Jan 31

“The Road to Paradise” outline

Chapter 3: Paradise, Indiana

The Castle coaches and players would have liked to have had the respect of their opponents and those “experts” who predicted another embarrassing trouncing, this time at the hands of the beefy Hobart Brickies.

If the Knights couldn’t have that respect given to them, they’d just have to do the next best thing. They’d have to take it. Other than beating the Carmel Greyhounds, however, Castle High School had done little yet on the football field to demand such respect from the state’s elite football programs.

The fact is, in the early years after its inception in 1959, the school was as much at war with itself than with any other schools. Castle High School was — for all intents and purposes — a shotgun marriage of two polar opposite towns.

The historic river town of Newburgh, Indiana, rises above the meandering Ohio River, across from which some of Kentucky’s richest farmland spreads for miles. Civil War mansions and antebellum houses sit atop rolling hills and bluffs watching coal-laden barges and time itself roll by on the mighty Ohio. The lazy river town’s biggest claim to fame to date was being briefly captured by Confederate rebels during the Civil War — without a shot being fired.Newburgh, Indiana

Blue collar Chandler, Indiana, on the other hand, would have loved to have had such an historical moment — no matter how dubious. The town of modest clapboard houses and mobile homes was a mere spot on the highway that stretched from the Vanderburgh County seat and regional economic hub of Evansville to the west and the Warrick County seat Boonville to the east. Rough-and-tumble Chandler quite literally sat on the wrong side of the proverbial tracks, and Newburgh residents weren’t about to let them forget it.

When growth in southwestern Warrick County necessitated combining the two towns’ tiny high schools into a single school situated directly between them in an unincorporated area called Paradise, the once bitter rivals would be forced to find a way to get along.

It would be a trying honeymoon until the students of the new Castle High School could find a common enemy — county bully Boonville High School.  It would be a bitter rivalry that would remain heated beyond any other for the next quarter century.

Next — Chapter 4: Return to Waterloo

Jan 30

“The Road to Paradise” outline

Chapter 2: What Have We Done?

A year, a week and a day after the Carmel disaster, the 1982 Castle Knights football squad has answered the immediate question of whether they can ever get past the Greyhounds. Even though the Knights have gotten their revenge by dominating Carmel the week before, they find themselves to be the Rodney Dangerfields of Indiana high school football; they simply can get no respect.

Maybe it’s because they would be playing the Hobart Brickies, yet another Indiana football powerhouse known for its bruising, punishing brand of football, for all the marbles — the Indiana state AAA football championship.School City of Hobart

The Knights aren’t the first team from the far southern tip of Indiana to vie for the football title in state’s highest classification. A few had been there before, particularly the Reitz Panthers, who had a half dozen “mythical” championship trophies on display in their school on Evansville’s west side.

No team from southwest Indiana, however, had even come close to taking the title since the state instituted a playoff system in 1973 that allowed the matter to be decided on the field rather than in the polls. Reitz had the best chance in 1977, marching to the title game in Indianapolis where they were taken apart — as the “experts” predicted — by a bigger, stronger Portage Indians team from northern Indiana.

If the Knights didn’t know known such history lessons firsthand, they are reminded by a constant barrage of media reports extolling that they have absolutely no chance against Hobart. Not this team. Not with this opponent.

The Knights are expected to take their beating and go home, proud of having had the opportunity to visit the state capital city to lose an important game.

Would the Knights listen? Would they take their beating and simply go home? Was beating Carmel destined to be Castle’s “championship” game?

No one is sure, not even the Castle coaching staff.

As the half dozen coaches hunker down to watch Hobart’s game tapes the day after the Carmel victory, an uneasy silence befalls the room.

After a half hour of watching the colossal Hobart players destroying their equally gigantic opponents, a lone voice in the back of the room finally breaks the silence and asks what’s on everyone’s mind:

“My god, what have we done?”

Next — Chapter 3: Life in Paradise

Jan 29

“The Road to Paradise” outline


Chapter 1: Friday the 13th

A funny thing happened on the way to the coliseum.

Actually, it wasn’t that funny that the bus carrying the 1981 Castle High School football team to their semi-final playoff match-up with the Carmel Greyhounds got lost on the way the stadium.

When the Castle Knights finally arrived, the 10,000-seat stadium was already packed and buzzing with anticipation. As the young team with no prior playoff experience before this season stepped off the bus, the lights never seemed brighter, the crowd never seemed bigger, the consequences of what was at stake never seemed more important. They felt the pressure of the moment and the hopes and dreams of all southwest Indiana squarely on their shoulders.Carmel Greyhound

This was more than just another game for the Knights; it was uncharted waters. The entire state was paying attention to the match-up of this unknown team from the southern tip of Indiana against the defending state champion Carmel Greyhounds, who hailed from the epicenter of the Indiana football universe.

The “experts” of such things predicted Armageddon, disaster and pestilence. And they were right.

The powerhouse Greyhounds annihilated the upstart Knights 49-13 in a game that in reality wasn’t even that close. The lingering question after the debacle wasn’t about what happened that night, but how would the program would respond?

Had the Knights reached the pinnacle of their success or would there be more to come?

Next — Chapter 2: What Have We Done?

Jan 27

The Road to Paradise

Just as the film “Hoosiers” captured the poignant spirit of Indiana high school basketball, “The Road to Paradise” tells the story of an unlikely and unexpected football champion – an unproven team without a football pedigree.

Considered by many “experts” to be a team that could never seriously contend with the powerhouse schools from northern Indiana, the 1982 Castle Knights capped off a magical undefeated season with a championship that had been born six years before when a group of young, pubescent teenage strangers took the practice field for the first time as a team.

The Castle High School Knights hadn’t set the world on fire since first fielding a football squad in the fall of 1960. The Knights were more often than not the preferred homecoming patsy of most of the teams they faced.

And when Castle High was elevated to the state’s largest football classification, AAA, the Knights would face the state’s largest schools on the football field. Disaster loomed, and for a few years it took its toll on the school and community. The Knights hit rock bottom in the 1978-79 seasons when they would drop 19 straight games.

But at rock bottom, there is nowhere to go but up. The next season, the Knights would finish 6-3 and the season after would top that with an 8-2 record and drive deep into the state playoffs before being destroyed by the eventual state champion Carmel Greyhounds 49-13.Knight Time in Paradise

Had a fluke season just ended like it was supposed to – in annihilating defeat? Or was it that promising season a harbinger of things to come?

The answer came in a perfect 14-0 season in 1982 by the still “unproven” team that hailed from the disrespected and overlooked part of the basketball-mad state.

“The Road to Paradise” is the story of that season, that team, that community, and high school football in Indiana. But this story reaches beyond football. It is the story of a time and a place and the people who called it home.

The “Road to Paradise” is more than the story of what happened on a cold and rainy night in November of 1982 when the unproven Knights stepped into the glare of the big time and a state championship match up with the football powerhouse Hobart Brickies. It is the story of all that happened before, and all that would happen after for a team, a school and a community at a crossroads.

It is the story of two towns from the opposite sides of the proverbial economic tracks forced together in a shot-gun marriage, but with the common ground that both resided from the disrespected end of the state.

It is and is not a football story. It is a story about winning, but even more so, a story about refusing to lose. It is the story of a diverse group of young men that all come together to accomplish something impossible, something magical that no matter what life might throw at them — could never be taken away.Newburgh Dam, Newburgh, Indiana

Similar books include: “Friday Night Lights,” “Our Boys,” “Miracle on the Gridiron,” Twelve Mighty Orphans” and “When Cuba Conquered Kentucky” as well as John Feinstein’s “Open,” “The Majors” and “A Good Walk Spoiled.”

Next — Chapter 1: Friday the 13th

Jan 05

Why journalism?

“I became a journalist to come as close as possible to the heart of the world.”

• Henry R. Luce


I WAS A FOOTBALL PLAYER of amazing talent. I could make it through an entire game without dirtying my uniform. As impressive as this may seem on the surface, it belied a dark truth: perhaps, football was not my calling.

I like to think it was a clear moment of consciousness as a fourth-string 8th grade quarterback sitting at the end of the bench that made me realize that writing would be my life’s endeavor. Truth is, though, I’d loved writing from my earliest memories.

At seven I wrote a 12-page book about a Knight who slew a dragon and saved a damsel in distress — complete with stick-figure dragon drawings. It was cute to the point of being precious, trust me.

While most of my fellow high school students dreaded writing research papers, I relished the thought, preferring to research and write papers rather than take tests. When delving into a paper, you accomplish more than learning the material.

You envelope yourself in it.

IN HIGH SCHOOL, I JOINED the school newspaper, The Lancer. Before I knew it, I had become the sports editor and not long after that the managing editor.

When it came time to consider career options, there was really no choice. I’d long ago given up on my childhood dreams of being a cowboy or a bull fighter, and it was obvious that despite my wildest fantasies football stardom was never going to blossom for me. But, I learned, you could make a living writing, which is what I did best.

We received an afternoon daily newspaper in those days from the small urban city 10 miles west. I couldn’t wait to get home from school and run to the paper box at the end of the driveway to grab the Evansville Press. I studied it like a map. Not just the words and the pictures, but the layout, the use of white space, the size and font type. I sought to understand what the reporter and editor were thinking as they put it all together.

I enrolled in college to study journalism and never looked back. In college I covered golf and football, but found my true passion during the summers when I worked at the local weekly newspaper. Here I would frequent town council and school board meetings instead of locker rooms, learning the ins and outs of Roberts Rules of Order, the Associated Press Stylebook, and the inner workings of government. I already knew I wanted to be a journalist, but now I knew that I wanted to write hard-hitting, thought-provoking news and analysis.

Upon graduation I entertained two serious offers of employment, both of which would allow me to explore new frontiers outside the one-stop-light town of my youth. The first was at a small daily newspaper just outside of Cincinnati, the second was at a weekly newspaper in suburban Chicago. The pay was the same, the distance from my hometown similar enough.

So, why Chicago?

It was a girl. And while the love affair didn’t make it past winter, Chicago had become my home.

FOR THE NEXT EIGHT YEARS, I plied my wares as a reporter and editor at a variety of Chicago area newspapers. My focus was politics, government and education. My duties included not only reporting on issues but also guiding others in the newsroom. As much joy as I got from cracking a good story, I found even more accomplishment in honing the skills of a young, energetic writer.

The old man who lives across the street from my parents asked me once what I write about. I thought about telling him all the aspects of government, politics and business that I routinely undertake, but instead I simply told him, “I write about life.”

It was a simple answer, but the dead-on truth. Life is what happens when government makes decisions. Life is affected. Life is changed. Relating those events to people is at the heart of journalism.

I’ve written a novel and a half dozen screenplays.The novel still sits unpublished in my desk drawer. And the screenplays?

Well, let’s just say, I’ve become quite adept at penning “almosts” or screenplays that grab a producer’s attention just long enough to crush me later. It’s okay, though, I’m just ahead of my time. All I have to do is wait for time to catch up.

Since 1995, I’ve worked primarily as a health care writer, covering state and national issues in the Chicago area. It has been a fascinating journey that has taken my interests past local and county levels of government to state and federal issues.

I obtained a Masters of Jurisprudence in Health Law from Loyola University Chicago Law School in 2000. If I’m going to write about legal issues, I might as well speak the language.

I had an Illinois governor tell me once that he was involved in no criminal wrongdoing. Then, in a scrum of journalists, he told me I was a bad reporter for even asking such a question. I disagree with him, and when that former governor gets out of prison in a few years, I might just tell him that.

FOR THE PAST YEAR, I’ve been engrossed in a book project about high school football that had been in the planning stages for several years. I’ve interviewed dozens of coaches and players, reviewed game tapes play-by-play, and traveled several times to a half dozen small towns to inhale the fresh air, blue skies, and local charm. Each interview has opened new paths for the story to the point where it is not the story that I expected to write.

My career has taught me several important lessons but none more valuable than the understanding that the reader won’t read your in-depth political analysis, no matter how much blood and sweat you put into it, unless you relate it to them. This is why most people read the obituaries and stories about family dogs in need hip replacements, because everybody can relate to losing someone and most everybody has had a pet that needed them.

Relate it to them.

JOURNALISM HAS ALSO TAUGHT ME to see people at their best and worst and to definitely question everything. The old journalism mantra “If you mother tells you she loves you, check it out” has never been truer.

There are times I question why I’m crazy enough to engage in this demanding profession. But I know. It’s the unexplainable need to tell a good story, to dive under the surface and root out a hidden truth. And then there’s that deadline adrenaline surge as well. 😉

The most amazing part of journalism is that every single day I meet someone who teaches me something. It may be a simple thing, but that person added value to my experience. That person can be a doctor or lawyer, a carpenter or a store clerk, but they are all part of the fabric of life that is Americana. They are all part of the story — a story I hope to tell.