Humble brag time

12 Jul

To say I was overwhelmed by my showing in the Kansas City Press Club’s Heart of America Awards would be a hefty understatement. I’m grateful that The Sedalia Democrat still provides space for my writing. This is the first year that I won both column categories but receiving the Gold Award for my profile of LaTonya Marshall was most rewarding. I’m so thankful she allowed me to share her story of determination and dedication to her boys.Congrats to everyone at the Democrat on their KC Press honors – all are well-deserved.

‘No really means no’

1 Jul

We’re well into 2016, yet some men still have the mindset of Og the caveman.

As reported by Jaya Saxena on, two publications this week ran pieces about how men can turn “No” into “Yes” in regard to sexual advances toward women. In Men’s Fitness, writer Nick Savoy offered that he would “share some proprietary techniques for turning a ‘no’ into a ‘yes’: 1) at the bar, 2) on a date, 3) in bed, and 4) in a relationship.”

As Saxena reported: “In the article, (Savoy) outlines how to ignore a woman’s boundaries, which is basically summarized by his first tip: Plow ahead anyway.” Men’s Fitness rightly took some harsh criticism for the piece, which it has removed from its website.

The other article, in Complex, discusses how people can move from the “friend zone” into a relationship with the object of their desire. In essence, writer Trace William Cohen leverages a piece in Psychology Today to contend that if you act like a friend, that is how the other person will always see you. I didn’t find Cohen’s piece to be as noxious as Savoy’s, but its message still came across as, “How to get what you want just because you want it.”

I shared Saxena’s report with Lori Haney, executive director of Citizens Against Spouse Abuse, and she was as repulsed by the Men’s Fitness and Complex pieces as I was.

“Rape is rape. No really means no,” Haney said. “As an advocate, it is that black-and-white of an issue. It’s not about coercing somebody – they have not given you their consent. No means no.”

Savoy’s “plow ahead anyway” mindset is especially troubling.

“What kind of message are we sending to men? That you don’t have to respect somebody else’s personal boundaries?” she said. “At the very least it is disrespectful; you are coercing somebody into something they are not comfortable with. At the most heinous, they have not given you their consent and to press on is rape.”

Cohen opens his piece saying being relegated to friendship is the worst place to be on Earth. It is an immature view of male-female relationships, and frankly it comes across as arrogant. Haney found it sadly common due to the gender roles our society has assigned to men and women.

“It is so unfair to both men and women that we as a society train women that they are supposed to accept and appreciate men’s advances, that there is some sort of obligation if a guy likes you … he’s the conqueror and I’m the one to be conquered,” she said. “As a person I am entitled to be attracted to whom I choose to be attracted to, and I am entitled to say, ‘No,’ when I want to. Just because you are attracted to me … I am not obligated to reciprocate.”

A lot of these issues are tied to the inability to handle rejection. Just because someone declines your request for a date or other romantic advances does not make you a lesser person; you become a lesser person when you react with bullying behavior or profane name-calling. We need to teach young people of both genders that being told “No” is not a sign of personal failure.

“Rejection hurts for everybody … but rejection is a part of life,” Haney said. “If we are not expected to learn how to cope and deal with that we are not whole people, we are not well-grounded, healthy human beings.”

The “plow ahead, get what you want” mindset of the Men’s Health and Complex articles only compounds the problem.

“I think that kind of writing, that kind of belief is actually very insulting to men,” Haney said. “We as human beings should be expected to exercise self-control. When you put that kind of writing out there for men, I think it insults their intelligence. The whole ‘rape culture’ mantra – that is what this is.”


“We’re all all right”

20 Jun

My wife, Melany and I attended the Cheap Trick concert June 18 at Starlight Theatre in Kansas City. It was a long-awaited and much-deserved date night, and despite the downpour that drenched us about three songs in, the show and venue both were spectacular. 

Cheap Trick’s still got it – they rocked all their memorable hits and the crowd ate it up. I really enjoyed “The Flame,” “She’s Tight” and “Ain’t That A Shame,” but the best moment of the night was watching two pairs of fathers and their pre-teen daughters singing, “Mommy’s all right, Daddy’s all right” to each other during “Surrender.”

It was a great night of music by a band that should be in the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame, shared with my best buddy. Yes, we’re all all right.

Rage overboard

4 Mar

I wrote a commentary this past week for the Sedalia Democrat that took a light-hearted poke at the over-abundance of high school sports teams in our area that are nicknamed Tigers. I came up with new mascots for all but the school system where I am employed (protect your house, right?). Shame on me, but I got one school’s colors wrong in my piece. I admit I should have done a better, more thorough job of fact-checking. But the reaction by some readers went beyond the realm of ridiculous. Comments ranged from “no one cares what you write” (but they obviously took the time to read it) to calling me a “judgmental bully” after I apologized for my error and corrected the column. Another moaned, “Was there nothing newsworthy to print?”

I am in no way dismissing my responsibility to get facts right. But the self-important and egregious reaction was a little much, especially the person who smeared me after I admitted and apologized for my error. What is really disappointing is that I have made it a point to promote fundraisers for the recreation center for the community in question. I’ll keep helping that cause because I know the people involved with it appreciate my work and understand that we all make mistakes at times. I just hope the haters become enlightened to an adage about stones and glass houses.

Woman plans fundraiser to aid ailing father

31 Jan

My column in this week’s Sedalia Democrat was slashed by the mindless drones on the CivitasMedia design desk. Here it is as it was written. Note how much context and detail is lost in the paragraphs that didn’t run:

Amanda Balke didn’t want to put her experience to use so soon, and certainly not for this purpose.
A year ago, Balke worked with friends to put on a massively successful fundraiser for Karen Anstine Lamb, who wanted to return to Sedalia to be near her loved ones as she battled a recurrence of cancer. That effort brought in $40,000 to help cover myriad costs, easing financial and emotional stress on Lamb’s family. Sadly, Lamb passed away earlier this month.
Now Balke is focused on another fundraiser for another person she holds dear – her father.
In October, Dale Kearney went in for gall bladder surgery when doctors discovered colon cancer. They performed a biopsy, and two weeks later Kearney’s gall bladder and eight inches of his colon were removed.
“At this point, I feel my condition is harder on the people around me than it is on me,” he said. “Just the sound of ‘Stage 4 cancer’ is kind of hard on them.”
Kearney’s wife, Sheilah, confirmed that. When the diagnosis came in, “My first reaction was total devastation. … Your nightmares start coming pretty fast when you hear the words ‘Stage 4.’ It’s pretty scary.”
No more surgery is expected, but Kearney is facing chemotherapy sessions for the rest of his life.
“Every other Monday, I go in and spend 10 hours in the chemo room, and when I leave there I have a pump that keeps going for another 42 hours,” he said. “It’s not my choice, but it’s something I have to live with.”
The treatments leave him fatigued, but he is not feeling the other typical chemotherapy side effects. He is sluggish the week of the treatment, but he bounces back and feels pretty good the next week. Sheilah said they learned that Kearney will never be cured, but that remission is possible.
“We’ve turned the worry part over to the man upstairs and decided to take on life with a smile on our face and keep on having a good time until the time is over,” she said. “Hopefully that will be a long way down the road.”
So far, Kearney’s after-insurance medical costs are pushing $4,000, but with ongoing twice monthly chemo treatments, that number will continue to increase. So as she did for her friend, Balke is again reaching out to the community to support someone in need. (NOTE: This is where it was slashed in the print edition – all below here was lost.)
“It’s stressful, it’s definitely a lot of work,” she said of organizing the fundraiser, for which many of her friends, including Cassandra Craighead, are pitching in. Some of those assisting or making donations don’t know her or the family, but they are helping out anyway.
The event is set for Feb. 7 at the Sedalia Moose Lodge. A dinner and silent auction will run from 4 to 7 p.m.; chicken dinner plates will be $7 each and hot dogs will be sold for $1 each. Afterward, the band Sweetwater will provide live music for an adults-only crowd; tickets for the concert are $6.
The fundraiser for Lamb raised almost $40,000, but Balke isn’t setting her sights that high.
“I don’t know that this one is going to be that big, because Karen was loved by everybody, she knew everybody,” Balke said. “My goal is just to help him the best that I can, even if it’s just to cover the medical expenses for the next year.”
Kearney said early blood tests were showing him anemic, but that is improving. However, his cancer count is troubling.
“I guess normal is supposed to be about a 3, and my last one was about 3,100. It’s been going up,” he said.
All funds raised for him will be deposited in an account that is designated for medical bills only. Sheilah said any assistance the community provides will “take a big burden off of us.”
“We’re going to fight it all the way through,” she added.

To donate an item for the silent auction or to purchase dinner tickets, contact Amanda Balke at 660-473-1488 or

So long, Stuart

4 Jan

Every day, journalists strive to inform, enlighten and entertain their audience. Very few have done that with the style of Stuart Scott.
The ESPN anchor and SportsCenter innovator died Sunday after multiple battles with cancer. He was just 49 years old, but his impact on sports journalism and storytelling will live on for decades.
Scott joined ESPN in 1993 and once he moved into the SportsCenter anchor chair, his enthusiasm, pop culture references and catch phrases made it mandatory for sports fans to stay up to catch the late update of the nightly highlights show. Immediately, “Booyah!” and “Cool as the other side of the pillow” became part of everyday speech for a generation of sports fans. It was a true letdown if you tuned in and Scott wasn’t part of that night’s SportsCenter anchor duo.
In a touching remembrance piece aired Sunday on ESPN, his friends and co-workers talked about Scott’s desire to have an impact on his industry. Scott had more than an impact – he turned sports journalism on its ear. Some still dismiss his writing and delivery as too over-the-top and inappropriate, putting the spotlight on himself instead of the story. There certainly is some validity to that argument, but Scott infused fun and flair into breakdowns of athletic contests. And when the moment required a more reverential delivery, Scott met the challenge with dignity.
In July, as part of ESPN’s annual ESPY awards, Scott received the Jimmy V Perseverance Award, named for basketball coach Jim Valvano, who died of cancer in 1993. Looking frail but filled with fortitude, Scott delivered a stirring address that moved many to tears and inspired those who, like him, refuse to give in to cancer.
“When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer,” he said. “You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and the manner in which you live.”
Journalists strive to tell every story first and best. They want you to see the picture as they painted it, completely and with vivid colors so you don’t miss a detail. Stuart Scott brought a whole new pallet of paints to the scene, colors that made his pictures stand out and commanded your attention. And boy, were they fun to drink in.
In his July address, Scott referenced Valvano’s enduring phrase – “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up” – and said, “I’m not special, I just listened to what the man said.” But Scott was special, in how he worked, how he cherished his daughters and how he battled his disease. Scott truly was cooler than the other side of the pillow, and his passion for bold storytelling and for life will be missed.

Vote ‘No’ on Amendment 3

26 Oct

(NOTE: This blog represents my personal views and is not related to my employer, Sedalia School District 200)

I recently wrote this commentary about Amendment 3, a ridiculously awful piece of legislation that I am hopeful Missouri voters will soundly reject on Nov. 4. Our district’s superintendent also has made his stand public.
Voters, please ensure you know the full ramifications of this and all attempts to rewrite our state’s Constitution before approving such a drastic measure.

The King, a squirrel and a big pile

8 Aug

main_squirrel_logoThursday was opening day for the 2014 Missouri State Fair. Since moving to Missouri at the beginning of 2009, I have truly enjoyed covering the fair. Lots of interesting people, plenty of not-good-for-you food and loads of free entertainment (for me with my press pass — but daily tickets are only $8).
I’m no longer working at the Sedalia Democrat, but I do still write a weekly column for the paper and I always kick in a couple of extra coverage pieces during the fair. To kick off this year’s coverage, I have interviewed an Elvis impersonator and a bluegrass fusion band called Deep Fried Squirrel, and talked to 4-H kids about how much animal excrement they handle in the course of a day.

Still livin’ the dream, baby!

G’night, Mike

3 Apr


Last Saturday was a great day. The University of Central Missouri men’s basketball team captured the NCAA Division 2 title, and since I’m working through UCM to get my teaching certification, I’m a member of the Mules Nation. Then I watched streaming video of Team SCREAM, our high school’s robotics team, capture the FIRST Robotics Oklahoma Regional title, which gives those students a berth in the world championships later this month in St. Louis. While my NCAA bracket finally was busted by Michigan State’s loss, the evening ended with a great steak dinner with my wife, Melany.

The joys of Saturday turned to tears on Sunday. A former co-worker posted on Facebook that Mike Ritter, whom we had worked with at the East Valley Tribune in Mesa, Ariz., had been rushed to a hospital in Atlanta and endured 10 hours of emergency heart surgery. A couple of hours later, Will posted that Mike had died. I was crushed.

Mike was editorial cartoonist at the Trib when I was the news editor. He was a complete night owl, so after we cleared deadline for the daily paper I would frequently pop into his office (which was right next to mine) to see what he was working on. Mike was easygoing, friendly, personable and a brilliant conversationalist. At the time, he was dabbling with creating a comic strip about a diva cat who was the star of a series of cat food commercials and her handler, who strongly resembled our boss at the time.

Mike left the Trib under circumstances that remain cloudy to this day; a few people know the exact reasoning, but I figured it was Mike’s business and didn’t push anyone for details. A few years ago, a mutual friend posted something to his Facebook wall, I saw it and reached out. We exchanged a couple of messages and then passively kept in touch. His last message directly to me was on a photo I took of the Hotel Bothwell fireworks display on Thanksgiving.

So why am I so broken up over the loss of someone I last saw in 2005 and was a spotty correspondant with in recent years? Because Mike was young (48), good-looking and talented. He was kind, benevolent and, it so happens, gay. And I still look back on those late-night chats and remember what a genuine, outstanding person Mike was. The world is a lesser place without him.

G’night, Mike.



Look what I found!

17 Mar

Look what I found!

With the newspaper’s ownership having changed hands and so many other convolutions over the past few years, I figured all my columns and editorials from my days at the East Valley Tribune had been relegated to the digital dustbin. I had searched for some of them before and came up with 404 errors, so imagine my surprise when this one, which won first place in feature column writing in the 2008 Arizona Newspaper Association awards, popped up.

Team SCREAM Robotics

Team SCREAM, #4522, in Sedalia, Missouri

Saint Louis Wrestling

NWL STL | MMWA | SICW | WLW | Dynamo Pro

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