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Columns

AMEND CORNER: Changing times

For the third time this year, a Powell landmark is going down.

This time it's the old swimming pool and auditorium which is, as they used to say in old Westerns, biting the dust. Its destruction follows close on the heels of the Westside Elementary, a much newer facility than the natatorium/auditorium, and the disappearance of the old Powell High School gym earlier this summer.

These last two demolition projects don't seem to have raised as much of an emotional response among Powellites as the old gym's death did. I suspect that's because, once the old gym's fate became inevitable, people simply resigned themselves to the fact that time goes on.

I suspect, though, that there were more than a few twinges of sadness felt around town by people who had experienced moments of success, even glory, in the pool or on the stage that are rapidly becoming history.

One former Panther swimmer voiced some of that sadness last week when I talked to him at the new pool. Even my daughter, who, as a swimmer for another school often expressed intense dislike — well, actually, hatred — for the old Powell pool, looked at the picture I had e-mailed her and remarked that it was “kind of sad” to see it go.

I have to admit that, even though I'm a relative newcomer to Powell, I have been sad to see the gym and now the pool and auditorium go. My son won a couple of wrestling victories that were significant to him in the old gym, and I'll never forget watching the pure joy exhibited by the Lady Panther volleyball players when they won the regional championship in that gym a couple of years ago.

As for the pool, despite my daughter's lack of success in the water in Powell, I enjoyed watching her compete there, and I've had a lot of fun watching Powell's swimmers since writing about them became my responsibility a few years ago.

Personally, I was never in the water in the old pool, nor did I ever compete in the old gym. Aside from being a spectator, my only participation in any athletic contests in Powell was as a member of officiating crews at a few football games, when we dressed in the old gym building.

The auditorium is a bit different though, because I actually did appear on that stage once, acting in a one-act play during what used to be called the District Speech Festival back about 50 years ago.

I don't remember the name of the play, but I played the part of a stuffy preacher, and at the play's climax, recited some lines from Tennyson. What stands out most in my mind is that I had the experience of wearing a clerical collar for the role, which I found very uncomfortable. Despite the discomfort, I always enjoyed performing, so I have good memories of that day.

Those personal connections to the old buildings, minor though they may be, are enough to cause a little regret when I see the auditorium being turned into rubble.

But I've had those feelings before. All three of the school buildings I attended in Worland are gone, and just a few years ago, the old Greybull High School building — where I spent three decades of my life working — was torn down. I was sorry to see all of them disappear.

Despite those feelings of regret, though, I am well aware of the shortcomings of those old buildings, and realize that they did have to be replaced. Buildings have a useful lifespan, and changes in our expectations of schools, educational practices and technology require changes in the way buildings are constructed and used.

Those changes have come gradually over the years, and sometimes we aren't even aware that they are taking place. The demolition of a building is a dramatic and obvious change, but, in fact, the changes that brought its destruction have already happened, some of them years in the past.

But change is also beneficial, and the new pool is no exception. I am looking forward to the Lady Panthers' first meet with Buffalo, because, for a photographer, the light in the new pool is much better, and, more importantly, more predictable. As a result, I'm hoping I can finally get a really good picture of a diver in action, something I never could do in the old pool.

It's sad to see the past disappear, but looking forward to the new is pretty exciting.

SPORTS GUY: Future looks bright

So here we are, another year, another column being penned at a regional baseball tournament on the eve of high school fall practices opening. Despite the fact that last year my employer booked me into a hotel near where a fire was burning and this year's journey has brought me to the site of an FBI manhunt for prison escapees, I could get used to this.

And that appears to be a good thing.

Wyoming's baseball capital produced another memorable summer. After leaving many last year asking how things could get any better, we now know the answer.

The Babe Ruth All-Stars from Powell set the standard by which future seasons will be compared. After going 0-for-four during last year's trip west, this year's crew opened with a late-inning heartbreak loss, then rallied to claim their first-ever victory in regional competition.

Then came the fun stuff. The All-Stars steamrolled their hosts by an 11-0 count. They had a chance to seal their place with a victory, albeit against a Kelso, Wash., team that, by most accounts, would have fit in nicely at the Pioneers' tournament venue this past seekend. They got to experience the thrill and the angst that comes with having to watch a sporting event while knowing that your fate and your future rely on its outcome.

Ultimately, they got to experience something that no Wyoming team in a very long time — if ever — has been able to. They got to play baseball on semifinal Sunday at a regional tournament.

Any way you slice it, that's quite an accomplishment considering that very few other states send a team representative that isn't a compilation of several communities' worth of hand-selected all-stars. The significance of Powell's run in Klamath Falls simply cannot be overstated. It was simply the finest baseball run in Powell Babe Ruth history, and possibly in Wyoming history.

That success should also ensure a couple things. First, those younger than this year's All-Stars should embrace the challenge and the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of this year's team. See the goal, and strive to meet it. That's how dynasties are formed in any sport, and hopefully this year's crop of All-Stars will share their knowledge and experience with those a few years younger to help lay the foundation for future success.

Second, it should make the odds good that summer trips, such as the ones Pioneers fans have made to Utah and Montana the past two years, don't become things of the past. Success breeds both expectation and deeper hunger — trust me, I've been there — and back-to-back Babe Ruth regional appearances should set the table for a crop of young up-and-coming Legion players to want the same at the next level.

For those of you who are just returning from Oregon to read these words, congratulations on your success and thank you for the thrill ride you've taken this community and its fans on over these last couple of weeks. For the Pioneers who are moving on, thank you as well. Having spent two summers now chasing you guys around and following you on the diamond, I'm going to miss seeing you in the dugout as you move on in baseball and in life.

Anyone doubting whether baseball still has a place in the heart of America just needs to look at what it has done for Powell these past couple summers. It's given us a reason to be proud. It's united fans in their quest to find out the latest scores in venues in Oregon and Montana. It's had listeners here at home glued to radios and Internet web addresses.

Not many other things do that in this day and age.

Among the decisions Park County voters will be asked to make one week from today is whether to approve a specific purpose sales tax to fund expansions and updates to the emergency room and other portions of West Park Hospital in Cody.

The proposal often has been viewed by Powellites from an “us vs. them” standpoint: Why should people in Powell pay for improvements at the Cody hospital, when Powell Valley Hospital needs many of the same improvements?

But I would ask people to look beyond this selfish reasoning. We're all residents of Park County, and it's important for us to work together to advance worthwhile causes and projects. After all, without the support of many Cody residents (though not a majority), Powell residents would not be enjoying an aquatic center now, and it's likely we will be asking for money for future projects as well — perhaps even a similar building project at Powell Valley Hospital. Park County communities must stop this ongoing community feud and support each other for the good of all.

Others decry any effort to raise money by any form of tax, regardless of the amount or the purpose. I believe this is short-sighted; each proposal should be weighed on its own merit. For most, a 1 percent sales tax is not a budget breaker, and the specific purpose sales tax provides a way to fund projects and facilities for the good of the public that otherwise might go unfunded. It also brings in dollars from tourists who spend money in Park County and Yellowstone, making it a little less onerous for residents, and it ends when the project is paid for.

However, there are some other important factors to consider when voting for or against the West Park proposal, and some of those have been overlooked or downplayed — and even misrepresented — during the discussion over whether to fund the West Park project. Following is my summary of some of those issues.

• The West Park Hospital District is a tax district — formed specifically for the purpose of raising money through property taxes to fund building projects at the hospital. The district comprises Cody and the surrounding area served by the hospital. As with the specific purpose sales tax, any property tax would have to be approved by voters — but in this case, only residents of the district would vote, and if approved, pay the tax for the project.

Some say it would be best to raise the money for the West Park project through a property tax on the district, because the people paying the tax also would be the people who use the hospital's services.

But I think the reasoning should go beyond that. The specific purpose tax is a valuable tool created to fund worthwhile community projects, particularly those without any dedicated funding or methods to pay for them. In my opinion, specific purpose sales taxes should be approved only for important community projects that can't reasonably be funded in any other way. I believe it would have been more appropriate for the West Park board to attempt to raise the money through the district before considering a specific purpose tax proposal.

The reason the board opted to go the specific purpose sales tax route is simple and understandable: By extending the tax countywide, more people pay and the money is raised faster, reducing the amount of interest paid on a construction loan and shortening the wait to begin construction.

• The West Park proposal has been a moving target that, initially at least, came with little or no advance public discussion at a time when other projects already were on the table. When West Park officials first approached the Cody City Council with the proposal, they were asking for a total of $38.5 million. When local government leaders and the public balked at that figure, the project was scaled down and numbers recalculated for lower construction costs. The board also decided to apply $12 million — previously held in reserves for a future building project phase — toward the proposal.

Those changes, combined, whittled the amount West Park needed for the remodel down to $14.2 million. But one could argue they should have been made before the project ever went to the public. It is unconscionable that West Park board members even considered asking the public to fund a $38 million project when they had $12 million stashed away in a reserve account that would have continued to earn interest while taxpayers were footing the bill for the entire project.

• One of the arguments used repeatedly to justify asking for a specific purpose tax to pay for the West Park remodel is, “We don't want to burden our children with a property tax that will take 25 years to pay off.”

That is misleading, if now downright deceitful. True, when West Park initially made its specific purpose tax proposal for $38 million, it would have taken 25 years to pay off the debt with money raised by a property tax on the West Park Hospital District. But now that the proposal has shrunk to $14 million, it would take only nine and a half years to pay it off through that method. Admittedly, that's still about three and a half times longer than the estimated 31-months it would take to raise the money through a specific purpose tax, but it's a far cry from burdening a second generation.

• The bottom line: The proposed remodel of West Park Hospital's emergency room and other areas absolutely is needed. I don't think anyone is arguing with that; I certainly am not. West Park Hospital is a public facility that serves the public, and it deserves public funding, if it is needed; the real question is, what form should that funding take, and who should pay the bill?

Voters need to be informed and prepared to answer those questions when they cast votes for or against the West Park proposal. Make sure to vote one way or another; if you cast a ballot but don't vote on the issue, it counts as a vote against the project.

And, if voters agree to fund the project through a specific purpose tax, we will expect Cody voters to reciprocate if Powell Valley Hospital makes a similar proposal in the future. WPH board members already have said they would support such a proposal.

After all, one way or another, we're all in this together.

SPORTS GUY: An imperfect system


The calendar has turned to August. In less than a week, college football fall practices will begin. Shortly thereafter, the obligatory annual talk of how messed up the BCS is as a system for determining college football's national champion will start.

But there's absolutely no reason to wait for college football to talk about messed up systems. We can start right now by looking at Wyoming American Legion baseball.

Wyoming is flirting with diamond disaster. To date, we've been lucky. In two years under the current format, the state's top two AA programs have found a way to meet in the championship. The top two A programs have managed to meet head-to-head on the consolation side of the bracket and everyone has been able to pretend the system works.

It doesn't work. We dodged controversy last season when teams were inexplicably allowed to change their classification prior to the state tournament. We were dangerously close to courting it again last weekend.

Consider, eventual state A runner-up Laramie trailed at one point in its game against Casper. Had the Rangers not rallied for a two-run victory, Powell would have repeated as state champion by virtue of … eating lunch at Perkins while its lone remaining challenger played an opponent not even from the same classification?

Look, I want success for the local nine as much as the next guy. That said, any system that potentially distributes hardware and regional tournament invites based on something other than head-to-head play is a ticking timebomb.

Wyoming American Legion is faced with a unique problem. The national entity has dictated that, in order to qualify a team to the regional feeder tournament for the American Legion World Series each year, it must hold a state tournament with at least eight teams.

The problem is, we here in Wyoming don't have eight AA teams. Nor is there any reason to suspect we will any time in the near future. In fact, that pool of AA teams has shrunk in recent years. The result is a tournament structure designed out of necessity for the bigger teams being used to also determine Wyoming's regional A representative.

That makes about as much sense as asking for a chainsaw when a butter knife will do.

As long as the current format persists, so will the no-win situation faced by managers like Powell's Mike Jameson.

Faced with a AA opponent in last year's semifinals, the Pioneers' skipper threw one of his top pitchers, lost badly and needed a Herculean 12-inning pitching effort that saw staff ace Scotty Jameson throw in excess of 200 pitches in a single day to help lift his team to a state title. This year, in an effort to conserve pitching arms in pursuit of a repeat state title, it meant the Pioneers were placed in the position of sacrificial semifinal lambs.

Let me be clear here — Jameson and the Pioneers' coaching staff made precisely the right call in taking their lumps and living to fight another day rather than risk that a 40-win season would prematurely end. I'd love to see Powell trying to be David to Wyoming's baseball Goliath — I love the Chaminades and Appalachian States as much as the next person — but the time for those story lines is in the regular season, not during a hybrid AA/A state tournament where different teams are playing for different prizes.

No coach playing for a title should find himself in that position. The post-season is about moving forward, not about pausing to take a step backwards. Brackets should be designed to ensure that all teams are competing for an equal prize, with equal goals. Right now, three Wyoming teams at state need to play for first place. The other five might be able to make do with fourth place.

That's not a recipe for equal competition.

I don't claim to know the fix to these issues. I do know that its just a matter of time before someone more mathematical than myself puts a value on how the current system skews the odds of an A title in favor of the north division teams compared to the south due to the imbalance among AA teams.

Perhaps there is no solution. Maybe it turns out that the Wyoming state Legion baseball tournament, like democracy, is the worst possible idea, save for all others that have been tried.

I don't have the answers. But there's no question we currently have an imperfect system, and it is only a matter of time before it blows up into major controversy.

As I sit down to write this column, it's with a twinge of sadness. This particular feeling of melancholy is not entirely to blame on the untimely death of our hen Black Bart, who upon jumping the neighbor's fence, was promptly set upon by one of said neighbor's dogs.

Don't get me wrong — I'm extremely sad about our dearly departed feathered friend, but a country girl can only grieve so long for a chicken.

Instead, the blue mood is brought on by the knowledge that this is my last week at the Powell Tribune.

I'm leaving of my own accord — no explosive family feuds or anything of that nature (though that would have made for a good story.) I'll be the first to admit that the daily commute from Cody to Powell, and back again, over miles of torn-up road (which is, ironically, now paved) was getting really old, especially with a 3-year-old.

But, instead, it was another job that lured me away. On Monday, I begin training to take the reins as the new director of Northwest Wyoming Family Planning, and I'm beyond excited about the new challenge (and maybe just a little bit nervous, as well.) So, in my mind, I am truly leaving for greener pastures and new adventures.

The decision came only after a lot of thought and discussion with my family. Without a doubt, the hardest part of that decision was the thought of leaving my co-workers here at the Trib. From the famous fair food eating contests (for the record, I never won), to the endless puns and embarrassingly irreverent sense of humor that pervades the back office, I've never spent so much time laughing at work. The free-for-all joke-fest has made what can be a really stressful and demanding job much easier and more enjoyable. Not to worry, Kara Bacon has generously offered to “pipe me in” via Google Chat or something if I have sick joke withdrawals. And let me tell you, I may need it.

More than that, though, I'll miss the friendships I've made at the Trib. It's been gratifying to work with a group of really smart, talented and capable people — the humor has truly just been icing on the cake.

However, you won't get rid of me that easily — I'll continue to contribute a column from time to time, just to fill you in on the crazy goings-on in our neck of the woods. While I can't predict the frequency of them — it depends on the demands of a new job and on my little child continuing to provide endless fodder — I'll keep them coming.

So, in the style of our managing editor, “Boomerang” Tessa Schweigert, who has written more “farewell” columns than can be counted on one hand, on Friday I'll say not goodbye, but “until next time.”

A recent spate of intense trial preparation — followed by the actual trial — took Brad out of our daily lives for nearly two weeks.
Each day, he left for work before Bliss woke up, came home long enough to grab a bite, then was off to the office again until long after Bliss' (and my) bedtime.

I decided the final weekend before last week's trial would be a good time to leave town, so my sister, Hallie, and I took our girls to visit our ailing grandfather in Cheyenne.

By the time we got home on Monday evening, Bliss was missing her daddy something fierce. During our 45-minute dinner with him, she was full of hugs and kisses — but then he went back to the office. When she later asked if she could sleep in our bed, I couldn't say no. And it about broke my heart when she gazed up from the pile of pillows on our king-sized bed, lip poked out and quivering, and asked, “Mommy, is Daddy going to come home to sleep tonight?”

At this point, I think it needs to be said that this type of work schedule is new to Bliss. We're lucky that Brad's job doesn't often demand it, and, as such, we enjoy cooking dinner and hanging out as a family most every night. As such, the adjustment was really hard for her.

So Bliss and I snuggled up close and were quickly sound asleep. When Brad returned after a long night at the office, he joined his snoozing family. And that's when things took a turn — the cozy family snuggle just wasn't meant to be.

Light sleeper that I am, I was the first to vacate the bed for quieter pastures. Brad's snoring had me wide awake in short order, and I crawled into Bliss' pink-sheeted twin bed across the hall. Then, to my surprise, the next morning, when I woke for my early-morning run, I found Brad on the living room couch.

“What are you doing out here?” I asked, half perplexed, but also annoyed at missing a night in my big, comfy bed.

He responded that Bliss' sharp kicks to the ribs were not conducive to his sleep, so he, too, exited our bed.

Upon hearing that, I peeked into our bedroom, to see a somewhat smug-looked child contentedly asleep on my pillow. Sprawled on her back, hands behind her head and her tiny self nearly invisible in the large expanse, Bliss was the picture of — well, Bliss — in our bed.

Shaking my head — and feeling the stiffness in my neck from a long night in a tiny bed — it was not hard to wonder where the justice was in the world. But at least the small child was happy.

MY LOUSY WORLD: Step right up folks!

It just wouldn't be fair to miss the fair again with all its fare. It's almost a sin to miss out on the nostalgic delights the Park County Fair offers. It's a smorgasbord of sensory pleasures — the sights, sounds and smells. Who isn't taken back to a simpler time by the teasing smell of cotton candy, chili dogs and goat dung wafting from the 4-H pens?

Fairs, carnivals and Las Vegas are our brief flights from monotonous reality. Only on certain pre-destined occasions can one indulge to gross excess with none of the normal repercussions.

God in his mercy decreed Thanksgiving, New Year's Day, Labor Day and county fairs shall be exempt from caloric concerns. “And God said, ‘Let there be Corn Dogs.' And He saw that it was good.” (Genesis 50:27).

County fairs are also quite safe, but the fair's dysfunctional nephew, the carnival … now that's a greased pig of a different color.

Remember the movie “The Jerk,” where a naïve Navin Johnson suddenly realizes in his early 20s he's not black and his sharecropper family had adopted him? He hitchhikes to the city and lands a job as a carnival weight guesser. After a rough start, he nearly perfects his sales pitch, “Step right up folks; let the weight guesser guess your weight. Fool the guesser and win some crap.”

But the dark carnival underbelly snarls when Patty, the psycho, motorcycle stuntwoman, leads Navin back to her trailer and unconventionally guesses his weight. His innocence was lost that day; that trailer was a rockin' and his child-like squeal of, “Wow, this is just like a carnival ride!” reverberated throughout the grounds.

That classic movie, called by some “The greatest story ever told,” is one for another day. But I know from personal experience the shady side of carnivals. I went to my first one during my first summer in Cody at 16. My brother Jess and wife Marti were between homes, so lived in a big house on Alger Avenue with church friends, Larry and Lucille Moerike.

The Moerikes often took troubled youth into their home, and a wild young teen named Dave also resided there that summer. Dave and I had little in common, except we were both young and were made to go to church with the Moerikes. One Sunday afternoon, Dave invited me to walk to the carnival with him.

After quaffing a couple snow cones, we found ourselves sitting in a caged cubicle to be spun by hard-boiled carnies before rotating skyward like a ferris wheel. Noticing our brake was non-functional, Dave says to the operator with an air of arrogance, “Hey man, don't spin our cage; it's broke!” “Oh, you no want spin cage, huh? O-o-ookay…” this heavily-tattooed Spanish fellow said sarcastically as he spun the cage so long and hard, he probably has rotator cuff problems to this day.

During our third, torturous go-around — while dangling upside down at the top of the arc — Dave prepared me for battle. “You ready to fight when we get out of here?”

Fight? Me? Heck, I was just a sweet Pennsylvania boy that wanted to play baseball, drink A&W Root Beer, and maybe sneak a Playboy into Moerikes' house occasionally. I had never drank, smoked, or even had my weight guessed. I was a wiry rassler, but the closest thing to a real punch fight I'd been in was a slap-fight with my older sister, which I lost. And now I'm gonna stagger off this ride, probably vomit violently, and throw hands with hairy, sweaty older men, the likes of which I'd previously only seen in prison movies?

“Fight? Ummm; yeah … I guess …” I meekly replied to my new, hardened friend fresh from reform school. As predicted, I nearly fell on my face on the ramp, and finally steadied long enough to notice Dave and this spinner thug were nose-to-nose. I staggered towards them and two other irritable carnie goons stopped me. One jerked off his glasses, stared only inches from my eyes, and asked, “Is this the **!!* giving you all the !!**?” (a few more expletives I wasn't familiar with.)

Thankfully, the wrath was directed back at Dave, who was now threatening to round up “some of our buddies” to meet in City Park for a rumble. The carnies must have been on break, 'cause they enthusiastically agreed. Next thing I knew, I'm lagging behind a group of about 10 big Cody boys Dave had probably met “at camp,” walking towards about a dozen Hispanic fellows. It was West Side Story, but there was to be no dancing.

I was never so happy for a police presence in my life when they intervened and sent everyone packing. As I told Dave later, “Them cats was lucky. I was on the wrestling team in junior high.”

So this week, I'm fairly sure I'll make it to the fair. It's so much safer than the amusement parks of yesteryear. Heck, I might even get wild and have me some funnel cake.

While watching the British Open on television last weekend, The Sports Guy's mind got to wandering. After all, it had to be the most boring major sports championship since the Giants-Ravens puntathon in Super Bowl 35.

ESPN.com columnist Gene Wojciechowski, a name I'm admittedly throwing in here because I know it will give my proofreader fits, compared Sunday's final round of the Open to staring in the mirror for four and a half hours and watching your eyebrow hair grow. My eyebrows are evidently more exciting than Wojciechowski's, because at 11 a.m. last Sunday, that would have sounded like a welcome proposition.

If, as former NFL head coach Herm Edwards is fond of saying, you play the game to win, then Sunday's final round of the British Open should have consisted solely of Louis Oosthuizen (there's another bone for the ol' proofreader). Everyone else was simply going through the motions of conservatively playing to not lose a tournament they weren't winning.

The 2010 edition of the British Open stirred up as much excitement about golf as vanilla stirs up interest in an ice cream buffet. Apparently the ‘major' in this leg of golf's major titles was a modifier describing the boredom one received by tuning in.

In the midst of the nondescript play by golf's supposed best and brightest, yours truly caught himself marveling at just one thing. The Old Course at St. Andrews deserves a place alongside blood transfusions, Nikola Tesla and the advent of the forward pass as things truly ahead of their time.

Think about it, faithful reader. We're talking about a golf course layout established in the mid-1800s that, with relatively few changes, remains relevant in a sport where oversized, aerodynamic, depleted uranium driver heads, graphite shafts, square grooves and balls engineered to spin on command have virtually re-written the sport over the past 15 years.

By contrast, consider that Augusta National, usually heralded as the gold-standard against which all other American courses should be compared, was constructed nearly a full century after the Old Course. It has been forced over the past decade to make numerous layout changes to avoid being overwhelmed by technology.

Then there are courses like Denver's famed Cherry Hills, site of the 1960 U.S. Open where Arnold Palmer rallied from seven strokes back on the final day to claim victory. Cherry Hills was removed from the U.S. Open rotation decades after its 1923 construction because the advance of technology had rendered the course too short for major golf. Despite two concerted efforts to lengthen the layout, it is still considered too short to serve as the host for a modern men's major (although the 2012 U.S. Amateur will be contested there).

Lest this be construed as a lament that they just don't build ‘em like they used to, let me be very clear. They wouldn't build them like this at all today.

The Old Course features seven so-called “common” greens, meaning that two tee boxes are playing to different hole placements on the same green. For example, the green for hole 3 also has the flag that folks playing hole 15 are aiming for.

The tee shot on hole 17 at the Old Course features a blind carry over the corner of a hotel. That's the sort of thing typically reserved for a round of Combat Golf on the Playstation.

Try proposing either of those features today and see how quickly the lawyers step in and object for fear of the ensuing lawsuits.

The Old Course has one other unique feature not seen in the modern era — it was designed to be played backwards. Three days out of each year, golfers can do something that I imagine would be very frowned upon at the Powell Golf Club by stepping onto the first teebox and aiming toward the hole 17 green, playing their entire round in reverse.

In retrospect, that's probably the only way Sunday's final round could have held any intrigue. At least I have a new-found appreciation for my eyebrows.

SPORTS GUY: Where did the summer go?

Once upon a time, The Sports Guy used to bemoan mid-summer. The period from mid-June until early August looked every bit as lonely as a late-night drive between, say, Lander and Rawlins.

So it is difficult to believe, as I sit here typing this column, that it will only be one month until I'll be attending pre-season practices, hurriedly typing up team previews and fall schedules and preparing to usher in another year of 20,000 miles on my car scurrying here and there to various sporting events.

In other words, I'd better get busy learning all the new offensive plays in the latest version of EA Sports College Football game, because my free time in August appears destined to be a tad smaller in size.

Actually, the local sports scene is already starting its buildup to the opening of fall practices. The Powell Pioneers just clinched another Northwest Conference title. Starting next week, fans will be able to take the short drive west to Cody to cheer the team on to a hopeful North Division tournament title and a spot in the state tournament field.

Little League and Babe Ruth teams will also be entering state tournament play in the not-so-distant future. Will any of those tournaments result in an extension of baseball into the month of August? Only time will tell.

Even if August doesn't contain any baseball on the agenda, it won't be much after the calendar rolls over that fans will start to get a taste for Northwest College athletics. If you want to get an early look at what your defending Region IX North champion Northwest College Trapper volleyball team looks like, circle Saturday, Aug. 7, on your calendar. The team will face off against a compilation of Northwest College alumni in an exhibition match.

One week later, Northwest College's inaugural soccer teams will trot onto a field in Billings for a pre-season scrimmage against Rocky Mountain College to officially usher in the sport's start on the NWC campus.

That same week, high school sports action —not practice, action —will get started with the Powell High School golf tournament. From that point on, we'll be on a multi-month thrill ride of non-stop sporting action for another school year.

So if you fancy yourself a sports fanatic, faithful reader (and obviously you do if you're reading this space), take the time to relax and enjoy the little bit of spare time that you have remaining. The calendar might read mid-July, but the summer swoon is almost over. In one month, we'll be hopping all over the place with another school year's worth of sports action.

"What I've got they used to call the blues; nothing is really wrong, feeling like I don't belong … Walking around, some kind of lonely clown … Rainy days and Monday always get me down.”

That '70s hit was sung by brother/sister duo, “The Carpenters.” What I've personally been feeling lately though, is not what they call the blues, and something really is wrong.

My computer dictionary describes depression as “…a persistent feeling of unhappiness and hopelessness,” listing symptoms like, “…dejection, poor concentration, lack of energy, inability to sleep, and sometimes suicidal tendencies.”

It's not like these feelings are total strangers; they've visited me every five years or so since I was 19. Like the Carpenter's second verse, “What I feel has come and gone before; no need to talk it out; we know what it's all about. Walking around, nothing to do but frown, rainy days and Mondays …”

My depression has nothing to do with the weather, but today's thunderstorms clapped an undeniable analogy.

When I took my dogs for a Sunday walk to the nearby canal, the sun was shining. But within half-hour, we were stumbling back up that muddy hill being pelted by chilling rain and threatened by thunder and lightning.

That's how the segue from wellness to depression seems. So warm and pleasant, it's difficult to imagine rain ever falling again. But suddenly there's instability in the air, dark clouds hovering low, howling winds, pouring rain and thunder rumbling dire warnings. The daily forecast is always, “Unseasonably cold, wet and dark,” with emergency storm warnings, “Seek refuge immediately and don't venture outside.”

The '70s song lyrics circling my mind lately is Terry Jacks' Seasons in the Sun: “Goodbye to you my trusted friend. We've known each other since we were 9 or 10. Together we climbed hills or trees, learned of love and ABCs, skinned our hearts and skinned our knees. Goodbye my friend it's hard to die, when all the birds are singing in the sky. Now that spring is in the air, pretty girls are everywhere, when you see them I'll be there … We had joy we had fun, we had seasons in the sun, but the hills that we climbed, were just seasons out of time…”

One of my most trusted boyhood friends is Lester Stephenson. Of all our Pennsylvania Conemaugh Township High '72 graduates, Les is undoubtedly the most financially successful. After owning restaurants and hotels all over the country, several years ago he moved back home and bought a local business. When I was visiting my dying Mom in April, we got together. I e-mailed Les last week, telling him that my “thoughts in knots” that began that week still remain without remedy.

Part of Les' thoughtful, empathetic reply was, “Yeah Doug, I think we all go thru some things you're experiencing.

Maybe it's our age or circumstances, old memories, missing lost loved ones, etc. I know your OCD probably intensifies it, but I believe this is kind of a crucial time in our lives. We're not young, we're not old, we've achieved some things, haven't achieved others, miss the guidance and steadiness of those we've lost. I don't know — I think it's a screwed up age to be!

“One of the reasons I moved back from Atlanta was because I was starting to feel lost. I was struggling with my faith, the way I felt about myself, priorities, etc. I needed to get back to something familiar…”

Once in the late '90s, I felt my regular Cody crew had disrespected me the previous day at the gym. Next day I arrived announcing, “You have killed the clown. The clown is dead!” I was half-jokingly threatening to not be the group jester any longer since my feelings had been hurt. It didn't last long though; a clown must perform.

These last few months, I've felt like the class clown inside me has literally been murdered and replaced by an insecure bully — a confused and frightened introvert.

My favorite song in 1971 ended with, “Now looking back over the years, and whatever else that appears; I remember I cried when my father died, never wishing to hide the tears. And at 65 years old, my mother God rest her soul — couldn't understand why the only man, she had ever loved had been taken, leaving her to start with a heart so badly broken…” “… And when she passed away, I cried and cried all dayyyy. Alone again… naturally.”

I cried the day Mom died this spring, just like I'm sure she cried all day when my sister Wanda died in '05 and sister Brenda died last year. Maybe too much death is what triggered this mystifying presence back into my life; who knows?

But until the clown inside me can be resurrected, I have warm memories of Mom, Dad, Wanda and Brenda — and great old song lyrics to walk me through this raging storm inside my head.

Page 61 of 64

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