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Feeling Down (1/22)

I’m sad.

There isn’t a kicker or sarcastic follow-up.  This isn’t a set-up to a punch line.

I’m sad.  It’s important to be honest with ourselves and as we move through the month of January I’ve had a difficult time feeling motivation, optimism and excitement.

Now I’m not in a bad place.  I have a wonderful family, still find joy in things and am passionate about a variety of endeavors. This will pass. It’s just that things aren’t as “crispy” and bright as they typically are.  

Why is that?  There are a multitude of factors from the time of the year to most notably the societal implications of the current pandemic.  I’m a social person and while I have a loving wife and two active grade school age children, the lack of getting out and seeing people has taken it’s toll.  Even times I am able to go out have felt handcuffed and clouded in guilt making it almost counter-productive.

I miss going to sporting events and the pandemic has robbed all of us the enthusiasm and excitement of planning/looking forward to things.

There are many weekdays in which I may not have any physical interaction with another adult from 8am to 5pm.  Zooms don’t cut it.

Sports, my muse…my love…my fuel…is almost a vicious cycle of torment.  Despite the energy it brings, there is the constant reminder of what is wrong from athletes wearing masks to empty stadiums.

I see my children growing up fast, missing opportunities that they don’t comprehend and thus don’t miss but that I do.

I don’t write this as a call for help.  As I said, I still find joy in things and ultimately have an optimistic outlook.  I write this as yet another “lead by example” opportunity that it’s okay to admit when you’re not feeling quite right. Openly saying this to yourself and then to others as opposed to fighting the feeling greatly helps.

Be honest with yourself and tell others.  Sometimes the fix is as easy as receiving more attention from loved ones.

I’m sad.  I know a few of you are as well.  It’s okay.  We will all get through this.

Normalization of Masks   (1/15/2021)

The walk out the door is met with instinctual “self-checks” between the exit and driving away.

  • The reflex motion of your hand checking the outside of your pocket for the indentation of a wallet and or phone.

  • The conscious fleeting debate in your head as to whether something (i.e. a stove) was turned off.

  • And for the last several month, a quick double-check that some type of face mask is handy.

Face mask wearing has bullied it’s ways into our daily lives with a rapid ascension not seen since the rise of  Zubaz pants in the 1990s.

Now don’t at all mistake this.  Mask wearing is essential and we’re not here to debate it’s effectiveness.

What I’m talking about is how quickly we’ve gone from resistance to normalization of them.  Its a pleasant surprise and it’s happening because a number “small” things have added up.

For instance, it was common for masks to get lowered in business meetings in August or September.  It felt awkward to keep yours on.  Now, it feels awkward to lower it.  

Are there still detractors?  Absolutely!  There are also still people who don’t bathe regularly (argue it’s bad for your skin), others who refuse to put money away for savings and even some heavens who can’t stand sports and never watch them.  Nothing is ever 100%, but if one were to take a snap shot from June and one now, it’s amazing how far we’ve all come.

Will this acceptance last?  No!  I personally think by the time we get to the spring people will begin to discard the masks for many reasons.  Being outside more, a noteworthy one.

However, for the time being mask wearing has quickly become a temporary norm.

Other Notes

  • When will our psyche change?  We’ve been a depressed group for several months now and understandably so.  There have been brief glimmers but the recent holidays provided yet another example of a blunted opportunity to life our spirits.  That is not to say the holidays weren’t enjoyable, they absolutely were for many of us, but the specials weren’t quite as sentimental…the cookies not as sweet…and the music not as crispy as usual.

I think we know the answer.  It won’t end until we get our lives back and that is why we see so many fighting restrictions.  These restrictions and guidelines are designed to get us back.

However, some seem THEM and not the virus as the impediments.

  • Where I’m originally from in Upstate New York many of the school districts have remained 100% virtual since the start of the school year.  This despite relatively low positivity rates we’d be jealous to have here. It brings to light the disjointed nature of the whole response to COVID-19 and the cliché “Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen” is apropos.

The fact our schools have been open to varying degrees in the Chippewa Valley is a good thing.

21 Predictions for 2021  (12/30/2020)

It’s funny the lessons that stick with us in college. For example, I learned there is no such thing as First Annual.  Something can’t be “annual” until it’s been held consecutive times.

So, I can now proudly present the SECOND ANNUAL SCOTT MONTESANO CHIPPEWA VALLEY SPORTS PREDICTIONS FOR 2021.

I did this last year and nailed the UWEC men’s team in NCAA Tournament.  Alas, pandemic torpedoed most everything else.  However, let’s have some fun.  Some of these are legit and some make believe

1. BateauxFC  the local soccer squad that’s looking to go from basement organization to men’s rec league to a full-fledged minor league operation will continue to grow.  Incidentally, this example of “grass-roots” is how many clubs in England got stared even within the last 50 years.   I think by the end of 2021, BateauxFC gets the necessary outside investor it needs (despite their hopes, you simply can’t grow on a “community-model” as history proves it’s not feasible, sans the Packers) enters the USL or NPSL and signs a contract to play at Carson Park in 2022.

2. Sonnentag Center project re-emerges.  I have literally no inside information despite my position as the voice of the Blugolds.  This is just a gut feeling that by the end of the year we’ll see this project get momentum again. I know many in the area have become pessimistic about the project’s future, but I remain optimistic.

3. The Express see a change in ownership.  The fact the team is for sale is the worst kept local secret. However, I see little changing with any new entity that comes into the fold. The team isn’t moving nor is a branding change imminent.

4. In addition, I see fans in the stands for Express games in 2021. There will likely remain some restrictions, but fans will be in the ballpark.  An intriguing debate will be what to do with July 4th (and in a way this will be the same with all the large music festivals) in that allowing patrons is one thing, but will we be comfortable with 4-6K+ in close quarters by July?

5. I see Blugold football winning five games in their 2021 return and setting the stage for competing for a NCAA playoff berth sooner rather than later.  Why not?

6. We already know Blugold winter sports plan to resume competition in early February.  I predict this will take place as will a mostly unimpeded spring season for teams.  Non-conference games will be minimal and any national tournament plans could be scaled back but the final conference standings will look largely the same.

7. The Chippewa Steel not only make their first playoff appearance but host a postseason game in…wait for it…June!  The NAHL has pushed the conclusion of its season to mid-May.  If the Steel win their first round series, the second round would go into June. So…

8. There will be no less than 15 new indoor baseball/softball academies opening in a variety of places. From new stand-alone construction, to strip malls to the back shed of some guy’s lot to an abandoned barber shop, etc.  Okay, so this one isn’t serious, but doesn’t it seem like we have A LOT of “academies”?

9.  People will continue to reference this as a “baseball” community (which isn’t wrong) but continue to back it up lazily by solely mentioning that Hank Aaron played here.  Folks, we’ve had many others since! Not only that, what makes this a baseball community is a combination of that history, lots of participation at the youth levels and interest as a spectator sport.

10. Either Altoona, Valley Sports Academy or Oakwood Mall announces plans for a 3,500-seat hockey arena.  With Sonnentag Center delayed (see #2) someone shows some steel balls and does something.  Its flat out grotesque this community doesn’t have a facility.   

11.  The Brewers are on a new radio station.  Even in September, people will complain they can’t find the games when only a slight push of the dial will put them right on the broadcast. This isn’t a knock on the new station carrying the games, it’s a statement that people are locked into patterns.

12.  Memorial and North playing spring football will be a fun experience.  Obviously not a long-term thing but something people look back with odd fondness and some will argue should’ve been the standard for all area schools this year, as oppose to the exception.

13.  Speaking of #12, there will be at least be a brief discussion as to whether Carson Park will be opened for game play and if patrons will be allowed to attend.  Remember, the city-county health department in conjunction with the City of Eau Claire closed Carson Park to athletic events over the summer.  Additionally, recent efforts were made to shutter Hobbs for the remainder of the winter before public backlash.  I predict games will be allowed to go on with significantly curtailed attendance at the start, though there will be some discussion about keeping Carson Park shuttered.

14.  At least one of UWEC’s winter team sports will qualify for whatever version of a NCAA Tournament is held in said sport. The accomplishment and the celebration will be no less than in any other year, perhaps celebrated even more considering the emotional toll the department’s student-athletes, coaches and support staff have gone through (as well all have gone through).

15.  The National KUBB Tournament gets a taste of national television when the finals are broadcast via tape delay on some higher number cable channel (let’s say CBS Sports Network).  Don’t laugh, things like log rolling and axe throwing, and TAG are carried.  Why not this?

16.   The 2021 high school and college fall and winter sports seasons will begin on time and resemble what we would see pre-pandemic.  That means few to no restrictions on crowds and other protocols.

17.  People will again look at the football roster of the Wisconsin Badgers (and the new Division I squad at St. Thomas) and be stunned to see so much representation from Eau Claire Memorial. For a city that doesn’t have as robust an interest in football as some others in the state (there is football passion here, but it comes behind baseball & hockey & basketball) the city produces a strong number of division I caliber football athletes.

18.  98.7 The Brew adds an afternoon local sports show.  I’ve always said, the prime time for a local sports show would be that 4-6pm window.  A show loaded with interviews with area coaches and athletes and opinions leading into the ballgames that night.  This would give the area an option in the morning and then in the afternoon.

19.  105.1 enters the local play-by-play fold.  Local sports are one of the last bastions of consistently reliable sellable inventory for radio stations. Its why I Heart Radio has continued on with it despite gutting its local operations and why the folks at WOGO radio put in some long hours to cover night games after hosting morning shows.

20.  The Eau Claire Marathon will be held in the Fall of 2021.  And I stress, WILL BE HELD.  If I’m wondering about densely packed crowds on July 4th, I’m surely not going to think the local health department (and society as a whole) will be okay with a horde of bodies jammed into downtown in early May.  However, whereas the delay this last year was blind optimism (as were all event delays which then led to cancellations), this time we should all feel confident that come the Fall the world will be in a better place.

21.  We will reach the end of 2021 with more appreciation for the opportunity to attend events than ever before. Lots of area kids will happily play sports and many area adults will take part in competitions as well (whether it’s adult leagues or bowling or Kubb or Axe Throwing, etc.).  We will all have fun in 2021.

2020s Top Local Stories (12/17/20)

-The Fall of Joe Luginbill:  I’ll go much more in-depth on the 12/18 Talk of the Town Podcast

(check it out), but this story from back in January captivated the area and still does.  Joe,

even if innocent of allegations of misappropriating funds, screwed over lots of people and groups.

At the same time, 99% of the vitriol against him has nothing to do with it.  Most people in

town sling their arrows at him because they just don’t like the persona that was built.

Joe was a great self-promoter and that rubs lots of people wrong.  These allegations

continue to be the perfect opening for them to attack.

Heck, a local couple has milked a dozen or so webcasts out of this.

- Daniel Peggs:  The arrest and accusations against the once promising Altoona

Superintendent came fast and swift.  Not only that, kudos to Altoona which operated

at break neck speed to recover amidst the pandemic.

- County DHS:  As we go into 2021, something seems amiss. At a minimum, the County DHS

and their surrogates have put on a clinic on HOW TO LOOK GUILTY!  The DHS may ultimately be clean, but they’ve done nothing to elicit confidence in the public.  Instead, there is almost an elitist cockiness from the DHS, claiming people don’t understand how hard they work.

No one is questioning effort, they are questioning the performance (and signs it may be criminal and yet to be explained).

- Children's Museum:  See below as we went in-depth in naming Mike McHorney as the area's person of the year.

- Golf Road Apartment Shooting:  A shooting on Eau Claire's southside that has ties to Chicago drug/gang activity rattled the area.  This happened during the height of the "stay at home mandate" and at a time when people had few distractions.  A reminder that bad things can happen, even here.

- Gieske vs. School Athletics:  The debate in August ultimately ended with the realization that Gieske's powers are officially nothing more than recommendations as schools such as Regis and Altoona openly defied her suggestions to play sports.  

Gieske/health department kept the EC Express and other users from playing at Carson Park during the summer and have lobbied hard for the closing of Hobbs. City operated facilities follow her recommendations but nearly everyone else doesn't creating confusion.

- The death of local radio:  From the massive I Heart Radio layoffs that claimed the B-95 Morning Show and the station's sports director, to the UWEC Foundation's sale of 99.9FM the Chippewa Valley is a local radio wasteland. Yes, there are still many great people doing morning shows on other stations but once 9am or 10am hits its...blah.

It's a problem that has only gotten worse over the last decade, and now that the cuts are hitting morning shows (once viewed to be the last safe spot in local radio) we could unfortunately be limited to more and more syndicated shows.

Eau Claire’s Person of the Year & The city employee whom termination may be valid  (12/10/20)

We’re hitting the tape on 2020 and that of course means a natural spot in time for all of us to defrag from

the last several months, take inventory and reminisce. Yes, the next few weeks will be chock full of anecdotes,

memes and jokes about how it’ll be good to flip over the calendar but the last several months did happen

so it like any other year we should acknowledge what we usually do.

In this case, I wanted to select -in the honor of Time Magazine – Eau Claire’s “Person of the Year”.

Who out there made the biggest impact on our community for better of worse.  With all that was

thrown at us and the necessity for us all to do multiple “pivots” in our lives, who is someone that

navigated it better than others.

Well, I’ve decided it’s Michael McHorney, the executive director of the Children’s Museum!

Why? Let’s first go over some other possible selections.

Lieske Giese – I didn’t select her, not because it would be a ‘safe’ choice but I honestly don’t think

she is it. Don’t misconstrue that as I don’t believe she was extremely valuable I’m just saying not the

most impactful when only ONE person is selected. I didn’t pick her, nor any local leaders because the

pandemic and it’s most meaningful decisions (or lack thereof) have occurred up the ladder.

Giese, for better or worse, lost most of the venom in her bite in late August when local schools such as Regis and Altoona simply went against her publicized wishes in terms of sports and extracurriculars.  Up until then, what she said had been viewed as gospel by most leaders in the area.  The extracurricular debate cracked that foundation and from there on out she’s basically been spitting in the wind. She has no authority and her announcements white noise.

We’ve come a long way from her April and May updates and making calls on capacity restrictions and the like.

If the schools hadn’t gone against her wishes, I think the whole debate in October over her powers would’ve been different as well.

Dale Peters – I also strongly considered him.  He deserves an extra slice of holiday Roast Beast after sticking around as city manager- providing necessary continuity – during he pandemic.

In the end, I ultimately decided on Mike McHorney with the Children’s Museum.  In a year where many similar entities across the country simply took a knee.  In a year where even some local fundraising groups stepped aside.  He guided the Children’s Museum in a way that moves the group FORWARD.

They were aggressive in trying to re-open and did what they could.  They were equally aggressive in making the difficult “white flag” announcement just a short time later when many others wouldn’t have had the stomach to take the PR hit.

The key is, they closed with a plan and since late summer the museum has announced details of their long anticipated new location, have sold their old location and announced plans for a temporary spot inside Pablo.

Despite the fact the museum as a physical entity ceases to exist for a temporary moment, they’ll end the year with GROWTH as opposed to this being a wasted several months.

Mike represents all those businesses and organizations in town that didn’t just wallow, but kept trying to re-invent their objectives for 2020 and utilize the current situation to the best they could. 2020 was like living in an apartment by a railroad track.  A loud train always passes at 4am. You can either complain or try solutions such as buying headphones.  Mike McHorney, the children’s museum (and many other businesses) did the latter and were aggressive in 2020 which will lead to more immediate success for them soon.

The city staffer who is already failing...

I’m sure Renee Tyler, the still newly minted Director of Community Services of Eau Claire, is a nice person. Having moved around the country myself I know any new spot takes time to get situated and obviously the pandemic makes it harder.  That said, despite being on the job only a short-time, the gross incompetence she has shown in operating a tax-payer facility in Hobbs Ice Arena should be grounds for an immediate review of her abilities.

She has no experience in a community services position.  Her background as an assistant to politicians and another bureaucrat job in Iowa does provide her expertise in navigating government which isn’t useless but shouldn’t cloud the fact she is hemorrhaging tax-payer money. She has no business experience either.

It’s become clear Renee Tyler has had zero intention to operate Hobbs this year.  Why?  I’m not sure on that. I’m not even sure she knows.  It could be a joint move with other bureaucrats who aren’t taking accountability, to flex a passive-aggressive arm against COVID.  “They” don’t think people should be doing anything and here is their slice of life they can control.

Or if it truly is due to mechanical issues, then her poor planning and idiotic decision-making for weeks is in question.

The first, she is gutless for not being forthright.  The later, she is not capable of this job.

Remember, she announced the building would close in late November due to COVID.  The announcement came as Eau Claire schools were going virtual.  Despite no outbreaks and a very restrictive policy on use at Hobbs that was working, they threw up the white flag and could easily point to the school’s decision.

Its since become clear, Tyler used the schools closing as the excuse she’d been looking for and no doubt had thought/wished the schools would stay virtual for several more weeks.

When the schools announced very soon thereafter they’d re-open, she was caught in that COVID wouldn’t be the easy excuse.  So instead, she now points at mechanical issues which seem to be way to convenient.

I’ll cut right to the chase, it’s an open fact that management of Hobbs has known for several weeks repairs were necessary yet no parts were ordered.  In addition, it is a fact that if they wanted the building open they could have the building operational within hours on Akervik (a de-humidifier system IS NOT mandatory though not desired).

Patchwork repairs could get you through and anyone with any experience running a hockey arena (as I have and Renee hasn’t) knows, most years you’re operating with duct tape connecting equipment somewhere during the winter before more extensive work can occur in the summer.

Remember, millions have been spent on Hobbs in just the last couple of years. Much of this said equipment is fairly new.  Many rinks operate on compressor systems 25-35 years old and fight their way through a season.

Hobbs is bleeding money this winter while users are taking thousands of dollars to rinks in Chippewa Falls, Altoona and Menomonie.  All because Renee Tyler either believes she can single-handedly end COVID by keeping people out of Hobbs, or because she is an incompetent planner.

More likely, its a combination of both.

Oh, and I didn’t even mention the homeless shelter fiasco.  That, to Renee’s defense, wasn’t her as much as it was Dale Peters. A well-respected and overall good city manager who did the equivalent of cutting a fart and leaving the room.  A terrible decision and leadership which did nothing to help Renee, who clearly could use it.

It’s harsh to call for someone’s job.  People work hard and try their best.  However, I think too many times we don’t hold people accountable.  Many are quick to want athletes or movie stars “fired”.  Well, I think government bureaucrats…who more directly work for us…should be held to very high standards.

I will end with this caveat.  If Renee is being guided, steered or directed to make this decisions mostly due to influence from others (i.e. Lieske Giese) then these people all need to talk.  You ARE NOT smarter than many in the public just because of your role.  You are only there because we've hired you to do a job we don't want to.  However, much like we can find a new car mechanic, we can also readily and easily replace YOU!

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