Thursday, February 21, 2019

What is really in our DNA...

For Christmas 2017, I gave my mom and kit. I joined in the fun, spit into the vial and sent our respective DNA samples in the mail with the good faith that family secrets would be revealed. For the next six weeks, my mom and I waited in anticipation for what we might learn. We checked e-mail and snail mail, we discussed and dreamed what could be. When the results finally arrived via gmail, we discovered a lot of what we already knew: my mom is nothing but Emerald Isle. I on the other hand, found some cultural flavor as my dad's family has some ethnic diversity. Who knew that Iberian Peninsula and Greco-Italian would come into my German/French/Swiss mix?! 
My brother, Dad and Uncle Tim sneak in a visit with my Aunt Dorothy before and after the Rose Bowl
However, as excited as I was to receive this report, I felt somewhat disappointed when the results finally came. I stared at the screen and though: Is this all there is? What did I really think it could tell me?  There is more to a person that the region from which their ancestors hail. Though spaces and places define us, I think there is much more that our DNA "carries" but won't be revealed from a saliva sample. This is where I have come to understand that the life and legacy of loved ones can offer just as much—if not more. 

with full knowledge that this little one's
parents are Seahawks fans, Tim is dressed
accordingly ;-)
On January 28, my Uncle Tim, my dad's second of four younger brothers died at the age of 73. I have no doubt that on this day he entered into eternal life. Tim lives on in my heart and forever with God. Since the time of his passing, I have read many tributes and fond memories of my God father. Every post reveals a consistent and common message: my Uncle Tim was a devout Catholic and a huge sports fan. Examples include:
  • Tim was a walking, talking dictionary on all things sports and we will miss talking to him as we walked by his condo to hit balls on the Brookdale Golf driving range. As a member of the Tacoma Athletic Commission,  Tim became a fixture at each monthly meeting and at many TAC events. The closing of the Brookdale Golf Course pretty much coincides with the ending of Tim's outstanding life. Tim will definitely be missed and we will always remember seeing him at High School games and tournament at the Tacoma Dome. God Bless Tim and all the Stricherz Family.
  • Tim's knowledge of sports, statistics, and memorable plays were great to listen to. I wonder if he got Jay involved to where he is now in sports plus being a great referee. Peace and love to be with you as a family.
  • Tim was the most loyal sports fan for Franklin Pierce and Washington High School that I ever knew, He will be remembered by many.
  • His exceptional interest in sports led him to become a member of Tacoma Athletic Commission (TAC). Most important in Tim’s life was his faith, family, and friends.
In his eulogy, I shared my own memories of my Uncle Tim coming to Notre Dame my freshman year for the Stanford game. The Irish lost; Tim made me...and my dad feel better. During my senior year, he flew me out to Seattle to see the Irish take on the Huskies. I don't remember who he cheered for that day—he was a UW fan!— but I remember how much I enjoyed being there with him. One of our final conversations was a debate about, what else? college football.

Tim's funeral was at of Our Lady Queen of Heaven Parish in Spanaway, Washington. My Uncle Guy noted that he was a founding member of this parish and logged in what must have been at least two forty hour work weeks of mass time. My cousin Jackie said how much she will miss "seeing him in his spot at church." Even though I live over 1,000 miles away, I know exactly where that spot is and will always be.

Reading about my Uncle Tim, his life and his impact has taught me more about my own DNA that "23 and Me" or "" ever could. I also go to a lot of high school basketball games—I always have. I sit in the stands and realize it's just in my DNA. I too have a penchant for talking sports, especially trivia. I know from whence that came. I hope this post will inspire you to consider what else might be in your DNA.

My Uncle Tim had a brief battle with cancer. His friend Rick drove him to and from medical appointments as needed. He also read the First Reading at Tim's mass of Christian burial. At the reception following the service, I asked Rick how he knew my uncle. He told me "when I was a kid, I was in need of a gym to practice basketball and shoot around. Your Uncle Tim always let me in there to play. We reconnected many years later and went to hoops games together." No one was surprised to hear how a friendship with my uncle was born—from sports and in service. Great qualities, wonderful passions to have in your DNA.

Love you, Uncle Tim.
Very fitting that in your memory, people can make a donation to the Tacoma Athletic Commission.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

On Presidents Day: The American Presidency at Athletics

Presidents Day is an American holiday celebrated on the third Monday in February. My students thought the U.S. just decided to "split the difference" between Abraham Lincoln's birthday on February 12 and George Washington's on February 22. Not true! According to the History Channel, Presidents Day was "originally established in 1885 in recognition of President George Washington. The holiday became popularly known as Presidents Day after it was moved as part of 1971’s Uniform Monday Holiday Act, an attempt to create more three-day weekends for the nation’s workers. While several states still have individual holidays honoring the birthdays of Washington, Abraham Lincoln and other figures, Presidents Day is now popularly viewed as a day to celebrate all U.S. presidents, past and present." Though I have yet to see many Presidents Day celebrations or participate in such traditions, the website did note that, "A number of states also require that their public schools spend the days leading up to Presidents Day teaching students about the accomplishments of the presidents, often with a focus on the lives of Washington and Lincoln." I decided to join in the fun—in a way that speaks to Sports and Spirituality. Here's what I taught. I hope you enjoy.
At the George W. Bush Presidential museum in Dallas, TX I learned 43's bicycle is known as Peloton One
Americans love sports. Make no mistake about it. We are a people that watch, play, monetize, import and export sports like no other. In "Take Time for Paradise: Americans and Their Games," the late MLB commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti wrote "It has long been my conviction that we can learn far more about the conditions, and values, of a society by contemplating how is chooses to play, to use its free time, to take its leisure, than by examining how it goes about its work." Such a belief led me to think about not the work of our Presidents—their politics and policies, political party or provisions—but rather about the sports they chose to play. How did these men use their free time and take leisure before, during and after their tenure at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. This is what I have learned!
There are a number of good websites that chronicle this topic! Here are but three of them

Oval Office Athletes: Presidents and the Sports They Played: In what is another History Channel resource, Patrick Kiger provides an excellent overview of the topic, replete with numerous links and images (in gallery). Ultimately it profiles eleven presidents and the sports that helped define them.

USA Today's The 10 most athletic presidents of all time ranks how each Commander in Chief (might) fare against the others. Though 44 played a different sport than 43, and in spite of the fact some might not consider bowlers great athletes, the competitive skill and success of each President is described! 
It's no secret that a number of Presidents are golfers and have strong ties to the game. The namesake of George H. W. Bush and the great-grandfather of George W. Bush was George Herbert Walker, who served as president of the United States Golf Association. The prestigious Walker Cup is named in his honor. Our current US President, Donald Trump owns 17 courses, the most famous of which is Trump Turnberry or Trump National in West Palm Beach. He has been criticized for the number of rounds he has played in office—a complaint that was extended to his predecessor, Barack Obama. Golf Digest suggests both grievances are warranted. Americans should know that George W. Bush did not play any golf after the events of 9/11. "I didn't like the message that would send to the American people," he told David Feherty, on his show. 

With such ties to golf, Golf Digest got in on the fun and wrote Which presidents were the best athletes? You might be surprised. I'd love to know who had the lowest handicap.
To compliment what I learned, I shared the videos interspersed in this posting with my students. I actually teared up when I revisited the clip 41 and 43 at the Ballpark in Arlington. It is hard for me to see how much change can take place in nine years time. The Saturday Night Sketch of Bill Clinton—the everyday jogger—had my students laughing so hard, they actually clapped at the end of Phil Hartman's impression. They loved Barack Obama's sense of humor and oratorical skills...and like so many of them, his love for the NBA.
I hope on this national holiday that you have the time to engage in sport, whether as a participant or a fan. It is a great day to give thanks for our freedoms, a great one which is the freedom to play and recreate. I hope you enjoyed learning a little more about the Presidency and Athletics. BTW: The White House has a tennis court, putting green, swimming pool, bowling alley and basketball hoop. Some good sports! God Bless America.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Sports Art as Theology

Meetings at St. Ignatius College Prep begin with prayer. Sometimes our prayer is informal and brief. At other times, our prayer is well-constructed and creative. In the Religious Studies Department, our prayers are dynamic and deep, thoughtful and thorough. They should be—right? And yet, prayer reaches us in different ways. What lifts my heart and mind to God differs from the Theology teacher on my right and on my left. Still, I enjoy how each of my colleagues invite me to pray—and to pray with one another. 

Though divided on some topics, every one of my co-workers agrees that we ought to be more intentional about integrating art into our curriculum. I was reminded of our shared belief when Megan, my colleague shared this quote for prayer.

The purpose of theology, the purpose of any thinking about God, is to make the silences clearer and starker to us, to make the unmeaning — by which I mean those aspects of the divine that will not be reduced to human meanings — more irreducible and more terrible and thus ultimately more wonderful. This is why art is so often better at theology than theology is. –Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss 
Oil painting, sculpture, pottery and design. Illustration, silk screen, stained glass and watercolor: so many art forms integrate color and its absence—a nuanced kind of silence. Light and dark, shadow and symmetry. What a wonderful vehicle to consider the Divine. Wiman's words served as an invitation and a challenge to include art into my curriculum... OR as I was able to do this week: bring my students to art! Thanks to my colleague, this was an easy task. 
The Computer Science, Robotics and Design invited faculty to pay attention and take notice of some outstanding art. Via e-mail, he wrote, 
If you have a moment, please enjoy the artwork from the Multimedia Design students on display in the center hallway of the second floor in the academic building.  
Students were asked to create a composition featuring a pioneer or champion of social justice that has had an impact on them throughout their life experiences and/or cross-curricular experiences in their other courses at SI. 
If you would like to know who created a particular work of art, the students’ names and logos are in the bottom corner of each piece respectively.
People often profess, "the Lord provides." Well, the good Lord did so in abundance through this lesson plan. I teach Ethics: Morality and Justice to juniors and we have just begun our unit on Social Justice. I divided the class in two and half of my students went into the hallway to choose a profile and their quote that speaks to them; explain why.

About one fourth of the artistic profiles feature athletes—historical and active. I asked my Sports and Spirituality students to do the same. While the majority of them chose the athletes you see here, their choices were many. 

The OPENING LINE of my book "Pray and Practice with Purpose: A Playbook for the Spiritual Development of Athletes" states “Great art is important in the teaching of religion because it is not merely intellectual knowledge that we are gaining. Great art moves us; it touches us; it enables us to see.” —Michel Bettigole, O.S.F. and James D. Childs. I make the claim that I often see athletics as great art. The work of the students from St. Ignatius—inclusive of sports—has served as a poignant reminder for how I should not only teach the faith, but live it, too. ENJOY!

my only regret is that none of the athletes profiled are female.
never a given that Jesus will make the list of those who advocate for Social Justice.
Very happy to see Him included.

From the Hilltop, students need to know that Bill Russell also played for a Jesuit school:
The University of San Francisco

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Dear Steve Hartman...

Dear Steve Hartman,

I am scratching my head in wonder as I write this post. Bottom line: How do you do it? Just when I think I've seen and heard every "feel good" story to come out of a high school gym, swimming pool or in this case—from wresting mat—you find new ones. In fact, your work has me questioning the wisdom of the Book of Ecclesiastes. Chapter 1:9 proclaims What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun! Stories like Champion high school wrestler surrenders a match he could have won suggest otherwise. Each profile offers a new story; there is plenty that's new not only under the sun but "On the Road," too.
I would also like to extend my gratitude for sharing stories that portray young people in such a positive light. So many of your subjects are see a bigger picture; they often make choices that are profoundly countercultural. For this very reason, I have found their words and deeds put Christ's teachings to life. 

For example, Marek Bush, a sophomore from Central Valley Academy near Utica, New York illustrates vividly what St. Paul meant when he asked his congregation at Corinth to look around and see if they could find among themselves “the wise” and “the strong” of this world. Paul concluded, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor 1:27). Everything about Bush's decision would seem foolish. Though he was the "weaker" opponent in this contest, his choice revealed a different kind of strength. As Richard Clifford writes, "In moments of such “weakness,” when conventional structures fall away, the divine intention becomes visible in unexpected ways." They also reveal how and why Christ was a great teacher. 
I encourage you to watch the video for yourself. You will gain a better understanding of St Paul who said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness. I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ;  for when I am weak, then I am strong."

No wrestler wants to be considered "weak." The sport demands an uncanny strength. This state championship however revealed a new strength. Just look at the crowd's reaction to the choice Bush made, and Logan accepted. The joy is palpable. The moment is worth holding...and sharing.

Please keep doing what you do, Mr. Hartman: seeking and finding new stories of triumph, heart, joy and inspiration. Thanks for letting us in on the lives of people who choose to be different...who show me what winning really is all about.

Oh, and I'll let you know if you ever stop making me cry.

In gratitude,

Anne Stricherz
Religious Studies Teacher, St. Ignatius College Prep

Saturday, February 2, 2019

How We Can Be of Service in Word and in Deed on Super Bowl Sunday

Ignatius of Loyola professed "love is shown more in deeds than in words." Francis of Assisi urged us to "preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary—use words." Messages like these are affirmed in secular circles, too. Ben Franklin stated "Well done is better than well said." He's not considered a Founding Father for nothing, right? Yes, I believe that "talk is cheap" BUT let's not throw the "baby out with the bathwater." Yes, our convictions must take action and they should not exist only in theory. But I also believe in the power of the pen. Words have meaning and I aim to use them wisely. As an author and a blogger, I write on a near daily basis. Thanks to words, I can share my ideas, support them and encourage others to do the same. And so it is with this "both/and approach" that I invite you to consider two such opportunities amidst Super Bowl LIII.
My Catholic faith is affirmed in the Word and in deeds. I wholeheartedly agree with James 2: 14-17 which states "Faith without works is dead." I am called to put faith into action, to help the poor and needy, to cloth the naked, to forgive, love and listen to the Lord. And yet, I need a passage of Scripture like this one. I need the Word of God, to lead me and guide me. As my former pastor would say: "Amen?" to which we would say "Amen!" AMEN.

So what does my "Amen" have to do with a game that will take place at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA between the Los Angeles Rams and the New England Patriots? America's most-watched sporting event—with an expected 100 million people—is also an opportunity to include one's faith—in word and in deed.

The Word
A friend and colleague shared an article entitled Super Bowl 53: Four devout Christian Patriots and Rams players to watch Sunday. As I scrolled through the player profiles—two Rams and two Patriots, I was struck by how uniquely each man described his relationship with Christ. Some of their testimonials resonated with me; others were interesting to read.

I thought it might be fun to have students share if their faith statements resonate with their own views! To which my colleague said, "Often times the faith that players demonstrate, determines the level of support a fan may give them. I remember my mom loving the Arizona Cardinals during their Super Bowl run because of Kurt Warner's faith as well as that Larry Fitzgerald." His words make me think of how I will see those four players in a new light during the Super Bowl (and in the future!). 

I have been a Kurt Warner fan ever since I read what he told a reporter about being a devout Christian. He said "I cannot not talk about my faith. If you're going to interview me, please know what you will hear." Indeed those words took action!

If you're with football fans who have faith, share the good word about these athletes. Ask them, if they know about the faith life of any other athletes in the games.

In Deeds
As reported by USA Today, "An estimated 17.2 million adults employed in the U.S. are expected to miss work the day after the Super Bowl, according to a survey from The Workforce Institute at Kronos Incorporated." Furthermore, on this Sunday alone, Americans eat more food than any other day of the year—except Thanksgiving. Knowing how many people go hungry everyday, and thinking of those who were affected by the government shutdown, I started to question how things could be different. The disparity between the haves and have-nots prompted me to make the most of this unofficial National Holiday.

Idea #1 In my workplace, we sell Super Bowl squares for $10 a piece. There is absolutely no strategy involved, but it keeps folks in the game—as a winner is deemed at the end of each quarter! A portion of all the proceeds goes to our local food bank.
From "Faith and Football" presentations!
Idea #2: In 2014, I created an assignment in my Sports & Spirituality class entitled: Faith and Football. Students choose what team they want to learn more about and present on the history of the organization, the team's connection to their city and charitable organizations / outreach. They must also identify and share the faith life of four players, profile the coaches and great plays from the season. On the day of the presentation, students are required to bring in a can of food for our local food bank. 

We can all do some gestures to remember that too many Americans go hungry on a regular basis. Each one of us can lend a hand. Food Banks get plenty of donations around Thanksgiving and Christmas, but Super Bowl Sunday is a full month after the holiday rush. Let's keep the donations flowing! And word hard on Monday ;-)

Taking a moment on a day like Super Bowl Sunday is the perfect place to start—in word and in deed.

Photo Credits
Ignatius Quote

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Jackie Robinson at 100: True Sports Hero

When I think of a hero, a singular image comes to mind—the US Stamp officially known as "America Responds: 9/11 Heroes." As a child, my image would have been much different and before 2001, I think it would have, too. However the events of September 11th made an indelible imprint in my heart and mind of what a hero looks they live and what they give. Being a first responder—a firefighter or police officer— doesn't make someone a hero, what they do and are asked to give is especially on that fateful day is worth respect and recognition. 

The video "Nine Innings from Ground Zero" shares the stories of so many of those heroes—too many that fell to a final fate in the World Trade Centers, and unlikely heroes too: the New York Yankees and Mets.

Although society often views athletes as heroes, I am not willing to automatically ascribe that honorable title to people like LeBron James or Serena Williams, Steve Young or Brandi Chastain. Just because a person is fast or strong, big and fierce, driven, gifted and competitive doesn't mean he or she is someone to look up to and admire. Though tempting, I'm not convinced that athletic skill and ability translate to heroism. 

My conviction is shared by others. In an NPR "Special Series Opinion Piece: A True 'Sports Hero,' Jackie Robinson At 100" Scott Simon writes, 
I try not to say, "sports hero." An athlete may be electrifying and adored, and do much for their communities. But real heroes are people who run into burning buildings to save lives. Heroes are people who enrich the lives of others — and sometimes — move along history. 
There is one athlete who has to be called a hero. 
Jackie Robinson was born a hundred years ago next week, Jan. 31, 1919, in the small, segregated town of Cairo, Ga., the youngest of five children. A year later, his father left, and the Robinsons moved to southern California, where Jackie Robinson became one of the most celebrated young athletes in America.
The entire two and a half minute reflection is worth listening to and sharing—in particular with young people. Many of them are familiar with his life and legacy through the movie "42," and the observance of Jackie Robinson Day on April 15. Since 2009, MLB has honored his big league debut which broke baseball's color barrier. All players and on-field personnel wear his number during that day's games. MLB has now retired the number 42 in perpetuity for this hero.

If Jackie Robinson were alive today, he could receive a Presidential Greeting for his 100th day. I wonder what the President might say, but I'd rather have him know what Scott Simon offered at his confusion. He said, "Jackie Robinson was an athlete, not Martin Luther King Jr. in baseball stripes. But his own story galvanized his life, and when he left baseball, he became an activist for integration and justice. As President Barack Obama said, "There's a direct line between Jackie Robinson and me." The history Jackie Robinson made helped make America better."

That's precisely what heroes do.

Litany and Prayers for Heroes
Dear Lord,

Throughout the ages, even to today, you have raised up for us Heroes, as examples of what is best in our humanity.

Bless all those whose sacrifice, love and courage have given so much to this world. Protect those Heroes in harm’s way. Strengthen those whose heroic contribution perseveres day in and day out. Heal those whose heroism has cost them in mind and body. Give your eternal peace to those who have gone from this life.

Grant by your grace, that we may each find ever deeper heroic virtues in ourselves so that we may, following the example of the Hero of Heroes, your Son Jesus Christ, serve others as he served us - every day, in every way.


Photo Credits
Jackie Robinson
Heroes Stamp

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Joy to the World: Thank you Katelyn Ohashi

The Christmas season has come and gone. I hate taking down the decorations; I long for the lights people once assembled to illuminate dark places and warm our homes. Now that we rest in ordinary time, the real work of Christmas has only begun. We are called to bring joy to the world long after the those twelve days of Christmas. The Incarnation needs to be lived and made known all year long. How? live joyfully.
Thomas Aquinas has said "we do not speak of joy except when delight follows reason; and so we do not ascribe joy to irrational animals." In other words, joy is much more than an emotion or feeling. It is not whimsical or trite. Joy engages our minds and our hearts. I think it is one of the great virtues we humans can acquire; indeed it is a gift of the spiritual life. 

In The One Minute Philosopher, Montague Brown, Ph.D. writes that to have joy is
to delight in the good. Joy involves thought as well as emotion. It is an appreciation or approval of something good along with a feeling of excitement. Joy is the opposite of sadness. In both joy and sadness, reason leads, and there is some rational explanation for the emotion. 
Since joy involves thoughtful appreciation, it always has an objective component and a universal appeal. When I rejoice in something such as the birth of a child or an act of generosity the object of my joy is something I believe others would and should rejoice in, too. I can explain to others the reason for my joy, and I can expect that, when they understand the source of my joy, they will know and share the same joy. 
We rejoice in many different good things. We rejoice in the beauty of nature and the beauty of artistic creations. We rejoice in the well-earned success—whether our own of that of a friends—for we understand the good things that success brings, as well as the virtue and effort required to achieve them.\
Dr. Brown wrote these words in 2001 but they speak to the performance and experience of UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi on January 12, 2019 perfectly. Like 20 million other people, I caught sight of her floor routine thanks to social media. Indeed it's appeal is universal. In fact, I found it so compelling, I had to share it with my students the next day. I found the beauty in her artistic creation, and no one was surprised to see that it led to a perfect 10. Her "well-earned success" is a win not just for Ohashi, her teammates or for gymnastics, but for everyone to behold. And if that can't lead a person to prayer, I don't know what does.
I concluded class with a call to live the Joy of Christmastide all year long. I asked my students to look for examples of joy in everyday life. Where do they see it? How can we share that with others? Forgive my bias, but sports isn't a bad place to start. As Jason Gay in the WSJ writes
These instances are rare, but they’re really the reason why we watch sports, aren’t they? Sure, we come up with all kinds of rationalizations for our sports obsessions—tradition, regional loyalties, very bad bets on the Minnesota Vikings—but what truly keeps the audience coming back is the chance that every once in a while, you’ll see a radiant expression of human greatness and joy.
Want joy? keep your eyes and ears open. Look for it and let it find you. Behold and pass it on. Give thanks to God for it's source and pray to grow in this gift. Happy New Year!

And if for some reason you haven't seen the video. watch it here and now!

Photo CreditsTop image is in the WSJ article

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

An Open Letter to Teachers Who Do Not Coach

All coaches teach. Recently, I have been wondering if all teachers coach. Yes or no? 

There is a difference between academics and athletics. I appreciate and value each realm of the school. I work in both and both roles have a significant impact on my identity. Many of my co-workers, share this identity and in the past 15 years, an increasing number of them do not. Every school in the country shares this report and it's unfortunate. But what bothers me more is a division that is developing among faculty members that teach and coach and those that do not. Therefore, I decided to write an open letter to my colleagues—in particular to those who do not coach. My words are sincere. I often suggestions and ideas, I hope they provide insight and opportunity to build a bridge; I share this missive with the hope that your own communities might benefit from and understand my concern and my plea.
Dear Colleagues,
This Fall, Haley Scott DeMaria the author of "What Though the Odds: My Journey of Faith and Triumph" spoke in person and held a FaceTime session with my Sports and Spirituality class. I feel fortunate to have her as a friend—she is a survivor and an inspiration. All coaches and members of the athletic department were able to hear her story at our Fall Fellowship meeting. What a gift.

In 2012, she was asked to give the address at the 167th Commencement Exercises at our alma mater, the University of Notre Dame. I watched with anticipation, wondering what she might say. To this day, I still think about what she told the graduates. She said,
You will find as you navigate through life, the words "I understand" are very powerful when they are sincere and honest. These words carry the strongest meaning when spoken by someone who has lived through a similar experience. 
I have reflected many times upon the significance of the words: "I understand." Indeed, they do carry weight. As a teacher and a coach, I have taken refuge in sharing my burdens with you, my colleagues. You understand the way teenagers test our limits. We face endless piles of grading, harbor disappointment when a student doesn't give it his or her best and we hold memories that a class creates together. The words "I understand" have assured me that I am not alone and that others "get it." The words "I understand" are free from judgment. They unite and build solidarity. Haley was so right.
Seek to Understand
However, the truth of the matter is we can't...we won't...and we will never be able to say "I understand" to all people or at all times. We have different experiences, joys, and challenges. We won't climb the same mountains—as much as we might like the reach the same peak. We won't be left in our own valley either. But, good, bad or otherwise we forged the path that got us there and need to find one to get out. Some will understand, and others won't.

Yes, experience leads to understanding but I have always believed we can seek to understand another person and their plight. The seeking is echoed in my favorite prayer, the Prayer of St Francis. Imagine a world that sought "to be understood as to understand."

Here at St. Ignatius, many of you my colleagues in the classroom, work as coaches too. Although wearing both hats isn't for everybody, for those that do, the teacher/coach is a wonderful gift to our community!

In the wake of the acute tragedy we faced the past 10 years, we made changes and commitments. We made it a priority for every student to have and name at least one trusted adult on campus. For some kids, that adult is their teacher or counselor. For others, it might be the principal or admin. For many that trusted adult is a coach. 

I LOVED working with this crew! All 4 of us were on-campus coaches
I understand why a lot of teachers do not coach. I took a one-year break from coaching. In many ways—it was a relief! For many teachers, the demands of the classroom and family/personal life are too many. Furthermore, the expertise and skill level required of a head coach, in particular for a varsity program has become increasingly specialized. Such varied and numerous demands make the call to coach, one that many cannot answer.

Common Goals, One Team
We teachers pride ourselves on organization, expertise and seeing that ship sail smoothly. To feel this way leading others on the court track or trail isn't a given. I think most teachers with an open heart and mind can serve as a good assistant coach. Before I grew in my role and identity as a coach, this was an ideal place for me to serve. I learned more from the head coaches I worked beside more than they will ever know. One thing I would like for these head coaches to know is that they were a great teacher—to their athletes and to me!

one of the best parts of coaching is having fun
with your team. I went to pick up the team
#transport only to find them...inside the storage
shed. Good times.

Many teachers do not, however, understand what coaches do. The best coaches will never tell you the hours that they put in—because they are too busy trying to get it all done. (and if anyone should understand that dilemma, it's teachers). In addition to creating the practice plan for the week, coaches must stay on top of paperwork, transportation, communication with the athletic department, oh and run the practice! We take attendance, follow up for kids on uniforms and the injury report. All of this can't get in the way of developing the game strategy, determining who gets what playing time, assuaging parents, and more. It's not common, but I have heard other coaches confess their anxieties or feelings of inadequacy. I know I have felt that way as a teacher from time to time but as a coach, I feel it even after a win: Why did we only win by 1 stroke? and acutely after a loss. During the season self doubt and second-guessing are my bedfellows. Not fun.

I wish that my colleagues—people I love and respect—would seek to understand the joys and the challenges that coaches encounter. I would love it if someone in my department asked me, "What's the best part about coaching girls' golf?" or even "How is your team doing this year? Any surprises?" When I first came to SI, my colleagues in the teacher workroom would say "good luck today, Coach" on the day we had a meet or as I was heading out for the team bus. Even though I wear a golf polo and golf skirt on match day, it's rare that anyone asks me "Who do you have today?" or says "Beat Mitty." That small act of noticing and reaching out means so much.

I understand we must be the change we wish to see in the world. I have extended the efforts I value with coaches to coaches of other sports. I will ask about their captains. If one of my students is on their team, I want to know how they are doing. I genuinely enjoy these exchanges and in them, I have found that I'm not just giving support to a colleague, I'm gaining it in return.  This practice need not stop with just other coaches. Two of my friends at school are pregnant with their second child. I don't understand how they do it all —I don't have children but I always ask how they are feeling. I want them to know I am amazed by their energy and commitment! 

There's No Defense in Education

Just today I was asked if I am taking the head coaching job as the girls' varsity golf coach because that allows me to teach four classes instead of five—a norm that will be set in place at SI next year. Most people have congratulated me. Others have asked how I am feeling about this new role. However, I was so shocked by this presumption, I didn't know how to answer it. If I were asked that same question today, I would tell him a little bit about golf and what it can teach us beyond the fairway. I would refrain from sharing how much more time I spend coaching than I do teaching during season and how exhausted I am....but believe you me—I want to!

There is no defense in golf. It's man or woman versus the hole. Although there is match play and other variations of the game, all professional golfers aim to get the lowest score period.  
My friend Paul brought this to my attention as we watched the 2015 PGA Championship. Jordan Spieth heartily acknowledges a great putt that the leader, Jason Day just hit. And, it cost Spieth absolutely nothing to do that. Great sportsmanship...great karma!?

At that point in the match, Day was leading by three strokes. When he made that shot, I believe Spieth realized that the championship was truly in his opponent's grasp. Rather than get uptight or compete with blinders on until the last hole, Spieth played his game and appreciated his opponent's craft. Folks...that's great golf.

This quality of the game is counterintuitive to most athletes. Defensive minds are at a loss! It is certainly in opposition to our culture and I dare say, our culture at our school. But the truth of the matter is we aren't in competition with one another. We can't be nor should we be. Yes, each one of us should strive to give our best and be our best—so let's support each other in that process. Give a thumbs up where you can. Ask us about our season. Come to our games and matches—not for us but for our athletes...our student-athletes. We really are on the same team—this I think is something we can all appreciate, value and yes, understand.

Thanks for reading and please—share with me your comments, your questions, your frustrations and more. What do you want to know about coaching? What do you see in teachers who coach? What do you admire? What do you wish was different. 

Anne Stricherz
Religious Studies Faculty and Girls' Golf Coach

For a great follow-up resource to have coaches and teachers working together, read Response: How Teachers and Sports Coaches Can Help Ensure That 'Everyone Wins'   

Photo Credits
Red Box

Monday, January 14, 2019

Spiritual Lessons from the No Sugar Challenge

In January 2015, I took part in the No Sugar Challenge at my gym. I jumped in. I talked to any and every person I could who was also participating in the contest. I was amazed at just how much sugar is in EVERYTHING. I never would have made this change on my own, but the timing and the fact that I was part of a group (we had to sign up and pay for this!) led to success. 
I began to read labels, make better choices, use new recipes and of course see results. The results however, weren't what you might expect. I didn't drop inches or lbs. but rather, I gained a sharper focus and mindset. What went in my body was much cleaner and far less processed and, with all due respect, what came out was no different. The No Sugar Challenge got me to to look at food much differently; I gained a lot. Chief among my realizations, is the affirmation that an individual's success is made possible by, through and in a community. We hear this truth all the time: it takes a man or woman is an island....and there is no I in team (but there is a me) this post won't reveal anything new. It will however, remind you and us to lean in to one look for opportunities to do so and encourage others to do the same.

In June of that same year, I went to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL. I was interested in this sports mecca and participated in a 3-day golf clinic with my friend Lisa. We ate and stayed "on campus" with over 200 athletes of all ages. I remember heading to the dining hall anxious to see what pro athlete might be eating next to us. I was so busy looking around and talking to our table mates, that I didn't pay much attention to a certain type of food that was no where to be found. 

At IMG, I suspect that sugar is a banned substance. No muffins or sugar cereals, no cookies after lunch, no dessert bar, fro-yo, nothing. The only way to end your meal on a sweet note would be with fruit. The no sugar challenge was a reality at IMG. While Lisa and I eventually made a run for some sugary snacks, I was intrigued by how a community can influence a group of people for good. The institution made this collective decision and I suppose the athletes are better for it. 

This Fall, I talked to my students in Ethics about something that might start out appealing...something that can be very can be as addictive as sugar: gossip. Pope Francis wrote about its dangers and urged the faithful to refrain from this disrespectful, unkind and sometimes cruel act. In "The Tyranny of Talk," The Holy Father said
“It’s so rotten, gossip,” he said in February. “At the beginning, it seems to be something enjoyable and fun, like a piece of candy. But at the end, it fills the heart with bitterness and also poisons us.”
His words resonated with my students and with me. We face the temptation to think less of others, to ever so slightly delight in their misgivings and add what we know; that is gossip! In high school gossip is all too real, but it doesn't end there. As we age and mature, we ought to make better decisions and grow in wisdom and kindness. The reality of gossip reminds us we fall short at every age. Pope Francis' words also resonated with my relationship to sugar.
hands down, my favorite dessert
Susie Cakes makes my favorite dessert in the world: their signature birthday cake. At the beginning, it tastes wonderful, but if I don't exercise some self control, it fills my stomach not with bitterness, but with a substance that in no way sustains me. Sugar ultimately leaves me hollow and agitated. My system is no longer in balance. Yes, we get hyper from too much sugar for a reason.  The analogy is far from perfect, but it is moving in the right direction.

I began to wonder how the school where I teach might be different were we to conduct a "No Gossip Challenge." We could inform one another of how gossip affects a person's mental, emotional and spiritual self. In this case, we might do away with labels! We would need to encourage one another and share the challenges within the challenge. We could check in and have a metaphorical "weigh in" six weeks later.
I have always believed that good societies are comprised of excellent individuals—and yet great people are what make a society outstanding. There is a symbiotic relationship—one driving the other. In this new year, let us take on challenges to become more loving, healthier, kinder and more like Christ for the good of ourselves AND one another....and eat a little less sugar!

Photo credits
Susie Cakes
Sugar Break up
Stop the Sugar

Friday, January 11, 2019

Meet Champ...Harlem Globetrotter....The Best Version of Herself

There's a lot of talk these days about being "the best version of yourself." I hear these words among counselors at teachers at school. My students read an essay as part of their final exam and its thesis made a case for Catholic colleges to ban pornography to help students become "the best version of themselves." One of my favorite contemporary Catholic writers, Matthew Kelly has written extensively about this standard. His book, CD and YouTube videos call us to become what he believe God wants for us: to become the best version of ourselves. 
The concept isn't hard to grasp. I believe the command is invitational for it's not out of anyone's reach. Why? In part, because the standard is relative. The best version of yourself is unique to you and for you. But in order for this quest to become relevant—and not a euphemism among many, I think it needs some grounding. After all, if the best version of myself is unique to me. Without an objective standard, how do I know I got there? How would I know what is the best version of me? One quick and easy answer: look to others who have...who might be the best version of themselves. We all do better with examples and direction. 

This is exactly what I thought when I heard about Lili "Champ" Thompson, a 5'7" guard with the Harlem Globetrotters. For one, I didn't know there are female Globetrotters (thank you for not calling them Globetrottes). In fact, the Globetrotters signed their first female player, Olympic gold medalist Lynette Woodard, in 1985 and have featured thirteen female players in their history. Champ signed in June 2018.

Through a radio interview on KNBR, Champ discussed the transition from college hoops to where she is today. According to her player profile, 

Champ Thompson attended Stanford University where she earned her bachelor’s degree in Innovation and Organizations and was a three-year starter on the women’s basketball team. As a Cardinal, she earned All-Pac-12, Pac-12 All Defensive Honorable Mention, Pac-12 All-Academic Honorable Mention, became a two-time ESPN National Player of the Week and helped lead the women’s basketball team to the NCAA Women’s Final Four in 2014.
In case this weren't impressive enough, she matriculated to Notre Dame where "she was part of the Irish team that defeated Mississippi State to win the 2018 NCAA Division 1 Women’s Basketball Championship. She earned her Master of Science in Management in 2017." Wow.

A product of good coaching and great programs, Champ is committed to spreading the Globetrotter message of "good will and positivity through basketball." Champ admits that she had to practice, practice, practice to develop the skills this team is known for—spinning the ball on one finger (in an extraordinary way), the three-person weave and shooting from the four-point line. Her natural talent, industry, self-discipline, past success and experience has transformed Lilli "Champ" Thompson from a competitive basketball players to a something unbeknownst to her, might just be the best version of herself.

I believe this based on what she said to students at her former high school in Mansfield, Texas. She said "you don't have to know exactly where you're headed. I didn't know that I would be a Harlem Globetrotter, but I had goals to achieve my full potential and started creating some good habits early. That should be their focus."

I would say that Champ is the best version of herself, not just because she has found success and an opportunity to continue to play a game she loves, but because the organization she represents—the Harlem Globetrotters—offers an important reminder that the business of fun—of play, of laughter, of lightness—is important spiritual stuff.

As Dr. Michael Tino writes in "March Madness," We can and should have some fun. We can and should enjoy what we do together. We can and should reclaim the divine magic of play together, and sports can serve as a vehicle or a metaphor—which we need more—in that journey.

As we journey toward becoming the best version of ourselves, let's remember that advice and this example. 

Photo Credits
in Oakland
Steph Quote

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Small Gains from Losing Big

I traveled to Dallas, Texas only to see the Irish lay an egg against the Clemson Tigers in the 2018 Cotton Bowl. I had high hopes going into the BCS semi-final playoff game; I held financial ones too! I thought ND could win, or at the very least cover the spread. Although we were tied at the end of the first quarter, Notre Dame did not score again. We lost 30-3. I returned home licking my wounds and did my best to make sense of it all. I wrote Magic, Mystery and Misery: The 2018 Cotton Bowl to help process the season ending game in light of what really was a great season. I read tweets from former and current players. I sought input from Brian Kelly and John Heisler about what went right and what went wrong. With a little time and space, humility and gratitude I discovered that once again, defeat doesn't have the final word or the last laugh. No, even when we lose big, we can still have small gains. Here's how...

Time, money and effort
Attending a collegiate football game is not an inexpensive venture. Add in a flight, ground transportation and the increased cost of a ticket that goes with the descriptor: bowl game and your paycheck has seen its better days. Given the time, money and effort—and I don't mean this with a cavalier bone in my body—one must ask: Is it worth it? And, knowing the outcome, would you do it again? 


The anticipation and excitement for the game was awesome. I loved the hype and I enjoy holding the nervous energy. Having and holding something at stake isn't a given. Bring it.
As an alum, you never know who you will see or with whom you can and will meet up. I stayed with my good friend Erin and her family. I caught up with my beloved former housemate, Joy. I watched the game with my football partner-in-crime, Steve. 

From Book's P.O.V. it was a great year!
Furthermore, it's not just who you see but where you see the game from that adds value. This became abundantly clear as I enjoyed watching the Cowboys vs Seahawks playoff game that much more, as I had just visited. I had a keen interest in visiting AT&T Stadium—a venue not short on monikers. The House that Jerry Built, Jerry's World, Cowboys' Stadium lived up all I had heard and imagined. The outcome had no bearing on the vision I now have as a result to going to the Cotton Bowl.

PerspetiveI felt like a different person late Monday night, come Tuesday morning. A weight had been lifted. My spirits were no longer sore. To see Clemson defeat Alabama by 28 points, put the Irish loss in a new light. Reading the final score: Clemson 44, Alabama 16 didn't change the outcome of the Cotton Bowl and Irish hopes for a National Championship remain (for now) out of our reach, but Team 130, a group that I had defended and supported all season wasn't a farce or a fraud. Even pundits praised the Irish defense. They were worth the applause beyond 12-0. 

We gain perspective in many different ways: time, distance, age, experience, and more. Watching the orange and purple confetti rain upon Levi's Stadium offered a welcome one. A fresh perspective, especially after a loss is a good thing. 

One couldn't talk about the National Championship game without eventually discussing the talent, poise and precision of Clemson quarterback, Trevor Lawrence. Given that Lawrence is ineligible for the NFL draft for at least two more seasons, my friend Connor said "I'm already worried about ND playing Clemson in 2020." If that projection doesn't speak to his talent, no much else will.

While Lawrence's long-term success has yet to be seen, for now his post-season performance bears reflecting upon. A singular quality that stands out to me is his unflappability. I have used that word time and again to describe the true freshman QB and PGA golfer Dustin Johnson; it's a unique virtue. 

Further reflection upon the example set by #16 is the question: To what degree is it necessary for a quarterback to be unflappable? In Catholic Ethics, Andrew Peach writes "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." How many are unflappable? I can name a few.

I'm not sure I would know or care about the talent of Trevor Lawrence were it not for the Cotton Bowl—>National Championship. I do however want my students and my athletes to consider the quality of being unflappable. I hope they can gain from what I ...and many others have now seen.
thank you, Team 130
In my life, I have had experiences where I won...but really, I lost. Other times, I have lost but it sure felt like a win. The Cotton Bowl was a loss for the Fighting Irish on the field, but the gains from the 2018 season, remaining loyal, striving for excellence and having fun aren't small gains, they're big ones, too.

Photo Credits
Trevor Lawrence
Clemson locking arms