Friday, August 31, 2012

Goodbye Neil Armstrong. You will be missed.

Mike Ullery
Chief Photographer

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Those immortal words, and of course the feat that set the stage for those words, cemented a place in history for Ohio native Neil Armstrong.

Like most Americans, I followed every step of the Apollo 11 mission as Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins journeyed toward their destiny as the first humans to walk on the moon.

And, like most Americans, all of the members of the astronaut corps were my heroes. Equal in my eyes, especially as I grew older were the test pilots, many of whom joined the corps of astronauts, who put their lives on the line in order to test and perfect the machines that allowed us to become the first nation, and to date, the only nation, to put a human being on the surface of the moon, and more importantly, return him safely to earth.

Men like Chuck Yeager, Scott Crossfield and Joe Kittinger, to name but a few, who tested the machines as well as tens of thousands of men and women behind the scenes are the one who allowed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to turn that “small step” into “one giant leap.”

I must mention the “tens of thousands” because, as was repeated by all who spoke at the memorial service for him at the Armstrong Air and Space Museum this past week, that is exactly what Armstrong would tell anyone who asked. Landing a man on the moon was a team effort. He was just a member of the team.

I was privileged to have the opportunity to photograph and spend time with Armstrong on a number of occasions over the years, through my work as photographer for the National Aviation Hall of Fame, in which he was enshrined in 1979.

His reluctance to speak of his accomplishments and his wish for privacy has been well-documented. I will only say that the time that I spent with him was among the most memorable moments of my life.

He was always gracious and kind. I got to the point where I would apologize in advance before he made a public appearance and tell him that if he got tired of the camera, just say the word I would stop. Not one time did he ever say stop. He would put on that Neil Armstrong grin, then go out and greet hundreds and thousands of folks, to whom Armstrong was a hero above all others.

He regularly represented the National Aviation Hall of Fame at their annual enshrinement and at the National Aviation Heritage Invitational, a joint venture for the hall of fame and Rolls-Royce. His kindness and generosity in proudly representing both organizations is just one more example of the type of man Armstrong was.

The mark left in our history books by Neil A. Armstrong, is just as indelible as that first footprint he left in the lunar surface.

In 2004, at the enshrinement ceremony for the National Aviation Hall of Fame, emcee Dennis Quaid asked me to photograph his son, Jack, who was 11 at the time, meeting Neil Armstrong, Quaid had asked me frequently throughout the afternoon to let him know when Armstrong arrived. As we walked over to greet Armstrong, Quaid told his son, “I want you to know that the man you are about to meet is just like getting to meet Christopher Columbus.”

No more accurate description of Armstrong’s place in modern history has ever been spoken.

It was a privilege to have known Armstrong and I can say that I am a better person for having known him, not because he was the first man to walk on the moon, but because he was Neil Armstrong, a kind and considerate human being.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Jealousy and corruption determining factors in deciding fate of accused athletes

By Mike Ullery
Chief Photographer

Cheating and accusations of cheating have been around sports for as long as sports have been played.

Scandals have been around seemingly forever.

Two factors seem to be at play in the dirt-digging, mud-slinging chaos that follows each scandalous event. First, is the notoriety of the accused. Second, is the over-proliferation of news media and the tens-of-thousands of self-proclaimed "news" sources.

Can you imagine what would happen if the Chicago Black Sox scandal happened in the 21st century? The feeding frenzy by media and pseudo-media would probably cause Internet overload.

Granted, such incidents are indeed newsworthy. When one, or more, high-profile athletes are involved it makes the situation even more "exciting" for both the media and public.

It was announced this week that Lance Armstrong, one of the greatest athletes of our time, was to be stripped of his seven Tour De France titles after dropping his fight against "doping" charges made against him.

I will be the first to proclaim that cheating in sports should not be tolerated. I am not aware, though, of any proof that exists against Armstrong. Just lots of accusations.

It is said that "strong men breed strong enemies." I cannot help but wonder how many of Armstrong's accusers are people who somehow felt snubbed by him at one time. How many are just jealous of his success? If I remember correctly, the bulk of the initial accusations against him came from the French. I'm sorry but the French people and their government do not exactly have a strong track record for supporting anything American.

The bottom line is that Lance Armstrong did win seven, count them seven, Tour de France titles. Nothing can change that.

He has undoubtedly rubbed a number of people the wrong way over the years. Does that make him any less of a champion cyclist? I think not.

It is no different with Pete Rose, in-arguably one of the greatest men to ever put on a baseball uniform. Of all baseball records, Rose's accomplishments on the field remain the least likely to ever  be surpassed. I believe that Cal Ripken's record for most consecutive games played is the only record less likely to be broken.

Rose's indiscretions regarding his gambling addiction are well-documented. Nothing that he did off the field can ever erase what the man did on the field. Nothing that anyone, baseball commissioner to baseball writer to president, can ever say, "well, that just did not happen."

Pete Rose is not in the Baseball Hall of Fame because too many people do not like him. Isn't that a pretty stupid reason to keep him out of Cooperstown?

The recent Ohio State football autographs and memorabilia for tattoos scandal is still fresh in everyone's mind.

What comes to mind with that, and also to a certain extent with most every scandal, is that the righteous accusers are often more corrupt than the accused. They just make the rules such that they are safe from retribution. They also have billions of dollars at their disposal with which they can bury anyone who dares to make waves.

The governing bodies for many of these sports organizations perform in a highly-questionable manner. Their ultimate objective ... money. If they must throw a player, a coach or an institution under the bus in order to insure cash flow, it is considered a small price to pay.

Unfortunately, I see those trends that have been seen in professional and, in particular, college sports for decades have filtered to the high school level. The almighty dollar has usurped sportsmanship and love of the game as the driving force behind our kids playing in high school sports.

Sports of all kinds are - a game. Pure and simple.

Maybe it is time to completely dismantle the governing organizations for sports, from high school to pros, and just start over. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

As the 2012 GREAT Miami County Fair becomes a memory ...

Mike Ullery
Chief Photographer
The 2012 edition of the Miami County Fair is in the books.

As we watched participants tear down, pack and clean their respective spaces on Thursday there was the familiar bittersweet feeling. On one hand, it was a relief that it was ending, for fair week is for many of us, the longest week of the year. On the other, there was a feeling of sadness. It is like parting with a friend, knowing that an entire year may pass before you see them again.

I doubt that anyone will disagree that this year’s Miami County Fair could be one of the best ever based on our weather. Moderate temperatures during day and cool nights made this year’s fair comfortable for everyone from visitors to project and show animals.

The weather certainly had a significant impact on attendance. 

Perhaps the most talked-about event at this year’s fair was the Pig & Calf Scramble. 

The event is a much anticipated one at other fairs and it was eagerly awaited here. About 1600 people packed the grandstand to watch the event. 

In these days of Nintendo, Wii and computer games, it was refreshing to watch kids of all ages, (and any of you who watched the adult division of the calf scramble, know what I mean by “kids” of all ages,) take part in a fun physical activity. 

Much fun was had by all. The animals were probably happy when the chasing stopped. Some of the human participants wore bruises and abrasions as trophies following the event but everyone came away safe and happy.

It is also great to see our local 4-H Clubs going so strong. As a former 4-H member, (the Staunton Hustlers with advisors Bill and Mary Ann Cusac,) it means a lot to me when I see our youngsters involved in a 4-H project of any sort. The resulting lessons in responsibility and accountability for their projects, as well as the interaction with fellow 4-H Club members and adults as they present their projects for judging are among the best life lessons they can get.

A 4-H project also promotes family time and family values. Very few projects are solely that of the member. I can remember my dad keeping a watchful eye on my projects and I see the same thing today. A 4-H project for one becomes a family interest for all.

As I traveled the fairgrounds this past week with my good friend Laura Sutherly, webmaster for the Miami County Fair board and a very fine photographer, as well, I was impressed by not only the crowds and the fair patrons enjoying themselves, but also by how smoothly things ran.

Many of us take it for granted when we attend the fair but every portion of the fair requires planning and hard work to make it go. We are blessed in Miami County to have fair board members who give up much of their free time to see that the fair is safe and enjoyable for all. 

They are supported by Junior Fair Board members, most of them area high school students, who rather than spend hours out of school going to parties, plan and work to make the Miami County Fair a success.

I would like to thank all of the fair board and junior fair board members and the many other volunteers for their efforts in making the Miami County Fair … the GREAT Miami County Fair.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Cheerleaders and others work just as hard as football players

By Mike Ullery
Chief Photographer

The "dog days" of summer are here. As difficult as it is to believe, we are just a few short weeks away from the start of another school year.

Already hard at work are many area student athletes. Many have been working all summer but schools began their first official practices during this past week.

Many of us have already seen, and read, about the obvious. Football players from around the area have donned their pads and are ready for some honest contact to augment the sweat.

What many of us don't realize, or at least acknowledge, is that while football is undoubtedly king, there are hundreds of other kids out there working every  bit as hard to get ready for their chosen sport.

Soccer players of all ages are working their tails off under the hot August sun to ready themselves for their own fall campaign. The Piqua boys soccer team has already seen a measure of success this season by winning a tournament in Urbana last weekend.

Possible some of the most overlooked athletes working to perfect their skills as the fall season approaches are our school cheerleaders.

Like most people, I have pretty much always seen cheerleaders as a fun group who cheer for the "real" athletes during a game. I saw them largely as a social group.

Over the past year or so, I have become acquainted with a number of our local cheerleaders and their parents. This has really opened my eyes. Possibly it has always been this way. Possibly it is because cheerleading has been rapidly evolving, maybe faster than other sports.

From my perspective, cheerleading has all but ceased as a rah-rah-stand-on-the-sideline group of young ladies.

I now see our cheerleading squad as a group of dedicated young athletes. Yes, athletes. The moves and the athleticism necessary to accomplish some of the cheer routines are extremely difficult.

I have also seen the pain and injuries that these young ladies suffer ... and fight their way through, as they continue to practice with all of the same grit and determination as their football counterparts.
The tumbling routines which are becoming a staple to most cheer squads add even greater physical demands.

The same can be said of our marching band members. It may seem like something that is not terribly difficult to anyone who has not tried, but the skill and concentration necessary to march a routine on a football field, stay in step, in line, (in multiple directions simultaneously,) hitting your exact marks on the field even though you cannot look down to see, while at the same time playing a musical arrangement that is, by itself, difficult if you were sitting in a chair, is a daunting task.

These young musicians put in just as many hours in the hot sun as any other athlete. For a number of weeks during the football season, they will march their show for fans on Friday night, get home after midnight, only to pack up and leave early on Saturday morning in order to compete in a marching band competition.

Many of these youngsters have the same goals as their fellow athletes - to become good enough at their chosen sport to secure a college scholarship.

Hard work and dedication to a sport that one is passionate about does not stop with football, basketball or soccer players. It includes all athletes in all sports.

Maybe an old fogey like me really does learn new things, or at least just learns to appreciate the hard work that is going on in front of my eyes.

As we approach the start of a new season of fall sports, I encourage everyone to support our student athletes, every one of them, in every sport. Think back to how much it meant to you, when you were in school, to have not only your parents in the stands, but members of the community cheering for your team.