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Nothing major, but plenty of sports action [The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa]

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Aug. 4—Not every event is a major happening. Not every championship brings riches or rings.

But it doesn't mean these events and these titles are less important to those involved. Quite the contrary. We all do things, accomplish things that are just as important to us as winning a Masters green jacket or a Super Bowl ring to others.

As we're firmly entrenched in the dog days of summer — you know, the in-between before high school and college sports kick into high gear again — let's take a look at some things happening right now in Cedar Rapids.

— The Golden State Warriors may have won the NBA championship, but they have nothing on the Cedar Rapids Sizzlers.

This Granny Basketball team defeated the defending champion Harpers Ferry Fireflies, 43-38, in the league's national tournament last weekend in Kansas City.

There were a record 20 teams representing six states — Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana and, of course, Iowa — in the 6-on-6 tournament for women 50 and over.

The Sizzlers actually avenged a loss to the Fireflies in last year's title tilt. The Sizzlers also won national titles in 2019 and 2015.

The Fireflies are kind of a dynasty with four national titles — 2021, 2018, 2017 and 2016. These two teams have met in the championship game at three straight tournaments.

"I am so happy, so proud, and so honored to be part of a team of individuals who are so creative, so committed, so flexible, so smart, and so talented, all of which led to our championship," player Diana Marker said in a release.

The 2023 national tournament is coming to Iowa, July 14-16 at Luther College in Decorah.

— The Pro Football Hall of Fame is a big deal, taking place in Canton, Ohio, on Saturday with men like Dick Vermeil, Cliff Branch and Sam Mills among the honorees.

Hawkeye Downs Speedway in Cedar Rapids will honor its past stars on Friday with its annual "Wall of Fame."

This year's honorees are Steve Carlson, Rick Hall, Bob Harris, Billy Moyer and Coonrod Wrecker and Crane.

Carlson, from West Salem, Wis., won the Miller 100 a record five times — 1996, '97, '01, '07 and '08. He also won the late model points championship in 2008.

Hall, who died in a race accident in 1981 at the age of 22, won a Hawkeye Downs track championship on the "quarter midget track," located next to Sixth Street in the northeast corner of the grounds.

Harris was a driver and chassis builder who has been involved in racing for more than 40 years. The "Harris modified chassis have won over 10,000 feature races ... multiple track championships in IMCA, NASCAR, UMP, USMTS and WISSOTA and have won championships titles in regional, national and super nationals," according to his HOF bio.

Moyer owns 847 feature wins since he started racing in 1977, including the Spring Fever 50 at Hawkeye Downs in 1981 and back-to back Miller 100s in 1987 and '88.

Coonrod has supplied the wrecker service at Hawkeye Downs for their weekly races and special races and also sponsored some of the race cars on the Janey Racing Team.

— And, lastly, Cedar Rapids has hosted its share of national championships over the year, from NCAA wrestling to NAIA cross country and pretty much everything in between.

Starting Friday at the Alliant Energy PowerHouse is the USA Boccia National Championships.

There was a clinic Thursday, but team and pairs competition is Friday, followed by individual battles on Saturday and Sunday.

Boccia is a "precision ball sport, similar to bocce ... (it) is contested at local, national and international levels by athletes with severe physical disabilities. It was originally designed to be played by people with cerebral palsy but now includes athletes with other severe disabilities affecting motor skills."

It became a Paralympic sport in 1984.

Comments: (319) 398-8461; jr.ogden@thegazette.com

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(c)2022 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)

Visit The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) at thegazette.com

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Welcome back, Tyrrell Pigrome.

Almost three years removed from his last season as the quarterback for the Maryland football team, Pigrome has returned to the state — this time trying his hand at Towson.

Is it strange to be back in the area where it all started? Pigrome doesn’t think so.

“I don’t look at it that way,” the Birmingham, Alabama, native said. “I just look at it as a new opportunity. A new opportunity means new blessings. I’m just getting to do what I do and pursue new opportunities in my life. So it doesn’t feel weird at all.”

The Tigers have six quarterbacks on their roster, but Pigrome, 24, and UAB graduate student transfer Tyler Johnson III, who helped the Blazers capture a pair of Conference USA titles in 2018 and 2020, appear to be the leading candidates to start in the season opener at Bucknell on Sept. 3. Coach Rob Ambrose said he can’t bring himself to call Pigrome “Piggy” or “Swine” or any of the other hog-related nicknames his teammates have conjured up, but Ambrose said the Mississippi transfer has raised the level of competition among the quarterbacks.

“He’s clearly talented,” he said. “It’s not like I haven’t seen him before. But the cool part about him is, just like everybody else, he sees that it’s his job to meld himself to the program and the people in it, and he’s doing a really good job. He’s picking up the language pretty quick, and he’s one of those six guys where it’s the Quarterback of the Day to where I could say, ‘If that guy started, we’d beat everybody.’”

Pigrome is familiar to college football fans in the state for his four-year run with the Terps. He became the first quarterback in school history to start a game in four seasons, accounting for 1,777 passing yards, 630 rushing yards and 17 total touchdowns in 34 games.

In his final year in College Park in 2019 — coach Mike Locksley’s first season — Pigrome appeared in 11 of 12 games and started three, completing 58.5% of his passes (69 of 118) for 719 yards with three touchdowns and six interceptions and rushing 45 times for 153 yards and two scores. Maryland finished 3-9 overall and 1-8 in the Big Ten Conference.

Pigrome said he enjoyed mixed results at Maryland, where he was 1-6 as a starter. He helped lead a season-opening victory at No. 23 Texas in 2017 before suffering a season-ending torn ACL. Then, filling in for an injured Kasim Hill a year later, he almost led the Terps to a win over No. 9 Ohio State in a 52-51 overtime thriller.

“It was on and off, and it was my time to leave,” he said. “It was my time to explore new options and see what was out there in the world and get new opportunities.”

Locksley said he would not try to convince a player to stay if his mind is set on leaving.

“For Piggy, coming in and learning a new system and new philosophies, they don’t always fit,” he said. “From our standpoint, we would have enjoyed having him here. But I never had a conversation with him as to why, and to be honest, it didn’t matter.”

Pigrome then landed at Western Kentucky, where he was the primary starter in 2020. He completed 57.6% of his passes (171 of 297) for 1,603 yards with nine touchdowns and two interceptions and rushed 105 times for 337 yards and four scores as the Hilltoppers finished 5-7 and lost to Georgia State in the LendingTree Bowl.

He said that season reinvigorated him.

“I don’t want to say that felt like a test year for me as a starting quarterback for the whole year, but I got to see how to go about things as the [No. 1] guy,” he said. “I got to learn new things just by being there.”

Pigrome then transferred to Ole Miss as a walk-on. Even though he didn’t play in a game in 2021 as the Rebels finished 10-3 and reached the Sugar Bowl, he said learning from coach Lane Kiffin and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby was rewarding.

“Their offense was kind of different,” Pigrome said of a unit that finished top 25 nationally in points (33.7), passing yards (274.8) and total offense (492.5) behind quarterback Matt Corral, a third-round draft pick of the Carolina Panthers. “I had never seen it like that. It was a growing experience. You just wanted to know how people talk and how they identified defenses and everything and how they read everything. It was a plus opportunity just to see how somebody else thinks.”

Uncertainty about another year of eligibility — granted to all players after the coronavirus pandemic impacted the 2020 season — left Pigrome thinking he needed to find a new destination. After entering the transfer portal in April, Pigrome said Towson’s commitment to bring him in differed from mild enthusiasm from Football Bowl Subdivision programs such as Georgia Tech, Hawaii, Jacksonville State and Memphis.

“They were very upfront,” Pigrome recalled. “Coach Ambrose kept telling me, ‘Do what you’ve got to do.’ … All of them were saying to just stay in contact with them and talk to them. But Towson was so confident about it and so upfront about it. It was like a sure thing at the time.”

Playing for his sixth offensive coordinator in Tyree Foreman, Pigrome had some uneven results during Wednesday’s practice open to media. During a red-zone exercise, he would have been sacked by redshirt senior linebacker Ryan Kearney (Howard) during one snap and then slipped while scrambling to his left and was tagged down by redshirt sophomore linebacker Keith Bagwell (Poly) during another.

But Pigrome threaded a pass to redshirt senior tight end Robert Schwob (Broadneck) in zone coverage during the same drill. Earlier, he connected with redshirt junior wide receiver Matthew Akuchie, who got behind the secondary, for a touchdown during a seven-on-seven exercise.

“He’s still a baller in my opinion,” said Schwob, who played with Pigrome at Maryland from 2017 to 2019. “He hasn’t played maybe in a game, but he was still getting reps [at Ole Miss]. He looks as good as new when he’s playing. I don’t think any time off has affected him.”

Pigrome also has sought to bond with his teammates. When graduate student right tackle Julian Singh committed a false start to draw the ire of a few coaches, Pigrome emphatically clapped his hands and shouted words of encouragement at Singh.

Ambrose said Pigrome and Johnson have shown their younger quarterback teammates how to play the position.

“Both of them come to that room with experience and confidence,” he said. “But they’re also smart enough to have some degree of humbleness that there’s stuff there they don’t know, and they do a good job learning, and they do a great job teaching and leading. I couldn’t be more pleased.”

Pigrome said his top priority is immersing himself in the playbook to improve his play on the field. That’s part of the reason why he said he hasn’t concerned himself with his position on the depth chart.

“I’m just learning here and having fun,” he said. “I just want to better myself. This is a new opportunity for me, and I’m grateful for the opportunity. For now, I just want to enjoy the moment, enjoy the guys, and compete with the guys.”

As a former safety who finished his career 19th in Tigers history in all-time tackles and was the 1991 squad’s Defensive Most Valuable Player, Locksley has more than a rooting interest in Pigrome finding success at Towson.

“I think Piggy’s playmaking abilities with his arm and feet are some things that put a lot of pressure on defenses, and he’s done it at the highest level,” he said. “Where Towson plays, I think he’ll be a great addition there, and my hope is that he’ll return Towson to where they’ve been before so that they can compete against the best teams at that level.”

Season opener

TOWSON@BUCKNELL

Saturday, Sept. 3, 6 p.m.

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WILLMAR, MINN. – Brooks Lee had batted .343 in a western collegiate league during the summer of 2019, then headed to Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo to play baseball for his father. Larry Lee had been the Mustangs coach since 2003.

Brooks entered the brief, unofficial fall workouts and scrimmages and, in October 2019, he tore a hamstring and knee. He rehabbed energetically and early in the 2020 season, he managed to make a couple of pinch-hitting appearances in the Mustangs' first 16 games.

And then the pandemic shut down the season.

"I was going to the Cape Cod League that summer [2020], and then that was canceled," Lee said. "Next, I was going to Alaska, but that team didn't play, either.

"I needed to play somewhere. I had two at-bats in a year. I was coming back from a bad knee injury. I had to play games, as many as possible. I was told, 'There's a spot in the Northwoods League.' And I said, 'I'm in.' "

Even then, the team recruiting Lee from California to the Midwest was the Eau Claire Express. And then the Express elected not to participate in the post-COVID schedule.

The camaraderie of summer college ball was demonstrated by this:

Dale Varsho, a league staple running the Express, told Ryan Voz, co-owner and chief recruiter for the Willmar Stingers, that there was a very good shortstop in California who still needed a team.

Voz called. Brooks Lee came. He batted .345 in 36 games. Two years later, drafted by Twins … No. 8 overall pick.

"We had another player drafted that high — Hunter Dozier, the outfielder a decade ago," Voz said. "We have nine Stingers who have made it to the big leagues. Unless someone gets there in the next couple of years, Brooks will be No. 10.

"Great kid, too. Jay and Sherri Black were his host family. They rave about him."

How did an athlete who grew up in California, a former surfer, find happiness on the prairie in Willmar?

"I really enjoyed it, including the quieter pace," Lee said. "My Willmar family, Jay and Sherri, were great. They've been helping players for a few years now. It's a true commitment for four months every year."

Lee was in Fort Myers, Fla., with the Twins rookies on Thursday when this phone interview took place. The Blacks were in attendance here for a 7 p.m. game with Mankato.

Sherri was informed Lee had vouched for her cooking. "I know he liked my ribs," she said. "We were told that he's going to be with Cedar Rapids in A ball next week. We're going to head down there to see him."

They will not be arriving in the vehicle that Jay provided for Lee's use in the summer of 2020.

"It was a 1998 Ford Expedition, and it was the worst," Jay Black said. "I had to remind him, 'Brooks, don't turn on the air conditioner. Everything will go out.'

"I've upgraded since then. This year's player beater had air conditioning."

Baseball parties

Voz's first contact with the Northwoods League came in 1998, as an intern for Joel Sutherland at St. Cloud. He had a long stretch with the Alexandria Beetles after that.

Voz and Marc Jerzak were partners to land and finance an expansion team for Willmar in 2010. At a population of 21,000, Willmar competes with Wisconsin Rapids as the smallest among the 21 cities in the Northwoods. That won't change when Minot, N.D., joins in 2023.

"We get 900 or a 1,000 people a night," Voz said. "Our theory is that we're giving 36 parties for 1,000 in 2 ½ months."

The Stingers have added to the good mood by entering Saturday with a 22-4 second-half record and a probable playoff appearance. A 12-game winning streak has been included.

"That streak was awesome; I'd never been on a team where every time we absolutely needed it, somebody, anybody, would get a big hit," said Joey Walls of Long Beach State, the Home Run Derby champ at the recent Northwoods All-Star Game.

Nolan Kemp, just out of Chaska High School and headed for St. Thomas, was added two weeks ago as older pitchers started reaching innings limits (many set by college coaches) and returned home.

"I'm the kid to them. Some of the players call me 'Baby,' but they also will do anything to help you," Kemp said. "This gives me a better idea of what a pitcher will face in college."

Summer ball in Willmar? Extra small for college ball, and still going after 13 years.

"Lots of promotion, good baseball, loyal fans, and the Willmar business community … that's what stirs the drink," Voz said. "We have things going every night thanks to the businesses.

"An important thing is when our players get back home — and coaches, family and friends ask, 'How did you like that place … Will-MAARR?' — that they will say, 'It's Willmar and it was great.' "

©2022 StarTribune. Visit startribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Te’Jaan Ali returned home to Chicago in the summer of 2020 to spend time with his family and concentrate on basketball after a disappointing freshman year at Portland Community College in Oregon. A foot injury had sidelined him for the season, and his fitness had slipped during the pandemic.

While in Chicago, Ali texted his college coach, Tony Broadous, to tell him he was exercising and planning his comeback.

“That was the last I heard from him,” Broadous said by phone as he choked back tears.

On July 18, 2020, Ali and a few other young athletes gathered for five-on-five basketball in a school gym on Chicago’s South Side. It was the last game Ali played. He collapsed in the gym and died in a nearby hospital that afternoon. He was 19 years old.

More than 50 friends and family members met Sunday in Ellis Park in the Bronzeville area to release balloons and ride their bikes to remember Ali, who was also a standout athlete at De La Salle Institute in Bronzeville and Alan B. Shepard High School in southwest suburban Palos Heights. The memorial comes seven months after a report by the inspector general of Chicago Public Schools revealed the tragic events leading up to Ali’s death.

“It was really traumatic because it was totally unexpected,” Diane Ativie, one of Ali’s aunts, said of losing him. “He had just come back from Portland, Oregon, for the summer, with the plans to go back to school in the fall. So it was devastating.”

As it turns out, no one was supposed to be in the Emmett Louis Till Math and Science Academy gym that day. The school district had closed indoor facilities early in the pandemic, according to CPS Inspector General Will Fletcher’s report.

A Till employee who moonlighted as an assistant coach for a suburban Chicago college allegedly disarmed Till’s security system and ushered at least 15 people, including Ali, into the gym for an unauthorized recruiting event for the suburban college, the report said.

Ali’s father, David, declined to comment to the Tribune about the circumstances of his youngest son’s death. Ali’s name was not disclosed in the inspector general’s annual report, which became public in January and highlighted major investigations the office undertook in 2020 and 2021. The Tribune pieced together what happened to Ali through public records and interviews.

Tony Chiuccariello, who coached Ali at Shepard High and taught him U.S. history, described him as an outgoing kid who always had a smile on his face. He praised Ali’s ability to sink three-pointers as a center and play strong defense, blocking the shots of his opponents.

“He got better over time. I really wish I had him for one more year,” Chiuccariello said by phone. “He supported his teammates. He was like, you know, that perfect person that if someone was emotional when they came out (of the game), he would talk to him. He was well-liked by all his teammates.”

A few weeks after Ali graduated from Shepard, Portland Community College announced he was one of three recruits to join the 2019-20 Panthers squad. In a statement that accompanied the news, Ali had said he “chose PCC to get offers for basketball and to better my skills as a player. I also chose PCC to get my GPA together and ready for a university.”

Broadous recalled Ali had a family member living in the Portland area, which helped him transition to a college so far from home. As a 6-foot, 8-inch walk-on, Ali didn’t play any games his freshman year because he suffered a hairline fracture in his foot, but Broadous said he did practice with the team.

“He was a unique player because he’s so tall, and he’d like to shoot three-pointers. The players would laugh and joke with him and say, ‘Get in there and post up like a center,’” Broadous said with a chuckle. “He’d be like, ‘Let me play my game.’”

Off the court and outside the classroom, Ali worked a part-time job at Walmart and joined the soccer home game management crew, according to PCC, which remembered him in an August 2020 obituary.

Darius Gary, who became a Panther at the same time as Ali, said he liked to explore Portland by bus and wear colorful clothes. He described him as an energetic, happy teddy bear.

“He loved video games. He loved music,” said Gary, who now plays for Western Washington University.

Gary said Ali had set his sights on playing basketball professionally. Broadous said he expected Ali to return to Portland in the fall of 2020, so it seems Ali wasn’t trying to get recruited in the Till gym, but just logging some practice time on July 18, 2020.

That morning, the temperature outside hovered between 88 and 90 degrees, and the school’s gym was not air-conditioned, the CPS inspector general report stated. Till’s security cameras showed the event started at about 11 a.m. Ali collapsed around 12:40 p.m., per a report by the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office.

“According to witnesses the decedent informed that he felt hot before going to stand in front of the fan and subsequently collapsing,” the medical examiner report read. “Witnesses called 911 and (were) told to perform CPR, however, upon arrival of Chicago Fire Department Ambulance #55, the paramedics did not see anyone performing CPR.”

Ali was transported to the University of Chicago Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead in the emergency room just after 2 p.m., according to the medical examiner.

It’s unclear if Ali knew he had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, an inherited disease characterized by the thickening of the heart muscle. The heart is forced to work harder to pump blood. About one in 500 people are estimated to have the condition, but a “large percentage” of patients are undiagnosed, according to the American Heart Association.

The medical examiner report mentioned hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a major risk factor for sudden cardiac death in the young, especially during exercise. The 1990 death of college basketball phenom Hank Gathers from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy brought more awareness to the condition. Testing and treatment options have evolved in the decades since.

The medical examiner noted Ali tested negative for COVID-19. There was no evidence of trauma to his body. He had a medical history of asthma, although the report said it’s unclear if Ali used his albuterol inhaler that day or even had it with him. He weighed 338 pounds at the time of his death, with the medical examiner describing him as obese.

Just 17 days before he died, Ali posted a series of workout photos to Instagram with the caption: “Getting back in shape.”

After Ali’s collapse, the unnamed Till employee who allegedly opened the gym waited three hours to notify the Till principal at the time and “repeatedly mischaracterized” the recruiting event as an informal pickup game, according to the inspector general report.

The report noted the employee accessed Till on “several occasions” while it was shuttered for COVID-19 and failed to cooperate with the inspector general investigation before retiring in September 2020. The employee did not respond to the Tribune’s requests for comment, and the newspaper is not naming him because he has not been charged with a crime. A “Do Not Hire” designation was placed in his CPS personnel file, according to the inspector general.

Two other CPS employees who allegedly attended the unsanctioned recruiting event — an assistant principal and a special education classroom assistant — resigned instead of be fired or disciplined, the inspector general’s report said.

All the while, those who love Ali continue to remember him with an annual bike ride. They convened on the Ellis Park basketball court Sunday afternoon wearing shirts bearing Ali’s likeness and clutching basketball balloons they released as a DJ played Bishop Walter Hawkins’ “What is This.” Participants hopped on their bikes and headed north in a ride supported by the Major Taylor Cycling Club.

Audrey Lewis, one of Ali’s aunts, said he loved to ride his bike to keep in touch with his relatives, including her grandchildren in Indiana.

“He would get on his bike and map out a route he would take, so that he could visit multiple people in a day. That’s the kind of young man he was,” Lewis said. “Always had high aspirations of getting to the NBA, and God gave him some great opportunities.”

tswartz@tribpub.com

©2022 Chicago Tribune. Visit chicagotribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Aug. 10—Since last summer, student-athletes in college athletics have been able to monetize their name, image and likeness (NIL) rights, opening a new frontier at Penn State and other universities.

The Big Ten ranks No. 1 among all Division I athletic conferences in NIL compensation and in NIL activities through May 31, according to Opendorse.com. Football receives 49.9% of the NIL compensation and men's basketball takes in 17%, leaving 33.1% of NIL compensation to the non-revenue sports.

Now, athletes and coaches in non-revenue sports are trying to navigate what's next and what opportunities are available to them.

At last month's Big Ten Media Days, new Penn State Athletic Director Pat Kraft shared his vision for what NIL could one day look like for all Penn State athletes.

"What I would like it to look like is if you come to Penn State, you have the opportunity to do the same thing as everyone in the country and that we have maximized the power of the brand to help you maximize your own brand," Kraft said. "We're really thinking now, 'How does this work for 4-5 to 10 years? We've got to be the leader.' "

How coaches and players are adapting

Penn State head baseball coach Rob Cooper knows he still has much to learn about NIL — and he's eager to share that with his players.

"I haven't done a great job up until this point just because I'm still learning," Cooper said. "It hasn't infiltrated itself to the college baseball level until now. Now, it's becoming an issue."

He hopes to bring in experts they can all learn from.

"I have always been a person where unless I understand it, then I don't want to comment on it. I don't want to give anyone bad information, especially our student-athletes," Cooper said.

One of those athletes is rising junior right-handed pitcher Travis Luensmann, an Altoona native (Bellwood-Antis) who spent his freshman season in 2021 with South Carolina and was still with the program in the infancy of NIL. He transferred to Penn State before the 2021-2022 school year and familiarized himself with how he could build a brand at Penn State, a place just 35.6 miles away from his high school.

"NIL stuff was brought to me last fall at Penn State," Luensmann said. "We had a couple of meetings, classes and Zoom calls on it because it was pretty new at the time. We were just getting into it at Penn State and just getting to know the rules of how things would work and how to get yourself out there and how to build your digital profile. It was more of guiding yourself and making sure your presence online is positive and respectful of the team and university."

Luensmann is one of the faces of the team and looks to represent that by expanding his reach on social media to build NIL deals. He has over 400 followers on Twitter and is above 1,200 on Instagram. The right-handed starting pitcher has a deal with Cellucore — a supplement brand that sends him pre-workout among other things, but he doesn't receive compensation.

He has his eyes on certain products that he'd like to promote, specifically those that reflect the person that he is on and off of the field.

"I definitely would love to get out there with some glove brands and things like that," Luensmann said. "Also, if I could get into the clothing brands out there. The clothing brands that I would really like to get into could include shoes, but that's really hard to get into. I think on the other side with Cellucore, I could see myself with a paid nutrition sponsor. They send me meals, protein drinks and stuff like that. There's sporting gear and also I could get into fishing stuff like Tackle House and Bass Pro Shop and all of those."

Penn State women's basketball forward Anna Camden has also taken advantage of ways to learn more about NIL over the past year.

"Me and Coach Kiegs have had lots of discussions about it and I think Penn State compliance as a whole has been helpful in educating toward all the athletes," Camden said in July. "If you want help or you want advice, it's there. You just have to reach out for it. I know, as a team we've had a couple of presentations about it ... everyone is still learning and figuring out how involved they want to get and then what not (to get involved in)."

Penn State women's head basketball coach Carolyn Kieger believes that athletes that play collegiate women's sports have a great deal to gain in the NIL era, where women in particular are using social media to drive engagement and deals.

"It's giving us more opportunities to be seen, it's giving us more opportunities to be heard and it's creating a platform for our young women to use their voices to inspire and motivate and hopefully increase the amount of young kids that want to compete," Kieger said. "I think it gives their reach a broader net to be able to have young women to look up to them. It allows them to have a safe space to use the ball to impact things outside of the court."

Social media at the forefront of NIL deals

Non-revenue athletes have a number of ways to break into brands through posting content on social media. Usually this would include ad placement within a video or photo, discussing a brand on a podcast.

It's an area where Camden has seen a great deal of success in cashing in on NIL.

The rising senior touts more than 16,300 followers on Instagram, more than 1,200 followers on Twitter and over 236,000 followers on TikTok. Her social media platform has aided her and others in securing deals.

Among those opportunities are Roots Natural Kitchen, We Lock Kicks, Champs Sports and JBL headphones. She has also worked with Paramount Pictures to promote a movie and the Peyton Walker Foundation in her hometown of Camp Hill.

"I think it's an equal platform for whoever wants to take advantage of it," Camden said. "Obviously there are multiple ways that you can take advantage of it. Whether it be social media or appearances or starting your own business, I think that's the beauty of it. There's something for everyone to explore. And if that's been super exciting, I think you don't necessarily have to be the best at your sport to profit off NIL. On the flip side of it, you also don't have to have a million social media followers to profit off of it."

Growing resources to help guide student-athletes

Athletes at Penn State now have a number of resources to guide them through the uncharted waters of NIL.

Limitless NIL, created by Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford and his brother, wide receiver Liam, was formed to help student-athletes take advantage of NIL, while also helping to teach them about the new legislation. More than 25 athletes, including Camden, are involved, according to its website.

Nittany Commomwealth — with president Michael Krentzman at the helm — and Success With Honor — created by CEO Mark Toniatti, Ira Lubert and Bob Poole — are the two most prominent NIL collectives that benefit Penn State. The former is a football exclusive collective, while the latter benefits all Penn State sports.

These collectives, and others like them, are designed to assist student-athletes by creating NIL opportunities for them.

Success with Honor has subscription rates from $10 to $500 per month to benefit student-athletes. A subscriber can donate to a specific sport and a specific athlete and 85-90% of the revenue generated by the collective will go directly to the student-athletes.

While football is the driver as the biggest revenue builder in Penn State's athletic department, Toniatti also understands that there are over 850 student-athletes at the university and only around 300 of them are on a full scholarship. With the majority of student-athletes not being on full scholarship, Success With Honor looks to be able to create opportunities for them to build upon their social media with the organization — including signing autographs for fans as he believes that student-athletes are "great representatives for the university."

Nineteen athletes from Penn State were sent to the Name, Image and Likeness Seminar in Atlanta in June. The university had the largest representation of any school in the nation with athletes from track and field, lacrosse and fencing. Success With Honor looks to continue to build the profiles of athletes from non-revenue sports.

"We try to help the other sports as best we can and I think we're doing OK with it right now," Toniatti said. "I think we'll continue to do that knowing that football is the driver. As focused as we are that coach (James) Franklin is taken care of, we also want to help out the other sports. We have fans that are really interested in the other sports."

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(c)2022 the Centre Daily Times (State College, Pa.)

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KeyWords:: SC-NIL-changing-college-sports-What-does-mean-non SC NIL changing college sports What does mean non

Early during practice on a sunny, 85-degree Tuesday, Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck put his team through a drill that featured two blockers matched up with two defenders at different levels, while a ball-carrier tried to pick his way through the mass of bodies and sprint out the other end without being tackled. All the while, teammates formed a tunnel with the offense on one side and defense on the other.

First up in the drill for the offense was running back Mohamed Ibrahim, the sixth-year senior who is back on the field and taking full contact nearly a year after a ruptured left Achilles' tendon ended his season in the opener against Ohio State. In the drill, Ibrahim powered his way through a would-be tackler to his teammates' delight.

Tuesday wasn't the first time since the injury that Ibrahim was back absorbing hits – that came last week – but the Baltimore native met with the media for the first time since last training camp and declared his recovery at "100 percent.''

"It was weird,'' he said of his first contact since his Achilles' surgery. "I hadn't been tackled since Sept. 2, so it's a rhythm thing. You just gotta learn how to do it all over again.''

That shouldn't be too difficult for Ibrahim, who was doing it quite well before his injury. The 2020 Big Ten Running Back of the Year rushed for 1,076 yards and 15 touchdowns in that seven-game season, averaging 153.7 yards per game, second best in the nation. Last Sept. 2, he was picking up where he left off against No. 4 Ohio State at Huntington Bank Stadium. He tore through the Buckeyes for 162 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries during a 45-31 loss.

On his 30th carry, however, Ibrahim's left calf had a telltale ripple as he planted his foot, stretching for extra yardage. Ibrahim lay on the turf, clutching at his leg, but he didn't initially believe the injury was that serious.

"I thought it was just a cramp,'' Ibrahim said. "[Team medical staff] didn't tell me what it actually was until I was walking into the locker room. It was surprising.''

His season over and his career possibly in question because of an injury that's not easy for running backs to overcome, Ibrahim turned to his faith.

"You know, I put it in God's hands,'' he said. "Whatever he wants me to go through, I'll go through.''

First came surgery, after which Ibrahim had to keep his casted leg on a scooter. Then came the long rehabilitation process. He admits there were difficult moments.

"Just being able to walk, learning how to walk again, being able to run, learning how to run again,'' he said. "Stuff like that, I took for granted.''

Ibrahim's spirits might have been down, but he found a greater purpose in helping coach the Gophers running backs last year. "That got me through it,'' said Ibrahim, whose 3,003 career rushing yards are eighth on the Gophers career list — 1,651 behind leader Darrell Thompson. "I just wanted to be around the game.''

Ibrahim estimates he began feeling like his old self around January or February. He participated in spring practice but did not take contact while also fasting during the Islamic observance of Ramadan.

Now he's three weeks away from returning in a game. The Gophers play New Mexico State in the season opener on Sept. 1 at Huntington Bank Stadium. Last time there, he was well on his way to a 200-yard outing against Ohio State. However, he doesn't look back at what might have been.

"Nah, I don't live in that world,'' he said. "This is the world I live in, and I just gotta move on with it.''

Record rusher

Mohamed Ibrahim holds several Gophers records. The 2020 Big Ten Running Back of the Year is entering his final year of eligibility after playing part of just one game his senior season before leaving with a season-ending injury.

153.7

Rushing yards per game in 2020.

8

Touchdowns in consecutive games (four at Maryland and four at Illinois during the 2020 season).

9

Consecutive 100-yard rushing games (Jan. 1, 2020-Sept. 2, 2021).

364

Most career rushing yards in bowl games. He played in two.

©2022 StarTribune. Visit startribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

KeyWords:: MS-IBRAHIM-SAYS-HIS-RECOVERY-IS-100-PERCENT-COMPLETE MS IBRAHIM SAYS HIS RECOVERY IS 100 PERCENT COMPLETE

Aug. 8—MARION — The first day of classes is two weeks away.

Homework, though? That starts now.

Coach Roxanne Paulsen sent her Marion High School volleyball squad out with an assignment Monday, following the first day of practice.

It centered on reading about something she called The Four C's — composure, concentration, confidence and commitment.

For the Wolves, there's more to volleyball than volleyball. They started practice with a 10-minute session of writing into journals. They'll do that from now until the season ends, which they hope is sometime in early November.

"Journaling, it sets the tone for the day," said Paulsen, who has built an enviable program in her first 18 years at Marion — 556 victories, nine state tournaments, a championship in 2008.

"It's a good way to set goals, build competitiveness and become more mentally tough."

The Wolves are coming off another memorable season — a 37-9 record, a share of the Wamac Conference East Division title, a berth in the Class 4A state semifinals.

Five starters are back, led by 4A first-team all-stater Avery Van Hook, a senior who has committed to the University of South Dakota.

Twitter

Last year, Van Hook served a dual role as both setter and hitter. She anticipates being the primary setter this season.

"That's the way it's going to be at college," she said. "Whatever the team needs is what I'm going to need."

Whatever is needed. Whatever it takes. That's a common theme with this team.

"I want to be able to do whatever the team needs me to do," senior Peyton Johnson said. "I'm there for whatever is needed from me. This team has really good leadership, it always has."

Van Hook has an array of weapons at her disposal, including Johnson and juniors Michaela Goad and Sophia Paulsen.

"We're not a very tall team, but then, we haven't been tall for the last three years," Van Hook said. "But we'll battle with our passion and our determination to go for every ball."

A 5-foot-11 middle hitter, Goad is destined for a big jump this year, Coach Paulsen said.

Twitter

"We're going to rely on her a lot," she said. "She's a heck of an athlete. Her ceiling is really high."

Add junior defensive specialist Natalee Hartman, and Marion returns five starters. Only one of the eight teams in the 2021 4A state field (Sioux City Heelan) returns more of its attack.

So expect the Wolves to be ranked extremely high — top three, at least — when the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union releases its preseason rankings in the next couple of weeks.

"The girls expect to do well," Paulsen said. "It's like every year, we want to win the conference. We want to go to state and go as far as we can.

"But we've got to stay healthy. Nothing is a guarantee."

This team's final destination is a mystery, and will remain so for weeks.

For now, it's all about the journey. And the journals.

Comments: jeff.linder@thegazette.com

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(c)2022 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)

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KeyWords:: CR-homework-starts-now-Marion-volleyball-team CR homework starts now Marion volleyball team

It didn’t fully sink in until he read the words aloud to his girlfriend, seeking her opinion on the statement that was about to make it official. Baseball is all Ryan Ripken has known. As the son of Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr., the sport has always been a major part of his life.

“Feels like the right time,” the statement began, “and I have a few things I want to get off my chest.”

As he read those words — which detailed his decision to retire from professional baseball — the emotions hit. He had been ruminating how to say it publicly for over a month, but hitting post on Instagram and Twitter “kind of made it real,” Ripken told The Baltimore Sun.

“For me, I felt so exhausted, so drained,” Ripken said.

And then the flood of well-wishers came, from all parts of his career. From travel ball to Indian River State College to the Washington Nationals and Orioles organizations, he realized how many people helped him along the way.

Ripken played seven seasons in the minor leagues, beginning with the Nationals before joining the Orioles and making it as high as Triple-A Norfolk last season. The former Gilman star was released after the season, and while he trained for another opportunity, the timing seemed right for a change. So the 29-year-old from Hunt Valley put down his glove and looked to what’s next — away from baseball, a game that’s been a near-constant.

That’s part of being Cal Ripken Jr.’s son and Cal Ripken Sr.’s grandson. Baseball follows the last name, and although Ryan Ripken was an eager participant — striving to make his own mark in the sport — there’s so much more out there Ripken hopes to accomplish, and accomplish on his own.

“Growing up with the family I have, and all the accomplishments people look for the Ripkens to do in baseball, I’m very happy and thankful for what my family members have done, and I’m very proud of myself for what I accomplished,” Ripken said. “But I will say I’m excited to show people more of Ryan Ripken that they might not know.

“And that isn’t necessarily associated with being the player, or being the son, uncle or grandson of. That, to me, is going to be a cool experience to see.”

Ripken doesn’t have concrete plans yet, but he’s finishing an accelerated business degree online from Arizona State. His heart is still around sports, he said, and that could lead to several avenues.

He has ample interest in a sports media route, and doesn’t want to “close the door on baseball.” When that’s “all you’ve known and all you’ve done, you’re going to have a curiosity.”

“There’s so many things to do out there,” he said.

But before starting his next endeavor, he wants to reflect on a journey that began around the Orioles when he was a child and continued with his playing career. He was drafted in the 15th round of the 2014 draft by the Nationals and held a career .234 batting average with 20 homers and 160 RBIs in the minor leagues.

He wishes he could’ve played for 15 years. But Ripken realized that wasn’t realistic and it was time to move on. So he typed out that message, read it to his girlfriend and came to grips with retirement.

Baseball has been there all his life. Now he’ll see what else there is to experience.

“When you get that feeling, you know,” Ripken said. “I hope people will get to see the things I can do outside the game. I’m really excited to show and share that with people.”

©2022 Baltimore Sun. Visit baltimoresun.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

KeyWords:: BZ-RYAN-RIPKEN-SON-ORIOLES-LEGEND-CAL-RIPKEN-JR BZ RYAN RIPKEN SON ORIOLES LEGEND CAL RIPKEN JR

The Gophers women’s hockey team is sending four current players to the 2022 IIHF Women’s World Championship from Aug. 25-Sept. 4 in Herning and Frederikshavn, Denmark, the U announced Sunday morning.

Fifth-year players Taylor Heise and Grace Zumwinkle will play for the U.S., while incoming freshmen Josefin Bouveng and Nelli Laitinen will play for Sweden and Finland, respectively. The U.S. begins play Aug. 25 against Japan at 6 a.m. CDT.

It is Heise’s first U.S. senior team appearance.

In addition, sophomore Abbey Murphy and senior Madeline Wethington were chosen for the Collegiate Select Team roster, which will play a three-game series against Canada on Aug. 17, 18 and 20.

None of the players will miss the season for the Gophers, who bring back a loaded roster after spending several weeks ranked No. 1 and advancing to the NCAA tournament last season. That includes reigning Patty Kazmaier Award winner Heise, and U.S. Olympians Zumwinkle and Murphy.

Also playing for the U.S. in the world championship are former Gophers Hannah Brandt, Amanda Kessel, Kelly Pannek and Lee Stecklein. The U.S. won the silver medal at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

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KeyWords:: SP-GOPHERS-SENDING-FOUR-CURRENT-PLAYERS-IIHF-WORLD-CHAMPIONSHIPS SP GOPHERS SENDING FOUR CURRENT PLAYERS IIHF WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

The idea of Jerry Kill speaking to a Twin Cities group on the morning of the Gophers football team’s season opener has been dunked on.

Shortly after it became known that leaders of Twin Cities Dunkers had invited Kill to be its speaker on Sept. 1 — the day his new team, New Mexico State, plays his old one at Huntington Bank Stadium — the engagement was canceled.

“Some people thought it was maybe inappropriate or causing discomfort, one way or the other. That was never the intent,” said Dave Mona, a member of the Dunkers group that comprises nearly 350 business leaders and regularly invites sports newsmakers for breakfast chats.

Mona, a retired public relations executive, had the idea of inviting the ex-Gophers coach and while former Gophers athletics director Joel Maturi made the call to Kill roughly three weeks ago. His appearance hadn’t yet been made official.

On Monday, KFXN-FM producer and Gophers sideline reporter Justin Gaard tweeted news of Kill’s invite, putting it in the “only in Minnesota” category. The replies weren’t Minnesota nice.

On Tuesday, Dunkers spiked the plan.

“We decided, let’s pull the plug on it.” Mona said. “(Kill) was fine with it. He wanted to say hello to people that morning and see them again, maybe one last time.”

But, Mona added, “No harm, no foul.”

Before the speech was given the kibosh, former U men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino, now at New Mexico, tweeted: “So you’re saying my dream of being invited back to speak to the Twin Cities Dunkers isn’t dead??”

When first contacted, Kill expressed doubts to the idea of him speaking to Gophers fans. The response was that Kill had “a lot of friends” in Minnesota.

Mona, a former reporter and host on WCCO-AM, said he would have emceed the event and planned to talk about Kill’s return to head coaching at New Mexico State — a challenging place to win as an FBS independent in small Las Cruces — as well as the new challenges in college football, primarily name, image and likeness (NIL) and the NCAA transfer portal.

Mona said he did not plan to ask about Kill’s critical comments of current Gophers coach P.J. Fleck. “I was hoping we could keep it in other things,” he said.

But it was Kill’s comments about Fleck that drove backlash.

Fleck coached under Kill at Northern Illinois in 2008-09. In a radio interview in 2019, Kill said Fleck had “changed a lot” and “I just think sometimes ego gets carried away.” Kill even mentioned Fleck’s first wife in the criticisms.

Kill also said he “took it personal” that Fleck said he had to change the culture of the U program when he was hired in 2017. Kill stepped down due to health reasons midway through the 2015 season and his longtime assistant, Tracy Claeys, was promoted. After the 2016 season, Claeys was fired, in part, due to his response to a group of players being implicated in a sexual assault.

Four of those players were expelled after a university investigation.

After Kill’s comments in 2019, Fleck responded on KTLK-AM: “I’ve got a lot of respect for Jerry Kill; I always will. … I’m not sure where that came from.”

Fleck spoke for a sixth time at Dunkers in June. Other recent speakers include Twins front-office leaders Derek Falvey and Thad Levine in April, and Vikings general manager Kwesi Adolfo-Mensah and head coach Kevin O’Connell in May. MLS Commissioner Don Garber met with Dunkers ahead of the MLS All-Star Game in St. Paul on Wednesday.

The Gophers are a whopping 37.5-point betting favorite against New Mexico State. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. on Sept. 1.

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KeyWords:: SP-JERRY-KILLS-GAME-DAY-SPEAKING-ENGAGEMENT-DUNKED-AFTER SP JERRY KILLS GAME DAY SPEAKING ENGAGEMENT DUNKED AFTER

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