Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Wayback Wednesday: When Ray Gallagher Speaks, Putnam County Listens

When Ray Gallagher left the North County News in 2006, the revered and imitable columnist left a legacy felt throughout these perennial Northern Westchester proving grounds.

Gallagher’s array of punch lines lured me in when he once labeled the attack position “as critical to the sport of lacrosse as the bunghole is to the body.”

Perusing the columns, I saw Gallagher quote a Hen Hud player who explained his game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer “felt better than sex.”

I was intrigued at a unique read.

Like so many others in the Westchester/Putnam area, I kept reading.

I followed the unfiltered, no-limitations, say-it-as-it-is columnist for 10+ years. I continue to read his work at a religious pace.


The entertainment value of Direct Rays is unrivaled. The unique style keeps us hungry for more.

Keep ‘em coming.

Maybe it’s because Gallagher will always call out the self-proclaimed gurus. Maybe it’s because Gallagher is sure to take a good healthy snipe at the lawn chair quarterback superintendents. 

Pencil Pushers, as he typically has them pegged as.

For 25 years, Gallagher has had a green light to call out anyone who stands in his way. He is naturally never one to mince his words.

He has always been forthcoming about any issue or any story leak that needed to be addressed. Even the unruly group of Mom-zillas and Demanding Dads were not free of Ray's verbal slayings. He won't let off-the-wall antics slip. 

Above and beyond the hard-hitting columns, Gallagher has constantly highlighted kids’ achievements.

I’ve recently thumbed through a bevy of articles from top national sources, the kind you see displayed at book stores and supermarkets and city newsstands.

Witnessing prominent writers and columnists berate 16-year-old kids several times, it’s allowed me to value Gallagher’s weekly writing in the Examiner News. He spreads the props around in article after article, giving readers a bird’s eye view of the local scene without the melodrama.

Rarely does today’s sports writer or columnist or local guru provide an accurate account of the athlete, an inside look that displays the individual’s intangibles, strengths, tendencies, stats.

That’s what separates Ray from others of his focus and skill-set.

The veteran gives you a verbal description and takes you right to the field. Gallagher describes the scene a flair, incorporating a wealth of knowledge along the way. He’ll soak up every little detail to help paint the picture.

Typically, Putnam Valley slang is tossed in there.

Gallagher is capable of jump-starting the hype machine.

If writers are guilty of feeding the beast, Ray is hurling cake and coffee down the beast’s throat after a fattening Thanksgiving dinner.

Does Gallagher thirst for controversy? Perhaps more than any reporter in this region.

Did he deliver controversy and take hard digs? Early, often, and with efficiency. For student-athletes, however, he’s been more than just “the writer guy.”

Sure, the man was guaranteed to heap terse words on any superintendent who happened to grind his gears.

Sure, he warred with me over several issues while I worked under him.

Sure, he wanted to kick my teeth in for the fits I gave him. The feeling was certainly mutual, as word of our beef spread through the news office like wildfire.

The smoke cleared, however, when I learned to value the commitment while simultaneously appreciating the work ethic Gallagher has instilled in so many.

He’s not one to fake it, either.

Each and every game I covered under Ray’s guidance, I was interrupted by a steady barrage of text messages.


“What quarter?”

“Who’s got the ball right now, how much time is left?”

“You alive?”

“Remember to quote both coaches and file the article to me tonight, so we can kill it in this week’s section.”

This was prior to the emergence of Twitter, when the updates weren’t so much necessary.

Gallagher was actually that immersed in every angle of the game. Like a devout fan constantly checking ESPN Gametracker, Gallagher values the high school sports scene.

Yes, his fervor for the competition is real.

Keeping It Real

OK, Ray fired me three times altogether. Pink slip number four was surely waiting in the wings, during a few tense moments.

Each time, however, he opened the door for a return. Each time, after a few jabs were exchanged, we agreed to get to work and serve the community.

In Ray’s mind, the idea is not to meet expectations but to slay them.

That’s where the standard is held. A quarter century in a highly-pressurized environment, swamped with deadlines and a hungry fan base stretching from Hastings to Langrangeville has the potential to mold you a certain way.

The bar isn’t just set high, it is lifted to moon-scraping heights.

Shit, that bar is set higher than Snoop Dogg on a music tour in Amsterdam on April 20. Like a veteran coach with an established program, Ray’s year round commitment to success (and professionalism) is of highest order.

For 25 years, Gallagher has had an eye for talent, catching the story behind the highlight reel play.

For 25 years, he’s been delivering the facts beyond the head-spinning run. He’s highlighted the factors beyond the individual totals/stats. 

He prides himself on having an eye for that talent.

Gallagher possesses pages of Wikipedia-like knowledge of Section I in his Almanac memory, staying true to the local scene in which he got his scribe teeth cut.

More by-the-book scribes could peg Gallagher’s work as over the top. You can’t argue, it makes for an above average and more entertaining read.

Nicknames have been heaped on local products at a never-dwindling pace.

Memorable ones include “Sully Webber,” “Beast amongst Boys,” "King Mullet, "Big Bo" “Uncle Eddie,” “Gangster Lean,” “Big Bo,” “Moose,” “Sheriff Mabus,” “Three Card Monty,” and countless others.

Gallagher’s columns have been the go-to read in Westchester/Putnam since Gallagher sported a mullet, John Stockton shorts, Nike Swoosh shirts, and an old-school NY Giants skull hat.
A Mike Lupica of his heyday, Gallagher once slammed anyone who interfered with his beloved sports scene.

Father time and a workaday commitment to more jobs than a Bronx-bred Jamaican has kept his brutal blasts of superintendents and self-proclaimed power brokers to a minimum.

Piss him off, do a disservice to his beloved high school sports community, expect this to take a turn for the worse. Ray will unleash the mad writer within him, going on a verbal onslaught to however needs a good pelting. 

It’s always spruced up with laugh-inducing sentences. There is always overboard creativity that the mainstream stiffs and socially inept stat dorks lack. While more and more elitists become too enamored with statistics and commitments, Gallagher has always found the story behind the daily happenings. 

Gallagher would rather write his own piece about a kid overcoming adversity, breaking a story to his own local crowd than cover a story that 40 angry journalists have their fingerprints all over.
Sports Editor is usually a position where once-prosperous writing careers go to die.
Amid the mountain of industry change and an uptick in photos and editing, Gallagher’s writing style has remained the same.

A Day In The Ray
It seems simple, carrying out as Ray Gallagher does.

Sports consume him.

The 5-foot-9 Gallagher is dressed like Billy Hoyle in “White Men Can’t Jump,” sporting the backwards hat and surfer shorts on the sidelines as he snaps a library of photos at a high school lacrosse game.

He refs three consecutive basketball games, coaches a Little League team, then writes a pair of columns complete with Section I rankings and player quotes.

Laced with analogies and metaphors, Gallagher provides an accurate assessment of each league’s landscape.

Then, Gallagher vividly recalls a story about his own day.

The lead guard and captain of a Lakeland High basketball team, the Hornets were then recognized more for their raging parties than their a souped-up fast break and suspect defense.

A guy who can retell everyone else’s story with accuracy can surely remember his own, even if his team engaged in many memory-altering activities.

The ensuing day, Gallagher is lodged inside a local town meeting and managing the fields for an upcoming event.

After working like a one-man construction crew in scalding heat, Ray is finally home. He spends time with his wife, Nikki, and his two children.

In Gallagher’s five-year-old son Tyler and his eight-year-old daughter (nine in July) Meagen, Dad’s love for sports is evident.

Father-and-kids activities include hitting balls off the tee, scooping up ground balls with their lacrosse sticks, and long games of “dribble chase” in the driveway. 

During these intense games, Tyler and Meagen’s ball-handling savvy is tested. They also make sure their father is protecting the ball himself, as brother and sister swarm him and swipe at the Spalding.
Would you expect anything else?

Gallagher and his wife run a photography company, Picture That, which shoots everything from corporate events to weddings to Sweet 16s.

His wife is just as handy with the device that sparked her husband’s career 25 years ago.
And so after an exhausting day, Gallagher watches his beloved Mets on TV. They lose, but Gallagher doesn’t lose his never-dwindling Mets pride.

As much as they suck, he will always be encased in his Mike Piazza jersey and passionately supporting the organization.

When the game is over, he retires to the computer room to write another banger.

President of Putnam

The commitment to writing captivating columns and shooting photos of each and every team in NCN and now the Examiner News coverage area (NCN’s brother from another mother, same staff different editors and ownership) never tailed off.

Many industry heads could have cited his position as director of athletics for the town of Putnam Valley as a conflict of interest

Think again.

In a humor-sprinkled 2010 column, Gallagher ripped the Putnam Valley basketball squad into shreds
Shit, it was for their own good. The same kids he grew up coaching needed a good verbal slaying to wake up and smell the Folgers emanating from the kitchen.

During one eyes-burning sentence, Gallagher made it clear this team needed to “stop getting high off games of NBA2K or whatever it is” and get in the gym.

During the coaching vacancy, he pushed for potential candidates to jump at the open position.
Gallagher reminded each would-be warrior capable of reviving the program that the coach gets the keys to the gym.

Anytime he witnessed a kid put on a shooting barrage in his open gym program, he steered that kid to practice without fail. Everytime he saw a young gun emulate White Chocolate with dazzling passes or enforce a 1990’s basketbrawl New York Knicks style of defense, he gave that young gun the Varsity basketball paper work.

His presence has always been felt beyond his local coverage and columns.

Direct Rays kept it real with the Putnam Valley kids, acknowledging that they ooze of potential and teams could potentially hear the footsteps.

In that take-no-prisoners column, Gallagher illustrated that an unwavering commitment was the only way they would even sniff a playoff berth.

In that very column assessing the PV hoops program, Gallagher didn’t pull any haymakers.
Like an angry village parent telling the troubled youth “y’all are capable of so much more,” Gallagher walloped them with words.

Not digging into them like the recruiting pimp writers do, but keeping it real.
One coach asked him, “Do they let you walk in Putnam Valley?”

Others chimed in, wondering if Gallagher’s tires were intact following that admittedly funny-as-spit column.

Some wondered if copies of Gallagher’s Putnam Valley-torching columns had been used as urine mops and kick-starters for bonfires by the Putnam Valley youth.

While some overprotective, truth-fearing, and perhaps overbearing parents may have turned their nose at the piece, many got a good kick out of it.

Ray was cognizant that this team had talent, but clearly needed a better work ethic.

A few years later, PV attained the success Gallagher envisioned.  After he essentially called them out for being lazy potheads (potheads with potential that is), they ascended into Section I’s upper-crust.

During the team’s resurgence, Gallagher provided a surplus of positive coverage.

Putnam Valley head coach Ed Wallach was fired inexplicably, after leading the Tigers to a berth in the Section I semifinals.

Surprise, Surprise– Gallagher put his foot down
He verbally cooked those who instigated the problem leading to Wallach’s untimely dismissal, standing up for what is right.

During a rapidly-evolving internet-dependent era, the old-school Gallagher earned a social media presence.

Standing by his beliefs, defending the man who got the raw deal, Gallagher sparked an online fire. He got everyone from a diddle eyed Joe to a damned-if-I-know to comment.

It’s not as if Gallagher was out there advocating for Wallach during the 25 years he spent covering him.

In fact, the two once came astonishingly close to blows.

Both men were in each other’s grills ferociously a few years back, when Wallach took a snipe at Gallagher-hired refs during a youth game.

The bald guy with a penchant for nicknames would have every bit of none of it.

The scene escalated. Eventually, threats to call the police immediately quelled the flaring tempers.
The personal rift ended abruptly.

When the Wallach helped resuscitate a once pulse-lacking girls program at PV, Gallagher was the first columnist to give him the necessary ink.

One minute he’s in the guy’s mug, teeth clenched and eyes burning, ready to throw down.
Next minute? He’s commending him for a job well done. Give criticism and respect where the criticism and respect are due.


With Ray, there always seemed to be a story behind the story.

Oddly enough, there’s a story to his first-ever writing gig.

During his first interview with the now defunct North County News 25 years ago, one of the key questions hurled on Gallagher was “can you shoot?”

Gallagher responded with an immediate and cocksure, “Of course I can shoot… I’m from Putnam Valley!”

An avid hunter during his heyday, Gallagher thought his superiors were asking him if he could shoot a gun.

They tossed him a camera and film and a legend was born.

When a coach got fired, when turmoil shrouded a program, when anything of note happened, Ray put it all out for all of  us to see.

The beat goes on. He is that guy with his ear to the ground, the guy who revs up the talking heads.

The endless supply of nicknames, the metaphors, the colorful analogies, they kept us reading.

This is a cat who could chuck tomatoes at Peekskill with a few short, powerful sentences.

 Gallagher once slayed an entire fan base with the effortless pounding of the keys. Like a revved-up New York tabloid writer ready to barbeque someone for front page fodder, Gallagher ripped them.

He crushed Peekskill’s fan base for losing their shit following a loss. His column the ensuing day painted Peekskill as a real cesspool, a school rife with hood rats who over step their boundaries after the game.

Years later, Gallagher lauded the program’s pride and tradition as a keynote speaker during a state title run. 

This was back when five-year varsity forward Mookie Jones (a highly-touted prospect who never panned out at Syracuse) was dunking on foes all across the state.

Gallagher has written on teams working the clock “like a meth-head works the dealer.”

He’s gone on long-winded rants about first-class scholar athletes whom he’d welcome to his home without even checking to see if his guns have been loaded.

He’s given words of warning and called out teams for having cupcake schedules and wins that were weaker than Chinese tea on a real scale. He’s given Player of The Year and All-Decade Team awards.

With 25 years of writing hard-hitting and unique stories and columns, we give it up for a man who has truly stood the test of time.

It can be an arduous task, appeasing parents and giving everyone equal coverage. It can be draining, meeting maddening deadlines while dealing with the greenhorns and interns.

For 25 years, Gallagher has handled it with professionalism and punch-lines that jolt folks out of their seats.

One of Gallagher’s more moving columns was one he penned on the late and legendary Tyrell Thompson, a smooth swingman and indispensable leader who starred at Kennedy Catholic.
The column gave everyone an inside look at what a truly excellent guy Thompson, who played at West Point and served in the military, was.

There will never be another Tyrell Thompson. Just a few days following Thompson’s tragic death, Gallagher’s column illustrated that fact.

Way down the line, former athletes will crack out the scrap book to relive the glory days. They will show their articles and accomplishments to children and grandchildren proudly. They will re-read the article and the photo that captures the moment.

Then, they will look at the byline.

Most of them will remember the guy who bears a striking resemblance to Mr. Clean being at the gym more than the janitor, on the field more than the waterboy and the physical trainers.

They’ll remember the guy who they developed a season-long rapport with, the guy who peppered them with questions and kept the questions and columns coming. They guy who never wanted the clock to stop.

I don’t know if Ray will ever retire.

The idea of extended father time, hunting, fishing and watching his putrid Mets play might seem appealing…can you ever imagine, however, a season of without this guy perched on the sidelines, snapping shots and taking spoken notes into his recorder?

I understand some industry skeptics might wisecrack me for writing this, wondering if I am aching to get hired (and fired) again.

Wondering if killing Ray with kindness is my way of mooching a slew of photos.

This was written as a tribute, but I hope it serves as so much more.

My hope is that a young person who wishes to pursue true passion and dreams will read this.
My goal is that somewhere, someone reading this will be sold on honing their craft. Sold on living a life ultimately bigger than their own, touching others.

Twenty-five years at the helm, Ray Gallagher hasn’t lost an iota of his luster.
Twenty-five years and he’s still writing classics like Tim O’Brien writes epic war stories.
Twenty-five years, and his passion for sports hasn’t waned a bit.

Thank you Ray. Thanks brother.