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The Legend of The Hoosehead

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Joe VanHoose looms over ESPN's "College Gameday" crew

ESPN’s “College Gameday” road show is bringing its production to Athens this weekend for Georgia’s home opener against Auburn. While COVID-19 restrictions will shift the broadcast inside Sanford Stadium, meaning no throngs of fans with outrageous signs, this does offer an opportunity to tell a story involving two of your humble editors here at BTT. On September 28, 2013, ESPN visited Athens to host its popular football preview show in advance of a Top 10 matchup between Georgia and LSU. 

The game itself was heralded as one of the biggest ones to be played Between The Hedges in years with LSU bringing Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry to the Classic City to tangle with Georgia and its All-American running back Todd Gurley. 

At the time, Joe and Johnathan were working at a regional public relations and marketing agency with an Athens office known for its own brand of shenanigans and hijinks. Joe was knocking on the door of his 30th birthday, and the team in Athens decided to celebrate the only way they knew how — by printing out a massive photo of Joe’s face and getting it on “Gameday.”

The pursuit of belonging, part two

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Photo courtesy of NCTTA

This is Part Two of our exploration of the Anderson College and Augusta College table tennis rivalry. In Part One, we took a look at the formation of both programs, and you can read that here.

Part Two …

Derek May is a chopper.

You’ll need to understand table tennis — competitive table tennis — to know what that means.

It’s a style of play that typically confounds most folks on the table. It’s built on patience, relying on defensive measures to bait aggressive players into making mistakes. 

Today, if you watch table tennis in the Olympics — or, let’s say, on ESPN’s annual “Ocho Day” coverage — you’re likely used to seeing the players slowly and steadily backing up as they deliver stronger and stronger strikes. It’s an intensity that exceeds your likely experiences of the game, cobbled together at your college’s student center or during a rain delay at your neighborhood swimming pool.

It’s fast-paced. It’s forceful. It’s overpowering.

A chopper, however, counters this cleverly. They might retreat, but also may creep up closer to the table. Shots may feature spin … or they may not. Strokes may appear firm, but they might land soft.

“Their biggest weapon is deception,” said Greg Riley, a member of Anderson College’s table tennis teams in the early 1990s. “So they’re just chopping the ball. They’re not attacking, not hitting or trying to smash it past you. They’re just chopping, but a lot of the time they’re using different variations. The same stroke with different spin on it.”

Choppers like Derek, however, didn’t faze Riley.

A reflection of place: The story of WNEG, part three

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Photo of WNEG studios courtesy of John Hart

This is Part Three of our look back at the history of NewsChannel 32, a television station that provided in-depth coverage of local news and sports for Northeast Georgia. In Part One, we took a look at the formation of the station and the work of its news department, and you can read it here. In Part Two, we explored the reputation and reach of its sports department, and you can read it here.

If you can name it, Michael Castengera has probably done it.

He’s been a reporter and an editor. 

He’s worked in print journalism and broadcast journalism.

He’s run a local radio station and served as a consultant to some of the biggest media companies in the country.

It was a breadth of professional experience that made him the natural fit to lead a new hybrid journalism project at the University of Georgia that mixed education and newsgathering as WNEG — long a fixture for Northeast Georgia — migrated its operations south.

“When they acquired the station, because I had been a general manager, they decided that I would be the logical one to take over when we do it,” Castengera said with a laugh. “Well, like an idiot, I agreed.”

The promise of the station under the control of the University of Georgia made sense in the abstract, pairing one of the nation’s premier journalism programs with a professional, commercial television station to help create a learning laboratory. It represented a significant shift from the original intent of WNEG, which functioned largely as a community asset that focused on the stories of the small communities throughout the region.

For the game

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Photo of Calvin Johnson courtesy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution by Marlene Karas

It just came to him one day.

IJ Rosenberg, the president of the sports marketing firm Score Atlanta and former beat writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution among other sport-related titles, was the man behind the idea for a Georgia High School Football Hall of Fame. 

“One of the things I noticed was there wasn’t a hall of fame in Georgia that was specifically for high school football,” Rosenberg said. “You had a state hall of fame that had football players in it, but there was not one just for football. 

“And if you really look at Georgia, it’s right there with Florida, California and Texas as the biggest football states.”

Betting on belief: The story of Georgia Tech’s wild win over No. 1 Virginia in 1990

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Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

This is a guest feature article from Bill Chastain, a veteran sportswriter who worked for the Tampa Bay Tribune for several years covering everything from Major League Baseball to golf, before working for MLB.com to cover the Tampa Bay Rays. A freelance writer living in Atlanta, he also is the author of several books, including Peachtree Corvette Club and The Streak.

Georgia Tech’s football team flew to Charlottesville on November 2, 1990. They went straight to Scott Stadium for a light workout that Friday. A date with No. 1 Virginia awaited the following day.

Alice Ross watched while her husband, Tech coach Bobby Ross, took his team through its paces. Bill Millsaps spotted Alice and approached. The sports columnist and editor of the Richmond Times-Gazzette told her. “Virginia is going to whip up on ya’ll pretty good.”

“He was serious,” Bobby Ross said. “So she said, ‘No they’re not. You want to bet?’ He went along. They bet a box of Mounds candy bars.”

The best game that some saw

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Westside's Ricky Moore guards Thomson's Vonteego Cummings.
Westside's Ricky Moore guards Thomson's Vonteego Cummings. Photo by Eric Olig.

In Augusta, it’s simply known as “The Game.”

Attendance is a badge of honor for the town’s old guard.

To say you were there means something. It separates you from the embellishers and fibbers who cobbled together an incomplete retelling from newspaper reports and secondhand recaps.

Given the technology at our fingertips today, it’s hard to process that there isn’t readily available footage of it out there. In 1995, there were no iPhones, no YouTube, no Twitter. If you weren’t there, you didn’t see it. Simple as that.

‘That day was different’

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Photo courtesy of NCAA.com

In the 1990s and 2000s, the University of Georgia established itself as the most dominant force in college gymnastics. The Gym Dogs have tallied the most team and individual national championships in NCAA history, producing a litany of All-Americans and Olympians throughout their 30-plus year run of success.

One of key contributors during the early days of that run was Karin Lichey-Usry, a heralded gymnast who was part of two national championship teams in the late 1990s. During her freshman season of 1995-1996, Lichey-Usry achieved what no other gymnast had done before – registering four perfect scores of 10 in a single competition. 

The pursuit of belonging

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Photo of Augusta College courtesy of Derek May

Part One …

The bus had only been on the road for a few miles when the singing started.

It likely began quietly at first, with the group first settling on a song and testing out the harmonies. It would grow a little louder as more and more people heard the faint tunes passing by them like a breeze, recognizing the melody and then joining in for the chorus.

Who started it? Well, that depends on who you ask.

Pete May remembers that the Butlers often kicked things off. They were a musical family, you see. Now, Scott Butler doesn’t deny these outbursts of singing, but he remembers Derek May, Pete’s son, bringing along a guitar. Derek, for what it’s worth, is a bit murky on all of it.

Still, it’s the early 1990s, and there aren’t iPads or Netflix to occupy your time on a long drive.

Get bored? Well, it’s time to sing. That’ll kill an hour or so.

By the way, have you ever driven to Detroit? From Augusta, Georgia? 

Do you know what that’s like?

The importance of the one

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Photo courtesy of Braves Archives

As Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium rocked around him, the roar of 51,875 fans mushrooming up, out, and over a success-starved city, a breath after Atlanta-born Marquis Grissom ran down Carlos Baerga’s drive in the gap, Bob Costas delivered his line.

“The team of the nineties has its world championship!”

Everyone who heard his words the night of October 28, 1995 understood. They remembered the gut-wrenching Game 7 loss to the Twins that ended 1991’s magical run, and falling to Pat Borders and the Blue Jays in ‘92, and seeing the 104-win ‘93 season go for naught with an NLCS loss to the Phillies. 

Disappointments all, even within the context of a team and a city that had accomplished little of note in the decades leading up to its first major professional sports championship. 

But now? A spellbinding performance from Tom Glavine, a solo home run from David Justice, and it was done. It was theirs.  

“It was a breath of fresh air. It was exultation,” said Wayne Coleman, who watched the celebration unfold from the same seat in the front row behind the third-base dugout he had held since 1982. “It was just delirium. It was joy.” 

One night in Athens

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Photo by Rick O'Quinn, University of Georgia Photographic Services

You remember Brandi Chastain, euphoric in the Southern California sun. Sliding to her knees on the grass, biceps flexed, screaming in joy right along with the 90,000 people surrounding her in the Rose Bowl. The sports bra. The Sports Illustrated cover. The moment that will forever serve as a touchstone for women’s sports. 

A moment that would not have happened if not for the groundwork laid three years earlier at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia. 

FIFA, the governing body for international soccer, awarded the 1999 Women’s World Cup to the United States on May 31, 1996. There were no other bidders for the event, the third of its kind. The previous edition had been held in 1995 in Sweden, with an average attendance of 4,316 fans at each match. 

That number set the baseline for FIFA’s thinking on how the ‘99 tournament should be staged. FIFA officials told U.S. Soccer they wanted the event held entirely in the Eastern time zone, to cut down on travel costs, and the stadiums to be small  — able to accommodate 5,000-10,000 fans. They did acquiesce to U.S. officials’ request to hold the final at Washington’s RFK Stadium, but that old 55,000-seat warhorse was the exception. 

The other nine venues submitted as possible hosts in the official bid presented to FIFA in February 1996 included college football stadiums at Rutgers and the University of Richmond, Veterans Stadium in New Britain, Connecticut, and a series of smaller college venues: the University of Buffalo, Davidson College, the University of Delaware, Lehigh University, UNC-Greensboro, and Tufts University. 

Considering what we know now about how the tournament ultimately played out, it’s mind-boggling to consider what might have been. Davidson. Lehigh. Tufts. 

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