Monthly Archives: March 2017

Life’s Not a Movie

It was a story to rival anything in Hollywood’s imagination. A group of city kids, some facing hardships at home and violence on the streets come together to make an improbable underdog run toward a state basketball championship. For a side story how about the fact that budget cuts would most likely make it the last season they would play as a team. There always has to be a personal hook too so how about two coaches whose sons get lost in that violence. One dies and the other one goes to jail yet the two men are able to break the cycle of violence to work together for the good of the team and the young men within. The highpoint of the film would be an emotional speech from the coach after winning the game to send them to the championships. It almost writes itself, an inner-city Hoosiers.
That’s the backstory behind the Strong Vincent Colonels this year. Coach Shannon Pullium made that speech to his team after the win that would send them to Hershey, saying he loved each player on the team and if he and his assistant could get past their history then the players can find non-violent ways to solve problems.
But life’s not a movie and reminders of that can be brutal. The team went on to play Imhotep Charter, a school that pulls kids in from across Philadelphia, a school that was ranked by USA Today as the number 6 team in the entire country.
The Erie squad played hard but was no match for the deeper and deeply talented Panthers, earning the silver trophy following the 80 to 52 loss.
“That’s the best team I’ve ever coached against in my 18 years,” Coach Pullium would say later.
Despite the loss it remains a great story. It’s a story of priorities, knowing what’s important in shaping of young lives. It’s proof of the success that comes through hard work and the lessons that can be learned of the right way to handle things.
My congratulations go out to Coach Pullium and his staff not only for a memorable season but for keeping an eye on the prize of providing the right kind of guidance for their players.
Without the storybook ending Hollywood may not come calling. But perhaps it should.

Not So Fast

Erie is getting quite the reputation nationally as a pretty crappy place to live.
First came the NBC report detailing how a “D” community like Erie went “R” in the election of Donald Trump as president. The report showed empty buildings and talked of an eroding economy to illustrate the frustrations that led to the cross-party revolt.
Next up a CBS web-only report in which General Electric union leader Scott Slawson said that Erie was “definitely a sinking ship and you’d be crazy not to get off.”
Now comes the annual Gallup poll of communities based on well-being, where Erie ranked 181 out of 189 towns or in other words in the Top Ten Most Miserable. The poll asked people to consider exercise, obesity, safety and hopes for the future.
It would be easy to see how an outsider could look at Erie and decide you would indeed have be crazy to move here or even live here.
But to all the naysayers both in and out of town I have a simple message: Not so fast.
With GE apparently on a slow downward spiral that could one day see operations leave Erie it’s easy to understand why a union leader like Slawson would have a dour view of Erie’s future. Easy to understand yes but also shortsighted.
Erie’s economy isn’t dead it’s changing. Global realities mean Erie will never again have the commanding manufacturing landscape it did in the heyday of Hammermill, Zurn, Bucyrus-Erie and yes GE. But smart communities have found new ways. If we don’t make as many things then we need to be in the business of moving things around. What’s one of the best companies for its size for that work? Logistics Plus. Where is it headquartered? Erie PA.
Then there are the three building projects all set to start in 2017 and all topping 100 million dollars each in investment. There is the new medical building for UPMC Hamot to handle the transfers from smaller regional hospitals. There are the plans to upgrade Saint Vincent’s emergency rooms and entrances. And there is the massive investment from Erie Insurance that will build a brand new seven story building and create 600 new jobs. That’s three entities willing to inject major dollars into Erie operations. It paints a different picture that never made the networks.
Add the beaches, the daily summertime free concerts schedule, the sports teams, the vineyards, Roar and the rest and an entirely new image emerges.
They can paint whatever picture of Erie they like concentrating on the half empty part of the glass. But those of us who choose to live here; to call this place home, know better.

An Engaged Electorate

I have long believed that as a country we are separating toward the polar limits of the political spectrum, often losing the compromise, common sense and governance that can be found in the middle.
But it hasn’t been until I began a grand experiment as a moderate journalist in talk radio on JET Radio 1400 that I have heard the extent of that division firsthand.
Sadly, it seems that as a country we have completely forsaken the ability to listen to each other and like the pundits in the 24-hour cable news cycle simply stand on the extremes of zealousness ranting at the world and shaking our collective fists at the sky.
Certainly holding one of the most divisive elections in modern history did little to dampen that fire as race, sex, sexual persuasion and economic standing all deepened the trenches within the voting public.
“Hillary for Prison 2016!”
“Love Trumps Hate!”
“Fake news from the liberal press!”
At first glance there’s real reason to believe that the country is on the brink of a political dysfunction from which there is no return.
But a funny thing happened on the way to disaster.
America for the first time in a long time has an engaged electorate. You can see it in the rallies both for and against President Trump. You can hear it in the daily calls to talk radio. And even more importantly you can see it in the number of people willing to run for office this year. When was the last time you can remember 10 people running for Erie Mayor, seven or eight for Erie City Council and another six running for Millcreek Supervisor?
Incumbents like County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper who in the past would have had an unopposed walk to a second term are now seeing opposition and from both parties to boot.
Don’t get me wrong. I have my share of concerns about the current president. “Obama bugged my phone!” Really Mr. President? But there is also plenty of proof that a lightning rod like Donald Trump can not only exaggerate our differences but also energize our resolve.
And it also speaks to the grandeur of an election system that can rise above the foibles of any individual candidate or race simply by giving everyone a voice.
And that’s not all a bad thing.