What An Effective National Youth Organization Could Look LIke

I have, for some time, called for the creation of a national youth cricket organization, to be directed by a national youth cricket coordinator. I truly believe that without a clear hierarchal structure, implementing a unified vision for American youth cricket, even the most fervent of efforts will have limited impact, if not fizzle out altogether.

There are many possibilities for the form a national organization might take, and still time to come together behind a collective, yet singular, vision of how best to advance youth cricket. Please consider what is to follow as merely my offering to the conversation.

To assist in visualizing how I see this program functioning, I’ll start with what I believe will be a common scenario:

A member of a cricket club in the suburbs of Houston speaks to a member of the Houston Independent School District’s school board, who is receptive to the idea of teaching cricket in Houston elementary and middle schools. The immediate need is for cricket sets for these 218 schools, because the school district says that they haven’t budgeted for this expense. The wholesale cost of each set is $60, which creates a need of over $13,000 in cricket sets. The cricket club member approaches the East Texas Youth Cricket Association regarding this opportunity. The ETYCA emails its members and supporters, and is soon able to commit to the purchase of 100 sets; the West Texas Youth Cricket Association agrees to donate another 25. The ETYCA then contacts the United States Youth Cricket Association regarding the balance. The USYCA immediately works its network of member associations in the US, plus other supporters and patrons nationally and internationally, and within days has secured the funding to purchase the remaining sets. Thus, within weeks, cricket supporters across the nation (and perhaps even the world) have worked together to get cricket started in 218 schools that will now teach cricket to 140,000 children in Houston.

In this scenario, cricketers and cricket supporters across the United States are pooling their time, talent and resources in a unified effort to advance the game among young people in our country. This, of course, is the best possible, and most efficient use of our admittedly limited resources to achieve our ends. And it is also the only way in which we will succeed, because if we allow ourselves to continue as a fragmented collection of disjointed programs, we will never have the strength to overcome the not insubstantial obstacles before us. Together, however, as a single community of thousands or perhaps even hundreds of thousands, we cannot fail.

I think it is also instructive to note that my scenario speaks to the introduction of cricket in elementary and middle schools. I believe that this is the appropriate place to target our efforts (while not necessarily excluding high schoolers), because younger children are more open to new experiences, they have not yet settled on what will be “their sport” (which often, in the parents’ drive to make their child great, excludes all others from consideration), and they are still years away from requiring the national infrastructure that we do not yet have for advanced skills training. As an example, lets say we recruit a 13 year-old to become a cricketer, and he falls in love with the sport. Within a year or two, he will realize that there is little hope for him to develop as a player, because local academies and camps, not to mention the opportunity to play consistently, are almost non-existent in the US. On the other hand, an 8 year-old will not be expecting these things, and if we are given five years to work our national program, by the time this child is a teenager, there will be many more opportunities for him to enhance his skills and move on to the next level.

The bottom line is that, as in any well-considered project, we must build from the ground up, allowing the infrastructure to flourish naturally around us as we go. A mistake often made is to attempt to build cricket from the top down, with no existing system to support the effort. We must not repeat past mistakes.

Something else I’d like to note is the need for the United States Youth Cricket Association, and the state associations, to operate independently of any individual or existing organization for the time being. My goal is to avoid the snares of petty politics, jealousies and infighting that would endanger our success. Far too often we have seen great ideas and good intentions derailed by these things. We are far too small a community, and there is far too much work to be done, to risk allowing our numbers to be divided by politics. We must do all we can to build bridges between individuals and organizations, and avoid this fatal trap. Whoever would enter our company must be willing to check his pride and his ambitions at the door.

No matter what the final form, we must soon establish this national hierarchy to guide and nurture youth cricket in the United States. Too many years have already elapsed without a coherent national policy, and too many young people have already been lost to cricket because we could not provide the infrastructure to support them.

A national discussion is finally underway, and this is a great step forward. However, we must also be careful that we not allow the ongoing conversation to become a reason for inaction. Let us reach a consensus, and then move with alacrity to establish the year 2010 as the year that American cricket was reborn.

BaylorIC Takes Off in the UK

When we were children, many of us played sport, and we spent much of our free time out of doors. Today, too many children exhaust their days in front of a television, computer screen or video game console, without ever leaving their homes. This dearth of physical activity can lead to an increase in childhood obesity and poor overall health.

Some of these children might play a sport and better their chances at a healthy lifestyle, but find themselves embarrassed by their lack of athleticism, and so shrink away from competitive environments. If, however, while they were still in primary school, they could be introduced to a sport where natural physical attributes are of secondary importance to patience, intelligence and learned skills, these at-risk children might yet be saved.

This is the mission of Ingram Jones, the director of Baylor International Champions, an organization based in High Wycombe that seeks to make a difference in the lives of children by providing sport and educational opportunities for young people through cricket. Baylor IC plans on visiting schools in the UK to establish cricket development programmes, while at the same time creating strong ties between schools and local cricket clubs. Primary school sessions are in the form of Kwik Cricket, while secondary schools will play hard ball, with advanced skills being taught.

Jones’ long association with cricket began as a player at age eleven, with district cricket for Clay Hall Cricket Club in Essex. In London, he also played in the West Indian World League and the Clive Lloyd Cup on the team of his father, who is from Trinidad. As he matured, Jones discovered that he had a natural knack for coaching, and soon found himself drawn to that aspect of the game. After running afoul of an umpire for coaching on the field, Jones decided to take the leap and give it his complete attention.

In early 2009, having coached tournament-winning teams at schools and clubs in both the UK and Australia, Jones decided that the time was right to launch a brand that would allow his coaching philosophy to flourish. From this decision came the birth of Baylor International Champions, which has since become his passion. At BaylorIC, players are encouraged to not stand around, to keep moving and to stay focused. Endurance, strength and stamina are stressed in intense physical training sessions. Players are grouped into squads that reflect their level of cricket proficiency, and better players are introduced to coaching, as they are encouraged to work with players of lesser ability.

As the BaylorIC programme expanded, an opportunity arose to collaborate with 4 Media Students from Oprington College to produce a DVD called “The Takeoff;’ the project was just recently completed. The film includes many on-screen interviews with BaylorIC players, who reveal their feelings about cricket and the BaylorIC experience. “The Takeoff” will debut on the Community Channel programme “Your Sport” on 12 April.

Recently, Jones has been engaged in talks with cricket proponents in America who are interested in exploring how his unique coaching programme might be transplanted to the States. The results have been promising so far.

“I’m really excited about what Ingram’s doing with BaylorIC,” said Jamie Harrison of the Maryland Youth Cricket Association. “His programme is exactly what we need to have in the US, and I’m optimistic that we can find a way to make that happen.”

For Ingram Jones and Baylor International Champions the sky is the limit, which is fitting, as “The Takeoff” uses a dove to symbolize the freedom that children experience when imposed restraints are removed and they are allowed to reach their potential. At BaylorIC, helping children reach their potential is at the heart of their mission, and it is their dedication to this mission that gives the children involved a chance to soar above the clouds.

For more information on the BaylorIC programme, contact Ingram Jones at: info@BaylorIC or visit their website at http://www.BaylorIC.com/.

Five Ways To Make Cricket Attractive To Americans

(This article originally appeared in Dreamcricket.com)

Cricket, as a game, has everything required to make it attractive to Americans, especially now that the Twenty20 format has been adopted. All arguments made to the contrary are based on ignorance or, in some cases, a misplaced parochialism. How do I know this? I have witnessed it firsthand in my association with the Cardinal Gibbons cricketers, who were smitten by the sport from they instant they played it. My experiences with those students, when juxtaposed with the rest of non-cricketing America, also provided a roadmap to making cricket more than just a niche sport.

1. Get Kids Playing Cricket.

This, I believe, is the key element in any discussion about growing cricket in America. Typically, adults are resistant to adopting new sports; the sports one enjoyed as a child are almost always the sports one follows as an adult. This is why time and treasure invested in an attempt to introduce American adults to cricket are likely to be time and treasure wasted. Yes, there are rare exceptions, such as myself, but we represent the statistical outliers, and should not be used as examples to be emulated.

The true blueprint for success can be seen in the American soccer market, which is, itself, still developing. For decades, soccer was a sport played only by adult immigrants and ignored by everyone else in the United States. It was only when soccer began to be played in schools and recreation leagues that it moved into the American mainstream. Why? Because parents follow their children. If Billy wants to play soccer, Mom or Dad must take him to practices and games, where they will learn the sport by watching, and will develop a passion by cheering for their child’s team. (I have been through this process with my daughter, Sarah.)

As Billy learns the sport, he will become interested in its teams and players, and he will want to own things that reflect his newfound interest. This will require that Mom or Dad join him on this voyage of discovery, as they will be the ones responsible for acquiring the correct paraphernalia (apparel, posters, bedding, memorabilia, etc.). Billy will also wish to attend professional or college games, which will require an adult escort, and the escorting adult will, of course, cheer loudly for Billy’s player and team, which continues the indoctrination process.

So how do we make Billy a cricketer? Billy probably won’t choose to play a game he’s never heard of, or join a league where he has no friends. This is why it’s critical that we start by introducing him to the sport at school, where it can be taught as a part of his curriculum, and he and his friends can learn it together. (Cricket is a perfect sport for physical education classes, but I’ll leave that for another time.) My experience has been that often this is all that will be required to spark a passion for cricket. Once Billy and his friends begin to enjoy cricket at school, they’ll want to play at home, and it’ll be up to us to make sure they have the opportunity.

This brings us to the major hurdle we face in this regard: Right now, there is no coordinated national effort to introduce cricket at the elementary or middle school levels in the United States. As a matter of fact, I’ve never even heard of an organized local effort. This vacuum of leadership in the area of youth cricket creates an obstacle that will frustrate all of our desires to promote cricket, if it is not addressed. This is why USACA, as the sport’s officially sanctioned governing body, must appoint a board-level National Youth Cricket Coordinator without delay. This individual will be responsible for articulating USACA’s vision for youth sports, and developing local leaders, sponsors and programs that will effectively implement that vision. Until this is done, our hopes for youth cricket will founder and drift as a series of disconnected, directionless dreams.

Until we see children playing cricket at American beaches, in American parks and in American gym classes, little of lasting substance can be accomplished.

2. Cricket Equipment and Sets Must Be Readily Available For Purchase In Stores

Even if, in the beginning, it’s only toy cricket sets on the shelves at Walmart, having something to give Billy for his 8th birthday that will foster his love for the game is critical. Soon after, we’ll need to have real equipment on the shelves at places like Modell’s & Sports Authority. Right now, there are precious few places in America where cricket gear of any kind sits on a store shelf, and while dedicated cricketers may be willing to order online, those that are merely curious about the game (our target market) must have somewhere convenient to go to satisfy that curiosity.  Also, if we want to see children playing cricket, we need to make it easy for their parents to acquire their equipment. That is not the case today.

To change this, a major push will have to be made both by the manufacturers of cricket products and by the game’s American supporters. Retailers will want to know that SKUs can be obtained easily, at a cost that will enable them to make a profit. They will also need to know that a market exists for these products. Someone at a national level will have to coordinate this joint effort if we want to see immediate results.

3. We Need To Have More Places To Play

From my experience in the Baltimore/Washington area, I can tell you that there simply aren’t enough pitches for the teams that exist already, and there are no indoor facilities closer than New Jersey. This is unacceptable if we wish to develop the game. Players need facilities at which to practice (especially in the offseason), and teams need places to play. Changing this will require both public and private funding, and the patience to wait for the market to grow to the point of full usage of the facilities.

4. Cricket Highlights Need To Be Seen On Television

One impediment to the adoption of cricket in the United States is that most Americans have never seen it played. As a result, they reject it as alien, and assume it to be unwatchable. Regular highlight clips, played on networks that are available as part of the basic cable package, are important in both introducing the sport and dispelling the stereotypes. It may seem strange, but psychologically, as the sports fan sees cricket alongside other “accepted” sports, it will seem more normal for him to have an interest in it, and his mind will be opened. (I’ve actually seen IPL highlights on ESPN Sportscenter’s Top Ten before, but there needs to be more than that, and it needs to be more than just the IPL.)

5. T20/IPL-style Leagues Must Be Used To Promote The Game

All of the buzz seems to indicate that we are very close to seeing an American professional T20 league established. If this becomes a reality, it presents a wonderful opportunity for the teams, players and coaches to get out into their local communities and promote the game. This can be accomplished through youth clinics, demonstration games, ticket donations and so forth. It would truly be a lost opportunity if the league came and went without ever leaving the cricket grounds. The individuals involved have a duty to be goodwill ambassadors for the sport, and it is my hope that they won’t fumble this golden chance.

Our success will eventually be measured not by the number of trophies won, but by the number of children playing our sport.

As you can see, when I think about growing cricket in America, my focus is squarely on developing the youth market. If we fail to do this properly, no advances made anywhere else will make a difference, including winning international matches. On the other hand, soccer has expanded vastly in the United States, despite the fact that the American men’s national team has never gotten within sniffing distance of a World Cup. This points out the fact that creating and maintaining a fan base is not dependent on world-class victories as much as it is dependent upon the adoption of the game by kids.

At Cardinal Gibbons, We Played Cricket! (And Lost An Opportunity To Save The School.)

Last year, I coached the only American high school cricket team outside of New York City. It was created by a group of American kids who, without ever having played a hardball game, had already fallen in love with the sport. How did this come to pass? Well, it all started in Virginia, in April of 2008.

As a U.S. History teacher at the Cardinal Gibbons School in Baltimore, I often led field trips to the many historic sites in the area, and that April, I led a group of students on a two-day visit to Civil War sites in Richmond. Our first stop was the American Civil War Center at the site of the Tredegar Iron Works. After watching a cannon-firing demonstration, a smallish man in period clothing called out to our group, asking if we would like to play cricket. We agreed to have a look at the game, and from that point on, my life has had an added dimension.

The man was Tom Melville, an interpreter who has spent many years introducing hundreds of Americans to cricket at festivals, fairs, and reenactments in over a dozen states and Canada. He’s also the author of “Cricket For Americans” and “The Tented Field: A History of Cricket in America.” He learned cricket at the University of Wales, but he now lives in Wisconsin. We gathered around Tom, and he gave us a very simplified explanation of cricket.

Listening to Tom Melville are (from left to right) Don Erdman, Don Grey, Will Arsenault, Will Berkey and Ryan Kelly

The same group, with Tim Schmidt and myself in the photo

In this modified version, a rubber ball was pitched underhanded, but otherwise, the basic rules applied. Our group was soon split into two teams, and before long, we were playing the centuries-old game of cricket.

Student Ryan Kelly calling his shot, a la Babe Ruth.

Current UMBC Student Will Arsenault, who was the “Man of the Match”

We probably played for about an hour, and it turned out to be the most fun we had all weekend. While we were still in Richmond, the boys were already talking about finding a way to play cricket after they returned to school in Baltimore. I said supportive things, but didn’t really believe that their new infatuation would last. I was wrong.

By the time I got back to my classroom on Monday morning, a nascent cricket club had already begun to develop. All that Monday, students kept showing up in front of my desk, asking when they would be able to play cricket. At that point, however, we had no equipment of any kind, not even a ball. So I went home that night and started spending my money online – soft cricket balls, Kashmir willow tennis ball bats and plastic stumps sets all went on my credit card. I trusted that I could eventually get my money back, but honestly, I wasn’t sure if the fad would last long enough for that to happen.

Once the cricket gear came in, I took the boys to an open part of the athletic field and set up the wickets. From that point on, the game took care of the rest. The students organized themselves into teams and taught themselves the game; I mainly watched, acted as occasional umpire and collected up the gear when they were done. Soon, after-school cricket had a fairly large following at Cardinal Gibbons.

Keith Hess places a stroke to the Forward Short Leg

Keith Hess places a stroke to the Forward Short Leg

Chris Sutton makes solid contact

Every day after school, there would be a dozen or so students in my classroom, nagging me to quit working and start cricket. My history classes also became diverted by students trying to move the subject to cricket, rather than schoolwork. On rainy days, we watched the Indian Premier League on my laptop, and discussed rules, players and nations. By the month of May, there were over 50 cricket players, and they wanted something more organized. We sold polos, collected money for more equipment and uniforms, and made plans to divide the boys into four teams for a fall league.

These teams then played a ten-week intramural cricket season, on a real cricket mat, starting in August when we reconvened at school. Members of the Baltimore Cricket Club, led by Gregory Alleyne, volunteered to help teach the boys the game, which was the first time that any of them had any real coaching. It went incredibly well, and the league was even featured in a story in the Baltimore Sun.

The photograph that appeared in the Sun.

Fast bowler Don Erdman

Will Foy

After we had crowned a champion that November, many of the players weren’t content to leave it at that – they wanted to play real cricket, with real, alum coated, rock-hard cricket balls. Fortunately, the family of an alumnus, the Patidars, had a pallet’s worth of real cricket equipment shipped to us from Mumbai, so, with just one more round of contributions, we had everything we needed, except, of course, other teams to play against.

With only a vague plan to play demonstration matches at area high schools in place, the Cardinal Gibbons Cricket Team began workouts inside the frigid gymnasium in January. There was a bit of conditioning, a bit of skills work and then a pick up game at the end of each Saturday’s practice. An eight-grader who was unsure about whether to come to Cardinal Gibbons or Archbishop Curley, Ashker Asharaff from Sri Lanka, started practicing with us, and was soon accepted as “one of the guys.” Gregory Alleyne stopped by occasionally to work with the boys, too. It was around this time that Megan Godfrey of the Baltimore Cricket Club put us in contact with Keith Gill, of the Washington Metropolitan Cricket Board, who at that moment was trying to organize a youth cricket league. A prayer had been answered.

Ashker Asharaff

Not long after, Keith visited us at practice, accompanied by Gladstone Dainty, President of the United States of America Cricket Association, which is the governing body of American cricket. Dainty watched us practice for a time, and then got involved personally, helping the guys with their technique. He really seemed to be enjoying himself. After practice, he spoke to the team, telling us how important it was for cricket to spread to kids like themselves, who had no cricketing background.

(From left to right: Justin Bruchey (manager), Gregory Alleyne, Jamie Harrison, Keith Gill, John Boland

(From left to right) Justin Bruchey, Gregory Alleyne, Jamie Harrison, Keith Gill, John Boland

Mr. Dainty & me

Don Erdman bowls to Mr. Dainty

(From left to right) Will Berkey, Gladstone Dainty, Jon Marshall, Justin Bruchey

By March, temperatures had risen enough to allow us to practice outside, and we were soon joined by two new coaches, Trevor Roberts and Mike Thomas of the British Officer’s Cricket Club of Philadelphia. Every week, the team worked out on the football field. (Which they did not destroy. This, for some reason, was a great fear of the groundskeeper, who had somehow convinced himself that cricket was harder on grass than football. Go figure.) By May, the time had come to play our first match.

Finally, the pre-game ceremony ended, the moment of truth arrived. It was time to play cricket.

The first Gibbons batters, Justin Bruchey and Will Berkey

Justin Bruchey

Will Berkey

Jeff Thornton

Keith Hess

Don Erdman

Even though we were only playing 20 over matches, we lost bad in our early matches, usually by over 100 runs. But we accepted our fate, since we were playing against experienced cricketers from cricket-playing countries. In June, we became more international, being joined by Jayson Delsing, a player from South Africa, and Quincey Samuels, from Jamaica. Later two brothers of Indian descent from Philadelphia showed up at our match, asking to play. Having added our own experienced cricketers, the gap closed considerably.

Jayson Delsing and Quincy Samuels, our “ringers”

During the year or so that we had been playing cricket, I had been working long and feverishly to generate publicity for our program. My efforts paid off rather well, I think, as we received print coverage in the Baltimore Sun (multiple times), the Catholic Review and the Press Box. We also were discussed on 98 Rock‘s morning radio program. We also got quite a bit of coverage from the online cricket media, including Dreamcricket and Cricket World. For a time, it seemed like the world was watching us.

Another thing I did to garner support was to send emails to the major test-playing nation’s governing cricket bodies. Only Cricket Australia responded, and they were absolutely fantastic.  I exchanged many emails with CA’s Rebecca Mulgrew, who put me in touch with Dave Tomlin of Western Australia’s Kent Street Senior High School’s cricket program and sent me a lot of great coaching materials. She told me how much Australia wanted to see cricket succeed in America, and while they knew it would be “tough slogging,” CA would be following us closely. Here’s a letter she sent me:

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I quickly became Cricket Australia’s #1 American fan, and many of the boys started following Punter and the Aussies as well.

Another great experience I had was to be a part of the West Indies Cricket Board Level 1 Cricket Coaching Course, the first ever held in the United States. Windies coaches Wendell Coppin and Stephanie Power were great, and I was able to network with many of the Atlantic Region’s key people. I also spent a lot of time talking up the need to develop youth cricket in America, and how I believed that our program was just the beginning. Officials at USACA were really excited about what we were doing, and they looked forward to helping us grow.

In mid summer, it seemed like we were ready to take cricket to the next level.

For the first six months of 2009, we had been a magnet for cricket aficionados from all over the Mid Atlantic. At practices, guys from Pakistan, India, and other cricketing nations would show up to watch, talk cricket and ask about our plans. Many of these people were doctors and independent businessmen with teenagers at home who longed to play cricket. I received phone calls from investors who wanted to know if Cardinal Gibbons was interested in various “partnerships.” I began thinking about how our program might take advantage of being “the only game in town” for those in America who loved cricket.

At about the same time, I was told by David Brown, the school’s principal, that due to drastic budget cuts, I was being laid off from teaching. Enrollment was down again, I was told, and 40% of the tuitions of those who were enrolled were in arrears, which made the school a budgetary disaster. For too long we had been accepting any student that applied, regardless of ability to pay, and now the Archdiocese had given the school a year to get its act together. (The Archdiocese had just announced the closing of Towson Catholic High School, and there was a somber feeling at Cardinal Gibbons, wondering if we were to be next.) I went home that night, and after having made a few phone calls, knew what to do.

I spent the next few days designing a plan that would save cricket and Cardinal Gibbons School at the same time. It seemed like an idea, that, if not perfect, was at least guaranteed to reverse the school’s enrollment conundrum.

What I proposed was that Cardinal Gibbons School become the home to the United States’ first cricket academy. We would add elective courses in cricket (we already had elective courses such as “weight training” and “Gym II”), teach the game in Phys Ed classes and generally, make cricket an important part of the Gibbons culture. By doing this, we would attract the children of expatriates, such as the doctors at St. Agnes Hospital across the street. My experience with this group of students was that they were typically high achievers from well-off families – exactly what Gibbons needed to turn around its enrollment mess (I had two prospective students’ applications already in hand). I would become a cricket student-athlete recruiter, personally visiting clubs, associations and private homes, scouring the area for likely candidates. I also proposed a plan to spread cricket to gym classes at the middle and elementary schools, which even if only partially successful, would create a ready-made feeder system for Gibbons. We would also become a magnet for the investors that had been looking for a place to put their money. This plan worked for cricket and Cardinal Gibbons – the prototypical win-win. The only thing I needed was for the school to provide the start-up money to launch.

I first pitched the plan to the Archdiocese, which after a few days, called me back to say that they endorsed the plan, and that the Archbishop was “intrigued” by its potential. Next, I spoke to the Mr. Brown, explaining the importance of changing the trajectory of the school’s enrollment, in light of what was happening to Towson Catholic. He seemed supportive, but told me that he could make no budgetary decisions without first getting the approval of the school board. A few days later I met with Jonathan Smith, President of the school board, and explained the plan. Smith seemed less impressed. He told me that the school board had decided that there would be no new investment in the school for the coming year; their entire focus was on slashing expenditures as deeply as possible, and trying to raise money to offset the budget deficit, with the goal being a balanced annual budget. He was convinced that if this was done, the Archdiocese would not close the school.

When I explained that the Archdiocese, in public comments after the closing of Towson Catholic, had made it clear that enrollment trends were a critical factor in whether to close a school, Smith seem uninterested. The school board, I was told, was certain that the only consideration would be whether or not the school was in the black by December. Anything that jeopardized that would not be considered. Plus, the board had already decided to give a private individual $3500 a month to fundraise for them. It was suggested that I ask the alumni to invest in my plan.

That July, the Alumni Association had responded to the crisis with a plan of its own, the “Gibbons Forever Endeavor,” which was a complicated attempt to reorganize the school’s fundraising database, presumably with a fundraising push then to follow. At the first meeting to announce this initiative, I was allowed to pitch my plan, but none of those in attendance, save Carmel Kelly (an early supporter), saw any value in it. Alumni I spoke to individually said that they would continue their habit of donating only to sports teams that they favored. I found this attitude mind-boggling to say the least. It was like watching people rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic.

Scrambling, I called potential cricket investors, whose enthusiasm was dampened by the idea of sinking money into a school that either didn’t care for cricket that much, or was so near to closing that they couldn’t even provide the seed money for it. I was repeatedly told that their money was contingent upon the school’s firm commitment to the academy. Exasperated, I returned to the school board, which once again rejected the plan. The Archdiocese, along with a number of parents interested in sending their kids to Gibbons, asked me how things were going – I had no good news to report.

I began to wonder if the disinterest was a result of cricket being too “foreign,” or maybe because most of the players were honor students instead of “jocks.” I know that the other sports programs at Gibbons resented the attention that cricket had been getting in the press, and that the groundskeeper had long been agitated with me for forcing the football team to share its field with us. (He actually said to me, “That is a football field, not a cricket field!”) Once, his lawn tractor that was used to mow the grass had run over a lost cricket ball, and he demanded $38 in compensation for the “damaged blade,” even though it routinely ran over baseballs with no ill effects. I paid the $38.

By August, the cricket season was over and it was clear that my efforts to start a cricket academy had failed. I returned the few thousand dollars that had already been donated by cricketers, and called the investors to let them know. On a sad day in August, I returned to Cardinal Gibbons one last time to collect my personal belongings and return my key to the barn shed where the cricket equipment was stored, leaving the school to its fate.

And so, what may have been the last, best hope of the Cardinal Gibbons School was locked away inside a shed, never to be seen again. And that, perhaps, is the greatest tragedy of all.

Ma And Pa Kettle Visit Gomorrah (or Our Weekend in Atlantic City)

This past weekend, as a birthday present for my wife Laurie, we spent the weekend in Atlantic City. I’m not much of a gambler, mainly because my competitive nature makes repeated losing difficult to endure, but Laurie enjoys it (the games, not losing), and since it was her birthday, off we went. (Bear in mind that my birthday trips take us to battlefields and historic sites, so I guess it all evens out in the end.)

The first part of the adventure was the drive up on Friday morning. All week we had heard that we would likely be driving straight into a massive blizzard; we had even considered renting an SUV to make the trip. Instead, basing my decisions on forecast maps, I decided to stay with our Nissan Rogue, but to leave 95N just after Wilmington, taking 40E across southern New Jersey. My hope was to skirt the heavier snowfall by staying south of Philadelphia.

Luckily, the storm underperformed and the drive was uneventful. By 1PM, we were in Atlantic City, and by 1:30 we were in our room on the 16th floor of the Chelsea Hotel, which was conveniently located next door to the Tropicana. We may have slept at the Chelsea, but we lived at the Tropicana.

The Tropicana is part Las Vegas, part Mall of America. The main floor has thousands of slot machines (mainly video), gaming tables, restaurants and small bars. Branching off of the gambling area, it has a small mall called The Quarter, and a number of nice restaurants, sports bars and rooms for live shows. One restaurant, “Red Square,” sported a 15-foot tall statue of Lenin by its front door.

The Trop also has its own IMAX theatre, which was showing Avatar while we were there (no thanks).

The casino, where we spent most of our time, is a cacophony of sounds and lights. There’s pop/rock music playing from the speakers, the voices of dealers, waitresses and gamblers, plus the din of a million bells, horns, recorded voices, and digital melodies. Every machine and cluster of machines comes with its own light show, like little Christmas trees on amphetamines.

And then there are the people. When I was growing up, what I knew of casinos I learned from James Bond movies, where tuxedoed men and fashionable women played expensive games, and winners and losers each accepted their fates with understated emotions. Notice: This image is nothing like the casino I was in.

At the Tropicana, from what I could tell, there were mostly middle class people from all walks of life, some old, but many young; some well dressed, but just as often not. It was a predominately caucasian crowd, but not exclusively so.

There are two kinds of people at the casino: those who are there for the entertainment, and there are those who are there to make money. It’s easy to tell who’s who by the games that they play. The serious gamblers play “the tables.” These are games of chance such as roulette, blackjack, poker and craps; minimum bets range upwards from $15 per play. We pretended to be serious gamblers for a few minutes on Saturday. Laurie was alone, holding her own betting at a $15 roulette table. Being the only player at the table allowed her to live the fantasy for a few minutes, until other players soon crowded around and began placing bets that put hers to shame, causing us to slink away from the table, back to the safety of our 5¢ video slots. That’s another key to the “high rollers.” They prefer the real slot machines that play for $1 or more and forsake cute animation; the risk/reward is higher on these and there’s no entertainment value to offset the ugly reality of losing. We mostly stayed away from these.

Being the lightweights that we are, we were attracted to glitzy video slots with familiar themes, such as the following:

Indiana Jones (Laurie did OK, but I lost $35)

The Wizard of Oz (I did really well on this one; Laurie not so much) In this image, a "bonus" has been hit, and a flying monkey has appeared on the screen to change certain symbols to "wilds." If you're unsure, this is usually a good thing.

The Wizard of Oz, again. Here, a "bonus" has triggered an onscreen tornado.

Remember "The Match Game" from the 1970s with Gene Rayburn? Well, now this classic piece of television history is immortalized as a slot machine. By the way, "Vicki" is Vicki Lawrence, one of the regulars on the show.

"Wheel of Fortune" comes complete with voiceovers from Pat Sajak and Vanna White. If you hit the "bonus," the big wheel spins and you get the number of "credits" that stops in front of you.

Playing "I Dream Of Jeannie"made me feel like a kid again, watching reruns on Channel 45. Except my parents' old console TV never took $17 dollars from me in 12 minutes. Not that I can remember, anyway.

The "Happy Days" block was almost always filled. We finally got two open seats, but the Fonz just took our money like everybody else.

I loved this machine. When you hit the "bonus," a stick-figure, with Dino's head perched atop, would sing the song "Go Go Go Go" for as long as your bonus held out.

If you want to hear Dean Martin sing “Go Go Go Go” like I did at Atlantic City, click here.

On Saturday night, we witnessed a scene straight out of “Jersey Shore.” On the ground floor of the Tropicana, there are a number of sports bars (and slots, of course). From what we could gather, a group of young men in tight tee shirts had gotten into a fight over one of the young ladies in their group. The ladies were all uniformly dressed in tight miniskirts with heels so high that they could barely walk without falling. We missed the fight, but got to see the twenty minutes of expletive-laden shouting and pointing as security guards herded the knots of combatants toward the exit.

We experienced another eye-opener on Sunday morning. As we were walking across the street to the Trop, we saw a tall young lady dressed in knee high leather boots, fish net stockings and a leather jacket walking ahead of us with a much shorter man. The man was dressed in rumpled, baggy pants and had his gray hoodie pulled over his head, totally hiding his face. The two walked together without acknowledging the other. Laurie and my curiosity was piqued as we tried to figure out this odd couple. As they entered the casino, they drifted apart, still not talking, while keeping the same deliberate pace toward the hotel elevators. That was when we figured it out: what we had been seeing was a “John” escorting his prostitute through the casino toward the elevators (and presumably up to his room). We were amazed; it was like watching reality television come to life, right in front of us.

On that Sunday morning, we decided to give the nice casino folks a little more of our money before leaving, and because it was relatively empty at the machines, we became emboldened and sat at the “big boy” slot machines. These machines even had pull-arms. We were both making conservative bets, but then Laurie decided to throw caution to the wind, hitting the “Max Bet” button, which bets 180 nickels on a single spin. I watched in horror as she lost her $9 in 2.3 seconds. We looked at each other for a moment, and then resumed our conservative play – except that Laurie forgot that since her last bet was $9, that had become her default bet. Thus, when she reflexively hit the “Repeat The Bet” button, she saw another 180 credits go away. Before she realized what had happened, though, a New Jersey miracle occurred. Laurie hit her big score – $100 (as it paid out, we had no idea how much she had won; we just hoped it would never stop. But this was true all weekend. The rules for winning at slots are so confusing that it’s almost impossible to know how much you’ve won, you just have to trust the machine. I gave up trying early on, but Laurie always dutifully tried to figure it out, in vain.) We laughed as the dinging of the credit counter rolled on and on – it took about ten minutes to stop. Finally, we felt like winners. And that was when I understood slot machines.

Slot machines take all of your money, and then slowly give part of your money back, all the while making a big show of the partial return of funds. Because you’re getting something and the machine’s making such a fuss over it, you feel like you’ve accomplished something, when in fact, the machine still has most of your money. Even after our “big score,” we were down about $500 to the machines. When I brought up unpleasant details such as this, Laurie gently reminded me that we were in Atlantic City to have fun, not to save our retirement. Yes, we had lost money, she would say comfortingly, but we had fun doing it. Yes, of course, I would say, that’s what’s important – but I’m not a very gracious loser, and she knows this, so we tended not to speak of the money so much.

After we had checked out of our hotel on Sunday, we grabbed lunch at White House Subs, a historic landmark in a rather tough neighborhood near the Convention Center. We had been told that we “had to eat there before we left,” and since I appreciate local history and culture (if you could call it that), we parked uncomfortably on the street and walked a block or two to the corner of Arctic & Mississippi (nice dichotomy, eh?), where we saw a line stretching out into the street. Groaning, we took our place at the end, but then a few minutes later, another New Jersey miracle! The counter lady came outside and said that they had two seats at the counter; we jumped at the opportunity and were soon seated amidst the wall-to-wall crush.

As we waited to eat, we took in the “ambiance.” The old, never-remodeled walls were covered with photographs and signed portraits of all the celebrities who had eaten there, from Sinatra to Seinfeld to Donny & Marie. Near us, behind the counter, there was a framed montage of photos showing the Beatles holding a six-foot submarine sandwich; it was later explained to us that the Fab Four had played the Atlantic City Convention Center in 1964, and the owners had sent over the sub and a cameraman – smart guys.

While we were waiting for our food, we watched one guy use a $20 bribe to cut in front of everyone else; no one seemed to mind.

We were served a half sub and a can of soda each. Laurie said that her Philly Cheesesteak was very good; I thought my steak sub (with nothing but hots) was OK, but just that. After we had finished, I bought a souvenir tee-shirt for $10 and we headed home, saturated with local charm and culture.


On Saturday night, we saw a performance by the Beatles tribute act “Yesterday.” They have their own little theatre inside the Tropicana called The Liverpool Club, which is decked out on the outside with huge photos of the Beatles (while the Beatles first British LP, “Please Please Me” plays in a continuous loop in the hall). Inside, it has a Cavern Club look and feel. The theatre is intimate, seating no more than a hundred, and Laurie and I got in early enough to grab center seats in the third row, about ten feet from the stage. It was a full house, so we felt lucky, and there was a nice mix of young and let’s say…older.

As I inspected the stage, I was impressed by the authenticity of the instruments and the equipment, right down to the tiny Vox amplifiers the Beatles had to contend with early in their career. One thing I don’t understand is why “Ringo’s” drum set was behind a plexiglas half-wall. Television monitors on the side walls played old videos of Gerry and the Pacemakers and The Dave Clark Five while we waited for the show to start. At the appointed time, an Ed Sullivan impersonator appeared on the monitor and announced the act.

The cast is Bobby Potter on drums (as Ringo Starr), Jim Lett on lead guitar (George Harrison), Don Bellezzo on rhythm guitar (John Lennon) and Paul Sacco on bass (Paul McCartney).

We had seen the players earlier that evening, as they gave an interview in The Quarter on “Trop Radio,” and the first thing we noticed was that, having been together since 1986, they were easily in their fifties, which was a bit disillusioning. (Fortunately, they have nice wigs and makeup to give the proper look; although Jim Lett’s hair appeared to be his own.) What struck me as I watched from ten feet away was that, had the Beatles all survived, and not been as mythically successful, so that they were forced to relive their act every night in let’s say, Las Vegas, and replaced Ringo with Seymore Skinner from the Simpsons, this is what it probably would have looked like. (Don’t discount Seymore Skinner: remember his experience as a member of the Grammy Award winning vocal group the Be Sharps.) I suddenly became very appreciative of the fact that the Beatles quit in 1969 while they were still on top, choosing to go their separate ways rather than risk sullying perfection.

They were all musically very good (watching Lett play made me even more appreciative of George Harrison). Vocally, Sacco (Paul) and Potter (Ringo) were pretty good, Lett (George) was OK and Bellezzo (John) was, well, not as good. Bellezzo makes the common John-error. (I’ve seen four different Beatles tribute acts: Beatlemania [twice], 1964, Rain, and now, Yesterday, so I know of what I speak.) John sang with a somewhat nasally voice, and many Lennon impersonators so focus in on this that they become shrill and off-key. Bellezzo was, at times, so nasally as to be difficult to listen to, with lyrics that were impossible to hear clearly. He just about completely wrecked “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” At other times, depending on the song, it was less noticeable. Potter surprised me by doing a very good Ringo imitation on “Matchbox,” although, honestly, Ringo’s lack of range makes him a less challenging task.

The three guitarists were excellent in imitating the mannerisms of the Beatles during the two sets of the show: the first set was circa 1964 and the second was Shea Stadium in 1965. Laurie and I both noticed that the band’s Wells Fargo badges were misplaced, but this is fairly trivial. As a last critique, Sacco (Paul) may have been pushing Paul’s onstage playfulness into caricature at times, but the audience seemed to like the interplay. During the show, the side monitors played videos of the actual Beatles, which I found distracting, and considering the age difference between the then-youthful Beatles and the now-old Yesterday, a persistent and sad reminder that these were definitely not the Beatles.

After the show, and two encore songs, the players appeared in the lobby to sign autographs and to help sell the few pieces of merchandise they had for sale. I bought a black tee-shirt for $20, which they cheerfully signed. Potter (Ringo) put a lot of work into his autograph, which, had there been a crush, would’ve actually become awkward.

Because I’m such a fan, and because I know so much about the Beatles, it’s hard to watch a tribute band without seeing the flaws. Still, it was a good show (especially considering that all seats were $25), and I enjoyed it.

As a bonus, while we were there, we lost no money to the machines. (As far as I know.)

Follow @umbchelpdesk on Twitter!

Why endure an information blackout when you can be the first to know?

You can stay on top of breaking news involving UMBC’s information systems and technologies by following us on Twitter @umbchelpdesk.  From security alerts to system outages and restorations, @umbchelpdesk will keep you informed about what’s going on, as it happens!

Curious? Here we are!

No Privacy On Facebook

Thousands of members of the UMBC community are also members of Facebook. Facebook is a social networking website where individuals can share thoughts, pictures and tons of other things with others whom they have accepted as “friends.” When Facebook was just starting out, user privacy was of paramount importance to its developers, and as a result, members’ personal information was available by default to only their “friends.” In December, Facebook changed the default privacy settings and the ramifications for your personal privacy are important to understand.

In the past, things like updates, shared photos and links were, by default, visible only to friends. In December, Facebook’s “Transition Tool” offered users the chance to review and modify their privacy settings under the new rules. Unfortunately, most of us just went along with the “Recommended” privacy option, which, by default, left our Basic Info and things that we posted available to everyone (and by everyone, I mean EVERYONE). Even our Wall, Photos and Personal Info was made visible to people we didn’t know, such as “friends of friends.”

So what’s a busy social networker to do? Fortunately, Facebook, under pressure from angry members, has created settings that can restore some of your privacy, as detailed in this New York Times technology article. Here’s where to find them:

From your Profile page, click the word “Account” at the top right and then choose “Privacy Settings” from the list that appears. Click “Profile Information” from the selections that appear on the next page.  On this page, you can easily change who sees what, such as Personal Info, Family and Relationships and Posts By Me. I’ve restricted every one of my mine to “Only Friends.” Going back to the main Privacy page, you can also change who can find you in searches, and who can contact you.

Here’s a screencast that walks you through the steps:

Many of us also casually participate in Applications and Quizzes. When we decide to accept these things, we probably think little about the warning that precedes it: “Allowing [app/quiz] access will let it pull your profile information, photos, your friends’ info, and other content that it requires to work.” And it’s not kidding, either. Facebook apps and quizzes allow their developers to see everything you share with your friends and, even more worrisome, the developers get to see all of your unprotected information even when your friends do an install. Curious about what information of yours is being pulled by Facebook software developers? Try this quiz created by the ACLU.

Keep in mind that Facebook doesn’t screen its software developers, or use its technology to limit what data they collect from you or how they use it. Add to that the fact that few developers have strong in-house privacy policies and you have a perfect storm for those of us who don’t wish to have our personal information shared, sold or posted to the Internet.

This potential for misuse is especially problematic for students, according to this Career Builder article, as one of the first things many employers do is to screen potential employees via Google and Facebook. Selecting the right privacy settings can be important, especially if you use Facebook to post photos or socialize, as those activities can be misleading when seen out of context.

That’s why its important to be extremely cautious about what you share on Facebook, because once it’s posted, you have little to no control over how it might be used. A humorous example is this story about a man who found his wife’s face being used in an online ad for “hot singles.” The lesson is clear: there is no such thing as Internet privacy. Anything you share on Facebook is potentially someone else’s to steal, so consider your privacy settings carefully and be very, very selective about what you choose to publish.

Facebook is a fabulous tool. It allows many people to keep in touch with friends and share important elements of their life. Like any community, there are unscrupulous people on Facebook, and you want to make certain you are proactive in protecting your privacy.

On Doug Fieger And The Knack

The front cover of their debut LP

It was announced today that Doug Fieger, the singer/songwriter behind The Knack, had lost his battle with cancer at age 57. For me, this is another one of those moments when I feel a little bit older; when I feel a little bit closer to a stage of my life that I’d rather not have to think about just yet.

Doug Fieger, like me, was a huge Beatles fan, and that came across in his music, which is probably a major part of why I found the Knack so appealing. He even crafted the band’s image to be a reflection of the Beatles, which ironically was part of The Knack’s undoing. A lot of musicians cite the Beatles as a huge influence on their work, but in the end, Fieger took it just a little too far. Because of this, even as the Knack dominated the charts in 1979, there was already a growing “Nuke the Knack” backlash movement, just waiting for them to fail.

The band’s records were even on 1960’s vintage Capitol labels.

I was five when the Beatles last recorded together, so I had pretty much missed them. As a result, I had been expectantly waiting for “the next Beatles” of my generation to appear (and still naive enough to believe that there would eventually be a “next Beatles”). When The Knack exploded onto the charts in the summer of 1979, I was taken in, not just by the image, but also by their Beatles-esque sound. Don’t be mistaken, The Knack, with Doug Fieger writing and singing their songs, were very good.

That summer, “My Sharona” topped the charts and went on to be the #1 single of the year. “Good Girls Don’t” and “That’s What the Little Girls Do” also climbed the singles chart, and “Get The Knack” shot to the top spot in the album charts. I thought “the next Beatles” had actually arrived. I also liked that Fieger’s lyrics were naughty, which gave them a slightly rebellious feel, even in their black ties.

The Knack’s next album in 1980, “But the Little Girls Understand” was also good, but, I uneasily admitted to myself, not quite as good.

This album’s big single was “Mr. Handleman,” which like the LP, didn’t hit quite as big.

Here’s a couple more from their second LP:

Disappointed, I anxiously waited for their third album, which would sort of be the tie breaker on the “next Beatles” thing. In 1981, they released “Round Trip,” which was utterly forgettable, and for me, officially relegated them to the “what might have been” category. It also made me realize, maybe for the first time, just how difficult it is to be the Beatles, even for two albums.

With that, I moved on, and so did the music industry. The Knack was suddenly passé, a relic of that awkward time between disco and New Wave. The Knack wouldn’t release another album for ten years.

Years later, as a husband and father, I began purchasing CDs to replace my old records, and I made sure that “Get The Knack” was one on my early acquisitions. Listening to it again for the first time in years, I remembered how good that album was; nowadays, a couple of times a year it will occupy one of the six spots in my car CD changer. A few times I heard about Knack reunion tours that I planned on going to, but nothing ever seemed to come of it. In 2005, The Knack was scheduled to appear on the NBC reality show Hit Me, Baby, One More Time, which was supposed to be a chance for old bands to get a fresh chance on TV, but the show was so terrible it got canceled right after A Flock of Seagulls were on it.

A year later, Fieger was diagnosed with cancer, for all intents and purposes closing the books on The Knack. And now, with Fieger gone, the band is literally a part of the past.

As for me, I still have “Get the Knack,” which will console me, and date me somewhat, as I drive to UMBC in the morning. Man but that was a good album.

The Origins of the Olympic Biathlon

IOC Member A: Geez, cross country skiing is so boring. What can we do to make it at least watchable?

IOC Member B: What if we made the skiers stop every now and then and shoot stuff?

IOC Member A: Shoot what?

IOC Member B: Who cares? Just shoot stuff.

IOC Member A: Yeah, I guess that would certainly help. Good; let’s go with that.

IOC Member B: And then, at the end, they have to fight a bear with a knife.

IOC Member A: The bear has a knife?

IOC Member B: No, genius. The skier has the knife.

IOC Member A: Nah. I think you’re just taking it too far now.

IOC Member B: Fine, we’ll drop the knife fight.

IOC Member A: Although I am intrigued by the idea of a bear with a knife. We should try to work that into something – like maybe figure skating.

IOC Member B: I’ll get right on it.

Snowmaggedon 2010 or 40 Hours Without Power

Having a history degree, it’s always been a dream of mine to experience life in a time before modern conveniences. This weekend, I got to live the dream – sort of.

We all knew that a snowstorm of historic proportions was headed our way, and this one didn’t disappoint. On Friday, as the storm loomed, the only real worry I had was getting home before driving conditions became dangerous. Thankfully, UMBC closed at 1PM, and I and my family were safely ensconced in our home by mid-afternoon. All that was left to do was watch and wait to see how big this snow would really be.

We weren’t concerned about boredom, because there were plenty of things at home to occupy each of us. My wife, the office manager at a large podiatry practice, brought home loads of billing that could be done online; my children had their video games, social networking sites and television to see them through. Me? I was prepared to help monitor the UMBC Help Desk online, and I had brought home textbooks to read for my two graduate courses. And, of course, there would be shoveling to fill the hours.

When we went to bed Friday night, the heavy snow had begun in earnest and was beginning to accumulate. But we were prepared, so there were no worries. At 3:30AM, however, our weekend changed. That was when a tree at the top of our street toppled onto a power line, plunging our neighborhood into darkness. My family and I slept through the moment, not knowing what was ahead.

At around 6:30AM, my wife stirred long enough to see what time it was, but our electronic clock was dark. Soon, I knew it, too. The power was out.

Our neighborhood almost never loses power, and when it does, it’s usually not for long. But when I looked outside from our bedroom window on Saturday morning, I quickly realized that this time might be different. Calling BGE confirmed my suspicions – they had no ETA for our power outage.

The snow was already at least a foot deep, and it continued to snow hard. When we went downstairs to let the dogs out, there was a minor problem:

The snow was already piled up higher than our dogs; I would have to dig out a path for them before I did anything else. This I proceeded to do, while my wife started a fire in our living room fireplace (the temperature in the house had already dropped noticeably). Until Saturday morning, our fireplace existed to provide ambiance or perhaps a romantic evening when the kids were away; for the next 36 hours, it would be the key to our world.

It took me about an hour to finish the dog path, and then I came inside to get warm (in a relative sense). Here’s a picture of my backyard; if you look closely in the middle, you can just about make out the dog path, turning at the left side and crossing toward the bottom right:

Here are some other shots from Saturday:

As we gathered around the only heat source in the house, my wife grumbled about not having a cup of coffee. At that moment, I had a history-inspired moment of inspiration. Not to worry, I told her; we’ll boil water in the fireplace and then use the Folger’s Singles (this is basically coffee in a tea bag). In order to build the rig that would turn our fireplace into a ready-made hearth, I had to retrieve a number of discarded bricks and pieces of bricks from just outside our front door, now covered in over a foot of snow. This took about twenty minutes of stretching over a pile of firewood and digging through snow, but soon we were proudly cooking, just like living historians at Williamsburg.

As you’ll notice in this picture of the first attempt, the pot is uncovered. Tip – uncovered pots in a fireplace attract ashes. Future attempts featured covered pots. Still, it worked. I enjoyed a lunch of Campbell’s Chunky Soup (New England Clam Chowder, seasoned with Old Bay); my son and daughter also had soup, which seemed like the easiest thing to make in the limited space of the Harrison Hearth. My wife focused on lots of hot coffee.

Once we realized that we were going to be without power for a while, we knew that the food in our two refrigerators was in jeopardy of spoilage. Since it was “like an icebox out there,” the snow covered deck became our refrigerator:

As the snow began to wind down toward late afternoon, we decided to start the digging out process. I dug a path from the front door to the street, and my son Zack got to work on the sidewalk.

After that, we focused on clearing off my car and opening the driveway to the street.

We continued shoveling until it was too dark to see (no street lights) and then came into our cold, cold house, now illuminated with a couple of oil lamps. Our lives now revolved completely around the fireplace, and we only left its warmth to recover some needed item and then quickly return to its side. We started to worry about my wife’s 120-gallon saltwater fish tank, which was happily located in the living room, directly across from the fireplace. If the oxygen became depleted in the tank, or if the water temperature dropped too low, her beloved tropical fish, some a number of years old, would die as we watched helplessly. I decided to keep the fire hot and hope for the best.

Outside, our street had been repeatedly plowed, and was clean to the pavement. Beyond my neighborhood, we had only anecdotal reports about road conditions.

As the cold, dark evening wore on, boredom set in, and my preteen daughter, Sarah, began to crack. Before long, she was alternately complaining, arguing with her older brother or begging us to play board games; all we wanted to do was to sit by the fire. Around 9PM, my mother-in-law offered a oasis, however distant. She told us that if we could get her there, she could spend the night with her grandparents. We knew that it probably wasn’t safe to drive yet, but the other option, spending the night with our increasingly frantic twelve-year old, seemed more likely to result in lasting injury. I told Sarah to pack an overnight bag.

Driving slowly, in a circuitous route that took advantage of major roads, we made the two-mile trip to Mom Mom’s in about twenty minutes. On the way home, I stopped at the Giant at Cromwell Field Shopping Center, incredibly open for business, for supplies. There were only a few other cars in the freshly plowed lot.

There was one cashier on duty, and one front-end manager. In the aisles, I saw two other customers and plenty of junk food, which I greedily snapped up. As I made my way back home, I noticed a car on a trailer abandoned on the ramp to northbound Route 97. Keeping to main roads as long as possible, I made good progress and arrived without incident. The car’s digital thermometer read 21º.

Our living room had been converted into a bedroom. My wife had used couch cushions and blankets to make a bed for us on the floor in front of the fireplace; our son had opted for a large circular chair that was pulled up just beside. I noticed that it was only slightly warmer in the house than it had been outside, and that our three dogs and two cats had migrated to the living room. The room was dark, but we were cheerful, perhaps because we recognized the historic nature of what we were experiencing. We knew that we’d be sharing stories about this weekend for the rest of our lives, and the novelty of our circumstances provided us with mild amusement. On the other hand, looking uneasily across the room, I knew that time was running out for the tropical fish. (One of the student-staffers I work with at the Help Desk, Andrea Mocko, had once told me about her fish dying under similar circumstances. Every time I recalled her story, a feeling of dread came over me, so I tried not to think about it, but this was impossible.)

One of the things I bought at Giant was Jiffy Pop, which we made in the fire, and that was fun for about fifteen minutes. By ten o’clock, there was nothing to do but settle down in our beds for the night. This was when I realized that the fire, our sole source of heat, would soon die out if left untended. Not only would sleeping become a frosty nightmare, but the fish would certainly freeze to death. Someone had to keep the fire going, and I decided that it would be me. I spent the night dozing, feeling my face grow cold, waking up and then fixing the fire. This cycle was repeated in about 45 minute blocks throughout the night. Sometimes getting the fire going was easy, sometimes hard, but I never let it die. When morning finally came, I was relieved.

It’s hard to sleep late when you’re miserable, so everyone was up and about by 7AM, except the fish, which, while alive, stayed out of sight at the bottom of the tank amidst the rocks. I touched the glass of the tank and wondered how much longer they had left. It was around this time that I looked over at Samson, our collie-shepherd mix, and noticed that I could see his breath.

Once the hearth was reconstructed (it had to be taken apart for the overnight, as the rack restricted how many logs could be put into the fire), coffee was made for my wife, while I had a cup of tea. We called BGE for an update and were told that our power would be restored at 3:30PM. After that, I went outside to resume shoveling. Here’s what I saw:

Our neighbor's house

I started working on my wife’s car, which was in the driveway in front of mine. When that was done, my wife and dug out a space for another car on the curb in the street, so that when my oldest son, Ryan, returned later that night, there would be adequate parking. As we worked, the sun shone brightly and it actually felt a bit balmy (I guess after what we had tried to sleep through, 35º and sunny is a heat wave.) My wife and I shoveled in sweatshirts alone, and I found myself sweating; soon the spot was cleared and we were exhausted. Calling for another update, BGE was now estimating that we would have power at 7PM – not good for the suffering fish.

For dinner, we decided to see if there were any fast food places open. As it turned out, the nearby Wendy’s was, and that became dinner. By the time we were done eating, it was getting dark again, and the oil lamps were relit. Once again we huddled miserably around the fire; by now the charm of living in the nineteenth century had vanished. We just wanted our power back. (I also knew that there was a good chance that I would not only miss the Super Bowl, but more importantly, miss The Who. I sadly began preparing myself mentally for this eventuality.)

At around this time, my wife started to feel nauseous, and I spent about twenty minutes groping around the medicine cabinet by oil lamp, until I found some Tums. Freezing to death, it occurred to me, is probably not a healthy living choice.

Once the Super Bowl was underway, I followed the game on my Droid, via ESPN. The Colts jumped out to a 10-0 lead, and I was not surprised. I called BGE again, but they had no further updates for us; looking over at the black saltwater tank, I didn’t think the fish would last the night. I went back to my 3.7″ digital rendering of the Super Bowl. It was almost halftime, and the Saints were making a game of it.

And then, without warning or fanfare, the 21st century returned. The lights in a few rooms were suddenly on, and most importantly, the fish tank roared to life. I quickly scanned the now illuminated water for floaters, and relieved to find none, turned my attention to the next order of business: getting the Super Bowl on TV before I missed The Who.

So, in the end, we survived, albeit wearily. Monday was spent recovering physically, restoring order in the house (like finding our buried food on the deck) and catching up on missed chores, such as laundry. I also spent a good deal of time cleaning out the fireplace (our new center of the universe) and digging fresh firewood out of the snow, in preparation for tomorrow’s “snow event.”

All that’s left now is to go to the strip mall and find myself a “I Survived The Snowpocalypse” tee shirt to commemorate our weekend adventure. Awesome.