Friday, June 30, 2023

Insight: The most positive person I’ve ever known

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

I’ve heard people say that being with your family is the place where you can be your most complete self and for some, maybe that’s true. For me, I was blessed to have had an aunt who fit that bill and more.

Jeanette Baker, left, with her
sister-in-law Harriett Pierce and
nephew Ed Pierce on Easter
Sunday 1955 in Rochester, 
Jeanette Baker was about the kindest and funniest person that I’ve ever known, and I was fortunate that she married into our family and was my favorite aunt. When she visited, she’d always slip me a piece of hard candy or when our family went to her home, she had a supply of Coca Cola or Archway Raspberry cookies as treats for myself and my brother.

Her laugh was contagious and sort of built slowly to a crescendo that filled the room. And she was seldom without a comforting smile, which invited you to confide in her what was troubling you so she could offer some practical advice.

In all the years of being around her, I never heard Aunt Jeanette speak badly about anyone or anything. She was genuinely a positive person and that attitude persisted even after she suffered a stroke later in life, her husband died, and she was forced to move into her son’s home because of her declining health and mobility issues.

It could not have been harder for her as her son and his wife ran a daycare from their residence and she was constantly surrounded by dozens of children all under the age of 5. She put up with screaming, temper tantrums and a bevy of little people running in and out of her personal space, but she never frowned, raised her voice, or complained.

When I first started driving, I would make it a point to stop by the department store she worked at for a dose of her positivity. She always gave me a big hug and made it a point to tell me how proud she was of me and that I was studying journalism in college. She would remind me that her sister, Doris Laubscher, worked for a community newspaper for 35 years.

“The world needs story tellers,” she once told me. “And this is what you are meant to do with your life.”

It was uplifting to observe her positive interactions with her department store customers, no matter if she was selling bath towels or a set of glassware. She treated each customer like they were members of her own family and went out of her way to make them feel like they were the only shoppers in the store.

Even after I served in the U.S. Air Force, graduated from college, and started working for a newspaper in New Mexico, every Christmas season I would receive a card from her, updating me about her new grandchildren or great-grandchildren, and how she was doing. I looked forward to those Christmas cards each December because she never wavered in her support for me.

Every trip home that I made included a stop to see Aunt Jeanette. We’d sit for hours at the kitchen table reminiscing about days gone by and then l would always take her to Tom Wahl’s, a nearby restaurant for a ground-round hamburger, French fries, and a frosty mug of root beer. She talked about my paternal grandfather, who had died when I was 2, and told me interesting stories about her late husband, my uncle Bernie.

Of all my family members, Aunt Jeanette was truly someone who understood the complicated relationship I had with my mother and her advice to me usually was to overlook questionable comments that my mother would make. She said I needed to remember that my mother had experienced many difficult challenges in her life but that deep down, she was a good person.

Aunt Jeanette lived for at least five years on her own after Uncle Bernie died in 1995, but it became increasingly difficult to manage alone and that’s when her son, Bernie, Jr. and his wife, Lynda, brought her to their home to live with them.

I was living in Florida and working for a newspaper in November 2012 when I received word that Aunt Jeanette’s health had taken a turn for the worse and she was in the hospital. She passed away at age 89 in January 2013.

When I posted on Facebook about how saddened I was by my aunt’s loss, I received surprising encouragement from a classmate, Peggy Muhs, whose locker in eighth grade was right next to mine. Peggy sent me a Facebook message and told me that she admired my Aunt Jeanette too. It seems Jeanette was the best friend of Peggy’s mother, something I never knew, and she had been her mother’s maid of honor at her wedding.

I’ve heard people say that you can’t choose your family, but if I could, the ideal aunt for me would always be Jeanette Baker. Last December in going through a box of old holiday decorations, I found a Christmas card from her dated 2006. She mentioned how much she adored my wife, Nancy. What a better place the world would be if everyone could be just a little like her. <

Andy Young: Aiming for triple digits

By Andy Young

A 100th birthday is a special occasion. It’s literally a once-in-a-lifetime event, although in truth, any particular birthday is by definition a once-in-a-lifetime event.

My father was born July 2, 1923. I can only imagine what my siblings and I would have done to mark his 100th birthday this coming week.

We can only imagine it because our father died more than 49 years ago.

Few people get to enjoy (or endure, as the case may be) 100 years of life. However, those intent on doing so should absorb some sobering statistics before reserving a banquet facility to celebrate their personal centennial.

According to Boston University’s New England Centenarian Study, only one in 5,000 Americans makes it to the century mark. And for those using “he” and “him” as their pronouns of choice, the odds are even longer, since according to that same study 85 percent of America’s centenarians are women.

There aren’t many people left who began life in 1923. Notables born that year who failed to last 10 decades include U.S. senators Bob Dole and Ted Stevens; baseball Hall-of-Famers Red Schoendienst and Larry Doby; entertainers Linda Darnell, Anne Baxter, Estelle Getty, Larry Storch, Charlton Heston, Ted Knight, Dick Shawn, Charles Durning, Jean Stapleton and Ed McMahon; writers Norman Mailer and James Dickey; pilot Chuck Yeager, astronaut Wally Schirra, gossip columnist Liz Smith, Super Bowl-winning football coach Hank Stram, director Franco Zeffirelli and Monaco’s Prince Rainier.

Natives of 1923 faced a particularly difficult obstacle to a long life: the Second World War. Over 50 million people worldwide died during that horrific conflict and given the relative age of those in the military of any of the involved nations between 1941 and 1945, it’s reasonable to assume several million people born in 1923 didn’t make it past age 22.

Other notable 1923 natives who didn’t last even five decades include Irish poet Brendan Behan, who was just 41 when his warranty expired in 1964; boxer Rocky Marciano, the only world heavyweight champion to finish his career undefeated and who perished in a 1969 plane crash, and Yugoslavia’s last king, Peter II, who died the year after Marciano at age 47.

Despite the long odds of hitting the century mark, there’s plenty of living evidence that it’s doable, even for those born in 1923. James Buckley, who served New York in the United States Senate from 1971 to 1977, turned 100 this past March 9, and Dr. Frank Field, a well-known New York City television weatherman, did the same just three weeks later. Former presidential advisor Henry Kissinger became a member of the century-old club on May 27, and game show host/animal rights activist Bob Barker is due to join them on December 12.

Anyone intent on reaching a triple-digit chronological age most likely knows enough to exercise regularly, eat healthily and moderately, maintain social support, manage stress, and sleep at least seven hours a night. Similarly, serious longevity seekers know to steer clear of smoking and also to avoid abusing drugs, even (or perhaps especially) legal ones like alcohol. And recent tragic events should serve as a reminder that there are other avoidable risks to longevity, like voyaging to the ocean floor to visit the Titanic.

The bottom line: non-smoking, reasonably social people who eat healthily and in moderation, exercise regularly, and maintain a regular sleep schedule are doing everything within their power to maximize their odds of attaining a lengthy life span. But the other 98 percent of what determines who’ll live to see 100 candles on their birthday cake is a factor that’s much more difficult to control.

It’s called dumb luck. <


Friday, June 23, 2023

Insight: Four noteworthy names to remember

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

The foundation of my career in journalism began one morning in January 1966 at the breakfast table in Rochester, New York when I was 12. My father knew I was interested in becoming a journalist someday and so he passed me the morning newspaper and a ballpoint pen and asked me to circle four names in the paper that morning and then tell him at dinner why I chose those names and why I thought these people would be great potential interviews for me.

Al Neuharth was the founder of USA Today
newspaper and former CEO of Gannett Corp.
I looked through all four sections of the newspaper and settled upon four names: Al Neuharth, Bubba Smith, Earl Weaver, and Carmen Basilio. When asked why I wanted to interview these four, I explained that Neuharth was listed in the masthead as the paper’s general manager and knew a great deal about how a newspaper operated; Bubba Smith was a standout defensive end for Michigan State University and was gaining notoriety as a potential NFL draft pick; Earl Weaver had just been named as manager of the Rochester Red Wings baseball team; and Carmen Basilio was a Rochester middleweight boxer who had once beaten Sugar Ray Robinson.

My father approved of my choices, and I went to bed that evening dreaming of becoming a reporter and sportswriter, never knowing what was ahead of me. I forgot about my list that day until a few years later. In the summer of 1972 while home from college, I wrote a freelance article for a weekly newspaper about booths that year at the county fair and had to stroll through the fairgrounds and interview several vendors. I happened upon an Italian sausage stand owned and operated by none other than Carmen Basilio, the now-retired boxer.

Basilio was very talkative, and his comments were the highlight of my article, which I showed to my father when it was published the following week. He reminded me of the newspaper list I had circled for him and encouraged me to continue pursuing my goal of becoming a writer.

Another decade passed and I was serving as the editor of an Air Force newspaper in Arizona when my supervisor asked me if I wanted to go and cover the world premiere of a new movie called “Police Academy” in Phoenix on a Saturday morning in 1984. I agreed and after a screening of the film, the press was invited backstage for interviews with some of the actors from the movie in attendance. I sat and interviewed Bubba Smith and quickly surmised that he was the same former football player who was on my list that day in 1966.

While working for Florida Today newspaper in 2002, the sports editor asked me to interview Earl Weaver, the Orioles’ Hall of Fame manager, who was signing autographs at the sports stadium there on a Saturday night. I spent about 45 minutes with him and wrote a lengthy article for the front of the Sunday Sports section of the newspaper about Weaver. Although the article was chopped down to about 8 inches for printing, it was one of the most memorable interviews I have conducted in my career.

By that point, I came to realize that I had completed interviews with three of the four individuals on my original list from 1966 and that I might have a shot at perhaps someday interviewing all of them. Al Neuharth lived several miles from the newspaper and had created and founded Florida Today newspaper. From time to time, he would drop by the paper to speak with its editors and contribute a weekly column. Before he retired, Neuharth was the Chief Executive Officer for Gannett Corporation, the world’s largest newspaper company, and was widely known as the creator of USA Today newspaper.

By 2012, I was now working as Managing Editor of Space Coast Daily, a digital paper in Florida and sent an email to Neuharth’s secretary asking if I could interview him. To my surprise, I received a phone call from Al himself, instructing me to show up at his home at 9:30 a.m. on a Tuesday and he would agree to discuss his career with me.

I spent several hours with him in his office that day as he regaled me with fascinating stories about his life, the many newspapers he had worked for, and several of the Mercury 7 astronauts that were his friends. As I was about ready to wrap up the interview with Neuharth, I shared with him the story about sitting at the breakfast table in Rochester in 1966 and the four names that I had circled in the newspaper.

He smiled and walked me out to my car. Before I drove away, Neuharth, who died a year later at age 89, shook my hand and told me that my father must certainly be proud of me for finishing all the interviews on my list from 1966. I told him that my father had died in 1991 when his car was struck head-on by a drunk driver in Florida and that he never lived to see me finish the list.

Neuharth turned to me, winked, and said, “Wherever he is, he knows.” <

Andy Young: Releasing my inner Eeyore

By Andy Young

At sunrise last Wednesday morning, which occurred at 4:59 a.m., I felt incredibly energize. Summer was about to begin. And when the sun passed directly above the Tropic of Cancer at 10:57 a.m. it was officially time for a long-awaited celebration. The northern hemisphere’s longest day of the year had finally arrived! School vacation had commenced the previous Friday, and those of us living in southern Maine had a full fifteen hours and 27 minutes to play with before the sun retired for the evening at 8:26.

And what a day it was! I traveled to Auburn with two colleagues for a daylong education conference that will most likely prove beneficial to my school, my students, and me in the not-too-distant future. I chatted with some old friends and made a couple new ones in the process. When I came home I enjoyed a delicious meal, took a long bike ride, and still had time to do some recreational reading at day’s end. What a dynamic and productive day! I went to bed exhilarated, feeling certain that for me and those around me, anything was possible. Not only that, I sensed the vitality I was feeling would last indefinitely. Nothing galvanizes human beings like 927 minutes of daylight in one 24-hour period.

Leaping out of bed Thursday morning, I was anticipating another intensely gratifying and uber-productive day.

But something felt wrong. Then ... thud.

It didn’t take long to figure out why I had descended into an energy-deprived abyss. The sun didn’t appear until 5 a.m. Crestfallen, I felt the vitality drain right out of me. Fortunately, the evening sunset was a minute later than it had been the previous day, meaning there were still 927 minutes of daylight to savor. But I (and no doubt thousands of others) felt shortchanged. The days were starting to get shorter.

On Sunday morning the sun didn’t appear until 5:01 a.m. On June 28, a mere week after the summer solstice, sunrise won’t be until 5:02. It’ll recede to 5:03 on the 30th, and on the first of July, sunset will arrive a minute earlier, leaving Portland and vicinity with a paltry 923 minutes of sunlight. I marvel at the strength and resilience of our neighbors to the north and east. How, given the depressing dearth of daylight every July 1, they can annually celebrate Canada Day on that date every year is beyond me.

Here’s more depressing news: on July’s last day the sun will rise at 5:29 a.m. and descend at 8:05 p.m., meaning there will be a mere 876 minutes of daylight. At that point I might as well start getting the rakes and snow shovels out of the shed.

If the sun bothers to rise on Aug. 31, it won’t be until 6:03 a.m. Not only that, it’ll plunge from sight by 7:19 p.m., meaning Mainers (and visitors planning on hanging around for Labor Day weekend) will have to subsist on only 796 minutes of daylight. By the time the autumnal equinox arrives on Sept. 23, it’ll be dark nearly half of the 24-hour day. Were there a Sept. 31, (which thankfully there is not) it would consist of more darkness than light.

By the time the winter solstice arrives at 10:27 p.m. on Dec. 21, daylight will be long gone. The sun comes up 7:11 a.m. that day and vanishes entirely at 4:07 p.m. How can civilized people survive a 24-hour spin that contains just eight hours and 56 minutes of natural light?

But when that day arrives at least there’ll be something to look forward to: Summer Solstice 2024. <

Friday, June 16, 2023

Tim Nangle: Paid family and medical leave ‘the way life should be’

By State Senator Tim Nangle

There's a chance right now to make a real difference for families in Maine. LD 1964 is a bill that would create a Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) program in Maine. This would be a lifeline that can help hardworking Mainers balance life and work during the toughest times.

State Senator Tim Nangle
This bill, carefully crafted by State Sen. Mattie Daughtry and State Rep. Kristen Cloutier, proposes a statewide paid family and medical leave program. This proposal would grant up to 12 weeks of paid leave for Mainers with qualifying life events, ensuring job protection for employees who have been with their employer for at least 120 days.

The program would be funded by a wage contribution shared equally between employees and employers, equivalent to 1 percent or less of an employee's wages. Critically, the legislation provides flexibility for our small businesses, allowing employers with 15 or fewer workers and those offering comparable leave plans to opt out. However, people who work for a small business would still be eligible to participate.

The PFML program is designed to offer support during critical life events. It would allow employees to take paid time off for a specific set of reasons. This includes joyous occasions like welcoming a new child into the family through birth, adoption or fostering. It also recognizes the challenges many face, such as supporting a sick or dying loved one, caring for an older family member, or recovering from surgery, an accident, or other health issues.

Additionally, it provides leave for those preparing for or transitioning back from a family member’s military deployment as well as for immediate safety needs if you or a family member are a victim of domestic or sexual violence. The bill is designed to be inclusive, recognizing a wide spectrum of personal and family needs.

However, it's essential to understand that not all reasons for leave would be covered by the bill. For instance, the proposed legislation does not cover extended time off for personal vacations or other non-critical personal matters. This ensures the program can sustainably support those most in need while being fair to employers and other employees.

Only 15 percent of American workers have access to paid leave, and fewer than 60 percent have access to unpaid leave under the federal Family Medical Leave Act. Maine is the only state in New England without a PFML program. It is time for us to join the 14 other states and the District of Columbia that already have these programs.

The pressing need for this legislation was made clear in the testimony of one of our very own neighbors, Emer Smith, a resident of Windham. Emer bravely shared her experiences of struggling to care for her dying mother and her premature daughter while also trying to meet her work obligations. Her story underscores the urgent need for a paid family and medical leave program in Maine. Emer’s story is not unique; far too many Mainers face similar difficult choices between work, health, and family.

Adopting PFML will give employees the flexibility and support they need during life’s most challenging moments. It will allow workers to balance caring for their children and aging family members while supporting their health and financial needs. For employers, PFML is a tool to attract and retain desperately needed workers, an issue that has only grown more pressing in recent years.

As this bill heads to the Senate and House for votes, please share your stories, and join our collective effort to make this vision a reality.

The passage of the Paid Family and Medical Leave bill is not just a matter of policy — it is a testament to our values as a community and a state. We believe in the strength of our families, in the resilience of our workers, and in our collective responsibility to support each other during challenging times. Let’s keep fighting for a Maine that truly embodies "the way life should be."

If you or someone you know needs assistance, wants to discuss legislation, or needs help connecting with a state agency, please don’t hesitate to reach out. My email is, and my office phone number is 207-287-1515. You can find me on Facebook at To receive regular updates, sign up for my e-newsletter at <

Insight: Revisiting a familiar soundtrack in person

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

Last December when I was searching for a great Christmas gift for my wife Nancy, I read an article about a concert tour returning in June to a venue close by in New Hampshire. It just so happened that the date for the “Happy Together” concert fell on June 11, which is also our wedding anniversary. Throw in the fact that my wife is a fan of singer Gary Puckett, and it convinced me to purchase tickets for the show.

Singer Gary Puckett performs during the 'Happy Together'
concert at the Hampton Beach Ballroom and Casino in
Hampton Beach, New Hampshire on June 11. In 1968,
Puckett sold more records than The Beatles.
Ticket prices were very reasonable, and I was able to quickly find great seats four rows from the stage in the middle of the Hampton Beach Ballroom and Casino for the concert. Everything was handled digitally, and the concert tickets were sent directly to my iPhone, making it easy to get into the show.

The musicians appearing in the 2023 Happy Together Tour were acts I had grown up listening to back in the 1960s and several of them have been inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. There were The Cowsills, The Vogues, The Classics IV, Gary Puckett, Little Anthony, and the Turtles, all backed up by an exceptional and versatile band led by Godfrey Townsend who played guitar on many classic top hits such as Mitch Ryder’s “Devil with the Blue Dress,” Merrilee Rush’s “Angel of the Morning,” and the Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin.”

Standing outside in a short line waiting to get into the concert hall, I heard two women talking and they obviously were there to see Gary Puckett, saying they wished he would walk down the line to meet his fans. I’ve always been a fan of Puckett, who is known for such hits as “Lady Willpower,” and “This Girl is a Woman Now,” and “Over You,” and “Woman, Woman.”

The first group to appear on stage was The Cowsills, a singing family who were the inspiration for television’s “The Partridge Family” in the early 1970s. There are four surviving Cowsills band members, and three of them, Bob, Paul, and Susan, performed at this concert. They opened with “The Rain, the Park and Other Things” and if you closed your eyes, it was like being transported back through time to 1968. At one point, my wife said she was surprised by how good they sounded. They performed five of their songs in an energetic appearance, including my favorite, “Hair.”

Next on stage were the Classics IV and again, they sounded exactly like their hit records from the 1960s. Saxophonist Paul Weddle truly delivered on classic songs such as “Stormy,” and Traces of Love,” and “Spooky.”

Before intermission, The Vogues took the stage and their harmony and style shined as they opened with their 1965 hit “Five O’ Clock World.” They also performed “You’re the One” and “My Special Angel,” sounding much as I had listened to through the years.

The second half of the concert began with Gary Puckett coming out on stage wearing a double-breasted turquoise jacket very similar to the outfit he wore during his appearance on television’s “Ed Sullivan Show” in 1968. As he sang his hits, the audience roared with approval and shouted out the lyrics as he performed.

Puckett is known for his vocal range and dramatic performances and the crowd there to see him certainly was not disappointed by his showmanship. He reminded fans that they are reason that his career has been successful and how grateful he is people remember his songs more than 50 years after he recorded them.

I didn’t know what to expect from Rock n’ Roll Hall of Famer Little Anthony, who seemed a bit older than the other performers. But he can still sing and delight an audience. His renditions of his classic 1950s and 1960s tunes such as “Hurt So Bad,” and “Tears on My Pillow” showcased his golden voice and he received a standing ovation in closing his set with “Goin’ Out of My Head.”

The last band of the evening was The Turtles with original member Mark Volman, also known as “Flo.” Back in 1967, I owned the album “Happy Together” by the Turtles and I’ve always enjoyed their feel-good songs and up-tempo melodies. Because of illness, original Turtles’ lead singer Howard Kaylan hasn’t performed with the band since 2018 and his replacement for the “Happy Together Tour” is Ron Dante, former lead singer for The Cufflinks and The Archies in the 1960s.

Dante was great and besides performing Turtles’ classics “You Baby” and “Elenore” and “She’d Rather Be With Me,” and “It Ain’t Me Babe,” he also sang “Tracy” by The Cufflinks and “Sugar, Sugar” by The Archies.

The show closed out with all the performers from the concert on stage for “Happy Together” and encouraging the audience to stand and join them in singing this Turtles’ Number One hit song from 1967.

Days later, I am pinching myself to see if I’m awake and if our attendance at that concert really happened, or if it was a dream. Those songs and musicians are part of the soundtrack of my life and I’m grateful to have been with Nancy to see them performed in person.

Andy Young: One man’s list of the top 2,548

By Andy Young

How can anyone with even the tiniest bit of curiosity resist the opportunity to purchase, for a mere dollar, a book titled “The 2548 Best Things Anybody Ever Said?”

I know for a fact I can’t, since I bought the copy that I saw at an old book sale for that very price, and without even a moment's hesitation.

A volume of this size obviously involves a good deal of opinion, which made me wonder: what exactly qualifies someone to publish such an anthology? A little Internet research reveals that Robert Byrne, the collector of The 2548 Best Things Anybody Ever Said, had previously written over 20 books, including: The 637 Best Things Anyone Ever Said (in 1982); The Other 637 Best Things Anybody Ever Said (in 1984); The Third - and Possibly the Best - 637 Best Things Ever Said (in 1986); and The Fourth -and by Far the Most Recent - 637 Best Things Ever Said (in 1990). After learning what it would cost to purchase those other four volumes individually, it’s plain to see that my paying just a dollar for all 2548 Best Things Anybody Ever Said in one volume may very well merit inclusion in a future book, The 2548 Smartest Things Anybody’s Ever Done.

The title of Mr. Byrne’s book begs the question: what exactly qualifies a specific group of words for “best”? He relies heavily on a whole lot of well-known people, like Abraham Lincoln (“If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?”), Malcolm X (“Nonviolence is fine, as long as it works”), and Oprah Winfrey (“My idea of heaven is a great big baked potato, and someone to share it with”).

Some other gems: “I don’t deserve this award, but I have arthritis and I don’t deserve that either” (Jack Benny); “An ugly baby is a very nasty object, and the prettiest one is frightful when undressed” (Queen Victoria); and “History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it” (Winston Churchill).

But wealth and renown aren’t requirements for turning a memorable phrase. Many of Mr. Byrne’s choices for “The 2548 Best Things Anybody Ever Said” are of unknown origin, including, “Economists are people who work with numbers, but who don’t have the personality to be accountants;” “Originality is the art of concealing your sources;” and “My karma ran over your dogma.”

My heart jumped when I saw my own name in the book’s index! After all, who wouldn’t feel good about appearing on the same list as Mahatma Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Mark Twain, Jane Austen, and Martin Luther King, Jr.? But I honestly didn’t remember ever saying, “Nothing is illegal if a hundred businessmen decide to do it,” and further investigation revealed those particular words were attributed to Andrew Young, the former mayor of Atlanta who had the temerity to be born with our name a quarter-century before I was.

I’m currently compiling a collection of memorable imaginary utterances, tentatively titled “The 2548 Best Things That Somebody Should Have Said.” I’ve already got, “Sorry Mr. President, but the Dallas trip is off,” and “Thanks anyway Mr. Cosby, but I can mix my own drink.” However, that still leaves me 2546 assertions short of a book.

Robert Byrne expired in 2016, rendering him permanently unable to defend his selections, and as such it would be patently unfair to criticize the rationale behind any of his choices for inclusion in “The 2548 Best Things Anybody Ever Said.”

But there is indeed one person with a legitimate gripe: whoever it was who said the two thousand, five hundred forty-ninth-best thing ever! <

Friday, June 9, 2023

Andy Young: A sobering epiphany

By Andy Young

It’s hard to imagine where I’d be today without having had America’s nominal national pastime in my life.

I learned to read thanks to the baseball cards on the backs of Post cereal boxes. I played the game well enough to make the local Little League and Babe Ruth League all-star teams, before hard throwing, curve-balling pitchers led to my playing days ending at age 16 or so. But my involvement with the game went on at the high school, college, and professional levels as a coach, writer, radio announcer and publicist for another three decades or so and continues today as a Little League umpire.

Baseball helped me develop self-confidence, determination, social skills, and a strong work ethic. It also aided me in finding ways to deal with life’s periodic setbacks, and hastened my understanding of what makes a good teammate, both inside and outside of athletics.

That established, watching the game’s declining status at the youth level both locally and nationally has led me to an unhappy realization, which is that if I were a teenager today I’d have long since put baseball in my rearview mirror, assuming I had even bothered to get involved with it in the first place.

I started playing baseball for the same reasons I subsequently took up football and basketball: because virtually every other boy my age was doing it. Playing outside was an integral part of growing up in pre-cable TV, pre-Internet, pre-Smartphone days, a sort of informal socialization for pre-teenagers.

Today’s kids want to fit in with their peers just as much as my childhood friends and I did. But given the easy accessibility of instant-gratification-providing electronic devices, it’s no surprise that many of today’s athletic-minded youth consider baseball far too devoid of action. Lacrosse and ultimate frisbee are two sports on the rise that involve more movement and exertion, and for the disturbingly growing number of one-sport athletes, there’s spring soccer and basketball to contend with as well.

Another often-overlooked cause of youth baseball’s decline is the troubling upsurge (and continuing expansion) of the youth sports industry. While those wealthy enough to afford travel baseball generally get better schooling in the game than what’s provided by the community volunteers who staff Little League teams, ultimately “travel ball” quickly widens the gap between skilled and unskilled players. And while it may eventually produce a few more elite level high school players, it also drives many potential late bloomers away from the game.

Another disservice youth sports entrepreneurs provide is urging promising youthful athletes to play their chosen sport year-round. This does no one any favors, least of all the children themselves. There’s no way to estimate how many young people swear off other sports because some handsomely compensated youth coach recommends (or insists) their young charges focus solely on soccer, basketball, hockey, tennis, or whatever athletic activity their benefactors have chosen to sink their money into.

Rational people understand there are few future professional athletes in Maine, and the number who’ll ultimately be offered a Division I athletic scholarship is tiny as well. But while the majority of those involved in for-profit youth sports have enough integrity to not promise professional careers or college athletic scholarships to prospective clients, there’s no shortage of those who won’t bother to actively discourage any well-heeled parents with the preconceived notion that their particular youngster is potentially one of the chosen few.

So is baseball declining because of societal changes, misplaced priorities, greed, electronic diversions, unrealistic parental expectations, or the availability of other more attractive athletic options?

Sadly, the simple, accurate answer to that question is “Yes.” <

Insight: Conquering an irrational fear

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

When I was a small child, my family would spend time at an amusement park by Lake Ontario called “Seabreeze.” The park was legendary in the Rochester, New York area for its thrill rides, but one ride stood out for me over all the others, and it was a roller coaster called the Jack Rabbit.

Billed as the oldest continuously operating roller coaster in America, the Jack Rabbit ride opened to the public in 1920 and featured seven dips, a helix that twists while you remain stationary in your seat, and a tunnel. With 2,130 feet of track and a 75-foot first drop, the wooden roller coaster propelled entirely by inertia has scared children and adults for more than a century.

One of those who was terrified of the Jack Rabbit was my mother, Harriett. She went to school not far away from the amusement park and would go there with friends for birthday parties and on Friday nights during the 1930s. Even during the coldest winter months when the Seabreeze Amusement Park was closed, she would describe in detail to our family how frightening the Jack Rabbit roller coaster was to her and why she would always refuse to ride it whenever she visited the site.

She told us a story once about how one of her cousins, who had been drafted into the U.S. Army during World War II, was home on leave and everyone went to the amusement park for fun one weekend. The story goes that this cousin asked my mother to go on the Jack Rabbit ride with him and she refused citing her fear of the roller coaster. The cousin then asked another girl to accompany him on the ride and when it was over, she said he felt dizzy and passed out, throwing up all over himself. My mother said her cousin experienced dizziness for weeks and was reassigned from Army training as a paratrooper to the mess hall because of the condition. She said afterward, he always blamed the Jack Rabbit roller coaster for ruining his military career.

Somehow through all of this, I too developed an aversion for the Jack Rabbit ride. It was totally irrational because when my parents would take my brother and I to Roseland Amusement Park in Canandaigua, New York, I had no trouble riding The Skyliner roller coaster there, featuring 2,400 feet of wooden track rising to a height of 60 feet looking out over Canandaigua Lake and an insane vertical drop of 45 feet.

But my fear of the Jack Rabbit persisted during my teenage years and into adulthood. Whenever friends or family would go to Seabreeze, I’d go with them but would always decline an invitation to join them for a ride on the Jack Rabbit.

One time when I was serving in the U.S. Air Force in Arizona, I had to fly in a helicopter that had no doors and the passengers sat on benches strapped down by rope as the whirlybird dipped and hovered over the crash site of an F-16 training flight taking off from our base. I felt unsettled as the helicopter pilot tilted back and forth so the crash recovery team that I was part of could get a better look at what was left of the aircraft on the ground.

After we landed back at the base, I was glad I didn’t have to do that every day. But I did get through it and thought to myself that if I could experience riding in an open-air helicopter high in the air tied to a seat by only a strand of rope, maybe I could overcome my fear of the Jack Rabbit.

In 2001, I traveled to Rochester for my 30th high school class reunion. I joined some friends for dinner at a restaurant near Lake Ontario and later, they wanted to visit Seabreeze Amusement Park to see what had changed through the years. As we entered the park, I felt a chill come over me and started breathing heavily as we took a spin on the carousel and then played some carnival and arcade games.

Coming out of the arcade area, we turned south and there I found myself standing directly across from the Jack Rabbit ride. I made the decision right then and there that to defeat my fear for good and to move ahead with my life, I had to ride that roller coaster and put an end to years of apprehension, dread, and phobia.

I purchased a ticket, sat down in a Jack Rabbit car and off I went. As the cars slowly pulled away from the starting point, I thought of my mother, and how for 60-some years she could not fathom the adventure that I was about to experience. The cars dropped suddenly, and I was jolted back to reality. The Jack Rabbit cars roared through all the twists and turns and spins, and I held my breath as we approached another steep drop and then into a tunnel before coasting to a stop.

I had overcome my silly fear of the Jack Rabbit roller coaster and was free to live my life. <

Friday, June 2, 2023

Insight: Too much, too tune

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

My wife and I recently watched the film “Mr. Holland’s Opus” which contained a scene in which actor Richard Dreyfuss mentions that when he first listened to an album by jazz legend John Coltrane, he hated it. Then he listened to it again, and again, and again, and found he couldn’t stop playing it.

That’s exactly how I’ve felt about some music selections and artists a few times in my life and here are some examples:

In January 1980, a blizzard hit Washington D.C. and dumped quite a bit of snow on our nation’s capital. There was very little to do but bide my time in a barracks room at Fort Myer, Virginia and sit out the snowstorm one weekend while waiting to go to work at The Pentagon on Monday. I had planned on reading a Stephen King novel and watching the Virginia Cavaliers basketball team led by freshman Ralph Sampson take on the North Carolina Tarheels and their freshman star James Worthy.

Up until that weekend, I had only heard the song “Heart of Glass” performed by the band Blondie on the radio. I never paid much attention to them as I wasn’t much of a fan of what was known as “New Wave” music and I was more into more traditional rock n’ roll music such as Fleetwood Mac or the Rolling Stones.

Apparently, another Air Force sergeant in the room adjacent to mine had purchased the new Blondie album “Eat to the Beat” and picked that weekend to play it over, and over, and over again on his turntable in his barracks room. With the walls of the barracks being paper thin, I could hear everything he played, which usually consisted of older country songs such as “The Battle of New Orleans” by Johnny Horton or “Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash. Therefore, it did come as a great surprise to me that this fellow had chosen a “New Wave” group to listen to non-stop that weekend.

At first, I became irritated and considered knocking on his door and asking him to turn down his music when he started playing the album early on that Saturday morning. I couldn’t imagine myself ever liking
“New Wave” music and then he played that Blondie album once, then twice and then a third time.

By the fourth time he played the album around noon, I found the first song on the “Eat to the Beat” album “Dreaming” to be catchy and started to enjoy the vocals of Blondie’s lead singer, Debbie Harry. Then the second song “The Hardest Part” came on and I found that was pretty good too. By the time the third song “Union City Blue” played, I discovered I liked that one as well.

The album must have played 10 or more times that Saturday and at least five times on Sunday and by the time that weekend was over, Virginia had beaten North Carolina, the snow had stopped falling, and I realized that I had become hooked and a fan of the band Blondie.

Several months later when I rented an apartment and moved out of the barracks, I purchased the “Eat to the Beat” album at the store and although I eventually got rid of my collection of vinyl record albums more than a decade later, I’m pretty sure that “Eat to the Beat” remains in a box of CDs stored in my basement right now, more than 43 years later. I also became a fan of more melodic “New Wave” bands such as Duran Duran, Nick Lowe, and Simple Minds.

Another performer that grew on me slowly through repetition was Marty Stuart. My brother, my father and I were driving from New Mexico to Florida in February 1991 and the only thing playing on the radio as we passed through Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama was country music. My brother drove during the daylight hours and my dad during the late afternoon, leaving me to take over driving that night. As I slowly scrolled up and down the radio dial searching for something to keep me awake, several Marty Stuart songs were broadcast over and over again. The first song was “Tempted” and the second one was “Little Things.” I also learned from a DJ introducing the “Tempted” tune that Stuart was a skilled guitarist who had played at one time in Johnny Cash’s band.

I had never heard of Marty Stuart before that trip and then after hearing the song “Tempted” at least six times that night, like Blondie and the “Eat to the Beat” album years before, when I finally did get my own apartment in Florida a few months later, I went out to the store and brought home my own copy of Stuart’s “Tempted” album. Even though I wasn’t a huge country music fan, there was something about Marty Stuart I liked and hearing his songs aired repeatedly on the radio that first night has made me follow his career closely ever since.

It’s funny how repetition can change the way we think about music and can leave us wanting to hear more. Has this ever happened to you? <

Andy Young: Learning from the learners

By Andy Young

It’s graduation weekend for several local high schools, which has me thinking about why I got into teaching in the first place.

When I began pursuing a career in education it was for the same reasons that I assumed other aspiring teachers did. The prospect of a steady job that helped impact the future was inviting, as were the inherent fringe benefits, which included receiving universal respect and support from parents and administrators, being held in high esteem throughout the community, and being regarded with a blend of admiration and awe by each young person I interacted with, either in one of my classes or on one of the teams I coached. The prospect of a seven-figure salary didn’t hurt, either.

Educators enjoy far too many intangible rewards to list here, but I recently experienced one of them: the privilege of learning from a student. Where I teach, the final requirement for Grade 12 English class is for students to prepare a three to five-minute valedictory speech, then deliver it to their peers. The assignment combines writing, reading, listening, speaking, and thinking, a quintet of skills each young person will need on a daily basis for the foreseeable future, and quite possibly for the remainder of their lives.

I listened to several dozen of these presentations last week, and although many had similar themes, each oration was as unique as its presenter. Not surprisingly, nearly each speech was relatable to the audience, since with one obvious exception (me), everyone listening to the prepared remarks was the same age as the speaker.

One particularly memorable opus stuck out to me; it came from a young woman who recounted how challenging dealing with school during the Covid pandemic was. Remote schooling became the norm for the last three months of her freshman year. The following autumn she was initially excited about returning to normalcy by physically attending school two days a week, but between all the regulations (masks, staying 6 feet distant from others, etc.), she eventually found it easier to just stay home and do school via computer. The tuning out, getting distracted, and low grades that followed were predictable, but what wasn’t was another insidious form of collateral damage: difficulty interacting with others. “During my junior year,” she wrote, “I didn’t really care to talk to people or make friends because I was so used to being alone all the time.”

As she delivered her remarks, I was impressed with her ability to articulate what was true not just for her, but for many of her peers as well. But after processing her words I had an epiphany: I too experienced difficulty socializing during (and to some extent after) the pandemic, and for the same reasons she did. It really is comfortable being alone: too comfortable, in fact. But thanks to an exceptionally perceptive person nearly a half-century younger than I am, I remembered that social skills, like physical ones, need to be utilized. And if they aren’t, well, the phrase “Use ‘em or lose ‘em” comes to mind.

Thanks to an insightful young person’s articulate description of how she dealt with a significant challenge, I’ve rededicated myself to getting out and mixing, even when it’s more convenient to just stay home.

Teaching, as it turns out, has been everything I imagined it would be. Administration has my back, I’m universally respected in the community (as far as I know), and I do indeed enjoy earning a seven-figure salary annually.

Even if two of those numbers appear on the right (or wrong, if you prefer) side of the decimal point. <