The column that says you can learn so much more in this world when you don’t have your nose to the grindstone and shoulder to the wheel in this rat race we call getting to the top only to have your position eliminated — and did you happen to see all the foreclosures in the back section of the South Jersey Times on Thursday?
By Jack Hummel
Radio: 92.1 FM WVLT Saturdays noon to 2 p.m.
U.S. Army: RA13815980
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We learned more insight into life sitting in Room 6002 of the Rhodes Building at the University of Penn Hospital this afternoon and evening than has ever been gained on television, in the newspaper or in books.
Deanna Speranza-Murphy is living a life at age 50 that went from enjoying an afternoon on her boat two years ago to fighting a cancer that sucks the calcium out of your bones and uses it in the bloodstream to attack the liver and even the heart.
Maybe Saturday at noon either her or her saint-of-a-husband John will call 92.1 FM WVLT and discuss life full of quick trips to the hospital, comas, a swollen face and tongue after a bone marrow transplant, laughing her head off at the antics of her twin brothers in the hospital, loving a husband who has been to Penn so much he knows the inside of every building for two blocks and could give you a history lesson on every one of them, and appreciating to tears all the support she has received from the community.
“I’m just a speck,” reasoned the former president of the Deerfield School Board.
Oh, if you could have heard her hold court this afternoon about the special needs kids who thought they couldn’t learn, but found out from her they could in K, 1st and 2nd grades.
She could tell the state commissioner of education how to teach, but even at the local level, she learned to zip it or face retaliation, a crime punishable by moving her to another situation she was totally unfamiliar with, and all it hurt were the kids.
Screw your curriculum, Trenton!
If she can’t call while the chemo is coursing through her veins, then we will be the only winner because we heard it all this afternoon.
She’s gorgeous without hair. You want to rub your hand over her fuzzies. You could never tell she’s 50.
There are no smiles on the faces of visitors walking the halls on their way to the rooms of family and friends.
All connected by one thing — cancer.
Deanna’s doctor, as awarded as they come, told her: “You are broken. I will fix you.”
She is there for four or five days for chemo that will push the cancer deeper into remission so the chance of a third nightmare is less likely.
She walked a mile today.
“I will be shopping in Lancaster with my girlfriends on Nov. 5!” she vowed.
It’s Monday night at the Rob Shannon Sports Complex in Millville and the lights are shining down on four football teams running practice play after play after play.
For most organizations, the 2014 Tri-County Midget Football League season is over.
For the first time in the league’s history, one organization has all four age groups in championship games — called super bowls.
The refreshment stand is open, as it is every night, and the same three women are married to it.
“I’m the cheerleader!” laughs Mimi Thompson, mother of a first-year senior.
“I get all the teams pumped up. I’m the Thunderbolt.”
“Sometimes I do,” she giggles.
Chemyra Bowman, who played power forward for Coach Felton Lingo’s Bridgeton girls basketball team, has a linebacker on the Seniors.
She says she is the mother of six as she texts President Rob Ennis.
She doesn’t want her picture taken.
“I’m here four night a week until 8:30,” she says, “and sometimes later because the Seniors don’t get off the field until late.”
Tawana Thompson has been working the refreshment stand for eight years.
“My son is Tex Thompson, star running back,” she says.
They take turns watching their sons play on game day.
Their pay is a pretzel and a drink.
Ennis finally arrives and talks Seniors head coach Brian Barber into joining him in the front office for an interview.
Kingsway has three teams in Tri-County super bowls this year, all three playing Millville.
“It may be irony, but Kingsway is the program it is because of us,” says Ennis. “They made a commitment to their coaches. They made a commitment to their fans because of what they used to experience with our program.
“We would beat them unmercifully.
“I remember the year they really starring unifying. They came out with T-shirts with slogans on them. I respect that.
“I lost my first game to Kingsway in 2009,” he recalls. “When we got to the stadium, they put up the score from the previous year, something like 42-6.
“We ask a lot from our kids and I think, in turn, the coaches should give as much as the kids. I respect that organization, or any organization, that can come out and compete that way.”
Effort equals success
Ennis knows what commitment can do for an organization.
He has coached at every age level, winning a super bowl in 2006 with the Sophomores and 2013 with the Seniors, while losing in 2008 and 2012 super bowls.
Millville had three teams in super bowls last year.
Barber lost with the Sophomores and Ennis won with the Seniors before stepping down in favor of Barber.
Sizing Up Penns Grove
The super bowl opponent for the Seniors on Sunday is undefeated Penns Grove, who made it to the big gridiron dance with a 20-6 win over Cumberland.
Barber knows how good the Penns Grove Seniors are.
“Those kids who are first-year Seniors for that team have won six super bowls in seven years,” he says. “Last year was the first year they lost a super bowl — to Gibbstown.”
Penns Grove and Millville met in the first game of the 2014 regular season.
“I was shocked that we lost,” says Barber of the 14-6 defeat, which means Sunday’s game will be on the road.
This weekend will determine which team has progressed the most since then.
“In terms of that,” says Ennis, “after losing to Penns Grove, Coach Barber’s team went 36 straight quarters without giving up an offensive touchdown.”
Unbeaten Gibbstown scored two touchdowns in last week’s 19-12 loss to the Seniors.
“A team that was averaging 41 points a game,” Barber points out about Gibbstown.
“I thought we were going to win. I talked to their coach and he thought he was going to win.”
Ennis may not work from a war room with a big map of the area, but he’s all business.
“All of us know the Xs and Os,” says the Holly City Midget Football League president.
“My expertise,” says Barber, “came from Rob. I coached with him for two years.”
Barber remembers how that happened.
“He called me up before the next to last playoff game,” says Barber. “He said come out and watch the game. I did and they won. I also went to the championship game.
“I went to congratulate him and he said, ‘Come with me next year. I need you as the defensive backfield coach. We gave too many yards passing today.”
Barber has been hooked ever since.
“All my practices are based on schedules I learned from Rob,” he says.
“What I know is organizational management,” says Ennis. “You have to be structured and you have to be well-organized. In my coaching staffs, I look for men who have those qualities.”
Ennis confides he knew Barber would would make a good head coach after game three.
“I had no idea I was ready,” says Barber of six years ago. “I was thrust into it.”
“All of our coached prepare the same way,” stresses Ennis. “Look at any of our practices and you can see that. We may not all run the same offense, but the concepts are all the same — our approach to the game.”
Ennis will tell you the games are won in the trenches — “6 inches either way.”
Football Never Changes
Ennis says he’s been around football at every level, from 6- and 7-year-olds to professionals and the game never changes.
“They all prepare the same way,” he says with a photo of his son, Rob, hanging above his head. “The psychology of the game in moments of crisis is when your character is really revealed.
“You may beat us, but it won’t be because you were more prepared than us. Or even more physical than us. Our program is built on physicality.”
How do you do that?
“We practice the way we want to play,” he explains. “We practice physically.”
“Everything hurts in football,” says Ennis. “It’s a physical game.”
Adds Barber, “I’ve noticed in the last eight years that you get less injuries if you prepare physically. One year, we got the bright idea to hit less and we had more injuries.”
They practice three nights a week in pads, but meet more often.
“Every night of the week, we move closer to the game,” he says.
Beginning with the 2005 season, Ennis decided to implement a program that put all four teams on the same page.
“We feel like we run a program and certain things must be done,” says the big man with a soft voice. “I fully expect my guys to go out and do well because they prepare for it.”
There are 12 coaches for each team, with nine allowed on the sidelines.
Each area has its own coach.
Linebackers, quarterback, running backs, receivers, etc.
“Long after we’re gone, we will still be winning football games here,” promises Ennis. “Every year, we are grooming new head coaches. The process never ends.”
It could change.
“When other teams start preparing like we do, it could change,” says Barber.
“I know where we’ll be on Thanksgiving,” says Ennis. “And where we’ll be on Black Friday, and all the times in between.”
On the practice field.
“This is real,” he says. “This is commitment. If you’re going to make a commitment, see it through.”
Barber spends all day at work waiting to get to practice.
“I’m hooked,” his eyes glisten.
Penns Grove President and Seniors Coach Greg Martin has been quoted as saying he would take character over football knowledge in a coach.
“I totally agree with that,” says Ennis. “Character over competence. That’s why we test our head coaches. We give them an exam.”
Martin has also said if a player knows a coach loves him, he will run through a brick wall for you.
Barber and Ennis readily agree.
“I would say I have 48 good coaches and four great coaches,” says Ennis.
The Juniors head coach is Carl File, a military man from Bridgeton who prepares servicemen for battle at Fort Dix, while Calvin Boone is a first-year head coach for the Sophomores.
Both coached under Ennis.
Woody Humphries “is great for our baby bulls,” says Ennis.
“At that age, you have to connect,” says Barber of the 6-and 7-year-olds. “You have to teach them to teach you.”
Playing on a tight budget
Besides coaching the seniors, Barber is also the equipment manager.
He estimates spending $6,000 to $8,000 every year on equipment.
Another $4,000 goes for transportation to away games.
Then there is $7,000 to pay officials.
On the plus side comes $3,500 from a coin drop.
Those three girls and their helpers in the refreshment are gold, according to Barber.
More than just football
But one thing never changes.
The registration fee remans at $35.
“We don’t want anybody left out because they can’t afford it,” says Ennis.
He admits there is method in his madness.
It involves the community.
It involves sending players who are structured, committed and organized up to the high school level.
“We’ve sent four players to D-1 colleges,” says Barber. “We want to keep it going for the community.
“We’re going to develop good young men,” promises Ennis. “We’re going to stem the tide — that trend out there that says you’re not going to succeed.”
YOU CAN BOOK IT: Whatever the reason Route 49 was closed tonight with blue and red lights everywhere, may everyone be safe.