Longtime ESPN studio anchor John Saunders dead at 61

Veteran studio presence in college basketball and football also served as NHL studio host from 1993-2004

You have often heard the familiar saying, “Things go in threes.”

Three prominent ESPN voices have left us in just the past year:

Stuart Scott left us after his heroic battle with cancer and prior to that, former longtime Chicago Bulls voice and lead announcer for the NBA on ESPN Radio Jim Durham both left huge voids in the world of key voices describing the NBA.

After veteran journalist Dick Schaap left us in 2001, the familiar ESPN Sunday morning show The Sports Reporters was anchored by John Saunders.  He died on Wednesday morning at the age of 61.  Cause of death was not immediately released, as first reported by Hannah Storm while covering the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janiero, Brazil.

Saunders came over to ESPN from Baltimore after spending a few years in Toronto playing some semi-pro hockey for a couple of years.  After he was hired in December 1986 to do SportsCenter (sometimes working with future CBS and Fox Sports 1 college football announcer Tim Brando), Saunders would branch out doing NBA studio work and also managed to cover baseball’s biggest games each July and October.  He also covered hockey like a blanket, especially during the Stanley Cup playoffs when ESPN last held rights to televise NHL hockey.

Several ESPN colleagues, past and present took to Twitter this morning and it may take a while for you to read them all.  Even Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari took some time to speak about the man, as well as Erin Andrews of Fox Sports in Los Angeles and Mike Tirico, currently busy anchoring mornings and splitting afternoon duties with another sports broadcasting legend in Al Michaels for NBC down at pristine Copacabana Beach for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

The most ironic thing about his passing was on Tuesday night’s Scott Van Pelt late night edition of SportsCenter–there he was, sandwiched between ESPN lifers Chris Berman and Bob Ley during the 30th anniversary show describing Prince Fielder turning a triple play and later in that same game hitting a walk-off home run while playing with the Milwaukee Brewers (this all was because it was several hours after finding out that Fielder was not medically able to play baseball again after undergoing two neck surgeries in three years).

Clearly, this is devastating and tragic news for all college basketball fans.

His chats with Dick Vitale and Jim Valvano (during the early 1990’s), especially from the late 1980’s when ESPN covered the Thursday and Friday afternoon sessions of the NCAA Tournament will live on YouTube forever.

Most importantly, the way he helped so many scores of people become honest and truthful about why they get into this business “for the love of the game” and the passion for what covering sports is all about.

Like current SportsCenter anchor Lindsay Czarniak said during the 6 p.m. hour on Wednesday,

“I gained immeasurable respect just learning from him.”

John Saunders was definitely one of a kind.  He will be missed:

http://www.espn.com/espn/story/_/id/17263954/john-saunders-mourned-many-via-social-media

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What’s In A Name?

Purdue University Northwest merger brings a lot of questions and not so many clear-cut answers

After over six decades as Northwest Indiana’s oldest institution of higher learning, the regional campus located in South Hammond along the always busy Borman Expressway (Interstate 94) made a very bold move in March 2014.

Thanks in large part to current Purdue University President and former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, the seeds were planted to merge the Purdue University Calumet campus with the campus at Purdue North Central, located in the mostly sleepy LaPorte County town of Westville–located about 20 miles south of Michigan City.  The merger officially took shape with the beginning of the new academic year on July 1.

Starting this month, 13 sports (six men’s and seven women’s sports) will be taking place on and around the Hammond campus.  To make the move, according to a May 30, 2015 article in the Post-Tribune (Merrillville, Indiana subsidiary of the Chicago Tribune)–six sports at the formerly named PNC campus ranging from basketball and track have been eliminated to make way for the new era.

You really have to feel sorry for the over 250 student-athletes who will be either losing out on an opportunity to continue playing the sports they love, or traveling such interesting distances to play–let alone watch games in the “Calumet Region.”

Please keep in mind, the PNW name is not to be confused with the school name located a few miles east in Gary called Indiana University Northwest (IUN).  Their nickname will be the same as the one used currently by Hofstra University, the Pride with a fierce lion adopted as their mascot.

They will be playing in the NAIA Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference with boasting the fifth largest student enrollment in the state of Indiana (to be pegged somewhere about 15,000 students, according to the Athletics page at pnwathletics.com).

Even their history section does bring up a small point about the Hammond school exploring possible applications to join the NCAA someday, as early as 2008 when initial discussions began.

Only one major case study can be touched on briefly–and they don’t have to go too far to find it:

Valparaiso University began their men’s basketball program in 1917.  The Crusaders competed in smaller divisions before accepting full Division One membership in 1992-93.  Their enrollment is around the size of what Purdue Calumet was during parts of the 1980’s, around 4,500 or so students.

Boilermakers, Pipers, Lakers and Peregrines…Oh My!

After latching on to the longtime nickname of the main campus in Lafayette during teh 1950’s, Purdue Calumet was known as the Pipers in 1966.   The name comes from a symbolic token of using a ceremonial pipe, commonly known in Indiana simply as  Calumet, and it was used by native North Americans to bring about peace.

When basketball finally gained a gymnasium on campus in 1981, adopting the catchy and trendy nickname of the Lakers was a very popular choice.   But in 2004, a nickname never used in American college history (NCAA or NAIA) surfaced when they spent their final 12 years as a standalone regional commuter campus as the Peregrines.

  • For those who don’t know what a Peregrine is, the definition found at dictionary.com simply mentions that it is derived in Middle English and it can be used either as an adjective which means, 1. foreign, coming from abroad and 2. wandering, migrating, or traveling.
  • The noun is described as “a globally distributed falcon, Falco peregrinus, much used in falconry because of its swift flight: of which several subspecies are endangered.

Example used in a sentence:

If the Atlanta Falcons decided to wear throwback jerseys from Middle Age times, the Peregrine look may cause a lot of scowls around the NFL.

PNC on the other hand didn’t change their nicknames too much.  Starting with the move to Westville in 1967, they were known as the Centaurs.  They switched in 1998 to the more conventional name of Panthers.  Five years later, their mascot would be known simply as “Pounce.”  All of this are memories now with the merger of having students gain credits on both campuses and achieve a diploma with the new school name emblazoned across the front.

Time to hit the pedal to the medal

The Frank Borman Expressway can trace its’ origins back to 1949 when it was known as State Road 420.  With President Dwight Eisenhower’s massive Interstate Highway numbering system project taking firm hold with the Baby Boom generation, the highways were renumbered to its’ current form in 1965.

It started out as a two-lane highway and with the increase in truck traffic throughout the 1970’s, a fourth lane was added during the late 1980’s.  Shortly thereafter, most residents in south Hammond received some major relief with the addition of brown colored noise retaining walls.  After the exit lanes were reconfigured to Jetsons like circles in 2004, a much needed fifth lane was added.

More information can be found here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstate_94_in_Indiana

The distance between both campuses is roughly forty (40) miles, 32 of them covering “America’s Busiest Expressway.”  Couple that with US Highway 421 getting constant snow almost every 10 to 14 days or so during the winter season in being part of the “Snow Belt” area that spans LaPorte and neighboring St. Joseph Counties in north central Indiana, and after visiting that area on dry pavement–you wouldn’t want to be traveling to a basketball game with white out conditions and over 60 mph winds, while Lake County to the west might be sunny, but the winds can simply be biting coming off Lake Michigan.

Above all else, fans have to eat and both places do have plenty to brag about

Hammond used to be known as a true shopper’s paradise from the 1960’s to about 2002.  The formerly great Woodmar Mall is a shadow of its’ former self, surrounded by acres of empty land and a nearby Pizza Hut to the east, along with a Wendy’s a bit to the north sits the three-story Carson Pirie Scott department store.

Back in the day, you could have had Zante’s Deli, a place called Franks ‘n Fries (hot dogs with the works), Schoop’s Hamburgers (the most expensive outside of New York City that I have seen, but definitely order the Mickey–single meat, double cheese) if you happen to stop at the location just a few blocks west of campus located on Indianapolis Boulevard.

Today, you will be lucky to find a few good pizza places situated near a bunch of gas stations.  And just in case you need something for the ride back to Westville, there is a huge Wal-Mart and Cabela’s for the outdoor enthusiasts just a short drive off the expressway.  Where the baseball and softball teams play a stone’s throw away from nearby Munster, the food options do get better in terms of variety and price ranges.

By contrast, there are plenty of decent restaurants to suit many taste buds and some hotel rooms that are up the road from Westville.  Most people basically drive a few miles north past the old-time ramps leading to the Borman and the Indiana Toll Road (Interstate 90) towards the lake and the modern-day tourist paradise known as the Lighthouse Place Outlet Mall.  It is a great place to visit when the winds are off the lake and it isn’t too hot or too cold outside.

But as my late father used to say “Mother Nature’s air conditioning”, I can safely say that trying to be a student in winter can be very rough.  Unless of course, people can afford the convenience of viewing the last ever interurban electric railroad in the United States commonly known as the South Shore Line:

FallFoliageMemories2008-111LookingEastAtUniqueAmericana

Taken while on vacation during the late 2000’s. The railroad is in the middle of the road, just like it was in parts of America during the 1920’s.

That is the chance many people will be taking.  Will it lead to bigger and better things down the road?   Best to check out their site and listen to the games online and find out for yourself.