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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Pop culture? Not so much!

By the spring of 1993 at the Ocean County Observer, we were moving in a bigger direction in the sports department. Mike, our former assistant sports editor, was now our sports editor as of that early March, and a month later, I got elevated to assistant sports editor. After 8 1/2 years, I had finally moved into a full-time position. I was hesitant about it, but I couldn't have been happier.

And our spring 1993 All-County teams were going along just nicely thanks. There were all the basic All-County teams done by our writers there -- Steve Falk did the boys tennis and golf teams, our new track guy, Bob Considine, had put together the All-County boys and girls track teams, I was putting together both the girls soccer and softball teams and Chris Christopher was in charge of taking on the All-County baseball team like he normally does. Mike wrote the Male Athlete of the Year story on Jackson Memorial runner Rich Morris, the first junior to win the honor in that award's history which I still was not sure he deserved (my choice was Pinelands Regional's James Vila, a terrific all-around senior athlete). And there was nooooooo doubt whatsoever as to who our Female Athlete of the Year was -- that would be Ocean County's greatest female athlete, Point Pleasant Boro's Christie Pearce, with 12 All-County first team nods in field hockey, basketball and soccer and who was taking her talents to West Long Branch to join sister Wendi at Monmouth University to play soccer.

But 1993 was also the first year we unveiled a new All-County team. Actually, two of them. For the first time ever, we were doing scholar-athlete teams. While over the years we were honoring the best athletes the county could offer up, what we had not done was reward those who did very well in the classroom with their own All-County team. It was 15 boys and 15 girls representing the 15 high schools in the county, the 14 public schools and Catholic school Monsignor Donovan.

And it was Chris who drew the nod to write the stories. One thing I will always say on Chris' behalf was the man worked very, very hard to put together stories, especially at All-County time. And though at times his stories may have read the same (I called it his "formulaic approach"), they were always done on time and each bio on each kid on each All-County team was done with care. So for the first time, we were given a list of the 15 boys and 15 girls from all our county schools who captured the honors in their classes. And over the years, there was a banquet honoring the young student-athletes thanks to the athletic directors of the county that was held in Brick Township. And for a number of years, I remember WOBM-FM personality Kevin Williams being the emcee of the event.

So it was a big deal. It was decided that after all the spring sports stories were done and the athletes of the year were announced, the All-County scholar-athlete teams were to be announced to our readers. And as always, Chris banged out the two stories of all 30 kids and gave them off to Mike, not ever mentioning the kid's prowess on the field or on the court, but what they were ranked in their class, the grade-point average and what clubs and events they were a part of.

It was a Tuesday night, June 29, 1993. The boys' All-County scholar-athlete story had run in the paper. We had finished up putting the paper out and the only two people left in the sports department were myself and Mike. Mike had been busy most of the night and he wanted to finish up on something he was doing, so he asked me if I could read Chris' All-County girls scholar-athlete team.

I said, "Sure." So I found the file in our system and began to read his story. Now when you're reading the same stuff over and over and over and over again and it's all written in that "formulaic approach" I was talking about earlier, your eyes tend to get a bit heavy and you literally believe that this is the piece of work that was meant to cure insomnia. And, of course, Chris did this All-County team in alphabetical order by school name. So he started with Brick High, then Brick Memorial, Central Regional, Jackson Memorial, Lacey ... and now I'm up to Lakewood's recipient of the honor.

I am not 100 percent sure of who it was, but I am about 90 percent sure so I won't mention the name, but if it was who I think it was, she was one heck of a smart young lady who pitched for the Lakewood Piners softball team that spring. So I'm reading her bio and it's basically the same stuff over and over again in that fantastic "formulaic approach." Apparently, she was a thespian and did plays at Lakewood High. So I'm reading about the plays she was a part of in her four years at the school. And one of those plays is sticking out like a sore thumb to me.


My mind was not clearly all there after going through a few bios already. It wasn't clicking in. I just kept looking at that word in its spelled out form.


I don't know why it took about 15 seconds, but when it finally sank in, I put my hand over my eyes and gave this, "Oh ... my ... God" reaction to what I just figured out. I shook my head and showed a busy Mike what I just read.

Well it took Mike far less time to figure out the "Greece" thing than I did. I still remember the reaction as he read that line of the young lady's plays and saw that. He hit his forehead with his hand and shook his head afterward.

There was this look of dumbfoundedness that came across.

I made the edit on the screen to change "Greece," to "Grease" ... as in the famous play-turned-movie about high school life at Rydell High School in the 1950s, as in the movie that was celebrating its 15th anniversary in 1993, as in one of the most memorable movies of the 1970s ... of all-time, really!

Yeah, Chris -- that would be THAT "Grease." I don't know anything about that other play "Greece." What was the highlight of "Greece?" Traditional folk music and broken plates all over Athens??

Nonetheless, Mike and I got this terrific laugh over this faux pas. Interestingly, Chris didn't mess anything else up in the All-County story. We were done for the evening.

Now it's Wednesday, June 30, and I had arrived at the same time as Mike. Steve had arrived not too far after that and both Mike and I called Steve over to tell him what Chris had written. In typical Steve fashion, he shook his head and asked, "Are you serious?"

So before I had left to come to work, I slipped into my parents' album collection at home and pulled out the famous "Grease" double album (above) which, of course, featured John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John on the front. I kept it underneath the computer terminal ready to pull it out when the time came. So I'm sitting on one side of the sports desk with Mike and Steve is on the other. Chris was out covering a basketball game that night. Well sometime after 8 that night, Chris came back from his event and he reported to the desk as he always had to tell us about what was going on at Bay Lea courts that evening.

Mike told him all is cool. Then it was my turn.

"Chris, I had to edit your All-County girls scholar-athlete team last night. You had one mistake in there as far as I could see, but it was a pretty glaring one."

Chris looked at me quizzically.

So I ask him, "Spell the play 'Grease?'"

He looked at me like I was nuts or something close to that.

"You had a girl from Lakewood High who was in the musical 'Grease.' Spell 'Grease?'"

And so he proceeds to spell it just like the country -- "G-r-e-e-c-e."

At this point, Mike is doing everything within his power to keep from cracking up and Steve is looking stone-faced at Chris knowing there's a punchline waiting to be delivered. That's when I pulled out the famous album with the famous cover on it.

"Chris, recognize this album?"

It was slowly coming back to him. I think he started to half-heartedly sing, "You're The One That I Want," but I wasn't having any of that.

"C'mon Chriiiiiis!" I said with a smile. "This was out 15 years ago! You had to remember this, right?"

Mike couldn't hold it in any longer. Chris walked away knowing that we called him on his pop culture references and poor Mark, our nighttime news side editor, just shook his head in absolute disbelief. And I didn't stop smiling for another hour.

I'm pretty sure that Chris was careful about the names of plays and how they were spelled in the following years while I was there as an editor looking over his work.

But I had to admit it was one of the funniest things I had ever seen in my 15 years at the Observer.

And I'm still waiting on the movie version of "Greece."


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