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By Jeff Mayfield

[SEPT. 23, 2005]  I still think that the Railers football squad will make the playoffs. I've been accused of drinking the Red and Green Kool-Aid, but I just think this team has worked for years to get to this point and it is well within their reach this season. My only warning would be the troubling news I got from one of my sources, spies or whatever you want to call them. The word was that prior to the Springfield game the Railers did not have a very productive week of practice. During the first half of the game, it showed. It is time for this team to buckle down and get on a mission. I believe in them, and I think that the fans believe in them too. It is time for this team to step up and make it happen. Not with words, but with actions. It's time for some leadership to emerge and for someone to will this team to the postseason. Someone please tell the players that WE believe. Now it is time for them to work feverishly and to believe in THEMSELVES!

After the Lady Railers volleyball team took care of Urbana, I believe it made their record a solid 8-3 -- not bad for supposedly a young squad. The spikers were headed to East Peoria and I haven't heard how they did in those matches. I just wanted to say that I have a sneaky suspicion about this squad. I think it is going to grow and mature throughout the season. And when the playoffs roll around, Lincoln is going to be a very tough out and a team that no one will want to play. I like our chances when things are stated in that way!

The LCC Angels are also off to a quick start, supposedly with a young team themselves, but find themselves sitting at a sparkling 11-2, including some outstanding tournament performances. And you can't believe how many local products are hammering the balls for the Angels. Come on out and see for yourself… and don't forget to pencil in the dates for the national tournament here at Lincoln Christian College on Nov. 10-12. Many of you loyal readers and CITV-5 viewers have commented to me that you missed the event the last year or two, so don't miss it this year. I promise you that you will see some of the finest small-college volleyball anywhere in the country!

We have not received any reports on LC volleyball at this time.

The St. Louis Cardinals clinched another division title -- this one coming fittingly in their last season in Busch Stadium. And, no, I didn't take any more pleasure in celebrating at Wrigley Field than anywhere else (surely I jest?). It's just always nice to clinch wherever and whenever you can. But does it mess with momentum when you clinch so early? I think so! And while the Cards' starting rotation is better this season, I'm not sure that the bullpen strikes all that much fear in opposing hitters. And taking Rolen's bat AND glove out of the lineup does not put me at ease. Sure, Abe Nunez has been an outstanding fill-in for Rolen, and So Taguchi was tremendous filling in for Larry Walker, and Jon Mabry was fantastic playing for Reggie Sanders. Hector Luna has been solid as a utility infielder, and Einar Diaz was more than adequate spelling Yadier Molina. But is Reggie now healthy? Can Walker play two or three games back-to-back? Is Mark Grudzielanek healthy and ready to go? How banged up are Molina and Pujols, and can Edmonds shake off the bumps and bruises to be especially productive? Those are just the questions circling in my subconscious mind (I know… a very dangerous place indeed). If I really give it some thought, I might get really concerned and maybe even worried, but what was it that Alfred E. used to say…???

And speaking of the Cardinals… Will it ever be possible for them to enter the postseason healthy? The last time I remember that happening was 1982 (OK, other than Joaquin Andujar's head, the Birds were healthy… and don't call or e-mail me thinking I'm being disrespectful. Andujar is one of my all-time favs. I was in the park the night he hit a grand slam homer!). I'm just getting sick of watching them limp into the playoffs every stinkin' time. Because of injuries and not rewarding teams with the best records enough, I think they should make the wild card routes much tougher. I'm expecting a call from Bud Selig any day now asking for my advice on how to set that up. And don't think I won't have some ideas for him!

How do you like Ron Zook so far? I called for his hiring the minute I heard of his firing in Florida. I just felt his raw energy, his intense desire and his outstanding recruiting practices would play well in Illini-land… and I haven't been disappointed. And unlike some fans, I won't be disappointed no matter what happens this season… even if we lose a lot of games. It takes three to five years to build a program, so I have some patience to extend to the coach. I just love his imagination and his creativity on the offensive side of the ball. I've told you before that I think I missed my life's calling as an offensive coordinator (although I heard the Vikings are looking for one?), and maybe that's why I resonate so much with him. If Mike Mallory's defense can look like it did in the first half Saturday at Cal for four quarters in most games, the Illini will have more than a chance at being successful.

All that being said, I don't like the Illini's chances Saturday versus MSU. They are so high after beating Notre Dame in South Bend that I think the momentum is clearly on their side. However, if 55,000-60,000 fans show up and scream like crazy for the Orange and Blue, maybe the "Bruce Weber effect" will continue to linger longer (kudos to Taylorville reader John Coady for coining the phrase)! If the Illini could somehow pull off a stunning upset of the Spartans, then you may have something to talk about.

The Illinois State Redbirds are off to a 2-1 start, but I haven't seen them (I haven't been to many games of any kind since last winter and spring) and don't know much about them. I do trust head coach Johnson to come up with a solid season, and these Redbirds might just surprise you in many ways!

Will the real Chicago Bears please stand up? If you thought they would look as good as they did against the Detroit Lions, please raise your hand. You liars! I need to hang out with you if you thought that. I watched their performance against the Redskins and felt like they were headed for another disastrous season. But if they keep playing like they did against the Lions, who knows? I think they play the Bengals next, and that should give us a good barometer on how good or bad the Bears really are!

The Rams eked out a win in the desert over the Cardinals and former QB Kurt Warner to take their record to 1-1, but they could easily be 0-2. Things look a little rocky in St. Louis… but, I hear they have a decent baseball team there???

The Colts move to 2-0 and are showing a new wrinkle… How 'bout a defense? If this is not a charade and is truly the form they will demonstrate all season, maybe there's some hope that they could possibly get by Pittsburg and New England… finally… once and for all!!!

Don't worry, White Sox fans! Don't panic yet. I still see playoffs in your future (especially after that dramatic 10th-inning win over the Tribe). Once you get there, you're on your own… but, I'd love to see a Cardinals-White Sox World Series!

Non-sports items… alcohol and Katrina aftermath

Let's go with Katrina first.

As many in our nation play the blame game, especially as it relates to what went wrong in the wake of the hurricane and flood's aftermath, I refuse to do so. Do those people look at any of the facts? The reports I have read say that havoc was wreaked over a 90,000-square-mile area. From what little I know about mobilization, it would be virtually impossible to meet every need in the midst of that much devastation. Especially when you consider that a vast majority of first responders also had their OWN homes under water and their own phone lines cut off

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Call me jaded if you'd like, but I'd much rather examine what went right. Those responders and others, including some local residents, simply got out there and did what needed to be done. Bottom line is that you must stop the accident, and when someone is thirsty they need something to drink. Can the response be quicker and better? No doubt… but, we should always learn from one experience and improve the next time. But this one was a massive, destructive, chaotic catastrophe, and I take my hat off to those who have tirelessly tried to help everywhere and in every way that they possibly could!

My guess is that the Gulf Coast will STILL need our help three months from now, a year from now and even three to five years from now, and my hope is that we will still be ready to help when called upon then!

Lately alcohol and athletic codes have been the hot topic. [See related article.] I probably shouldn't touch this one with a 10-foot pole, but I'm diving in anyway. While I understand that there are laws against underage drinking and that codes are designed somewhat for the safety of our students and society in general, I'm still a little confused about the whole issue.

I certainly don't think I'm a prude about this subject. I think I remember hearing in church once that even the Lord hung out with the imbibers. And don't get me wrong, many of my closest friends have lobbied to limit and eradicate drinking on many fronts. While I usually don't march with them, I don't begrudge them their protests. In fact, I say more power to them.

However, many of my friends drink, and I'm not going to stop hanging out with them just because they do. I think most of them respect me because I don't, or they just don't care one way or the other. It is their choice to drink, and while I may not feel it is best for them, I respect them, and it usually does not have a significant effect on our friendship.

I can tell you a few things that I'm pretty sure are true. This would not even be an issue if we were living in Europe, where alcoholic beverages are seemingly a part of the meal. And while I can hear many say they don't care what happens over there -- they are only concerned about what happens here -- it does have bearing on this issue. If alcohol is going to be so prevalent in our society and specifically in many of our local events, aren't we getting a lot like Europe anyway? And, if it is going to be a way of life here, is it reasonable, rational and logical to think that our teenagers are not going to partake?

I am mystified by those who think that since it's against the law or against the code that that's going to stop anybody. Maybe I'm off base here, but I just don't see how that's going to curb the problem.

It appears to me that we have a lot of people telling the youngsters not to do what they do but to do what they say. Has that ever worked on any other subject matter?

My dad roughed up his body with years of alcohol and smoking abuse. His doctor told me that his lifestyle took 10 years off of his life. That had more of an impact on me than any law or code.

Those of you who know me know that I'm goofy enough without adding the potential effects of alcohol into the mix. I have no time nor can I risk any problems to myself or my family just so I could possibly have a good time. And that doesn't even count the cost of what some of my friends spend on liquor alone. I'll admit it -- I'm too cheap to spend money like that.

I'd like to suggest something (and if it's already happening, please forgive my ignorance). Why not educate our young people on this (and other key life issues) in the schools? I'm not calling for religious studies (although it probably wouldn't hurt anyone, despite what the secularists might tell you). Let them learn about alcohol from reputable sources. Perhaps, if they get info from their peers and other sources that they trust, they will then be able to make wise choices for themselves.

I think these kids are pretty smart and have the capacity to overwhelm us if we let them. Has anybody ever considered raising the bar to a higher level of expectation? They will hear that the benefits of abstinence are not just potentially better health and stronger bodies, but maybe better social consequences as well. And if they do choose to drink, to do so in moderation and to realize the possible risks and consequences that will come with that decision. Many will need to stand strong and be designated drivers, and if they see that their friends have had too many, to step in and help avert any deadly accidents or other catastrophes.

I think the ATOD Task Force, Healthy Community Partnerships, MADD and SADD, and a host of other organizations are already doing some of these things. I'm asking for a much more stepped-up presence. I'm amazed that there is not some room in the curriculum somewhere for something this important. The life saved might be your own, your child's or any other citizen of our community. How many more of our precious loved ones will we have to lose before we start getting more serious about this?

Are we comfortable allowing the law and a code to serve as our safety backdrop? I am not. I plan to share with my child the potential joys and evils, and for a few years he WON'T have a choice in the matter. Some day when Mom and Dad are not around, he will be confronted with the decision that all of us have at some point. I will trust him to make the wise choice at that point, but it will be HIS choice, and I hope and pray that he ALWAYS makes the safe choice.

What say you on these matters?

And how 'bout the Jason Gore story? Is he the new John Daly or what? Mired in the minor leagues of golf, he almost pulled off a major upset at the U.S. Open. Then he went back to the Nationwide Tour and won something like three events in a row. However, before that he was making so little money he wondered if he had enough to buy his baby formula. Then comes last week's 84 Lumber Classic on the PGA Tour. It is also stacked with a field that included Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh. All Jason did was win the tourney -- at times blowing the field away -- and pocket a cool $800,000. I'm not sure, but I think that'll buy a lot of formula AND Pampers!

That's it for me, folks. Have a great month!

[Jeff Mayfield]

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