Saturday, December 2, 2017

Another Western State Adds Varsity Lacrosse


For several years I've contributed lacrosse articles to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). This week I wrote up an entry on the movement of the College of Idaho's men's lacrosse program from a club program within the MCLA to a full varsity program in the NAIA.

It's a noteworthy development as it's the first collegiate varsity program in the state's history, roughly 135 years after the sport established itself at a handful of eastern colleges. Here's a link to the article. - TF

Monday, November 27, 2017

At Fenway, Another Year of Football


The Green Monster provides the back drop to QB Darius Wade (photo / Icon Sportswire)
There was no football played at Boston's Fenway Park from 1968 to 2015. Now it has returned in abundance.

On November 21, 2015 the Boston College Eagles faced Notre Dame at Fenway and fell, 19-16. After a year off, the park hosted this season's "Fenway Gridiron Series" that included three college games followed by a trio of high school football matchups.

The six games were played from November 10 through November 22 and were kicked off by an Ivy League contest pitting Dartmouth against Brown. It was a lopsided affair, with the Big Green handling the Bears, 33-10.

Next up, it was the Maine Bears who faced the UMass Minutemen and dropped a 44-31 decision. BC then played UConn in the only all-FBS contest. The Eagles looked comfortably at home in the tight quarters of Fenway and handed the Huskies a 39-16 defeat.

Although renown as the home of the Boston Red Sox, Fenway has played host to football dating back to 1912 and served as the home of the Boston Patriots from 1963-1968. During the Depression it was home to the precursor to today's Washington franchise, the Boston Redskins (nee Braves).

UPDATE: It was just announced that the 2018 Harvard vs. Yale game (aka 'The Game') will be played at Fenway Park.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

At 91, the Carolinas' Oldest Rivalry Shows No Signs of Slowdown

Asheville School's Arbogast Field (Photo / T. Flynn)

Note: This article was originally written for the Asheville Citizen-Times

ASHEVILLE, N.C. - Last Saturday, under gray skies and with a light rain falling, the Asheville School Blues and Christ School Greenies faced each other for the 91st time, this year at the Blues' Arbogast Football Field.

Approaching the field, Richard Jones, a first-year teacher at Asheville School, prepared to announce the rivalry from the Blues’ press box. He described the annual pep rally and bonfire that precede the Christ School game each year. “Our seniors come down the hill from the gym and are the first to light it,” said Jones. “It’s an amazing spectacle; I’ve never seen a bonfire quite like that before. This is my first year here and I’m happy to take part in these traditions as a new faculty member.”

The field and its surroundings comprise a scene straight out of John Irving’s New England, with the Blue Ridge rather than the Berkshire mountains as a backdrop. Arbogast is flanked by trees on three sides and a hill that winds back up to the school on a fourth. The bleachers are minimal on either side, and the press box to which Jones is heading is in fact the middle tier of three-tiers of scaffolding, with planking overhead the only protection from the elements.

Down the hill to the left side of the field, the Greenies are assembled on the sideline in their visitors’ white jerseys and pants topped by green helmets.

Paul Krieger, the headmaster at Christ School, is among the team’s faithful that extend back from behind the team along the curve of the track to the foot of the hill. For Krieger, this is his 18th year experiencing the rivalry.

 “It’s a focal point of the year for the kids. The game comes at the end of a very exciting week. We have all kinds of festivities on campus,” said Krieger. “There’s a lot of spirit building and it culminates with today.”

The game is the oldest high school rivalry in the Carolinas among public or private schools. It was first held in 1911.

“There are certainly ebbs and flows,” said Krieger when asked about what he’s seen over his nearly two decades at the school. “Asheville School had the advantage for a number of years and we’ve had a good run recently. It’s more about the festivities and the character-building and the excitement of playing in a big game.”

As kickoff neared, the captains of the opposing squads, four apiece, marched out to midfield for the coin toss as the rain continues.

A minute into the game a herd of Christ School students came charging from behind a low rise to the side of the end zone hill. Most are wearing white Greenies’ baseball caps and all are roaring as they approach.

On the field, senior Blues’ quarterback Ahmad Galimore assembles his huddle. Galimore also plays defensive back, punts, and returns kicks for the home team. Asheville School, heavy underdogs in this year’s game, has an early drive stall out at the Christ School 35.

Just beyond the end zone nearest to the school, Stephanie Gibbs makes her rooting interests clear with two large green buttons pinned to her jacket, adorned with the numbers 10 and 75. They are the jersey numbers worn by her sons, junior running back Sidney Gibbs, and sophomore lineman Saevion Gibbs. It’s her first experience of the game as her sons are recent transfers from Owen High School.

“I love it. They’ve grown so much as young men,” said Gibbs of her their experience to date at Christ School. The conversation is abruptly interrupted by a shout of “Go, Sid!” as #10 comes sweeping around the corner toward the end zone in plain view of his biggest fan.

After the first quarter, the Blues at 4-5 are holding their own against the 7-1 Greenies and the game remains a scoreless tie. It’s Gibbs who puts the first points on the board with a touchdown early in the second quarter.

Around the bend in the track to the Blues’ sideline, Carter Starkey, 9, stands near the side of the end zone with his face and hair painted with blue stripes. He’s sporting a navy blue Asheville School shirt, blue and silver beads, and a pair of inflated Asheville School noise makers that he’s putting to good use.

“It’s really exciting to see the Blues play against their rival,” said Carter who confesses that basketball is his first love when it comes to sports. His father Dave is nearby and his mother Leslie works in the school’s College Office. When asked how long it took to get Carter fully outfitted to root on the Blues, the elder Starkey replied, “Preparation began hours ago.”

On the field, the Greenies have moved to a 13-0 lead behind a touchdown pass from junior quarterback West Shuler. Shuler is the cousin of injured starter Navy Shuler and nephew of former NFL quarterback and current Greenies’ assistant Heath Shuler.

On the next series, Galimore tries to return fire as he quickly hits Nick Albritton for a long gain up the left sideline in front of the Christ School bench. He is drilled on the play, but limps forward with the squad up to scrimmage.

The next play, however, is an interception that takes the Greenies to the Blues’ one-yard line. Another Christ School touchdown, this one on a keeper from Shuler, has the visitors suddenly in command, 20-0, after a silent first quarter.

The Blues answer this time. Connor Davis, in at quarterback, hits Galimore, lined up at wide receiver, in the back of the end zone for a score. By halftime, the Greenies own a 28-6 lead.

At the break, players from both teams walk to the far end of Arbogast. There are no locker rooms, and in a rivalry dating back more than a century, the setting remains decidedly old school as they sit in neutral corners just beyond the end zone.

The Greenies quickly move to a 35-6 lead after halftime ends. Gibbs remains at her post beyond the back of the end zone as her son Sidney helps march Christ School into place for a field goal that has them up 38-6, still in the third.

The ensuing kickoff is taken by the Blues’ J.P. Schill, a linebacker and all-conference receiver for Asheville School who is also the son of head coach Gus Schill. Along with Galimore, he sees nearly constant service on the field.

As he looks up toward the descending kick, a swarming pack of Greenies converge en masse toward him. Schill, uncowed by the 32-point deficit or the pack, plunges headlong into their midst, fighting for a few extra yards to start his team’s drive. The intensity of the collision reflects the intensity of the rivalry, unabated by the score, or with time. With 3:10 in the third, Christ School's lead hits 47-6.

A late drive by the Blues advances the ball down to the Christ School 11, as a slew of Greenies in clean jerseys now man the defense. An interception ends Asheville School’s shot at a late morale-boosting touchdown with 1:14 left in the game.

After the final whistle, the two teams walk out to midfield, with some Christ School players wearing green sideline capes that would have been right at home at a rain-soaked Giants-Packers game at Yankee Stadium c. 1962.

At midfield, the Fayssoux – Arbogast Trophy, named in joint honor of former Christ School coach Richard Fayssoux and Asheville School coach B.H. Arbogast, is presented to Christ School athletic director Scott Willard.

Willard paraphrases John Wooden’s famous “It’s courage that counts,” quote to the larger crowd before turning his direction toward his team. “We have playoffs coming up, but right now, let’s say we hold onto this for one more year.” The Greenies shout their agreement in unison as he presents the trophy to the team and its head coach Mark Moroz.

“This is a rivalry game, you can throw out records,” said Moroz as he walked with the trophy in hand toward the scoreboard for a team photo. “You can see in the first quarter our guys were not ready. Anything can happen in these games, but I’m proud of our guys for holding together.”

On the far sideline, Gus Schill is now out on the field mixing with fans, players, and parents. J.P. is his third son to play for the Blues, with older brothers David and Michael now graduated.

“That’s a fine football team over there. They’re well-coached, their school is behind them, and they’re doing a great job,” said Schill. “Our hat is off to them. I think Christ School could very easily be undefeated. I think they have a really good shot to go to the championship.”

He then praises Galimore, his quarterback, and the versatility and leadership he’s shown this year after arriving at the school as a receiver. He also acknowledges the hard work of his son, J.P., and the rest of the Blues’ squad.

“Obviously we’d rather the results had been different,” said the younger Schill, who approaches from behind his father. “It’s always a blast playing in the oldest prep rivalry. I have a certain pride in being a football player – that’s something very special to me. We’re undersized, but we do what we can and we always fight.”

Monday, October 16, 2017

Varsity: Football in the Mountains

(Photo / Colby Rabon / Asheville Citizen-Times)
ASHEVILLE, N.C. - I've been fortunate to report on a handful of 'Friday Night Lights' affairs for the Asheville Citizen-Times in recent weeks. The games provide a glimpse into a town and its people, as they turn out to support and celebrate their teams. I've found the people of the mountain towns of western North Carolina to be very welcoming and very knowledgeable of their football.

Here are a few links to recent games that I've covered. - TF

Monday, September 4, 2017

Outdoors: Running WNC's Point Lookout Trail

The c. 1885 Andrews Geyser (Photo / T. Flynn)
OLD FORT, N.C. - Twenty miles east of Asheville is the McDowell County town of Old Fort, North Carolina. It's tucked just inside the Eastern Continental Divide as it's intersected by US I-40.

Before I-40 existed there were two incarnations of NC Highway 70 that provided an East-West route through the western portion of the state. On the outskirts of Old Fort a stretch of the original has been closed down, turned into a trail (of sorts), and renamed Point Lookout Trail. Point Lookout was a tourist stop on the highway that Model-T's and their drivers could pause for a scenic respite from their ascent. Surely, many of those same cars gave up the ghost beneath the strain. Hopefully they reached Point Lookout first.

On Saturday, I set out for a run on the roughly 3.7 mile stretch of pavement that constitutes the trail. Due to little research beyond how to find it, I didn't realize that it's entirely uphill when undertaken from the Old Fort side. A silver lining is that the second leg of an out and back is all downhill.

An alternate route back along Mill Creek Road yields an excellent view of Andrews Geyser, an 1885 fountain built by a no-longer existent hotel. It signaled to passing train passengers that they had reached the Blue Ridge Mountains. It remains as an impressive a sight now as it surely was then.

It is a win/win in return choices as running back down Point Lookout Trail could readily yield a PR in the 5k if you clock out at 3.1 miles. As you return downhill, stay to your left as you will have plenty of time to see bikes laboring uphill (as they will to see you), but little if any notice if a cyclist enjoying a deserved breakneck descent approaches from behind. - TF

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Analysis: 2017 MLB Draft Top 10 Recap

Royce Lewis was the first overall pick of the 2017 MLB Draft (Photo / Nick Wosika/iconsportswire.com)

ELKRIDGE, Md. - After presenting a DraftWizard mock 2017 MLB Draft Top 10, we're following up with a recap from the program's developer, Aidan Cain. DraftWizard was intended to determine the likelihood of a player moving up the pro ranks, not to predict drafts, but we took the opportunity to learn more about the top players through the unique lense of the program. With that, here is Cain's follow-up analysis. - TF

The MLB Amateur Player Draft concluded with some interesting picks throughout the top 10, and with the signing deadline now past, we'll take a look at the results.


Many variables are considered within a draft room before any given pick - from raw skills and statistics to intangibles reported by local scouts. The DraftWizard application attempted to emulate the draft room while focusing on three variables - player profiles, historical data, and perceived team needs. DraftWizard selections compared well with those of Major League Baseball, predicting correctly that six of the ten players that made the top 10 would land there.

DraftWizard Top 10 
1) Kyle Wright - RHP
2) Brendan McKay - LHP/1B
3) Hunter Greene - RHP/SS
4) Alex Faedo - RHP
5) Adam Haseley - OF
6) Royce Lewis - SS/OF
7) Shane Baz - RHP 
8) Alex Lange - RHP
9) Jordan Adell - OF 
10) Tanner Houck - RHP

MLB Top 10
1) Royce Lewis - SS/OF
2) Hunter Greene - RHP/SS
3) Mackenzie Gore - LHP
4) Brendan McKay - LHP/1B
5) Kyle Wright - RHP
6) Austin Beck - OF
7) Pavin Smith - 1B
8) Adam Haseley- OF
9) Keston Hiura - 2B 
10) Jordan Adell - OF

*on both lists
   
Among the 25 candidates considered by DraftWizard, three were absolute locks to be selected within the top 10 - Hunter Greene (2 - MLB), Brendan McKay (4), and Kyle Wright (5).

More interesting selections that DraftWizard had pegged as top 10, included Royce Lewis (1), Adam Haseley (8) and Jordan Adell (10)


Lewis, taken as the one-one pick in 2017 was the top prep hitter-only in the draft. It looks like Minnesota selected him, expecting to sign him for under slot value and have more money to spend later in the draft. He signed for $6.6 Mn, compared to the $7.7 Mn pick value and the excess cash was then used to sign Blayne Enlow in the third round for $2 Mn (his slot value was $755,500). Contracting strategy here is similar to what the Phillies did last year when they selected Mickey Moniak first overall and is a variable that DraftWizard doesn't attempt to incorporate.

Speaking of Philadelphia, the Phillies took Adam Haseley eighth overall, as the second outfielder in the draft. According to DraftWizard, the former Virginia Cavalier is the most likely outfielder to make the major leagues. Given he was MLB.com’s fourth-rated outfield prospect it seems that the Philadelphia front office found value in Haseley in sync with the DraftWizard analysis.

The last match, and arguably the most surprising, was outfielder Jordan Adell. He was the lowest-ranked position player that DraftWizard deemed a top 10 pick. Taken as the tenth selection, Adell was only rated 21st on MLB.com’s top draft prospect list. DraftWizard’s automation found his profile to be far more likely to succeed than even the sixth overall pick, outfielder Austin Beck.

Ultimately, DraftWizard was not built to predict mock drafts and anticipate which team will select which player. It is instead designed to determine players who, based on historical data, are most likely to climb the professional ladder to the majors.

Its optimal use would be assisting MLB front offices with draft selections by providing raw data to support a decision when selecting between one player or another. The effectiveness of the application can only be judged by future player successes in advancing through Major League systems. 
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Another Western State Adds Varsity Lacrosse

For several years I've contributed lacrosse articles to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).  This week I w...