My Top Ten

by John Ring

I found a note in my mailbox last week from the publisher of The Zephyr, asking for an article celebrating the 10th year of our existence.

10 years? I wasn't sure this paper would last 10 days when I first talked to Todd Moore about this left-wing slanted venture. But I would comply with his request.

So what to do for a column?

10 best articles? 10 worst articles? 10 most influential articles?

Nope. To do so would be entirely self serving. Instead, I'll simply recall the top 10 memories I have as the Sports Editor here at The Zephyr.

The Shot

Ask me what shot is the most memorable of the 10 years I've covered Silver Streak basketball and my answer comes back pretty quickly.

There are lot of runner-ups. Rod Thompson's dunk against Rockford Boylan in 1998. Ted Trueblood's tip in of a missed free throw in 1993. Jason Shay's basket in the Rock Island Sectional upset of 1990.

But to me, it was Sarah Larson's game winning basket against Wilmette Loyola in the 1999 state quarterfinals.

With the score tied in the final seconds of a frenzied game, Sarah picked up a loose ball, shot and her basket gave Galesburg its biggest basketball win since 1966.


Watching Mark McGwire hit his 65th home run last year in Milwaukee was thrilling enough. But in a jammed postgame press conference, McGwire and Cardinal skipper Tony LaRussa held court. Writers from Sports Illustrated, the New York Times and the Washington Post were there.

I asked McGwire three questions during the 20-minute press conference. I thought all three were pertinent to either the game itself or the historic year he was having. He answered all three at length and was very polite and diplomatic-- unlike the reports I had read about him being uptight and surly. He was just the opposite.

At home the next morning, I turned on ESPN's ''SportsCenter'' at 7am. Highlights of the game were showed. Then ESPN replayed part of the press conference and the clip they showed was McGwire's answer to one of my questions. It concerned a controversial call by the umpires which ruled a home run he hit into a double because of fan interference. I asked him how it felt coming off his bat, did it feel like he got all of it. He's looking right at me. He's talking to me.

When someone being interviewed on ''60 Minutes'' or ''Dateline'' is answering a question, the camera always will turn to Diane Sawyer or Ed Bradley sitting there, thinking, nodding their head, being the all-important interviewer. I kept waiting for me to be on ESPN but it never happened.

Despite that, I jumped up and down in my house that Monday morning, yelling ''That's my question, that's my question!'' Right there on ESPN ''SportsCenter.''

Silas Johnson

When I drove up to Sheridan, Ill. to interview Silas Johnson, I wasn't sure what to expect.

He knew I was coming but wouldn't give me directions to his house. ''Just stop anywhere in town and ask, they'll tell you,'' said the former big league pitcher who was best known for being the last guy to strike out Babe Ruth.

So I stopped at a local restaurant, had lunch and the waitress knew where Silas Johnson lived, just about three blocks away. ''Is it true he used to play baseball?'' she asked.

Johnson greeted me at his front door with a smile and an Old Milwaukee. For three hours we talked baseball. For three hours he talked about the Babe and Josh Gibson and Joe DiMaggio and Ernie Lombardi and the trains and the ballparks and his career.

''I can't believe these autograph shows,'' said Johnson. ''Signing for dollars doesn't cut it. You sign for free, for the kids.''

Johnson, who was then 81, cracked open another Old Milwaukee. ''These players today are great, just great. Look at a guy like Mark Grace or Barry Bonds. They're talented. But my God, if they get a hangnail, they go on the disabled list. They're a bunch of pansies.''

It was in the 1935 season that Johnson fanned Babe Ruth three times shortly before he retired. The game before, Ruth had blasted three home runs (#712, #713 and #714).

''I struck Ruth out just throwing fastballs as hard as I could,'' said Johnson. ''After the game, I asked him to sign a ball and he said, 'Sure, Bub.'''

Silas Johnson died two years after I interviewed him.

Glasgow's Guarantee

After hundreds of interviews with athletes, they all seem to jumble together. One thing you learn quickly is that they all pretty much say the same thing. Stay focused. Keep a good attitude. Work hard. It doesn't matter if it's basketball, baseball or football.

Steve Glasgow is different. He says what's on his mind. I learned quickly that Steve was always good for a great quote.

Glasgow, who now is a basketball player at Monmouth College, was the point guard for the Silver Streaks 30-3, 2nd place team in 1998. I missed several games at midseason because of surgery and talked to Steve after a practice about having the opportunity to cover a team at State.

''Don't worry,'' assured Glasgow. ''We'll be there. I guarantee it.''

I didn't print that, not wanting to put pressure on the Streaks to actually make it there or provide locker room bulletin board material for Frank Dexter and the Moline Maroons.

But that's the way Steve is. I always looked at his attitude as one of confidence, not cockiness.


If ever a game reflected the struggles of the Silver Streak football program in this decade, a 57-0 loss to Sterling in 1993 was just that.

Watching that game was actually no different that witnessing other routs that over a period of time get lost in a daze. But the sheer lack of futility and embarrassment must have got to me that night. And when a local radio broadcaster praised a 14-yard Galesburg gain in the 4th quarter like it was the play of the century was, I really lost it.

I wrote an article about that game the next week. When it came time to generate a headline, I chose something simple: 57-0. That said it all.

And then all hell broke loose.

The phone calls poured in. I was stopped in restaurants and bars. I needed Brad Stevenson for a bodyguard. Most of the anguish I took was in defense of Bill Allison, who was then the head football coach. I tried to explain to his numerous defenders it was nothing against Bill. Hell, I like Bill.

A week later, two journalism students from GHS were sent out to interview me. I agreed to the interview but wondered why they wanted to talk to me. It didn't take long to find out. ''Why don't you like Bill Allison?'' was the first question fired at me.

I asked the two students interviewing me if it would have been all right to use the headline ''57-0'' if Galesburg had won?

Sure, they said, that would be fine.

Mrs. Schott's Glare

At Cinergy Field in Cincinnati a few years ago, I completed a couple of interviews in the Reds clubhouse and took the elevator up to the press box. Longtime Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman got on with me and we talked about one of our favorite topics, college basketball. It was pretty one-sided; Brennaman's a huge North Carolina fan but he was stunned to find out I knew why the Tar Heels had that particular nickname.

Then the elevator stopped, two levels up. The door opened and Marge Schott strolled in. She said hello to Brennaman and then looked at me, really sized me up.

''Who are you, young man,'' asked Schott ''and who do you work for?''

I'm reasonably sure Marge had never heard of The Zephyr but I knew her husband (who died in 1969) owned a good chunk of land in East Galesburg so I went ahead and told her.

''Galesburg,'' said Marge. ''I've been there. Wonderful town, great place.''

Watson's Drive and Joey's Block

Back to the Silver Streaks.The two most exciting plays I've seen in the last 10 years were these.

One was a coast to coast drive by Molly Watson in Galesburg's Sectional victory over Freeport in 1996. It sealed the win and was a big turning point in the girls program at GHS that's culminated in four consecutive State appearances.

The other was a play created by Joey Range in Rock Island in 1998. The Rocks missed two shots, the ball was loose on the floor and a Rock Island player picked up the loose ball and attempted another shot.

Range blocked the shot and the ball rolled towards the Galesburg basket. A Rock Island player gingerly went after it. Out of nowhere came Joey, a blur of speed with the intention of scooping it up and slamming home a dunk.

He missed it by one step. It would have been a hell of a play.

Covering Clinton

When President Clinton came to Galesburg in 1995, I was mildly amused at the response of local Republicans. Back then, Norm Winick (Zephyr Publisher) was the Chairman of the local Democratic Committee and he was swamped with calls from people trying to get access to the President.

That's to be expected from local Democrats. But it was also local Republicans calling. And while seeing the President in person is a once in a lifetime thing, I never said a word to Norm because he was being bugged to much by other people. I didn't vote for Clinton, didn't like him and had little respect for him anyway.

A few days before the President arrived, Norm asked Mike Kroll and me if we would cover Clinton's visit by observing the press area and talking to the various national correspondents who travel with the President. We both loved the idea and agreed to it.

It was a memorable day for both Mike and myself. We saw the President, talked to Wolf Blitzer of CNN, Rita Braver of CBS and Brit Hume, (who was then with ABC) and other folks who we had always seen on television.

Blitzer was the most interesting. Wolf, he said, was his real name. But what he enjoyed most about covering the President was trips such as these. It gave him the opportunity to actually talk and learn from average American citizens of what was concerning them. The Beltway, Blitzer said, immunizes everyone from that.


Say what you will about Joey Range but I'll just say this. He's the best Silver Streak basketball player I've ever seen.

I still remember the first basket he ever scored in a Streak uniform-- a layup in the right lane of the east basket at Thiel Gym when he was a freshman.

The other memories are obvious. His two 55-point games, breaking Byron Thierry's career scoring mark and leading Galesburg to a 2nd place finish his senior season.

But Joey drove his coaches crazy. He drove sportswriters crazy, too.

When things were going good, Joey was fine with the media. But when things turned sour, Joey would do his best to avoid interviews and never return phone calls. At least he was consistent-- Joey turned everybody down. Newspapers, radio stations, everyone.

The latest debacle of Joey leaving Iowa armed his cynics with more ammunition. Instead of being silent, Range could have taken the opportunity to admit his mistakes and pledged a new-found dedication to both the classroom and the basketball court.

But sadly, it was missing.


Basketball coaches are a rare breed. Their characteristics and personality traits are almost as bizarre as politicians or firemen. I've had many memorable encounters with them over the years.

I had a football coach from a high school in southern Illinois say to me, ''Well, I've got a couple of speedy colored kids in the backfield and some tough, big white guys up front'' when I asked about the offensive potential for his team.

But the best line came from Frank Muttuci, the girls basketball coach at Lincolnshire Stevenson. The Patriots had just dispatched Galesburg in the semifinal game of the 1996 Class AA Tournament. There was-- and still is-- this thing about suburban girls basketball and the rest of the state, particularly the downstate teams.

The Streaks had hurt Stevenson early by running. Mattuci had begged his team to slow the game down, pound it in. They responded and won the game.

I asked Mattuci in the postgame press conference if he thought Galesburg could compete, night in and night out, in a suburban conference. He evaded my question and so much as admitted it, asking, ''I didn't answer your question did I?'' When I replied that he hadn't, he then said what I thought he would. That the Streaks couldn't compete in their conference and he was cognizant of that fact.

''Can you spell cognizant?'' Mattuci asked me.

Uploaded to The Zephyr website June 2, 1999

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