Monday, February 9, 2015

The best stories I've read about Dean Smith

A lot has been written about North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith in the days since he died. I'm sure much more will be written in the coming days and weeks.

I wanted to use this space to share some of my favorite stories about the great man, Coach Smith. I've struggled to put words to his death, so I'm going to let others do it for me.

Let's start with my colleague Scott Fowler, who wrote this piece about the kiss Michael Jordan put on Dean Smith's head when the 1957 and 1982 national championship teams were honored a few years back. (I was at that game, standing in the risers.)
It was sweet and perfect, the sort of thing a parent will do to a well-loved child just before something big is about to happen. In this case it was the younger Jordan, towering over his beloved coach.
-Fowler: Michael Jordan’s kiss symbolized all Dean Smith meant (Charlotte Observer)

Charles P. Pierce is one of my favorite writers and stories like this one are the reason why. Pierce, who's known for writing so fast and so well, writes about politics and sports. I recommend reading everything he writes.
He was very much an eccentric in his own way, and had his best days before the game was so homogenized and commercialized that the eccentricity was bled out of it. He coached at the same time as Bob Knight at Indiana, and Abe Lemons at Texas, and McGuire at Marquette. It was a game for poets then, not for the slick salesmen of the modern era. Some of them were beat poets, and some of them wrote epics. I always thought of Smith as one of those all-American craftsmen-poets — Longfellow, maybe, or Edgar Lee Masters. His lines were always perfectly metered. Lord, how his game always rhymed.
-Dean Smith: 1931-2015 (Grantland)

Adam Lucas has a habit of leaving Tar Heels fans sitting in a puddle of their own tears with his columns. This one is no different.
About a year ago, I was at the Smith Center on a typical weekday afternoon. A customized van was parked in the first parking space outside the basketball office, and I knew. As I walked into the basketball office, Dean Smith came out, being pushed in a wheelchair, a Carolina hat on his head.
It was awful, and it makes my eyes moisten even now to think about it. It was not at all the way I wanted to think about him. And I would like to admit something to you now: from then on, when I saw that van, I would sometimes take a different path into the building, because I wanted my Dean Smith to be the one I remembered. I wanted my Dean Smith to be the one who I mentioned my daughter’s name to on exactly one occasion, and six months later when passing me in the parking lot, he recalled it perfectly and asked how she was doing.
 That’s my Dean Smith and I wanted that to be everyone’s Dean Smith. I don’t want today’s students to think of him as old or sick. Understand this: this man could do anything. This man could coach and this man could help integrate a town or a league and this man changed the lives of hundreds of teenagers who played for him plus thousands of the rest of us who lived vicariously through their exploits.
-Lucas: The Stories Are True (

This final story is the only one of the bunch written before Dean's death. Tommy Tomlinson, a longtime columnist at the Charlotte Observer, wrote about Dean Smith nearly a year ago, focusing on the dementia that robbed him of his memory late in life.
Here is the special cruelty of it: The connector has become disconnected. The man who held the family together has broken off and drifted away. He is a ghost in clothes, dimmed by a disease that has no cure. Even the people closest to him sometimes slip into the past tense: Coach Smith was. They can't help it. They honor him with what amounts to an open-ended eulogy. At the same time, they keep looking for a crack in the curtains. They do what people do when faced with the longest goodbye. They do the best they can.
-Precious Memories (

If you have suggestions for other great Dean Smith stories, let me know.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Why I stopped being a Duke student: An update on Coursera

I'm a college dropout. Well, maybe not. Definitely a Coursera dropout.

Turns out that a free online class takes up way more time than I expected, and way more than I was willing to devote to something that -- in the end -- would earn me a piece of paper.

I started taking a Coursera class a few months ago called "Sports and Society" taught by Duke professor Orin Starn. The class seemed like something I would enjoy and could use in my work.

I made it two weeks out of seven.

The course listing says the class should require 3-5 hours of work each week. There were about four video lectures a week, each lasting 10-15 minutes, along with a reading assignment. (The one I read took about 30 minutes.) After completing those, students were supposed to complete a homework assignment and take a quiz.

Two things kept me from finishing the course:

1) The subject matter wasn't interesting enough or presented in an appealing way. The lectures were videos of Starn talking to a camera with the occasional photo thrown in. The lessons were also basic, which I should have expected in a free introductory course. Of course, the lectures may have gotten more interesting after I stopped.
Which brings me to ...

2) My lack of dedication to a voluntary class. Grades and money are great motivators. I didn't pay for the course, so I didn't worry about wasting money. And I wasn't going to get a grade, so I didn't worry if I finished assignments/quizzes after deadline. Eventually, I didn't worry about finishing assignments/quizzes period.

A bright spot: I was impressed by the discussion boards. I expected the discussions to be overwhelming with so many students. But, aside from the "Who are you and where are you from?" thread, none of the topics got too out of hand. People added smart and well-thought-out comments. I started two threads that received decent response, including one from the professor.

I'm not giving up on Coursera. I see an opportunity to find a class that interests me enough to stick with it. I think the important part will be findi -- *

*I couldn't even finish a Coursera blog post. Oh well.

Monday, June 3, 2013

"Homeland" comes to the Observer; Why I'll never be an actor

The view of "Homeland" from my desk.
The Charlotte Observer newsroom turned into the set of Showtime TV show "Homeland" for about 12 hours May 28.

The show, which is filmed in Charlotte and surrounding areas, used the newsroom to film one scene for the upcoming season. Claire Danes was in it. I could have reached out and touched her, but I didn't. Probably a good move.

Here's what I learned.

  • It takes a village. This scene lasted about two or three minutes. About 100 people were in and out of the newsroom all day, setting the scene, lugging in camera equipment, rigging lighting and feeding the cast and crew. In addition to the three main actors in the scene, there were a couple of dozen extras posing as journalists walking through the room, ruining my chance to make a cameo.

  • Slow and steady wins the Emmy. The set up and filming of this scene took way longer than I would have imagined. Some of the crew arrived at 8 a.m. to set up the props. They were there until at least 8 p.m. taking everything down.

    The crew completely remodeled four desks in the newsroom with fake books, mementos and folders. They brought in new computer equipment and had a fake news feed going through the TVs.

    The actors arrived around 2:30 p.m., did a couple of rehearsals and then kept shooting the same short scene until well after 6 p.m., when I left. 

  • I know nothing about my own workplace. We have these numbers sticking out of the ceiling at the Observer. A crew member asked me what they were for, and were they related to the sprinkler system? I had no idea. (They were.) I think he felt a little bad for calling me out, but I didn't care. Now I know that sprinkler 70F has my back. 

  • TV is magic. Midway through shooting, I watched one take and thought, "Man, our newsroom looks shabby. How are they going to make this look good?" Then I caught a glimpse of the monitor the director was watching. It looked great. The magic of television. 

  • They work hard for the money, but love it. I sit right by the door of to the newsroom so I had the chance to talk to some of the crew members during downtime. One, who is from Charlotte and had been with the show for about a week, said they started at 5 a.m. and would be going until well into the night. And that's a normal day.

    You could tell he was tired, but he also talked about how fun and exciting the job was and how passionate the crew is about it. All the crew members seemed to be enjoying the work and were friendly to all of the nosy journalists.

    Acting also isn't easy. I can't imagine how hard it is to say the same lines and do the same movements so many times in a row. They shot the scene from six or seven different angles, which meant running through it dozens of times. It was impressive how consistent Claire Danes was. Which brings me to my last bullet ... 

  • Danes is a superb curser. And consistent. Without giving away too much of the plot, Claire Danes character, Carrie Mathieson, yells at people in this scene. If you've watched the show, you know that comes with some cursing.

    Danes really knows how to accentuate her F-bombs and bull----s. I couldn't hear much of the dialogue from my position in the newsroom, but I heard those.

    I was also amazed by how consistent she curses. Her final line in the scene (I think I can tell you this without giving anything away) is "This is bullshit! You know that, right?" I swear she said it the exact same way at least 50 times. That's when I realized I could never be an actor. My cursing is too inconsistent.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

How I became a Duke student

I've crossed over to The Dark Side: I'm a Duke student. Well, kinda.

In a fit of boredom at 1:35 a.m. Sunday, I signed up for my first Coursera class, "Sports and Society." Coursera is a website that offers massive open online courses (MOOCs) taught by professors from universities around the world.

Anyone can sign up for the course for free. It's taught with recorded video lectures, online discussion boards and Google Hangouts. It doesn't count for college credit, but you get a certificate of completion (yipee!). I've read about MOOCs and have wanted to try one. When I looked through the course listing, "Sports and Society" seemed like something that would both interest me and possibly help with my work.

Orin Starn, a professor and chair of the Department of Cultural Anthropology at Duke, teaches the class. Starn also recently wrote a book about Tiger Woods. It's listed as optional reading.

From the course description:

"Sports play a giant role in contemporary society worldwide. But few of us pause to think about the larger questions of money, politics, race, sex, culture, and commercialization that surround sports everywhere. This course draws on the tools of anthropology, sociology, history, and other disciplines to give you new perspectives on the games we watch and play. We will focus on both popular sports like soccer (or “football,” as anyone outside America calls it), basketball, and baseball, and also lesser-known ones like mountain-climbing and fishing. Special guests will include former major league baseball player and ESPN commentator Doug Glanville; leading sports journalist Selena Roberts; and sports studies experts David Andrews, Grant Farred, and Katya Wesolowski. You will never watch or think about sports in the same way again."

Seems interesting enough. And it's free, so it can't hurt. The class starts April 30 and is seven weeks long, with regular readings and homework assignments in addition to the video lectures and guest speakers.

I will post any interesting things I come across on the blog. I'm mostly interested in seeing just how these things work. If I like it, maybe I'll also become a Stanford student. Or a Johns Hopkins student. I'm gonna make Momma so proud.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

"There is no great writing ..."

Writing a long story can be stressful. It can take a while. Just when you think you're done, there's another question to ask or fact to check. But it's all worth it when you open the newspaper one morning and see your work in print.

It never gets old.
My story about Bryan Moore ran on the front of the Charlotte Observer sports page Sunday. It's the story of a local kid who has made it to one of the top junior hockey leagues in the country. He's the first Charlotte player to do it. The league he's in produces many first round NHL draft picks each year. A teammate he was close to was drafted No. 3 overall last year.

I heard about the story in September. I didn't talk to Bryan for the first time until December. Soon after, I talked to his dad, his mom and a former Charlotte Checkers player that Bryan has known since he was a stick boy for the Charlotte minor league hockey team.

I wrote my first draft sometime after Christmas. I would completely rewrite it at least twice more. I rewrote or rearranged sections many more times.

I talked to Bryan on the phone four different times and asked him other questions via text. I talked to his mom three times. I think I asked the same question about 40 times.

But each new interview and revision made the story better. For that, I have my editors to thank.

To me, this one of the hardest lessons for a writer to learn. In high school and college, I would write a paper or an article at the last second, never look over it and get a good grade. I thought everything I wrote was good the first time around. No need to go back and change anything.

So when an editor tells me to go back and rework an article, it's hard. I feel like I did a bad job. But that's not it. It's part of the process. You write, you edit, write again, revise, rewrite, rework, edit and then, finally, publish.

There's a quote I read that sums it up best. I recently used it in a presentation to high school students interested in journalism. I hope they were listening.

"There is no great writing. Only rewriting."

Read the story on the Observer website here.

Monday, February 25, 2013

[The Corey Project] Wake up call

It's hard to believe that it's been more than eight months since I got married.

That was about the same time I put "The Corey Project" on hold.

My gym attendance has slumped.  I haven't run more than two-and-a-half miles since the wedding, and even that has been rare. The occasional "splurge" on tacos, burgers and pizza (and beer) has happened more frequently.

This picture was taken around when
I was at my smallest, March 2012.
I can't see much of a difference in how I look. Maybe a little rounder in places, but I expected that. My clothes still fit more or less the same. Sometimes it just takes a little extra tugging to button the pants.

A couple of weeks ago, it was especially hard to button a pair of pants. My shirt felt a little snug around the middle. I decided to weigh myself, see the extent of the damage. I hadn't done that in months.

My scale tracks your weight, showing how much you've gained or lost since the last time you got on it. I held down the corner until my last saved weight popped up: "179."

To be fair, that was some time before the wedding. I had weighed myself since -- though not recently -- and was in the 180s, but I didn't want to save that. I liked the look of 179.

I knew I was more than that. I expected it. But I didn't expect this. The three little lines bounced up and down on the display and a number popped up: "205."

Twenty-six pounds.

I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. I couldn't believe it. I hadn't weighed more than 200 pounds since May 2011. I made a little promise to myself that I wouldn't go back to that. But here I am. Back.

I'm not happy about it, but I think it's exactly the kick in the pants that I needed. A week since that weigh in, I've dropped a pound. Not much, but the needle is moving in the right direction.

But I'm not motivated to run and 40-minute round trip to the gym is frustrating. I need to mix it up. So Courtney and I bought "Insanity." We started Sunday. If the first two workouts are any indication, my body is going to be sore for 60 straight days.

We took all our "before" measurements (see mine in the image below). We will remeasure every two weeks when we do the fitness test. I know it's going to be tough, but tough is what I need.

The Corey Project resumes.

Note: I know the weight below is higher than the weights mentioned above. I took the above measurements in the morning, before I ate. The one below was in the afternoon after a big Sunday brunch.

My initial measurements

Monday, February 11, 2013

On being Southern ... ish

Sometimes I wish I was more Southern. I'm not sure that's common, but there it is.

I was born in Cary, which is about as far from Southern as you can get in North Carolina. (Charlotte is probably a close second.) If you've heard of Cary, you've heard of its nickname: Central Area for Relocated Yankees. And it's true.

Sitting just west of Raleigh, the "Town" of Cary is the seventh largest city in the state, thanks to technology jobs coming to SAS and Research Triangle Park. It's a great place to grow up; It's not the South.

My family is from the South. My mom grew up in Greensboro. My dad grew up in Roanoke Rapids. The Inscoes came from England and settled in southern Virginia, into northeast North Carolina.

My parents don't have strong accents, though. At least none that I notice. I don't think I have much of an accent either.

Sure, it comes out sometimes in the "yessirs" and "ma'ams" and the "y'alls." I can fake one pretty well. But when I travel to the mountains or down East, I realize I've got nothin'.

I love my barbecue (Eastern style, please). I grew up on NASCAR and love football. I'll take some liver puddin' for breakfast and a hot dog with chili and slaw for lunch and some fried chicken for dinner. I'll take some bourbon for a nightcap.

I've always liked bluegrass and can even appreciate some country music.

But I've never been hunting. I've only fished a handful of times. I grew up in a townhouse less than a mile from the Cary Towne Center mall. I've never lived more than a couple of miles from a WalMart or Harris Teeter.

I never did yard work until I moved into my current house. I guess yard work isn't a distinctly Southern thing, but it feels un-Southern to not do it growing up.

I hear and read stories about the South and Southern culture and I want to connect to it. (This post was inspired by reading "All Over but the Shoutin'" by Rick Bragg.) I want to feel like it's my heritage he or she is talking about. And I guess, somewhere higher on my family tree, it is my heritage. But it doesn't feel like it.

I feel like I'm stuck in the middle somewhere. My granddad ("Paw Paw") grew up in a small town on N.C./Virginia border. He's definitely Southern. My dad grew up in the same small town and lives Down East in Wilson. He's Southern.

Me? The Cary-ite turned Charlottean via Chapel Hill? I'm Southern ... ish.