Sunday, November 15, 2015


In view of the recent atrocities in Paris, I'm trying to figure out the nature of terrorism.

Specifically, what's the point behind the bombing, killing, maiming of concert goers, or machine gunning friends and tourists having a sip of Bordeaux at a sidewalk cafe? How does that move a political agenda forward?

What worthy statement do you make when you blow yourself up with a suicide vest? Is it all about the shock value of the act itself?

Does a terrorist act really bring to light the self-perceived oppression of the aggrieved? Or is terrorism nothing more than psychopathic role playing to satisfy innate misanthropic and homicidal tendencies?

Is the modern wave of jihadist terrorism really nothing more than political fanaticism cloaked in religious garments? If religion is indeed an element in all of this, then whose God wishes to see His creation destroy itself — to destroy human progress, to destroy history, to destroy the arts? There appears to be no logic in that.

Is it about power? Money? Oil? Disenfranchised youth?

Is it all of this? Is it none of this?

From my lonely perch in a small southern town, terrorism just doesn't seem to be a viable solution. Terrorism is, at best, I think, a shady answer to my invisible questions. All terrorism really does, I think, is bring unending resolve and retribution from the victims themselves. So then it becomes cyclical, without end. You strike me, I'll strike you. Terror begets terror, with no end, with no answer.

I've seen the pleas for more love, more understanding, more communication.  That is the ideal, of course, but I'm not sure that's the world we live in.

Because terrorism is a human problem, it'll take a human solution to solve. No doubt, it'll require love and understanding. And no doubt, it'll require bullets and bombs.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

It makes me wonder

I'm currently reading a library book called "Madison's Gift: Five Partnerships That Built America."

No, it's not about Warren Buffett or Bill Gates or Donald Trump or even Andrew Carnegie or Cornelius Vanderbilt or anyone else who bobbed to the surface somewhere along the American timeline.

It's about founding father James Madison, a 5-foot-4 intellectual dynamo often credited as The Father of the Constitution (as well as The Bill of Rights).

The partnerships explored in the book, written by David O. Stewart, include Madison's connections with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Monroe and Dolley Payne Todd (who eventually became Madison's wife).

I bring all of this up because we are in the midst of a sometimes fascinating, sometimes tedious, sometime ludicrous presidential campaign season. Absurdities uttered from nearly all the candidates, from both parties, seem to proliferate everywhere (you pick 'em, because what actually might make sense to me may be a joke to you. But they're there).

And this political season makes me wonder where and when we lost the intellectual brilliance of men like Madison, Washington, Jefferson and Hamilton.

Or did we?

From my point of view, I fear we haven't seen anything resembling the probing intelligence of our founding fathers, giants who seemed to be able to dissect an issue, then solve it with common sense and backroom compromise.

But, as it turns out, even the greats had their moments. The partnership with Madison and Hamilton that produced The Federalist papers faded in later years as political differences arose between them. Madison, who wrote many of Washington's speeches, drifted away from Washington in later years. It is, as they say, complicated. Political parties (never envisioned by the founders) formed, loyalties shifted.

And now, here we are, watching Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live and wondering if, 100 years further along the American timeline, our current crop of politicians will be seen as giants.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

A good skate

The conversation started off innocently enough.

Sandy Andrews, my colleague at NewBridge Bank (where I work part time) and I were just having a casual little chit chat when it came out that I had been a sports writer for The Dispatch for more than 30 years.

"Oh," she said happily, "do you know anything about roller derby?"

Sandy Andrews is a pleasant, mild-mannered banker during the week...
Uh-oh, I thought to myself. Where is this going? Usually, I'm cornered by soccer moms who want a little extra coverage for their undeniably precocious star athletes. So I prepared myself to hear Sandy go on and on about one of her kids participating in yet another low-impact, non-mainstream sport.

"Ummm, maybe," I answered, with visions of Raquel Welch in the 1972 flick "Kansas City Bomber" flashing through my head. "Why?"

"Well," said Andrews, "I play derby."

Huh? I thought I heard her say that she skated in roller derby, but that just couldn't be. Sandy is built like a No. 2 pencil and has the pleasant, unassuming demeanor of, well, a Sunday school teacher. The roller derby I knew from watching it on TV back in the 1960s was raucous, violent and contrived. It just didn't jibe.

"Whut?" I said, and the conversation took a decidedly different turn.
 •   •   •
Andrews, a 42-year-old mom who works at the bank's call center in Lexington, said her children — Aeda, Christopher and Jacob — got interested in roller skating a while back, so she took them to a local rink. Things simply rolled from there, so to speak.

...and jammer Jaisy Juke for Greensboro Roller Derby on weekends. *
"They got interested in speed skating and they wanted me to join them," said Andrews. "So about a year ago, we started speed skating every Saturday. I liked it so much I wanted to find out what else I could do with skating."

 A bell went off in her head. A few years previously, a friend of hers from high school had participated in roller derby and had posted some pictures of herself on Facebook. Andrews thought it was interesting, but never in a million years would she do it. "It looked like a painful and wild sport," said Andrews.

Well, yeah.

But by this time, Andrews was more than a little curious. She did some research and found out that there was a roller derby team in Winston-Salem, originally the Camel City Thrashers. She called, and they invited her to watch — or, if she wanted, to participate in a practice. The only requirement was that she be over 18 years old.

"I went to a practice and fell in love with it," said Andrews. "And I've been hooked ever since."
•   •   •
There's a sidebar story running parallel to all of this.

About five or six years ago, Andrews contracted Lyme Disease through the bite of a deer tick. It changed her life.

"It affected me in every way — neurologically, mentally, physically, emotionally," said Andrews. "It was a very hard struggle getting over that. I couldn't walk straight, I couldn't hold a coffee cup. I couldn't control my muscles and I had tingling all over. I had all kinds of issues."

Fortunately, she's been able to treat the malaise with medication.

"Even though I still have a little pain, I've gotten much better," said Andrews. "I control that through exercise and diet. And skating actually makes me feel better. It's strengthened the joints in my knees and hips, and I don't have as much pain as I used to."

Andrews doesn't want to play up the Lyme Disease aspect of her life, other than to show that it's possible to wrestle against adversity with dedication and determination.

 "I've overcome this illness," noted Andrews. "There's some things I still can't do — running bothers me — but I can skate. Derby is a very intense athletic sport. I can say that I've overcome this disease, I'm strong and I'm an athlete."

You cannot mistake the pride in her voice for anything else.
•   •   •
Several Thrashers, including Andrews, eventually joined the Greensboro Roller Derby (see here), which competes in the Women's Flat Track Derby Association. They currently hold their bouts (not matches, meets or games) in the Greensboro Coliseum annex.

Andrews — who took the name Jaisy Juke (in recognition of her childhood TV idol Daisy Duke) as her derby alter ego — became a jammer for her team, the Elm Street Nightmares.

Flat tracks tend to slow the action down a bit, as opposed to the banked wooden tracks that Raquel Welch bombed her way around. It's like the difference between NASCAR's flat Bowman Gray Stadium and the high-banked Charlotte Motor Speedway, and all the physics that that implies regarding speed and momentum. But the roller derby flat tracks are usually concrete surfaces, like those in coliseum annexes, which makes taking a spill a little more problematical.

"I've never been hurt," said Andrews, "except for a few bumps and bruises."

And the near black eye that is just now starting to fade.
•   •   •
A quick derby primer: Each team has five skaters on a flat oblong track that is approximately the length of a hockey rink. That's 10 people crowded together in helmets, elbow- and kneepads, trying to get their jammers (one designated player per team) through a wall of their opponent's blockers. Points are awarded when a jammer breaks through after she's completed her first lap.

"We're playing offense and defense at the same time," said Andrews. "It's kind of like football on roller skates. And it's for real. It's legitimate. There's nothing contrived about it.

"The first time I ever broke through as a jammer it was such an adrenalin rush," and Andrews. "I really love doing this."

So does her husband, Chris. And, of course, her kids. "They really support me with this," said Andrews, who practices two or three times a week. "I'm really having a lot of fun."

Wow. Amazing. And I know one thing for sure: the next time Sandy wants to tell me something, I'm paying close attention. I'll be jammed if I ever look at a No. 2 pencil the same way again.

(A brief example of flat track roller derby is in the video below. It does not depict Andrews' team): 

*Photo courtesy of Jill and Mike McClanahan, Frayed Edge Concepts, LLC.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Another Barbecue Festival

For some reason that I can't rightly explain, I still enjoy The Barbecue Festival after all these years.

All 32 of them. Consecutively.

I haven't missed a single festival. Part of that is because for about 25 of those years, I had to be there covering certain events — like the Hawg Run or the Tour de Pig — as a sports writer for The Dispatch. For many of those years, if you recall, the Hawg Run was held on the actual morning of the festival.

I even ran in one once, checking it off as a bucket list item.

But working during the festival was OK. It was a remarkable one-day event then, and it still is now. So even after I retired from the paper in 2006, I still make it a point to come to the festival.

As usual, my wife and I try to get there early — maybe around 7 a.m. or so. That's so we can avoid being swept up by the huge crowds that arrive later in the day that can literally carry you along in their wake. Basically, the early reconnaissance gives us a chance to scope things out, and if anything interests us, we can go back later for further inspection.

It's a plan, anyway.

I did see something I thought I'd never see.

I saw Lee Jessup get booed. Not Halloween booed, either. Sports booed, like what happens when you drop the winning touchdown pass in the final seconds of a championship game in a capacity-filled stadium. This occurred when Jessup — perhaps one of the best, most popular, most entertaining, quick-witted, off-the-cuff emcees anywhere — announced to the early-morning gathering at the Main Stage that this was his last year hosting the festival's opening ceremonies.


I'm not sure his decision is carved in pork. I think he was a little taken aback by the crowd's reaction and maybe there's a chance he'll reconsider. I mean, what's 45 minutes out of one day of the year? On the other hand, Lee and I are the same age and our accumulated sexagenarian experiences tend to add up over time. I know where he's coming from.

We'll see.

I'll be back, though. Sure, I may have slowed down some over 32 years. I cover a high school football game every Friday night, and the game the night before the festival can make enjoying Saturday's pig gala a real challenge. Which probably explains why I was napping in front of a college football game on my TV at 2 p.m.

But that's OK, too. My consecutive streak is still intact.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Whew, that went well

Sometimes, a minor miracle can pop up when you least expect it.

That's usually about the time you need one the most.

Ours happened Saturday night during the 14th annual Davidson County Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the J. Smith Young YMCA.

I say "ours" because I am one of 10 board of directors for the nonprofit organization, which was created in 2002 by indefatigable chairman Jim Lippard.

We usually begin plans for our annual induction ceremony sometime late in July of each year in order to give us adequate time to produce the actual gala, always held on the third Saturday of October.

This year, because both Lippard and his wife, Ann, were dealing with health issues, we didn't get started until late August. So there it is: we basically cut off a month of our preparation time. That may not sound like a big deal, but when you have to pick six or seven inductees, contact them, mail out biographical information forms, hope we get them back in time, write up biographies for the brochure, generate some sponsorship and anything else that creates the necessary background noise for a function like this, time is of the essence.

This year, our inductees were former Carolina Panthers fullback and Ledford star Brad Hoover; former Ledford and East Davidson wrestling coach Bobby House; current Central Davidson wrestling coach Jay Lineberry, former Thomasville and University of North Carolina linebacker Kerry Mock; Paralympian swimmer Jan Wilson (her right leg was amputated when she was 20), and posthumous inductee George Mauney.

On top of that, we were trying something new this year: recognizing the Unsung Hero, basically somebody who works devotedly behind the scenes in a community's athletic endeavor. Our inaugural recipient was iconic Thomasville booster Warren King.

Saturday night arrived, and the first thing I learned was that Wilson, who lives in Colorado Springs, CO, was unable to attend because of hip surgery. Uh-oh. Disaster was lurking.

Then the ceremonies began. Hoover told us how much he appreciated being recognized by his own community; House and Lineberry — both of whom were inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame earlier this year — expressed similar sentiments; Mock became personal, humbly thanking his family for his success.

Then it was Wilson's turn. The emergency plan would have been for emcee Lee Jessup to read her biography from the brochure, express regrets that she couldn't be here, and move on.

But Lippard had a better idea: he got out his iPhone and gave Wilson a call. In Colorado. After more than a few interminable rings, she answered. Whew. We had a connection. Jessup read her biography, and then Wilson responded — eloquently — for a few minutes as Lippard held the phone to the podium mic for all to hear.

It was an astonishingly moving moment.

And the moment continued.

When the board decided to induct Mauney, we originally thought there were no surviving family members in the area to accept his award. Fortunately, we were wrong. Betty Mauney Perryman, Mauney's grand niece, stepped up to the podium and offered several fond memories of her great uncle.

And then King was next. He's a septuagenarian with his own life challenges, and I wasn't sure what to expect. As a sexagenarian myself (hey, look it up), I should have known better. King walked to the podium, stood with his hands behind his back, and delivered — without notes — a brief, heartfelt thank you capped by a raucous "Go Bulldogs!" that nearly brought the house down. He was the public speaker I always wished I was.

Lippard himself was surprised by being presented with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine (see here), which only made the evening nothing less than perfect.

I feel like we sneaked by with one on Saturday. I think you are allotted only so many miracles — minor, or otherwise — before the sell-by date expires.

I just hope, as a board, we don't decide to hold our first meeting in September next year.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

My friend Jim

For an award that is so prestigious, it's a curious thing that there have been a whopping 17,810 recipients since the first Order of the Long Leaf Pine was issued by Gov. Terry Sanford back in June 1963. (See here and click on roster.)

That was 52 years ago.

If you do the math, that comes out to 343 recipients per year — or almost one per day.

Jim Lippard displays his Order of the Long Leaf Pine.
 Yet somehow, the recognition seems as humbling, as special, as well-deserved as any that there is. Indeed, it is regarded as the most valued award a civilian can receive in North Carolina. Recipients include the likes of Michael Jordan, Jim "Catfish" Hunter, Billy Graham, Dale Earnhardt, Dean Smith, Andy Griffith, and, locally, former Dispatch publisher and Barbecue Festival founder Joe Sink, civic leader Jack Briggs and artist Bob Timberlake, to name a few.

Now you can add the name of my friend, Jim Lippard, as the latest honoree. That happened Saturday night near the conclusion of the 14th annual Davidson County Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony when Lippard was surprised — totally and fully — as he was presented with the framed certificate by Rev. Dr. Lee Jessup and John Horne, both of whom set Lippard up with a comedy skit.

It's great when a complete surprise meets your full anticipation. The whole idea for the award came through the combined efforts of Lip's three daughters: Jamie Bell, Lisa Davis and Julie Barker. And let's not forget the full support of their mother, Ann.

Good job, ladies.

I can't think of a more deserving fellow. I've known Jim for about as long as I've lived in North Carolina, and that dates back to 1976. I was covering Post 8 American Legion baseball for The Dispatch, and Jim seemed to be haunting as many ballfields as I was. He was an amateur photographer — for Post 8, I guess — and he happily clicked away ballgame after ballgame.

Before long, he found himself as the Post 8 athletic director, taking over when Russell Craver — a founding father of the team back in 1945 — could no longer perform those duties.

Lippard faced a crisis when Jim Leonard Post 8 suddenly found it impossible to financially sponsor the team. Incredibly, Lippard — a popular and respected tailor by trade — became a ram-rodding fundraiser for the team. In the next two decades he scared up hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep Post 8 on the field. Some of it was his own money.

In 2000, he was inducted into the North Carolina American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame.

Lippard became commissioner of Area III in 2008, and the next thing you know, the North Carolina state championship series was held at Holt-Moffitt Field last year.

As if that weren't enough, Lippard was tossing around another idea: why wasn't there a Davidson County Sports Hall of Fame? Well, Lippard took care of that, too, establishing a hall of fame 14 years ago. Since then, well over 100 recipients have been inducted into the local hall. In 2009, Jim was one of them. He is now in his second stint as chairman of the board of directors.

So, yeah, there are 17,810 Long Leaf Piners out there. But every now and then, one of them stands out pretty large.

Congratulations, my friend.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

My reading list (cont'd)

A few years ago I registered for a library card, and nothing's been quite the same since.

I started reading books voraciously. Not that I hadn't before. But my reading list back in the day was mostly Civil War history, or World War II history, or sports, with very little room for great works of fiction.

Until one day I had to humbly admit to a friend that I'd never read "To Kill a Mockingbird," and here I was, an adult in his 60s. I felt the self-inflicted shame of having not been truly well-read.

But after I got my library card, I went on a rampage. Shortly after "Mockingbird" came "The Wizard of Oz," "Gone With the Wind," "The Great Gatsby," "Alice's Adventure in Wonderland" and a host of others that should have been on my summer lists back in high school.

I did read, back in my junior high years, William Schirer's monumental "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich," which took me all summer to get through. But, again, that was history.

Just to let you know, since Mockingbird and the others, my reading has continued unabated. Oddly enough, my reading of history has led me to explore new fiction — and vice versa.

A few months ago, I was on a Pearl Harbor kick. I read Robert Stinnet's "Pearl Harbor: A Day of Deceit," which tries to show (unconvincingly, I think) that President Roosevelt knew about the attack in advance in hopes to get an isolationist United States into the war to aid Great Britain in the struggle against Nazi Germany.

I read another book — I forget the title and the author — about the early years of the war and it made mention of an office clerk who typed dispatches at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. His name was James Jones, and he went on to write "From Here to Eternity," which I promptly checked out of the library. Great read.

Meanwhile, I was also checking out the entire Tom Clancy library over several months, trying to read everything chronologically written from "The Hunt for Red October" to "Command Authority." The guy did his research and he could surely put a sentence together. Wow.

A week or so ago, on a lark, I picked up "Trigger Mortis," a brand-new James Bond thriller written by Anthony Horowitz with the permission of the estate of Ian Fleming, who created James Bond. In it, the book made mention of No Gun Ri, a Korean War atrocity that I'd never heard of. In fact, I thought it was simply a plot invention to move the story along.

Until I googled "No Gun Ri" and I found this. Oh, my. So fiction had taught me some real history.

And I also got curious about Ian Fleming. I'd seen most of the James Bond movies, and so I had an idea that Bond was a cool, collected and rakish womanizer who could work his way out of any outlandish predicament.

But the other day I checked out "Moonraker," which was written by Fleming in 1955. What I discovered was Fleming was quite the wordsmith. Witness:

"To their left the carpet of green turf, bright with small wildflowers, sloped gradually down to the long pebble beaches of Walmer and Deal which curved off towards Sandwich and the Bay. Beyond the cliffs of Ramsgate, showing white through the distant haze that hid the North Foreland, guarded the grey scar of Manston aerodrome above which American Thunderjets wrote their white scribbles in the sky."

Jeez, that paints a picture. And Fleming could tell a story, too. The cinematic version of Moonraker (a moonraker is a sail at the highest part of a clipper ship's mast), while fun, is pretty ludicrous. Fleming's Bond, however, feels real and vulnerable.

It's a little bit funny how much I've taken for granted in literature — until I actually check out a book and read it. There seems to be surprises for me on almost every page.