Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Do You Know Lisa Sweeney?

So TigerBlog was minding his own business the other day when a man and a woman walked past him, walking their beagle.

There's something different about beagles, by the way. They're the cutest of dogs. 

TB supposes it has to do with the whole "Snoopy" thing. 

About 10 minutes later they were all still talking (well, except the dog, who didn't offer much to the conversation). It turns out that the woman was someone TigerBlog wrote about back in his newspaper days.

In fact, she was someone TB wrote about when she was in high school and college. 

The world being the small place that it is, it doesn't usually take long to find some connection people with one another. In this case, the connections took TB back to the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The way to spark conversation, by the way, is to wear something that says "Princeton Athletics" in public. Someone invariably is drawn to it and begins to talk about the University and what the sweatshirt-wearer's connection to it is.

In this case, the woman with the beagle asked TB this question: Do you know Lisa Sweeney, the softball coach at Princeton? The answer, obviously, is yes.

TB went on to explain that she is now Lisa Van Ackeren, after marrying Brendan Van Ackeren. TB said that both had been athletes at Lehigh and that "one of them was in the Lehigh Hall of Fame; can't remember which one."

Actually, it's Lisa, a softball pitcher. Brendan was a football player at Lehigh.

The woman then said to send her regards to Lisa. And she said her name, or at least her maiden name. Once she did, TB knew exactly who she was.

Her name when she played softball at Neshaminy High School and the at Rider was Kelly Ford. She had two brothers, one of whom TB wrote about as a football player at the College of New Jersey, especially during its 1990 run to the NCAA quarterfinals. He's pretty sure he remembers the other brother from Neshaminy.

Ford mentioned that she had played with a travel softball team called the Blazing Angels. TB remembered them too. Former Princeton star Stacie Bonner had played with the team, and she and Ford had been teammates.

When TB emailed Lisa Van Ackeren to tell her that he'd met someone who knew her, this was her response: 

"Yes! Kelly gave me my first pitching drill tool - a foam softball - when I was 7 at one of sister's high school games (her dad coached my sister-in-law, my sister and me at Rancocas Valley). I used to throw it against a full length mirror in my parents' bedroom until I started going to pitching lessons."

TB started his writing career covering high school sports. He moved to covering colleges in 1989.

During his time writing about colleges, he'd say he spent 40 percent of his time covering Princeton events, 30 percent of his time covering Trenton State (now TCNJ) events, 25 percent of his time covering Rider events and the other five percent covering Rutgers and Mercer County College events. 

There were great teams and great athletes and great games he covered at Rider and TCNJ. It was a great mix of sports and leagues and levels, and TB developed a great understanding and appreciation of college athletics in general and especially gender equity while at the newspaper. He was lucky that he worked at a newspapers, and for someone (Harvey Yavener), who valued women's college sports long before most outlets did.

He always looks back at those days with great fondness. In his short time speaking with Kelly Ford Saturday, there was a lot of "you must know so-and-son" and "were you there when such-and-such happened?" That's all quite normal.

TB remembers so many details of those years, and so many of the games he covered. In fact, he was on TCNJ's website yesterday and found coincidentally a story about that 1990 football team. He wasn't really surprised at how many details he remembered, and to that end how many scores he remembered from that season.

So yes, it was great to go back to the newspaper days and relive some of them. 

Of course even back in those days, there was something very special to him about covering Princeton. For as much as he enjoyed the other schools and the relationships he made there, Princeton was always his favorite. 

The last few decades have made that even clearer.

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