhere between 20 and 30.) I wrote several articles about the league before my book, A Whole New Ball Game, was published in 1993, and I’ve written a few since. But mostly I attend the reunions to see old friends, celebrate the achievements of these wonderful women, remember those who are no longer with us, and have fun. And do these ladies know how to have fun! Back in 1982, a bellman at the reunion site, a Holiday Inn in Chicago, said he never saw women drink as much beer as they did. Last week, the folks at the Crowne Plaza in San Diego said this was the rowdiest bunch of women they’d ever seen—and they’re now in their 70s, 80s, and 90s!
Forty-five or so former players showed up this year, along with about 100 family members and friends and a few celebrity guests including Penny Marshall, director of the film, A League of Their Own, and actresses Tracy Reiner, Anne Ramsay, and Patti Pelton from the movie. Penny was presented with an honorary membership in the AAGPBL Players Association for plucking the league from obscurity and making each of the players a celebrity in her own right. It was great to see her, her daughter (Tracy Reiner), and her grandkids at the reunion banquet.
Actress Anne Ramsay and AAGPBL vet Jeneane Lesko
Beyond that, the high point definitely was the evening on the aircraft carrier USS Midway at San Diego’s Navy Pier. It started with an autograph session that attracted more than 625 people—a huge crowd that required the players to keep signing long beyond the advertised one hour. Then came a showing of A League of Their Own, which I watched from start to finish for the first time in a long while. It was amazing to see it with such a great mass of people, and it was thrilling to hear them applaud when the actual players took a bow at the end. Watching the film also reminded me of the unanswered question it poses: does catcher Dottie Hinson drop the ball on purpose after her sister rams into her (to give Kit a confidence-building win), or was it really the force of the collision that causes the ball to drop from her glove? I firmly believe it was on purpose, and Anne Ramsay agreed when I asked her. But Penny Marshall refuses to answer, leaving it up to the viewer to decide.
Other highlights of the reunion: Spending time with my pal Tiby Eisen (left), one of the league’s few Jewish players, who I accompanied a few years ago when she was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in Commack, Long Island; seeing 96-year-old former chaperone Helen Hannah Campbell, who’s still sharp as a tack; and helping to launch the AGPBL Players Association’s first-ever writing contest for kids. If you’re a parent, teacher, or librarian with kids in grades 6, 7, or 8, be sure to check out the Web page for this contest, which asks entrants to write short essays (500 to 750 words) addressing one of three questions that consider the legacy of the AAGPBL. Essays are due this March, and the winner and a parent or guardian get a trip to the 2012 reunion in Syracuse and Cooperstown, New York. Like this year’s reunion, it’s sure to be an unforgettable experience.
June 26, 2011
Somehow, this month got away from me. I kept meaning to post something on this blog, but I didn’t. So before the sky explodes in fireworks to mark the fourth of July, here’s a recap of some highlights.
June 8: The weather was stifling in New York City, and I was there for most of the day. First up was the annual luncheon of WISE: Women in Sports and Events, the networking organization for women who work in the sports industry. This year’s luncheon honored three women: Stacey Allaster, CEO of the Women’s Tennis Association; Lisa Baird, Chief Marketing Officer of the U.S. Olympic Committee; and Wendy Lewis, Senior VP for Diversity and Strategic Alliances for Major League Baseball. As in previous years, the honorees were extraordinary women with impressive resumes and an astonishing ability to handle extremely demanding professional and personal lives, often thanks to the help of very supportive partners at home. Although they made me feel like a bit of a slacker, they also inspired me to do more to reach outside my comfort zone in my own career. And with her stories of women’s tennis, Allaster reminded me how important the game was to women’s sports history in general and to my own history in particular. My first published sports article was an interview with African-American superstar Althea Gibson in the early 1970s, and my first foray into writing about sports history was a college paper on early female tennis players.
After the WISE event, I changed from my business attire into more casual clothes and walked up to Central Park, with a few stops to hydrate in the 95-degree temperature (real-feel over 100). There, at the Victorian Gardens family amusement park, I would be signing copies of Bull’s-Eye as part of a benefit for the Coalition for the Homeless. Between the rides, face painting, ice-your-own-cupcake station, and endless supplies of chicken fingers, burgers, and ice cream, none of the kids seemed to be deterred by the hot weather, and with a constant stream of lemonade provided by my friends, I was okay as well. The four other authors and I were supposed to sign books for an hour, but we kept signing as the kids kept coming. My favorites were Emily, who wanted to give the book to her teacher instead of keeping it for herself, and Hannah, who was a gifted reader at age five and who couldn’t believe that the printed dedication in the book read “For Hannah, a pioneer girl at heart.” She exclaimed, “For ME???” It was a lovely coincidence.
June 16: Several months ago, Lois Youngen, the president of the board of directors of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League Players Association, asked if I would represent the association at a reading of “Howling Hilda,” a new musical by Anne Berlin. Anne had dedicated the reading to the AAGPBL, and theatergoers would be invited to make donations to the league. Two friends accompanied me to the tiny Robert Moss Theater in the Village to see the show, along with Gene Visich, who played first base for the Rockford Peaches, and Carolyn Odell, who was a batgirl for the South Bend Blue Sox. The one-woman show, starring the magnificent Mary Testa (above right, with Gene), a two-time Tony nominee, tells the story of Hilda Chester, the ultimate Brooklyn Dodgers fan. It’s set in 1957, the last season the Dodgers played in Brooklyn, and it’s a tribute to the team as well as its most tenacious supporter. As she sits in the stands watching a game, Hilda tells her story to an unseen interviewer, touching on memorable moments and favorite players while trying to convince herself that the team will never leave Brooklyn. When she mentions first baseman Dolph Camilli, Gene whispered to me, “He was my role model. I became a left-handed first baseman because of him.” Hopefully, “Howling Hilda” will be playing to larger audiences in the not-too-distant future.
That’s it for part one. I’ll be back with additional highlights from June later in the week.
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Misspelling of the Month
I don't often turn to Chinese restaurant menus for misspellings because they can be easy targets. But this one invented a new word that has a bit of charm. Quite accidentally, it's the second "steak"-related Misspelling of the Month in a row. So thanks to Empire Szechuan Village on Seventh Avenue, South, in New York City for this meaty mistake. (Of course, "waterchestnut" should be plural and two words as well.)
Click on the photo to see a larger image.