More on the Abilities Expo: He’s not lax on trying to give lacrosse a new chair at the table

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In addition to today’s column on Gerard Moreno (linked here) and his passion for wheelchair fencing, we met Ryan Baker, who just 12 weeks ago helped found wheelchair lacrosse.

The San Diego resident said he was interested in the sport enough to where he contacted someone at the U.S. Lacrosse organization — and they weren’t familiar with any groups playing a wheelchair version of the sport.

“I can’t play rugby, I never played basketball before my injury so I wasn’t going to do it now, I did a lot of snow and water skiing, but I was playing tennis, and my coach had a husband who was involved in lacrosse,” explained Baker. “I finally found a few friends motivated to pull wheelchair lacrosse together.”

And as a result, a rep from U.S. Lacrosse was present when Baker and friends put on a demonstration inside the Anaheim Convention Center hall, complete with sticks, helmets and nets. They go seven a side (including goalies), using standard sticks, and playing on a standard roller hockey rink (even using a goal typical size of a roller hockey game). Think of the movie amazing movie about wheelchair rugby called “Murderball,” except with sticks and balls.

Here’s more info about Baker’s attempt to give his idea more forward motion (official site linked here).

More on the Abilities Expo, which ends today at 4 p.m. (info linked here)

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Coming Sunday: The Abilities Expo, and abled-body athletes

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Photo courtesy of the U.S. Paralympic team
U.S. fencer Gerard Moreno, left, sends Russia’s Marat Vusupov leaning back during the sabre competition at the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing.

Gerard Moreno had just finished about an hour jousting with Mario Rodriguez, but didn’t seem to winded.

“I’m used to 2 1/2-hour workouts,” said the 52-year-old Moreno of West L.A. “You feel it more in the shoulders and elbows, sometimes the lower back.”

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Today, he was feeling it in his heart.

Moreno, pictured here, had to be pleased to see people circled around the demonstration he and Rodriguez had just put on in wheelchair fencing, part of the three-day Abilities Expo at the Anaheim Convention Center (info linked here; it continues Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with another exhibition by Moreno scheduled at 2:30 p.m.).

“I’m always looking for new recruits,” said Moreno, a three-time participant in the Paralympic Games, including last summer in Beijing.

As life rolls on, Moreno and Rodriguez prefer being mobile. Their demonstration took place to show that sports can be an important part of the life for anyone who feels that a disability — especially one that confines one to a wheelchair — may have grounded their dreams.

Rodriguez, who trains in Santa Barbara, said that a cracked hip from a low-speed motorcycle accident led to terminal cancer, where a doctor told him 25 years ago that he’d only have six months to live. He fought back, although seven years ago, he had his right leg amputated.

“Fencing isn’t popular in the U.S.,” said Rodriguez. “There’s a lot of romanticizing about the sword play, but it’s a discipline that you don’t realize how difficult it is until you work at it.

“For me, it doesn’t matter what sport you participate in — be passionate about it, burn some calories, feel better about yourself, have fun and, if you have a competitive streak, you’ll find out the rules of a sport and take it from there.”

In Sunday’s column, we’ll focus a little more on the success of Moreno, who earlier this month won the bronze medal at the World Cup competition in Montreal.

Until then …

More information:
== Gerard Moreno’s bio on the U.S. Paralympic site (linked here)
== Info on the Los Angeles International Fencing Center, where Moreno trains (linked here)

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It’s Out of the Question: The NBA puppetmasters have it half right so far

== Cleveland or Orlando? Rock n’ Roll or Mick E. Mouse? A team the Lakers toppled twice during the regular season, or a team that ate ‘em up twice in the same regular season? What do those pulling the muppetstrings say about it?

== Does this mean all those Nuggets that the Lakers fans put into bags and mailed off to Cash4Gold aren’t worth as much today as they may have been last week?

== Before running to the plane parked far away at the non-downtown airport, what does Kobe Bryant do for one last hurrah before leaving the greater Denver area for the last time this season?

== Does Lamar Odom get Chris Andersen’s headband as a souvenir?

== Is George Karl still looking at the end of the Lakers’ bench waiting for them to put in Coby Karl as the human victory cigar?

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== Will Ferrell, Colin Farrell or Phil Collin: Who gets the most ping-pong balls for the celebrity seat lottery draw that now takes place at the Laker exec offices for the first two games at Staples Center for the NBA Finals? Is Ryan Seacrest allowed to sit next to Ryan O’Neal? Andy Garcia next to Nomar Garciaparra?

== Would not the sight of D.J. Mbenga on the court, with or without his Lakers’ tank top, had been enough to thwart any thuggery that the Nuggets had intended to deliver during this series? Can that be part of the blueprint for the next round?

== How can you not say a few silent prayers in hopes of having Stan Van Gundy push Orlando’s magic ride all the way into the finals, to face the Lakers, just so we can hear brother Jeff Van Gundy try to defend his moves during the ABC telecast?

== What kind of shot does Jerry West, who once blistered the Bel-Air Country Club for a round of 63 at a time when he was a scratch golfer, have at luring Tiger Woods to finally come back to the thing called the NTO (Northern Trust Open, not some off-track betting site) at Riviera Country Club?

== As long as Ballpark Frank McCourt has no problem with it, why not punch up an online ballot 25 times to send Manny Ramirez to St. Louis as the starting left fielder for the NL All-Star team? But since Joe Torre apparently does have a problem with that — you could say he’s wigging out — why not type in on the online ballot 25 times the name Juan Pierre as the starting left fielder for the NL All-Star team?

== If you’re really able to muster the mental strength to log votes 25 times for Man-Ram online, do they waive the manditatory steroid test afterward?

== If Ken Griffey Jr. is fourth in the AL All-Star outfield vote — with a .218 average — what makes voting for Manny so crazy?

== What’s so horrible about David Ortiz’s .299 average? Oh, that’s his slugging percentage?

== Why doesn’t NBC just have Conan O’Brien drop the puck for the first two games of its coverage in the Stanley Cup Finals and see what kind of marine life they throw at him on the ice?

== How low a blow must the sport of boxing endure if it allows Jose Canseco, once knocked on his wallet by Danny Partridge, to find a pay-day in Japan only to get pummeled again, this time by a 7-foot-2 sumo champ, and not be DQ’d by a post-game urine test?

== Rachel Alexandra says she needs a vacation? Already? How do we nag her to change her mind?

== What kind of hurdles does Jim Tracy immediately face as the new Rockies’ manager, aside from altitude sickness from a sickening bullpen? If Colorado sinks any quicker in the NL West, think they’d be willing to deal Houston Street to the Dodgers for … James McDonald?

== As long as we’ve opened it up to Slater for first-ball duties, can we screech for Dustin Diamond to take a spot in the middle of the diamond next time?

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The Media Learning Curve: May 22-29

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Rick Reilly now owns the rights to the phrase “Life of Riley”? Brand right he does. Apparently (linked here, with all the paperwork) so that Pat Riley wouldn’t beat him to it someday while renewing the trademark of “three-peat.”

Seems like R-squared is just doing the safety dance.

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Which reminds us: Erin Andrews on “Dancing With the Stars” — as a competitor? It would be to ABC’s benefit to have the lady with the tight dress come on each week in even tighter clothing and try to dazzle the judges. Especially after her performance in Thursday’s ESPN and ABC coverage of the National Spelling Bee.

While she lobbies for that honor (linked here), we also learned this week that, in the world of media graffiti:

== ABC could use some help with its graphic spelling — or an alternate pronounciation — especially during the Spelling Bee (linked here)

== And an ESPN.com writer makes a pitch for having learned new sports words this week (linked here).

== Yes, Conan O’Brien is directly responsible for the NHL starting the Stanley Cup finals with back-to-back weekend games on NBC (linked here)

== And yes, a stupid cartoon gopher is directly responsible for the NASCAR ratings taking a dive on Fox (linked here)

== The coaches who decide their national football champion for USA Today will keep everything non-transparent starting in 2010 (linked here)

== If you believe Manny Ramirez should be eligible for fan voting into the 2009 MLB All-Star Game, join those who voted “yes” at this ESPN.com poll (linked here).

== Why spend the time and money printing actual media guides any more, when the media would just a) throw ‘em away and b) go looking for the PDF online anyway (linked here).

== AND FINALLY …

== After seeing this during the ABC Indianapolis 500 coverage on Sunday, yes, it’s wrong:

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Our Daily Dread: Why we need to keep baseball alive in the ‘have-not’ innercity, and maybe not worry about so much of the ‘haves’ of the burbs

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AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Seattle Central Little League player second baseman Nestor Berdua-Ortega waits in the dugout to take the field before their game against Lancaster Recreation Little League from Lancaster, Pa., in South Williamsport, Pa., during the 2009 Little League Urban Initiative Jamboree.

By Genaro C. Armas
The Associated Press

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Leaning against a dugout wall at Lamade Stadium, 12-year-old Evell Nelson’s eyes lit up as he thought about the future.

An early season tournament for urban Little League programs from around the country didn’t satisfy the slugger from Seattle.

“We all want to come back here to play in the Little League World Series,” the third baseman said.

Once considered a weakness of Little League Baseball, inner-city and urban organizations such as the Seattle Central league are growing — a bright spot for a youth program that, overall, has seen a 13 percent decline in participation over the past decade.

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As Little League looks for ways to reverse declines, mainly in suburban and rural areas, leaders view the “Urban Initiative” program as an avenue to get more children — especially minorities and the poor — to pick up a glove and ball.

Little League boasts that the 9-year-old program has helped nearly 1,100 leagues and 3,900 teams, which amounts to about to 50,000 players.

Little League does not track how many of the assisted leagues are still in operation, or are not with Little League but still playing baseball. For instance, a local league could choose to join another organization such as the Babe Ruth League.

But officials say the majority of Urban Initiative-assisted programs are still with Little League. Through the program, leagues can apply for grants to help with costs such as equipment and field renovations.

“The point of the Urban Initiative (is) these kids, living in some pretty tough parts of the country, are really just being denied the opportunity,” said Little League president Stephen Keener, his eyes darting across the field watching plays during the Memorial Day weekend tournament for urban teams.

“A lot of the rural, suburban programs, kids may not choose to play for a number of reasons. Many of these kids don’t have the choice, because no program existed for them.”

Corporate donations and grants fund the program. Eligible leagues get “assistance packages” that help local volunteers.

Over the years, Bank of America has provided more than $500,000 for field renovations. American Honda has given $100,000 annually for equipment and uniforms. A $1 million grant from the Conrad Hilton Foundation has helped build new fields.

It’s unclear how the recession will affect future funding, though Urban Initiative director Demiko Ervin said he remained confident the program would keep going.

A $5,000 grant from Little League went to help pay for equipment for the Seattle Central league. Government grants helped pay for new batting cages that cost $60,000.

All for an organization that Seattle Central league president Steve Orser said was nearly defunct a decade ago after the program had “lost its direction.”

Continue reading

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The Dancin’ Coach

Aaron Levine, the Calabasas native, ESPN “Dream Job” contestant and these days the sports director/anchor at TV station Q13 Fox in Seattle, popped over a copy of a story he put together recently that he calls one of his all-time favorites. It’s about a Senior Little League coach that … well, the video speaks for itself:

Here’s a link to the story as well (linked here)

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The Media Learning Curve: More post-it-up notes

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You can’t contain all of Bill Walton’s comments in one newspaper media column (today’s is linked here), so we’ll try to control the rest of it as he continues resting up for a return someday to TV land:

Q: Are the NBA Finals a letdown if it’s not Kobe vs. LeBron?
Walton: You have to win the games. The Lakers are prohibitive favorites to get there and Orlando has shown they’re a better team. Can Dwight Howard be that guy, when things aren’t going well, who can change the direction of the game? LeBron, like Kobe, has separated himself from the crowd on an historical level. He commands appointment viewing by himself. And sadly, he’s been playing by himself through no fault of his own. He’s not a selfish individual. This is a team game and the conglomerate attack of Orlando has taken on the one-man show in Cleveland. All we want is great NBA basketball.

More stuff to make note of (that isn’t made up):

== ESPN acknowledged that it has told about 100 employees that they will have their jobs cut. It is part of a downsizing plan announced by ESPN CEO George Bodenheimer in January, when he told employees they’d cut about 200 jobs, leaving about 100 vacant positions unfilled. ESPN employs about 5,400 people worldwide, with 3,400 in Bristol, Conn.

== Lee Corso is recovering from a minor stroke but should return to ESPN by the time the college football season begins for “College GameDay,” according to the network. The 73-year-old had a blockage to a small artery and suffered no permanent damage, calling it “a small bump in the road” and a “not so fast, my friend, in my game of life.”

== Doc Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, Mike Milbury and Pierre McGuire are part of both NBC and Versus coverage of the Detroit-Pittsburgh Stanley Cup finals starting Saturday (Channel 4, 5 p.m.). NBC has Games 1, 2 (Sunday) and 5, 6 and 7; Versus gets Games 3 and 4 (at 5 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday).

== CBS College Sports launches a two-part series “Go Pro Or Go Home” (today, 3 p.m.) where 16 of the top college women’s beach volleyball players try to land a spot on the AVP tour (it already happened last month in Riverside). The second episode airs Thursday, June 4. The competitors inlcuded Emily Day (Loyola Marymount) and Jessica Fine (UCLA).

== Fox Soccer Channel will cover all of the Iran National Team’s games in the 2010 FIFA Club World Cup starting Saturday, June 6 against North Korea. Behooz Afrakhan, an Iranian-American sports journalist, will provide the commentary in Farsi on a SAP feed.

== ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU have up to 55 games from the NCAA baseball championships starting today and ending June 24. ESPN and ESPN2 combine to cover all the College World Series from Omaha, Neb. (June 13-24), including the best-of-three final. For coverage of the teams on ESPN.com and Facebook, the network gave flip cameras to UC Irvine, Cal State Fullerton, Georgia, Florida State, Texas, LSU, North Carolina and Arizona State. Of the four regional games today, San Diego State — with pitcher Stephen Strasburg (13-0, 1.24 ERA) — faces Virginia today (4 p.m., ESPNU) at Irvine. Defending champion Fresno State meets Irvine at 8 p.m. ESPN game analysts include former MLB and college players Morgan Ensberg (who won wit USC in 1998), Robin Ventura (Oklahoma State), Kyle Peterson (Stanford), Phil Nevin (Cal State Fullerton) and Keith Moreland (Texas).

== AND THE CLOSING ARGUMENT:

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From The Onion Sports (linked here):

Manny Ramirez To David Ortiz: ‘Road Trip’

An excerpt:

SOMEWHERE ALONG I-65 — Best buddies Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, both of whom find themselves at professional crossroads and both desperately wanting to rekindle their friendship, decided on Sunday that a soul-searching road trip was the key to resolving their personal problems.

“I called David and I said, ‘David! Hey, David! It’s Manny. Road trip, man! Let’s do this!’ And he said, ‘Okay,’ and now he is with me in the car here,” Ramirez told reporters in a cell phone interview while driving on the interstate.

According to sources, Ramirez pulled up to Ortiz’s Weston, MA home last Sunday, a selection of Tom Petty hits blaring from the stereo of his faded red 1966 Ford Galaxie 500 convertible. After embracing each other, a visibly somber Ortiz told Ramirez, “I don’t know what’s going on with me, man. I’m not hitting the baseball.” Ortiz then threw his battered duffel bag in the car’s backseat and asked Ramirez where they were headed.
Ramirez responded, “Just get in.”

The trip reportedly culminated with Ramirez taking Ortiz to a batting cage in St. George, UT. Though Ortiz missed the first several balls, Ramirez told Ortiz that he knew he could do it, and that even if they were no longer teammates, they would always be best friends. Ortiz then began hitting ball after ball, the last five of which hit the “home run” net.

During a tender moment at the Grand Canyon later that night, tourists said that while seated on the hood of their car, Ortiz placed a blanket around a shivering Ramirez and told him, “You’re my best friend, man. You’re my best friend.”

The car’s hood then caved in, sending both players into a fit of hysterical laughter.

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Obama left bobbing outside the L.A. harbor … sorry Single-A baseball team

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The Associated Press

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — President Barack Obama bobbleheads that are supposed to be given away at a minor-league baseball game apparently haven’t gotten the nod from customs officials.

The West Virginia Power Class A baseball team said Thursday that 1,000 of the figures have been held up at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection warehouse in Los Angeles
since May 20. A U.S. Customs spokeswoman in Los Angeles said she didn’t have more information on why they were stalled.

The bobbleheads are a likeness of Obama in his high school basketball uniform and
are part of Saturday’s theme of fitness and healthy lifestyles.

It’s unclear when the bobbleheads will be released, but it’s unlikely they’ll arrive in time for the giveaway, said Kristin Call, director of marketing for the Pittsburgh Pirates’ South Atlantic League affiliate.

Fans will be given vouchers to pick up the bobbleheads once they arrive, Call said.

Call said a company produced the figures overseas but wasn’t sure in what country.

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Coming Friday: We’re not stuttering here, Walton speaks

Yes, William Theodore Walton is alive, and somewhat kicking, just not on ESPN (or ABC) coverage of the NBA playoffs because of his back surgery from last February and subsequent recovery and therapy.

He had the same kind of back problems during last year’s NBA Finals and only able to join the ABC coverage during the finals — as a special guest — while watching son Luke compete with the Lakers against the Celtics.

He gave us some time this morning to break down the NBA playoffs to date — more specfically, why the Lakers need to exploit their big-man advantage against the Nuggets and whatever team they end up against in the Finals. And why dirty play uglifies the NBA.

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