Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Yav At 85

If TigerBlog had been asked to guess the first person he'd see when he walked into Jadwin Gym this morning, he would have been there awhile before he got to the name "John Cruser."

Johnnie Cruser was the head of the grounds crew when TigerBlog first started here all those years ago. Now he's retired, though he looks about the same as the day he left here, which was, well, TB can't remember.

Johnnie was one half of a set of twins who worked on the ground crew, alongside his brother Dave. Davie and Johnnie, as they were always known. Sadly, Davie passed away a few months ago.

Seeing Johnnie this morning took TigerBlog back to when he first began to work in Jadwin, to a world that no longer exists. TigerBlog was much, much younger then. There was no TigerBlog Jr. or Miss TigerBlog back when TB first met the Cruser brothers, and so many other people who retired or left here long ago.

Now, as TigerBlog looks around Jadwin Gym, he doesn't see too many people anymore who were here before he was. In fact, there are just a handful of them in the department.

Not that TB is old. Hey, he has a picture of himself at the 1996 NCAA men's basketball tournament in Indianapolis. Perhaps you remember what happened in that game. Next to that picture is a picture of TB and TBJ from this past summer. TigerBlog looks way better in 2014; take his word for it.

In the picture from 1996, TigerBlog was courtside. To his left are two of his all-time favorite colleagues here, David Rosenfeld and Vinnie DiCarlo. This was before Vinnie stole the sign that said "This is not a public entrance to the RCA Dome" outside of the media area.

The first night out in Indianapolis, TigerBlog was part of something that is pretty standard and something that he pretty much hates - the large group dinner. You've been to these. Everyone goes to the huge table in the restaurant, and dinner ends up taking three hours.

It's not TB's thing. It's definitely not Harvey Yavener's thing. The night after the win over UCLA, TB and Yav were at a much smaller table in a much fancier place, a famous Indianapolis steakhouse that was much more in Yav's wheelhouse.

Harvey Yavener turned 85 years old yesterday. It's easy for TigerBlog to remember Yav's birthday, for two reasons: 1) TB remembers everyone's birthday and 2) nine days after Yav was born, the stock market crashed and the country was plunged into the Great Depression, not that that was Yav's fault.

If you're a current Princeton athlete, or probably most current Princeton head coaches, you have no idea who Yav is. To TigerBlog, that's a huge shame.

Yav grew up in Newark and attended Rider when it was still in Trenton, before it moved to Lawrenceville.

When TB thinks of Yav, though, he thinks of Princeton as much as any other place. There are not a lot of people out there who have spent more time watching Princeton athletic events than Harvey Yavener. There certainly aren't many, if any, media people who have written more about Princeton than Yavener did.

Yav spent 50 years or so writing for the two local daily papers, first the Trentonian and then for most of that time the Trenton Times.

As an aside, in this day and age, it's incredible that there are still two daily newspapers printed in the city of Trenton, even if the papers aren't nearly the size of what they were in their primes.

It would take TigerBlog way too long to go through his list of favorite Yav stories. There are just too many of them.

Back when TB first started in the newspaper business, Yav was one of the most intimidating people in the Trenton Times newsroom, down on Perry Street in Trenton. It was six years later that TB became Yav's assistant covering local colleges, which is what led him to the job here five years after that.

Those five years of working for Yav were hugely important to TigerBlog's development as a writer, and he wouldn't have had the success in the field that he's had were it not for Yav. As mentors go, it's hard to have asked for much more.

He gave little in the way of positive reenforcement, though in his way he was very encouraging. He set high standards and demanded they be met.

One time, when TigerBlog saw the schedule Yav made and saw he had a day off, he pointed out that it would be his first day off in a month. "Yeah?" Yav growled, "you're about 700 off the record."

Or did he say 7,000 off the record?

Yav worked hard. He did things other media people wouldn't dream of doing back then, most especially covering women's athletics, back at a time when almost no other male writer would be caught dead doing it.

He'd spend hours in the newsroom, writing and rewriting the results of all of the events he didn't cover that day from the five colleges in the coverage area - Rutgers, Rider, Trenton State (now the College of New Jersey) and Mercer County Community College, in addition to Princeton.

And then, when the paper was finished, it was time to eat. Often near midnight. Always at one of his favorite spots in the Chambersburg section of Trenton. And he would always do the ordering.

As far as TigeBlog can remember, the last Princeton athlete Yav ever interviewed was swimmer Alicia Aemisegger. It's only fitting that it was a woman from a sport that doesn't traditionally get the media coverage of, say, football or basketball.

Alicia graduated in 2010, but this might have been a few years before that even. Regardless, no current Princeton athlete has ever experienced the Yav interview, which had almost nothing to do with sports and everything to do with who the person was, what made that person special.

Yav would always get to that point. And then he'd come back, 45 minutes later, beaming about how great the kids at Princeton are.

He's 85 now. He doesn't get around as much as he used to. He hasn't been on campus in a few years.

He prefers to watch sports on his big TV, still in the same apartment near Cadawalader Park in Trenton that he and Polly have lived in since long before TigerBlog met either one of them.

He's from another time here, but he was part of the fabric of Princeton Athletics for a very long time.

And he will always be a special part of the history of this department.

And a special person to TigerBlog. 

1 comment:

Tad La Fountain '72 said...

One of the best parts of growing up in Yardley was being able to enjoy on a daily basis the work of Bus Saidt and Harvey Yavener of the Times and Frank Dolson of the Philadelphia Inquirer. New York had more famous sports writers, but these three had a heightened sense of right and wrong and an elevated ability to reflect the human side of the athletes. They and their work will be missed, and media trends (with the exception of stellar efforts such as "30 for 30") appear to make their successors in character and importance highly unlikely.