Friday, September 17, 2010

Big Red Fans

Below are a pair of articles we posted last March.

Cornell fans (from left) Sandy Kuntz, daughter Jackie Schaaf and son Michael Kuntz at family deli.

Big Red-letter days for Ithaca family

By Marcus Hayes
Philadelphia Daily News
March 24, 2010

ITHACA, N.Y. - Eagles fans know frustration.

Cubs fans curse a curse.

Those burdens are nothing compared with what the Cornell faithful have endured - and perhaps no one has been more faithful than the Kuntz clan, which, for 60 years, trudged up East Hill to watch the Big Red lose.

Before last weekend, the Ivy League also-ran never had won an NCAA Tournament game. This weekend, it's two wins from a Final Four.

Given their hard-luck history, the biggest fans in red hardly dare whisper the possibility.

Could they beat the East's No. 1 seed, Kentucky, tomorrow night at Syracuse's nearby Carrier Dome? And win again, on Saturday, over either Washington or West Virginia?

How much hope is too much?

"Never, in my wildest dreams, did I think this possible," said Jackie Schaaf, who, at 54, has always had a wardrobe full of carnelian. "We've seen years when they couldn't win a game."

They didn't go to games to see title runs. They followed Cornell because Hal Kuntz, Jackie's dad, was a basketball nut from Ithaca, a regular guy who ran a semipro team and kept score for the local college.

Hal infected Sandy, his bride from nearby Binghamton, with his basketball jones. In 1950, Sandy moved to Ithaca and started accompanying her new husband to Cornell games. They almost never missed one.

About 10 years later they opened Hal's Delicatessen & Sandwich Shoppe on N. Aurora Street, just off Ithaca Commons, and Hal got the job running the scoreboard at Cornell games. It lasted 25 years, until he died in 1986.

In 1972, his son, Michael, joined Hal on the sideline, running the clock.

Michael, now 57, still runs the clock. The scorer's table is dedicated to his dad.

Hal's Deli remains active and vibrant and it smells really good. Michael, Jackie and Sandy, now 78, are partners.

They are as invested in Cornell hoops as they are in Hal's Deli.

"Home games, we get there at 6 o'clock, because Michael has to be there that early," said Sandy, tiny and spry and sharp as a slicer blade. "Sometimes, we bring along our supper."

Propped against softball trophies in the trophy case at Hal's lie pictures of Cornell teams, framed photos of young men considered as much family as any of Hal's kids. One color shot features the seniors from the 1987-88 team, the last Cornell team to win an Ivy title before Steve Donahue arrived from Penn and Delaware County and led them to the last three championships.

Before Donahue, there weren't many fruitful years.

"I can remember, in 1950, when there would be barely 100 people in the gym," Sandy said.

It wasn't just the '50s. From 1970-74, Cornell won four Ivy League games . . . total. One each season. Plenty of good seats for those games, too.

Oh, there were moments when old Barton Hall filled.

Princeton packed it back in the mid-'60s, when Cornell upset the Tigers twice in 3 years, once with Bill Bradley. And those Cornell teams in the mid-'80s were a sight.

But there's never been anything like this - three straight years of unqualified prosperity while powers Penn and Princeton wither.

"I've been here 60 years, and I've never seen such a frenzy at the games," Sandy said.

This is a hockey school, a lacrosse contender.

It perches atop a hillside in an often-dreary, always-crunchy town of about 30,000 at the head of the Cayuga, the longest Finger Lake; a town known best for beautiful, deadly gorges and the agriculture school attached to the university.

But the interest in hybrid corn and cattle feed and the pastimes like hiking, biking and communing have taken hiatus. Basketball is all that matters now.

And Cornell basketball is all about the Kuntz family. For decades, parents have come to the deli before games. For decades, the deli catered meals for Ivy opponents, especially Penn.

Hal and his brood got especially close to some of the teams. The coach who built that 1988 team, Tom Miller, took a liking to Hal. Miller even allowed Hal to accompany the team on a road trip from time to time, Sandy said.

When Hal died, Miller, who moved on to Army in 1986, came back for the funeral. And helped carry the casket.

It pains Sandy that Hal never saw what Cornell has become, that he saw the Big Red in the tournament just once, in 1954. She wishes he could hear the students today chant, "Up, Townies! Up, Townies!" - a call for the locals to join the student body in more fevered support.

"They remind me of the kids at Duke," Sandy said.

Except the kids at Duke expect to be at the Sweet 16 every season.

With a hot-commodity coach, a slew of seniors and two NCAA wins, the kids at Cornell know this might never come again.

So does the Kuntz family.

They'll learn today if Jackie and Michael will receive tickets via Cornell's lottery; only 1,250 tickets were set aside for Cornell, and there were more than 2,500 entries in the lottery.

"I'm on pins and needles," Jackie said last night, sitting in the empty deli.

They are desperate to see history, and they are hopeful, not wistful.

They know Cornell can play with anyone. Wins last week over Temple and Wisconsin didn't surprise them, not after Cornell nearly beat No. 1 overall seed Kansas in a regular-season game, on the road. With 6-6 shooter Ryan Wittman, son of former NBA gunner Randy Wittman, and 7-foot, 265-pound NBA prospect Jeff Foote, the right alchemy might launch the 12th seed into Indianapolis next weekend.

"It could happen," Michael said . . . almost in a whisper.

As for Sandy, she won't need a ticket. Her titanium knee and aching ankles can't handle the steps at the Carrier Dome.

Besides, someone has to stay behind and watch with Abby, her great-granddaughter, who, at 4, represents the fourth generation of the fan chain.

Among Abby's first phrases: "Go, Big Red!"

Of course it was.

By Ray Glier
New York Times
March 18, 2010

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Badger Network was set up and spread out over a courtside table at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. There was an array of digital boxes and a pile of headphones neatly in place when Cornell’s Barry Leonard rolled in with all of his gear, stuffed in one bag.

He is the Cornell Radio Network.

An engineer had set up the Wisconsin equipment, and the play-by-play man and color analyst for Badger basketball could stroll out and commence to call the game at the tip-off of the N.C.A.A. tournament. A producer had lined up a pregame interview and would help it be wrinkle-free.

Leonard, the play-by-play man for Cornell basketball, admired the neatness of the Wisconsin spread, then hoisted his bag onto a chair and did not wait for an engineer. He is the engineer. He is also the producer, so after he sorts through wires and plugs this into that, he has to hustle off and get pregame interviews.

“There are times when I wished I could have taken off the headset, put it down and walked out and left all the equipment behind for someone else to pack up,” Leonard said. “I remember a former coach a few years back for Cornell who got so mad after a loss he came out and screamed that I had 10 minutes to get on the bus or he was leaving without me.

“Geez, it takes at least 10 minutes to pack all this stuff up.”

Leonard then said, “I’m a one-man band, but I love this job.”

Leonard, 51, is the eyes and ears of the audience, and he is also the legs — setting up the broadcast just as it was done in another era before jeans were designer. He gets approximately $225 per game, just enough pay for one person, but hardly enough for the work of three, which he does on game day.

Leonard, a native of Forest Hills, Queens, first got on the air at Ithaca College at the student radio station. He graduated from Ithaca in 1980 and had his first stint for Cornell radio broadcasts from 1982-87. He changed his name from Barry Lowenhar to Barry Leonard so it would roll off his tongue easier.

Leonard went off to a bigger market in Providence, R.I., but went back to Ithaca, waited 10 years for his old job to open up, and has been broadcasting Big Red games since 1997. His day job is as a sales representative for a pharmaceutical company, and he also handles radio duties for football and lacrosse.

Leonard checks his own sound levels during the broadcast. He does not have an analyst, so he offers his own insight. When Cornell clinched the Ivy League title, Leonard had to fill 20 minutes while the nets were being cut down. There was no network studio to throw him a lifeline.

Leonard writes lineups, statistics and notes to use during the broadcast on a manila-colored file folder. The broadcasters from bigger colleges use laptops.

Leonard is a virtuoso, but he is not always virtuous. In a game several seasons ago, his phone line was kicked out by a member of the band, and he suddenly heard a dial tone, meaning he was off air. Leonard launched into a stream of curse words.

One problem: He was still on the air via the Internet. So he was dubbed Barry Bobby at the team’s postseason banquet, nicknamed for the former Indiana coach Bob Knight, who was known for spicy language.

At most colleges, the outburst might have brought a scolding, or worse, but Leonard has endeared himself to the Big Red family. The lacrosse team has given him a ring and a watch; the athletic department was in on his 50th birthday surprise party.

Steve Donahue, the Cornell basketball coach, had Leonard in mind when he scheduled the Big Red for the E.C.A.C. Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden. Donahue knew that Leonard’s idol was Marv Albert and Leonard’s team was the Knicks, so he wanted him to broadcast a game at the Garden.

“I don’t know if the bonds at the higher levels of Division I basketball are this strong where coaches take you in like they do with me,” Leonard said. “I wouldn’t trade anything for all these years. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a blessing.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: March 20, 2010

An article on Friday about Cornell basketball’s one-man radio broadcasting operation misstated the name of the arena in Florida where the team played its first-round N.C.A.A. tournament game. It is Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena, not Veterans Memorial Coliseum.


Anonymous said...

this facelift is throwing me off

Anonymous said...

yes the new site is very difficult to read

Anonymous said...

I like the black on grey. It's not too hard to read. Contrast is fine. White backgrounds are very straining on the eyes