Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Found! Super Bowl Super Kid Mystery Artist Located

Super Bowl Super Kids Welcoming Card (front)

Breanna has been found!  The Super Bowl Super Kid Artist whose welcoming card found its way into my hotel room has been located.  It took almost a month, somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 phone calls, dozens of emails, and an army of helpers.

If you're new to the story, here's the background.  I went to Indianapolis to cover the New England Patriots for my network, Comcast SportsNet New England. That same week, Follow the Dog Home, a book coauthored by me, my 10-year-old daughter, Samantha, and my 72-year-old father, Bob, was released.  Follow the Dog Home is the story of how my family raised dogs through three generations, and is told in three voices: grandfather, father, granddaughter.  It was reviewed by Publishers Weekly which called it "quaint and most charming."

I brought one of my signed author's copies with me to Indy, thinking I'd probably meet someone somewhere along the way who would like it.  After finding Breanna's welcome card on my nightstand, and seeing her note about how much she loved animals and the Indianapolis Zoo, I couldn't think of anyone better.

Super Bowl Super Kids Welcoming Card (back)

I took the book to the most appropriate channel, the Super Bowl Host Committee.  Its address was stamped on the front of the card.  I thought my super artist would be easy to find, and the hand off would be simple.  Not exactly.  There was no last name, no school name, no numbering system, and really no way to really track who my Super Kid Super Artist was.  So, in essence, it was the proverbial needle in a haystack.  This was one of 36,000 welcoming cards made, 18,000 of which were left in hotel rooms for Super Bowl visitors as part of Hoosier Hospitality.  I left the book with the Host Committee and said we'll find her.

Numbers can be overwhelming, but if you know how to whittle them down, they're not so intimidating.  Plus I had a few clues.  I had a first name, a self-portrait--which was very well-drawn, an age and a home city.  I figured how many girls in 100 are named Breanna?  Let's guess there are maybe four.  Extrapolate that over 18,000 and you have 72 Breannas.  Cancel out most of the state because she indicated she's from Indianapolis, and we've narrowed it further.

When I contacted schools and school districts, I told them exactly who I was, what I was doing and why.  Most of the people I talked to fell in love with the story and wanted to help.  I shared conversations, emails, and the pictures you see above with dozens of secretaries, district officials, principals, libraries and other key contacts.  They in turn shared them with their friends, colleagues and contacts.

About two weeks into the search, the list of Breannas was narrowed down to about 16.  Then four.  But the funny and frustrating thing is, the closer you get, the harder it becomes to solve.  As much as I thought schools were the key, I went back to what identified Breanna almost as much as her likeness--her love of animals and the Indianapolis Zoo.

This is where we reached a tipping point, with volunteers who remembered children who colored cards at different parties:  the kid artists' personalities, stories and their families.  WMFS 95.5's Karyn Sullyvan, and WRTV 6's Stacia Matthews got involved, putting more ears and eyeballs on it.  Soon thereafter we found our greatest clue which ultimately led to Breanna's location.  She was shown a copy of my welcoming card and confirmed the artwork was hers.   

So here we are.  The search is over.  I'm thrilled by that.  The next step is to fulfill the original mission--share the book that I left behind with the Host Committee.  It  would be a nice way to say thank you to Breanna, and everyone else for the Hoosier Hospitality.   

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Update: Closer to Finding Super Bowl Super Kid Mystery Artist!

Super Bowl Super Kid Breanna

If you recognize the girl in the picture above, I still want to hear from you.  But otherwise, there's some very good news to report in the search for Super Bowl Super Kid Artist, 11-year-old Breanna.  There's been a huge surge in the number of connected people looking for the girl who colored a welcome card that was left in my Indianapolis hotel room.  With the help of three key sources, we have good reason to believe the list of 18,000 children who colored cards as part of the Super Bowl Host Committee's Hoosier Hospitality Program has been whittled down to three.

In some ways the three week search has been narrowed, and in other ways expanded.  If you look closely at the card above, you can see our artist friend listed her home city as Indianapolis.  It might very well be, but I've learned it might also be Carmel, just outside of Indy, still a part of the greater metropolitan area. The goal remains to give her a signed copy of my book, Follow the Dog Home, which coincidentally was released Super Bowl week.

Back of Breanna's welcoming card

The first place I started searching for Breanna was with the Indianapolis Public Schools.  I've called every one of its 38 elementary schools, and some more than once.  I've sent out dozens of emails with Breanna's artwork attached.   Important clues have been provided with the help of PR experts, secretaries, principals, teachers and volunteers.

The Indianapolis Marion County Public Library System is helping too.  It hosted some coloring parties.  Considering libraries first and foremost specialize in housing and sharing books, I can't really think of a better body to help me share a book with my Super Kid.

The biggest break in the search so far has come from the Indianapolis Zoo.  It  had a massive party for Super Kid artists just before Christmas.  The zoo also has a network of thousands of friends, many of whom are thrilled to know about, and have joined in the search for Breanna.  As you can see from the words on the front of her card, and the pictures on the back, Breanna loves the Indianapolis Zoo.  So do I!

Twitter is making a difference.  There's even a hashtag now for the effort: #FindBreanna.  It's been tweeted and retweeted abundantly.  #FindBreanna is also on the radar of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, TV, newspaper and radio folks.  Karyn Sullyvan and WFMS 95.5 FM, have been godsends.  I am so thankful to the people at Thee Country Station.  By posting my blog on its website, listeners have contacted me directly.


Kevin Walsh with Comcast SportsNet New England Crew at Super Bowl 46.  Kevin is in the middle wearing a red tie.

So we're in a good place right now, even though there's still work to be done.  I feel super blessed to have been lucky enough to cover the Patriots run at the Super Bowl, and even luckier to have had that welcoming card land in my room.  With a little more luck it won't be long before little Breanna has a copy of Follow the Dog Home in her hands.  And there's more, I think with the help of my fellow authors: 10-year-old daughter, Samantha, and my 72-year-old father, Bob, we'll sweeten the pot.  We're going to put together a gift basket for Breanna's family.  It will include clam chowder, other New England treats, and maybe, just maybe a pink New England Patriots hat!

I don't know if we can convert a Colts fan into a Patriots fan, but that's really not the point either.   We just want to say thank you to Breanna, the Super Bowl Host Committee, and the thousands of good people around Indianapolis for sharing the gift of Hoosier Hospitality.

Kevin, Samantha & Bob Walsh, authors of Follow the Dog Home, with Beverly (German Shepherd) and Annie (Corgi)

Friday, February 24, 2012

Skunk Scare!

It was a skunk encounter that I've lived to smell tell about.  Coming home late night/early morning after the late shift covering sports sometimes brings interesting wildlife into my wild life.  A couple of weeks ago it was a large coyote half a block from my house. This time it was a skunk that looked a lot like the one above.

I pulled into my driveway around 1:30 AM.  Across the street, by my neighbor's shed, I could see the outline of what I thought was a cat.  When I saw the white and black pattern it was unmistakeable--it was a skunk.  I watched for a moment and thought about heading over for a closer look and maybe a picture with my iPhone.  Then I thought better of it, realizing it could shower me with a foul musk that even a shower couldn't fix.  So I watched while standing outside my pickup truck.

Within about 15 seconds the skunk started scampering down the driveway, and in and my direction.  As I reached into my pocket for my phone, the muffled sound of James Taylor's "Don't Let Me be Lonely Tonight" playing on the phone's iPod speaker startled the little guy, and sent him back from where he came.  So I missed the picture.  Might be just as well.

Timing is everything in well... everything.  Usually about the first thing I do upon arrival at the homestead is let out Beverly, our German Shepherd.  I can only imagine if those two got tangled up.

Dee Dee, my Dad's first dog looking on.  Dee Dee was sprayed by a skunk on Cape Cod after digging under a porch.

Having a dog sprayed by a skunk is no party.  My dad's first dog, Dee Dee, was sprayed by a skunk some 65 years ago.  When Dad tells the story, you can almost smell it.  Take your average skunk roadkill, multiply ten times, and you're about halfway there.  I didn't have the heart, or nose for a messy cleanup like the one he wrote about in Follow the Dog Home.  With that in mind, when it was time to put Beverly out, I made sure she stayed in the backyard.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Searching for Missing Super Kid from Super Bowl

I spent a week in Indianapolis searching for, and filing story after story related to the big game between the Patriots and Giants.  We did some fine work, and had a great time doing it.  In all, my TV network did about 100 hours of television coverage.  That's a lot.

Kevin Walsh, outside Lucas Oil Stadium

Kevin (red tie) with crew inside Lucas Oil Stadium after Super Bowl 46

But there's one story that hasn't been told completely, and I will be restless until it's told in its entirety.  It has little to do with football, and everything to do with kindness, humanity and what became a popular slogan during Super Bowl 46: Hoosier Hospitality. 

Let me explain.  I left my suburban Boston home a week before Super Bowl Sunday, saying goodbye to my wife, Jean, and daughters Samantha, 10, Amanda, 8.  I was thrilled to cover my first Super Bowl.  But as usual, I was sad to leave the family behind.  This is the tougher side of TV.  We do very exciting work and see things that most people will never have the chance to, but at the end of the day, we go back to a very quiet and lonely hotel room.  It rarely changes, only the city does.

When I arrived at the Fairfield Hotel in Indianapolis, there was something waiting for me that made me feel at home right away.  It was a handwritten welcome card from a Super Kid named Breanna.  About 36,000 students from around Indiana colored cards that were left for visitors to Indianapolis.  She drew a picture of herself which you see above.  She wrote about how much she loved animals and the Indianapolis Zoo.  Below is her additional artwork that was on the back of the card.  It looked like something my girls do for me from time to time, artwork that often ends up on the refrigerator.

One thing I've discovered in my lifetime of covering news and sports is that the best stories often find you.  This is one of those.  My second book, Follow the Dog Home, was released the week of the Super Bowl.  Really, what are the chances that Breanna's card would just so happen to end up in the hands of the one guest who just happened to release a book about animals at the same time?

I brought a signed copy of Follow the Dog Home to Indianapolis with me thinking I might bump into someone who might really want to read such a book.  Little did I know that person would be 11-year-old Breanna.  Here's where it gets tricky.  I don't know Breanna's last name, or her school.  I asked the Super Bowl Host Committee if it could help, but it said without a last name and school, finding her was all but impossible.

As a reporter, I don't accept that.  I left the book with the Host Committee, but I've been left to search for Breanna largely on my own.  Over the last few days, I've spent several hours calling dozens of Indianapolis Elementary schools hoping that someone, somewhere would recognize the girl's self-portrait and artwork.  Most of the people I talk to, and most of them are women, love the story and want to help.  They're sharing the story and pictures with art teachers, principals, liaisons and PR people. 

I thought I had a match on call number four, but it turns out James A. Garfield Elementary School had a different girl from my Super Kid artist.  Boy was that disappointing-- for me and the school secretary.  But I have hope.  We'll find the cute girl, with the unique name spelling, love of animals and a flare for pink.  It's an eyeballs thing.  Someone will have an Aha! moment, recognize her and her drawings, providing the tip that connects the dots.

Kevin at Fairfield Hotel, Indianapolis

So we have a few good stories at work here: the beginning, the middle and the end.  I think that means we're on a journey.  The most meaningful journeys are never the easiest.  And so I search, looking for the little girl who could use a good book and a nice reward, for simply being herself.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Super Dogs at Super Bowl

I saw a lot of football at the Super Bowl, naturally.  I also saw quite a few "Super Dogs" in Indianapolis.  So I thought I'd tell you about them.

Below are Brody and Kaiser, German Shepherd rescues.  I don't think I've ever seen more handsome rescue dogs in my life.  I don't know who would give up on such beautiful dogs; but their owner, Sean of Indianapolis is thrilled to have them.  I've seen a lot of well primped dogs who don't look as good as these two.  Brody and Kaiser enjoyed the whiz sound of the zipliners zipping past St. John's Church in front of the Convention Center.

Brody front, Kaiser back

There were lots of working dogs too.   As to be expected, many were German Shepherds.  

Diesel, Ft. Wayne, IN

Above is Diesel from Ft. Wayne.  He's trying to listen in on his handler's cell phone conversation.  After the man hung up, Diesel did his thing--sniffing my bag and the bags of other reporters and cameramen.  I couldn't get Diesel  in action because the Super Bowl Super People were rushing me along; but here's another dog in action that did pretty much the same thing.  It happened so fast, that it really was--like the picture--a blur.

Then there were Rowdy and King.  Both worked for the Department of Homeland Security.  Both were Labs.  King is the black Lab in the top picture.  From the nose down, I kinda think he looks like his handler.  Rowdy is the yellow Lab below King.  He looks like his master too.  Isn't that the way it's supposed to be?  The dogs and handlers did a masterful job sniffing around media headquarters of the JW Marriott Hotel.

And then there were regular dogs who just took a walk, or a seat around the Super Bowl Village.  Below are Goldendoodles Finlay and Jackson.  Neither is golden, but their personalities were.  Both charmed the passersby who wanted to pet them.  They loved it, and their owners did too.
Finlay, brown Goldendoodle
Jackson, black Goldendoodle

So there you go for Super Dogs.  They really were a part of Super Bowl 46.  It just goes to show that the Super Bowl is for everyone, and that includes the dogs.