On Sports

Former Providence Journal sports writer Mike Szostak blogs regularly with news and analysis about sports in Rhode Island.

The Rio Olympics are history, its torch extinguished Sunday night amid an explosion of color and sound befitting the conclusion of this quadrennial spectacle celebrating athletic prowess and human spirit. Like you, I watched on television, as I had from time to time during the two weeks or so of competition. Like you, I watched Michael Phelps swim into Olympics history; gymnast Simone Biles dazzle with her smile and her stunning array of leaps, twists and tumbles, and Usain Bolt dash to gold for the third straight Olympiad.

What is the cost of admission to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in Eveleth, Minn.? For you and me, $8. For Mount St. Charles Academy coach Bill Belisle, 990 victories, 32 state championships, 20-plus players drafted by NHL teams and two Mounties picked first overall in the NHL Draft.

Belisle, having more victories and more consecutive state championships (28) than any coach in U.S. hockey history, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame with former American star Craig Janney and the 1996 World Cup of Hockey championship team. The date and location will be announced later this month.

If you played high-school baseball in Rhode Island from the 1950s to the early 2000s, Dick Lee probably umpired one of your games. If you ran cross-country for Coventry High School in the 1950s, Dick Lee probably coached your team. If you played field hockey or girls lacrosse in the 1980s and 1990s, Dick Lee probably covered one of your games. And if you read The Providence Journal sports pages during those two decades, you saw Dick Lee’s byline over reports of just about every sport Rhode Island high-school kids play.

Never say never, they teach you in the journalism business.

But there are exceptions to every rule, right?

So, we will never see the likes of Muhammad Ali again. Never. Ever. Trust me.

Some stories just refuse to go away. In Rhode Island we have corruption in the State House and Providence City Hall. In Sports World we have deflategate, concussions, performance enhancing drugs and sexual assault. They lie dormant for a while but then return like weeds, mosquitos and humidity.

Brown is playing championship-caliber lacrosse again, just in time to challenge Navy for a berth in the NCAA Final Four Memorial Day Weekend in Philadelphia.

Eight days after losing to Harvard in the Ivy League semifinals, the fifth-seeded Bears (15-2) crushed perennial power Johns Hopkins, 17-8, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Saturday before a standing room only crowd of 3,200 at Stevenson-Pincince Field in Providence. They earned a berth in quarterfinals next Saturday at Brown Stadium.

Deflategate is over. The National Football League and Commissioner Roger Goodell won. The New England Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady lost.

They’ll be talking about Brown’s 14-12 lacrosse victory over undefeated Yale Saturday for a long time.

They’ll mention how Yale, ranked first and second in the national lacrosse polls, scored first, led for all but 1 minute and 34 seconds of the first half and went up by four goals on Ben Reeves’s unassisted goal with 13 seconds remaining in the second quarter. 

On the college sports calendar in New England, spring feels like 3 o’clock in the morning, when all is quiet, when nothing much happens. Spring is the dead zone between March Madness and final exams.

Sure, there is college baseball. And softball, tennis, golf, lacrosse, rowing and outdoor track, all worthy endeavors cheered by hard-core fans. But not one can match college football in the fall or college basketball in the winter for crowd appeal.

Another of the selfless volunteers who made the R.I. Giant Slalom Championships the highlight of the state’s winter sports calendar for decades has died. Tom Payne, the Cranston dentist who doubled as race chairman for 16 years in the 1980s and 1990s, died last Saturday, March 26, in Naples, Fla., where he had retired after a 46-year career.  He was 91.

Providence College is going to the NCAA basketball tournament for the third consecutive year. That’s the good news.

The eighth-seeded Friars (23-10) will play ninth-seeded Southern California (21-12) in the first round of the East Regional Thursday night in Raleigh, N.C. If they win, they will most likely face top-seeded North Carolina (28-6) in the second round. That’s the bad news. The Tar Heels will be heavy favorites in their opener against the Florida Gulf Coast-Fairleigh Dickinson play-in winner.

March Madness is on hold for Providence College and has ended for Johnson & Wales University. March Melancholy has set in at the University of Rhode Island. And at Brown, anticipation is the word.

Second-ranked and top-seeded Villanova beat Providence, 76-68, Friday night in the semifinals of the Big East Championship at Madison Square Garden in New York. While the 29-4 Wildcats will play Seton Hall for the title, the 23-10 Friars will sit home and wait for the NCAA Tournament selection show Sunday at 5:30.

Bud Collins, the incomparable tennis chronicler whose colorful prose matched his colorful wardrobe, died Friday at his home in Brookline, Mass. He was 86 and had been in declining health for a few years.

NCAA Tournament-bound Johnson & Wales is reaping the rewards of a record-breaking men’s basketball season. The 26-2 and 14th-ranked Wildcats boast the Great Northeast Athletic Conference player, defensive player and coach of the year and three all-conference players after voting by the league’s coaches. JWU won the GNAC title on Feb. 27 and earned an automatic bid to the tournament.

They’re going to the NCAA Tournament. The Big Dance. March Madness.

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