Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas Break for Sports? Yay or Nay?

This Christmas my family headed north to Washington State where the 49ers happened to play the Seattle Seahawks on Christmas Eve. My brother, in town from Washington DC, could hardly believe his good fortune. A chance to see his team with my dad—what a gift! Considering that my entire family gathers on Christmas eve, my mom could not believe he entertained this thought. "How dare he?" she asked in disbelief while my dad replied “Sounds great to me!”

I know not everyone celebrates Christmas as a religious day but it has become a significant celebration of family and friends for most Americans. Most, not all, observe this holy day as a holiday. Yet many of our favorite athletes and coaches come to work at home or on the road. As much as I too consider an NFL or NBA game respite from some family drama at the holidays, I began to realize all those who work to make professional sports possible on Christmas aren’t able to be with their own families. I started to wonder: Should professional sports take a break over Christmas? And, are there other times of the year for religious or cultural reasons that we should press pause? I’m beginning to think the answer is “yes.”

Without a doubt, professional sports is big business. It would take a whole lot for “The Association” and others to decide to take a break, but it can be done. The NHL does, as no games are played on December 24 and 25. Good for them.

And it’s not just religious feasts or holy days that some organizations observe. For example, now that the BYU has joined the WCC Conference, league competition will no longer take place on Sundays. I found this an interesting change since seven of the nine members are Catholic schools. It took the religious discipline of the Mormons for Catholics to observe the Sabbath. Ouch. To its defense however, the WCAL (in the West Catholic Athletic League 9 of the 10 high schools are Catholic ) forbids practice or competition on Sundays. Part of me however wonders if it's for the sheer fact that did we not hold this restriction, coaches would practice seven days a week...

We know many athletes who have observed their faith tradition’s practices and holy days despite the team schedule. Many will recall Sandy Koufax’s decision to not pitch in Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur, a Day of Atonement for Jews. Nearly forty years later, people wondered if first baseman/right fielder Shawn Green would follow suit as his teams competed in playoff games. He did. We Americans are intrigued by the conflict that ensues between social pressures and personal beliefs. Is this a bad thing? I think not.

Such questions are part of American culture today. We are a religious people and we love our sports. We are consumers and we are consumed by professional sports as entertainment, as a force that builds community, as a source or joy and sorrow in our lives! I welcome your thoughts on this question.

Photo Credits

Niners vs Seachickens
Shawn Green
NFL Wreath

Monday, December 26, 2011

What's in a Name? II: Andre "The Hawk" Dawson

How are you spending your Christmas break? If you are like me, you may be catching up with past issues of Sports Illustrated, (Is it just me, or is keeping up with a weekly magazine a challenge?) watching movies in the theater or at home and tying up loose ends. One of those loose ends is completing articles that writer’s block or the need for more research put “on hold.” After posting What’s in a Name? I remembered I pursued this idea before. I hope it’s something you have too...
August 2010: I had the good fortune of attending my first Washington Nationals game at their open air and robust stadium on same night “the Nats” recognized the career of baseball's newest Hall of Famer, Montreal Expos outfielder Andre “the Hawk” Dawson. Recalling how fierce “the Hawk” was as a hitter, particularly during the '89 Giants vs. Cubs NLCS games, I said “I bet he earned that name because he was so focused during every single at-bat." I could seldom relax when Dawson came to the plate. Any pitch became his prey. At least that was my guess…and as I’ve asked before “what’s in a name?”

Truth be told, Dawson got his nickname from an uncle at nine years of age. He used to work out with a senior men's team that would hit him ground balls at practice. Andre's uncle told him that most kids his age would shy away from the ball, but Andre attacked the ball like a hawk. The name, and a good one at that, stuck.

Baseball nicknames have become an integral part of the sport's culture: The Baseball Almanac says "In no sport are nicknames more pervasive than baseball.” Each name has a story behind it, reveals a humble or interesting truth. In fact the Baseball Hall of Fame even chronicles nicknames into particular categories (e.g., ethnic nicknames, personality trait nicknames etc.). It also includes a list of nicknames of current Major League teams. Sports journalists, broadcasters and fans commonly refer to teams by a wide variety of nicknames. Many of the names are so established that newspapers routinely use the names in headlines.

Although “The Hawk” was the only player to be inducted into Cooperstown in 2010, he wasn’t the only honoree with a nickname. His class included umpire Doug Harvey, broadcaster Jon Miller, sports writer Bill Madden, musician John Fogerty for his song “Centerfield” and manager Elvert "Whitey" Herzog.

Nicknames and honoring an outstanding individual are not unique to the sport of baseball; a similar tradition is part of the Catholic Church. Many of our “hall of famers” are the Saints. In the 12th Century, the Vatican formalized the process for canonization. Although it is true that a man or woman is officially declared a saint after two miracles are performed with their intercession, the primary criteria for sainthood is how this person lived their life. Saints are “shining examples” of Christian love.

Induction into any sports hall of fame is no different. An athlete is enshrined because of how he or she played the game. Many may have changed the game, others were excellent in their day and age. They overcame obstacles and won respect, some adoration from their teammates, fans and even their opponents.

And what about names? I read today (December 26) that The Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha will be canonized next year with Pope Benedict XVI's announcement of her second miracle. Tekakwitha, Canada's first aboriginal saint, is commonly known as “Lily of the Mohawks.” What a beautiful image to hold of this holy woman; what a beautiful way to learn of her people. And do not flowers reflect God’s great beauty in the same way a saint’s life does?

Perhaps one of the most popular saints is Thérèse of Lisieux, commonly known as “the Little Flower.” What’s in her name?
In May 1887, Thérèse approached her 63-year old father Louis, recovering from a small stroke, while he sat in the garden one Sunday afternoon and told him that she wanted to celebrate the anniversary of "her conversion" by entering the Carmelites before Christmas. Louis and Thérèse both broke down and cried, but Louis got up, gently picked a little white flower, root intact, and gave it to her, explaining the care with which God brought it into being and preserved it until that day. Therese later wrote: "while I listened I believed I was hearing my own story." To Therese, the flower seemed a symbol of herself, "destined to live in another soil.”
A simple flower symbolizes her rich spirituality. She believed every soul is similar to a flower. Some souls are magnificent and grand like the rose and others are simple and pure like the small white lily of the valley. And “The Little Way” characterizes her spirituality. She sought to do small acts of charity and kindness with great love. She may not have “changed the game," but she is an outstanding example of someone who did something we are all called to do. Her name and her status as a saint are simply drawn from how she lived her life.

I am grateful that two domains I revere—the Church and Baseball hold similar traditions. Although I may check my hat at the door at Mass and not at the yard, when it’s time to recognize a person for their God given talents and their contributions, I sit in marvel at both. I hope to learn from their lives and their legacy in much the same way.

Photo Credits
The Hawk: The Expo
Baseball nicknames
Hall of Fame
Blessed Kateri

Thursday, December 22, 2011

What's in a Name?

These days everyone has his or her own rules with regard to commencement of the Christmas season--right? I hold hard and fast to the “no Christmas music or decorations until the day after Thanksgiving.” From Black Friday on, I contend people have license to go whole hog. As a child, the radio station KOIT most distinctly marked the change in season by playing Christmas music on that day only. I listened in anticipation for many songs; a special bonus was to hear Amy Grant’s “Emmanuel.”

Grant’s angelic voice proclaims a number of terms we use to describe the one who is born, Jesus the Christ. She sings:
Emmanuel, Emmanuel.
Wonderful, Counselor!
Lord of life, Lord of all;
He's the Prince of Peace, Mighty God, Holy One!
Emmanuel, Emmanuel.
The Gospels make a point of informing us that the messiah would be given a name. Matthew 1:23 states “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us” and in Luke’s Gospel we read "Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus."We know the Son of Man as Jesus and Emmanuel, as Christ the King and as the Good Shepherd. Listening to both the readings and to religious music, I can’t help but think, Why do we have so many names for Our Lord? Or more colloquially, What’s in a name?

Naming someone or something is human. We seek to know and build relationships; a name is the first step on that path. When a child is born is not one of the first questions we ask “What is his or her name?” To know that even God made flesh had a name reminds us of the true miracle of the season—the Incarnation.

Second, I believe the name we use for a person says as much about the other as it does ourselves. To my students I am “Ms. Stricherz” my runners, “Coach Stricherz” my friends “Anne” and my beloved I am “Annie.” When my former students graduate, I ask them to call me “Anne” and for many, it’s a difficult transition. When and if the relationship deepens, it’s not a stretch.

And nowhere do we see more of a love for names than in the world of sports. Men and women become athletic heroes, some larger than life. We honor their talent, skill and prowess by personalizing it and them with a special name. With that, they become our own. For example, Joe Montana earned the nicknames Joe Cool, The Comeback Kid, Bird Legs and Golden Joe during his football career. Each one speaks to how he conducted himself on the field and who he was to the 49er Faithful. If “Sweet 16” didn’t matter to the sports history of San Francisco we would only know him as Joe Montana. But as the history books indicate, he was so much more. His other names say that as well.During the Holy Season of Advent, I have decided to pay attention to the name of Christ that I am drawn to. To examine what speaks to me helps me understand and reflect upon what may be going on in my life and in my heart. Although I seldom think of Jesus as “Wonderful Counselor,” I am grateful that Grant’s music has reminded me that He is. And that’s fitting, for events in my life the past year have drawn me to Jesus in this way. But to be a Christian is to know our world is in great need of Jesus as well. Thinking of the war and violence in our world, I have called on the Prince of Peace many times.

In these final days of Advent and as the Christmas season truly commences, spend some time thinking of the one who was born, and what you want to call Him.

Photo Credits
Joe Cool
Amy Grant
Adoration of the Shepherds

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Baseball, Basketball & Football Are Long Seasons: A Prayer for Self Motivation

Many a professional sport spans one season too many—and by season I mean a division of the year, marked by changes in weather, ecology, and hours of daylight. I’m not sure if hockey even has an “off season.” Perhaps the gift of the NBA lockout in some strange way is an increased appreciation for regular season games? Fans will see 16 fewer games before the pros *really* start playing.

These days baseball practically goes until November. Yet people wax nostalgic about it. And why shouldn’t they when the late commissioner of Major League Baseball and philosopher, A. Bartlett Giamatti penned these words in Take Time for Paradise.
It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops. Today, October 2, a Sunday of rain and broken branches and leaf-clogged drains and slick streets, it stopped, and summer was gone.
Baseball may span six months (and more if you’re lucky), but the recent distribution of college football awards brought about the highlight reels of the winners’ 2011 accomplishments. Surprisingly, what stood out to me is the drastic change in the weather from the opening game to today. The passing of time is dramatically clear as early season games are played in the hot sun. Players and coaches wear short sleeve shirts and the field reflects the bright sun. As the schedule progresses, the colors begin to fade. The shadows are cast. And at this point, I wonder what weather condition will emerge. A snow bowl? Driving sleet? A bundled crowd at a night game? Brrr.

It too is a long season. And this has helped me realize once again that sports demand a lot of us—physical strength and mental fortitude. When one is a member of a team, time is not their own.

I have known a few athletes who were upset to play in post-season contests because they were exhausted. They would have been satisfied had their season ended after the first round of the playoffs! Part of me was disgusted that such talented athletes were lacking a competitive spirit. The other side of me understood exactly what they said.

Therefore, I think a prayer a student read in class last week is an appropriate one for all of us. Whether we are a member of a sports team or have a demanding job, we all need a little boost to keep us motivated from time to time. Why not seek the Lord’s assistance in this time of need?

A Prayer for Self Motivation

Omnipotent God, vitality of life, Your strength supplies my motivation. I am stirred in the path of Your Will. Maintain my self-motivation to always Search, find, examine, will and act Upon the truths placed before me. May I become a driving force for others, Encouraging them to pick up their crosses And follow the virtuous road of life. I thank You for Your continued vigor That coexists in my whole being, My soul, my spirit and my body!

Photo Credits
Self Motivation
2011 Heisman Trophy

Thursday, December 1, 2011

SI Football: Tradition and Community

In anticipation of Saturday’s Division III CCS football championship game between longtime San Francisco rivals St. Ignatius and Sacred Heart Cathedral at AT&T, I decided it was time to share with my students the story of legendary SI coach, Vince Tringali. My students, the football players and fans in particular left class sharing with me that they were even more pumped for the big rematch. I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t be. The story of Vince Tringali exemplifies the rich tradition and strong sense of community that is SI.
Tradition. To watch this NFL film one learns that SI has a tradition of excellence. During Tringali’s tenure, the Wildcats held a 19-game winning streak from 1962-63, a number one national ranking in the 1962 Imperial Sports Syndicate Poll and four league championships. He succeeded in both the AAA and WCAL Leagues, preparing his players for the transition and making a mark in both.

He knew talent. He saw O.J. Simpson play at Galileo High School and was instrumental in getting him to USC. And, he had talent. When a young Dan Fouts transferred from Marin Catholic after his sophomore year, Tringali said "talk about the gift of the Magi.” Also, several of the young men he coached went on to become coaches in the NFL, like Gil Haskell and Bill Laveroni of the Seattle Seahawks. Tringali’s influence on athletes and coaches extended beyond St. Ignatius and is greatly missed; he died in April 2010. His mark on the tradition of SI stands strong. Today there are two scholarships in his honor. Former players and students support a lunch in honor of the man and his passion.

Community. One of the more unique components of Vince was a relationship he built with a young man who did not even play football in high school. Al Saunders, offensive coordinator of the Oakland Raiders was an All-American swimmer for the Wildcats. Vince knew of his competitive nature and athletic excellence; he called him “fish” whenever he passed him in the hallway. A connection was made.

While Saunders’ father discouraged him from playing football, Tringali didn’t. Eventually, Saunders would play defensive back and wide receiver for the Spartans of San Jose State from 1966–1968 where he was a three-year starter, team captain, and an Academic All-American. Tringali said “I’ll take credit for that! He’s one of my own.”
To an outsider, his remarks may seem strange and yet it reveals something about the community that is Saint Ignatius. Every year, my fellow cross-country coaches and I scout the soccer fields in particular for potential runners. We have had to come to terms with the idea that perhaps the best runners at SI are not even on our team. And yet, I love to see these athletes succeed. Every year, I hope I will convince just one of them to try our sport. I will forever tease Cornell lacrosse player and former SI soccer captain Kelly Lang that I have yet to forgive her for not coming out to run cross country her senior year. Three sports are demanding and so are academics; I understand. I still hope to see her run competitively in the years to come! Tringali did the same. He saw the defensive end of the Miami Dolphins Igor Olshansky at a game. When he realized Olshansky wasn’t a parent but a student, he asked him why he wasn’t playing football. The sophomore replied, "I am a basketball player." The ever-blunt Tringali said, “someone lied to you.” Tringali didn’t. Igor went on to play for three years at the University of Oregon before the San Diego Chargers drafted him. In a community, people take notice. Tringali did that and the lives of many young men have never been the same.

He said “what you get from coaching is a relationship. And for some, it only lasts a season. Still others, ask or need more of you and it extends beyond. And with some, the relationship lasts a lifetime. One that does not end in even with this life.”
Whether he knew it or not, Tringali’s outlook was deeply Catholic. He was speaking of the Communion of saints. Catholics recognize that the living and the dead, those on earth, in heaven, are part of the mystical body of Christ. Because Christ rose from the dead we remain in spiritual union with one another beyond this life. We intercede for one another, we communicate through prayer and we believe our relationship has not ended, only changed. He added to the tradition of St. Ignatius, one that was over 100 years in the making when he arrived. He sustained a community that appreciates this tradition, its blessings and more.

Vince Tringali’s concluding remarks in the 2006 NFL film are “in victory, I salute you.” I hope as the Wildcats exit ATT Park on Saturday night that I can say the same. It is my hope that same tradition that Tringali furthered and the community he shaped continues and thrives. And who knows, I hope he is praying in heaven for the success of young men, some of whom may be the sons of men he coached.

Photo Credits

Communion of Saints
Coach Tringali
Tringali SI Community