Through many dangers …

January 3, 2019

Family and friends know that I’m undergoing surgery on Tuesday. It’s a minor procedure called fundoplication. Sounds like a possible video game title, doesn’t it? Well, not quite …

john half croppedFor about 15 years now, I’ve been battling to overcome gastroesophageal reflux disease, known as GERD. At times I’ve had some success, but despite diet modifications, losing a lot of weight years ago, and even running a couple of half marathons, I simply can’t shake the disease.

As I learned more and more about the potential long-term effects of the GERD/acid reflux medication, I became increasingly convinced that surgery was a better solution for me. My GI specialist, Dr. Natin Davessar, has been a steady partner and an excellent guide for me as he’s helped me better understand GERD and its ramifications.

The surgical procedure isn’t lengthy or complicated, but the recuperation is both. So I’ll need to be a good patient and rely heavily on my sweet partner in life, Kathy Johnson Kerezy, as I recover.

John Kennedy was president when I had my last in-patient surgery for removal of my tonsils. My last “overnight” stay in the hospital was back in 1979 in Indiana. This wasn’t an easy decision. Faith and trust in the surgeon, Dr. Christopher Towe, the surgical unit at University Hospitals Parma Medical Center, my family, and — of course — first and foremost in God, propelled my decision.

optimistic.pngA guiding Bible verse for me these past two weeks is from Jeremiah 33:3 “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.” My  friend Doug Back, my fellow “founding dads” of the Cuyahoga Valley Church Knights groups, and many others have me bathed in prayer right now.

I’m asking God to lead me through this minor surgery, and any other medical situations stemming afterward. I still have a lot of teaching at Cuyahoga Community College ahead. There is a great group of speech and debate students I’m coaching at Revere Schools. I hope to keep making a positive impact for others I encounter for as long as the Lord allows.

So mark me with the “feeling optimistic” emoji as I enter the final days of preparation for surgery. I close with the words which John Newton, slave ship captain turned advocate for the abolition of slavery, penned back in 1790: “Through many dangers toils and snares I have already come. ‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”


Has the fire consumed us?

September 3, 2018

CUYAHOGA FALLS, OH, Sept. 3, 2018 — More than 220 years ago, George Washington warned his country about the dangers of political faction. In his Farewell Address, Washington cautioned against the “baneful effects” of factions, calling them “A fire not to be quenched.” He wrote. “It demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.”

As we pause today in gratitude to our nation’s workers for their hard work and ingenuity, it’s apparent to many that partisan factions have in fact consumed every aspect of daily life. Sports? Check. Media and entertainment? Check. Religion? Check. Family relations? Check. Government and law enforcement? Sadly, check.

Journalism? Huge checkmark goes here too. While a few media outlets still strive for balance and objectivity, the vast majority are now easily classified as “left” or “right” in how they report and in the narratives they employ. Here is a chart which Sharyl Attkisson, long-time CBS News investigative reporter who’s now on Sinclair Broadcasting with a Sunday news analysis show named “Full Measure” has developed.

Suggestion: Refer to this chart whenever you are reading or following stories about government and politics. It will enable you to better evaluate the source and detect possible bias.

Thwarting the peaceful transition of power

What differentiates the U.S. from other nations? One shining aspect of our democracy is the peaceful transition of power from one duly- elected candidate to another, from one political party to another. As Nicandro Iannacci of the National Constitution Center recalls the words from Ronald Reagan about this in his first inaugural address:  “… few of us stop to think how unique we really are. In the eyes of many in the world, this every 4-year ceremony we accept as normal is nothing less than a miracle.”

Now, enter Donald Trump’s and Russia “collusion” into this equation. The question of what Trump did with respect to Russia in the 2016 election received an amazing high level of media coverage in January 2017 in the weeks prior to and just after Trump’s inauguration. In hindsight, stories about possible Trump-Russia collusion had a sense of apophenia in their approach.  Apophenia is a tendency to see patterns or shapes in random situations. Many in our divided public couldn’t accept the fact that Trump had won the electoral vote, and there must be some unique or unparalleled reason for it.

Ready-made to explain why, almost on cue, came charges of Russian tampering with the 2016 Presidential elections and possible Trump collusion with Vladimir Putin. It “fit” almost perfectly, since all it would have taken is a shift of about 50,000 or so votes in a handful of states to change the electoral vote outcome.

Within his first 120 days of being in office, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey and then found himself subject of a Special Prosecutor’s investigation headed up by a former FBI director, Comey’s predecessor, Robert Mueller. Mueller’s mandate: To investigate Russian interference in the elections, and to look for any connections between those and the Trump campaign. Conspiracy would be a more precise term than collusion for what Mueller is seeking, by the way.

Trump and his supporters quickly reacted with cries of “witch hunt” and pointed out the double standard of the FBI’s investigative process. Tens of millions of dollars were donated to the Clinton Foundation from numerous international sources, including Russians. Hillary Clinton and her team were recklessly disobeying laws and protocols with securing their own e-mail communication, and the FBI looked the other way.

Almost lost in this titanic tug-of-war is this: For the first time in our democracy, one partisan side refused to go along with the peaceful transition of power. In 1960 Republican Richard Nixon could have litigated questionable vote tallies in Illinois and elsewhere, but chose to place country over politics. In 2000, Democratic candidate Al Gore could have continued to battle Florida, but put aside further fighting for the good of the country.

The opposite took place in 2016-2017. First there was a concerted effort to persuade Electoral College electors to not cast their votes for Trump. Next, rather than accept a Trump presidency, we saw boycotts of the inauguration, witnessed counter demonstrations, and heard calls of “Impeach 45” from Democratic Congressmen, all in January 2017. These same partisans saw the slightest shred of Russian involvement in the 2016 elections (unconnected to Trump) as a pattern of conspiracy – apophenia.

This non acceptance of an election’s outcome has but one parallel in nearly 230 years of our nation choosing its President under our Constitution. That was in 1860-61, when South Carolina and six other states seceded from the Union in response to Abraham Lincoln’s election. Next there came the Civil War.

A DISinformation Campaign

It is with this perspective need to enter a brief look at both Christopher Steele and his Steele dossier, and top FBI officials Peter Strozk and Lisa Page.

Steele is a former British spy (MI6) with numerous contacts to top Russian intelligence agents, including current FSB and SVR (Russian federal security and spy) members. He was in essence “double dipping” in 2016, being paid by both the FBI and Fusion GPS, an opposition research firm which (for this project) had as its client the Democratic National Committee.

Steele produced a dossier, or a collection of documents about Trump and the2016 election, which alleged (among many other things) conspiracy between members of Donald Trump’s election team and Russian agents. Rather than repeating all these allegations, look at the dossier (largely un-redacted) which the media outlet BuzzFeed published last year. A link to it is below. Judge for yourself.

As a stand-alone, Steele’s dossier seems to contain damning information against Donald Trump and its campaign. But it’s just a small part of a much bigger picture. While Steele was composing and sharing his dossier with the FBI, high-level Bureau members Peter Strozk and Lisa Page were focused on exonerating Hillary Clinton of any wrongdoing and ensuring that Clinton would end up winning the November presidential election. This is according to a Washington Post story which examined thousands of text messages which the two (who were having an affair) exchanged. Strozk interviewed Hillary Clinton as part of the e-mail investigation, examined Russian involvement in the election and – until removed – was on Special Prosecutor William Mueller’s team as well.

Here are two agents’ texts, quoted  verbatim from the Washington Post:

Aug. 8, 2016

Page: “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!”
Strzok: “No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it.”


Aug. 15, 2016

Strzok: “I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s (Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe) office — that there’s no way he (Trump) gets elected — but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40.”


Later, after Trump’s election but before the inauguration, Steele leaked portions of his dossier to media members. Later still came Mueller and the Special Prosecutor. Here’s another text message:

May 18, 2017, shortly after the appointment of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III

Strzok: “For me, and this case, I personally have a sense of unfinished business. I unleashed it with [the Clinton investigation]. Now I need to fix it and finish it.”

If one looks at the actions which Strozk, Steele, Bruce Ohr, and others in the FBI took, it is strikingly reminiscent of a DISINFORMATION campaign.

Not misinformation. We know that many are making efforts to misinform us. But as authors Ion Pacepa (a defector from Romania) and Professor Ron Rychlak explain in their book “Disinformation,” a disinformation campaign takes a kernel of truth, wraps a false narrative around that kernel, and then widely disseminates that narrative to deliberately discredit someone or something.

If we “connect the dots” as to what transpired within the FBI from June 2016 to May 2017, what we see is a high-level effort to draw attention away from Clinton and to discredit Trump, so much so as to make it  severely difficult or impossible for the latter to govern.

That is a horrible assessment of where our FBI was sitting only a short time ago. This is light years removed from the peaceful transition of power prescribed in Article I, Section 4 and Article II, Section 1 of our Constitution. It’s more reminiscent of “Seven Days in May” instead.

Just three years ago …

I predicted in this blog that Donald Trump would win the Republican nomination for President.  Here is a link to that posting:

Friends questioned my sanity then. They don’t now, because some of them also understand how the public has an almost toxic reaction to the media. According to Pew Research, trust in the media hit an all-time low in 2017-18. Only 21 percent of the public has a lot of trust in national news organizations. Twenty-nine (29) percent have little or no trust in them.

What’s worse – younger adults pay no attention to the news. Research indicates a large percentage of those under 25 pay attention only to whatever stories pop up on their “most popular” feed from the social media services they most frequently use. Many are reading or watching no news at all.

What’s probably worst of all is that few executives in the free press, either on the editorial or the publishing/advertising side, seem to fully comprehend the long-term detrimental effects of a knock-down, drag-out war between the Fourth Estate and the current occupant of the Oval Office. There will be no winners if this continues, and the biggest loser is our democracy.

A link to the Labor Day 2015 blog, predicting Trump’s victory, is here:

Why journalism still matters

Larry Nassar might still be abusing gymnasts today if it wasn’t for the outstanding investigative reporting of Marisa Kwiatowski, Mark Alesia and Tim Evans  of the Indianapolis Star.  This trio of reporters poured through thousands of pages of court records and interviewed dozens of Dr. Nassar’s victims. Finally they found one person — Rachael Denhollander  — willing to go “on the record” and be publicly quoted for the story.

After that, the floodgates to the ultimate disinfectant, the sunshine of truth, poured out. Nassar will now spend the rest of his life in prison for his crimes. A link to the New York Times story about this trio of reporter’s work is below.

There are tens of thousands of horrible criminals and wrong-doers in our nation and beyond. There are crimes to be uncovered, corruption that needs to be rooted out, and victims whose stories need to be told.

That’s why journalism matters, perhaps more than ever, in an age where we receive only snippets of stories from cell phone feeds and make snap judgements on meaning.

Depth matters. Verification of sources and stories matters. Quality reporting and editing matters. Journalism matters.



Sharyl Attkisson’s chart

Peaceful transition of power

To read the Steel dossier:

Strozk and Page


Pacepa and Rylchlak, “Disinformation,” pages 96-96 Copyright 2013 NWD books, Washington, DC

Pew Research (great read by the way)

Indianapolis Star – Larry Nassar


A complaint

April 30, 2018

I will be mailing this letter to the White House Correspondents Association later today.

April 30, 2018
Margaret Talev, President
White House Correspondents Association (WHCA)
600 New Hampshire Avenue, Suite 800
Washington, DC 20037
Dear Ms. Talev

Hate has no place in the United States, especially among privileged journalists who cover the White House.

So why was hate on such full display for the world to see at the White House Correspondents Association’s 2018 Annual Dinner? Who was responsible for selecting Michelle Wolf to speak at this dinner? Who vetted her remarks? Is the WHCA now sanctioning vile personal attacks and hate speech? Has it turned itself into charter members of the Donald Trump Haters Club?

I earned a master’s degree in journalism 40 years ago this spring. I’ve lauded some of the outstanding investigative reporting and editing which reporters have done since then. I’ve been moved to tears at stories which have exposed injustices and wrong doing. There is much to cheer about whenever we discuss the practice of journalism in this country.

But your organization demeaned the profession and all who labor in it with how you treated a key representative of the President of the United States on Saturday, April 28.

Additionally, a tenet of the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics is to minimize harm. The code reads: “Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness.” Did Ms. Wolf’s routine on Saturday night help accomplish this?

You owe an apology to Mrs. Sanders and to the President of the United States. If you don’t see it, you are really out of touch with how the American public sees journalism. You should make amends immediately.

I’m accustomed to divisiveness. I worked in Washington DC briefly in the ‘80s (I was press secretary to a U.S. Senator), but the tone and tenor of what your association did on Saturday causes me and a lot of others great distress. Build bridges, not walls. If you want to defeat hate, never go about it by practicing hate.



John Kerezy, Ed.S., MA, APR
Program Coordinator and Associate Professor, Journalism and Mass Communications

cc:           Sarah Sanders, White House Press Secretary
Jennifer Greer, President, AEJMC

Opinions are personal, not those of Cuyahoga Community College

Guns, grown-ups and Graham

February 26, 2018

The horrific shooting on February 14 at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla, is a cogent reminder of the media’s ability to engage in agenda setting.  No, the media cannot tell us what to think. Decades of research proves this. However, the media CAN set an agenda, or tell us what to think about in some situations. This is one.

CNN led the charge with non-stop coverage of the tragedy for more than a week, leading up to its Town Hall broadcast on February 21. But there were many other media outlets following suit. The New York Times has had page one above-the-fold stories about guns and gun control for several days as well. Pre-planned special interest groups launched simultaneous sponsor withdrawal and social media campaigns against the National Rifle Association

The agenda: controlling the purchase of firearms. This soon spilled over into affiliated areas, as President Donald Trump said he was considering asking Congress to ban the sale of some rifles and bump stocks to those under age 21 (which receiving some news coverage). Then he advanced the idea of arming teachers in schools (which received significant media coverage, much of it inferring an ‘is he sane?’ veneer).

Do we have a gun and gun violence problem in our country? Let’s look as some numbers and do some comparisons.

According to FBI crime statistics, about 70 percent of all the homicides committed annually in the U.S. are done with a handgun, rifle, or other type of gun. In calendar year 2015, for example, there were 13, 455 murder victims in the nation.

Now, look a little closer behind the reports. The FBI stated that in 40 percent of these murders, the criminal was either a family member of the victim or someone whom the victim knew well. Charts from the FBI are available the conclusion of this blog for your perusal.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, about 45,000 Americans die of suicide each year. So our nation has 3.5 times more deaths by suicide than by murder. (A majority of these victims use guns to commit suicide.). Of course, in virtually every suicide, there is a mother, father, spouse or family member who probably could have helped prevent the tragedy. All too often, loved ones fail to see a mental health issue or other signs of suicide.

Next, let’s “connect the dots” a bit. We know that the latest school shooter was being treated for a mental illness. Hmmm … sound familiar? Go back and review stories about school shootings. Go to Sandy Hook, or all the way back to Columbine. You will see a clear pattern emerge: virtually all of these perpetrators had mental health issues.

(Aside: Have you ever recorded, and then listened to, an advertisement for anti-depressant medications at half speed? Try it sometime, and listen for the word “suicidal” in the description. You’ll hear it again and again. But you won’t see any calls to ban these medications.)

One simple and very effective way to reduce guns violence in the U.S. would be to prohibit the sale of guns to, and even remove guns from anyone who’s been diagnosed with or who’s under treatment for mental illness.  The same regulations should apply to persons who have been diagnosed and/or who are under treatment for depression.  If these two steps were taken and had a 50 percent efficacy rate, we would save 29,000 lives a year.

Another technique would be even simpler and more effective  — pay attention more to one another, anda care more about each other! More on this topic follows below.

Finally, let’s look at some other grim statistics: There were 41,000 traffic deaths in the United States last year, or three times the number of murders. No one is suggesting that we ban automobiles, although we all agree that banning texting or cell phone usage while driving could save many thousands of lives annually.

How about all unborn babies who are aborted?  Official statistics are harder to find, as some states (such as California) have gone so far as to remove reporting requirements.  According to the website, about 893,000 abortions took place in the United States in 2016—down from about 914,000 abortions in 2015. If we reduced that by 50 percent, we would (theoretically) have about 450,000 more lives saved a year.

Yet, due to agenda-setting of the media and a political party, gun control is what’s in the crosshairs right now. We lose sight of the fact that about a million more people in the U.S. are dying every year through other preventable means — mental illness/suicide, automobile accidents and abortion.

Before changing gears, did you know that there are 170 school districts in the U.S. which allow teachers to carry firearms? Yes, this is the law in Texas. Some of these districts are in rural areas where there are no local police within a 15 to 30-minute drive of the schools.


Kudos to Florida educator Kelly Guthrie Raley, who was named 2017-2018 Teacher of the Year at Eustis Middle School. She wrote a Facebook post in response to the Stoneman Douglas shooting, one which bears reading. An excerpt from it is just below, along with a link to the entire post as it appears on the website


Educator Kelly Guthrie Raley. Source

Here is some of what Raley wrote:

…. Until we, as a country, are willing to get serious and talk about mental health issues, lack of available care for the mental health issues, lack of discipline in the home, horrendous lack of parental support when the schools are trying to control horrible behavior at school (oh no! Not MY KID. What did YOU do to cause my kid to react that way?), lack of moral values, and yes, I’ll say it-violent video games that take away all sensitivity to ANY compassion for others’ lives, as well as reality TV that makes it commonplace for people to constantly scream up in each others’ faces and not value any other person but themselves, we will have a gun problem in school. Our kids don’t understand the permanency of death anymore!!!

I grew up with guns. Everyone knows that. But you know what? My parents NEVER supported any bad behavior from me. I was terrified of doing something bad at school, as I would have not had a life until I corrected the problem and straightened my ass out. My parents invaded my life. They knew where I was ALL the time. They made me have a curfew. They made me wake them up when I got home. They made me respect their rules. They had full control of their house, and at any time could and would go through every inch of my bedroom, backpack, pockets, anything!

Parents: it’s time to STEP UP! Be the parent that actually gives a crap! Be the annoying mom that pries and knows what your kid is doing. STOP being their friend. They have enough “friends” at school. Be their parent. Being the “cool mom” means not a damn thing when either your kid is dead or your kid kills other people because they were allowed to have their space and privacy in YOUR HOME. I’ll say it again.

 My home was filled with guns growing up. For God’s sake, my daddy was an 82nd Airborne Ranger who lost half his face serving our country. But you know what? I never dreamed of shooting anyone with his guns. I never dreamed of taking one! I was taught respect for human life, compassion, rules, common decency, …

Kelly Guthrie Raley hit the nail right on the center of its head. We have a serious problem in our nation, and it begins in our homes. Parents need to stand up and take responsibility for the full upbringing of their children.

Each semester we learn about the Internet in a chapter of the Introduction to Mass Communication class which I teach. My students and I routinely talk about video games. At some point during the discussion, we will delve into video game ratings. I ask them if their parents pay attention to the ratings on the games, ones they are buying, ones they are playing. More than 95 percent of the time, the students respond with “no” — mom or dad aren’t paying attention, and I can play any video game I want.

Here’s that link:

At what point should we as a society insist that grown-ups act like grown-ups and take their child-rearing responsibility more seriously? Almost lost in the agenda-setting drumbeat on gun control is this: CNN reported on February 16 that it had evidence showing law enforcement officers responded to (incidents) at the Parkland, Fla., shooter’s house on 39 occasions over a seven year period.   

It’s well documented now that many grown-ups did NOT act as grown-ups in this particular situation. There were dozens of ways many different people and groups (from the FBI on down) should have intervened long before February 14 in this shooter’s life.

Also well worth the read: Kent State University senior Sydney Diewald’s opinion column about addressing mental illness. It is linked below.


bg mlkOur nation and especially Christians are mourning the passing of Rev. Billy Graham, who died last week at age 99. I had the privilege of hearing his message two times in Cleveland at old Municipal Stadium. Rev. Graham was an unwavering voice calling for us to be saved and redeemed from sin. He influenced countless lives for God and for good.

He also worked behind the scenes on many occasions to make America a better place. He bailed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. out of jail, and worked with Dr. King and others to preach and practice racial reconciliation as early as the ’50s,  before the Civil Rights legislation of the mid-1960s and at a time when it was very unpopular (in Rev. Graham’s south) to do so. Below are a couple of links, including one to a Wall Street Journal reminiscence from former President George W. Bush, who credits Graham for helping him to turn away from alcoholism.



EXPANDED CRIME STATISTICS   expanded_homicide_data_table_11_murder_circumstances_by_weapon_2015

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Traffic deaths:

Billy Graham and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Billy Graham and former President George Bush:

Leadership lesson at Christmastime

December 18, 2017

Inspiration seems harder to come by in the second decade of the 21st Century. Social media’s ascendancy increases our skepticism and makes us more susceptible to snap judgements. We have lower expectations of our leaders. Our millennial generation, with iPhones and smart phones omnipresent, sees fewer and fewer examples of greatness.

That’s what makes Pastor Rick Duncan so special. He’s been proclaiming the Good News at one place, Cuyahoga Valley Church, for more than 30 years. Pastor Rick (as the congregation there knows him) turned the leader reins over to Chad Allen several years ago, but he still regularly takes to the stage and delivers uplifting and yes – even inspirational – messages on Sundays.

rick duncan

Cuyahoga Valley Church founding pastor Rick Duncan

Yesterday was such an occasion. Usually those attending church at Christmastime expect versions of the Christmas story. Those at Cuyahoga Valley Church have been treated to a great delight this Advent season, a series of sermons titled “Tis the Season” focusing on how we can be better people year-round. Last Sunday (Dec. 10) newly-ordained Josh Stone gave the congregation an advice-filled message about patience this time of year.

Pastor Rick’s message title was “Tis the Season to be Hopeful,” but his message was aimed more at how we should be more effective as leaders. Beginning with a personal example (a less-than-great manager he had during his time in minor league baseball), Duncan presented five characteristics which great leaders “bring” to their relationships with others.  Those characteristics are:

  1. Light not darkness
  2. Insight, not ignorance.
  3. Strength, not weakness.
  4. Constancy, not unpredictability, and
  5. Peace, not strife.

Clothed with words from the prophet Isaiah 9: 2-7, Duncan cited Jesus Christ as the model of great leadership. Here’s one of his examples: When the Pharisees confronted Jesus with a woman “caught in the act” of adultery and opined that Mosaic Law demanded her stoning, Christ used the situation as an opportunity to shine light, not darkness. He challenged all the Pharisees, asking any of them who lived without sin to cast the first stone at the woman. One by one, each accuser turned and walked away. Then, rather than judging the accused woman, Jesus told her to “I do not condemn you either. Go, from now on sin no more. (NASV)” The whole story is in John, Chapter 8.

Duncan concluded his sermon with simple advice to those who are leaders or who are aspiring to leadership positions. He said we should lift up this prayer: “Jesus, be my leader. Help me lead like you.”

Great advice, the type that’s timeless and always applicable in any situation. Thank you Pastor Rick for your leadership lesson. Here’s a link to a video cast of Duncan’s message on December 17.

Also, here’s a link to Pastor Rick’s blog:

          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

denise rooks

Denise Rooks, 1959-2017

I’ve been so blessed with many caring and loving family members. My sister Denise Rooks left her cancer-ridden body on Friday evening. My brother-in-law Chuck, who needed surgery himself just the day before, made it to Hospice of Medina County earlier in the day and was able to spend some last moments together with his wife of 39 years. In a future post I will say more about my sweet sister Denise. But right now the pain her passing renders me too weak and feeble for the terrific words which her life requires.

For those who knew and loved Denise, calling hours and funeral mass information are on the link below:

FINALLY, for more than a dozen years now I’ve been privileged to serve as part of the “Pause For Prayer” team at Moody Radio Cleveland, WCRF (103.3 FM). This coming week I move from the on-deck circle to the batter’s box, delivering a two-minute prayer on the station a few times each day. Here’s a link to the radio station’s website, from where you can also find a live stream.


You make them do WHAT?

November 28, 2017

One of the most engaging activities I do is coach high school speech and debate. I was fortunate to have founded the Brecksville-Broadview Heights modern debate program in 2008, along with Mark McCandless and Lloyd Yeh. In 2013-2014, Revere High School Principal Phil King asked me to take over as coach/adviser for the Revere High School Program. Revere was down to five students in November 2013. Today it is a program with 45 high schoolers and 20+ middle schoolers.

Colleagues and helpers have made us successful at Revere. We have terrific support from our speech and debate boosters. Right now we have three college assistants, Ammar Abidi, David Burnett and Amelia Mainzer, giving us a huge boost in the coaching area as well. We have six seniors in the program this year, the most in recent Revere memory in the program.

(ASIDE – If you ever have doubts about the ability of today’s students to be tomorrow’s leaders, here’s a challenge: Come with me any Saturday to a speech and debate tournament and see what other coaches, parents, and I see in our young speakers and debaters.)

anthony national qualifier

Anthony Pignataro Lncoln Douglas debater & 2016 National Qualifier

My personal strengths are on the speaking side of high school speech/debate, but – as fate would have it – Revere has had a traditionally powerful debate program. Within a year’s time at Revere, I became convinced that one of the best “benefits” I could provide to my students was to make them write their own cases and Congressional Debate speeches. I apply this to each and every debater and debate team in all the types of debate we coach at Revere, Lincoln Douglas, Public Forum and Congress.

Other HS programs do their own “school” case for debate resolutions. Only one or two members of the team research and write, and the other team members follow their lead. So if you hear a “PRO” case in a public forum debate tournament from “Team A” of a particular school, you will hear the same case from “Team B” and “Team C” of the same school as well. I’m more interested in developing minds than having the “perfect” case for debating. “Skills not scores,” is the philosophy of a fellow speech and debate coach in Mentor. I agree.

So, why do I force 14, 15, 16, and 17-year-olds to write their own debate cases? Here are ome of the reasons:

  1. It is ideal for strengthening critical thinking skills in students. My debaters tell me how much better they write their high school essays as a result of working on debate cases. For competing in tournaments, They have to correctly analyze a topic, develop critical thinking and communication skills, compose a thesis to support their key point, develop and defend contentions supporting their key point, and do it clearly and concisely.
  2. It improves concentration and focus, helping to reinforce study in academic areas. Research has demonstrated that students who engage in speech and debate have GPAs up to 0.4 higher than those participating in other high school extracurricular activities. One can’t take what’s happening at one high school and say it will apply everywhere, but we certainly see that at Revere, which has an excellent and challenging academic curriculum. There are five juniors at Revere who have earned “perfect” scores of 36 on their American College Test (ACT). Three of them are in speech and debate.

    drake conley sophie.jpg

    Drake Du, Middle School Principal Bill Conley, and Sophie Brandewie, 7th in the nation in middle school Pubic Forum Debate.

  3. It increases the confidence, poise, and self-esteem of our debaters. Having a student standing up and speaking in front of a competitor and a judge can be daunting for a young teen. We talk a lot about overcoming nervousness and those “butterflies” before a speech or debate round in practice. The reality is simple: if a student masters the ability to stand up, argue a case he or she has developed, and then continue an argument against opposing viewpoints, that student gains life-long skills which will help her or him throughout high school, in college, and beyond.
  4. It gives the students a big “leg up” in college admissions. Some of my past competitors have gone on to the University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins, Penn, Washington, Harvard, and other “highly competitive’ colleges and universities, including the honors program at The Ohio State University. One of my early HS debaters is now pursuing a Ph.D. at Cal Tech. In a paper titled “Forensics and College Admissions,” Yale University Professor Minh Luong reported that “dedicated participation in drama and debate has significantly increased the success rate of college applicants at all schools which track such data.  State and national award winners have a 22% to 30% higher acceptance rate at top tier colleges “

Claire Jimerson, 2017 Congressional Debate National qualifier

Revere is part of the Ohio Speech and Debate Association and of the National Speech and Debate Association. We had a National Championship competitor in 2016 in Lincoln Douglas debater Anthony Pignataro (now at The Ohio State University) and another in 2017 in Congressional debater Claire Jimerson. We also took two middle school students, Claire Brandewie and Drake Du, to middle school NSDA Nationals in 2017. They had NEVER debated together, yet they finished 7th in the U.S. in Public Forum debate (losing a 2-1 decision in Quarterfinals).

Hard working students, invested parents, and terrific teachers all help account for our success at Revere. But it also stems from us insisting that our students write and work with their own debate cases.



Black Power protest, 49 years later

October 16, 2017

Remember? Remember the Titans?

You may recall this scene, early in the movie, when football players Julius Campbell and Gerry Bertier begin fighting over Campbell’s poster of the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games protest in their dorm room. Here’s a link to an 80-second snippet from that 2000 sports drama:

black power

L to R: Peter Norman, Tommie Smith, John Carlos on the platform for the 200-meter medal ceremony, October 16, 1968. Note the Olympic Project for Human Rights badges on the left side of their warm-up jackets.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s Black Power stand on the 200-meter dash medal platform took place 49 years ago today – October 16, 1968. It’s worth reflecting on, given recent NFL “take a knee” protests over the National Anthem.

FIRST: CONTEXT IS ESSENTIAL. In 1968 racial inequality threatened to split our nation apart. The Voting Rights and Civil Rights Act had begun to redress decades of injustices, but progress wasn’t coming quickly. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated, and as a result riots broke out in more than 100 U.S. cities. There were 45 lives lost and 15,000 arrests in these riots, which (ironically) took place in reaction to the violent killing of the nation’s greatest advocate for non-violent change.

Riots continued in different cities across the US. for months following Rev. Dr. King’s death. In my hometown, seven people (including three Cleveland Police officers) were killed in the Glenville Riots that July.

There was a movement among African American athletes selected for the U.S. Olympic Team to boycott the Summer Olympics. As a group they chose to compete, but some also sought to raise awareness about injustice and inequality, a movement they called the Olympic Project for Human Rights. Others, such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, chose not to play for the U.S.A. basketball team at the Olympics – personal boycotts based upon conscience.

That is the backdrop to bear in mind when reflecting on what Tommie Smith, John Carlos, and silver medal winner Peter Norman of Australia (who helped Smith and Carlos and was severely punished for it in his apartheid homeland) did that day.

Carlos and Smith knew that they could be suspended from the U.S. Olympic Team for their protest, but reaction was worse than they even realized. International Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage (nicknamed “slavery Avery”) ordered Team U.S.A. to suspend the two and then expelled them from the games. They were stripped of their medals and returned home, where public opinion was overwhelmingly against their stand.  Then a sports writer in Chicago, Brett Musburger said Smith and Carlos acted “like a couple of black-skinned storm troopers” who were “ignoble,” “juvenile,” and “unimaginative.” A Time magazine story described their actions as nasty and ugly.

“It was really courageous … they knew that their lives would never be the same,” said Ro Brown, legendary play-by-play voice at the University of New Orleans. The two received death threats for many years afterward.

(Brown did a terrific explanation of the times and the protest stand several years ago. Here’s a link to that video. )

LINKAGE, BACK AND FORWARD: Smith and Carlos were following in a tradition and pattern of non-violent protest which Rosa Parks (Montgomery Bus Boycott) Dr. King (Birmingham Civil Rights) and others had set down for more than a dozen years prior to 1968. Parks, Dr. King, and many more took grave personal risks when they protested, going to jail and facing fines and public condemnation.

When Muhammad Ali refused to report to the draft and serve in the Army in 1967, he was also exhibiting a form of non-violent protest. He was convicted of draft evasion, and suspended from boxing for three years in the prime of his career. He sacrificed boxing for his personal beliefs.  (The Supreme Court overturned his conviction in 1971)

Ali, Smith and Carlos took these sacrifices to draw attention to causes, just as Parks and King had done. Their linkage of sports to injustice seemed inappropriate to many. But come 1980, President Jimmy Carter chose to use his influence and power to affect a complete boycott of participation by the U.S. and 65 other nations at the Summer Olympics in Moscow. The reason? The Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan months before, and the boycott was part of a multi-pronged effort which the U.S. led to expel the Soviets. Sports became firmly entrenched as a tool in both diplomacy and politics.

Increasingly, athletes – especially professionals – are choosing to sometimes leverage their hero status to take a stand. LeBron James routinely will Tweet support for candidates and causes, as do other superstars. It has become a normal occurrence.

WHY THIS SITUATION IS DIFFERENT: Let’s flash forward to 2017. Four different factors have coincided to make protesting the National Anthem, which then San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick initiated last year, far different than what has come before.

  1. Change? Not enough – The election of Barack Obama as our nation’s 44th President meant different things to different elements of our society. African Americans believed that there would be tremendous progress in areas such as inequality under Obama. It didn’t materialize. In reaction, some took to protests and demonstrations. Some of these turned violent. Some white Americans had the same expectations upon going to the ballot box to elect President Obama in 2008 and 2012. They were disappointed, although (of course) no one ever says publicly “I wish I’d voted differently.”   (See No. 3 below.)
  2. Violence, especially against police – Many American view Black Lives Matter and other groups as assaulting a foundational underpinning of our society when they began protesting against police officers. Police officers are held in high regard in our land. Forbes and other media outlets conducting surveys frequently find that police officers are among the Top Ten in “Most Admired” professions in the U.S. A 2014 Gallup Survey found police officers to have the 6th highest ratings among all professions in the area of honesty and ethical standards. Against this backdrop, there has been a campaign against police officers in the media, on college campuses, and in other elements of our society. Cries of police brutality from some – right or wrong – have coincided with a dramatic increase in ambush-style murders of police officers in major cities. Police see themselves as under attack like never before.
  3. The Trump Effect – Donald Trump’s election in November 2016 is in part the political pendulum swinging back in the opposite direction in which it traveled back in 2008. Millions who cast ballots for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 voted differently last year. President’s Trump’s base is more conservative, and his support of the American flag, the military, and law enforcement are part of his allure as chief executive. The mass media can no longer be the agenda setting function it once did, as President Trump employs his Twitter account to serve that function.For President Trump, respect of the flag, of the police, and of the military are all core values. He sees “taking a knee” for the National Anthem as both anathema and as a great opportunity to further rally his political base of support. So the protests unwittingly play to his benefit.

4.  A lack of sacrifice – Perhaps the greatest difference between 1968 and 2017 is that today’s protesting athletes have lost trust with a basic tenet which Dr. King Jr. and others realized.  Parks, James Farmer (a predecessor of King’s), Dr. King, and others knew that when they had nothing to gain and everything to lose, protesting the evils of the status quo would draw popular support. Imagines of helpless children being attacked with fire hoses and police dogs (which happened in Birmingham in 1963) tells the story of racial injustice far better than a 2017 millionaire athlete choosing to “take a knee” during the playing of the National Anthem.  The average NFL player’s salary is $1.9 million. Smith and Carlos gained nothing economically from their protest in Mexico City.