Ready to play the zany party game that’s taking the nation by storm? It’s called … “Is it Epsom?” where all you have to do is answer Yes or No to that simple question. Get them all right, and you could be eligible for fabulous cash prizes.
1. Is it Epsom?
Now try this one …
2. Is it Epsom?
And finally, here …
3. Is it Epsom?
If you answered yes to the first two and no to the third, Wow … you’re like, Herb Bartlettesque (obscure but fitting Epsom reference). Congratulations. You could be eligible for fabulous cash prizes. Or, you could be eligible for the first round of a third-grade geography bee. Check back with us in six months.
Truth be told, that last one is from a town called New York, which I visited Friday and Saturday for an appearance on a show hosted by Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. Wanna know what it’s called?
Where to begin? I guess with the question that’s been popping up quite a bit among friends recently regarding the apparent fondness of our project by what some might consider the political right-leaning media. FOX’s Happening Now. FOX’s America’s Newsroom. Live coverage of our 500,000th in New York by, um, FOX. Conservative (and brilliant) radio host Jay Severin on 96.9 FM Talk in Boston. An invitation from Sarah Palin Radio. And now, a FOX program hosted by a Republican governor who ran for President in 2008 and is apparently considering a run in 2012.
Full disclosure, I’m a registered Independent who tends to vote with the Democrats. But a more relevant disclosure: Who cares? What we’re doing here, raising money and saying thank you to Veterans and service men and women, has exactly ZERO to do with political affiliations.
You probably already knew that, but I want to be sure I’m clear.
Republican and Democrat soldiers are leaving limbs on the other side of the world. Republican and Democrat mothers and fathers are accepting triangulated American flags at funerals all over the country. Republican and Democrat families are learning to live with dads and moms and husbands and wives who are deployed as one person and returned to them as another. Republican and Democrat Americans are seeking ways to help and say thank you to those who volunteer to be in harm’s way on our behalf.
This is not a partisan issue. It’s an American issue. When Gov. Huckabee’s producer reaches out to give our voice a megaphone, I do not see a Republican presidential candidate. I see a guy who is willing to give our voice a megaphone.
We’ll take it, with gratitude.
And if we’re fortunate enough to be asked to appear with the likes of Jon Stewart or Bill Mahar or Keith Olbermann, we will gratefully accept those invitations as well, and our message will not change: Our political affiliation is one of support for those who have put themselves in the line of fire on our behalf … period.
I suppose that’s about enough on that issue. Let’s talk about New York.
I’m not going to bore you with the minute-by-minute details of this trip, but I would like to start by showing off a bit. Because I am a man of exquisite tastes, and because I was at the Center of the Universe at the Stay hotel, on West 47th Street, half a block from Times Square, I decided to get a little fancy with my dinner. Like so …
Thank you, Jimmy. Three delicious hot dogs, a kinda-soft pretzel and one Country Time lemonade (because I’m worth it) later, I was across Seventh Ave. and into Times Square, taking a series of photos, which were then patched together to form this 270-degree panoramic (click on it to get a better view) …
OK, I guess I had said I wasn’t going to go minute-by-minute. So let’s skip ahead to the following morning, Saturday, Nov. 20.
It was a little past 10 a.m. when Mike Westhead, owner of Home Court Hoops in Northern New Jersey and a retired Marine, arrived outside of the “Huckabee” studio with our monster of a portable hoop. The good news: Mike actually found a parking spot along 47th Street. The bad: Our attempt at lowering the 500-plus pound system from the bed of the truck was less than perfect, as one of the ramps we were using fell off the gate, leading to — CRASH!
(That’s one way to get it down.)
As I said, the thing was a beast, so no harm done.
We spent the next hour or so meeting the crew and getting set up in the gigantic outdoor breezeway between the two FOX buildings, just outside the first-floor studio. They set up stanchions to surround the shooting area, and the camera men found their spots. We were still five hours from the segment, which was being taped in order to air the Saturday and Sunday following Thanksgiving, but rehearsal was set for 11:15, so everyone needed to be ready.
Joan McNaughton, the producer who had been our primary contact in arranging the trip, was as wonderful as she had been for the past two weeks in getting us squared away, and we were introduced to Executive Producer Woody Fraser (at left), the show’s director and a long-time media guru … among his other credits being the creator of the Mike Douglas Show and the first Executive Producer of Good Morning America. Mr. Fraser has a particular soft spot for what we’re doing, as a former basketball player at Dartmouth who has two sons heavily involved in hoop — including one who’s now making a nice living as a professional player in Barcelona … and incidentally one who once made a hundred thirty-something straight free throws in game situations.
The crew took some time playing an informal game of H-O-R-S-E as we readied for rehearsal, and then the time came to walk through the segment. Gov. Huckabee joined us outside for that, made a few shots of his own and then spent some time with me in conversation as Woody and the team discussed different angles and how it would look when it came time to roll the tape.
As advertised, the Governor couldn’t have been more gracious. We spoke about the project, and about the “Huckaburger” that was created by the good folks at The Barley House in Concord (NH) for his campaign stop during the 2008 Republican primary. “It’s funny,” he said. “You can talk policy all you want, but when you come across something like the Huckaburger, the media loves it.”
I also passed along two hellos from a couple of recent encouters we’ve had. The first was from Gary Flanagan, a recent rebounder from Tennessee who had told me of seeing the Governor, after the 2008 Presidential campaign was over, anonymously helping out a woman who was a food service delivery person in Virginia. Gov. Huckabee remembered it well, and recounted it in detail. “I overheard her talking, and I was moved by her story,” he said, remembering that he had given her a $100 bill. “She was a single mom, and I realized that this country is made up of a whole lot more of people like her than like those who we see on television every day.”
I had also been asked by Dave DeWitt of Time Frame, Inc., who has been sending us all kinds of Hoops For Heroes merchandise after hearing our story on Veterans Day, to say hello to the Governor. Dave had told me he provided the Huckabee campaign with thousands of buttons, and he wanted me to tell Gov. Huckabee that he would be ready again if there is to be a 2012 campaign. I passed along the message, and the Governor remembered Dave well.
Rehearsal ended, and it was on to the business of making our daily shots. With Mike Westhead rebounding and Cherise Leclerc, a FOX intern from U. Mass-Amherst, standing to my right, we started rolling. Passers-by gathered occasionally, there were plenty of catcalls — most in support, some mocking our misfires — and one very loud, siren-filled interlude whereby emergency vehicles came storming down 47th Street toward Times Square. By the time we were done, we had invested about an hour and 40 minutes into collecting 1,997 made foul shots.
We left three for the Governor to rebound during our segment.
Then it was back inside, where we still had an hour or two to eat, say hello to others involved in the day’s show, and yes, become increasingly more nervous.
It was at around 3 p.m. that Mike Westhead and I returned to the outside to mentally prepare for the four or five minutes that this experience would ultimately boil down to. So we shot, and shot, and shot. We probably made two or three hundred more that would not count toward the day’s total … all in the name of being ready to make those final three when Gov. Huckabee appeared.
I had a earpiece in my left ear so as to know when things were happening, and at just about 3:45, the Thanksgiving weekend episode of “Huckabee” began to roll. I heard him give his welcome to the studio audience. I heard him introduce and interview Brittany and Robbie Bergquist (more on them later), the co-founders of Cell Phones For Soldiers. And then I heard him say he was leaving the studio … and there he was.
The next few minutes are something of a blur. I vaguely remember the Governor asking me how many shots it takes per day, and how folks can contribute, and what the response has been like, and then I asked him if he’d be willing to take a few shots. In fairness, it’s no simple feat to shoot in a suit (kind of restrictive), but our host gave it a good run, firing up three from the foul line, the third of which looked like it might go down. But no.
It was my turn next, and the Governor took his position under the hoop. CLANG! A right-rimmer which bounded dramatically outside of our cordoned off area to an onlooker, who tossed it back to Gov. Huckabee, who tossed it back my way. The next one was good. “Nineteen ninety-eight,” I said. Then another miss, and the next two found their target …
“Nineteen ninety-nine. Two thousand.”
The Governor then returned to the foul line, where I presented him with a Hoops For Heroes sweatshirt with “HUCKABEE” embroidered neatly on the left sleeve (thanks to Diane at Dale’s Paint’n Place), and he then wrapped up the segment before disappearing back into the studio.
I took a few more shots on camera, heard “We’re good!” from a crew member, and that was that.
I feel like I stumbled, and the shooting sure could have been better than 60 percent. But we’ll get a real sense of how we did (and how the show is edited) this weekend. The show airs Saturday, Nov. 27 at 8 p.m., then Sunday, Nov. 28 at 8 and 11 p.m.
And as cool as the actual production experience was, the best part of the day was next. It being the Thanksgiving weekend edition of “Huckabee,” meeting the guests was very, very exciting.
Brittany (at left) and Robbie (below) Bergquist, those founders of Cell Phones for Soldiers, were just incredibly poised, respectful, intelligent teenagers. Yes, teenagers. The two were — get this — 12 (Robbie) and 13 (Brittany) years old when they conceived of the program in 2004.
All they’ve done since is collect more than 7.5 million cell phones and provide military personnel with more than — gulp! — 90 million minutes of pre-paid calling cards. There are currently more than 6,000 Cell Phones for Soldiers collection sites across the country.
Did I mention they were 12 and 13 years old when this began!?!
Brittany and Robbie’s parents were there, and Mrs. Bergquist, a public school teacher, was blown away when she saw Liz on the monitor, doing her interview thing with the Governor, from the green room.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shown my students her movie!”
And Liz Murray, who is now a motivational speaker as well, couldn’t have been kinder. She wanted to know what she could do to help Hoops For Heroes, asking if I’d have any interest in her exploring her connection with the Utah Jazz.
Interest? Um … yes please.
And then there was the Gouge family, four men and three boys, including 5-year-old Xander, who in September were rescued after spending 20 hours in the Atlantic Ocean, 21 miles off the coast of South Carolina, where their 38-foot boat had capsized. It hadn’t sunk entirely, however, and in fact — somehow — did not even drift from its point of going down. How? The family attributes it to God’s will.
As soon as the rescue helicopter tried to tow it, once the family was safely aboard, the boat went down.
In spite of the sharks they saw circling, to a man, and to a boy, they said they had faith they would be OK. And they were.
As things were winding down at around 5:30 p.m., Mrs. Bergquist and I were in agreement that we didn’t want to leave the premises. It had been too great a day. There was too great a feeling. But the show finally finished, the Governor made his rounds and said his goodbyes, and had a plane to catch. It was officially our cue.
Mike and I rounded up a few members of the crew, packed the hoop onto his truck (far less eventfully than the unpacking), and we called it a day. A couple hours later, I was taken to Newark Airport, and by 11:15 p.m., I was back to the driveway in Epsom. The kids were tucked in, The Beautiful Heth was waiting patiently, and I was ready for bed.
Thanks, Joan. Thanks, Mike. Thanks, rebounders. And thanks, Gov. Huckabee.
There are no partisan politics when it comes to real gratitude, and I’m feeling that gratitude in full force right now.