Sunday, December 29, 2013

What I Learned From Everett Golson-->Jerian Grant

If you are anything like me, you may have watched the past Notre Dame football season with one annoying question constantly looming in the back of your mind. How would this game be different if Everett Golson were playing? What would our record be if we had #5 as quarterback? Even during the final game of the season the Pinstripe Bowl, I heard an announcer say "with Golson the Irish offense has so many more options." I heralded his words as though they were my own rally cry. I know I shouldn't be thinking that way—get over it, right? But I couldn't shake those thoughts.
Returning to school in January!
In May 2013, Golson was no longer enrolled at the University of Notre Dame. I was disappointed with his official statement and aired my dismay in the blog posting "What Everett Golson Can Learn From Kyle McAlarney: It Can Be Different
It remains unclear exactly what the Notre Dame starting quarterback did that led to his dismissal from the University.  The only thing that is clear is that Golson used "poor academic judgement." Sportswriter and radio host, John Feinstein has said "the euphemisms need to stop."  Naming the act is an important step in taking accountability, admitting the mistake is critical for accepting responsibility and righting the wrong.  
University spokesman, Dennis Brown said "Federal law and our own polices preclude us from discussing specifics," but I wanted full disclosure. I echoed Feinstein's words time and again to fellow ND fans, believing Golson owed the truth to all of us. However, a thoughtful and potentially uncomfortable conversation with the Vice President and Senior Associate Provost for Budget and Planning, Chris Maziar made me reconsider. 

At the Play Like a Champion conference I attended this past summer, I happened to sit next to Maziar. She had just returned from a series of Universal Notre Dame Nights in various locations throughout the country and admitted how difficult they had been (UND Night is an event hosted by alumni chapters that bring someone from campus to give a "state of the union" address). Alumni had all kinds of questions, most especially those about the football program. 

I figured why stop now. I asked her why Golson never came clean about what he did. She said "it's probably embarrassing to him and frankly it's none of our business." With my empathy card at an all time low, I sat in silence. I thought to myself: He's embarrassed? what about us? Give me a break. I didn't know what to say. I thought about it and slowly but surely I realized, she is right. It is none of my business.

This comment may seem dated or old-fashioned. It is increasingly more difficult to understand what is and what is not our business today's world. With constant communication and media attention we think everything is our business; we are entitled to know it all, full disclosure for everyone! Nothing should be "back stage." It can and only must be "front stage." In the words of Ricky Watters "for who? for what?" For me Ricky, for me.

But that tension exists because I have come to understand that some things are not for me to know. I think some deeds ought to be kept private. That is not to say individuals and institutions are not to hold one responsible for what they do, but I do believe that we can hold people responsible in a respectful, dignified way. And that way may be in keeping some information guarded or private.
Not even going to pretend like this isn't a huge loss. Dang it.
This belief was put to the test when I read the sad news about Jerian Grant. On December 22, I read an official statement from the starting guard who was averaging a team-leading 19.0 ppg. Similar to Golson, Grant does not disclose what he did. He does however, write one of the most impressive apologies and public statements I have read in a long time. See for yourself.

This mindset has helps me understand similar tensions that exist between students and the school where I teach. It helps to recognize a generation gap may exist in the form of expectations and how we communicate. But it also helps to understand that wisdom comes from knowledge and experience with reflection, age and maturity. I ate my humble pie at dinner this past summer and it helped me take in the disappointing news about Grant in a new way.

I still wish things were different. I wish Golson hadn't make the choice(s) he did. I wish Grant had learned from Golson's mistake. I would love another 45 seconds of Jerian Grant. What is to be for Golson will unfold in the Fall of 2014 and for Grant in 2015. And whatever happens IS our business.

Photo Credits
None of your Business

Friday, December 27, 2013

What I learned from a football jersey... (Part II)

Representative of the two Christian High Holy Days
There are some creative and interesting terms to describe Catholics who attend mass twice a year. The most popular is "C & E" but recently I heard a friend refer to this demographic as "Chreaster Catholics." Hmm, are they also known as "Eastmas Christians?" Regardless, I love both a packed house and that many still recognize high holy days are important. I also appreciate it when presider welcomes these folks in a special way. I remain hopeful that something will stir in their hearts to return the following week...and the week thereafter...

What prompts a person to attend Sunday services regularly? I can tell you why people don't ,but there a number of compelling reasons why they do as well. For example, one may have a special role in the liturgy; they may serve as a lector, usher, greeter, altar server or Eucharistic minister. Perhaps their parish is an important community in their lives—a spiritual home away from home. Others attend because it is one of God's commands. Jim Emerson put it this way: I attend Mass like I'm 6'1." It's who I am and what I do. A student once humbled me when he admitted he attends because if he did not, he would miss the eucharist. A mystic in my midst! But if I were trying to convince a C & E Catholic to return to the fold, my reason might come from a lesson I learned through an unlikely gesture—the jersey ceremony, in an unsuspecting place—the pep rally.

A very telling and profound measure of Catholic practice; is this surprising to you?
As mentioned in "Pope Francis on the "Memory of Grace....and a Football Jersey" at the school where I teach, we have a tradition known as the "jersey ceremony" that takes place at the pep rally before the Bruce Mahoney football game. Each senior on the varsity football team honors a teacher of their choice with their uniform. They thank their teacher and share why they want them to wear their jersey at the game. This was a meaningful experience for me because it served as an invitation to pray for the young man whose jersey I got to wear. But what was more interesting—culturally and sociologically—was the reaction from my colleagues who also received the uniform.

The day of the Bruce Mahoney game is high energy for students. We all make small talk and ask "are you going to the game tonight?" This is the one football game a good percentage of students and faculty attend. Ask anyone who received a jersey and a common response is the more often than not, "I wasn't going to go, but I need to now."
One of my favorite photos. Joe (#2) gave Bobby his jersey. A proud moment (and Joe had a killer game!)
This is fascinating to me. Over 5,000 people fill the stands at Kezar Stadium for this game of rivals. I can guarantee that the athlete on the field will not see the teacher in the stands wearing his jersey. The community that supports this football player—his parents, family members or friends and classmates may catch a glimpse and take a mental note, but maybe not. 

I'll speak for myself here. I go because I want to represent that senior football player. I feel honored to do so. And, I want to cheer for the team just a little more. I think my coworkers feel the same way.

And what did I find? I was touched by how many people said "Congratulations!" and "what a great kid!" Wearing #75 was an invitation to talk about a special student and to ask my colleagues about others. 

This experience gave me pause to think how we might be different if we went to Mass with a similar mindset. What if we attended Mass because we feel as though we have been given something special? though we want to honor the One who gave it to us? Ideally our pastor and members of our community would notice that we are there, but the motivating force remains: we go because we believe it's important to do so.

And from the other perspective, I have heard so many football players share their frustration that more people don't attend their games. They wonder why (more) students don't come out to cheer for them and enjoy the contest. "It's fun! They don't know what we they're missing." I know these young men feel as though they work hard. Support from the fans means a great deal and makes playing that much more fun. 

This insight and perspective also let me to wonder what the priest, choir and all those involved in the planning of the liturgy must feel. I'm sure the celebrant would rather preside to an attentive crowd; I imagine the choir would rather not be the only voice in the church. Perhaps those who love the Mass believe that many just don't know what they are missing...but they do. They are missing Christ in word and in flesh..and in one another.

Who knew that a simple football jersey could invite so much thought on who we are and what we do. Perhaps in 2014, you will attend Church services more regularly or perhaps it will be with a new mindset. Or maybe you will go to a high school sporting event that you had never been to before. Someone will notice...even if they don't, you will. I look forward to hearing what you see and learn. Enjoy!

Photo Credits
Bobby & Joe at the Bruce: used with their permission!
CARA study

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Pope Francis on the "Memory of Grace"...and a Football Jersey

Among a great many things, Pope Francis is also a spiritual decathlete. In America Magazine's groundbreaking interview, the Pontiff discussed how he prays. In "A Big Heart Open to God" he says,  
I pray the breviary every morning. I like to pray with the psalms. Then, later, I celebrate Mass. I pray the Rosary. What I really prefer is adoration in the evening, even when I get distracted and think of other things, or even fall asleep praying. In the evening then, between seven and eight o’clock, I stay in front of the Blessed Sacrament for an hour in adoration. But I pray mentally even when I am waiting at the dentist or at other times of the day.
I encourage everyone to read "The Joy of the Gospel"
I was humbled by the Pope's firm commitment to prayer. I should not have been surprised, right? But rather than feel encouraged that the leader of the Catholic Church is in such wonderful dialogue with God, I thought of my own inadequacies. I too like to pray with the psalms—why do I not do that? At least I go to Sunday Mass every week, but adoration? I went once in six months. Hmm...fall asleep praying? I do that almost every night. I know my scrupulosity was not the intention behind the questions of Antonio Spadaro, SJ or the Holy Father's response. Quite the contrary. Rather, in his prayerful disciplines, Pope Frank continues to impart a wonderful example. That's what a spiritual decathlete can do! He adds,
Prayer for me is always a prayer full of memory, of recollection, even the memory of my own history or what the Lord has done in his church or in a particular parish. For me it is the memory of which St. Ignatius speaks in the First Week of the Exercises in the encounter with the merciful Christ crucified. And I ask myself: ‘What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What should I do for Christ?’ It is the memory of which Ignatius speaks in the ‘Contemplation for Experiencing Divine Love,’ when he asks us to recall the gifts we have received. But above all, I also know that the Lord remembers me. I can forget about him, but I know that he never, ever forgets me. Memory has a fundamental role for the heart of a Jesuit: memory of grace, the memory mentioned in Deuteronomy, the memory of God’s works that are the basis of the covenant between God and the people. It is this memory that makes me His son and that makes me a father, too.
This revelation helped me name and understand what I do at the conclusion of every year. This "memory of grace" is a prayerful way I end the semester. I take time to pray for every one of my students. I give thanks for the relationships that have developed between us. I love being a witness to the new friendships that are born in my classroom. My students are not free to choose where they sit. With each partner is the invitation to create a new friend, strengthen an old one or reconcile with another.
Co-captain of the Football Team (OL/DL)  and winner of the RS 300 Academic Award
I read this beautiful treatise on prayer, and I then thought of what the Lord had done in my classroom the year prior. In an unsuspecting place and in an unlikely way, one of the many relationships with my students was recognized in a special way. And, it was one of the highlights of this semester.

One tradition we have at St. Ignatius is a "jersey ceremony" that takes place at the pep rally before the Bruce Mahoney football game. Each senior on the varsity football team honors a teacher of their choice with their uniform. They thank their teacher and share why they want them to wear their jersey at the game. I love this simple act of giving. This year, it had more meaning for me because of the context of Pope Francis' words. Prayer need not be formal; it can be in the simple act of remembrance.

Wearing #75 served as an invitation for me to pray for my (former) student. When Connor gave me his jersey I could not help but recall the real gift I received was having Connor in my classroom. Connor was not afraid to speak up for what was right and just. He sought truth and asked honest questions to find it. His peers admire him because he respects others as much as he respects himself. He laughed easily; I remember a few times when he would just shake his head... I would look over and know he either started the conversation which sparked good humor or needed to pass it on for me to hear. To wear his jersey was an honor for me because of who I got to represent.

While Pope Francis actively engages and participates in the prayerful traditions of the Church, he is always inviting us to bring the face of Christ to every place we go and every person we meet. I never thought that action could involve something like wearing a high school football jersey. What a graced memory.

Photo Credits
Cover Image from the America inteview
Football Images

Friday, December 20, 2013

Laugh, Think, Cry....Everyday

Today was my final class with the Fall semester seniors enrolled in Sports and Spirituality. I loved this diverse group. They were smart, funny, open to new ideas, they asked thoughtful questions, the challenged each other in a respectful and spirited way. They also did (most of) their work...
What a great class. I miss them already.
The course concludes with a Sports and Spirituality synthesis. It's fun to see what athletes and saints they admire, who they wish we had discussed, what readings/articles spoke to them, and an image captures their spirituality (next blog posting!). After their presentations, I share my own remarks. I like to leave them with a parting wish for their future. Consider it a spiritual charge.

Ever since my spiritual director asked me to consider "What is God's dream for you?" my final words have addressed a common theme—not exactly pursuing your dreams but rather— the relationship between spirituality and dreams. When I heard her question, I could only think of a very personal and loving God. God has a dream for me? I know that scripture reveals the way that God has spoken to humanity through dreams (Joseph, Christ's earthly father), but this was different.

I like to think my spirituality is the way I carry out and work towards God dream for me. When I am in touch with my spiritual self, I am doing just that. My deepest desires give me purpose and passion. Sports is never far from that. At its best, athletics has the ability to be a showcase for the spiritual sense... if we have the eyes to see it—in the world and in ourselves.
One of my all time favorite responses to "How does it feel to have won the Masters?"....
And so in the Spring of 2012, I left my students with the words of Bubba Watson. Upon winning the 2012 Masters he said "I never got this far in my dreams." Clearly, he lived his life in such a way that prepared him for that feat. 

In the wake of the 2012 World Series title, I could not help but reference the words of the MVP, Pablo Sandoval. He said "I never imagined the president was going to write me.  That the presidential candidate was also going to write to me.  Many stars have written to me.  I’m a young man who suddenly receives all that in just a day?  My mother couldn’t be at the World Series, but every day she told me “Never wake up from this dream.” Panda reminds us that not only can our dreams come true...but when and if they so, remain grateful.

As I gathered my thoughts for this special group, I came to see every semester gives birth to a new charge. In the words of Pedro Arrupe, SJ "What touches our heart, what amazes us with joy and gratitude" is ever new, ever changing—and so are we. This is why I think it's so important to understand spirituality.
And so today I shared with them three words that have become a mantra in my life—Laugh, Think, Cry or "LTC." These are the words of the late Jim Valvano, who inspired millions both as a coach and a human being. On March 4, 1993, but a month before he died, he was awarded the inaugural Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award at the first annual ESPY Awards. In his acceptance speech, he said
To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you're going to have something special.
My friend and I re-encountered these words when we watched the "30 for 30" film about North Carolina State's 1983 Championship run, called Survive and Advance. I can't think of a conversation with this friend that has gone 2 for 3.  Tears of joy, tears of laughter, one thought after another, even when we're not in touch.  That's what those we truly love help us do: laugh, think and cry. And some have the ability to do so everyday. Wow!

I wanted my students to know this motto and I wanted them to know it's a part of me. In that sense, I shared my own spirituality. 

I hope they will have relationships that engender all three. I hope they will find in themselves the ability to do each every single day. I hope they know even God is in on this....and that athletics will provide them with examples to understand their own dreams, credos and more. LTC...everyday.

Photo Credits

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Unexpected Joy of Sports

A co-worker shared that the reason she loves the Advent season is because it is a holy time that reminds us that "anything is possible." Indeed, God became flesh and dwelt among us. That the Prince of Peace would not come in a rapture, but in the form of a lowly child is preposterous. Born in a manger of all places, the King of Kings brought light in world of darkness. And so it is...or rather, so He is—Emmanuel—God with us. In response, we proclaim: Joy to the World!

One aspect I love about joy is that it is often quite unexpected. The Christmas story affirms this notion. The first to recognize the Nativity of the Lord were the shepherds—lowly, everyday people. And nowhere is joy more unexpected than in sports. Athletic contests and pursuits, games and teams provide a rich seedbed for joy—unexpected, unsuspecting, simple and complicated. 
Two recent examples: On Sunday December 15 Eagles fans in Philadelphia approached Lincoln Financial Field thinking they would likely get a good dusting of snow and a better football game. One out of two isn't bad. Ashley Fox from reports 
Despite a weather forecast that called for a mere dusting, the Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles played in a surprise blizzard Sunday. Snow started falling about 90 minutes before kickoff, and it didn't relent until early in the fourth quarter. 
The field was covered before kickoff. The grounds crew could not keep up. They shoveled the yard lines and goal lines at every opportunity during the game but opted not to plow at halftime. There was just too much snow and not enough time or places to put it. The storm won. In all, eight inches fell in Lincoln Financial Field during the Eagles' 34-20 win. 
Imagine football in a snow globe.
Snow globes are magical; so is football in a snowstorm.

During my freshman year at Notre Dame, the Irish played Penn State at home. The final game of the season, the "Snow Bowl" is among the favorites of many ND students. 
New to snow, let alone a football game in it, I remember the energy that filled the stadium. The snow was  beginning to flurry and with it, we cast our fate to the wind. I threw up my mittened hands and noticed everyone around me taking delight in mother nature. 
Birds Faithful. Awesome.
Eagles' fan had a winter wonderland. To watch a team that is leading the league, come back from behind to win by 14 points in the downpour of snow? Unexpected joy, pure joy. 

Three days later, I was in a nice bar (Article III) after a formal Christmas dinner celebration (at the Olympic Club, downtown). The Warriors vs. Dallas Mavericks game was featured on multiple television screen without sound (my pet peeve!). Trailing by 18 points in the fourth quarter, I occasionally looked up to see how the damage might much time was left...if we could close the gap. 
THE Splash Brother...always wet.
Instead, I saw Steph Curry instigate a Warriors shooting spree. Fans in the bar took notice as well and became quite vocal. It was a striking contrast. No screeching of high tops on the hardwood, no sound from Roaracle, not even any rally music, but everyone around me started turning in up. Fists were pumping, high fives were extended, I was smiling. More cheering, shouting and ultimately a celebration among strangers as Curry nailed a 3-point shot with 1.7 seconds left to go in the game. Joy, pure joy. Unexpected. 

This week is a wonderful time to reflect on joy as This past Sunday was Gaudete Sunday. Perhaps you noticed the rose-colored vestments and/or the lighting of the one rose-colored candle.  The Church calls us to rejoice. Gaudete in Domino semper or Rejoice in the Lord alwaysthe first words of the opening antiphon. We rejoice because Christmas is nigh. The 40 days of Advent, a penitential season, is coming to a close. We need a visual and intentional reminder that we are almost there. 

Fortunately sports offers many examples of unexpected joy. It's why we return to the yard, play the game, listen on the radio. I also think it's a convincing reason to be and remain a Christian. As written by a Dominican at my parish, Fr. Isaiah Mary Molano, O.P. says
The Child Jesus will be among us in a matter of days. As we prepare for his coming, we admittedly have some expectations: the evergreen tree; the lights; the cookies; the carols.  
On Gaudete Sunday, we stand in joyful expectation. We find ourselves wondering how the Child Jesus will come to us. God will most likely not come in the way that we would like or expect. He will most likely not show up in a thundercloud, or in your living room, or knock on your door and ask if there is an extra seat at the dinner table. 
He will come to you in the silence of your heart, unexpectedly, through your friends, your family, or even through a prosaic conversation. He will speak through a random commercial on television, an overheard conversation, or even while shopping for presents. He will speak to your heart in ways unexpected. 
Seek the Child Christ. Expect that He yearns for your presence. Expect that He will appear in your life in unexpected, prosaic ways. Expect to witness the unpredictable God.
I am reminded during this holy season, that anything is possible. This is why we love sports. This is a reason to love the season of Advent.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

This Holiday Season Consider a Sporting & Spiritual Challenge

I'm sure it would take little effort to research what percentage of Americans resolve to exercise more often, implement a fitness regime, join a sports team or club, and more in the upcoming year. But when I read about "The 22 Days of Fitness" underway at my gym, I wondered how many of us commit to an athletic program during the holiday season. 
The goal of the 22 days of fitness is to encourage you to continue to exercise the days leading up to Christmas and create the habits that will set you in the right direction for the New Year. We will be posting workouts on the 6th floor and on the website for you to do daily at home or at the gym beginning December 2nd- December 23rd. The workouts will be from 3 minutes to 15 minutes and will also vary each day.   
I'll speak for myself—I appreciate the license to indulge a little in yuletide cheer, knowing all too well I will pay for it sooner rather than later. But, the seasonal challenge piqued my interest (and the fact that 22—the double deuce— happens to be my favorite/lucky number didn't hurt either)

While some radio pronouncements claim the average American gains from 7-10 pounds, I read in the "Ask Rochelle" column of The Olympian that "Several studies suggest that an annual 1-2 pound gain per person is about average during the holiday season. A couple of pounds may not seem like much but don't jump for second helpings yet. According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, most people don't lose the added weight during the year. If left unchecked, that's a whopping 10-20 extra pounds over a 10-year period! Yikes!"
I will undertake the challenge. I fully anticipate failing...
I know when I have a strong fitness regime in place, I feel better physically, mentally, emotionally even spiritually. I make better decisions, especially about what I eat. Food is fuel; I hope to never take food and water for granted. 22 Days of Fitness might translate to 22 Days of health, nutrition and more.

With one eye on 22-Days of Fitness and another on the "No Sugar Challenge" for six weeks in 2014, I was excited to see a parish in the Archdiocese of San Francisco was offering its own seasonal challenge for the faithful: The 40 Day Advent Challenge.
 It is "a daily program of scriptural readings that began Nov. 15 and ends Christmas Eve. The challenge was conceived by Orthodox priest Father John Peck as a soul-nourishing, Christ-focused antidote to the commercial whirlwind promoted by the media every Christmas.  
The simple yet ambitious program has been adopted in recent years by many congregations and parishes. It caught the attention of the St. Anselm parish council, who introduced it to the parish last month. The program has been undertaken by about 50 parishioners. 
The beauty of the program is that it is a daily time out from the secular preoccupations of Christmas and an opportunity to focus daily on the meaning of the season, said parish coordinator Ann Roggenbuck. 
To call the program a challenge is no hype: The 40 daily readings, which take participants through the New Testament in a deliberate but non-sequential path, are an admittedly ambitious undertaking for parishioners. Some, like the Barbagelatas, read together in their home. Others who are able to meet as a group and are interested in discussion of the passages meet on Tuesday nights at the parish hall. 
In the same way that the 22 Days of Fitness aims to inculcate new habits, the 40 Days of Advent does that and much more. I asked my students what they thought of this practice and their first response was "that's a big commitment." Eventually, we named its merits and why it's a fitting way to prepare for Christmas.
“Advent gives us time to anticipate Christmas and that makes it more special,” said St. Anselm School 8th grader Domenica Barbagelata, seated with her brothers Lorenzo and Antonio and their mother Elena. 
Christmas celebrates the birth—the nativity—of Jesus. Birthdays are fun to celebrate, but they have much more meaning when we know and love the birthday boy or girl. Reading the New Testament, or Christian Scriptures can only familiarize a person with the life of Jesus.

To grow in knowledge of our Lord, to reflect with self and others on how He lived, what he experienced, and how He loved is certainly what this season is about. It might take time and discipline to enter into the space to listen to the story of His life, but cultivating relationships is no different.

Liturgy is Greek for "celebration." I can only imagine after 40 days or learning about our Lord would make Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist on Christmas Day (at Mass) what it aims to be.

I think Jesus would like this cake...have a slice before the No Sugar Challenge...
What will your spiritual or sports challenge be in this holy season? If it's something you undertake, I'd like to hear the results. One of my friends who undertook the "No Sugar Challenge" said he "couldn't keep the weight off." That is an incredible problem to have! Another friend said she gained weight. Hmm....for me, I can't imagine NOT eating sugar. We'll see....that's post-Christmas and in the New Year.

For those who undergo the spiritual challenge, the goal at noted by Catholic San Francisco is to build “a small faith community walking together for four weeks toward Christmas and drawing closer to God individually and collectively. Hopefully we will bring a slightly new person to the crib on Christmas Day.” Another parent wanted their children to see that Christmas isn't all about them. It's not about what presents you get. 

The gift of faith is the best gift one can get. It's one that is beyond price. And ultimately, it is about you. Happy Holidays!  

Photo Credits
No Sugar Challenge
Birthday Cake
Advent Family

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Gift of Sport: De La Salle Athletic Director Leo Lopoz

Ever growing in popularity, rugby is DLS' 14th team
At the conclusion of my bi-weekly prayer group are "action items" to pray with and consider implementing. In the spirit of Advent, this week's challenge was: When you give presents this Christmas, consciously select gifts that build up others are Children of God. Of course the thought that came to mind was none other than the gift of sport. And the person who came to mind was a friend I turn to from time to time for input and and advice, De La Salle High School's Athletic Director—Leo Lopoz.

At a ceremony honoring Spartans' basketball coach Frank Allocco's 600th victory, I asked Leo about their rugby team—a sport that continues to grow in popularity and recently became the school's eighth sport offered in the Spring season. I wanted to know how he was able to add yet another program. Without hesitation, Leo said, "Whatever we can do to get more kids involved in school athletics, I'm all for it. It's not that much more work on my part, and yet the return is so valuable. Teams facilitate friendships, opportunities to learn from coaches and one another. I'd like to add even more if possible."

It was exceptionally hard to find
a photo of Lopoz, which says a lot
 about him. Doing the work...!
Wow. While many schools are cutting programs and adding administrators to handle the red tape, here was Leo—who also coaches boy's golf in the Spring—giving his time, energy and passion to making the gift of sport a reality for more students. 

One of the reasons I was drawn to St. Ignatius where I have taught for the past 11 years is because it offers a comprehensive crew program for boys and girls. The boathouse and Lake Merced serve as a second home for many students—good, bad and otherwise. While I had the difficult task of having to make cuts for novice girls rowing, I had the other task of managing 80 girls who came out for cross country. It is one of the few "no cut" teams, I saw first hand that XC was a haven for any athlete who was willing to put in the time, miles and effort. What I saw on both teams was the birth of friendships, the challenge of maintaining others, the pursuit of goals, the realization of dreams, the beauty of the strife, and the spirituality of it all. I truly believe my role as a coach was to build up my athletes are Children of God. I'm grateful for the gift of sport.

This gift, like many others, doesn't happen without generosity. And I would like to think in addition to their athletics programs success, one primary reasons Leo Lopoz was named the 2013 California State Athletic Director of the Year (North Coach section) was in large part to his generosity. Managing 14 programs that comprise 28 total teams (freshmen, jayvee and varsity levels) over three seasons is a task. Just for fun—the teams are Fall: football, cross country, water polo; Winter: soccer, wrestling, basketball; Spring: swimming & diving, track & field, lacrosse, tennis, volleyball, baseball, rugby, golf.
I think Lopoz has won this award twice....!
Although the title of AD is rather prestigious, many of the responsibilities that accompany the job are not. Hiring and firing of coaches, acquisition of field and play space, securing transportation and officials, arranging for the appropriate security at games not to mention the sheer paperwork involved is taxing. An athletic director's goal is to allow his or her coach to coach—and this might mean trekking down a 15-year old for the rest of the necessary paperwork.  Or, making sure all coaches' fingerprints are on file—it's a different world that we live in today.  I have no doubt an AD often feels like a compliance officer.  They must wonder from time to time—Did I really sign up for this?

I have no doubt that parents feel that same way. And yet, parents go to great lengths to give what is best for their child. And in that way, I am affirmed, excited and grateful for the work Leo continues to do what he believes is best for his alma mater: giving the gift of sport. 

My favorite part about writing this was finding out from Leo that De La Salle has added ice hockey and Badminton as club programs. Simply awesome...inspirational...Les Hommes De Foi: Men of Faith.

Photo Credits
CSADA Winner
AD Photo
Rugby Team

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Spirituality of the Football Field

The Legends Weekend is born
The annual meeting of the Notre Dame and Stanford football teams is known as the "Legends Football Weekend." These two schools are proud of the success of their academic and athletic programs; the term "student athlete" is no misnomer. Integrity is the name of the game, many years in the making (the first meeting was in 1925!).

It provides me with an opportunity to see the Fightin' Irish close to home. Over the years, the Legends Weekend has offered some great games, unexpected reunions and chances of a lifetime. In 2009, I was on the field to present the Legends Trophy to the winning team. This year afforded what the Legends Football Weekend always does, and much more.

had the wonderful privilege of sitting in the skybox at Stanford Stadium thanks to an invitation from my student and his mom who works at the University. It proved to be an adventurous evening as I enjoyed a good game with this spirited crowd: my student, two of his friends (one of whom is another student of mine) his two younger brothers and his Godmother: Condoleezza Rice.

The five young men in our crowd were eager to walk on the field after the game. My student looked to his "Aunt Condi" for permission to head down. I could tell she didn't really want to make the trek through the crowds. It was awesome to watch this woman we know because of major decisions she made as Secretary of State, also decide to do this small act of love. She understood her Godson and she knew walking on the field is a big deal to him, a young man. 
With my student and his Godmother, simply awesome.
Full of excitement, they asked me if I wanted to go with them. I said "sure" thinking that might be fun. Experiencing the reaction from the crowd toward our group was fascinating. We got on the field without question. I suppose when you're the former Secretary of State your credentials speak for themselves. I followed our group not knowing what to expect or what to do. As soon as we walked onto the field, I thought What am I doing here? My team did not win. What should I do on the opposing team's turf? I just went with it.

I'm glad I did. I realized I could stand as an objective bystander. My vision was not clouded by emotional ties or connections to the players and coaches on the field. I had little to no expectations, which was almost liberating! I realized what I would encounter was a gift. I was able to enjoy the experience without anticipation of any given outcome e.g. Will I see the coach? Will I yell at Tommy?

And there is only one word to describe my experience on the field: spiritual. 

Condi congratulated several of the players who she knew by name. If anyone has concerns about her appointment to the Committee on the BCS championship, please rest assured. She knows football. The young men she addressed were honored by her presence and graciousness. Her presence affirmed the dignity inherent in good competition.

I took note of the sweaty, slimy spectacles in front of me. They were smiling. They were dirty. Some were still breathing hard. The cold of the evening was moving in, but these men didn't care. It was a spiritual moment.

I realized that for every the athlete on the field, this was the final home game of the season. It was almost as though some were lingering just to take it all in. I thought of the seniors who were recognized at the beginning of the game with their families. This "senior night" marked the end of their tenure. The gratitude and thanksgiving was palpable.

In football, teams will often come together in prayer after the contest. I've heard this can only happen in a sport like football because it's such a total battle. The exhaustion, the respect for all that was given, the sense that we challenged one another to great lengths allows two teams to come together—disarmed— to offer thanks and praise to God (not always, but more often than not). I got a sense of that as I walked toward the exit.

Richard McBrien says that spirituality is recognizing "there's more to life than meets the eye." This is what walking on the field of Stanford Stadium taught me..but so did sitting in an unlikely place—the skybox. If it weren't for the relationship that exists between a Godmother and her Godson, we never would have gotten there. I'm grateful for a chance to serve as a witness to it all.
Welcome to the ND Family: David Robinson
NB: have to admit though, personal HUGE highlight for me was after we walked through the tunnel, I saw a very tall man sitting in the shadows. It was "The Admiral" David Robinson. I flashed a huge smile and said "I love your son! I'm looking forward to the next three years with him." Objective bystander be gone!

Photo Credits
Rose Bowl: Legends Weekend #1
Legends Header

Monday, December 2, 2013

Coach Bill Walsh & David Shaw Prepare Us For Advent....

First Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 2: 1-5 + Romans 13:11-14 + Matthew 24: 37-44

We Christians are familiar with the discipline and challenges of the Lenten season. But the readings from the first Sunday of Advent reminded me that this holy season is not for the faint of heart. Matthew’s Gospel, known as “The Little Apocalypse” urges us to “stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.” Advent is a time of preparation, a theme which is made abundantly clear in the first and second readings as well. 

The Gospel says “So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” My immediate reaction to this message is one of fear. I take a quick personal inventory. I am not sure how I am to pray with the Word—this Word. I think of my colleagues and friends who have experienced unexpected loss or the sudden passing of loved ones and I think, “Do we really need this reminder?” 

I realized that a talk given by Stanford football coach David Shaw of all people could serve as an answer to my questions.
Shaw said “It drives me crazy when I hear football coaches say, ‘it’s my job to win games.’ I disagree. Our jobs are to teach young people how to do things that make them successful. On the football field, in the classroom and after graduation.”

A small part of me—the inner cynic that I battle with from time to time—heard his words and thought “yeah, right.” But I continued to listen to his philosophy of coaching, the evidence he imparted as a teacher and the stance of his character and I got it. Do the right things and you will win—literally and metaphorically.
I feel so blessed to have had this Coach's example shine over my city!
Shaw’s message should have come as no surprise. His hero, Coach Bill Walsh’s philosophy of leadership is captured in a book entitled “The Score Takes Care of Itself.” These men are guided by the same principle. Live your life in such a way that success is the by-product of your efforts, winning is the fruit of your work, and eternal life is eternal reward. In laymen’s terms, their credos are also the challenge of Sunday’s readings. Romans 13: 11-14 tells us
“Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day”
Advent reminds us of how we are to live our lives. Some of us need jarring reminders. Others just need the assurance as given in 2 Isaiah “let us walk in the light of the Lord!” To do means we will not fear the day nor the hour, it means that we will know the score, it assures us that victory is ours for those who love  Christ Jesus.
Let us prepare the way for His coming. Blessings this Advent.