Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Road Trip: Indy 500 or Bust!

Hipsta-Indy01 My annual pilgrimage to the Mecca of motorsports, The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, was going to be a little different this year. Instead of taking a quick 2-hour plane ride into Indianapolis with my wife, I was going to be hitting the pavement with two of my best friends and driving the almost 1200 miles from San Angelo. The decision to drive this year instead of fly was made largely due to the cost of plane tickets. Where one ticket might have cost over $300, splitting the cost of fuel for the truck between the three of us was going to be much cheaper. Plus we wanted to start bring up some of our own camping equipment, food traditions and games (the homemade washers pit was a success) as we continue to carve out our place among our fellow campers who gather each May under 'The Tree'. More on that later.

Typically, the annual post on this blog of my trip to the Indy 500 mostly consists of my time at the track. But, this year it'll be a little different. I wanted it to be a more personal account of the journey to and from Indiana, at the campground and, of course, at the track. Each year I make the trip back to Indy is more sentimental than the last and I feel that I am becoming more a part of the group that camps under 'The Tree' that my father-in-law introduced me to my first year of attending the race back in 2006. Hopefully, over the coming years I will be able to make my own contribution to the traditions of the group that meets every year in Lot 1A. Hipsta-Indy02 Hipsta-Indy03 Hipsta-Indy04 I elected to suffer through a sleepless night at my friends' house last Monday in an effort to be up and ready to head out at the crack of dawn toward St. Louis. I figured if I just slept at their house I could just roll off the couch and into the truck and be off. But you know how it is the night before a big trip, tossing and turning, not able to find a comfortable position to sleep in and your mind reeling from excitement. The morning came far to quick and before I had a chance to get any real sleep, we were off. With the truck loaded with all the necessary gear, we headed north to Oklahoma. We elected for the route through Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana because it looked like the most direct one. The only downside is that you have to pay almost $20 in toll fees just to get through Oklahoma with any relative speed. We were hoping to make it all the way to St. Louis on this first leg of the trip, spend the night, then make the four-hour drive into Indianapolis on Wednesday.

It's been a while since I've made a long road trip like this. When I was growing up near Lubbock I would make long road trips with my grandparents up the east coast to Maryland and Washington D.C. to visit family. Because of my young age I don't think I fully appreciated the American landscape as it flashed by outside the window of the minivan. I would love to make that drive again someday and stop at all the Civil War battlefields and monuments along the way just like we used to. Due to time constraints at which we needed to get up to Indy, the proverbial pedal was to the metal the entire time with minimal time for sight-seeing. The rolling hills and freshly harvested hay fields would have to do as we sliced our way through "The Sooner State" and into "The Show Me State". Hipsta-Indy05 Hipsta-Indy06 Hipsta-Indy07 We finally made it into St. Louis where we were to stop for the night. I was hoping to head into town a little so I could get a look at that big Arch they're so proud of, but we elected to stay on the outskirts of town to avoid traffic. After a late meal we, crashed hard for the night to get ready for another long day in Indianapolis. The drive from St. Louis is a piece of cake, but we would be pulling an all-nighter to secure our spot in the Coca-Cola camping fields near the track. We pulled into Indy at about 1:00pm and sat with my father-in-law, Ray, until more of our crew arrived. From about midnight to 4:30am we jockeyed for position in line to get into the camping grounds that opened at 7:00am. When the grounds opened we secured our usual spot under a a large oak tree. Ray has been camping under this tree with his buddies for more than 20 years so it's important that we get this spot each year. Finally, 1140 miles and about 30 minutes worth of sleep later, we were here. Time for a nap. Hipsta-Indy08 Hipsta-Indy09 Hipsta-Indy19 Hipsta-Indy18

Monday, May 21, 2012

S.A.S.S. vs. Pain Grenades Roller Derby

SASS03(Writer's Note: Apparently, I spelled Katniss wrong when I first published this post. This was pointed out to me by my wife three hours after the fact. Better late than never.)

Ohhh... look at the that face. That's a face of pure determination, focus and concentration. It also happens to be the face of my beautiful wife, Brooke, who I mentioned in a previous post goes by the name of Scarlet Shredder, a member of San Angelo's original flat track roller derby league, The San Angelo Soul Sisters. Unfortunately, the name was rejected by the national registry because someone else somewhere in the country has something similar. Currently she is waiting on the approval of two other names: Holly Go-Smite-Thee, for her love of all things Audrey Hepburn and Breakfast at Tiffany's, and Katniss Evermean, after the character Katniss Everdean of the book series and forthcoming movies The Hunger Games. Hopefully we will hear something soon so she can put her name on the back of jersey.

 The Soul Sisters (SASS), along with numerous family and supporters, made the the 2-hour drive west to Midland Saturday afternoon to take on the Pain Grenades of the The Tall City Roller Betties. I was really excited about getting to go to this bout. I, for both selfish and work-related reasons, have not gone to the last few out-of-town bouts and I was anxious to see the progress the team and Brooke had made. Brooke was going to be designated as a jammer-only player for the bout, meaning she would not play a role as a blocker like she normally does. Remember, the jammer for each team is the one that scores all the points. Jammers are usually the faster skaters and can maneuver the track with fancy footwork. Brooke confessed she was a little nervous about being in that role, but I had every confidence that she was going to do great. SASS02The venue for the bout was in a hangar that is used to store vintage aircraft owned by the Commemorative Air Force near the Midland airport. Being kind of a history buff, especially World War II era, I was in love with this place the second I stepped in. I really wanted to incorporate the planes into the photographs for the bout, but I just got caught up in the moment of watching my wife kick serious butt, I got a little tunnel vision.

Overall, I think this is the best bout I have seen SASS play and I think that both teams were pretty evenly matched. Both had a good core of jammers and those that were relegated to pack duty all did a pretty bang-up job. The key to winning a roller derby bout, though, is keeping your penalties in check, especially those committed by the jammers. If your jammer is sitting in the penalty box then you're not scoring any points. The other team is on what's called a power jam and, unless you've got a pack that knows what to do in that situation, the lone jammer on the track is racking up the points. Don't ask me how the penalty system works because I have a hard enough time just trying to figure out why officials call what they do. There's like a hundred different penalties (exaggeration) any one player can commit and some are more severe than others. It's confusing to say the least. SASS04 However, it was the penalties that the Pain Grenades were committing that was giving SASS their run at winning the game with just about seven minutes remaining. With fantastic blocking by SASS's pack, the jammer for the Grenades was sent to the penalty box twice in the last seven minutes putting the SASS jammer on a power jam. SASS was down by quite a bit, but with only a few minutes left, SASS was able to tie the score and eventually pull ahead. They ended up winning 143-129. Way to go ladies! I don't think I've seen this team any happier than at that moment.

I wish I had a photo of the SASS bench when the game was over, but I, too, was jumping up and down and screaming my head off. If I had to say something negative about the whole event it would have to be the lack of variety in my photos. I basically only shot the first half and was simply a fan for the second half cheering on Brooke and the rest of the team. But I don't think I would have enjoyed myself nearly as much if I had a camera up to my face for the second half. Sometimes you just have to put the camera down, turn the journalist switch to off and just be a spectator. Go SASS!SASS01

Thursday, May 17, 2012

2012 State Track & Field Meet

StateTrack03 StateTrack02 Here we go again. I was back in Austin for the second time in as many weeks to cover the state track meet at Mike A. Myers Stadium at the University of Texas. With the blessing of recent rainfall, this year's meet was not going to be held under the burden of 90-degree weather and high humidity like it usually is. Heavy cloud cover, cool winds and the possibility of more rain kept the mood light as events began on Friday morning. The number of students competing from our coverage area seemed to be a tad light this year, especially on the Class 1A side of things. And the Class 2A events seemed to be mostly athletes from Wall and Sonora. But the beauty of being at the state track meet is getting to see all the other talented high school athletes.

Often there is a lot of down time when I'm at the state track meet waiting for our kids to compete so I get to play around shooting other students in their events. One thing that I have noticed, especially when shooting sporting events, is that I think I've gotten a little complacent. I feel like I'm coming away with images that are definitely usable and kind of cool to look at, but as far as really flexing my creative muscles, I feel as though I've allowed myself to fall into a rut. It's unfortunate that I'm now just realizing this after the fact, but better late than never I guess. The state track meet is a perfect place to experiment in between races or field events. Personally, I think I shoot too tight, as in I'm too close to the action. I think I need to widen the frame a little and let the environment play a role in the overall photograph. However, unique shooting sites are severely restricted by UIL staff members whose sometimes gestapo-like attitude toward the media can get a little annoying. Not all UIL staffers and volunteers are hard to get along with, in fact, most of them are very cool and cordial. But it's the ones that immediately approach you with an attitude and are unwilling to work with you so you can do your job that make shooting this event tough. Fortunately, I only ran into two individuals like that this year.StateTrack05 StateTrack01 StateTrack04 Friday at the track was a long day, almost 12 hours long, but that's typical. The morning session is dominated by field events followed by running events in the evening. The highlight of the day was Water Valley High School's Celsey Randolph's gold medal in the Class 1A girls pole vault. Awesome! Our centerpiece story will be done early. Both Quinton Martinez (sports writer) and I were worried that because of our early deadline times, we might not have a focal point for the centerpiece story. But when Randolph hauled in a gold medal early in the morning session, our day was made. Having the pressure off your shoulders by having the lead photo in the bag early in the day works wonders for your psyche. It makes the day seem to go by so much faster. The evening session on Friday was dominated by the Class 2A running events, which for us was going to be Wall and Sonora high schools. We were at the track until almost 10:00pm that night, but the state track meet is a well-oiled machine and because things flow so well, it didn't seem like we were there for that long. We were tired at the end of the day, but not as tired as we could have been if the heat had been higher and things were delayed.StateTrack07 StateTrack09 StateTrack08 The second day of the track meet was completely different from the first. First of all, we didn't have to get up at the crack of dawn to get ready to head to the track. We only had to cover three races on Saturday and two of those races was going to be run by the same athlete. The second major difference was that Quinton and I were going to be able to enjoy a nice breakfast. With our first race starting at 12:45pm, we decided to head over the South Congress Cafe for a casual brunch. South Congress Cafe is one of, if not my absolute favorite place to eat in Austin. If I were to make a list my accomplishments from the past few years, becoming a diehard foodie would be near the top. For brunch I ordered the smoked brisket hash consisting of brisket marinated in chipotle adobo, fingerling potatoes, spicy rajas, corn, cabbage, two eggs over medium and a choice of house made tortillas. (That description came straight from the South Congress Cafe brunch menu, served Monday through Friday from 10:00am to 4:00pm and Saturday and Sunday from 9:00am to 4:00pm.) I think what tipped the scales for me were the two eggs over medium. God, I'm such a slut for a deliciously runny egg.

The drive to the track gave me ample time to come out my food-induced coma. My first event of the afternoon was the Class 1A girls 100-meter hurdles. Angelica Taylor of Winters was our focus for the race and she finished in second place for the silver medal. Sweet! The next race of the day was 90 minutes later, again featuring Taylor who won the bronze medal. Awesome! Our third and final race of the day was the Class 1A boys mile relay featuring a team from Mason High School. When sophomore Raul Silguero took the baton on the anchor lap he ran down three other competitors in the opening 200 meters. The Mason team shaved off four seconds from their state-qualifying time and took the bronze medal. And that's how my 2012 state track meet coverage ended. Not a bad day, don't you think? StateTrack06

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Rams Win Lone Star Conference Title

ASUbaseball01 The month of May is usually the biggest sports month of the year for me and this year has been no different. I started off the month in Austin covering the 2-day state tennis tournament followed by another two days of state golf. That weekend I covered the final day of the state gymnastics meet here in San Angelo at the Junell Center at Angelo State. I then got two days off before being assigned to cover the championship series of the Lone Star Conference baseball tournament between the ASU Rams and Tarleton State at Foster Field. Actually, the month of May this year has been a perfect storm of sporting events all happening at the same time. There has been college softball and baseball, high school softball and baseball, throw in state week tennis and golf, plus state gymnastics and we quickly have run out of staff to cover everything. Fortunately, we have a pretty good stable of freelance writers to pick up some of the slack.

The first game of the championship series between ASU and Tarleton was rain-delayed and largely uneventful. The Rams lost the game 2-0 in 11 innings. The second day was a different story all together. The sun was out, there was a cool breeze blowing in from the southeast and the ASU bats came to play. In the bottom of the second inning the Rams scored 5 runs to break a scoreless tie beginning with a Brett Parsons single into left field. That hit was followed up by the next batter, Lee Neumann, who reached base on a Tarleton error. Two batters later Doug Snover knocked a fly ball into left field allowing Parsons to score. ASU's Andrew LaCombe hit a two-run single to score Neumann and Snover followed by a Tate Allison two-run home run to give the Rams a 5-0 lead. ASU scored one more run in the third inning to go up 6-0 and the rest is history. ASUbaseball02 ASUbaseball03 ASUbaseball05 As the final out came in the ninth inning the entire ASU dugout emptied and rushed the field. It was a cool sight to see. With the championship win, ASU received an automatic bid into the NCAA Div. II South Central Regional tournament to be held in Warrensburg, Missouri. Just as the Rams rushed the field, I, too, ran onto the field to try and photograph as many happy faces as I could. This was the first time I had photographed the Rams in such a big win. So many high-fives and hugs were being dished out in every direction I was unsure of where I should point the camera. I finally settled on head coach Kevin Brooks as he made his way down the line of players offering hugs and congratulations. I've never really gotten to know Coach Brooks very well and, I've got to be perfectly honest here, I've always been a little intimidated by him. He has always been very cordial and straightforward with me in the few instances we have spoken to one another, but there is that kind of quiet intensity he has that makes me nervous.

So now the Rams will head to Warrensburg, Missouri to participate in the next round of the post season. I really, really wanted to go to this tournament, but due to factors beyond my control, I will not be making the cross-country trip to Missouri with sports writer Mike Whitson. I would have liked nothing more than to make the almost 800-mile drive through parts of the country I've never seen before. Granted, most of the drive would have been through Oklahoma and there really isn't much of anything there, but it still would have been fun. Oh well, here's hoping the Rams are just as good next year.ASUbaseball04

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

2012 State Golf Tournament: Day 2

StateGolf09 The second day of the state golf tournament was even longer than the first. I don't know if it was the fact that all the carts had been sold or that the temperature soared, but I felt that if I was on the course a second longer that I might just pass out. Apparently, everyone who showed up to the course later than 7:30am the day before and didn't get a cart found out just how difficult it was to navigate the Roy Kizer Golf Course. As I approached the nice gentleman behind the counter in the club house he gave me that "I don't think you're going to like what I have to tell you" kind of look. He basically told me that "everyone who didn't get a cart yesterday showed up at 3:00am this morning waiting for the gates to the course to open. We sold out of carts shortly after 5:00am," he said. Crap.

The walk back to the truck was a somber one and I was running through a list of gear that I could do without to lighten my load: "Do I really need to carry a 16-35mm wide-angle lens or an extra camera battery?" "Maybe I should ditch the industrial-sized gallon of sunblock and opt for a more streamlined travel-friendly tube." "And I probably don't need to carry around a liter bottle of water, right? I mean there are water stations at just about every hole." I laid out my necessary gear and provisions on the tailgate of the truck, took a quick catnap (I got there almost two hours ahead of our first golfer's tee-off), and then headed out to the course. I quickly found out that leaving the water behind was a grave mistake. StateGolf10 StateGolf08 StateGolf06 The Sonora High School girls team was probably going to be our biggest story of the day, including their top golfer, Elizabeth Chavarria, who was tied for the overall title for just about the entire day. I followed around the guys teams of Sonora and Wall for a bit, but finally caught up with the Sonora girls team and hung with them for the rest of the tournament. I found it quite funny that even though they were ahead by so many strokes that every little mistake seemed to cause great distress. I'm sure it was probably just the desire to put forth their best effort, but if I know I'm in the lead for a state title I'm going to try and stay as calm as possible and just try and do one better than the girl I'm playing against.

By the time the final holes where being played the temperature was lingering in the low 90s and the humidity was somewhere in the 50s. I swear I must have lost 20 pounds in sweat alone that day. The camera strap hanging over my left shoulder was beginning to cut like a knife and the camera with the 400mm lens attached seemed to be gaining five pounds every minute. Chavarria's group was the last group to come in for the day, but Chavarria was still tied for the overall title with a young lady from Melissa High School. There was going to be a playoff. Both golfers where taken to the 18th tee box for the fist hole of the playoff. At the end, still tied. On to the 10th. At the end, still tied. Back to the 18th. Both golfers hit short of the green on their approach shots and had to chip on leaving both golfers with a 10 to 12 foot put. Sydney Williams of Melissa High School made hers, Chavarria did not. The day was finally over. I spent a few moments at the awards ceremony and photographed the girls getting their medals and then made a mad dash to the truck to sit in the cooling blast of the air conditioner.

After sitting in the truck in a vegetative state for about 45 minutes, I headed out in search of food and a cool place to edit and transmit photos back to the office. I wish I could say that was the end of the day, but  I still had to make the 3 1/2-hour drive back to San Angelo because I had to shoot the final day of the state gymnastics meet the next morning. The drive back home was uneventful. All I could think about was sleeping in my own bed. I pulled into the drive, threw my bags on the floor and curled up to sleep. Thus ended an epic 13 1/2-hour work day. StateGolf07

Friday, May 11, 2012

2012 State Golf Tournament: Day 1

StateGolf04 After a much needed day off I got up early to head out to the Class 2A state golf tournament at Roy Kizer Golf Course, fortunately located within 15 minutes of my hotel. Roy Kizer is a very cool course with only one major flaw... no shade. There is not a single tree on the entire course. It's a very beautiful course with undulating hills, perfectly placed sand bunkers and some wicked water hazards, but if you're out there on a day with no cloud cover and no wind, you're going to bake. Fortunately, Texas has been going through some recent weeks of rain and the temperature has been mild compared to what it has been in the past. When I arrived at the course, the clouds where still rolling through the area.

The first order of business is to secure a golf cart. Why? Because I don't want to haul an extra 40 to 50 pounds of gear around on my shoulders all day, that's why. And Roy Kizer is not a flat course like the ones we have here in West Texas. Plus, if you're in a cart you can move around the course faster and your shade travels wherever you go. Once I pulled into the parking lot at 7:30am I jumped out of the truck and ran to the clubhouse and managed to get one of the last carts. Whew! StateGolf05 StateGolf02 StateGolf01 I was only going to be covering the Class 2A tournament in which the Sonora High School boys and girls and the Wall High School boys were competing. Our best hopes of getting a medal was going to come from the Sonora girls team and senior Elizabeth Chavarria for the overall title. Just like the first day of the tennis tournament, my main goal was to get a photo of every player in the tournament. I basically stayed on the back nine for the day and photographed the players as they came through. If you remember from an earlier post, my go-to shot for golf is the bunker, but because this is the state tournament, most of these kids are pretty good and know how to avoid the trap. I did get a few bunker shots, but nothing spectacular.

By the end of the day the Sonora girls were well on their way to a team title led by Chavarria who was tied heading into the final round. The top player for the Sonora boys was Word Hudson, but he had a terrible time negotiating the 17th holeand posted an eight. Sports writer Mike Whitson had a chance to talk with Hudson's grandmother on the course and she had mentioned that the 17th has always been hard on the Hudsons. Word's brother took an eight on the very same hole a few years back and lost the overall title by a few strokes. Sometimes a curse just won't go away. StateGolf03

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

2012 State Tennis Tournament: Day 2

TennisFinal01 The first day of the state tennis tournament is long, hot and all about making sure I get at least one photo of every student who goes to a school in our coverage area. The second day, however, is all about the emotion. These kids work hard to make it this far and for some it will be the last time they play tennis for their respective schools. The emotion that pours out of them is a mixture of relief and sorrow, excitement and dejection. Fortunately almost all of the kids I was photographing would be coming out on top at the end of the day.

Mason High School has been a powerhouse in Class 1A tennis for years. It is not uncommon to have a Mason tennis player in more than one final each year. This year was no different. Mason had representatives in four of the five finals matches: Boys singles, boys and girls doubles and mixed doubles. Probably the biggest story out of Mason was senior Matt Banner. He was competing in the boys singles final for the fourth year in a row. He has been a tour de force in the this event and has won it the last three years. This year would be his fourth. It took Banner the first set to get his game going and in the second he put away his competition. As the final point scored Banner let out a roar that could have been heard on the other side of the complex as he held up four fingers to mark his accomplishment. TennisFinal06 TennisFinal04 The Mason boys and girls doubles teams also had a good outing during their finals matches. The girls won their mach is straight sets against a team from Wink, but the boys' match went into three sets. They were playing a team from Reagan County, another school in our coverage area. This was the longest match of the day, but well worth the wait. Eventually though, the Mason team of Andrew Willis and Andy Duarte edged out Reagan County's Lorenzo Benitez and Jordan Subia for the title.

The mixed doubles final was played between Mason's Amanda Hudson and Rio Schmidt and Menard High School's Taylor Lyckman and Riley Rambo. This was another great match, though it only went two sets. Lyckman and Rambo were the defending state champions and might have been favored to win, but you never count out a team from Mason. Like I said before, Mason is a powerhouse when it comes to Class 1A tennis. The school has won something like 80 state titles over the years! Incredible! I could have very easily been shooting an all-Mason championship run this year, but the defending champions from Menard pulled out a 6-4, 6-4 victory. It was a good start to the week and now it was time for a much needed day of rest, relaxation and finding new food adventures. TennisFinal05

Monday, May 7, 2012

2012 State Tennis Tournament: Day 1

StateTennis01 I just returned from Austin after a week of shooting state tennis and golf tournaments and I've got to be perfectly honest, I don't think I've ever come back this exhausted. My body hurts from hauling gear around on by shoulders, my skin burns and blisters have formed on my feet from walking up and down stairs and hills. Getting old sucks.

Anyhoo, on Monday started the state tennis tournament and we had a ton of kids involved from area schools and three students from our local Class 5A school, Central High School. The first day is always a bit hectic and very unorganized. I don't know if it's a flaw in design or it's just the fact that it's always been run this way and nobody wants to take the time to change it, but what essentially happens is the very first matches of the day always start late. The first matches of the day! If anything those are the ones that should start on time, there's no excuse. And, as usual, the first matches of the day started 30 minutes late. That basically sets the tone for the rest of the morning and afternoon.

The state tournament is divided between two locations, the Penick-Allison Tennis Center at the University of Texas at Austin and the Lakeway World of Tennis on the other side of town. Normally I would be making the gut-wrenching, road rage riddled drive across town to shoot matches at both sites, but this year we only had three entries in the Class 2A tournament at Penick-Allison so I was given the direction to just stay at Lakeway for the Class 1A tournament and the two entries we had in the Class 5A tournament. Believe it or not, but not having to drive through the mid-day Austin traffic is a huge relief. StateTennis04 StateTennis03 Since the first matches started late it put everything else off schedule as well. The singles matches were on court first, both boys and girls, followed by the doubles matches. The doubles matches were slated to start at 11:30am, but didn't get underway until almost 2:00pm. We were way behind. But that's how it usually goes so you just have to grin and bear it and be thankful you're not stuck in some office building pounding away at a keyboard beneath the life-sucking glow of florescent lighting.

Around 6:30pm I managed to transmit a few photos back to the office between semifinal matches. Unfortunately, both our Central entries lost in the first round, but we did have several students progress to the semifinal rounds. By the end of the day I was going to have to photograph every finals match in the Class 1A division except the girls singles match. With the day finally over, I made the drive back across town to the hotel and grabbed some dinner with sports writer Mike Whitson. The first 12-hour day for the week was now in the books. StateTennis02