- The Washington Times - Monday, December 22, 2003

A wake was held and funeral Mass celebrated last week at Holy Comforter-St.Cyprian Catholic Church in Southeast for Joe Louis Abney, possibly the greatest fast-pitch softball player to come out of the District, and one topic that surfaced among hundreds of mourners afterward was his speed on the mound.

Abney’s longtime catcher, Joe Bowman, and a longtime adversary on diamonds around the area, Nick Argyropoulos, both used the same word to describe the pitcher’s fast one: “Unbelievable.”

“I usually did pretty well against him because I moved the ball around,” said Argyropoulos, a contact hitter. “He threw mostly fast, straight stuff, but later on he developed two different changeups. And he was a very good hitter, too.”

Bowman and Abney played together for more than 30 years, until the early ‘80s when they were in their 40s. “He wasn’t easy to catch because he threw so hard,” Bowman recalled. “After a game, my mitt would look like it was 20 years old. A lot of guys threw 100 miles per hour, but Joe could do 110. He was the real deal.”

Abney, who died unexpectedly Dec.6 at age 67, is a member of the Greater Washington Fast-Pitch Softball Hall of Fame and should be in the Amateur Softball Association’s national shrine — the faster the better, you might say.

Stormin’ Norman

The recent death of basketball coach Norm Sloan from pulmonary fibrosis at 77 must have brought some memories flooding back for ACC fans.

Sloan was best known for directing N.C. State to a 59-1 record over two seasons in the early ‘70s while David Thompson demonstrated why he was, and remains, the best player in ACC history. The most notable single game, of course, was the Wolfpack’s 103-100 overtime victory over Maryland in the 1974 ACC tournament final that cost a superb Terrapins team a trip to the NCAAs.

It was the little things about Sloan that I remember, however, like the loud sports coats and yellow slacks he frequently wore and the fact that it seemed to take his wife, Joan, about 15 minutes to sing the national anthem before games at Reynolds Coliseum. (Sportswriters used to place bets on how long it would take her to reach annnnnd the lannnnnd of the freeeee.”)

Before and after his brilliant stint at State, Sloan coached at Florida, preceding Steve Spurrier as the Gators’ main man. Along Tobacco Road, worse luck, Norm never achieved the idolatry enjoyed by Dean Smith down the road at North Carolina — even though his teams defeated the Tar Heels nine straight times.

Like him or not — and he had a hot temper that erupted often but only momentarily — Stormin’ Norman was a superb coach who helped make ACC basketball what it is today. He deserves the respect even of Maryland fans who still lament the fact that the ‘74 Terps with Len Elmore, Tom McMillen and John Lucas spent most of that spring at home because only one ACC team was eligible for March Madness back then.

No more good Knight?

Bobby Knight is mad again — not at his hapless players or even the media but at the fans who are supposed to support his Texas Tech basketball team.

Knight is disappointed with the attendance at the Red Raiders’ home games this season and has, er, chastised the West Texas community and Texas Tech students. Recently, he suggested the school look at giving up the sport if more people don’t show up.

“I’m really, really, really disappointed in attendance in basketball games here,” Knight said after only about 6,000 people attended a recent game in Lubbock. “That’s a thing that has come to bother me a lot.”

He has a point. The Red Raiders’ average home attendance this season is 6,976 for a team that won eight of its first 10 games, down from 9,962 last year. In Knight’s first season, 2001-02, the average was 13,743 in an arena that holds 15,098.

Oddly, some blame the dropoff on the fact that Knight has kept his (in)famous temper under wraps. He hasn’t thrown a chair, yanked a player by his shirt or displayed any other kinds of tantrums as he did at Indiana.

To which we say, just you wait.

David Thompson scores

It’s always nice to hear that a former athlete has gotten his degree years and years after leaving college — particularly when said jock happens to be the greatest men’s basketball player in ACC history.

“It was a great day going through the ceremony, and getting my diploma,” David Thompson said last week after receiving his degree in sociology from N.C. State. “It was special, wearing the cap and gown.”

How special, compared with scoring, say, 30 points in a night?

“It’s probably even more so,” Thompson said. “You get a thrill from a 30-point night. But a degree is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. It’s something I’m very proud of.”

And should be.

Appropriately enough, the commencement exercises were held at Reynolds Coliseum, the school’s old basketball arena where Thompson soared and scored higher than anybody else.

Go, sister

This has been a mostly ho-hum season for the NFL club that Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi made famous, but at least one fan is a big winner: Sister Isaac Jogues Rousseau, who teaches at Mount Mary College in Milwaukee, became the sixth person to be inducted into the Green Bay Packers Fan Hall of Fame.

The member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame was nominated by a friend, Sylvia Linton, who described her as someone who is “soft-spoken but can on occasion be persuaded to sing a song long forgotten by many: ‘Go you Packers, Go and get ‘em! Go you fighting fools, upset ‘em.’”

OK, so it doesn’t quite rank up there with “Ave Maria” for inspiration.

Linton said when the nun was a student at Catholic University in the District, she was so overjoyed at a Packers victory she talked the entire classics department into celebrating with her [presumably during the glorious Lombardi era].

Eminently quotable

Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski on last week’s firing of friend Mike Jarvis by St. John’s: “I feel badly for him and our profession. I can’t think of anyone fired before the conference season even starts unless there was an NCAA violation or something huge, and there wasn’t here.”

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