Concussion worries cause tension in Columbia’s youth football community

Originally printed in the Columbia Missourian on May 1, 2013.

Matt Markley, Columbia Youth Football League president, holds a helmet each athlete receives to protect his or her head from concussions at the Cosmo Park equipment shed. Markley is responsible for overseeing equipment distribution from the shed in August before the start of each season.   ¦  HARRY KATZ

COLUMBIA — The land was hard and dry where the fifth-grade football player wearing No. 63 fell and hit his head.

Phil Rumbaoa stood 10 yards away along the sideline and saw how the back of the boy’s helmet recoiled off the firm field at Cosmo Park. Hardened by the October wind chill, the ground guided the three distinct reactions Rumbaoa experienced in the next moment.

First, he diagnosed. Phil Rumbaoa is Doc Rumbaoa, a physician. He knew the force of the boy’s fall was enough to cause harm. Then the Boonville youth football player rolled over onto his elbows, so Rumbaoa knew he had not transected his spinal cord. But this child, who wore No. 63 because it was his father’s number in high school and that of brutal Hall of Fame linebacker Willie “Contact” Lanier, usually bounced off the ground after a hard hit. In fact, Rumbaoa admired his resilience. That the player stayed down meant he was hurt.

But in the moment, a second reaction — disappointment — followed his snap diagnosis. Doc Rumbaoa was also Coach Rumbaoa, and No. 63 was his best player. At the very least, he would have to miss the rest of this game as well as the next. It didn’t matter that the Boonville fifth-graders were stomping their Columbia opponent. This child’s absence jeopardized the squad’s competence Rumbaoa had so carefully coordinated.

Rumbaoa’s third and final reaction to the player’s concussion took over as he emerged from the moment. Approaching the hurt child on the field, Rumbaoa looked back and scanned for his wife in the bleachers. He thought, “I’m going to have to tell Beth.”

Then the doctor, football coach and father helped 11-year-old Gabe Rumbaoa off the ground and looked into the boy’s soggy and scared eyes. He said, “Son, you’ve had a concussion. You’re going to have to rest. But everything is going to be OK.”

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Reflecting on my summer fixation with Big Red

I interned for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch this past summer. I got to cover many Cardinals baseball games, and I had the opportunity to work on a variety of interesting stories other members of the staff didn’t have time to follow.

I also did some enterprise reporting, particularly on one subject. One morning in June I was reading through the P-D archives from 25 years ago. I wanted to see if I could find an interesting event that might warrant a retrospective piece.

June 1987, I quickly realized, captured some of the most bizarre moments that led the pro football Cardinals, or Big Red, to leave for Arizona. A quick glance at articles by then-beat writer Bernie Miklasz, columnist Kevin Horrigan and business reporter David Nicklaus portrayed a story that involved compelling characters within the sports franchise (owner Bill Bidwill), the trusted adviser (Tom Guilfoil), the local government (County Executive Gene McNary and Mayor Vince Schoemehl) and the business community (members of Civic Progress). Clearly making the story relevant were the current negotiations between the Rams and the city regarding Edward Jones Dome renovations. History was repeating itself.

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25 years ago, Big Red played its last season in St. Louis

This is an unpublished story I wrote this summer while interning at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Read my post about reporting this story.

By Andrew Wagaman

One fall Sunday morning in 1998, Joe Bostic and his wife were walking outside Sun Devil Stadium when somebody called, “Joe! Joe!”

The former Cardinals offensive lineman ignored the voice. It couldn’t have been for him. He had retired a decade ago and had only played his final season in Phoenix. Now Bostic was simply a tourist from Greensboro, N.C., interested in buying a t-shirt.

“Joe! Joe Bostic!”

He turned around and saw someone waving.

It was Mister Bidwill.

“Joe Bostic!” Bidwill said. “How are you doing?”

For the next few minutes the Cardinals owner peppered Bostic with questions. It wasn’t an interrogation, nor was he just being polite. Bidwill was genuine and curious and warm.

Afterward, Bostic’s wife turned to him and said, “I thought you said he never talked much.”

“That’s probably the longest conversation he’s ever had with me,” Bostic said.

Later that season, the Cardinals would win their first playoff game since 1947. Bostic had played his final complete season in 1987, which was also the Cardinals’ last in St. Louis.

Things were different then.

In 1987, the Cardinals were coming off a 4-11-1 season, their worst in 27 years in St. Louis. Their top draft pick had refused to sign a contract, and the second NFL Players Association strike of the decade was imminent.

The dome conflict and relocation rumors added another pall over the empty stands at Busch Stadium, and the team got caught in the middle of it all. Players tried to cope with the furor while still concentrating on the actual game of football.

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Explaining the Columbia band story

Last semester, Spring 2012, I took a literary journalism class with Missouri English professor Maureen Stanton. Besides weekly reading assignments, we had to work on a single story for the course of the semester.

Most of my writing experience relates to sports, but I have a strong (my friends might call it unhealthy) interest in music. I never have wanted to write music criticism because I feel like that would take the fun out of it. I’m more attracted to the culture of music communities, and in particular the interactions within individual bands and between bands in a given community.

I decided I wanted to find and follow a young, relatively new band in Columbia that had shown some initial potential. I had a vague idea of something akin to “Almost Famous” and the old VH1 series “Behind the Music.” I wanted to see how a talented but inexperienced band attempted the almost impossible feat of getting to the level where people actually reflect on their origins.

From my initial research I realized that very few bands that had called Columbia home for an extended period of time (at least 1-2 years) had “made it.” Why this was so took my reporting in a whole other direction. I got completely wrapped up in the history of “modern” Columbia music scene, going back to when Richard King and friends opened the precursor to the Blue Note on Business Loop 70 30+ years ago.

I was also lucky enough to find a band that fit my original idea. Nevaeh Sanctus was four kids between 18-22 from Missouri. They had played an EP release show at the Blue Note in January that attracted about 200 people — a pretty big deal. Also, they were incredibly open and honest with me, and unabashedly romantic about the band’s future.

I hung out with the band about once a week between late February and early May. I also met with the members for individual interviews. In mid-April I used an early draft for a creative nonfiction workshop, and in May I handed in my final draft for that literary journalism class.

The goal the whole time was to get the story published in one of Columbia’s magazines. After a fairly frustrating process with a couple publications (welcome to the freelance mag biz, I guess), it’s become clear the last week or so that the story isn’t going to run.

I’d like to share it here. Thank you to Patrick McCurry, Doug Morris, Dylan Rucker and Jimmy Sgroi for sharing your story with me. Thanks to Holly Kite for contributing the photos. Thanks to Kevin Walsh and other “experts” of the COMO music scene who helped me with background info. Thanks to those who read the story and helped me focus it into something vaguely coherent.

I had a great time working on this.

Nevaeh Sanctus story

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Nevaeh Sanctus and the Columbia music scene

Background to this story

One band’s attempt to ‘make it’ in — and beyond — the Columbia music scene

By Andrew Wagaman

Photos by Holly Kite

A moment before Patrick McCurry stops the band, he watches and listens and thinks about he’s going to say.

In this cramped kitchen, where each sound competes for clarity before relenting to the clang of Jimmy Sgroi’s snare drum, McCurry attempts to pinpoint what’s wrong with the song. Lead guitarist Dylan Rucker is trying to keep up with bass guitarist Doug Morris, who’s trying to keep up with Sgroi, who wants to maintain the beat but sees where this is going.

“Guys,” McCurry finally says. He hardly raises his voice and doesn’t leave his seat. A movement of his hand compels the others to stop mid-riff. “We’re still fast and, I think, too loud. You know?” Morris, still a senior in high school, nods his head. Rucker, who the others call the rock star of the band, adjusts a string. Sgroi, a senior architect student at MU, taps his foot on the tiled floor and rubs his pierced earlobe between his thumb and forefinger.

“We need to play quieter and more solid, if that makes any sense,” McCurry continues. His brow contracts, and he hesitates, self-conscious of his own earnestness. “Like the Beatles.”

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Finally updated the blog

Tonight I gave the blog a facelift, for lack of a better cliche.

In other news, I’m working on the Interactive Copyediting Desk this semester at the Missourian. I also continue to cover whatever is news in the world of Missouri football. So basically, DGB.

I’m taking some other interesting journalism classes, including a one-credit interviewing seminar and a literary journalism class. For the latter, I need to do an immersion reporting project. I’m hoping to hang out with a local, up-and-coming band for a few months.

A couple weeks ago I got the Rick Hummel Internship at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. I’ll cover sports for the newspaper 12 weeks this summer. I still need to find an apartment and whatnot, but I’m really looking forward to the future.

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Finally, it’s football season

I say finally not because I’m a particularly interested fan. It has more to do with sitting on my ass all summer, working about 10 hours a week at Dick’s Sporting Goods (doing laps, corner to corner, around the pro shop to pass the time once I finished my primary job — dusting) and hardly writing.

I say finally because football season being here means I get to be back here in Columbia, as well as other Big 12 towns, reporting.

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