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Panther Pride

Coach “Doc” Carlson serves ice cream to the players at halftime. Future NBA All-Star Billy Knight drives down the court, on his way to an average of 23 points per game. Jerome Lane smashes the backboard with a ferocious slam-dunk. Then there’s the amazing collection of players that went 29-6 last season.

These memories and many more from nearly a century of Pitt basketball are collected in Panther Pride (Arcadia Publishing) by Sam Sciullo Jr. (CAS ’81), former assistant director of sports information for the University.

“I wanted a balanced look at Pitt basketball,” says Sciullo, who helped create the exhibits in the new McCarl Sports Hall of Fame, located in the Petersen Events Center.

Sciullo combed the archives at the University, public libraries, and newspapers to compile a photographic history dating back to the first squad of 1905-06. Pitt basketball entered the national spotlight during the 1927-28 season, when the undefeated team was declared “national champions”—though no sanctioned title then existed.

—Jason Togyer

Painless Writing

He watched them struggle. Jeff Strausser’s son’s soccer team couldn’t get the dribble, pass, and spin. Maybe the kids would spin, pass, and dribble—oh, it was messy. Then the coach broke the play apart, and the kids finally understood. They were dribbling, passing, and spinning fluidly. And then Strausser (CAS ’76) realized something.

A part-time law professor at South Texas College of Law, he was reading papers from law students. They confused verb tense, used incorrect prepositions, wrote in fragments. Strausser wondered how best to help them. Then, he recalled his son mastering soccer techniques by learning them in parts; maybe Strausser’s students could write better by learning the fundamentals.

He constructed a manuscript, giving guidelines and sharing tidbits of knowledge, so English-plagued students would learn the rules, helping them write those papers. Barrons published the results, Painless Writing.

Strausser didn’t major in English. His undergraduate degree is in geology, which he uses as director of marketing for EOG Resources, a Houston-based oil and gas company. He also has an MBA from the University of St. Thomas and a law degree from the University of Houston; yet he’s always been interested in writing.

Meghan Holohan

Investments and Taxes

When Seth Hammer says his Monday afternoon financial planning seminar is the “biggest crowd I’ve ever taught,” he’s not talking attendance.

Most of the students are more than six feet tall. Some weigh up to 350 pounds. For Hammer, who stands 5’11” and weighs 160, that size can be intimidating. So can the fact that his students are all football players.

Every year during football season, Hammer instructs players from the Baltimore Ravens about financial planning and investing. He meets with them before their weekly team meeting at their training center. The players come in regular clothes, not pads and uniforms, and most of them are filled with thoughts of taxes and investments, not next week’s game.

The program is organized by the NFL, which partners with a university in each city where it has a team, to provide financial advice to the league’s often very young and very rich rookie players.

Hammer, who received his PhD in business from Pitt in 1993 and is an associate professor of accounting at Towson University, uses tips from his book Investments and Taxes: A Practical Guide for Financial Advisors (CCH Incorporated) to teach the young players smart ways to manage their newfound wealth.

—Rebecca Prosser


In an Indiana farmhouse, a boy sits at the wooden supper table surrounded by family. House lights glow as the dark of a Midwestern winter blankets the fields and firs. The dishes are cleared, and granddad recounts the day his father shot a wildcat in the woods nearby.

Then come tales of giant black snakes and news about the neighbor’s runaway cow. The boy pulls closer to the table, closer to the rhythm and the drama. He can’t name it yet, but he is falling in love with storytelling.

Marc Harshman (FAS ’78) says those after-supper sessions inspired his career as a poet and children’s book author. Margaret Hodges, a well-known Pittsburgh children’s author, encouraged him to write a children’s book when he was a Pitt graduate student taking a library-science class in storytelling. Since then, he has produced 10 books for kids. The newly released Roads (Marshall Cavendish Press) describes a family car trip to the home of grandparents, a classic trek for many children.

Harshman, his wife, Cheryl Ryan Harshman (SIS ’77; a children’s librarian and book author), and their daughter Sarah took many such trips from Sally’s Bone, W.Va., to Union City, Ind., where kin still gather around the farmhouse supper table.

Cindy Gill

When Smoke Ran Like Water

As a child, Devra Davis often gazed into the night sky, seeing fireworks-like colors exploding from the steel mills in Donora, Pa. Reds, oranges, yellows, bursting, popping, whizzing.

Davis never suspected there was anything worrisome about what she saw. She never suspected her grandmother’s heart condition was unusual. She never suspected that anything but old age caused elderly people to gasp for every breath.

Years later, Davis’ favorite uncle, the uncle who was dashing, smart, and athletic, died suddenly of a heart attack in Los Angeles. He died during a period of high pollution, when the smog nearly suffocated the city.

Davis (CAS ’67, FAS ’67), an epidemiologist, began to have suspicions.

After almost a decade of research, she published the story that has haunted her since childhood, When Smoke Ran Like Water (Basic Books). In it, Davis—a World Health Organization researcher and visiting professor at Brown and Carnegie Mellon—examines a period around Halloween in 1948 when a freak meteorological occurrence trapped the smoke from the steel mills below the atmosphere, resulting in pollution sticking close to the steel town. The book was one of five finalists for the 2002 National Book Award in nonfiction.


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