Thursday, October 30, 2014

Winthrop University should take a good hard look at football

Click here for a guest op/ed piece, written by yours truly, published a few days ago in The (Rock Hill, S.C.) Herald. In case the link does not work, I'm copying and pasting my column here:

By Larry C. Timbs Jr.
Special to The Herald

I know Winthrop University, where I retired after teaching journalism for 27 years in May 2013, likely has committees (full of smart people) and task forces or whatever studying the feasibility of football.

And the last thing anyone in the university power structure needs is another opinion on the matter.

But please indulge me briefly.

For the great majority of my tenure at Winthrop I thought having a football team there was an insane, silly idea--for the usual, familiar reasons: hard enough to support Winthrop's current teams/sports; local football enthusiasts would go to Clemson and USC games, not to Winthrop football contests; lack of money at Winthrop to fund football; extraordinary cost of building a football stadium. And the list goes on.

It so happens now that I am living in Johnson City, Tenn.--home of East Tennessee State University (a publicly funded university, as is Winthrop) of about 14,000 students. I walk almost every day on the ETSU campus. I hang around with ETSU faculty, staff and students, and with my two dogs, at the nearby dog park (one of my favorite spots in Johnson City.)

ETSU last fielded a football team in 2003, I believe. Some main reasons for terminating Buccaneer football: the university had increasingly scarce resources and felt it could no longer fund this sport; attendance at games—played in what some said was an inadequate inside facility (the ETSU minidome) had been declining for some time, with many folks around here seeming to get their pigskin high from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville (about 100 miles away); memories of ETSU’s glory football teams in the late 1960s and 1970s, which had received national recognition in that era, seemed to have faded.

Over the last few years, the university, local community and many alumni and students have had a spirited (and sometimes cantankerous) debate on the pros and cons of bringing football back to ETSU.

Long story short: ETSU will field a football team in the Southern Conference in fall 2015. So football is being resurrected here.

(Word at the dog park is that when the last president of ETSU—just a few years ago—was a candidate for the top job, he was told/ordered by an alum with deep pockets to make the idea of a football team come true. That may or may not have actually happened. I share this with all you readers in Rock Hill somewhat reluctantly, because we have a rule here: what is said and done at the dog park stays in the dog park.)

A head coach has been hired. Phil Fulmer, fired a few years ago as UT's football coach, but still widely respected in the Volunteer state, has served ETSU as a consultant. A new multi-million dollar, outdoor stadium will be built--although the ETSU football team will play its first season at Science Hill High School's stadium. Much of the community and campus seems excited, revved, psyched. Press coverage here about ETSU football has been way positive (my opinion). Even people at the dog park are wagging their collective tails and tongues (in a good way) for ETSU football.

So there's excitement in the air here. A sense of positive anticipation and hope pervades this place. A recent scrimmage of the Blue and Gold teams at ETSU got a lot of upbeat attention throughout NE Tennessee.

All this might be something for Winthrop to take into account.
What can Winthrop do to capture the public's imagination? To stir people up in a good way? What can and should it do in light of its stagnant enrollment--very little growth, if any, that I can discern over the last 15 years or so?

What would a football team, playing its games outside in a nearby sun-drenched stadium on a Saturday afternoon, with a marching band all decked out in Winthrop’s colors, do for the community? For the university? For those who absolutely love the game of football? (Think pep rallies, parades and tailgating).

An administrator at Winthrop once told me: Winthrop can do whatever Winthrop REALLY WANTS TO DO.

Footnote: Those naysayers of football for Winthrop who point out we could never compete with the likes of a USC or Clemson ought to remember what happened a few years ago when Appalachian State University took down mighty Michigan in the Big House in Ann Arbor.
I’m told that news of that incredible victory was announced over the public address system at the Walmart in Boone, and shoppers, even those who were not football enthusiasts, went crazy. When the team, fresh from the victory, landed at Tri-Cities Airport just outside of Johnson City, a caravan of honking cars followed the ASU players’ and coaches’ buses all the way to Boone. (And all those smug but embarrassed folks in Michigan finally learned how to pronounce Appalachian).

Food for thought for Winthrop University and Rock Hill.

Larry C. Timbs Jr. retired as an associate professor of mass communication at Winthrop University in 2012. He is a lifelong University of Tennessee football fan and closely follows the Carolina Panthers.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Mountains of East Tennessee full of color

It's fall, the season of color in the high country of East Tennessee.

As I write this, from Johnson City--near the NC and VA borders--the mountains teem with reds, golds, greens, browns.

It's a spectacular season bursting with bright, uplifting colors.

Nature's unmatchable paint brush does quite the trick.

This morning I snapped a shot of a butterfly resting, of all places, on a butterfly bush. Maybe more summery than fall but stunning nonetheless. Here's the picture:

And a few days ago, I pulled over into a church driveway and captured a grove of trees ablaze with color:

Finally, to help commemorate my 67th season of fall, I ran upon this classic poem by Robert Frost:

By Robert Frost

My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there's a barrel that I didn't fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn't pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it's like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.

Monday, October 13, 2014

About death and life even after you've punched out

I wonder what it's like to be stone cold dead. (One famous person, according to a frequent and faithful reader of my blog, reputedly said, as he lay on the threshold of dying, "And now comes the great mystery.")

Not just dead out of answers or dead to the world (as in completely spent or tired to the nth degree).

But really dead.




Permanently asleep six feet (or more) under a cold slab.

Sealed in a metal vault to keep the corpse feeders at bay.

Maybe being planted, if you're lucky, in a peaceful, beautiful spot among trees, shrubs, flowers, butterflies, bumble bees and a gurgling stream.

I guess folks who contemplate taking their own lives don't give much thought to such.

For instance, take all those hundreds (maybe even thousands?) of distressed souls who have jumped to their death in the last several decades from the Golden Gate Bridge just outside San Francisco. I'm told it's a 220-foot drop to the cold deep waters below, meaning only 2 percent survive.

It would be a stretch to believe that many of them considered (truly considered) what would happen to them if they jumped.

They just wanted out. Out of this life. Away from their problems, worries, troubles.

Where they were going, they didn't much care--long as they went.

So sad. So depressing. So shocking to think of so many people jumping off the Golden Gate--perhaps the world's favorite spot for committing suicide.

And then there are the heartless, selfish motorists traveling across the bridge who see them teetering on a beam, thinking of the ultimate escape to darkness. Thinking of saying goodbye permanently.

Many of those cold-blooded motorists, according to a recent report in USA TODAY, yell: "Go ahead! Jump!"

Speaking of things deathly, I read an article (also from USA TODAY) that reported on a study of life-after-death experiences. It seems, according to interviews with hundreds of people who have been pronounced clinically dead but then were revived, that "the dead" can still have thoughts, visions, ideas.

The heart stops beating, but the brain--in some cases--still functions.

Here's a passage from that article last week on near death experiences:

"Scientists looked at 2,060 people who went into cardiac arrest (which they describe as "biologically synonymous with death") at 15 different hospitals in the U.S., U.K., and Austria. Of the 330 people who survived, about 40% recalled awareness while they were clinically dead. (The lead doctor tells the Telegraph that number could be higher if some of those people's memories weren't dulled by drugs or sedatives.)
Of those, 46% had memories not commonly associated with NDEs (Near Death Experiences).

• One person recalled, after he took his last breath, that he was told that he was going to die, and the quickest way to the hereafter was to say the last short word he could remember.

• Another person in the same circumstance remembers seeing "All plants, no flowers."

• Another saw lions and tigers, while one person's whose heart had stopped beating had the sensation of being dragged through deep water.

The researchers say caution is in order before we can conclude anything. Consider how the article ends: "This (having thought processes after death is pronounced) is paradoxical, since the brain typically ceases functioning within 20-30 seconds of the heart stopping and doesn't resume again until the heart has been restarted," says the study's lead researcher. "These experiences warrant further investigation."

Ok. Many of us always believed in life after death. Now we have an iota of titillating evidence.

Meanwhile, life goes on. And so does death, and so does jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge.

It's good, folks. to be alive! And it should never get so hopeless that we want to punch out of our own accord.

If it does (and I've been there, been diagnosed as clinically depressed): Don't isolate. Get a dog. Exercise. Breathe deeply. No sudden decisions. Try to have at least a few positive thoughts. Read. Blog. Listen to music. Attach yourself to someone who loves you. Stay away from those who would pull you down. DON'T JUMP! DON'T CUT YOURSELF! DON'T POISON YOURSELF! DON'T SMOTHER YOURSELF! DON'T OVERMEDICATE.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Petsmart finally agrees

I just got through with dealing with management at the Petsmart store in Johnson City, Tenn.

I had a beef: a chewable, squeaking dog toy I bought there three days ago was destroyed (the squeaker chewed up and the covering fabric torn).

The animal that did this?

My 5-year-old, 25-pound bichon frise Michael Jackson.

He's an adorable but destructive little thing.

He obliterated the $7.95 toy in just three days.

At first, when I complained, the store manager said there was nothing he could do. He added, parenthetically, that his own dog destroys Petsmart's toys in as little as 30 seconds.

"Then why are you selling a whole aisle full of defective toys?" I asked.

He mumbled something along the lines that I didn't have my receipt and even if I did, there was nothing he could do.

But I reminded him that I spend a chunk of money at Petsmart every month.

"I know you do. I've seen you in here a lot," he replied somewhat nervously.

"You need to make me happy," I countered. "You HAVE to make me happy."

Long story short: I appealed to his supervisor. She agreed to let me pick out a new (replacement) dog toy at no cost.

It pays to go up the line. Also pays to remind them that you are a good, long-time paying customer.

Guess I should be a consumer advocate.

Speaking of dogs, that's Michael Jackson (he of the toy-chewing, destructive ilk) in the photo with this blog post.

Also speaking of dogs, my favorite commercial on TV right now stars a dog who lovingly encourages his owner to drink responsibly. Turn up your sound and enjoy: