Monday, January 20, 2020

How to celebrate the MLK Holiday: Get Into "Good" Trouble

Today we observe a national holiday, honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He would have been 91 years old (January 15). It goes without saying, he died too young. 
MLK with Jackie Robinson
His message is as important today as it was at the March on Washington, in the Church in Birmingham, the walk to Selma and more. On Friday, I reminded my students that today is not a day off, but a day "ON." I said "Dr. King did not give his life so you could sleep in and play video games all day." 

I added, "Instead, I hope we ask the question: What can we do for justice?!" While intrigued by the idea of a "Day On," I'm afraid my question fell on deaf ears. It's banal, too broad, too sweeping. However, in Rep John Lewis (D-Ga), I found one that grabbed them: How can you get into a good kind of trouble?
I heard Rep. Lewis give this message to students at St. Ignatius College Prep on Ash Wednesday 2015. I was reminded of it when I heard NPR's Morning Edition Rep. John Lewis' Fight For Civil Rights Began With A Letter To Martin Luther King Jr. In this 3-minute listen, Lewis, the last living speaker from the March on Washington, noted that when he was very young, he "wanted to preach the Gospel." He did. 
"My philosophy is very simple: When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to stand up, you have to say something, you have to do something. 
His mother used to always warn him to stay out of trouble, he said. 
"But I told her that I got into a good trouble, necessary trouble," he said. "Even today, I tell people, 'We need to get in good trouble.' "
What a great play on words—words children have heard their entire lives. How it conjures up compelling imagery and creative thinking. How might we get into trouble...and be encouraged to do so? What IS a good kind of trouble?! 
Too often, I have conversations with students and athletes about what they cannot or should not do. How can we harness their energy to take action—and stand up for what is right? 
Let's continue to serve those in need long after the Christmas season.
Young people need assistance and accompaniment in order for this to happen. We have to bring them to the margins and the places where they can make good kind of trouble happen. I have long thought the NFL can and should set a precedent with a national day of service. We celebrated the AFC and NFC championships yesterday and await the Super Bowl in two weeks time. Why can't those teams and their local communities harness their energy, physicality, teamwork and resources to better 32 cities throughout the United States. We just might stir up a whole lot of trouble....good trouble. 


Photo Credits
MLK and 42

Sunday, January 19, 2020

What does is it mean to be FAITHFUL: Go Niners!

Upon leaving mass today, a friend said, "the Faithful are back!" Given what we just heard inside the Church, I said, "Isn't that contrary to what that title means? Faithful then...Faithful now...right?" This is a question, I hope to ask the Holy Cross Fellowship group at St. Francis High School where I teach and coach.
Once a month a 7:45 a.m. in the film room of the athletic department, a group of faithful student athletes and super sports fans gather for prayer. Similar to Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) our group seeks to bring together their great passion and mine: Sports and Spirituality.

The early December meeting was buzzing. Anticipation and excitement filled the room as we awaited the arrival of two San Francisco 49ers— devout Christians—ready and eager to bear witness and share their faith. With donuts and juice in hand, the student led icebreaker was Forty Niner trivia.

I was so proud of this young woman who created an informal and thorough Google Presentation for her peers and the other coaches and teachers in the room to play. Although most questions stumped the high school students, I am always amazed at what some young people DO know. I encourage you—Niner fan or not—to learn something about the team who is battling for the NFC Championship title later today.
The 49ers refer to their fan base as "The Faithful." The move to Santa Clara, the losing records, the problematic and on and off the field behavior of several players has challenged, yet illuminated the question: What does it mean to fe faithful? What does it mean to have faith in a team? a person? a program? and ultimately our God? This is the question I would like to break open with this Fellowship group when we gather again...maybe before the Super Bowl?!

A plug for the 49er FAITHFUL is an appeal to those who have loyalty and dedication. However, without wisdom and knowledge—who we are and how we got here—faithfulness is short-sighted. Institutional knowledge, historic biographies and prior accomplishments paint a more vibrant picture of what we are committed to today.
Thank you Leona for reminding or teaching us where the Niners played as a charter member of the AAFC, how many HOF QBs they have from the 20th Century, just how great Jerry Rice is and how many Lombardi trophies are in the house. Here's to many more....more history, more to celebrate and more faith...and FAITHFUL. 

Photo Credits
The FAITHful

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

UCLA's Dance Team's First Male Member: Meet Devin Mallory

In a big school, it's not easy for a student to stand out. At St. Ignatius College Prep there are nearly 1,5000 big fish. Making waves in a pond that big with that much tradition isn't easy. But to the delight of teachers, students and the larger SI community Devin Mallory '17—who recently became the first male member of UCLA's Dance Team—made an indelible impact. Here's how. Here's why.

When young people share their gifts and talents, when students take risks and reveal their passions and deepest desires, it's hard not to notice. Authenticity, beauty, excellence speak for themselves. The expression of oneself in that way has and will continue to inspire others, open hearts and minds and yes—make an impact.

In the Fall of 2013, I noticed that a young man joined the Dance and Drill team at SI. On one hand I suppose I took note because this crew is typically female. More importantly however, it was hard not to notice this dancer. He was naturally gifted. I realized that he took a risk in pursuing something I could see he took seriously. It's never easy to go against the norm, especially in high school, but that's Devin.

Over the course of four years at St. Ignatius, Devin Mallory became one of the most talented and memorable dancers I have ever seen. Like all students he matured in age and in wisdom and as a dancer he grew into his athletic and graceful physique. His height and stature, flexibility and pliability, his innate rhythm and feel for the music brought this art form to life—to my life and the greater life of SI. 

I will never forget waiting in anticipation to see his performance at the Fine Arts Assembly each January or the spirit he would bring to Dance and Drill's half time performance inside War Memorial Gym for the Bruce Mahoney game. I want to say that Mallory got a standing ovation from his classmates when he earned the Fine Arts Award near graduation. It sure felt that way. 

Because of the memories Devin gave us, because of the impression and expression he left with us, it should come as no surprise that a current SI teacher thought to share a recent piece in the LA Times via social media, Devin Mallory is doing what he loves as first male on UCLA’s dance team about his new strides and success.
I must have watched the dance routine ten times. In fact, I was so inspired, I shared it with my current students who don't know Devin and who attend a different school. I wanted them to see his talent, to think about the impact that they might make in their own school (which is even bigger) and to encourage their peers to pursue their passions, too. 

Devin's larger story is quite important. Thuc Nhi Nguyen writes 
Growing up in San Francisco, a city known for inclusion, Mallory said he was met with compassion and support from his friends when he dedicated himself to dance. He thinks it may have helped that he specialized in hip-hop, a style that seems to earn more street cred for its aggressive moves .
Mallory still believes boys are often discouraged from dancing because dance comes with natural flow and body awareness men aren’t often expected to have. 
In a 2009 study that surveyed 75 males 13 to 22 years old who were studying dance in the United States, Wayne State University dance professor Doug Risner found that 96% of participants experienced teasing and name calling and 70% reported verbal and/or physical harassment
In Moral Issues, I used this piece to ask if there are any compelling reasons or arguments why a young man should not pursue dance. In other words, Why is it—or should it be limited to girls/women? In Sports and Spirituality, I revealed how and why I find the story and his dance to be spiritual. I asked them, Do you? This was a great day.

I would like Devin to know that I am not overstating things. The sharing of your gift and talent for dance brought me joy for four years. I'm so grateful you have continued to share that with others and in new ways. You keep getting better. You truly embody AMDG. 

Photo Credits
SI Photo Archive

Monday, January 13, 2020

The Work of Christmas: A Poem and Prayer for Coaches et al

As we approached the tee box on the 17th hole, my two friends—lapsed Catholics— turned to me to air their Christmas grievances (Festivus redux). 

One said, "Christmas Mass was nearly an hour and a half! That's way too long!" I shook my head in agreement; I agree! That is long. After all, I do love a short mass. The other added, "It's one few times they are getting that many people inside the Church. They can't let it go on that long." Though I'm not interested in serving as a spokesperson for the Catholic Church, it's not uncommon that others look to me to fulfill that role. I'm happy to let anyone but me serve as the resident apologist, especially on the golf course. However, in this moment—I turned to my friend who is Jewish and said "I'm going to let you respond to this." She said, "How's that?" I said, well, I know services for high holy days last much longer. Maybe you can speak to that..." Everyone laughed.
There's so much build up and anticipation for Christmas and what is now a season that extends from the day after Halloween until December 25, it's easy to forget for Christians everywhere, this is one of the two high holy days of the year. In other words, Christmas—the Nativity of the Lord— is IT! We should give our time, our hearts, our voices and our prayers in thanksgiving to God for His gift: The Word Made Flesh, The Incarnation, Emmanuel. I think worshipping as a community of faith for over an hour is perfectly justifiable. 

Putting Christmas in the context of a "high, holy day" has invited me to reflect further on its significance.It has prompted me to ponder how we are do we change....and what Christmas demands of us. Because of Christmas....fill in the blank here.

I found one answer in the poem "Now the Work of Christmas begins
” composed by Howard Thurman, an African-American theologian, educator, and civil rights leader. It's beautiful.

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
     to find the lost,
     to heal the broken,
     to feed the hungry,
     to release the prisoner,
     to rebuild the nations,
     to bring peace among the people, to make music in the heart.

I have used Thurman's poem as a prayer. I want to remember that Christmas asks something of me. And, when I consider all the gifts God has given me—especially in Christ Jesus—how can I not go out and give myself?
I shared this poem with a group of coaches last week. I highlighted the words that I think speak to what we are trying to do with the young men and women entrusted to our care.  So let us remember and let us pray.

Now the work of Christmas begins:

to find the lost—so many young people desire to be found. Our teams can be a home for them. Give us the grace and the desire to build a team that is inclusive, accepting and loving.

to heal the broken—whether injured in body or in mind, student athletes can find wholeness with a team. Lord, please we pray for your healing.

to feed the hungry—hungry for acceptance, love, attention and recognition, the athletes on our team come to us to be nourished. Good and gracious God, help us to nourish one another.

to bring peace among the people—sport has power, let us pray for the ability to build bridges and paths to peace.

to make music in the heart—love this image. It speaks to our passion...why we do what we do. Sports can be hard work. Practice is demanding and exacting. Games are pressure packed. Let us always remember the importance of play in the season.

The Christmas season officially ended Sunday, January 12 with the Baptism of the Lord. Let the work of Christmas officially begin.

Photo Credits

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Celebrating 10 Years of Sports and Spirituality!

There seems to be two camps of people out there—those who believe we have started a new decade and those who don't. A stickler for accuracy, I listened to the NPR report "When Does the New Decade Begin? That's Debatable" hoping for an answer. 
"Really, a decade begins actually with the year ending in the numeral one," Sandi Duncan, the managing editor of the "Farmer's Almanac" told NPR. "There was never a year zero. So when we started counting time way back when, it goes one through 10. So a decade is 10 years. So in actuality, the next decade won't start until January 1, 2021."
Duncan's argument makes sense to me and I can't help but think the fact she's with the "Farmer's Almanac" is why I pitched my tent in her camp.
But Duncan's explanation didn't stop with new decades or partying like it's 1999. From her diatribe, I also learned "when the - "Almanacs" celebrated our 200th anniversary, we started printing in 1818, and yet the 2017 was our 200th edition. It's one of these mathematical conundrums that people can argue about until they're blue in the face." In other words, a ten year anniversary is to be celebrated in a year that's one year less than the actual number. 

Go ahead and count this out on your fingers. I began this blog in December 2009. Ten years from that fateful day, was actually in December 2018. What to do?! Have we run into another "potato/potato" moment? Should we call the whole thing off? Or rather, let's call the calling off, off? Right?! Yes! Here's why....

Just three weeks ago, Sports and Spirituality—this blog— turned 10 years old/had a *10-year anniversary*/is now a one decade in age. What started as a platform to publish a lengthy article I wrote about the University of Oregon men's golf coach, Casey Martin, has become a place of prayer, an avenue for exploration, and a cradle of creativity for me. 

Writing a blog has been a labor of love—truly an autotelic experience—meaning, the reward I receive is from the activity itself. There is no monetary gain. I do not blog for fame or recognition (believe me, my numbers don't say a whole lot about that!). I write about Sports and Spirituality because I have to write about it. The ideas and inspiration comes to me and must go somewhere. This blog has proven to be a worthy locale.
Twitter was just being born when the blog started.
I chose this for the Sports & Spirituality profile pic
Ten years of blogging has yielded a book—Pray and Practice with Purpose: A Playbook for the Spiritual Development of Athletes, as well as an elective course that I have now taught at two different high schools and to a group of parents. Blogging has prompted invitations to speak in places like Washington DC, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Los Angeles and of course throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. I have made new friends though this medium, and hopefully mentored others, in particular aspiring bloggers.

In the past, when I told people I had a blog approximately every third person would admit they had one too. Today, such reports are far and few between—which is unfortunate as I do think blogging is a meaningful or perhaps unique way to connect to oneself, others and a larger community. It's never too late to add to your "20 for 2020" list!

I cannot say I have regretted a single posting I have written. Rather, the opposite is true. In this blogging program alone, I have over 122 drafts of postings that have yet to be published. Most never will come to fruition, but it's interesting to see what sparked my imagination yet lacked time? personal interest? motivation? connection? further material? to move further. I once read that when Bruce Springsteen passes on to his Beautiful Reward, the world will receive a great catalog of music that he never recorded. For perhaps the first time in my life, I felt like the Boss and I shared something professional in common ;-)

I do not have children, but in many ways writing a book or a blog, has given me the slightest insight into what parenting must be like. My writing is a reflection of me and ask me just one question about it, and you are in my good graces forever. 

I still have occasional dreams and visions of taking this blog to the next level—YouTube channel, weekly podcast, online course offering!!? but I'd still like to write another book, one that utilizes content from this blog in the near future. Open to suggestions....!

Ron Rolheiser said "God speaks to every element in the language it can understand." That language is sports. The opportunity to blog has only allowed me to share what I hope is some of God's word with you.
This posting has had over 10,000 views!
I should conclude with my favorite posting of all time. I do know my most popular post is "Catholics vs. Convicts: The Story Behind ESPN's Shirt of the Century." It should be, as I am friends with the co-creators who are two of the most colorful and engaging people I know. I've never done a scientific query, but more than likely every fifth posting is about the University of Notre Dame and every tenth one is about music (that's the Spirituality side!!). I have loved writing about my students and my school, parish and local communities. I want to personally thank the San Francisco Giants for three World Series in five years and the LA Dodgers for.... more than a great rivalry ;-) I could go on, but blogs ought to be here's to ten more years  and all that's to come in the next decade—whenever that may be.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

19 for 2019: Varsity Girls' Golf Team: My Freshman Year

New school, new team, new program, new coach. Though I have coached high school sports for nearly twenty years now, this Fall, I carried the title of varsity coach for the first time. Varsity sports in secondary schools—on every level and among every sport, are not what they were when I was in high school. Just yesterday, someone asked me if I actually coach as a golf coach. He said "I know my high school golf coach loved match days because he was able to play." Though familiar with stories such as these I was only slightly amused. We golf coaches have come a long way, baby!
I do not claim to be a swing coach or anything close to an PGA teaching pro, I do play close attention to my golfers and their game—their strengths and areas for improvement. I am seeking to build a culture that helps young women play as a member of a team and working together in a sport that emphasizes the individual score. I hope they will learn the mission of the school and our values through their experience in St. Francis athletics. No small task, but opportunity awaits. And because of that, I decided my team would serve as the final profile in Sports and Spirituality's 19 for 2019.

Some of my students have been among some of my greatest teachers. Some of my athletes have become some of my most inspirational coaches. This paradox makes both teaching and coaching more than a worthy endeavor.

This team taught me many things—for better and for worse. They have exceptional talent. We finished second in the WCAL and took home a trophy for our fourth place finish at CCS. On a team with four seniors, two will go on to play in college (at the University of Michigan and at Williams College). Each one of the them contributed to the character of this crew in their own, unique way.
All of them love golf and of equal importance, one another. Some of my favorite memories included listening to the conversations about golf among the girls. They follow both the LPGA and PGA closely. Any highlight I mentioned from a weekend tournament was met with more detail and insight about the golfer, the intricacy of the shot and even the green—Poa or Bermuda?! 

We compared our preference between a 58 and 60 degree wedge and why some of us carry a 4 or 5 iron in the bag. During a Chapman Scotch competitive practice, my partner told me my ball was 116 yards from the pin, but I should play it more like it's 112. Done. This same golfer won the WCAL championship, finishing two under par, which meant a lot to her personally and to her teammates. One senior was known for driving the green on our home course.....on a par 4. Her strength of body is matched by her humor, kindness and humility. I won't forget a student-athlete like her. We welcomed a freshman up to the varsity squad and it was delightful to witness the way her teammates welcomed her into the fold. She finished the season with WCAL first team honors, indicating that our program has great promise.

I have a few regrets about this past season, and those are important miletsones to learn from. Chief among them is that the photo you see here is only of the varsity team. This year, the JV and varsity crews worked and practiced together. I loved getting to know these up and coming golfers and seeing my own team mentor, befriend and learn from these girls. Not to mention, their coach made my job possible. We are only as strong as—not the weakest link—but as we allow ourselves to be TOGETHER. Go Lancers

Monday, December 30, 2019

19 for 2019: No 16-18. Shared Birthdays and 17 Other Things You Should Know about Chris Mullin

Largely acclaimed as among the greatest in their respective sports, Tiger Woods and LeBron James share the same birthday: December 30. Therefore it is only fitting that today's "Sports and Spirituality's 19 for 2019" profile each athlete on this special day. However, I have to keep posting number 17 for a man who bares the number.  
#16 Tiger Woods
As a sports fan, I love that the holidays bring a "year in review" of athletic accomplishments and achievements. Sure, some years are better than others, but the wide world os sports has yet to disappoint me. There is always some underdog who rises to the top, some unexpected victory, one path of total domination. And in 2019, it is hard to argue that The Masters—and its champion—didn't take the cake.

This morning at the gym, I was privy to revisiting what many consider one of the greatest comebacks stories of all time. Thank you Golf Channel! Tiger Woods earned his fifth green jacket, his fifteenth Major title and reminded sports fans, once again why he did revolutionize the game.

As I watched in review, I thought Is any individual athlete more iconic? From his name to his trade mark red and black on Sunday, Woods made golf much more emotional and athletic. Due to physical (and I would argue personal/ mental) health complications, Woods did not know if he would ever play golf at an elite level again. Golf fans caught wind that he might when he won the TOUR Championship for his 80th victory on the PGA TOUR. He took winning to the next level when he won the 2019 Masters by finishing 13 under par.

Happy 44th, Eldrick Tont "Tiger" Woods
Mullin admits he has no fashion sense whatsoever—which explains
why I had no reaction to his shirt being untucked in this photo
#17 Chris Mullin
Although it was an honor and a privilege meeting Coach Lou Holtz this year, meeting Chris Mullin trumped, yes even the 30 minute car ride

In my classroom hangs a poster that lists 17 important facts about Mully. Impressive information. Equally valuable are 17 OTHER things you ought to know about the left-handed shooting guard out of Brooklyn who wore #17 in honor of his boyhood hero, John Havlicek. I created this list after I heard him speak at KNBR's Dinner with a Legend. I will keep these recollections brief, but you'll get the point.
  1. During his third season in the NBA, Mullin admitted to his coach, Don Nelson that he had a problem with alcohol. He entered into rehab in late 1987 and stayed at the facility in Los Angeles until early 1988.  
  2. Mullin spoke candidly that he struggled with anxiety about returning to the game post rehab. He wasn't sure how much the time away from the game would set him back.
  3. The good news is that the mental clarity he gained from sobriety improved his focus on the court.
  4. Void of alcohol left a restless energy, hence his commitment to fitness—running, cycling, stair master, etc. Today that includes golf! 
  5. Back in those days, NBA teams flew commercial. Mully ran into his team in the Oakland airport as he returned from rehab and they were flying out for a road game. This interaction angered, annoyed and yet motivated him to get back with the team and compete again.
  6. The change post-rehab showed on the court right away. I've always thought nature has a way of teaching this to use. In pruning a rose bush, one must cut back to ensure more growth.
  7. One of the reasons he loves basketball is that the game allows you to "show off" what you've been working on, quickly
  8. The first flap top is a sign of his sobriety.
  9. His daily reprieve: turn it over to a higher power
  10. Mully concedes that the athletes he grew up playing against on the streets of Brooklyn
 were MUCH better athletes than he ever was. In other words: surround yourself with the best to improve.
  11. Believes players ought to hang out more often for one-on-one play
  12. Believes Steph might be the best shooter of all time—certainly with the three point shot. His floaters and shots off the dribble are second to none
  13. Klay Thompson is a close second
  14. Boogate at Oracle Arena didn't take away from the ceremony in which the Warriors retired Mullin's jersey. In fact, felt badly for Joe Lacob.
  15. He spoke extensively about his friendship with his former teammate Manute Bol. His brother had been friends with Manute first, which is how they were connected.
  16. Considers former NBA player and now analyst Brent Barry a good friend. Barry has shared that the reason he has worn #17 is because of Chris Mullin
  17. Admits that when he looks up and sees his jersey hanging from the rafters, it's pretty cool. It is.
Thomas Merton has said "to be a saint is to be myself." Though this idea is lofty and those words are optimistic, an evening with Chris Mullin helped me understand he might be right.
#18 LeBron James
Named as AP's best male athlete of the decade, LeBron is celebrating his 35th birthday today—and he has yet to slow down. This two-time Sportsperson of the Year (Sports Illustrated) has won every major award as an individual and helped his teams to three titles.

The reason I would like to profile James is because he is the subject of many, many stories/articles/books and more. However, when I saw he is also the subject of "TheSkimm" Audio Notes section, I thought there was nothing they could say that I didn't already know. I was wrong.

I recommend listening to this 8 minute and 52 second upshot. Yes, you will learn
  • how he grew up
  • how he got into basketball
  • all about his rep in the NBA
but most importantly, I don't know that you will ever watch him play basketball or a wide receiver or  tight end in quite the same way again. 

Photo Credits