Friday, January 30, 2009

Press Herald: Teen Advisors Should Be Considered

PPH editorial:
As the parent of any teen can attest, connecting with high school students can
be often be a challenge. It's a normal part of development for teens to be a bit
self-absorbed and caught up in their own world. Yet teenagers have a stake in
the larger world and often have a perspective that's worth hearing. That's what
makes an idea proposed by a member of the Westbrook City Council so worth
considering. Brendan Rielly, the council president, says he would like to create
two nonvoting council seats for youth representatives.
- John C.L. Morgan

Related: Youth Advisory Seats Proposed for City Council (January 28)

Wescott Re-Use Committee Eyes Olympic-Sized Swimming Pool

Jim Violette of Westbrook says he has a solution. Violette is co-chairman of a
committee that is planning the future of Wescott Junior High School, the
soon-to-be-closed school on Bridge Street. If the panel has its way, the junior
high grounds will be the site of an Olympic-size pool and those summer trips
across the border will be a thing of the past. "It's kind of crazy that all that
money is being spent in Canada," Violette said. The 30-member committee wants to
know what it would cost to transform Wescott into a regional sports and social
services hub. Violette said he intends to ask city councilors, during a meeting
scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday at the school, to fund an engineering study of the
- John C.L. Morgan

Related: Re-Use of Wescott (August 2008)

Blaine Reynolds and Kevin Sparks

Paper City People: Blaine Reynolds and Kevin Sparks

Before becoming co-owners of Colonial Bowling Center in June 2004, Blaine Reynolds and Kevin Sparks were longtime bowlers. Reynolds, a resident of Windham, has been a bowler at the candlepin alley since 1978. And Sparks, a resident of Gray, has won an assortment state championships in the sport, including the singles championship in 2001. He also represented the United States that year in the sport's world championship.

Both sat down on a recent snowy morning to give their opinions on the best Westbrook has to offer:

Best Athlete
Reynolds: Matt Donahue
Sparks: N/A

Best Bagel
Reynolds: Tim Hortons
Sparks: Mister Bagel

Best Bar
Reynolds: Stockhouse Restaurant & Sports Pub
Sparks: Stockhouse Restaurant & Sports Pub or Profenno's Pizzeria & Pub

Best Breakfast
Reynolds: River's Edge Deli
Sparks: Guidi's Diner

Best Burger
Reynolds: Colonial Bowling Center
Sparks: Colonial Bowling Center

Best Car Repair
Reynolds: Westbrook Service Center
Sparks: Westbrook Service Center

Best Cheap Eat
Reynolds: Thanksgiving's Bakery and Eatery
Sparks: Colonial Bowling Center

Best Coffee
Reynolds: Tim Hortons
Sparks: Dunkin' Donuts

Best Dessert
Reynolds: The Baker's Bench
Sparks: N/A

Best Ethnic Restaurant
Reynolds: Siam Square
Sparks: Siam Square

Best Gas Station
Reynolds: Westbrook Service Center
Sparks: Westbrook Service Center

Best Grocer
Reynolds: Hannaford
Sparks: Shaw's

Best Haircut
Reynolds: N/A
Sparks: Brazier's Barber Shop

Best Italian Sandwich
Reynolds: Graham's Variety
Sparks: Amato's

Best Pizza
Reynolds: Colonial Bowling Center
Sparks: Colonial Bowling Center

Best Politician
Reynolds: N/A
Sparks: City Councilor John O'Hara

Best Recreation
Reynolds: Sunset Ridge Golf Links
Sparks: Colonial Bowling Center

Best Restaurant
Reynolds: Casa Novello
Sparks: Casa Novello

Best Sandwich
Reynolds: Graham's
Sparks: Subway

Best Secret
Reynolds: Colonial Bowling Center
Sparks: Colonial Bowling Center

Best Walk
Reynolds: N/A
Sparks: Olmsted Field

- John C.L. Morgan

Related: On Location: Colonial Bowling Center (January 2008)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Colgan: Before/After

Charles Colgan in a February 2008 PPH article about the economic feasibility of Stroudwater Place:
The addition of so much retail space--by comparison, the Maine Mall has 1.2
million square feet of retail space--is a risky venture but mitigated by the
plan to build in phases, said Charles Colgan, a public policy professor at
USM's Muskie School of Public Service and chairman of the state's economic
forecasting committee. The project does have the advantage of a well-located
site in the fastest-growing and wealthiest part of the state he said. "It does
represent a statement of faith in the future of the southern Maine economy," he
said. According to the Maine Real Estate and Development Association, the
state's population and income are not keeping pace with its large amount of
retaildevelopment. But Colgan said the current retail situation won't be an
issue. "You're looking at a whole business cycle or two away from when this
thing would come online," he said.
Colgan in this week's American Journal on the same subject:

Colgan, the Maine economist, echoes that view.
“The retail sector is overbuilt--not as much here, but Maine is not immune from
the problem…I expect that some of the space never again will be used for retail.
It may go to offices.”


“I never want to knock anyone who puts their
own money at risk,” Colgan said. “But that project seemed dubious when it was
announced. It could be one of those projects that never gets built, which now
seems like more than a reasonable chance of happening.”

- John C.L. Morgan

Party Like It's Winter '08

This week's issue of the American Journal is nothing if not a trip down short-memory lane.

Besides causing me to mine old March 2008 articles surrounding the closing of Skybox (see below), this week's edition has sent me searching for old February/March 2008 articles in which the economics surrounding Stroudwater Place considered (here and here). The AJ's Linda Hersey has the latest thoughts on the topic:

Stroudwater Place and the Maine Mall will fight a death struggle against one another
Public policy professor and economist Charles Colgan: "It's pretty much inevitable that the two malls would be competing for the same shoppers and tenants."

Financial columnist and urban studies professor Joel Kotkin: "Building more stores just moves people from one location to another. Unless you're expecting a huge population growth in southern Maine or a jump in people's income, there's a limit to how many large shopping malls the region can support."

Marketing expert and retail analyst David Biernbaum: "In my opinion, every retailer type and every type of mall is in competition for the available consumer dollar.”

Stroudwater Place and the Maine Mall will co-exist peacefully
Stroudwater Place developer Jason Snyder: "The Maine Mall is not going to disappear. It will not be anything less than what it is as we build out.”

This debate is moot, because Stroudwater Place may not even be built
Colgan: “I never want to knock anyone who puts their own money at risk. It could be one of those projects that never gets built, which now seems like more than a reasonable chance of happening.”

- John C.L. Morgan

A Couple Thoughts on the Re-Opening of Skybox

Leslie Bridgers has a good article in this week's American Journal about the reopening of Skybox Bar & Grill on Brown Street (sorry, no link).

To avoid completely regurgitating my earlier arguments against the City Council's denials of Skybox's liquor license last March and August (here, here, and here), I'll just highlight one annoying paragraph and then bombard you, dear reader, with a batch of rhetorical questions related to a head-scratching graf. First, though, the annoying:

Two sets of owners have battled with the city and
worked with the state in order to reopen the Brown Street bar, which was
twice denied liquor licenses by city councilors and the mayor because of the
amount of police calls it generated
. [Emphasis mine.]
Westbrook Police Chief Bustlin' Bill Baker is on record in Bridgers's article for opposing the reopening of the bar for nuisance-related reasons, and a March 2008 PPH news brief regarding the City Council's initial denial of the bar's liquor license notes Westbrook's finest didn't support the bar owners' request for a liquor license last March because "[p]olice say there have been a high number of calls for service at Skybox compared to other licensed liquor establishments in the city." Between February 2007 and February 2008, though, Skybox's thirteen phone calls to the police were only four greater than, say, Profenno's nine or six more than Mill Side Tavern's seven. I know high is a relative term, but when you can count the differences in phone calls over a span of twelve months on one of Antonio Alfonseca's hands, aren't we defining high down?

And the head-scratching:
Mayor Bruce Chuluda said he voted to deny the
license because he wanted the owners to make their case to another body--meaning
the state's Liquor Licensing and ComplianceDivision, which he figured would
overturn the decision.
Did BruChu think Skybox owner Allen Moore needed extra practice to sharpen his public-speaking skills? Or was BruChu's vote against Skybox actually a vote for the bar, so the state Liquor Licensing and Compliance Division could swoop in to rescue the bar from the City Council? Or maybe BruChu's vote was sincere and ground in the belief that Brown Street cannot handle a liquor establishment? Or perhaps BruChu's vote against the bar was a way for him to shift blame from the city's solons to state bureaucrats if something--God forbid--tragic happens at the bar? And finally, why did BruChu vote for killing a business for almost an entire year, despite figuring it would eventually be given life-support by the Liquor Licensing and Compliance Division?

Anyway, these academic exercises aside, congrats to the Moores for securing a license and good luck in the endeavor.

- John C.L. Morgan

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Eat Meat

Tim Sample on the diet for an aggressive planet:

- John C.L. Morgan

Did You Know?

Did you know nearly twenty percent of Mainers were members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in the mid-1920s?

According to C. Stewart Doty, professor emeritus of history at the University of Maine, the KKK reached its membership peak (150,141 members) in Maine in 1925, while the U.S. Census Bureau reports from 1920 indicate there were 768,041 residents living in the Pine Tree State. Also, in his essay "How Many Frenchmen Does It Take To...," Doty writes about the KKK's membership base and targets in the northeast:
In New England, the Klan appealed to Protestant
clergy, businessmen, members of the Masons and Odd Fellows, and farmers.
Unlike in the American South, the Klan's target in New England was French
Catholics and Jews.
- John C.L. Morgan

P.S. The Maine Historical Society has an online collection of KKK paraphernalia, including photos of the KKK marching on the streets of various Maine towns and cities.

The Augustan: Rep. Peoples on the Allocation of Transportation Money

Morning Sentinel:
Rep. Ann Peoples, D-Westbrook, said state transportation officials and lawmakers
will need to be disciplined when they decide how to spend the money. "I think
it's really, really important we remember this economic recovery money is
one-time money," she said. "It's not money we're going to see year after year."
Rep. Peoples, who serves on the legislature's Joint Standing Committee on Transportation, is reacting to news that Maine is expecting $139 million from a federal stimulus package intended to upgrade the state's transportation infrastructure.

- John C.L. Morgan

Youth Advisory Seats Proposed for City Council

City officials are considering adding a pair of nonvoting council seats for
students as a way to lasso teenagers into local decision-making at a time of
historic elections and inspiring victory speeches. The proposal seeks to
capitalize on the buzz from an election season that saw young voters flock to
the polls in large numbers and later gather around television sets to watch
Barack Obama be sworn in as the nation's first black president.
According to the article, early supporters of the idea are its proprietor City Council President Brendan "Zeus" Rielly (D-Ward 1), Councilor Drew Gattine (D-Ward 2), and Councilor Michael Foley (D-At Large).

- John C.L. Morgan

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Monday, January 26, 2009

James Tranchemontagne's Ideas for a Better Westbrook

(Editor's note: I've invited a diverse collection of Westbrook residents to share their thoughts on how Westbrook can become a better place to live. James Tranchemontagne shares his ideas.)

In the four years that I have lived and worked in Westbrook, I am very proud to see what the city has accomplished. While we face some tough choices ahead, the biggest concerns are: Does City Hall have a clear vision anymore? Will Westbrook’s image of being pro-business start to tarnish?

The stories in our great city are changing. We deal with whether or not the city can work with Pike, Idexx and others to come up with a comprehensive plan for Spring Street. We wonder, Why was the Skybox really shut down? Will the Mayor finally hold its elected officials and city workers to an ethical and moral standard? Is licensing a needle exchange business for drug addicts what this city needs? Finally, will the City take the necessary steps to clean up Brown Street and surrounding neighborhoods once and for good, while inviting business development to both sides of the river? While small issues now, let them not be the first cracks in the dam that go unnoticed. I’m proud to live here with my family and run my business here. As the Grateful Dead’s “Shakedown Street” says, “Don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart. All you got to do is poke around.”

Here are some of my ideas for a better Westbrook:

Keep Up the Good Work at City Hall
The Mayor's Office and City Hall have done a great job for the city. The Mayor, Bruce Chuluda, and City Administrator, Jerre Bryant, are a well-oiled machine. Having spent years dealing with Portland, it is amazing how fast Westbrook works for its small businesses. I wish this story got more press. They have done a great job replacing Erik Carson as the Director of Economic and Community Development, as Keith Luke seems to be answering the challenge. And under the Mayor’s direction, there has been an overhaul of city laws and regulations. These laws have eliminated numerous red tape issues and cleaned up the language for better understanding and moved the city to the 21st century.

Redesign the City's Web site
This is a huge piece of marketing to get new companies to move to Westbrook. There are a lot of reasons companies hate the State of Maine for business and thus make it more difficult for the city to attract out-of-state companies to relocate to Maine. A Web site that shows the positive aspects of relocating businesses to Westbrook may dispel some myths about doing business in the state. Why don’t we have a list of companies--big and small--which have relocated here, matched with the benefits each company has found?

Also, the information and navigation of the site is poor: The police section--actually most sections--is useless and not up-to-date. The Web site wasn’t even built by a Westbrook company, let alone a Maine one. The city is essentially saying, “Westbrook is where artists live…we just won’t employ them.”

Another idea is to put City Hall’s checkbook on line! We pay our taxes to run the city, now let us see where the money is going. Don’t just post the budget, let’s allow every citizen to see if it is being followed and balanced. Also, all documents should be in .pdf format as well as Microsoft word.

Six Ways to Become a Model for Environmental Policy
1. Establish a community garden. Let people have a space to gather and grow food. We have the land to do it off the Riverwalk, and the fees to have a spot would offset costs. Besides giving people one more reason to come to the river, residents could donate excess crops to churches and food relief groups in Westbrook. I know a lot of people have yards and small gardens, but a community effort to help feed its own would send a great example on how government should work. Compost sites and extending the city’s recycling program would be great as well and could help save money on our parks and recreation budgets.
2. Give tax breaks for homeowners who are remodeling older properties, restoring them, and upgrading them with green technologies.
3. Require a minimum for implementation of green technologies for all new construction in Westbrook. Residential, commercial, and industrial developers should be using the latest in tankless water heaters, solar technologies, rain collectors, wind, and energy-efficient lighting. Developers should have to put a certain percentage of these technologies into new construction.
4. Utilize biofuels. There are enough restaurants that could supply the city with used oil to convert certain town vehicles over to biofuel. A fair dollar-to-dollar exchange for oil to property tax would be a great start.
5. Eliminate one police car in exchange for a 2-officer bike patrol for two shifts a day. This would provide the police additional access to hard-to-reach areas and trails, set an example for health, and eliminate the cost of one car, as well as its associated fees.
6. Eliminate the Cumberland Mill dam and build the fish passage. This can become a great legacy to Westbrook’s image, Sappi’s social responsibility, and can help draw tourists to town.

Build community, while also revitalizing Westbrook's economy
As touched on before, our revitalization of the downtown must continue. The City needs to keep working to get new businesses to come to town. The real estate market has helped young families move to the city, and I feel we could also become a nice retirement community. As Westbrook promotes a safe night life, festivals and family events, it helps to build community. The Mayor and City Councilors need to make sure the image they are projecting is achieved. It is always nice to see our Mayor at different events, the cleanliness of our city, and the pride that is being restored. Through community-building we all become vested in making our city great.

Expand the Riverwalk to both sides of the Presumpscot River
Our parks, Riverwalk, and ball fields are great--but more can be done to help link them. The Riverwalk must be completed on both sides of the river. It has to be safe for all and it must represent the balance of wildlife, city life, and the arts. It would be great to see a sculpture garden, more family performances at the gazebo, and recreational use of the river.

Rebuild Frenchtown
The City should market the areas between River Street, King Street extension, Knight Street extension, High Street, and Garfield Street to be developed for business and recreation. The houses are old and out-of-date, do not have historical value, and could be rebuilt facing the river. It should be rezoned for commercial use only. Give property owners the chance to sell their homes at market value, with possible offsets from the City. A stone bridge for foot traffic from King Street to the park would be a major accomplishment to link the two sides of the river and help develop pedestrian passage.

Clearly define how Stroudwater Place would affect Westbrook's downtown
If the Stroudwater Project is built (and I hope it is), we need the City to provide a clear vision of what that major commercial development will do to our downtown. This includes maps, drawings, and artistic renderings. We need to make sure our downtown stays practical and open in space. I praise the City for working fast with the developers of the project (one only needs to look at Portland’s City Council and the many missed opportunities they have created for themselves because of slow-moving government), but let’s make sure we are not selling out our city. Let’s make sure we are doing our homework and dotting all i’s and crossing all t’s along the way.

Move the farmers' market back to Riverbank Park
I believe if we move our farmers' market to Saturday in the park with a mixture of City-sponsored activities, craft vendors, and ethic food vendors, we would generate additional revenue for businesses and exposure for the city. Make a Hay Market Square here in our park. What a tourist draw.

My dreams for this great city are strong, large, and attainable. We cannot become negative about change and growth, but be steadfast and smart how we grow. My Pepere taught me long ago not only to work hard but also to work smart. I believe Westbrook will come a city unto itself and a model for all of Maine. I feel we must continue to market our strength of urban living with a rural feel.

James Tranchemontagne is the chef/owner of The Frog and Turtle.

Related: Taylor Smith's "Ideas for a Better Westbrook."

Paper City Streets: Conant Street

Conant Street is named for the city's first permanent settler, Joseph Conant, who settled in the area in 1739.

- John C.L. Morgan

Three Reasons

(Editor's Note: A Maine Principals' Association (MPA) committee is scheduled to discuss and probably vote on a number of proposals affecting high school sports in Maine later today. Though I think there are a handful of other reasons to find most of the proposals distasteful, the three listed below are, I believe, the most compelling.)

Scope of financial savings is unclear
Speaking on WJAB's "Weekend Jab" last weekend (sorry, the interview isn't archived), Cheverus High School athletic director Gary Hoyt estimated the three ideas--reducing the regular season schedule by two, limiting non-countable games to two, and limiting the number of playoff-eligible teams in Heal point sports--would save his school between $5,500 and $7,500 per year, but added that such savings do not take into account the possible losses in revenue from gate receipts and tournament earnings (Hoyt mentioned a pre-season hockey tournament that yields approximately $9,000).

Lewiston High School athletic director Jason Fuller and Kennebunk High athletic director Marty Ryan echoed Hoyt's findings. Fuller, paraphased in a January 18 Lewiston Sun Journal article: "Cutting games will save money, but the savings are minimized by lost gate receipts and concession sales, Fuller said." And Ryan, quoted in a January 25 Portland Press Herald story: "Kennebunk's Ryan calculated his school would save $6,100 if those measures are passed. 'But,' he quickly added, 'at the same time we'd lose some revenue, because of lost (home) games.'"

And Westbrook Schools superintendent Stan Sawyer, writing in an American Journal op-ed last week (sorry, no link) states: "[The MPA's] proposal is not the most effective way to address the financial issues we are facing in school sports. On the contrary, we strongly believe that [their] approach will not find much savings, if any."

To be sure, the plural of anecdote is not data. But I've waded through the most informational media mentions these proposals have garnered and do not recall reading or hearing even one proponent (come to think of it, I think the MPA executive director Dick Durost has been the only full-throated proponent on record) cite specific--or general, for that matter--dollar figures in regards to savings. Moreover, claims that some schools would be forced to chop whole sport programs if these proposals aren't enacted have only been vague and unspecified.

The proposal to limit the number of non-countable games is misguided
Though Durost has always framed the issue of non-countable games as a question of fairness (it is not fair, the argument goes, to allow one deep-pocketed school to play, say, seven non-countable games, while a less-fortunate school can afford only two exhibition games), it should be seen through an economic lens. Consider, for example, the Maine High School Invitational Hockey Tournament. Besides occupying southern Maine's ice arenas during what I assume is a relatively slow holiday season, this year's edition included twenty-four (by my count) non-Maine teams. That means Maine's service sector--hotels, restaurants, shops--were able to reserve hotel rooms, fill bellies, and sell goods that otherwise would not have been occupied, eaten, or sold. Paradoxically, the MPA is pushing for the reduction of a yet-to-be-determined amount of tax dollars by eliminating an event that, well, generates tax dollars.

Now, to be fair, this event is an outlier among non-countable events, but it is emblematic of the positive economic and competitive impacts non-countable exhibitions and tournaments yield for various programs. Booster programs' coffers are bolstered (Westbrook's soccer boosters, for example, benefit from the annual Calpine pre-season tournament the Blue Blazes host each August) and teams willingly travel to various tournaments to play a cost-efficient number of extra games, often against teams they would otherwise not compete against.

Why do I get the feeling that this is the response you'd receive if you pressed the proponents of this proposal for even a rudimentary cost-benefit analysis surrounding the implementation of this idea?

Reducing the number of countable games would set a dangerous precedent and perhaps begin (continue?) Maine high school sports' march toward irrelevance
Despite my lack of legal training, I appreciate the power of precedent. The gradual revamping of the football schedule, for example, ensures the idea of Westbrook traveling to Bangor for a season-opening game (as they did in the 1970s) no longer passes the straight-face test. And I understand the past death of New England championships for team sports ensures I'll probably never match my late father's accomplishment of winning a New England championship in soccer (he played on the 1972 Gorham Rams team that defeated Massachusetts's Cathedral High, 2-0). I get that. Indeed, it is this respect for the power of precedence--coupled, of course, with the seemingly dubious claims of savings--that causes me to balk at the proposal for a reduction in countable games.

As it stands today, there are fourteen games in a soccer season and eighteen in each basketball and ice hockey. So, if the proposal to reduce the number of countable games was enacted, there would 12, 16, and 16 games in each season, respectively. Now, who's to say that next year or two years from now, the number of countable games won't be pared even smaller? Or, that five years from now I won't find myself in a similar position arguing why eight games for a regular season in soccer is too few? This, I am afraid, is not merely an academic exercise. The three sports I cited--soccer, basketball, and ice hockey--are particularly vulnerable to encroachment by non-school sports programs (read: club soccer, AAU or club basketball, and junior hockey). And though I may be wading in hyperbole--and, frankly, I hope I am being hyperbolic--I am concerned a reduction in games--and the precedence it sets--for each of these sports poses an existential threat, a gradual slouching toward irrelevance.

High school sports in Maine already face a daunting challenge recruiting demand for its product (this is, after all, the age of niche entertainment), so why would its supposed protectors enact policies that would weaken its supply, especially when the prospects for actual savings are so relatively small, if they even exist at all?

- John C.L. Morgan

Disclosure: I've been an assistant coach in Westbrook's soccer program for the last two years.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

American Journal Briefs, January 22, 2009

City finance director owes almost $6,000 in unpaid taxes and has had a lien put on her house:
Sue Rossignol, the finance director and a resident of Conant Street, said she
purposely has not been paying taxes on her property for the past year and a half
because she’s in a legal battle with the son of the property’s previous owner.
“I have nothing to hide,” she said last week.
Patrons at Walker Memorial Library watched last Tuesday's presidential inauguration:
With flags, decorations, refreshments and a table of books about former
presidents set up on the second floor of the library, the library was ready when
some 30 viewers filtered into the conference room just after 11 a.m. Tuesday to
get a good seat in front of the two televisions tuned to the inauguration. As
noon approached, more and more people gathered to watch both from inside the
room and through its glass walls. Some came to the library to celebrate the new
presidency. Others just happened to be passing through.
Sappi announces new round of layoffs:
Sappi announced that 19 positions will be temporarily eliminated over the next
several months. This is in addition to the nine employees who were laid off in
November and December. "With the current economic climate, like many Maine
businesses, Sappi Fine Paper North America's Westbrook Mill is experiencing a
change in demand for its products,” said Donna Cassese, the plant's managing
City of Westbrook lays off nine:
City Administrator Jerre Bryant said that seven full-time staff members and two
part-time employees were laid off. The positions eliminated include a deputy
fire chief, the assistant code enforcement officer, the public safety
secretary, three public services employees, a customer service
representative and two part-time employees at the library.
- John C.L. Morgan

Westbrook as Manufacturing Hub

From the Manufacturers' News Inc.:
Portland ranks as the state’s top manufacturing city with 5,376 jobs, up 1.3%
over the year. Bath accounts for 5,091 jobs, with no significant change reported
over the year. Auburn jobs are down 2.2% with the third-ranked city home to
4,051 workers. Westbrook accounts for 2,889 of the state’s jobs, up 3.3%, while
South Portland is home to 2,504 industrial workers, with employment up 1.7%.
- John C.L. Morgan

How to Be Successful in Business Without Really Trying

No, this is not yet another Rudy Vallee post.

Instead, it's a link to the "Seven Inexpensive Ways to Drive Sales in 2009," brought to the Maine Women's Network by Westbrook's Full Court Press.

Topped off with a Rudy Vallee reference.

- John C.L. Morgan

Am I Missing Something?

Via Vacationland:

Burns Night--a big to-do in the state of Maine--celebrates the fame, exploits,
and poetry of Robert Burns, the man responsible for gems like "Auld lang Syne"
and "My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose."

First, there is the presentation of the haggis. After all, what Scottish
celebration would be complete without some leftover cuts of sheep that have been
boiled in sheep stomach for a couple hours.
[Emphasis mine.]

Now, I don't have an ounce of Scottish blood in me, so maybe I'm out of the loop. But is an annual celebration of Bobby Burns really a "big to-do" in the Pine Tree State?

- John C.L. Morgan

Song of the Week

The song of the week is Dilly Dilly's "Doo Write."

- John C.L. Morgan

Westbrook Politics: January 26- January 30, 2009

There are no political meetings scheduled.

- John C.L. Morgan

Westbrook Almanac: January 18- January 24, 2009

High: 34F (January 22)
Low: 0F (January 24)
Precipitation: 0.62 inches
Snowfall: 12.47 inches
Previous Sunrise: 7:06a
Previous Sunset: 4:42p

High: 38F (January 6)
Low: -16F (January 16)
Precipitation: 1.44 inches
Snowfall: 21.07 inches

High: 38F (January 6)
Low: -16F (Januay 16)
Precipitation: 1.44 inches
Snowfall: 21.07 inches

Source: National Weather Service

- John C.L. Morgan

Photo of the Day

The Port City Daily Photo blog visited Westbrook's riverwalk along the Presumpscot this morning.

- John C.L. Morgan

The Sportswriter: Why Linemen Don't Win More Fitzpatrick Trophies

"Those five guys, they pave the road for us to run. We do the easy part, they do the hard part. It takes real men to do what they do for us." - New York Giants running back Derrick Ward, talking about his offensive line in October 2007.

In his January 23 column, Press Herald sports columnist Steve Solloway laments the fact that only one offensive lineman has won the James J. Fitzpatrick Trophy (Lewiston's Gerry Raymond in 1977) since the award's inception in 1971. Now, Solloway briefly touches upon why this is the case (namely, a lack of appreciation among spectators for those who spend all game laboring in the glob of flesh known as the line of scrimmage), but he largely neglects how the collegiate and professional ranks of the sport may influence why so few linemen have been recognized as the best high school football players in Maine.

Fortunately, there's Gregg Easterbrook, a columnist at, who's always examining football's neglected arguments, overlooked statistics, and undervalued players (or smarter-than-expected cheerleaders, such as Standish native Alyssa Caddle). So, whether he's explaining the mathematical reasons behind his belief in why teams should almost never punt, highlighting the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens' habit of blitzing at least one defensive back on two-thirds of the third-and-long situations in last week's conference championship game, or just giving Division II football teams shout-outs on a platform generally reserved for their richer and more talented brethren, Easterbrook always demonstrates an appreciation for the underappreciated. So it is no surprise that part of his December 17 hodgepodge of football-related thoughts turned to the lack of representation of lineman and linebackers in the pantheon of Heisman Trophy winners.

After noting the irony of the award's namesake probably not being able to win the award named after him (John Heisman was an offensive lineman), Easterbrook recommends the award be re-named the "Heisman Trophy for Big-College Quarterback or Running Back Who Receives Most Publicity." To be sure, the new moniker would be a mouthful, but at least its lack of brevity is redeemed by its accuracy. That's because, according to Easterbrook, ninety-three percent of the Heisman Trophy winners since the award was established in 1935 have either been a quarterback (25 times) or a running back (43 times), while wide receivers (4 times) and a cornerback account for the remaining 7 percent. Moreover, according to Easterbrook, the last lineman or linebacker to finish in the top 3 of the voting was University of Pittsburgh defensive end Hugh Green, when he finished in second 1980. This, despite the fact that offensive linemen have been represented in the top 5 picks of the NFL Draft every year since 2000, except two (2005 and 2003).

As unrepresentative as the the Heisman Trophy has been, though, the National Football League's (NFL) Most Valuable Player (MVP) track record is even worse.

Since 1957, ninety-six percent of the winners of the NFL MVP award have been either quarterbacks (33 times) or running backs (16 times). No offensive lineman or wide receiver has ever won the award, and a defensive player has been determined to be the league's MVP only twice (Minnesota Vikings Defensive Tackle Alan Page in 1971 and New York Giants Linebacker Lawrence Taylor in 1986). And, like the benign neglect the Heisman Trophy voters pay the college game's offensive lineman, the underrepresentation of professional linemen in MVP voting doesn't necessarily reflect the value the NFL labor market has placed on offensive linemen: Michael Lewis, author of the book The Blind Side: Evolution of Game
notes that "the average N.F.L. left tackle’s salary was $5.5 million a year, and the left tackle had become the second-highest-paid position on the team, after the quarterback."

Which begs the question: Why are collegiate and professional linemen continually ignored for consideration as the game's finest players? Well, in a word, statistics. If baseball is the sabermetrician's game, then football is quickly becoming her second-favorite. A couple clicks on's stats page, for example, can probably yield information on how well New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has performed when he's played in a dome on an oddly-numbered Sunday, while wearing a red undershirt. But good luck simply finding how many pancake blocks Patriots offensive Matt Light has executed or how many sacks Nick Kaczur has allowed. In fact, "Offensive Line" isn't even an option on the Web site's "View By Position" scroll.

Which begs the ultimate rhetorical question: If the NFL doesn't care to measure and statistically appreciate its offensive lineman, how can we expect Fitzpatrick voters to do so?

- John C.L. Morgan

Friday, January 23, 2009

Companionless in Westbrook

Though Brian Duff and BruChu might quibble with her picks, The Maine Switch's Avery Yale Kamila recommends The Frog and Turtle or Portland Pie Company as the places to eat for the Paper City's lonely solo diners.

- John C.L. Morgan

The MPA Reader (and Listener and Viewer)

A collection of Maine media mentions related to the controversial proposals the Maine Principals' Association (MPA) is considering in regards to high school sports in the Pine Tree State:

Bangor Daily News news story (December 20)
BDN sports columnist/reporter Ernie Clark details the proposals generated at the ad hoc committee's December 17 meeting.

WJAB interview with Dick Durost (Part 1 and Part 2) (January 9)
Chris Sedanka of the "PM Jab" radio talk show interviews MPA executive director Dick Durost.

WCSH interview with Dick Durost (January 10)
WCSH sports reporter Lee Goldberg sits down for a fifteen-minute interview with Dick Durost.

Portland Press Herald op-ed (January 15)
Cheverus High School teacher and football coach John Wolfgram is skeptical of proposals' actual savings.

Bangor News Daily column (January 16)
BDN sports columnist/reporter Ernie Clark is skeptical any savings will be found if the MPA disallows student-athlete participation in the New England championships.

WGME news story (January 16)
WGME sports reporter Evans Boston briefly summarizes of the issue and includes on-camera interviews with Dick Durost and opponent Gary Prolman.

Sun Journal news story (January 18)
SJ reporter Randy Whitehouse writes an even-handed story about the controversy.

Sun Journal column (January 18)
SJ sports columnist Kalle Oakes takes proposals' opponents to task for styles of protest.

Bangor Daily News news story (January 20)
BDN sports columnist/reporter Ernie Clark explores the backlash the proposals have provoked among lawmakers in Augusta.

Portland Press Herald column (January 21)
PPH sports columnist/reporter Steve Solloway urges opponents of the proposals to listen before they speak.

WGME roundtable discussion (January 22)
Moderated by WGME sports director Dave Eid, the discussion features Cheverus athletic director Gary Hoyt and Gary Prolman, both of whom are opponents of the proposals.

WJAB interview with Rep. Josh Tardy (January 23)
Shoe and Joe of the "Morning Jab" radio talk show interview Rep. Josh Tardy (R-Newport) about his bill seeking to limit the MPA's jurisdiction over interscholastic sports.

Update: The Portland Press Herald published a story on the reactions to the MPA's proposals on Sunday, January 25.

- John C.L. Morgan

Westbrook Life: January 23- January 29, 2009

Friday, January 23
Cinemagic/ 11:50a-10p/ 183 County Road
WHS boys' swimming vs. Portland/ 4p/ Davan Pool
WHS girls' swimming vs. McAuley, Portland/ 4p/ Davan Pool
Sontiago/ 7p/ Warren Memorial Library, 479 Main Street/ free
WHS girls' basketball vs. Kennebunk/ 7p/ Warren Centennial Gymnasium

Saturday, January 24
WHS girls' indoor track vs. Biddeford, Cheverus/ 8:15a/ Portland Exposition Building, Portland
Westbrook Historical Society, open hours/ 9a-12p/ 17 Dunn Street
Cinemagic/ 11:50a-10p/ 183 County Road
Parish of St. Anthony of Padua, mass/ 4p/ 295 Brown Street
WHS hockey vs. Sanford/ 4:20p/ University of Southern Maine Ice Arena, Gorham
WHS boys' indoor track vs. Biddeford, Cheverus/ 4:25p/ Portland Exposition Building, Portland

Sunday, January 25
Parish of St. Anthony of Padua, mass/ 8:30a/ 295 Brown Street
Vineyard Christian Fellowship of Greater Portland, worship service/ 8:30a/ 715 Bridgton Road
Pride's Corner Congregational Church, worship service/ 10-11a/ 235 Pride Street
First Baptist Church in Westbrook, worship service/ 10:15a/ 733 Main Street
Trinity Lutheran Church, worship service/ 10:30a/ 612 Main Street
Vineyard Christian Fellowship of Greater Portland, worship service/ 10:30a/ 715 Bridgton Road
Westbrook-Warren Congregational Church, worship service/ 10:30-11:30a/ 810 Main Street
Parish of St. Anthony of Padua, mass/ 11a/ 295 Brown Street
Cinemagic/ 11:50a-10p/ 183 County Road

Monday, January 26
Westbrook Recreation Department, adult open swim/ 6-7:30a/ Davan Pool
Cinemagic/ 11:50a-10p/ 183 County Road
Knights of Columbus, supper meeting/ 6:30p/ 22 Walker Street
Westbrook Recreation Department, adult open swim/ 8-9p/ Davan Pool

Tuesday, January 27
Westbrook Historical Society, open hours/ 9a-12p/ 17 Dunn Street
Westbrook Recreation Department, adult open gym/ 11:30a-1:30p/ 10 Foster Street
Westbrook-Gorham Rotary, meeting/ 11:30a/ 125 Stroudwater Street
Cinemagic/ 11:50a-10p/ 183 County Road
Westbrook Recreation Department, adult open gym/ 6:30-9p/ 10 Foster Street
WHS boys' basketball vs. Massabesic/ 7p/ Warren Centennial Gymnasium
Westbrook Recreation Department, adult open swim/ 8-9p/ Davan Pool

Wednesday, January 28
Westbrook Recreation Department, adult open swim/ 6-7:30a/ Davan Pool
Westbrook Recreation Department, adult open gym/ 11:30a-1:30p/ 10 Foster Street Film: Cinemagic/ 11:50a-10p/ 183 County Road
Westbrook Recreation Department, adult open gym/ 6:30-9p/ 10 Foster Street
Westbrook Recreation Department, adult open swim/ 8-9p/ Davan Pool
WHS hockey vs. Bonny Eagle/ 8:30p/ University of Southern Maine, Gorham

Thursday, January 29
Westbrook Recreation Department, adult open gym/ 11:30a-1:30p/ 10 Foster Street
Cinemagic/ 11:50a-10p/ 183 County Road
Westbrook Recreation Department, adult open gym/ 11:30a-1:30p/ 10 Foster Street
Westbrook Recreation Department, adult open swim/ 8-9p/ Davan Pool

If you know of an event taking place between January 23 and January 29, e-mail me at

- John C.L. Morgan

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Rudy Vallee: Modest Inspirer of Goose Flesh or National Menace?

While venturing on a virtual quest to find out what Chuck Palahniuk's reference to Rudy Vallee in his book Snuff actually means (the preceding page is unavailable to Internet peekers, so the context is unclear), I happened upon this must-see February 1958 interview of Rudy Vallee by esteemed television journalist Mike Wallace.

Besides featuring Wallace's shameless (and therefore hilarious) hawking of Parliament cigarettes, the clip provides a candid glimpse into the personality and life of Westbrook's most famous son. The priceless pull-quote:
Rudy Vallee was the Frank Sinatra, Pat Boone, and
Elvis Presley of his day but all in one. That was nearly thirty years ago when
some people even made jokes that his affect on women made him a national
This clip is full of meat to sink my teeth into, but I think all will agree with this observation: If only we could all contest being a sex symbol so vigorously.

- John C.L. Morgan

P.S. If this post were a book, it would be dedicated to WD reader Chris (see comments section below), for it wouldn't have occurred if he hadn't unearthed the most scandalous reference to Rudy Vallee I've yet to encounter.

Warren Centennial Gymnasium

On Location: Warren Centennial Gymnasium

"Indiana gets credit for having the most rabid basketball fans in the union, but Maine is a very, very active basketball state."- Former Boston Celtics point guard (1950-1963) and member of the Basketball Hall of Fame Bob Cousy, reflecting on the Celtics' early barnstorming tours through New England.

Nine truly random (and occasionally bizarre) observations from Monday afternoon's high school boys' basketball game between the Cheverus Stags and the Westbrook Blue Blazes:

Collegiate influences on Westbrook High School athletics
The Blue Blazes ran onto the court with a canned version of their school's fight song (better known as the
University of Notre Dame's fight song) blurting out the speakers, while dressed in warm-ups emplazoned with the Columbia blue (hat tip: Columbia University) logo of their athletic teams, which is itself borrowed from the University of Wisconsin).

On a separate note, couldn't the school at least adopt an edited version of the University of Maine's "
Stein Song" as its fight song? It was, after all, penned by the city's silver son Rudy Vallee?

On the most illustrious and most polite programs in Westbrook High School history
Quick, name Westbrook High's most decorated athletic program.

If you guessed the football program, you'd be rrr...wrong. Ditto the boys' basketball program, girls' soccer, baseball, and any other sport that involves a ball or puck. That's because, according to the banners boasting each sport's historical successes, the girls' cross-country program has won the most state championships (10) among all of Westbrook's sports. As for the most polite program, that would be the rough and flinty wrassling program, braggers of four sportsmanship banners.

How the walking thesaurus entertains and flatters
Earl Cutter,
the voice of the Blue Blazes, can always be relied upon to spit out some clever (or corny, depending on your perspective) alliterative phrases and to boost the self-esteem of viewers by puffing up his diction. Tonight, for example, we were not basketball fans; we were basketball aficionados. Sadly, the acoustics of Warren Centennial and the nature of announcing a game on the hardwood does not match the rhetorical opportunities afforded by gridiron games on Olmsted.

The education writer Peter Schrag was proven right
Buried amid Schrag's daunting grocery list of the expectations we Americans have historically had for our educational system (win the Cold War; beat the Germans and Japanese in the battle for economic supremacy; outduel the Chinese and Indians in the training of scientists and engineers; Americanize millions of children from around the globe; make every child proficient in English and math; educate the blind, the mentally handicapped, and the emotionally disturbed to the same levels as all others; teach the evils of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and premarital sex; prepare all for college; teach immigrants in their native languages; teach driver's ed; feed lunch to poor children; sponsor dances and fairs for the kids; and serve as the prime social-welfare agency for both children and parents) is the relatively low-key expectation that the schools--particularly high schools--"entertain the community with Friday-night football and midwinter basketball." Well, mission accomplished.

When I walked into Warren Centennial about twenty minutes before the 4p tip-off, the Blazes partisans' side was three-quarters full, and, by game time, the rarely-used upper bleachers were put to use to accomodate the overflowing crowd. To be sure, Monday was a federal holiday. But the fact that the late afternoon start (as opposed to the customary 7p tip-off) attracted such a large crowd proves high school basketball still exists as a cheap entertainment option for the city's dwellers, despite being squeezed by more convenient entertainment options (read: television).

Department of Overkill
If you trudged into Warren Centennial not knowing the gym was home to the Blue Blazes, then I suppose it's necessary to have two banners advertising the fact that, well, the gym is "Home of the Blue Blazes" within about ten feet from one another. Would it be asking too much for the cartoonish version painted on the fuschia(?!) railings (as opposed to the non-embarassing version emblazoned on the scorer's table) to be altered to boast Westbrook's new (unofficial) motto: "We don't stink no more!"?

Speaking of stinking, the refs stunk
Actually, the refs weren't that bad.
I'm just upset one of them slapped Westbrook's boss Mark Karter with an early technical foul, because I'm always looking out for a replication of the savate front kick chasse bas he leveled at an unsuspecting chair at SoPo's Beal Gymnasium during a win two weeks ago.

Alas, the "Karter Kick Count" (that one's for you, Mr. Cutter) still stands at one, as the evidently chastened Coach Karter didn't deliver a boot to the team's bench.

Two admittedly bizarre observations about religious and nationalist imagery
Considering the school's catchy dry tagline ("The Jesuit College Preparatory School of Maine") and namesake (Bishop Jean Lefevre de Cheverus was a French Jesuit best-known for being the first bishop of Boston), it's unsurprising that Cheverus's regal purple and gold threads would feature at least some religious imagery. What is remarkable, though, is that the Christian cross tucked into the school's logo is dwarfed significantly by the "C" representing the school (see
here). Who do they think they are, The Beatles?

As for the nationalist observation, I couldn't help but notice a chunk of Westbrook's old hardwood bearing the school's logo is located just below the large American flag adhered to one of the walls. Ever the provincialist, I don't think it is a bad thing that we might be mistaken for pledging to a symbol of the Paper City (in fact, I think the
Maine state song and a yet-to-be composed city anthem should also be played before each game), but the placement of the wooden remnant is a little awkward, especially during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner.

Got a shot clock?
Leading by about fifteen with three minutes remaining, Cheverus's guards broke the Blazes' press in the backcourt and found big man Lenny Cummings alone under the basket. Instead of finishing an easy layup, though, Cummings flung the ball to a teammate beyond the three-point arc, sparking a minute-and-a-half stretch of countless Cheverus passes, four Blazes fouls, two Cheverus free throws, and a whole lot of boredom for spectators.

Besides enabling teams to bore a crowd with pedestrian pass after pedestrian pass, the absence of a shot clock in high school basketball makes comebacks more difficult to mount. To be sure, Cheverus should be credited with jumping out to a quick lead (21-6 in the first quarter) and should also be complimented for their ability to sustain ninety consecutive seconds of mind-numbing possession. But the short games (four 8-minute quarters) already make double-digit deficits difficult to overcome, why continue to lack an instrument that would penalize milking the clock and promote more possessions by each team?

Got Crowd Noise?
Besides his childhood nickname "Soup," the late Westbrook High math teacher Robert Jordan was also known to students as "Warden Jordan," a nod to his habit of stalking the bleachers at sporting events to ensure the student section didn't get too rowdy. Sadly, given the apathetic state of fandom in Warren Centennial these days, Snorin' Jordan would be a more fitting handle were the soccer program's founding father still alive and kicking.

As noted before, the crowd in Warren Centennial was quite large. Despite its size, though, it was quiet. Now, we mature adults are excused for being reactionary participants, cheering only in response to the home team's three-point shot or big defensive stop. The student body and cheerleaders (who didn't live up to their job title until after the first quarter), on the other hand, shoulder the burdens for rattling the opposing team and for entertaining those of us who view our trips to Warren Centennial as a night out on the town.

The solution: Someone's gotta grab the students by the scruff of their necks (figuratively speaking, of course, as I'm not an adherent to the Carlton Method), drop them into an ironic wardrobe consisting of flannel and denim (to befit their yet-to-established Lumberjack moniker*), and broaden their repertoire by introducing them to, say, prison labor songs (here and here) that can be massaged into chants professing their allegience to the Paper City.

Then we might actually be able to say the home team has a home-court advantage.

- John C.L. Morgan

* Someone had to chop down the pines marked with the blue blaze, right?