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T. Buckingham Thomas: a personal website

DECEMBER 1, 2011 flashback   TWO OUT OF EIGHT AIN'T BAD

I work on sports telecasts, but not often at major events.  I’ve never done a Super Bowl or a World Series, for example.  And I’m actually happier working minor events like a Friday-night high school football game.  The pay rate is the same, and there’s much less pressure.

So I was surprised to read this column from the Los Angeles Times, in which Mike DiGiovanna lists eight of the Biggest Upsets in Sports History.  I was actually on the broadcast crew for 25% of them!  Namely, yours truly worked Buster Douglas over Mike Tyson in 1990 and Appalachian State over Michigan in 2007.  That’s more than my share.

 

NOVEMBER 29, 2021    SENSATIONAL HEADLINE

Last Friday, online versions of a story from the Ellwood City Ledger suggested massive election fraud involving thousands of unrecorded ballots:

Over  5,000  under  votes  discovered
in Lawrence County election recount

Many Western Pennsylvanians clicked on the story to learn about the dastardly conspiracy.  But the headline was misleading — perhaps deliberately so, but probably because there was little else to report.

In the race for two seats on Commonwealth Court, citizens were asked to vote for two of four relatively unknown judges.  About a tenth of the voters chose only one candidate, or none.  That's an “under vote” and it's okay.  But if they voted for three or four, that's an “over vote” and it's disallowed. 

As Nicholas Vercilla wrote about the recount process:  “All three commissioners, the Lawrence County Voter Services department, and watchers from both county parties reviewed every under and over vote that was detected.  County Election Technology Manager Tim Germani said there were over 5,000 under votes.  The results of the winners from the county didn't change.”

 

NOVEMBER 28, 2011 flashback   TELEVISING ANOTHER QUADHEADER

“You can’t tell the players without a scorecard!”  The scorecard vendors used to call out that sales pitch to fans entering the stadium.  Accordingly, nine days ago I laid out this card for myself, and for the next week I referred to it constantly.  It summarizes the key details for the WPIAL high school football championships, four games played the Saturday after Thanksgiving at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field and televised by ROOT Sports.

Who’s announcing the Single-A game?  Who’s the Sto-Rox coach?  Which team, 3rd-seeded Knoch or 5th-seeded Montour, will be the “home” team and wear the dark jerseys?  They both wear gold helmets; which is the brighter shade of yellow?  When does the Double-A game start, and when will it actually air?  How shall we abbreviate Aliquippa?  Is that team the “Indians” or the “Quips”?  Which color shall we use to highlight Jeannette graphics, red or blue?  Precisely which shade of blue, in RGB values?  All the answers — collected from various sources — are on this chart. 

I made additional copies so that the director and  the scorebug operator and the video replay team could also keep the teams straight.  Then I went to work organizing the lineups and statistics and such into the proper bins as directed by the chart.

It was my fifth time for this extravaganza.  I described an earlier experience here.

UPDATE: NOVEMBER 28, 2021

I'm no longer a part of this annual festival, but now it's even bigger.  At Heinz Field during the two days after Thanksgiving, teams from ten different schools played for the Western Pennsylvania championship in their respective classes.

Is it worth it?  High schools should concentrate on teaching, some say.  Extracurricular sports like high school football are a waste of time and money because they distract from learning.

Not so fast, says Mike White of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  “There is nothing like the impact a successful football team can sometimes have on a school — and community,” he wrote last month.  “A winning team can lift morale and spirit.  While principals and superintendents don't have hard evidence to prove it, some have said over the years that a successful football team to start a school year can even sometimes lift grades for some students.”

The kids are eager to attend school (assuming COVID-19 regulations permit it) and share the euphoria with their classmates. “When excitement is high and people are happy, I think our school attendance is better,” Deer Lakes principal Patrick Baughman says.  Laurel Highlands principal John Diamond concurs:  “Any connection a kid can make to a school that makes them want to come to school and be part of something, is only good.”

My busiest season is the third of a year from August through November.  For 27 baseball and 10 hockey and two basketball telecasts during that period in 2011, another person coordinated the stats while I simply operated the graphics machine.  But I also worked 19 football telecasts by myself.  I was the one who had to organize the facts and prepare the computer files beforehand.  Usually there were only one or two such events each weekend:  an NFL preseason game, four involving small colleges, and ten weekly high school games.   The big climax came this Saturday, with four games in one 17½ hour day.

Now it’s the big letdown.  I'll archive the football materials for 2012, and until then I can let someone else worry about the details of the hockey and basketball and baseball teams I’ll be televising.

 

NOVEMBER 26, 2011 flashback   PLAY LIKE

In an old Bible, I found a newspaper clipping that my mother probably put there.  It’s a poem written by a lady in our hometown, Dorothy P. Albaugh, otherwise known as Mrs. Charles Stickell.  She once appeared on a local radio program which I transcribed here.  Her poem begins by approximately quoting Hamlet.

“Assume the virtue though you have it not,”
The poet says.
                       The small child says “Play like.”

We are but children; let us “play like” we
Are beautiful and brave, and gradually,
As we assume the virtue, we will grow
Much lovelier and braver than we know.

For God, Who understands the things we do
And loves us, makes pretending true.

 

NOVEMBER 23, 2021    REMEMBER “FREEDOM FRIES”?

President George W. Bush wanted to avenge 9/11 by attacking Iraq, a nation that actually had nothing to do with it.  But the French foreign minister declared that “military intervention would be the worst solution,” and France threatened to veto any resolution of support in the U.N. Security Council.  No other member did so.  Some super-patriotic Americans considered this a betrayal by one of our oldest allies (since 1778).

North Carolina restaurant owner Neal Rowland looked at the French fries he was serving.  “Since the French are backing down,” he said, “French fries — and French everything — needs to be banned.”  He changed his menus to read “Freedom fries” instead, echoing the time when folks who called our World War I enemy “krauts” decided to rename sauerkraut “liberty cabbage.”

The cafeterias at the U.S. House of Representative changed their menus as well, directed to do so by two Republican congressmen.  However, most Americans, with the exception of Toby Keith (menu at right), saw this as silly.  We kept eating our French fries and soon forgot about the kerfuffle.

But what about French's mustard?  As it turns out, this condiment has been around since the 1904 St. Louis World's fair, where it was served over hot dogs by George and Francis French.  It has nothing to do with the nation of France.

Nevertheless, I can tell from the star-spangled bottle in my kitchen that the company doesn't want anyone to suspect they're less than loyal.

 

NOVEMBER 20, 2021    FLING ME TO THE SKIES

About 900 years ago there was a gravity-powered siege weapon called the counterweight trebuchet, developed from the ancient catapult.

The arm normally stands straight up, weighed down by a heavy lead counterweight (here tinted red) on the short end.

Crank the rope to pull the longer end of the arm down and the counterweight up, as shown on the right.  Now you can load a boulder into the bowl, then use your sword to cut the rope.  The counterweight swings the arm back up, flinging the boulder over the enemy's city wall.

In my younger days I imagined a super-catapult with two balanced arms spinning round and around very fast.  The outer end of each would grip a projectile.  At the proper instant the projectiles would be released (simultaneously, so that the arms remained balanced).  One projectile would fly upward, while the other would fly downward and crash into a sandbox or pool, providing a satisfying artillery boom.  Given a sufficiently rapid rotation, the flying projectile would have more velocity and therefore more range than the trebuchet's boulder.

Now I read that a company called SpinLaunch has actually developed a rotational catapult as part of a “kinetic space launch system.”  It replaces the first stage of a conventional rocket, which is quite heavy because most of its weight consists of its own fuel.

Instead, SpinLaunch uses a large chamber that's vacuum-sealed to eliminate air resistance.  The centrifuge inside is designed to fling upward a pointed projectile (equivalent to the upper stage of a rocket) at speeds of up to 5,000 mph.  That's well short of orbital velocity, but the Orbital Launch System's “second stage” rocket engine can take over from there.

According to SpinLaunch, this is now possible thanks to advances in small electronics and high-strength materials like carbon fiber, which can harden both the rocket and its small unmanned satellite to centripetal forces ranging up to 10,000 G's.

“On October 22nd, 2021, the Suborbital Accelerator came to life.”  The prototype being tested has a 40-foot tether and can hurl 40 pounds into the sky.

If they're able to build the full-size version depicted below, as tall as the Statue of Liberty, it will have a 100-foot tether to launch 400-pound vehicles.

One thing puzzles me.  Where's the second equally-heavy object being flung downward?

As usefulcat tweets, “The instant the payload is launched, the launching mechanism will still be rotating at several hundred RPM but will no longer be balanced.  I don't see how it wouldn't proceed to immediately and spectacularly tear itself apart.  So they must have figured out how to rebalance it almost immediately.”

In a reply, dvdkhlng suggests that “the launch arm has a second mass inside it that will move (via centrifugal force) away from the center in the same moment the payload is released.”  And finnh adds, “you'd generally want the non-payload rotating bits to vastly outmass the payload, so its release perturbs the whole system to the least amount possible.  And then you use regenerative braking to reclaim the energy.”

Presumably, SpinLaunch has all this figured out. 

 

NOVEMBER 18, 2011 flashback   THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY

When I was in graduate school in 1970, some of my fellow Syracuse students went to the nation’s capital to protest the Vietnam War and President Nixon’s incursion into Cambodia.

In the predawn hours they unexpectedly encountered the President himself.

On the 40th anniversary a year and a half ago, I added the student-written story of that odd event to an article on this website.

Now there's a new development.  Last week, the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum made available online a new set of Dictabelts.  These recordings include Nixon’s own account of meeting the protesters.

According to Nixon, having awakened in the middle of the night and listened to Rachmaninoff, on a whim he took his valet Manolo Sanchez to see the Lincoln Memorial.  The students were there.  He told them he sympathized with their anti-war sentiments.  Then he began talking about travel and European architecture.  “I just wanted to be sure that all of them realize that ending the war, and cleaning up the city streets and the air and the water, was not going to end the spiritual hunger which all of us have — which of course is the great mystery of life from the beginning of time.”  After a lyrically described sunrise, Nixon apparently continued to wander around Washington.  At a restaurant he had corned beef hash and poached eggs for the first time in five years.  (The previous such breakfast was in 1965?  Who remembers these things?)

 

NOVEMBER 16, 2021    SESQUICENTENNIAL

On this date exactly 150 years ago, a young group of a cappella singers from Tennessee came to Oberlin, Ohio, to proclaim the jubilee before a national convention of influential ministers.

This performance at my future college took place less than nine years after the Emancipation Proclamation, and it was one of the first public performances of the “Negro spirituals” that African-Americans had sung secretly in fields and behind closed doors. 

In a new article, The 1871 Broadcast, I've tried to imagine how the event might have been covered if radio were not 50 years in the future.

As Andrew S. Ward has written, spirituals conveyed multiple meanings.  “Paradise, Canaan, the Promised Land could stand for heaven, the North, or emancipation. Freedom could mean release from the grief and toil of this life, or it could mean independence, autonomy, and escape from slavery.”

Over time, the beautiful voices of the Fisk Jubilee Singers would begin to change attitudes among their predominantly white audiences, and skepticism would be replaced by standing ovations.

 

NOVEMBER 13, 2021    THAT MURDEROUS SON OF A NUN!

Among the Bible's heroes is the leader who succeeded Moses around 1500 BC and made the walls of Jericho come tumbling down.

His genocidal aim was to exterminate the Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites who were peacefully living in the land.

You shall not leave alive anything that breathes,” his jealous God had commanded, “but you shall utterly destroy them!”  Why?  Because God had promised their land to his people, the Israelites.

This man charged with executing this Final Solution was Joshua son of Nun.

“Son of Nun?” you ask.  “Who's Nun?”

 

Nun son of Elishama, of course.  I've imagined that he was an honorable man who did not bring up his boy to be a killer.  In this month's 100 Moons article, Nun expresses his regrets.

But did Joshua really succeed in utterly destroying the Canaanites?  A genetic analysis published in 2017 suggests he didn't.  An excavation in Sidon yielded the bones of five Bronze-Age Canaanites.  Dr. Chris Tyler-Smith's team found a 93% DNA match between those pre-Joshua samples, dated to about 1700 BC, and modern Lebanese people.

 

NOVEMBER 11, 2011 flashback   FAMINE, FEAST, FAMINE

When I was a kid, on a typical fall Saturday our family experienced college football twice.  Most college games weren’t televised, so we’d listen to Ohio State on the radio, then watch whatever other game happened to be on ABC-TV.

When I was a young man, most college games still weren’t televised, so our company’s weekly Penn State highlights show enjoyed a good viewership on Sunday mornings.  Often it was the only way to see the Nittany Lions play.

How things have changed!

For the first time in eight weeks, I won’t be working a telecast this Saturday, so I checked my local cable schedule to see when Penn State will kick off tomorrow.  It will be their first game without Joe Paterno as a coach since 1949, when I was two years old.

It turns out Penn State will be on TV at noon.  So will Ohio State.  So will Pitt.  So will West Virginia.  So will seven other contests.  Yes, starting at noon, 11 college football games will be televised simultaneously, live, on 11 different channels!  By the end of the day, 27 games will have been made available to my TV set.

NOON:
Nebraska at Penn State
Ohio State at Purdue
Pittsburgh at Louisville
West Virginia at Cincinnati
Wake Forest at Clemson
Michigan State at Iowa
Penn at Harvard
Marshall at Tulsa
Texas at Missouri
Kentucky at Vanderbilt
Florida at South Carolina

LATE AFTERNOON:
Auburn at Georgia
Michigan at Illinois
Washington at USC
TCU at Boise State
Miami at Florida State
Wisconsin at Minnesota
Richmond at Delaware

EARLY EVENING:
Oregon at Stanford
Maryland at Notre Dame
Alabama at Mississippi State
Tennessee at Arkansas
Western Kentucky at LSU

LATE EVENING:
Navy at Southern Methodist
Idaho at BYU
Hawaii at Nevada
Arizona St. at Washington St.

I do not intend to sample them all.

UPDATE NOVEMBER 11, 2021
We've had a 19% increase over the last decade.  This Saturday there are 32 live telecasts scheduled on my cable TV.  Whoops, make that 31; the USC-California game has been postponed due to Cal's coronavirus outbreak.

But college football isn't just for Saturdays anymore.  There were three live telecasts on Tuesday and three more on Wednesday.  There will be one tonight (Thursday) and two on Friday.  That raises the revised weekly total to an even 40 live games.

Then there are delayed telecasts.  From Sunday through Friday, I counted 24 such matchups, most of them shown more than once (even West Liberty at Frostburg State).  Also, Big Ten games are condensed to fit into one-hour "B1G Football in 60" time slots.  Does all that not suffice?

On the other hand, no games are being played in the professional National Basketball Association.  The argument continues over (among other matters) how much of the league’s revenues should go to the players.  Should it be 47%?  52%?

To those of us on the outside, it seems petty for rich folks to refuse to do their jobs over such a trivial matter.  Aren’t they already making millions?  Why should they care so much about an extra two or three per cent?  But they’re competitive men.  They have egos.  They subscribe to Jimmy Valvano’s motto, “Don't give up!  Don't ever give up!”  And so they refuse to make significant concessions, and the standoff continues.

Both sides have expressed regret that canceling NBA games also impacts the income of innocent bystanders — non-millionaires such as arena workers, restaurant cooks, and parking-lot attendants.

UPDATE MAY 26, 2016
Nearby businesses also depend on the games being played as scheduled.  The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote about the environs of the Consol Energy Center:   “Shawn Mozolak, bar manager at the Souper Bowl across Fifth Avenue, estimates that about three-quarters of its annual business comes from Penguins fans.”

No one ever mentions the television crews, but without games to televise, we’re out of work too.  The TV technicians in Atlanta are especially hard hit this winter.  Not only have NBA games been canceled, but Atlanta’s NHL team has fled the country to play hockey in Winnipeg instead.

So have I lost work to the NBA lockout?  No, there’s no NBA team here in Pittsburgh, so I have nothing to lose.  My winter schedule remains full of NHL telecasts and college basketball telecasts.  I worked my first college hoops of the season this past Monday, with at least 19 more games to follow between now and the end of February.  That includes three doubleheaders featuring both the men’s and women’s teams, which are always plenty of work for one day.

 

NOVEMBER 9, 2021    HOLD ON

Let us turn the clock back, back, back, more than 56 years.  I had just been accepted to college.

This sister and brother, a senior and a freshman, were already on campus.

They had been making good grades but also making good music — the liberal collegiate music of the mid-1960s, namely folk songs and protest songs.

One tune was Hold On, Keep Your Eyes on the Prize, which is the title of a new article on this website.  There you'll find the story of the Schomers plus a link to a 1965 recording.  Among the 17 songs on this 41-minute “album,” you'll hear Karine sing, “It's two in the morning and I can't go far.  When a girl gets the feeling, Lord, what can she do?”

 

NOVEMBER 6, 2021   
WAIT FOR THE FINAL OUTCOME

On the old cop show Dragnet, Sgt. Joe Friday always nabbed the crook, and just before the last commercial break the announcer always intoned, “In a moment, the results of that trial.”  Today's police procedurals likewise usually come to a resolution within the hour.

But documentaries don't always.  Will the new space probe solve the mystery?  Maybe, but we'll have to wait a few years for it to get there.

The worst offender is The Curse of Oak Island.  Rick and Marty Lagina and their Canadian friends are now in their ninth season of poking around the Money Pit, mongering wild speculations about Aztec treasures and Shakespearean codes and an alleged 1347 map and Knights Templar who may or may not have worshipped a Phoenician goddess.

That's according to Wikipedia.  I can't stand to watch; it's called a reality show, but almost nothing real ever seems to turn up.  Next week they're going to dig a little deeper over yonder.



Much of the news is that way, too.

We hear that a deadline is approaching for soldiers to get vaccinated; if they refuse to obey their commanding officer's order, will they be fired?  Will they be court-martialed or kicked out of the Army?  No one knows until it happens.

A new piece of legislation has been introduced?  It has to clear a lot of hurdles before it can become law.

A court has rendered a decision?  It's going to be appealed to higher state courts and federal courts, and nothing will really be decided until the Supreme Court rules.  Even then, workarounds are possible.

I'm gradually learning not to get too excited about such processes until the moment finally arrives when we can learn “the results of that trial.”

 

NOVEMBER 3, 2021    FIVE QUESTIONING WORDS

It's an old I Love Lucy clip.  Lucy wants Ricky to show her some affection, so she puckers up and closes her eyes.  Jack Benny appears behind them.  He starts to take advantage of the invitation.  She realizes he's not Ricky and screams, “What are you doing here?

That line is in absolutely every TV script, comedy or drama.  Even comic strips.

A character unexpectedly enters a scene, and someone demands “What are you doing here?” 

Sometimes the line is heard more than once in a single episode.  Usually it allows the new arrival to explain their presence with exposition that advances the plot.  Pay attention; I guarantee you'll hear it. 

On a more serious note, my old college classmate Matt Rinaldi volunteered as a civil rights worker in Mississippi during the summer of 1966, between our freshman and sophomore years.  His goal was encouraging Blacks to register to vote.

Among the people he met was young Wiley Mallet, who had once watched his father cut a rope to lower from a tree the lynched body of his cousin's friend.

That September, Kosciusko High School was integrated for the first time.  “Almost immediately there was trouble,” Matthew wrote in his memoir which was published this year.  "Wiley was taunted by some white kids in the hall who muttered, ‘What are you doing here, boy?’”

At the beginning of that year, NAACP leader Vernon Dahmer (“If you don't vote, you don't count”) had died when his family's home near Hattiesburg was firebombed.  Later, during Matthew's stay at Kosciusko 120 miles away, a shack that served as civil rights headquarters was torched.  A man who turned out to be Oprah Winfrey's grandfather built a new one, and Matthew helped.  But he had to leave the state in a hurry to avoid being jailed.

Personally, my experiences in central Mississippi have been limited to college sports in Hattiesburg.  I was happily surprised that during my short visits between 1987 and 2000, no racial tension was apparent.

When Matthew finally returned to Kosciusko in 2004, “people who lived down the road came by and visited.  One Black woman said she had been seven years old when we rebuilt the Freedom House, and she remembered a gun battle that caused her to duck below the window.  ‘I was scared,’ she said.  ‘But that was a long time ago.’”  Matthew continued, “I asked her father how people got along in the county these days.  ‘Blacks and whites here,’ he said, ‘gets along now like bees and honey.’”

TBT

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