Monday, March 30, 2015

The 2015 5th Grade Basketball State Champions!

It was coming down to the wire.  The Head Coach of G's basketball team was trying to decide whether or not to accept the invitation to the State Championships in Danvers.  Last year, we were invited and declined because the games were at the same time as our district championships.  No one would deny G's team of that District Championship in 2014.  This year the 5th Grade State championship would have taken place during the first round of our districts.  With the Semifinals the following weekend it seemed like a no-brainer this year.  The decision was made to go.  Danvers, here we come!

It was a snowy weekend when we traveled to the Danvers Indoor Sports complex for our first game.  We were matched up against a tough Franklin team that was one of the best teams in the Metrowest league.  We were still a little sleepy as I led the teams in their pre-game routines.  As an assistant coach, I'm able to sit on the court and tell everyone to box out, but I don't have to worry about coaching a kid up when his shot isn't going down or he is suffering from mal-defense (my unique term for the lack of defensive toughness).  Franklin's interesting strategy of 2 minutes in, 2 minutes out was wearing us down.  They would just flat out sprint for two minutes and then go to the bench.  It was an interesting strategy.  Ultimately, we were able to pull that game out by 5.  I can still remember the squeaky voice on the Franklin Head coach.

2015 Champs!
The second game would be tougher.  We were playing a physical Canton team that had gone undefeated in its Metrowest league.  Led by two bigs who were 6 inches taller than G (who is our tallest player), we knew we would be in for a tough match up.  It was made even tougher when G had to sit out because he thought he was going to throw up (Ah, he could have told me before the one hour car ride to Danvers that he wasn't feeling well).  What I didn't expect was that the Canton team was a little weak-kneed.  Crying about fouls and non-calls, I thought we were playing a team from Hingham.  Especially when they got down in the game; tears were literally flowing.  The two big kids both went out in foul trouble and started swearing up a storm.  The referees actually had to talk to both of them.  No technical fouls in this event, though.  Jesus.  We pulled out another 6 point win.  With a 2-0 record in our pool, we received a bye and moved on to the top of the Winner's bracket.

Onto Sunday.  Our first game in the Semi Finals was against our fierce rivals, Braintree.  Despite being three times as big, we were always giving them a good fight.  This would be the same type of game.  Low scoring through out (They had a kid who just played a one man zone who would block every shot like he was Manute Bol), we were able to beat the bigger team by 10 points in a low scoring 29-19 game.  Thank God we hit a lot of our free throws because we could not get anything going offensively.

We knew our opponent in the Championships was going to be Canton again as they staved off a smaller but quicker team from Lawrence in their Semifinal Match-up.  They looked like they were ready to play as their parents were too.  They were circus-ready.  On top of that, this was the culminating game as 5th Grade was the oldest group and we were in the most high profile bracket.  It was a loud and noisy gym as the two teams began the tip.  It was clear though from the first couple of minutes that the Canton team was going to run out of steam.  They seemed fired up and could not get anything to go down.  Their two bigs were again stymied by our guys and had to come out.  One for crying, the other one because he fouled out.  Our lead grew to double digits in the Second Half and we cruised to a State Tournament victory by winning by 15 points.  What a great success!

The kids were celebrating, the parents were celebrating, the Coaches were shaking hands.  We were jubilant.  Alright I used that word like I was tilling the ground in the 1950's Indiana.  Don't mind me, we're just celebrating a great performance.  Good for them.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

2015 March Madness is Too Tough

Another year, another March Madness showdown in the JMR family.  For the past five years, I have been pitted against C, G and DLG/Mom.  Without independent research, I am confident that i won the first four so I am now defending my crown to win the JMR for the fifth year in a row! 

This year looks fairly easy to predict.  Easily the two best teams in the brackets are Kentucky and Duke.  Don't get me wrong, i detest both of those programs, but a victory is a victory and victory at any cost tastes just as sweet.  When the teams were announced a couple of weeks ago, I started my challenge with a Championship Game of Kentucky over Duke.  I would then back out my teams from there.  To add some extra pressure on me, Mom declared that she would use my picks as her picks in her work pool.  I asked her if she was going to share her winnings if my picks won.  The answer was not startling to hear.

But little did I know that C has watched more basketball than I have this year.  Apparently, all of the Instagrams and Vines have taught him a little bit about College Basketball this year.  He was ready for the challenge.  Or so he thought.

Can 2015 Be Their Year?
The first couple of rounds (we always disagree about whether the first four games are actually the first round of the pool) were not so kind to the JMR pool.  My South bracket was decimated when Iowa State and Davidson both lost in their respective first games.  I had Davidson going all the way to the Elite 8, in a fit of Stefan Curry overload.  I was not going to get any extra points from that part of the brackets since all four of us had Duke advancing.  Coupling that with a couple of upsets that did not materialize - Buffalo, Albany and Ole Miss come to mind - and I was mired in a tie with DLG and Mom for second place after the first week.  C was winning with 48 points and G was stuck in last place with 37 points, 2 behind us.  I never gave up hope.

Despite being berated by an angry Mom who declared that she should have just made "her own picks" in her work pool, I kept the faith.  All of my Final Four teams remained in tact, and I had a couple of late round upsets that could vault me into the lead.  We will see at the weekend ends.  Below are the standings after the Sweet Sixteen Games were played along with the teams still in:

C:  68 points (Kentucky, ND, Wisconsin, Arizona, Duke)
JMR  67 points (Kentucky, ND, Wisconsin, Arizona, Louisville, MSU, Duke)
DLG/Mom 57 points (Kentucky, Arizona, Louisville, MSU, Duke)
G:  55 points (Kentucky, ND, Duke, Gonzaga)

Points will be updated later this weekend.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Biz Markie Rules the World

Ask DLG what her favorite song is.  Go ahead, I dare you.  You might expect a song from Frozen, one of the theme songs from her Nickelodeon shows, Taylor Swift or one of the Disney movies that seem to be playing incessantly in the house.  You would never guess.  And it was inspired by yours truly.

Nope, her favorite song is that classic from 1989, "Just a Friend" by Biz Markie.  Yes, that song, from that rapper.  Bad matching beach ball attire and all. Strained lyrics that stretched the boundaries of acceptable rap music at the time of N.W.A.  Her favorite song in 2015 is the same song that delighted immature teenagers in the early 1990's.  Who knew?  Although I had an inkling that her favorite song would be an older song since one of her favorite episodes on those Nickelodeon shows is the Victorious episode that is based on The Breakfast Club.  Tacos substituted for pot, of course!

It all started when we watched the Jimmy Fallon/Brian Williams/Lester Holt mash up of Rapper's Delight on the Tonight Show.  A classic sketch that grew funnier to DLG when she heard the original song from 1979.  We, or course, then went through my teenage years listening to LL Cool J, Run DMC, Big Daddy Kane, Young MC on YouTube.  I happened to stumble upon "Just a Friend," and a hit song was born.  The hook was contagious and despite the fact that it was borderline comedic music, DLG loved the beat and what lyrics she could understand (See adult themes below).

Forgetting about the fact that I wore a Georgetown sweatshirt at a Halloween dance and called myself Biz Markie,  this song held a lot of great memories for me and my friends from high school.  I was actually happy that DLG liked the song and reminded me of good times.  While I like the beats, we really liked the chorus that implored "Youuuuu, You got what I nee-eeed..."  The memories.

DLG loved the video even more than the song.  Which was problematic, right?  Singing about a girl that Biz Markie was trying to get with had thematic elements that were a little strong for an 8 year old, but I thought if I didn't say anything that it would just go over her head.  Thankfully, it did go right over her head.

"What was your favorite part of the video?" I asked, not really knowing what to expect coming back at me.

"I liked it when he wore the wig and played the piano.  And when that little guy was dancing behind him!"  Powered wig?  Sounds good to me.

Next, we will breakdown the entire 8 minute video for Rapper's Delight, especially the determination of whether that guy's yellow t-shirt is too tight.

Friday, March 6, 2015

My Ode to Heady Topper (The Beer)

I don't often write about beer.  I like to enjoy it.  I like to enjoy 3 or 4 of them with LC or my friends.  It's rare that I would actually sit down and write about a beer.  That's how special the Alchemist Brewery's Heady Topper is.  It has inspired me to write it about it.

The story is now a part of drinking lore.  Located in Waterbury, Vermont, Heady Topper was born out of this idea that canned beer made with quality is a great thing that should be enjoyed. A hoppy canned beer was actually the way to brew these kinds of beer to preserve the flavor and aroma.  Starting as a tavern, the Alchemist as a restaurant was destroyed by Hurricane Irene a couple of years ago.  Only the small brewery remained.  Pumping out a couple of hundred cases every day was not enough to meet demand, thus a legend was born.

People stand in line for hours at local central Vermont corner stores waiting for that days delivery of Heady Topper.  The closest one to me is the Hunger Mountain Coop in Montpelier, three hours away.  And yes, I have tried to plan going up there to wait in line like everyone else.  I have had a taste of these beers before; a friend of mine was given one can (ONE CAN!) by his uncle and knowing that I was a beer maven, he decided to bring it down to share with me.  ONE CAN!!

Who cares that you wait in line for a four pack of beer for 3 hours when it really comes down to it?  It's the experience and the journey in getting the beer that is more important than the beer itself.  I think they like it that way.  My story will be told with more detail some other time, suffice it to say though that I was able to score a case of the wonderful suds.

Which leads me to my review.  It's the number one rated beer in Beer Advocate. has it in the top 10.  But how does it taste?  How does it match up to some other imperial IPAs that are de rigeur around New England?    

The drinker is implored not to pour the beer into a glass and to drink it from the can.  I surreptitiously ignore that plea, look around to see if anyone is watching, and pour the heavenly beer into one of my favorite drinking glasses.  It pours out a bright cloudy orange, just like a good imperial IPA should.  You are immediately hit by the hop aroma as the beer comes out of the silver bullet can (the real silver bullet).  I throw the empty can into the recycling bin - it's a Vermont beer after all - and swirl the beer around.  The first taste is full of hoppy flavor, with some notes of citrus.  It's a classic Northeast IPA.  Not too bitter either.  It tastes like a wonderful ray of sunset sunshine attached to it.  And at 16 ounces, there is always an extra bonus of 4 ounces of beer when you think that it has gone away.  A truly wonderful beer.

Now don't get me wrong.  There are numerous beers that match up nice to Heady Topper and don't require you to sit in line for 3 hours to enjoy it.  But this is my ode and I'll enjoy it if I want to.   Three hours in line to sip a little sunset sunshine?  Count me in.