Joey Feminella: Going for the Win

Sure, many NCAA programs adopt kids onto their teams. But few can boast such a powerful and enduring bond like the one my coworker Alex and I had the opportunity to witness firsthand at Stony Brook University this past weekend. Check out the story of 14-year-old cancer survivor Joey and Seawolves Football, which turned out to be one of the more compelling pieces that we’ve produced this fall.

Karmin Kills “Acapella,” Even Sans Rebel Wilson

Karmin Acapella

This is how acapella is done, folks. I’ve been a fan of Karmin – comprised of tandem turned love couple, Amy Heidemann and Nick Noonan – since their pre-fame YouTube days covering top-40 singles (released as an album in 2010). I became an even bigger fan when my sister told me they’d studied at Boston’s Berklee College of Music (i.e. they’re legit).

The two take a page out of “Pitch Perfect” with their latest swag-pop (yes, this is a thing) single, “Acapella.” The only thing this video is missing: Rebel Wilson!

Want more? Allie Van Dine of PolicyMic discussed the vid in a recent article, listing 10 reasons – complete with gifs – why the song achieves musical perfection. I’d tend to agree.

Hey Vine, Meet Instagram Video

Instagram vs Vine

It’s my first Free Friday from work and I’m up early at Starbucks researching (i.e. nerding out to) the latest battle in the social media landscape between Vine and the new Instagram Video. In my eyes, these kind of digital duels are like boxing or pro wrestling, but only better – quite a statement given my affinity for WWE.

Yes, Instagram has introduced a 15-second video feature to complement its trademark filtered-photo sharing service, news my broworker Bobby rushed down to share with me at the office yesterday (see, I’m not the only one who’s amped about this development). I suppose this should come as no surprise to the world’s 130 million Instagram users and the 13 million of us on Vine; it was only a matter of time until Instagram introduced video.

Let’s not lose sight of the overarching significance here, though, because while this is seemingly a battle between Instagram Video and Vine, in all actuality it’s a larger war between Instagram’s parent company, Facebook, and Twitter, owner of Vine. Furthermore, in no way is this simply a competition for users, but a play for advertising dollars – two concepts that go hand in hand in the digital world nowadays.

When it comes to the advertising aspect, it’s no coincidence that Instagram went with 15 seconds given that it’s an increasingly popular length for TV and online ad spots. Companies can do a great deal in 15 seconds – and much more than in six seconds on Vine – as evidenced by Lululemon in this sweet Instagram Video. Here are a few other brands also wasting no time taking advantage of Instagram’s new video offerings.

Facebook was undoubtedly smart to embrace the bite-sized video-sharing side of the industry, thus stealing a key element of Twitter’s business model following the latter’s immense success with Vine. As an early adopter, it seems like Vine’s been around forever, but it’s important to note what many have called “video Instagram” was only just introduced in late January 2013.

Instagram CEO/co-founder Kevin Systrom billed his app’s new 15-second video feature as “everything we know and love about Instagram, but it moves.” In my quick research online and limited experience with the feature itself, here are a few notable comparisons between Instagram Video and Vine:

  • Both offer stop-motion video (thus allowing you to take clips within the full video clip itself), but Instagram Video allows you to actually delete any undesired clips.
  • Instagram carried its classic filtering feature over to video as well, giving users the ability to edit individual clips. Vine doesn’t offer this capability… yet.
  • Two big advantages of Vine, however, are looping and embedding, which Instagram did not implement as part of its initial video launch.
  • And longer is always better, right? I’d imagine that Instagram 15-second videos are preferred to the six seconds granted by Vine. I do wonder if 15 seconds is too long, though, in the sense that we’re so used to six-second videos, 140 characters and the general notion of concision in our digital world… I mean, I know it’s hard for me to even bear the five seconds before I can skip ads on YouTube. Nevertheless, I think 15 seconds will soon become the perceived norm.
  • Creativity is king when it comes to digital, so users will undoubtedly learn to be even more innovative with their increased time allotment. Just look at these people who are already doing unbelievable things with six-second videos… and they’re getting paid for it.
  • Interested in additional comparisons? Jordan Crook of Tech Crunch (great site) compiled this breakdown of the two dueling apps.

Some folks are already predicting the early extinction of Vine (hence the #RIPVine hashtag) after yesterday’s announcement, but this guy’s not so convinced. With Twitter behind it, I have little doubt that Vine will fight back – some of its most faithful users (hilariously) are already firing back.

and up its proven game. And let’s face it, a little healthy competition never hurt anyone and should only serve to benefit us users.

Lastly, if you want some extra help before taking a stab at your first Instagram Video, how about a little seven-step tutorial care of the great folks at Mashable?

Move Over Taylor Swift

Guitar

If T-Swizzle can play the guitar, then anyone can, right? Learning the guitar has been secretly sitting on my bucket list for some time now, so I recently decided to take the plunge and bought an acoustic guitar. Now mind you that I haven’t played a musical instrument since my middle school days of playing the oboe, which did as little for my social status as it did for my parents’ discretionary income given the countless $8 reeds that I destroyed – sorry again, mom and dad.

In addition to bringing back some unpleasant memories of my overweight younger years, taking up the guitar has helped me recall how learning a new instrument represents the perfect combination of fun and frustration. After a few short weeks, though, I can easily say that the “fun” has totally trumped the occasional moments of frustration. It’s awesome to just get lost in playing and not give a single thought to the real world for a while.

Along with self-teaching out of one of those ridiculously juvenile (but admittedly appropriate) beginner books – we all remember those, right? – to add more fun to the process I’ve begun taking lessons at a local guitar store in my neighborhood.  

Forgive me for the unkosher yet fitting reference, but my teacher is the tits. Just a few minutes into my first lesson, I not only had a good feel for Jay’s exceptional guitar playing, but the way in which he’s able to put himself in his students’ shoes and teach to their individual level as well.

One of the best parts of our lessons is the humor, exemplified by him cupping his hands around his mouth and mocking the roar of an arena crowd after I cleanly played “Ode to Joy”. He also rips on the Taylor Swifts of the world a fair bit, which is cool… until he brings Bieber into the discussion.

For homework this past week, he asked me to devise a list of five songs I’d like to   ultimately learn to play down the road. I mentally tossed around a ton of tunes over the past few weeks and came up with 10 songs (narrowing it down to five was entirely too difficult) that I feel are pretty representative of my musical tastes and who – without the risk of sounding overly precocious – I’d like to consider as influences. I appreciate the fact that he’s already having me learn the chords to a couple of them, too.

I thought I’d share my list here along with links to each considering a few aren’t generally well known. Oh, and I’d also like to thank my parents for having legit tastes in music, as I fondly remember them playing a number of these growing up.

Lots of Inspiration to Stand as One With Boston

Martin Richards Sign

After tragedies like Monday’s Boston Marathon bombings, many of us search for a way to help, as evidenced by the many inspiring stories of good being done in the aftermath of the attack and over the past several days. I know that finding a way to give back was one of my prevailing thoughts after my initial senses of shock and horror began to dissipate.

Today I heard about a “Boston stands as one” tribute T-shirt being sold by Boston Marathon sponsor adidas, which will donate 100% of the proceeds to the One Fund Boston founded in Monday’s aftermath to help support the victims of the bombings and their families. Mens and women’s styles are available, both featuring a blue and yellow theme – the colors of the Boston Athletic Association that coordinates the marathon – for a very race-appropriate cost of $26.20.

I immediately bought a tee to serve as a tribute to the victims, their families, all of the marathoners, the authorities and the people of Boston. I figured another way to give back at this point is to spread the word about the various ways to give back, which is my aim here.

If a tee isn’t your thing, then check out One Fund Boston and The Salvation Army’s Boston Emergency Services Fund. Another awesome resource is the Boston Marathon’s Crowdrise site listing a ton of teams and individuals to which you can donate. It’s amazing to

In addition to that, I’d encourage you to get out and go for a run to honor those affected as well as to take some time to pray, which I like to think is the most powerful option. Oh, and call your loved ones and tell them you love them!

I wanted to end this post with several inspirational things I’ve seen in the news over the last several days…

The fans at Wednesday’s Bruins/Sabres game stepped in after Rene Rancourt had difficulty overcoming his emotions while singing the National Anthem (occurs around 3:00 mark)…

In a clear display of support, the archrival Yankees paid tribute by playing Sweet Caroline during Wednesday’s game against the Diamondbakcs…

I also wanted to share President Obama’s speech made at today’s  interfaith service in Boston. I point to two statements in particular: “Your city is with you. Your country is with you. We will all be with you as you learn to stand and walk and yes, run again.” and “It should be pretty clear by now that they picked the wrong city to do it. Not here in Boston. Not here in Boston.”

Lastly, the Chicago Tribune featured a very classy tribute on the front page of its Sports Section on Tuesday. I thought this was incredibly well done.

original

Kimmel Cracks Classic Kobe Joke

L.A. Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who I thoroughly enjoy despite popular sentiment against him, visited Jimmy Kimmel Live this past week. He and Jimmy eventually got on the subject of Dennis Rodman’s recent (and random) trip to North Korea, during which “The Worm” told DPRK leader Kim Jong Un, “You have a friend for life” while watching an exhibition basketball game.

While I could write at length about my views on Rodman’s visit, I’d rather focus on another joke — the one Kimmel dropped on Kobe during his interview. The setup for the joke comes about 1:40 into the video, but the pair’s banter makes the entire vid worth watching.

The Definition of ‘Student-Athlete’: Chris Zarkoskie’s Story

 

Note: Below is a recent feature story I wrote on New Hampshire’s Chris Zarkoskie, who was named the winner of CAA Football’s inaugural Chuck Boone Leadership Award this season and is one of the most amazing student-athletes I’ve met in the profession. Zarkoskie was presented with the award at the team’s annual football banquet on Sunday. This story is an account of my time at the banquet and Zarkoskie’s sensational story. A special shout-out to my coworker Bobby Broyles for his work on the video.

Every team professes to have a family culture about its program. In fact, this always seems to be among the first selling points a coach employs when recruiting and the first recollection of a former player reminiscing about his college years.

But there’s something different about this dynamic in Durham. Sitting among the several hundred attendees at the University of New Hampshire’s annual football banquet on Sunday, this sense of family was starkly present. With the exception of a few players having reportedly nodded off in the back of the room, the nearly four-hour ceremony – yes, four hours – was an overwhelming hit with its guests, who ranged from coaches, administrators and donors to players and their parents and siblings.

The day’s speeches were filled with enjoyable memories and endearing jokes, culminating in bearlike hugs and moving even an outsider like myself. The emotion filling the room was palpable and all but a few of the graduating seniors sitting at the front of the room failed to shed a tear; I can only imagine the state of the parents behind us. Few guests rushed from the room at event’s end, with parents and coaches working the room to capitalize on a rare opportunity to catch up with one another away from the field, while the returning players hastened forward to congratulate the program’s departing players – many of them obvious mentors.

The affair was much akin to a family reunion. And as we can all attest to when it comes to our respective families, there are always one or two favorites. This year, senior Chris Zarkoskie was clearly a prized son. In fact, he may be one of the most prized graduates produced by a storied program that boasts such esteemed alumni as Corey Graham, Jerry Azumah and 14-year head coach Sean McDonnell himself.

As several coaches and players remarked on Sunday, Zarkoskie – or “Zark” as he’s commonly referred to – embodies the very definition of student-athlete. The largely unrecruited offensive lineman would eventually become a three-year starter and earn a place on CAA Football’s All-Conference team as a senior, seemingly making his the oft-told story of the prototypical underdog and the coach who took a chance on him.

But anyone who’s met Zarkoskie knows that he is anything but typical. Yes, he came into his own in Durham, but while playing a largely unheralded position on a perennial powerhouse program that has consistently produced big-name players like the guy sitting just four seats down from him in 2011 Buck Buchanan Award Winner and UNH all-time tackle leader Matt Evans.

The greatest chapter in Zarkoskie’s early story is one that is often overlooked in sport because it goes beyond the playing field. Playing on the offensive line, which lacks so much of the game’s glam, has served him well given his natural tendency to stray from the limelight. Thankfully others have stepped forward to share his story for him.

As part of the nomination process for CAA Football’s inaugural Chuck Boone Leadership Award, each of the conference’s 11 member schools put forward a nominee and submitted three letters of recommendation on his behalf. In preparing the profile materials for our athletic directors, who were charged with choosing the winner, I had a chance to read through each candidate’s letters. I admit I was particularly moved by what I read about Zarkoskie, who McDonnell called “probably the best leader and captain that I have ever had here in my coaching career” and athletic director Marty Scarano said represents “all that is good about our business of intercollegiate athletics.” Team sports psychologist coach Tim Churchard added, “I have not met or observed a more complete and respected student-athlete than Chris in my more than forty years of teaching and coaching.”

Scarano’s fellow athletic directors must have concurred as Zarkoskie came away as the clear winner of the award named for Chuck Boone – dual-sport collegiate athlete and long-time coach turned University of Richmond athletic director and Executive Director of the Yankee Conference – and presented to the league player who embodies the highest standards of leadership, integrity, teamwork and sportsmanship in his academic and athletic achievements.

A team’s leaders must embody each of these characteristics in order to help guide their program to success on the playing field. There were countless examples of this kind in his recommendation letters and in Sunday’s remarks about Zarkoskie, who served as one of the Wildcats’ four captains last fall.

There have been many great leaders in sports over the years, all conveying leadership’s many forms. In describing what attributes a leader must possess, Zarkoskie notes, “As a leader, you need to know when to lead and when to let others lead. You can’t always be the one who’s speaking, and there are times when you have to take a backseat. That’s just as important as speaking up.”

And as the old adage goes, “Actions speak louder than words.” This is an especially key point of emphasis for Zarkoskie, who adds, “It’s not just about what you say. Leading by example is a very important quality, too. You’ve got to put the work in each and every day; even when you think no one is watching. There’s always someone watching and your actions speak very loudly. People see your hard work, recognize it and try to emulate it.”

Zarkoskie says that this past year he and his fellow captains tried to take what they had learned from the leaders before them – the likes of and Dino Vasso (’10) and Brian McNally (’11) – and utilize a similar style of leadership to guide the team in the right way, which involves hard work, respect for all and a “team over me” mentality.

He says that much of the brotherhood that has come to define the program is rooted in the latter, explaining, “We always talk about holding the shield for the person next to you. We all have ups and downs. If you’re up and someone else is struggling and down, then you’ve got to hold the shield for that guy. This is a team sport and everybody must act as one unit and one heartbeat. The quality of a true leader, then, would be bringing all of those guys together and leading them in one direction for one common goal.”

But as we see far too often in sports nowadays, a player’s leadership on the field does not necessarily translate to his life off of it. Thus, it’s rare that we come across a player like Zarkoskie who extends his same brand of proven leadership and immense character into his everyday life.

This is where Zarkoskie’s story truly begins to unfold. In addition to captaining the football team and capping his academic career with upwards of a 3.5 cumulative GPA and Academic All-District honors, perhaps his strongest record of leadership has been demonstrated in the community. His devotion to community service began back in New Jersey, where as a high schooler at Seton Hall Prep he spent his Spring Breaks volunteering with Habitat for Humanity and still today delivers the Eucharist to patients at a local rehabilitation center when he visits home.

The experience that has most profoundly impacted Zarkoskie, however, has been his time as a Pease Greeter at Pease Air Force Base in nearby Portsmouth, N.H. He first got involved with the organization as a member of Athletes InterVarsity, a group of Christian student-athletes on campus, and eventually expanded the student presence among the Pease Greeters by getting his teammates involved.

As Pease Greeters, the group strives to give the troops a proper welcome or sendoff and to thank them for their service to their country. They greet troops and spend time with them upon their return home from overseas, while also spending time with departing troops and wishing them a quick and safe return home.

Inspired by his time with the troops and a friend’s father who provides vocational counseling to veterans, Zarkoskie now aspires to one day work as a clinical psychologist at a veterans center or hospital. After graduating in December, he currently works with mental health patients and soon plans to return to school to pursue a doctorate in psychology.

Talking with 23-year-old Zarkoskie, who’s far more driven than your typical twenty-something and wiser than most people my parents’ age, one gets the sense that he was just born this way. He exudes character, class and selflessness, leading Chuck Boone – on hand to help present the inaugural award – to laud him as one of the most phenomenal young men he’s ever had the privilege to meet.

Predictably, Zarkoskie quickly deflected any such praise, attributing it and his numerous awards to the people who’ve been so present and supportive in his life – his parents, a high school teacher turned coach and his coaches and fellow teammates these last four and a half years.

While Zarkoskie is indeed a product of his environment, the people in his life are also a product of his presence in their lives. This prized son of the tight-knit New Hampshire family will now take the many things he’s learned in Durham and carry them into a professional career that should prove incredibly consequential for our nation’s veterans who return home in great need of gifted individuals like him.