How Athens County is the poorest in Ohio — and how it represents Appalachia as a whole

According to the 2010 census, Athens County, Ohio is the poorest county in Ohio per capita — by a decent margin.

How and why is a region so culturally diverse and rich so economically poor?

Check out my podcast, “Eighty Eighth” for an in-depth look at the region.

“The Gang Makes a Newsletter”

Quote of the Week: “You ever see a grown woman take a dump in a sandbox?” – Bill Ponderosa, “Making Dennis Reynolds a Murder”

FX’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia somehow, someway continues to make brilliant, laugh out-loud comedy 12 years after its pilot.  The twelfth season premier was clocked as the highest watched show in FXX history. The following episode attracted more viewers and subsequently broke that record.

The show is under contract with FXX through Season 14, which would make it the longest running live-action sitcom in US television history.

Miss last week’s episode? 

“Hero or Hate Crime” is already an instant classic among Sunny fans. The episode focuses on the Gang trying to figure out who rightfully owns a lottery ticket that was found on the street. The only way to settle this argument is to hire a series of professional arbiters who can make the decision. Hilarity ensues, I promise. Plus, a major 12-season long running joke is finally put to bed the only way the Gang knows how: hilariously. Check out the official trailer:

Yeah, about last week… WARNING: Spoilers may follow. 

Sunny prides itself on being hilariously vulgar and pushing the limits as to what can be shown on cable TV to the ultimate extreme. Most of Sunny’s episodes have a deeper purpose rather than just to entertain. McElhenney (Mac), Glenn Howerton (Dennis), and Charlie Day (Charlie) often write the episodes with a particular satire.

Between ridiculing the gun-rights debate, abortion, underage drinking, Sunny has never been a show to back down from the issues. The A.V. Club reviewed the show’s latest installment and analyzed it through the frame of satirizing political correctness. It’s an honest and funny review of Sunny’s most profane episode to date.

Read Political correctness is life and death on a hilarious It’s Always Sunny on A.V. Club

Strippers, jugglers and Rickety Cricket?

Truth be told, I have not a damn clue about what this week’s episode is about. Watch the trailer for “PTSDee” yourself and see if you can figure it out. Charlie trying to pronounce Channing Tatum’s name and saying “charming taint-man” looks hilarious in itself. Why is Rickety Cricket a stripper now? Why does Charlie suggest that Dennis have sex with jugglers? Your guess is as good as mine.

Outside of Always Sunny

Members of the Gang are starting to branch out and work on other projects, seeing as though Sunny is reaching the end of its long run. Charlie Day is starring alongside Ice Cube in Fist Fight which hits theaters Feb. 17.

Kaitlin Olson (Sweet Dee Reynolds) is currently starring in the Fox sitcom The Mick where she plays the titular character of Mackenzie “Mickey” Murphy who’s remarkably similar to her character of Sweet Dee in Sunny. In a Fox News Entertainment/GoshTV interview, Olson talks balancing two shows and separating two similar characters in two different shows.

Check out Olson’s interview here 

The Gang Makes a Newsletter is a weekly online publication which wraps up all things in the realm of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Stay tuned for the latest news from the show and the brilliant people behind it. 

Later, boners!” – Sweet Dee, “Dennis and Dee go on Welfare”

The five keys to the Steelers contending for Super Bowl LII

The 2016 season was one filled with many ups and downs for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The team started 4-1 and seemed to be firing on all cylinders on both sides of the ball, but went almost a full calendar month without a win, going 0-4 in its next four contests. The Steelers, however, hit their stride in late November. The team rattled off seven straight wins to close out the regular season.

The Steelers, thanks to a Christmas miracle in Antonio Brown’s now-dubbed the “Immaculate Extension”, would win the AFC North for the seventh time since division realignment (the fifth time in the Mike Tomlin era) and would finish with the No. 3 seed in the AFC.

After dispatching both the Miami Dolphins in the Wild Card round and the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional round, the Steelers traveled to Foxboro for a meeting with the New England Patriots. The Steelers were handled relatively easily, as they lost 36-17, one game shy of their ninth Super Bowl appearance.

A number of storylines unfolded throughout the 2016 season, both on and off the field. All in all, it added up to the Steelers falling short of being able to compete for a league-record seventh Lombardi trophy.

As Super Bowl week is upon us, the offseason and NFL combine and draft loom ahead. Here’s a guide to the five keys for the Steelers in order to contend for their seventh ring:

#1 — Resign Le’Veon Bell … and hope he can stay on the field.

Le’Veon Bell — Wikimedia Commons

Le’Veon Bell would, without a doubt, be considered the best all-around running back in the league if it weren’t for a litany of injuries and multiple suspensions for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Bell has yet to play a full, 16 game NFL season in his four year career.

That being said, Le’Veon Bell is a hell of a football player and adds a dynamic element to an already explosive Pittsburgh offense. The Steelers 2016 MVP rushed for 1,268 yards and seven touchdowns. Bell is no one trick pony, however, as he has shown the capability to be an elite pass-catcher, both out of the backfield and spread out wide. Bell caught 75 passes for 616 yards and two scored in 2016.

The Steelers, a team which historically is faced with salary cap room issues, is expected to use their franchise tag on Bell this offseason. This essentially buys Pittsburgh another year to figure out what to do with the 24 year old halfback. If Bell can stay healthy and out of trouble with the league, expect the Steelers to sign him to a long term deal next offseason. Frankly, GM Kevin Colbert and the Rooney family ought to pay Bell whatever he wants. He’s earned it. Provided he’s available for most, if not all, of the 16 game schedule next year, look for Le’Veon Bell to be wearing black and gold for a long time.

#2 — The defense needs to continue improving

Cameron Heyward — Wikimedia Commons

Year two with Keith Butler coordinating the Steelers’ young but talented defense was a large success and those in Pittsburgh are high on the future of the most current version of the Steel Curtain.

The biggest difference between the 2015 and 2016 seasons on defense was the improved play in the secondary. Colbert drafted cornerback Artie Burns out of Miami and safety Sean Davis of Maryland to help sure up a secondary that ranked 30 in total pass defense a year ago. Some perspective: the Steelers ranking at the end of the 2016 season? 16th. Look for third year cornerback Senquez Golson to make an impact next season as he returns from injured reserve.

Linebacker play has seen the explosion of fourth-year middle linebacker Ryan Shazier onto the scene. Shazier, who beat out everyone else on the team in sprints in the preseason, had a total of 87 combined tackles and three picks in 2016. Shazier is quickly becoming a leader on the Steelers’ defense and will be, without a doubt, an anchor around which the Steelers will build their defense.

The biggest question on the Steelers defense is the pass rush and current lack thereof. Look for Colbert to target a speedy linebacker who can impose his will on the quarterback. More on this later in point #5.

With Cameron Heyward returning from injury and James Harrison returning for a 14th NFL season, the Steelers defense has quickly turned itself around in just one season.

#3 — The receiving corps … Who else is going to step up?

Eli Rogers — Wikimedia Commons

This was a question the Steelers found themselves asking quite a bit this past season. With Martavis Bryant suspended for the entire season after multiple violations of the league’s drug policy and a few key injuries early in the season, Pittsburgh found itself without much in the way of receivers other than All-Pro Antonio Brown.

Injuries to Sammie Coates, Markus Wheaton and Darrius Heyward-Bey devastated an already shallow receiving corps. With Bryant returning next season, the Steelers are already in good shape. However, losing all of these key personnel may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Injuries paved the way for second-year receiver Eli Rogers to come off of the practice squad and jump right into the Steelers’ No. 2 receiver role. Make no mistake about it: Eli Rogers will be Pittsburgh’s X-factor next season.

With teams consistently double and triple teaming Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant elite speed and ability to stretch the field vertically, Rogers’ presence in the slot will be key. Rogers showed flashes of excellence this season. Expect him to keep it up to create a lethal offense which will wreck havoc on opposing defenses. Teams just do not have enough playmakers to be able to stop all of Pittsburgh’s elite offensive threats.

#4 — Sure up the special teams play

Chris Boswell — Wikimedia Commons

One word sums up Pittsburgh’s special teams play as of recent years: bad.

In 2015 the Steelers had all sorts of trouble on special teams, mainly the field goal kicking unit. A preseason injury to placekicker Shaun Suisham started a “kicker carousel” which ended up costing the team a few wins on missed field goals, before the team signed Chris Boswell who has been nothing short of impressive in his brief stint with the team. His six field goals in the Divisional playoff game against the Chiefs accounted for all of the team’s scoring and set a franchise and postseason record for most field goals in a single game.

The biggest problem the Steelers faced on special teams this season was kickoffs. The team drafted Demarcus Ayers in the seventh round of the draft with the goals of having him be the kick return guy, a role he excelled at the University of Houston. For whatever reason, Pittsburgh opted to have Sammie Coates, Fitzgerald Touissant and Justin Gilbert return kicks this year. Opposing teams would often kick the ball just short of the endzone so the Steelers returners would be forced to run it back. They barely ever made it back to the 25 yard line (the new starting line for kickoffs). Teams exploited the Steelers inability to return kicks, and it often cost Pittsburgh valuable yards in field position. I expect Ayers to make the kick return team next season, where he can use his speed to get the edge around defenders and start drives for the offense past the 25.

#5 — Draft wisely

Heinz Field — Wikimedia Commons

Given Kevin Colbert’s incredible ability to scout and draft all-star caliber players consistently (Bell, Brown, Ben, Shazier, Burns, Sean Davis, etc.), this is the point Steelers fans should feel most comfortable on. The franchise is in good hands as long as Colbert, the Rooney family and Mike Tomlin continue to make smart draft selections.

The Steelers No. 1 priority in this draft should be an edge rusher. With James Harrison turning 39 in March, and his backup, Jarvis Jones likely not returning to the team next season, the Steelers are thin at outside linebacker.

Every year there is talk about whether or not Pittsburgh should draft a replacement quarterback for Ben Roethlisberger when he inevitably retires. Despite Big Ben recently saying that his career with the Steelers is “up in the air”, this draft is shallow on elite quarterbacks. I don’t expect the Steelers to draft a QB this year. It’s more likely they sign current backup and soon to be restricted free agent Landry Jones to a short-term contract to back up Roethlisberger until an adequate long-term replacement is found.

I hear Tony Romo is in the market for a job …

 

Emeriti Park is Athens’ finest gem

 

Rolling hills, valleys and scenic landscapes are staples all throughout the Appalachian plateau in beautiful Southeast Ohio.

Emeriti Park in Athens is no exception.

The four-acre plot situated along South Green Drive, merely minutes from uptown Athens, contains many of the features that make this region of America great.

At the center of the park is a pond with two beautiful water fountains which bring Emeriti to life. Sprinkled around and facing the pond are sturdy wooden benches, each dedicated to important people who made Athens and Ohio University what it is today. A gazebo overlooks the entire park across from a bridge which separates the road from the park. Of course, the pathways in Emeriti are paved with the iconic bricks which define Athens, Ohio.

Emeriti in January.

However, beyond just being a pretty sight, Emeriti Park is my favorite place in Athens because it is the one place on campus where I can go to truly relax.

Being able to get away from life’s stresses and achieving tranquility, no matter how brief, is something everyone should be able to do when necessary. Emeriti Park is the place for me to be able to unwind.

I vividly remember a time last semester where I was particularly stressed out over a few midterms. I took a walk and stumbled upon an empty Emeriti at twilight. It was easily one of the most beautiful and serene backdrops I had ever seen.

I sat there for almost two hours. I turned my phone off, put it in my pocket, lit a Marlboro and just sat and relaxed, isolating myself from the troubles and stress of life.

The next two hours, time seemed to stand still. It was almost a psychedelic experience.

I did not notice the many college students walking by the rows of oak and maple trees on the outskirts of the park. I did not care the wind was increasing in speed as the sun set, making it a bit chilly outside. I did not worry about the homework and studying that eventually awaited me when I got back home.

It was just me, my thoughts (or lack thereof, in this context) and the gorgeous scenery around me.  

It is almost hard to describe a situation in which one reaches pure tranquility and ease of mind. It just simply does not happen very often, if it all, in today’s hectic hustle-and-bustle lifestyle.

I fell in love with Emeriti Park that fall night.

After those two hours, I stood up and walked back home, conscious of the work that was still looming over me.
I didn’t care. I got to work.  

 

Check out Ohio University’s release about Emeriti’s 2014 renovation