Friday, May 27, 2016

What Every Teacher and Coach Must Do...Thank You Coach Kelly

The last day of class is always bittersweet. More sweet than bitter...bitter than sweet (thank you Big Head Todd). On the final day, I try to recall favorite moments from the past year, laughs, great stories, important lessons learned and I extend my gratitude to my students. This year, I discovered an important truth on that final day; a realization brought about from the words of Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly. 

In a speech I heard last week, Coach Kelly said "if you had asked me 15 years ago whether or not I like my athletes, I would have told you it doesn't matter. So long as you can run or score for me, I doesn't matter if I like you or not. But knowing what I am missing out on with my own family, I decided I had to like these guys." Upon hearing his remarks, I wondered how he did that. I thought to myself, How does that happen—did he put a fuss-ball table in his office? If I decide to like someone or something, will I? And what does it take to like a group of young people? What tips would he give? 

And then I realized as I prepared my final remarks for my Sports and Spirituality class, a rambunctious group of 20 boys and 5 girls—that I did what he did. I decided to like them. And guess what, it worked.
The Class of 2016, 5th Period
An important ritual on the final day of class is an all class sharing. Each student is asked to share the following:
  1. A favorite story or passage from Scripture that we have studied this year. Why does it stand out for you? Why do you believe this is important? What is the lesson it offers?
  2. Identify concept OR a person that you feel is important and has helped you gain a better understanding of yourself, of the world, of human nature, of your faith, etc. It might be Praydreaming, Theodicy, Compassion or Scripture as Scalpel: To harm or to heal. Maybe it’s Jacob, Jesus, the women at the tomb, etc.NB: There might be some overlap between #1 and #2
  3. Identify one person in this class who has made a contribution with their personal sharing as a partner, as a positive presence, as a group member, overall in the class, etc. Please think creatively and thank them for their contribution.  Bottom line: this class is better because she/he is in it!
It is a wonderful way to conclude the year as I love to learn what stands out as important, what resonated with my kids and more often than not—those students who gave of themselves: to the course and to one another get some recognition. In turn, I summarize much of what they share and then I get to give my thanks. This year, I shared Coach Kelly's story. 

I tell them when I first heard this, "I didn't get it. But as I look around this room, I do." I told them "about a month into this semester, I decided I would like you. I had to if we were going to survive." 

It might seem like a given that a teacher would like their students...and that they should like their students. We do. But we'e also waged war against them and in those times both parties lose. It's no way to be.

As I share my story, I look at the one student who refused to button his collared shirt on a daily basis. Or I look at another who did everything in his power to come and go—in and out of class—as he pleased. I remember how they would clap for each other ad nasuseum: whether it be compelling or completely asinine. So many of these second semester seniors had a full blown case of senioritis....in January! I had been there before, but I hadn't always handled it this way.

I can't remember the exact switch, but one of the days they were more engaged in the curriculum than not...they were feeling generous and maybe I was too. I let my guard down, I genuinely laughed with them, and at them (as they do). Something changed. I liked them not for who I thought they could be, but who they were right now. 
I told my sophomores I should quit now, I'm not sure I'll have a better group than this one...
Every class is different. I taught sophomores for the first time in 12 years. I didn't want anything to do with this course and I almost felt as though I were duped into teaching it. But God's grace was manifested in the group of 28 students. They were fantastic.  I never told them how much I appreciated them until today, the last day of class. I didn't want to jinx it. I told them I committed to liking my seniors...but I never had to do that with them.  I liked them from the start.

St. Paul says that "Love is an act of the will." As a teacher and a coach, our primary duty is to love those entrusted in our care. I think the ability to do that rests in a commitment to do so—again not for who they might be or who we want them to be...but who they actually are. Liking them along the way certainly helps. And what I found is there was a lot to like. There was plenty to not be thrilled about, but their wit, their zany personalities, their prayers, hopes and concerns, their work...that's just the start of it.

Photo Credits
Coach Kelly

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

My 10 Minutes with Coach Brian Kelly

I honestly think one of the greatest gifts you can offer another person is your undivided attention. My ten minute conversation at the inaugural Notre Dame Family wines event and dinner with Brian Kelly, head football coach for the Fightin' Irish, affirmed my belief.
My friend Steve and I talked to Coach Kelly about everything and nothing in particular. But reflecting back on it now, I realize we exchanged ideas about some of my favorite things. I asked him if I could serve as his caddy at the American Century Championship Golf Classic, a tourney he plays in up at Lake Tahoe every summer. He made analogies between teaching and coaching. He shared thoughts on working with athletes today, about his Kelly Cares Foundation and its annual Football 101: For women only. And I talked to him about what consumed my imagination this past Fall: "A Season with Notre Dame Football." 

Showtime Sports claims that this series allows the viewer to "Go inside the locker room and coaching offices for never-before-seen footage of what goes into the makings of a champion college team." While most college football fans anticipate game day, I couldn't wait for Tuesday evenings September through November to watch the latest episode. 

This program invested me in the team and the players in a new way. I was able to see their work ethic, the demands of college football today, the different personalities, challenges, and of course the thrill or victory and the agony of defeat. (I showed multiple clips in my Sports and Spirituality class...shamelessly...unapologetically...to which my students said more often than not "Can we watch the rest of this?!") I came to know and love so many different players: DeShone Kizer, Jaylon Smith, Tori Hunter Jr., Devin Butler. But, one person captured my focus and attention more than anyone: Coach Brian Kelly. I spent the entire season psychoanalyzing him. I was desperate to get a better read on a man who is in one of the most and least enviable position in athletics.
Having the opportunity to talk to him one on one, hearing his speech, and considering what I've witnessed on the sidelines every Saturday (and Tuesday night), I have collected hundreds of thoughts. But one emerged; it crystallized from that one evening. I think it is one that many Irish fans will know and understand: Brian Kelly has grown into his role as Head Coach of Notre Dame. And I like it.

I should tell you the impressive stats and stories he shared about Notre Dame football. For example, Team 127 had not only six players taken in the first round of the NFL draft, they also earned he highest GPA of any football team in Fightin' Irish history. Perhaps wide receiver Corey Robinson has something to do with it. I hear he has a genius IQ; he will also serve as student body president next year. (Coach Kelly said he won the election with full party support). Who does that? Play football AND serve in student government? The Admiral's son, a man who deserves his own nickname, that's who.

I enjoyed learning Coach Kelly's path to the position as the head coach of Notre Dame. One step included coaching womens' softball, at his alma mater—Assumption College—where he also served as linebackers coach and defensive coordinator. The first time BK ever set foot in South Bend was when he accepted the job in December 2009. As someone who hadn't visited ND until I arrived there as a Freshman in August of 1992, I could relate. Though most people in the room were shocked to hear his story, I understood. Notre Dame is where Coach Kelly wanted to be. I get that.

He told us that Team 127 performed 2500 hours of community service and participated in 37 distinct community events. Right now, 11 men on the team are studying abroad and many others are working internships throughout the country. He successfully painted a portrait of a student consistent with his message "We are looking for a young man who will connect with the values of Notre Dame. How we develop and who we recruit is contingent on finding that fit. It's my job to recruit, retain and develop these players."

In a "Q & A" that followed his speech, an alumni said, "I watched A Season with Notre Dame Football and I was surprised at just how likable the team was. Is that true?" 

Coach Kelly responded by telling us that he had been to but two of his son's high school football games this past fall. He added, "if you had asked me 15 years ago whether or not I like my athletes, I would have told you I don't care. So long as you can run or score for me, I don't care if I like you or not. But knowing what I am missing out on with my own family, I decided I had to care about these guys." His words made me pause and think: Does this mean he's recruiting guys he knows he will like? Is he now investing in his players in a new way so he can get to know them better (e.g. training table, an open office). I would love to talk to him more about that.
People might be familiar with this face of Coach Kelly.
I would also like him to know that what I was privy to in one evening helped me understand an important idea I encountered in Jim Martin SJ's new book "The Seven Last Words of Christ: An Invitation to a Deeper Relationship with Jesus." In it, Martin writes,
More to the point, who did Jesus think he was? Did he understand himself as the Messiah? And how did he come to understand himself? His identity? His humanity? His divinity? 
Much of this must remain a mystery. But one helpful way to understand it is that Jesus grew in his understanding of his identity throughout his life. 
To begin with, it is reasonable to think that Mary would have shared with her son her experience with the Angel Gabriel, and Joseph his experiences of his dreams. All parents want to help their children understand who they are called to be, so why wouldn't Mary and Joseph try to help Jesus understand his unique vocation? As he matured, they likely spoke with him about his identity, even if they didn't fully comprehend it themselves. Much later, of course, at his baptism, Jesus has a profound experience of himself as God's "beloved son."
But even after his baptism, Jesus may have struggled to understand what this meant. We all do the same after we have had a deep insight or passed a milestone in our lives. A married couple, for example, don't fully understand marriage on their wedding day. A mother doesn't fully understand motherhood on the day of the birth of her first chid. And a priest doesn't fully understand what it means to be a priest on the day of his ordination. All of this takes time. 
The truth of growing into one's identity and the way I have seen this in the seven years Brian Kelly has coached football at Notre Dame is what I want people to know. To think that anyone should arrive to a place and serve in a position like that one and have it all figured out is unfair. It  takes time. Though our world (and alums) has immediate demands, to make something like a high profile coaching position one's own demands reflection, maturity, wisdom, prayer, assistance, support and encouragement. I don't appreciate the fans who have written Coach Kelly off for some of the mistakes he made in his first two years. The program that he has built and the players that he is shaping are ones I am very proud to be associated with. 
Watch Coach Kelly on the sidelines on any given Saturday, and he can't help but stand face to face with his quarterback or the referee. It's a role he's grown into, one that he has made his own. And I'm grateful he's sharing that with the University of Notre Dame, undivided attention and more.  Go Irish.

Photo Credits
BK and Kizer
Coach Kelly
Season with ND Football
Angry BK

Thursday, May 19, 2016

On Meeting Bag Man: Steve Williams

One of the more interesting "characters" on the PGA tour isn't even a player, it's a caddie. I've written about Steve Williams at this point, too many timesThis Kiwi has had colorful and exciting career, serving as the caddie for Greg Norman, Tiger Woods and now Adam Scott. But after meeting him in the Atlanta airport and talking to him in the United Club lounge, I suppose it's worth another go. Here's why.
I am not a people watcher, but my parents are. My folks are down to earth and they don't literally carry a lot with them; metaphorically I think they do. They have one cell phone between them and my mom has but three phone numbers in it: one for my brother, sister and for me. The only time she uses the device is when she's talking to one of us, many times about one of us. Because they travel lightly, they are free from distraction. They read, they talk to the people around them, they watch people and they have a a knack for spotting celebrities when they travel.

What's funny about their star sightings is that they never tell me about them. Quite often, I will talk about an athlete or an actor and my mom will turn to my dad and recall when and where they saw that person. For example, after watching the "30 for 30:I Hate Christian Laettner" my dad said, "We were flying back from visiting your brother in DC sitting in Dulles airport and I said to myself I recognize that guy. When he stood up and I knew it was Christian Laetner." 

Like my parents, my friend Peggy has a keen eye. She picks up on details like few people I know. One of them is people, in particular famous ones, she sees in public. Ask Peggy what celebrities she has seen or met in person and the dossier is an impressive one. It's fun to spend time with her for a number of reasons, but one is because you just never know who she might see. For example, heading back to her apartment after our run in Central Park turned to me and said "three o'clock, black Baseball cap. It's Kevin Bacon." She delivered this message in a way I never would. Her voice was monotone and her body language indicated nothing. I marvel at her discerning eye; I think it's better to have one that not to... 
I think this book has caught on because the subject is so....fascinating.
Humanity is so interesting, I don't know why we don't pay attention to one another more often. Obviously, celebrities aren't the only ones worth seeing but when we do it's exciting. There's a small rush of adrenaline. We all know they're people too and yet we *know* so much about them...without really knowing them. Enter in Bag Man.

On the Monday after the Masters I decided to read a lengthy article in Sports Illustrated 
"Kevin Na is Fit to Be Tied" by Alan Shipnuck. Because he was the first golfer to play on Sunday, we saw him quite a bit. I was intrigued by how he struggled with the mental aspect of the game for years. The words of the media, other golfers and especially Steve Williams didn't help.


Na sees a double standard in that when other players struggle and play slower, it is excused as a bad day, but he is never shown the same courtesy. In September 2014, at the Deutsche Bank Championship, he and playing partners Adam Scott and Chris Kirk combined to make four bogeys and two doubles in the first five holes of their opening round. All of this bad golf took a long time, and they were out of position for much of the rest of the round. Na could sense that Steve Williams was stewing. The following day, as Na labored to a 74, he believed Williams was giving him the stink eye and says that at round's end, the caddie avoided shaking his hand.
"In the scoring tent," Na says, "as I was about to leave, Stevie looks at me and goes, 'Do you ever watch a bad movie again and again?' I didn't really know what he was talking about, so I just said, 'Uh, no.' He goes, 'That's what you are, Kevin, a bad movie. I never want to see you play again.' And I looked at him, and I said, 'Stevie, you're out of line. If Adam has a problem with my play, he has every right to say whatever he wants. You're in no position to tell me what you just said to me.' He got real close to me and was saying basically that he could say whatever he wanted. It was getting pretty heated, but one of the Tour officials stepped in and said, 'Guys, not in here.' And that ended it." (Williams declined to comment.)
I could NOT believe Williams said that...It was hard for me to grasp that he had the gall to say those words to another person. And yet, knowing what I do know about Williams, I guess I could. Williams once took the camera of a patron who took a photo of Tiger Woods mid-swing and threw it into the water. Or when Adam Scott blew a four hold lead on Sunday at the Open, Williams was so mad that he walked to his car and slammed the trunk closed.  He was unwilling to talk to anyone. That's a sign that he's uber competitive. That same quality was not remotely hidden from anyone when Scott beat Woods in the Masters as he sounded a barbaric yawp from Augusta to Auckland. Steve got his revenge in that victory. Woods fired him in 2011. At least he didn't do it over the phone like Greg Norman did....
Knowing what I know about this Bag Man, carrying those images and especially the story about Kevin Na, I could hardly believe it when I rolled into line at the Atlanta airport to check my bag. It's Steve Williams: this man I had seen on the greens the day before, who I had read about earlier that day. I was so surprised that I simply said "Hi!" My eyes got real big and I gave a huge smile. As I said this, I realized he had NO idea who I am. I didn't really have anything to say, so I just moved to the back of the line and said "sorry." I immediately got onto my phone to text my friend that I was standing two people behind Steve Williams. 

I finished my message and he looks back at me and says "Susan?"
"No......." I said.  Pause. 
"Steve?" I inquire.
He looks at me and smiles, laughing.
I then start to wonder who is Susan....

Williams checked his bag and headed to his respective gate. I didn't have it in me to ask about Kevin Na. I get through security, step into the United Club lounge only to see that I am standing behind him again. When he finishes checking in I query "so who's Susan?"  He pulls me aside and wants to tell me the whole story." Turns out Susan is the head of New Zealand's PGA. There are worse people I could be. We talk for a while and golf fans start to swirl around us. They want to talk to Bag Man. As I'm preparing to depart, I ask a fatal question. "Did you have a good week?" 
I can't believe I asked that question, one I knew the answer to. Adam Scott finished tied for 42nd and 11 over par. But Steve was, is and always will be Steve. He became agitated and angry. It was not a pleasant exchange. That's how things go quite often with Steve Williams. Friendly, fiery, fiercely loyal.

My friend Peggy also loves to quote Maya Angelou who has written. "when people show you who they are, believe them." Humanity isn't that complicated. Public and private sightings and stories, we are who we are. Some of us are lucky enough to see it.

Photo Credits
Williams and Scott
Williams and Woods
Humans of New York. For book information go here

Monday, May 16, 2016

This I Believe: Thank you Kory Lamet

You want patience? life will throw you tests.
You want empathy, life will break you.
You want humility? try playing a new sport as an adult.

I recently heard someone complain about the fact that they picked up soccer too late in life. If only they had competed in the sport when they were much younger, their skill set, understanding of the game, and technique would be refined in such a way that they could be an elite athlete. 
"How old were you when you started playing?" I asked.
 "Eleven," she said.
I do not support this mindset. Though I understand that confidence is born from experience and competition is important, we should never feel as though we start something too late. I think of the many opportunities, friendships, life lessons and talents I would have missed had I not taken up a given sport by a certain age. 

I learned to row like many college freshman do my first year at Notre Dame. I rowed competitively for four years on the club team; women's crew became a varsity sport but a year after I graduated. I have a sense of what D-1 varsity athletes do because of that I experience. I know all that they give and what they gain.

I returned to playing basketball, a game I played in CYO in third through seventh grade in my late 20s. It was ugly, it was raw, I'm not sure you would ever want me on your team, but I enjoyed it. I watch the game much differently after having returned to it as an adult. My appreciation for some of the complexities of basketball and the demands it puts on athletes is much different because I had the courage to lace up my shoes for the hardwood.

And but three years ago, I didn't really play golf. Now it's a regular part of my weekend and summer activities!

Playing with a friend on Saturday I went straight for the pin, which was to the right side of the green on a slope. After I hit the ball, it faded to the right, demanding a chip shot to get on. I said "I should have hit for the middle of the green. I'm just not that good. I can't afford to be going for it." John turned and looked at me incredulous. "That's a great attitude. Most people don't talk like that,"  he said. I told him "I know where I have been and I know where I want to be. I'm a long way from that, but I also know I won't be going back." Every golfer knows the sport keeps you humble. For those of us who joined the ranks later in life, we know that truth cubed.
I first read about the "This I Believe" series from an article in Catholic San Francisco, a free publication created by the Archdiocese of San Francisco. In recent years, it has resurfaced as a popular podcast series on NPR.
This I Believe is an international organization engaging people in writing and sharing essays describing the core values that guide their daily lives. Over 125,000 of these essays, written by people from all walks of life, have been archived here on our website, heard on public radio, chronicled through our books, and featured in weekly podcasts. The project is based on the popular 1950s radio series of the same name hosted by Edward R. Murrow.
Since encountering this treasure trove, I have come to realize I believe many things, but pressing on is that it is never too late to find a passion in life. After his presidency, George W. Bush has found solace in painting. My mom has taken to Bridge with a vengeance. I'm just glad it's something she can play with old friends and new ones and with my dad! And I loved reading about fellow Carondelet alumna Kory Lamet '11, who found one on the sand volleyball court. In "A Beautiful Game," Jonathan O'Kanes writes 
Lamet, after finishing her career on Cal’s women’s soccer team, decided she wasn’t ready to put away her athletic shoes quite yet and decided to make a run at Cal’s beach volleyball team. She’s still running, helping the Bears’ No. 2 pair to a 17-5 record this season and the team to a No. 14 national ranking.
Reading Kory's story not only affirmed my belief—she hadn't even played competitive volleyball since sophomore year of high school, let alone beach volleyball—it reminded me that we all bring our unique self to what we do. 
Her natural athletic ability and mental make-up made up for any shortcomings related to the lack of playing time, Her partner teammate added “She kind of started with a clean slate. She didn’t have any bad habits or anything like that,”  
Lamet said, “It was humbling and frustrating, and it’s still that way,I still come out here and it’s kind of the same. I had indoor experience, but my body and mind just weren’t on the same page. On top of that, skills from indoor aren’t nearly the same as sand. It was frustrating, but it’s gotten better.”
In spite of her lack of playing experience, Kory was voted captain by her new teammates, I'm not sure she needed the humility that is born by playing a sport as an adult athlete; sounds to me like she has it. 
Lamet knew she was joining a team full of student-athletes with much more experience on sand. Once she was added to the roster, she asked her new teammates to trust her. 
I can't believe how badly I want to play this hole. #17 at TPC Sawgrass 
Watching all five hours of The Players Championship on Sunday, I found myself imagining a few times about improving so much that I could play on the LPGA tour. I did. As completely, utterly and laughably ridiculous as that is, it was fun to recognize that crazy dream even popped into my head. And perhaps that's why I hold such a conviction that it's never too late to find a new passion. They will makes demands of us, test us, teach us about ourselves, stretch us and make us patient, empathetic and humble. Sounds a lot like a great way of becoming human...more human.

Photo Credits
Hole #17
This I Believe

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Ministry of Letter Writing: An Open Letter and Response to Steph Curry

I believe letter writing is a true ministry. Ask any senior who attends a Kairos retreat and I suspect they share my conviction. So will Amnesty International, an organization I was introduced to through this ministry. Every Sunday after mass, they set up tables in the parish hall asking the faithful to write letters for the release of political prisoners. I learned about many countries and human rights abuses through their letter writing campaign. Their efforts are another way of demonstrating why I believe in this ministry: it is an act of love. The Open Letter to Steph Curry by Barbara Boxer is a case in point.
I'm a huge fan of the open letter. I've written a few on this blog and I appreciate the spirit behind these types of missives. They are meant for the public to read, reflect upon and more often than not, they initiate dialogue. That's what a letter intends to do: pen to paper, one's choice of words, their handwriting and the stationery itself speaks.


More often than not, the open letter is written to challenge the reader. It seeks to raise questions and bring a concern or idea to the public for consideration. But this is by no means the purpose of Senator Boxer's letter. If ever there was an easy open letter to write, this is it. But I'll give credit where credit it due—actually to both parties. To the senior California senator for crafting it and to the man, a two-time Most Valuable Player who has made so much happen.
Dear Steph, 
I have not written a fan letter to an athlete since I was a young girl and wrote to one of my personal heroes, Jackie Robinson. 
But decades later, after watching your incredible performance Monday night coming off a tough injury, I felt compelled to openly praise your extraordinary accomplishments, your indomitable spirit and the lessons you are teaching millions of young people. 
In my adult life, I have looked at sports as a metaphor for life. The intense focus you must bring to every game, the ability to work respectfully with others as part of a team, and the toughness to overcome adversity are skills that are as just as important off the basketball court as on it. 
Steph, you have shown us all how it is done. You have demonstrated it with your relentless work ethic. You have demonstrated it with your leadership, which is reflected best in the way your teammates talk about you. You have demonstrated it with the passion and sheer joy that you bring to every game. 
It is no surprise to anyone who follows basketball that you earned your second straight MVP award today — the first time in NBA history that a player won with a unanimous vote. You shattered the league record (which you set just last season!) by shooting 402 three-pointers this year. You led an amazing group of players and coaches to a historic achievement — winning 73 games this season. 
Your fans in the Bay Area and around the world are in awe of your athletic skill and your impeccable character. You have made the people of California, and their Senator, very proud. 
These playoffs are not over — and there is much more that you and your team have yet to accomplish. But it is not too soon to say this: congratulations and thank you for your unforgettable performances on and off the court this year! 
Sincerely,
Senator Barbara Boxer
We write letters to people we love—thank you St. Valentine, and about people we admire. I have noticed that some of the great people in history are voracious letter writers. From the PBS series by Ken Burns "The Roosevelts: An Intimate History," I learned that Teddy Roosevelt wrote a letter a day. Eleanor Roosevelt kept both a daily journal and had a robust relationship with the USPS. My brother once told me that George H. W. Bush sends over 500 Christmas cards, each with a personal note. His book "All My Best" is a collection of his letters. One of the more poignant missives is a letter he wrote to his daughter Robin who died of leukemia two months shy of her fourth birthday. I think they are on to something. Writing takes you out of yourself. You are tasked with thinking of another person, who they are and what you want to share. The greats don't just know this, they do it.
In my own life, I have been blessed with many letters from Tony Sauer, SJ much beloved former President of St. Ignatius College Prep. I believe our school community should publish a book of his letters. They have been written for every possible cause—congratulations, sympathy, health updates, dreams deferred, gratitude, hope and much more. If you've received one, you probably held on to it for some time; for they are much more than note with some chicken scratch on it. No. are the fruit of what I believe is a spiritual discipline.
What's happening with the Golden State Warriors right now is worth sharing beyond the cover of Sports Illustrated or Sports Center's highlight reel. The gifts and talents of Stephen Curry are worthy of public praise, support in the spoken word and the written one. 

What might you write about in an open letter? If I were write one, I might add something about his faith, for he reminds me of Eric Liddell, championship Olympic runner and the subject of the movie "Chariots of Fire." Liddell's brother proclaimed "What we need now is a muscular Christian, someone who will make folks sit up and notice." When you drain 17 points in overtime after hurting your knee, it's hard not to....thanks Steph.

Photo Credits
Steph Smile
MVP
Muscular Christian

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Sports, Spirituality and Shoes...

If shoes could talk... Considering the pathways they have tread, the locales they have encountered, the places they have been taken off and where they are needed to be put on, I would like to hear their stories—especially those involving sports and spirituality.

While social scientists will say shoes are a reflection of our personality, I would like to underscore that they are an extension of our humanity. For example, one of the more poignantly painful exhibits at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC is a large room full of shoes. Just shoes. It's hard not to think of the men, women and children who removed them before they walked to their fiery grave. It's one thing to see the numbers of those who were killed and another to see their own shoes left behind. 
I saw Bruce Springsteen play for the 23rd time this past March. A regular to the General Admission section, I decided to wear my running shoes to a concert for the first time. I stood for nearly 4 hours, most of which was spent dancing and raising the "Badlands" fist in unison with the Boss. I wondered if wearing these shoes was a sign of my age or my wisdom. 

One of my favorite songs on "The River Tour," somewhat to my surprise is "Drive All Night." Springsteen weaves a powerfully haunting story of love lost through poetic lyrics and Jake Clemons commands the saxophone to speak what words do not. God it's good. Listen here. 
The line that stands out to me—to most anyone—is when the The Boss sings,
I would drive all night...just to buy you some shoes.

His voice, his body language, the raw emotion make me you believe he would drive all night...but to buy some shoes? It's not intended to be a mystery. In fact, it's as real as it gets. 

I love shoes like many women do, but I don't have what some deem to be "a collection" of them. I don't have any that are super impractical and I don't have any with red soles (or ones with diamonds sorry Paul Simon!) just yet. But, I have some good ones—really good ones—and even more stories that include shoes, sports and spirituality. Here are but a few...


A former co-worker and I would grab a beer after Baccalaureate Mass to share our highs and lows of the year. I miss you Bill! I must share this ritual with another colleague as I already know one of the highlights. It may sound shameless, but one them involves a compliment about my Nike Flyknit running shoes.  
It was spirit week and we had free dress so I was wearing jeans and these new Nike running shoes, which I spent a lot money and effort to buy. Rather than rush out of the classroom at the end of class, three senior boys who had been conspiring for a few minutes surrounded me to let me know what was on their minds. "Ms Stricherz, your shoes are on point today." No stories of personal conversion, no deep connection to the curriculum or challenging questions, just a simple word of praise about my shoes. That's a great day.

In fact, I like these shoes so much that when I read "Perfect Ending" a feature piece in Sports Illustrated about women's NCAA basketball champion Breanna Stewart, I'm not sure that if I met her, I wouldn't talk to her about shoes. (blog post on her coming soon)

She wrote "away from basketball, I like to shop for shoes. I probably own hundreds. There's a pair that I just got, and I love them so much that I don't know if I will ever wear them." Never mind the fact that no other athlete has ever done what she did: win four straight national championships, I want to know why she wouldn't wear those shoes. I feel connected to her in sports and in shoes; that's as human as it gets. 
In the TIME Magazine article "What Your Shoes Say About You," Alexandra Sifferlin writes,
Strangers can tell a lot about you, just by checking out your footwear — at least according to researchers from the University of Kansas and Wellesley College. 
Reading that report reminded me of the first time I met someone a good friend. Along with his older brother, we went to New Orleans' Jazz Fest. He was wearing Stan Smiths LONG before they came back as cool once again. In the same way that Red speaks of Andy Dufrense in the Shawshank Redemption, "it's safe to say I liked Mike [sic] from the start." I got to see Mike in 2010 after diagnosis of my heart condition; I knew my time with running was limited...but I had a new sport, golf. Mike gave me good advice that I still think about today: "leave your sticks but always pack golf shoes." I was headed on a trip where I knew I would play 18 holes, but I wasn't sure what to bring. His words reminded me that there's a turning point for casual participants/amateur athletes. When you make that purchase for sport specific shoes, a page has been turned. And when you travel with them, it's game time.
Our shoes carry hundreds of stories, simply because we do. And my guess is more of them are spiritual than we realize. I can't help but think back to one as written in "Love Begets Love: Thank you Matt Kemp" about former LA Dodger/Giants killer Matt Kemp who met a Joshua Jones, a boy with an inoperable brain tumor at AT&T park. Kemp learned that he was this young man's favorite player and heard of his illness. After the game, Kemp came to give him an autographed baseball, words of encouragement and prayers. But in their meeting, he gave much more: he handed him his batting glove, his baseball cap, his jersey...and then all that he had left to give: his cleats.

Perhaps this is what Springsteen means when he says he would drive all night, just to buy you some shoes. It's speaking to the idea that love asks us to give everything we got. Sports and spirituality isn't much different. 

Photo Credits
Nike Flyknits

Stan Smith

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Chicken Runs at Midnight...Alleluia

Pope Francis wakes up every morning at 4:30 a.m. to pray for an hour and half. 90 minutes! He then presides over the holy sacrifice of the Mass, another way of prayer. No wonder the Holy Father is able to do what he does—walk along the peripheries, touch those in need, and extend mercy; he is rooted in a relationship with God. That anchor is prayer.
Throughout my adult life, I have read the daily readings everyday...and then strayed from them. Reading the Gospel is a powerful way to start my day. Why I commit to reading them is obvious to me. Your words Oh Lord as spirit and life. And why I let things go and break that habit? I'm not so sure.

My advice to anyone who wants to be more like Francis in his spiritual discipline, is to pick a form and way of prayer that "works." Maybe it's reading the daily devotionals like Living with Christ or This Day. For me, it has been reading and praying with Faith ND. Reading the Good News lives up to its name; it's a good, better and best experience—if there is such a thing. Yesterday's reading and reflection was one of them.
First, I love the 50 days of the Easter season, Eastertide. Christ dwells in these liminal places, between heaven and earth. He has yet to return to the Father (still not sure what that means) and yet we know he has been crucified, he died, was buried and rose from the dead. Alleluia! He appears and reappears. He continues to teach and sets hearts on fire. He is with his disciples but is seeking to relate to them in a new way.

When Joe Reis connected this Gospel reading to what he studied in psychology, I was hooked. AP Psychology is a very popular course for seniors at St. Ignatius where I teach. Anytime I have a chance to connect theology and psychology, I can and I will. Call me Ms Cross Curriculum, I believe these two subjects can compliment each other for a new level of understanding. But the connections didn't stop there; it prompted me to think of the Communion of Saints.

I believe in the Communion of Saints. I say it with conviction. I have written about it many times and love teaching what it means to my students. This was a new and welcome way to teach about this rich Catholic tradition.
So, yesterday was a good day. I prayed this Gospel reading  with my seniors, shared Joe's reflection. I gave the psych experts in my class a chance to speak about object permanence and then share with them my favorite example of the Communion of Saints. I can't believe I haven't written about it before. No time like the present.

As seen in the video "Champions of Faith" long time MLB baseball coach Rich Donnelly had strayed from his Catholic faith. He was embarrassed to go to Mass. His priorities were far from the Church. That is, until his 18 year old daughter Amy got a brain tumor.

Amy, his only daughter had a zest for life and a creative perspective on it. She once asked her father: What do you yell at your players when you are standing in the third base coach's box: The chicken runs at midnight, or what? Where she came up with that thought and why— the Donnellys did not know. But, it caught on. In fact, Amy once called her dad on the road and told the traveling secretary to write the following on a written phone message "The Chicken Runs at Midnight. Love, Amy."

Amy underwent chemo and radiation, but died of cancer. Her two brothers decided they would inprint one message on her tombstone. It said:
Donnelly stayed in MLB and away from his faith. When Amy died, I wonder if anyone had told him about the Communion of Saints. I hope they did. Here's why:

Jim Heft has written, "Catholics believe in the "communion of saints." Even though people die, we stay in touch with them and they with us. How is this possible? It is possible through Baptism by which we enter into the death and resurrection of Jesus. Even though Jesus died, he rose from the dead, remaining even more present than when he was on earth to all who believed in him. We live in Christ. Those who have died believing in Christ remain alive in him." 

In 1997, five years after Amy's death, Rich Donnelly had the good fortune of being in the World Series, coaching the Florida Marlins. In Game 7 against the Cleveland Indians, Craig Counsell led off the eleventh inning with a single. Counsell was known as "the Chicken" because he would flap his arms like one in his batting stance. He moved to third and when one of his teammates hit a single up the middle, he scored from third base to win the championship. Donnelly's two sons, were sitting in the stands. They hugged and greeted their father and one of them said with tears in his eyes, "Dad! Look at the clock!!!" Donnelly looked up to see the time, not knowing what he was talking about. Brian said "Dad the chicken ran at midnight."
That was a turning point for Rich Donnelly and his Catholic faith. He said that moment, which I believe is sacramental, reminded him to return to another way of being.

Any relationship rooted in love seeks to do good for another, even long after death. As object permanence suggests, "presence can continue even if something or someone is no longer observable through the senses." Rich Donnelly came to realize that returning to his faith not only brought him closer to God but to his daughter Amy, albeit in a new way. That is the Communion of saints. I have come understand it in my own life. I've also realized that prayer, the Gospel, daily readings and more help me pay attention to what the Saints and everyday saints want me to hear. I wouldn't mind it if "the chicken runs at midnight" was it...blessed be.

The full story of the Chicken Runs at Midnight can be found here

Photo Credits
Pope Francis prayer
Faith ND
Saints

Amy's tombstone

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

What We Love and Miss in Sports: Thank you Jeff Samardzija

Every so often the sports stars align. Fans take inventory in the early hours of the morning and realize they were treated to a great sports night just hours earlier. Exciting games, spectacular feats, unique plays and web gems abound. I love going to work or to the gym the morning after one of those nights to hear what reports dominate the airwaves among my fellow sports' junkies. Though the Golden State Warriors playoff game against the Portland Trailblazers was exciting, I couldn't wait to show my students one thing: Jeff Samardzija channeling Bo Jackson. What he did reminds me that sports is a gift. Watching athletes we love perform and compete is never a given. When we see greatness, it's natural to think back upon other outstanding moments in sports history. It's easy to think ahead to what will be. But, we are always called to live in the moment. And as Mary Oliver writes,  "Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it." Hell yeah.
Although Samardzija's strike out wasn't particularly exciting or memorable his reaction was. Personally, I love that a pitcher, the baseball player who is quite often the least likely to get a hit was this upset by his performance at the plate. It's not as though he were batting clean up with the bases loaded. Doesn't matter to The Shark. #baller. But, I know his feat prompted one of two responses.
  1. I sure wish he still played football.
  2. I miss Bo Jackson.
More on that here.
Though Notre Dame fans know that Samardzija, a wide receiver for the Irish made the smart choice career wise to play in the MLB, every single one of them says the same thing to me: I miss seeing him catch touchdowns...I would love to see him play in the NFL....How great was it watching that guy pull down the pigskin ....great hands/great hops... We knew the Brady Quinn—Shark connection was special when it was happening on those Saturdays in the Fall from 2003-2006. When I think back on them, I can't help but smile. I don't miss Charlie Weis, but I miss wondering what the Notre Dame offense might do when Quinn was chumming the water.

Today, the Shark swims in new ones. And as last night demonstrated, it's still fun to watch him play. I took immense satisfaction in hearing that Giants' catcher Buster Posey say, 
“He has some of the most explosive stuff I’ve caught from start to finish. I can’t think of any guy from the first inning through the last with the kind of (velocity) and action he had tonight." 
Wow, wow, wow.  Irish fans, give thanks for the memories. Giants fans, enjoy the ride.
Perhaps it's more than coincidence that Samardzija posed for a poster that was a remake of a one that hung in thousands of college dorm rooms in the mid-80s. What he did in Cincinnati was something Bo Jackson did with ease. Jackson, one of my favorite athletes of all time treated the baseball bat as though it were a tooth pick, breaking it over his knee in more than one game and over HIS HEAD in another. In the "30 for 30: You Don't know Bo," one of Jackson's teammates said he once tried this maneuver and nearly broke his leg. 

Seeing Samardzija channel Bo Jackon made me wish for that time when you might see Bo mimic spiderman in the outfield, catching a well hit baseball, nailing a baserunner at homeplate...with his throw from..the outfield (not cut-off man required), or looking for him on the sidelines talking fellow Raider, Marcus Allen. Jackson made great athletes look good. A hip injury ended his career too early. Though he returned to baseball for a time, Bo knew retirement. 
The legend of Bo Jackson lives on...but we sure do miss him.

It's a funny time of year to think about missing those we love and wanting to hold on to them and their memory. During these 50 days of the Easter season, Christ appeared to his disciples. He broke bread and even ate fish with them. He let them touch his wounds. His mere presence set hearts on fire. I look for the Lord in an intentional way during Eastertide. I hope to catch a glimpse of Him and listen to what He has to say. It's not easy to see, but the heart gives it away. And though it may seem insignificant—in that same spirit—I try to make something more out of those great nights in sports. I believe there's something for all of us to feast on. Today, it was a realization to appreciate the here and now...we'll miss it later.

Photo Credits
Quinn and Samardzija

Samardzija Knows
Bo Breaks