Talent Is Not A Number

Talent Is Not A Number
When the sun comes out, it always shine on Wartburg's Old Main.
When the sun comes out, it always shine on Wartburg’s Old Main.

One of the things I always look forward to is heading back to my alma mater, Wartburg College, to take part in Scholarship Day. The campus holds three of these days between November and February. High school seniors and juniors come to Wartburg to participate in several events and do interviews. The interviews are based on several factors such as activities in and outside of school, leadership, faith, and service, among others.

Lately, there have been criticism about the new generation of young adults (no, I’m not talking about you, Millennials, you’re safe for now) and how they behave, talk, and if they have any drive to be successful.

I interviewed eight students on Sunday that were diverse and different. A faculty/staff member, a current student, and an alumni made up the interview teams, and each interview was held in classrooms throughout the campus.

Hopefully this post will help erase some doubts about the newer generation that are walking into the halls of high school and college.

One student from Colorado described how she, at age 10, and her mother created a foundation to host birthday parties for kids who never had a birthday party. A student from southeast Iowa went to the Iowa State Capitol and advocated to the governor to consider moving the start of the school year to after Labor Day, because students who are in 4-H are involved in farm programs and shows at the Iowa State Fair and it’s an educational opportunity for those students who are considering going into the agriculture industry.

If you don't think that the Iowa State Fair is going to be huge issue when it comes to the start of the school year this legislative session, then you've eaten way too many corn dogs. (Iowa Public Radio)
If you don’t think that the Iowa State Fair is going to be huge issue when it comes to the start of the school year this legislative session, then you’ve eaten way too many corn dogs. (Iowa Public Radio)

A student from eastern Iowa explained how he missed a field goal that would have won the game for his team, but redeemed himself by kicking the game winning field goal in overtime. Rather than celebrate the win, he went back to his school, and kicked field goals until 1:00 am…after a game.

The interview that stood out to me was a senior from the south side of Chicago, who created a high school group to work towards ending gun violence in their neighborhood schools by doing peace movements. The group wanted to film their efforts and show it to other schools. The group went to Kickstarter to start their fund-raising campaign. Over $35,000 later, they made the movie.

The common themes that kept running through my head were: initiative, accountability, self-starter, motivation, creativity, and maturity.

“Why do you want to come to Wartburg?” my interview team asked each student.

“It’s the right fit…”

“It’s a community here, and I already feel at home…”

“You’re not a number, you’re a person here…”

“I want to go to a school where I can be challenged, not just show up for class…”

This post isn’t about Wartburg, though the loyal alum in me would wax poetically about it.

Many of us have been a number, be it at work or school. Several of us have lived or worked at places where we felt isolated and held back from growing in our careers. Some have gone through the sense that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. We’ve also have been told that our skills and talents do not fit in places where you can’t flourish. It’s a tragedy when a company or someone who says they want creative and talented people to work for them, only to hire them and do the opposite: dismiss creativity, drive, passion, and cut off their talents at the door.

Andy Stitzer is a late bloomer. It takes time to finally find that place where you can find success in life.
Andy Stitzer is a late bloomer. It takes time to finally find that place where you can find success in life.

I’m raise my hand and say that I’ve experienced those circumstances.  Late-bloomers like me have a longer road to travel to get to that place in our lives where we can be creative, flourish and have passion. The talents that we have are taken for granted because we don’t realize we use them every day.

Sunday afternoon reaffirmed that all is not lost with these kids who are finding their way towards their aspirations and dreams. We (adults) need to let them find their “voices” and use them, not constrain them to where they do become disaffected, disillusioned, and stop believing that they are creative, and their talents and skills are useless.


That One Night I Stopped By Bru’s Desk…

That One Night I Stopped By Bru’s Desk…
The newsroom at the new offices for the Des Moines Register. (Des Moines Register)

Three weeks ago, Amy Jennings, Eric Olmscheid, Emily Abbas, and I were invited by Des Moines Register business writer Lynn Hicks to take a tour through The Des Moines Register after a “14 People to Watch in 2014” panel at Capital Square. I had toured the new Register offices before (thanks to Josh Hafner), but I decided to go anyway, but for a more selfish reason. It was a chance to visit a couple of fellow Wartburg alums.

Randy Brubaker in particular, “Bru” as we called him.

As Waterloo natives and Wartburg guys, it was natural for the both of us to playfully needle each other about which school was better (I went to East, Randy went to West), what’s going on in Des Moines, the business of the news media, and more importantly, our love for Wartburg. You see, for those who may not understand small colleges in Iowa, schools like Wartburg are pretty special and unique in their own way. When it comes to Wartburg, the alumni are like a family. It’s a cliché, I know, but here’s the deal: there is so many Wartburg alums in Des Moines, we called ourselves the “Orange Mafia” or as I dubbed it “Wartburg South”.

Be it Outflys, school-sponsored gatherings, et cetera, we all show up…dressed in orange and black. The bond between Wartburgers is pretty strong. They’re friends for life, even if we’re 2,000 miles away.

Waterloo was another common bond that Randy and I shared. Waterloo is, what former Register Waterloo bureau chief Jack Hovelson described, a “Joe Six-Pack town.” It’s a blue-blooded industrial city, rooted in John Deere green. The both of us knew how Waterloo was growing up: racially diverse, amid socioeconomic issues, were among major factors of the makeup of the city. East and West High, to a certain level, embodies the competitive mindset that represents the city: the blue-collar east-siders vs. the white-collar west-siders. Black vs. white. Industrial vs. Professional.

Despite all of that, we were from Waterloo and we were damn proud of being from there. It was because we were in it together and learned how to live and do things together.

Randy Brubaker (Andrea Melendez/Des Moines Register)

I broke away from the tour and stopped by Randy’s desk. He was coming back from the break room, with a small plate of fruit, cheese, and crackers. First thing I asked was “How are you doing?” It was important for me to ask him this. The past 5 months has been a difficult one for him. His wife, Jan, passed away in January. I went to the funeral. Randy and his two sons having to mourn a wife and mother. Dowling Catholic students mourning a loss of a counselor.

Randy said he was doing okay. He was happy that things started to slow down in the newsroom. During the early part of the week, the old downtown Younkers building fire was the major story for the Register. As senior news director, his job was to oversee the stories that were going to be printed (or put online).

Over the next 10 minutes, he described in details about the new Register webpage, how the newsroom “command control” operated (a long HD interactive board that had CNN, ESPN, Bloomburg, etc on streaming and the Register’s website live), and what Steph Boeding was up to over in Design Studio. Steph was another member of the “Orange mafia.”

Bru gave back to Wartburg, When I say he gave back, it wasn’t always money. He gave his time to students in Comm Arts, served on panels, offered advice, and helped students and graduates get their feet planted in the media business. Many who have established their own careers continue to call Bru for advice, bounce an idea off of him, or needing a little encouragement.

Well respected and admired in the Iowa media, when Bru offered his thoughts or ideas, people listen. Never one to be demonstrative or loud, Bru was the guy to talk to when a news story came up.

Randy emailed me on July 19, 2011, a week after I wrote a blog post marking the 30th anniversary of the slayings of Waterloo police officers Wayne Rice and Michael Hoing.


How’re you?

I thought your blog post about T-Bone Taylor and your family connection was interesting, so I passed the link on to Randy Evans, our editorial page editor to look at.

With your permission, he might be interested in publishing a version of that blog on the op-ed page. It might take a bit of collaboration/editing, of course.

If you’re interested, let me know – and I’ll pass your email address on to the “other” Randy so he can get in touch with you!



Randy passed the story idea along to Randy Evans. It didn’t move forward after that point, but as far as I was concerned, that was one of the best compliments I’ve ever received…

…from a guy who runs the newsroom at the most widely read newspaper in the state of Iowa.

(Note: this past March, the suspect, Michael “T-Bone” Taylor, and one of the officers who captured him, Iowa State Patrolman Marvin Messerschmidt died within a week of each other.)

Randy Brubaker speaking to a class at The University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication. (University of Iowa)

After we talked about how Wartburg baseball and softball were doing, Randy had to get back to work. We shook hands, give each other a big hug, and he said:

“How ’bout those Wahawks?”

I couldn’t help but to smile and laugh and playfully shouted “Whoo!” as I headed down the hall to join Lynn and the group. Bru had a big smile on his face. A West Wahawk getting the last word on an East High Trojan.

On the following Monday, a friend, Nathan Groepper, posted on Facebook that Bru had a heart attack. A stent was place where the blockage was at, and he went home to rest.  Randy was expected back in the office on May 5, 2014….


That return has been postponed….permanently.

Randy passed away, from heart failure, on Saturday May 3rd.

That “selfish endeavor” to go up to visit him three weeks ago is one I will cherish. The look on his face, beaming when he saw me standing there at his desk, was all it took. I’m grateful I took that tour. I would have been kicking myself with regrets as I write this.

Sunday was a beautiful day outside, but it was not a happy day.

Bru is gone.

There are a lot of people, colleagues, mentees, friends, and alumni who are in mourning. Two sons have lost both of their parents in a span of 4 months.

Four months.

Life isn’t fair. It has never meant to be fair, but damn, doesn’t have to be so unfair?

I lost one of my favorite guys and above all, a respected friend.


The Voices Of An Era

Jim Zabel was more than the Voice of the Hawkeyes. He was Iowa. (Des Moines Register archives) Click on the picture to view a 1981 PM Magazine story on Zabel and his tenure as the Hawkeyes’ play-by-play announcer.

It’s going to take a while to wrap my mind around the fact Jim Zabel has died, even though he was 91 years old.

Mike Hlas, Cedar Rapids Gazette

Thursday night was an evening I did not want to happen. As it has been said, all good things must end, but as Mike Hlas wrote, we weren’t ready for this.

There isn’t enough words, superlatives, descriptions, anything that would put into words of truly how Jim Zabel was Iowa, through and through. Mind you, not just in a Hawkeye sense, but for a state, a region, and the medium we call broadcasting.

Zabel passed away Thursday evening at his home in Scottsdale, Arizona, at age 91. It is hard to fathom that a part of what makes Iowa special is now silent.

Bob Brooks is still getting it done. With the passing of Jim Zabel, Brooks is the last of his kind when it comes to longevity in sports broadcasting.
Bob Brooks is still getting it done. With the passing of Jim Zabel, Brooks is the last of his kind when it comes to longevity in sports broadcasting.

I grew up in Waterloo. I didn’t know anything about WHO or Jim Zabel as a kid.  I was a WMT fan.  Frosty Mitchell and Ron Gonder were my guys. The only time I would hear Zabel’s name is when my best friend Matt Fischer would mention him.

As I got older, I listened to not only Zabel, Gonder, and Frosty, but also Bob Brooks, for whom I didn’t know about until high school.

This post is not going to be mostly about Zabel. You’ve read everything about how important and legendary Zabel is. I’m going in a slightly different direction.

This is about the appreciation and the beauty of broadcasting and radio.

I love listening to sports on live radio. When I turn on the radio, or pull out my phone and turn on the radio app, I’m “seeing” the game. Not physically, but mentally seeing it. It’s a lesson my dad taught me. Listen to how the announcer is describing what is going on and picture it in your mind as it comes to life.

In this age of technology, we have an obsession to “see everything”. If it’s not on YouTube, online, or a camera isn’t there capturing it live, we cruise the internet or channel hop to find it.  Case in point, the Boston Marathon bombing. I was nowhere near a TV or a computer to see what was taking place. My first instinct was to pull out my phone, turned on my radio app and listened to WBZ radio out of Boston.

Jack Shelley, Grant Price, and Dr. Cliff Brockman. (Phil Roberts/FrontPorchExpressions.com)

The details and description of where everyone was at near the finish line, the sound of the explosion, and the reaction of the responders was clear and concise. I could “see” it, without needing a television screen.

Radio is a valuable tool, and in the world of sports, as we remember Jim Zabel today, it’s presence continues to have significance, even if it’s not high on the priority list for many.

Zabel was beloved and deservedly so. But, we can not ignore the fact that Zabel was among a phenomenal class of broadcasters. Bob Brooks still continue to do sports, writing columns for Metro Sports Report and doing daily sports reports on KMRY. Brooksie has been in the business about as long as Z. To dismiss the legacy that Brooks have compiled would be foolish.

Let us not forget those like Pete Taylor, Dic Youngs, Dick Petrik, Tait Cummins, and others who are legends and voices we listened to over the airwaves in the annuals of Iowa broadcasting history.

Zabel had many partners through the years calling the Hawkeyes. Bill Reichardt, Randy Duncan, Forest Evashevski, Ed Podolak and Bobby Hansen. (WHO TV)
Zabel had many partners through the years calling the Hawkeyes. Bill Reichardt, Randy Duncan, Forest Evashevski, Ed Podolak and Bobby Hansen. (WHO TV)


Keith Murphy made a comment about those who are under the age of 40 on how they do not realize how huge Jim Zabel was. I want to amend this. My Wartburg College classmates who currently work in the media know all too well about Zabel, Jack Shelley, Russ Van Dyke, Dr Max, and Mombo. Some of us are under the age of 40.

We can thank Grant Price and Jeff Stein for that.

Wartburg is the home of the Archives of Iowa Broadcasting. There are tapes, films, equipment, and various other things that were used over the years to keep the public informed and entertained. Price knew the importance to collecting these archives to tell the story of the rich history of Iowa broadcasting and the evolution of the medium and the profession.

Zabel’s passing should be a reminder that “now, more than ever” that these memories should be preserved and treasured.**

**- slogan used by KCCI-TV in the 1980’s, courtesy of KCCI-TV via YouTube.

One More Ride

Courtesy: Wartburg Athletic Department
Courtesy: Wartburg Athletic Department

Nine NCAA Division III national titles.

20 consecutive Iowa Conference championships.

164 consecutive Iowa Conference dual wins.

70 Academic All-Americans.

34 Individual national champions.

Nearly 100 former wrestlers are coaching on the high school or college level.

Not too bad for a guy who hails from Waterloo, Iowa.

Jim Miller has had one hell of a ride as the head coach of the Wartburg College Knights wrestling team.  Since his arrival in 1991, Iowa went from a fellow Waterloo native by the name of Dan Gable to Tom Brands.  Iowa State landed a kid from Utah who would do something that Gable nearly did:  end his career undefeated.  That kid goes by the name of Cael Sanderson.

A lot has changed in the sport of wrestling, and in our world in general, but there was one constant:  Miller and Wartburg won.  Not one Iowa Conference team has beaten them since 1994.  I was a senior in high school…at Miller’s alma mater, East Waterloo.  They formed a great rivalry with Augsburg College of Minneapolis.  Together, both schools have combined to win 19 national titles, and the last time a school not named Wartburg or Augsburg won a national title was Ithaca…in 1994.

So how appropriate would it be, in Miller’s final year as the Knights’ head coach, to go on top, one more time?

His squad thinks so.  So does a legion of orange-and-black clad fans who believe that their team is the “finest in the East or West”.

So it is with this in mind that Milboy’s last ride begins Friday in Waverly versus Coe for the IIAC Championship Dual.

This is the last ride for Coach Miller and as hard as it sounds, this is really it.  No do-overs.  The next 40 days or so and a chapter in the glorious history of wrestling in this great state of Iowa will pen its final words.

Take a walk and enjoy this ride one last time.  This one is going to be special.

Sunday Sports Leisure Reading – March 25, 2012

If college football resembled "Mad Men"... (courtesy of No 2-Minute Warning)

I haven’t done one of these for awhile, but there’s plenty of stuff going on that’s flying under the radar.

Deadspin this week profiled two former Drake Basketball greats in their series, “Tell Me When It’s Over”.  Willie Wise and current Drake color analyst Dolph Pulliam recalled their run to the Final Four and facing UCLA, and more importantly, their lives post-basketball.  This is a must-read for Bulldogs fans around the world.

Ty Duffy of The Big Lead pens an opinion that I agree with wholeheartedly with regards to the punishment handed down by Roger Goodell to New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, General Manager Mickey Loomis, and assistant coach Joe Vitt for their involvement in Bounty-“gate”.  Duffy reminds everyone that the criticism towards Goodell is not only shortsighted, but unwarranted for the most part.

Could Mizzou's Kim English have himself a budding career in being a college hoops analyst?

Greg Hall, popular Kansas City sports media blogger has quotes from Missouri basketball star Kim English during his appearance on KCSP 610-AM with sports talk show host Nick Wright.  English, who has struggled with speech disfluency (stuttering, for which I know very well from my experience), had a lot to say, including his opinions on several college basketball analysts.

Duffy also reports that John Infante, the college compliance officer behind the well-informative and insightful “Bylaw Blog” is shutting down the blog, effective April 7th.  “Bylaw” is a look into NCAA regulations and decisions.  Namely, what does the NCAA do, why do they do it, and the effects of it.  I will miss this site a lot.  I hope Infante, or someone else, down the road will either bring it back or create a new site that helps fans understand the inside look at NCAA rules.

The Wigwam, home of the Anderson Indians.

Craig Fuhrman of the NY Times writes this great story about an end of an era in Indiana.  The Wigwam was the home of Anderson (IN) High School for many years when basketball was king.  This recently past basketball season is the first that the Wigwam did not host a game.  The economic conditions and the shift of popularity from prep basketball to prep football in Indiana has put the game of basketball at a larger crossroads.

It’s time to get your martini, whiskey sour, or Old Fashioned on:  Mad Men makes its return after a 17-month hiatus with its long-anticipated 5th season.  Eric Deggans of the Tampa Bay Times interviews Mad Men director Matthew Weiner about the return of Don Draper, Roger Sterling, and company, as well as Weiner’s need to keep things under wraps about what this season will bring.

Aaron Wernimont

Some somber news over the past few weeks that deserves to be mentioned by me.  Whereas everyone across the country is talking about a certain story in Florida (I don’t need to tell you what it is), there are several individuals whose lives were tragically cut short.  I chose to mention them here because they are part of my extended families (hometown, high school, and college) that are near and dear to me.

It’s easy to follow the current cause celebre, and that’s fine to do that, but personally for me, the deaths of the following hits closer to home for me.  Please take the time to read these stories.

Mollie Enwright

Aaron Werinmont

Preston Bradford

Lindsay Nichols

“Home Is Where You Are”

Wartburg College

Last weekend at Wartburg College, Pastor Ramona Bouzard delivered the Homecoming sermon.  She told the story of Naomi and her daughter-in-laws, Ruth and Orpah.  All three women were widowed after the deaths of their husbands.  Naomi made the decision to leave Moab and return to her home in Bethlehem and insisted Ruth and Orpah return to their homes where they originated from.  Orpah went home, but Ruth refused to return home.  When Naomi asked why she would not leave, Ruth said “Don’t ask me to leave.  Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay.” 

The lesson that Pastor Ramona offered was that “home is anywhere you are at.”  It isn’t always a city, building, or a place where you have grown up, or lived in.  You make your home where you are at. 

For the Jopin High Eagles, their "home" is the citizens and the community.

At the same time Ramona gave this sermon in the stately quaint Neumann Auditorium on the Wartburg campus, the ESPN program “Outside the Lines” aired the story of the Joplin, Missouri High School football team.  Over the past few months, college friend and ESPN producer Scott Harves and his team has been following the Joplin High Eagles as they begin their season, after the deadly May tornadoes that ripped through the southwestern Missouri city. 

For many in Joplin, there is no home to go to.  Everything they had, house to car, backyard to front lawn…gone.  Sixty seconds, give or take a few seconds, was all it took to demolish any sense of home. 

But as I listened to Ramona, just because you don’t have a home, in a physical presence, you are still “home”.  Players with no home staying with teammates, for several nights or for an indefinite period of time.  Students shuffling from the stadium to workout and practice to the temporary high school in a former big box retail store. 

Des Moines

Where ever you go, home is with you, mentally and emotionally.  Ruth admired Naomi so much that she was willing not to go back “home”, but to go with Naomi back to Bethlehem to make it her “home”.  The residents of Joplin are at “home” as they rebuild their lives and the buildings they’ve called home for their families. 

I have four “homes”:  Waterloo, Waverly, Des Moines, and the Quad Cities.  My immediate family lives in the QCA, the rest of my family in Waterloo, my college family in Waverly at Wartburg, and my current home here in Central Iowa.  When I visit my mom, I’m at “home”.  My grandparents will always make room for their grandkids at their “home”. 

The term homecoming means “coming home” to your college to reconnect with former teachers, classmates, and others.  As I write this, I’m at home…in Des Moines. 

Waterloo's popular Jensen's Dairy Queen

A part of you and your life goes with you everywhere you go.  You are always “at home.” At home with family, friends, people in your support system, and others you meet everyday.