Tag Archives: Jason Applegate


Events | Louisville vs. Purdue

Photos by Jeff Nunn courtesy of CardinalSportsZone.com

Louisville vs. Purdue: The Cardinals pulled off a win in the nail-biter season opener Sept. 2 at Lucas Oil Stadium




The University of Louisville’s season opener was a nail biter for Cardinal fans thanks to Purdue coach Jeff Brohm’s Boilermakers. The 26-point underdogs played Bobby Petrino’s team to the wire, ultimately losing the game 35-28.screen-shot-2017-09-25-at-8-13-19-pm


Sirmon Says “Simple”

screen-shot-2017-08-28-at-8-02-31-pmBy Howie Lindsey

Louisville Football Spring PRactice

Photos courtesy University of Louisville Athletics

Sirmon’s ‘simple’ defense might be what the Dr. ordered for Louisville


Well, for Louisville football, the defense might co-opt that acronym: KISS: Keep It Simple, Sirmon.

Louisville coach Bobby Petrino made a change in his defensive coordinator at the end of the 2016 season to bring in Peter Sirmon. Part of Petrino’s charge to Sirmon was to revamp Louisville’s defensive efforts for the 2017 season.

And how did Sirmon plan to improve Louisville’s defense? By keeping it simple.

Some of the key phrases Sirmon heard when talking with defensive players at Louisville when he arrived were “complicated” and “confusing.” That’s not what you want to hear from a defensive group tasked with stopping an offense.

While all college football defenses are more complex than just “See ball, get ball,” the UofL defense seemed to be suffering a bit from overthink on the part of former defensive coordinator Todd Grantham (now at Mississippi State).

“I want to take pride in keeping it simple,” Sirmon told reporters back in the spring.

He has, and the players seem to be responding well.

“It’s not that much different, but the words are different, easier to understand,” senior defensive lineman Drew Bailey said.

“The vocabulary is brought down so we can get the plays quicker,” said senior linebacker Stacy Thomas. “We had a couple games where they would run hurry-up, and then we would have trouble getting the call and then echoing it to everybody, so that was an issue last year.”

“I want it to be player-friendly,” Sirmon said. “I’m not so sure if simple is better or complex is better. I don’t know if it is better or worse. What I know is my job is to develop that locker room and find the best combination of players to get on the field. It was probably 18 to 20 years ago when free agency started hitting and getting wild in the NFL, and it was at that time that you saw defensive coordinators start to simplify their concepts because the owners needed to see the new players come in and play immediately. In the 70s and 80s you had teams that had players for eight to 11 years and they grew up in a system. There wasn’t a lot of movement team to team within the league.

“The same thing happened, in my mind, in college football. The better you recruit and the more talent you get on a young roster, how do you turn that talent into production?”

Linebackers coach Cort Dennison, who coached under both Grantham and now Sirmon, explained it this way: “We want to have one meaning for each signal, not multiple words for any particular defense. We want to get the call in and make it as easy as we can for our guys to play fast.”

So the need for simplicity seemed to be clear, but what does Sirmon’s “simple” defense look like? Well, that’s a little more complicated.

Louisville lined up in a base 3-4 defense for most of the Grantham tenure. Sirmon sparked debate and intrigue when the 2017 media guide was released and showed Louisville’s base defense in a 4-3 scheme. He used both – and more –during his time at Mississippi State, and Louisville has even been practicing 4-2-5 and other pass-heavy defenses during Fall Camp in preparation for some pass-heavy opponents.

“I like to be the toughest group of guys out there,” Sirmon said when asked how he wants his defense to play. “I think there is toughness that intrisically in us and there is some toughness that is developed and I think there is some toughness when 11 guys choose to play together. I think the tough guys can pull some guys along with them. We talk a lot on defense about the terms team, we and us. Team, we and us is the slide that we begin every meeting with and that is about the 40-50 guys we are working with and the coaches supporting the 11 guys on the field at that particular time.”

Sirmon’s pedigree in the NFL gives him a certain weight that makes the players take notice.

After a strong career at Oregon, Sirmon was drafted in 2000 by the Tennessee Titans and played seven seasons as a linebacker in the NFL.

“As with most athletes, I got old,” said Sirmon. “I hit 30 and got older, and then I took a year off after the NFL and did some broadcasting with the Titans. Then, I coached at Central Washington, and the coaching bug bit me. I didn’t really plan on going into coaching, but it bit me, and I’ve been a coach ever since.”

Sirmon is one of the hottest names in college football. He broke into coaching at Central Washington in 2008 and then Oregon as a GA in 2009, followed by stops at Tennessee (2010-11), Washington (2012-13), USC (2014-15) and Mississippi State (2016) before coming to Louisville.

“You know he understands what it takes to play defense at the highest level,” Dennison said when asked why Sirmon seems to be such a hot commodity in the coaching ranks. “It is great to get to work alongside him, and our entire defensive staff is strong with ‘LD’ and ‘Whammy,’ too.”

Whammy is Lorenzo Ward, the veteran defensive backs coach from South Carolina who was hired after the bowl game to help Louisville’s secondary reach its potential. LD, is former Louisville defensive lineman L.D. Scott, who has been Louisville’s defensive line coach since Petrinoreturned to Louisville.

Sirmon and the new coaching staff on defense will be tested early and often. Louisville’s schedule is packed with dynamic offenses that include two of the last four national champions in Clemson and Florida State and some of the top offensive coordinators in the country.


Baseball and Hot Dogs: The Perfect Doubleheader

screen-shot-2017-07-05-at-10-49-07-pmWell, it’s hot, humid and the air is overbearingly thick. That can only mean one thing: July in the Ohio Valley.

Typically, during this month when we look for the nearest pool, shade or simply stay inside our comfy air conditioned residence, I believe I have a much better idea to make July bearable, if not downright enjoyable: Louisville Bats baseball games and eating the perfect hot dog while watching the nine-inning summertime tradition.

Since 1982 Louisville has traditionally had one of the top attendance-drawing minor league teams in the country. They are also one of the highest earners for minor league merchandise sales. Last year, the Bats averaged 7,127 in attendance and had a total of more than half a million fans with 506,030 for the year. This tradition of top attendance and merchandise sales does not happen without having something for everyone when they come to Louisville Slugger Field.

There are activities and a playground area for the kids. There is a pitching machine for those who want to see if they can still bring the heat. A picnic area is only part of a continuous concourse around the field, which includes an outfield seating berm with grass, all of which provide an unobstructed view of the action on the field. There are numerous concession stands and restrooms, plus several retail shops with direct access to and from the concourse, so you can make your purchase and get back out to watch game quickly. Of course, a trip to a Bats game would not be complete without the antics and amusement Billy Bat, Louisville’s colorful mascot, provides at every home game.

Here, you can get your favorite soft drink, soft pretzels or a double-stacked fried bologna sandwich (tell me that doesn’t sound good even to you gym rats out there). There is even a sandwich station behind home plate that carries healthier options like paninis, wraps and subs.

Still, in my opinion, you can’t properly enjoy a summer night watching baseball unless you order a hot dog. Nothing goes better with baseball than a well-dressed dog.

Very few things are as pure America as a kid eating a hot dog, watching his or her favorite team, sitting patiently hoping to catch a foul ball with the glove they brought to the game.


But once you order a hot dog, the hard part begins. What to put on the dog? The possibilities are endless. If it can fit in or on the bun, then it can be done. Chili, Fritos, chips, melted nacho cheese, pickle relish, diced onion… Man, I’m getting hungry. The point is, you can dress your dog to match your personality.

Maybe you like it plain, dog and bun only. Joey Chestnut, eight-time Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog eating champion, seems to like his plain. He once ate 70 dogs in 10 minutes to win the annual Fourth of July competitive eating contest. (This is not how I would recommend eating hot dogs. Although he makes a reported annual income of around $200K a year with contest winnings, sponsorships and public appearances, the danger of eating so much so fast are pretty obvious.)

I recently went to a Bats game and asked a couple of vendors what the most popular way to top your dog seemed to be. Although the vendors offer a long line of toppings at their booth, the consensus was a simple combination of ketchup, mustard and relish. If you’re a chili pepper maniac like myself, whatever you decide to use has to involve jalapeño or even serrano peppers. Yes, bring the heat!

If you ask someone from up north, they will probably say the only way to eat a hot dog is to “drag it through the garden.” If this sounds dirty or gritty, let me explain. Dragging it through the garden means the dog is placed on a poppy seed bun with yellow mustard, diced white onions, neon pickle relish, sport peppers, tomatoes, kosher dill pickle spear and finally some celery salt. NO KETCHUP.

However you enjoy eating your hot dog, the atmosphere that Slugger Field provides is second to none. Even if you’re not a big baseball fan, I challenge you to attend at least one game and not come away thinking how wonderful it was to see the smiles on the faces of people of all ages as they laughed, ate, drank and enjoyed a true slice of Americana. Go see the Bats, order a hot dog and let me know how you topped it by sending an email to me at extol@extolmag.com. I double-dog dare you.


Embrace the Suck



SHAQUILLE O’NEAL was one of the great pro basketball players of his generation, a giant force in the middle, a powerful scorer and rebounder.

But he could barely hit half of his free throw attempts.

Greg Norman, generally regarded as the No. 1 golfer in the world in the 1980s and ’90s, had a maddening string of Sunday collapses after leading major tournaments through the first three rounds – most famously blowing a six-stroke lead in the final round of the 1996 Masters.

Jim Thorpe, a century ago acknowledged as “the world’s greatest athlete,” saw his professional baseball career scuttled by his inability to hit the curveball.

Often, these odd blips in an athlete’s performance are written off as “he just can’t . . .” Maybe the athlete himself accepts that “I’m just not good at it.” And, if the athlete is otherwise good enough at most other aspects of his game, this one particular weakness is acknowledged, almost in acceptance mode, as “well, nobody’s perfect.”

But why could Tim Duncan, another big man of similar stature to O’Neal, hit his free throws at a much higher percentage?

Why could Jack Nicklaus gobble up the fourth rounds of major tournaments when Norman so often failed?

Why could Honus Wagner, on the surface a far less athletic-looking contemporary, hit curveballs with the success that eluded Thorpe?

“The inability to perform, even among otherwise-gifted individuals, is an insidious problem,” said Dr. Vanessa Shannon, director of mental performance at Norton Sports Health. “But it’s largely misunderstood, especially by the individuals themselves.”

Norton Sports Health is a department of specialists within Norton Healthcare who are trained and certified in dealing with sports-related injuries and conditions. Shannon (who also holds the same title with the University of Louisville athletics department) has a Ph.D. in sport psychology. The athletes she works with, both at Norton and at UofL, are not dealing with fractures of bones. They’re dealing with fractures of confidence. Most athletes, she said, take exactly the wrong approach to poor performance. (The same could be said for most anyone in any walk of life.) “On a basic level, the way that we think affects the way that we feel and act,” Shannon said. “My job is to help athletes determine what things to think about, and how they need to feel in order to perform their best.” Take the case of O’Neal, so futile a free throw shooter that other teams adopted the “Hack-a-Shaq” defense to foul him before he could get his shots up. He hit his field goal attempts – when he was contested, jostled, pushed, blocked and obstructed – at better than 58 percent. But standing alone at the free throw line, taking his time with nobody’s hand in his face, he shot under 53 percent. How much bigger a force he could have been if he’d made opposing teams pay for fouling him. “A player struggling with his free throw shots – or any other aspect of his game – will start to think, ‘I’m just not good at it. I don’t do it well,’ ” said Shannon. “That’s a fixed way of thinking that will likely make him feel anxious and nervous, and therefore even less effective. “Whereas, if he were able to say to himself, ‘I’m not a great free throw shooter yet, I still need to work on my free throws,’ it will give him the perception of feeling in control, of feeling autonomous and competent.” Shannon points out that free throw shooting is not a genetic trait nor an inherent skill, it’s something you learn and develop over time. “So, I would argue that people who say they’re not good free throw shooters haven’t worked at it enough. Technique can be changed and performance can be improved.” She said that other people passing it all off as “he’s just not a good free throw shooter” allows the athlete himself to have the mindset that gets him out of an uncomfortable situation. “People play into stereotypes about themselves: ‘I’m not a good free throw shooter, I’m uncomfortable shooting them, but I’m super good at other things.’ It’s way more comfortable for people to focus on their strengths rather than their weaknesses. “Accepting that he’s bad at it perpetuates his not working at it, which further perpetuates his bad shooting.”

Dr. Vanessa Shannon, Director of Mental Performance at UofL Athletics/Norton Sports Health.

Dr. Vanessa Shannon, Director of Mental Performance at UofL Athletics/Norton Sports Health.

Shannon’s approach is not limited to athletics. People have crises of confidence all the time, throughout their lives – in school, in the office, on the plant floor, in social situations, in family situations. For example, Greg Norman’s Sunday golf miseries may be similar to a student’s everyday test anxieties. They just become convinced in their heads not that they’ll fail, but that they’ll feel pressures that will keep them from concentrating and detract from their performances. And then the failure will reassure them that they were right to be anxious. “Many people experiencing nervousness about an upcoming test become so anxious that they don’t prepare or don’t know how to prepare,” said Shannon. “Why not study for the test, if taking the test will make you nervous? Because studying itself makes them nervous. The mere thought of the test makes them anxious, and they don’t want to feel anxious. Which, of course, makes them twice as anxious at the test.”

Dr. Vanessa Shannon, Director of Mental Performance at UofL Athletics/Norton Sports Health.

The problem with training and preparation – for athletes and, likely, for other high-performers in business, medicine, law, music and almost every other professional pursuit – “is that we’re in a talent-based society,” said Shannon, “with everyone telling the youngster how great he or she is. As a result, many high-performers don’t attribute their success to training and preparation, they attribute it to just being good at it.” Jim Thorpe, for example, probably never tried a sport he wasn’t immediately perfect at. “And when ‘perfect’ becomes the expectation, we all fear failure. It’s inevitable.” Forget, for a moment, the professional athlete. Let’s look at the weekend athlete who goes into a gym to work out, to lose some weight. “So, the person joins the gym and tries a few things, which makes him sore,” said Shannon. “He assumes he’s doing something incorrectly and quits the gym, because he doesn’t want to be bad at it – or he doesn’t know how to be good at it.” Why not ask for help? Because, she said, a foundational tenet of our mindset is not wanting to appear insufficient. “We have a tendency, called social desirability, to portray a picture of ourselves that’s desirable to others around us.” This tendency to portray a false picture of ourselves – confident, capable, self-sufficient – can be applied to every challenge in our lives. “Nobody goes to work and says, out loud, ‘I’m not real confident.’ Everybody goes to work acting confident, regardless of whether or not he or she is. The problem is, someone should have told them, ‘When I started, I wasn’t real confident, either. Confidence comes from preparation and experience, training and successes. You’re new. How could someone new have as much confidence?’

Dr. Vanessa Shannon, Director of Mental Performance at UofL Athletics/Norton Sports Health.

“Now that person,” said Shannon, “will understand that success takes time and patience. And that the boss or supervisor has patience, too. Instead, we all feel the need to act confident, so we don’t ask questions or ask for help, and that sort of guarantees that we won’t succeed.” The problem can begin early in life. Parents, probably the ones with the most early influence, have the opportunity to expect occasional failures instead of demanding immediate success. But, said Shannon, “it could also be a teacher saying ‘It’s OK that you’re struggling, this is supposed to be difficult.’ Or it could be a coach or anyone who interacts with the child. Allow for discomfort, praise the work but help the child understand the struggle, that it’s part of the process.” There’s a saying in the military, said Shannon: Embrace the suck! “It challenges soldiers to attack the work, accept the difficulty as a part of getting stronger and better at it.”

screen-shot-2017-07-05-at-9-48-07-pmBut it applies to any time in life that you’re forced to learn a new skill. Like a middle-aged person who decides on a career change. “Every time there’s an expectation to perform, we can assume some of it will be uncomfortable. And that’s not a bad thing as long as we accept that it’s part of the process. “Too often, when we get uncomfortable, we quit, because we assume something may be wrong with us.” Instead, she said, an athlete learning a new skill or an executive changing careers should know the challenge will likely lead to some discomfort, and there might be times when they doubt themselves or worry that they can’t do it. “But it’s at that point when they should say, ‘OK, I knew this was going to happen and I’m going to embrace it. I’ll be ready for the suck, I’ll embrace it, I’ll attack it, and I’ll know that the suck will be what makes me better on the other end.”



Such is the case for America’s Pastime. Long ago declared dead – or at least dying – the sport of baseball is currently undergoing an incredible renaissance (and the Louisville and Southern Indiana area are a perfect example of the new hip-ness of this American original, but more on that in a minute).

First the stats: The Sports & Fitness Industry

Association’s new report shows baseball and softball combined to rank as the most participated team sport for 2016. Not football, not basketball, not soccer – baseball and softball. In fact, baseball/softball saw growth in participation rates over one-, three- and five- year periods in a time when most sports are seeing falling numbers since 2009. “The narrative that you hear is, ‘Decline, decline, decline,’” said Tony Reagins, Major League Baseball’s senior vice-president for youth programs. “To see the numbers where they are, it’s really exciting. And we’re not going to rest on our laurels. We’re going to keep pushing and try to get more kids playing.” Baseball and softball showed an average annual growth of 6.5 percent over the last five years and an 18.1 percent jump from 2015 to 2016. Tom Cove, president and CEO of the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, told Fox Sports recently, “If we got one year of 18 percent, we’d think, ‘There’s something weird about that. That’s odd, not in sync with other team sports.’ But when you see a three-year average that was strong and a one-year average all trending in the same way, all growing, then that’s when you analyze that something is going on here. It seems to be gaining momentum.” Gaining momentum? Baseball? It is happening. Let’s look at our local area. The Great Lakes Region of Little League Baseball includes Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. Teams from Kentucky or Indiana have won the Great Lakes Region and advanced to the Little League World Series 11 times since 2001, including the famous Valley Sports team in 2002, Jeffersonville in 2008 and North Oldham in 2011. The New Albany team was awarded the title in 2014 after the Chicago team that knocked them out of the tournament was found to have fielded ineligible players. And how about softball? The Youth Softball Nationals have been held in Elizabethtown, Ky., just 45 minutes south of Louisville, the last couple of years. Teams from 40 states and five countries participated in the tournament last year. Youth softball has been strong in Kentucky and Southern Indiana for years and dozens of travel ball teams from our area are competitive nationally. The rise in youth participation is translating to high school as well. For the 2015-16 school year, the KHSAA recorded baseball as the most popular sport with 7,499 participants followed by basketball (6,716) and then track and field (7,144). On the girls’ side, softball registered 5,846 participants, trailing only volleyball (6,366) and soccer (6,016). We are seeing a rise on the collegiate level, too. The recent Super Regional between Louisville and Kentucky drew back-to-back record, capacity crowds of 6,325 fans on Friday and 6,327 fans on Saturday. In softball, both Kentucky and Louisville have been ranked in the Top 25 nationally, and UK made a Super Regional this season in softball. As more kids in the Louisville Metro area are trying and sticking with baseball, we are seeing an all-time high in local talent. Adam Duvall, from Louisville Butler High School, was a 2016 MLB All-Star for the Cincinnati Reds and participated in the 2016 Home Run Derby.

Jo Adell, from Louisville Ballard High School, was drafted No. 10 overall, the first-round pick of the Anaheim Angels in June’s MLB Draft. Drew Ellis, a Louisville Cardinal who was also on that Jeffersonville Little League team in 2008, was a collegiate All-American this season. Current MLB pros from the Louisville Metro area include Shawn Kelley, Dean Kiekhefer, Nathan Adcock, Steve Delabar, Scott Downs and Nate Jones. The new Louisville Bats logo hats are popping up all over town, and there seems to be a growing number of youth leagues who make it a habit of attending Bats games as a group. So, in both hard numbers and anecdotal evidence it is clear that baseball and softball are growing in the Louisville Metro Area and Southern Indiana.

Now the question is why? Theories abound. Baseball and softball certainly require a different kind of athletic skill necessary than say basketball or football. And size is not necessarily a hindrance for baseball and softball like it can be in basketball, football or volleyball. Perhaps the rise is due to parents looking for more summertime activities for children. Whatever the reason, local baseball and softball coaches at the high school level could see all-time highs in participation and talent level this summer as well. “This is a critical moment for baseball,” Cove said. “It’s an opportunity they haven’t seen in 10 years. If you get people touching the ball and enjoying it a little bit, then you have a better chance of capturing them.” This is an incredible turn-around considering the “How to make baseball relevant again” article was a yearly occurrence throughout the 2000s. Everything old is new again. But don’t call baseball old. Now it’s vintage.




Power Walk

By Steve Kaufman | Photos by Steve Squall


“Youth gymnastics phenom becomes TV personality in a major market.”

It’s a variation on the Great American Dream.

Sports + media = celebrity

Except, the dream can too often be a Great American Nightmare. And for Whitney Harding to wake up from that nightmare before it consumed her life is a testament to her inner strength and her determination to succeed.

When you see Harding on WHAS11, you see an easy, conversational, story-telling tone to her reports, a sharp sense of humor and a knowledge of sports as impressive as anyone in her field.


And why not? She grew up in Texas, where sports – and talking about sports – is the first language. An athlete herself, she could swing a bat and throw a football with natural ability. Her professional bona fides are strong, too: a master’s degree from Northwestern University, which turns out journalists like Kentucky turns out NBA lottery picks; then a stint as sports director for a TV station in Midland, Texas, where her beats included “Friday Night Lights” high school football, and she covered the Texas Tech Red Raiders, Rangers, Astros, Spurs, Cowboys and Texans. And, since 2014, she’s been on WHAS11, where she’s a sports reporter/anchor covering ACC and SEC basketball, football and baseball. But Harding’s sports journey began well before that. In The Woodlands, a suburban community north of Houston, she was a promising eight-year-old gymnast trained at by Hall of Fame (and controversial) coach Béla Károlyi, who had previously sent Nadia Comăneci, Mary Lou Retton, Kim Zmeskal, Kerri Strug and others on to Olympics gold and international fame. Zmeskal and Strug had been older gym mates of the young Harding. So what’s not to like? It sounds like Donna Reed and the Cleavers meet Happy Days. Except, the days weren’t always so happy.


Her athletic promise forced the eight-year-old Harding to give up some of her loves – like dance, and all those other sports she’d played around the neighborhood – and focus intensely on Olympic-level gymnastics training. “Of everything, I loved dance, especially ballet. But I picked gymnastics, I think, because I felt it was what I was expected to pick,” Harding said. “Looking back, I think, ‘Man, at eight years old, I was asked to make some really hard decisions.’ ” She began going to gymnastics practice two or three times a week at 6 a.m., before school, for two hours. Then she’d go back for three more hours in the evening. By the age of 11, in 1996, she was nationally ranked in the vault at the Junior Olympic level. Then came a series of happenstances that throw a whole shade on America’s youth-athletic obsession: injuries, which happen to a lot of young athletes, and puberty, which happens to everyone. “I had tons of injuries,” Harding said. “I’m still injured. When I was eight, I had a partially torn meniscus, and wore a brace for a little while. When I got older, it was my back. A lot of my activities were very back-intensive. I later learned there was a history of back problems in my family.” She was in pain. Tests showed nothing conclusive. She was advised to take some time off, “but I had a Russian coach (Alexander Alexandrov) at the time. They don’t understand taking time off. You tough it out! You suffer in silence. You don’t complain, you just work harder.” It turned out, her family later learned, she had two stress fractures. Plus “a whole mess of stuff wrong with my back.” Harding said the physician who read the tests came out and began talking to her mother. “He thought she was the patient. He said the pictures showed the back of somebody my mother’s age.”


Also, at this time, Harding went through “the worst thing that could ever happen to a gymnast.” Puberty! “I had a growth spurt. I gained weight. I started doing all the things that happen to little girls when we go through puberty.” She said the coach would monitor her water intake, because too much water would make her heavier. And, as with many young girls who hear the words “too fat,” Harding developed an eating disorder. The coach dropped her, and she had to coach herself for an entire year for the Junior Olympic Nationals. “It showed me the power and strength that were within me,” she recalled. Then the minimum age rule for Olympic competitors was changed after the 1996 games in Atlanta, from 15 to 16. Which meant Harding, born in 1985, was now too young for the 2000 Olympics, in Sydney, and – unbelievable as it seems – approaching “too old” for the 2004 Olympics, in Athens. She’d be turning 19 that year. The Olympics hang over the heads of young athletes like Harding. She said the question she was always asked, and the one she hated, was, “Do you think you’ll make the Olympics?” (“All most people really know about gymnastics is the Olympics every four years,” she said.) “If I said ‘Yes,’ I’d feel like I was lying, because I never thought of myself as that good,” she said. “But if I said ‘No,’ they’d say, ‘Oh, so you’re not that good?’ It’s a loaded question, but people feel it’s OK to ask.”



Setting aside her Olympics ambitions, Harding went to North Carolina State University on an athletic scholarship. “I felt if I didn’t participate in college, my entire career would be a failure.” But a new assistant coach was hired just before she enrolled. And she got injured again. “He didn’t like me. He saw me as a scholarship position being wasted. He never tried to help me. He put me down and made me feel small.” All her old demons came back. Her eating issue returned. Her weight swung wildly. Plus, there were new social issues to deal with. She was living in a dorm. And she’d never really dated before. “My junior year in high school, I went to the prom by myself.” Right after Christmas break of her freshman year, her mother came to Raleigh. “We went to her hotel room and I cried for almost 24 hours straight,” Harding said. “My mom later told me she was afraid I’d do something to myself.”


The decision was hard, but it was also clear. After more than a decade, Harding gave up competitive gymnastics and transferred to Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where she pursued a journalism degree, then a master’s program at Northwestern. “I’d always wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon, and when I left NC State, I applied to Rice University,” she recalled. “On the application, you’re supposed to circle all the subjects you’re interested in. When my parents looked at what I had circled, it was all liberal arts – no sciences. “I had remembered a teacher in high school recommending sports journalism to me. Suddenly, it didn’t seem like a bad idea!” Hardly. In 2013, she won an award from the Texas Associated Press Broadcasters – best specialty/beat reporting – for a series in Midland called “Girl Power.” In 2014, she came to Louisville. And she felt immediately at home. “I love school sports, and Louisville is one of the best local sports markets in the country. People here are passionate about their high school and college athletes.” Also, she said, “the variety of opportunities is remarkable. We were standing on the track for Oaks this year, drenched, cold, standing in the mud – and all the other things that are on a racetrack – and one of my colleagues said, ‘Isn’t this awesome? Look where we are, on the track at Churchill Downs for Oaks Day. In how many other markets in the country would we get to do this?’ ”



“Of course, as a journalist, I can’t declare a favorite,” Harding said. “But if I answered honestly, both fan bases would hate me. I’m from Texas, but my family is from Kansas. I grew up a Jayhawk fan. Rock Chalk!”


“Generally, I’d say college basketball. But here, my favorite team to cover has been Louisville baseball. The atmosphere is warm and relaxed. Dan McDonnell is an incredible guy to work with. And the players are just great interviews, fun, lighthearted. It’s almost like they don’t take themselves too seriously, they know they’re playing a game.” She also likes the atmosphere at Jim Patterson Stadium. “You get to know the fans. The same ones show up for every game. I get to talk to them.”


The PGA championship at Valhalla in 2014. “Being at Valhalla for a week was the best!” she said. “Golf is so soothing.”


At the PGA, she interviewed Hilbert Potter. The Army veteran had lost a leg in the Persian Gulf War and is now working in physical therapy at Ft. Knox. “He was hired by the PGA to walk around and spot cell phone usage,” Harding said, “which is forbidden at the event. Military guys are hired because they have keen sight and intuition. So he walked the entire course – the long, hilly Valhalla course – on a prosthetic leg.”


“We were all sad when Donovan Mitchell said he was entering the draft,” Harding said. “He was our clutch locker room interview after Louisville basketball games. I always knew I was going to get something great, truthful and honest. Just a terrific kid and a joy to cover.”


“When I went to Nashville in 2015 to cover the SEC basketball tournament, I wasn’t sure what to expect from that Kentucky team,” she said. “They were undefeated, ranked No. 1 in the country. Would they be all full of themselves?” What she found was “a great bunch of kids.” “They’d been made into this larger-than-life thing, but Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson, Devon Booker, Tyler Ulis, they were just kids having fun. They didn’t drink their own Kool-Aid.” Towns was an All-American, first draft pick, now an NBA superstar, “but he’s probably the same kid today that he was then.”


“I was working at a cable news station in Johannesburg, South Africa, as part of a residency program while I was at Northwestern,” she said. “And the World Cup was there that year (in 2010). My family is originally from Spain, and soccer is our passion. The Spanish team is usually eliminated early in the tournament. But that year, it won!”


“I’m conscientious, a perfectionist, a strong work ethic, good time-management skills, well-organized. And I’m competitive.”


“I’m forever conscious of my looks, my weight. And when the station gets emails from people commenting on how I look, it triggers all the old emotions.”


“I get comments on my lipstick color, my hair length, the things I wear. And I get nitpicked if I say just one thing wrong. You know, ‘A girl has no business covering sports.’ I don’t have a thin skin, I’m used to being criticized in the public eye. But it can get to you. “I answer every single e-mail. I’m always polite, but I also try to remind them that there’s a human being behind the TV personality, and I hope they know that.”


“My husband, Kyle Higaki. He’s a social media strategist. We met at a bar in Chicago while I was at Northwestern.” A mutual friend put them together. “We live in the Highlands. It reminds us of Chicago.” “He went to Ohio State. After the Buckeyes beat Northwestern in 2013, on a bad fourth-down call, we didn’t talk for more than three hours. That was the most intense our apartment has ever been.” “He’s truly special because he’s never threatened by my sports obsession or knowledge, or what I do for a living. On the contrary he loves it – and that’s so hard to find.” “I always said I would marry a lacrosse player, and I did.”


A Taste of SoIN – July 2017

Heat It Up

New Albany’s The Exchange opens patio, creates popular summer menu.



It’s summer in the city, and that means seasonal offerings from many of the area’s top restaurants. At The Exchange Pub + Kitchen in downtown New Albany, menu items reflect the changing seasons and customers flock to the outdoor patio, which has become a destination for al fresco diners of all ages.

The restaurant originally opened in January 2010 in a location off Grantline Road before moving two years later to the newly-revitalized downtown New Albany district. With 125 seats in its main dining room and an additional private dining space for 40, the upscale casual eatery is already larger than many of its contemporary counterparts. Still, owner Ian Hall found the opportunity for more seating in 2015 when he purchased a lot next door and added on an indoor/outdoor garage-style bar and an outdoor patio.

“Outdoor dining is a big part of our business,” Hall says. “We typically average about 20 percent in increased revenues during the months of May to October. When we first opened, we only had three tables and 12 seats out front on the front sidewalk. Now, I would say we have one of the premier patios in all the metro area. We have live music on the patio on Friday and Saturday nights, and our crowds typically hang out later in the evening when the weather is great.

Patio dining offers challenges when it comes to battling the elements, but the rewards can be worth it when done right. “

The outdoor tables are covered with umbrellas,” Hall says. “This year we added an electronic umbrella/awning system that is 20 feet by 20 feet. It’s huge! It gives us complete coverage over the middle of our patio, (and we have) an outdoor ceiling fan. In the late evening, especially in the cooler months, we are able to fire up our two fire pit tables around our soft seating areas.”

What also makes The Exchange’s patio a popular destination is the fact that it is dog friendly, and several local pet-centered events have held fundraisers there. “My family and I are big time animal lovers,” Hall says. “We have two dogs –– Teddy and Brody –– and a cat named Cash. We thought it would be really great if our guests could bring their four-legged friends and enjoy dinner with their owners.

“We offer dog bowls for all our guest pets, and we have found our guests really appreciate us being dog friendly. We had a huge patio kick off party for the second year in a row, and it was a huge hit. We had close to 70 dogs visit over the course of the day (and) we had some local pet vendors join us and sell their products and services. Our chefs at The Exchange did a great taco and bratwurst bar, as well some special treats for the animals. We had a fenced-in play area equipped with a kissing booth, a potty area and Astroturf. My wife, Nikki, handled all the decor and did an awesome job. We have found that our guest counts on the patio have increased and more people are finding out our patio is dog friendly. All we ask is they stay on a leash and off the furniture!”

Outdoor dining does create staffing challenges, and Hall says it “definitely changes the footprint of our restaurant. If you think about it, exchange2we are essentially opening another restaurant every year in May. Our staffing has to increase, both in the back of the house and the front of the house. We are basically adding about 20 tables to our space, with the same size kitchen and bars that we have in the winter months.

“Since we do seasonal menus throughout the year, it’s important that we plan on that when doing development. We have to have dishes that are more prep heavy but quicker to execute when we add that many seats. It’s a monster no doubt, and our kitchen doesn’t always get the credit they deserve for putting out the amount of food they do. We are working on a kitchen expansion plan to give us more prep space, as well as a rooftop option above the garage bar. You have to keep moving if you want to stay competitive in this industry.”

The Exchange utilizes seasonal ingredients on both its dining and bar menus. Daily specials are created for both lunch and dinner, and Hall’s staff often comes up with new menu items. “We spend a lot of time talking food and tasting with our management team,” he says. “I don’t handcuff the team. I let them have creative freedom to create and develop, and I know that’s a big part of why our culinary and bar teams work so hard, because they are the ones putting their names behind the dishes and cocktails.”

“We also will go to the local farmers market to source some things for specials on the weekends, and sometimes we will have some local farmers just show up at the kitchen door with some of their products to see if we  can use them.”  –Ian Hall, founder of The Exchange

Plenty of thought goes behind The Exchange’s seasonal offerings. “We do a managers’ tasting with the team about a month before our roll out date to taste, tweak, criticize and finalize dishes,” Hall says. “Then we work for two weeks on those changes, and exchange3then bring in the whole kitchen team to prep and produce the dishes, while the front-of-the-house staff goes thru each dish one by one with our chefs to (learn) flavor profiles, pairing options and descriptions of cooking techniques. It’s a long process, and we do this four seasons each year, both for food and cocktails.”

Creating a seasonal menu affords restaurants to utilize local farms and purveyors, from the local beef used in their burgers to the blueberry jam sourced for a grilled cheese sandwich.

“We use farms like Lost Creek Acres, Grateful Greens, PDS Produce and Russell’s Veggies,” Hall says. “We are also growing some fresh herbs and tomatoes on our patio in some gardens one of our staff members did for us this year. We use The Pretzel Baker and Breadworks for some of our breads. We also will go to the local farmers market to source some things for specials on the weekends, and sometimes we will have some local farmers just show up at the kitchen door with some of their products to see if we can use them.”

Local ingredients are an integral part of The Exchange’s business strategy, and its one Hall says is appreciated by his guests.

“We get a premium product from these folks, and we like to support the community that supports us,” Hall says. “It’s part of our story, our staff gets to tell the guest where it came from and our kitchens get a chance to work with great products.”


Among this summer’s offerings are a stunning tuna ceviche that is paired with fresh watermelon, jalapeño, red onion, cilantro, fresh avocado and crispy tortillas and a Brie and Blueberry Grilled Cheese made with local blueberry jam, a drizzle of balsamic and sourdough served with kettle chips (bacon is a delicious upcharge that lends just the right amount of saltiness to the sandwich).

The fried chicken, served with a proprietary “firecracker” hot sauce, gouda mac and cheese, watermelon slaw and a black bean purée is also a popular dish, despite the summer heat. Aside from mouthwatering food, The Exchange’s bartenders create summer drinks that are also meant to tempt the palate. The Salt of the Earth is one of the restaurant’s bestselling cocktails, and it’s eye-catching as servers carry them on trays throughout the dining room. The sangria-esque drink features bison grass vodka (herb-flavored), elderflower liquor, pineapple, orange, vanilla simple syrup and red wine.

Customers drink “lighter in the summer, (with) more booze-forward cocktails in the winter,” Hall says. “I will say that our Signature Old Fashioned has been our best seller since day one, though. People love bourbon! Our beverage sales increase by about five percent (in the summer), so yes, warm weather leads to more beverage sales.”

The Exchange Kitchen + Pub is located at 118 W. Main in New Albany. It is open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays. A limited bar menu is available 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Dinner is served 5 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday. The bar is open until 11:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.


Health Corner | July 2017

screen-shot-2017-07-05-at-5-53-40-pmNo, Really, I’m Cool!

4 ways to steer clear of heat-related illness and how to recognize the signs.


Young or old. Outside working, playing or just relaxing. The heat doesn’t care who you are and  can hit you like a brick if you’re not careful. With temperatures expected to climb into the mid to upper 90s this weekend and the coming months, emergency medicine physicians are warning against the dangers of being out in intense heat. It doesn’t take much to bring on heat exhaustion or heat stroke, which can be deadly. Norton Audubon Hospital’s emergency department reports having treated several patients during the peak summer months of June, July and August over the past several years for heat exhaustion and other heat related illnesses including heat stroke. In fact, from July 2014 to 2015 there was almost a 50 percent increase in the number of heat-related admissions. “Everyone is at risk and needs to pay attention to their body when outside in the heat,” said Dr. Robert Couch, emergency medicine physician and medical director for the emergency department at Norton Audubon Hospital. “The impact of heat exhaustion can be extreme, even leading to death.” When the body’s core temperature begins to rise to near 104 degrees Fahrenheit, the body goes into distress. Cell damage begins to occur, initiating a cascade of events that may lead to organ failure and death. Heat-related illness can range in severity from mild to fatal. In most cases, it is preventable as long as you listen to your body.


• Heavy sweating or the other extreme of hot, dry skin

• Cold, pale and clammy skin

• Dark-colored urine (a sign of dehydration)

• Nausea or vomiting

• Muscle cramping

• Fast, weak pulse

• Fainting


“People at greatest risk for heat exhaustion are the elderly, children younger than 4 years old
and those with chronic illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes and neurological disorders,” Dr. Couch said. “However, everyone needs to be vigilant by staying hydrated and taking care of themselves and those around them in the extreme heat – whether they are working or playing.”


• Move to a cooler location, even if it is under shade
until moving indoors is an option

• Loosen tight clothing

• Drink cool water

• Apply cold, wet cloths to as much of the body as possible, including the head, neck and armpits

• If the person is vomiting, seek medical attention immediately

• Call 911 if symptoms persist or do not improve

Untreated heat exhaustion can escalate into heat stroke, the most serious heat-related illness


• High body temperature

• Confusion or acting delirious

• Hot, red, dry or moist skin

• Rapid, shallow breathing

• Rapid and strong pulse

• Possible unconsciousness


• Immerse the person in cold water (35 to 39 degrees); continuously stir the water to maximize cooling

• Remove excess clothing

• Place ice packs or cold, wet towels on the head, neck, armpits and groin

• Mist the person with water while fanning air over him or her

How do you prevent heat exhaustion? Dr. Couch recommends the following: If you have to be outside, try to do so early in the morning or later in the evening when the temperature is lower and the sun is less intense.

Take frequent breaks by going inside or under shade.
Keep up your fluid intake. Drink before going outside and continue drinking once you’ve come back inside. Check on friends and neighbors. Make sure they are in well-ventilated areas, have fans and access to cool drinking water.

“The body can go into shock, organs can begin shutting down and the person may have long-term implications,” Dr. Couch said. “It is important to call 911 and work to cool the person while waiting for medical help to arrive.” Heat stroke victims should be cooled until body temperature is below 102.5 degrees, preferably within 30 minutes of collapse.

Pitch it

The Athlete Next Door | July 2017


By Mandy Wolf Detwiler | Photos by Danny Alexander 

Pitch it! 

Two Southern Indiana residents set to compete in world cornhole championship.

Cornhole, that ubiquitous, classic bag-and-board game found at nearly every barbecue and tailgating party across America, is more than just a weekend past time for Jeff Shepherd Sr. and Terry Mathis.

Shepherd, a retired member of the Charlestown Police Department, and New Albany electrician Terry Mathis have circled around each other at cornhole tournaments for years – and have even been paired together in blind draws in the past – before teaming up to play doubles this season. Together, they’ll compete in the American Corhole Organization’s (ACO) 12th annual world championships July 25-29 in Owensboro, Ky.

According to the ACO, there are more than 1,300 paid members of the organization representing 23 U.S. states. With an average play time of 15 minutes per game, just about anyone can learn the sport. Each season runs from September to May. There are regional events held monthly in each state, and competitors play for points. Those points determine players’ rankings. Divisions and rankings include singles, doubles, women, seniors and juniors.

Shepherd plays in the senior division for players 55 and older, as well as singles and doubles. Mathis plays singles and doubles.

“I’ve thrown ever since I was 13 years old, just not competitively until the last three years when I joined the ACO,” says Shepherd, who is ranked No. 5 in Indiana in singles, fourth in the senior division and 74th in the world, according to the ACO Web site.

Mathis is ranked first in the state and third in the world, and he says he’s been playing for about 10 years. Together, they’re ranked ninth in doubles.

Locally, there about 50 to 60 members of the Kentuckiana chapter of the ACO.

“You go to a tailgating (party) and there’s always somebody playing cornhole,” Mathis says.

Shepherd adds that the sport has increased in popularity with the rise of more companies building and making boards and bags, to the point where entire retail stores are devoted to cornhole. Mathis plays three days a week and on weekends, while Shepherd plays a bit less.

“If you really want to be good at it, we know people who throw 500 bags a day,” Shepherd says, adding that he pitched softball for years and the movements are similar. “That’s just how good some of these guys are. … There’s some that it’s all they do all day.”

Mathis says many of the local and regional tournaments are played by doubles, even at bars where there are blind draws to pair up individuals of different abilities. There are competitors who play the entire season, and there are others who play really well for just a few games, enough to compete on the pro level.

The two have played for years at both the state and world levels, like the one recently held in Indiana, where they were ranked No. 1 in doubles. Mathis is a back-to-back state champion, and they’ve watched each other play singles for years. Separated by one county line, it just made sense for the two to pair up.

The professional cornhole associations have worked in recent years to get the public to see cornhole as more than just a party game.

“Word of mouth is our best advertisement,” Mathis says. “People are trying to get other people to play it. It’s more of a social gathering.”

Adds Shepherd: “I think the ACO is the top-notch public cornhole association.”

The ACO World Championship has more than $30,000 in prize money available, and holds its world event annually in areas where cornhole is popular, and there are plenty of hotels and things to do for the 500 to 600 people who compete at the international level. In larger cities like New York and Las Vegas, cornhole is considered “a side game,” Shepherd says.

At last year’s worlds in Knoxville, Bud Light was a sponsor for the event, which is proof that cornhole is drawing more attention yearly. This year’s worlds will include several categories, including juniors for 17 and under, the women’s division, singles, doubles and seniors.

“They’re trying to get the college crowd involved to have a college series,” Shepherd says. “You get more people involved and the word gets around.”

The ACO also is looking to add a dedicated co-ed division, though male and female players are able to play as teams in the doubles division already.

The competitors typically know one another. “There’s going to be tough competition at the worlds this year,” Mathis says. “I know most of them and how they play. You’re going to want to do a good defense.”

ACO “pro” players finish in the top 80 during the regular season. “If you go to the worlds and you finish in the top 96 out of 128, you’re considered a pro for the next two seasons. And that’s that me and Terry are right now,” Shepherd says.

They play as often as they can in local competitions for practice.

“I never question (Mathis’) throws and I listen to him 99 percent of the time,” Shepherd says.


“There’s more (to it) than just throwing a bag. There’s a defense to it, if you want to do that. You’ve got four bags – a lot of times people like to throw that first bag, which is called a blocker bag. They throw it to stop in front of the hole and make your opponent do what he’s going to do, whether he’s going to try to slide in around yours (or) throw an ‘air mail’ and just go over yours into the hole. Normally, when they do that, they’re going to make a mistake. And when they do, that’s when you try to capitalize on the next bag by trying to push it. … It’s really a fun game if you’ve never thrown it.

““For me, it’s like a family atmosphere,” Shepherd adds. “I’ve met so many friends that I consider friends for life that I’d have never met it I didn’t play cornhole.”

So You Want To Play Cornhole?

American Corhole Organization players Terry Mathis and Jeff Shepherd Sr. offered some advice for novice cornhole players.

“When you’re first starting out, try to get your bags to land flat,” Mathis says. “You want to make sure you’re lined up to the hole every time. Find your place, find where you want to hit and try to hit that spot every time.

“All I’ll say is go out and practice, or just go out and have a good time. That’s all it is.”

Shepherd advises players to avoid getting nervous or frustrated in the beginning.

“It’s a fun sport,” he says. “It’s a hobby. It’s not life or death.”

As with horseshoes, softball or bowling, there’s a certain level of skill that comes with practice.

“There’s different throws, believe me,” Shepherd says, adding that players eventually find what works for them. “Me and Terry, we’ve seen people who hold the bags by one little corner and try to throw it one way. I wouldn’t recommend that for anybody, but we’ve seen one guy that does it so long, he’s pretty good at it. But I’d say most of your top 40 players, they throw a flat, spinning bag.”

The ACO uses regulation boards and bags with a slick side and a sticky side. The bags are filled with plastic resin beads (bugs and rodents are less apt to snack on them over the classic corn-filled bags).

“The bags we use are anywhere from $50 to $80 a set,” Shepherd says.


Editor’s Note | July 2017


Years ago, when I was editor of my college newspaper, an internationally-known author was scheduled to speak as part of a campus series of presentations from people who were considered icons in their respective fields.

The writer had been a hero of mine ever since my Grandpa and Grandma Bignall bought one of her books and gave it to me for one of my teenage birthdays. I devoured her words and sought more in story after story, poem after poem. What she wrote resonated with me, so the opportunity to see her in person made me both giddy and overwhelmed. I wanted so badly to thank her for making an impact on my life through her writing. In person, face to face.

I spent days contemplating what I would say and how I would say it, practicing in front of the mirror. Then, shortly before the big day, I learned the author required a physical barrier between her and the audience and absolutely would not entertain the idea of interacting with anyone. She would speak, collect her $20,000 and leave. I was crushed. In that moment, I learned a valuable lesson: Heroes are human, and humanness can be disappointing. But sometimes it isn’t.

Extol Art Director Adam Kleinert’s son, Eli, recently had a chance to meet one of his heroes in person. While Tim Tebow didn’t disappoint, some of the so-called fans who were in attendance did. You can read about Eli’s interaction with his hero on page 42. If you do, you’ll also understand why I think this 12-year-old should be considered a hero himself.

Power Walk 


When I assigned writer Steve Kaufman the story about WHAS11’s Whitney Harding, I knew she’d be a compelling feature. What I didn’t know was the depth of her story or how far she’s come to overcome so much. Whitney’s journey is a power walk through life that will leave you amazed and may ignite that fire you’ve been waiting to light.

Go Cards! 

I’m a Michigan native who became a University of Louisville fan in 2002 when I moved to this region. I remain a Cards fan and always will. That’s why despite it being my job, editing Zach McCrite’s column – The Final Say on the last page of this magazine – wasn’t easy (and by editing I mean reading, since Zach’s copy is usually perfect). Like many of my fellow fans, I’ll be happy when the cloud of negativity dissipates. Until then, I’m going to stay focused on the positive aspects – and there are many – like UofL baseball.

Jason’s Yoga Journey 


On Father’s Day, Jason Applegate – Extol’s Director of Advertising & Sales – received a few gifts from our daughter and an assignment from me (there are benefits to being both the editor and his wife): Try yoga for 30 days and report on the results. Jason took his first yoga class June 18 at Inner Spring Yoga with instructor Kim Hannan at the helm, but not before having his vitals taken in Kroger. When I asked him what the results showed, he looked at me and said, “I’m basically dead. Fat and dead.” Yikes.

You can follow Jason’s 30-day yoga journey on ExtolSports.com and on our Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts (@extolsports).

As always, thanks for picking us up.



Bumps & Beauty with Angie Fenton | Episode 6: Sex (or not) After Pregnancy

It doesn’t matter where you do it, if it’s after pregnancy, it’s an entirely different story. Host Angie Fenton and friends dish the taboo topic.

Editor-in-Chief of Extol Magazine and new mother Angie Fenton hosts Bumps & Beauty.  Each episode, Angie will ask guests to share their parenting experiences and advice.

Parenthood: a mix of challenging moments and wonderful memories. This is Bumps & Beauty, presented by Extol Podcasting.

Make sure to pick up your copy of Extol’s October/November print edition, which will hit stands second week of June in more than 500 locations throughout Southern Indiana and Louisville.

Want to contact Bumps & Beauty? Send an email to Extol@ExtolMag.com. Subject line: Bumps & Beauty.

If you would like information about advertising on or hosting Bumps & Beauty at your location, please contact jason@extolmag.com.

This episode is proudly sponsored by:


3095 Blackiston Mill Road,New Albany 47150


Hosted by: 


321 Pearl St, New Albany 47150


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