Tag Archives: Features

Blind runner looks to conquer Boston Marathon

Kyle Robidoux’s office door closed shut at 11 a.m., just as it always does at that hour. His coworkers didn’t need to ask where he was going. They knew he’d be back by noon from his six­-mile run, another small step in an unlikely journey to his first Boston Marathon.

Robidoux absorbed the icy Boston air and started down his familiar path through Mason Square, bounding down Essex Street before hanging a right on Commonwealth Avenue. He then crossed a bridge over the Charles River and continued on the Esplanade, passing only a few geese cackling despondently alongside frozen waters.

Finally, a fellow runner smiled as she passed nearby, but Robidoux kept his steely gaze straight ahead. The woman shrugged off the encounter and kept grinding. She couldn’t have known the man she passed was legally blind. Continue reading Blind runner looks to conquer Boston Marathon

Controversial call raises questions about Virginia High School League

Grant Gittens’s buzzer beater last Friday night did more than lift Annandale to an unlikely double-overtime victory against Conference 7 rival Lake Braddock. Before his three­-point heave sent frenzied students pouring onto the court in celebration, the senior guard ignited an even greater uproar the moment he touched the ball.

The play still echoing through the halls of both schools began under Annandale’s basket with 0.2 of a second left to play in double overtime. His team leading 78­-77, Lake Braddock coach Brian Metress had just called timeout to confirm with the referee that the only shot Annandale could get off in time was a tip. According to Metress, the referee confirmed it, and Bruins assistant Cornell Felton reconfirmed it with the official two more times before the players got into position for the final play.

Metress, now in his 30th year coaching high school ball in Northern Virginia, had encountered this scenario before. It summoned a rule that took hold at the high school, college and professional levels when shot clocks were modified to include tenths of a second in the early 1990s. According to Section 5­2­5 of the National Federation of High Schools rule book, “When play is resumed with a throw­-in or free throw and three­-tenths (.3) of a second or less remains on the clock, the player may not gain control of the ball and try for a field goal. In this situation, only a tap could score.”

After reiterating that rule to his team, Metress sent his five tallest players onto the court, three of them standing at least 6­-feet­-6­-inches.

“I said, ‘Nobody leaves the lane,’” Metress recalled on Monday. “‘Don’t guard anybody on the three-point line, don’t guard anybody on a jump shot. Only guard the guys who they might throw a lob to.'”

On the other side, second­-year Annandale coach Matt Behne instructed two of his best leapers to prepare themselves for a lob into the paint. He sent another player onto the far wing and told Gittens to stand on the other wing near junior point guard Austin Hall, who would throw the inbound pass.

“You put guys in a position, you tell them what to do, but they’re high school kids, they’re teenagers,” Behne said Tuesday, confirming that he and his players were aware of the aforementioned rule. “It’s a pressure situation. They’re going to try to follow what you say, but you teach guys in basketball to be proactive instead of reactive because it’s all about seeing something and making a change. You have to do that on the fly as you play offense and defense.

“My guy saw five guys defending the one guy we wanted to get the ball to, and he made a decision.” Continue reading Controversial call raises questions about Virginia High School League

Grant Hill pursues life beyond basketball

GrantHill

The ball had to stop bouncing eventually, but when it finally did, many disoriented onlookers needed a minute to pause and regain their bearings.

Could he really be done? Could Grant Hill, the oldest player in the NBA, a mainstay in the league long before the world knew LeBron James or even the Internet, really be calling it quits?

Even Shaquille O’Neal, whose own NBA perpetuity finally ended two years ago on the day, waved his hand in disbelief when the man only a few months his junior made the June 1 announcement on TNT’s NBA Finals pregame show. Hill’s casual declaration of closure took a minute to sink in, as if his contemporaries were suddenly unable to recognize him for a moment.

The retirement of a 40­-year-­old athlete well past his prime was hardly earth­shattering news, but it seemed to throw off some kind of order, like removing a star from the night sky. Here was a man who had been making his presence felt in the NBA longer than just about any high school student today has been alive, someone who was turning heads on the court before Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Tony Parker and Kevin Durant were even born. And here he was looking relieved, ready to drop 33 years of basketball with the same ease he dropped all those buckets.

But the most accomplished baller ever to come out of Reston isn’t really done. In fact, he’s just getting started.

Continue reading Grant Hill pursues life beyond basketball

Lake Braddock senior battles for comeback of his life

(Photo by Shamus Fatzinger/Fairfax Times)

His fingers twitched before wrapping around the handles of a wheelchair that was about to be left behind, at least for the time being. With a wary physical therapist by his side, Nick Balenger felt the hospital hallway open up as he slowly rose out of his chair and stared at his toughest challenge yet. A walk to the end of the hall seemed a daunting task for a boy who could manage little more than wiggle a few fingers four weeks earlier.

Tuesday’s 50­-foot trek marked the latest accomplishment of a high school senior bent on defying the limitations of paralysis on the road leading back to a normal life. Even with a platform walker at his aid, a walk of any length was barely believable for someone so closely removed from the July 25 accident that changed everything.

On that day, Balenger — a standout pitcher for Lake Braddock Secondary School’s state champion baseball team — went for a swim at Makena Beach alongside his father during the family’s much­-anticipated Hawaiian vacation. Balenger somersaulted into a wave and slammed against the underlying sandbar, leaving him immobilized before his dad pulled him out of the water. Continue reading Lake Braddock senior battles for comeback of his life

Rowing straight to London

Greatness was standing right before his eyes, but former McLean High School rowing coach Jim Mitchell couldn’t see it. In search of talent at his school’s football practice, he had no idea the teenager in front of him was an indomitable athlete, a sporting prodigy, a future Olympian.

“I just saw a big, tall kid,” Mitchell said.

Giuseppe Lanzone was nearing the end of his junior season as an offensive and defensive lineman. At that moment, he only was thinking about what this next practice would bring, not daring to let his mind drift to the next game or the next season.

Then Mitchell tapped him on the shoulder and issued a not­-so-­subtle demand that changed his life forever.

“He said, ‘Hey, what’s your name and what’s your phone number? You have to row during the winter,’” Lanzone recalled. Continue reading Rowing straight to London

Dedicated fans at the center of Redskins-Cowboys rivalry

[READ ARTICLE IN THE WASHINGTON TIMES]

Chad Costa is a perfectly friendly guy, but he has a penchant for getting booed when he cuts his grass. His neighbors don’t take kindly to the burgundy-and-gold signs and flags splayed across his front yard, nor do they think the American Indian logo tattooed on his ankle is particularly attractive.

Costa’s 15-year-old daughter, meanwhile, proudly wears a “Dallas Sucks” T-shirt to school in hopes of recruiting fellow fans, but no one around their home in Frisco, Texas, ever seems to think very highly of her cause.

About 1,300 miles northeast, in the nation’s capital, Mike Jelencovich strolls down the street wearing a baseball cap that draws glares from passers-by. Many of his friends can’t stand the sight of that hat, whose single blue star belies its owner’s Maryland roots. By most accounts, he is also a well-intentioned guy, but sometimes he thinks he might be the most hated man in town.

While on opposite ends of the spectrum, Costa and Jelencovich have one thing in common: Their defiant devotion to their football teams epitomizes a rivalry that never wavers, no matter how it plays out on the field. Their dedication will be out in full force when the Washington Redskins pay a visit to Cowboys Stadium in Dallas on Monday night. Continue reading Dedicated fans at the center of Redskins-Cowboys rivalry

UVa football, men’s hoops teams struggle while other sports thrive

[READ ARTICLE IN THE WASHINGTON TIMES]

The football team at the University of Virginia is reeling from a third consecutive losing season. The men’s basketball team is coping with a gut-wrenching defeat that kept it out of the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight year. Scott Stadium is losing fans by the thousands. And perhaps scariest of all, many Virginia fans are running out of patience.

Yet Virginia’s athletics program is thriving more than ever before. The Cavaliers closed the 2010-11 academic year with a seventh-place finish in the Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup, which measures the broad-based success of 279 Division I athletic programs. It marked the school’s third consecutive top-10 finish and second-best result ever, trailing only the previous year’s third-place finish.

The achievements behind that recognition are impressive: a men’s lacrosse national championship, a fourth consecutive team indoor championship in men’s tennis, a College World Series appearance by the baseball team, five ACC titles, and individual NCAA titles in track and swimming.

For die-hards in Charlottesville, though, the Directors’ Cup finish conceals a major blemish. Out of the top 25 schools in the 2010-11 Directors’ Cup standings, Virginia is the only one that failed to make a postseason appearance in football or men’s basketball.

Olympic sports accomplishments are important, but a Division I athletic program cannot truly gain national prominence without success in the two arenas that, in Virginia’s case, generate nearly seven times more revenue than all other sports combined on a yearly basis. With new coaches, impeccable facilities and a student body hungry for something to cheer about, can Virginia restore glory to its football and men’s basketball teams?

Continue reading UVa football, men’s hoops teams struggle while other sports thrive

Hurley eyes PGA Tour success after stint in Navy

(Getty image)

[READ ARTICLE IN THE WASHINGTON TIMES]

On this day of remembrance, Nationwide Tour golfers preparing for this week’s Melwood Prince George’s County Open have a lot to think about. Strolls down the fairway might be accompanied by memories of those who make it possible for people to thwack golf balls and stroke putts for a living. One player in the field, however, may think back to his own time in uniform, when golf was barely a part of his life.

Despite graduating as the country’s top collegiate golfer, Billy Hurley III has so far navigated a career highlighted by much more than clutch putts or hoisted trophies. Just a few years ago, the golfing prodigy was wrapped up in more ambitious pursuits, like steering a war ship through the Suez Canal, or sailing from Pearl Harbor to the Persian Gulf to help protect Iraqi oil platforms. Hurley – a 2004 Naval Academy graduate – spent time near Bahrain, the Red Sea, Djibouti, Indonesia, Philippines, Maldives, China, Japan and Korea before concluding his mandatory five-year tour of duty in the summer of 2009.

Now he’s trying to find a permanent home on the PGA Tour.

“I’m happy that I was in the Navy for those five years, and I’m glad that I went to the Naval Academy, and I wouldn’t change anything about that,” Hurley said. “But I want to play golf. If I didn’t, I’d still be in the Navy.” Continue reading Hurley eyes PGA Tour success after stint in Navy