Friday, October 14, 2016

'Brute' returns to Oneida for CNY Slam Jam

Oneida High School graduate-turned professional wrestler Brute VanSlyke returns to the area in November to bring his own brutish brawn to the mat at the Kallet Civic Center, as he takes on "The Man" Kevin  Graham during the Kallet's first-ever CNY Slam Jam on Saturday, Nov. 5.

Independent professional wrestler Brute VanSlyke -- better known to his fellow Oneida High School class of 2004 grads as Mike VanSlyke -- returns to Oneida for a match at the Kallet Civic Center on Nov. 5. (Photo courtesy of Brute VanSlyke)

Here's his story, related to me by Brute himself:

Oneida High School class of 2004 graduate Mike VanSlyke -- now known to professional wrestling fans as the massive Brute VanSlyke -- recalled it was a chance switching of the television channels that led to his discovery of wrestling back when he was just a tyke. VanSlyke said he was 5 years old when one day he was channel surfing and landed on a wrestling match featuring Andre the Giant. 

He was mesmerized, and a lifelong passion was born.

“I saw Andre the Giant and stopped changing the channel,” he remembered. “Ever since then I have been a fan of everything about wrestling -- the sport, the lights, and the entertainment of it all.”

On his 6th birthday, VanSlyke received several wrestler action figures, with Andre the Giant becoming his favorite. 

He wrestled at Oneida High School, and one day a few years after graduation he saw a commercial for Squared Circle Wrestling in Syracuse, also known as 2CW. VanSlyke was intrigued by the possibility of training to become a professional wrestler, so he visited the location to find an old abandoned warehouse turned into a training facility. He signed up for their program and began a journey that has most recently taken him to the Land of the Rising Sun as an independent professional wrestler.

2CW trained him well with their intense and rigorous sessions … he started out at 396 pounds in 2009 and by the time of his first match 10 months later he was down to 280 pounds. VanSlyke enjoys the physical demands that wrestling puts on him, as he makes sure he is properly trained to withstand the hits and falls in the ring. 

“If you don’t have a strong love and passion for wrestling, you won’t make it,” he said. 

VanSlyke debuted as a professional wrestler on Feb. 19, 2010, and has traveled across the state and to Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island to face fellow independent wrestlers in the ring. His official stats list him as 6 foot 5 inches tall and weighing in at 346 pounds. Trademark moves he uses to subdue his opponents include the Deep Double Underhook Suplex, Military Press Body Slam, T-Bone Suplex, Bicycle Kick, Power Bomb, Two-Handed Choke Bomb, and Pop Up Headbutt. 

His recent titles include GSW Heavyweight Champion from June 14, 2014 to April 11, 2015; the GSW 2014 AggroCup Tournament on May 17, 2014; 2CW Tag Team Champion with Kevin Graham from Nov. 23, 2013 to April 19, 2014; and WXW C-4 Elite Tag Team Champion also with Graham from Nov. 2, 2013 to May 31, 2014. VanSlyke was even selected as the GSW Most Hated Wrestler for 2013.

He is just recently returned from wrestling for the summer in Japan, where he had the chance to meet his idol Stan Hanson, one of their biggest wrestling draws ever. VanSlyke explained he was seen by a Japanese wrestler at one of his own events, and invited to go overseas for a couple months.

“It was great wrestling in Japan … it was always my main goal,” VanSlyke said. “They are more about athleticism and less about the soap opera, just like I am, and they really have an insane level of competition.” 

In addition to his summer spent wrestling in Japan, he also counts as career highlights wrestling in “dark” matches for TNA -- matches that take place before the televised portion of the events take place. He said he has had the chance to wrestle many great opponents, and appreciates the opportunity to work with those wrestling talents.

At this point in his career, VanSlyke still works a full-time job to support himself, and moved to Rochester to pursue a larger job market. He settled in at Staples, where he found bosses who are accepting of his wrestling schedule -- which often entails going away on weekends. 

“They are willing to work with me,” VanSlyke complimented. “They understand what I am trying to do.”

Although he appreciates the support of his Staples bosses and co-workers, VanSlyke hopes to someday soon be able to make a full-time career out of his wrestling, and leave the 9-to-5 world behind, he intimated. 

His dad Edward VanSlyke still lives in Oneida, as does his mom Marjorie. While his dad has been supportive of his wrestling career, VanSlyke said his mom and her boyfriend Jim Farnam have gone above and beyond -- especially in helping finance his trip to Japan.  

“She has always been there for me, since my very first match when she said afterwards that she knew that was what I’m supposed to do,” he recalled. 

As of now, VanSlyke doesn’t have an action figure of his own, although he does own a specially-made stuffed plush “wrestling buddy” in his own image. No matter where VanSlyke ends up in the future, he promises he will always has his hometown at heart.

“Even though I’ve moved to Rochester, I am still an Oneida native,” VanSlyke said. “Whenever I am announced in the ring, it’s always that I am from Oneida, NY and nothing is going to change that.” 

There's even more local excitement at the Kallet, as Oneida's own guitarist Roy Coston will perform the National Anthem and entertain during intermission. The event also features former WWE / ECW superstar Tommy "The Innovator of Violence" Dreamer,  a six-man tag match as the The Fellowship battles Northern Fury, and the 20-man battle royal.

CNY Slam Jam is Saturday, Nov. 5, with doors opening at 6:30 p.m. followed by the event at 7 p.m. The event is presented by SCW, Happy2Assist, and The Kallet Civic Center. Tickets are $12 for adults, $8 for children 12 and younger, with free for lap seats for kids under 2.  VIP Tickets are $25 and include a meet and greet with the wrestlers and front row seats ... other tickets are general admission. 

Sunday, August 7, 2016


I saw this photo today on Facebook, evidently placed there to show the perceived absurdity of belief in God, and felt compelled to add my own thoughts on the topic. Assuming it is real, and not just some twisted Photoshop troll getting his or her jollies, here is what I see happening in this photo.

Where was God during those last dying days as this child suffered from starvation, with a vulture patiently waiting for his last breath? He was there. It's the age-old question that constantly tasks belief in God and religion ... "Why do bad things happen to good people?" People of faith know there is no promise made of a life free of challenge, and often tragedy as well. We have ALL seen terrible things happen in our own lives and to our loved ones ... horrible and untimely deaths, gruesome accidents, victims of violent crimes ... these happen all the time. And they happen to all kinds of people, from atheists right up to the most faithful of believers.

I have several friends who have lost children, and I can't think of anything more terrible than that. I fear for that loss myself every day, especially now that I have grandchildren. But do I think God deserted these friends in their time of need, or that He is punishing them for some wrong doing? Definitely not. I think many people are too focused on this world, and not on the promised eternity to come. Those children, I believe, were welcomed into heaven. A relative of mine died not too long ago, and in telling a co-worker she replied I didn't seem too upset over it. I told her this person lived in constant pain and was now free of that, so there is nobody happier at the moment than she was and I rejoiced over that. I felt grief for the family she left behind, naturally, who were feeling that loss but I think even they accepted the belief that she was in a better place.

One of my biggest turning points in my own belief was one day when many good things happened to me all at once, and I stopped to ask for a sign that God was really there granting me all of these boons. A local church's flyer was delivered to me shortly thereafter inviting me to their upcoming meeting analyzing the evidence of Jesus' existence in our lives. That was something I dared not miss. The pastor leading the meeting had many valid points, including the lack of a burial point to visit and the words of several different eye witnesses in the New Testament, but the part that really drove it home for me was the consideration of what we would rather believe in ... that Jesus was the true Son of God, or that He was a fraud? Belief in Him, and following in His ways, leads to a better and more fulfilling lifestyle. Lack of belief leaves a void. And I would certainly rather be a believer now and find out I was wrong, than be a nonbeliever now and find out that was wrong!

So how does someone come to have true faith? Bible reading is great, but faith is not something you can learn from a book alone. I used to lead a Bible study group, but it always seemed many in the group wanted simple answers rather than to be inspired to think on their own. I tried to teach them to fish, rather than simply giving them a fish, but many wanted to just take their fish and run. Too many people attend church with the same goal -- get the quick cure and get back to life. But faith is not something that can be taught by instruction alone, and it's not something that comes easily. It is a belief that you have to feel inside your heart, not in your head, and something not everyone at every stage of life is open to finding. It is a very introspective aspect that can take years -- if ever -- to find. While the words "born again" have certainly taken on different meanings over the years, with some religions actually condemning persons who they don't perceive as their own version of "born again," there is a definitely a threshold crossed as you acknowledge the reception of that belief in a higher power.

That is something I hope the poster of the photo will find someday. At the same time, I don't condemn my friend for posting that, nor would I end that friendship for that difference of opinion. I hope he respects my point of view as I respect his.

And as for whether the photo caption writer really had God with her during her kitchen activities is open to question, but if she feels moved to give thanks and praise for having just the amount of milk, hallelujah to her. It is right to give Him thanks and praise, and if you find that movement in the kitchen then good for you! For myself, I'm more inclined to think God was with us the winter night my daughter spun our car in circles heading down an icy hill only to have us somehow stop on the side of the road mid-hill unscathed. Or the time I rolled a car over and skidded down the roadway upside down, crawled out, and had the paramedics around me in disbelief that I survived the crash uninjured. Or the time I aided a collapsed medical emergency victim with a paramedic giving me instructions from behind me, only to find out later nobody else saw that person.

But if God is with you in the kitchen, feel free to sing those praises as well!      

Monday, June 6, 2016


2016 City of Sherrill Summer Concert Series
Sponsored by the Gorman Foundation

The 2016 concert series brings a wide variety of regional entertainment to the Silver City, kicking off on Tuesday, June 28 and running through Tuesday, August 30. The free concerts begin at 6:30 p.m. in the Reilly-Mumford Memorial Park gazebo. Be sure to bring lawn chairs and blankets and an umbrella in the case of light rain. Come out and enjoy the beautiful summer evenings with your neighbors.

June 28 Fritz’s Polka Band
Verona’s polka princes return to the Sherrill stage for a night of their upbeat and fun music, featuring modern polkas, a little bit of country, and even some oldies rock ‘n’ roll.

July 5 Party Nuts
It’s always a party when the Party Nuts come to town, with a family-fun evening of golden oldie rock ‘n’ roll sing-alongs that encourage plenty of audience participation.

July 12 Free Ice Cream Night with Dan Elliott and the Monterays
The number one oldies group and longest running band in Central New York brings to the Sherrill stage all the favorites from the 1950s to the 1980s. Plus there’s a special bonus treat … free ice cream for all kids and kids at heart.

July 19 Classified
The premiere dance band in the Central New York area makes their own premiere on the Sherrill stage. Classified combines hot brass with infectious grooves to create cool sounds sure to get the audience on their feet and moving along with the music.

July 26 Coston
The Oneida-based father-son team of virtuoso guitarist Roy Coston and 18-year-old prodigy drummer Gunnar Coston lead this classic rock band in high-energy renditions of rockers from Poison, Ratt, Ozzy Osbourne, and some originals, too.

Aug 2 Southern Grace
It’s a night of electric female vocals-driven modern country when Southern Grace makes their very first appearance on the Reilly-Mumford Memorial Park stage.

Aug 9 Causeway Giants
This Syracuse-based Celtic rock band has a flare for the sounds of the Irish, putting new spins on traditional music, adding in some originals and covering bands like Flogging Molly, The Dropkick Murphies, and The Young Dubliners.

Aug 16 Grupo Pagan
Diverse backgrounds create a high energy blend of sounds guaranteed to grab the ear, featuring their own originals plus covers by the likes of Santana, Sade, and Shakira.

Aug 23 The Billionaires
This Central New York favorite party band will get the crowd up on their feet and dancing for the duration. But don't get too tired from shaking your groove thing ... there is a movie in the park afterwards, sponsored by the City of Sherrill!

Aug 30 Chief Big Way
Taking a break from his world tour with Anthrax, Joey Belladonna teams with musicians extraordinaire Joe Precourt and Dave Mickelson in a power trio playing the best classic rock, featuring the classics of Journey, Pink Floyd, Bad Company, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Thursday, March 31, 2016


Some of my favorite memories are set to the music of the Babys, and hearing those classic tunes of the late 1970s and early 1980s even now always takes me right back to those great times. I bought their third album "Head First" on one of my first dates with my first love, and now it serves as a soundtrack to happy reminiscences. On the other hand, their later hit single "Turn and Walk Away" could have been written just for me, as I was listening to it right in the midst of one of my (many) not-quite-so-well-thought-out romantic disasters. The band might have broken up back in 1981, but their five studio albums, a greatest hits compilation, and a few bootlegs haven't left my record/tape/CD players since then.

Imagine my surprise when, some 30-plus years later, I read that the reformed group of original members Wally Stocker and Tony Brock, plus new Babys cohorts John Bisaha, Joey Sykes, Eric Ragno, and Babettes Holly Bisaha and Elisa Chadborne, were coming to town for a June 26, 2015 concert at Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, NY. I immediately started scheming to find a way to be involved in this reunion -- to give a little something back for the more than three decades of pleasure -- and I figured a good place to start would be writing a story to promote the show for the paper.

I sent the band a message through their website, leaving my name and phone number but not really having too high expectations at first. Surprisingly, the very next day I had a message on my machine from their new singer John Bisaha himself calling from California to leave his own cell phone number. Now, I've written many stories on famous bands since I started working for the Oneida Dispatch newspaper in 1983, but this was definitely the quickest response I'd ever gotten, and I don't know if the lead singer has ever been the one to return the message. Usually there is a whole bunch of red tape and hoops to hurdle through ... but not this time. I called him back, and we chatted about the new version of the band and shared our own personal remembrances as fans ourselves during their heyday. I got a great interview, and ended up with enough material for stories in both the Oneida Dispatch and the Mid-York Weekly papers.

Perhaps because the interview process went so well and we seemed to hit it off, I was motivated to really push my luck even further. For the last decade or more I had often worked with local Oneida radio station MIX 106.3 promoting my own band Coston, our local Sherrill Summer Concert Series, and other activities, and I figured it would be nice to give them a little payback for their hospitality. I asked John if he might consider coming to Oneida before their Turning Stone show for a live on the air interview. He said it would be no problem. That really blew me away, although I tried to keep my professional edge and not sound too surprised. Of course, I really didn't have the authority to ask anyone to come to the radio station for a live interview, but I figured the powers-that-be would never turn down the chance to have a world famous band they regularly play on the air in the studio. Especially when it wouldn't cost them anything and I was taking care of all the arrangements. John said he would check to see how many bandmates he could convince to come to the radio station, and I contacted the station's program director to tell him the good news.

I was absolutely stunned by his reaction.

Here I wanted to share my good fortune with them and bring them into the fun, likely even making some excitement for the station as well. The program director responded that he was working his other job that day and wouldn't be there, asking if the Babys might be able to come some other day? I thought I heard wrong, so I explained it was the Babys themselves -- famed for classic songs like "Every Time I Think of You," "Isn't It Time," and "Midnight Rendezvous" -- coming in for a concert on their tour from their California home base. There would not be a different day they would be available. He still said that date was impossible, so I called John back with my incredulous bad news.

But his response brought me back from that deflation ... John graciously offered to do whatever he had to do to make the interview happen. At that point, of course, another date was really out of the question as they were traveling from state to state on the tour. I wasn't about to ask them to come back to Central New York for a radio interview. Luckily, I told MIX 106.3 radio show personality Todd Emanuelli of my plight, and he pulled the strings at the station needed to make the show happen. We scheduled it for the noon interview the day of their Turning Stone show.

The show was on a Friday, and Wednesday evening I got another call from John saying the band was in dire need of a banner with their logo on it for the drum riser. This turned out to only be a minor challenge since I had the cell number of my buddy Duane DeFrees at Oneida Printshop. I called him at home, and he ended up going back to his shop to design that banner using a logo John emailed him. The expected arrival time back from the banner maker was shortly after noon on Friday -- plenty of time to get it to the show!

The big day finally arrived, and I was equal parts excited and nervous. It turned out the entire band was coming to town on their tour bus, so I told them to park in the plaza next to the radio station so they would have the space for their massive transit. As I waited for the bus, my high school pal Lisa McClenthan stopped by to see what I was up to just standing around the parking lot. I told her I was waiting for the Babys, and she quickly joined the fun and snapped numerous photos of their arrival and our first meeting.

Then, the bus was finally visible coming up the street. But we watched as it drove right past the entrance to the plaza. I couldn't imagine what that 50-foot tour bus was going to do now on the busiest street in Oneida, but suddenly the driver stopped and backed in the driveway alongside the radio station. I wouldn't have tried that maneuver in my little Ford Focus. Once my jaw was off the ground, I composed myself enough to quickly head over there to greet the band.

Introductions were made all around, and we continued into the radio station for more with their crew before settling in for the noon interview. Sadly, one of the acoustic guitars I borrowed for the band wasn't really up to their professional standards ... it hadn't really occurred to me beforehand that a world-traveling band might expect instrumentation a little higher quality than what I had. My bad. But once again John impressed me by not blaming the guitar but blaming the early morning hour for their shortened live on the air musical performance. That was some kind of class!

Check out my video of the Babys and Todd chatting here:

Babys live on MIX 106.3

They joked with Todd and played an acoustic version of "Head First." Afterwards they got on the bus and headed back to the venue for the final sound checks, and I left for the printshop to pick up the banner. It was finished on time and delivered without a hitch, and I even got to watch a bit of the sound check to see how the pros do it.

The concert that night was incredible. I shared the experience with my old college friends George and Sue Riley -- George was the lead singer in our St. Bonaventure University band back in the 1980s -- while current Coston guitarist Roy Coston and his wife Deb were there as well for a true then-and-now moment. And wasn't that really what this show was all about?

The Babys members and I still keep in touch via Facebook, and our meeting has paid dividends by introducing me to Joey's solo material which is great stuff in itself. Unfortunately, the radio station has been sold, so it doesn't look like we will ever have a repeat engagement, but this day will live on forever in my memory as a great time with some great folks. The Babys still rock, and it was my pleasure to do my part in spreading the word of their reunion!


Sunday, January 24, 2016



What is my hope for the future of Cochran Memorial Presbyterian Church and the Three Voices congregation?

As I look around the church on any given Sunday, it’s obvious that I am one of the youngest persons attending. At 52 years old, that seems to imply little hope for the future of new generations coming in to assume our places. In just a few decades, most of us will be gone … hopefully just to our new, more exotic southern homes somewhere that is warm year-round. Who will take our places?

But expanding my vision beyond our church walls, I find this is not a problem that is facing only our Three Voices of Oneida Castle, Verona, and Vernon folks. When I do my newspaper stories on Sunday mornings, it often entails attending other church services. I find we are far from unique -- quite often, I am the youngest one at these other churches as well. Where are their future generations?

Let’s look at the world situation. Here in the United States, murders on college and high school campuses are getting to be so commonplace we almost have started to expect them. They are barely even news anymore. And they are coming closer and closer, as we saw last week in Geneseo. Our presidential race this year has become more of a media spectacle than a search for the leader of the free world and concentration on the common good. Our social media and Internet, rather than being vehicles to convey education and information, now deliver drama, propaganda, and overwhelmingly bad news constantly.

Sadly, our lives here in the U.S., for all of these flaws, are still better than much of the world. In many places, war-torn families might not know if their sons and daughters will survive to the next day. People of impoverished nations fear for their futures without the means to provide for their families. Natural disasters also seem to be more and more in the news.

Religious zealots are at odds with each other, with many claiming their own beliefs are superior to all others. And some are willing to kill over it.

Some might wonder why God has failed us. But that’s the exact opposite of my view … I think we have failed God.

The separation of church and state, for example, has become a hotbed of discussion as our leaders seem to try to push God further and further away. Rather than embracing the soothing compassion of religion, churches are emptying. People are not reaching out to God in their time of need. But He remains there for them. God hasn’t deserted the people, even as they have deserted Him.

In a short-term view, I see things getting worse in the world as chaos reins. Long-term, however, I have all hopes that there will soon be a glorious turning back to God. Whether it takes an incredible cataclysm will remain to be seen, but I think that the evil we see all around us today will soon be transformed to a renewed vigor within the churches -- ours included -- that will unite the people once again under God.

That is my hope for not only Three Voices, but all of Christianity as well.