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WACKY WORLD OF SPORTS, 2013: Golfer vanishes into course's peculiar 19th hole

by on December 28, 2013 10:40 AM

Mark Mihal headed for the golf course, hoping for a hole-in-one, never suspecting he’d be the one in the hole.

Mihal, 43, a mortgage broker from Creve Coeur, Mo., was standing on the 14th fairway at Annbrier Golf Course in Waterloo, Ill., on March 8 when he suddenly plunged to the bottom of a sinkhole 18 feet deep.

“I felt the ground start to collapse, and it happened so fast that I couldn’t do anything,” Mihal said. “I reached for the ground as I was going down and it gave way, too. I was just free falling. The scary part was I didn’t know when I would hit bottom and what I would land on.”

Mihal was waiting to hit his third shot, about 100 feet from the pin, when he noticed an odd depression nearby and went to investigate. The ground gave way and he landed hard, dislocating his left shoulder.

“I was just lying on the side of a mound,” Mihal said. “There was some room in there — it was sort of like a room or a cave. It wasn’t confining. It was very dark, though after a while my eyes got used to it. But I couldn’t look up because there was stuff still falling.”

His friends — Mike Peters, Ed Magaletta and Hank Martinez — called the pro shop and general manager Russ Noble, armed with a rope and a ladder, rushed to the scene. Because Mihal couldn’t use his left arm, Magaletta volunteered to climb down and tie the rope around Mihal’s waist so he could be pulled to safety.

Peters called Mihal’s wife, Lori, to report the mishap.

“He said, ‘Mark is fine, but he had an accident and is in an ambulance,’” she said. “I don’t think he knew how to tell me that my husband had just been swallowed up by the earth.”

Philip Moss, a geologist who examined the course’s new 19th hole, noted that sinkholes are common in the St. Louis area because the bedrock is limestone, which can dissolve in runoff from acid rain. Typically, however, the openings are visible and thus easily avoided.

“This guy,” Moss said, “was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

The tale of the vanishing golfer leads off the final installment of this annual three-part compendium celebrating the unusual, the absurd and the just plain wacky from the year in sports.

OVER AND OUT. An amateur mixed martial arts middleweight bout in Yuba City, Calif., ended after only 14 seconds when Aaron Britt and Brandon Alexander knocked each other out with simultaneous right hooks to the jaw. Both crumpled to the mat and the bout was declared a no-contest. Ironically, the fighter introductions lasted longer than the fight itself.

CONTRACT KILLER. San Francisco 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown forfeited $2 million of his $2.9 million salary because he didn’t realize a clause in his contract required him to participate in offseason workouts at the team’s Santa Clara, Calif., facility. Brown worked out in his native Texas instead. He learned of the mix-up via Twitter and not from his agent, Brian Overstreet, whom he promptly fired.

PAINED EXPRESSION. Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus was scratched from a spring training game against Cleveland because of “sensitivity” and muscle soreness in his left arm. The cause? Andrus had spent nine hours over the previous two days getting a tattoo honoring his late father, Emilio, inked over most of his upper arm. It was Andrus’ first tattoo — and, he insisted, his last. “It’s on fire,” Andrus said. “No more tattoos. I’m done with this. Too much pain.”

NEWS FLASH. Gus Poyet learned he had been fired as manager of the British second-tier soccer team Brighton & Hove Albion when, while working as a BBC analyst, he was handed a script off the air that announced his dismissal. He claimed to have received no prior notice from the club. Said Poyet, “I thought the BBC got a great story, really. I’m probably the first to be in this position.”

AERIAL ATTACK. Hannibal (Mo.) Cavemen shortstop Mattingly Romanin suffered a concussion during a collegiate summer league game against Terre Haute when he was run over — by a parachutist.

Romanin and teammates Jake Mangler and Jerod Smith were standing behind second base, awaiting the national anthem at Clemens Field, when one of three descending jumpers taking part in a pre-game flag-delivery ceremony swooped toward the trio, clearly out of control. Mangler and Smith leaped out of the way, but Romanin stood his ground and was struck in the temple by the parachutist’s extended leg.

Said the victim, “Before they jumped, they had one of their crew members come out and tell us, ‘If they’re coming right for you and it looks like they’re going to hit you, don’t move. They’ll avoid you.’”

That was, in retrospect, lousy advice. Romanin was knocked to the ground and, ultimately, out of the lineup. Because he’d suffered a concussion several months earlier while playing at Chicago State, Romanin elected to sit out the rest of the season as a precaution.

TACTICAL MANEUVER. Five Virginia State football players apparently couldn’t wait until the next day’s Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association title game to sack Winston-Salem State quarterback Rudy Johnson. They jumped Johnson in a bathroom during the CIAA championship banquet and used fists and feet to pummel him so viciously he required treatment in a hospital. WSSU chancellor Donald Reaves alleged that the perpetrators attacked Johnson to “create an extensive competitive advantage by eliminating the starting quarterback.” The CIAA canceled the game and declared 9-1 Virginia State ineligible to participate in the NCAA Division II playoffs.

SHOOTING GALLERY. An under-17 hockey team from St. Petersburg, Russia, showed little compassion in routing the United Arab Emirates 60-0 in the Turkmenistan President’s Cup, peppering goaltender Alexander Medearis with a staggering 205 shots.

That Medearis weathered the onslaught as well as he did, given the lack of resistance offered by the inexperienced Emirati defenders, impressed his coach. Said Juhani Ij?s to Medearis, “I can safely say you’re the first goalie that gave up 60 goals and was still the team MVP.”

GIFT GIVER. Hugo (Okla.) High School led by one point with 2.9 seconds left and needed only to inbound the basketball at midcourt, it seemed, to prevail in a Class 3A state quarterfinal game against Millwood. Buffaloes point guard Trey Johnson took the pass, raced down the court and made an uncontested layup just before the buzzer — into the wrong basket. Said Millwood assistant coach David Samilton after the Falcons’ improbable 38-37 victory, “When I saw the kid going that way, I was like, No, he’s not, no he’s not — oh, yes, he is.” Hugo fans who had been poised to celebrate moments before stood in stunned silence as the giddy Falcons reveled in their unexpected good fortune.

KICK-SIX. Pittsburgh Central Catholic’s Graham Adomitis scored a key touchdown in the Vikings’ 27-7 WPIAL Class AAAA title game victory over Woodland Hills by racing 66 yards with a teammate’s punt that went for negative yardage and that the opposition never touched.

Riley Redman shanked the kick, which bounced and rolled behind the line of scrimmage, where Adomitis downed it — or so he believed. Players from both teams stopped, and Adomitis stood still for at least three seconds, waiting for a whistle. But all he heard was assistant coach Rick Capretta, who was cognizant that the rules allow such a kick to be advanced, shouting at him to run.

“The next thing I know,” Adomitis said, “I was being tackled in the end zone by my teammates.”

WILD FINISH. For the first time in major league history, a pitcher celebrated his no-hitter while wearing batting gloves. Henderson Alvarez of the Miami Marlins was waiting in the on-deck circle in the bottom of the ninth inning of a scoreless game when Detroit reliever Luke Putkonen uncorked a wild pitch. Giancarlo Stanton dashed home from third with the winning run, securing Alvarez’s no-hitter and triggering a mob scene near home plate. Said Marlins first baseman Logan Morrison, “I’ve never seen it where we got a walk-off win and we’re mauling the pitcher instead of the guy who got the hit or scored the run.”

GIVEN THE BOOT. Midfielder Javier Mascherano was shown a red card during Argentina’s World Cup qualifier against Ecuador for an ill-advised kick he directed not at an opponent, but at the driver of a medical cart taking him off the field after he suffered a minor injury. Mascherano feared falling out because the operator was driving too fast and pleaded with him to slow down. When his entreaties were ignored, he kicked the medic in the back. Mascherano confronted referee Enrique Caceres after he was banished, sparking an altercation that involved players from both teams and prompted police in riot gear to intervene.

LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE. Tokyo resident Kohei Jinno, whose home was razed to make way for the main stadium and a surrounding park ahead of the 1964 Olympics, learned in September he would again lose his home because of the Games. After the International Olympic Committee selected Tokyo as the 2020 host, the 79-year-old tobacco shop owner was informed the housing complex where he and his wife, Yasuko, reside will be torn down so a new stadium can be constructed. Said Jinno, “Fate has not been kind to me. I can bear getting evicted if it’s just the once in a century, but twice? It’s ridiculous.”

SIGNATURE MOVE. Alex Collins’ mother didn’t want him to play football at the University of Arkansas, preferring he stay closer to their Fort Lauderdale, Fla., home. So Andrea McDonald hatched a plan: She not only refused to sign his national letter of intent; she absconded with the paperwork and went into hiding. “She cares about me so much she doesn’t want me to make the wrong decision,” said Collins, who starred as a running back at South Plantation High School. “I respect her and understand why she did it — to give me more time.” But an extra 24 hours did nothing to change Collins’ mind. He recruited his father, Johnny Collins, to sign the letter of intent and faxed it to Arkansas.

GEOGRAPHY LESSON. A group of friends from Bosnia-Herzegovina who wanted to attend their nation’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania wound up in neighboring Latvia instead, and missed the game. “When we got there we asked some people, ‘Where is the football match being played?’” said Haris Tresnjo, who organized the trip. “We told them we came from Bosnia to cheer for our team. They just laughed at us and told us that we were very far from the stadium.” About 140 miles, in fact.

Tresnjo and his buddies ended up missing a 1-0 victory that clinched Bosnia-Herzegovina’s first-ever berth in the 32-team World Cup, to be played next year in Brazil. Said Tresnjo, “I will surely remember this stupidity for the rest of my life.”



Bob Fulton is the chief copy editor and occasionally contributes sports, travel and other feature stories.
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December 28, 2013 10:39 AM
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