Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Darrion Trammell: A Story of Hope

I can list 100 reasons why St. Ignatius College Prep in San Francisco, CA ought to be celebrating the success 2018 graduate Darrion Trammell. The Marin City native played three years on the varsity squad. He remains in close touch with his high school coach who made his way to Louisville where he saw Darrion make the game winning free throw to defeat Creighton University in the Elite Eight. The 5'10 point guard has led the Aztecs to their first Final Four appearance in program history. We can talk about the 10,000 hour rule, the fact that he had no college offers out of SI or the adversity that he has overcome. He has demonstrated resilience, perseverance and more, but the reason I write this blog post is because of what I think Darrion offers: HOPE.

In his post game interview, Darrion said "It's all about believing in yourself. I feel like I put in the work."

At lunch today, one of the SI basketball coaches became very emotional recalling the truth of this matter. He said, "Darrion shrugged his shoulders and said what is 100% true. He has always put in the work."

Darrion added, "This is my journey and what I've been through. It's a blessing to be here. I've been dreaming of this my whole life. I'm grateful to be here and I appreciate everyone for believing in me. I'm super excited to be here right now, I can't put it into words."

Darrion's journey at SI began as a member of the the freshman A basketball team in ninth grade. To this day, the coach sites that group as his favorite of all time. Go in his classroom and you will see this truth is made evident. Their photo still hangs on his classroom wall (and fun fact, it's not even hanging at SI). When I asked this coach what made Darrion and his teammates so special, he said "Super coachable, skilled guys that played their tails off." Darrion was moved up to varsity for the playoffs that year. 

Darrion was first team all league in the WCAL his junior and senior years. He had a great career with the Wildcats. His coaches, teachers and athletic administrators have nothing but positive things to say. Darrion was a respectful teammate and player. No one worked harder. He had God-given talent but he also stands 5'10" on a very good day. His college counselor told me, "I was there with him when he kept getting letters that said We're interested but we don't have a spot...we don't think we can make it work." I could tell—even five years later—that was not an easy time or experience for Darrion or his counselor. No doubt, beating those odds makes what has happened that much sweeter.

To see Darrion make that final free throw to win the game—after missing the first one, to behold him standing on the gym floor with his coaches and teammates as the clock turned zero, to hear him speak in a postgame interview— it was beautiful. It's remarkable. It's unmistakable. Any and everyone who knows him understands we are all witnesses to what he hoped for. 

People say "seeing is believing." But I would argue the Madness of March has  revealed more than one could hope for. His story must be shared because it's not often we get to see a person's dream come true. What Darrion has achieved offers hope in real time. How humbling is that?!

I took this photo on Darrion's senior night game in 2018. You gotta love the homemade posters.
Look at how many seniors were on that team!

Darrion was in my Sports and Spirituality class his senior year. I'm grateful he had the experience to reflect deeply upon the the Jesuit motto of "Finding God in All Things." Obviously, that includes basketball.

The Lenten Meditations: Week 5 · Hopelessness and Judas Iscariot · was created by another Jesuit 
institution, The Faber Institute. The narrator, Tara Ludwig offers us an important question: Where have you experienced the temptation of hopelessness? What or who have you given up hope in?  She concludes with this quote by Thomas Merton. "Let us speak words of hope. Be human in this most inhuman of ages; guard the image of man for it is the image of God.”

Let us speak words of hope. Lead us not into the temptation of hopelessness. Let us share stories and live in hope...with hope. It's makes love and faith that much more real. 

Grateful this tourney has allowed us to look no further than the example of Darrion Trammell. He is loved by his family, his community in Marin City, his alma mater of St. Ignatius College Prep and more. And the faith he put in himself to help his team achieve greatness is humbling and inspiring. Good luck Darrion and SDSU in the Final Four. Your SI coach will be there.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

The Margins Have Margins: Three Books, One Question

Pope Francis speaks of a "Culture of Encounter." Father Greg Boyle, SJ writes about "kinship." Each is an essential ingredient for a better world, a warmer society. With each, there is no "us and them." It is "just us." Justice. Pope Paul VI said, If we want peace, work for justice. 

I love sports because I believe they cultivate what both Jesuits teach and preach. In part, the Culture of Encounter and Kinship are born because athletes spend so much time together. The opportunity to play, work for a common goal, strive for excellence, win, fail alone and together serve as a means by which to "erase the margins." 

Over the course of a season, I hope teammates "inch closer to creating a community of kinship such that God might recognize it." Some grow so close that they form a "circle of compassion." One in which "no one stands outside that circle—moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. "

I don't want to be overly optimistic about the power of sport. I've been involved in them long enough; I hope I hold a realistic view. It is important to understand: Sports can be...Athletics has the potential to...  Many times they fall short. AND, reading John Miller's book review entitled Sporting Struggles in the print edition of America, I realized something totally different: the margins have margins.

Each book profiles an athletes: Jerry West—basketball, Gayle Sayers—football, and Abby Wombach—soccer who testify to a different challenge, even the greats battle. What happens when love—which bound a person to a sport—is lost? How does what is born from the Culture of Encounter respond? What might kinship offer? 

How I wish Walt Whitman were with us. Perhaps he could offer a poetic response. Indeed, We are large, we contain multitudes. We also stand at the margins...none the same. Thank you to the voices who had the courage, and the ability to share.

Thoughtful reading: What happens when athletic heroes fall out of love with the game?  Important reflection. 

Photo Credits
Sister Corita's art

Sunday, March 19, 2023

The Champions Dinner: A Gathering for Coaches

The vernal equinox is upon us. Schools are entering the fourth and final quarter. Spring sports are well underway. Andy Williams sang "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" about the Christmas holiday, but those of us in schools may suggest otherwise. Easter break is in sight and the end of the year isn't far behind. In short: it's time to prepare for graduation and other end of the school year traditions and gatherings. An important one to keep in mind is a banquet to honor and thank coaches. 
Athletics Office at St. Francis 2021-2022

When I started coaching at Saint Ignatius College Prep in 2002, the coaches' dinner was held at the iconic House of Prime Rib in San Francisco. The President of the school paid the bar bill and the staff sat in one room where the volume hit eleven. Yes, 11. The athletic director acknowledged retired coaches and thanked the school administrators for their support of our sports programs. Coaches who had worked for 10, 15, 20, 25 and 30 years received an honorary plaque. I know many people don't want another plaque, but I love mine. To this day, the 10 and 15 year plaques hang proudly on a wall in my office—a true badge of honor. My colleague, who has head of girls' cross country, told her husband (another coach) that he was the designated driver on the evening she got her 10 year award. We drank to that.

This event had cachet. You wanted to be in the faculty lounge the next day to share stories from the night before. I won't go so far as to say that people stayed in coaching to be invited to this dinner, but I know that folks saw it as a feather in their cap—albeit a cap that is often worn out, faded and tired from the story of a season. But that's coaching....

SI Athletics outgrew the HOPR and the number of on-campus coaches has diminished, so the narrative around this meal has changed. Thanks to the #1 golfer in the world, however I have a solution and it can be appropriated for any school: The Champions Dinner. 
This gathering is a nod to a meal that takes place on the Tuesday night of The Masters week (The Masters is the first grand slam event of the year in golf, and as I wrote here, my drug of choice). Past champions gather in the Augusta National clubhouse for a dinner hosted by the defending champion. No coaches or caddies, WAGS or wannabes. No media either.

Scottie Scheffler
, the 2022 champion posted the menu for this year's event via Instagram. Mark Cannizzaro, the author of "Seven Days in Augusta" writes, "the menu choices reveal something about the players and where he's from." For example, Scotland's Sandy Lyle served haggis and Germany's Bernhard Langer served Wiener Schnitzel." Scottie's choices prompted some creative remarks. All that commentary got me thinking.

Why not integrate this tradition into the end of the year coaches' gathering and call is the Champions Dinner?!
Outstanding on-campus support for athletes at St. Francis
The purpose of the event is to celebrate ALL the success of our seasons. The athletic director can  announce the number of league, section and state titles as part of the program. Among those who earned a title, pick a name and ask him or her to choose the menu. Undoubtedly, it will reflect something about the coach and where he or she is from. 

We know victory tastes sweet. And it might be that much more enjoyable with a menu (and title) on display. It's also a great talking point among coaches—what would your menu feature?!

Cannizzaro adds, "It's one of the most exclusive dinner reservations on the planet, and it doesn't even take place on a Friday or Saturday night. It is, however, one night a year." The Coaches Champion Dinner may do the same.

At Saint Francis, we decided our coaches banquet would be a barbecue. One of the Assistant ADs loves to cook and offered to do that for this gathering. I told him "you know how people will say Don't quit your day job? This food is so good, you might want to think about it." (I was kidding) Not one single person walked away hungry from that dinner. All felt appreciated by his service. Could this Champions Dinner make room for skirt steak? ribeye? linguisa? burgers? Invite a coach to make the call. I don't doubt Chris could cook it. 
Truly one of the best meals I had last year....

Three time Masters champion, Phil Mickelson said that his favorite part of the Champions' Dinner is the conversation. He said "those dinners are usually the chance for the older guys to tell stories. Gary Player and Bob Goalby are great storytellers and they tell some fun ones. It's always fun when Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson tell stories because they always have some good ones of players I watched growing up. Some of us will add things, but usually it's the older guys telling the stories. I like to listen that week." My hope is that might be true for yours, too.

Alex Auerbach writes, "The life of a coach is incredibly demanding. Coaches are expected to work long hours doing cognitively demanding tasks like breaking down film, meeting with players to explain game plans, and preparing practice schedules. Coaching culture glorifies the so-called “grindset,” i.e., the idea that how hard you work matters more than how effectively. Unfortunately, coaches are often rewarded for this approach. It creates a sense of control amidst chaos and, as a coach has said to me, “nobody ever got fired for being in the office too much.”

Amidst this reality, take a night to 
make your coaches feel like champions Why not confer upon this group that they are part of something special? It is so important to help those who teach and coach feel appreciated and celebrated. Let them know the bar and/or the barbecue is open. 

Photo Credits
Scottie's Menu
All others photos from Coaches' BBQ 2022

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Jerusalem in Between—The Story of Two Boxers, One Conflict

February 24, 2023 marked the one year anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. As part of student led prayer, we discussed the loss of lives, the devastation and displacement of Ukrainians from their home. Though tragic, it is good that young people are aware and informed about this war. Obviously, they are having conversations in class and at home for they were able to easily share and offer insights about what they knew. 

Just two days prior, one of the bloodiest battles in nearly a year of fighting in the West Bank and east Jerusalem took the lives of at least 11 Palestinians. Over 100 others were injured. It is too rare, that a student brings up this tragedy. I get it. As an educator, this conflict has never been easy to teach or understand. It is political, problematic, pointed and polarizing. And yet, how can we secure peace unless we understand the rationale (or lack thereof)? How ought we lend support and offer our prayers if aren't aware of the struggle, the special forces, the strife, and more. The short film "Jerusalem in Between" is one way to start....

This short film was shared with me by a trusted educator with whom I traveled to Israel. It does not chronicle the history of division or why it persists today. It is simply a personal story of two men from both sides of "enemy lines." Let me be very clear, I am in no way equating the war in Ukraine with the conflict in the Middle East. And yet, I think it's important to raise awareness  of any place where war, violence and conflict persist. 

Featured in the Jewish Film Institutes short film series, Jerusalem In Between offers profound connections between sport and spirituality. If you teach the course or even a unit on this topic, you will find a piece that allow for conversation over the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the way our religious traditions shape our identity, how sport can bring people together and ultimately leads to connection.... which leads to love. 

Each man comes to boxing for different reasons—one because he wants to, the other because he has to. They discover "it is everything," including the bedrock of their friendship. Where they train—the Jerusalem Boxing Club—is the only boxing club for Jews and Arabs. Before they knew one another, neither Nour nor Arthur knew the religious identity of the other.

Thanks to the Jewish Film Institute (JFI) this short film is available for all! Given the on-going death, destruction and violence in Jerusalem, the concluding message from one of the boxers is hard to believe. He says "I know there is going to be peace, eventually, but it's going to be hard." And yet, we must have hope and work for peace. Jerusalem in Between is their story: two boxers, one Israeli, the other hailing from Palestine, come together in sweat and blood to face off and discover their similarities.

Please note, this film has some profanity. I told my students in advance and vetted the program before that with another teacher (my class consists of seniors). We agreed that though it is profane, it the film has too many valuable points of discussion to abandon it.

I spent five weeks in the summer of 2017 studying in Jerusalem. While violence was contained, the climate was one that always proceeded with caution. I walked so many of the same sidewalks and streets that Arthur and Nour traverse, and it was always so hard for me to grasp that this holy city can be a place of such division and conflict. 

Mother Teresa diagnosed the world's problems correctly—both in the Middle East and in Ukraine. She wrote, "If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other." These boxers? they say it, the live it...they belong to one another.

I have a study guide for teachers on my website here.

Information about Ukraine as of 2/24/23: In just one year, about 100,000 Ukrainian troops and an estimated 200,000 Russian troops have been killed or injured in combat. In Ukraine, an estimated 30,000 civilians have died and about a third of the country’s population have sought refuge out of the country or been displaced within Ukraine. Reports show that at least 500,000 people have fled Russia. Some fled to neighboring countries following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s draft-like order. This is the largest military conflict in Europe since World War II.

Information about the West Bank/east Jerusalem as of 2/24/23: One of the bloodiest battles in nearly a year of fighting in the West Bank and east Jerusalem took the lives of at least 11 Palestinians. Israeli forces carried out a four-hour-long raid in the West Bank city of Nablus. According to AP News, "Authorities said they were searching for three militants involved in the killing of an Israeli soldier last year. When the alleged suspects refused to surrender, Israeli troops fired missiles. A top Palestinian official called the raid a “massacre.” The Israeli military said Palestinian militants fired six rockets from the Gaza Strip toward the country’s south in retaliation. I had to read and review three different articles just to be sure I understood the situation correctly.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Holiness: A Contact Sport

Is holiness a contact sport? Is it something we can bump into?

A colleague of mine once described his daughter as clumsy. "She is always bumping into things." I thought to myself, "of all the words a parent could use to capture their child, he uses clumsy?!" You might not find that offensive in the least, but my antenna of judgment stood straight up. Turns out his description was not in vain. He was preparing for his father-of-the bride speech.

He said, "she was at an event and bumped into Chris. She spilled her drink on him. That's how they met. So we can bump glasses and toast to that." 

His words, that story, the collective "cheers" we gave to the happy couple and one another—I think the best word to describe it: holy.

If holiness were a contact sport, then how might you interact with those around you differently? Could you put yourself in their lane? I know I do what I can to avoid that— especially with people I find challenging or disagreeable. Rather than box out, would we be asked to box in? What does that even look like? 

This way of thinking about holiness came to me from Father Greg Boyle, SJ—priest, prophet and poet. In his latest book, "The Whole Language: The Power of Extravagant Tenderness," Boyle writes, "I always liked that Saint Kateri Tekakwitha’s name: “Tekakwitha” means “she who bumps into things.” What if holiness is a contact sport and we are meant to bump into things?" He had me at contact sport.

In my life, I haven't played a lot of contact sports. The sports I have taken to—golf, tennis, long distance rowing and running—demand me to dig deep and keep my eye on the ball, the back of the person sitting in the seat in front of me or the road ahead. However, if you ask me What is your favorite sport to watch? one of them is a contact sport. F
ootball (or American football for the soccer players out there), like other contact sports, necessitates physical, bodily contact. Contact sports require a lot of bumping into things and that isn't always easy. Athletes take a physical beating and run the risk of injury because of it. What we bump into might break. What we make contact with might hurt us and others. The path to holiness isn't all that different.

Boyle offers a response. He writes, 

In the end, all great spirituality is about what to do with our pain. We hesitate to eradicate the pain, since it is such a revered teacher. It re-members us. Our wounds jostle from us what is false and leaves us only with a yearning for the authentically poetic. From there to here. Holiness as a contact sport, busting us open into some new, unfettered place. We are hesitant, then, not to call it God. Remarkable, incredible, and… all the other “-ables.”
To me, that's a God who is tangible...palpable...and well, describable.

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha was a Native American, daughter of a Mohawk chief, a tribe belonging to the Iroquois Confederacy. She bumped into things because smallpox, left her with facial scarring and damaged eyesight. Canonized by Pope Francis, she saw what really mattered through the light of faith. Let put on that lens and engage in this contact sport. Amen

Photo credits
St Kateri
SI Field Hockey and Greg Boyle, SJ