Starr Gazing

Dr. Dan Starr
Retired Director of Athletics and Professor Emeritus of American History at Canisius College.


Trip to Europe and Some Late News

While in Europe recently, I was able to keep up with breaking news (isn’t all news breaking, though?) courtesy of modern communications-- cell phones, smart phones, iPad, online newspapers, and more were available.

Sports: The NFL season started with a bang with the Kaepernick effect! Has its effectiveness been bolstered or diminished? Was it ever there? We know that there are a number of 300 pound millionaires doing various things: taking a knee, locking arms, hands on hearts, saluting, standing tall, and more or less standing while wavering. So what does one conclude? One concludes that Trump, amidst all this controversy, knows his base. He knows that many in Middle America love the NFL but have little sympathy for the cause espoused by many of the players.

Meanwhile, the periodic NCAA scandal has surfaced. This time it features Coach Rick Pitino of Kentucky. It’s big time sneaker payola and several other coaches are involved. What else is new? Over the past half-century, most major athletic programs (football and/or basketball) have been sullied. All 14 of the SEC schools have had major violations in the past decade and 96 Division I programs have gone awry of NCAA rules in that same period.

When will the college administrators learn? Do they even want to learn? I have suggested several times over the past few decades that there is a solution. There is a way to eliminate many scandals-- simply stated, remove the top Division 65 athletic programs (at least the football and men’s basketball programs) from the NCAA, those that bring in millions of TV dollars to their college coffers! Let them form their own organization, a professional one. Make the basketball and football programs part of the business/publicity department of the college, similar to, say, a college’s maintenance department. Run it like a business. Pay the players as employees. Then the NCAA could return to its presumed mission and administer the athletic programs of the other remaining 600 plus colleges (Divisions I, II, and III). This move might put the “student” back in the student-athlete concept!

Skyway: On a more pleasant note, the Skyway issue, at least for now, is quiet. When the Skyway demolishers raise the issue again, our SOS (Save Our Skyway) supporters will have to be mobilized.

Columbus: Columbus still stands on Porter Avenue. Common sense prevails.

Benelux Countries: Meanwhile, over in NW Europe, my wife and I joined a tour group. Primarily, we visited Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg. First stop: Amsterdam, where there are more canals than in Venice, and with clean water, too. There were also great museums (e.g., Rembrandt)! We visited impressive city squares with urban life at its best with many locals and tourists enjoying the many bistros, cafes, etc. that bordered the squares. Indeed, that is true of so many European cities and towns. We, in the US, need more of that. Yes, we do have some big cities with noteworthy squares, e.g., Lafayette Squre in Buffalo and Times Square, Herald Square, and Union Square, in NYC. But we don’t have many squares where there is a large open space in the middle with bistros, cafes, shops, and historic churches and government buildings surrounding the square. We have giant malls where the youth of America can meet but they are quite unlike the squares of Europe. Brussels, Bruges, Rotterdam, Luxemburg, and Ghent all have impressive urban centers. Boullion, Belguim is also worth mentioning because we had an unbelievable meal of mussels there. It was mussel season and the Roy de la Moule restaurant is the place to enjoy them.

Harbors: Worthy of note are the impressive harbors at Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Climb to the top of the Euromast Tower in Rotterdam and you can understand why that city was for so long the most important harbor in all of Europe. Of course, we also visited Kinderdijk where 19 windmills are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. In fact, we climbed up inside of one; now, that was a challenge!

Bicycles: There were more bicycles in Amsterdam than anywhere else on this planet; we saw tens of thousands. The bike riders come in all shapes, sizes, and ages. There are miles of bike paths and innumerable bike parking areas. Truly, it was a sight to behold!

The Rural Areas: The countryside seems to begin as soon as you leave the city limits. Along all major thoroughfares, there are thousands of acres (hectares) of lush, green pastures grazed by large, healthy cows of various colors. No wonder there is so much good cheese everywhere.

Battlefields: We were also fortunate to visit several of the important battlefields and cemeteries of the two world wars. These included Ypres, Verdun, Meuse-Argonne, Bastogne, Flanders Field, and the Ardennes. General George Patton’s gravesite was a must-see.

Then, we met Sister Marie Cecile. The background: Joanne and I spent a few days with cousin Betty and her son, Kevin, who has lived in Luxembourg for a decade. Kevin knows his way around. The four of us took a ride to Namur, a midsize city in Belgium. The purpose was to find the Motherhouse of the St. Mary of Namur nuns. Those nuns are familiar to WNYers; they staffed several parochial schools including St. Paul’s (which I attended), St. Mary’s Seminary (which Joanne and Betty attended), as well as St. John’s, St. Andrew’s, and Mount St. Mary’s Academy.

We arrived in Namur and trekked down a few narrow, cobbled streets. Then, like a scene from a 1950 movie, coming toward us on a bicycle, was a nun; she was an easily recognizable nun in a sparkling, flowing habit with a smile on her face displaying a delightful perky disposition.

Joanne flagged her down. We introduced ourselves and she told us she was Sister Marie Cecile of the St. Mary of Namur Order. She invited us to the Motherhouse, not far away, where we enjoyed tea and cookies and mostly the conversation with Sr. Cecile and other nuns who joined us.

What a highlight! What a memorable happenstance! I thought for several days of what other memorable event it reminded me. I thought back to 1998. The New York Yankees won the World Series and I was in New York staying at the Downtown Athletic Club. I walked outside this particular morning and right there was the entire Yankee organization, assembling to get ready to head up Broadway for the ticker tape parade. The cheering masses were all further up Broadway; I was fortunate to be in the cordoned off area where I could mingle with the ballplayers before they boarded the floats and there, beside me, was the legendary Yogi Berra. I don’t think that Sr. Cecile would mind the association.


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