Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Winning overcomes TV's allure

There was almost a full page of messages in the paper early in the baseball season from readers who expressed their views on why people weren’t going to Indians games.

I will make one positive observation about the letters. Every one was signed with a name and a hometown address. That I like very much. Unsigned letters (and anonymous comments at the end of news stories) are so much garbage. They have no credibility. Zero.

I cannot say this too strongly — if you think your opinion is worth anything, sign your name to it. But I digress.

None of those good people who wrote those letters expressed my feelings. (One letter even came from a former News-Herald sports editor in Florida.)

None of them articulated one of the main things that keeps people away from ball games. They blamed poor performance on the field, bad weather, bad ownership, the price of tickets, even competition from the Captains at Classic Park in Eastlake.

I believe what keeps people away is simple — TV.

But something is happening — something remarkable — that is causing me to change my mind. It is called winning. When the Indians win, as in sweeping a three-game series at home against the Cincinnati Reds, there is a renewed interest in being there in person — just to make sure, I presume, that what we are reading in the paper and seeing on TV is real and not some kind of an apparition.

I was at Opening Day, as I always am, when attendance was over 40,000. And I was at home in my living room for the next five games when attendance was closer to 9,000. I’ll tell you the difference. Opening Day is a pageant. Every other home game is one of 80 others. The World Series is a pageant, and so is a playoff game. But the rest are just games, unless something happens to shake the team out of its lethargy. Something like excellent pitching and timely hitting. Those two elements have rocketed the Indians to the top of the standings. Let’s hope they keep it up all season — and that attendance continues to skyrocket.

But if performance lags — and keep your fingers crossed that it will not — then attendance will sag along with it.

Let me point out that I will put my compassion for baseball (and football) up against that of any fan. Both are spectacular games. I love them dearly.

But there is only one thing that keeps me away from the ball park. It is the magic of big screen, high definition TV. I can see so much more in my living room on my 59-inch screen (which I got decades ago from Mentor TV) that I feel I would miss half the game if I went in person. This is more true of football than it is of baseball, of course. And it is why I stopped going to Browns games in person. Every good play is replayed half a dozen times.

So it’s not the weather, the prices nor the ownership (I really like the Dolans) that keep me away. It’s the incredible, high definition, color rendition of the game that comes through into my living room.

And when the game is over I turn off the TV. I don’t get caught in the crowd that is leaving.

I have been to two games this year. Besides Opening Day, the lady of the house and I went to the Friday, April 29 game with Mickey and Jan Kapostasy to see the fireworks. Some fireworks! Carlos Santana hit a grand slam home run in the bottom of the ninth to win the game.

That makes being there worthwhile. But there was another game April 24 when Michael Brantley hit a ball that was originally ruled a home run but was called off in a 4-3 loss to the Minnesota Twins because the ball hit a limestone facing and not the top of the wall. The overturned call was correct. If you were there, you may have missed it. But at home you saw the replay a dozen times.

But late that game, Jim Thome of the Twins hit what was ruled a double, but the TV replay clearly showed he was out sliding into second base, that he was tagged on the leg before he reached the base.

If the Indians keep winning, they will continue to pack the fans in. But if they start losing more than they win, TV clarity and replays provide a wonderful alternative to being there in person.

All things considered, I’d rather see them keep winning.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Another fine area teacher honored

As I was saying...

Last week’s message announced the North High School winner of the Adele Knight Excellence in Teaching Award for 2011 — Mary Slak, an English teacher selected by her peers to receive a plaque and $500 stipend that go along with the award.

This week I am pleased to introduce Alison Grant, the only Family and Consumer Science teacher at South High, who was also chosen by her peers for the honor, which carried with it similar rewards.

As noted previously, the award was named for the late Adele Knight, a revered Latin teacher at the former Willoughby Union High whose high standards for teaching were legendary.

The program was initiated by the late Dr. Wesley J. Pignolet, a graduate of Union High and a student who cared enough about Miss Knight to propose establishing a fund in her honor.

He called upon several of his friends to form a committee to launch the fund. There must have been a dozen of us at first.

The only ones still around are Dr. Jim McCann, a retired Mentor dentist, Ann Kassing and me.

At first we considered giving scholarships with the money we raised. Because there were many other scholarships available, we chose a different path — to honor a top teacher each year at North and South.

The awards were begun in 2000 by rotating them between North and South.

By 2005 we were able to present an award to an outstanding teacher from each school.

I offered words of praise last week for Mary Slak of North. And now, here is what you should know about Alison Grant, and why fellow teachers chose her this year for the Adele Knight Award for South.

The staff at South notes that by definition, a teacher is one whose occupation is to instruct. But for Alison it’s much more than an occupation. It’s a passion.

She has been teaching eight years, six of them at South. She received her bachelor’s degree in vocational education from Kent State University and her master’s in educational administration from Ursuline College. She is currently working toward her second master’s in school counseling at John Carroll University.

She single-handedly developed the Family and Consumer Science program to be much more than the stereotypical cooking and sewing classes.

She has transformed it to include a variety of reality-based projects. From budgeting fictional salaries to researching prospective cars, apartments and careers, the studies are designed to teach students real world skills.

She is also responsible for starting a mock interview day in her classes in which representatives of local businesses come to school to help students with their interview skills.

The project for which she is best known, however, is her child-care simulation project, in which students realize the full responsibility of parents as they care for, feed and change an electronic "infant" just as they would a real child.

Alison is involved in activities outside the classroom as well. Other than teaching, her main passion is her Student Council group.

As adviser, she has organized and facilitated events such as the Red Cross Blood Drive, Teacher Appreciation Week, Homecoming, a weekend training session for Student Council members, South’s talent show, spirit week and the Salvation Army’s Adopt an Angel program.

The most anticipated events, however, are Shantytown and the iLead Conference. During Shantytown, students become aware of what it’s like to be homeless by spending a night in cardboard boxes. Clothing items are collected and donated to the local Salvation Army.

The iLead conference reinforces what it means to be an effective leader in the school and community. The Student Council has thrived under her leadership and care. Its accomplishments have earned some participants the distinction of All-Ohio members and the council as a whole has been recognized as Honor Council with Merit.

In addition, Alison was elected a representative on the Ohio Association of Student Councils board.

This year she has been part of the Olweus anti-bullying committee at South. She assisted in creating and implementing the school-wide curriculum.

And she recently gave a presentation at John Carroll’s Celebration of Scholarship for counseling and bullying in schools.

Whew! What a teacher! I wonder what she does in her spare time — if she ever has any.

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Friday, May 13, 2011

And one of the awards goes to ...

If a high school senior carefully studies all the college scholarship opportunities that are available, he or she stands a good chance of getting financial help, with tuition and other expenses.

But when the Adele Knight Fund was started to honor the beloved former Latin teacher at the former Willoughby Union High School, the committee was well aware it would be difficult to raise enough money to provide attractive scholarships.

So we decided to take the somewhat meager funds that were available and move in a different direction — one that would surely appeal to the best instincts of the classy classroom maven who devoted the best years of her life to instructing pupils in the intricacies — should I say mysteries? — of a most challenging subject in the vast Willoughby-Eastlake School District.

We decided it would be a great idea to honor a top teacher each year at North and South high. (Yes, it took two schools to replace the former Union High. But that’s another story.)

Thus was born the Adele Knight Excellence in Teaching Award, with the winner selected each year not by us committee members, but by the teachers’ own peers at the two high schools.

They surely know better than anyone else who the great teachers are. And since 2000 they have been doing a terrific job of selecting award winners. Every one chosen has been an outstanding example of precisely the kind of people it takes to bring out the best in our young citizens.

Each winner received a plaque and a check for $500 at a school awards assembly.

For the first five years, we honored only one teacher each year — alternately from North and South.

Beginning in 2005, we became a little more flush, financially speaking, and we honored an outstanding teacher from each school.

I would like to introduce you to this year’s winner of the Adele Knight Award from North High. Because of space limitations, I will tell you about the South High winner next week.

Mary Slak, the North High recipient of the award this year, has been a teacher for 35 years. Throughout that time, her abilities and dedication have earned her the admiration and respect of her fellow teachers. the North High recipient of the award this year, has been a teacher for 35 years. Throughout that time, her abilities and dedication have earned her the admiration and respect of her fellow teachers.

During those 35 years she has taught children of all ages, from grade four through 12.

Most of her career was spent in Catholic schools in Cleveland, and all of it was spent teaching English Language Arts. She also spent two years teaching English as a foreign language in Slovenia.

The last 10 years of her career have been spent at North High, where she has taught English at all four levels.

(I would have loved being in her classes. Teachers who were kindest to me in high school, grading-wise, were Maggie Meyers, Florine Fels Carroll and Cleo Sawyer — all English teachers. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Adele Knight too. But for two years, Latin was a complete mystery to me. But I digress.)

Mary Slak also directed plays for the Drama Club and coached Academic Decathlon. And if you have followed the news reports for the last several years, you know how well the Willoughby-Eastlake kids have done in this grueling competition with other schools.

Here is what one of her North High colleagues, Bill Kennelly, had to say about Mary:

"She comes in every day and quietly does an outstanding job. She keeps to herself, and when I find her alone she is always reading, grading or working with a student. She was my teacher and she still is my teacher.

"She is a teacher who inspired me to become a reader of the classics: Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Kafka, Kerouac, Twain, Fitzgerald and Hemingway, to name a few. Before Mary, I thought a classic was a ’57 Chevy.

"She not only taught me how to love the classics, but she also taught me how to say "I Love You" in Croatian so that I may say "I Love You" to my wife in her native language.

"Thank you for being my mentor and for your sage advice. In a day and age when it is fashionable to blame educators for our social ills and government debt, you make me proud that I chose this vocation."

Those are touching words, Bill. I will forgive you for leaving out my version of classic authors: Thurber, Benchley, Perelman, Cuppy and Shulman (the first person to say "But I digress").

Next week I will introduce you to the South High award winner, Alison Grant.

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Friday, May 6, 2011

Party was grandest of the grand

It was the party to end all parties — except that next year’s version of the spectacular shindig a few days ago at Andrews Osborne Academy in Willoughby could turn out to be even bigger than this year’s. And that would be saying a lot.

The enormous blast held April 28 at AOA, with 900 happy — deliriously happy — revelers taking part, exceeded last year’s attendance by 200. Where can we go from here?

Called the "Best of the East" party, it was staged in the field house of the school — a three-hour opportunity to dine, imbibe, listen to incredibly good music, mingle, socialize, and — oh yes — vote for your favorites in every imaginable category involving food, service, entertainment, health, shopping and children’s activities.

There were display tables and booths as far as the eye could see. I counted about 120, but through the din and excitement I could have been off by a couple.

When we entered the front door of the Jerome T. Osborne building, Head of School Chuck Roman was there to greet all the partygoers. He must have gotten tired of shaking hands, but he held up well throughout the evening.

Our first stop was in the VIP room, which on a normal school day serves as the cafeteria for AOA students. That night it was transformed into an enchanted fairyland of food, beverages and the magnificent singing of Don Disantis, a vocalist in the Sinatra style.

I’ve known this guy for many years. He never misses a note. He and his band guarantee to make any social occasion a success. He never disappoints.

His style of strolling among the tables and crooning recognizable ballads into a hand-held microphone makes you feel as if you are sitting in the band.

Well, we spent an hour or so there and then drifted into the field house. It was pandemonium. I’ve seen smaller crowds at Indians games.

On the big stage was an eight-piece band called, outrageously, Abby Normal and the Detroit Lean. Their garb was as loud as their music. And when they broke out into "Cut the Cake" I could swear I was listening to the Average White Band.

With all that was going on, I had to make sure I clung to my ballot so I could vote for my favorite restaurants, coffee houses, florists and entertainment spots.

And of course I had to stop at The News-Herald booth and tell Brian McCloskey I was voting for the Johnnycake Jog as my favorite charitable race.

He had on display the greatest example of quilt-making I have ever seen. I don’t know who did it, but somebody had sewn together the fronts of every T-shirt in the quarter-century history of the Jog.

What a job! What a project! What a visual lesson in the history of what I would nominate as the finest "run" in country!

(Since I was in a small room with two other men and came up with the idea for the Johnnycake Jog, naturally I would say that. And I would give most of the brainstorming credit to the other two, a couple of guys named Dud and Ted. But I digress.)

Andrews Osborne was the host and Cleveland Magazine was a sponsor of the evening, in which finalists in all the categories were nominated by Circle East live well, a publication of Great Lakes Publishing.

By the time the many nominees were distilled to three in each category, choices were difficult because there were no second-raters among any of the proud purveyors of food and service.

And Jerry O. himself was there, presiding over the table reserved for his family. He is truly a Great American and a delight to be around — as I have been aware most of my life.

In case you don’t know it, without "Ace" there would be no Andrews Osborne Academy, because without his generous infusion of a few million dollars, the former Andrews School would have gone out of business (bankrupt) about three years ago.

I know. I was on the board at Andrews for many years. And I was on the board that voted for the merger of Andrews with Phillips Osborne School in Painesville.

After the merger, I was perfectly willing to step aside and let the others do the heavy lifting to get the new school moving ahead — people like Bob Ranallo and Dan Fishwick and Tim Wright and Michelle Hauser from our board and Jerry O., Rick Sippola and Diane Osborne from the Phillips board — a dozen, all together.

We knew they could do the job — and they did, with a great deal of credit going to the hiring of Chuck Roman as head of school. He’s the catalyst who makes it all work.

Thanks to him and Jerry and the others, it is working spectacularly.

Remember, if Andrews hadn’t been saved, it would be a parking lot, or a shopping center, or a housing development by now.

Thank you, Jerry and Chuck and the rest of the AOA crew, for making good things happen. Everything there now is wonderful. The alternative was terrible. And the Best of the East was another glittering accomplishment for the place that is an institution in Willoughby.

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