Tuesday, April 6, 2010



Some sportswriters say that he was the best manager in the history of the Mexican baseball leagues. Old time Pirate fans remember Oceak as the first man to shake the hand of Bill Mazeroski as the rounded third base to complete his walk off home run trot to defeat the powerful New York Yankees in the 1960 World Series. Others, may remember him as the crewcut, gray-haired skipper of the Dublin Irish minor league team way back in 1953.

Frank John Oceak was the most famous person ever born in Pocahontas, Virginia. He was certainly the most famous man to ever hit and throw a baseball from that coal mining town of western Virginia. In 1920, at the age of eight, Frank moved with his family to Cliffside Park, N.J., where he graduated from high school during the height of the great depression in 1931. With little or no decent paying jobs anywhere to be found, Frank Oceak turned to what he loved best - baseball.

The New York Yankees signed Frank to a contract, assigning him to their Cumberland, Maryland team in the Middle Atlantic League. From Cumberland, Frank would play for teams in far away places such as Wheeling, Binghamton, Akron, Norfolk, Beaver Falls, Oil City, Hornell, Lafayette, Fayette, Selma and Keokuk.

Oceak was a decent infielder, leading the Middle Atlantic in fielding for four years, playing both sides of the keystone combo. A fine batting average of .297 was not enough to warrant a promotion beyond the AA level of the minors. In 1936, Frank left the Yankees and joined the St. Louis Browns' farm system. Two years later, the owner of the Lafayette White Sox hired Frank to lead the team in the 1938 season. The Sox went 69-69, not a bad start to a managerial career. In the following season, Frank's Fayetteville Angels finished atop the Arkansas-Missouri League. His Beaver-Falls team lost in the finals of the 1940 Penn State League tournament.

The year 1942 was the turning point on Frank's career. Banned for all of 1941 by Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis for assaulting an umpire, Frank joined the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, a move that would result in more than three decades of an association with the team, except for a brief stint in the armed forces in the last years of World War II and one year with the Reds.

After the war, Frank returned to the managerial reins in Selma, Alabama. After four mediocre seasons, Oceak got the best job of his early career as manager of the Charleston Rebels of the South Atlantic League. On the heels of a poor start to the 1953 season, Frank was demoted to an assignment as the manager of the Class D Dublin Irish of the Georgia State League.

Oceak replaced Johnny George, whose team was two games under .500, on June 18. Leading the Irish that year was Parnell Ruark, one of the franchise's best players ever. Pitching for the 1953 Irish was young Walker "Bo" Whaley, a future Courier Herald columnist. After a 20 and 49-season and a 7th place finish, Oceak's career in Dublin ended on a less than stellar note. Nevertheless, Oceak was promoted to the Brunswick, Georgia team in the Georgia-Florida League.

In his first two seasons in the Shrimp Capital of the World, Oceak's Pirates finished in first place. After disappointing 7th place finishes in Brunswick in 1956 and AAA Columbus in 1957, it appeared that Frank's career as a manager was all but over.

But hold up for a moment. In the 1956 winter season, Oceak's Poza Rico team captured the Mexican League championship. Oceak was coaching a team in the Domincan Republic when his old roommate Danny Murtaugh was named to manage the big league team in Pittsburgh. So, in 1958, Frank and Danny resumed their life long friendship when Frank, wearing jersey # 44, joined the Bucs as third base coach and infield instructor. His pupils were Dick Groat (1960 NL MVP), Bill Mazeroski (1960 Player of the Year), and Ted Kluszewski, whose upper arms were so huge that he had to cut off his sleeves to put on his jersey.

In his first two seasons, Frank's team finished in the upper half of the National League. The year 1960 was to become a different season. It was the year when the Pirates returned to the World Series. The last time the Pirates had been in the series, it was 1927,when they were swept by the Murderer's Row Yankees with Ruth, Gehrig, Lazerri and Combs, Koenig, and Meusel and arguably, at (110-44), the best team in the history of baseball.

The day - October 13, 1960. The place - Forbes Field, Pittsburgh, PA. Pirates go ahead in the bottom of the 8th inning with five runs. Yankees tie the game with 2 scores in the top of the 9th. Bottom of the 9th inning. Score: New York 9 - Pittsburgh 9. The series is tied 3-3. Ralph Terry, for the Yankees in relief, is on the mound. The count - 1-0. Oceak, the third base coach, takes off the take sign. Batting for the Pirates; Mazeroski, hoping for a miracle, got one. Mazeroski swings. He smacks the ball toward left center. It's ------ gone! Home run! The Pirates win the World Series! Fans race toward Maz as he rounds second base, hoping to get a pat on the back or grab a souvenir cap. The first Pirate to congratulate the fine defensive second baseman was his mentor and third base coach Oceak, his own cap on the ground or in the hands of a lucky scavenging fan.

When Murtaugh resigned for health reasons as manager after the end of the 1964 season, Oceak found that the only way he could remain in the major leagues was to accept the offer of the Cincinnati Reds as a coach. Pete Rose credited Oceak with helping him to become a better second baseman just as he did with Bill Mazeroski in 1958, when Maz cracked the starting lineup for the first time.

After one season with the Reds, Frank longed to return to the Pirates, who named him to manage the Clinton Pilots of the Midwest League. Oceak returned to Middle Georgia in 1967 to manage the Macon Peaches of the Southern League. His last two seasons as a minor league manager came in 1968 and 1969 came with the Gastonia Pirates.

When Danny Murtaugh returned to the Pirates in 1970, he asked Frank to come back to the big club and take his old spot in the third base coach's box. The Pirates returned to the top of the National League, capturing first place in the NL East. In 1971, the Pirates returned to the World Series.

In a bit of deja vu, the Pirates and Orioles were locked in tight game with the series tied 3-3. As he congratulated Roberto Clemente as he homered and rounded third to put the Pirates ahead, Frank thought back to the series 11 years before. The Pirates took a two-run lead into the 9th inning, just as they had done against the Yankees. This time they held the lead, winning the game 2-1 and the series, four games to three. Once more, Frank and the Pirates were world champions. Frank Oceak stayed on with the Pirates after Murtaugh retired again.

Frank Oceak, after four decades of playing, coaching and managing, hung up his cleats for the last time following the 1972 season. He died in Johnstown, Pennsylvania on March 19, 1983 at the age of seventy.

Friday, April 2, 2010


Making the Right Call
Color photos @ Referee Magazine, March 2004.

From her very first dribble, Sally loved the game of basketball. And now, some forty plus years later, she has seen millions of dribbles, most of the time making sure that none of them were of the double kind. Today, it is Sally's job to find, train and assign the right people to be in the right position to make the right call all of the time.

Sally Smalley Bell, daughter of Dr. Derrell and Nell Smalley, was born and grew up in Dublin, Georgia. "I loved basketball from day one," Sally said as she thought of the days when she began playing when she was in the fifth grade. "Back then, we played half court, three guards and three forwards, but during my senior year we went to a rover system - two players played full court," Sally remembered.

As he was to millions of other kids back in the 1960s, Pete Maravich was Sally's idol on the court. "I was just totally in awe of his skills. He was so far ahead of his time. It was just amazing to me," said Sally would often hop in her car and drive to Atlanta to catch a glimpse of her hero.

Before she graduated from Dublin High School in 1971, Sally played in the band and performed on the sidelines during half time shows as a majorette. She was captain in her senior year. Her father was a well known and respected veterinarian, a founder of Smalley's Animal Hospital. Her mother's paintings were truly works of art and can still found in places around Dublin.

After Sally graduated from the University of Georgia, she took a job with the Habersham County Recreation Department, doing whatever job she was called upon to do. "One night we had no refs, so I had to call the game," Sally remembered. The coach started screaming at her. His objections, Sally admitted, were probably right. After all, it was her first time as a real referee. And, as anyone whoever slipped on one of those zebra shirts and blew a whistle can tell you, officiating a basketball game is no easy task.

"I went over to the coach and said, 'We may not be right, but you are not going to yell at us. Either sit down and shut up, or leave," Sally ordered. There wasn't another peep from the coach that night. The next day, Sally discovered that the coach, Cecil Huff, who was chewing her out was actually the head of the local high school officials association. Sally had made a good first impression. For, on that day, her career as a basketball referee began. "He called me and asked me to join and I became the first female referee in the Georgia Mountain Officials Association," Bell fondly remembered. The two became mentor and student and very close friends.

Sally even married a referee. Her husband Jack Bell, a Gainesville attorney has been officiating at the high school and college level for several decades. In fact, they met for the first time when they called a basketball game together. "Jack didn't have two words to say to me at that game," Sally told a reporter for Referee magazine. "Jack is basically a shy guy and I was nervous as heck," Sally laughed. But Jack saw something in Sally and asked their mutual friend Cecil Huff for a return assignment. They were married a year or so later.

Determined to succeed, Sally attended every officiating camp she could. "That put me in the loop," Sally said. Assignors in attendance began to notice Sally. How couldn't they notice, she was often the only female on the court. To catch the attention of college coaches, Sally worked AAU summer tournaments. That's when the exposure led to recommendations and then to assignments.

In the early days, Sally worked as many as six to eight games a week. "I just couldn't think of anything I'd rather do," she said. "I became consumed by it. By the end of her seventh year as an official, Sally had climbed the ladder from rec. ball to Division I.

Sally's first big break came in 1984 when she was assigned to call the National Junior College tournaments. She was called back for the next two years.

All the years of hard work and dedication paid off in 1989 when Sally was chosen to officiate the NCAA Division 1 Final Four tournaments. It would be the first of fifteen assignments to the high point of women's collegiate basketball. Only twice (1991-1992) in seventeen years (1989-2005) did Bell not get the assignment for the highly heralded tournament.

Although she didn't make the final four in 1991, Sally Bell received the penultimate honor of being named the Naismith Female Official of the Year. During her first decade and a half, Sally had called games in major conferences such as the SEC, ACC, Big Ten and Big East.

Reporter Rick Woelfel wrote of Sally, "She is unobtrusive on the court, but somehow she always manages to be in the right place at the right time. What she lacks in pure athleticism, she makes up for with court sense and hustle. In a very real sense, she reads and feels the game, bending with it like a rooted tree in the wind."

Former officiating partner and NBA official Dee Kantner agrees, "When I talk to prospective female officials, I tell them you don't have to be that perfect athlete. Look at Sally Bell, she looks like a housewife out there." Kantner adds, "Her game management skills are subtle. She has a subtle calming presence." Fellow WNBA official Bonita Spence admired Bell's willingness to thank her partners for making calls they saw in her zone while many officials often chastize the partners for calling a play outside of their area.

Perhaps one of the most exciting tournaments came in 1996, when Sally traveled a short distance from home to officiate the games of the 1996 Summer Olympics. She had been to the 1989 Junior World Championships in Spain and the 1990 World Championships in Malaysia and the 1994 Goodwill Games in Russia, but nothing can compare to being an official in the greatest of all amateur basketball games.

Always wanting people to remember that Sally Bell was a good referee, Sally left the game while she on top of her game. Today, Sally serves as supervisor of officials for the Sunbelt, Southland, and SWAC conferences. Her goal is to see the successes of the officials whom she supervises.

In looking back over her career on the court, the biggest difference from when she started until today is the athletic abilities of the players. Sally sees the ability to communicate between partners, coaches, players and supervisors as the biggest challenge.

When she is not working, Sally can be found near a golf course or planning her next trip to golf's Ryder Cup tournament. She hasn't missed a single one since 1997.

So, during the madness of March, let's all salute Sally Smalley Bell for a career well done.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


From Lovett Park to Wimbledon

He has been called "The Wizard of Gauze." Others call him "Billy the Banger" or "Bangers and Mash." He has spent most of his life in and around many of the most exclusive and glamorous tennis courts of the world. In his career, Bill Norris had mended scrapes, soothed strained muscles and counseled many of the world's greatest tennis players Of all of the places in the world, his career began right here in Dublin, Georgia at Lovett Park. From such a humble beginning, Bill Norris moved on to a career in professional basketball and found his life's calling as the world's most highly regarded tennis trainer.

William L. Norris was born on August 5, 1942 in Fort Myers, Florida. He grew up a baseball fan. As a perennial ritual of spring, major league baseball players invaded his homeland to prepare for the rigors of the upcoming seasons. At the age of 12, Billy Norris knew he wanted to be an athletic trainer. As a spring training bat boy for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Norris began to learn the scientific method of treating sports injuries. During his high school years, he worked as an assistant trainer for the Pirates while they were in town. Though he wasn't much of an athlete, Bill loved sports and wanted to be a part of them.

Bill began his studies in earnest in 1960 when he enrolled at Manatee Junior College. After two years of school, he was invited to join the Class D team of the Milwaukee Braves in the Georgia-Florida League. And so, for Bill, it was off to Dublin, Georgia and his first real job as a trainer. The Dublin Braves were a pretty fair minor league team that year. Four players, including Bill Robinson, made it to "the show" before their playing days were over. Bill learned the game under the guidance of veteran minor league manager Bill Steinecke.

After attending a training school, Bill was hired to work with the New York Mets, the worst team in baseball history. The Mets assigned Bill to train their minor league teams first in Columbus, Georgia and then in Auburn, New York. Bill's natural skills as a trainer didn't go unnoticed. Coach Eddie Donovan of the cross town New York Knicks saw something special in the young Floridian. When the last out was made, Bill began his conversion to basketball with a promise of returning to baseball when the grass began to turn green again.

During his six seasons with the Knicks, Norris saw to the needs of some of the game's greatest players, including Willis Reed, Dave DeBusschere and Walt Frazier. While he worked with the Knicks, Bill also worked as a trainer for all performers in Madison Square Garden, including boxers, Frank Sinatra and the Beatles.

In 1969, Bill again took another cross town job, this time with the New York Nets of the ABA. In the early years of the franchise, Norris worked with future NBA legend Rick Barry, leaving the team just before it signed the all time great Julius Erving. Bill continued to work for the Mets during baseball season during the off season. But after twelve seasons of professional basketball and several more in baseball, it was time for a career change.

In 1973, Bill was approached by the Association of Tennis Professionals. They needed a trainer for their members and Bill was a prime choice. The association wanted one trainer for all of their male tennis players. They needed a familiar face run out on the court to tend to an injury, one person who could know the players and their particular bodies and one who could get into their minds and relieve their aches and pains. Rarely does Bill see an injury. He has to rely upon spectator's accounts and those made by anguished players.

The highlights of Bill Norris's thirty three years in professional tennis come from his association with the United States Davis Cup teams. He has worked with four winners of the cup, led by a quartet of the greatest legends of the game, Arthur Ashe, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Andre Agassi. He has also worked with Pete Sampras, Stan Smith and Ken Rosewall among hundreds of others.Norris also worked with international icons Bjorn Borg, Rod Laver, John Newcombe, Ilie Nastase and Guillermo Vilas. At all times, Bill's job is to remain neutral and treat each competitor the same. Bill did become a close friend and drinking buddy of Bob Lutz.

Of all of the players he trained, Norris most admires the tenacity and determination of Jimmy Connors, despite his obnoxious behavior on the court. Some have compared bill to the incomparable fictional teacher Mr. Chips, who now after forty-five years of training looks back with fondness for the thousands of young men he has worked with and gotten to know and to admire.

Bill's job calls for up close and deeply personal contact with his athletes. Many of the game's greatest players would and could confide in him their deepest thoughts, triumphs and fears. Bill had to become a part time psychologist. As a trainer, Bill knew what to do to physically prepare his players for their next match, but he learned to observe their mental attitudes as an indicator of how they were going to perform after they left the locker room. From his position, Norris knows the players better than anyone, maybe even the players themselves. The players grew to admire and respect Norris, who once with his long hair and strong round glasses, bore an uncanny resemblance to the late singer John Denver. Their similarities were so indistinct that Bill used to sign Denver's name for autograph seekers and adoring fans who couldn't tell the difference. His likeness helped him to get free drinks and quite a few laughs. Jimmy Connors once got in on the joke when he traveled to meet Denver to ask for his advice, pretending that Denver was Bill Norris. All of that ended
after Denver's untimely death in an airplane crash.

Bill's expertise on tennis injuries drew the attention of amateurs as well. President Ronald Reagan called on Bill to work on is bad back. Princess Grace Kelly sought out Bill's comforting hands to cure her sore elbow.

Today, Bill's schedule has trimmed down dramatically. He now spends more time with his wife and family, a task which was once difficult to manage. Bill Norris loves the game of tennis and loves helping its players make it up off the court. Over his forty-five years in sports medicine, Bill looks forward to every new day. "No two days are the same," said Bill, who thrives on his relationships with every new generation that comes along. His favorite tournament is at Wimbledon. "It is like a big reunion," Bill said.

Bill Norris believes the soul of tennis lies within the amateur players across the country and the world, who have not been exposed to fame and adulation. He never plans to retire, telling a reporter for the BBC, "I want to die running out to the court trying to help somebody."

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


The 1945-46 Dudley Basketball Teams

It was a time when hardly anyone could dunk a basketball, a time when guards on the girl’s team had to stay back at their end of the court. The war years were tough on everyone. There wasn’t a whole lot of money to be spent on fun. Some kids were lucky enough to have battery-powered radios with long antenna wires, which were hung on tall poles or trees in the front yard. On Tuesday, Friday and some Saturday nights from November to early March, there was basketball. In the days before there were state championships in high school sports, the Holy Grail of high school basketball in rural counties were the County Championships. Nearly every community still had their own school. Rivalries were often intense, but were frequently friendly, not filled with some of the unsportsmanlike ferocity of today’s rivalries. From Lovett to Cedar Grove to Dudley, the highlight of the school year was basketball. The winter of 1946 was no exception.

One of the top teams of the late 1940s were the teams from Dudley High School. The kids had little time to work on their game. Many of them were farm kids, and chores demanded priority over basketball practice. Still, years before they were penned as the Cardinals, the boys and girls from Dudley dominated other Laurens County teams, all without the luxury of having a true basketball coach.

You see in those days, schools were hampered by tight budgets and were compelled to have sponsors accompany the team at home and on the road. Sometimes a school got lucky when the teacher knew a lot about the game. The boy’s sponsor at Dudley was vocational education teacher, Troy Edwards, while the girls were sponsored by the home economics teacher, Mrs. G.S. Crews.

The girl’s team was led by the Hogan sisters, Betty Ann and Barbara, both crack shooters. Winnie Mae Raffield was the third starting forward. Keeping the other girls away from the Dudley basket was more than adequately handled by starting guards Grace Willis, Delores Lister and Mary Radney. Substituting for the starters were Catherine Woodard, Kate Willis, Ann Radney and Celestine Barfoot.

The boys were led by center and high scorer Billy Crafton. You know him as Don Crafton, long time president and CEO of Morris State Bank. “Billy” was a name penned on the lanky center by his grandfather. Starting at forward were Don Haskins and Captain Fisher Barfoot, a future vice president of Piggly Wiggly Southern, community leader and Georgia state representative. Tom Brown and Mike White started at guard for the boys. Coming off the bench to spark rallies or preserve a victory were substitutes Billy Kibler, Atys Bowles, Rabon Lord, Roy J. Chappell and Rowell Stanley.

During the 1945-6 season, Dudley played Laurens County teams from Rentz, Cadwell, Condor, Brewton, Cedar Grove, Lowery, Wilkes, and Dublin High School. Road trips were fairly short with games against Soperton, Jeffersonville, Irwinton, Wrightsville, Toomsboro and Cochran. Among the stiffest competition the Dudley boys faced that year were the boys from Condor High School. The eastside young men lost only one game during the regular season, that coming at the hands of Dudley, and suffered a stunning and fatal loss in the county tournament.

It wasn’t until the 194os that most schools had gymnasiums. Prior to that, many schools were forced to compete on dirt courts enduring unfavorable winter conditions. Don Crafton remembered, “Basketball was king. People lined the walls of the wooden gymnasiums to root for their teams. Gymnasiums were heated mostly by large pot-bellied wood-burning stoves.”

Perhaps the most exciting regular season game came on a cold Tuesday night in the Condor gym. A mistake in the scheduling forced the teams to shorten the quarters to five minutes each. At the end of the first quarter the girls were tied 4-4.

Dudley held on to garner a highly spirited 23-12 victory over the Condor girls. The boys game was much closer and even lower scoring than the girls game. In a slow downed game, the Dudley boys defeated the highly touted Condor five 13-9, ten of those points coming from center Don Crafton.

In much more satisfying games, the Dudley teams smashed the hoopsters from Wrightsville. Betty Ann Hogan, the team’s leading scorer for the season, poured in 26 of her teams 33 points in a 33-7 romp. Don Crafton contributed 18 points and Tom Brown another 15 points in a 54-14 stomp of the Johnson County

Dudley’s closest rivals were the teams from Dexter, Cadwell and Rentz. The teams were so well balanced that the outcome of games were virtually never certain. With another 20-point night, Betty Ann Hogan led the girls over nearby Rentz, 28-21. The Dudley boys struggled, but with a dozen points from Crafton, managed to eek out a 28-27 come from behind road victory over Rentz.

In those days, Dublin was included on Dudley’s schedule, even though their school was much bigger and was the only school in the county to have a football team. Near the end of the season the teams met at the Hargrove Gym on North Calhoun Street. The Dudley girls defeated the girls from Dublin by a whopping margin of 38 to 15, with Betty Hogan putting 30 points on the board. The boys game was tied at the half, 18-18. Tom Brown scored 15 points and Fisher Barfoot added 12 more as the Dudley five defeated the Dublin five 39-38.

The highlight of the season was the Laurens County Basketball Tournament in February. Tom Brown led the Dudley boys with 21 points in a 55-20 smashing of Cedar Grove on the second night of the tournament, which was held at Brewton High School. In the semi-final games, the Dudley girls easily defeated the Brewton six by the score of 34-13. As usual, Betty Ann Hogan topped the scoring list with 20 points. Tom Brown led the boys again matching the entire Brewton teams total in a 39-15 smashing.

In the county championship, both Dudley teams faced the hard charging teams from Rentz. In a close game, the Dudley girls pulled away in the 4th quarter to register a 40-27 championship victory. The boys game was much closer, too close for the nervous fans of both teams. During the entire game, the teams remained within four points of each other. When the final buzzer sounded, Dudley sneaked by Rentz in a hard-fought 25-24 victory to capture the school’s second county championship.

Both teams advanced to the District tournament. The Dudley boys defeated Sandersville in the first game and Dublin in the semifinals, only to lose to a more powerful team from Cochran in the finals. The girls captured the district title, bringing home first place trophies in the county and the district. The team’s four trophies and many similar ones were tragically lost in a fire a few years later. The highlight of the district tournament was the naming of Betty Ann Hogan to the All-District team. For decades after she graduated high school, people asked her if she was the young girl who was such a great basketball player for Dudley.

In today’s basketball world, basketball in March is called “March Madness.” A half century ago it would have been better termed “March Sadness.” The end of the county and district tournaments signaled the end of the game until the return of winter and a void in the lives of the kids who depended on the game. To some, basketball was all they had.