What CENTAUR SEASONS Can Teach the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers U. Seriously

Posted on Apr 05, 2013

Today, Centaur Seasons takes a break from TALKING WITH JOHN WOODEN, its multipart March Madness series of never-before-heard conversations with the UCLA legend. (Come back Monday for the Final Four final installment.)

No, today Centaur Seasons is going to wade into the morass that is the Rutgers University/Mike Rice basketball-coach fiasco. (Surely you’ve heard.) I think that much of what Centaur Seasons has been about these past six months — the striving, the trying, the not exactly winning a whole lot — can find application here.

But to get there, some personal history.

I am the “father of sports blogging.” Really. Well, actually, the full quote was “the UNWITTING father of sports blogging.”

I was so dubbed in 2008 by Michael Gluckstadt an editor at Gelf Magazine and the host of Gelf’s Varsity Letters sports reading series. Mike declared me so for my efforts as the first writer of a brand new sports column The Daily Fix — at The Wall Street Journal’s then-nascent online efforts.

It was August 2001. A time which within just one more month would already feel like a long time ago. The idea for the blog belonged to Bill Grueskin, now the Dean of Academic Affairs and Professor of Professional Practice at the Columbia School of Journalism, but then the wsj.com major domo. Why not write an online column, Bill posited, that would direct Journal readers to go to other newspapers to read what other writers thought about the sports stories of the day?

A radical idea then (the unwitting part), even if it doesn’t seem so now (the father part). There was little out there like it. Maybe nothing.

And Bill gave me the gig. He appointed Jason Fry (who now blogs here) as editor.  Go, he said: Figure it out, find a voice, have fun. Boy, did we. I Loved it. Did it for a year. Best. Job. Ever.

Fast forward to this week and the ugliness that is the Mike Rice video  (here, on the off chance you haven’t seen it) and the Sturm und Drang it has created at Rutgers and, indeed, across the country.

This story was tailor made for The Daily Fix — talk of the nation! — and it so far has weighed in twice.  On Wednesday with this, “Rutgers Re-evaluates Rice Decision,” by Jeremy Gordon and on Thursday by David Roth with this, “Rutgers Changes Course, Fires Rice.”

Jason Gay, also of the Journal, independently weighed in with his own terrific take on the blunders, under the headline “What Was Lost at Rutgers.”  It would’ve been bad form for The Fix to call attention to itself, as it were, so allow me, self-proclaimed “Original Fixer,” to do the honors instead — applying the rubrics of The Fix to a Centaur Seasons’ blog.

” … [I]t would be useful,” Mr. Gay writes in Thursday’s paper of the coach’s belated firing, “to take a step back and consider the broader picture, which is how a school with presumably good intentions could get to this point, how its sense of priorities and values could become so skewed it took the public airing of a videotape for people in charge to do the right thing.”

And then a moment later he avers:  “Intoxicated by sports, a school lost its way.”

In was Mr. Gay who inspired me to reach back into my bag of Fix tricks to find some lessons in past Centaur Seasons posts and apply them to the here and now.

Forty years ago, at a brand new Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales in Center Valley, Pennsylvania, we Centaurs did not lose our way. No way.

“We were just happy to be able to play the game, to play it as hard as we could,” says Jerry Wilkinson, a senior co-captain when I was a sophomore, in this post about the first day of practice on October 15. Hard to forget where you were and why you were there, Wilk says, when you realized how lucky you were to be there at all: “I really enjoyed playing the game with my teammates — at a level I never suspected I would ever play.”

Chris Cashman, a four-year Centaur stalwart and one of the team’s most important leaders, talked about the values he learned while a Centaur at Allentown College in this post about a bus trip to an away game where (in fact!) we did get lost. “’The things I learned, the values I learned,’ Cash said, ‘I learned there’ – and then. ‘I don’t know if I would have learned it at Villanova. I don’t know if I would have learned it at St. Joe’s or Harvard or Yale or Fordham.’ A lot of colleges, he said, offer a lot of similar experiences. But with Allentown being so new — and we new to it — it was like we were ‘born there and grew up together.’”

And, finally, this.

“In a crazy way, in the purest sense of the word, it was just playing the game for the love of the game,” said Joe Thomson in a blog post about Centaur Seasons that I was invited to write for D3hoops.com. And Joe has it right.

Though don’t get me wrong. We Centaurs at Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales in Center Valley, Pennsylvania, back then, we would have LOVED to have been big time. Heck, we would have settled for some bigger small time.

Instead, we were who we were. And that’s fine.

“There weren’t a lot of externals,” Joe Thomson said in my D3Hoops essay. “We weren’t getting money, we weren’t on scholarship. We didn’t have to worry about who was getting all-conference. We just played. We didn’t like the losing, but when we did we just got ready for the next game. To me it was pure sport. We were just a bunch of guys playing ball.”

How much you wanna bet Mike Rice — and the Rutgers University Scarlet Knights — would like to get themselves back to playing the game like that?














On April 5th, 2013 at 3:35 pm, Wilk said:

As you know I like phraseology, and there were some good ones here. I always thought rubric was a proper noun. I remember when Lefty D at Maryland started the Midnight Madness practice (at least I believe he did). As we practiced on the first allowable day, not time, 18 hours later, we discussed what a nut case he was. I am sure most of his team missed class that day.



Welcome to CENTAUR SEASONS: A ‘memory blog’ of the basketball beginnings of a half-good, half-bad, all-new college team.

Once, I was a Centaur.

I played basketball for Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales in Center Valley, Pa. I was on four of the school’s first seven teams, was MVP senior year and in 1974 graduated in the fifth class.

My junior year I kept a diary: A History of the Events of the 1972-1973 Allentown College B-Ball Season, as Chronicled by, and With the Personal Memoirs + Occassional [sic] Philosophizing of the Author, One Stephen J. McKee.  One-hundred-forty-five hand-writ pages. (Yes, I was an English major.)

But it occurs to me now: Were I today a “Bulldog” playing for “DeSales University” (both mascot and name changed in 2000), my private “History” would be not a diary but a blog.

So starting November 30  “…Personal Memoirs…” will be re-imagined as CENTAUR SEASONS

A blog before its time, posted 40 years after in real time.

Meanwhile, beginning on September 24, here at CENTAUR SEASONS the preseason has already tipped off, with stories, interviews and reminiscences of the people, the place and the purpose of those early years of Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales.

Check back often. Sign up for CentaurSeasonAlerts. Email CENTAUR SEASONS to friends.

We were not a bad team, we Centaurs. We just weren’t very good. Winning was always the goal, if never exactly the point. How could it be, with victories so few?

Back then Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales was a couple of buildings in some cornfields.  Our commitment to the school’s basketball program was far greater than was the school’s commitment us. So what? We got to play college ball – and paid for the privilege! In return, we got to be part of a team, wear the red and blue, be Centaurs. And we got to create a place that was, right then, as much concept as it was college, making itself up as we went along.

What we got was a once-in-a-life-time chance.

All we had to do was keep showing up -- next practice, next game, next season. And so we did.