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Tuesday, May 22, 2018: Plane tows banner calling for coaches to be fired

   Leading off today: How low can you go? Well, a couple of thousand feet over a baseball diamond was low enough to deliver a message that was somewhere between cowardly and idiotic.

   Host Briarcliff's 13-0 victory over Irvington in the Section 1 Class B baseball tournament on Monday was marred by the presence of a small plane circling above and towing a banner that read, "Fire coaches Schrader & Kowalczyk" in reference to Bears head coach John Schrader and assistant Walter Kowalczyk.

   As noted by The Journal News, the timing of the stunt is curious at best. Briarcliff is the No. 1 seed in Class B for the second straight season and carried a 17-3 record into the contest.

   Justin Jaye, owner of Fly Signs Aerial Advertising, said a woman he declined to identify paid $1,250 to have the sign flown over the school for 30 minutes. Jaye said the woman first contacted him a couple of weeks ago.

   Jaye said such sign requests are surprisingly common -- at least once a month -- from disgruntled sports fans.

   Still, going after high school coaches in such fashion isn't run-of-the-mill.

   "Yesterday's flyover served to highlight what can happen when adults lose perspective on high school sports," Briarcliff Superintendent Jim Kaishian told the paper in an email Tuesday. "In an attempt to promote self-interest, some adults become willing conspirators in the theft of joy from youth athletic programs.

   "In time, I am sure it will be known who was responsible. Until then, our focus remains on raising confident, capable and joyful young men and women -- our athletic program is merely an extension of this larger educational mission."

   His message added, "[T]he entire team -- coaches and players -- demonstrated great character and determination. How's that for a life lesson?"

   Said Schrader, in his fourth year as head coach after 25 years as an assistant: "Although there are some detractors out there, I feel we have the best kids and best parents in Section 1. I would not want to coach at any other district. ... I love it here."

   Opinion: The identity of the woman who paid $1,250 for the embarrassing stunt will eventually come to light. The early betting line is that it will turn out to be the mother of an upperclassmen on the team who isn't getting a lot of at-bats or innings pitched.

   That betting also says the young man will be humiliated by the disclosure and that nothing good will come of it for him.

   Until the identity is learned, however, there will be some degree of a shadow over the coaches -- which is incredibly unfair to them. In the event that there is a legitimate issue that the coaches and/or the administration should be tackling, there are numerous more productive ways to bring the issue to the attention of the proper people. More likely, there's no fire behind the smoke but some people will remember the stunt and continue to wonder.

   For what it's worth, not all banner flyovers are bad. The New York Giants fans amongst us can vouch for that.

   Mired in something generally a notch below mediocrity since three straight losses in NFL championship games in the early 1960s, the franchise hit a new low in the 1978 Miracle at the Meadowlands, in which the Giants gifted a victory to the Philadelphia Eagles by fumbling the ball away while trying to run out the clock.



   A fan paid a little more than $200 to fly a banner -- "15 Years of Lousy Football -- We've Had Enough!" -- over the stadium at a subsequent home game, and ownership actually got the message. The feuding Mara family came together long enough to agree to go to the league office for help.

   Commissioner Pete Rozelle talked them into hiring George Young as general manager and giving him complete control of football operations. Young drafted wisely and hired Ray Perkins to coach. Perkins gave way to young assistant Bill Parcells, and in 1986 the team won its first of four Super Bowl victories.

   Still, I can't emphasize enough that the Giants were a complete wreck when the banner brought about change. If problems exist at Briarcliff, they're certainly not obvious.

   College-bound: Horace Greeley senior left-hander Brandon Neeck told The Journal News that he's been advising Major League Baseball scouts that he intends to honor his commitment to the University of Virginia rather than turn pro next month.

   He's getting the word out so that teams don't waste a draft pick on him, although it's more than just remotely possible that someone will select him anyway -- but much later than the projected four- or fifth-round status he's carrying at the moment.

   "The ultimate goal in the future is to play in the major leagues," Neeck said. "For me personally, (college) is the best option. The reason that I think it's the best is, not only is (Virginia) one of the top baseball programs in the country with some of the best coaches, but it's also a great educational opportunity. I can enjoy the experiences that college has to offer and this will help me reach that ultimate goal."

   Neeck finished his senior season with a 0.84 ERA and 51 strikeouts in 25 innings pitched.

   As a lefty with a fastball in the mid-90s, Neeck has an opportunity to cash a signing bonus down the road that could dwarf the $200,000 that a late fifth-rounder will get this year.

   "I really want to really develop my changeup," Neeck said. "If you have a good changeup, it's arguably the best pitch you can have. Then continue to develop my accuracy and continue to increase my velocity."

   College-bound: Senior Emil Vyskocil and junior Will Webber pulled off a rarity in the in the Orange County Interscholastic Athletic Association boys tennis finals by becoming the first season-long doubles team in 11 years to earn the title.

   After qualifying for the Section 9 championship with different Cornwall teammates last spring, the two united and went 12-1 during the 2018 regular season.

   "I think more people should do it," Webber said. "Doubles teams are a lot more true than wild-card teams."

   What happens in many league and sectional tournaments is that players who compete in singles for most of the season but aren't good enough to contend for that title unite as doubles partners in pursuit of success. As OCIAA history suggests, that frequently works.

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