Up on the Hill

(Monte Dutton sketch)

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, August 8, 2018, 11:38 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

It seems there’s always a hill. It might be a plateau above a practice field, with a town’s young men busily preparing to represent their school and town in battles for football supremacy, scattered a week apart throughout the fall. It might be a manmade hill, fashioned of concrete, or steel, in the local stadium.

It’s the place where people from town stop by to see how the lads are progressing. Not as many are there as years before. The world has more to do these days. More is on TV. There’s something called the Internet. The net catches people who might otherwise wind up elsewhere. Fewer drop by the practice field, but the word spreads as fast as ever. It’s that Internet. It’s a double-edged sword.

(Monte Dutton sketch)

Walk into a store uptown. Small towns have hangouts. The barber shop. The hardware store. They aren’t as common. Filling stations are gone. It’s hard to make Great Clips a hangout. Walmart, too. They’re still there, though.

“You watched the ball team any, Fred?”

“Ah, I dropped by there for a few minutes Thursday.”

“How they looking?”

“They ain’t there yet. I reckon they’ll be ah’ight.”

“I sure hope so.”

“Me, too, Alvin. Me, too.”

 

The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo)

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. 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 is available for sale here.

(Steven Novak cover)

 

The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.

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The Day Was Entirely ‘Justifiable’

I wanted to draw a sketch of Justify, but I don’t seem to be able to find much time for art these days. This book cover of my sixth novel is my only “horse art.” (Design by Steven Novak)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, June 10, 2018, 10:12 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

The plan was to write a racing column, but complications arose.

Automobile racing, that is.

Several months ago, attempting to shave a few dollars from my extravagant satellite bill, I changed packages, one consequence being that I no longer have access to Fox Sports2. Or FoxSports2. Or Fox Sports 2. Or FS2. Whatever it is, officially. At the time, I noticed that the NASCAR coverage on that channel seemed to be nil.

Naturally, the upshot is that rain has delayed the past two Xfinity Series races, and they have been switched to FS2. I am aware that I could stream the race, but I don’t like watching big races on itsy-bitsy screens. I passed.

Life Gets Complicated, Lightning in a Bottle and Cowboys Come Home are available at Emma Jane’s and L&L Office Supply in uptown Clinton.

I still watched racing. Justify won the Belmont Stakes and completed the Triple Crown. I probably would have watched it, anyway. It takes less than two and a half minutes.

I love horse racing. I don’t know much about its current state. I grew up around quarter horses and Appaloosas. As a teen-ager, I watched thoroughbreds work out early on Keeneland mornings because my father was an auctioneer, and he used to pack up the whole family and take us for a “vacation” so that he could watch the yearling sales. He wasn’t there to buy horses but rather to watch auctioneers.

My brother and I took the car and drove to Cincinnati to see baseball games, but we also visited Calumet Farm and Darby Dan, stared at the Man ’o’ War statue, and watched famous horses gallop around in meadows.

I fell in love with Justify on sight. He’s such a big, muscular horse. He reminds me more of a quarter than a thoroughbred. He has what we used to call “a blaze face,” and so did the reliable and beloved family stallion, Sunglow Fisher, who (which?) matched him in color, too. The hue is popularly known as chestnut, though we called it “sorrel.” Sorrel is, according to a dictionary, “a plant or flower of the genus Oxalis,” but also “a horse of a brownish orange or light brown color,” so we didn’t make it up, and it matches both Sunglow in my memory and Justify on my TV.

Sunglow played a small role in raising me. He lived to a ripe, old age and died either while I was in college or working as sports information director at Furman, my alma mater. Sunglow was the most docile stallion I’ve ever known, though I haven’t known any in well over 30 years.

In my mind, Justify won one – or, actually, three – for Sunglow.

I confided in Sunglow. He listened to me sing. He never required catching. If I wanted him, he’d trot over amiably, knowing I’d never mistreat him. My sister was more adept at more challenging steeds. I’ve been thrown by many horses. Never by Sunglow, whom I rode more than all the rest of the horses who came through the farm combined.

In lieu of rain-shortened Michigan, I watched baseball – the Red Sox won, the Gamecocks lost, the Longhorns lost, Vanderbilt won on a ninth-inning home run – and the Indy-car race from Texas.

Today I will play close attention to the Firekeepers Casino 400 at Michigan Speedway. Afterwards, I’ll go on Facebook Live to talk about the race, answer questions, encourage guests to buy and patronize my writing, and play a few songs on my guitar.

Justify and Sunglow Fisher might come up, too, because I still feel warm and touched at the base of my memory.

 

(Steven Novak cover

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. 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.

The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.

The Charm of Sports this Spring

In the Upper State, for sure. Alexander Windsor (left) signals No. 1. His No. 2 doubles partner is Kyler Simmons. (Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, May 10, 2018, 10:40 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

Spring sports are winding down. Here in town, and throughout this end of Laurens County, all we have left are some girls competing in the state track meet and boys playing for the state tennis championship.

Even football, for which the town is known, rises and falls, and, at the moment, is still trying to rise again. Tennis is always good. While the Red Devils have not won a state championship since 2000, they are in the playoffs every year and won the Upper State championship for the second straight year on Wednesday.

Connor Donley, the seventh grader at No. 4.

Hanahan, state champion the past two years, fell in the Lower State finals to Bishop England, another Charleston school, so Clinton will play the Bishops on Saturday in Cayce, which adjoins Columbia and apparentlyhas a nice tennis center.

I have enjoyed soccer and tennis in particular this spring. Clinton is heretofore not noted for soccer, but the team finished second in the region and lost a heartbreaker, 1-0, in the playoffs. The previous leading scorer missed the whole season due to a knee injury, and he will be back next year, and I expect the Red Devils will be better.

Isaac McMillan

The tennis courts have been a comfortable place to monitor the action, probably doubly relaxing due to the usual lack of drama. I saw Clinton lose a team match – a 4-3 heartbreaker to Riverside – but in every other match I witnessed, including the Upper State final, the Red Devils won every single individual contest.

Ike Waldron

The No. 1 player, Isaac MacMillan, is an unflappable senior. The No. 2 player, Ike Waldron, is a freshman whose father graduated from Clinton High with me. Chuck Waldron is a tireless force for tennis, to which he has dedicated his life. He coaches youth tennis and has something to do with why the high school team stays strong.

After the match, I asked the longtime and charming coach, Clovis Simmons, to describe the 6-0 victory over Camden in one word.

“Awesome.”

Clovis Simmons (middle) with No. 5 singles Anders Orr.

I knew it was coming.

“But don’t put that.”

“Oh, no,” I said. “Awesome is not something you would ever say.”

“No.”

The success brought with it the Voice of the Red Devils, Buddy Bridges, to begin the matches with stirring introductions of the competitors. Everyone else on the team represented Clinton High School except the No. 3 singles player, Tyler Trevino, who is specifically from Joanna because Buddy is from Joanna and knows it is a place like no other.

Joanna’s Tyler Trevino

This happens to be true. Among its spirited populace lies a disproportionate role in the success of sports teams at Clinton High School. The cotton mill lies in ruins, but the spirit lives on.

The football team is finishing spring practice next week, and the spring game is next Friday night at 6. Last year I got bowled over taking pictures on the sideline, which might make me sit in the lower rows of the Wilder Stadium grandstands so that I can take notes at the same time because what stats I get will be the ones I keep myself.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

(Steven Novak cover)

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. 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.

The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.

It Could Be Worse, but It Could Be Better

Setzler Field Newberry College (Monte Dutton photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, April 1, 2018, 4:48 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

On Saturday morning, I left a couple small crises behind me as I drove down U.S. 76 to Newberry College, there to join my friends Brent and Sharon Sanders to watch their daughter, Hailey, play women’s lacrosse for Tusculum College against the Wolves.

This was my second women’s lacrosse game. In the visiting grandstands of Setzler Field, I felt a bit like Andy Griffith, who, early in his grand career, cut a record entitled “What It Was, Was Football.”

What It Was, Was Lacrosse.

The Pioneers won, 20-12. Hailey, a defender, scored one of the points and played, as best I could tell, a smashing game, or match, or, uh, round.

I wore the only orange shirt in my wardrobe. I hoped it would help me fit in.

From left, Brent, Hailey, Sharon, me. (Facebook)

Brent and I make good companions, particularly at football games, where we have similar amounts of sense. I didn’t take my camera. For a day, I wasn’t about that life. I didn’t take pictures. My picture was taken. I had my phone, the better to keep up with small crises from afar.

The photo of Setzler Field above this blog was one I took a while back when in the area. It hasn’t changed much since I played at it. That was in 1975. Only the turf has been changed to protect the innocent.

I like the drive to Newberry. There’s a flimsy fence stretched out in front of what used to be the post office in Kinards. I’m always tempted to stop at Wise’s B-B-Que, but instead I had a peanut butter shake from the Zesto near the stadium. I don’t have shakes often. I picked the right one.

What better way to return to normality on my return to the Pleasantville limits than to go to Dollar Tree, where I felt like I had won the lottery by finding a new carabiner clip for my phone holster. The one from the factory had broken somewhere between Clinton and Newberry.

(Steven Novak cover)

The coming week holds promise. I’ve got a lot to do but should have a lot of time. It’s Spring Break in the local high schools, so the typical crowded sports schedule is nonexistent. By the time the ballgames resume, it will be warm and pleasant, and the rest of the spring should be mainly a matter of avoiding thunderstorms.

(Steven Novak cover)

The new novel, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, has been accepted for publication, and, amazing me as it always does, is already available in paperback at Amazon. The Kindle version will be available in a few days. Also fresh on the market is the brand-new audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) release of Lightning in a Bottle, brilliantly narrated by Jay Harper. Jay is on board to narrate the second Barrie Jarman Adventure, Life Gets Complicated, but there’s no hurry on that. Maybe the stock car racing stretch drive in the fall.

Fenway Park, 2007. (Monte Dutton photo)

Baseball is underway, and it’s so far, so good for the Boston Red Sox, whom I worship. The pitch was great, the hitting unspectacular, but the Sox managed to win three out of four in St. Petersburg, losing the season opener 6-4 when erratic fireballer Joe Kelly squandered a 4-0 lead. Boston then edged the Tampa Bay Rays 1-0, 3-2 and 2-1. Now it’s two games in Miami before the Fenway opener on Thursday, once again, against the Rays.

Kelly, by the way, managed to earn a save in the series finale, though he allowed two two-out hits before striking out Denard Span to end the game.

I just started a novel on baseball. I hope to get out to some minor-league games, in addition to the several high school games I see every week. I’ll be looking for items that will provide inspiration for the book.

It’s spring break at the high schools this week. I’m going to try to catch North Carolina A&T at Presbyterian on Wednesday. The Blue Hose, Clinton, Laurens and Laurens Academy all have losing records thus far. Three of them didn’t last year.

But … it’s still, uh, relatively early.

(Gabe Whisnant photo)

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. 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.

A Cold Pastime So Far

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, March 8, 2018, 1:41 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

I’ve written about my first two baseball games of the spring. The home team won both. Both were in dramatic fashion. Both had runners cut down on the basepaths with disastrous consequences. One was a bit of a long shot, and the other was damned near a miracle.

One is here, and one is here.

Already, I’m weary of being cold. I’ve had enough of overcoats. I’m ready to put squishy playing surfaces and cold feet behind.

I’ve gotten accustomed to the scorebook I bought on the way to the Shannon Forest-Laurens Academy game. I keep forgetting to take my binoculars. My mind wanders a bit as I try to remember a major-league player who wore the numbers of every player on the field. I quibble about the occasional scoring decision and resolve to put it in the book my way. I tell stories that make everyone nearby realize how old I am.

Both local teams about which I regularly write have new coaches, Luke Tollison at Laurens Academy and Tom Fortman at Clinton. I’d never met Tollison until Tuesday’s game, but I wrote a profile of Fortman when he took the Clinton job. I enjoyed talking with them after the games.

Shannon Forest and Laurens Academy are both Crusaders. Crusaders are popular among the private schools. I saw a Crusaders-Crusaders basketball game a couple weeks ago.

Both Belton-Honea Path and Clinton wore gray uniforms on the Red Devil diamond Wednesday night. It wasn’t confusing because the visiting Bears wore dark, steel gray.

I was pleased Shannon Forest wore green. Names should have a reason. I think a Riverside ought to be next to a river, a Hillcrest at the crest of a hill, and a Palmetto at a place where it ought to be possible to grow them. Here in town, a school that was once on Bell Street burned to the ground over half a century ago, and a new school was built that wasn’t on Bell Street, but the school remained Bell Street.

What was I writing about again? Oh, yeah. Baseball.

Wil Tindall seems to play the entire infield for Laurens Academy. He was one of two players — Clinton’s Caleb Riddle was the other — who began a play by making an error and ended it with an alert defensive move.

At one time in Wednesday night’s game, Clinton (3-2) was leading, 3-0, in spite of walking 12 B-HP batters. The Red Devils held on, 3-2, in spite of 13 free passes and a like number of stranded Bear runners.

So often I finish watching a baseball game and mutter to myself, “Damdest game I’ve ever seen.”

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. 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.

Lady Crusaders Find a Holy Land

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, February 25, 2018, 11:17 a.m.

Ruthie Moore

For twenty years, while I was writing about NASCAR, I didn’t see a lot of women’s basketball. Many times, people said to me, “You’d be amazed at how much better it is,” and I’d say, “Well, probably so,” without much commitment to delving into the matter.

Now I know how much better it is.

At last, this year, I got to know the girls’ team — for some silly reason related to age, in high school, they are girls, and in college and pro, they are women — at Laurens Academy, culminating in the private school’s first state championship in the sport. In a span of eight days, I also got to know Sumter, its civic center, and Wilson Hall Academy, but I really know the way to and from.

By Monte Dutton

I also got to know girls’ basketball.

A senior point guard named Taylor Campbell is as dedicated as Stephen Curry. On Saturday, playing with four fouls and busily wrapping up a Class A, South Carolina Independent Schools Association (SCISA), championship with a 48-34 victory over Patrick Henry Academy, Campbell seemed as if her head was equipped with a metronome. A nearby referee was counting diligently, waving her right hand, then pausing as Campbell penetrated around her foe, often dribbling in a circle back out near midcourt.

Taylor Campbell

One, one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand, four … okay … one, one thousand, two, one thousand, three one thousand, four … and so on.

Campbell was unerring. The pursuing Lady Patriots would have to foul her. She made five out of six free throws in the final two minutes. The Lady Crusaders — somehow, in basketball, both girls and women are ladies — pulled farther and farther ahead.

A junior guard named Ruthie Moore is as tough as Campbell and almost as polished. She is a slight girl, and she plays all over the court, often being shoved and pushed by opponents without as many coats of polish. I marvel at how many times she seems to be at the point of exhaustion but never gets exhausted.

Florence Mitchell

This year I have seen several teams more talented than Laurens Academy. None was more cohesive and determined. Jason Marlett has coached them so well that he doesn’t have to coach them much. Campbell and Moore are merely the best players. They all know what they can do, when is the time to do it, and how it can be done.

In the state tournament, Laurens Academy (31-1) won by scores of 50-13, 53-17, 33-21, and, as noted, 48-34. The only loss was to a large public school, Fort Mill, long, long ago in a faraway place, or something like that.

Next year Campbell will play at Newberry College, and others will sell her short because, well, she is short. I expect her to succeed. I expect her to find a way. She will dribble, shoot, dance, and dash out to the very edge of her potential. She loves basketball in the way that Meryl Streep loves acting. She exudes it. It is the heart of her being.

Moore will be back and better, but now is a time to dwell on what has just happened. I have some distant knowledge that a state championship is an event that dwells for a lifetime. The recent knowledge is about a sport that girls and women play quite well.

Here’s my story on the game at GoLaurens.

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. Time is running out. There’s one day left. I’d appreciate it if you’d read about it and nominate it for publication here.

The Penultimate Skirmish in a Great Crusade

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, February 23, 2018, 9:35 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

The Laurens Academy girls’ basketball team reminds me of my Honda Accord.

Both wear blue and are approximately the same age. The Lady Crusaders have made three successful round trips to Sumter. The Honda has made two, with a side trip to Camden, on a single tank of fuel.

Late last night, the fuel light activated as I exited Interstate 26, having achieved 33 miles per gallon of gasolina. Earlier, Laurens Academy, coached by Jason Marlett with Sandy Moore’s assistance, returned home from Wilson Hall Academy after defeating Curtis Baptist, 33-21, and earning a berth in the South Carolina Independent Schools Association (SCISA) Class A state finals.

Taylor Campbell

The Lady Crusaders are 30-1. The only loss was to Fort Mill, a Class 5A public school. The Honda occasionally moves aside for the benefit of a large SUV such as a Cadillac Escalade.

Both the Honda and the Lady Crusaders are reliable. In the semifinals, Curtis Baptist, a SCISA member in spite of being located in Augusta, Georgia, tested LA physically but wasn’t as sound. Neither team scored until Taylor Campbell put LA up, 4-0, with consecutive baskets nearly halfway through the first quarter. The other Lady Crusaders, the Georgians, the ones with a record of 21-4, never again got closer than three.

Campbell, who will play basketball next year at Newberry College, is a pleasure to watch. I expect she is as competitive as Richard the Lionhearted in the Crusader department, though he died in 1199 and I never saw him play.

In the second quarter, both she and Ruthie Moore, a junior, seemed frazzled and frustrated. The Georgians played them hard. Moore got pushed and shoved a lot, but she managed to lead LA with 13 points to Campbell’s 10. At times, Marlett took her out for a bit of rest, and I thought, she might just just make it after all, and then he’d put her back in on the next whistle, and I’d think, well, she’s never going to make it, but she did.

Ruthie Moore (14)

Three Robinson sisters — Shania, Dynazsa, and Destini — spent most of their time guarding Campbell and Moore closely. Two of them fouled out.

If the Georgians could have hit water from a boat, the game would have been closer, but the splashes were few and far between — 8-41 from the floor — and the figurative width of the Savannah River (which separates Georgia from South Carolina) grew greater in the waning minutes of the navigation.

Now the Laurens Academy girls and my Honda have one more trip to Sumter to make. On Saturday afternoon, the Lady Crusaders, the South Carolinians, will face Patrick Henry Academy, the Patriots of Estill, for the state championship. The game will be played at Sumter County Civic Center, beginning at 2:30 p.m.

Here’s the story on the game I wrote at GoLaurens.com from a nearby McDonald’s, where the coffee is hot and the Wi-Fi reliable.

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. Time is running out. I’d appreciate it if you’d read about it and nominate it for publication here.