"We loved reading this creative, unique kind of sports story. The author, John Heldon, effectively uses flashes of past and present to inspire all who read to reflect on what we love most about college sports."
- Mike Rice, Head Men's Basketball Coach, Rutgers University and Kerry Rice
Yours Truly and Mike Rice
After reading "Ark", these were kind words from them, especially the "what we love most about college sports" part. Sadly at the moment, Coach Rice is undergoing, I would say, "what we HATE most about college sports." He's been suspended for 3 games and fined heavily for his conduct during games and practices.
I'm not pretending to know the whole or the half of the circumstances, although I probably know more than most, being an active booster of the team. The Athletic Director, who does know all there is on this matter, is one whose judgement I trust, and thus, all I can say is this "is what it is."
That's as far as I'm going to stick my big toe in this puddle, because I'm not taking sides or pointing fingers. What I do what to do is to offer a vision moving forward, for the coach. You see, I've met Mike Rice many times in various circumstances, from the court to his home, and off the court he's the nicest, calmest guy you could ever meet. However, with the first whistle of practice, or the opening tip of a game, a mania overtakes him, like an over eater to a dinner bell.
The truth is, we all have personality flaws, and this is his. It's a translation of his passion for the game which has clouded his message. Saying that is the easy part, because it's in his DNA. (His father is the only ANNOUNCER to get thrown out of an NBA game by a referee). Not that he's done anything, like throwing a chair, or throttling a player, which other successful coaches have gotten away with. Also, his players don't understand the reprimand. They know he doesn't want them to fail, what he was like when they decided to come play for him, and that all jockeys whip the horse differently. They all know Mike Rice has two kids of his own, and 13 or so of them on the team. They know he's been there for them, late at night, one on one over a slice of pizza, working through their problems far removed from the court.
So as I'm writing this, I'm imagining Mike Rice working on this one area that's stopping him from being a complete, successful, big time college coach, in the eyes of those that matter. It's his "razor's edge", as Maugham put it, his path to salvation, which is most hard for him.
I'm betting his Will, which hasn't failed him to date, will get him through this, and he'll enjoy the long term success he deserves, At Rutgers, of course! He knows, as well as I, he's not the George Blaney, or Associate Head Coach type.
We all have our flaws, and I'll admit to one of mine: giving unsolicited advice, albeit well intentioned. Since Mike is young enough to be my son, I'm giving it here, because I don't want to see him fail.
The Inn's halls were already decked when we got there, which was a plus since this was our first visit during the Holidays.
Last year, around the time my book, "Ark" was published, I mentioned the event to our favorite waiter extraordinaire, David Van Wynsberghe. Using the term 'waiter" doesn't do him justice. As he's taking care of you, he's more like a friend. He makes my martini as well as I do (I don't tout many of my abilities, but this is one). He has that perfect timing of delivering the meal at a pace between too slow and too fast.
You get my drift. He's a rarity among servers in a business where most food is chucked at you in this moderate range of establishments.
Anyway, after the book was published, I sent him a copy after he told me what an avid reader he was. Month's went by, then I got a phone call from David praising the book. He said he could hear my voice reading it to him. That's the fun part of meeting an author, and hearing their voice. Their books then seem like audio books as you read them.
"Genna" and David Van Wynsberghe
As we entered the dining room this trip, we were happy to see David, since he was off shift our last two stops.
"Will that be a Bombay Sapphire martini straight up, like in the book?" David asked with a smile.
I nodded with a smile, but was hoping he remembered other parts of "Ark", and not just thinking I was a lush! He didn't disappoint:
"John, after I read your book, I got a surge of school spirit. I organized a reunion committee, and got more involved reconnecting, seeing what my old classmates were doing."
"David," I said, "I can't think of anything else I'd want you to SAY to make me happier. Touching readers, making them laugh, think, do something good, is why I write. It's the real reason I tickle the keyboard, not just to sell a lot of books, although that would be nice since royalties are going to Rutgers, my Alma Mater. Selling is secondary, I have to be useful, in a way which makes a reader feel better in some way."
"Now," I continued, "there's nothing you can DO to make me happier than to shake that Sapphire until enough tiny bubbles cloud the glass. Then, as far as I'm concerned, you've said and done everything you can for me tonight."
David laughed, and made a beeline for the shaker.