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The SportsTalk Shop: LVC Expansion Proposal

October 8, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

 

LVC EXPANSION PROPOSAL

Last Wednesday, the presidents of the Lehigh Valley Conference  and Mountain Valley Conference  officially announced a merger of the two leagues for the 2014-2015 school year. We first mentioned the possibility of this event in January on our RCN Sports Talk show. We’ve also had different representatives from various parts of our viewing area discuss the “rumors” on our program over the last several months. I think the league presidents and school principals should be commended for coordinating a brief conference call to inform the local media and local sports fans of this major decision for the high school sports program in the District XI region.

Once the news of the merger became official, there was very little additional information presented. New league alignments, scheduling and other relevant issues were not discussed during the teleconference. The league officials instead stated that meetings will soon ensue to hash out all of the details. Without any indication of which direction this new league is headed, I would like to share my proposal on how the new conference could shake out.

THE ALIGNMENT
I can see three divisions based on geography, which would help in the area of travel expenses — an area in which some school districts have expressed concern. The divisions would be:
• Lehigh – Allen, Central Catholic, Dieruff, Emmaus, Parkland, and Whitehall
• Northampton – Easton, Freedom, Liberty, Bethlehem Catholic, Nazareth, and Northampton
• Monroe – Pocono Mountain East, Pocono Mountain West, East Stroudsburg North, East Stroudsburg South, Pleasant Valley, and Stroudsburg

THE SCHEDULES
For the sports that feature schedules with maximums of 20 or 22 games (e.g., basketball, baseball, softball), I would offer the following scheduling points:
• Teams will play the other teams in their division twice (home/home series)
• Teams will play three teams from the other two divisions once a year for a two-year cycle (home/home)
• Teams will play the “other” three teams in the following two-year cycle
• Teams will have four to six non-league games to play in tournaments and/or face teams from outside the area

For example, Allen Basketball would play Central Catholic, Dieruff, Emmaus, Parkland and Whitehall twice a year, and could play Pleasant Valley, Pocono Mountain East, Pocono Mountain West, Easton, Freedom and Nazareth once a season for two years (alternating home court during those two seasons). After the first two years, the Canaries could play the other six teams during the second two-year cycle. For football, you could do the following:

• Teams will play the other teams in their division once (alternating home field advantage each year)
• Teams will play two teams from the other two divisions once a year for a two-year cycle (home-and-home series)
• Teams will play four other teams (two from each division) in the following two-year cycle and the remaining four teams in the “fifth” and “sixth” year
• Teams would still have the benefit of one ‘non-conference’ game, in which they could schedule a team that don’t play that year, or can play a team outside the region (something I know head coaches like to have available)

For example, Pocono Mountain East could play their division rivals each season, and Liberty, Freedom, Allen and Dieruff for the first two seasons. For years three and four, they could play Central Catholic, Emmaus, Easton and Nazareth. For the next two years, they could play Parkland, Whitehall, Bethlehem Catholic and Northampton.

I think for some of the other sports, like wrestling, they could employ an idea of some of the other “super-conferences” and also incorporate the complex, but extremely effective, system used for districts. The “top-tier” wrestling programs compete against each other in one division, the “mid-level” wrestling programs compete in the second division, and the “rebuilding” programs compete in the third division. There are a number of wrestling tournaments that teams could incorporate into the “non-conference” portion of the schedule. I think the current committee has done an excellent job restructuring the District XI tournament in recent years. They could put a balanced alignment together that could be re-examined every two years, if necessary.

Please note: I am not a school administrator, and I’m sure each district would have individual issues that no doubt could arise and cause conflicts. I think our local athletic directors do an amazing and, most often underrated, job. This process will not be a simple endeavor. Nevertheless, I could see this as a starting point from which to work through other issues.

What are your thoughts on my proposal for the new league? What do you think the new conference should be named? Send your opinions and suggestions to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com. Tune in to this Thursday’s RCN Sports Talk at 6:00 PM as we discuss this issue and take a look at all of the fall high school sports news this season.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Anti-Poll Halftime Standings

October 1, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

 

“Anti-Poll Halftime Standings”

Hard to believe, but we’ve already reached the midway point in the high school football regular season. It’s time for our mid-term grades for the RCN Football “Anti-Poll.”

Before I give you my observations, we’ll first take a look back at some of the teams we’ve featured this fall on RCN Sports Talk, and let the coaches and players give you their insights on their respective teams.

Now, here’s my take on the teams in the RCN Eastern Pennsylvania coverage area I’ve had the pleasure of viewing in person, plus some views uncovered from my contacts throughout the region.

Grade: A
Imhotep, Garnet Valley, Penncrest, and Catasauqua
Footballstories Editor/Publisher Al Thompson pointed out on last week’s RCN Sports Talk that, at that time, no AAAA team in our viewing area was in the “Top 100” national polls this year. However, that doesn’t mean we haven’t had our share of dominant football teams. Expect to see all of these teams in the PIAA playoffs. Imhotep fans might be inclined to go ahead and buy tickets to the state title game. In the Lehigh Valley, the Rough Riders continue to roll. Their offense seems to be able to score on anyone, at any time, and in a variety of ways. The word is that their defense must improve if they want to advance to the state finals, which would mean they’d have to find a way to stop the powerful Imhotep offense. I’ll find out for myself when I get my first look at the Rough Riders when I announce their game against Pen Argyl next Friday night, October 11, on RCN TV.

Grade: B+
Bethlehem Catholic, Easton, Emmaus, LaSalle, Parkland, Ridley, Whitehall, and Upper Darby
Emmaus and Parkland have a ton of momentum right now. They are both coming off wins against the Rovers and Zephyrs, respectively. One could argue that the Hornets had the best chance of any of these teams to be undefeated at this point. Both of their losses came late in the game due to strange plays. Parkland’s Kareem Williams might just be the most dynamic running back in the Lehigh Valley, which is saying something because I’m a big Shane Simpson fan. I was impressed how Whitehall was able to run the ball against the Trojans. The passing game looked good late, although by that point, Parkland was mostly in a “prevent” defense. They must have some other offensive weapons develop consistency to make a deep run in the postseason.

Bethlehem Catholic’s only loss was an impressive showing against the Rovers a few weeks ago. They can make a major statement with a win this Friday against Whitehall (watch this game live on RCN TV at 7:00 PM). LaSalle, Upper Darby and Ridley all suffered tough losses to very good teams early. However, they have bounced back and remain very much in the hunt for a district playoff spot.

And Easton? You can find out for yourself how they are doing by watching RCN Sports Talk this Thursday, October 3, live at 6:00 PM on RCN TV. Head Coach Steve Shiffert and his players will be my guests on the show. Feel free to email your comments and questions to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com now and we’ll read and respond to your messages live on the air!

Grade: B
Southern Lehigh, Saucon Valley, Pen Argyl, Notre Dame, Northwestern, and Palisades
These teams have all played well and will most likely continue to do so. It will be difficult for any of these teams to vie for the Colonial League crown if Catty doesn’t get tripped up at some point. However, any of these teams could do damage in the district playoffs, as Pen Argyl proved last year. We’ll be focusing more on these teams on RCN Sports Talk on our October 10 and October 17 shows.

Grade: C
Nazareth, Liberty, Central Catholic, Palmerton, and Pius
Liberty and Nazareth have some major questions that they have to answer in a hurry to make the district playoffs. Don’t forget, at least two teams from up north must qualify for the District 2/4/11 Sub-Regional Playoffs. With both of these teams already having at least two losses, they can’t afford another “L” with half of their schedule yet to play.

Central Catholic is coming off a victory against Northampton. They have some major challenges coming up on their schedule, and are not locks to make Districts this year. Remember that Central refused a bid to play in the Eastern Conference playoffs several years ago. It will be interesting to see if the Vikings play ANY post-season games this year after several seasons of reaching the PIAA semifinals or better.

Palmerton played well but lost an offensive struggle to Palisades last weekend. A good effort against the Tigers this weekend can push them back into the top half of the Colonial League standings. Pius is coming off a solid win over Towanda, and can move back to .500 with a win against Wyalusing Valley Friday.

Special Award
Dieruff
I said after their first win that the Huskies are already the feel-good story of this fall season. Going five years without beating anyone other than their ASD rival, Allen, had not been fun. The entire Lehigh Valley football community was genuinely happy for those kids to get that first “W” after Week Two. The fact that their success on the field has continued has proven that they have exceeded everyone’s expectations — except, perhaps, themselves. Based on what they’ve overcome, I have to give them a weighted ‘A+.’ I’m looking for even more positive news coming out of Dieruff High School going forward.

What are your thoughts and observations on the first half of the high school football season? Which teams will have the best “Second Half?” Post your comments here and tune in to talk high school sports every Thursday at 6:00 PM on RCN SportsTalk, live on RCN TV.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Phillies Offseason Predictions

September 24, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

 

Phillies Offseason Predictions

Around this time for the last several years, we’ve done a segment on RCN Sports Talk  with all of our panelists making predictions on what moves the Phillies would make during the offseason. I can happily boast that most of my September suggested acquisitions (including Raul Ibanez, Jonathan Papelbon, Mike Adams, and Jim Thome) have come true during the following winter. (Full-disclosure: Most of those ‘correct predictions’ haven’t always worked out too well—like Adams and Thome). Nevertheless, with Ryne Sandberg now officially the Phillies’ Manager for 2014, I’d like to give my annual “Six-Step Offseason Game Plan” for Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. and company to consider for the upcoming months.

STEP #1: SIGN MATT GARZA
The Phillies desperately need a solid, right-handed #3 starter to begin the 2014 season. Sandberg has said in multiple publications that the team’s number one goal for next year is to improve the starting pitching. As the prize starting pitcher in this year’s free agent market, Garza will not be cheap. However, the Phillies’ starters not named Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee sported a collective ERA well north of 4.50 this year. Also, with Lee turning 35-years old during the next season, the Phillies need another quality, reliable starting arm for any kind of playoff run. Ricky Nolasco or James Shields might be the only other free agent pitchers that I would “settle” for, but all three names are going to command big bucks and a long-term deal. So for my money (and it’s not), I would spend the lion-share of my available budget by going after Garza.

STEP #2: ADD AN RH POWER BAT
Not since Jayson Werth migrated to Washington  have the Phillies had a reliable, middle-of-the-order bat to compliment Chase Utley and Ryan Howard (more on the latter in a moment). I saw Darin Ruf play quite a bit in Triple-A and with the Phils and saw the same issue. He needs to gain consistency in laying off low-and-away breaking pitches. I think it’s very possible he improves in this area, but believe it would be a mistake at this time to pencil him in as an everyday outfielder. With Dom Brown and a weak-throwing Ben Revere in the other spots, you need a better defensive outfield option to play every day. The problem is: How do you acquire a Giancarlo Stanton-type of player without having to sell the farm? I DON’T think they should give up on their extra depth by going after Stanton. That’s why I believe Philadelphia will try to sign Mike Morse—a player they’ve coveted in the past coming off a down year. Ruf could be insurance should Howard or Brown go down with an injury (both have spent time on the DL the last two years) and also in case Morse continues his slide.

ALTERNATE ‘STEP #2’ (DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU ARE SQUEAMISH OR A DIE-HARD FAN OF A SPECIFIC PHILLIES PLAYER): There is another possibility how the Phillies could add another bat for the lineup, but it would probably involve trading away a “core player.” I know the Phillies are high on both free agent outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo, but signing either presents a problem. Ellsbury is another left-handed bat on a team already top-heavy from that side of the plate. Choo is right-handed but not the “power bat” the team needs to add. In an offseason where the team needs to get creative to improve the club (and their outfield defense as well), don’t be surprised if one of these players are added. However, the signing of Ellsbury or Choo would require a higher-end player (either in salary or prospect status) to be dealt to free up either cap or roster space, while still addressing the team’s other needs.

STEP #3: RE-SIGN CARLOS RUIZ
Even if you DON’T like the idea of “Chooch” returning, consider the following – the Phillies’ 2014 starting catcher must:
1) Be right-handed
2) Handle pitchers well
3) Not be over the age of 36
Looking at all available free agents, those three requirements eliminate just about every free agent but Ruiz. I doubt Boston  will let Jarrod Saltalamacchia go and don’t think you can sign Brian McCann away from Atlanta. Even if you could sign the latter, you’d have way too many left-handed hitters. A.J. Pierzynski is too old to count on to catch 140 games. Dioner Navarro, although he rakes left-handed pitching, is not a steady defensive-minded backstop and will finish with a lower batting average than Ruiz. This might be the area the Phillies look long and hard to find a partner via the trade market, and would consider jettisoning away some of their young prospects. Unless they can find a quality backstop elsewhere, look for Ruiz to re-sign a one- or two-year deal.

STEP #4: ADD A SET-UP MAN
Despite the improved bullpen during the last two months of this season, I would not go into next season without a proven—and injury-free—reliever to help out in the back end of the bullpen. The Phillies have been fooled for two years now in thinking the younger players will fill-in all the available holes. Although I would now count on BJ Rosenberg, Jake Diekman and Justin DeFratus for roster spots in 2014, I would not assume they, nor any player coming off an injury, should be counted on for the eighth inning role. Again, it might be pricey. I would target a guy like Joe Smith from Cleveland, who boasts a career 2.98 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP (as of 9/18). I would estimate a three-year, $15- to $18-million deal to get this done.

STEP #5: RE-SIGN DOC HALLADAY OR KYLE KENDRICK
This might be the most emotionally-draining move of the off-season. With Miguel Gonzalez already signed for next year (and without anyone seeing him throw a pitch in the last several months), I don’t know how anyone could target him any higher than a #4 pitcher. It leaves room for just one of these two right-handers. Halladay is a Hall of Famer and was one of the premiere pitchers in the game for the last decade. However, his velocity actually decreased in his last outing at home and he didn’t show signs of making a strong adjustment with his new arm slot. Coming off a major injury, it will be hard for the Phillies to commit big dollars to him, unless Doc gives a big-time hometown discount and agrees to a heavily incentive-filled deal. Kendrick has been frustratingly inconsistent through his Phillies career and, until the last 15 games of this season, has been amazingly resilient health-wise. He was injury-free during his Phillies-tenure before having shoulder problems in September. He might cost $8 million to occupy the #5 spot in your rotation. But with young starters Jonathan Pettibone and Adam Morgan also coming off injury issues, you need to have another arm ready to be available to go for spring training.

STEP #6: FIND A QUALITY SWING-MAN
This was one of former Phillies’ GM Pat Gillick’s strengths: try to find someone who other people have given up on, give him an incentive-laden deal, and hope he performs for you. That’s where Amaro’s scouts will have to dig deep to find a low-risk, high-reward type of player who could either help out in the rotation or as a long-man out of the bullpen. If there’s one thing the Phillies painfully learned this year it was that just because you have a quality starting rotation heading into spring training, doesn’t mean it will STAY quality all season long. A little extra pitching depth is a requirement and could go a long way in helping the 2014 Phillies.

As hinted at with “Step #2”, it may not be possible to make all these moves without unloading salary, which brings us to the possibility of the Phillies trading Howard or Papelbon. Although it may not be probable, I would bet that Amaro will explore trade possibilities involving both of these players. If they do, following the above advice would help cover the team’s weakness should one or both players get moved.

What do you think of my offseason Phillies agenda? Which players do you think Philadelphia will—or should—add? Post a comment here and let us know in what direction the Phillies should go.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: High School Football “Anti-Poll” #2

September 18, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

 

High School Football “Anti-Poll” #2

Before we take a look at the smaller schools in our RCN viewing area, I wanted to congratulate a few of the bigger schools, in particular Emmaus, Dieruff and Bethlehem Catholic, for their efforts this past weekend. After my pre-season prediction that the Hornets would make the district playoffs, they needed a win over a very tough Central Catholic team on Saturday to get their first win and keep their post-season hopes alive. If they can build on the confidence they earned on their last minute drive and victory over the Vikings, I think they have a legitimate shot at being 2-2 and getting back into the playoff chase.

I’ve remarked for years how mentally tough those Dieruff Huskies are — continuing to battle despite losing talented players to follow other opportunities. Their hard work paid off Saturday with their first victory over a team (other than rival Allen) since 2008.

Although Becahi lost on Saturday night against Easton, I am truly impressed by Head Coach Joe Henrich and his troops for a close loss to Easton — a team I believe is the most talented squad in District XI right now. With a 2-1 start and a realistic chance to beat a few more teams in the coming weeks, look for the Golden Hawks to make a run at districts. This would be a tremendous accomplishment to a team many people thought might only get a win or two this season. It’s also a testament to Henrich and his belief in his program.

Now for the AA and A “Anti-Poll”  for teams in the RCN viewing area:

CATASAUQUA – I don’t know if there’s a team that will be able to slow down this group of Rough Riders until the state playoffs get underway. Any team that wants to win a PIAA title most probably will have to face powerhouse Imhotep. Catty really has too many outstanding players — pretty much everywhere — to start naming them in a single blog post. The opposing coaches I’ve spoken with so far this year say you pretty much have to play a perfect game while hoping that Catty has an off-night just to have a chance at staying with them. Yet even when Catty makes a mistake, they have so much speed that they can usually make up for momentary errors and prevent other teams from big plays. For more on this year’s Catasauqua football team, we’ll have Athletic Director Tom Moll on RCN Sports Talk  this Thursday at 6 PM.

NOTE: Moll will be among the athletic directors, league and district officials that will be on this week’s show. If you have a question or issue about high school sports, this Thursday is the time to tune in and gets your questions answered.

SOUTHERN LEHIGH – I know the Spartans are a 3-A school, but I didn’t get to mention them in last week’s Anti-Poll as I concentrated mostly on the LVC. In RCN SportsTalk’s High School Football Premiere show which aired September 5, I said that I thought Southern Lehigh has a legitimate shot at winning a title this year. The fact that they lost to Catty in Week Two makes it much more difficult to go after the league title. However, Central Catholic is not a shoe-in to make districts this season. If Becahi doesn’t qualify (they still have Parkland, Whitehall, Liberty, Nazareth among the teams yet to play), I think the Spartans enter the AAA postseason as the favorite among the Lehigh Valley squads, although Saucon Valley could have something to say about that.

PEN ARGYL – I would not be surprised if the Green Knights make the playoffs as the #2 team among the Lehigh Valley AA teams. Players like Ryan Lobb, Nick Oyer, Michael DePaolo and Brady Mutton are smart, talented kids who can adapt to coaches’ adjustments with the best of them. Not many coaching staffs in the Colonial League have put together better schemes than the Pen Argyl coaches over the last few years. It may not happen when they play Catty during the regular season, but I would expect a fierce battle once again if Roughies and Knights face each other in the playoffs this November.

NOTRE DAME – Notre Dame is one of several “feel-good” stories in the Colonial League this year, along with fellow 2-1 teams PALISADES, SAUCON VALLEY (a 3A team this fall), PALMERTON and NORTHWESTERN. The Crusaders have a brand new attitude amongst its players – which is sometimes the most important aspect of turning a program around. Head Coach Chuck Mueller has his kids playing inspired football. They’re coming off a tough loss to Pen Argyl, but I think they can certainly make a run at a post-season berth, which would be a major step forward for this team. The booster club has offered me the red carpet treatment if I stop by their practice (although I’m not really a red carpet-type of guy). I’m hoping my schedule allows for an opportunity very soon to talk Notre Dame football. It should make for a very interesting next few weeks with many of these one-loss teams yet to play each other.

PIUS – The Royals lost a one-touchdown game to a tough Steel-High team last weekend. Pius has a solid line anchored by senior Kyle Kokawski, and most of last year’s team is back. But the Royals might have another challenge on their hands as they face Dieruff, who has to feel good following their first win of the season. It’ll be a big lift for whichever team wins that matchup on Friday night.

We’ll check back with our local high school football teams in a few weeks for our mid-regular season “Anti-Poll”. Which teams would you like me to discuss for our next poll? As always, we welcome your comments on the above teams. Feel free to email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and join us LIVE, Thursdays at 6 PM on RCN TV as we talk high school football this fall.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Anti-Poll #1: The “Bigger Schools” (AAAA & AAA)

September 12, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

 

Anti-Poll #1: The “Bigger Schools” (AAAA & AAA)

It’s the debut of the RCN Sports Talk Anti-Poll! This poll is RCN TV’s response for satisfying your desire to rank high school football teams without all the stress and anxiety created by a rigid numerical ranking list.

This week, we will look at the bigger schools in the RCN viewing area (the AAAA- and AAA-classed schools) and provide insights on the teams I’ve been able to gather information on. As always, your feedback, opinions and criticisms are most welcome.

Here are the first week’s listings, in quasi-order:

HEAD OF THE CLASS

EASTON – I was not surprised that EASTON defeated Parkland in the Lehigh Valley Conference opener, but I was absolutely shocked at the score! I had attended both teams’ practices and noted a ton of similarities, including depth at the skilled positions, lots of size, athletic linemen, upbeat yet intense practice sessions, etc. The one thing that appeared to distinguish the teams was that the Rover players I spoke with clearly identified their specific weaknesses from last year that they needed to improve upon. They were also focused on working on those areas for this season. I would have predicted an Easton 10-7 or 14-13 score with the defense playing a huge role; however, I never envisioned a 17-0 start and a 24-0 whitewash. I’ve asked quite a few people to point out to me the weaknesses with this year’s Easton team and very little has been uncovered. Quarterback Brad Wilkins seems very poised with outstanding abilities to lead his team to greater heights. Guys like senior linebacker Justin Best are underrated and quietly do an outstanding job—qualities shared by many Rovers this season. If they can keep any off-the-field issues at bay, I think it’s clear that the Rovers are the favorites to contend for league and district title honors.

WHITEHALL – WHITEHALL also surprised me in that they seemed to have a number of weapons but didn’t employ many of them against Liberty … but when you have Saquon Barkley running for touchdowns of 33, 41, 47 and 50 years, I guess there was no reason to.  I think they’ll be quite a bit of different Zephyr heroes this fall.  Whitehall’s offensive and defensive lines, presumably a weakness at the season’s outset because of their youth, look to be in mid-season form.  I think any battle between Whitehall against Easton or Parkland could have major playoff implications this season.  Don’t be surprised if things don’t stay vanilla and we see some “wildcat” formations, lots of fake punts and the like.

PARKLAND – I would also keep PARKLAND in this category. For the second straight year, they started off the LVC season facing the pre-season favorites of the RCN Sports Talk team. They quite possibly could go on another run culminating with a district championship and state playoff appearance. One could argue that this year’s Trojans are actually better than last year’s team, with a tandem quarterback combination and an extra year of experience for their returning players. Eli Redmond and Kareem Williams have returned in the backfield, with Najee Redmond replacing Jarel Elder’s spot. Many of the standout defensive stalwarts like Nezar & Omar Haddad, and David Barber and company are back. I believe in Legend Boyesen’s confidence and think he will be a major playmaker by the end of this season. The only thing the Trojans might need now is that extra fire I saw last season (or, if you’re a fan of the “Rocky” movies—the “Eye of the Tiger”). I saw a crazy swagger among last year’s team. It wasn’t cockiness, but confidence. Players like Xavier Roden, Paul Tajiri, and Shawn Heist walked around that field on defense like they owned it. Zach Gurinowich would pose for the RCN camera after every sack, and things like that. As a unit, they delighted in taking people’s heads off. However, they always kept their emotions from getting out-of-control and focused on the field. Once that returns, look for a more even contest should they face Easton in the postseason.

Before we continue, here are more insights and other views on our top teams:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pOs6qgbD8cs&feature=youtu.be

A WIN THIS WEEK WOULD HELP…

LIBERTY – This team looked solid at times against a very good Whitehall team. However, they had three MAJOR issues last week: 1) special teams, 2) penalties and, 3) they couldn’t stop the run. While they don’t have to face Barkley again, they do have Jordan Grey and Shabbar Bokhari to deal with this Friday. First year Head Coach John Truby has to work quickly to create a scheme to at least slow down the Blue Eagles’ running attack. Against State College, the ‘Canes tried to bunch the middle, but couldn’t duplicate that against the Zephs. Even with all of Liberty’s speed, the spread offense of Nazareth creates matchup issues. This could result in even more havoc for them as they try to avoid dropping to 0-2 in the league. Not sure why issues #1 and #2 kept reoccurring last Friday. I actually thought the younger players looked more hesitant with KJ Williams returning than they did in their season opener. While I believe Doug Erney did a nice job balancing the football between all of Liberty’s speedy wideouts, I expect them to try to get Williams (5 catches for 44 yards, with several catches nullified by penalties) in more one-on-one situations to make plays and utilize his athleticism.

NAZARETH – I stopped by Nazareth’s practice this week in anticipation of their game against Liberty this Friday (airing on RCN TV at 10:00 PM).  The rumor I heard was that this year’s Nazareth team has the best offensive line under Coach Rob Melosky’s entire tenure – perhaps one of the school’s top lines of all time. I asked him directly about the truth to this rumor while I was at the practice. After hiding a big smile and stating that he doesn’t like to compare one team to another, he did admit that he is VERY happy with his offensive line and the way they have performed thus far. He has two great running backs and an underrated (if not skilled) quarterback in Spencer King. Nazareth SHOULD score a lot of points. The obstacles this week will be in trying to catch Liberty’s speedy wideouts and controlling the tempo to limit the Hurricanes’ possessions. However, the fact that the Eagles like to spread things out (unlike Liberty in their defeat against State College) could give them the advantage.

FREEDOM – The Patriots have had some ups-and-downs recently and are looking to develop consistency. Unfortunately for Freedom they have a very tough opponent in Whitehall this Friday night (airing on RCN TV, live at 7:00 PM).  Last week, their defense saved the day against the Vikings when senior safety Jared O’Donnell’s interception returned for a touchdown was the game-winner. Unlike the rest of the league that seems to be utilizing their speed to kick start a dynamic offense, the Patriots are using their size and experience on defense to make a postseason push. Those same senior defensive players tell me they have some very young playmakers that have outstanding potential. If the underclassmen continue to develop (or in the case of sophomore Roberto Diez, gets healthy) in a hurry, they could have a bright future sooner rather than later. While everyone’s attention, and rightly so, is on Whitehall’s Barkley, Ryan Bonshak, and Nick Nejad, Head Coach Jason Roeder liked what he saw from Quarterback Jeff Charles against Liberty last week and think they have to keep an eye on him as well to have success Friday.

*Note: Both Nazareth and Freedom’s coaches and players will be interviewed on this Thursday’s RCN Sports Talk show.

DESPARATELY SEEKING A WIN

RIDLEY – I think I might have snake-bit Ridley by targeting them for my first-ever Shout-Out feature on last week’s RCN Sports Talk show. After an impressive season opener, they lost to Conestoga by one point for the second straight season. They have a game with a very tough Garnet Valley coming up this week. A win would put them right back in the running for a league title. According to their fan Twitter account, @PhilMarionField, they are 41-14 in games following a league-opening loss. However, the Green Raiders have never beaten the GV Jags in consecutive seasons. They need to pull off a win to avoid a much more difficult trek to a district playoff spot.

CENTRAL CATHOLIC – The post-McDermott era is on and the team is still trying to find its offensive stride. The Vikings extremely underrated defense from a year ago is back and should keep them in contention for qualifying for a AAA playoff berth. With Bethlehem Catholic off to a 2-0 start, Central Catholic will have to start putting up some W’s very soon if they want to continue their “just get-in & win” pattern. In the last few years, they’ve had to fight just to make the district playoffs and then dominated once they qualified.

EMMAUS – I was very impressed with new Head Coach Randy Cuthbert when we had him in our studio a few weeks ago. I am also VERY surprised that this team is currently 0-2. With all the speed and athletes they had returning and a ‘not-the-toughest opponents’ schedule to start the season, I really thought they would be AT LEAST 2-1 after this week. I will be seeing the Hornets this Saturday to learn more about them (airing on RCN TV at 9:30 PM), but with Easton, Parkland, Liberty, Nazareth and Whitehall still to come, this could be a very long season if they don’t post a win this weekend.

That’s all the space I have for this week’s edition. I hope to focus on more teams coming up. Again, your feedback, comments, or complaints are welcome to be posted below. Feel free to email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and join us live, Thursdays at 6:00 PM on RCN TV as we talk high school football this fall.

Next week: “Smaller Schools” in the RCN “Anti-Poll.”

 

The SportsTalk Shop: The New “RCN Sports Talk” Football ANTI-Poll

September 4, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

 

The New “RCN Sports Talk”  Football ANTI-Poll

THE TIME HAS COME FOR REBELLION!

For the past several decades, RCN TV has featured a high school football poll on various sports shows.  The poll first appeared on “This Week In Sports“, and later became a regular feature on “RCN Sports Talk“.  As Lehigh Valley sports writers and broadcasters are often praised for their outstanding high school football coverage, I have always taken pride in the “RCN Sports Talk” poll results.

In the RCN High School Football Poll, RCN TV’s sports announcers  vote for the top “big schools” and “small schools” within the Lehigh Valley.  In addition, guest voters – athletic directors and football coaches in RCN TV’s extended viewing area – are invited to participate in the poll.  This ensures that the poll yields objective results.

In nine of the eleven years that I have tracked the results, our pre-season “big” and “small” number-one teams have won either a league or district title – or both.

However, before I can give a pat on the back to our collective staff (as I don’t make scholastic predictions), I would like to highlight some of the interesting – and sometimes embarrassing – issues that have surfaced.  For example:

  • Newspaper X and Newspaper Y picked School A lower than School B.  The coach at School A then chewed-up the sports writer from Newspaper Z for not picking his school, failing to realize that Newspaper Z had actually picked School A to win.
  • Geometry has NOT been a good basis for predicting teams. In the results of one year’s poll, schools A, B, and C were picked as top teams.  School A beat School B, and then lost to School C.  School C then lost to School B.  Which team was the best?  More often than not, it was School D.
  • One coach told me that the reason his team had a successful year was because I didn’t pick his team and stated that they had no hope of winning a playoff game.  I found his comments amusing.  In my nine years of hosting “RCN Sports Talk“, I have never made a win/loss prediction for any scholastic game, let alone rip a high school program as he claimed to have heard me say when I made my supposed poll pick.
  • The polls can also aggravate local football fans.  Last year, four of our six voting announcers (did I mention I don’t make predictions already?!) selected the Pen Argyl Green Knights as the team to beat in the Colonial League.  The Green Knights then went on to win several district and state playoff games.  Strangely (and I admit THIS ONE annoyed me), two other media voices commented during Pen Argyl’s play-off run that no one in the area thought that Pen Argyl would make it to the post-season.  And that Pen Argyl’s championship win was completely unexpected.  Thank you to the numerous Green Knights’ fans who brought this to my attention.  I was thrilled and, quite frankly, impressed, that so many people remembered the RCN TV predictions from August.

(Curiously, all records of any of RCN TV’s incorrect predictions were burned in a mysterious fire – the same one that enveloped all of Joe Craig’s incorrect “Stone Cold Predictions” over the years.)

So what is my point?  These ranking polls and their accuracy mean NOTHING.  They’re for amusement purposes only and should be taken as such.  Local media members do an exceptional job bringing local sports to audiences – perhaps better than any scholastic region in the country.  The polls are meant to add some flavor to our coverage, and nothing more.  The steam that can erupt from the coaches’ and players’ ears when they learn that their ranking is below their team’s rival would be better served powering a small kitchen appliance than trying to get back at someone for “disrespecting them for their pick.”  This brings me to my rebellious decision:

For the first time in the history of RCN TV (including in its previous entities), we will NOT be doing a high school football poll this fall!

Oh, the horror… the nerve!  What gives Chris Michael the right to make a solitary decision and destroy decades of polling insights?  How will people sleep at night without an RCN high school football poll?

Okay, calm down.  I’ve spent months coming up with an idea to help you cope with this drastic and sacrilegious course of action.  My solution is:

The ANTI-Poll.

Not very inventive, I know.  And it could probably use a flashier name, with better SEO opportunity.  However, it’s the best I’ve got.

In lieu of a ranking educated guesses about the top teams in Lehigh Valley high school football, every two to three weeks, I’ll produce a random list of area teams based on impressions, facts, insights, etc., that I and other, more knowledgeable area football insiders observe.

The purpose of this insurrection?

To enhance RCN TV’s coverage of the sport, spotlight exceptional performances and give a few opinions on our local teams (in which I would not shed if you disagree with any or all of them).  Perhaps I’ll even add a morsel or two of information that you may or may not have heard in your travels and pigskin viewing.  And all this will be done without belittling students, putting down programs and disrespecting–TTTHHH teams, or any of the other comments I’ve heard from people who get angry at these rankings.

Feel free to email me your input at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com.  I’ll be happy to read and even incorporate your opinions into the analysis during the course of the season.  Or you can state your case in person by calling in during  “RCN Sports Talk” every Thursday at 6 PM.  You can campaign, lobby or push for legislation to reverse this dramatic action, or get your local politicians involved for a complete reversal of this policy in time for Opening Day 2014!

But until then, please remember the premise, and keep it light this fall.

After all, it’s just for sport.

The SportsTalk Shop: Charlie Manuel & Eagles Preview

August 27, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

 

Charlie Manuel & Eagles Preview

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

– A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

Probably the greatest opening line in literature, the start of one of my favorite novels. It’s a phrase I sometimes ponder during the more hectic times of my professional year.

It is a wonderful time right now. There’s excitement over the new football season. The MLB pennant races are kicking in. The NBA and NHL seasons are right around the corner. All of the fall college and high school sports are kicking in. So much to talk about and cover. It seems there just isn’t enough time to do all the sports justice. This was especially the case this past Thursday, coming on the heels of Charlie Manuel ‘s dismissal as the Phillies manager. In addition, there was all that we had to discuss with the local Eagles/Phillies beat writers on our RCN Sports Talk show, not to mention squeezing in a few high school football comments as well.

Because of all the great expertise of Mike LoRe and Brad Wilson, the hour flew by. Time only permitted a few minutes on many different topics that needed to be addressed. Here’s a clip of just a few of the items discussed (to catch the entire program, it will be available on RCN On-Demand for the next several weeks), as well as some bits of information that the men shared this us off-air that we didn’t have time for.

Other Eagles / Phillies notes:

• The Eagles are still approximately $20 million under the cap and they CAN defer that money to next year.

• For the first time, perhaps ever — Joe Craig (our resident Eagles Homer) is not optimistic for Chip Kelly’s first year and has his Birds predicted to win less games than I do (I’m going with 9 and a playoff berth).

• Our panelist seems to hope that Rich Dubee doesn’t return as the Phillies pitching coach next year, with multiple examples of former/current players that have had poor experiences with Dubee and much more positive results with current bullpen coach Rod Nichols. Brad also doubted that Dubee’s possible departure would sway Roy Halladay in his decision to return in 2014.

• I tried to limit our panelists’ “Phillies Wish List” for improvement for 2014 to three items, but they all agreed it’s going to take more than just three ‘significant’ free agent signings to make this team a serious playoff contender. I don’t see how they can make many trades to add big time talent, with only Jonathon Papelbon as a legitimate big trade bullet. How much they could get in return for him hinges on how well he rebounds on the mound this September.

What are your Eagles’ predictions? Your thoughts on Charlie Manuel and expectations for this fall? Post a comment below and tune in each week to talk sports on Thursdays with us.

Happy Labor Day everyone!

The SportsTalk Shop: Evan Turner

August 19, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

Kudos to the RCN Marketing Department for staging a coup for us!

They arranged for an exclusive one-on-one interview with the 76ers’  staring forward and the former 2nd-overall draft pick Evan Turner  for us, and the interview came on the heels of the Sixers announcement that they FINALLY named a head coach! (Watch Evan’s reaction below when I ask him about the long process).

Before we talk about the on-the-court issues, I asked Evan about (and give him credit for not ducking those questions — including the one on his own future with the team as he’s in his last year of his contract), a quick word about Mr. Turner and his camp. I’ve been to a number of camps with pro and former pro athletes, and I was very impressed with the way that Evan conducted himself with the youngsters. He genuinely seemed interested in the kids and spent TONS of time talking with them (one youngster must’ve had his ear for at least 25 minutes). He never blew anyone off, answered everyone’s questions, and never once—even briefly—acted like he did not want to be there.

He spent time working on drills with his staff (his supporting coaches also really seemed to do a great job), and had some fun with them during individual drills (the kids, of course, loved it when he dunked). It was very nice to see an NBA star be very humble and very accommodating to his fan base. Over the last few years, we’ve gotten a number of people who say they no longer have interest in the NBA. We’ve had more than one viewer call it a “thug league,” based on some of the athletes who bring guns into locker rooms and wear gangsta clothing while on team trips, et al. I myself have never had an issue with a 76er player or a member of their organization (I covered them regularly for four years), and was happy to see that Evan did nothing to divert that opinion.

As far as the interview, we listed a few of the questions below, with the rest of the interview to be show on this Thursday’s “SportsTalk” show at 6 pm and on RCN On Demand for your viewing pleasure.

What do you think of the 76ers off-season moves, the hiring of Brett Brown as head coach, and Evan’s future with the team? Do you think he’ll ‘step-up’ with the new regime, or should the team “tank” for a higher draft pick? Post a comment below and email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and we’ll address your comment/questions on our next program (our Aug. 22nd show will also include beat writers discussing the Eagles/NFL issues, the Phillies & Charlie Manuel’s departure, and high school sports preview features).

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Paul Bunyan Lumberjacks

August 13, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

 

“Paul Bunyan Lumberjacks”

I must admit–when I was a kid, I always thought it would be fun to work at a fair.

Going to the Allentown Fair and other local carnivals always seemed like a fun place to hang out, and I thought it would be neat to travel around the country to new locations for a week, meet new people, host games or do some shows for several days, and then move on and do it again in another new area.

When I was first asked several years ago to do our live “RCN SportsTalk” show from the Farmerama Stage, I didn’t know how a live, local call-in show would work at this venue, especially since the Fair occurs at the absolute WORST time of year to do a show with sports celebrities—both local and national. While it’s certainly no bed of roses to plan and prepare for our three shows from the Fair, preparation actually starts in late winter. I think after a few years of putting it together (and being blessed with some wonderful guests), I begin to look forward to these programs. Aside from working hard trying to coordinate and ensure that we have the best possible shows, I’ve actually learned to have some fun myself.

In recent years, we’ve had former NFL players Chuck Bednarik, Artie Owens & Bo Orlando on our show, race car drivers and experts from Grandview Speedway racing, and awesome performances by local cheering squads to name just a few. However, I never had an experience like we had in 2012, when I had the honor of hosting our show featuring Lee LeCaptain and the Paul Bunyan Lumberjack Show. It was completely unrehearsed (HONESTLY!). I really didn’t know what to expect and had great anxiety—especially when I went to do an on-the-spot interview, on live television, with a man I knew was going to make me throw an ax in front of a large crowd.

I was happy with the result (the clip is below) and the RCN-TV crew (which is not an easy group to impress), actually was shocked that I hit the target while not striking any innocent bystanders in the throwing process (which is what I thought would happen).

We are honored to have Lee and his crew back for an expanded role on this year’s “SportsTalk” show at the Allentown Fair, featuring a new live demonstration along with an interview with Lee. Lee truly impresses me with his conversations and vast experience from performing all around the world, in addition to his team. We’re also pleased to have Randy Kane, Mike Feltenberger and race car drivers (and their cars!) back with us again, plus more cheerleading groups and other special shows at the Farmerama for our “SportsTalk” shows on August 27th, 28th and 29th starting at 6pm.

We hope to see you out at the fair! Please post comments below on what you would like to see Joe Craig perform for this year’s demonstrations (you’ll notice on the clip, that he claimed a ‘hip injury’ to stay on stage and steer clear of my throwing lane, which we’ll not accept for this year’s events).

The SportsTalk Shop: Eastern PA Leaders

August 5, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

 

Eastern PA Leaders
There are some wonderful people in the RCN viewing area who quietly do work that often goes unnoticed, and as much as possible, I’d like to try to identify their efforts as much as possible on this blog and on our “RCN SportsTalk” program.

The first one—and I can prove that I’m not trying to suck-up here—is my son’s T-Ball coach, Dave Fries.

Actually, and I’m optimistically saying you could probably insert the name of hundreds of names here who silently do work for our young people with any recognition or financial rewards, but I want to give Coach Fries some attention.

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For anyone that has spent time around three-, four-, five- and six-year olds, trying to keep them on the field (forget being focused on the game itself) is a major chore. Kids that age can have the attention span of a gnat and trying to teach them the finer points of America’s pastime can be more than trying. Add the complete lack of pay and working a full-time job, a family, mortgage, et. al, the extra burden of youth coaching may not seem worth it. But Coach Fries was extremely patient with the kids and did his best to give instructions throughout the season—even if most kids seemed more intrigued by playing in the dirt behind second base.

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I purposely waited until his season was over, and got word that he has officially retired from t-ball coaching before I wrote this post to avoid any bias. Truly, he had the patience of a saint, and I think he’ll be very hard to replace when my son goes out for the team next year.

Speaking of identifying unsung heroes in our community, former sports writer Joe DeVivo is running a very special golf tournament for the second straight summer—an event in which he turned a tragic event in his family’s life, into a fun outing that’s used to help out local students.

The second annual Joseph J. DeVivo Memorial Golf Tournament, which pays tribute to Joe’s dad, who was abducted from his home in the Poconos and murdered in 2012, was held on Sunday, July 21 at Country Club of the Poconos in Marshalls Creek (because of a technical issue, we weren’t able to post this prior to the event). Last fall, thanks to the generosity of individual and corporate donors, we established the Joseph J. DeVivo Memorial Scholarship Fund and were able to raise $9,000 for Ashley Kennedy, a graduating senior at East Stroudsburg North High School.

Last year, they gave out 135 prizes, so practically everybody got something. Most won 3 or 4 prizes and one woman won nine. They have a large number of very good raffle prizes again including tickets to the Aug 4 NASCAR race at Pocono Raceway, baseball tickets for the regional minor league teams, greens fees to a variety of golf courses in Northampton County and the Poconos, “Day at the Races” packages and numerous restaurant gift cards in the Lehigh Valley and the Poconos. More information is available on its new website (click on the tourney’s name above for the link).

Who are some other community leaders and coordinators who deserve some notice? Post your suggestions below as we try to salute people who very quietly do wonderful work in our area.

 

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