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How bad was it? During their Labor Day finale at Durham, a day after clinching the division crown, a player sidled up to manager Ron Johnson and asked, “Skip, how the hell did we get in the playoffs?”Johnson, who wasn’t the league’s Manager of the Year for nothing, had a ready answer:”A lot of people have asked that question,” he said. “But don’t forget: For about two months, we were real good.”The Tides, who finished 78 66 during the regular season, weathered the annual slew of roster moves and injuries before taking Columbus to the maximum five games in the IL semifinals. 18, the Tides were 72 51. It was the only time all season they were 21 games over .500.(The playoffs are a lock from there, right?)Glove workThe Tides set franchise records in fielding percentage (.984) and fewest errors (87). The previous record for fielding percentage was .981 (2000 and 2003), and the previous record for fewest errors was 99 (2003).Norfolk tied Columbus for the IL’s best fielding percentage.Cheap Jerseys from china www.cheapjerseys13.com Shortstop Paul Janish led the way, committing just four errors in 407 total chances (.990) before joining the Orioles on Aug.With a 3 2 win at Louisville on Aug. 14, Johnson became the franchise’s career wins leader with 284, passing Gary Allenson (2007 11).”I didn’t do that much of it at all,” Johnson said of the record. “I mean, I’ve had really good coaches here.”Johnson finished the season, his 22nd managing in the minors, with a career record of 1,555 1,544 (.502).

a bit of Black Earth

Hillary Olsen has The Shoe Box, now she just needs shoes.

Nobody said it was going to be easy when Olsen, 23, started her Peace Corps service eight months ago. She landed in Benin, West Africa, teaching English in French to 60 high school students.

After school, the kids play soccer. It didn’t take Olsen who is from Black Earth long to realize the girls team was at a serious disadvantage. For 30 girls, there was one ball, and no uniforms or soccer shoes. The boys, who, unlike the girls, are able to work summer jobs for spending money, have shoes.

To remedy that inequity in Benin, Olsen who agreed to coach the girls reached back to Black Earth. Her effort to better equip the team has now grown to include her parents, Gary and Gaila Olsen, and Steve Schmitt, owner of The Shoe Box in Black Earth.

Schmitt agreed to sponsor the team, providing uniforms. Soon on a soccer field in West Africa, there will be a team of girls with “The Shoe Box” on the front of their T shirts. “Maybe we should have asked for them in French,” Gary Olsen said, French being the official language of Benin.

Schmitt also agreed to allow the Olsens to place a bin at The Shoe Box in Black Earth where people can donate gently used soccer shoes, as well as a container for monetary donations, which will help defray the considerable cost of sending the shoes and other soccer equipment to Africa.

The soccer shoes are the highest priority, women’s sizes 6 11 or generic euro sizes 36 43. The practice field in Hillary’s village is sand and rock and not friendly to bare feet. The bins at The Shoe Box will be up through February. Hillary is hoping to have her team fully equipped for a tournament in May in Parakou, a Benin city near her village. She has arranged to rent an old military truck that will carry the team to Parakou.

“My girls are hoping to win,” Hillary wrote me in a note from Benin last Saturday.

There is little question where Hillary acquired her world view, volunteer spirit and sense of adventure. It runs in the family. Hillary’s mother, Gaila, grew up in Minnesota and served in the Peace Corps in Malaysia for three years starting in 1973. Navy, working as an artillery instructor during World War II.

“With a mother like that,” Gaila said, “you learn to think outside the box.”

Back home from the Peace Corps, Gaila was planning to ride a bicycle from Minnesota to the East Coast, where she had tentative plans to attend graduate school. Instead, she stopped in Madison to visit friends, and stayed. Eventually she met Gary Olsen, and they married in 1983. They’ve lived in Black Earth since 1989.

Hillary attended Wisconsin Heights and then Edgewood High School, where she played varsity soccer and ranked high in her class for hours spent volunteering, again inspired by her parents, who coached youth soccer and have volunteered extensively in and around Black Earth.

Hillary graduated with honors from the University of Minnesota Duluth. She had hoped for South America for her Peace Corps service. Spanish was one of her majors. When word arrived that she was going to Benin, the family had to search a map to find it, next to Nigeria, in West Africa.

Sometimes things have a way of working out. Last fall, with Hillary in Benin, the Olsens mentioned her posting to their friend Bill Wineke, the former longtime Wisconsin State Journal reporter. Wineke knew a rural Platteville couple, John and Sue Strickler, who have a son in the Peace Corps in Benin.

It turned out Jake Strickler is based just 40 or so miles from Hillary. Better yet, he had leave time coming and would be in Wisconsin in December. Gary and Gaila drove to Platteville to meet the Stricklers, and they gave Jake four soccer balls and some practice jerseys to take back to Benin.

Hillary wrote me of Jake: “He has helped me a lot so far and given a lot of good advice.”

The equipment he brought back from Wisconsin has helped, too.

“The girls have improved immensely since the school year began in October,” Hillary wrote. “They no longer follow the ball like a swarm of bees, they are starting to pass properly (instead of just toe bashing) and they have begun to understand better how to position themselves on the field.”

The need for soccer shoes continues, and, as noted, the bins at The Shoe Box for shoes and donations will be up for another couple of weeks. It is not the Olsen family way to think small.

Kudos to the Olsens. In a related matter there is a school near Nairobi Kenya that has a boys soccer team that has received two sets of uniforms from a generous benefactor in memory of Charles Billings. I have a picture of the team posing with their new uniforms if you are interested. If you are familiar with Madison soccer then you probably know Charles; a long time member of the Madison 56er Club; Wisconsin Soccer Hall of Fame; Madison Soccer Hall of Fame. Not to mention the fact they do all that with immense passion, goodwill and humor.

It is a worthy cause: Impoverished girls struggling to better their lives with the aid of one of our local kids, who, like her mom is all about caring for others and willing to cross the world to make a difference. Hop on board! It’s not just about shoes.

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