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Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019: Merger probably doesn't bode well for New York

   Leading off today: I generally don't tackle media industry news in the course of blogging on this site because the subject may be of interest to me and the many reporters who lend a hand to the NYSSWA but probably rates as "inside baseball" fodder to most others.

   However, a large media company made news twice this week -- once for doing a bad thing to a good guy and once for making major news related to a merger of newspaper giants. As such, both may be of interest to the broader audience.

   Ellis Williams, who recently left The Post-Star in Glens Falls after doing a solid job of chronicling local sensation Joe Girard III and chipping in on other high school coverage, had the rug pulled out from under him last week.

   While taking some time off in his home town in Minnesota, Williams was contacted by the human resources department at The Oklahoman to inform him the offer that Williams had previously accepted to cover college football was being rescinded through no fault of his own. Rather, the paper's corporate parent had implemented a hiring freeze.

   At that moment in time, the hiring freeze didn't make much sense. Sure, GateHouse Media was struggling in its bid to continue pivoting from print to online media, but the Oklahoman is one of the chain's larger papers and Oklahoma State football is a high-interest topic for readers.

   The likely explanation came this week when the long-rumored merger with Gannett was announced. Pending shareholder approval, the companies will become a single entity by the end of the year. The combined company will keep the Gannett name, but most of the decisions are expected to be made by executives from GateHouse and its parent company.

   The merger will require downsizing and consolidation across all aspects of the new company because of overlap. In the Oklahoman's case, they could end up sharing some staff with Gannett's paper in Wichita Falls, Texas, about 100 miles to the south.

   Are there implications for New York? Certainly. Gannett owns papers in Rochester, Binghamton, Elmira, Ithaca, Westchester County and Poughkeepsie. GateHouse has daily papers in Corning, Wellsville, Hornell, Canandaigua, Utica, Herkimer and Little Falls.

   Gannett already saves on travel expenses by having upstate and downstate reporters and photographers cover for each other in high school championships in some instances. Quite honestly, it doesn't always work out that well on several fronts; reporters often have their own teams to cover that weekend, making that the higher priority, plus they lack the institutional knowledge of the other region's schools, coaches and players. That can make for reporting that doesn't capture the real story behind the contest.

   That reason alone gives me cause for concern. Throw in some inevitable layoffs where overlap exists and the merger doesn't set up as a good development for high school sports fans.

   On the move: Jason Kline has stepped down as girls basketball coach at St. Mary's in Lancaster, where his teams went 74-33 in four seasons, averaging 21 wins over the final three years.

   Kline, a physical education teacher, previously coached boys basketball at West Seneca East and Holland.

   Kline's daughters will transfer to Holland this fall. Myla Kline was an honorable mention all-state basketball player as a junior and Kaylin Kline switched from soccer and basketball to golf last year after being diagnosed with a heart abnormality.

    • Longtime assistant Bill Cretaro is the new football coach at Chittenango. He replaces Curt Kielbasa, who stepped down after a 14-11 record in three years.

   Florida pay dispute: A number of officiating associations are saying their members will sit out high school preseason football games beginning Aug. 14 that unless the Florida High School Athletics Association increases their pay.

   That comes in the aftermath of an announcement by the FHSAA that it will not be raising the maximum game fee cap. The officials organizations had been lobbying for an increase of $10 a game for its members.

   Florida officials can make no more that $65 for a varsity football game, far short of what colleagues get in Alabama ($110), Georgia ($100), Mississippi ($100) and Louisiana ($90).

   "We are already significantly behind the other states in

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our region with regard to officials' game fees," said Phil Serfass, president of the Broward Football Officials Association. "Putting this off for yet another year does not bring us any relief for the current year. Courts have ruled that we are independent contractors, therefore, we should not be handcuffed by an arbitrary policy instituted by a state office in Gainesville."

   Mandatory reading: Kudos to Elizabeth Merrill of ESPN for an amazing account of life after sports for one of the great one-and-done stories in the history of New York high school athletics.

   Merrill's story about a recent silver anniversary milestone for Shelly Pennefather is rich in details all but hidden from 99.999 percent of the world.

   The very short "story before the story" re- garding Pennefather:

   A daughter raised in a military family, Pennefather landed in Central New York just ahead of her senior year and enrolled at Utica Notre Dame in 1982 after three undefeated basketball seasons at a Colorado school. The 6-foot-2 center promptly led the Jugglers to a 26-0 record capped by a victory in the Federation final over an August Martin team that was about to win four state overall titles in six years.

   Pennefather averaged 19 points a game that season and then went on to set a career scoring record for Villanova and be selected the national player of a year as a senior. A brief but lucrative career in Japan followed before Pennefather retired to become a cloistered nun with the Queen of Angels, Order of the Poor Clares Convent in Alexandria, Va.

   Now known as Sister Rose Marie, she has had the most minimal of contact with the outside world since. She can have two family visits per year, but converses through a see-through screen. She can write letters to her friends, but only if they write to her first.

   Merrill's story is built around the silver anniversary this past June of Pennefather's final vows -- the first time in 25 years she could hug members of her family.

   The author's attention to detail is everything a reader could hope for as she tells Pennefather's story. I assure you it is absolutely worth 20 minutes of your time.

   More reading: "Opening night" was a smash hit for Marc Bloom on Tuesday at a DeWitt bookstore. Bloom, a most authoritative reporter on the topics of cross country and track, was there to talk about his just-released 10th book. "Amazing Racers" is an outstanding examination of coach Bill Aris and his dynastic cross country program at Fayetteville-Manlius.

   Dozens of runners and parents were among the 200 people who crowded into the store to buy copies and listen to the author talk about what Bloom said may have been his favorite writing assignment ever.

   I'm only six chapters into the book, but it's an absolute page-turner. Bloom digs deep into the inner workings of Aris' "Stotan" running philosophy. I've followed F-M fairly closely for a decade and had a grasp of the Stotan approach, but Bloom made the most of his many in-depth conversations with Aris to deliver details never before available to a national running community that's been dying to know how F-M, particularly its girls squads, has become so dominating.


  
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  • 8/17: Policy derails hockey coach's return
  • 8/17: 'Amazing Racers' an interesting read
  • 8/15: Board replaces Fischer at CL/Westlake
  • 8/12: Two basketball stars changing schools
  • 8/9: Shenendehowa AD apologizes for tweet
  • 8/8: Merger doesn't bode well for New York
  • 8/6: Girls all-state lacrosse selections
  • 8/3: Coleman Catholic H.S. has shut down
  • 8/1: BCANY tournament begins Friday
  • 7/31: NYSPHSAA tweaks its transfer rule
  • 7/30: 2020 football class cutoffs OK'd
  • 7/29: Boys all-state lacrosse selections
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