History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Friday, February 24, 2012

Remembering growth of hockey in Morris

Here's a file photo by yours truly (B.W.) of MBA Storm hockey. The initials stand for "Morris Benson Area."

Hockey was like "the little engine that could" in Morris.
I remember when the resources for hockey were threadbare or seemed to be. Hockey was a whole different proposition in the days before the Lee Center.
I remember being impressed by the resilience of those people. They were church mice.
Hockey could never reach a bona fide level when it was played outside. Nevertheless the sport's promoters did all they could. There was a definite "sandlot" quality to the sport. Each generation of kids was aware of the "rink rats" in their midst.
These kids had no hope of reaching the stature of the basketball stars. One got the impression they didn't care. They played hockey as best they could amidst the elements - so up and down of course. They were undaunted being outside the mainstream.
Basketball was well taken care of by the school system. The movie "Hoosiers" showed us how basketball, when it was just boys, was nothing short of a local institution. The state tournament was a single class. High school band directors didn't have to pull their hair out trying to keep up with all the games. It was a sleepy time by comparison to today.
Hockey was organized into "associations" that had nothing to do with schools. It was the total red-haired stepchild. (Is that expression politically incorrect yet?)
I was in the print media when hockey was going through its growing pains. Occasionally I did a feature article, interviewing devotees like Paul Watzke, with a message that there was hope for greater structure and attributes. Not everyone in town thought this was a good thing. It's hard to believe now but there was an air of controversy.
Were there enough athletes to support a fully established "new" sport? Could basketball keep its place in the athletic firmament? Could school district employees, most notably the athletic director, be persuaded to go along? Would hockey promoters have to "watch their back?"
Really, a friend of mine - a contemporary actually - whose middle name is "hockey" once told me "we know we have to watch our back."
Was there really an issue about the primacy of basketball? Would hockey promoters have to behave like insurgents? Well, they did and in the end not only did they prevail, they seem to have gotten their sport absorbed seamlessly.
And to the surprise of some, I'm sure, basketball was hurt not a lick.
The days of "Hoosiers" look so quaint. (Did Gene Hackman ever really "get the girl?")
The "insurgents" built up steam by bringing Herb Brooks to town. I remember well covering that for the print media. I have to append the initials "RIP" to Mr. Brooks and that's oh so sad. He of course coached the "miracle" USA team in the Olympics.
Brooks came to Morris as a goodwill ambassador for the sport. It's a testament to his charisma that I remember his appearance so well. He gave a formal speech at the Diamond Club. He "razzed" me good-naturedly because I was sitting there taking notes in my spiral notebook. The sight of someone taking notes just seems intimidating, like maybe I'm a lawyer or something.
He didn't exactly sound good natured but I knew he had to be. This was a public relations effort on the part of hockey and it had to give a back slap to the media.
"The media" were exclusive back then. We're talking the corporate media, and it had a lot of the advantages of monopoly. There was no Internet then with its dizzying and distracting array of devices for accessing it. No "data overload."
People sat rapt at their tables. This was like a hockey god talking to them. He would eventually be played by Kurt Russell in the movies. The only distraction in the room might be that newspaper guy, me, feverishly taking notes as he spoke.
Maybe Brooks felt slight suspicion about a newspaper person who might be part of that establishment being defensive for basketball. Believe me, that conflict was felt at the time.
We had wrestling but it didn't attract the same kids as basketball. Basketball seemed to attract the class of kids that didn't get in trouble a lot. Whatever you want to infer about wrestling from that, is up to you.
It took a while for girls basketball to fully take its place. Hats off to those legal and political people who firmly decided that girls sports would be fully established - not just some novelty. We take for granted today that girls sports are to be taken just as seriously as boys. It wasn't always that way.
The first generation of female prep athletes was like The Little Engine That Could, saying "I think I can." There were rough edges in their play. There had to be, because they just didn't have the background, yet. All the necessary strides were made with time.
In "Hoosiers" the girls were cheerleaders, and in fact we didn't get to know them at all. They were a hood ornament. Morris basketball had cheerleaders when I was in high school.
I remember when the pep band was persuaded to play for a wrestling match - a token sort of gesture, it seemed. I was totally bored. Later I came to appreciate wrestling but not so much because of any intrinsic entertainment quality. It was fun following the rivalries, personalities and the parents!
But I was very disturbed seeing the pressure a lot of these kids were under to lose weight. I thought it was an abomination and should be stopped, if it could. I'm also discouraged by the number of forfeits some teams have. But the sport seems alive and well today.
The tremendous flowering of hockey hardly torpedoed the existing varsity sports, as some prominent people had feared. So Brooks was totally right. I remember him emphasizing "how's it going to hurt basketball?" He coached local promoters on how to put forward that rhetorical question.
It seems quaint looking back now. When I was a kid I thought there were only a handful of truly talented athletes in the school and these were the basketball starters. Even the basketball backups had second-class status (like "scrubs," as we would meanly say). Little did we know there was a lot of athletic potential in our ranks - there just weren't enough avenues for it.
The hockey players were forced into their own world where they knew they wouldn't get a lot of attention. But they clearly weren't seeking attention. They were "rink rats."
Brooks put on airs in his speech where he wasn't meant to be taken seriously. One example was his "razzing" of me but there was a better example. He started off telling a story about how he first met one of our local hockey promoters who happened to be a physician. The story involved the two getting acquainted at a cocktail party.
Well, the physician was the type of person who would be averse to such a setting. Even though Brooks sounded serious, we all found out later it was completely made up, in a spirit of levity. The doctor actually called me at the newspaper to make sure I knew this. Oh, no one was upset. We just had to know the particulars.
As far as Brooks' attitude toward me, it was clear it was amicable when he approached me at the awards banquet.
Brooks' visit accomplished its purpose of giving momentum to the sport's advancement. The step that pushed the sport out of the shadows was the Lee Center. Pinocchio you're a real boy now.
The shining Lee Center allowed for high school hockey to flourish, because no longer would scheduling be at the mercy of the wildly unpredictable weather.
We had "Morris Area hockey" at the start - the Tigers.
I remember writing with some dramatic flourish about the first goal, by a fellow named Dan Zahl. I wrote about the irony of someone whose last name began with the letter "Z" and thus being at the end of lists, accomplishing this tremendous "first."
The Tigers didn't survive in hockey. I think that was unfortunate, but the numbers apparently dictated we had to pair with someone. We paired with Benson. The program became the "Storm."
I'm a little discouraged because "MBA Storm" doesn't point to a geographic place. Most people outside the area would be mystified.
I remember hearing there was some controversy at the time of the pairing - that some parents wanted to "go it alone" a while longer. Others thought we'd be "more competitive" with Benson. But a parent friend of mine laughed at that, saying we'd play Benson in the post-season and beat them. In a pairing we couldn't pick on them anymore.
We have the "MBA Storm" whether we like it or not, and the program seems healthy, although the girls varsity is going through a rough spell. We saw that coming. It's important to sell each generation on hockey.
It's too bad Herb Brooks isn't around to do it anymore.
"Hoosiers" is a fun movie but we had a far more shallow society then. Today the tapestry of sports participation is rich. The student athletes flying up and down the ice do their part.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Boomers weren't all enthralled by loud stereos

We never dreamt such a system would end up like a caveman tool ("Flickrhive" photo).

Symphony orchestras and the places designed for them are in trouble. This I learn following the media.
Symphony orchestras are a large collection of people playing instruments that were developed in the days before electricity. Electricity made possible the rendering of pleasing sounds that can fill a very large place. Electricity makes possible the projection of music over the length of a football field.
We wouldn't have We Fest without electricity.
Innovation has been rapid. It blew my mind when I first saw those tiny speakers that can produce sound just as pleasing as the old "big speakers."
Boomers will remember that "big speakers" were a status symbol when we were college-age. Having an expensive-looking stereo system made you very special. College dormitory residents even put up with this. This has always left me puzzled.
Dormitories are residences where presumably the occupants, however misguided their youth might be, want to keep a clear head. They want some peace or to study, even.
I heard there was once a discussion among UMM leaders about this. Concern was voiced, quite appropriately, about those "loud stereos" and their disruption. But there was pushback. The argument that won the day, according to legend, was "that's a part of their culture."
The young people were being observed as if by an anthropologist. The practical issues were put aside.
My own experience was at St. Cloud State University but I'm sure it was the same.
SCSU students aren't as smart as UMM students, consensus (here anyway) seems to dictate, but our "culture" is the same. Actually the perception that UMM students are "smarter" is probably as off-base as the idea that "stereos" were an essential cultural prop of the boomers. We're thrashing in stereotypes here.
It didn't take many boomers with large stereos to create the impression the devices were a true staple. The vinyl would spin and the volume would erupt.
Because there was a cultural element to this, and because our kind of music reflected the kind of rebellion we were expressing (as against the Viet Nam War), many college leaders gave it a pass. The boomers' parents hated it. But that generation of parents became very resigned about trying to rein us in. In exasperation they'd just leave the house. Go to the Eagles Club.
All these permissive adults failed to realize there was a simple environmental issue here. Loud stereos gave real enjoyment to only a minority of us. I would argue a great many of my generation were actually annoyed. How could you not be annoyed by something like this, that gets foisted on you?
It might not be your kind of music, for one thing. But that's the secondary issue. The fact the volume had to be turned up so cotton pickin' much was an abomination.
The fact that UMM leaders (according to legend) couldn't see that, is just another exhibit of how these people drift around in their own world. My goodness, this isn't to say UMM stood out with its tolerance, because it was futile trying to stop the "loud stereos" everywhere. I'm not sure what was worse, a roaring freight train or the latest "Grand Funk Railroad" LP.
Oh, but it was "a part of our culture," right?
The heck it was. It was a part of the culture of the kids who sought to own the biggest and loudest stereos. They with their little bags of marijuana and bluejeans with holes at the knees. Boys with hair down to their shoulder blades, although I must say that at that time, seeking a "clean cut" look with short hair presented the risk of having people think you favored the Viet Nam War.
So I give a pass on hair length. If you had long hair you had to try to make it look dry and fluffy. I remember buying an electric hair dryer at Benson Drug. (Maybe it was still Messner Drug at that time.)
Marketers used the expression "the dry look." What an era in which to grow up, when length of hair and choice of clothes gave indications of politics. It was the "generation gap" era. Get your hair cut short and you might be called a "narc" (narcotics officer).
The quality of your stereo system could be a badge of status among peers. A really good, really big system was expensive by our standards. A basic principle of marketing came into play. When something is scarce it becomes desirable. If something is expensive it's going to be scarce.
Extremely loud recorded music was expensive if you wanted it to sound clean, with a minimum of "distortion." Remember that term? Remember "woofers" and "tweeters?"
We'd sit sort of spellbound at the cleanest and loudest stereo music.
One of the appeals of disco was that commercial establishments with resources could provide the highest quality loud recorded music. Oh, and we needed that ball of spinning light overhead! There was that silly nightclub in New York City - "Studio 54?" - where fame-crazed and faux celebrities would go and project decadence. Ah, the '70s.
Today, "TMZ" satisfies that same urge to fawn over a certain type of celebrity. Today a lot of things are different - vastly different.
Some cultural factors come into play, but a big cog is "creative destruction" wrought by technology. Today loud music is no longer a badge for college-age kids. What a relief.
Tech has opened up music to where you no longer need to spend a lot of money to project high quality, loud sound. Because the "scarcity" element has been eliminated (as in marketing), there's no need to show off.
Kids can now look objectively at the situation and say "why should I risk damaging my ears?"
They can listen to music just because it's good music. The image of some unkempt college boy playing Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein" with the volume juiced way up, might belong in a museum.
Except that the boomers, now as adults, are trying to disown much of their past. They desperately want to keep their own kids from doing what they did. So, get them playing hockey, even the girls.
We would have been disbelieving if told there would someday be high school girls hockey teams, or even girls running cross country. Drastic change happens. We can't begin to guess what the societal norms will be 30 years from now. I'll bet there will be no more newspapers.
The first pushback against the old "loud stereo" music was the "unplugged" movement. It was as if simple "good music" was just being discovered!
The boomers often used those big headphones with the volume turned up so far you might think our heads would explode like the Martians at the end of "Mars Attacks." So today we might visit the hearing specialist.
Kids today use headphones with their computers. But it doesn't seem necessary for them to have the volume turned way up. They just want to listen to pleasing sounds.
Easily accessible high quality music is making the road tougher for symphony orchestras.
Deny it or not, but symphonies usually attract a class of people fancying themselves upper-crust. It's a social ritual just like for many people, being active in the Elks Club filled a social need. The milkman (as club officer) could get up wearing a tuxedo and give a speech.
I still remember the "milkman" coming to our house in the early 1960s, coming up onto the portico. I likewise remember those mammoth stereo sounds capable (seemingly) of opening up cracks in the pavement.
Technology has brought a world-changing wave of democratization. It is nothing but good.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Wrestling Tigers third among 8 in home invite

I had to wince a little seeing a headline about our Morris wrestling invitational. It was a wonderful affair of course, showcasing spirited competition. But the headline included those "MAHACA" initials.
This unwieldy construction attempts to represent the schools or communities involved in the program. I say "attempts" because people outside this area are going to be mystified.
What is "MAHACA?" Shall we pronounce it phonetically? I don't know.
But we love our wrestlers from Morris Area, Hancock and Chokio Alberta.
I have stated before and will state again - not that such pronouncements fall on receptive ears - that we ought to just adopt "Morris" or "Morris Area" as the name. It's understood we attract student athletes from a broad area.
It's above my pay grade - actually I get paid nothing - to make such decisions, though.
The Tigers placed third among eight teams in the big annual invite here. The date was February 11 (Saturday).
The KMS team was really humming as five Saints garnered titles, and five were runners-up. The Saints with 241 points distanced themselves from the competition.
The Tigers were barely nosed out of second place by the boys from Pequot Lakes-Pine River-Backus. The Pequot point total was 166. The Tigers': 165.
The KMS champs were Jordon Engler (106), Cody Peters (120), Lamberto Rodriguez (126), Zach Carlson (138) and Jordon Rothers (160).
The Tigers shone with four individual champions. Tim Ostby at 145 pounds blew past opponents, going 3-0 to take No. 1. Connor Metzger, who carried the banner at 170 pounds, turned back his three foes for the title.
Joel Harrison, manning the 220-pound slot, had a 3-0 day to emerge on top. Big Zach Gibson at 285 was in command like he so often is, going 2-0 en route to No. 1.
Evan Nelson went 2-1 at 120 pounds to take second place. Mitchell Ascheman, at the light end of the weight ladder (106 pounds), had a 2-1 day to place third.
Travis Ostby won two bouts and lost one to place third at 113 pounds. Dillan Johnson went 2-1 for a third place showing at 126 pounds.
The Tigers had two fifth place achievers: Wade Ehlers at 182 pounds (a 1-1 showing) and Tyler Moser at 195 (0-1).
The sixth place distinction is represented by Matt Munsterman (one win, two losses) and Seth Nelson (152 pounds, 2-2).
Also vying for MAHACA - it's tough typing those initials - were Jerid Berning (138 pounds, 0-2) and Aaron Nelson (160, 0-2).
It was an exhilarating day for the wrestling faithful, to be sure.
Tomorrow (Friday, 2/17) will see the Tigers in Marshall for Section 3, Class AA competition.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Unforgettable artistry of Maynard Ferguson

I remember once seeing a parade float for the Maynard MN community, about an hour before the start of the Glenwood Waterama parade. It was unattended. It would have been a wonderful photo-op for me, if only I had my trumpet.
The "Maynard" name was prominently displayed at the top. I could have filed this novelty photo away as a tribute to a trumpet icon. This individual left us six years ago.
You may remember the name: Maynard Ferguson. He was one of those artists who bridged the gap between pure artistry and popular appeal. His appeal among the boomer generation of high school musicians was huge.
His rather sudden death in 2006 left a void.
Touring as a musician was the only life he knew. Nevertheless he had a family. He recorded a tribute piece to his wife: "Go with the Flo." That was during the "direct-to-disc" phase of his recording (and yes, his wife's name was "Flo"). It was the kind of stable marriage that can contradict the musician's lifestyle.
Del Sarlette of Morris was another fan. Del and his wife Carlene are in the music business. There is some M.F. memorabilia at their establishment. The bursting forth of the Internet gives them a chance to connect with other members of "the fraternity."
I'm not really active doing this, but I do check out the official M.F. site sometimes. Del is a participant.
I think the time is coming when we just have to "move on" because of Maynard's passing. Problem is, there's just no new M.F. stepping out of the wings. Partly this is because he was a unique artist. Secondly, I don't think economics works with the idea of a traveling "big band."
Young musicians probably don't see the lifestyle as very appealing. In an earlier time I think it had a definite allure. As kids we thought traveling with Maynard would be ecstasy. "What else is there?"
But boys used to dream of running away with the circus too, a la "Toby Tyler." We would dream of playing baseball. Finally we were handed reality. Even us boomers had to land on our feet. Del and I were born at the height. Boomer fans would stream through the turnstiles to hear Maynard.
Maynard fans have recordings tucked away to re-live the past times. Maynard put out a series of albums with the "M.F." initials beginning in 1970. The album "M.F. Horn" was seminal and the essential building block. After that came albums identified by number: "2, 3 and 4-5."
The "4-5" was a two-record (vinyl) set, recorded "live" but maybe with an asterisk, as reportedly there was over-dubbing done later.
The M.F. organization got tired of numbers after 4-5. Along came the "Chameleon" album which had a firm rock edge. His foray into pop as opposed to pure jazz artistry grew. Dan D'Imperio took his seat at the drums, replacing the more jazz-oriented Randy Jones.
Maynard (a.k.a. "The Boss") got some jeers from the artistic community. His boomer fans thought the transformation was quite essential though.
We expected more of same after "Chameleon" but Maynard surprised us. He and his handlers decided they just had to join the disco realm! He achieved the closest he'd ever get to a pop "hit." This was his cover of the "Rocky" theme.
He then tried "Battlestar Gallactica" and "Star Wars." He did the original "Star Trek" theme which was put on two different albums, oddly. He even did the theme for the new "Star Trek" which didn't even make it onto an album.
All this stuff had the classic disco trappings from the mid-1970s. Perhaps I should write "infamous" disco trappings. The genre flamed out.
Maynard's star faded a little and he began recording for smaller labels, leaving disco totally behind. He had had his "run." His artistry ensured he would still have a fan base that sustained him. The pop phase could be acknowledged with a wink.
M.F. went "back home" to a quite pure form of jazz. His long-time fans who had been enthralled by his pop stuff were ready to go along. They (we) had matured, or at least I hope. The old corduroy pants might not fit quite as well.
Through it all Maynard traveled. Many of his gigs were at educational institutions. He played at our University of Minnesota-Morris twice.
By way of introduction, lest you not be aware, Maynard was a high-note specialist, wowing audiences. He led both big bands and combos. The combos might have been necessitated at times by economics.
The most devoted fans always felt the larger ensembles really allowed Maynard to flower. The combos could conjure up a "beatnik" motif.
Maynard's groups were known as a stepping stone for rising talent.
He was born in the "ghost city" of Verdun, Quebec, which I learn is now part of Montreal. His parents were musicians, which always helps. He heard a cornet in church at age 13 and got interested. I played a trumpet solo in church in my late teens but I doubt I inspired anyone.
It doesn't take much for a trumpet sound to fill a church sanctuary.
Maynard's career included countless stops on college campuses, ironic since he was a high school dropout! He got a plaque late in his career for his contributions to college-level music education. I have to smile. Hats off to those who simply go out and "do" things.
Maynard played a style of trumpet often called "scream." People not so fond of the style say "screech." I once heard our high school band director in Morris (the current one) say "screech." I can't blame her, because this isn't really a style you want to steer your students toward.
Ah, there's another big irony: the idea that Maynard with his highly idiosyncratic, unique style could be put forth as an example for young musicians. It seems to me a lot like showing a knuckleball pitcher to high school baseball athletes.
And yet the education establishment embraced him. Probably this is simply because he showcased traditional musical instruments. You know, saxophone, trombone, trumpet etc. It seemed a nice alternative to grinding rock guitars.
But Maynard certainly harnessed electronic amplification. I heard him in a concert in Willmar where he got way overboard on this. That was in the mid-1970s when kids demanded "loud" music. Today they may be paying a price with their hearing. ("What did you say?")
Kids could go wild at a Maynard concert. Del and I saw this (were actually part of it) repeatedly in the Twin Cities, mostly at the St. Paul Prom ballroom.
I attended Maynard's concert at Orchestra Hall in the midst of his disco "glory." Maynard was in his playing prime at that time. He couldn't have played better at Orchestra Hall. You want to put your best foot forward there.
Some promoters thought all this success could be parlayed into an arena type of setting. So it was tried at the old Met Sports Center, since razed, in Bloomington. The Mall of America is there now. Yes, I was there at the Met Center concert. It is remembered as a failure in terms of attracting an audience.
I remember Maynard playing well that night, not being disheartened or anything, although it seemed like a short concert. I remember him pointing upward just before reaching up to a particularly high note on "Stella by Starlight."
Here's a trivia question: Who was the "warm-up band" that night? It was "Matrix," a "Chicago" style (the group) ensemble. We all had a good time. I filled my car (my unforgettable '67 Olds Toronado) with friends from St. Cloud State University.
Maynard lost some of his physical command of his instrument over the last few years. If you took a friend to a concert you might say "Maynard isn't quite what he used to be, but you should know he's a legend."
His bands were good enough to be worth the price of a ticket. Since his passing, I'm not aware of any traveling groups even close to filling the void. The traveling "big bands" with traditional instruments might be R.I.P. The best they might hope for is to back up a big-name singer, like at a casino.
I had no camera handy for that day when I spotted the "photo-op" of the Maynard (community) float in Glenwood.
But Del was once able to achieve a novelty photo like this. He did it here in Morris. Holding up his trumpet proudly, Del had his photo taken under the "Massey Ferguson" sign (farm implements). "Massey" was close enough. Del used to joke this was Maynard's brother.
When posing, he presumably made sure no one was passing by to observe, lest they think he was nuts. But we're both boomers and in our lifetime may have done several things that seem "nuts" or avant garde or whatever.
Today kids just get lost in social media. No need to go on the road to find excitement as a musician. It's gone with the wind.
But the long-time MF fans can play recordings, close their eyes and imagine they're back at the Prom Ballroom, feeling the adrenalin flow as Maynard's band breaks into the theme song "Blue Birdland."
Click on the link below to read an earlier tribute post I wrote about Maynard Ferguson:

Click on the link below to read a post about "childhood idols" and what their passing means to us. I bring Maynard into the forefront of this post too. Thanks for reading.

- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Steve Sviggum's political stance taints 'U'

Steve Sviggum is a former speaker of the Minnesota House (photo from Minnesota Independent).

The U of M had better not take for granted the lofty reputation it has always enjoyed.
We all revere higher education or so it would seem. Complacency can be risky though. Issues that are troubling or suggest questionable judgment are ill-afforded.
We have seen the rather irregular retirement package for Joel Maturi recently. It has been decried as a golden parachute for someone who hardly brought glory to the U.
We can go higher than that in the U hierarchy for another toothache-like issue. We're up at the board of regents to observe a thorny and unfortunate situation. The U is seeking opinions from attorneys (yes, plural) on a matter that apparently can't be adjudicated with common sense.
The U's attorney Mark Rotenberg is weighing in. Also weighing in will be "an independent attorney," the words used in Minnesota Daily coverage (2/13), as if Rotenberg's thinking might be clouded.
What makes this issue so super sensitive? Is Steve Sviggum so indispensable as a regent that his status has to be weighed with such gravity? Isn't he clearly more trouble than he's worth now? Isn't there a "distraction factor" creeping in now? Isn't there a basic credibility issue?
Sviggum - often it's pronounced "Swiggum" - has had his hands slapped on this type of matter before. He isn't satisfied being a U regent with a clear perspective on University matters. The tremendous privilege of being in this role should cause him to instinctively shove all nagging distractions aside.
Is his arrogance attributable to being a Republican? That's my bias. Republicans have as a basic tenet the belief that people should not like government. I don't think it's bias for me to assert that - I think it's an objective statement. Would Republicans even counter me?
The University of Minnesota is in theory an institution of the people which strives, partly if not largely through state resources, to serve the broad populace, to nurture young people from a cross section in the development of their possibilities.
Regents should not be encumbered by a narrow political philosophy. Certainly they should not be overt in how they subscribe to that philosophy.
How overt is Sviggum? In January this long-time politico was named executive assistant and communications chief for the Minnesota Senate Republican Caucus.
Sheesh.
Sviggum added eggbeater to troubled waters when he talked self-consciously and almost defensively about his political stance. He said "hundreds have reached out to (me) saying 'we need a conservative on the board.' "
A regent should be intelligent, forward-thinking and prudent and not sound like a crusading tea party type. America is getting weary of your kind, Mr. Sviggum. The self-conscious type of conservatism you project is wearing on people.
I have written many times that conservatism is fine when it simply encourages restraint - a prudent and sober eye with public resources.
People who talk in a crusading way with conservatism go a step further. They are pandering to a public that often just gets sick of government. When these conservatives actually get power, they don't stay focused on fiscal matters anyway. They veer off into social issues where they quickly wear out their welcome.
Regents shouldn't use partisan language. When Sviggum says "we need a conservative" it's below the kind of lofty thinking we want at this level.
The Minnesota Daily even had to insert a "sic" in a quote attributed to this wayward politico: "My ethics has (sic) never been questioned. Nor will it be."
But the current process is indeed putting Sviggum's judgment under review. It's questionable if he really answers to anyone though. The state constitution has no provision for impeachment of a regent.
Sviggum has said he won't resign although a later statement suggested hedging. Clearly the matter is a distraction and somewhat of an embarrassment. None of the recent media coverage has refreshed me on how Sviggum became a regent. If he could keep his mouth shut about his agenda - "we need a conservative" - it would help.
In the broader public we are seeing a backlash against the tea party-driven conservatism. It has worn out its welcome. It was emotional to begin with and largely unrealistic.
Thomas Frank has written a whole book about what happens when conservatives get the real power to govern. Have we seen this in Minnesota with the implosion of the Senate GOP majority caucus? The title of Frank's book: "The Wrecking Crew." Frank gained fame by writing "What's the Matter with Kansas?"
The state constitution painstakingly strives to keep the U's governance out of the reach of politicos - legislators and governors. It takes vigilance.
Politicians are gluttons with power and have chutzpah.
Regents cannot be elected officials. Sviggum parses words, saying he's merely a Senate employee and not a "decisionmaker."
What on earth would motivate this purebred politician to do what he's doing, if in fact he's completely away from the decision-making apparatus? Of course he isn't. He's a capitol animal as much as any. With arguably as much influence as any.
He is compensated $102,000 a year to represent the Senate GOP position to the public.
Again, sheesh. He's a partisan crusader. And we need two attorneys, one of them "independent," to sort this all out?
What's the matter with Kansas? What's the matter with Minnesota?
The kind of money tossed around with Sviggum and Maturi suggest a disconnect. We can't assume that higher education is always going to occupy the high ground. We must be vigilant to protect it. Prudent decisions are essential.
The theory about the higher education bubble carries some weight. I personally subscribe to it (as a futurist and IT observer). Tuition payments are rising while the rate of return on a degree is decreasing.
The issues with Maturi and Sviggum are unnecessary distractions for our venerable U of M. Regarding Maturi, I'm reminded of what a former Morris Area school board member said in an informal conversation once: "If you give us the money, we'll just spend it."
Regarding Sviggum, the basic integrity of the man has come into question. What, we can't trust a Republican? Sviggum claimed he had already cleared the current matter with other regents and the general counsel. Those other parties had their hair stand up as they said "no, that didn't happen."
So we have a regent with a defensive and self-consciously political agenda - "we need conservatives" - who speaks in a way that requires a "sic" and who makes factual claims denied by others.
I'm sure there are many distinguished and thoughtful people who would serve on the board nicely and with humility. An entitled-feeling politico who exudes some arrogance is the opposite of what we need.
Regents chairman Linda Cohen has asserted there is a conflict in Sviggum's roles. She says it's "a serious matter."
It's a recurring matter too. Last year Sviggum left his role as a paid fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs after a review committee determined this role was not compatible with being a regent.
Sviggum can't see the forest for the trees, apparently. But he answers to no one, apparently.
It's a kerfuffle we hardly need.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Sunday, February 12, 2012

U of M sports popularity has lapsed

The baseball strike in 1994 pretty much took care of my interest in that sport. My interest today is only passing. So I'm not riveted on what the heck "bilateral leg weakness" is. It's the curious malady of Joe Mauer.
Sounds like a good excuse for me in terms of not resuming jogging.
The strike killed a golden goose for many. A sport where I once felt emotions became distant.
Whatever interest I show in baseball in the future, it will not be emotional. It will be occasional curiosity.
There is a parallel of sorts with U of M Gophers athletics. The problem here is that our family has Mediacom TV cable. For a long time now, we only occasionally get the opportunity to see the Gophers men's basketball and football teams.
These servings are so scant, we essentially have "moved on" and don't watch the schedule to see when an ESPN channel might toss us a scrap.
This feeling of indifference set in slowly. Would it help if finally we could get the Big 10 Network? It might be too late.
As with the '94 baseball strike, the scarcity of the Gophers on a major cable provider spells bad news for fan interest. When it subsides, it can be hard to revive. It's like I have gone through "withdrawal."
The lack of competitiveness might well be a factor. The University of Minnesota is in the news in a curious way now, with an outgoing athletic director being treated in a sort of royal way. It's a way not merited by the track record. The "retiring" Joel Maturi has gotten a plum one-year appointment that will compensate him in a way that makes most of us salivate.
Maturi will be a special assistant to the U president, Eric Kaler (the man from Stony Brook). Kaler has waded into controversy in his still-young tenure. Maturi's package has been decried as the classic "golden parachute." A legislator has trotted out that description.
Why would the AD wish to "parachute" from a flaming wreckage of a situation? And if so, why will this vague one-year gig net him such a fortune? If the U is to be an institution of the people, in these austere times, is this arrangement not disastrous?
Once again I'm reminded of a nugget that Jesse Ventura gave us. In his wrangling with then-U head Mark Yudof, the wrestler/governor stated "for the amount of money you're asking for the University, maybe I should run it."
I realize Maturi's compensation comes from some sort of special fund, so it's not like the taxpayers are cutting a check per se. But the U's assets ought to be viewed in sum. If you can't sell a fund as being worthy of taxpayer input - if you have to scratch and claw to rationalize it - there's a problem.
I guarantee you Ventura wouldn't stay mum on this.
I'm viewing this spectacle as a boomer. Because of that status I nearly want to weep with nostalgia when I think back to the Bill Musselman era in U of M basketball. It was intense and caffeinated and ended in a fireball of problems. But boy, did we ever pay attention.
Coach Jim Dutcher gave us a pretty good dose of excitement and success in hoops. Women's basketball had its day with Lindsay Whalen, although considering that team's personnel, I can't imagine how they came up short of a national title.
Football under Lou Holtz gave us a glimmer of what it's like to be really big time.
Success has often been accompanied by problems. The Clem Haskins era ended in a fireball of problems.
It's easy to decry big time college sports as dysfunctional, as it's quasi-professional under the guise of academia's purity. Purity shmurity. Now we have the mess at the U with Maturi's rather disturbing compensation package, and this mess wasn't even an offshoot of winning. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.
Kaler has declined an interview request by the Star Tribune. That shouldn't stop the media. Just do an "ambush interview" of the type crafted by Fox News. The O'Reilly show did this to the head of Syracuse University once, in one of the most pathetic displays of this technique. Some obscure Syracuse academic had criticized O'Reilly.
It appears the current U of M kerfuffle, where even state legislators are speaking critically, warrants such attention and skepticism now.
A U of M spokesperson, not Kaler, has stated that Maturi's compensation package "reflects the market for someone with his skills and experience."
Part of that experience is leaving the U on the hook for expensive contract buyouts. Glen Mason, Tim Brewster and Dan Monson were told to just mosey on down the road. With pockets bulging of course.
Which points to what is perhaps the crux of the problem here. I didn't come into town on a turnip truck. I'm boomer-age and I used to write sports. I understand that community and culture. We're talking "good old boys" here.
When you're in the fraternity, you'll be taken care of. You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. The U speaks bureaucratise in laying out the Maturi package. We hear that Maturi is "a terrific human being." We hear about that nebulous "market" dictating what's right for this individual.
Smelling around, I suspect that maybe Maturi knows where some bodies are buried. His compensation package is close to $470,000, according to the Star Tribune which Kaler seeks to slam the door on. Legislators have said the arrangement could hurt the U for state funding.
The Kaler honeymoon must be over now. It's an issue of relevance out here in West Central Minnesota where we have the U's jewel in the crown: our UMM. Regardless of what Kaler does, he'd be treated like royalty out here.
It's much more critical how he'll be perceived under the capitol dome. A golden parachute, bestowed with a windy and bureaucratic explanation, to a failed AD, making him look like one of the "one per cent," is the last thing the U should be doing now.
We can't even beat the boys from Vermillion (SD) in football now. Or the Bison of NDSU, who proved their first win over us wasn't a fluke. Fargo and Vermillion are supposed to be minor league compared to us. Their games should almost be scrimmage-like.
Can we not see the forest for the trees? I guarantee you, Ventura would.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, February 10, 2012

Bigger fish to fry than team nicknames

The "Fighting Sioux" nickname and logo of University of North Dakota have become wearisome. Politicians and petitions continue the wrangling which is like watching a schoolyard fight.

"Have you no shame?" is a famous quote that was directed at Joe McCarthy. McCarthy was from Wisconsin which today is revealing its own brand of righties.
The "shame" quote might today be directed at those who continue to push a certain sports team nickname in North Dakota. It's a state that isn't often in the news. That's the way I think most inhabitants like it.
I used to make occasional trips to Grand Forks (up ol' Interstate 29) but I never visited the UND campus. The tempest in question is centered there. It seems odd thinking of "North Dakota" and "tempest" in the same breath.
North Dakotans tend to be conservative and conservatives don't like controversy.
We have a newspaper in Morris owned out of North Dakota. This is a newspaper chain that has historically been right-leaning in its political endorsements. They cleverly endorse a Democrat once in a while in non-pivotal races. But they trumpet conservatism and helped bring us Chip Cravaack, ousting the venerable James Oberstar who was gifted at "bringing home the bacon."
Conservatives like local control. For that reason they might prefer that the NCAA "butt out" of UND's business when it comes to the team nickname.
The reason local control has to buckle under sometimes is principle. We sure saw it in the Deep South. Who would have thought that a race or ethnic-based issue would have its vortex in the otherwise sleepy state of North Dakota?
Who would have thought the Nazis would ever come into play? One of UND's biggest benefactors, the late Ralph Englestad, was once punished in Las Vegas for celebrating Hitler's birthday. When your behavior becomes a bone of contention even in Las Vegas, it probably won't pass muster in North Dakota. Unless you have money.
Englestad was passionate about the Native American nickname at UND. He stipulated it remain.
I wrote a post back in June (on my "I Love Morris" blog) that I thought would be my last on the topic. Surely the issue was dragged to a resolution. "Dragged" might be an understatement. The passivity of North Dakota was being contradicted in an overwhelming way, inviting the scrutiny of social scientists perhaps.
I'm only writing about the subject now because it was in the headlines again Thursday (2/9). I'm sure many people are taken aback, like me, seeing the topic fester.
There were two prominent items on page 1 Thursday pointing to uncomfortable higher education-related subjects. The other was this discretionary fund where new U of M President Eric Kaler pulls the levers. It's contentious. What I glean from that article is that there's a huge golden parachute for the outgoing U athletic director.
Both of these subjects - the U of M and the Sioux - have an undertone of unease in connection with higher education, in my mind. You see, I think there is a "higher education bubble" that isn't going to end well.
We have seen the world change dramatically because of the IT revolution. The idea that we need "campuses" and their libraries as places to get and disseminate information may already be antiquated. The old model only persists because it's entrenched. You might call it "legacy power."
The article on Kaler suggested that his predecessor, Robert Bruininks - why doesn't he spell it "Brunix?" - was more prudent in how he spent the "special fund." (All funds are special, aren't they?)
But in reading how Bruininks spent the dollars, much of that seemed superfluous too.
Colleges desperately need their athletic teams to get attention. Someday we may look back and wonder why we expected these institutions to be quasi-professional sports operations.
Our changing world with information empowerment hasn't significantly chipped at the foundations of higher education, yet. Sometimes change starts with a trickle.
University of North Dakota was once known as the "Flickertails." It's an animal, sort of like a prairie dog, right? Maybe that nickname was deemed a little wimpy. In the old days, remember, college sports was a male bastion. It was a "macho" world. So, someone had the light bulb go on over his head - damn that individual - and thought an Indian warrior symbol would be nice.
What a legacy that individual left.
Look at the tremendous wasted time and effort fighting over this nickname. Look at how it has painted North Dakota.
The NCAA has been trying to nudge UND along to the proper resolution. The NCAA is that "outside influence" that people, usually conservatives, reject in a knee-jerk way.
But a school belongs to the NCAA voluntarily, am I correct? Can anyone really assert that the NCAA is out of bounds on this? Can't the seesaw nature of the issue end now?
Do North Dakotans really want to look ridiculous in the eyes of the American public? Do they realize how silly it is to have this tempest raging over something as trivial as a sports team nickname?
Let me tell you, if the higher education bubble begins to burst - stay tuned - a sports nickname will be the least of your troubles.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, February 6, 2012

Super Bowl, Groundhog Day at apex of winter

The Super Bowl is filed away as history now. It coincides with the height of winter. In this respect it's much like Groundhog Day (or, as it's represented on the Morris Area school calendar, "Groundhog's Day").
Bill Murray told us in the famous movie that the holiday made us think about winter's role in the yearly cycle of things.
Winter can seem dismal now. The Super Bowl and Groundhog Day come when the "blahs" have typically set in. Perhaps this doesn't apply to our Minnesota winter of 2011-12. This anomalous winter has hardly seemed like winter at all.
As i recently wrote on "I Love Morris," our winter might make us feel we're in southern Iowa. Is that a step up? Hardly.
Winter reminds us how we often have to approach life like it's a siege. Weather can be an adversary. Enjoying oneself outdoors is no casual thing. It requires a strategy. Like a fishhouse.
I once wrote a song called "I Spent New Year's Eve in a Fishhouse." Those words began the chorus. Then I proceeded with: ". . .tryin' to forget the year. I was a little flat singin' Auld Lang Syne but no one was around to hear."
Yes, winter is a time of contemplative reflection.
Warm weather allows us to do impulsive things. In California they take the balmy conditions for granted. Out there you can figure that if you waste a day, tomorrow will be another wonderful sun-drenched day to begin anew.
Winter in Minnesota means literally getting confined to our home sometimes. There we can appreciate the basics of survival - a primal instinct. We assume our normal rounds when conditions permit. The lost time doesn't seem really lost.
It's just a part of winter, a chapter in the seasons that God bestowed with a purpose, a purpose that presumably goes beyond consuming the Doritos and Pepsi while reclined on a couch for the Super Bowl. I congratulate those who mark Super Bowl weekend in the traditional way - partying and sitting spellbound toward the glowing tube. I simply choose not to follow the ritual.
I don't even consider the Super Bowl a football game. I consider the peak of the NFL football season to come in wild card weekend and the weekend that follows. Each of those weekends has a full slate of four games (and eight teams). There's so much grist for ESPN Sportscenter to sift through. The season tapers off, in my mind, when the number of teams in contention tapers off.
The Super Bowl seems less an NFL football game and more a circus. Either that or an obscene tribute to American excess and unbridled capitalism. Beer commercials become an important institution. We evaluate their nuances. We give thumbs-up or down.
We consume more Doritos. We have no reservations about blatant consumerism.
But, you might ask, "Isn't this the natural order of things?"
Relatively young people might think so. I remember the Super Bowl from when it wasn't called the Super Bowl yet. I forget when the phenomenon of the "Super Bowl commercial" set in. But it wasn't when Vince Lombardi was coaching. Or when Len Dawson was playing. Dawson helped sink the collective morale of Minnesotans when the Vikings first played in a Super Bowl.
Older Minnesotans might not want to talk much about when our Vikings were in the Super Bowl. The thoughts can sting. The Vikings made us so proud so much of the time in the 1970s. They had an absolute aura, but they never could parlay that premier reputation into a Super Bowl win.
We looked so mortal in the Super Bowl. There were four of them involving the Vikings. All four left us in a stammering daze. There was no "spin" available. We could only rationalize "life goes on."
For the record, we played the Chiefs (with Dawson), Dolphins, Steelers and Raiders in the Super Bowl. The Raiders killed us. Congrats John Madden. If we had to lose to someone, Madden's the guy.
The Steelers game is remembered as the one where maybe we had a chance, at least for a while. I watched that game in the TV lounge of Shoemaker Hall at St. Cloud State University. The way I recall, a Bill Brown fumble (on a kickoff?) turned the whole thing around in favor of the Steelers and their quarterback Terry Bradshaw.
Today Bradshaw is a broadcaster with an ebullient and eccentric air, and as he gets older, doesn't he look more and more like the Peter Boyle character in "Young Frankenstein?" Those classic Mel Brooks movies came out when the vintage Vikings dynasty was thrilling us, most of the time anyway.
The four Super Bowl losses dragged down our state's psyche horribly. We continued moping about that, at least subconsciously, until the 1987 Minnesota Twins baseball team came along and won the championship.
One might think the '87 Twins avenged the '65 Twins (who took second). I really think they avenged the four Vikings teams that didn't quite make it.
The Vikings of the '70s are a distant chapter in Minnesota history. We came, we saw, we conquered, at least up through the conference championship game. After that? Well, the Super Bowl seemed no more uplifting than looking at that big rat, otherwise known as a groundhog, on the day associated with Bill Murray.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com