Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Story of Baltimore and Baseball

A hero to so many people, including me. Greg Boyle, SJ
I will never forget when I first heard Greg Boyle an American Jesuit speak. I don't think he ever prepares his remarks; as a preacher and poet I guess he doesn't need to do that. He shared many truths and lessons gathered from his ministry. One special insight was this: "great stories come to those who can tell them."

As the creator and founder of Homeboy Industries, the single largest gang prevention in the United States, I believe no one is more worthy of those good stories. He is priest, poet and prophet. He was asked to pen "Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion" so that those stories could be shared beyond those who happened to hear him speak in church or at a convention. 

In January, I heard San Francisco Giants CEO Larry Baer and manager Bruce Bochy speak at the Commonwealth Club in downtown San Francisco. It was strange, sitting inside a hotel ballroom next to people decorated in orange and black. That energy and enthusiasm rivaled that found inside of AT&T Park. But instead of gathering for a game, we bought tickets to hear them speak. But really, everyone in attendance was there for something different. 
Thank you for making THAT happen.

We weren't there to celebrate, we weren't there to ask about the 2015 team, we were there to hear stories. In fact, I think we were there to hear one single story. We wanted to know: HOW did THAT happen. How in the heck did the Giants pull off their third World Series championship in five years.

I listened with utter delight as Bochy and Baer told that story. I looked at both men and thought about Boyle's words in that moment. "Great stories come to those we can tell them." They are. And maybe there's something to be said for those who want to hear them. That's me.

Larry Baer said (more or less) "baseball is the most tribal of all sports. That's because we play so many games. And because of the pace of baseball, one that is slow in comparison to other sports, there is time and space during the game to talk about the players, stats, trends and more. And out of that, baseball has its own narrative. Every city and every community contributes to this narrative in a unique way."

I thought about his words today as a game was played in Baltimore in front of no one but two opposing teams, umpires and some security and staff. As tweeted out by the O's "After consultation with Major League Baseball, city and local officials, the Baltimore Orioles game vs the Chicago White Sox was closed to the public."
Although many of my students thought it was "cool" for the sheer fact that it had never been done before...and they, like many of us were curious to know what that looked like, I thought back to Larry Baer's insights.  Rather than come to any conclusions, I was left with more questions.
  • If baseball is tribal, what message does the decision of the Orioles send to the community?
    • What other messages could have been sent? 
    • ...Can they still send? 
  • What role, if any, does baseball play in building community? 
    • To what degree does winning contribute to the success of building community? 
  • How does today's game (one that was played behind closed doors) affect the narrative of this tribal game?
    • What cadences does it contribute?
  • In the time and space that a baseball game affords, what can baseball offer to a community that is divided and struggling.
Look to those who can tell great stories, as they will have more than one to share. The story that is unfolding in response to the death of Freddie Gray, is one we must all listen to, pray about and learn from. The Orioles and their 5-2 win over the White Sox is but one piece of that puzzle.

Photo Credits
Boyle
Winning
and thank you Alex for sharing!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Every Athlete Can Be Great: Because Every Athlete Can Serve. A new way to do so....Part II

In her book "Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers." Anne Lamott writes, "You've heard it said that when all else fails, follow instructions. So we breathe, try to slow down and pay attention, try to love and help God's other children, and—hardest of all, at least to me—learn to love our depressing, hilarious, mostly decent selves. We get thirsty people water, read to the very young and old, and listen to the sad. We pick up litter and try to leave the world a slightly better place for our stay here." 
There is so much trash in the stands during/after Giants games that seagulls have become a problem.
Giants staff are considering humane ways to treat the problem...owls, fireworks, others.
How about putting your trash away folks?!
I think those instructions are important. We ought to teach them to our youth, model them ourselves and always strive to do a little better, a little more. But, as alluded to in Part I of this blog posting, I wonder why in some domains, picking up litter is a subjective norm. Athletic arenas are one such place. I was however, humbled and inspired by the Mt. Vernon (Washington) football team that decided this reality was to be the answer to an important question put forth by their coach Jay Silver. The full article, by Jason Haddix  is here.

Coach Silver asked “What are we doing beyond winning and losing that gives our community something to be proud of us so that they would want to come and watch us?”

While the question was posed to the players, Silver also pondered the potential answer. As he contemplated what direction to lead his players, he noticed trash being left behind on the Mt. Vernon campus and witnessed people just walking past.

When Silver shared his observations and the conversation he and the players had with his wife, Jamie suggested the team pick up the trash.
Servant Leadership.
“What? You mean after games,” Silver said in response to her suggestion. “To be honest, I thought she was crazy for just suggesting it.”

The challenge was met and the post-game ritual was born.

I am always curious to know the post-game rituals a team employs. Popular traditions include lining up to shake hands with the opposing team, gathering for a team prayer and saluting home fans. Including “service” as part of that process something I had never seen. was new to me. As the Mt. Vernon Bulldogs learned, it was hard to think of creative ways to do so. No precedent had been set.

But the more I thought about it, I said “Why not?” Parents, siblings, teachers, classmates and the larger community give their time to support athletes. Why shouldn’t our athletes give back? And the beauty of this ritual is that, like many others, fans not only took notice, something in them changed too.

Haddix writes, As the Mt. Vernon fans began to take notice of what the players were doing, they began to self-police their own area, which was a welcomed outcome and reflects how a simple gesture can change a culture.

“We really don’t have to clean up our area where (our fans sit) home or away,” Silver said. “Parents and fans started cleaning that up on their own. As a way to help, they are cleaning up on their own before we get to it.”

Silver indicated it was not only the Friday night fans and players who were impacted. He witnessed the junior varsity, freshmen and even a Mt. Vernon youth football program going to the seating area and picking up trash after their games as well."

And what might be the best part of this story is that it serves as evidence that our programs are about much more than winning and losing. We say it so often—it is near cliché. Regardless, I truly believe the purpose of an athletics program, (especially in amidst a Catholic community) is transformation. This post-game ritual allowed for that. 

The NFHS article states, “Picking up trash is not always the easiest. Silver recalled a heartbreaking road loss when the coaches didn’t say anything to the players about going into the stands. After the post-game speech, the coaching staff instead told the team to go to the locker room and change, then get to the bus.

But, the players’ agenda was a little different.
“The players always surprise you,” Silver said. “We talked for a minute as a coaching staff and when we turned around they were up (in the stands) doing it already without anybody telling them to.”

Indeed, service can be a postgame ritual. “For some players, picking up the garbage around the bleachers is about more than just cleanliness, it is about self-reflection."

“Going and taking care of the trash helped me reflect on the game, just kind of, ‘What are we here for?’” Mt. Vernon offensive lineman Josiah Nelson told The Everett (Washington) Daily Herald. “You realize there is another football game. I need to think about what I’m doing in this game and take of it in the next one.”

But this ritual became much, much more. Transformation was and never is limited to one student athlete or one team. In the act of service, parents, teachers, coaches and the larger community changed too.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said Everybody can be great….because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.

And as the Mt. Vernon Bulldogs proved that can be at unlikely times, in unlikely ways.  It all just starts with a question…What are we doing beyond winning and losing? How are we serving others? How can we be great...!

 Photo Credits

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Any Athlete Can Be Great: Because Every Athlete Can Serve. A new way to do so....Part I

Not really sure why we all can't put our own trash away
Near the conclusion of a professional baseball game in Japan, stadium employees pass trash bags down the aisles so fans can place their food, trays and rubbish where it belongs. Why do we Americans just leave plastic water bottles, boxes of popcorn and candy wrappers on the ground for someone else to pick up? I have often wondered, Why can't we do it ourselves? Why don't we? What happens when the ones who pick up the trash are the athletes themselves? Here is a story of a few athletes who do.

The first story involves a former student and Fox award honoree that I ran into at the gym the this past week.

Half of the faculty in the religious studies department thinks we should do away with our extraordinary award. With nearly 1500 students, it's unlikely our small staff knows the nominees well enough to determine who is that outstanding contributor over another kid. However, I have always believed that if we recognize the right individual, the award speaks volumes. (see this posting on sports & nutrition). Tommy aka "TK" is a wonderful example.

In high school, Tommy was an outstanding football and lacrosse player. His football coach had to tell him in practice he didn't need to hit that hard, a) his teammates were getting beat up and b) he needed to learn the switch between "on" and "off." In my course, RS 300: Ethics, Morality and Justice, TK, continually made connections between literature, American history and our curriculum. I don’t know that he was overtly religious and yet, I cannot tell you how many world events I learned about through his petitionary prayer. 

Students lead prayer and ask for intentions. Tommy would pray “for the victims of the earthquake in Pakistan,” I would listen and think to myself, I didn’t know there was an earthquake in Pakistan. Or he would pray for the success of the penny wars—a student driven fundraiser. It’s not often that a 17-year old male who was a member of the 1000 lb. club (bench, squat and dead lift) is calling to his peers to prayer in this way.
TK on the right with two former SI football players after a game at Trinity in Hartford, CT
But one of TK's most endearing qualities was his attention to details and to others. After class, if students left papers on the floor he would return them to me. He found the girl who left her pencil pouch and gave it to her. The lonely calculator that was left behind? He looked to see if someone put their name on it so he could give it to them. His classmates noticed this about him too. It was hard not to.

After our awards ceremony, When Tommy won the Fox award, I was telling a colleague how much it meant to me that TK won the award. My co-worker didn't know who I was talking about. I said "sure you do, Tommy is involved in this and you may have seen him there." He shook his head "no."  What I'm about to tell you can't be made up. Midconversation, for some reason, I look up into the bleachers and who do I see? Tommy is picking up all of the programs from the awards assembly. Caught in the act!


I didn't coach TK, so I can't speak directly to how this quality extended to the gridiron or the lax field, but I don't doubt that it did. He was caught in the act of doing good, following a moment when he shined...winning the a presigious award that reflects academics and character. That's probably the best time to do that.

The next posting will be about the Mt. Vernon High School football team that does the same. ...win or lose.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Another Way to Look at Sports Nutrition & More...Rory McIlroy

McIlroy will play for Ireland in the 2016 Olympics
In "An Introduction to Catholic Ethics" Andrew Peach writes, "In Book II of his Ethics, Aristotle states that it is the virtuous man who has really discovered or determined what virtue is. It is not as though Aristole locked himself up in an ivory tower and cleverly devised a number of rules for becoming virtuous. His knowledge of virtue was acquired in the same manner everyone's knowledge of virtue is acquired: by observing virtuous people."

Yesterday, I wrote that I believe this rule of thumb can apply to other areas of our lives. If we seek excellence, look at the best. If we want creativity look at those who are creative. And I believe that can also be true for those who are fit, healthy and strong. What do they do that keeps them in shape? How often do they exercise? And what do they eat? Just this week, I was reminded that Rory McIlroy serves as an excellent example.

For a unit on spiritual identity, I teach about McIlroy a Catholic from Northern Ireland. As the number one golfer in the world, he is a popular figure. Most, but not all students are familiar with who he is. So, I thought it was important to summarize his short but successful career and showcase his beautiful swing through a new video clip. I came across many items of interest, one of which is here:
I was curious to know how he lives. (and at one point, I wondered, Is that creepy?). Regardless, these aspects of his home caught my attention and have stayed with me. They aren't overly revolutionary or unique, but I would like to offer some insight on each.
1. He has a gym. At just 5'9" and 161 pounds, Rory is strong and he is fit. Even a few football players in class commented on this.  

I don't know that I would ever use a gym if I had one in my own home. Personally, I love the experience of working out and lifting with others. They inspire me to work harder and better. I don't think Rory has that freedom. He is far from anonymous. His commitment to personal fitness is a primary concern. So important that he was intentional about including space for it in his home. 

2. He has a trophy case. I liked what Rory said about this room. It serves as reminder of what he has accomplished, but he also has many shelves to fill. Go for it Rory!

3. His kitchen. When I saw this, I wondered: Does Rory really live in this place? All I saw in that kitchen was a bevy of fresh fruits and nuts. A blender was easily accessible so he can make his own smoothies. Where were the Cheetos (or at least the baked ones?!) Does he have a cookie jar? And then I realized that number one and number three on my list make number two possible. 

Looking at his kitchen, I was struck by its cleanliness. I found that sentiment to be symbolic as the fresh foods in that kitchen make me feel that way. I went looking for a story on a young man who has three different major titles in just 25 years and I found inspiration. 
The name "Rory" means "red king" in Irish.
Later that I day, I joined the JV golf team for nine holes. After our second hole (we were on the back nine), they raced to the snack bar. I couldn't help but laugh when I saw they purchased Lays' potato chips and Reeses' peanut butter cups. No Cliff Bars, no trail mix or fruit, just good old fashioned junk food. Ah, to be 15 again.

I thought back to what I watched earlier that day: insight into how the best chooses to live, and how that inspired me. Most of the time, I'm not too different than the JV boys I have come to know and love. But I want them to do better. Me too.

I think Aristotle had it right....

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

One Way To Think About Sports Nutrition...Look to the Best


Sports writers did not create rules for becoming a great quarterback out of thin air; they observed quarterbacks in action and, then, described the traits these athletes had in common.

Andrew Peach, the author of "An Introduction to Catholic Ethics" explains that Aristotle's knowledge of virtue is acquired by observing virtuous people. I have always thought his analogy is helpful. Look to the one who embodies the quality or characteristic you want. Observe: What do they do?  Determine: How do they do it?

This method underscores why I sought a spiritual director. I noticed that my colleagues who were the most serious about their prayer life and deepening their relationship with the Lord met with one on a regular basis. I figured if athletes work with a personal trainer, why shouldn't I connect with a spiritual one?


One area that needs improvement in my life is nutrition. I try to eat well balanced meals with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, but if I were to track my weekly intake, you might notice a large number of M&Ms. I tuck potato chips into my sandwich for added crunch and the peanut/pretzel vial at my golf club provides my weekly salt block. I am in need of much more than a nutritionist. I think positive and proactive examples help. What do athletes at the top of their game eat? What do they snack on. Fortunately, I found some answers.
Sorry, couldn't find a photo of the dining hall

Over spring break, I attended golf school for two days at the prestigious IMG academy. I was curious to know what this 450 acre training facility for high school through professional athletes in Bradenton, Florida had to offer. If you're curious you can read more about it here.

I can tell you one thing they did not offer: dessert. Most of the adult athletes and teams eat at one common dining facility. Naturally, there was a well-stocked salad bar, a bevy of fruit to go, soup, and a choice of entree (one which was always fish). There wasn't a PBJ station or cookie jar anywhere in sight. When I asked my friend why, we realized who we were with and where we were. To call "sugar the enemy" is strong, but professional athletes are keeping it at bay. I made that note to self and bought some sweet & salty Chex Mix at Walgreens later that day.

That weekend, the stellar performance of Jordan Spieth lifted the ratings of the 2014 Masters by 24%! From time to time during the 4-rounds I got to watch, I noticed golfers eating a KIND bar on the course, or others at a banana. Many made strong efforts to stay hydrated. But reading the Sports Illustrated cover story "Old School" about the 2015 champion, Jordan Spieth, revealed much more. Alan Shipnuck writes, 

"Spieth has begun having blood work done to fine-tune his diet, which is why on the course he now snacks on walnuts instead of cashews and dried blueberries rather than raisins. His meals are heavy on vegetables, even though he says he "flat out hates" them. For every round he has a prescribed amount of water to drink—at the sunbaked Texas Open it was 60 oz per nine holes."

To what degree did his new diet contribute to his success? 
Reading about the high octane fuel these athletes ingest truly does inspire me. I will never forget (based on a funny set of circumstances) that when former Notre Dame All-American, national champion and WNBA All-Star Ruth Riley stayed in my apartment, she didn't eat anything I had to offer. She was however thrilled to see a brand new juice bar had just opened on my street. We walked in to Evolution and she found she met her match.

Although the drinks in house are pricey, I have a feeling they are worth it. One can't help but feel "clean" after drinking a tasty breakfast beverage that includes a weekly dose of vitamin C and more. Who knew that beets, apples, kale, tangerine and berries could taste so good together? Ruth Riley, who played basketball professionally for 12 years does.


This fall, I will be working with the JV girls golf team. I hope to talk to them about the importance of good nutrition for sport and for life. I hope to model it too! Perhaps some of them will inspire me as well. Based on a recent outing with the JV boys squad, I'm not so sure. That's for my next posting...

Photo Credits
Aristotle
IMG
Spieth

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Beauty of the Masters

At lunch on Monday, riding high from the Masters tourney, I cornered the JV boys golf coach and another colleague who spends 10 days every summer golfing in Scotland. I told them "I can't wait to talk to you two." I wanted nothing more than to geek out and talk about The Masters for the next 40 minutes.

Another colleague saw us and said "Is it all golf talk at this table?" I wanted to run pass interference against her so we would not have to curtail our conversation. I responded with an emphatic "yes" but she sat down anyway. It was at that point, I realized just how many others enjoyed the 2015 Masters too It wasn't just a day for golf enthusiasts. Sports fan and non-sports fan alike were witnesses to an incredible day, an awesome feat, good stories and true beauty.
With this blog post, I'd like to offer a few things worth remembering.
  • Every good story becomes better when told by a great narrator. The announcers at The Masters are second to none. I love the sing-song brogue of Northern Ireland's David Ferhety and the British accent of Nick Faldo nearly lulls you to sleep. And Jim Nantz gives it the class and authority the first of the four majors deserves. 
  • Several of their comments will stay with me. In addition to some players having "nerves of titanium," these are good ones.
    • We talk about learning from mistakes all the time.
      Sometimes I am wary of this adage as I tell my students that some mistakes in life are too big to make, the consequences too grave. But in many domains, it's true, mistakes can be our best teachers. And that was important for no one more than Jordan Spieth. Perhaps you remember his performance in the 2014 Masters. As written for CBS Sports
      • He entered the final round tied at 5-under, but Watson shot 69 to Spieth's 72. Jonas Blixt finished alongside Spieth in second place at 5-under
        But none of that was predictable given the way the day began. A birdie at the par-5 2nd got Spieth moving in the right direction. Then, at No. 4, he holed a thrilling bunker shot to move two strokes ahead of Watson. Spieth gave one back at No. 5, but then rolled in consecutive birdies at Nos. 6 & 7.
      • It started to come unraveled for Spieth at the wrong time, since it perfectly coincided with Watson's charge. Spieth had a two-stroke lead on the tee at No. 8, and he started the second nine two strokes off Watson's pace after consecutive bogeys.that
    • Nothing unraveled this year for Jordan Spieth. And Sir Nick Faldo made note of it when he said, "All the greats learn from their mistakes and do it quickly. That is a mark of a champion." Translation: for those seeking excellence, implement change sooner rather than later. Here, here.
    • Fortune Falls on the Brave:
      • If are looking for a putting clinic, perhaps I can recommend just watching Spieth during the final round. He did so much, so well. His line, his pace, his aim. Mastery. Phil Mickelson knew he would need to do the same in order to recover from being four shots behind the leader. He did what he could and went for it. We knew he would.
Phil had a great putt but it missed on this hole. He was still able to smile & enjoy the feat. So close...
    • Dark Colors and Aggression:
      • In one of my favorite comments, Mickelson said he would be wearing dark colors on Sunday. "It's been proven that NFL teams that wear dark colors play more aggressively and that's what I will need to do tomorrow." Atta boy Phillie. Anyone who really knows you speaks of how competitive you are. I love the fact that you aimed to do what men wearing helmets and full pads aim to do. Be aggressive. You went for it..and we love that.
    • You are Not Bo Jackson:
      • As written in the Bleacher Report, Tiger Woods dispels major doubts about his game and finishes all four rounds at Augusta, but not without incident as he injures his wrist in Sunday’s final round of the Masters. He"jammed his iron into a tree root on the ninth hole and hurt his right wrist. He said, 'a bone kinda popped out and a joint kind of went out of place, but I put it back in.' If you were watching you saw that hitting the tree root caused him to yell out in pain and shake his wounded extremity."
      • My two favorite Sports Talk radio announcers had a hey-day with this. Not long ago, Tiger talked about "deactivating his glutes." In the history of the game, not once has a golfer spoke of their gluteal muscle(s). Tiger, however, speaks of putting his joint back into place and/or popping it back in. Murph & Mac wants Tiger to realize hs is not Bo Jackson—who really did pop his hip bone back into its socket. Watch Jackson run, take hits, climb walls, dive for catches and you will know he did. Sorry Tiger, your tree root, your 7 iron and your hand convinced no one.
Walking off with his parents Shawn & Chris
  • On the final hole, Justin Rose, the second place finisher, who was partnered with Spieth throughout the day, held back on the walk to the final green. A gracious competitor, he did this so Spieth could take in the applause, cheers and sight of what was about to happen: his first major victory.

    That moment gets me every time. It is timeless. I get completely choked up and tears fill my eyes. I asked myself Why does this happen? What is it? I shared my question with a few others and I came to an important realization. When you see beauty, pure and true, it moves the heart. I can't help but capture your emotions and strike something deep within.

    Quite often, we are moved to tears when we see beauty in a newborn, at a friend's wedding or in a moment of reconciliation. Where we find beauty is as unique as we are. I happen to find it on a golf course in Augusta, Georgia. I find it in a game played at the highest level, exposing the talents and gifts of a young man. I see it in the love and support of his parents, grandfather, girlfriend Annie and three closest friends from Dallas Jesuit as he walked to the clubhouse.

    I can't wait to see it again...I know what will happen when I do. Tears, a movement of the heart and a deep desire to share it all with those I know love that beauty as much as I do. Maybe it should be said "And on the 7th day, the Lord watched a round of golf"...because He did.
Photo Credits
Phil Mickelson
Green Jacket


Monday, April 13, 2015

Jordan Spieth and His Caddy: Glad It Wasn't a Dream

I have a lot of stories, and I carry with me but a few good ones. One of my best was made known on one of my favorite sports days of the years: the final round of The Masters.
Perhaps you are one of thousands who have sought to learn all you can about the 21-year old champion Jordan Spieth in the 24 hours since his epic victory. I remember first reading about him two years ago thanks to Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year Issue. Produced at the year's end, it includes a feature of "up and coming athletes."

The article, entitled "A Swing and a Hit" i
ncluded a pronunciation key for his surname: "Spieth rhymes with teeth." I learned about his parents Shawn and Chris, respective athletes in their own right (baseball and basketball), as well as his younger brother Steven (who plays hoops at Brown) and his 14 year old sister, Ellie who has autism. "She keeps me grounded," said Spieth. A graduate of Dallas Jesuit, I immediately felt a kinship with this young face in American golf. But my story about Spieth comes from an unsuspecting source: his caddy.

I come from a family of teachers. My grandfather, sister, as well as too many of my uncles, aunts, cousins and I share a common profession. As educators, each one of us is familiar with what people always want to know: What do you do with your summers?! My cousin Amy and I have enjoyed plotting and strategizing how to have good ones. We discuss aiming for the right balance of activities, travel, down time, new hobbies, etc. We compare and contrast. However, I think her former co-worker figured that out best.
In the summer of 2013, Amy told me about her colleague Michael Greller; a fellow middle school teacher who caddied in the summers. He took a leave of absence from teaching in their school district to work with a young man who was going to play on the PGA tour. As written in "Why Masters Champion Jordan Spieth Hired a Former Teacher as His Caddie," Michael said he "had no aspirations of making caddying his profession. Among other things, Greller liked that it gave him a practical-world example to show the students. After caddying at  amateur tournaments, he would often bring his yardage book—which caddies use to calculate precise distances on the course—into class. "A lot of that is sixth-grade math," Greller said.

Greller first caddied for Spieth at the 2011 US Junior Amateur which was held hear Greller's home. A bond was created. In 2012, Greller caddied for him when he played in the US Open as an amateur. Spieth's 21st-place finish at the Olympic Club made him the top ranked amateur in the world. 

Dallas Jesuit so proud of their alum.
From their athletics webpage.
When Spieth went pro, Mike decided he would break from teaching, continue caddying on the tour and see where things went. Mike wasn't offered another year for a leave of absence. With the support of his wife, he committed to full time work with Jordan Spieth. Fortunately for both men, in the summer of 2013, it was to the trophy stand at the John Deere Classic. 

This past summer, I had the chance once again to spend time with Amy and talk about our June, July and August. I remembered the risk of her co-worker. I said "Amy who is that golfer your colleague caddies for." She said "Anne, it's Jordan Spieth." My jaw nearly dropped. I had just returned from Tokyo, Japan where the flagship store of Under Armour had been unveiled a few weeks prior. Who was the face of golf for this increasingly popular line of sportwear? Jordan Spieth. Who do people continue to tout as the future of American golf? Jordan Spieth. And who walked with Bubba Watson in the final pairing of the 2014 Masters? Jordan Spieth....and Michael Greller.

One of my favorite songs is "Badlands" by Bruce Springsteen. It's message is so poignant because it's hungry. And it's raw. The Boss sings:
Talk about a dream, try to make it real.
You wake up in the night, with a fear so real.
You spend your life waiting, for a moment that just don't come.Well, don't waste your time waiting.
It's hard not to love the tradition of the green jacket
We all have dreams. It's hard not to be inspired by real life examples of those who go after them.

Today, Jordan Spieth tweeted "Well, I'm glad it wasn't a dream." When Bubba Watson won The Masters for the first time in 2012, he said "I never got this far in my dreams." One of my favorite messages from the University of Notre Dame is "maybe the best dreams in life are the ones you never knew you had...that still come true."

Congratulations to Jordan Spieth, yes. But huge congratulations to Michael Greller for taking a risk. For doing things right. For letting the dream to come to you. I might not have been one you knew you had, but I will be calling you about summer work.

And ee you on your home course of Chambers Bay at the 2015 US Open! Thanks for a great story—one of my favorites.

Tomorrow's post: The Story that is The Masters....

Photo Credits
Green Jacket

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Thoughts on Notre Dame Women's Basketball National Championship Loss: One Word—Transformation

On April 7, 2015 I attended a national championship game for the first time. For those of you who have been to one—for any sport—perhaps you realize the energy and excitement behind the event is truly incredible. I have been to my share of post-season games: San Francisco Giants Divisional and Championship Series contests, the NBA play-offs, and a strong number of college football bowl games. But a national championship? I can now say it is second to none. 
Congratulations to an incredibly talented team.
I saw the University of Notre Dame women's basketball team play the University of Connecticut in what was the second contest between these two teams in two years (in 2013, the Irish lost to the Huskies in the Final Four). On Tuesday night, the Irish fell short by 10 points. 

Everyone who knew I went to the game said something very similar. "I'm sorry you didn't see a win," they quipped. Or "too bad you were there for a loss." I know what they meant; I think it's important to acknowledge that the Irish didn't do what I know they wanted to do. And I know that for a fact, as my seats were perched above the tunnel where the Lady Irish exited the gym floor. Many of the players walked out with their heads hung low. Several of them were crying. Two were holding one another as they held back their tears. Coach McGraw was not happy. 

But if you were at that game, you might understand what I'm about to write. As much as I love winning, and I do...it is one of the greatest feelings of the world...I'm not sorry for what I saw. It was an honor to be at that game. It was an honor to cheer for a team—my favorite female basketball team—playing at the highest level. It's not something I will easily forget.
So grateful to have had the chance to watch the game with the McGuire family who live in Tampa. Erin is ND '19!
Their mom Suzie, is an alum (and taking the photo ;-). Thanks Patrick for talking to Natalie Novosel ;-)
I don't enjoy spending money on what I think will be a losing proposition. UConn was favored by 18 points going into the game. Last year's final, wasn't much of a contest. Furthermore, the Irish lost to the Huskies 76-58 at home in early December. Suffice to say, I knew what I might be in for. But Coach McGraw felt differently. As written by Gene Wang for the Washington Post, “I love being the underdog, said McGraw. "Always have. The pressure is not on us. It’s on U-Conn. We can go out, relax, play our game. Nobody expects us to win. Nobody’s picked us to win, so we can have a very loose attitude going into the game.”

Indeed, hope springs eternal. “You know, I think getting here is a great achievement for any program,” McGraw said of reaching the NCAA final. “I think that there’s probably 350 schools in the country that would love to trade places with us. I think probably because we did win one that maybe I don’t feel that sort of pressure, but I want this for this team.” I did too. And I wasn't disappointed.

Before the game, the local alumni chapter hosted staff from the University's Alumni Office for a road version of a pregame pep rally. Free appetizers, beads, stickers added to the spirit. The band and the cheerleaders made a special stop to pump up the crowd. Fans of all ages, honestly—young and old—were ready to support the Irish.

At the game itself, it was striking to see the number of former female players in attendance. So many of these women are incredible athletes and too many they remain anonymous, unless you really follow women's basketball. Recent standouts included Natalie Novosel and Kayla McBride, but it was quite obvious from the camaraderie between a host of other women, that many others in Tampa shared in the same journey.

The Irish played up, keeping it close in the second half. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough. But on my drive back to Orlando (where I happened to be for a conference) all I kept thinking about he homily I had heard two days prior, Easter Sunday. The Resurrection isn't limited to Christ's victory over death. The true message of Easter is transformation. And that is also what I saw at the national championship game.

I saw the Irish play UCLA at the historic Pauley Pavilion in December. I traveled to south over my Christmas break because I thought it was my one chance to see them play. As fate would have it, I got to see them again...but they weren't the same team. They were better. They were stronger and more cohesive. They played more effectively to their strengths and minimized their weaknesses. Again, maybe it wasn't enough, but what was there was a result to talent, team work and trust. Ultimately, I was a witness to transformation....their transfromation. All Notre Dame basketball fans can be very, very proud of that.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Sports Fandom 101: The Importance of a Roster

Once you walk through security into Oracle Arena, the home of the Golden State Warriors, a staff member may ask you a question. It's an important one, so pay attention. They may or may not look you in the eye. Do you want a roster? My answer is always "yes." 

Recently, at a De La Salle boys' basketball playoff game, my dad turned to me and said "it's too bad they don't have rosters anymore." I feel the same way; I'm my father's daughter on this one. At a SI boys varsity volleyball game earlier that week, I wanted a roster myself. I did what any (pre)millennial would do. I pulled one up on my iPhone. "Problem solved Dad," I said. A roster is an essential component for watching a game. Perhaps it separates true sports fans from spectators.

It's important to know who the players are. It helps to know their height, weight and age. Rosters in professional sports will list the college where the athlete once played. I enjoy reviewing this. I also look to see that there is but one athlete still competing that is older than me. That person is much harder to find.  

One thing I love about the rosters created for sports teams at St. Ignatius College Prep in San Francisco, where I teach and coach, is that it also lists where the athlete went to grade school! It's as if this player gets to represent some of the storied and historic parochial schools of San Francisco. It's hard not to love the athlete from St. Anne of the Sunset or St. Vincent de Paul a little more than the one from San Francisco Day School. Sorry, I admit my bias.

Looking for a connection to the athletes and teams we admire is a natural thing. Catholic-Christianity is so rooted in community and in today's too often disconnected world, sometimes our schools is all we have. 

So it should come as no surprise that I have been rooting extra hard for the Notre Dame men's and women's basketball teams this year. Steve Vasturia a 6'5" guard who looks like he is 12 years old, graduated from St. Joseph's Prep in Philadelphia. A close friend of mine does all he can to "Rep the Prep" on the left coast...so much so that he connected me with a faculty member there, who has become a friend. Thank you Frank for always being so generous with your time and helping us navigate through Philly traffic.
Vasturia was a clutch 3-point shooter in the post-season.
And a great touch as a ball handler.
Is it me or does he look younger now?

For the past three summers, I have taken students on a week-long service trip to the Romero Center in Camden, NJ. We make a point of visiting the Prep on West Girard Street so my students can see our shared tradition. Something clicks when they see the same statue of Ignatius of Loyola on their campus and  when they read our common mottos of AMDG and Men (and Women) for and with Others in their hallways. You better believe I will be seeking to purchase a Prep basketball t-shirt from their Bookstore in August.

And watching the Notre Dame women's team for the past three years has been that much more exciting because a junior guard, Hannah Huffman went to my alma mater, Carondelet High School. I got a chance to meet Hannah after the Irish defeated the UCLA Bruins at the historic Pauley Pavillon. I felt like I had known her a long time and really enjoyed our conversation. It's was a though I were talking to one of my own friends that I made back in high school. Common teachers, experiences, traditions and path from Concord CA to South Bend have a way of doing that. I wrote an article about "Huff" for our alumni newsletter, The Carondeletter. Can't wait for fellow alumnae to know more about her.
At it best, sports offers us a platform by which to represent some much more than just ourselves. A jersey doesn't just bear a school's name, it also represents a family name. And we never get to the next level without the places and people who helped us get there in the past...be it our grade school, our high school or our college. It's important to know who we are and where we come from. A roster is just a simple reminder of that.

Photo Credits
Steve V
Prep