Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Sports and Our Identity: Thank you Zina Garrison

Every July, I head just 25 miles south of my home in San Francisco to watch the Bank of the West Tennis Classic at Stanford University. In fact, this event is the longest-running women-only professional tennis tournament in the world and the first stop of the US Open Series. The weather is great and the competition is even better. A walkway aligned with banners of past winners confirms my claim. Looking at some of the game's all times greats: Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert Serena and Venus, Monica Seles and Kim Clijsters made me wonder which one of today's competitors will we look back upon in 10, 20 or 50 years and say: Wow. I have a sneaky suspicion that the 2017 champion Madison Keys could be in the mix. And yet, before my imagination ran away from me, I paused at the banner of the two-time champion Zina Garrison. Much to my surprise, I saw a little bit of myself.
To wonder how that might be true is not an unfair question. Garrison is an African American professional tennis player from Houston, Texas. I remember her for her great athleticism, her strength, and her hustle. Hell yeah. She has not left my psyche because I know she is revered by my favorite female athlete—Serena Williams. I always want to know who my favorite athletes and coaches, saints and teachers, writers and musicians hold as their heroes. This fun fact made me appreciate both Zina and Serena that much more. But how might this image—this tribute to Zina Garrison teach me about myself? Look closely. 
Around her neck, Garrison is wearing a gold charm of a tennis racket. On one hand, her choice of jewelry strikes me as funny. Her fans already know who she is and what she does. But, on the other hand, it's not. We wear jewelry as a means of self-expression. Many Christians wear a cross and Jews wear a Star of David. Sure, a tennis player can and might wear a tennis racket—but most don't. So what gives? I would love to ask Ms. Garrison to hear her response. Until then, I can only answer from what I know about myself and what I saw in myself. I believe Zina Garrison wants people to know she is a tennis player who loves the game.

Tennis was my first love of in all of sports. I loved it so much that I too, wore tennis jewelry. Far beyond the tennis bracelet, I had the gold tennis racket charm. I carried a fuzzy tennis ball keychain. I wanted everyone to know that I was a tennis player, especially among my other students in my high school. Outside of school, I wanted the world to know that I played tennis at Carondelet. Tennis was an important part of my identity. The sport and its attributes—both good and bad—shaped me into who I am. My coaches, my teammates, and the pros taught me much more than how to compete. How they played, won and lost, trained and mentally prepared for the game shaped me in ways I appreciate even to this day.

As much as tennis shaped my emerging, adolescent self, so did another sport: running. My parents encouraged me to run in order to become a better tennis player, and they were right. They knew I was only interested doing whatever it took to get better at what I loved, but something unexpected happened along the way. I met success. I earned my varsity letter my freshman year as a 2-mile runner even though I didn't see myself as a runner (at this time). From my point of view, I didn't look like a runner. I knew that some of my teammates who ran cross country and track. They were the runners. I was the girl who ran. However, running also shaped me into who I am. My teammates, especially those seniors I ran beside mentored me; I looked up to them. In fact, I still remember a lot of what we shared...the stories we told...the races, the workouts, our coaches and so much more.
Golfers and Girls who Golf
I have reflected upon these two contrasting components of my identity because as I enter into my third season of coaching golf, I want to pay attention to the fact that I have a variety of athletes on my team. Many of the girls are golfers. They love golf and want to be known inside SI as golfers. Others are girls who play golf. The game is fun and challenging, but their aspirations with the sport are different. And, there are others who are emerging golfers...girls who might fall in love with the game...those who may play golf today and become golfers tomorrow. I hope they will love golf as much as I do.

When I first started running, I never could have anticipated how much I would love the sport. Though I ran varsity track for four years, I never could have predicted how running would become such a significant part of my identity in the years long after high school. 

I don't know if it's funny, or if it's sad, but I no longer play tennis or run. However, what I learned from both sports has stayed with me, forging part of my identity that I appreciate...and cherish. So, I've been wearing the Bank of the West baseball cap with a little pride. I still want a good looking pair of running shoes to keep me light on my feet. And, I will look at athletes through a different lens and trust they are getting exactly what they need and hopefully even more of what I can give.

Photo Credits
Zina G

Monday, August 7, 2017

Usain Bolt: Catholic Athlete

At the conclusion of Sports and Spirituality, I ask my students to name an athlete they wished we had discussed, read about and studied in class. Their responses are interesting, creative and quite often—not surprising. One name that has popped up with some regularity is Usain Bolt. I am almost embarrassed to admit that he was absent from the curriculum, and not because he holds world records in the 100 and 200 meters, with eight Olympic golds to his name. Or that he has "become a living legend in a track event that is known for creating superstars." No, I should have been teaching about Bolt all these years because as the article in America magazine states: "Usain Bolt is the Greatest Catholic Athlete in the World."
One might think Nick Ripatrazone's article caught my attention because it makes a bold claim. Greatest Athlete...in the world?! Again, no. Rather, I had no idea Bolt was and is Catholic.

To be fair, Bolt isn't unlike other "Christian" athletes. Their PDF: Public Displays of Faith can be off-putting. When the public sees an athlete point to the sky, bless himself—in this case with the sign of the Cross—and seconds later shake the alleged dust off shoulders or bust into his signature "bolt" posture it's hard to gauge sincerity about what is sacred and what's for show. Is it all a performance or do these athletes hold a mindset that can move fluidly from one domain to the other? And how do we know? Should we?

When I first read Ripatrazone's piece, I wanted to cringe. When people hear that I teach and write about Sports and Spirituality, they make assumptions that class lectures and articles pertain to only to athletes who give it up to God. How can that be? There's so much more to what we study, pray over and pursue. I figured this article would only add fuel to the fire. I took a deep breath, calmed down and read more. Instead, I discovered that this tribute to Bolt—who ran his final race just two days ago—is actually the perfect way to begin my class.
Like Catholicism, it offers a "both/and" perspective. Bolt wears BOTH a Miraculous Medal AND he is open to interviews about his faith in God. The Jamaican sprinter BOTH remembers to pray after his race—regardless of the outcome AND he took the middle name of St. Leo. Raised in a Seventh Day Adventist Home, Bolt converted to Catholicism, Whereas many Protestant traditions are more dialectic, Catholic embraces the reality that faith can be practiced both on the track AND in the Church. We will miss both his incredible talent and his witness....and his Catholic spirituality.

Something we do study in Sports and Spirituality is why rituals are important in both faith and athletics. "God Moments" by Andy Otto offers some insight. He writes 
a recent study showed that those who engage in rituals find their experiences enhanced. Participants were asked to eat a chocolate bar, but those who engaged in a prescribed ritual of breaking the bar, unwrapping it, eating half, and then unwrapping and eating the other half reported that the chocolate tasted better than those who simply ate the chocolate without a ritual.
No one would deny that competition is a source of joy for Usain Bolt. To what degree might this arena where he has integrated rituals to express his faith and use his gifts enhance his experience? I would love to know....

I recommend reading the article for yourself for it's important to understand more about his identity as a sprinter. his humanity even as one of the greatest athletes of all time and what he offers us as the viewer. It's so beautiful, I'll include it here: the belief that we can achieve amazing things and transcend our everyday selves—or at least live through the transformation of others.

Thank you to my students in the past who made this request. Thank you to Usain Bolt for your performance in Sydney, Bejing and Rio. You will be missed in Tokyo, but not forgotten. No, you will be remembered and prayed for. Pray for us, your fans, too.

Photo Credits
Bolt in prayer

Bolt Bolt

Monday, July 31, 2017

Yes, Matt Kuchar lost at The Open, but WE won...

Every author knows there are articles and posts we could never write, no matter how badly we want to pen them. Every teacher knows there are students he or she can't reach. All coaches are aware that there are athletes we can't help. As much as I would like...wish...hope and pray that certain stories are mine for the telling, they are given to the one who can...who should tell them. Time and time again, I wish things were different. Reading the Daily Mail article, "Yes, Matt Kuchar lost at The Open, but he won something far more preciousreminded me of this beautiful and humbling truth.
As I have written before in"My Love Language: Reading More Sports and Spirituality," receiving and reading a good article—like a good homily on Sunday—can sustain me spiritually for days at a time. I hope my friends, colleagues, students, and athletes—past and present—know how much this simple act of giving means to me. Whether or not the material is in print or via e-mail, on paper or through a link, the gesture never gets tiresome or tedious. I want you to know an e-mail like "you've probably already seen this, but thought you might appreciate the article from...x....by y" is received as a gift, a thoughtful gift. So it should go without saying that a "thank you" is in order. Mateo, please know of my gratitude for reading my writing, making it better and sharing great information. Gracias! 

I love everything about this article by Oliver Holt—the thesis, the examples, and of course the subject: golf and Kooch. I wish I had written it, or been let in on the process. Instead, I'll make edits and because this is my blog, I get to do so. I would add but two strokes to this masterpiece.

Point one. On Sunday at the 2017 Masters Kooch made the best shot of the tourney. With his 7-iron he hit 170 yards for a hole in one. What a shot of adrenaline for the gallery—he hugged and high fived most people standing close to him on the tee box on this 16th hole. Golf isn't the friendliest or best in spectator sports, but when you witness a gem like Kooch's "eagle," it's hard not to feel pure elation. Kooch, being Kooch smiled, removed his cap, made eye contact with fans as he walked toward the pin and best of all, gave the ball to a young fan. The gesture was so joy-filled, it's worth mentioning again.
Point two. The article suggests that Matt Kuchar gained something more precious than a win. I disagree. I don't know at what point in his career this became apparent, but Kuchar won long ago. The person he already is, made the final round possible—one characterized by great sportsmanship, the highest road one can take, class and excellent golf. Yes, Matt Kuchar lost but we won. Sports fans received an affirmation that there are athletes out there who still choose to do it right....that's simply their modus operandum. Kooch is exemplary, a fan favorite for a reason yes...but an ambassador for the game, the United States and sportsmanship too. 

Those of us who love golf, who love sports, who long for great sportsmanship and raising the level of the game, Jordan Spieth won—and that was awesome in its own right—but we did too. Thanks to both men for that gift.

Photo Credits
Kuchar and Spieth

Friday, July 28, 2017

Beyond Jet Lag: The Keepers is the Story of Three Deaths, Not Two

One of the first questions people ask me about my three weeks in Jerusalem is, "Was it safe?" I asked the very same question to nearly everyone I know who has been to Israel. I was, however, much more afraid of something else....a concern worth having, for it affects so many people in different ways: jet lag. 
Why jet lag? I came to Israel to study for 3 weeks with other educators at Yad Vashem, Israel Holocaust Memorial Museum and this part of the Middle East is 10 hours ahead of Pacific Daylight Time. I wanted to be a good student, to represent my school community well, to make the most of my time in the Holy Land; I was afraid jet lag would get in the way.  I'll leave it to the experts to advise you on how to best "beat" it, but, I found my own answer in The Netflix TV Series: "The Keepers."

When I travel, I take a stack of magazines with me. I aim to leave as many on the plane as I can—meaning I have plowed through them and what they have to offer. However, I don't leave the entire periodical beyond. No, I rip out articles (even though I can still find them on line) for class, for writing, for this very blog. One such article, "In Netflix's 'The Keepers,' a nun's unsolved murder tears apart a Catholic community," prompted me to check it out. I did and a near binge watching experience in my hotel room followed. If you have seen this Netflix original, you might understand.
Founded in 1965, Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore seemed like the ideal place for post-Vatican II optimism to blossom. The School Sisters of Notre Dame ran the all-girls school with a strict sense of order, but students were excited and proud to be there. It was a place of empowerment and hope, where the phrase “Women of a New Age” was not merely a line in the school song but a rallying cry. 
“It was supposed to be women reaching their full potential,” one graduate says. “It was supposed to be a safe place.” Behind the campy black-and-white yearbook photos of laughing students carrying piles of books and racing up stairways brewed a campus scandal and a horrifying crime. Sister Cathy Cesnik, one of the most beloved teachers in the school, went missing one night in 1969. When her body was found two months later in a garbage dump, the students and community were torn apart. The case remains unsolved.
As a Nancy Drew fan, a faithful Catholic who had committed my life to Catholic education, a person who lived close enough to Baltimore to have a sense of its culture and Catholicism and a traveler wide awake with jet lag at 1:0o a.m. I was hooked. 
Abbie and Gemma
I too was drawn to the beautiful spirit of Sister Cathy Cesnick, SSND. I was impressed by the chutzpah and tenacity of "Gemma Hoskins and Abbie Schaub, two of Sister Cathy's former students turn amateur muckrakers." Though they "emerge as the heroes of the series," so do Jane Doe and Jane Roe, two women who had the courage to speak out against the abuse by Father Maskell.

I do not know how someone unfamiliar sex abuse crisis in the Church might view this program. Unfortunately, it is a topic I have studied in sad and great detail (watching "Spotlight" does not qualify). I have read the John Jay Report as well as lengthy articles by survivors and bipartisan reporters, but "The Keepers" gave faces to the names and stories beyond the numbers. To me, Church has always extended beyond the confines of the parish and those who are clergy. Sister Cathy is Church, and so is who taught catechism and offered spiritual direction in spite of the abuse. For others, these testimonies might be too much.
One of the survivors, Jean.

In episode 7, Abbie Schaub shares that Seton-Keough high school would be closing its doors at the conclusion of the 2017 school year. While I won't spoil the ending, I would like to offer one insight I still hold as the program came to a close and my jet lag lessened. 

"The Keepers" begins with a report on the death of two women: Cathy Cesnik and Joyce Maleki, but I believe it concludes with another. The closing of a Catholic school is also a death. When the doors of our campuses are shut, the signs are taken down, the statues removed and the halls are left empty—truly—there is a loss. 

I write about "The Keepers" in Sports and Spirituality because closing Seton-Keough or any Catholic school ends the traditions, practices, and gifts of a given community. Seton-Keough carries wounds, deep ones, in that too many young women were abused by the hands of those who should offer to heal. One case is one too many. I do not want to make light of any person who was subjected to sexual assault. The Church both capital "C" and lower "c" must continue to seek forgiveness and reconciliation for these sins. A zero tolerance policy is non-negotiable.

But Seton-Keough is much more than its failings and this tragedy. Before its closure, it was one of the most diverse Catholic girls' schools in the Archdiocese. In 2012 alone, five of their twelve sports teams captured championships in their league. To honor Meghan Puls, a three-sport student athlete who was killed in a car accident, SK hung her jersey in their gym and her number adorned the scoreboard. For Meghan's friends and family, her legacy will live on but other three sport-athletes in other schools will not learn about her life. And most impressively, the numerous testimonials given throughout the series feature SK graduates. These women truly embody what the school set out to form when it opened its doors in 1965. In spite of the abuse, these women have persevered and paved a path for others with a similar fate may follow, God willing.
Nothing can bring back the dreams deferred and the lives lost by the "stomach-turning, anger inducing stories of sexual assault." America magazine's review had it right, I did wonder several times how this could be possible. The viewer will see the power that evil has as well as the corruption in the Church and among the Baltimore police. But they will also get a glimpse many sacraments—visible signs of God's invisible grace. Indeed Jean's husband, Sister Cathy, and many other alumnae from Seton Keogh who emerge as lights in the darkness; they are sacraments for all to receive. 

When Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis visited the United States, they each met with abuse survivors. Their calendars allotted for a given, and generous amount of time to listen and pray with them and for them. Both men extended their meetings, which must have been heavy and from what I read, they cried with them too. I don't know if they met anyone from Seton Keough, but through this series, anyone can gain a sense of who they are and what made them special. Though the doors of SK have closed, I hope that spirit lives on. 

I didn't need jet lag to appreciate their fortitude, grace and spirit, but if you find yourself crossing a few time zones, you know what to watch....and who to pray for. 

Photo Credits
Gemma and Abbie

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Running as a Spiritual Practice Deconstructed

In the 10 years I coached cross country, a season never went by without a runner asking why she was not allowed to wear headphones with the team. As someone who gave up listening to music while running over 15 years ago, I understood why any runner might ask as much as I understood why we prohibited this practice. And so, I found it ironic to listen to the "On Being" podcast "Running as a Spiritual Practice." While it affirmed the power of unplugging while running, I realized the show itself might offer an exception to the rule. Cross country and track coaches, runners both casual and competitive— give it a listen. Here's how...and here's why.
Cross country coaches know the importance of the three words June, July, and August also known as summer running (why hasn't anyone done a parody on this with the hit from "Grease," yet). 

Those coaches who are smart, lucky or both are able to take their team to (ideally) a rural location for three to five days for a running retreat—a euphemism for two-a days in locations so beautiful that your runners complain much less about the demanding trails, workouts, hill repeats and mileage. The days are short, the runs are long. The experience—the struggle, the exhaustion, the runners' highs and lows—it's real. However, this time away and yet together, pays dividends when runners must dig deep...when the state championship is on the line, or a runner stands at that line. A running camp that also serves as a retreat shapes makes its possible for individual runners to compete with one another, instead of against each other. 
Because this time is sacred, it ought to account for something more than an impressive running log. Teams can pray together, a coach can lead guided meditations. One or two runs can be taken in silence and by way of suggestion: take a run listening to this very podcast. Runners will have the chance to plug in and learn from adult runners, who are thoughtful, articulate, wise, some religious, many spiritual and honest.

Each respondent offers insights from their own unique and diverse experiences. Though I could not relate to every story, I appreciated learning more about the people with whom I might share the road.  And among those who offered ideas similar to the one I have, I gained a better sense of self...something Thomas Merton would approve, for the introduction of the podcast reveals his words.
"It is true that we are called to create a better world. But we are first of all called to a more immediate and exalted task: that of creating our own lives." 
Running helped me create my own life in ways I never could have imagined. Perhaps you understand.
I find it both ironic and fitting that one of the mottos of the cross country team I coached was "We run because we can." Though I can no longer run, I was able to listen with an honest appreciation for the great gift that running was in my life. Any of the following words from the On Being podcast could suffice as a motto for your team. These words still resonate with me.
  • Running as a passionate force in our lives and a powerful connector across all kinds of boundaries in American culture.
  • Running as not just a form of exercise or as a merely physical pursuit.
  • Running as a source of bonding between parents, children and friends.
  • Running as an interplay between competition and contemplation.  
  • Running, and body image and survival.
Krista Tippit concluded the program in saying, "Some people turn to prayer, mediation or yoga as a way to slow down and make sense of their lives, many find that through running." Below are questions that you can have your team discuss, or if you are a runner yourself, I hope you enjoy...or share with a friend who runs. So plug in, put on your shoes, break a sweat, enjoy the respite at the stoplights, make sure you pant, sweat, burn and breathe. That's what I miss about running....and the spirituality of it all.

  • Running is a moving meditation. What does that mean?
  • What stereotypes has running shattered for you?
  • What has running taught you about your body?
  • In order to finish the LA Marathon, Torres took the advice given to her when she hit the wall: find a mantra in your head and say it over and over. Her mantra became I am strong, I am powerful, I can do this. Do you have one?
JOHN CARY minute 8
  • What is your ideal running? Alone? With a group? With a partner?
  • Have you had some great conversations with other runners? What is it about running that allows this to occur?
  • What senses awaken when you run?
ASHLEY HICKS minute 12
  • Don’t run with music, headphones…”I call myself a true minimalist runner.” What does that mean to you?
  • Hicks noticed there were very few people of color at road races in her community. Who might be underrepresented on your team?
  • How has running help you become more spiritual—Has it?
  • The best thing for you to remember is that: The blessing is outside of your comfort zone. Meditate on this.
  • If you stay with what you’re comfortable with, you’ll never experience something new and incredible. What have you done that has taken you outside of your comfort zone, recently?
ROGER JOSLIN minute 16
  • Joslin shares that running was a distraction from the pain I was feeling. He said, “I ran to feel different…to escape from the pain.” What does running allow you to escape from?
  • Learned about meditation through running instead of learning about meditation through reading about meditation. Do you consider running a form of meditation? 
  • Stvavlund describes the Instrumental and Inherent goods of running. Which one do you value more? Explain. 
  • Kasawinah states that "My faith improves my running and running improves my faith." Can you relate?
  • When I’m running I’m actively expressing that gratitude. How?
  • Kasawinah also shares that, "A run feels truly spiritual after that first hour. There’s a period in between when I’m thinking of nothing, I’m receiving what is around me." How is this an example of spirituality? Is it?
MALLARY TENORE (minute 29)
  • Many people claim that runners are running away from something, but Tanori always viewed herself as running toward her mom. Which perspective do you hold?
    • What have you run away from?
    • What have you run to?
  • Tenore found that training for a marathon was her way of staying strong and remaining healthy. In fact, running was positive as it helped her let go of perfectionism. Do you struggle with perfectionism?
  • Who gave you the gift of running?
  • How can running be service? Community service?
  • What is the most unexpected way that running has formed you?
  • Singh states that running is responsible for the "shaping of my discipline. Engaging in something every single day—a ritual shapes someone." What personal and spiritual disciplines do you have/hold?
  • Running has contributed to my ethical formation? How? Is this true for you?
  • Marvin has made "faith and prayer into an extreme sport." She said, "my running time is my alone time….time to rejuvenate mind and body. I get a runner's high AND a spiritual high." Respond.
  • Do you have any power verses....passages of scripture or a holy text that you look at before you run?
Photo Credits
On Being
Red Shoes

Monday, July 24, 2017

Spieth be with you: Pithy & Playful Insights from the 2017 Open

I turned around to extend the sign of peace to my friend Matt and instead of saying "Peace be with you," he said, "Jordan Spieth." 

His words brought something other than the peace of Christ—they brought joy. I'm a Spieth fan and ten hours earlier, Spieth won his first British Open title as well as his first major since his championship at the 2015 US Open, Chambers Bay. His fans and followers have been wondering when—or if— the former number one player in the world would shake off his epic collapse at the 2016 Masters and win his third major. Today was the day. 
So what does the 2017 Open Championship offer us? Unfortunately, I can't say as much as I would like. The time difference and my return travel from Israel prevented the screen time I prefer for the majors. However, what I did see and have discussed with friends helped me to develop a few pithy and playful insights. Enjoy!

1. It's "The Open Championship"
There is no need to use the adjective "British" to describe the third major of the year. The Open Championship or "The Open" is the oldest and many believe the most prestigious of the four major championships in golf. 

I write this fact for purposes of clarification and because the simplicity of this title has given me pause to think what other events in sports or music need no descriptor. We don't say "The Series" or "The Cup" or "The Finals." There must be some parallel. Any thoughts?
2. Why should you care what anyone thinks?
My mom has often told my sister and me "you care way too much what other people think." She has urged us to let go of what we cannot control, and ultimately what is none of our business: That is, what other people of you.

Spieth's victory is a shining example of the benefits of not caring what other people think.
Golf fans were abhorred by the delay he caused. His deliberation that lasted well over 2o minutes was deemed by some sports fans as unacceptable, but that is only in a social context. How Spieth executed the rules on the 13th hole was masterful. Though he got two significant breaks in the process, he gained these so called "advantages" in a way that did not compromise anything. Some say he "took advantge of the rules." Yes, he did, but that statement need not be pejorative. For more information, this article from Golf.com sums it up well. 

3. Everyone has a doppelganger.
One of the best compliments I have ever received was a college professor who praised me for being very observant. He told me why this is an important quality, especially in a young person. Twenty years later, my observation skills have taken on a life and mind of their own and transpired into a seemingly harmless habit. I study people and their mannerisms intently until I can name their doppelganger. I am rarely afraid to tell people who they remind me of, and when I find a good match, the feeling rivals holding 21 in Blackjack.
Is it Matt Kuchar? No, it's the principal of SI....his doppelganger 
The principal of the school where I teach has a doppelganger in Matt Kuchar. I have a cousin who is a dead ringer for Zach Johnson. Someone once mistook me for Paula Kramer. Kidding. But as I was watching Kooch on Saturday, I couldn't help but think of my boss and their similarities. I already have a lot of fun watching golf, this habit makes it that much more enjoyable. Watch out friends....

4. There's no Booing in Golf.
Go to a Springsteen concert and you will hear what sounds like a long and extended Boo. You hear this guttural exhortation both before and after most songs and even when the Boss is talking. The unsuspecting Springsteen fan or Bruce neophyte looks around with one eyebrow raised. He or she is glancing over their shoulder with a furrowed brow... until there's some sort of intervention. "They're yelling Bruce." I'm not sure if Springsteen likes it or not, but it's the "Bruuuuce" cheer is nearly a verb. 

I share this story because it prepared me for what golf fans, typically known for their ability to keep quiet, lay low and clap appropriately, yell when Matt Kuchar comes around. Kooooooch. Again, the unsuspecting fan will certainly be taken by surprise, but for those who follow the tour, it's no surprise that Matt Kuchar is a fan favorite. And why shouldn't he be? His broad smile, the hole in one at the Masters, the Sketchers, the gait, putting stance and hair color that makes him look 20 years older than he actually is?! Matt Kuchar is America's sweetheart. Kooch your heart out golf fans....
5. Championships/Sports Events can also serve as Benchmarks 
Last year, I was invited by a dear friend to join him and his family for a round of golf at their remarkably beautiful club. We watched the epic 2016 showdown between Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson over breakfast before we played 18. It was an idyllic day: great company, gorgeous weather, and fantastic sport—peronally and professionally. 

On Saturday—known as "Moving Day" at the Open, I reached out to him to recall the memories from the year prior. I said we were due to play golf again at our club here in San Francisco. As fate would have it, he had an opening for a fourth player on the same day, same location one year later! I raised my Claret jug (kidding) and jumped at the chance.

Birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays are natural and important times to reach out to family and friends but as I realized this past weekend, sporting events and championships can too. I can tell you exactly where I was and who I was with watching the 2015 NBA Finals. I love recalling those memories and am convinced it's worth doing when the event occurs the year after, and more.

In conclusionI can't give you an exact percentage, but I can say with confidence that the major championships in golf live up to their hype. Golf on its greatest stages offers much more to celebrate than the excellent competition and incredible feats. I love what the four days of the tourney reveal about humanity, the challenging importance of the rules and what we think of it all, especially...the victor. Spieth be with you, my friends.

Photo Credits

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Life After Football...or the School Year: What I Have Learned from AJ Hawk

Though I have been teaching for nearly 20 years, people still ask me about summer vacation. They want to know how that works...What's like to have that much time off? they query. I want to know: Did they miss the memo? Is there something I know that they don't? "Yes, I get June, July and most of August off," I say. I will not apologize for this. I don't know another teacher who resents this benefit, but I have to let you in on a secret. As much as I love the freedom and well-earned break, the time away brings great joy and subtle challenges. Reading "Life After Football" by AJ Hawk made me think that retirement might hold a few similarities. Let me walk you through how that works, not in the NFL, but among educators. 
The first week of summer break is the honeymoon period. Everything about the world is right. I walk on Cloud Nine 24/7.  I am convinced I will read every book on my shelf and article in that stash near my desk. I intend to work at the Food Bank every week and attend Daily Mass every other. I cook, I bake, I clean and I paint. I am teacher, here me roar.

By week two, however, normalcy creeps in....and teachers are largely unfamiliar with anything normal. I don't know what to do without a bell or a meeting with a student, colleague or parent. I miss the eye rolls, the snarky comments as much as the laughs, the learning, the hugs and the tears. Those 120 young people entrusted to my care are at their camps and in their cabins. They're waking up late and growing big and growing up. I, however, don't change....but I do, it's just not easy to figure out how when you don't have papers to grade and lessons to plan.

By July 4, fear begins to creep in. I realize that a month of summer and the solstice has passed. An imaginary countdown has begun; I am in denial. I recommit to waking up early and working out, reading my second book for the summer and saving some money...maybe....well, at least for Tahoe.
Steph and Justin Timberlake: These two are so fun to watch.
After Independence Day, I turn my sights to my salvation: Lake Tahoe. Tahoe is the site of some of my greatest childhood memories. My family went to Incline Village during the first or second week of August every summer. The natural beauty, fresh mountain air, the crisp water, and massive non-sequitur: Harrah's video arcade, made for the vacation of our dreams. My brother, sister and I loved playing Ms. Pac Man, Centipede and watching "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" in this den of iniquity. Today, I still return to Tahoe, for many of those same reasons...minus the arcade, plus the casino AND most importantly, the American Century Celebrity Golf Classic. 

For the past four summers, I have traveled with a group of friends known by many of the athletes and celebrities. Team Taboo is there for the golf, the view, the personalities, Fireball and the memories. The tourney will be taking place starting tomorrow and I will be missing out. I earned the Tauber Fellowship for a 3-week program in Jerusalem and though I was thrilled to have this once in a lifetime opportunity, I knew I would miss this annual event in Tahoe. Team Taboo said they would represent; I know they will....as will AJ Hawk.
I now receive daily e-mails from "The Players' Tribune," a website founded by Derek Jeter that publishes first-person narratives from (popular) athletes. Having seen Hawk at the Tahoe tourney the past four years is why I decided to read his piece.  Reading his words made me realize that I too have always had a problem saying "no." I absolutely love that this championship linebacker has decided to make something that many people see as a negative into a positive. Though not a "glue guy" I do think it's safe to say his desire to have fun, be there for others, and make a difference in ways big and small make him a mensch.

I invite not only those who face retirement to consider what he has written but teachers, as well. What can we say "yes" to during our time off? Who needs us to give and not count the cost? How can we make the most of our summer break? And help ourselves, and others have more fun?

I look forward to hearing from Team Taboo about Hawk's antics at this year's tourney and I can't wait to say "yes," to what else summer 2017 brings...I already have American Century Golf Classic 2018 on the Calendar. Yes, yes, yes....

Be sure to at least check out the video of AJ saying yes to these fans' request. ENJOY