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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Neil Myer- #1 Spartan in America

I am not sure how Neil Myer graduated from high school. I had him in class and he got straight A’s, I encouraged him to relax a little more and get some B’s. He was probably involved in more outside activities than any other student. He worked for the radio station, did stats for the boys basketball team, played tennis, heavily involved in church youth group, plus like me- he watched about 20 hours of sports on TV each week. When I had him in sociology class, it was a dream come true for me. When we started class and I asked if anyone had any current events to contribute, Neil always had 2-3 sports stories to start class with. He was like my own personal ESPN update. If it was on a vote, he would have been my GHS academic hall of fame!

Neil and I also had a personal bond, we were both extremely tired of the Illini fans around us when our teams would lose on those rare occasions. Neil started out in East Lansing, growing up while Magic Johnson played for MSU. His father came to Galesburg to become minister at the Presbyterian Church that my family attends. He and his dad never lost their green. So I always enjoyed when we shared our “Illini jokes.”  We were usually less obnoxious toward each other over the Badger-Spartan games. (I did this week get a short to the point email from Neil.)

I will forever be grateful and inspired by Neil’s father, Rev. Norm Myer. When I had by-pass surgery and came to after the surgery, there was Norm in Springfield at my bedside. He’ll never know the impact and inspiration that had for me. They are just wonderful and caring people who had a huge impact on Galesburg.

And despite what Neil will say, Norm was a much better minister than ref. But even for me it is hard to yell at a minister who is reffing- hard but not impossible.

Neil and Norm teamed together to announce Streaks girls basketball. We got their sound onto our tapes and the players loved it. They were positive and they were homers. We had some close games and no one ever was more excited at the end of games than Neil. Their voice is what we have with our 1999 upset of Loyola.

I will have to do a Q/A with Norm later.

Describe your present job.
I am Director of Christian Education and Youth Ministries at a Presbyterian church in Solon, Ohio (near Cleveland).  I oversee children’s and youth ministries including leading youth group activities.  I also have had many opportunities to be part of leadership and planning teams for some Presbyterian youth conferences and events.  Those travels have taken me to many states including Nevada, Nebraska, North Carolina, Texas, Indiana, Michigan and Virginia, among others.  I will be working on a planning team this next year for a special event at Disney in 2012.

How involved are you in following sports today? 
I still watch most all sports on TV, especially football, college basketball, baseball and golf.  I do not enjoy NBA basketball very much and I don’t care what anybody says, NASCAR is not a sport.  It is a waste of gas and bad for the environment.  If I want to watch cars turn left I just look out a window.

My in person involvement following sports is fairly limited these days. I mostly attend sporting events involving youth from my church.  We have baseball players, some cross country and track runners, a wrestler, some soccer players, a pole vaulter, and some swimmers.  We also have several folks in marching bands at various high schools so I see a good bit of high school football on Friday nights in the fall.

You are a huge Michigan State fan. Who was more obnoxious after MSU vs. Illinois games- you if MSU won or the Illini fans on the rare occasions they won? 
The Illini fans were obnoxious even during the games they didn’t win (which was most of them).  I will fess up to one obnoxious MSU-Illinois fan moment on my part though.  Several of us went down to Champaign one Sunday afternoon when Ann Henderson (Boyden) was playing for the Illini against MSU. I was home on spring break.  I always cheered for my Galesburg friends to do well, but never for their college team if their colors were orange and blue, or if they were playing against MSU.  The Spartans were pressing like crazy in the back court and Illinois could not get the ball near the time line. The 30 second shot clock was down to seventeen so they had the ball in the back court for thirteen seconds already.  I stand up yelling with all my might for a 10 second call.  Somebody told me they didn’t think that rule existed in college women’s basketball.  Turned out that was true.  I sat down quietly, but to this day I do not understand why the collegiate women’s game is the only level of basketball (NBA is now 8 seconds) that doesn’t have that rule.  That rule along with the NBA rule where you can call timeout and get the ball at half court after a made basket drive me nuts.

What was it like as a student at MSU getting to attend all the big time games? All-time best games you saw at MSU?
The atmosphere is great, especially for basketball.  I believe the Izzone is the second best student section in America.  I have to give the objective nod to the Cameron Crazies.  One of the best basketball games I remember as a student at Breslin Center was a game against Oklahoma State (former Silver Streak Tommy Warner was a member of that team) and Big Country Bryant Reeves.  It was a tight game all the way and Jud Heathcote called a time out with MSU trailing in the final seconds.  He drew up a play, but one of our forwards, Damon Bethea actually ran the wrong play.  Bethea would have been option eleven (out of five) to shoot a three, but was wisely left alone in the corner by Oklahoma State.  He made the shot and MSU won. Incredible finish.  We had a couple of huge football wins over Michigan and a dominating 49-14 win over Penn State where we had two running backs go for over 200 yards.  We unfortunately only played the Badgers once in East Lansing when I was a student.  We won the game, but it was the only home game I ever missed as a student because I was in Tulsa for my grandmother’s funeral.

The women’s volleyball team had a great run while I was a student including a final four appearance and we would pack 5000 people in old Jenison Field House for those games. That was a lot of fun.  I always enjoyed hockey and women’s basketball games too.

It wasn’t as a student, but other great MSU games I’ve seen in person were a Sweet 16 victory over Oklahoma and and Elite 8 victory over Kentucky in 1999, and of course the Final Four in 2000, when we beat the Badgers (for the fourth time that season) in the semifinals and Florida in the national title game.

If they had closed down MSU- what Big Ten school would you have transferred to? What Big Ten school would you never have gone to?
Probably Penn State or Northwestern.  Penn State because of family roots in Pennsylvania or Northwestern for their journalism school.  I would never have gone to Illinois or Michigan. 

Who do you pick as your coach- Tom Izzo or Jud Heathcote? 
I had the best of both worlds my sophomore year at MSU.  It was Jud’s last year as head coach and Jud always believed it was important that the basketball coach teach a class on campus as a way of connecting with the general student body.  It was a basketball coaching class.  Because Tom had already been announced as the next head coach we had Jud on Tuesdays and Tom on Thursdays.  I would say for pure fundamentals, teaching the game, or a banquet speaker I’d take Jud, but for overall program success, toughness, and motivation, Izzo.  What Izzo has built and sustained in East Lansing is truly remarkable.  MSU gets to Final Fours without anywhere close to the talent that the Dukes, Carolinas and Kansas’ of the world recruit.  Hard work, determination and toughness and hallmarks over the past decade plus.  We’ve struggled with our typically brutal non conference schedule so far this season, but I’m very happy that Izzo did not take the Cavs job. We’ve been spoiled rotten with all our NCAA tourney success, and yet I know it would mean everything to Izzo to win a second national title one day soon.  I’d enjoy that too!

Who is the most famous person you have ever met?
Magic Johnson

As you grew up in Galesburg, what was your involvement in basketball?
It started on my very first visit, when dad came to candidate at First Presbyterian in February of 1988.  I was in seventh grade. Donna Lindsay, Cathy Heimann and their sons took me to Churchill (now Morgan Gym) to shoot hoops in the afternoon and your father-in-law Ben took me to Thiel Gym to see the Galesburg varsity boys play Quincy that night.  The Streaks lost on a heart breaking three pointer in the final seconds.  We moved to Galesburg that May.  My 8th grade year Coach Bob Morgan asked me to be the stats guy and scorebook keeper for Churchill basketball and I added PA announcing duties during the girls season. Ted Trueblood was on the seventh grade team (they went on to play for the state title as 8th graders) and he never understood why I always credited the girls with more rebounds than the boys.  Heather Aten had 30 rebounds in one 8th grade game and Ted asked me why I never gave him that many boards.  The simple truth was that some of the junior high girls teams Churchill played that season missed a lot of shots, so there were far more rebound opportunities.

 Coach Swanson recruited me to be a manager/statistician for the GHS boys my freshman year, then I started working at WGIL radio the summer before my sophomore year and traveled with the radio crew to boys games my sophomore, junior and senior years.  I lobbied WGIL (unsuccessfully) to cover girls basketball when I was in high school, but only WAIK did at the time, so you asked me to start traveling with the girls when I could and occasionally ran the video camera and attempted to do play by play with a hand-held plug in mic.  One hand on the video camera, one hand on the mic plus trying to write down basic scoring stats was a difficult juggling act.  I remember my senior year of high school during a regular season home girls game vs. Limestone, I was attempting to do all of this at the same time.  We had not had much recent success against Limestone, but were handily ahead.  Patti Lakin didn’t get a whole lot of playing time, but she was in at the end of the game, let a shot go from about half court at the buzzer and drained it.  I called the play on audio, but didn’t move the camera into position to capture the shot on video, because I was charting stats. Sorry Patti!.

There were some weeks in high school that I was at a GHS basketball game up to five nights a week.  Monday night was often JV boys/sophomore B, Tuesday and Thursday night girls games, and Friday and Saturday boys games. Most winter weekends I  reffed up to eight Saturday games at the Y and played church league on Sunday afternoons before my radio shift.   It was a lot of basketball, but I just loved being around the game.

I know you were one of the regulars first as a camper at Knox Camps, and then involved as coach/administrator at the camps. How neat was the camp experience there? What made it so good?
The Knox camp experience was special on so many levels as a camper.  I attended Magic Johnson’s basketball camp in Lansing, Michigan, for three summers prior to moving to Galesburg and it was pretty cool being around NBA greats like Magic and Isaiah Thomas, but those camps didn’t have a Harley Knosher.  Coach Knosher’s enthusiasm for people was beyond contagious. A former colleague of mine says “Be a thermostat, not a thermometer.”  Harley embodied that better than anyone I know.  He set the positive attitude and everyone else followed suit.   It was only my second month in town and I was a bit apprehensive not really knowing any of the other campers. Knox camp was overnight. Magic’s camp was a day camp where you slept at home each night, and that’s what I was used to.  Coach Knosher was his gracious self and easily convinced me to stay on campus.  I was a camper for three years and have many great memories.  One of those years, Rick Majerus led the entire camp through the most physically intense workout/drill session I’ve ever experienced.  It seemed like a two and a half hour session.  It may not have been that long, but I do know Majerus sweated through seven t-shirts in whatever length of time!

I was definitely not the strongest player at my age level although Coach Jaskoski tried to get me to go out for sophomore basketball (just like Coach Fisher tried to get me to wrestle, and Coach Willy tried to get me to swim) but it didn’t take me long to get the hang of choosing a roommate.  Rooming with Jim Lindsay and a Heimann brother meant the only air conditioned room at camp!  Winning games of knockout while Coach Knosher or Coach Heimann cheered on everyone equally, or trying to beat Coach Knosher in the hand clap game for a pop were highlights too.

As an administrator/coach the two weeks were highlights every summer.  One of the best parts was simply being around the coaches, and participating in the good natured jabbing back and forth with you (for a couple of years), Coach Heimann, Coach Peck and so many others across the years. 

I don’t know exactly what my job description was, but I was given the nickname commish.  It involved banking, t-shirt design, scheduling courts, setting up station rotations, ordering pizzas, checking campers in and out with parents for little league games, coordinating swim meets, and one or two other things, but I truly loved every minute of it, and it was because of the people who were involved.  Tim Heimann had a great way of identifying gifts in other people that they didn’t even know they had and could put the right people in the right positions to set them up for success.  He certainly did that for me, and he had a huge impact on my life by giving me that opportunity, even if it was only two weeks a year for seven years.  I use many of the skills that I developed in my time on Knox camp staff in my work now.

Coach Dave Peck was a huge key to making those Knox camps special as well.  He has such a positive approach to people and would get cheers and chants started and challenge other groups to do the same.  He would do anything to show that he was 100% committed to the campers, so one summer he decided to demonstrate the largest splash event at the camp swim meet.  I may let him tell you what happened, but let’s just say he didn’t demonstrate a second time.  Coach Peck and I would get up before all the campers and other coaches and slip out to Bunker Links and get a quick 18 in once a week during camp. 

You worked awhile as broadcast for WGIL with your dad as the "color man". How was that experience? 
The most special experience of my life.   To do what I loved most (play-by-play), with a person I love (dad) was incredible.  We only did two seasons together, but those two seasons included many special games, an elite 8 finish, and an appearance in the state title game.  We even won an Illinois Broadcasters Association Award for best sports play-by-play.  I’ve always told people I could broadcast the Super Bowl and it wouldn’t have been as special as that time was.  I will always be grateful to WGIL and Coach Rux (who I believe is the one that suggested dad as a possible broadcast partner for me to Brad Bennewitz)

What were some of the best games or most unusual experiences you had as an announcer?
Some of the best games were in the first season (1997-98) calling the girls games.  A last second win at Richwoods, the Bloomington-Normal grand championship game vs. Mendota, and the sectional final vs. Rock Island.  The Youngblood sisters put up a good challenge, but Galesburg was too much.

In that special 1998-1999 season, I don’t recall many of the regular season games being very close, or at least going down to the wire, until the back-to-back-to-back great finishes in the Sweet 16, Elite 8, and semifinal games.  That was a great ride for all of Galesburg, thanks to a bunch of hard working players and coaches.

The most unusual experience as part of a broadcast actually came during high school, when I traveled with the WGIL football crew to Lasalle-Peru.  I’m pretty sure the press box in that stadium was in Lasalle and the field was in Peru-and by Peru I mean the one in South America.  Technology was nowhere near what it is today, so the headphones for sideline reporter Tom Wilson to listen to the booth didn’t have enough range from the press box to that field.  They sent me all the way down to the field to let Tom know.  We then worked out a system where I stood outside the press box at the top of the stadium with a rolled up program in my hand.  I had to hold the program high above my head and make a huge sweeping downward motion to let Tom know when to start talking.  He would wave his mic high above his head when he wanted the booth to know he had something to add.  It was a memorable night for sure.

Of course in radio, any time you get knocked off the air is memorable -or forgettable.  It looks like Mr. “Hi Ho Silver” Steve Bryant mentioned why Megan Pacheco’s three in the 1999 sectional semifinal didn’t make my top broadcasting moments list!!!!!  Fortunately there were many great moments still to come in that run.

Your dad was a part-time ref. What is your evaluation of him as a ref? Should he have stuck with his day job? 
He was a part time ref who got calls right on a part time basis, but he worked hard on his mechanics.  I was actually glad when he started reffing more volleyball.  He eventually got to a point where he had no chance of physically keeping up with soccer and basketball players, but I will say that a referee telling soccer captains at the pregame coin flip that he was a minister was a great way to cut down on players cursing.

What was the best part about growing up in Galesburg?
It was just big enough and just small enough to be a place where I had a great church family, could be hired by a radio station at age 14, and a variety of other experiences including assistant coaching 8-9 year old little league and appearing on stage in community theater.

If you came back to visit, what would you make sure you got to do in Galesburg?
Visit First Presbyterian Church, eat one of those giant tenderloin sandwiches with Jay Redfern’s lunch gang, and attend at least one Galesburg girls basketball game.

What are the five most memorable sporting events you got to attend involving GHS?
State Quarterfinal Galesburg girls basketball vs. Loyola Academy 1999  - Zolper’s save to Larson and the buzzer beater over Olga G.

Bloomington Normal classic Galesburg girls bball vs. Mendota 1997 grand championship
One of the most entertaining games I can remember.  Jaci Bice put on a show for Mendota and Jaque Howard drained a three from downtown Springfield to lift the Streaks to victory.  I seem to recall Coach Rux took forever to get to us for his postgame interview because of an on court celebration related injury.

Sectional Semifinal Galesburg boys bball vs. Rock Island at Wharton Field house 1990 
Galesburg shocked the state beating a Rock Island team whose fan base had already purchased large amounts of tickets for the state quarterfinals in Champaign.  I think some of those fans in red and yellow sat in that balcony stunned for days after that win.  I was sitting next to Jay Redfern in the first row of the balcony on an overflow press table keeping stats.  Rocky threw the ball away with just a few seconds left to seal the win for Galesburg, and Jay and I both stood up, and high fived each other as Jay said “We’re going to win!!!!!”  It was the only time I’d ever seen him forget he was technically in a press section, but it was understandable under the circumstances.  I also think I was jumping up and down on the court behind Jason Shay trying to get in the camera view while he was giving his classic “I’m happy for my fellas” interview to Channel 8 sports after the game.

State football playoffs Galesburg vs. Joliet Catholic 1991  Mike Alstott
Galesburg had lost only to Richwoods the first game of the season, and had a loaded backfield with Jerry Cato, TJ Pendleton, Craig Foxall, and Sean Kane at QB.  It snowed like crazy the day of the game in Galesburg, and Mike Alstott scored four touchdowns in a dominating performance for Joliet Catholic.  Alstott is the only athlete that I know I’ve seen play in person in high school, college and the pro ranks.

Boys tennis sectional 1993  Nate Bobafchak over Eric Adler (Moline)
You don’t often think of great coaching strategy needed in tennis, but Coach Bill Sargeant pulled off a brilliant move at the seeding meeting to set this up.  He made the difficult decision to break up the Bobafchak brothers (Nate and Mark) as a doubles team and put Nate in singles instead.  Moline was dominant and went on to win state, but Nate upset Adler in the qualifying round, so Moline only took five of their six (one singles, two doubles teams) players to state.

Of course all these memories involve others because my only personal contribution as a GHS varsity athlete was on the tennis team.  I was a doubles specialist, and played #3 varsity or #1 JV doubles, but I did go 2-0 in my varsity singles career (at #6 both matches), so my dad likes to joke that my varsity singles winning percentage is a school record that can only be tied, but never broken.

My brother is a prolific reader. He reads 1-2 books each week. What books would you recommend that I buy him?
 An author that may or may not be on your brother’s radar is Donald Miller.  I really enjoyed his A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.  I also like most of Mitch Albom and John Feinstein’s stuff.

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