Tag Archives: Steve Kaufman

ncaa-basketball-mgn-368x208

NCAA Men’s Basketball Predictions

We asked a panel of “experts” to weigh in on the upcoming NCAA men’s basketball season. Here’s what they said.


HOWIE LINDSEY, 790 KRD 

SURPRISE TEAM: Virginia Tech. I think they will be much tougher than people realize and it wouldn’t shock me if they are a Sweet 16 team this season.

DISAPPOINTING TEAM: North Carolina. They seem to be a preseason Top 10 team with a lot of question marks.

FINAL FOUR: Duke, Florida, West Virginia, Kansas

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Miles Bridges, Michigan State

COACH OF THE YEAR: Bob Huggins, West Virginia


JIM BIERY, Extol Sports Columnist

SURPRISE TEAM: Northwestern. First trip ever last year & majority of team coming back.

MOST DISAPPOINTING TEAM: UK. Top returning scorer just 4.6 PPG.

FINAL FOUR: Arizona, Michigan St, Villanova, Duke

PLAYER OF YEAR: Ethan Happ (Wisconsin) complete game defense & offense

COACH OF YEAR: Tom Izzo. Team is loaded and he is one of top teachers of the game.


ZACH MCCRITE, Extol Sports Columnist

SURPRISE TEAM: I’ll go with the homer pick for me: Indiana. Archie Miller went right to work in recruiting and, by all national accounts, really did well. Combine that with a new energy around Bloomington and why wouldn’t they return to the NCAA Tournament in 2018?

DISAPPOINTING TEAM: Louisville. With Rick Pitino not roaming the sidelines, I can’t imagine the expectations for this season being met. That’s no knock on new head coach David Padgett, it’s just a testament to my respect for Pitino as a coach.

FINAL FOUR: Shot in the dark: Kentucky, Kansas, West Virginia and Florida.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jalen Brunson – Villanova. That’s off the board a little, but his effective field goal percentage was 61.9 last season. That sounds like a number a seven-footer would have. He’s a point guard!

COACH OF THE YEAR: Give me Bill Self. He’ll continue to run the Big 12 and will do it with more ease than in recent seasons.


STEVE KAUFMAN, Extol Sports Writer

First of all, anyone who tries to predict pretty much anything is a fool. So I do not stand behind any of these picks – unless I’m right!

SURPRISE TEAM: Missouri; great freshman class, especially the Porter brothers

DISAPPOINTING TEAMS: Duke, preseason No. 1 – I don’t think they’ll finish No. 1; Louisville, preseason No. 16 – just way too much turmoil, loss of a great coach, replaced by an inexperienced rookie coach, simply unfair to him; Minnesota, preseason No. 15 – not a good year for the Pitino family

FINAL FOUR: Kentucky, North Carolina, Arizona, Florida (or some other four teams)

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Michael Porter Jr., Missouri or Kevin Knox, Kentucky

COACH OF THE YEAR: Mike White, Florida (for no particular reason, except he’s done good things there and I think will continue to do good things); second choice – Archie Miller, Indiana


REX BEYERS, Professional Oddsmaker/SoIN native

SURPRISE TEAM: Penn State

MOST DISAPPOINTING TEAM: Kansas

FINAL FOUR: Xavier, Villanova, West Virginia, Arizona

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jevon Carter, West Virginia

COACH OF THE YEAR: Chris Mack, Xavier


ADAM KLEINERT, Extol Sports Art Director & Sports Fan

SURPRISE TEAM THIS SEASON: Alabama

MOST DISAPPOINTING TEAM: Gulp…Louisville

FINAL FOUR: Duke, Wichita State, Michigan State, Kansas

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Marvin Bagley III, Duke

COACH OF THE YEAR: Gregg Marshall, Wichita State


JEFF NUNN, CardinalSportsZone.com

SURPRISE TEAM: Xavier

DISAPPOINTING TEAM: Villanova

FINAL FOUR: Duke, Michigan State, Arizona, Xavier

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Grayson Allen, Duke

COACH OF THE YEAR: Sean Miller – Arizona


 

athletend

‘I Needed a Reason to Get Out of Bed’

After losing her husband, Marjorie Vowels found solace – and so much more – in swimming at her local YMCA.

By Steve Kaufman  | Photo By James Moses of Bisig Impact Group

MARJORIE VOWELS goes to the Southwestern Family YMCA on Fordhaven Road near Iroqouis Park in Louisville three times a week for the water aerobics class.

It’s a 50-minute workout, during which she does maybe 20 jumping jacks in the water, sprints from one side of the pool to the other and works with buoyancy weights that, in the water, are the equivalent of 60 or 75 pounds.

“I used to do 125-pound weights, but I’ve had to cut back,” she admits.

In the 20 years she has been attending the Y class, Vowels, 84, has worked through painful tendonitis in her knee, lost some weight and says she’s not as tired as she used to be.

In fact, after finishing her water routine, she gets on the treadmill for a half-mile walk. (On the days she doesn’t participate in the water classes, she walks a mile.)

One of the major practical benefits of her exercise regimen is being able to shop regularly at the new Kroger supermarket in her area. “It’s about a half-mile long,” she laughed. “I’m not at all certain I could have navigated that entire store if I hadn’t been in the program.”

Vowels was not a lifelong swimming enthusiast who kept at it into her senior years. She grew up in Valley Station and went to the neighborhood pool in the summer, but mostly to hang out and socialize, getting into the water only to cool off.

As a young mother, she took her six children to the pool, but mostly to paddle around with them.

She retired at age 59 from her job as records clerk at Butler High School, and she and her husband did a lot of traveling together. Then, 20 years ago, he died “and I found I needed a reason to get out of bed in the morning.”

“We had talked about joining the Y,” she said. “We had relatives in the water classes. But we never did. After he passed away, I thought, ‘Now’s the time. And once you do, you’re hooked!”

If she misses a class, she feels that part of her life is missing, that she didn’t do everything right that day.

Not only is it important physically to her, it’s also important mentally. Vowels said it makes her feel good to exercise, provides a sense of accomplishment. And it provides a social circle for her, too. Most geriatricians say that seniors need social interaction, that isolation and loneliness are especially harmful to them.

Vowels’ class, anywhere from 20 to 30 in attendance – mostly women – has become a support group.

“We go out to lunch together every once in a while,” she said. “We get to know each other’s families, problems, joys. It’s something to share with other people, which is important. You don’t ever feel you’re alone; if you have a problem, you can share it with your friends. They become your friends.”

Such is the closeness that coming to class becomes a social obligation. “If I miss a class,” she said, “they all call. ‘Are you all right today? Is anything wrong?’ It’s like a family affair.”

Of course, the benefits are far more than simply social.

“I felt better right away,” Vowels explained. “I felt like I was doing something for my body. And I lost about 10 or 15 pounds, which I’ve kept off. Once you get in the water, you can’t give it up.

“I know I’m getting a good workout and it’s not taxing my muscles or joints. It’s a whole lot easier than anything I could do on land, and just as good a workout.”

Two years ago, she had tendonitis in her knee and her doctor advised her of certain things she shouldn’t do in the water. “He said, ‘you can’t kick out.’ He said he’d never had a breast stroke swimmer in his office who didn’t have tendonitis in the knee. So, any activity that resembles the way a breast stroke swimmer kicks, I shouldn’t do that.

“I can still walk, and can still do some of the other things. But now I know what I can and can’t do.”

The instructors are accommodating. “They’ll all say, ‘If it hurts, don’t do it.’ They’ll show us ways to modify the exercise without hurting ourselves.” (Vowels’ instructor is Dr. Donna Roberts, a family physician at University of Louisville Physicians.)

The program includes a little free swimming – “We call it the froggy kick” – and exercises where they hold onto a board and kick. There are weights in the water. Plus, jumping jacks and sprints.

“(We do) practically anything you’d do on land. I think I can still do what I did 20 years ago and feel just as good. My tendonitis has not returned, and I’ve had no problems since then.”

Vowels is an early-morning starter who travels a short distance to the Y in time for the 8 a.m. class. “I like the morning class. If I go to one of the later classes, I feel as if it’s taken up my entire day. This way, I’m done at 9 and can go on with the rest of my day.”

And the rest of her day is as energetic and vigorous as she chooses it to be. “feel like my whole body is better, more fit,” she said. “I’m convinced I haven’t aged as fast as (she would have) if I hadn’t joined the Y.”

And if you talked to her you’d be convinced of that, as well. “My legs have benefited; I can walk better,” she said. “I don’t think I could have done the treadmill if I hadn’t been doing the water.”

“My doctor tells me I’m doing good, to keep participating in the program,” she said. “In fact, one of the doctors told me he wished his bloodwork looked as good as mine does.”

exsp_5_illustration_sun

A Day at the Beach is No Day at the Beach

It’s good to be outdoors in the summer sun, staying active and enjoying  a vigorous lifestyle. Just do it in a healthy manner. And know the risks.

By Steve Kaufman | Illustration By Adam Kleinert

Oh, the things we tell ourselves when the summer sun begins to blaze.

I’ll only be out for a little bit. I’ll wear a hat.
I have sun screen.
It’s overcast.
It’s just golf.
I never burn.

The problem is, this isn’t about falling asleep on the beach, getting a bad burn and being in pain for a few days. This is about cancer.

Skin cancer is like any other cancer. Abnormal cells grow and multiply, often ignited by the ultraviolet rays of the sun.

Not all skin cancers are the same. Not all are potentially fatal. Not all skin pigmentations are as susceptible to sun-related skin cancer as others. There are all kinds of factors related to skin cancer, as to other cancers: health history, family health history, age, lifestyle.

But why would you want to roll the dice?

There are risks because there are so many things people don’t know or don’t understand, said Dr. Jae Jung, oncologic dermatologist at the Norton Cancer Institute. “There are right and wrong ways to apply sunscreen,” she said. “There are right and wrong clothes to wear. And there are right and wrong ways to evaluate the marks and moles on your skin so you know the proper actions to take.”

As an oncologic dermatologist, Jung is used to seeing patients who already have a diagnosed issue. So maybe she seems more cautious than others might be. But her advice is an excellent roadmap to avoiding problems and addressing common mistakes, like these:

My sunscreen has a 30 SPF. That’s the recommended level by the American Academy of Dermatology. I’m good!

Not necessarily, said Jung. “The academy’s recommendations are based on the testing it does. But they tend to lather it on in thicker amounts during their tests than most people do. At thicker amounts, it’s messy, or sticky, or uncomfortable, especially on the face – or it becomes expensive when you use so much at one time.”

As a result, she said, people use thinner amounts. And that’s less effective.

“I recommend an SPF of 50 or above. And even then, layer it on thickly. And cover everything that’s exposed – hands, feet, ears.” Any exposure to the sun – playing golf, going fishing, even just walking your dog – can be problematic.

“Cover whatever is expos e d,” Jung recommended.

I’m only going out for a drive.

Most cars’ front windshields are tinted to block out UV rays. Not so the side windows. Jung has even written prescriptions for certain patients to get tinted treatments on all their car windows.

“One of the most common incidents of skin cancer are on truck drivers’ left sides,” she said. “They roll the driver’s side window down and hang their arm out. But even with the window closed, their left arm and hand and left side of their face are exposed.”

I’ll be wearing a hat.

“The average baseball cap won’t protect your ears or the back of your neck,” said Jung. “Even those nice, wide-brim sun hats are designed more for fashion than for protection. They have an open weave, which of course invites the sun’s rays right in.”

It’s not a sunny day.

Then there are fewer UV rays in the air, said Jung, but they’re still there – and they’ll still burn your skin.

“They’re especially dangerous because if you don’t feel so hot, you’re inclined to stay outside longer.”

It’s cool out.

“Air temperature is not the issue if the sun’s out,” Jung noted. “Skiers get horrible sunburns.”

I’ll be wearing clothes – head to foot.

First of all, Jung said, few people cover themselves head to foot on a hot summer day. And while clothing is a much better screening agent than sun block – for one thing, you don’t have to keep reapplying it – she said not all clothing will protect you in the same way.

“Some clothing lines are specifically treated with a UV protectant and also woven in such a way as to keep UV light from getting through. They’re specifically designated as UPF 50.”

UPF is a rating that indicates a garment’s effectiveness against UVA and UVB rays. By comparison, an average T-shirt has a UPF rating of 7.

Jung said hunters and fishermen knew about this a long time ago, so these lines of clothing have been available for a while at specialty outdoor sporting goods stores like Dick’s, Cabela’s, Bass Pro and REI.

A variety of web sites specialize in these clothing lines, too – www.coolibar.com, www.uvskinz. com, www.cabanalife.com, www.shedolane. com and www.sunprecautions.com are just a few of the sites that come up by Googling “sun protective clothing.”

These are full lines of clothing, from robes and shifts to swimwear. Coolibar claims it is “the first company to receive the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation for sun protective clothing.”

I’ve never gotten a sunburn.

Jung acknowledged that there is a range of skin pigmentation rated on its risk of becoming cancerous. It’s called The Fitzpatrick scale, Jung explained, “and it runs from 1, always burns, never tans – albinos would be the most extreme example – to 6, never burns, always tans – the darkest-skinned person from sub-Sahara Africa.

“Everybody else is in between. The average Caucasian of Irish ancestry would probably be a 2 – pretty much always burns, never really tans.”

However, Jung said, never having burned is no guarantee of healthy skin.

“We believe the amount of UV damage you get in childhood actually affects your risk of melanoma at an older age,” she said. “The risk of all skin cancer will increase with age and with UV damage. Every time ultraviolet radiation hits your cells, there’s a chance it can mutate. Accumulate enough mutations and you’ll get a cancer.”

My doctor said I need sunlight to get my Vitamin D level up.

“That makes me crazy,” said Jung. “Someone decided that 80 percent of the U.S. population has decreased Vitamin D levels, and low Vitamin D leads to disease. More and more, though, there’s research that says having a disease leads to low Vitamin D levels, not vice versa.”

However, she said, there are lots of other sources for Vitamin D. “Your body can’t tell the difference between Vitamin D from a chewable supplement and Vitamin D that’s absorbed by your skin from sunlight – but your skin can tell the difference.”

I’m in my 60s. I spent years in the sun and never had a problem. I imagine I’m immune by now.

If only. Jung said the dry, leathery skin so many people get after years in the sun is all evidence of skin damage “and likely pre-cancerous.”

There’s also, she pointed out, the lifestyle nature of people who grew up in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, feeling it was okay to lather on baby oil or iodine and sit for hours with a reflector under their chins. “Those people did untold damage that may only now be coming back to haunt them.”

So, I’m doomed. Not necessarily at all, said Jung.

“The ‘beauty’ of skin cancer is that you can see it,” she said. “Going to a dermatologist regularly and getting a thorough skin exam is the best way to deal with skin cancer. If you catch it early, it’s 100 percent curable.”

Self-examinations are an excellent way to evaluate your risk, but while a melanoma is relatively easy to spot, Jung said [a] people don’t always know what to look for; or [b] they know exactly what to look for but are in denial and don’t seek treatment.

Unfortunately, she said, you can’t count on your general practitioner to do a thorough skin exam. It’s not a billable service. “The American Academy of Dermatology is working hard to get skin exams coded, like mammograms and colonoscopies, to prove that a general skin screening would lead to a reduction in patient deaths.”

Then I’m locking my door and drawing my drapes until November.

Don’t do that, Jung said. There is much to be gained from being outdoors when the weather is nice. Your mood elevates. You generate endorphins. You get good exercise and stay active. You swim and run, walk and play tennis or golf. You socialize with others much more during the summer months.

Just know your risks and how to protect yourself. Understand that white surfaces – sand, concrete, the bottom of swimming pools – are more intense sun-reflectors. Rethink the things you thought about protective hats and clothing.

Put all that medical and cancer research to work for you. And make your dermatologist a part of your life.

untitled-1

Everybody into the Pool

It’s summer. If you want to do more than splash around, here are some water workout tips for you.

By Steve Kaufman | Illustration by Adam Kleinert

To the fitness instruction world, you’re a “health seeker.”

If you’re anywhere from your late 30s through your 50s, and you’re seeking to get back in the gym or the pool, you’re categorized. (Clearly, that age category is bendable – from the 20-something who’s rehabbing a sports injury to the senior looking to stay active.)

You’re anxious, enthusiastic, unboundingly willing – and, left to your own devices, you’ll probably overdo it. Or you’ll run out of steam, get discouraged and quit.

Give yourself an A for intentions, but probably a D+ for results.

Swimming has become perhaps the most popular form of fitness workout. After all, you already know how to swim, don’t you? Most people do.

“Actually, a lot of people come in and think they know how to swim, but they really don’t,” said Adam Johnson, senior aquatics director at the Northeast Family YMCA in Lyndon in Louisville. “People get in the water, and if they don’t know what they’re doing, they’ll spend about 10 minutes in there and get tired, get discouraged and never come back.”

So, if you’re thinking of starting a swimming-for-health program this summer, start by acknowledging you might not be that strong a swimmer.

The problem, said Johnson, is breathing. “The cardiovascular effort in swimming is different than that of running or cycling, because you have to hold your breath for certain lengths of time. So you do one length of the pool and you’re out of breath. We get that a lot.”

It’s not uncommon for triathletes – runners and cyclists in good condition – to come into the water and be blown away by how quickly they become out of breath.

exsp_5_illustration_swimmer“People of a certain age who get into a pool and get tired after a lap blame it on age or weight or condition or some joint issue, when often it’s simply that they’re swimming wrong,” Johnson said. “Their technique or breathing or something is wrong, and always has been.”

There’s swim instruction, of course. But there are also other pool activities that produce some of the same benefits.

Aquafit classes, which may include weights, cycling, running or just aerobic exercises, provide a lot of the same benefits as swimming, without the need for technique. Classes are also aligned for age, strength, conditioning or personal goals.

“Aquafit classes range from beginner to some pretty tough advanced classes,” Johnson said.

The secrets of all water exercise are buoyancy and resistance. “Water is 900 times more dense than air, so moving your body through water takes that much more energy,” he explained.

Water weights are lighter, easier to manage and buoyant. But instead of a regular weight resisting being lifted, the flotation weight resists being pushed down into the water. But they work the arms and shoulders, all the same muscle groups as “land” weights.

Buoyant “noodles” are amazing devices in the pool, said Johnson. “You can float around on a noodle, and when you suspend your body in the pool, you can more easily engage your legs in the workout.”

Even doing a vigorous standing or running-in-place activity in the water takes the weight and pressure off your joints.

Also, aquafit workouts are generally in group situations, which promotes social interaction, especially important for the elderly.

“So you see, water exercise doesn’t have to be swimming laps, like a lot of people think,” Johnson said.

GETTING STARTED

“It’s tough to ask for help,” said Adam Johnson, senior aquatics director at the Northeast Family YMCA in Lyndon in Louisville. “At the (YMCA), we try to foster that nurturing environment.”

Johnson suggests a frank conversation with a fitness instructor, during which you ask questions and spend 15 minutes having your swimming stroke and technique evaluated.

“People come in all the time taking tours of the gym and asking details about how to use the equipment,” he said, “but rarely do they take us up on the pool side.”

It’s worthwhile, said Johnson, “because the benefits of swimming are awesome.”

BENEFITS OF THE SWIM

On its website, www.usm.org, the U.S. Masters Swimming organization called swimming “the magic pill.”

“Swimming might be the single best thing you can do to avoid the diseases that plague our sedentary society and to vastly improve the function of both your body and mind. . . . The health benefits of swimming – at any speed and any age – are enormous.”

Among a long list of benefits the article lists are:

PHYSICAL BENEFITS

• Lowers blood pressure

• Reduces bad cholesterol and raises good cholesterol

• Aids in weight loss and weight maintenance

• Benefits your immune system

• Makes your heart a better and more efficient pump

• Slows down the aging process

• Reduces your risk for heart disease and diabetes

• Reduces chronic pain, particularly from arthritis

• Develops lung capacity and helps COPD and asthma

• Exercises nearly every muscle in the body, especially if you swim all four strokes

MENTAL BENEFITS

• Improves problem solving skills and memory

• Reduces stress

• Reduces depression and anxiety

• Offers relaxation through the repetitive nature of movement

• Improves self-esteem and mental toughness

“The concentration required of swimming – synchronizing arm or leg movements with breathing, making sure your hands are in the right position, produces neurotransmitters,” said Johnson. “Any time we’re challenging our brain mentally, we’ll reduce stress and anxiety, reduce mental fatigue and improve our confidence, which carries over out of the pool.

“The total self: physical, mental and spiritual.”

SOME BASIC EQUIPMENT TIPS

The beauty of swimming is that all you pretty much need is a bathing suit and a towel. But here are some other considerations:

THE SUIT

For men, Johnson discourages anything that goes past the knees. “You want general flexibility around the knee.”

A generic swimsuit is fine. Johnson’s has a 12-inch inseam and is cut three or four inches above the knee. “Believe me, you don’t need tight jammers or bikini-cut Speedos. That’s a tough thing to wear if you’re not real fit.”

He also recommends something that ties and can be adjusted or tightened, “so you won’t lose your shorts.”

For women, he recommends a one-piece over a two-piece. “You want comfort and support. It’s not the beach, you’re not tanning.”

Johnson’s suit is 100-percent polyester, which he says will last longer. He said he’s had nylon shorts that faded quickly. But mostly, “wear whatever feels comfortable. Not everyone likes the way rayon or nylon feels.”

GOGGLES

Johnson said he doesn’t necessarily recommend them, but he knows some people’s eyes burn in the pool, or they want to be able to see where they’re going – or they might wear contact lenses.

If you’re going to use goggles, though, Johnson recommended investing in a good, large, well-fitting pair.

“The most important thing in swimming is to reduce the barriers that ruin your experience. And if you don’t have a good pair of goggles and spend a lot of time fidgeting with them trying to get water out, that’s a barrier.

“The goggles didn’t work.

I hate swimming!” So spending $15 or more on a pair of goggles is probably a good idea.

SWIM CAP

“We don’t require them in our pool, but if you have long hair, it’s probably a good idea.” And if you do, he said, the best caps are silicone.

“The latex ones are really tight, rip out your hair and often cause headaches.”

NOSE PLUGS

“I discourage them, I want people to be able to breathe out of all their orafices. But if you don’t like water in your nose, spend $2 to remove that barrier. They make comfortable, adjustable ones now.”

EAR PLUGS

“We see more of those than of nose plugs. Keeping water out of your ear reduces the risk of infection. And certain people get uncomfortable when their ears clog up. Another barrier that’s easy to avoid.”

Also, another basic $2 investment.

OTHER EQUIPMENT

Johnson recommends considering a waterproof in-water MP3 player. “It’s a great way to enjoy your workout. Load it up with your favorite music. It’s a way to take the exeprience from the land into the water.”

SWIMMING AT THE YMCA

All six Louisville-area YMCAs and the two in Southern Indiana (Clark and Floyd counties) have pools and thorough swim instruction. (The Southwest YMCA on Fordhaven Road even has a bubble pool that converts to outdoors in the summer.)

And if you’re a member of one Y branch in Louisville, you can use all the Louisville Y branches plus any in Kentucky and about 90 percent of the YMCAs around the country.

Family rates are $89 a month; couple rates are $84 a month; individual rates are about $53 a month; and then there are senior rates, as well. Plus, some of the Ys participate in the Senior Sneakers program, an insurance-coordinated benefit that makes membership free on senior policyholders.

“The main thing about the membership rates,” said Johnson, “is that the YMCA’s mission statement is ‘we’re for all.’ So if you can’t fit the membership fee into your budget, we’ll find a price that fits your budget.”

sorg

Fit Like a Glove

By Steve Kaufman | Photos by Danny Alexander

Shelly and Jay Sorg are experts at nutrition, exercise, strength-building and the mental parts of sports. It’s how they conduct their business and how they connect their lives. 

Shelly Sorg does not seem to be a woman who minces words.

When she says that the high-carb diets advocated in the 1990s have produced “a nation of diabetics” – with all the conviction that she brings to most topics having to do with fitness and nutrition – you automatically try to remember every bowl of oatmeal or banana smoothie you ate in 1995.

When she says that only one of 50 people who come to her gym has “good body fat,” you automatically reach down and pinch your stomach.

When she says that warm-ups we used to think were good actually were harmful, you find yourself thinking back to every 15 minutes of stretching you did before you went out on your run.

Sorg is more than a woman of strong opinions. She walks the talk. A high school volleyball player in Elgin, Ill., she went off to Morehead State on an athletic scholarship to study something most people didn’t know too much about in 1991: exercise science.

“Not many schools had exercise science programs back then,” she said, “but Morehead did.”

s1So, she played ball (she was MVP of the Ohio Valley Conference) and studied exercise science, but she also minored in business. “I knew I wanted to go into business. My parents both owned their own businesses. So, I went for a master’s degree in health promotion and wellness at University of Louisville.” She also got certified as a strength and conditioning specialist.

Her focus was, characteristically, a laser beam cutting through all the superfluous: “I knew I wanted to do something where I made a difference in people’s lives.”

Also, at Morehead, she met Jay Sorg, a baseball player from Trinity High School in Louisville. As they tell the story, they had sprained ankles together and met in the training room. When Jay was drafted by the Reds in the 15th round in 1994, Shelly was along for the ride.

It was a bumpy ride, beginning with the 232-day baseball strike that wiped out parts of two major league seasons, from August 1994 until the following April. It did, though, allow Jay to finish his degree.

“I was slated to go to the Instructional League, but it was cancelled because of the strike. If that hadn’t happened, who knows when I would have been able to get my degree, if ever? There were no online classes back then.”

Jay spent the next 12 years in the Reds organization, bouncing around from Princeton, W. Va., of the Appalachian League; to Billings, Mont., of the Pioneer League; to Charleston, W. Va., of the South Atlantic League; to Burlington, Iowa, of the Midwest League; to Chattanooga, Tenn., of the Southern Association. He hit .283 and drove in 72 runs for the Burlington Bees in 1997, but mostly it was a typical minor league career seeming to go nowhere.

But it did lead somewhere, because life does that.

“I was drafted as a third basemen, but it was the same year the Reds drafted Aaron Boone (out of the University of Southern California). Once they tabbed him as their guy of the future, I was moved to first base.”

Toward the end, he was even tried as a catcher. “I wish I’d done that earlier, because one of my best tools was my arm strength.”

He thought he might be headed to Triple-A Indianapolis for the 1999 season. Then, in spring training that year, it all came crashing down on him – literally, and ironically, on the weight bench. (Ironically, because it’s the kind of accident Shelly preaches against.) Jay, himself, calls it “a dumb thing.”

“I was squatting – about 400 to 500 pounds – and I misracked the weight. I thought I’d racked it securely, so I kind of let go of it, it fell on me and as I twisted to avoid it, I turned my ankle over. There was a lot of ligament and tendon damage.”

s2

“He was maxing out to build strength, which is what they did then,” said Shelly. “I thought he ought not do that so early in spring training, but hindsight is always perfect.”

In hindsight, though, what it did give Jay was the opportunity to move onto the next phase of his life. “I was given a few options – keep bouncing around in the Reds’ system, take my release and try to hook on with another organization, or become a hitting coach.”

He said it was tough to accept – “when you’re in the heart of it, you always think you’ll make it up there, eventually” – but he took the coaching job and found it was something he was really suited for.

He started with the Rockford (Ill.) Reds in the Class A Midwest League, where his 1999 roster contained Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns, Corky Miller, Brandon Larson and Travis Dawkins, all of whom made it to the majors. Dunn hit 462 home runs in 14 big-league seasons.

Jay also managed a couple of times – in Clinton, Iowa, and back in Billings. “When Buddy Bell, our farm director, offered me a managing job, I was 26, the youngest manager in the nation.”

But Jay found he liked the teaching part of the game better. So, in 2006, he left the Reds for the head coaching job at his alma mater. Shelly found that Jay’s career offered her a calling as well.

“I was Jay’s personal strength coach, because they didn’t have that then,” she said. When the Reds had their spring training camps in Plant City, Fla., weight rooms were nonexistent. “We had some benches and some lat pull-downs,” said Jay. “Fast-forward three or four years, the weight room is elaborate and there are strength coaches at every level.”

When Jay returned to Morehead, Shelly became the team’s strength and conditioning coach. And she began to develop a very specific training regimen.

“We’d work on nutrition and body fat, how to gain 25 pounds of muscle in the off-season,” Shelly said. “As I tracked who lost weight, who kept it off, who stayed injury-free, who performed better, I started putting everything together.”

“Shelly did a really good job of keeping up with the science and the technology,” said Jay, “and the more experience you have, you can say, ‘I know this is what the book says, but this is what my body is telling me.’ Maybe, if she weren’t an athlete, she wouldn’t have those insights. But she was. And she did.”

Eventually, the couple opened their own fitness studio, Sorg’s Sport & Wellness in New Albany. Shelly has advanced the science to the point where she proclaims, as the studio’s tagline, “Transforming lives, inside and out.”

It’s a thorough and holistic approach, whether she’s working with Central High School’s soccer team, or teens whose parents want their children to have improved skills and confidence; or adults rehabbing an injury or seeking more endurance or flexibility.

“My goal is intervention,” she explained. “I do a lot of balance and a lot of core, for every muscle group. And then I concentrate on what they need individually, whether it be speed, agility, endurance, vertical jumping, biometrics.”

She said everybody thinks “exercise science” is just diet and exercise, “but it’s more comprehensive. My master’s thesis was a 100-page paper on the interconnectedness of mind-body-spirit on sports performance. Most trainers focus on eating and working out, but the mental part is more important than anything else.”

The Jay Sorg Baseball Academy works with teams and individuals, generally ages eight through high school, though “we’ll have college kids who come back, and even some pro guys who work out with us until they go to spring training.”

There, Jay offers hitting, pitching and fielding, but not just the mechanics. There’s also strength-training, vision-training and the mental side of baseball – confidence concentration, situational intellingence. “We do a lot more than just ‘come on in and swing the bat.’ ”

Among their most apt students are the four Sorg children, ages seven to18. Ty is a senior at Floyd Central High School, where he plays football and wrestles.

“Next year,” said Jay, “he’ll play college football somewhere. He’ll be recruited as a tight end. He’s 6-foot-4, 245 pounds Where will he play? You can hear Jay’s voice swell with pride. “If he’s accepted, he’ll go to Harvard – or Washington University of St. Louis, or Centre College – and study computer science or engineering.

“He’s really smart.”

Kyley is a junior in high school, running cross country and track. Casey, an eighth-grader, “follows me in baseball,” said Jay, who coaches Casey’s Ironmen Elite baseball team.

As for seven-year-old Macy, “she’s into everything.”

“Shelly always had them doing something,” Jay said, admiringly. “Even Macy does some of her mother’s classes, the footwork and speed-and-agility stuff. We always encouraged them as far as sports were concerned, but we never forced them. All we asked was that they do something physical every season. It’s good for their overall development.”

“I’m a big fan of what sports does for discipline, teamwork, social skills, responsibility, accountability,” said Shelly. “You learn all that in a different way than you would in other avenues.”

They not only walk the talk, they work it out.

Where Total Fitness Rules 

Sorg’s Sport & Wellness is 5,000 square feet of sport-turf flooring located at 800 E. Eighth St. in New Albany. Shelly Sorg proclaims that her 12-week transformation training Wellness Workshop and Universal metabolic makeover PQ program transforms people’s lives, whether it’s the high school athlete or senior citizen.

The intensive hitting program at the Jay Sorg Baseball Academy is aimed not only at better batting mechanics bu also at mental training and focus.

To find out more, call the Academy at 502.797.2970  or 502.727.0930; email transformation@shellysorg.com; or go to www.shellysorg.com.

lls

The Longest Longshot

By Steve Kaufman | Photo of Carla Grego by Danny Alexander | Historical photos courtesy of Beth Buckley

In 2006, when 50-1 shot Mine That Bird burst out of obscurity to win the Kentucky Derby, it resurrected the name of another longshot from the distant past.

In 1913, Donerail – the longest of Derby long shots at 91-1 – broke from the pack to defeat front-running favorite Ten Point. For a few months, 93 years later, the story of Donerail’s improbable victory was on everybody’s consciousness.

Mine that Bird’s jockey, Calvin Borel, became as famous as his horse. That’s how today’s personality-driven media work today. But how many people know the name of Donerail’s rider from that May afternoon 104 years ago?

One who does is Carla Grego, the membership manager at the Kentucky Derby Museum. Grego grew up in a horse family on Southern Parkway in the shadow of Churchill Downs. Her parents had a riding academy. Her name then was Carla Warren. Her mother’s maiden name was Donna Goose. Her mother’s uncle was Roscoe Goose.

Roscoe Goose was aboard Donerail on Derby day 1913.

As a young girl, Carla didn’t know this great-uncle, or in fact too much about the family’s history. “I was 12,” she said. “I was more worried about what was going on with me.”

But then this small man, 74 years old by then, suddenly appeared in her life. “We had horses and were going to horse shows all the time,” Carla said. “It was in 1965. I was riding that day at the state fairgrounds horse show. Roscoe came to watch me ride.”

He became a regular Saturday morning visitor at the Warren household in the short time before his death in 1971.

“I can remember this little man driving up in this big Cadillac, every Saturday morning. All you could see was his fedora sticking up above the dashboard.”

The old jockey clearly wanted to become part of this family. “He was lonely,” said Carla. “His wife had just died. His only living brother was in Florida. I guess he wanted to reconnect.”

derbAfter coming to the show that afternoon, he called her mother and asked if he could take Carla somewhere to buy something for her pony. “He took me to Becker and Durski (the preeminent Louisville tack shop), and bought a halter for my pony, Black Jack, with the name across it.”

Even then, she admitted, “I really didn’t know much about him. He seemed like a nice enough little gentleman, but I hadn’t yet gathered the significance of him.”

She knew he had been a jockey, and even that he’d won the Derby, “but I was more into quarter horses, cowboy stuff,” Carla said. “At that age, to me, the Derby was just something that happened once a year around here.”

Until her mother took her to the house Roscoe had lived in since 1913, on Third and Central. And the reality began to sink in for her. “In the living room, there was a huge painting of him on Donerail,” she remembered. “And all around the house, there were nothing but win pictures. In fact, Eddie Arcaro (who was then one of America’s most famous jockeys) had sent Roscoe some of his win pictures.

“I felt it then – that Uncle Roscoe was somebody who’d been really prominent in the racing industry.”

Yes, prominent. So prominent was the Louisville-born-and-bred rider in 1913 that Donerail’s owner, Thomas P. Hayes, didn’t think the horse was worthy of Goose, and told the jockey to ride another horse that afternoon. But the other horse was taken.

Derby Museum curator Chris Goodlett related the story, in a 2014 short video on KET, that Hayes told Goose just before the post: “We’re going for cornbread here.” In other words, not much – just a piece.

Donerail, a high-strung three-year-old, was being stabled at Douglass Park, three or four miles from Churchill Downs. So, the morning of Derby, Goose and Hayes had to walk Donerail over to the track, along Third Street and other city avenues. Of course, it was 1913. Horses on the street were nothing unusual.

So feisty was Donerail, said Grego, that in the win picture Roscoe was sitting bareback on his mount. “He was jumpy when they tried to put the blanket of roses on his neck,” she said, “so Roscoe hopped down, took the tack off the horse, wrapped the roses in the blanket so Donerail couldn’t see them and hopped back on the horse for the photo.”

It turned out not to be a profitable victory for Roscoe. Before the race, the jockeys had agreed to celebrate that night at the Seelbach Hotel with their winnings. “The total purse was around $5,500,” said Goodlett, “and the jockey got about $550. By the end of the night, it was all gone. But he said many times, later on, that he’d do it again.”

Goose was one of the racing industry’s most successful jockeys. But, sadly, for only a short time. Two weeks after Goose rode his memorable Derby ride, his brother, Carl, won The Kentucky Oaks aboard Cream (yes, the Oaks occurred after the Derby back then). It has never happened again, two brother winning the two races in the same year. (Carl raced under the name Carl Ganz, the family’s original name in Germany – “ganz” is German for “goose.”)

Two years later, in 1915, Carl died in a horseracing accident at Latonia. And Roscoe never rode again.

He did, however, stay active in the sport. Following his brother’s death, he reportedly began advocating the use of helmets in races by all jockeys. He trained horses, advised owners, was a bloodstock agent – evaluating, buying and selling horses – and served as president of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Breeders Association. He became a wealthy man.

He also mentored young riders. Carla was told that apprentice jockeys would come stay at his house and learn from the old Derby winner.

“When young riders would come to him, he would evaluate their hands and feet and he could tell how big they’d get,” Carla related. “Most of these kids were 14 or 15, hadn’t yet had their growth spurt.

“He told (Hall of Fame jockey Eddie) Arcaro, ‘You’re not going to make it, find something else to do.’ Eddie apparently never let Roscoe forget that.”

At one point, Roscoe managed the stable of James Graham Brown. Brown was evidently allergic to horses, so he’d drive up to the track in what Carla called “his big everybody-take-notice car” and watch the horses from there.

“My husband galloped one of his better horses, a filly named Woozem,” she said, “and after he galloped the horse, he’d have to parade her in front of the car so Mr. Brown could see her up close without having to get out of his car.”

Not surprisingly, for a child who grew up around Old Third Street and whose childhood playgrounds included the bridle path that ran along Southern Parkway from Churchill Downs to Iroquois Park, Carla’s entire life – her entire family – revolved around horses.

Her mother, Donna, was born in 1929, one of three children of Bill Goose, Roscoe’s brother and the only one of five Goose brothers to have children of his own. Bill Goose owned racehorses.

“Mother grew up on Southern Parkway,” Carla recalled. “At the time, there were more horses going up and down Southern Parkway than there were cars.”

When she got married to Robert Warren, they started a riding academy and leased out horses for the day. “Their academy was in an alleyway just behind Southern Parkway on Ashland Avenue,” said Carla. “My father had been a saddlebred trainer. There was never a time in my life when I didn’t have horses or wasn’t around horses.”

She said her mother was “a very good rider, who rode horses 24/7. It was part of who she was.” However, it was strictly recreational. “Back then, women being anywhere around the track was taboo generally – and very much so in the Goose household.”

According to Carla, her mother and her friends did indeed find a way to raise up the fence at Churchill Downs and get their horses onto the track. “But they were terrified that Uncle Roscoe would find out.”

When Carla grew up, one of her first jobs was at Wagner’s Pharmacy on South Fourth Street across from the track. “I also worked at the track, much to my mother’s dismay. There were plenty of women at Churchill by then, but Mom had been raised with such a strict rule. It was just something you didn’t do if you were a lady.”

Carla met Don Grego over the breakfast counter at Wagner’s. They were married in 1976. He exercised and broke horses, then moved into training. He was the farm trainer at Calumet Farm, where he broke the yearling Strike The Gold, who went on to win the 1991 Kentucky Derby, and Criminal Type, the U.S. Horse of the Year in 1990 for D. Wayne Lukas.

“One winter, he went south and left me at Calumet with a few horses, including one I loved named Peon,” she said. “I had my trainer’s license by then, so I asked Churchill Downs if I could get a stall of my own and race him there. Pat Day rode him. I won a couple of races with him.”

She said, “There was no day on the racetrack that felt like a job to me. And I think most racing people feel the same way.”

Which is why she gravitated to office work at Churchill Downs. “I started as an office clerk. Then Tom Meeker, who was president here, gave me some opportunities and I ended up as director of the Twin Spires Club.”

She came to the Kentucky Derby Museum in 2006. “I haven’t gotten off this corner in 45 years,” she laughed.

One of her projects is working on the oral histories they compile there, interviewing every owner, trainer and jockey who wins the Kentucky Derby.

As important as it is for future generations, Carla gets wistful about all the past testimonials they’ll never have. “We’ve lost so many,” she said. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to hear, in Ben Jones’ own words, how he came up with that full-cup blinker he put on Whirlaway the day of the (1941) Derby to keep him from drifting on the outside?”

And, of course, her very own ancestor. “It pains me,” she said. “I’d love to hear the Donerail story in Roscoe’s own voice.”

Another wistful regret is that she never rode with her famous uncle in the six years they had together. “By that time, I don’t think he was getting on horses anymore. In fact, I don’t think he rode after 1915.”

At all? “For people who make their living riding horses, it’s not a recreational thing, it’s their job,” Carla explained. “They don’t spend their free time on horses.

“My husband galloped horses for 40 years, and I couldn’t pour him on my horse. He just doesn’t have any interest.”

For Carla, however, it’s still a passion. “I still ride. I have a paint horse that I take to little shows around here, just to keep my hand in.”

She shrugged. “It’s a Goose thing!”

nabc-feature

New Albanian Brewing Company is now Thriving in Two New Albany Locations

he downtown café serves burgers with and without meat. The pizzeria still flourishes after 30 years in business.

By Steve Kaufman | Photos by Josh Keown

exterior

One of the bittersweet aphorisms of the restaurant business is that everyone wants to open a restaurant – until they open a restaurant.

So, give some credit to two Southern Indiana sisters, Amy Baylor and Kate Lewison, for opening their own new restaurants – twice! (Actually, more than twice, as you’ll see.) They’ve done it again recently with their New Albanian Café & Brewhouse on Bank Street in the middle of Bustling New Albany. If you recognize the name, or the sisters, from the popular pizza place – the New Albanian Brewing Company Pizzeria & Public House, on Plaza Drive off Grantline Road – you’re right. But this new concept is about as far from pizza and beer as sausage and cheese can get from tofu and ground cashews.

pizzabeer1Don’t stop reading here, carnivores. The café also has some of the best (real) burgers in town, plus bacon and chicken from local producers.

It’s all part of the journey, the on-and-off-the-adventure-train, that Amy and Kate have ridden for 30 years.

As teenagers, their parents, Sharon and Richard O’Connell, took over a failing pizza joint on Plaza Drive in New Albany, called The Noble Roman, in 1987. Over time, they turned it into the local institution, the New Albanian Brewing Company Pizzeria & Public House. (After the grind of building and running such a consistently good venture for 30 years, they’re entitled to every word of that long name on the awning.)

The amazing thing, looking back, is that this wasn’t a restaurant family. Richard had been managing the building for the owners – as well as their used car lot – and Sharon worked for the phone company.

beer1

It was hard work for everyone, not least for the girls.

“I always say, the best thing my father ever did for me was buy a pizza restaurant, and the worst thing my father ever did for me was buy a pizza restaurant,” Amy said. “Kate and I missed out on our entire high school life. We had to go in every day and make the dough and wash the dishes. And when we weren’t in the restaurant, we had to carry around a pager in case someone called in sick.”

The hours were so long, Amy recalled, “I was voted ‘most likely to fall asleep in class.’ ”

“We were 24/7 for so many years,” said Kate, “we missed every Christmas and Thanksgiving.”

“A lot of people who open a restaurant think they like to cook,” said Amy. “You like to cook? You’ll pretty much have to give that up and be a babysitter, a plumber, a janitor, an accountant, a repairman, (a human resources) executive.”

Some form of that ought to be at the top of every new restaurant contract.

So, new restaurant? Never again! Which is why, in 1989, Amy decided to open a barbecue joint in an adjoining spot, called Rich O’s. (“After my dad.”)pizza4

What? Why?

“I got weary of being called in all the time, so I thought owning my own place next door would be the answer to that,” Amy said. “Yeah, right! Now I was putting in 12- to 14-hour days in my own place.”

What she also did at that time, though, was pursue an interest in craft brewing. That led to the name change – New Albanian – and to a new direction for the business.

The sisters invested in a small brewery in Sellersburg, which failed. “But we bought the equipment,” said Amy, “and now it made sense to go into the brewing business, if only to brew for our restaurant.”

New Albanian was the 13th commercial microbrewery in Indiana when it started. Today, there are 147. “We just got voted the ‘Number One Local Beer in Indiana’ by RateBeer.com,” Kate reported.

That led, eventually, to opening the New Albanian Brewing Company Café & Brewhouse on Bank Street.

breadsticks1“Originally, this was not intended to be a restaurant at all, just a production brewery with a little tap room,” Amy said. “Mostly, the beer brewed here would go directly to the pizzeria, and we’d use the front part of the building as a tasting bar – but no food.”

That was the plan. But their third partner, Amy’s then-husband, took the idea and ran with it.

“He never thought what we did at the pizzeria took any work, he thought all you had to do was hire people,” she said. “So I said, ‘OK, you open the restaurant down there and you can see what it’s all about.’ But I figured, he was our partner, he’d take care of whatever needed to be done.”

Pretty soon, there was a chef and a sous chef, and the tap room had spiraled into “a whole crazy French gourmet thing.” And another failed experiment.

“The café had more to do with my ego, not fully understanding that we were getting into something different,” Amy ruefully admitted. “I naively thought we were doing so well with our pizzeria, it would translate well into this new entity. But it was, in fact, a different business and a different concept at a different location.

“So we didn’t have the best reason for starting it, and it was at the worst time in the economy you could ever want.”

Rocky road is more than just an ice cream flavor.latte

“It knocked us off our high horse and made us start over from scratch,” Amy said.

They went through some weird attempts to pair food with their beers. They tried to arrange for food trucks to stop outside.

They tried pop-up chefs. They hooked up with “another guy who thinks all you have to do in the restaurant business is cook food,” said Amy.

Then they got lucky.

Enter Stacie Bale, a grammar-school friend of the sisters’ who had gone into the restaurant business herself, running the innovative Earth Friends Café on East Market Street for a few years, which she had to close, as well as one in the Kentucky International Convention Center, which closed around her when the center began a three-year overhaul.

“I felt like the universe kept punching me in the gut,” said Stacie. The sisters could relate.

“Kate and Amy came into the convention center one day to thank me for serving their beer,” Stacie recalled. “From then, the wheels started turning. I shut my business and, within three weeks, we were ready to open here (in New Albany).”

pizza2That was the spring of 2015. Stacie’s concept, a version of the burgeoning farm-to-table movement, was all local produce and meats.

Want a burger? It’s the finest quality meat from a local farm. Want a veggie burger? “We have a bacon cheddar cheeseburger that’s entirely vegan,” Stacie proclaimed. “We can do that here. They can’t do that anywhere else.”

Want fries with that? “We don’t have a fryer, but we have a whole bunch of sides, and everything is handmade.”

Essentially, said Stacie, “we try to make anything for anybody. I feel, if you have a group of four that comes in, someone’s going to be a vegetarian, someone’s going to be gluten-free, someone might be vegan and the fourth person might be all-meat-all-the-time.

“So we go above and beyond for people,” she said. “But at the same time, you have to keep a pretty simple menu. You can’t have four pages of stuff.”

beercheese1It’s not unlike what Amy recognized about her pizza place years before.

“We never expanded the menu there, we never tried to be everything to everybody. We just concentrated on making what we made as good as possible.”

“It’s just a nice, casual hangout spot. No chef, no sous chef,” said Stacie. “I provide a recipe book and hire people, and they prepare the recipes.” Of course, the beer has also been a cornerstone of the business. “We finally have the tap room we always wanted,” said Kate. In addition to its own New Albanian beers (“I think we have 14 on tap,” she said), the restaurant also offers guest taps from other local craft breweries. There’s no Bud, no Miller.

And so, the pizza place rolls, the craft beer flows, the new place gets its legs and downtown New Albany bustles. “There’s a 200-unit apartment complex being built two blocks away,” said Amy. “We’re the first stop on their walk.

“We’ve already put together a little welcome-to-the-neighborhood package, with a copy of our chickensandwich1menu and a 64-ounce growler for them to come in and fill up.”

It all appears to have come together.

“Amy and Kate have been in one spot for 30 years. They know how to be in one spot for 30 years. And while they were in one spot, I was all over the place. I’ve pulled all that together to run this restaurant. It has allowed me to be smart, to focus on inventory while still pleasing people,” Stacie said.

She’s certainly pleased the sisters.

“I told Stacie, this would not be happening if she were not here,” said Amy. “She came in and recognized all the mistakes we’d made, and turned this place around.”

What’s to eat?

The New Albanian Brewing Company Café & Brewhouse specializes in burgers that pair with the company’s craft beers. The NABC Burger piles on bacon, cheddar cheese, avocado, a fried egg and garlic aioli. The Bacon Cheddar Burger features smoky jalapeno. And everything can be substituted for vegetarians and vegans.

The New Albanian Brewing Company Pizzeria & Public House has a full complement of pizzas, sandwiches, pasta dishes, lasagna, stuffed mushrooms and salads.

Both places feature the company’s full line of craft brews and its homemade beer cheese.

 

New Albanian Café & Brewhouse 

415 Bank St., New Albanychickensandwich1

812.944.2577

www.newalbanian.com/ 
cafe-and-brewhouse

11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Tuesday through Sunday; Closed Monday

New Albanian Brewing Company Pizzeria & Public House

3312 Plaza Drive, New Albany

812.944.2577

www.newalbanian.com

Open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday

through Saturday; Closed Sunday

bm4

He’s the Reel Deal

By Steve Kaufman | Photos By David Harrison

Brad Moser fishes bass for the competition and prize money. It’s a hobby that can take over his life.

Ask any fisherman about the biggest one he’s ever caught and – well – there’s a reason they call those “fish stories.”

But Brad Moser’s record is on full view and easy to confirm. When he talks about the seven-pound bass he caught on Lake Monroe, it’s part of his competitive record, just like Malik Monk’s 47 points against North Carolina.

(He once caught an eight-pounder on Lake Okeechobee, but that wasn’t in a tournament, so we’ll take his word on that one. Actually, Moser would insert a correction right here: It was eight pounds, four ounces.)

Moser is a professional bass fisherman who goes out on the lakes and rivers of Kentucky and Indiana practically every weekend, competing for prize money. Over more than 20 years, he’s been pretty successful at it – especially around here, competing with the First River City Bassmasters out of Southern Indiana.

bm2But there are other, bigger fish to fry for him. Professional bass fishing has an entire network of tournaments. Competitors progress from local tournaments, to state, to regional, ultimately culminating in what Moser called “the Super Bowl” of his sport, the Bass Master Classic, to be held at the end of March this year, near Houston.

Weekend anglers go out and try their luck. Moser, like other professional bass fishermen, insists there is no “luck” to the sport. Success is a combination of experience, knowledge, judgment and equipment. It’s also a willingness to put in the time, go out to the lakes and ponds and do your homework, studying the conditions, the weather and – most of all – the bass.

The bass can be a hungry fish, willing to chomp at anything he sees swirling around in his environment. But he’s also easily spooked, by noise or motion in the water, and can have unpredictable habits, determined by the weather or the water temperature, or by whatever he chooses to feed upon on that particular day. And it’s the understanding and anticipation of these habits that separates the serious fishermen from the good-time-Charlies who see fishing as an excuse to relax on a boat and pound back a beer or two on a Sunday afternoon in August.

Or, as Moser said, “tournament fishing is not going out, tossing a line in the water and watching your bobber all day.”

It’s pretty much a year-round sport, too. “You can catch bass all year, even with the water temperature in the 30s,” he said. “They’re still eating the shad, still moving – their metabolism requires that they move.”

In the spring, they spawn. “They get into the shallower waters to build their nests and lay their eggs. They’re not chasing the shad so much; they’re at the shoreline where you can actually see them. It’s a different kind of fishing.” Like shooting fish in a barrel.

His favorite time, Moser said, is in the late fall. “The bass feed better. Also, you don’t have all the boat traffic, all the jet skiers.”

And in the winter, he said, “the shad die off until the water gets into the 50s, so right now the water is full of bass – and they’re hungry.”

In the spring, they spawn. “They get into the shallower waters to build their nests and lay their eggs. They’re not chasing the shad so much; they’re at the shoreline where you can actually see them. It’s a different kind of fishing.”

Like shooting fish in a barrel.

His favorite time, Moser said, is in the late fall. “The bass feed better. Also, you don’t have all the boat traffic, all the jet skiers.”

And in the winter, he said, “the shad die off until the water gets into the 50s, so right now the water is full of bass – and they’re hungry.”

Ponds and Poles

Like so many kids who grew up in the more rural parts of Kentucky and Southern Indiana, Moser was surrounded by ponds as a young boy. It wasn’t unusual to see him and his friends trooping through the New Albany woods of the 1970s and 80s with fishing poles on their shoulders, heading for the ponds to catch some bass, catfish and bluegill.

“It was a different time,” he recalled. “You don’t see many 10-year-olds today walking around with fishing poles on their shoulders, do you?”

But golf was his other passion in those days. After playing for Providence High School, he earned a scholarship to Trine University in Angola (known as Tri-State in those days), and then, for two years, at Indiana University Southeast.

“I loved the competition of golf,” Moser said. “And when I got out of school, I missed it. I was looking for that same level of competition.”

Which drew him back to fishing.

From Golf Clubs to Bass Clubs

Moser joined a local club, Rodbenders, in 1994 and, in 1998, moved to First River City Bassmasters and became part of the competitive world of tournament fishing.

For what Moser estimates as 45 weekends throughout the year, he’s out on the lakes competing with hundreds of other bass fishermen for the prize money, trawling the waters of Patoka Lake, bm1Monroe Reservoir, Nolin Lake, Rough River Lake, Barren River Lake, Kentucky Lake, Lake Barkley and the Ohio River.

“The prize goes to the biggest total catch,” Moser explained. “In most tournaments, that’s a five-fish limit – in some, it’s six. It’s all based on total weight. There’s also a prize for the single biggest fish.”

The tournaments start at daylight on Sunday morning and usually run about nine hours. The fish all have to be caught alive, and they all have to go back into the water alive.

In the Hoosier Open, the local circuit of tournaments that Moser enters with his fishing partner, Kelly Hook, there are $200 entry fees for winning prizes of around $4,000.

As they move up through the network of tournaments, the prize money increases as well, to as much as $60,000. Then there’s the Classic, which has a $500,000 grand prize.

Moser has not made it to the Classic – yet. But he has won as much as $35,000 in a good year of competition. “Not bad for a hobby,” he said.

Testing the Waters

But it’s a hobby that occasionally overwhelms his real life. (His day job is in sales and project management for GCH International, the Louisville-based metal fabricator.) To do well on Sunday, he insisted, you have to be out on the lake on Friday and Saturday, testing the waters.

“That’s how the real pros make the money,” Moser said. “They’re out there for two full days before the tournament, seeing where the bass are huddling and how they’re eating. They’re also analyzing the weather conditions. How cold is the water? How calm? How muddy? How sunny is it out? How windy? All that will determine how the bass are acting.”

He said the bass are always moving around, going where the bait is. They feed on crawdaddys, minnows, shad and the like.

“If the bait goes deep, he’ll go deep. If it goes up the creek, he’ll go up the creek. So, when you’re practicing, you’re trying to figure out where the bait’s going, because the bass will be with the bait.”

Also, he said, you spend Fridays and Saturdays reading the lake. “The lake is always changing. It’s different from Friday to Sunday. Heck, it’s different from morning to afternoon. If it becomes cloudy, say, you might have to change where you’re setting up. That’s why we have big, fast boats. At 70miles-per-hour, I can completely change my surroundings in a heartbeat.”

But, he said, “If you don’t go out and practice on Friday and Saturday, your chances of winning that tournament go down dramatically.”

SORRY, GONE FISHING

There’s a cost to all that, of course. “You miss some important family dates,” Moser said. “A lot of birthdays and graduations. But the guys who get the checks every week, they’re practicing, putting their time in, getting in touch with what the lake’s doing.”

Fortunately, Moser has an understanding employer. He’s managing some big projects these days, involving the Kentucky International Convention Center in downtown Louisville; a $2 million University of Louisville project; and the water intake system for the city of North Vernon, Ind.

“I only take off on Friday for the big tournaments,” he said, “the ones with prizes of $4,000, $6,000 and up. For some of the really big ones, though, I’ll take off the whole week and go down and practice.”

Moser is unmarried, but engaged. Fortunately, he has some understanding here, too. His fiancée, Natalie Lowe, is also one of his fishing partners.

“We fish about 14 tournaments a year together,” Moser said. “I got her hooked on bass fishing. She grew up fishing bluegill and catfish with her daddy, but she’d never been on a boat until she met me.”

They’ve been dating since 1997, “so she knows what this life is all about.”

Hooking Up

Moser’s other competition partner, Kelly Hook, is also president of the Indiana Bass Federation (at 1,000 members, the largest such federation in the country). They’ve been a team since 2007, winning the Hoosier Open’s Anglers of the Year Award their first year together.

Do two good, experienced fishermen automatically spell partnership success? Not necessarily.

“Two good fisherman can team up and do horribly,” Hook said. “From the beginning, though, we trusted each other’s judgment and experience. Our first time out, Brad suggested we fish a certain part of the lake, and we won that tournament. “I knew we’d be all right together.”

Experience and judgment are part of the secret. So is the right equipment. Moser said he uses a baitcaster reel about 95 percent of the time, and mostly fast-action rods that are stiff along the shaft and with a little bit of bend at the tip. He prefers the heavier equipment. “Rods are getting lighter and lighter, which makes them more sensitive but also more easily breakable,” he explained. “With mine, when I set the hook, I could throw a brick over my head.”

bm3

Baiting the Line 

He has thousands of baits in his boat, spinner baits and crankbaits, but his favorite is a jig. (Competitors can use only artificial baits in tournaments.)

“On Friday and Saturday, you see what the fish are feeding on so you can mimic that with your bait,” said Moser. “Are they eating crawdads or bluegill or minnows by the bank, or the shad out on the lake? My preference is throwing a jig with a crawdad trailer, mimicking a crawdad.”

Moser’s boat is a 20-foot Skeeter with a 225-horsepower Yamaha motor. He also has a trawling motor in front for prowling quietly along the banks. “We may cover miles and miles of shoreline during a tournament,” he said. “We can quietly go along the bank, making virtually no noise at all, sneak up to the next tree, the next rock, the next log, fishing every little hiding spot and ambush point the bass may have, trying to put our bait into the water as quietly as possible.”

It Ain’t Easy 

It’s a sport that requires experience and finesse, but also enormous stamina.

“I laugh when people say it must be so relaxing,” said Hook. “You stand for nine hours, in the freezing rain or snow, or when it’s 95 degrees outside. There’s no ‘it’s too hot’ or ‘too cold’ for us. We’re out there, no matter what the weather. It’s a grueling sport.”

“As you get older, you can develop problems in your wrist and elbow,” said Moser, who’s 43. “You’re standing all day, so you can have knee problems. It’s nine hours of dealing with the waves, keeping your balance, one foot against the trawl motor pedal, making thousands of casts a day.”

Nor are there lunch breaks. “Your time is critical,” he said. “You have only nine hours to catch the five biggest fish. If you break for a sandwich, 120 other guys are making their catch.”

You’d better check your equipment before you start, too. Hook talked about a broken line that once cost him nearly $10,000. “I ended up with a check for $400, but if I’d-a brought that big fish in, I’d have won first prize.”

Even for the bass pros, there’s always the one that got away.

dh

Your Health’s Best Friend

Your dog or cat is a companion, a pal, a family member. But, according  to an area physician, it’s also an important part of your wellness.

Story by Steve Kaufman | Photos by David Harrison

PRESIDENT HARRY TRUMAN is once supposed to have said about the cutthroat political environment in the capital: “Want a friend in Washington? Get a dog.”

Dr. Michelle Moran, a family medicine physician with Norton Community Medical Associates – Hurstbourne, couldn’t agree more.

She doesn’t write it on a prescription pad, nor order her patients to go directly to the nearest dh3animal shelter. But, unofficially, Moran delivers the message, loud and clear: A pet can improve your health and even save your life.

“Some studies have shown that being with a pet improves someone’s blood pressure,” she said, “and also promotes ‘harm-reduction’ behavior. People will avoid unhealthy lifestyles because they don’t want to do anything to harm their pets. They’ll quit smoking, or smoke less. They’ll reduce their drinking.”

Of course, said Moran, physical activity is the big benefit of pet ownership – especially of dogs. “Someone with a dog will automatically get more exercise, just from the requisite three or four times a day he or she has to walk the dog.”

Lowering Stress 

But physical activity is only one part of the equation. There are also the emotional benefits against such debilitating mental conditions as stress, depression, loneliness, change, social withdrawal and isolation. “Empty-nesters, the recently widowed, the recently divorced, young people out of the home for the first time,” noted Moran, “they all seem to do better when they have a pet in the house.”

She said people who are depressed and might withdraw from everyday life are pulled back in by their pets.

“Pets bring joy, friendliness, support, loyalty and love to people’s lives,” said Moran. “Pets keep depressed people involved in something other than their own thoughts. Pets, especially dogs, force people to adhere to a routine – feeding, walking, bathing, grooming, playing with their animals.”

Also, she said, “feeding the dog or cat might encourage depressed people to eat themselves, whereas those people might otherwise skip meals and not think about food. Being forced to feed and walk their pets might keep depressed people or the elderly from sleeping the day away.”

Plus, she said, “you get outside. In the sunlight, the fresh air, the warmth, with nature. Benefits of that have been proven.”

People Magnets 

Benefits of walking the dog can involve more than just exercise and fresh air, too. “Walking the dog invites social interaction with neighbors or passersby,” Moran said. “Dogs always attract other people. ‘Can I pet your dog?’ or, ‘What’s his name? What kind is he? How old is he?’ People who might not stop to talk to you almost always seem to engage your pet. Dogs are like magic that way.”

Cats can work their magic, as well.

Not as physically involved as dogs, they’re also not as demanding, which can be a good thing for the elderly or people with physical limitations. Cats keep to themselves, they don’t demand attention. “They’re (also) good for someone in a small apartment, or someone who can’t get out much.”

Plus, said Moran, they’re proven stress-reducers.

“Petting your cat can lower blood pressure in times of stress,” the physician said. She claimed there are studies that verify this.

“Stress is stress. Your body doesn’t know the difference between stress when your boss yells at you or when the gas and electric bill is due versus stress when a tiger is chasing you. It will react the same. It pumps out adrenaline, and our heart rates and blood pressure rise. But stroking the cat releases those happy neurotransmitters that lead to calm relaxation. It works better than blood pressure medicine – and with fewer side-effects.”

dh2

The Doctor’s Approach

It’s not all scientifically proven, Moran said, but she insisted she has seen evidence in her own patients of hypertension improving when there’s a dog or cat added to the home.

Moran said she doesn’t necessarily bring up the joys of pet ownership with her patients, but she can quickly ferret out the pet-owners from those who aren’t.

“It usually comes up in conversation,” she said. “I’ll ask, ‘Do you get much exercise?’ The non-pet owners might say, ‘Not as much as I should.’ The pet owners will say, ‘Yes, I usually walk my dog three times a day.’

“Once I know, that plays a big part in our doctor-patient relationship. It tells me a lot about their lifestyles and habits.”

She said she has even intervened with third parties on her patients’ behalf – say, a patient moving into a no-pets-allowed situation. “I’ve written letters of medical necessity asking that my patients be allowed to have their pets with them for stress-reduction,” she explained. “A young person moving away from home or a widow being forced to downsize into an apartment. The grief and separation from the pet can be devastating.”

Children Will Thrive

Pet benefits are by no means restricted to the lonely or elderly. “A pet brings joy to the household,” Moran said. “It helps everyone bond together.”

For children, there are the benefits of discipline, responsibility and companionship.

“Pets are known to help children learn empathy and build self-esteem,” the doctor said. “Children develop the confidence to maintain friendships and relationships outside the house, among their peers, which leads to their willingness to participate in activities.”

She said troubled children, in particular, can benefit from a pet. Perhaps the child has nobody else to talk to, feels isolated, disconnected, abandoned or overlooked by his parents or siblings, generally fearful of the world around him.

“I’ve heard of examples of a child who has had a bad day and then gets relief by coming home and talking to the dog, telling the dog his or her problems,” Moran said. “A pet teaches the child to trust, to feel safe in a non-judgmental, unconditional relationship. Talking to a pet helps improve a child’s communication skills and his or her mechanism for working out problems.”

Pets and Newborns 

Occasionally, the issue isn’t with the child already in the household. Sometimes, it’s with the child about to become part of the household.

“Many times, I’ll find myself in prenatal counseling with couples who are thinking of having a baby,” she said. “If they already own a dog, they’ll often ask if they should get rid of the pet? Or how much risk there might be of having the pet in the house with the newborn?

“I’d never, ever counsel anyone to get rid of an animal. But I will tell them that, perhaps to their surprise, if there’s a dog or cat in house in the first year of a baby’s life, that baby is much less likely to develop allergies. Quite the opposite (occurs); the baby’s immune systems become stronger.”

New parents worry, of course, about the threat of the dog feeling jealous or shunted aside and taking it out on the baby. Moran recommends a therapy intervention.

“When a new baby arrives, the dog has to learn that the baby outranks him,” said Moran. “The parents need to be willing to do the necessary disciplining, training and teaching to help the dog cope and understand.”

NOT FOR EVERYONE

Moran said she wouldn’t indiscriminately recommend pet ownership to all of her patients. For one thing, not all pet-owner relationships are automatically positive or problem-free. “Both the dog and the owner need training and guidance from a professional, like a trainer or a vet, so that the approach to the pet is a healthy, positive one,” said the physician. “For example, you have to be careful about the pet if there’s mental illness present in the household. The animal could find the need to defend itself against someone who isn’t treating it properly.”

Who else shouldn’t have pets? “Elderly people for whom exertion or falling is a risk or walking is a problem. Anyone whose immune system might be compromised.”

How about someone with an allergy? Moran was dismissive of that.

“Allergies to dogs and cats get a lot of blame, which often irritates me. I believe pets do a lot more good than harm. Consider the trauma to the family to get rid of a long-time, established (furry) family member because someone has a runny nose.”

Pets Benefit, Too

Not surprisingly, Moran walks the talk. She has two dogs and two cats at home, all rescue animals or strays.

“They’re the most grateful, the most loving,” she insisted. “They’re defensive at first. And then you can see it dawn on them that this is a new, safe home. Animals definitely know when they’re in a safe place, especially those who’ve been abused.”

Plus, she said, the owner feels so much better about having saved a life. “There’s a different relationship with an animal when you’ve rescued it. Honestly, I don’t understand shelling out thousands of dollars for a breeder dog when you and the animal whose life you’ve saved can be so much happier.”

And healthier, too.

Running with Dogs 

In December 2011, my husband, Chris, and I adopted an itty, bitty, cute, little puppy that would grow up to be a super-driven border collie. We were walking multiple miles every day, and Eisley still had so much energy. One day I decided I would just have to run with him. So, in September 2013, because of Eisley, I became a runner. Chris and I ran our first 5K that November (the K9 5K, in which both Eisley and Brody, another one of our dogs, ran with us) and the miniMarathon the following April. We have since run five half marathons (13.1 miles), a full (26.2 miles), and countless 5Ks (3.1 miles). Not only did Eisley make us runners, but he started our whole fitness journey: We now also cycle, completing the 65 miles Bike to Beat Cancer last year, and plan to train for a triathlon this summer. –Kelley Luckett

extol_digitalcover_600x400_ballenger

He’s the Guy You Love to Hate

Basketball fans revere their own players and may respect opponents. But nobody loves the referees. Here’s a look from the ref’s side of the ball. 

By Steve Kaufman | Photos by Tony Bennett and Tab Brockman on behalf of Murray State Athletics

Most days, Eric Ballenger wears a traditional shirt and tie to the office, where he’s senior vice president of investments for a wealth management firm in Southern Indiana.

He’s a happy 58-year-old family man with three daughters and five grandchildren.

Perhaps the most confrontational thing someone might say to him is to turn off his cell phone in the Starbucks line.

But then there are the many winter nights when Ballenger trades in his business suit for a striped shirt. He calls it his “secret second life.” Or it would be secret except for the thousands of people watching him – and the whistle around his neck.

In those circumstances, the things people yell at him are . . . let’s just say they’re not love calls. More like suggestions on where he can go after the game – and what he can do when he gets there.

THE MEN IN THE STRIPES

Ballenger is part of the community of men and, increasingly, women who referee college basketball games. You won’t find him on the court at the Yum! Center or Rupp Arena. But, after 35 years, he has moved up to Division I games in the Ohio Valley Conference and Summit League.

He has seen some excellent teams and some excellent players. The Murray State Flyers and Isaiah Canaan got to the NCAA’s round of 32 in both 2010 and 2012. From 2007 to 2011, Morehead State featured Kenneth Faried, one of the most dynamic college basketball players in the country. Last November, Indiana University-Purdue University’s Fort Wayne Mastodons beat ref2Indiana.

Ballenger drives the three or four hours to games from his home in Jeffersonville, Ind. – sometimes in the company of one of the other refs that night – and then back home right after the game.

Often, his feet hurt. Or maybe he tweaked his knee during the game. He dreads the night that the post-game aches and pains might be more serious than just fatigue or exertion.

“It’s the old story in sports: the legs go first,” Ballenger acknowledged, ruefully. “In fact, I’ve cut back in the last year. The incidents of knee problems on older refs are pretty high.”

The routine can get wearing. “You do a game, jump in your car and drive four hours home. That’s not a great way to take care of your legs.”

The money’s fine, but it’s not the six-figure annual income that a guy doing Big Ten and ACC games could make. It’s definitely no more than supplemental income for him.

So the pay’s just okay, the wear and tear on his body can be brutal, and people yell unseemly personal things in his direction.

Were you wondering why he does it?

Is “love of the game” too corny an answer?

Ballenger does love being a part of the game he has played since he was on two state-ranked teams at Jeffersonville High School in the mid-1970s, and two NAIA national tournament teams at Hanover College.

He also loves the physical exertion.

“It’s a great release for me, to run up and down the floor, sweat, stay close to the game, stay close to young kids,” Ballenger said. “That’s what still makes it fun for me.” It’s also a way of staying in shape. “Some guys my age play golf or tennis, or run marathons or ride their bikes,” he said.

GOING TO WORK WITH DAD

As with a lot of boys, young Eric was influenced by going to work with his father. Ed Ballenger was a band teacher at Jeffersonville High School (and, later, the baseball coach at New Washington High School).

But Ed also frequently officiated at high school basketball and baseball games. “I think he loved doing it, but also that $15 or $20 helped put food on the table,” Eric recalled. “I’d go along, sit at the scorer’s bench and ride back with him. I saw it up close and personal through his eyes.”

Of course, part of what he saw was the invective heaped on his father – particularly at basketball games, where a deep level of passion runs through the Hoosier culture.

“He was yelled at all the time,” Eric recalled, “but I was under strict instructions not to say a word. I think it developed my ability to block out all that emotion coming out of the stands and not let it affect me in making my calls.

“You learn a lot about conflict resolution.”

But what Ballenger also saw was his dad doing something he enjoyed and the camaraderie he experienced with his fellow refs. “It was a neat relationship,” he said.

THE BASKETBALL BUG BITES

After graduating from college and joining the job world, Ballenger got the bug to get involved in basketball again.

“I worked some junior high school games, then high school, then felt I should try my hand at the next level,” he recalled. “Jim Morris, the coach at (Indiana University Southeast), helped me get my foot in the door. He hired me for some of his games. He also put in a good word for me with some of the conference supervisors, and I began working my way into the Division III level.”

It was the mid-1980s, and things were a little different.

“Back then, you’d take the test and get your license, and you were thrown to the wolves,” Ballenger said. “But there were plenty of older, more-experienced refs willing to take a young guy in and show him the ropes –where you stand, what you look for.”

And so he progressed from one college game at one school to conference affiliations with the likes of Franklin College, Anderson and Transylvania. Then he went to summer camps for refs, got observed by league supervisors and was picked up for Division II games, which included Bellarmine, IUS, Indianapolis University.

“But in the officiating world, everyone’s goal is Division I,” he admitted.

FASTER, QUICKER, HIGHER

He made the goal about seven years ago, becoming associated with the mid-major Ohio Valley Conference. And, he said, he began to see a different level of athlete – the likes of Faried and Canaan – that epitomizes the changing world of college basketball.

“The speed and athleticism of these players now is unbelievable,” he said. “And that has changed the style of ball. Everyone wants to play up-tempo, to constantly push it.”

It’s a game the fans love – and the TV producers especially love – but it’s demanding on the refs.

“The flow of the game is so fast, and the ref is constantly running, trying to see everything,” Ballenger said. “It takes a fair amount of conditioning, judgment and reaction. The NCAA is always preaching at us to get the right angles, but sometimes the play’s in front of you, you’re running, trying to catch up. You see what you see.”

LET’S GO TO THE MONITORS

It’s not only the speed of the game that has changed for referees, or the revised interpretations of certain rules and fouls. Increasingly, refs feel captive to modern video technology – both the instant replays that often slow the game down and the videos that are downloaded and streamed around the world.

“The advent of the replay has made officials work harder to get it right the first time on the floor,” Ballenger acknowledged. “And sure, there’s a certain level of pressure knowing every call is scrutinized by several camera angles and the commentary of the TV announcers.

ref“Twenty-five years ago, it was your word against everyone else’s. Now, it’s your word against the video.”

But, he said, that has not impacted the integrity of the officiating community in the least.

“In any given basketball game, nearly every possession contains a series of decisions that could influence the outcome of the play and, in essence, the game,” Ballenger said. “And that means whether the ref blows his whistle or doesn’t blow his whistle.”

And there’s no let-up.

“In baseball, you could stand out there on the basepath for two hours and never make a close call,” he said. “In basketball, you’ll have three or four hard decisions per possession. Do I call an illegal pick, do I call a moving screen, do I call a push-off?”

Always remember, he said, “you see a call in replay, and you may think the official got it right, or maybe he got it wrong. But in real time, the referee has to make decisions at game-speed and without six-angle replays.”

In fact, it’s remarkable how many times the replay will validate the ref’s original call.

THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD

However, that doesn’t satisfy the legion of basketball fans who take to social media, to feast not on Quentin Snider or De’Aaron Fox, but on Ted Valentine, Doug Shows and the rest of the officiating fraternity. Google some version of “college basketball refs” and your results will include:

“Bumbling college basketball refs.”

“SEC basketball is being strangled by poor officiating.”

“Refs are hurting the game.”
And much of this is accompanied by video.

“Sure, we’re reviewed,” said Ballenger.

“Every NCAA league, down to Division III, has a supervisor of officials. And every game is, in some kind of form, streamed, televised or taped for review. So the ability of coaches and observers to see a play in a game is 100 percent.”

What Ballenger will tell you, though, is that any referee who doesn’t consistently perform will not get hired much. “The guys you see on TV and think they’re no good? The conferences’ supervisors of officials think they’re good, or they wouldn’t be working the games. All the conferences want the top guys available.”

He said there has been a concerted effort over the last 10 years to bring a level of consistency to what is called, and even when it’s called. “And it’s called the same in the Big Ten as the SEC as the ACC.”

What is not called, he said, is what fans term “make-up calls” – to atone for a previous blown call.

“They just don’t happen. If we miss a call – and it happens, occasionally – we move on. If we missed a call and then tried to make it up, we’ve made two mistakes.”

And then there are the constantly changing rules: on hand-checking, say, or the charge-versus-the-block under the basket – the so-called “arc rule.”

“The points of emphasis on most rule changes are coming in the hope that college basketball becomes more watchable, not less watchable,” Ballenger said. “Nobody wants to watch a 52-49 game, nor do you want to watch an endless number of free throws.”

Besides, he said, the ref himself has no vested interest in calling things one way or another. “Whatever the rules, you have to call fouls. You can take it to the bank, the refs don’t care what the NCAA feels about the rules; just tell us how to call it and we’ll call it.”

In fact, said Ballenger, what every referee craves is less controversy – not more.

WHEN THINGS GO RIGHT – OR NOT

“Utopia for any official is the game when every play is clear, every call is easy and you get them all right. You don’t have coaches chirping at you or the kids acting up. You made the right calls, didn’t decide the game or play a big part. No controversy.”

And when that doesn’t happen?

“When those bad nights happen, you rely on your camaraderie, riding together to and from the games,” Ballenger said. “Fans don’t know this, but the phone lines light up at night with refs calling each other, talking about their games.

“It’s the fellowship of being able to tell somebody else about a tough call or play or coach, and they understand. They’ve had that same play, that same coach. There’s a tight knit group of guys out there experiencing the same things.”

But, he said, close game or blowout, team or coach, “none of us cares who wins the game. We just want to get the game done as cleanly as possible and move on to the next one. The last thing we need is controversy.

“I’d rather,” he said, “have a game in which nobody knows I’m there.”