NASCAR’s biggest race of the season ? the Daytona 500 ? took place Sunday.Big whoop.I’ve grown sick of ESPN’s obnoxious coverage of the racing world, particularly NASCAR, as I’m sure others have as well. Whether it be on the cable channel itself or on its website, there are days like Sunday where you simply can’t escape images of the races or commentaries by former drivers who dissect current drivers’ performances. What makes it even more unbearable is that the Daytona 500 wasn’t even broadcasted on ESPN ? the race was on FOX. That, and there’s already an entire channel ? the SPEED Channel ? devoted to auto racing.To be fair, the ?Worldwide Leader in Sports? has strayed quite a bit from its humble roots.Back in the day, you could flip on ESPN and actually find live games, sports highlights and analysis. While the network still has these things, you often have to dig deeper to find it; it seems too much emphasis these days is placed on the ?E? in the name ? entertainment ? and not enough on the ?S.?So am I contradicting myself by saying ESPN is increasing its coverage of NASCAR but decreasing its overall coverage of sports? No. The reason? NASCAR is not a sport.There, I said it.I’ve had this debate before, and I always am glad to play devil’s advocate on the issue. I fail to see how driving a car around in circles for 200 laps and 500 miles ? as was the case for this weekend’s Daytona 500 and many other races ? could be in any way constituted as athletic.One challenger in an argument I had regarding the validity of the ?sport? argued that the drivers sweat a lot during the race and can lose several pounds of water weight as a result. While that may be true, perspiration doesn’t necessarily equal athleticism. I sweat during finals week. Does that make me an athlete as I fill in bubble after bubble on a Scantron or tirelessly scribble out an essay? I wish. Heck, if that was the case, I’d be on full scholarship.Of all the drivers in today’s NASCAR world, Tony Stewart ? who finished third Sunday ? is among the most popular and successful. But when you look at the guy, there’s no way you would ever confuse him with an Olympian or marathon runner. He’s up there with John Daly ? the same John Daly that smokes while golfing ? as one of the most out-of-shape ?athletes? today.I’m not trying to take away from the skill of drivers such as Stewart or Sunday’s winner, Ryan Newman. I give them credit for being able to keep their cars under control at speeds of over 150 miles per hour without (usually) crashing into the wall or other drivers. But the athletic ability needed to do such a task is minimal at best. Hold wheel. Push foot on gas. Turn wheel. Millions of Americans do this every day on their way to work; I’m not sure how many of them would consider their daily commute a sport.I realize NASCAR is much more popular in other parts of the country than it is here in the Midwest. Look outside and you’ll see it’s difficult enough to drive down the streets of Madison at 30 miles per hour this time of year. It’s unreasonable for NASCAR events to hold much water up here.But down South, NASCAR isn’t just a sport; it’s a way of life. There’s even fantasy NASCAR leagues, suggesting that it is becoming as big as the NFL. It even made its way into pop culture in 2006, with Will Ferrell starring as a fictitious driver in the movie ?Talladega Nights.?With that said, I’ll refrain from any judgments of the auto racing industry’s culture. As for the races themselves, I just can’t justify putting them on the same network as football, basketball and baseball. The accomplishments of Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. can’t compare to those of LeBron James and Tom Brady.The wise Ricky Bobby once said, ?If you ain’t first, you’re last.?I hate to break it to you, NASCAR, but in my book, you ain’t first.Tyler is a junior majoring in journalism. Disagree with him? Tell him why you think NASCAR is a sport at email@example.com.
Anthony Grizanti couldn’t fathom what he heard on the other line of the phone. His nephew, Dom Madonna — an All-American starting goalie at Merrimack College — was on the verge of quitting lacrosse, the sport he’d lived and breathed his whole life.Grizanti heard the sadness in his nephew’s voice. This life of lacrosse appeared near its end.“He told me, ‘I don’t even care if I play lacrosse anymore,’” Grizanti said. “To hear him say that, to me, I was like, ‘You’ve got to get out of there. That’s not you.’”Madonna listened. He transferred from Merrimack and walked onto the Syracuse University campus in fall 2016 clad in orange and blue. Madonna, a Liverpool native, dreamed of playing goalie for SU his entire life, but after receiving little attention from premier Division I programs, he ended up playing lacrosse at a school that nearly drove him away from his life’s passion.Now, as a redshirt senior, Madonna is one of the leaders of a No. 10 Syracuse (4-3, 2-0 Atlantic Coast) team that needs excellence between the pipes to reach the Final Four weekend for the first time since 2013. For Madonna, simply stepping on the Carrier Dome turf is a culmination of a 22-year journey filled with roadblocks that nearly prevented him from reaching his ultimate goal.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“Growing up, you watch all these people play at Syracuse, and now you get here, and you get a shirt with an ‘S’ and your number on it,” Madonna said. “A lot of people I think take it for granted when they’re here right away. I really think being at Merrimack first was almost beneficial to me because you really appreciate what you have when you come here.”•••Resting on Madonna’s bedroom wall is a lacrosse stick head painted SU orange. It used to have a shaft that Grizanti dyed orange and blue, but that piece eventually broke because Madonna used it so often. On the back of the head is a No. 5 for Madonna’s favorite Syracuse athlete, Donovan McNabb. Madonna walked into his room every day and stared at the stick, fantasizing about playing for SU one day.Courtesy of Virginia MadonnaAt age 2, Madonna sent an 11-year-old Grizanti to the hospital by throwing a lacrosse ball at his eye with a baby lacrosse stick. By 3, Madonna was watching full SU games, and by 5 he was playing competitively.He wanted to be like the Grizantis — his uncles Anthony and Michael — who played lacrosse and were close enough in age to be his brothers. Both went on to play collegiately.When Madonna started playing, he turned to his uncles for help. He wanted to play goalie, sort of. Once in net, Madonna ducked out of the way of what Michael called “very light shots.”When the two forced Madonna to stay put, he started crying. In response, Michael and Anthony stood on both sides of Madonna and bounced the ball off his helmet until he stopped.Madonna quickly learned the ball wouldn’t break him. From that moment on, nothing could keep him out of the cage. One day while playing lacrosse outside, Madonna fell on pavement and cut his face. His cheeks were swollen, his face was scraped and it hurt to put on his helmet. Still, he practiced.Madonna was determined to play, but his chance to compete against the country’s best vanished. Prior to fifth grade, Madonna’s family moved to McKinney — a town in central Texas about an hour outside Dallas — where lacrosse was not treated like it is in New York. Madonna had to rely on community recreation teams to practice. None of the roughly 3,000 public high schools in the state had sanctioned lacrosse.“Down there in Texas they really had no idea what the hell they were talking about,” Michael said.Anna Henderson | Digital Design EditorHis best training came from working with his uncles. Madonna filmed his games, even in middle school, and sent the tapes to Michael and Anthony for critiques. The two often visited McKinney for weeks at a time and worked with Madonna every day until the sun set. And when it did, Madonna’s father, Dominick, set up floodlights in the backyard so his son could keep practicing.“’You know Dom, we’ve been at this for a couple hours, you can take a break now,’” Michael would say. “And he was just like, ‘No. I’m good.’”One night after practicing, Anthony marched into Dominick’s home office and told him the family had to move back north. Madonna had the talent to play D-I, but he needed exposure from the country’s top teams. Dominick and his wife, Virginia, couldn’t believe what they heard.“You never really think he’s going to be able to play Division I,” Dominick said. “I mean you feel that way. Obviously you always think that. … You’re kind of stunned by it, that someone else thinks that way.”Within two years, Madonna’s family settled back into Liverpool, and Madonna’s young career began to bud. But in the world of lacrosse recruiting, it may have already been too late.Much of that, Liverpool head coach Mike Felice said, is the nature of lacrosse recruiting. Colleges often have an entire class filled before the players reach the 10th grade, Felice said. Madonna didn’t return to central New York until then, placing him at a major disadvantage.That year, as a 10th grader in 2011, Madonna helped lead Liverpool to an eventual triple-overtime loss in the New York Section III title loss to a West Genesee team featuring former SU greats Dylan Donahue and Tim Barber.“He played one hell of a game, and I’ll never forget that,” Donahue said. “We got one lucky shot.”The following year, Madonna led Liverpool back to the title game, beating West Genesee along the way and winning Liverpool’s first section title since 1989.“We always used to laugh and say, ‘Thank God Dom came,’” Felice said. “If it wasn’t for him, we probably wouldn’t be able to win that championship.”Despite being one of the top goalies in the region, Madonna, with limited college offers, landed five hours away at Merrimack, further from home than he wanted to be.During his freshman year, Madonna finished top-10 nationally in goals against average and earned a spot on the Northeast-10 All-Conference Rookie Team. That success continued in his second year. Madonna earned All-American Second Team honors while leading Merrimack to the NCAA Division II Championship semifinals, where the Warriors fell to Le Moyne.Heading into that contest, Madonna knew it would be his last game at Merrimack. He knew Merrimack was not the right fit. His mechanical engineering major was not officially accredited by Merrimack at the time, and the looming accreditation wasn’t guaranteed. And his Merrimack teammates didn’t share his passion for lacrosse, he said. Merrimack head coach Mike Morgan declined to comment for this story.“‘He would call me up and say, ‘I’m so frustrated. These guys are going out and partying. I don’t want to do that. We have to lift. We have to work out. No one’s taking it seriously,’” Anthony said. “That was tough. You’re out there busting your butt trying to go win that national championship and win that next game, and you see 10 of your teammates that are hungover from partying the night before.”School mattered to Madonna. Lacrosse was his passion. He yearned for a place where the two co-existed. He needed to come home.When Madonna decided to spend his last two years of eligibility elsewhere, he only applied to Syracuse.“I just think that there was this driving force in him that wouldn’t allow him to settle anywhere until he was at SU,” Virginia said.By the end of his sophomore season, Madonna had been accepted to Syracuse, and he committed to the school before knowing if he would play on the field. He and his family met with SU lacrosse director of operations Roy Simmons III and head coach John Desko to see about a potential spot.That summer, former SU attackman Jordan Evans walked into the locker room in Manley to work out. Right by his No. 22 locker was a new No. 25 locker for Madonna.•••In Madonna’s second start with SU, Albany couldn’t be stopped. Shot after shot found the back of the net, and the Great Danes repeatedly won the ball back on the faceoff. The offense couldn’t produce, and the defense couldn’t slow down the country’s highest-scoring attack.Madonna faced 50 shots and gave up 15 goals in a 15-3 thrashing that marked SU’s worst loss in the Carrier Dome since 1989. That marked a low point in Madonna’s career. After redshirting in 2016, playing backup in 2017 and holding Binghamton to four goals in his first start in 2018, he watched as shot after shot found twine. Even though there was little Madonna could control, he felt responsible for the loss.After the game, Madonna told former teammate Sergio Salcido that he felt embarrassed and unsure of himself. It was his first major start, Salcido told him. “Use it is as fuel.”The following week, SU hosted then-No. 9 Army in a game that went to triple overtime. Madonna made three saves in the first two overtime periods before making the biggest play of his career.Syracuse won the faceoff to open the third overtime period. Grant Murphy scooped the ground ball before passing back to Madonna. But Madonna didn’t find anyone immediately open on the clear. He scanned the field, looking left and right, before launching a 45-yard bullet downfield to a cutting Ryan Simmons. Simmons split the defense and fired the shot home for the win.“Holy sh*t moment,” Michael said. “My jaw was on the floor.”Josh Shub-Seltzer | Staff PhotographerMadonna’s eight saves and game-winning assist earned him ACC Defensive Player of the Week.After Madonna won the award, his parents called to congratulate him, but when they did, he wasn’t focused on the award. Instead, he just talked about what he needed to do to prepare for the next week’s matchup with Virginia. The next night, Madonna went to Anthony’s house for dinner. As soon as he walked in, his focus was lacrosse.“He says hi to my kids, and then the first thing out of his mouth is, ‘Hey, what did you think of the game?’” Anthony said. “I know after (every game) … I’m going to get that text saying, ‘What’d you think?’ He could have 20 saves and two goals allowed and I know I’m going to get that text or phone call saying, ‘What’d you think?’”Since the Army game, SU has gone 2-2, defeating two top-five teams in Duke and Virginia but also giving up a combined 32 goals in losses to Rutgers and Johns Hopkins. While Syracuse has struggled on the defensive end this season, it wouldn’t be competitive in some of those games if it wasn’t for Madonna’s play, Desko said.Still, Madonna feels responsible. He wants to anchor the team. But while he’s focused on the next game at hand, he thinks back to the journey that landed him in the position he is in.In early February, 30 people packed two rows in the Carrier Dome, all friends and family of Madonna. Virginia sat in the middle of the crowd, hoping to record the first time her son’s name was called in the team’s starting lineup against Binghamton. As she pressed record and her son’s name echoed through the Dome, Madonna’s fan section hollered so loudly that the recording is muffled.When the final whistle blew, the scoreboard read Syracuse 21, Binghamton 4. Madonna talked to Anthony, asking what he could do to improve. He talked to his parents, who were at a loss for words for seeing their son compete in the Dome. Friends and family mobbed and congratulated him.Madonna thought back to the four goals he allowed, wishing he could have those back, but then he thought about the big picture.“I knew I’d never be able to live with myself if I didn’t give it a chance,” Madonna said. “If I never made the move, I wouldn’t be playing lacrosse right now. That’s kind of the surreal thing.” Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on March 27, 2018 at 8:56 pm Contact Matt: firstname.lastname@example.org