Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Touring Japan

From our very first season when the Harlem Ambassadors performed at Beale Air Force Base and March Air Reserve Base in California, the Harlem Ambassadors have been committed to entertaining our men and women in uniform and their families too. Twelve years later we can proudly say that the Ambassadors have performed over 300 shows at more than 125 different bases in all service branches.

That commitment has taken the team to a wide variety of installations scattered around the world. We've had our team entertaining deployed forces in Bosnia and Kosovo during the Balkans conflict. They have been to forward camps along the DMZ in South Korea. We've had our training camp at 7,000 feet at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center (MWTC) in the high Sierras and then entertained the Marines who were stationed there. The Ambassadors have made multiple appearances at remote and isolated installations such as Clear Air Force Station in the middle of Alaska with the temperature a balmy -40 when we showed up in December. We've also played at Naval Station Pearl Harbor and the Pacific Missile Range Facility located in Hawaii.

The Harlem Ambassadors have made six different visits to Japan and I had the privilege of accompanying the team on a tour of five bases in early December. Actually I only went to three of the performances in the Tokyo area (Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Camp Fuji USMC, and Naval Station Yokosuka). After we left the tour, the team continued on, travelling to Misawa Air Base in the northern part of Japan and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in the south.
There is a lot of history with all these bases in Japan. Atsugi has been in U.S. control since August 30, 1945 when General Douglas MacArthur landed there in preparation for the September 2, 1945 formal surrender aboard the U.S.S. Missouri docked in Tokyo Bay. Yokosuka, strategically located just inside Tokyo Bay, was brought into United States control the very same day, August 30, 1945. Today, over six decades later, it remains a very active base for both the Japanese and United States' Navies.

I had been to both Atsugi and Yokosuka on a previous tour back in 2000, but it was my first visit to Camp Fuji. Situated at the base of Mount Fuji, lies Camp Fuji, a USMC facility with a rich and abundant history that represents the culture of its host nation. The ground adjacent to Camp Fuji was used for training samurai warriors long before the Marines arrived. As far back as 1198 AD, the Kamakura Feudal Government trained more than 30,000 Samurai warriors on the same ground where Marines and other US forces train today.

It is uncommon to have clear days at Mount Fuji in December. We were told by locals that the 12388 foot peak is usually covered in clouds at that time of year. We were blessed to have a beautiful day as our bus made the two hour drive from Atsugi to Camp Fuji and were able to get great photos of the mountain.
But even more meaningful than the breathtaking close-up views of Japan's sacred mountain was the opportunity to entertain the US Marines training at the Camp Fuji base and meet them up-close and personal. They are all fine young men and women, professionally trained, serious about their mission, and willing to serve.

On December 1, President Obama announced his Afghanistan plan of sending an additional 30,000 troops in the next few months. When we were at Camp Fuji on December 4, these Marines already knew that they were part of the 30,000. Next stop Afghanistan. With that reality in the near future, the Marines were excited at any opportunity to take a break from training and cut loose. Their team was an eager and enthusiastic opponent, making up with fitness for anything they lacked in talent. The stands were packed with Marines who had a ball cheering and laughing at the Ambassadors antics. Lade Majic is so experienced at working with military crowds and made certain that everyone had a smile on their face.

Those youthful faces are fixed in my mind. They are so darned young! You can see in the picture. I had a similar experience a few years ago when we were training at the aforementioned MWTC. There was a batallion of Marines up there who had just come back from Iraq. These men and women were lean, mean, fighting machines, with not an ounce of fat on them. But again, so darned young!
It brings to my mind the poem "Two Sides of War" by sportswriter Grantland Rice that I heard recited by legendary basketball coach John Wooden.

It reads:

"All wars are planned by older men
In council rooms apart,

Who call for greater armament

And map the battle chart.

But out along the shattered field

Where golden dreams turn gray,

How very young the faces were

Where all the dead men lay.

Portly and solemn in their pride,

The elders cast their vote

For this or that, or something else,

That sounds the martial note.

But where their sightless eyes stare out

Beyond life's vanished toys,

I've noticed nearly all the dead

Were hardly more than boys."

As we enjoy our holidays and our freedoms that we have in this country, never forget the young men and women who willingly volunteer to stand in harms way on our behalf. Lift them up in your prayers, do something for them or their families. And if you ever get a chance, look into their youthful faces ... and say THANKS!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Marion Jones and Basketball

Just as we were leaving for Japan (more on that to follow), it was announced that Marion Jones has been working out in hopes of making a sports comeback with a WNBA team.

The public is quick to bury the disgraced and it seems that people forget that Jones was on an NCAA championship basketball team when she was a two-sport performer at the University of North Carolina.

I remembered Lade Majic describing playing against her, so I asked her to share her thoughts. Here's what Majic said:

"She was, and is probably still a world class athlete. She used poor judgment in her decision to use banned substances and paid the penalty for it. I'm paraphrasing but, "She or he without sin, cast the first stone." I don't believe anyone in this world is "perfect." We all make mistakes and everyone deserves a second chance. I played against her when she was still playing basketball at NC and she made me work extremely hard on defense and offense. We went into overtime and my team finally won. Did I mention this was a pickup game in Manhattan? Not only was she a great athlete, but she was also a great person. Anyway, she's a great competitor and deserves the right to move forward with her life. I pray that everything works out for her. I believe she'll win "this" race, bring home the gold and stay on the right track. God Bless her."

I agree!

Thursday, November 19, 2009


I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days with our "Stars and Stripes" Unit in Oregon this past weekend. It's always hard to get out to the road, but most of the time I find it rewarding once I get there.

Getting from Fort Collins to Prineville, Oregon was a bit of a challenge. I was in Golden, Colorado Thursday night for a game with the over-50 basketball team I play with, the Playmakers. Since I had a early Friday morning flight out of Denver International Airport and Paula had a Friday seminary class, we checked into an airport hotel from which I caught a 4:15 am shuttle bus to the airport.

My flight to Portland was scheduled to have a brief stopover in Salt Lake City, but engine problems turned that into a two and a half hour stop. The result of that was my arrival in Portland was too late to catch my connecting flight. So I had to rent a car for the three-plus hour drive to Prineville, Oregon, site of Friday's game. Route 26 takes you up by Mount Hood and it was snowing hard enough that chain laws were in effect for trucks. My Toyota Matrix rental handled it with no problem, but I found out later that our team had come the same way earlier in the day with Florida native Curtis McBride experiencing driving on the snow for the first time. When conditions got too much for Curt, he gave up the wheel and our tour director Jesse Whintly (from Michigan and experienced in snowy conditions) took over.

I'm not a coach, but I've seen enough Harlem Ambassadors games over the years and usually can serve as another pair of eyes to observe and tweak what we are doing on the floor. After watching the game in Prineville on Friday, I was able to suggest some changes on how newcomer Calvin "CJ" Jenkins was being used and see how those changes resulted in immediate improvement the next night in Bend. Before the game, we stopped at our sponsor's location (Nike Factory Store) in Bend and picked up a new pair of shoes for CJ (see photo).

What I appreciated most in the 36 hours or so that I was with Stars and Stripes is that we have good athletes, but more importantly, we have good people. The Bend game was presented for the second consecutive year by Camp Fire USA of Central Oregon . As we enjoyed our post-game meal in the home of Camp Fire board chairman Chris Dent, I looked around the long table. Each of our performers were spread out, sitting with two or three of the volunteers and staff from Camp Fire USA, interacting and fellowshipping, and being comfortable in doing so. I observed the same with our "Red, White, and Blue" unit during a visit earlier in the season.

Jenn, the executive director at Camp Fire USA summarized the feeling this way: "The team this year was so great. Everyone that has come into the office this week has been raving about how great the game was and how nice the team was. Last year the team was so tired that they didn't really interact with people at the dinner. They ate quickly and then wanted to leave. This year the team was AWESOME! It was a pleasure to have them here."

We are proud to represent organizations like Camp Fire USA and companies like Nike Factory Store. And we are especially proud of how our performers represent themselves and our team.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Return to Space

Mike Foreman was in my high school class and I knew him fairly well. After high school he went to the Naval Academy and flew Navy jets. He became a NASA astronaut in 1998 and waited ten years to go into space for the first time in 2008 on the shuttle Endeavor. As a "mission specialist" he performed three different spacewalks on that flight.

When he made the astronaut program it was no surprise. He always had that "right stuff" look about him. Take a look at the photo. He's got a little "Buzz Lightyear" in him.

Now Mike is returning to space on the shuttle Atlantis which is scheduled to blast off today. He'll make several more spacewalks on this mission. Space travel is common these days, but it is still not without risk so we will be praying for him and the rest of the crew. Light the candle and Godspeed Mike Foreman!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

What's in a name?

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet meet and fall in love in Shakespeare's lyrical tale of star crossed lovers. They are doomed from the start as members of two warring families. Here Juliet tells Romeo that she loves the person who is called "Montague", not the Montague name.

Sorry Juliet, I don't buy it. Would plain old Eldrick Woods sell as much Nike, Buick, and Gatorade product and so thoroughly psych out his opposition the way Tiger Woods does? Not likely.

Names and nicknames carry a lot of weight. Remember Giants DB Elvis Patterson, nicknamed Toast because he was burned so often by receivers? It stuck ... Elvis "Toast" Patterson. Reggie Jackson was "Mr. October" because of his reputation for delivering in the clutch. The contrast was Dave Winfield, disdainfully labeled "Mr. May" by George Steinbrenner because he delivered in the early season when it really didn't matter.

I started thinking about my own name, Dale Moss. Short, simple and doesn't get misspelled often. Dale is one of those types of first names (like Carol or Gail) that can be male or female. When I was really young I disliked that aspect especially because Mrs. Roy Rogers, Dale Evans was probably the most prominent "Dale" around. Having "Dale" as a first name brought a certain amount of elementary school teasing.

Those of a certain age will also remember the "Mrs. Burke, I thought you were Dale," Grape Nuts commercial. It was widely parodied and another example of a female Dale. View it here:


Thanks to the internet and names.mongabay.com website, I have learned that "Dale" is the 109th most popular male first name in the United States. Not totally obscure, but not nearly as common as say, David (my brother's name) which ranks 6th. By the way, as a women's name, Dale ranks 696th.

Combine that with "Moss" which ranks as the 353rd most common surname in the U.S. and you have a short, but fairly obscure name. I started wondering who else has my name. Back to Google where I discovered the following group of Dale Mosses.

I already knew of Dale Moss, a top executive with British Airways. I had heard of him when he ran the BA operation at O'Hare and we were living in Chicago. Now he is the managing director of BA's OpenSkies subsidiary providing transatlantic service. He's an American and also a top motivational speaker. Follow this link to see what fees he commands for a motivational speech:


(If he's ever busy I would be happy to step in and give a "Dale Moss" speech at these rates!)

Being a Journalism school graduate, it was interesting to discover that another Dale Moss is a columnist for the Louisville Courier-Journal. His column is "about all things Hoosier — his beat is north of the river." Says he's 52 (same as me) and a heart attack survivor (thankfully not the same as me). Here's a link to his columns at the newspaper:


Being in the basketball business, I was surprised to learn that there is also a Dale Moss who is a 6-4 junior guard on the South Dakota State men's basketball team. He's an honor student and his uncle Johnny Rodgers won the 1972 Heisman Trophy at Nebraska. Here's a link to his bio and a video showing that he has crazy hops. Perhaps a Harlem Ambassadors contract is in his future!


Now I'm thinking, wouldn't it be great to have a get-together of Dale Moss, Dale Moss, Dale Moss, and Dale Moss? Dale Moss could arrange to have it in London. And Dale Moss can write about it. I'll make sure that Dale Moss is there!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Reality TV

I had two brushes with the world of "reality" television last week. One was tremendously positive, the other stunningly negative. We'll give you the good news first.

On Monday Oct. 12, I was in Columbus, Indiana for our event presented by the Columbus Parks and Rec Department. Our announcer, Alex Martin, made the customary announcement that home videotaping of Harlem Ambassadors event is not permitted. That's when Allen Smith approached and asked me for an exception.

It turns out Allen is one of the finalists competing on "The Biggest Loser." As a fireman, community leader, and local celebrity in Columbus, he was playing on the team challenging the Harlem Ambassadors in the fundraising event. His wife was shooting video of him playing basketball for use as B-roll footage on the show. Naturally, we gave her permission and put her in position to get the best views of Allen on the court.

Lade Majic did her thing ... fouling Allen on putting him on the free throw line where they had some hilarious interaction. Allen was a great sport and we are hoping the video will turn up on the NBC show.

The true "reality" for us came after the after the basketball game, when we got to meet Allen and his family at the post-game meal. First of all the meal was catered by Allen's family catering business, appropriately named "By Word of Mouth" catering. The catered soul food and the Christian fellowship shared with Allen and his wife, daughter, parents, and sisters made for a great post-game experience. The Harlem Ambassadors, like those around the country, are now big Allen Smith fans and pulling for him to win.

That was on Monday and on Thursday, here in Fort Collins we were touched by another "reality" TV family. The Heene family, apparently desiring more time in the reality TV spotlight, launched the helium balloon which launched the "balloon boy" hoax. The home city of the Harlem Ambassadors was thrust front and center of the national consciousness, and not in a very positive light.

As a resident of Larimer County, I'm glad that our sheriff is preparing to bring charges. But that action brings both hopes and fears. If it is determined that Richard Neene and his wife concocted this as a hoax, my hope is that they will be forced to pay restitution for wasting taxpayer resources. My fear is that the means that the Heene's will use to generate the funds to pay the restitution ... you guessed it .... appearing on more TV! In the words of Marvin Gaye "makes me wanna holler and throw up both my hands"

Friday, October 16, 2009

Visiting the Tours - Part 2

People on the Red, White, and Blue Tour were surprised to see me back out on tour just a week after the Iowa visit. I flew into Indianapolis and drove to Hartford, Michigan to catch up to RWB.

I was able to stay for three games and for the last two, Oct. 11 in Franklin, Indiana and Oct. 12 in Columbus, Indiana, we were joined by Isis Roberts, a field correspondent from the Nikewomen.com site. We had seen her audition video for the Nike position and she envisioned getting on the court (or on the field) with top women athletes to get an "inside" look at their worlds.

Here's a link to that video:


Her genuineness motivated me to contact her and give her an opportunity to have a real experience with the Harlem Ambassadors. She flew in from LAX to Indiana and joined the Ambassadors. Isis observed the show in Franklin, Indiana on Sunday after visiting White Castle for the first time that afternoon (shown in the video). Monday she did two assemblies sharing her own positive message with students at an elementary school and an after-school youth center program. We took her to HA-sponsor Nike Factory Store and outfitted her with new kicks for the game. And that evening she suited up and played as a Harlem Ambassador performer at our game in Columbus, Indiana. By 4:00 a.m. Tuesday morning she was headed to the airport and

It's her story and we'll let her tell it. When her written blog and her video account are posted, we'll link to it here. But Isis was down-to-earth, real, positive, enthusiastic ... just great to have as a part of our team for a brief time. She's a young lady that we expect to see great things from in sports journalism. Don't be surprised if you see her on the sidelines in a few years as the next Lisa Salters or Pam Oliver.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Greyhound roundtrip

We had a prospective player ride the Greyhound from Georgia to Colorado. I wrote about it in a previous post admiring this player's hunger.

Well, unfortunately the player was not "as advertised". On his profile form he listed himself as 6 foot 5 1/2 inches. I'm 6-4 so I can measure most people ranging from about 6 foot to 6 -8 just by standing next to them. This candidate was a good 3 inches shorter than advertised.

The profile form also described this player's three show dunks. Unfortunately, he couldn't dunk. When it was clear that he couldn't make it as a player, we tried to keep him as an equipment manager, but he wasn't suited for that role either. So it was back on the bus, Gus. He returned the same way he arrived, via "the dog".

Here's a tip for any prospective performer coming to the Harlem Ambassadors. Avoid resume expansion, be honest about your size and your abilities.

Visiting the Tours - Part 1

In the past two weeks, I have made two trips out to join up with the Harlem Ambassadors on tour.

Our two touring units were re-combined for three games in Iowa September 30 and October 1-2. For the past few tours, we have been doing this exercise to permit Coach Majic to check the development of players on both units and also to make any "trades" if desired.

I joined up with both teams for games in Mason City, Iowa on October 1 and Sioux City, Iowa on October 2. I feel its really important to get out and bridge the distance between our office in Colorado and the performers on the road. It also gives me an opportunity to interact with our game organizers, in this case United Way in Mason City and Jackson Recovery Centers in Sioux City. The photo above is of the Ambassadors' Kiki Davis running the musical chair in Mason City. We joke about Kiki's height of 5 foot 2 inches. I say that she's 4 foot 14! You can measure her limited height, but there is no way to measure her big heart. This is a young lady that is focused and determined. We expect her to be a tremendous success with HA.

Our game organizers are always great to meet. These are community-minded, caring people, often underpaid or volunteer, who are working hard to make a positive impact on their communities. The organizers of both of these events I visited in Iowa were no exception and the Harlem Ambassadors were shown great hospitality. These are both locations that we should return to.

We did make a few trades. Kiki Davis, Sam Givens, and Bayete Gordon went east to Red, White, and Blue. Curtis McBride and Krys Jackson went west to Stars and Stripes.

A tour visit always reminds me that being on tour with the Ambassadors is a real grind, but has great personal satisfaction if the performer chooses to really get involved with the organizers. Seeing everyone that was out on both touring units in Iowa, I saw people that we are proud to have represent us out on the road.

Friday, September 25, 2009

We're a Winner!

Back in June, I learned of a contest that Office Depot was holding for small business. This contest recognized small businesses nationwide for their smart survival strategies. To enter, a small business uploaded an original two-minute video explaining the smart things their business is doing to survive these challenging times.

I talked it up in the office and found a willing associate in getting together an entry. Our client and media relations director Andria Simons is an avid "contester". Maybe not quite as extreme as the character played by actress Julianne Moore in "The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio," but I do know Andria has entered lots of different contests and has won quite a few prizes. She once won a stove.

Additionally, Andria is a talented video editor so she was excited about the project. And we had another willing participant to star in the video. Ambassadors Coach Lade Majic never met a camera that she didn't like.

Andria and I put together a story line where we showed Majic doing the different things that we as an organization do to save money when shopping at Office Depot. We are in that store all the time, as it is located about two blocks from our office.

We shot it in a couple of hours and Andria did a great job editing it to be under the contest maximum two minute length. My on-camera scene ended up on the cutting room floor, but the video came out great. As an experienced "contester", Andria even had suggestions for when to enter, not too early she advised so that we don't get forgotten following the expected last minute flurry of entries.

We won! Here's the finished result:

Friday, September 18, 2009

On the Road Again

Our two week training camp concluded with a pre-season game in Eaton, Colorado on September 15. Following the game, our team was divided into two touring units and early in the morning of the 16th heading out for the first two-month tours.

The Stars and Stripes unit is led by tour manager Jesse "Nephew" Whintly and show player Ashley Wilson (shown here). These two veterans are accustomed to life on the road with HA. The rest of the tour is filled with rookies who will have to learn to operate on little sleep and deal with all sorts of variables including all sorts of weather, changing lodging conditions, different gymnasiums, different floor surfaces, etc. We hope that everyone adjusts and some thrive in the "HA life", but we also know from experience that some won't make it. Homesickness is a real phenomenon, even for 27 year old males.

Stars and Stripes performed their first show of the 2009-10 season before an enthusiastic crowd in Alliance, Nebraska on September 16 and are off to a good start.

Our Red, White, and Blue unit is led by Coach Lade Majic. They departed about the same time as the other unit, but had a much further drive to get to the first show last night in Park Rapids, Minnesota. Greeted by a large, energetic crowd Red, White, and Blue also got started with a good show.

The Harlem Ambassadors not only perform basketball shows, but also visit schools presenting the message to elementary and middle school students of staying drug-free and getting a good education. Red, White, and Blue is presenting three of these programs today in Staples, Minnesota. Stars and Stripes presented three yesterday in Rapid City, South Dakota and the Rapid City Journal produced a video that you can see at this link


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Go Greyhound ... And Leave the Driving to Us!

The start of camp is always exciting. We get rookie players, hungry for an opportunity, arriving in Colorado from all over the country. As rookies, they are responsible for their own flights. Or I should say their own transportation.

Every couple of years we get a prospective performer that may have limited funds and can't make an airline flight. Going back to our second season, the highly unique Reggie "Fly" Thompson, drove in from Southern California in his van. When his brakes gave out in the mountains of Colorado, the resourceful Bahamian-born "Fly" (also nicknamed "MacGyver") simply parked his van on the side of the road, hitched a ride to an auto parts store, bought the necessary brake parts, hitched back to his van, and proceeded to give his van a brake job on the side of Interstate 70 at 8,000 feet! He arrived for training camp badly in need of soap and water, but ready to play!

Other performers have taken "the Dog" to get to camp, the Greyhound bus. We've had players travel in from Midland, Texas and from Spearfish, South Dakota on the bus. Until this season, the distance record on Greyhound was held by longtime performer Ketrick "Jazz" Copeland who arrived for his initial camp from Memphis via "the Dog".

But we have a new record this season, with a player arriving from Brunswick, Georgia on "the Dog". I will withhold his name because he might consider this embarassing. We consider it a positive sign of someone hungry for an opportunity. I looked it up. To get from Brunswick to Denver, you first ride to Savannah, and change buses. Then it's on to Atlanta, and change buses. You ride to Nashville, and change again. Next stop St. Louis and another bus change. Finally from St. Louis to Denver concluding about 2 days of riding.

That's hungry! And we respect hungry.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

High Altitude Training Camp

Our 12th Harlem Ambassadors pre-season training camp will open a week from today on Thursday, September 3. This is always the most exciting time of the year as we prepare for another season of Harlem Ambassadors basketball.

Our core group is solid with Coach Lade Majic returning to the court after spending nearly all of last season recovering from a torn achilles tendon injury. Majic will be performing on the Red, White, and Blue Tour and directing that tour as well. Veteran Jesse "Nephew" Whintly will manage the Stars and Stripes Tour and Ashley Wilson returns as the show player on that tour.

We are excited about the potential of the group that we have coming into camp. We are expecting two big men (over 6-8), two show speedy dribblers, two understudy female players, and a collection of high-flying dunkers. They all have great potential. What our training camp is all about is converting that potential into production.

The first step is conditioning. We hold our camp in Fort Collins, Colorado. The community is at nearly 5,000 feet along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. Since nearly all of our performers arrive at Training Camp from low altitude locations, the first few days of camp finds them gasping in the thinner mountain air. But there are no oxygen masks dropping from the overhead compartment. Players who thought that they were in great shape discover that they aren't. Within a couple of days, most players adjust and by the end of camp our team is in excellent cardiovascular condition.

Much more on Training Camp in the coming days.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Hall of Fame Recognition / Chasing Balls

I watched a little of today's induction ceremonies for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I grew up in Ohio about 20 miles from the Hall and have been there a number of times. It was great to see them honor Ralph Wilson, the only owner the Buffalo Bills have had in their 50 year history.

Wilson was one of the original eight owners in the American Football League that began play in 1960. Against long odds, the AFL succeeded and ultimately forced a merger that laid the foundation for the NFL as we know it today. I've always related to the underdog AFL and have a couple of great books on the league's operations. Written all the way back in 1965 is Bob Curran's The $400,000 Quarterback subtitled The League That Came in From the Cold. More recent and probably easier to find is Going Long written by Jeff Miller in 2003. It also has a subtitle, The Wild 10-Year Saga of the Renegade American Football League in the Words of Those Who Lived It. Whew! I recommend Going Long to anyone interested in sports business.

The AFL succeeded against expectations (like our own Harlem Ambassadors as we enter our 12 season). The best thing about Wilson's induction was that they honored him while he was still alive and could both appreciate and participate. At 91 he appears to still be in good health and sharp mind.

In his speech, he mentioned that back in the 50's you were considered a success as an owner in pro football if you could "break-even". Money was tight and as an example, Wilson told the story of George Halas' Chicago Bears when they played home games at Wrigley Field. In those days, teams didn't have nets in the end zone to block PATs from going into the stands. According to Wilson, Halas used to position burly linemen in each end zone to go into the stands if necessary and retrieve the footballs after PATs if the fans didn't throw the ball back.

Listening to that story, I suddenly had a flashback to my Major Indoor Soccer League days in Chicago. Balls would occasionally go over the hockey glass and into seats and the great fans would readily toss the ball back. The flashback that I had was back to a time in the old Chicago Stadium when a fan tried to keep the ball. Players and officials were standing on the turf waiting for the ball to be returned.

I did a Chicago Tribune archive search and there it was, in an account of the Chicago Sting - Cleveland Force game of March 8, 1986 written by Tribune sports writer John Leptich. The Sting won the game 5-4 in overtime and the crowd was a decent 8,271. Believe it or not, but that was more than than the attendance at a typical Bulls game in the same building during those very early days of Michael Jordan.

There it was in writing: "At 2:52 of the second quarter, a fan refused to give up a ball kicked into the stands. Dale Moss, the Sting's director of marketing sales, wrestled the ball away from the unidentified spectator."

I remembered it because we all had a good laugh that Leptich put that incident in the story. With so few media outlets back in those days, and soccer's second-class status, the likelihood of a front office person like myself ending up in a game story in a paper like the Tribune was remote.

I just remember that everyone was waiting and the fan obviously didn't know the protocol. I was close by and I just went to retrieve it. The delay was long enough that by the time I got to the guy, all eyes were on both of us. He stubbornly refused to release the ball and now I have 8,271 people watching me. No way am I the size and strength of a Bears' linemen, but fortunately I was able to leverage the ball out of his arms. If I had lost the wrestling match, I would have heard boos from the notoriously tough Chicago fans.

Instead I got a smattering of applause as I tossed the ball over the glass and play resumed. And I got 15 seconds of fame in the newspaper that amazingly I can look up from my home computer 23 years later. Is this a great country or what?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Hello NIKE

My "relationship" with Nike goes all the way back to 1974, when I got a pair of Nike Pre-Montreal track spikes for the fall cross-country season. I still have the shoes and if they had never been worn, they would be worth a small fortune to a collector. But these have been well worn (see photo), and their only value is the great memories that I have.

Nike began as a running shoe, started by Phil Knight, a former University of Oregon distance runner, and Oregon's legendary track coach, Bill Bowerman. The early days of Nike as exclusively a running shoe company are detailed in "Out of Nowhere: The Inside Story of How Nike Marketed the Culture of Running" written by Geoff Hollister, also a University of Oregon runner and one of the first Nike employees.

During our visit to the Pacific Northwest, Paula and I stopped at the amazing Powell's Book Store in Portland. If you like books, Powell's is a great location to spend time browsing through an incredible inventory. The store is spread out over an entire city block. We only had a couple of hours, but I did pick up a copy of Hollister's book. I'm about half-finished now and can tell you that it's a great read.

After running, the second sport that Nike associated with was basketball. For a Portland-based athletic shoe company, that was only natural, considering that the 76-77 Blazers took the community by storm in winning the NBA championship. Of course, Nike's ultimate success in basketball came quite a few years later with Michael Jordan.

Since the launch of the Harlem Ambassadors, we've desired a relationship with Nike. But finding a connection was difficult. The characteristics that make our show basketball team unique are also factors that make the Harlem Ambassadors defy category segmentation. It's easier to describe what we are NOT, than to say what we are. We are NOT college, we are NOT NBA, we are NOT youth summer AAU basketball, we are NOT all men, we are NOT all women, we are NOT exclusively international, nor are we exclusively domestic. And because we are touring operation, we have no home market or region that we can fit into.

Ultimately, our best connection to Nike was that touring element. You see, Nike has about 150 Factory Stores scattered throughout the country. Once we began examining our touring "footprint" and comparing the locations of these stores, the opportunity to connect with Nike began to make sense.

Add in the fact that Nike was desiring a greater relationship with the community in those markets where Nike Factory Stores are located and we had the basis for a relationship. The type of not-for-profit community organizations that we represent are exactly the kind of groups that Nike Factory Stores desired a connection with. We'll be testing a program in selected locations this fall and are committed to making our association with Nike Factory Stores a beneficial one for both parties and also for our fans.

Since we were in the Pacific Northwest on vacation, Paula and I arranged to visit the Nike World Headquarters Campus and say hello to our Nike Factory Stores contact. Inside the berm that surrounds the wooded site are running trails, a full 400 meter all weather track, and a beautifully manicured soccer field. Other sports facilities are housed indoors.

Every building is named after a Nike star performer. We drove past the Steve Prefontaine Hall, parked across from the Mia Hamm Building, and met our contact in the Pete Sampras Building. An amazing experience.

Our contact was pleased to learn the fact (100% true) that the favorite stop for the Harlem Ambassadors while on tour is to visit a Nike Factory Store. You may see videos of these visits on our social media sites during the season.

We are truly excited to begin our relationship with Nike. More information on our sponsorship with Nike Factory Stores will be coming on our website soon.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

SSS - Soccer Seattle Style

My wife Paula and I are on vacation in Seattle visiting our friends, Brenda and Bill Millhollin, who are both soccer nuts! They are season ticket holders for the inaugural MLS season in Seattle. Yesterday, Brenda very graciously gave up her seat to me for the home game against a top opponent, the Chicago Fire.

The Sounders are the new MLS success story, leading the league in attendance at over 30,000 per game and were coming off an international "friendly" match against English Premier League power Chelsea which drew an amazing 65,289 fans to Seahawks' Qwest Field.

Having worked in marketing in pro soccer for eight seasons in three markets (Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Chicago) back in the 1980's, I was anxious to see the makings of this overnight success first-hand. I attended the game with Bill Millhollin and 32,403 others.

The Sounders have done a fantastic job of marketing the game and engaging the fans with an international-quality production. Although in their first MLS season, previous incarnations of the Sounders (and the work of many others) have helped to plant deep roots of soccer interest in this community that are obviously bearing fruit today.

One of my mentors in sports and soccer, Cleveland Force owner Bart Wolstein once explained that schmaltz is a Yiddish word meaning "chicken fat" and schmaltz is added to a recipe for seasoning and extra flavor. Not to be confused with Neil Diamond-esque sappy sentimentality, but a little schmaltz enriches the flavor and the experience.

The Sounders add just enough schmaltz to make their events a flavorful experience. A local contributor to the sports scene or the soccer community is honored pre-game with a "Golden Scarf Award". Trumpet fanfares, red carpet, a podium, and a golden scarf contained in a wooden case carried by two gold lame clad young ladies make this a spectacular presentation. Schmaltz in a good way.

How about a recording of 50's crooner Perry Como singing his minor hit "Seattle" while everyone sings along. Don't know the words? They are on the Jumbotron to help you sing along. Instant tradition!

There's a rowdie fan section behind the south goal (think Duke basketball's Cameron Crazies only for soccer), and a team band that sounds like they've been playing together for decades. Plenty of schmaltz to enrich the flavor and the experience.

And the soccer? Apart from the artificial turf surface, everything else seemed world-class. Chicago and Seattle battled to a scoreless draw. One thing obviously hasn't changed in American soccer since the 1980's and that is the quality of the officiating .... still horrible. There were questionable calls throughout and two red cards left each team a man short as match time slipped away. I wondered why there continue to be difficulties officiating the American game which is a blend of a lot of different styles.

Anyway, the success in Seattle has the MLS looking to duplicate such success in similar markets nearby to Seattle. Expansion teams in Portland and Vancouver will be added in 2011. Maybe North American soccer is finally moving forward.

Thanks Brenda. Thanks Bill. It was great to see!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Social Media - Here We Come!

When I went to Journalism School we typed stories on an electric typewriter using hard copy paper. Electronic word processing was just coming in, but the old school method forced you to organize your thoughts in your head. The functions of cutting and pasting were literally that ... cutting with scissors and pasting with rubber cement. Following that, a typesetter manually set metal type for a printing press to put ink on paper that would then be shipped from the printing plant to the news stand.

It doesn't seem that long ago, time-wise, but it terms of technology, it might as well have been back with the Flintstones in Bedrock. We are now moving at the speed of light. That has been evidenced most recently in the reporting through Twitter to the outside world (and to each other) by the political protesters in Iran. That was after Iranian officials shut out traditional Western media.

Another obvious example was the reporting of Michael Jackson's death. Websites reported the death before the ambulance even made it to the hospital. Tweets and text messages instantly sent the news rocketing around the globe.

It's definitely a new era and social media’s role in the rapid distribution of significant news around the world will continue to be discussed and debated (frequently by "mainstream" media).

From a business standpoint, these social media tools are great opportunities to share information and insight about a product or service. In our case, the Harlem Ambassadors two units are touring throughout North America and the World, meeting and interacting with new and interesting people, and seeing new communities every day. Those people, those communities, and our show basketball team bringing joys to new faces, is an opportunity to utilize social media that's too good to pass up.

So, in conjunction with a tremendous re-design of our Harlem Ambassadors website www.harlemambassadors.com , we will be launching three great initiatives to establish a closer connection between the Harlem Ambassadors and our fans and game organizers.

Each touring unit will be posting Tweets (a posting of 140 characters or less) on Twitter with interesting news or day-to-day accounts of life on the road with the Harlem Ambassadors. The links are on our website and on this blog. Lade Majic will be sharing news from our Red, White, and Blue Unit which primarily tours east of the Mississippi. Jesse Whintly and Ashley Wilson will report for our Stars and Stripes Unit in the west. Additionally, both Units will have video cameras and will be posting on a new Harlem Ambassadors You Tube page any interesting videos they can shoot along the way.

Being the former Journalist, I can't be expected to limit my thoughts to under 140 characters, so my forum will be this blog. We hope that these Social Media tools will help you have a much closer relationship with the Harlem Ambassadors, before, during, and after we come to your community this season. You say we are NOT coming to your community this season? It's not too late to call our office and schedule an event!