Wednesday, May 9, 2012

More on Maddie Takes the Ice

Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of one of the best middle grade novels, Maddie Takes the Ice by Nicolette House. Maddie is the story of a young girl who must face pressure from many different directions as she heads to an important regional figure skating competition. The book is written by Nicolette House who has competed in National and International competitions herself. Lauded by teachers, figure skating moms, coaches and fans--Maddie entertains readers and has a lot to say. Here is a small excerpt from the early portion of the book:

During warm-up, Madison imagined the upcoming competition. If she won or placed in the top four, she could go on to compete at U.S. Figure Skating’s Junior National Championships. If not, she could not qualify again until the next year.

She warmed up her crossovers and spins, then her jumps. A huge smile spread across her face as she felt the speed and power with which she skated. She loved the sport and the exhilaration of skating more than anything.

“Madison,” Liz called her over to the boards. “Run through your competition warm-up and then we’ll run through your long program.”

Madison took a deep breath, then skated to the blue line to begin her warm-up routine. She felt the familiar butterflies in her stomach as she warmed up the first element of the two-and-a-half-minute long program—a layback spin. As the competition grew close, Madison knew the time to learn new skills was over. Now it was all about drilling what she knew. Madison continued warming up her jumps—a double salchow, double flip-double toe, and a double Lutz.

She was just finishing her footwork when Liz called, “Time. Okay, go get in your starting position. Let’s run your long program now.”

Madison grinned. She loved her long program, set to flamenco music that matched the style of her hot pink and black competition dress.

“Oh, and do the double axel this time,” Liz reminded her.

Great, just as I was calming down, Madison grumbled. She hadn’t warmed that jump up on purpose. The double axel was the only jump in the whole program that worried Madison. At least as her first program element, she could get it out of the way soon.

The first strums of the Spanish guitar jerked Madison away from her thoughts and she quickly centered herself to concentrate on her program. She started out edging, gathering speed before she entered her double axel.

Breathe in, breathe out, bring your leg through, Madison repeated to herself. In the blink of an eye, the jump was over and Madison moved on to the next element. She breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed throughout the rest of her routine. As she finished her combination spin, she heard applause in the stands. She looked up and saw a tall woman with short black hair applauding her. Who’s that? she thought to herself.

“Skate laps,” Liz coached.

Madison skated two laps to catch her breath and stopped in front of Liz.

“That was pretty good. You need to skate just like that on Sunday. I noticed that you were really tense at the beginning, but after you landed the double axel you were fine.”

“That jump just makes me nervous, I guess.”

“Why? You do it all the time.”

Madison shrugged.

“See?” challenged Liz. “You can’t answer. There is nothing to worry about. You’ve worked hard. You just have to skate Sunday like you do in practice. What happens after that is out of your hands.”

Madison nodded.

“Okay,” Liz continued, “let’s run the long program in sections and then you’re done. Tomorrow we’ll run your short.” Copyright 2012 Sporting Chance Press

Maddie Takes the Ice received excellent reviews from Figure Skating and It was also selected as an America's Battle of the Books selection and has found fans as far away as Oslo. Maddie includes an appendix that provides helpful information on figure skating and a letter to readers from the author. The author, Nicolette House, is a four-time United States Figure Skating gold medalist. Skating since the age of three, she went on to compete in European, World, and international ice dance competitions with her skating partner, Aidas Reklys. She currently coaches and performs in professional shows. Along with her skating partner, the author creates an annual ice show that features several top international skaters. Nicolette is a recent graduate of DePaul University in Chicago.

You can order Maddie Takes the Ice directly from the Sporting Chance Press.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Samardzija, Mays, and Halas: All Played Multiple Sports

We look back with fondness at many of the classic sports figures. After all we publish books that discuss people like Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays,(The 10 Commandments of Baseball: An Affectionate Look at Joe McCarthy's Principles for Success in Baseball (and Life)) Johnny Evers, Frank Chance, Honus Wagner, John McGraw, (Public Bonehead, Private Hero: The Real Legacy of Baseball's Fred Merkle) George Halas, Art Rooney, Walter Payton, Bill Wade, Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus (Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout). See more here.

It is interesting to note that many athletes excelled at more than one sport and deciding which sport to choose was often difficult. Even today with all the special focus on sport-specific and year-round training, some athletes participate in more than one sport. Here are three very different athletes who have or had skills in multiple sports.

Jeff Samardzija Just Getting Started

Jeff Samardzija comes to mind today because here in Chicago he has been in the news. If you watched Notre Dame football when Samardzija played, he was always the most competitive guy on the field. He looked like he had great career potential in football. As a big 6'5" 215 lbs. receiver, he broke a number of record for the Fighting Irish football team. Samardzija played his last two years during Charlie Weis ND coaching tenure. As a Junior in 2005, Samardzija had 77 receptions for 1,249 yards and 15 touchdowns. He averaged 16.2 per catch. Samardzija set ND records for receiving yardage and touchdown receptions. He was named by the NCAA as a consensus football All-American for 2005. In 2006, as a senior he caught 78 passes for 1,017 yards and 13 touchdowns. He averaged 13 yards per catch. Once again, he was named by the NCAA as a consensus football All-American. Samardzija played baseball as well. He was an excellent pitcher with the Irish baseball team. In baseball, Samardzija saw plenty of playing time during his college days. He had a 3.82 ERA and he recorded 21-6 career record.

Samardzija chose baseball over football. He was drafted by the Chicago Cubs coming out of college and received a generous contract. Known for his intense play in college, he struggled some in Major League Baseball his first few years. Some thought he needed to settle down and relax. Others thought he needed to develop more pitches and gain seasoning. Some pundits wrote Samardzija's baseball career off altogether after a few years. Things changed for the better during the 2011 season when Samardzija as a reliever improved to post an 8-4 record with an ERA of 2.97. The year 2012 may be a breakout year for Samardzija who is now in the Chicago Cubs starting rotation. He has come out strong this year with a 3-1 start and a 3.41 ERA.

Athletes like Samardzija who have talent in both football and baseball sometimes chose baseball as a safer bet--safer in terms of a sport that might offer a longer career. Pitching however, offers a set of unique physical challenges that pose perhaps more risks---at least that's how Willie Mays's father saw things.

Willie Mays One of the Greatest Athletes of All Time

Baseball Hall of Famer Willie Mays played baseball, football and basketball during his High School years. He was exceptional at everything he did. As a high school quarterback he could throw the ball 70 yards. In basketball he played forward and was the leading scorer for Fairfield Industrial High School in Fairfield, Alabama when he led his team to the state championship. In baseball, playing for various teams (his HS didn't have a team) there was nothing Mays couldn't do. He could hit, field, throw and pitch. In fact he was an excellent pitching prospect, but his father saw pitching as a risky endeavor especially unnecessary for someone with Mays talent. Mays's coach moved the great talent to center field.

Mays had a 22-year career in baseball where he played in 2,992 games with 10,881 at bats. He had 3,283 hits including 660 home runs (4th most in history), and 1,903 RBIs. His career average was .302. He had a remarkable arm and he led the league in steals four years in a row. Many consider Mays as the best baseball player in history--he is certainly in the running for the top spot on most everyone's list.

George Halas Casts a Long Shadow

Another multiple sports athlete is legendary Bears Coach and owner George Halas. Halas is known for many things in sports. As an athlete, owner, coach and league founder--few people have had as great an influence on modern sport than George Halas. An owner who was a chief architect of the NFL, Halas was extremely talented athletically. Not only did he play for the Bears for 10 years, he was signed by the New York Yankees. At the University of Illinois, he played baseball, football and basketball. He left the University of Illinois with a few months left in his senior year to serve during World War I. It was a big loss to the basketball team where Halas had served as team captain. After his time in the service, he signed with the Yankees and was sent down the minors. Halas had a difficult time hitting the curve ball in the pros and left the Yankees when he would have been starting his second year to seek other options. Interestingly enough, a few scouts had a similar criticism for none other than Willie Mays--"can't hit the curve."

Halas put himself on the line physically, emotionally, intellectually and financially for professional football. In the age of leather helmets, he broke his jaw at the University of Illinois and punished his body playing against much bigger men in the NFL. He stuck it out in football for over 60 years. It was no easy ride. Players could not tell Halas he didn't know what it was like to play the game. He coached from the early days featuring the T Formation to the complex modern game. He managed simple handshake agreements and saw the development of agents, TV contracts, and million-dollar endorsements. He ran the Bears when players made $100 a game to when they earned more than the President.

More information on Sporting Chance Press books.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Merkle Gets More Bad Press Over 100 Years Later

We've written so many times about how Fred Merkle was lambasted for what many people perceive as a base-running error when in fact Merkle ran the bases pretty much the way it was done in those days. In Mike Cameron's Public Bonehead, Private Hero: The Real Legacy of Baseball's Fred Merkle the complete story is told. Yet, Merkle continues to be the butt of jokes on screwball plays in sports. It seems like every time a big-time goof is made in sports, the Merkle base running story comes up. Here's a brand new Espn story that asks readers to rank stupid moves in NY: Rank 'Em: Top 10 Stupidest Moves.

Fred Merkle, was a young 19 year old New York Giant who was filling in for an injured veteran in an important game against the mighty Chicago Cubs in 1908. The game was tied going into the bottom of the ninth inning in the Polo Grounds. Merkle who was on first, walked off the base path and ran to the clubhouse after the apparent end of the hotly contested game when a teammate on third scored on a base hit to the outfield. Merkle was called out for not tagging second based on a rule that was rarely enforced (if ever) under the circumstances at the time. The flight from the field was even more common the Polo Grounds because the second a game ended a large part of the crowd exited right through the field. In those day, if fans didn't like a player's performance or an umpire's call, they might take it up with them right on the field seconds after the game. In some ways, you would have been a "bonehead" to stick around after a game!

The main reason why Merkle was called out that day is because Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers had primed umpire Hank O'Day for the call by discussing the particulars of the rule after a similar situation had occurred when the Cubs played the Pirates a few weeks earlier. A baseball article had also appeared in a newspaper question and answer feature calling attention to the rule and thereby calling attention to its obscurity and lack of use at the time.

Because thousands of fans had run onto the field on their way to the exits, the umpire ruled the game a tie rather than attempt to have the crowd return to their seats for extra innings. Merkle's team cried foul, but the press focused all of its muckraking venom on the unfortunate Fred Merkle and christened him “bonehead” for the remainder of his life. Merkle became baseball’s number one scapegoat and obviously continues in that role over 100 years later despite the efforts of Mike Cameron and others to set the record straight.

Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Mike Cameron's Public Bonehead, Private Hero: The Real Legacy of Baseball's Fred Merkle and other fine sports books. Public Bonehead, Private Hero is a great American story of baseball’s Fred Merkle, who was at the confluence of Progressive Era history and baseball legend. The book sets the stage historically and then recounts the most famous play in baseball history. A young New York Giant, Fred Merkle, walks off the base path after the apparent end of a hotly contested game only to be ruled out later on a rarely enforced technicality. The Giants cried foul. The press focused all of its muckraking venom on the unfortunate Fred Merkle and christened him “bonehead” for the remainder of his life, insuring his fame as baseball’s number one scapegoat. To Order.