Thursday, September 30, 2010

Carondelet--Much more than the "school across the street"

My blog has been relegated to the back burner due to the fact it is “back to school time.” My fellow workers in the vineyard are always excited that we finish the school year in late May/early June. Come August 1, however, we are singing a different song, my favorite being “shouldn’t school start after Labor Day?!” Here here! Regardless, a new school year brings the excitement of new students, school supplies, challenges and opportunities. It also brings back memories and as a high school teacher, most of those memories are a compare and contrast of what I studied and learned at Carondelet High school in Concord, California.
I think it’s fair to say that many a Carondelet cougar is familiar with the following dialogue.
“What high school did you go to?”
“Carondelet.”
“Carondelet? Is that the all girls’ high school across the street from De La Salle?”
As a sports fan, I understand this question is not without merit. As “Spartanhood.com”a website dedicated to De La Salle football reports, “The Spartans are perhaps the greatest dynasty in sports history, having amassed a 151-game winning streak that spanned more than a decade.” Their success is legitimate; their fame deserved. But, those same Spartans are literally and figuratively the brothers of a number of tremendous athletes at a school that may be “across the street” but isn’t totally separate.The infrastructure as well as the dynamic of the two schools is unique. According to the “History” of Carondelet “In September 1969 Carondelet also established a cooperative program with De La Salle High School whereby juniors and seniors attend selected classes on either campus. This cooperation also extends to a common calendar and schedule, joint faculty committees, student activities, and a sharing of facilities.” It is true; CHS and DLS share a great deal but reputation is not one of them. I wonder how many Spartans have been asked if their alma mater is the school "across the street" from Carondelet. I hope they have—for such a question is well deserved, as the most recent edition of the Carondeletter, the alumnae magazine of Carondelet proves is true.

The theme of the Summer 2010 Carondeletter is “Woman of Heart, Woman of Faith, Woman of Courage. Celebrating the women of the Carondelet community, especially the class of 2010." It features fourteen athletes including Jayne Appel ’06, a recent Stanford graduate who now plays in the WNBA, Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak ’95, a member of the first gold medal women’s soccer team in the 1996 Olympics and eleven time gold medalist, Natalie Coughlin ’00. Coughlin is training for the 2012 Olympics in London and may become the most decorated American female swimmer of all time. Fifteen graduates from the Class of 2010 will be collegiate athletes.

Carondelet’s athletic achievements can be further appreciated in the context of what is a "seismic shift" in women's sports. According to the article “A Sporting Chance” "In 1971, fewer than 300,000 high school girls participated in athletics. Today that number is close to three million, with almost half of all female high school students on a team. In 1972 about 16,000 young women participated in college athletics, a number that has grown to over 180,000. The number of women’s teams per campus has increased from an average of 2.5 before 1972 to 8.5 in 2006."

From its beginning in 1965, Carondelet has itself committed to providing athletic opportunities for young women, often ahead of the curve. The trend continues today. Carondelet has twelve varsity sports teams, two of which have been added since I graduated in 1992—Lacrosse and Golf. (Dance and Cheer are listed as year round sports which makes the total fourteen sports programs) To its credit, De La Salle has fifteen, two of which have been added—Lacrosse and Rugby.

Then as now, sports are a microcosm of society and it isn’t difficult to realize that opportunities for women, especially in athletics, have come a long way. The Carondeletter is a testimony to that truth. Reading “Carondelet Athletes Hit Great Heights” helped me appreciate that Carondelet has always been bringing young women to the starting line. And these are athletes who live up to the theme of the issue; they are women of heart, faith and courage. Athletics demands all three whether or not you are a Spartan or a Cougar.

Carondelet’s motto is “God, my light!” and De La Salle’s is “Hommes de Foi”—Men of Faith. I look at my brother, Mark ’89, and I know what a profound influence his experience as a student and an athlete at De La Salle had on him and the same is true for me. I strive to be a "woman of faith" and be in a deepening relationship with "God, my light." I appreciated running on De La Salle’s track, seeing my friends compete in De La Salle’s pool, I had some great teachers and made good friends “across the street.” I don’t, however, appreciate being in De La Salle’s shadow. We brought our own spirit and grit to the hardwood, our own flair for victory and class in defeat. We are more than the school "across the street"—we are the BVAL, NCS, NorCal and State Champions; champions with heart, faith and courage! Ever onward alma mater, with our colors red and white!

Photo Credits
Carondelet
DLS Football
Natalie Coughlin
CHS on the DLS track
DLS Logo
CHS Logo

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Happy Birthday Bruce

Is this just a ploy for me to have an excuse to wax poetic about the Boss? Sure, but 15 concerts, over 30 bootlegs, a 5-year subscription to “Backstreets” the Boss fan-zine and several books later, I think I have learned a thing or two. His music evokes themes of connectedness and community, passion and hope; his performances inspire and transcend, challenge us and leave us brokenhearted (only because they end!) Sounds a lot like sports and spirituality to me.

Truly, a Springsteen concert is a “religious” experience. Religion comes from the root “religo” which means, “to be bound to.” And what a fitting description for a man who intimately connects a football stadium full of people for one evening and beyond. “The Ties that Bind” are his message, his band, their friendship, their music, their stories and their witness (to Rock ‘n’ Roll!)

In his article “Life Right Now” Joseph Gerics states “Springsteen’s optimism and idealism were always the horizon of songs like “Badlands” and “Promised Land.” The language of faith and hope became more explicit in “The Rising,” and religious imagery emerged in “Devils and Dust.” These themes were less prominent on this tour, but Springsteen’s vision of social justice is implicit in “This American Land’.” Does he find “God in all things?” I’m not convinced he does, but one thing is for sure, Bruce Springsteen delivers on the yearning and touches the edges of religious language and imagery.

And if such imagery does not suffice, I think it’s fair to say the man himself does. I have told a number of the athletes I coach that they make ME a better competitor and athlete. I witness their training; I see their exemplary work ethic day in and day out. During several half marathons, I have mustered strength during miles 10-13 by simply visualizing how girls on my cross country team really “go after it” during their races—No retreat, baby no surrender. The Boss is no exception. The 1984 program for the “Born in the USA” tour claims his nickname is “the hardest working many in show business.” Attend one of his 3-hour concerts—no opening act, sans set break and you will see for yourself he is; this guy is in good shape! Urban legend Bruce wore a pedometer during a show and he covered five miles. I believe!

I attended the opening show of the “Working on a Dream” tour in San Jose. It was the first time I didn’t get into the “pit” area with my General Admission ticket. Two hours into the show, standing without a chair and watching the stage from afar, I wondered how I could possibly teach the next day. I was exhausted! I saw the 58-year old on stage, playing guitar and harmonica, belting it out and knew I must dig deep. The passion and energy he brings to his job inspires me to do the same. I came to school the next morning resolved to “teach hard today.” Coaching was the encore. Springsteen doesn’t play one or two songs in his; he commits to five to six. If the Boss can do it, so can I.

The music of Bruce Springsteen has carried me through my own training and athletic challenges. In the winter of 2000, my uncle sent me bootlegs of the 1999-2000 Reunion tour. I had 3-plus hours of unadulterated “mojo” on command. This gift was fortuitous as a record snowfall (until this past year) prevented me from road running for two months. I churned and burned through those CDs while running on the treadmill so much, that I cannot listen to them to this day. It’s not Bruce’s fault that I let this happen—I blame the treadmill. And I will never forget while rowing at Notre Dame how I survived weight lifting. We had morning practice six days a week and Tuesday and Thursday afternoons were reserved for the weight room. As I completed my reps, I would think: this is bad, but not as bad as living in “Youngstown. Here in Youngstown. My sweet Jenny I'm sinkin' down. Here darlin' in Youngstown” Have you ever been to Youngstown, Ohio? If you have you understand what I mean. If you haven’t, listen to the song on “Tracks.”

I have always believed “I am a River girl, but Darkness is my favorite album.” While the tone and themes of “The River” are more reflective of whom I am as a human being and as a Christian, I just love the songs and the flow of that 1978 gem “Darkness on the Edge of Town.” “Badlands” in particular, is foundational for my outlook on sports and spirituality in my own life. Time and again I have remembered to “keep pushing till it’s understood, till these Badlands start treating us good.” Today, however, it’s not about my faith or athletics. Rather, “for the ones who had a notion a notion deep inside. It ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.”

Bruce, I’m more than glad you’re alive. Thank you Lord for the man, the music that is Bruce Springsteen. 61 today.

Photo Credits
Bruce-the underrated guitarist
Bruce with a legendary crowd
Workin' on a Dream
Bruce and his guns

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The U.S. Open Lives Up to Its Name

Open. Egalitarian. “The People’s Open,” that’s my impression of the fourth and final grand slam—the US Open. Friends and family have asked, “What was the highlight?” Honestly, it was experiencing for myself that the US Open lives up to its name, and in more ways than one.

Every Labor Day and the week thereafter, the US Open takes place at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow, New York. Watch it on TV and you will see Gwen Stefani and her husband Gavin Rossdale sitting in Roger Federer’s box or New York athletes like Alex Rodriguez in the crowd. One might deduce that the Open, like the sport of tennis, is accessible only to those with power and prestige, money and more money. It’s simply not true. Sure, court side seats inside Arthur Ashe and Louis Armstrong stadiums are pricey and their boxes are corporate, but the vast majority of seating is achieved on a first come, first serve basis (no pun intended!). A “Grounds Only” ticket permits access to hundreds of matches on over 20 courts, (except for center court—Arthur Ashe stadium) for under $30. In fact the US is the largest public tennis facility in the world.

While the Royal Tenenbaums may paint the picture of tennis as a sport for WASPs, I was amazed by the sheer diversity of the crowd. I found myself sitting next to two young parents who brought their infant son and in front of a multi-generational family who cheered in Spanish for the Swiss “King Fed.” When I realized six of the men’s singles players in the quarterfinals hail from Spain, I wondered how many fans were on sight supporting this “Spanish Armageddon” in their native tongue?
Furthermore, most fans arrive at the Open via the subway. And why wouldn’t you? For $2.00 spectators arrive at a subway stop that is but a five-minute walk to the gate. If you had told me the US Open is the highest-attended annual sporting event in the world, prior to my visit, I would not have believed you. However, that fun fact is now something I am proud of—as an American and a tennis player. I believe the namesake of the national tennis center, Bill Jean King, the is proud of that too.

King, a four-time US Open winner and founder of the Women’s Tennis Association has fought for gender equality in sports and society. She was born working class parents at a time when opportunities for women in professional sports were slim to none. Her parents could not afford Stanford or the University of Southern California so she played tennis at Cal State Long Beach. Such life experiences makes it that much more fitting that for 11 months of the year, the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center is open to the public seven days a week. Except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day and of course during the Open, anyone can play on the same courts that hosted the newest winners—Rafael Nadal and Kim Cjisters!
As “made for television” as any sport might be, TV can never replicate all that you learn in attending a live sporting event. The vibe, the diversity of the crowd, and the excitement that comes with watching tennis at its highest level no wonder the motto of the US Open is “it must be love.” It was.