Time to revisit old friends from columns past

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Update time:

They chant for Bennie and the Jets (July 20, 1997)

Allen Mackler is a Springfield detective, president of Central High School PTO, and an Elton John fan.

Last year, Allen's first year as PTO president, the organization, through bake sales, raised money for scholarships, paid half the PSAT fees for juniors, and bought books for a special English class project.

"It's about being involved with the kids," says the father of two Central students. "Being active in your children's education. Stepping up. I'm around enough to know that some kids can't afford some of the extras. So we're always trying to come up with ways to raise money."

He thought of Bennie and the Jets.

Greg Ransom, a 1988 graduate of Central, founded Bennie and the Jets 11 years ago. Since then he has sung goodbye to yellow brick roads as far away as Mexico. He believes they are the original Elton John tribute band. The show is so authentic, Greg, as Bennie, has a space between his teeth.

"While Elton has toned his shows down," Greg says, "we haven't. You name the hit, we probably play it."

When Allen approached Greg about the band playing a benefit concert for the Central PTO, Greg didn't hesitate. He said yes.

"It will be a kind of homecoming for me," says Greg, who joined the Air Force after graduating from Central and is now a civilian medical technician at the Military Entrance Processing Station in Springfield's Federal Building. "Allen is trying to do something good here. It's an honor to help out."

Bennie and the Jets will play Central on Oct. 21 starting at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5 and can be obtained at the school. Call (413) 787-7085 for more information.

"Greg is doing this for free," Allen says. "Which is just very gracious, classy and generous. We hope to sell 700 tickets."

That night Bennie and the Jets plan to film the show. Lefty's son pitches one for his dad (Jan. 25, 1998)

Recently, Boomer Esiason, the former pro quarterback and commentator on CBS's pre-game show, "The NFL Today," was asked by The Wall Street Journal to name the five best football books and why.

Boomer's top choice was "When Pride Mattered," David Maraniss' 1999 biography of legendary Green Bay Packers football coach Vince Lombardi.

The former Cincinnati Bengal, New York Jet and Arizona Cardinal then selected "Inside the Helmet," a 1993 book that offers the reader an insider's view of what goes into what it takes to be an NFL player.

Peter King, Enfield High Class of 1975, wrote that book.

For 17 years he has been the lead football writer for Sports Illustrated. He is a reporter for NBC's "Football Night in America," and the managing editor for HBO's "Inside the NFL."

"He set out to explore the game from the inside," wrote Boomer. "To search out what it requires of every team member, every position, and the psychological and physical elements involved. How does the player do what he does, how does he feel doing it, how does he think? What are the problems? The solutions? To find out, Peter King spent a week essentially living with each player as he prepared for a game, going to meetings with him, asking questions. Mr. King didn't just talk to players (among them some of the greatest of my era, including Bruce Smith and Barry Sanders), he also interviewed coaches known for their expertise on various positions. The result is a terrific treat for the lovers of the game."

Peter King's writing career started in the fifth grade when he and a friend organized a newspaper in their town's Southwood Acres neighborhood. But his real goal was to replace Carl Yastrzemski in left field for the Red Sox. He batted left and threw right, just like Yaz. The son of Ken "Lefty" King, considered the best left-handed pitcher in pre-World War II Enfield, was a first baseman-outfielder and co-captain of the Enfield High baseball team.

In 1997, Peter King was inducted into the Enfield Athletic Hall of Fame as a journalist. The following year, he wrote a letter of recommendation with no shortage of research on behalf of his father, a union ironworker and business agent who died in 1986, to join him in the hometown Hall.

Last year Lefty, who once pitched two shutouts within 24 hours, was voted into the Enfield Athletic Hall of Fame.

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