Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Governor Pat Quinn Is a Liar!

Mike Madigan looking over Pat Quinn's shoulder.  How appropriate is this photograph!
Back in the early and mid 1970's when I was working in Galesburg at WGIL Radio, the Pat Quinn traveling side show would show up at the radio station and we'd get to witness one of his wacky populist campaigns.

After four or five of Quinn's visits, all the WGIL news people would literally hide in the janitor closet so they wouldn't have to listen to the gadfly's populist babble.  Quinn would end up talking to a part-time secretary who sat there listening to his rant with glassy eyes.  Take it from one who saw him in person, Quinn is simply a self-promoter who cares more about getting himself noticed than he does about his current cause. 

Fast-forward to this morning as the Illinois State Legislature prepares to vote on Senate Bill 1673, which will change the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for both active and retired teachers.  Quinn and his overseer, Speaker of the House Mike Madigan, support this legislation.

The legislation will make active and retired teachers, like me and my wife, either give up our health insurance (which we pay $10,400 a year for together) or give up our yearly 3% cost of living adjustments.  The state currently pays 25% of our medical premiums so if we lose the health insurance and take the COLA, the COLA money will  go to pay the extra premium.  Nice, huh?  There is no choice for us.  We must keep the medical insurance!

Quinn previously promised that he would never do anything to hurt retired teachers.  He's a liar, fellow teachers!

So I ask you, are insurance companies going to insure 64 and 61 year old retired teachers who both have pre-exiting medical conditions?  Doubtful.  The choice is no choice at all.  My wife and I will have to keep our health insurance with the state until we turn 65, but by then our 3% COLA bump will be long gone.  There are no second chances to make a choice, according to Quinn's plan.

Plus, SB 1673 will shift the cost of pensions from the state to local school districts.  Think your property taxes in the suburbs are high now, Fremd teachers?  Just wait, Bunky!  You haven't begun to pay!  If you do choose the COLA instead of the insurance, the money will get sucked up in higher property taxes.

Of course Quinn is a puppet who is being controlled by Speaker Madigan.  Take a look at Representative Mike Bost's rant about Madigan which occurred on the House floor yesterday.  It is a classic!

Rep. Bost knows that he and the other legislators are powerless against Madigan and his end-of-the session maneuvers.  

Every year Madigan hides controversial bills until the Memorial Day weekend, and then tries to pass them when Illinois citizens are not looking.  Yesterday, none of the legislators' offices in Springfield were staffed.  I had to call the local offices.  The whole thing is just plain sleazy. 

So teachers, both retired and active, there is not much time left.  Hold these legislators' fingers to the fire.  Call today and ask your state representative and state senator to vote "no" on Senate Bill 1673.  I don't know if we can stop them, but we need to try!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Happy Birthday, Fremd High School!

My life still revolves around Fremd High School in Palatine, Illinois, even though I retired from teaching there in 2007.  I still talk about Fremd every day.  I'm still in contact with former Fremd students, and my golfing buddies are former Fremd faculty members.

I love Fremd High School!

So on the occasion of the 50th birthday of Fremd, it's time for a little reminiscing.  By the way, I hope all of you can make the Fremd birthday celebration on Saturday, June 2nd, from noon until 4:00 p.m. at the high school.  I'll be there with bells on!

Here's the link to get registered:  You can also just show up!

Even though I was an older first-year teacher (age 33) when I started teaching at Fremd in 1981, my connections to the school and to District 211 ran deep.

When Director of Personnel Don Skinner interviewed me for the Fremd English job in May of 1981, Don and I got to talking about basketball.  Don played for Palatine High School, and he was the point guard who fed the ball to legendary Pirates center Ron Kozlicki.

Ron Kozlicki
Don had graduated from PHS by the time I got to high school in 1962, but Kozlicki was still a senior my freshman year at Crystal Lake Community H.S.  Palatine and Crystal Lake were members of the old North Suburban Conference at the time.

Skinner and I didn't talk much education theory at that interview--we talked hoops!  I told him about how I was in the crowd the night Kozlicki broke the field house record at CLCHS.  Crystal Lake's team was horrible (They only won two games that year) so everybody knew what was coming the night the Tigers hosted Palatine because Kozlicki's reputation preceded him.

I was on the freshman basketball team at Crystal Lake, and we frosh players rode Kozlicki unmercifully before and during the first part of the game.  About half way through the second quarter, we just shut up.  Ron was unbelievable!  I think he scored 61 points that night--unheard of in 1963.  Kozlicki went on to star at Northwestern and for the Indiana Pacers.

Dick Kolze, who was superintendent of District 211 when I was hired, was the coach of that 1963 Palatine team that featured Kozlicki, and Dr. Kolze had taught in Crystal Lake in the early 1950's and knew my aunt who taught with him at the same school.

Dr. Richard Kolze, Fremd's First Principal
Dick Kolze is just a prince of a man!  He didn't know me from at hole in the wall, but when my aunt, Florence Knox, died in 1985, Dr. Kolze called me to tell me how sorry he was and how much he enjoyed working with my aunt when he taught in Crystal Lake.  Dr. Kolze later became the principal at Fremd, and he laid the foundation for the school's greatness.

Fremd was a frosh-soph campus during  Dr. Kolze's coaching days and Ron Kozlicki's playing days; the first class didn't graduate from Fremd until 1968.  At the annual Christmas luncheon sometime in the 1990's, Dr. Kolze told me that I was "getting to be an old timer" at Fremd.  I knew then that I had arrived!

Tom Howard was the principal at Fremd when I was hired, and he had played junior high football in Gurnee for a guy who later became the head football coach at CLCHS.  Howard asked me during my interview what I thought of this particular coach.

Now what do you say when the principal asks you what you think about someone?  I decided to be honest.  "I didn't like him!" I said.  "Me either!"  Howard responded.  Thus began my life with Principal Tom Howard.

Whenever I hear a complaint from a teacher about a principal,  I always think, "What would 'Tuck' do?"  ("Tuck" was Mr. Howard's nickname).  Howard was old school, but he was a great principal, the best I ever worked for.  I know, I know, some of you out there didn't like him, and I fought with him all the time when I was the adviser of the school newspaper.  But you always knew where you stood with Tom Howard.  He wasn't running a popularity contest for himself, and he was never hesitant to make a decision and stick to it.  I loved the guy!

Howard was another reason Fremd became a world class high school, but it wasn't just him; it was the combination of students, faculty, parents and staff that made Fremd great.  I've taught for five years since my retirement, and I've never had students as willing to learn as my Fremd students were.  The quality of the teaching at Fremd was also amazing.   I could start naming teachers, but I know I'd leave someone out.  When I first started at Fremd, there were still lots of teachers on the staff who had taught at Palatine before Fremd was built.

I also got to see all the sides Fremd because I announced the boys basketball games for 26 years so I knew all the coaches at the other end of the building.  Announcing those basketball games was just a blast.  Mr. Howard was the president of the Illinois High School Association during the late 1980's and early 90's so Fremd always hosted a sectional boys basketball tournament because of Tuck's clout.

The gym was packed for those sectional games, and Fremd's team, coached by Mo Tharp, usually won the tournament.  Howard used to stand at the south end of the gym with his arms folded watching the game.  The referees were intimidated by him because he was the president of the IHSA.  It was just hilarious!

And what can I say about the Fremd English Department that hasn't been said before?  From Judy Augspurger giving me quizzes and study guides my first week of school when I was a scared first year teacher, to Gary Anderson and Tony Romano developing and nurturing Writer's Week into its huge popularity today.  The English Department is just plain unique.

So happy 50th birthday, Billy Fremd.  You changed my life forever!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Some Questions for Obama and Romney

The upcoming presidential campaign showed its true colors this week when the New York Times reported that Joe Ricketts, the father of the owners of the Chicago Cubs, was linked to a $10 million plan to launch an ad campaign attacking President Obama and his relationship to his former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. 

Haven't we heard all that already?

This campaign is going to get ugly, sports fans. 

Here is a list of what is coming:

Rev. Wright forming Obama's political ideas through inflammatory rhetoric from the pulpit.
Republicans always using the President's middle name:  Barack Hussein Obama, tying him to Muslims.
The President's birth certificate (You didn't think that would go away did you?)
The President's old girlfriend(s).  Just think what your old girlfriends/boyfriends would say about you!
First Lady Michelle Obama promoting an anti-obesity campaign but having a large posterior.
The President as a socialist or communist.

Mitt Romney's days at an exclusive high school where he terrorized weaker, gay students.
Mitt Romney amassing large amounts of money at Bain Capital and putting people out of work.
Governor Romney's grandfather avoiding American polygamy laws by fleeing to Mexico.
Governor Romney's wife Ann never working a day in her life while raising five sons.
Governor Romney not caring about the poor.
Governor Romney's dog riding on a cage on top of the vacation car.

All of the above have no bearing on your life or mine.  We don't care about the President's middle name or about Governor Romney's grandpa's Mexican fiesta.  But since Roger Ailes made negative campaigning a way of life, I guess we're stuck with it.  Everyone says negative campaigning works, but I think it's crapola.

So in the interest of the country and of my own wallet, here are some questions for the President and  Governor Romney.

1.  Who was responsible for the Wall St. meltdown which resulted in my house losing over $150,000 of its value, and why haven't those responsible been arrested, tried, and jailed?

2.  Why are there still gas guzzling vehicles on American roads that get 10-12 miles a gallon?  Wouldn't getting these vehicles off the road reduce the price of gasoline?

3.  Why are there so many tax loopholes for certain individuals and corporations?  Shouldn't getting rid of these loopholes be the first step in meaningful tax reform?

4.  Can oil companies drill for oil safely on American soil and in American waters?  If so, shouldn't they be allowed to do it?  Is green energy even viable?

5.  Should those who make hundreds of thousands of dollars receive Medicare or Social Security after age 65?  Shouldn't these people just get back what they put in?

6.  Hasn't standardized testing in schools gone too far?  The ACT test was not created to evaluate high schools, yet Illinois is using the test for just that purpose.  Shouldn't that be changed?

7.  Shouldn't the productive citizens who have come to the U.S. from Mexico and other countries be allowed to remain, and shouldn't just the criminals be deported?

8.  Why aren't the medical insurance companies held to the same rigid standards as property insurers?  My small tube of psoriasis medicine costs $416 without insurance.  My wife an I are paying over $11,000 in medical insurance premiums when we once paid nothing.  Plus, we have to fight for every dollar because our medical insurance carrier continually denies our claims.  Can't this be fixed?

9.  Shouldn't college students be able to work their way through school?  My mom and uncles waited on tables while going to college and then worked during the summers.  Today's college students can't do this because college costs are so high.  Should every kid even go to college?

10.  Why does the United States continue to violate the borders of sovereign nations by sending in American troops?  Shouldn't this be stopped completely?

11.  Shouldn't space exploration of the Solar System be reinstated?  Don't we get extraordinary benefits from space travel, and won't we need it some day when life on the Earth is extinguished?

12.  Should government programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps be reinstated to provide jobs for chronically unemployed workers?  My dad used the C.C.'s as a bridge from school to his first job.  Why can't this work today?

13.  If there is real scientific evidence that global warming is occurring, shouldn't the government be taking steps to reverse it?  Was our warm March an accident or a symptom of global warming?

14.  Shouldn't there be restrictions on how much political action committees can spend on elections?  Isn't the argument that limiting PAC spending is restricting free speech completely bogus?

Let's hope that some of the network news people will ask these questions during the upcoming presidential debates, but don't hold your breath.  Network hacks like Brian Williams are too busy getting out their own political opinions during the questioning.

Stay tuned for more on that!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Cubs/Sox Weekend Means Household Conflict

I'm in a mixed marriage.  No, it's not religion; it's baseball.  I met my wife Pam on September 13, 1969, just as the Cubs finished blowing an eight-game league and losing the division title to the hated Mets.  I never let her forget it, and that resulted in a rocky first few months of dating.  But things smoothed out; heck, she even went to a Sox game with me when the new park opened.

I've always been a Sox AND a Cubs fan, but always Sox first.  Growing up, Ernie Banks was my third favorite baseball player, after Nellie Fox and Luis Aparacio.  But Pam HATES the White Sox.  She still complains about her dad buying a White Sox team photo in 1959 after the Sox made it to the World Series.

Pam and I always were able to co-exist on the topic of baseball until inter-league play came along.  Now, for two weekends each baseball season we fight like cats and dogs. 

So in the interest of getting ready for fight weekend, here's my unbiased analysis of the Cubs and White Sox--position by position.  Pam's looking over my shoulder so I must be fair. 

First Base:  Bryan LaHare's ten home runs make Cub fans wonder why the 29 year-old has been languishing in the minors for nine years while Derek Lee and Carlos Pena played first.  Not many think LaHare can maintain his great start, but he certainly has prevented the Cubs from slipping into obscurity early in the season.  LaHare is a decent fielder too!  I love the guy!
Paul Konerko is having another great year, hitting .344, with 7 home runs and 20 RBI.  I've heard Konerko's name mentioned recently in in Hall of Fame conversation.  He certainly seems to have gotten better with age.  Konerko is a better fielder than LaHare, even though Pauly doesn't cover as much ground as Bryan.  Adam Dunn has also played first quite a bit this year for the White Sox, and Dunn's 12 homers are keeping the Sox near .500.  The Big Man is having the year everyone thought that he'd have in 2011.   Hey Cubs fans, Dunn is going to play right field this weekend.  Be ready for some fun!
Tough call here, but Dunn's play tips the scale.  ADVANTAGE WHITE SOX.

Second Base:  A position that the Cubs are concerned about and so are the White Sox.  The Cubs dumped fan favorite Ryan Theriot two years ago and gave the position to Darwin Barney, who's hitting .262 with only one stolen base.  Like Theriot, Barney is slow for a second baseman.  Darwin's inability to get to the ball today against the Cardinals contributed to the Cubs' loss.  I think Theo Epstein will try to eventually upgrade this position.
Gordon Beckham has all the tools.  He wowed Sox fans when he came up direct from playing college ball at the U. of Georgia.  Beckham had a solid first season, but it's been all downhill since then.  The Sox hitting coaches have tried to work with him on his swing, but Beckham continues to have the hitch of a home run hitter instead of the short, compact swing of a second baseman.  Beckham fields the position better than Barney, but his .195 batting average, one stolen base, and 25 strike-outs make this call easy.
Second base is one reason why neither of these two teams will contend.  ADVANTAGE CUBS.

Shortstop.  Is Starlin Castro a true shortstop?  Can he maintain his concentration throughout an entire game?  Castro sure can hit.  His .331 average and 22 RBI are impressive, and he has stolen 12 bases already.  I'm one who thinks this kid just needs the right coaching.  Manager Dale Sveum threw Castro under the bus on Monday after Starlin failed to lay down a bunt against the Cards, but if placed in the right hands, Castro will be a superstar.
Alexei Ramirez is hitting an anemic .208, with 16 RBI, and only 3 stolen bases.  He usually has a hot streak during the season when he carries the club, but we haven't seen that yet this year.  Ramirez is a much better fielder than Castro, and that's important when it comes to evaluating shortstops.  This one should be hard, but it's easy because of Castro's bat:  ADVANTAGE CUBS.

Third Base:  I'm not sure what the Cubs were expecting when they signed Ian Stewart.  He's never hit better than .259 in the bigs.  Even though Cub fans were tired of Aramis Ramirez's act, his shoes have not been filled.  Stewart plays the field better than Ramirez, but Ian is only hitting .205, with four home runs.  More production is needed from that position in order for the Cubs to contend.  
The White Sox third baseman is worse.  Brent Morel is hitting .178 with no home runs and only 5 RBI.  Morel looks lost at the plate.  Hawk Harrelson never lets us forget how great Morel's arm is, but that doesn't mean crap when he's this bad at the plate. Where is Omar Visquel when we need him? The question is how long the White Sox will wait until they jettison Morel.  The clock is ticking . . . . ADVANTAGE CUBS.

Left Field:  The latest trade rumor is LF Alfonso Soriano to Boston for pitcher Josh Beckett, who plays golf on days he's supposed to pitch.  Soriano hit his first home run on Tuesday against the Cardinals to tie the game in the ninth.  He stood there at home plate and watched the ball go over the right field wall--some things will never change, Cubs fans!  Cubs players always argue that Soriano is a great clubhouse guy, but I've tired of his lack of hustle and poor fielding (He missed the cut-off man on Tuesday).  Fonsie needs to be better than .258, one home run, and 18 RBI.
Dayan Viciedo is hitting only .218, with 4 homers, and 10 RBI.  He's struck out 31 times.  Tank is starting to look like a south side bust.  He's a butcher in the outfield, and looks clueless at the plate.  Can I really pick the Cubs here with Soriano?  ADVANTAGE CUBS.

Center Field:  Tony Campana took over when the Cubs traded Marlon Byrd to Boston after Byrd started the season horribly.  Campana is hitting .333, with 13 stolen bases.  He's become a fan favorite with his blazing speed down the first base line on bunts.  Tony fields his position well as his speed can make up for judging a fly ball wrong--the catch he made in the fog last week was beautiful.  However, Campana fell way off last year, and he's only a temporary fix until Brett Jackson is ready.
Alejandro De Aza has been as good for the Sox as Viciedo has been bad.  De Aza is hitting .289, with 3 homers and 12 RBI.  Plus, he has 7 stolen bases.  De Aza doesn't cover the ground Campana does, but he's just as good a fielder.  Tough call here:  EVEN.

Right Field:  David DeJesus covers more ground in right field than I thought he could.  He's certainly better out there than Tyler Colvin was last year.  But DeJesus only has 1 home run and 9 RBI.  That's horrible.
When Alex Rios hit that game winning triple for the White Sox the other night, I wanted to say, "All is forgiven!"  But hold on.  After a great start, Rios has come back to earth and is hitting .275, but that's a heck of lot better than he hit in 2011.  Like DeJesus, Rios has only one home run.  Both teams need more power from this position, but Rios gets the nod here.  ADVANTAGE WHITE SOX.

Catcher:  Geo Soto was an all-star once upon a time.  He's a hitting catcher with average or below defense.  This year Soto has been horrible at the plate, with a .167 batting average and only 3 home runs.  Maybe he's got the mad munchies again like he had his second year in the league, but the Cubs may be looking to Steve Clevenger to be the catcher when he recovers from his shoulder injury.  Wellington Castillo is not the answer as the Cubs' back-up catcher.
A. J. Pierzynski went five for five today for the Sox in their loss to Detroit.  He's hitting .288, with 5 home runs and 24 RBI.  Like Soto, A.J. is not much of a defensive catcher, but he's better than Geo.  Tyler Flowers has disappeared, and that's good because he's been horrible!  Clear choice here!  ADVANTAGE WHITE SOX.

Starting Pitching:  The Cubs starting pitching has been much better than expected; it's the bullpen that has let the team down.  Ryan Dempster has the lowest ERA in the majors, but has yet to get a win.  Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, and Paul Maholm have also been great.  I think Randy Wells is a head case--he's in Iowa, and Chris Volstad is the only weak link in the present rotation.  Cubs' management has to be overjoyed at this group.  Will they re-sign Garza?  Stay tuned!
John Danks was supposed to be the ace of this staff, but he has given way to Jake Peavy.  Danks's 6.45 ERA is the worst among starters.  But Peavy has been magnificent (except for Tuesday).  So have Phil Humber and Gavin Floyd.  Who knows where Chris Sale will fit in?  Probably here with the starters, but who knows after last weekend's soap opera.  Sale tips the scale.  ADVANTAGE WHITE SOX.

Bullpen:  Both teams' bullpens have struggled.  Carlos Marmol is on the disabled list and is not likely to return as a closer.  Kerry Wood has an 8.64 ERA, and can't stop walking batters.  Is Kerry Wood finished?   Rafael Dolis has taken Marmol's place, but who knows how he'll work out; he's just a rookie.
The White Sox's relievers have also struggled.  Addison Reed looked like he might be the answer to the closer problem, but he got bombed by KC the other night.  Matt Thornton started the year great as the set-up guy, but he can't get his breaking ball over.
This area is too ugly to rate.  EVEN.

Manager:  Both Dale Sveum and Robin Ventura have looked like rookie managers, which they are.  I'm still upset that Ryne Sandberg didn't get the Cubs job, but I'll let that go.  Sveum should have ordered Dolis to walk the Cardinals Yadier Molina on Tuesday with two out in the bottom of the ninth and first base open.  Bob Brenly was pleading from the booth for him to do it, but Sveum let Dolis pitch to Molina . . . game over!
Like Sveum, Ventura does not know when to pull a pitcher from a game.  That 14 inning loss to Oakland a few weeks ago showed Ventura's hesitancy when Hector Santiago couldn't get anyone out.  Give me a Tony Larussa, who always had the quick hook.  EVEN.

Hey, Cubs and Sox fans, enjoy the games this weekend.  Pam and I will be watching and bickering!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Teachers Getting Screwed in Illinois While Pritzker Swims with the Sharks in Mexico

Former Bulls star Scottie Pippen and millionaire playboy Matt Pritzker yuck it up at a recent Bulls game.
Chicago Sun-Times columnist  Mark Konkol writes today about the luxurious life of Matt Pritzker, the 28 year old playboy who sits in a $10,000 a game court-side seat at Bulls games right next to former Bulls star Scottie Pippen.

Pritzker is the first cousin of Penny Pritzker, who is a member of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, and who, along with the rest of her family, has been spending hundreds of thousands of  dollars for ads targeting teacher pensions in Illinois.

Unfortunately, it is looking more and more like the Civic Committee will be successful (We'll find out next week!).  Active public school teachers in the state will be forced pay four percent more out of their salaries and get even less in benefits.  If teachers opt out of the new pension formula, their salaries and pension benefits are FROZEN.  Real fair, huh?

Teachers, as you grind into the last month of the school year and all the bullshit it brings, I want you to consider Matt Pritzker's privileged life and the fact that his family is part of a group that is trying to screw you BIG TIME!  According to the Chicago Tribune, Pritzker's job is "investor, Matthew Pritzker Co."

What is that?  I'll tell you what it is--it's a license to be a playboy!

Here's what columnist Konkol writes about Priztker in today's Sun-Times:  "He's jumped from a 30-story perch into a net, scaled sheer rock walls and ventured out of a protective cage to swim with 18-foot sharks off the coast of Mexico.

"'I had to push the envelope and climb out of the cage, so I [could] say 'open water with a Great White,' Pritzker said.

"Pritzker tagged along on [Virgin Airlines billionaire owner Sir Richard] Branson's attempt to break a speed record for crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a 100-foot boat during a hurricane.

"He likes the rock star thing, too.  Pritzker joined his pal [Adam] Duritz on stage as a stand-in 'guitar strummer' for a few songs with the Counting Crows two nights in a row at Ravinia before sell-out crowds."

When I read Konkol's puff piece about Pritzker, I think of my former colleagues who are paying $400.00 a week for day care for their children, doing end-of-the-year special ed. reports and budgets in addition to attempting to teach the children, fighting the administration about retaining a student, being subjected to nasty comments from parents who don't bother to meet the teacher until the last few days of school when they come in to bitch.

And here's "Matty Boy" Pritzker jetting around the world, sitting court-side at Bulls games rubbing elbows with Scottie, and swimming with the sharks in Mexico (too bad one didn't get him).

My colleague Debra was a Counting Crows fan when Pritzker was a ten year-old in Little League, but she can't afford to go the Ravinia concert because the Pritzker family and its Civic Committee buddies are going to reduce her household income by four percent next year.

Jealousy?  You better believe it!  But it's more than jealousy--it's just damn unfair.

Teachers, if you haven't contacted Governor Pat Quinn and your state legislators, time is running out.  There is a great deal of misinformation being spread around by Quinn, who is an outright liar (Saying that retired teachers receive free health insurance from the state is a lie!  My wife and I paid over $10,000 last year in premiums for a PPO), and his lackies, one of whom is Neil Steinberg of the Sun-Times.  Steinberg is spreading Quinn's lies in his Sun-Times column (see May 7th's paper).

Me?  I'm going to drive up to my hometown of Crystal Lake this afternoon and swim with the carp.  Maybe THAT will cool down my Irish temper.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Media Watch: Rating Chicago's Sports Announcers

Here are my ratings of Chicago's play-by-play announcers and analysts.  They are rated from best to worst.

Play-by-Play Announcers:

1.  Pat Hughes, Chicago Cubs Radio.  Play-by-Play announcers don't come any better than Pat Hughes, who is in his sixteenth year calling Cubs games on WGN Radio.  Like Steve Stone did for Harry Caray, Hughes had to carry Ron Santo towards the end of Santo's run.  Hughes did it with grace and kindness.  But Hughes isn't just a nice guy;  he never loses track of the game and always gets the call right.  Listening to Hughes is like listening to an old friend tell  a story, a real pro.

2.  John Wiedeman, Chicago Blackhawks Radio.  Long-time Hawks' fans may cringe when they see this, but I think John Wiedeman is as good as Lloyd Pettit.  I know, I know, that is blasphemy.  But Wiedeman, who just completed his sixth year as the Hawks play-by-play announcer on WGN Radio, is as fast and accurate on the calls as Pettit ever was.  I never have to guess what is going on when Wiedeman is calling the game.  He would be even better if the Hawks put a decent analyst next to him.

3.  Pat Foley, Chicago Blackhawks Television.  There is a big drop-off between John Wiedeman and Pat Foley.  Like most Hawks fans, I used to love Foley, but his calls of games have become secondary to his telling silly stories and his stupid "dree drity dree" (3:33 left in the period).  When Foley was doing both radio and TV play-by-play, radio listeners would have no idea what was going on in the game because Pat would be busy talking about something else.  The stories continue on TV now, but at least we can see the game.  I can see why Bill Wirtz got rid of Foley in 2006.   How can someone as  talented as Pat Foley be so bad?

4.  Neil Funk, Chicago Bulls Television.  A hero to those of us who labor in small market radio, Neil Funk worked in Danville, Illinois before making the big time.  Steady and solid, Funk has a face for radio.  The problem with listening to Funk is that you are subjected to Stacey King, who is just a joke.  Funk is the kind of announcer Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf wants.  Not much personality, just a meat and potatoes guy.  I'm still mad at Reinsdorf for letting Jim Durham go.  Durham's calls of Bulls' games were legendary! 

5.  Ken "Hawk" Harrelson, Chicago White Sox Television.  I used to be a Hawk hater when Jay Mariotti (my favorite columnist) was writing for the Chicago Sun-Times.  Hawk and Mariotti used to have legendary back-and-forth battles.  Unlike many Sox fans, I like Hawk's stories of Rocky Colavito and Ted Williams, but I can see how listeners could hate them.  The antipathy between Hawk and his analyst Steve Stone also hurts Sox broadcasts.  But at least Hawk says what he thinks about umpires, and major league baseball is second only to the NHL when it comes to crappy officiating.  If only Hawk weren't so corny!

6.  Chuck Swirsky, Chicago Bulls Radio.  I have trouble forgetting Chuck Swirsky's on-air arguments with Bob Collins when Collins was doing afternoons on WGN.  Swirsky was Collins' buffoon so it's hard accepting him as a legitimate play-by-play guy.  But Sirsky grew up during his Toronto exile, and his play-by-play is steady.  I just wish I could hear him!  WMVP's signal is difficult to get in the western suburbs after sunset.

7.  Jeff Joniak, Chicago Bears Radio.  A former booth announcer at WBBM radio, Joniak has certainly risen higher in sports broadcasting than anyone thought he would--maybe too high.  He never varies his touchdown call:   "Touchdown!  Touchdown Bears!"  Yeah, Jeff, we know we know, the Bears scored.  Joniak did "discover" Bears post-game announcer Jim Schwantz, however, and Schantz is as good as it gets.  I also can't forgive any of the Bears announcers for being so positive towards the team.  I listened to Joniak and Tom Thayer a week ago gush on and on about how good the Bears' draft was.  Take my word, sports fans, the 2012 Bears' draft was HORRIBLE!  Joniak is a homer to a fault.

8.  Len Kasper, Chicago Cubs Television.  God, I hate this guy!  I wonder if Len Kasper has a photo of Al Michaels in the booth that Len can kiss during the game.   Kasper tries to sound just like Michaels.  The Cubs have gone from having Harry Caray, the announcer with the MOST personality to having Kasper, "Mr. No Personality."  Now Kasper has embraced new Cubs General Manager Theo Epstein's sabermetrics, complete with graphs.  I'm not sure if Kasper is a computer geek or is just trying to brown nose the boss, but he is worse than ever this year.  Call the game, Len!  You have the best analyst in Chicago next to you in Bob Brenly.  Just call the blankin' game!

9.  Ed Farmer, Chicago White Sox Radio.  How much do I miss John Rooney doing the Sox games on the radio?  Lots!  Ed Farmer was Rooney's analyst, and Farmer was decent at that job.  But why in the world move him to play-by-play?  The word on the street is that Farmer hates his partner Darrin Jackson more than Hawk Harrelson hates Steve Stone.  I'd love to hear one broadcast when these two broadcasters didn't ask each other stupid questions.  That's all they do, ask each other stupid questions!  I've got a question you can use during the next game, Farmio, "Why do you hate me, Darrin?"


1.  Bob Brenly, Chicago Cubs Television.  If Bob Brenly could get a word in over the droning on of Len Kasper, maybe his extraordinary ability as an analyst would be better known.  Listening to Brenly dissect a game is magical.  Here is a former manager who knows everything there is to know about baseball.  Plus, he won a World Series as a manager.  I'm befuddled why the Cubs haven't hired him as their skipper.  Brenly has been much more critical of the Cubs than Steve Stone ever was, and the Cubs fired Stone.  If only Kasper would let Brenly talk more.

2.  Steve Stone, Chicago White Sox Television.  Steve Stone still carries the hurt of being fired by the Cubs, and he never misses an opportunity to bash his old team, which is unfortunate.  The only reason Stone is not first in these ratings is because of his hatred of partner Hawk Harrelson.  One of my former students is a producer at WGN-TV, and he tells me great stories about Hawk and Stony.  Hawk continues to call Stone "Stone Pony," and Stone hates that nickname.  But Stone is as good as Bob Brenly at analyzing a game.  My buddy Roger Coleman, a former broadcast executive, says Stone is the most arrogant s.o.b. Coleman ever met, but Stone can be excused for his arrogance; he's a great analyst.

3.  Ed Olczyk, Chicago Blackhawks Television.  If I were considering network analysts, Eddie Olczyk would be at the top of the list when paired with Doc Emrick.  But Pat Foley and Olczyk are too close of friends, and that friendship hurts the Hawks' broadcasts on WGN-TV and on CSN Chicago.  Listening to these two guffaw during the broadcasts is sickening.  When Eddie is analyzing, however, he is the very best.  He's a good interviewer too. 

4.  Tom Thayer, Chicago Bears Radio.  It costs a lot of money to live in Hawaii during the off-season so maybe that is why Bears' analyst Tom Thayer is such a homer.  In his defense Thayer saw the Bears spit out his fellow analyst Hub Arkush a few years back so maybe Thayer fears that if he tells the truth about the Bears, he will be fired.  There's a lot of truth to tell, Tom!  Thayer does know the game, however, AND he played on the Bears Super Bowl team.  I guess we should just be thankful that we don't have to listen to Mr. Republican, Dan Hampton.  Thank God for small favors!

5.  Keith Moreland, Chicago Cubs Radio.  Please, please, please, Cubs executives, please stop having Keith Moreland do play-by-play when Pat Hughes takes a crap during the fifth and sixth innings!  Moreland is horrible!  Let Jud Sirrot do the play-by-play.  As an analyst, Moreland is growing into the job, but his interaction with Hughes still has a long way to go.   Moreland DOES know baseball, and he did play for the Cubs.  Me?  I would have hired Dave Otto for the analyst's job.  I can't believe Otto is not on the air in Chicago.

6.  Bill Wennington, Chicago Bulls Radio.  Steady, reliable, Bill Wennington does a good job on color for the Bulls games.  I just wish I could hear the former Bulls back-up center more on the radio.  WMVP doesn't make it out to Sandwich at night.

7.  Darrin Jackson, Chicago White Sox Radio.  Darrin "D. J." Jackson has improved greatly since he did the television broadcasts for the Sox with Hawk Harrelson.  Hawk and D. J. didn't get along (Does anyone get along with Harrelson?)  The problem is that D. J. still has a long way to go before he becomes proficient at play-by-play, and D. J. does play-by-play for half the game.  Another Jerry Reinsdorf "safe hire," at least D. J. is better than former Sox analyst Chris Singleton.

8.  Troy Murray, Chicago Blackhawks Radio.  After the Hawks fell behind 4-0 in their last playoff game against Phoenix, I crawled in bed and listened to the end of the game on WGN.  I may be wrong, but I think Troy Murray actually cried as the game wound down.  Murray consistently stumbles through broadcasts.  The Hawks need to hire a better analyst.

9.  Stacey King, Chicago Bulls Television.  I almost puked when I saw the front page of the Chicago Sun-Times last Saturday.  There was a photo of Stacey King and inside a list of King's cliched sayings.  Watch Neil Funk when he and King are on camera, and King goes off about "hot sauce" or "too big, too fast, too strong, too good!"  Funk is noticeably uncomfortable.  The problem with all of King's cliched quotations is that they become old and therefore seem staged.  I've been so happy since the playoffs arrived, and I could watch the Bulls on TNT or ESPN 2 instead of CSN Chicago.  I sure haven't missed you, Stacey, even if I did have to listen to Mike Tirico!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

National Merit Scholars Zak and Ace Give the Finger to Mr. Wolf and the Rest of the Crystal Lake Community


My former band mate, Tim McPike, left a comment on my "Wisdom of Zak" posting yesterday, and Tim mentioned the fact that Zak was a National Merit Scholar at Crystal Lake Community High School in Crystal Lake, Illinois.  The stuck-up rich kids and their parents resented Zak getting this honor because he was strictly lower-middle class.  

Plus, Zak went to St. Thomas Grade School, which meant there were two strikes against him right off the bat!  Ace and I were also St. T. grads (I'll have to write about the Crystal Lake High School discrimination against St. T. grads at a later time.  It was something I didn't notice at the time, but it became apparent as I looked over National Honor Society photos in yearbooks recently).

In order to become a National Merit Scholar, a student must score in the 99th percentile on the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT).  Zak & Ace became National Merit Scholars in 1965, and when Crystal Lake Community High School had the photo taken of the handful of scholars, Zak and Ace held up their National Merit certificates with their middle fingers prominently displayed--the old one-finger salute, if you will.

Zak and Ace also had these shit-eating grins on their faces!   (God, I wish I had that picture!).  All the high school kids knew what was going on, but no one said a word.  Zak and Ace were telling Crystal Lake High School what it could do with its National Merit Scholarships.  Everyone thought the photo was hilarious, and it was even funnier because the administration completely missed the one-fingered salutes and the shit eating grins.

The principal, Mr. Robert Wolf, had the photo published on the front page of the Crystal Lake Herald, and it was also placed prominently in a display case in the commons outside of the high school cafeteria.   Still no one caught it!

In fact the photo hung so long in the commons that we all forgot about it. 

Finally, at Parents Night in the late fall of '65, a parent pointed out the one finger salutes to Principal Wolf, and Mr. Wolf pulled MY mom & dad into his office and screamed his displeasure at them.  Wolf knew that Zak and Ace were my friends, and of course neither Zak's or Ace's parents were at the open house.  My parents were Wolf's only option for venting, and vent he did!

Mom and dad were horrified, and when they came home, they both started screaming at me about Zak and Ace being National Merit Scholars and giving the finger in the picture.  They didn't mention the shit-eating grins!  I guess they didn't have to!

"What is that finger thing supposed to mean?" my old man asked me.

"I guess they don't care much for Crystal Lake High School," was my reply.

My parents, who BOTH graduated from CLCHS, harumphed and said they thought it was an outrage. I just laughed, which made them even madder. 

"Quit yelling at me," I said. "I didn't do anything!"

"YOU should have been a National Merit Scholar!" my mother said indignantly.

"Maybe," I responded. "But then I probably would have given the finger too!" I said.  "Just think of that!"

"Maybe it would be better if we all went to bed," my mom finally said.

And so we did!

Of course Zak and Ace were called into Mr. Wolf's office the next day and reprimanded.  But there was not much Wolf could do to them because he had allowed the photograph to be published in the newspaper and prominently displayed in the commons.  The fault was more Wolf's than Zak's or Ace's.

I'm sitting here just busting a gut thinking about it! 

Now I know what you readers are thinking:  How can an English teacher who taught for 31 years endorse such behavior? 

O.K., fair enough.  But take a look at Ace's photo above and look at how his hair has been moved up to the top of his forehead.  When we had our senior pictures taken, Mr. Wolf actually stood right next to us and physically brushed our hair off of our foreheads,  He did it to me too!  There was a "no bangs" policy for boys at CLCHS, which was only one of the many repressive rules.

Now that is Nazism at its finest, boys and girls.  

Simply stated:  Mr. Wolf deserved what he got!

Friday, May 4, 2012

New Place II: the Glory Days of the Teen Nite Club

I remember junior year in the spring of 1965 sitting in study hall at Crystal Lake Community High School and looking across the desks at my buddy Ace, who was seated on the other side of the huge room.

Ace looked up at the clock, looked back at me, smiled, and mouthed the words, "Only six more hours!"  I wriggled nervously in my seat as Mrs. Prybyl, the study hall teacher, looked my way, "How will I be able to wait so long," I thought to myself as I pretended to look down at the homework I knew I wouldn't finish until Monday morning.

Friday afternoon, and two nights and one afternoon of dancing at the New Place, the teen nite club on Route 31 outside of Crystal Lake, were coming up.  Man, this 17 year old was excited!

Ace's '65 Impala SS Convertible
Ace always had the vehicle!  At first a '64  yellow Buick Special convertible, and later a '65 turquoise Chevy Impala SS convertible.  Me, I had no car.  My dad drove a '59 Rambler station wagon that he wouldn't let me drive unless my mother persuaded him, and that was VERY SELDOM.

At about 6:30 on Friday night, Ace would pull into my driveway, and off we'd go, picking up Harold, Zak, Ken R., Bob R., Chuck S., Lee G., and anyone else who wanted to go to the New Place.

A stop at Boozo Road (really Pingree Rd.) for a snort of Kentucky Tavern whiskey was a must, then some heavy duty gum or mints to mask our breaths, and it was off to the New Place.

The driveway at the New Place was a circle that looped around the old barn on Route 31 between Algonquin and Crystal Lake.  Kids entered on the south side, and we would always arrive fashionably late so that the girls waiting in line to get in would see us as we looped past the entrance.  That '65 Impala SS was a real cool car, especially with the top down!  Ace never lacked a girlfriend!

The New Place was so popular in the spring and summer of 1965 that the owners added more space to the old milk barn.  First, a patio was built on the north side with a high stage at the northeast corner of the patio.  The original floor level stage on the west side inside of the barn had been moved to the northeast corner inside and was elevated high above the dance floor, and a second inside stage was built inside in the northwest corner a bit lower than the northeast stage.

Later, the upstairs hayloft was put to use as half of the second floor was cut off right in the middle of the barn, and a balcony was added.  Kids could go upstairs, look down at the bands on the lower level, and dance up there.  What was once an intimate teen nite club with a low first floor roof had now become a spacious venue.

Beau Brummels
And the owners needed lots of space because the New Place was really hopping now.  In the spring of 1965 the Beau Brummels from San Francisco were hired to play.  The group had had two top twenty singles, "Laugh Laugh" and "Just a Little."  The Beau Brummels were big time!

I kick myself once a week for not going to that Beau Brummels concert at the New Place.  As I recall, the cost was $8.00 a ticket, and we were used to paying a buck and a half to get into the New Place.  Eight dollars was too much.  What idiots we were!

Janet D. from Woodstock DID go, and when I talked to her a few years back, she said the Beau Brummels' show was great.  Janet went with her brother, and she said the night was real foggy.  I have no idea where I was the night the Beau Brummels played the New Place, and I still regret not being there.

Janet D. was one of the Woodstock girls I mentioned in my "Early New Place" posting.  I also told the story of how the New Place's in and out policy had eventually gone away because too many kids were drinking and having sex in the parking lot.

The Woodstock girls' arrival at the New Place was a result of the demise of the in and out policy.  When the Elgin Courier News ran the front page story in late winter of 1965 about the drinking and sex at the New Place (see "Early New Place" post), the New Place owners hired off-duty McHenry County Sheriff's deputies to be on the scene for the entire evening.

Old McHenry County Courthouse where Sheriff Ed D. lived.
Chris D. and her brother Terry were the children of the McHenry County Sheriff, Ed D.  Chris lived in Woodstock with her dad, and Terry lived in Crystal Lake with his mom.  The sheriff's quarters were in the old courthouse on the square in Woodstock and so Chris would have her friends show up there, and they would all ride with the sheriff's deputy from Woodstock to the New Place.

I don't know how many teenage girls the deputy got in that car, but thinking back, it seems like there were more than five or six.   Maybe there were multiple cars.  Hopefully someone knows and can let me know.

At any rate, we Crystal Lake boys bonded with the Woodstock girls.  They were funny, down-to-earth, and they loved to dance.  Janet D. was the first girl I ever kissed, I mean really KISSED, back in February of 1965 when I was still 16.

The big problem was that the Woodstock girls had to ride home with the cop.  They couldn't go home with any of us.  That resulted in some 60's teen angst.  How nice it would have been to go back to Boozo Road with one of the Woodstock girls, park, and . . . , but that was never to be!

My first real girlfriend, Sandy, L., was a Woodstock girl.  We met in May of 1965 after I had arrived late to the New Place after playing with the band, the Rooks, at a Lundall Jr. High eighth grade dance.  We dated through the summer and early fall of '65.  I later went out with Rhonda F. from Woodstock in '68 & 69.

The Remains:  Mark Smith, John Baldwin, Tim McPike, Jim Wyman, and Tip Hale.
One of my bands even played at the New Place in early 1966.  The Remains was the band, and we filled in during the breaks of the main attraction, The Squires.  The above photograph was taken in March of 1966 in McHenry at Shea's School of Music.  The Remains never reached the level of The Del-Vettes or The Squires, but we played lots of shows around the Crystal Lake area in '65 and '66.

Five or six years ago there was an exhibit at the Arlington Heights Historical Center on the teen nite clubs in the northwest suburbs.  Most of the photos were of the Cellar in Arlington Heights, which was THE place to go.  But there were some newspaper articles that mentioned the New Place.  I never felt so old as I stood looking at the exhibits.

Now, I'm just glad that I have a good memory and can get this stuff about the New Place on the internet.  Let me know if you have any photos.  I'd love to post them.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Last Day of School and Madelyn Ciaccio

Dominican University

Fremd High School
I'm sitting here in the adjunct office at Dominican University at 7:00 o'clock in the morning on the last day of school, and let me tell you, things are a lot different here than they were when I was teaching high school at Fremd.  There is nobody here, and everything is quiet.  You can hear a pin drop!

The last day of high school at Fremd was like a tornado.  Even if teachers didn't have final exams, they were running around trying to get checked out.  In order to get their six paychecks, teachers had to have this legal sized sheet of paper signed by every bureaucrat in the school.  We had to turn our mailbox keys in, get checked out by the athletic director and the activities director, turn in any incompletes, get our grades checked by the registrar, and finally get checked out by the librarian.

I usually had a tee time at Pine Meadow golf course in Mundelein in the afternoon, so it was real important to get out of Fremd in a timely manner.  Sometimes I was delayed!

The year was 1989, and Fremd was going through an abestos abatement so the three, large rooms on the north side of the library were closed, and everything had been moved into the main library.  What a mess!

Unfortunately for me, I had the bad luck of having to check out with the head librarian, Madelyn Ciaccio.  Now Madelyn was old school all the way.  A Chicago girl, she had graduated from Rosary College (now Dominican University--where I'm sitting right now!) back in the 1940's and  had taught at St. Pat's, an all-boys school in the city, before coming to Fremd.  Madelyn had seen it all!.  Things were black and white with her; there was no gray. 

Madelyn claimed that I had not returned a Julius Caesar record and wouldn't sign my check-out sheet.  "I think I turned that in, Madelyn," I said.  "No, you didn't, Mr. Wyman," she replied.  The "Mr. Wyman" was my cue that I was going to have to find the record.  There was no "Jim" being spoken today, ladies and gentlemen!

So off I went to the English Office to look for the Julius Caesar record.  Now my desk looked like Mount Vesuvius.  I hadn't had a chance to clean it yet.  After spending ten minutes looking for the record on my desk and the surrounding area, I thought to myself, "Maybe I loaned it to someone in the department!"  I  began to look around all the sophomore teachers' desks.  I then went around and asked all the sophomore teachers in person if they had the Julius Caesar record.  "No," was the answer.  My tee time was getting closer.  Tick, tick, tick . . .

Back to the library to plead for mercy.  "I can't find the record, Madelyn." I said in a wavering voice, "and I have a tee time at 1:00" (It was about 11:15 a.m.).  "Well, then you'll have to pay for the record, Mr. Wyman," she replied.  "How much?" I asked.  "Thiry dollars should do it," Madelyn responded.  Thirty dollars!  THIRTY DOLLARS!  This record was twenty years old and couldn't have cost more than ten bucks when new.

"Can I look through the AV stuff you have piled up  here?" I asked Madelyn, pointing to the middle of the main room of the library.  All the audio-visual holdings had been moved to the main part of the library because of the abestos abatement, and the stuff was piled up seven feet high.  "Just don't move anything, Mr. Wyman," Madelyn said in an icy voice.

I waded into the morass!

About twenty minutes later guess what happened?  I found it!  The Julius Caesar record was a little worse for wear, but it was going to set me free and get me to the golf course.  I was smirking as I took the record up to Madeline.  "Here it is," I said.  "It looks like you guys made a mistake."  Madelyn was speechless.  She took the record, checked it in, signed my check-out sheet, pushed it back to me, and turned on her heels and walked away.  I heard a soft, "Have a good summer, Jim" as I walked out the library door.

"Have a good summer, my ass!" I thought.  I was late for my tee time at Pine Meadow.

The next fall the Cubs were in the NL playoffs, and one day in October I was in the library with my sophomores doing a research assignment.  Madelyn came over and pulled me aside.  "I have four tickets to the Cubs vs. Giants playoff game tomorrow night," she said (Madelyn and her husband were Cubs season ticket holders).  "They're yours if you want them!" 

I was flabbergasted.  "Wow," I said.  "How much?"  "You can have them for nothing," she said.  "George and I can't go."  "Gee, thanks, Madelyn!" I said.  "You're welcome, Jim," she replied.

As I walked back to my class in the English Resource Room, I remembered the Julius Caesar record.  Madelyn was making up for making me late for my tee time in June.  Boy, was she ever making up for it!

My wife, daughter, a friend, and I went to the game and sat in the first row of the upper deck at Wrigley Field.  Madelyn and George had great seats!  Unfortunately, Will Clark and the Giants pummelled the Cubs, but just the atmosphere around the ball park was unforgettable.

Madelyn Ciaccio died in 2004.  She was 77.   Hopefully, this posting captures Madelyn's personality.  Librarians, like music teachers, always walk to the beat of a different drummer.  And Madeline was always out front playing that drum! 

Thanks for the memories, Madelyn!  And enjoy the end of the school year, Fremdites!  Think of me when you are checking out with the librarian!