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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Two games, one Tandy TRS 80 Model 100 ... good luck!

Boy did we all think on the Tuesday after Memorial Day weekend, 1988 that we were going into a new world of technology. When Steve Sosinski, our managing editor, told the sports department that we were going to go out on assignments with a new "toy" to send back stories, I thought this was heaven.

No more did we have to write our stories out on long-hand on road trips at some restaurant and then call the office collect and have another writer do the dictation over the phone as we read the story. No more racing back to the office after a night event and writing a story as fast as we could before deadline. And no more having our stories mangled by people taking the dictation over the phone, so much so that names were spelled wrong.

No, this was the moment of truth that we were graduating to "big-paper status." The so-called toy (which you see above) was this thing called the Tandy TRS-80 Model 100. And let me tell you, it looked easy. That is, it looked easy until you had to read the directions on how to upload a story and send it into our paper's computer system.

Cracking the code to get all the gold at Fort Knox seemed much easier. Inside the soft carrying cover of the machine was a photocopied handwritten piece of paper from the pen of none other than Sam Christopher, the legendeary longtime news writer from Lakewood whose son, Chris, was one of the two fulltime sports writers at the Observer. Now Sam, being the consummate note taker, wrote the directions like he was scribbling down names and places for a story, though I do admit, it was a step above maybe a doctor's handwriting. Translation: They were readable, but it sure took a lot to completely understand what he wrote.

We were winding down the spring high school sports season and still had numerous postseason events on the schedule. In our sports department, the first guinea pig to try the Tandys was our new assistant sports editor, Dave Tippenhauer, who had state track and field to cover that Saturday in South Plainfield. He ran through the tests and obviously got everything to go through.

Well guess who was next to try out the new toy? Yuppers, yours truly.

It was to happen on Tuesday, June 7, 1988 -- or as I sarcastically called it, the day I became a man. But I was about to take my "manhood" to a totally different level unlike Dave. Most everything Dave did was done by the evening the previous Saturday, so he had time to send his agate and story from the track meet. It got through without much trouble, but just in case, he had time to get it all done.

No, I chose the tougher route on this particular Tuesday. It was to be on that day that I would do a "day-night semifinal doubleheader" in the Shore Conference Girls Soccer Tournament at two different fields in two different counties. The first game was a 3:30 p.m. battle between fourth-seeded Toms River North and top-seeded and defending champion Point Pleasant Boro. The second game was a 7 p.m. start at a park field not far from Manalapan High School between third-seeded Jackson Memorial and second-seeded Manalapan.

So you can imagine that after the first soccer match is done at approximately a few minutes after 5, I have to get my interviews done, rush to a place that not only can I eat, but can also type away on the new toy, find the right-fitting phone for the couplers that held the phone to send the story, then make sure the story gets through, jump into a car and travel up Route 35 to the Route 34-35-70 circle, take Route 34 out to Route 33, somehow find my way to Route 9, then to a park that I've never been to in my life, cover that game, get the quotes I need, and then figure out where I could do that story and send it afterward.

Yeah, the only thing easy about this was just how I explained it.

I made sure to do tests the night before. I can still remember it -- I typed in "This is a test" into the machine, called up the number that was attached to our computer system, made sure I heard a fax-like ring, put the phone receiver into the couplers, hit a couple of buttons, watch the machine do its magic by uploading the story and then check the computer to see if it got through.

Miraculously, "This is a test" came up at the end.

This was going to be really easy.

Or so I thought.

Knowing I didn't have to show up at the office that day or night on this gorgeous 7th of June, I headed from my house in a T-shirt and shorts up Hooper Avenue, into Brick, then off onto the Route 70-88 circle (yes, there was still a circle there at the time) and straight onto Route 88 through Brick into Point Pleasant and onto the streets that forced me to park my car on a side road near the football/soccer field. Point Boro has always been one of the most unique schools in terms of location and as I parked my car and walked toward the stadium, I was ready to see North's Mariners, loaded with a lot of underclass talent at 14-3-1, taking on a Point Boro team that was 15-1 and still tremendously good after losing some key seniors to graduation the year before.

This game was a Who's Who of young ladies who would go on to play college soccer one day -- for North, there was Jill D'Alessio (Georgian Court) and the great Linda Kurtyka (North Carolina State), while for Boro, there was Kim Yankowski (North Carolina State), Jennifer Shutt (Virginia) and Karen Anderson (Green Mountain in Vermont). And a number of the young ladies who played for North's soccer team had some part in being on the NJSIAA Group IV championship and unbeaten field hockey team the previous fall like Katie Vignevic, Krista Saponara, Sue Gerbino and Lori Garrabrant.

But the one player that I thought North needed on this particular day was a junior named Dawn Ostrowski, whose college field hockey career was all but set for her after an amazing season as a catalyst on that championship team. She was a pretty darned good soccer player, too, scoring 11 goals and 10 assists for the '88 season. However, it was in the previous game, the quarterfinal-round matchup at home that Saturday against No. 5 seed Howell, that not only did North's fate change, but so did Ostrowski's as well. She ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament going after a loose ball and she was done for the rest of the year. She tried coming back from it in field hockey the next fall, but she had no lateral movement and it was quite obvious she was never going to be the same player she was.

Judging from that, I wasn't sure if the rest of the Mariners were going to carry the load for her. Figured all Point Boro needed to do was a pop a goal in behind freshman goalie Lynn Gesser and that was it.

But that didn't happen. Led by Yankowski, Andrea Mucho, Alaine Kamen, Shutt and freshman backup Wendi Pearce, the Panthers peppered Gesser and the Mariners with plenty of shots. They just couldn't penetrate her.

Then in the second period (back in '88, soccer was played in four 20-minute quarters, now they're played in two 40-minute halves), the Mariners pounced on one of their few opportunities. Kurtyka, North's sensational goalkeeper during the state field hockey championship run, was able to bring the ball into Boro's side of the field and pass off to Gerbino, who was able to find a hole and penetrate through. She lost the ball, but another freshman named Sharon Ruppe was opportunistic. She may have worn No. 13 on her back, but there was no bad luck in this situation. She slipped the ball past Boro goalie Jen MacIver to give the Mariners a 1-0 lead.

And though the Panthers kept the pressure on the Mariners, they never found the back of the net. North had persevered, 1-0. After the game, myself and longtime Asbury Park Press writer Tony Graham talked to North coach Jean Konyhas and Boro coach Bob Kulessa, two of the coaches who started with their programs when the sport became official in 1976. And I interviewed the shy Gesser as well as the very outgoing Saponara, who had to hold it together with her defensive teammates throughout the game.

It was about 5:15 p.m. and I didn't know many places that I could go to send a story. So I made it across the canal into Point Pleasant Beach and stopped for a sub at Jersey Mike's ... the original Jersey Mike's on Trenton Avenue near Arnold, looooooooong before the place became a national entity. And that's where I sat down to do the story. The hard part about writing the story was that if you see the machine above, it only allowed you to look at the story eight lines at a time. And if you needed to insert something into the story above, you'd have to put your finger down on the "up" arrow and wait until you got to the point you had to place your insertion. Talk about time-consuming.

The turkey sub was awesome as always. And by about 6 p.m. I had finished up my awesome story. Now I needed somewhere to send it. I couldn't get the people of the shop to let me use their phone to send it so I made the most of what I had to do. I jumped into my car and found Route 35. I headed north out of Point Pleasant Beach toward the 35-34-70 circle. Right at that intersection was an Exxon station.

Now it's close to 6:30 p.m. and I figured once I got to send the story through a regular phone, there'd be no problem.

The workers at the Exxon station were nice enough to allow me to use their phones. But there were problems. I swear to you I followed directions with the couplers correctly. But each time I tried to send the story ... nothing. Zippo! The handy-dandy Tandy was anything but handy-dandy, which wasn't making feel so randy at the time.

So I called the office from the regular phone they allowed me to use for a few moments or so. I got Chris.

"I'm having problems with the machine. It's not taking the story through. The story is done, just tell the boss that I'm going to have to send the story later. How much later, I don't know? I'll figure it out. I normally do."

Chris was understanding of the situation. I'm not so sure I was.

It's almost 6:45 p.m. and I still had a good half hour to go before getting into Manalapan. Thankfully, the directions the cops gave me the night before to this field were perfect. Getting there seemed to take forever and by the time I showed up in the parking lot to go to the only lit field in the complex, the first quarter was practically over and the second quarter had arrived.

I get behind the young man who was keeping the scorebook for Jackson and scribble down the names of the team on his side. I didn't even bother with getting Manalapan's. I figured, "What the heck. I'm already behind. The next story isn't going to exactly be a novella."

As I start walking away, I can hear the heart-warming and sarcastic voice of Jackson's longtime soccer coach, Mike Costa.

"Did you just get back from the beach?" he said, spotting me in the same T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops that I wore to the game.

"Yeah. Sorry you missed it, it was a beautiful day," I answered back smiling. That's the kind of relationship I had with that man for the 11 years I covered girls soccer with him as Jackson's coach. He was abrasive, but you had to get him and never be offended by whatever this good guy said. We worked together quite well.

Nine minutes into the second quarter, Samara Lenga took a pass and beat standout Jackson goalie Jeannette Nash to make it 1-0. And Manalapan's defense was such that it wasn't going to give away any freebies. It was 1-0 at halftime and already Jackson looked like it was in trouble. Jackson, though, had its opportunities, putting 15 shots on net. but the Jaguars never could get anything against Manalapan's defense. And when Doreen Gilbride scored with 4:16 left in the game to make it 2-0, the door was practically closed.

I interviewed Costa afterward in which he asked me, "Did North really beat Boro?" to which I replied, "Yes. They were outshot and yet they held it together." "Wowwwwwww," he said back. "I didn't see that coming. Good for Jean and North."

Then I interviewed Manalapan coach Bill Ciullo, a very affable guy and one of my favorite out-of-area coaches I've talked to in my career. I was going to see him again in the final against North. One thing about Bill Ciullo -- when he had a very good team, man was he a confident guy. He felt like he could beat North, even with the final on North's field that year. And his Braves did, but not without a fight, winning the title game, 2-1, two days later.

But that was two days later.

I still had to deal with the present.

It was just about 9:15 p.m. I had a second story to type into a machine that had yet to work for me. Some example I was setting on this day. Well, nonetheless, I called the one person at nearby Manalapan Diner who I thought could get me out of this quandary at this hour with a couple of hours left before trouble lurked.

"Hello?" "Hi grandma! How are you?" "Hiiiiiii Mark. I'm fine. And how are yooou?" "I'm just fine thanks. Listen I need a favor." "What's the matter?" "Can I come over to your place to write a story? I'm in Manalapan, it won't take long and it's sorta complicated because I'm working with a computer that I'm using for the first time."

I can almost hear the reluctance of my grandmother saying, "Come on over." But hey, I was blood, and she'd help me out in a time of need.

So it took about 25 minutes to get to where she lived on the Howell-Freehold Township border off of Route 9. I could get to her place with a blindfold on. She waited for me at the door. Hugs, kisses ... and, oh, by the way, I need a desk to work at.

Once I showed her the new toy I was playing with, I was able to actually send the story by using the other means to send it -- the wires that went from the machine into my grandmother's phone, which at this point was far easier than the the headache couplers were. Shazaaaam! The Boro-North story that I worked on four hours earlier had gone through at last.

I called up the office to make sure it came through. Got Chris again. He checked the story and then told me I had a message.

"Call Tony Graham. He wants to know who the name of the one girl you and he interviewed after the game was."

"Oh? OK."

Yes, even the great Tony Graham made the simplest of mistakes of not getting the name of the person he was interviewing. After smiling for a second, I called up Tony's extension at the Press. He explained in his rush to get out of Boro and back to the office in Neptune he had not gotten the name of the girl we were talking to and he didn't want to guess.

"That was Krista Saponara. I know her because she was part of that state champion field hockey team in the fall. Really cool girl, too." By the way, 10 years later, I did a feature story on Saponara while I was up in Bristol, Conn., covering the Eastern Regional Little League All-Star Tournament that Toms River East American was playing in. She was a producer working for ESPN at the time and got to meet ESPN football analyst and former Green Bay Packers wide receiver Sterling Sharpe while I was there.

"OK, I thought that was who it was. Thanks a lot for your help."

"No problem Tony. You've helped me before. It's easy to return the favor with you."

And it was. Tony Graham is easily the best sports writer from another competing paper I've ever dealt with in almost 28 years in this business. I just felt bad that I couldn't help him sooner, but remember, it's 1988 -- there was no way to communicate with one another back in the day since there were no cell phones.

Needless to say, I typed in the "easier" Jackson-Manalapan story as well as the agate from the game and sent the story, all within about a half hour.

And by about 10:15 p.m., my day was done. Everything worked out and my grandmother was the star of the night in the end. I stayed at her house until about 11. I knew I was pushing her bedtime, but I always told her that if I had enough time after an event ... or before ... I'd come to visit her. Of course, I never told her that when I came to visit, I'd have work to do, too. But she was always good about it.

By 11:45, I was back home, never once having to see the office and never once having to dictate a single word from a story I did to Chris Christopher or any other writer to take down on computer. The Tandy was a success and these would be the machines I would use for the "far-away" events I covered for the next 11 years while I was at the Observer.

No more dictation!

Before I knew it, June 7 was June 8. And I didn't have to be in the office to finish out the paper at deadline. I could come to the office right after the much-anticipated Ocean County Softball Tournament final between South Jersey sectional champions Central Regional and Monsignor Donovan at Toms river South.

Overall, it was a very good day. And night. And a successful day and night, too.

And I became a man that day.


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