Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Names In the News: Montell Marion, Alford, Thompson

There are a couple of stories in today's local paper that I want to comment on.

The first concerns Montell Marion, the black wrestler who says he’s transferring to Roosevelt High School because of “race-related difficulties” at Valley.

There are a few holes in the story as it appeared in the local paper, but more on that later in this essay.

Bryce Miller, the local paper’s new sports editor, quotes Montell’s dad, Del Marion, as saying, “My son needs to go to a school that embraces diversity.”

I certainly don’t blame either Del or Montell.

I mean, I’ve been in the middle of enough of these types of situations to know more than a little bit about them. I covered black boycotts in the athletic departments at both Iowa and Iowa State more than 30 years ago, and managed to get boycotted myself by some of the participants.

If Montell Marion thinks he’s been the victim of racial epithets from students, and if Valley teachers have “used the n-word” in classes, then I think he has every reason to bail out.

In his story, Miller didn’t say what the “n-word” was that Valley teachers used in classes as they quoted from books being studied and discussed—and that disappoints me a bit.

If the “n-word” was “nigger,” then Montell should be out of his classes faster than he has pinned some of his opponents throughout his wrestling career.

Indeed, if I were Montell and if that was what the “n-word” was, I’d invite any of those teachers out to the parking lot, where I’d slap a flying double-leg takedown on them before turning them into the School Board.

Even if the word was “Negro,” I wouldn’t blame Montell for storming out of big and bad Valley. Even though “Negro” is a description used of black people for centuries, it is now out of vogue and everyone else should be aware of it, right?

Indeed, if “Negro” is the n-word, I sure wouldn’t blame Montell for heading to Roosevelt. I doubt that he’ll hear that kind of talk there.

I do hope Miller gets hold of the teachers at Valley with whom Montell and Del Marion are upset. I’d like to see how they explain the Marions’ problems with them.

I also hope Miller contacts Jason Scales, the black Iowa State football player who led Valley to two consecutive state Class 4-A state high school championships. Scales ran for 6,050 yards and scored 78 touchdowns in his illustrious Valley career.

I’ve talked with Scales a time or two, and never did he mention anything to me about racial problems at Valley. Maybe it’s because I never asked him. Heck, maybe there weren’t any racial problems when he was there. Maybe they didn’t exist until Montell and Del Marion, who works at the local paper, noticed them.

Whatever, Miller can hopefully find out from Scales if the mention of such problems had slipped his mind in earlier years. I’ve known Miller for a few years, and he knows how to dig deep when it comes to reporting.

Obviously, he’s trying to make a good impression in his early days as the paper’s sports editor. He’s showing us that he’ll tackle a tough story in much the same manner as a couple of guys who preceded him in the job.

They were Gene Raffensperger and Dave Westphal, talented folks who held that office in the previous century.

I’m confident Miller will get to the bottom of all this, and I’ll be waiting to see the progress he makes. I’m also betting he keeps this story to himself, and maybe it’ll turn into a four-part series that'll make it at least a candidate for the "Best of Gannett" in March.

There sure as hell will be no scenario where he shows up at the desks of Tom Witosky or John Naughton and says, “Hey, I’m swamped—can you make a few calls on this story?”


The other story in the local paper that I’d like to make a comment or two about is the one about how Bobby Knight and Tom Izzo supposedly are giving verbal support to Steve Alford, Iowa’s embattled basketball coach.

I’m assuming Knight and Izzo made their comments on yesterday’s Big 12 and Big Ten coaches’ teleconferences, where reporters can gang-bang coaches with questions for about 10 minutes at a time.

All I know is that there is no way in hell that Knight and Izzo are going to say anything bad about Alford.

I mean, do you think Texas Tech’s Knight, Michigan State’s Izzo, Indiana’s Mike Davis, Oklahoma’s Kelvin Sampson or a coach in the noon league at the YMCA are going to say something negative about a fellow coach on a teleconference that is available to be heard by any basketball knucklehead in America?

Izzo doesn’t want to say anything that might speed up Alford’s departure from Iowa because he wants to keep beating him.

It certainly would be strange if Illinois’ Bruce Weber got on the Big Ten coaches’ teleconference and said, “Alford can’t coach worth a damn, and all the coaches know it. We hope Bob Bowlsby fires him the minute the season is over. The best place for Alford would be welding school.”

So take any complimenary remark by one coach about another coach with a grain, or several grains, of salt.

The same with players. Sure, Iowa’s players are going to say nice things about Alford when reporters ask them. What they think privately and what they say to one another is an entirely different matter.

Besides, athletic directors don’t listen to players when they’re making decisions on whether a coach will or won’t be fired.

That’s the way it should be.


Iowa State, coming off a December victory in the Independence Bowl, will open the 2005 football season at 6 p.m. Sept. 3 in Jack Trice Stadium against Illinois State.

The Cyclone schedule includes home games against Iowa on Sept. 10; Baylor for family weekend Oct. 8; Oklahoma State for homecoming
Oct. 22; Nov. 5 against Kansas State, and Nov. 12 against Colorado.

The schedule:

S3--Illinois State, 6 p.m.
S24--at Army
O1--at Nebraska
O8--Baylor (family weekend)
O15--at Missouri
O22--Oklahoma State (homecoming)
O29--at Texas A&M
Nov. 5--Kansas State
N19--at Kansas


As you know by now, there's more to this column than sports and newspapers. It's a place for people to vent about anything and everything. I received the following e-mail from "Eastern Iowa Reader" about the Academy Awards:

"I couldn't agree with the song the Academy picked as the winner. But I also didn't agree with having Beyonce sing two of the songs I would have been happier to have seen win. She sang "Learn to be Lonely," which was the new song Minnie Driver sang at the end of the soundtrack of ‘Phantom of the Opera.' Minnie did a much better job. Then Beyonce also sang 'Believe' with Josh Groban. Josh Groban soloed on 'Believe' and did it s-o-o-o-o much better. I don't know why they didn't check with me before they made such huge errors in production. AND, I obviously wasn't asked to vote for the best song......"

--Eastern Iowa Reader


Tomorrow night will be a big one on the tube for Gary Thompson, who became an outstanding basketball TV commentator after reaching legendary status as an Iowa State player.

Mike Green of the university's sports information staff cranked out a very nice story on Thompson, and sent it to me in the last couple of days.

When I asked Green about it, he said, "Ron, that was the easiest story I have ever written. My dad played baseball at Iowa State right after Gary left and he told me stories on what an outstanding athlete and person he was. I grew up listening to him and he was a big part of why I became such a big Cyclone fan as a kid. We will really miss him."

Here's Green's story:

Ames, Ia. -- A familiar voice to all Iowa State fans will end an extraordinary broadcasting career on March 2 when Iowa State Hall-of-Famer Gary Thompson gives his expert analysis for the final time on the Cyclone Television Network.

Thompson will be joined by legendary play-by-play man and former Big Eight Network partner Jay Randolph in his final telecast.

"Listening to Gary Thompson broadcast Cyclone basketball games conjures up so many wonderful memories of Big Eight and Big 12 basketball," Iowa State athletics director Bruce Van De Velde said. "Gary's relationship with Iowa State as a professional broadcaster, all-American student-athlete and ambassador for the university is rare and very special. As Gary's broadcast career comes to closure, it is fitting to pause and express our appreciation and respect for the outstanding manner in which he has presented himself throughout his career."

A former two-sport all-American for Iowa State in basketball and baseball in 1957, Thompson began his award-winning broadcasting career in 1971 as the color analyst for the Big Eight Conference game of the week. His outstanding work led him to offers with other major networks.

In 1977, NBC hired Thompson to be a color analyst for its college basketball coverage. Thompson broadcast some of the best college basketball games in the nation on NBC from 1977-83. Thompson called the famous 1979 Indiana State-Arkansas NCAA Regional final game that pitted Indiana State's Larry Bird against Arkansas' Sidney Moncrief.

The Sycamores earned a Final Four spot when Bob Heaton made a left-handed desperation shot at the buzzer to keep Indiana State's dream season alive.

Thompson was also involved in what was arguably one of the greatest 5-minute stretches in NCAA tournament history in 1981.

"It was called the greatest live switch in NCAA history," Thompson said. "I was broadcasting the DePaul-St. Joseph's game, where top-seeded DePaul was upset in the final seconds to this unheralded St. Joseph's team. When the game ended, we immediately went live to the Arkansas-Louisville game just in time to see U.S. Reed's famous halfcourt shot at the buzzer to win the game for Arkansas.

"When that ended, we switched live to the Kansas State-Oregon State game and saw Rolando Blackman drive down the sideline and hit the fadeaway shot from the corner to win the game in the final seconds for the Wildcats."

Thompson was also a part of one of the greatest moments in Iowa Hawkeye basketball history in 1980. Thompson had the headset on when Iowa's Steve Waite made the buzzer-beater against Georgetown to help the Hawks earn a Final Four appearance.

NBC lost its bid for NCAA tournament rights after the 1981 season, but Thompson continued to work NCAA tournament games for NCAA productions until 1987. In that span, he got the opportunity to call one of the most famous moments in Iowa State's NCAA tournament history.

Thompson was on hand in Minneapolis' Metrodome in 1986 when Jeff Hornacek drained the shot at the horn to defeat Miami (Ohio), as ISU earned its first NCAA tournament win since 1944. Even though he covered many Iowa State games as part of the Big Eight package, Thompson assumed the role as color analyst for the Cyclone Television Network in 1987, where he spawned a new generation of Cyclone fans with his brilliant broadcasts.

With Thompson's voice, you never got the overbearing homerism you see today. You always received an objective, detailed description on what was happening on the court.

"Gary has taught a lot of people, including myself, an awful lot about basketball," said Bob Helmers, the executive producer of Cyclone Television Network games. "Gary takes his television work very seriously, but always finds a way to make it fun at the same time."

"It was an extreme honor to be able to cover Iowa State games and stay associated with the university I love," Thompson said. "I always tried my best to be objective when I was doing an Iowa State game, but deep in my heart I was always pulling for the Cyclones."

Thompson had time to reflect on some of his greatest Cyclone moments in his broadcasting career:

*Iowa State 73, No. 10 Missouri 72 OT (Feb. 8, 1983) "I can still remember Barry (Stevens) hitting the last-second shot to defeat Missouri. He ended up with 40 points that game and it ended Missouri's 11-game road winning streak."

*Missouri 70, Iowa State 56 (Feb. 7, 1981) "What I remember about this game is that Missouri All-American Steve Stipanovich had just shot himself. The ISU fans came out with toy pistols at the game and shot them off every time he had the ball. Stipanovich was irritated and threw the ball right at Lefty Moore's face on an inbounds play. Johnny Orr was so mad he came on the floor and started chasing the referees."

*No. 20 Iowa State 102, No. 7 Iowa 100 OT (Dec. 19, 1987) "Lafester Rhodes' 54-point game was unbelievable. I don't think I have ever seen a game where everything went right for a player. Every time he would jump in the air, the ball would seem to just go to him."

*No. 23 Iowa State 69, No. 3 Kansas 65 (Jan. 14, 1995) "Fred (Hoiberg) took over and carried Iowa State to victory in that game. I think he scored 18 of ISU's final 19 points and ended up scoring 32 points in the win."

*Last four Big 12 Conference games in ISU's 2000 Big 12 championship season. "I had the opportunity to broadcast ISU's last four conference games during the historic 2000 Big 12 championship season. We had two wins at home against nationally ranked Texas and Oklahoma State. I remember Marcus Fizer's slam dunk over Texas' Chris Mihm to cap off that win and we followed that game with a dominating performance against a great Oklahoma State team in the final home game. The Cyclones clinched their first conference title since 1945 with wins at Texas Tech and Baylor. Watching that team gel into a championship team was really special. With Fizer and (Jamaal) Tinsley taking over games, there weren't many teams better than ISU that year."

Throughout his career, Thompson paired up with many legendary figures in the broadcasting field. Marv Albert, Dick Enberg, Don Criqui, Bob Costas, Charley Jones, Tom Hammond, Gary Bender, Jack Buck, Wayne Larrivee, Ron Franklin, Kevin Harlan and Jay Randolph are just a few of the names Thompson shared a microphone with in his illustrious career.

"The association with the fans, players, coaches and co-workers is what I will really miss," Thompson said. "I love people and I loved visiting with coaches and administrators from Iowa State and other schools when I was broadcasting a game. That is the real joy of this business."

Vol. 4, No. 312
March 1, 2005