Monday, June 21, 2010

Who do you say that I am?

Now Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Along the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" They said in reply, "John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets."And he asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter said to him in reply, "You are the Messiah."
I sat with 30 other teachers from across the United States at the headquarters for Catholic Relief Services in Baltimore, MD when the director of the Cyber Bridges program asked us what he thought was a trick question. “You have had to listen to me talk for about 10 minutes now. Who knows where I am from?”
“Ulster” I replied.
Hedley turned his head in disbelief... impressed... intrigued.
“That’s an Ulster accent I said.” It’s also a political statement. It says what I believe: 26 + 6 does not equal 32, it equals one. One Ireland.

Was yesterday’s win at the US Open a win for Ireland?
The official program for the 2010 US Open lists the name Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland beside their red and white flag. According to this publication, Padraig Harrington stood as the lone Irishman. Whereas the Irish Republic's tri-color flag was printed but once, the North Ulster banner was displayed twice. I see this and cannot help but feel conflicted. Technically speaking, there could be a Union Jack besides the names of Gareth Maybin, and Graeme McDowell two golfers who played at Pebble Beach; to me they are both Ulster people.

McDowell was born in the seaside town of Portrush, a stone’s throw from where my family lives in the free state. After he won, he thanked his friends and “so many Irish people in the crowd cheering me on. I don’t know what it is about the Irish, they seem to be everywhere.” So true.

In recent years, “the land of saints and scholars” has made its mark on the PGA. Just last spring, the 19 year old Rory McIlroy of Belfast appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated for its Masters Preview. As yet Rory has remained quiet in terms of where his allegiance lies, whether he considers himself British or Irish, unionist or nationalist. These are decisions he will have to think carefully about because like it or not, the Irish on both sides of the border are obsessed with the subject. His identity will doubtless be a talking point, perhaps not in America and perhaps not publicly either, but people from Northern Ireland, Britain and the Republic of Ireland are already talking about it and will speculate over it until his identity is revealed.

Questions of identity, allegiance and loyalty are not to be dismissed. Even Jesus’ question “Who do you say that I am? is a crucial question. It demands an answer if you claim to follow and to believe. Who is Jesus for you? Through faith Peter grasped who Jesus truly was. He was the first apostle to recognize Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah and Christ). Faith is a gift and with it comes responsibility and yet, new eyes by which to see the world and one another.

In a similar way, I would prefer for Americans to view Graeme McDowell as Irish. The history of the conflict, the lives lost and the politics shape why headlines read “Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell wins the 110th U.S. Open” but with an understanding of the people and the past, you may comprehend how or why I wish it were different.

Photo Credits
Graeme McDowell, Winner of the uS Open: Getty Images
Padraig Harrington
Rory McIlroy on the Masters' Preview
One Ireland?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Kobe: I'm a Winner-Winner-Winner

Kobe. How does one begin to describe #24, the shooting guard for the Los Angeles “LakeShow.” How do you describe Kobe? My term is “fierce.” He is known for his killer instinct, his proficiency in Italian, and the fact he scored 81 points in a game (January 22, 2006 against the Toronto Raptors—81 points!). He is also known among other things for his total lack of humility. Shortly after the Lakers captured the 2009 NBA championship my friend Kevin wrote simply “LAKERS!!!” on his wall. His friend wrote what remains one of my all time favorite responses: I love how the whole team went running to Kobe as the last second ticked off.......oh wait, that didn't happen. A significant number of fans will be cheering for the Boston Celtics, not because they recognize the greatness of “The Big Three:” Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, but because they hate Kobe.
Undoubtedly, Kobe sparks controversy and this may be a welcome thing for a professional sport has alienated many fans because of its high ticket prices, current identity and style of play. Game 7 will be the final game in what is the 11th N.B.A. finals between the teams since the Lakers moved West in 1960. As much as I love the spirited play of 20 year old Rajon RONDO! I will keep one eye on Mr. Bryant (for those who forget he has a last name). I can’t help but think if the Lakers do win, Kobe will take a microphone and ask to sing Jamie Foxx’s song “Winner” (featuring Justin Timberlake)
I feel like I can't miss
I know they want me to fall
But ain't nothin' bigger than this
So just pass me the ball
You know you lookin' at a winner, winner, winner
I can't miss, can't lose, can't miss
You know you lookin' at a winner, winner, winner
Cause I'm a winner, yeah I'm a winner
No doubt, “Winner” has a great beat; it mimics the rhythm of Kobe driving the offense, moving the ball between his legs, back and forth, back and forth as only he decides what to do. Its message however also emulates Kobe’s hubris. Kobe may be the all time scoring leader in Lakers' history, but basketball crowns are secured through good coaching, four other players and a bench. If the Lakers do win tomorrow night, I hope that Kobe will keep St. Paul’s letter to Timothy in mind.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

Kobe is a fierce competitor and his work ethic is seldom questioned. Even though many of the games have not been particularly close at the finish, the fact that we are now in Game 7 proves it has been a good fight. Should the Lakers win tomorrow night, I hope that what will be Kobe’s fifth NBA crown will be different than the others. One of righteousness would be a good start….

Photo Credits
Kobe being Kobe
Kobe and Celtics

Thursday, June 10, 2010

In Memoriam of Coach John R. Wooden: Death and Commencement

Standing outside of the John R. Wooden Recreation and Sports Center located at the heart of the UCLA campus I heard a young female voice call out “Coach Stricherz! Coach Stricherz!” I stop, smile and stand in disbelief for two reasons:
  1. 35,000 students attend this great university I had the good fortune of meeting a former runner.
  2. I thought this athlete just completed her sophomore year. She tells me she is graduating later this week—how quickly time flies.
The vibe on campus confirmed that finals are nearly (if not entirely) complete. Graduation season is underway and even as a teacher, I love everything about it: the pomp and circumstance, the academic regalia, the inspiring words of the valedictorian, commencement speakers and more.

I am continually amazed at who various colleges and universities invite to give their commencement address and why. Notre Dame’s invitation to President Barrack Obama last year was incredibly divisive among Catholics and those loyal to ND. It sparked debate, controversy and larger questions about the role of a Catholic university. As I watched from my living room 2,000 miles away, it was obvious to me that anticipation, excitement and tension filled the air as the President entered the Joyce Athletic and Convocation Center. It lingered—two forces competing with one another—until Obama said:
I also want to congratulate the class of 2009 for all your accomplishments. And since this is Notre Dame, I mean both in the classroom and in the competitive arena. We all know about this university's proud and storied football team, but I also hear that Notre Dame holds the largest outdoor 5-on-5 basketball tournament in the world - Bookstore Basketball.

Now this excites me. I want to congratulate the winners of this year's tournament, a team by the name of "Hallelujah Holla Back." Well done. Though I have to say, I am personally disappointed that the "Barack O'Ballers" didn't pull it out. Next year, if you need a 6'2" forward with a decent jumper, you know where I live.

I leaned back into my couch and smiled as I realized, the hardwood served as neutral ground. Perhaps some folks were more open to hearing the heart of his message because of his appeal to sports and knowledge of a time-honored athletic tradition on campus; maybe they were not.

For John Wooden, the legendary UCLA men’s basketball coach who died on Friday June 4, the hardwood was seldom if ever neutral ground. More often than not, it was sacred ground. In thinking about his accolades, awards and manifold achievements—I wondered how many commencement addresses he gave in his 99 years of life. Although I did not find an answer to my question, the world of sports so riddled with stats and record keeping, I am certain someone knows. And, what might be equally impressive would be to know just how many commencement speakers have referenced the words and ideas of Coach Wooden in their speeches. As a man of tremendous integrity, he would undoubtedly be a welcome guest as well an uncontroversial choice, for any college minus USC.
Commencement serves as the door to a new beginning, a new chapter and let’s be honest—summer break. As part of my own summer travels, I ventured to southern California and decided to visit UCLA because I wanted to pay my own respects to the life and legacy of John Wooden who died three days prior. I was also curious to know how the campus community would too. 

For one, Coach Wooden retired before any of the current students were born. And, as a secular university, I was unsure what I would find. I was not disappointed. At the helm of Bruin Plaza, I encountered a two-ton bruin statue covered with flowers, handwritten letters, photographs and more. I was heartened to learn a colorful Bruins tribute will be made at the UCLA College of Letters and Science commencement ceremony, when student-athletes and scholars representing the entire class bear 99 blue-and-gold flags into the ceremony. I don’t even know if Wooden ever gave a commencement address at UCLA. Regardless, I can’t think of a better way to bid farewell to today’s UCLA students than to remember and celebrate the life of one of their greatest spokesmen—the Wizard of Westwood.
Coach Wooden, we remember your life and legacy.
Coach Wooden we celebrate what you have taught us by your worth ethic, leadership and your values.
Coach Wooden we believe.

I just wish you had made it to 100 years of age.

Photo Credits

Controversy at ND
The J-Shot of POTUS
All others--taken by Anne Stricherz