Saturday, December 31, 2005

Introducing R. Jackson Harris (The #1 event of 2005)

Without a doubt, the number one event of the past year was the news that Michelle and are expecting our first child in May. After a week or so of figuring that we were pregnant but not wanting to get our hopes up too high we finally tested mid-September and confirmed what we had suspected. Two weeks ago, we went back to the doctor for the 18-week ultrasound tests and confirmed that it will be a boy.

Ronald Jackson Harris, due May 24, is named after his grandfather and great-grandfather, solidifying a tradition of "Ronald J. Harrises" in our family: my grandfather is Ronald Junior Harris and my father is Ronald Jay (a tradition, Michelle readily points out, does not include me). He will be called Jackson, both to reduce the confusion in our family (I have a number of cousins named Ronald) and because Michelle and I both like the name Jackson.

I am alternately excited and overwhelmed. While there are days when I can't imagine how difficult it will be, and can't quite get my mind around the huge responsibility that goes with raising a child, there are many more moments of anticipation and excitement. Michelle has nannied professionally, so she has a better handle on what this will be like than I do. But, since our neice Kayla (pictured) was born 19 months ago, I've found that watching a child grow up is a whole lot more interesting and fulfilling than I would have imagined.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Cruising through Katrina (The #2 event of 2005)

Three weeks before we found out we were expecting Jackson, Michelle and I found ourselves in staring into the eye of the storm. Little did we know that the storm that caused us a little inconvenience and a lot of adventure would create such devastation just a few days later.

There is a reason that Atlantic and Caribbean cruises are a lot cheaper in August than they are most any other time of year: the threat of hurricanes. We knew that when we booked the 3-day cruise to Bermuda, but we figured the chances of a hurricane hitting the Florida coast that very weekend weren't particularly high. And I wasn't even sure I would enjoy a cruise. It didn't matter how big the boat seemed to be, I expected that I would feel like I was, well, stuck on a boat. So I certainly wasn't going to pay twice as much to go in February. So we gambled on August.

Our cruise was scheduled to sail on Friday, August 26 and it became clear by Tuesday night that there was a good possibility that Tropical Storm Katrina was going to mess with our plans. We were planning on flying to Ft. Lauderdale on Thursday so that we would be in town in time for our departure.

We'd been told that cruise lines run their ships on time and don't cancel excursions until the latest possible moment, so with the storm winding up we had two options: Wait until the storm passed and hope the ship didn't leave without us (it was becoming clear that we wouldn't be flying Thursday) or get to Florida ahead of the storm, so that if the storm passed Thursday, we'd be in town for a Friday departure. We decided to try to leave Wednesday and after a mad scramble to change our flight, pack and get to the airport, we made it on what ended up being one of the last flights into town before the storm.

Thursday morning, we awoke to a couple of startling reservations. First, we must have landed in the worst Ramada Inn in the US. Seriously, it smelled, the AC barely worked, the TV didn't work, and security had to let you in and out of the lobby after hours. Second, the ship wasn't going to be coming back to port as scheduled-- the storm had slowed and was now scheduled to hit in the evening, instead of the early part of the day--and we weren't going to be able to embark until Saturday afternoon.

Well, we weren't staying in that sty for two more days (they didn't even have wireless internet in the rooms, the indignity!). So we scrambled to find a better hotel with available rooms, get back to the airport before it closed to rent a car, and did what any sane couple would do--drove straight for the beach to watch the storm roll in.

Watching a hurricane roll in was pretty cool. Besides TV reporters (including the Telemundo correspondent pictured above), there were quite a few surfers and tourists running around. In one little community that was otherwise boarded up, one beachside bar remained open and was full of vacationers and locals who decided that was the place to watch the storm come in. We stayed at the beach for a while, until I realized that wearing shorts at the beach when the wind was blowing at 60 MPH was not the most comfortable option. I was finding sand embedded in my legs for weeks.

We got back to our hotel just in time for the power to go out, so Michelle and I spent the night in the dark, reading by flashlight. We were smart enough to go to a local Wal Mart (and you think it's busy at the stores here when we get!) and get water and a flashlight, but not smart enough to get food. So around 8:30pm, at the height of the storm, we set out for the Moonlight Diner--only restaurant around that stayed open throughout the storm. Dodging treetops as they rolled like tumbleweeds down the road was a little hairy--not to mention the call from my mother that came while we were at the restaurant telling us not to go out because there were reports of two deaths in the city--but we survived to tell about it.

After another day running around Ft. Lauderdale looking for something to do (there was little power the day after the storm) we finally got to the ship for our cruise Saturday afternoon. The cruise was fantastic. It really was as relaxing and entertaining as everyone said it would be. I had a lot more fun than I expected. Too bad it was cut a day short because of the hurricane. On Sunday, we spent the day at a small island called the Blue Lagoon snorkeling, swimming, and laying in a hammock. We also spent a couple of hours in the spa getting massages, lost a few bucks in the casino (I had been ahead, just not by enough to quit), and generally had a great time (the photo above is from dinner on the ship Sunday night). Easily one of the most adventurous and relaxing vacations I've ever had.

It was sobering, however, to sit in the airport on Monday waiting for our flight and watch the first reports of the devastation in the gulf from the same storm that we had--dare I say--enjoyed just three days earlier.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Niagara (The #3 event of 2005)

The #3 event on my Top 5 countdown of 2005 was the vacation Michelle and I took to Niagara Falls and Toronto the last week of May. The trip was somewhat of a surprise for me, as Michelle had mapped it out and planned the itinerary without telling me about it ahead of time.

We spent two days at the falls, three days in Toronto (including two forgettable Red Sox/Blue Jays games), and another day in Lansing, Michigan at my aunt's 65th birthday party.

It was Michelle's first trip to Niagara Falls and essentially my first trip too, as I had been when I was five years old but remember little about it. While the falls are beautiful from the shores, we took the walking tour down to the hurricane deck beneath the American Falls. It might be the only time that I have literally had my breath taken away, as the rush of wind and water was enough to leave me gasping for air. Like the feeling of shock you get in your lungs when you jump into a cold pool of water, except without being submerged.

In Toronto we were also very much tourists, taking in the basic sights like the CN Tower and Casa Loma. Michelle had also planned for us to see the Red Sox play the Blue Jays while we were in Canada (she picked the week for that reason) and while that seemed like a good idea at the time, the Red Sox decided that it was also a good time for their vacation, losing 6-1 and 8-1 the two nights we were at the Rogers Centre.

I posted a number of pictures from that trip back in June.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Crusaders qualify for the playoffs...again (The #4 event of 2005)

Since joining the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association in 1991, the SLA girls basketball team had struggled through 12 seasons without a winning record (and just one .500 campaign--a 9-9 record in 1993-94) before qualifying for the District playoffs for the first time with a 12-9 record in 2004.

In 2004-05, the Crusaders made it two straight playoff appearances, finishing tied for eighth in the district with a 13-8 mark. It was only the second time an SLA basketball team had qualified in consecutive years, the other being three straight appearances for the boys' team from 1995-98.

We started slowly and had a difficult time assimilating seven new players into our system, limping to a 1-5 mark after the first six games. But once the players became more comfortable with each other, the wins kept coming, as we finished the season winning 12 of the last 14, before bowing to a high-powered Hopedale squad in the first round of the playoffs.

I was as proud of the 2005 team as I was of the team the year before that had broken the losing streak. When I returned to coach the team in 2002, I told the girls that I hoped to create program that could play at a high level and that could sustain that level of success. When we won our 10th game in 2004, it was one of the proudest moments I've had as a coach. It meant everything to me that the team and the school had achieved a level of respect in the athletic community that it never had. Simply put, no one could call SLA losers anymore. Qualifying for the playoffs for a second consecutive year was just as fulfilling, as it meant that we could sustain success, and had build a program that could compete on a regular basis.

While we have struggled to make up for the losses of our two all-time leading scorers (Jill Linthwaite and A'Lisa Lashley) and a player (Amber Jones) who would have easily broken their records had she returned for her Junior and Senior years, the program has continued forward. In the spring, SLA joined six other Christian and Charter schools to form the Worcester County Athletic Conference. After 14 seasons as an independent, SLA finally has a conference affiliation. Being a member of a conference of schools of similar size and philosophy will give our students an opportunity to compete against other players of equal skill, make scheduling opponents and administering the program easier and more efficient, and help keep the program competitive in the future.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Hiking the Mid-State Trail (The #5 event of 2005)

Michelle and I set a goal during the winter to attempt to hike the Mid-State Trail. The trail is a 92-mile walking trail from the New Hampshire state line at Ashby to the Rhode Island state line at Douglas. We did not complete the trail, but did make it to the Barre Falls Dam, just short of half way.

The trail was difficult in spots, easy in others, and beautiful most all of the way. The photo at the right is looking south along the trail from Mt. Watatic to Mt. Wachusett, a hiking distance of about 25 miles. You'll notice that there is still snow on the slopes of Mt. Wachusett; we began hiking in early April and some wooded sections of trail still were snow covered until nearly the end of May.

We had determined that we were going to continue to hike nearly every weekend through the summer, cutting the trail into six- or seven-mile segments. We did well until our resolve was broken among a parachuting spiders and swarms of mosquitoes welcomed us one mid-June afternoon. No amount of Off! was enough to rid us of bugs by the hundreds. While we escaped without many bites, we found that subsequent weekends were overbooked, or too hot, or the Red Sox were on, or something just came up and we weren't available to keep hiking.

Photos and logs of many of our hikes were posted in the spring and are available in the archives.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Tahanto 39 SLA 22, from the Item

This loss to Tahanto puts us at 0-4. Bill Marsh of the Clinton Item has the details. I snipped the first half of the article, which deals with the boys' team loss:

Stags sweep SLA
By Bill Marsh

With its win over SLA, and its 40-17 loss to Whitinsville-Christian on Wednesday night, the Tahanto girls own an overall record of 2-2. SLA is 1-2.

Stags junior forward Abbe Erle led her team with nine points. Junior Nikki Scott scored eight points for Tahanto, and junior guard Chelsea Blackmer netted seven.

The high scorer for SLA was junior Rebecca Barcelo, who scored nine points.

The Stags got off to a fast start behind the scoring of Erle, Scott, Blackmer, and eighth-grader Brandi Richmond. Tahanto led 25-8 at the half.

In the second half, both coaches substituted freely.

SLA sophomore Anny Cunha and Blackmer both had 3-pointers in the game.

"We just played our up-tempo game (against SLA)," Tahanto coach Kim Dufresne said. "We ran the floor. "I thought Nikki Scott had a big game, and Abby Erle had a big first half," she said.

"We lost three of our starters from last year," SLA coach Lance Harris said. "Two graduated, and one moved. Most of the girls are inexperienced players, but we look to improve as the season progresses."
I think I'll program a macro that plays that quote back when anyone shakes my hand until the end of February.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Maynard 52 SLA 22, from the Item

The Crusaders' season is under way and we're off to a tough start. I'm going to try to post articles about the team in local papers, etc. as they appear. This one is from The Clinton Item, Friday, December 16.

SLA loses Tip-off consolation game
By Craig Holt

MAYNARD - The gritty South Lancaster Academy girls' basketball team went down with its collective heads held high during Wednesday's clash against hot-shooting Maynard High in the 2005 Basketball Tip-off Classic consolation match at the Tigers' gymnasium.

The upstart Crusaders, graduation-depleted and youth-laden, never led and had trouble getting the ball over half court early on en route to a 31-point halftime deficit. Despite this, South Lancaster battled hard in the second half, found itself a bit offensively, and hung tough. SLA eventually lost 57-22.

The win was the first of the year for the Tigers, who are now 1-1. The Crusaders, who suited up just eight players, slipped to 0-2.

With several key players gone from last year's club, and little depth on the bench, South Lancaster faced an uphill battle from the start. In short, the time-honored "getting-to-know-each-other" scenario, with new individual responsibilities tossed in for good measure.

"We lost our two leading scorers from last year, and we also lost our point guard," South Lancaster coach Lance Harris said. "So, players are getting opportunities they haven't had before. As they get more comfortable out there, they'll improve.

"Physically and mentally we have some abilities, but people are being asked to do some things that they've never done before," he said.

The outcome negated a standout defensive effort by South Lancaster center Rebecca Barcelo. Though she went scoreless, Barcelo blocked 12 shots, including four in the game's first 3:55. She also altered many other shots, most notably on in-the-paint put-backs and drives.

Ironically, Barcelo's first-half defensive dominance came when her team was struggling offensively.

"Rebecca Barcelo is the one player who returned from last year, and she had a real good game defensively," Harris said. "She started most of our games last year at center, and she was a pretty good defensive player last year, too.

"Her play in this game was definitely a plus for us," he said. South Lancaster was led by Jaenia Fernandez' 10 points. Fernandez, a guard, drained eight of her points in the second half, including a long 3-pointer. Two of Fernandez' second-half hoops came on back-to-back possessions.

Amber Manning scored seven points, while Megan Jones had five. Only three players scored for the Crusaders.

Ashley Poh paced a balanced Maynard attack with 13 points. Kara Morgan and Jaclyn Pileeki funneled home eight points apiece.

The Tigers took control quickly, grabbing an 8-0 lead with 13:53 to go in the first half. Poh led the way with a perimeter pop and a runner in traffic.

Fernandez answered with a layup before the hosts again got hot, taking advantage of several South Lancaster turnovers forced by Maynard's man-to-man press to put together a 12-0 run. Pileeki capped the splurge with a short jumper, giving the Tigers a 20-2 advantage with 10 minutes to go in the half.

Maynard went on to maintain a 36-5 lead at the intermission.

South Lancaster scored just two field goals in 16 minutes. Jones contributed a layup and a free throw. The Tigers continued to click in the second session, substituting freely and scoring from all angles.

However, Manning put in six points down the stretch to cut into the Maynard advantage.

"It's going to take some time for us to get where we want," Harris said. "Over the long haul, we'll improve, though we'll struggle at times. It's still early.

"We were a bit nervous in this game," he said. "If a player is put in a position where she has to contribute in ways that she never has before, she's going to get nervous and have some butterflies."

South Lancaster lost 35-22 to Tahanto in its opening-round game. Barcelo led the Crusaders with a game-high 10 points. Manning and Jessica Malcolm scored four points apiece.

The writer was both charitable and quoted me accurately, although the reference to Rebecca should read "the one starter who returned..." not "the one player..."

Thursday, December 1, 2005

Cam Neely is not walking through that door

My latest, at BSMW Power Play, on the Bruins trading Joe Thornton:

In the first few hours after Joe Thornton was traded to the San Jose Sharks for Marco Sturm, Brad Stuart, and Wayne Primeau, many media reports were comparing the trade to the deal in 1975 that sent Phil Esposito to the Rangers for Brad Park and Jean Ratelle. While that is an obvious comparison because of the positions involved (a star forward for a front-line defenseman and a 20-goal scorer), my first thought was to the Barry Pederson trade of 1986.

At this stage in his career, Thornton bears some similarities to Pederson at the time he was dealt. Both were first-round draft picks; Pederson was 25 years old at the time he was traded, Thornton is 26; and statistically, they were remarkably similar. Between his 20th birthday and the day he was traded, Pederson recorded 403 points, Thornton 406.

Chart 1.JPG

A couple of things stand out in the comparison. First, while the points are nearly even the comparison doesn’t take into account the difference in playing styles between the NHL of the early 80’s—where players routinely recorded 100 points, and the clutch-and grab era in which Thornton played all but 23 of those games. The other item that stands out is Joe’s 529 penalty minutes, a fairly health sum for a player who has been called soft by some of his critics.

Those same critics point to Thornton’s lack of a strong performance in his playoff opportunities as a symptom of his softness. While I don’t subscribe to this point of view, the comparison to Pederson’s playoff performance is stark:

Chart 2.JPG

So if the players are similar, how do the trades compare? Trading Pederson to the Canucks for Cam Neely and a draft pick (which became Glen Wesley) turned out to be one of the most one-sided trades in NHL history. Neely became a hall-of-famer, and although Wesley is best remembered in Boston for missing the net in game 1 of the 1990 Cup finals, he has been a #1 or #2 defenseman for most of his 18 seasons.

Pederson had two 70-point seasons immediately following the trade, but then tailed off drastically as he fought injuries following the 1987-88 season. Although he did not retire until 1992 (as a Maine Mariner!), Pederson never appeared in another playoff game after being traded from the Bruins.

The Pederson trade was a high risk deal, in the sense that they received a player without much of a track record in the NHL, and a draft pick. While the Bruins were rolling the dice in 1986 that Neely would become an all-star and they’d be able to turn a high draft pick into another solid player, the 2005 Bruins are trading for known quantities. All three players the Bruins received for Thornton are in at least their sixth season, and all are older than Thornton.

Another difference is that in 1986, Harry Sinden made the trade because he believed that Neely could come to the Bruins and make a difference. In the November 30 issue of The Boston Globe, then scout Bart Bradley said as much: ''O'Reilly had called it quits, and we needed that physical presence, a fighter. We were figuring Cam for maybe 25-30 goals a year, and we wanted that toughness in the lineup to replace Terry. We got the toughness, and a whole lot more goals than we figured."

Compare that to Mike O’Connell, who said last night that “We felt we needed to shake up the team…” Are the Bruins making this trade because they see some talent in Sturm and Stuart that San Jose couldn’t maximize? No, they’re going for some mythical “shake-up.”

Had the Bruins traded for three 21-year olds with huge “upside” this deal might be more palatable to Kevin Paul Dupont’s “teen angels, fan boys, and stat geeks.” But they didn’t. They traded one of the best players in the NHL for two solid players and a mucker, not for their potential, but “to shake up the team.” Rarely does trading a star player in a panic make things better. I’d be surprised if this trade is the exception.


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