A Day and Night of Mixed Results

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, February 17, 2018, 11:13 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

Friday was a day of extremes. It was a day of the anticlimactic and the climactic, the decisive and the indecisive, and the relaxed and the nerve-wracking.

Let me explain. By coincidence, the girls’ basketball team of Laurens Academy, seeded No. 1 in SCISA (South Carolina Independent Schools Association) Class A, opened its playoffs at 3:30 p.m. at the Sumter County Civic Center. The boys’ team of Clinton High School, the second seed in SCHSL (South Carolina High School League) representing Region 3-3A, played at Camden, the first seed of Region 4-3A, at 7.

I decided to write about both games. It takes two hours to get from my home to Sumter but only about a half hour to get from Sumter to Camden. It just seemed to be fated.

The Lady Crusaders were playing North Myrtle Beach Christian School, who are the Lady Stallions in spite of the absence of lady stallions in nature. NMBCS’s record was 10-9. I can only imagine the schools they beat. I imagine nicknames such as Lady Cowboys, Lady Bugs, and Lady Men.

Laurens Academy (28-1) led 21-2 at the end of a quarter, 37-9 at the end of two, and 49-9 at the end of three. Then, apparently after an edict from the Humane Society, the clock ran constantly in the final quarter, and Lady Crusaders head coach Jason Marlett emptied his bench, and the final score was 50-13.

Here’s the story, as straight as I could make it.

Then it was on to Camden for a whirlwind, a hurricane, and a tornado, all within the span of less than two hours.

Even though the Red Devils advanced all the way to the Upstate Finals in 2016-17, I enjoyed watching this year’s 16-8 team play more. In particular, I could watch Vilo Boyd play defense every night. He fouled out in Camden’s 65-61, overtime victory, and, along with his teammates, was emotionally spent afterwards. Most all of Eddie Romines’ players are expressive young men, and I suspect all those satirical stares don’t endear them to the referees. I love them for the raw humanity they exhibit on the floor.

Romines was correct afterwards when he said the officiating didn’t beat them, but the style of it made life difficult in the second half. The Bulldogs (16-7) came from behind several times with numerous trips to the foul line and a steady rain of three-pointers. A technical foul assessed Clinton’s Zay Hurley occurred at a critical point.

Here’s the story, crafted in a nearby McDonald’s, where the wi-fi was reliable.

On the way home, I listened to stupid country music because I wasn’t in the mood for anything profound. All the songs seemed crafted from some kind of assault on a rhyming dictionary.

‘Cause, you know, life is a heavy load / Just like a big old toad / Down yonder where the river flowed / Me and my baby, eatin’ apple pie a la mode / It’s amazing how much that gal’s growed / A man better beware the seeds he’s sowed / We could hear it when the rooster crowed / So I cranked up my truck and took to the road …

And so on …

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A Mere Thirty-Two Years Ago

(Monte Dutton photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, February 15, 2018, 12:54 p.m.

I’m watching the Independence Bowl of December 21, 1985, on YouTube.

Why, you ask?

By Monte Dutton

Rickey Foggie, who will be inducted next month into the Laurens County Athletic Hall of Fame, was the game’s MVP. He quarterbacked Minnesota to a 20-13 victory over Clemson. I’m waiting on him to call me. We talked briefly, but he was at work and said he’d get back in touch with me in about an hour.

The Golden Gophers just took a 3-0 lead on Chip Lohmiller’s field goal. Among the Tiger standouts are freshman quarterback Rodney Williams, defensive tackle Michael Dean Perry, cornerback Delton Hall and wide receiver Terrance Roulhac.

Clemson is in its first bowl game in four years as a result of coming off NCAA probation. Danny Ford is stalking the sideline. On the other is John Gutekunst, who has just replaced Lou Holtz, who left Minneapolis 17 days ago to become head coach at Notre Dame.

Howard David is the play-by-play man. Bob Casciola, a former head coach at Connecticut and Princeton, is the analyst. Tim Brando is back in the studio. The game is syndicated on the Mizlou Network. I remember watching it live.

Waylon Jennings is singing songs for Stroh’s beer (“Now you’re talking good times, Stroh’s is spoken here”) on commercials. Raymond Burr is selling Independent Life insurance.

The referees are split between the SEC and the PAC-10. The Minnesota fans aren’t overjoyed with Holtz leaving. A big sign in the stands asks, “Lou Who?”

Brando ruins the video for me by reporting that Georgia Southern has just defeated Furman, 44-42, for the Division I-AA national championship. I’ve got a cold, and commercials for Robitussin and Florida Gold orange juice, plus Paladin trauma from long ago, have me thinking about a trip to the store.

The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo)

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my NASCAR thoughts. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which are available for sale here.

My next novel is up for consideration and nomination in the Amazon KindleScout program. I’d appreciate it if you’d read about it and nominate it for publication here.

Just Can’t Wait to Get on the Road Again

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, February 14, 2018, 12:03 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

As the Statler Brothers used to sing, don’t tell me I’ve nothing to do.

As I peruse events in faraway Daytona Beach, I’ve been busying myself writing about local matters.

At the monthly meeting of the Laurens Commission of Public Works, a dozen or so citizens came to tell poignant stories of how impossible it is to pay their utilities. I felt their pain. So, too, did the commissioners who, with the those payments, have to pay their own bills.

CPW general manager John Young tries to explain.

CPW spent almost $1 million apiece on electricity and natural gas. January was excessively cold. The commissioners warned a week month earlier it was going to happen. That was the first meeting about which I wrote. I was naive. I thought, the weather is cold. Bills will be high. Duh. As it turns out, I buried that first lead.

Matthew Turner is about to be sworn in as the new Family Court judge. I remember when his father, Mike, was the bright, new lawyer in the county and was on County Council. I remember when the Family Court judge was Bill Craine, whom I helped in an unsuccessful bid for the General Assembly when I was a teen-ager. Bill was two judges back. Matthew says he still plays a lot of tennis.

Last night, the Clinton High boys opened the Class 3A playoffs with their best performance of the year to date. The Red Devils thumped Seneca, 70-47. J.D. Payne, who had been hampered by a sprained ankle when Newberry won the Region 3 championship in a tie-breaker game last week, had scored three points in his previous two games combined. He came out and scored seven in a row to start out and finished with 19. Jahleed Cook was the catalyst of the second half, finishing with 17. Now Clinton (16-7) must travel to faraway Camden, though that burg isn’t so far when compared to Daytona Beach.

Skip Lax, who was in my graduating class at Furman, now oversees the state’s officials for the High School League. He was at the Clinton High basketball game, which was a bit opportune because I was writing a story on Sam and Truman Owens, who are quite possibly the most distinguished set of brothers ever to referee, umpire and otherwise arbitrate sporting events in these United States. They’re being inducted into the Laurens County Athletic Hall of Fame next month, and I’ve been writing bios of them, as well as Red Devil legend Kinard Littleton, Laurens coaching great Bobby Ivey, and probably the best Raider ever, Rickey Foggie, who played quarterback for Lou Holtz at Minnesota.

Sam died in 2007. Truman is 86 and umpired a little softball as recently as last year. They officiated their 500th, 600th and 700th high school football games together, and the totals reached 795 when Sam died. In their spare time, Sam wrote a book on the history of Clinton, and Truman spent 41 years on City Council. Now that he’s curtailed his officiating, Truman shows up about every time the Red Devils take a floor, a field or a diamond. In the winter, Truman wears a stylish country gentleman’s hat about everywhere he goes. When it warms up, he’ll wear his Yankees cap. I fear that small towns don’t produce men like Sam and Truman Owens anymore.

“We loved every minute of it,” Truman said. “Sam and I worked together for about all our days.”

When I got home, I discovered an interesting coincidence. On Friday afternoon, Laurens Academy’s No. 1-ranked Class A private school girls’ basketball team, is playing a first-round playoff game in Sumter. That night, Clinton High’s boys are playing at Camden, a little over a half hour’s drive away. Destiny is such that I might just be able to travel way down there and write about both games. I’m not sure whether I look forward to that or dread it. It’s going to be a tough trick to pull. I’m a bit run down, owing to the sniffles and a cough, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to do it.

I’ve just got a hankering to get out of the county. I should be home by oh-dark-thirty or so after I file from some McDonald’s, where wi-fi is reliably available until midnight.

Newberry College

This morning, though a bit under the overcast skies, I drove over to CHS to watch Mark Wise, the county’s football Player of the Year, sign up to play football for the Newberry College Wolves, where he will join teammate Kody Varn. Mark, who played both ways for the Red Devils, wants to major in graphic arts. As three other members of the local media asked him about his decision, someone suggested that there might be a future in the media business. I told him don’t listen that nonsense.

(Steven Novak cover)

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my NASCAR thoughts. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which are available for sale here.

My next novel is up for consideration and nomination in the Amazon KindleScout program. I’d appreciate it if you’d read about it and nominate it for publication here.

Still Something to Write

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, February 9, 2018, 10:18 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

I must be getting old. I haven’t seen it all, but I’ve seen most of it. Perhaps I could estimate with some degree of accuracy all the stock car races and ballgames I’ve attended and described, but it would be a waste of time and probably leave me feeling even older than I am.

Last night I was in Woodruff, where Woodruff wasn’t playing. Woodruff High School was neutral. That’s why I was there.

Clinton was. The girls’ basketball team was breaking a tie with Chapman for third place in Region 3-3A, and the boys were settling the championship against Newberry. I went to Clinton High School more than forty years ago, and the alma mater remains accurate. My love has never failed, but, when I write about the Red Devils, I try to be fair. I’m a pro at this sportswriting business. I’m not particularly successful at it, but I keep right on trying.

As testimony to my objectivity, and, unfortunately, my age, Clinton lost both games, but I still had a good time. Chapman, a school located in Inman, where James Harvey Hylton also is, won the girls’ game, 46-40, and Newberry’s boys, located appropriately in Newberry, won, 72-60.

Both Red Devil quintets expended maximum effort. Both are going to the Class 3A playoffs. The Lady Red Devils (12-15) will visit Pendleton on Monday night, and the Red Devils (15-7) will play at home on Tuesday against either Pendleton or Seneca, depending on the outcome of a game between the two tonight.

The girls’ team is getting better, having won twice as many games this year after winning twice as many games last year as the year before. That’s 3-6-12 if you’re scoring the triple play at home.

The boys’ team, which advanced all the way to the upstate finals a year ago, tracked Newberry like radar this year before the Bulldogs got off the final torpedo. In the regular season, the two teams differed by a single point, Newberry winning at Clinton, 71-68, and Clinton winning at Newberry, 53-51.

The Red Devils are more graceful and frantic. The Bulldogs are taller and bulkier.

Newberry escaped in the third quarter. Clinton was almost out of ammunition — Vilo Boyd, Zay Hurley, and J.D. Payne all had accrued four fouls — in the fourth, but the Red Devils forced seven turnovers, got as close as six, and exhibited their usual herculean effort before succumbing.

The Clinton coaches, John Gardner with the girls and Eddie Romines with the boys, are great guys. In fact, the Newberry head coach, Chad Cary, is a great guy. I don’t know the Chapman girls’ coach, Leslie Boyd, but she seems really nice.

The Red Devils won the region last year. This year they fell ever so slightly short, but they’ve still got running, shooting, passing, bouncing, and jumping to do.

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Toss It Up for a Pair of Tossups

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, February 7, 9:33 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

For the second consecutive game night at Clinton High School Gymnasium, both varsity basketball games were decided by the same margin. On Friday, the boys and girls both beat Broome by 11. Last night, the boys won, but the girls lost, both by eight.

Coincidence? Definitely.

The regular season has been extended by ties. Last night the teams played Woodruff. On Thursday, the teams play in Woodruff, but not against the Wolverines. Woodruff is the neutral floor for a pair of games required to set Region 3-3A playoff seedings. The girls will break a tie with Chapman for the three seed at 6 p.m., and the boys will will settle the region championship against Newberry at roughly 7:30.

Clinton and Newberry could hardly be better matched. Both teams are 15-6 overall and 8-2 in the region. In their two meetings, each won on the road. Newberry won in Clinton, 71-68, and Clinton won in Newberry, 53-51. Thus did Newberry score one more point.

In almost two seasons as boys’ basketball coach at Clinton, Eddie Romines’ record is 36-10 overall and 18-2 in Region 3-3A. A year ago, the Red Devils advanced all the way to the upstate finals before falling to Southside (Greenville) at Bon Secours Arena, which is nicknamed “The Well” because everything has to have a nickname in an age in which corporate naming rights change as often as coaches.

I’m looking forward to the trip up to Woodruff because the previous games between Clinton and Newberry were probably the two most intense basketball teams I’ve seen this year. I like both coaches. Eddie and I have known each for most of our lives. When I was in high school and college, it was almost impossible to go to the Clinton Family YMCA without finding Eddie there, practicing by himself or playing in pickup games against whoever happened to show up. We’ve never been close friends, but we’ve always been friendly.

Eddie Romines

I like Chad Cary, too. I interviewed him after Clinton won the game in Newberry last week. My job is to stress the local teams, but I’ve never bought the notion that local readers don’t care what the other team’s coach says. Sometimes logistics makes it impossible. The priority is obviously the local coach. While I’m waiting for him, the other coach may get on the bus and head home. It’s no big deal if I miss him, but I try to catch him if the nature of the game is compelling and I have some curiosity regarding what he has to say.

Sometimes the nature of a game matches the nature of those who are watching. Last night I wasn’t particularly excited about the evening. The crowd’s interest was mainly in honoring the seniors at the last scheduled home game. Woodruff, while a longtime Clinton rival, was at the bottom of the boys’ basketball standings, and the Red Devils were at the top.

The most amazing aspect of the boys’ game was that one of the Red Devils’ better players, J.D. Payne, whom I had interviewed after the Broome game, failed to score a point. Those who didn’t consult the scorebook may not have noticed. He didn’t play badly. He just didn’t score. When I mentioned it in the locker room, neither Eddie nor assistant Josh Bridges had noticed.

Clinton won, 57-49, and Woodruff never got closer than six, and the Red Devils were looking ahead to Newberry. I was looking ahead to Newberry. The crowd was looking ahead. On Thursday, the team will be ready, as will I and the crowd. The people who sat in the stands and whispered to each other that the boys weren’t “ready to play” will probably whisper in Woodruff that they “came to play,” and in both instances, the cliches will be exactly the way cliches always are.

John Gardner

Newberry is bigger. Clinton is a tad more graceful. Both are deep. Both teams will play so hard on defense that lots of shots will be missed. Lots of fouls will be called. Who wins? I can’t say. The game is as much a tossup as the way the game will begin.
Clinton’s boys’ team has established itself as a power. The girls are getting better. John Gardner’s team has won twice as many games as last year, and his first team won twice as many as the year before. It’ll be a tossup, too. Both Clinton and Newberry will play in the first round of the playoffs at home. Both Clinton and Chapman will play on the road.

There you have it. As I’ve heard many NASCAR figures say over the years, “It is what it is at the end of the day.”

Or night.

Here’s my GoLaurens.com report of the games against Woodruff.

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If you enjoy reading words that are more lengthy than these, please consider the wide variety of books I’ve written over the past 18 years. You can buy them at my Amazon author page here.

My next novel is up for Amazon KindleScout nomination here. Read a sample, and if you like what you see, please nominate it for publication. If it’s selected, you’ll get a free download in advance.

Signed copies of three of my novels — Cowboys Come Home, Lightning in a Bottle and Life Gets Complicated — for sale in uptown Clinton at L&L Office Supply and Emma Jane’s.

The Usual Ain’t Much Hap’nin’

There’s a chapter in there. (Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, February 6, 2018, 11:18 a.m.

This morning I wrote a NASCAR column for the Competition Plus website, which I do every week and will be posted before this one is over. I played a little guitar, trying to make sure I remember the words to a few more songs I might play online tomorrow night, when I go live on Facebook to sing and talk about whatever the people who join in want to discuss electronically. I’ll try to get people to support my writing through my Patreon page, and try to get people to buy my books on my Amazon page, and try to get people to nominate my next novel for publication on the KindleScout page.

To summarize … help!

By Monte Dutton

Yesterday I got this laptop working again by reinstalling everything. The downside is that programs I installed since I bought it have to be installed again, and I haven’t yet found the Microsoft Office CD, but it will probably turn up, lest I have to buy another one. I paid a few bills, and some others will have to wait until some more money comes in. No one goes to the mailbox with a greater sense of urgency than I, but many do the same. The upside is a heap of those programs didn’t do anything but take up space, and like most people, I need my space.

I bought groceries at the Dollar Tree, which is a good place to go if you’re low on money, and I’m low on money a lot. Things are getting better, though. I’m just going to be playing catch-up, and using ketchup, for a while longer.

Tonight Clinton High School plays its final regular-season basketball games, but both the girls and the boys are going to make the Class 3A playoffs, and there’s an excellent chance that they’ll have to play an extra game to determine the seedings by breaking Region 3 ties. With a victory, the Red Devil boys will play Newberry for the region title because they are both almost sure to finish with identical records, and each won once when they played the other.

I read a chapter of a novel last night while the usual earth-shaking news was on TV. I need to finish writing the first chapter of a new novel because, by the time I finish one, I’m like a bucking horse waiting to get out of its stall to write another.
This morning so far, I’ve been half writing and half watching two fine movies, Save the Tiger and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. I’m half watching Alaska: Fire and Ice right now.

Last night I cut down on the channels I get on DirecTV. I assume Clemson defeated Wake Forest. The channel it was on turned off with about a minute to play. I’m going to have to settle for Weather Nation instead of The Weather Channel. I’ve got weather on this laptop, so I doubt I’ll be caught unawares when Mother Nature gets riled.

Other than that, to quote my buddy Jimmy Mac, ain’t much hap’nin’.

Whoa, Nellie!

This isn’t a great photo, but it’s a great depiction of the game. (Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, January 31, 2018, 9:04 a.m.

The late Keith Jackson would have called it “a barn burner.”

By Monte Dutton

The neighboring rivals Clinton and Newberry played a boys’ basketball on Tuesday night on the Bulldogs’ home floor that was a triumph of determination for the Red Devils. The 53-51 victory locked the two at the top of Region 3-3A with two games remaining. To borrow a familiar coaching cliché, both teams “got after it.”

Every shot and rebound were fiercely contested. It wasn’t pretty. It was determined. Newberry has one more point in the two games between the two. They may play again if both win their final two games, an extra game being then necessary to settle the region crown. Clinton is at home against Broome and Woodruff. Newberry visits Chapman and Mid-Carolina.

Zay Hurley scored nine points.

Both Eddie Romines of Clinton and Chad Cary of Newberry substituted heavily. Cary often replaced his whole lineup. The toll of all the full-court pressing was thus alleviated. Another toll was in the statistics. Each team missed 38 shots. The Red Devils hit three more. Forty-two free throws were attempted. Only 27 were made. Clinton committed 32 turnovers, 12 more than Newberry. The Red Devils outrebounded the Bulldogs by nine, 45-36.

At no time did either team lead by more than five points.

J.D. Payne (who scored 14 points) and Vilo Boyd.

After all that, both teams are 13-6 overall and 6-2 in the region. Both teams won on the road, Newberry 71-68 at Clinton on January 12 and Clinton by the aforementioned two on Jan. 30. Neither could have played  harder had they been equipped with clubs. Thank God for modern civilization they weren’t.

At the same time, there were no matches, shoving or shouting, no technical fouls, and no angry exchanges with the referees, all three of whom richly earned their paychecks. Hard games do not have to be dirty. Hard games have to be tough. Every player who trotted on the floor sped up to warp speed when he got there. The Red Devils committed four turnovers in the game’s first minute, but, more to the point of the outcome, forced two in the final one.

Zay Bennett

Willie Scott Gymnasium has two small tables mounted on the grandstands, one behind the other. The bottom row is open for players to sit while they await entry into the game. One table has the scorebook keepers and the clock operator. The one behind it holds the home team’s radio crew. I sat on the front row between the scorer’s tables and the visitors’ bench. It wasn’t unusual for a player to sit next to me as he waited for a referee’s permission to enter.

Several times I was tempted to speak to a player, but I was afraid he might steal my clipboard and try to pass it to a teammate. In other words, everyone was opportunistic and didn’t pass much judgment on the opportunities. It’s an inspiration for an old man to watch young men try so diligently. Bearing down isn’t readily apparent from behind a keyboard.

But bear down I do. I put lots of effort in the new novel, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, that is up for publication in Amazon’s KindleScout program. Please do me the honor of reading the sample and, if you see fit, nominating it here.

If you like blogs like this one, consider supporting my writing with a monthly pledge at the Patreon page here. Whatever you can spare if you think it’s worth it.

I’ve written many books, and you can buy most of them at my Amazon author page here.

Three of my novels – Cowboys Come Home, Lightning in a Bottle, and Life Gets Complicated – are for sale in uptown Clinton at L&L Office Supply and Emma Jane’s gift shop.

The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo)