Sunday, March 30, 2014

Let's Get Physical: Another Reason I Love Bookstore Basketball

This is going to sound weird; please don't take it the wrong way. I like interacting with others physically.

One reason I loved coaching cross country is because I interacted with my student-athletes in a physical way. I say that because it stands as in contrast to what I do as a teacher. In the classroom, my work is formal and regulated by a bell, desks, a podium and a blackboard. While I am standing and instructing my students are sitting (NOT sleeping); they are passive. 

As an assistant coach however, I ran with the girls everyday. I sweat when they sweat. I would stretch while they stretched. One of my favorite memories is leading them in push-ups. I would urge them not to be afraid to overachieve. Don't hold back ladies! If you want to complete the set with one arm, go for it. If I say 10, please say 15 coach! Those were good times.
SJP Mike finally got a championship title!
As the commissioner of the Bookstore Basketball tourney for the Notre Dame alumni club of the San Francisco Bay Area, I finally figured out why so many friendships have formed from an event that takes place but once a year: 55 men and women are interacting physically with one another for a half day. They are banging down low and jumping up high in the quest to be the first team to 15 points.

When you interact with someone physically the conversation is never limited to "wow, he's got great hands" or "she has amazing court vision." No, eventually with a contact sport like basketball, it reveals character, personality, maturity and even one's spirituality. 
Sweet Memories...2010

Bookstore basketball is a case study for this truth. We play a round robin and the top four teams advance. Because Notre Dame alums often run slightly/naturally competitive, once the warm-ups conclude, a "game-time" athlete takes the court. In those game that run close, one or two players always emerge as "chippy" or "lacking integrity" (other people's words...not mine). Because you call your own fouls, there is definitely a fair amount of give and take. How people call them and how people respond to them is interesting (one of the most loaded words in the English language). On the other end of the spectrum, I love to see how captains support their players and how athletes form friendships across enemy lines. It's incredible how many players I have run into a week or month later are still talking about one of their games.

It's also just fun for me to see my friends compete. I enjoy seeing people I work with, friends from church and others take it to the hoop. Personality never fails to enter into this dynamic. For example, last year, my friend's teammate asked the player he was guarding how he should guard him. The opponent didn't understand what he was saying. He replied "I honestly do not know." The opposing player said "let me tell you after the game." I had to laugh when my friend's teammate returned this year with a surge in confidence and new-found ability to size up players. Reminded me of the sophomores I will teach! 
Justin is upset that his guys/one of my favorite teams did not defend their title.
Furthermore, every year, there is at least two women I envy for their smooth dribble and efficiency with the triple threat. We started calling one woman "Rebecca Lobo" today. Enough said.

Interacting physically with family, friends, one's spouse or children can build and strengthen relationships. It can teach everyone about each other and one's self. Good for the heart, good for the soul. No wonder "work hard, play hard" is a beloved motto.

I would be remiss if I did not thank Betsy Cannon for starting Bookstore Basketball for SFND 13 years ago. It certainly laid part of the foundation for the gift of our friendship and those of many others all these years. Betsy, you're a great player, organizer and can't wait to get you out there again!! If your local alumni chapter is interested in starting your own tourney, please contact me for information. Betsy was the lawyer-genius behind that too!

Photo Credits

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Admiral, David Robinson: An Officer and a Gentlman

One of my favorite responses to a good challenge is this: "try me."

As my students know, my personal motto is "looking for grace." This is what I do whenever I go to a live sporting event. I am actively looking for something on the court or field to speak to me. My eye has been trained to find these so-called "sacramental moments." More often than not, I get a glimpse of one or two. I sit with what struck me. I revisit how I felt and what I learned. I aim to put it in context and unpack why it is staying with me. Matthew 7:7 says "Seek and ye shall find." It's incredible how often I do. And that humble truth is why I write this blog—said moments must be shared.
Little to no expectations. Maybe not a bad thing.
And yet, moments of grace are not a given. I entered AT&T Center in San Antonio thinking too much was in the way of finding one. I was watching the Spurs—the NBA team with the best record play the Philadelphia 76ers—a team who had lost 22 straight games. The game was on a Monday night. Although the home of the Spurs is clean and new, basketball arenas are not sports destinations in the way that baseball parks can be; we don't refer to them as "cathedrals," they seldom appear on a bucket list, etc. Furthermore, the last time I attended an NBA game with this same group (a contingent of teachers from  Jesuit high schools from all over the country) we were in Miami. We saw two of the very best: the Heat vs. the Spurs. So, I bought my $11 ticket and decided I must take my own advice. I put my motto to the test. Here's what I found.
One of my favorite covers

At the end of the third quarter, the announcer said "We would now like anyone who has served in armed forces to please stand. We thank you for the gift of your service and the sacrifices you and your families have made." A significant number of men and women stood proud and tall. While they received a long round of applause Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA" played in the background. As I was trying to process what was taking place,  I thought to myself: Do they do this at every game?...this is Texas, I'm not surprised that this gesture is part of the culture....I know there's an army base here....Wow! Look who's here??!! 

The camera panned the arena and focused in on a man who played his entire NBA career with the Spurs: David Robinson.

The Admiral. Although, his actual rank upon fulfilling his service commitment was Lieutenant, Junior Grade.

I thought back to the first time he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Top Gun was a great story. A 1987 graduate of the US Naval Academy, Robinson is a Hall of Fame Center, he is a two-time Olympic Gold Medalist, he was co-Sportsman of the Year with teammate Tim Duncan. Together they earned two NBA Championships for San Antonio. The list of his basketball achievements is almost as impressive as he is. Truly, he is an officer and a gentleman. As I was enjoying this moment (not to mention reliving my glory of meeting him as I exited the field at Stanford Stadium) I thought Did he actually serve in the Navy? I know he graduated from the Academy, but did he get out of his commitment that is required of all ensigns? Aren't they indebted to four or five years of service post-graduation? 
Two of the all-time greats
Many of you can answer my questions. If you don't, it's worth knowing—talk about inspiring. Roy Johnson writes:
Guthrie is the marketing director for the Spurs, the team that spun pro basketball's wheel of fortune last month and won, gaining the first selection in today's draft. Their choice will be David Robinson, the 7-foot-1-inch Navy ensign, who was the best college basketball player in the country last season. Historically, teams with the No. 1 pick in the draft experience a dramatic increase at the gate - an average of almost 30 percent over the last four years. A Rare Commodity. Yet the scenario for this season isn't normal. Instead of looking forward to jammed-to-the-rafters crowds and respectability in the coming season, the Spurs will have to wait two full seasons for Robinson while he serves two years of active duty as a Naval engineer. 
My first thought was why only two years? My guilty pleasure, Wikipedia writes: 
Robinson considered leaving the academy after his second year, before incurring an obligation to serve in active duty. He decided to stay after discussing with the Superintendent the likelihood that his height would prevent serving at sea as an unrestricted lineofficer, hurting his naval career, and might make it impossible for him to be commissioned at all. As a compromise, Secretary of the Navy John Lehman placed Robinson in a program for training civil engineers for the Naval Reserves that reduced his active-duty obligation to two years.  
And how much do I LOVE that his son Corey plays for the Fightin' Irish.
What was a liability in one domain became a pure asset in another? 

It's almost trite for me to say it, but you can't make this stuff up! What is the likelihood that the top pick in the country would come from the Navy? That a Mathematics major would be a 10-time NBA All-Star and the 1995 MVP. How many athletes defer their careers in service to our country? 

Robinson decided to go to a terrible game on a Monday night, and I'm thankful he did. He was recognized in a context that made me think of him in the way we first came to know his story. I consider this a moment of grace because when I look at someone like David Robinson, I see humanity at its best. Talent, service, sacrifice, community, dedication. Anytime I am a witness to that, I am grateful. A small part of me is moved by the wonder of God's creation.  The Admiral is no exception. In fact, he's one of the very best. Spurs fans, you've been blessed. To those in the armed services, especially the US Navy, you are as well. Thank you.

Photo Credits
Sixers vs Spurs
Duncan and Robinson

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Revisiting Sacramental Moments: Little Person in Montana Makes the Shot

My students think I am a horrible person; I have them exactly where I want them.

Perhaps you have noticed, it seems as though a positive trend is taking shape in high school athletics. Teams and coaches are including athletes who might not otherwise have a chance to play on a varsity squad in their games; these young men and women have special needs, disabilities, or other conditions. We get a glimpse of their stories because they often go viral and more often than not, I am glad that they do. But, not always.

At their best, these stories can serve as sacramental moments. We are able to discern that anyone (and in these instances—they are often unlikely people)—can be a visible sign of God's invisible grace. Through these video shorts, we become witnesses to how they uplift and transform a community; that is what sacraments do!

Nowhere was this more true than at Coronado High School in El Paso, Texas. Thanks to Steve Hartman's "On The Road" we learned about Mitchell, a young man with severe mental disabilities was a manager and super fan of the Thunderbird's boy's basketball team. To honor his love for hoops and the team's love and respect for him, Mitchell's coach put him in the final minutes of a home game. His story took a special turn with unexpected results. Today, millions of people know it and have seen it.
This photo says it all. "Mitchell! Mitchell!"
The Catholic principle of sacramentality suggests that we can find God in all things. I believe sports is an arena where this is possible, but it's not a given.  I watched and read "Little Person Student Coach Gets Start on Senior Night for HS Basketball Team" and wondered "Is a sacramental moment, or not?" According to Kyle Newport of Bleacher Report
Laurel High School (Laurel, Mont.) student coach Seth Kraft, a little person, was the center of attention during a special night on Saturday. Seeing as how it was his last game with the team, he was given a start on Laurel's senior night against Senior High. Kraft was able to leave his mark on the game, as he managed to score a bucket for the Locomotives in the first quarter. Kraft's birthday was on Saturday, so it turned out to be quite the birthday present.
I believe the intention for inclusion is a good one. It's hard not to feel the joy that Kraft exudes when he makes his shot. A big part of me wants this young man to have a moment. I do. But I also want his opponents to "D up" on him. I want him to have to stay on the floor and grit it out like every other player must do. Foul him if necessary. Make him set a screen, force a charge. No clothes line please.
D-up guys! Why the open lane??
This left my students in disbelief. Naturally, they took it to extremes. "What??? You want them to swat his shot?" No, but I do want Seth to be treated like any other high school kid. To continue to give him the ball and make room for the court verges on exploitation. 

They still weren't convinced. I told them about a beloved former student from Our Lady of Prompt Succor in White Castle, LA. Kenny was incredibly intelligent and astute. He was gentle and had a great sense of humor. He also had a debilitating stuttering problem. I was his 7th and 8th grade Language Arts teacher. Reading comprehension and writing were never a challenge for Kenny, but speaking was. Students thought he was quiet and shy, but I knew different. 
Kenny taught me more than he will every know.
Teaching middle school as a new teacher means you hand out detentions daily. Classroom management is a challenge by the minute. In spite of the nightmare, it was my goal to give Kenny a detention. 

At this point, several jaws dropped. "YOUR GOAL WAS TO GIVE HIM A DETENTION?" I guess they had never heard that before. "Overtly, this is  not a noble one, but allow me to explain."  As I begin to do so, they are convinced I'm cruel.

"Just because Kenny was unable to talk freely, didn't mean he wasn't off task. He was a typical 13 and 14 year old boy in the same way every other student of mine was. They're not perfect all the time. They're not entirely focused and on top of things at every moment. They make mistakes and push limits. Kenny did this in the same way that everyone else's just that he did it without words. I wanted him to know I knew that."

Good intention, just doesn't feel right. He ran through this, breaking the paper.
And so, when I watched Seth Kraft's story, I couldn't help but think of Kenny and the principle that underscores my sentiment. I can't speak for Kraft or anyone else profiled in these videos, but my sense is that he wants to be treated like a normal high school kid. So often folks with disabilities and special needs are treated differently because that is needed; but I also believe they crave to be treated like it's the last thing that defines them.

I invite in the sacramental moments...but I also contend that maybe the sacrament is revealed in the doing of what's least expected.  And yes, swatting isn't allowed.

Photo Credits

Sunday, March 16, 2014

How & Why "Age Quod Agis" is the Best Thing that Ever Happened to the Miami Heat: Part II

Arguably their highest profile athlete, Jesuit HS
should be proud of this graduate.
Ever since I returned from visiting his alma mater, Jesuit High School in Portland, Oregon I have been asking one question: Why aren't more people talking about the head coach of the Miami Heat: Erik Spoelstra? 

Spoelstra is the first Asian/Filipino-American head coach in any of the major North American sports leagues. This entire post could address that alone fact alone, but there's more. Now in his sixth year as a head coach, Spoelstra has "five postseason appearances, three division titles, two conference championships and guiding the franchise to a pair of NBA championships." (Miami Heat Directory). Should we take a moment to sit with all this? 

Spoelstra came to Miami by way of Germany where the 6'3" point guard played for two years. He was hired as the video coordinator until he was promoted to assistant coach/video coordinator. Let's do the math here: Spoelstra never played in the NBA and came to the organization he has now led through back-to-back championships by way of a VCR and video tape. (please see the posting on why I don't read fiction). And just for effect, let me state the obvious: Spoelstra is remarkably handsome and fit. Furthermore, you might mistake him for one of the nine first-year coaches in the NBA, he looks so young. 

Most basketball fans give a common answer my question: three words or three names— The Big Three/Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwayne Wade. However, I believe Spoelstra flies under the radar because of the motto that shaped him as a young man at Jesuit High School: Age Quod Agis. He lives what this Latin proverb proclaims: Do what you are doing.
This reminds me of a bad family photo....
A lengthy piece in ESPN magazine "The Mystery Guest Has Arrived" confirmed my suspicion. The author, Kevin Arnovitz chronicled how Spoelstra moved from the shadows of "The Dungeon"—the office where he studied video tape—to the NBA spotlight. From the start to where he is today, he has focused on his passion: basketball. Doing what he was doing made some unusual demands, but it by doing it well, he laid a strong foundation. People noticed. Arnovitz writes: 
Spoelstra doesn't know jack about video: coordinating video, editing video, or the coordination of video editing. All he knows is that he wants to be around basketball. He has applied everywhere for a college coaching gig, but has come up empty. If the Heat are interested in having him stick around, then he'll gladly take on whatever tasks they have for him. 
"I was kind of like the concierge-slash-video coordinator my first year," Spoelstra remembers. "I just figured I wanted them coming to me with as many different things as possible to lean on, whether it was basketball-related or not. I wanted to be the guy who they'd pick up the phone and say, 'He'll get it done'." 
 Evidently, he did. And he did that well.
Times have changed.
In the same way that Jesuit High School is a much different school than it was when Erik Spoelstra was a Crusader, the world is too. We can now record from our phone or mobile device of preference. Everything is digital. One can share, transfer and edit on demand. But in 1994, things were different. Spoelstra was confined to a place known as "The Dungeon."
"It was in the bowels of the old Miami Arena. It wasn't even part of the offices. It was probably an old storage room. When they decided to make a video department I think they just cleared everything out, threw a couple of VCRs in there and said, 'OK, this is the video room.' 
Spoelstra is the Heat's Dungeonmaster. He rarely sees the Miami sunlight and will sometimes go days without visiting the inside of his Miami Beach studio -- a converted hotel room -- because he overnights in The Dungeon. There, he breaks down game tape, evaluates players, figures out where the pick-and-roll defense is failing and which offensive sets are producing results. 
"What [Spoelstra] did was prime the pump for 11 years, years of learning down in The Dungeon." Riley says. "Sometimes I think being a video coordinator and an advance scout prepares you better to be a head coach than just becoming an assistant coach. You're forced to look at X's and O's and so many things. He had such a great reservoir of basketball knowledge.
And that focus and work ethic hasn't changed. Age Quod Agis
Not an ad for GQ—but should be.
Written in June 2011, "The Mystery Guest Has Arrived" profiled Spoelstra before the Heat team that people know, love and hate today. It continues:
Ask a dozen people and you'll get a single impression: Spoelstra is among the game's hardest workers, most prepared coaches and respectful characters. The uniformity of these testimonials is so extreme, it demands a little diversity of opinion. Can Spoelstra possibly be as unimpeachable as everyone says he is?
"Let me save you a lot of time and phone calls -- yes," says one NBA general manager. "All he does is work his balls off and treat everyone the way they should be treated." (NB: I really wanted to edit his comment there. I am not a fan of that expression. But those are that man's words, not mine).
Those are all admirable qualities, but the basketball world is filled with plenty of guys who fit that description. But only a handful of them can wrangle superstar egos, develop a coherent message for seven or eight months and coach a championship brand of basketball.
That's the question surrounding Spoelstra last summer when the Heat reel in LeBron James and Chris Bosh and re-sign Dwyane Wade. After amassing that unprecedented concentration of talent, Riley decides to entrust the job of delivering not one, not two, not three, but multiple championships, to a young head coach without an NBA playing pedigree or a playoff series victory to his name.
Lakers coach Mike Brown, who coached the Cavaliers for five seasons, understands what it's like to confront the burden of expectations as a young head coach. At age 35, Brown was hired to lead the Cavaliers and James with nothing less than a title as a measure of success.
"In order to be successful at this level, you have to have management skills, people skills," Brown says. "If you have that, you have a chance to reach guys who make more money than you and have more staying power than you. ... At the end of the day, the NBA is about players. And you have to respect that to a certain degree."
Even though they're old friends who faced off years ago in the WCC when Brown played at the University of San Diego, Spoelstra intentionally doesn't seek out Brown's specific advice in the summer of 2010 on working with James, both on and off the court.
"I didn't want to know," Spoelstra says, shaking his head. "I just didn't. This is a different year and it's about staying in the present."
Spoelstra's devotion to the present has been one of the central themes of the Heat's season. When you ask him if he subscribes to any "-isms" as a thinker, he'll offer only one. 
"I'm a stay-in-the-present momentist," he said.
Is Spoelstra fearful of what Brown might tell him? That James is a handful who requires constant maintenance? That he isn't coachable?
"I just didn't want to know," Spoelstra says adamantly. "And LeBron is coachable. One of the most coachable players we've ever had."
Spoelstra's tone rarely gets dismissive, but when he's asked how he manages personal expectations or prepares for potential disappointment, the notion is baffling to him.
"I don't," he says. "I don't even think about that. I'm thinking about right now.""Right now" almost always means work.
People aren't talking about Spoelstra because simply doing your job is boring. We want a media circus filled with distraction, drama and diatribe. Spoelstra's ability to "stay in the moment" is much different. For Spoelstra to be "caught in the moment" we would see what we see on the sidelines: concentration, communication, and coaching. Yet what we see is a gift. It's a discipline and practice that has yielded great fruit. They say victory tastes sweet. Perhaps that's how and why. 

Good job Jesuit High School. I have brought your motto with me back to the Bay Area. I may never watch a Miami Heat game the same way.

Photo Credits
The Dungeon
Family Photo
Coach Spo

Friday, March 14, 2014

How & Why "Age Quod Agis" is the Best Thing that Ever Happened to the Miami Heat: Part I

I had the wonderful opportunity of serving on the Sponsorship Committee Review team for Jesuit High School in Portland, Oregon. The Crusaders are doing so much, so well. I was impressed with their strong sense of community, their commitment to academic, athletic, and artistic excellence and their outstanding Friday Morning Liturgy. I couldn't wait to tell my own students about all I learned and what I hoped to integrate at St. Ignatius College Prep. However, as enthusiastic as I was about the "big picture" mission work, I wanted them to know two specific things about Jesuit High: their school motto and one famous alum. In fact, I couldn't separate one detail from the other, because I think Jesuit's guiding words have shaped the head coach of the Miami Heat into the man he is today.
Jubilee Tower is a cornerstone.
Arrive on campus and one of the first things you will see is the Jubilee Tower. Standing between the Jesuit Residence and the Office of the President, it is striking in its simplicity and its significance. It acts as a cornerstone. It beckons everyone to remember that since 1956, the Jesuits have sought to educate young men (and since 1993 young women) by the motto Age Quod Agis. I wasn't sure what that meant.

I envy those who exhort Latin maxims on a whim. From legal terms like quid pro quo—"a favor or advantage granted or expected in return for something,to the theological and philosophical Ex nihilo nihil fit—"nothing comes from nothing," Latin proverbs colors conversation while offering a truth, especially in vino veritas!

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that I love the motto that guides Ignatian spirituality: AMDG; it is Latin for Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam. Visit any campus sponsored by the Jesuits and you will see AMDG on student papers, in art work, publications and more. Jesuit High was no exception. But, I quickly became aware that they had another. As I walked down the hall, I noticed framed copies of their alumni publication; Age quod Agis is the title. Nota bene (NB): I needed to translate.

The Jesuit who led our committee was happy to share he knew what it meant because those words guided his formation in the Society of Jesus. He said, "Age Quod Agis means do what you are doing. That is a more literal translation, but what's implied is to do it well. In other words, do well whatever you do."

My reaction was a bit of a blank stare. I thought to myself—well that's inspiring (tongue in cheek). At one point I even wondered if it was boring.  But, as I spent time on campus, I began to realize why it's important and how it makes a difference.

Age Quod Agis is mindfulness. It is focusing on the job at hand. It is disallowing distractions—noise, voices, media, anxiety—unless that is what you are doing! I doubt that Age Quod Agis has ever been an effortless duty, but my sense is that the world we live in today makes this both extremely difficult and that much more important.

During my time at Jesuit, I was struck by the absence of one thing that pervades human life across the planet: the cell phone. During the school day, I did not see a single student or teacher on their phone, holding their phone, or orchestrating the stealth glance into a pocket to flash read the screen on their phone. 

To be fair, students are free to use phones in one of three designated places on campus, but I have no idea where that might be because I never saw students using one!

I think this is worth sharing because not only have they have been able to manage this policy but primarily because of the fruit it has yielded. I was a witness to it; I wouldn't have believed it unless I saw it. Students are remarkably present to one another in a way that my students (and I include myself in this) are not. They are Age Quod Agis. 

What might that mean? Students are managing one less task amidst the many that are placed on them in the world of high school. They are finishing homework, they are laughing with their friends, they are intentionally walking a certain path hoping to run into someone special, they are worried about their next test, they are studying, they are learning, asking questions, challenging the status quo and and they are helping each other out. They are doing what they are doing...and they are doing it well. Can you imagine a world that would only do what it's doing? That might mean fewer accidents, better listeners, more people feeling understood, an increase in prayer? It's worth considering...and promoting!
Jesuit High School Class of 1988
All this being said, when Erik Spoelstra attended Jesuit High School, the campus and the community were much different. It was all boys. The enrollment wasn't even 1000 students; today it is 1285. There were more Jesuits and fewer male and female lay teachers. But, some things weren't all that much different. And my next posting will feature how that common motto Age Quod Agis shaped a video coordinator who has become a great coach in the NBA. This NB translates into Not Bad

Photo Credits
NBA Finals

JHS crest
St Ignatius of Loyola
Jubilee Tower

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Lent 101: Why I Need the Pre-Game Warm-up

I found myself in a new position on Ash Wednesday; I wasn't sure what I was going to do or not do for Lent.
I  just love the photo. What could be more culturally Catholic?
I'm always a little surprised by how openly people discuss what Lenten practice they have committed for the 40 days of the Holy Season. I grew up in a home that expected us to "give something up." We abstained from meat on Fridays and aimed to fast on both Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, but we did not disclose what our Lenten discipline might be. And even today,  when I ask my dad what he's working on for Lent he gives me a look and says "I"m not sharing that." Fair enough. 

Some of us need the communal support for success. Others want to root out a tendency or habit that gets in the way of our relationship with God. Striving for holiness may mean exposing our humanity and our selfishness. Said information may not be for public consumption.

But the last two days at school, my students have warmly and innocently asked what I am doing for Lent. I was honest, I said "I'm not sure yet. I'm hoping to get a sense of what I need to do and commit to it soon."
One friend commented on her surprise that so many people give up FB for Lent
And that is my roundabout way of making a case for the pre-season warm up. Although preparation is not exclusive to sports, it certainly exposes how important it is.

In cross country, the three most important words are June, July and August. This translates to summer running. Those athletes who train before the season begin are stronger, fitter, get faster during the season and with the right coaching prevent injury (even overuse injury!). They approach the time trial with a noticeable confidence. Their ability to really compete in the early season races bears fruit during those much later in the season.

As important as summer running is however, we have girls that haven't logged a mile since track or worse...since the season prior. They know this and so do we. We meet girls where they are at, but it sure makes the climb a lot more strenuous.
Anyone who tells you they love the erg is lying.
In my own experience as an athlete and maintaining physical fitness, I've noticed new and unique examples. One has come from a personal highlight for me this past year; I have been working out on a regular basis with a woman I (barely) coached when she was a rower at St. Ignatius. She went on to row at Cal. A regular component of our lifting sessions has been integrating sets on the rowing machine—the erg. One interval may be a 5 minute piece with 30 seconds on and 30 seconds off (or some combination). I have noticed that Sam has never forgotten her training. Ten seconds prior to rowing at full power, she gradually picks up the intensity, so much so that by the time we are "on" she is already at her mark. 

To me, this is striking analogy for anything we do that we want to do at our best. I try not to show up for class the minute the bell rings and expect my students to be ready and prepped for the lesson. I know this is why I was taught to pull out the kneeler and spend a little bit of time in prayer before the Mass begins; that exercise can put me in the right space for the communal celebration of the liturgy. I also think it would have served me well to spend a little time in preparation before the season of Lent begins.  Some of you know this as Mardi Gras and others as Carnival! We feast before the famine, we say goodbye to the flesh. Maybe I'm just making a push for Mardi Gras to extend far beyond South Louisiana and Mobile, AL and I am. 

I had the good fortune of teaching at Our Lady of Prompt Succor in White Castle, LA for two years in the Alliance for Catholic Education. My time in South Louisiana taught me that Mardi Gras wasn't a just a single day, but rather, it is a season. We would have slices of King Cake every Friday from the Feast of the Epiphany and a whole lot on Fat Tuesday. The next day, the celebratory colors of purple, gold and green were stripped down to one—just purple—which symbolizes repentance.
It's ridiculous how much I love King Cake...
It's hard not to know that Lent is about to begin when you have the culmination of a slightly hedonistic season one day prior. Some of us need to go big before we go home. Mardi Gras offers that opportunity. It's not the only way to prepare for Lent, but it's not a bad one.

Next year, I aim to go to Confession at least once after Christmas before Lent begins. A number of Catholic social media sites provide ample resources for prayer and thinking creatively about Lent. Lent is—after all—game time. Bring it.

I hope this Lent is a time of personal growth and holiness for you, and the whole world. 

Photo Credits
Lone Flower

The Erg
King Cake
Ash Wednesday taken by Paul Totah

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Why It Should be "Boys" and "Girls" Sports....

In Building Your Own Conscience, William O'Malley wrote "The first step toward wisdom is to call a thing by its right name. Then you'll handle it as it deserves." I agree, and that is why I would like to launch some campaign to standardize an important descriptor for high school athletics. They ought to be known as boys' and girls' sports. 

I have held this conviction for some time. However, I was reminded of it when I saw a read in Catholic Scoop that "Neumann-Goretti Becomes First Boy-Girl Catholic Hoops Champs Since 1968." I opened the link and underneath the headline was a photo of their star basketball player, Ja'Quan Newton. My eyes met a contrast; it almost seemed odd. Newton may not look like a boy, per se, but he's not an adult either.

And that's because high school students are not men and they are not women. They are teenagers; they are freshman, sophomore, juniors and seniors. They are young men and young women who are growing in age and wisdom, height and stature, toward independence and out of adolescence. But, that process doesn't happen overnight. 

In "High School Maniacal" Maureen Dowd writes,

High school looks like the beginning of adulthood and feels like it, but it isn’t adulthood. It’s some kind of dress rehearsal. It’s the first experience of a grown-up emotional and physical life, where you feel the rush of your powers and your vulnerability. Every reversal is gigantic. It’s a perfect storm of potency and ignorance, power and inexperience…” ~ The New York Times, Feb. 5, 2014, 
And no where is this more true than on the basketball court or the soccer field. I believe athletics is a very important arena to let young people be just that and nothing more. 

The words we use to describe our teams and their level/ability is very important. You wouldn't confuse a varsity team with the Frosh B squad. It would be an error to think that girls' field hockey and girls' lacrosse are the same sport. In that same spirit, I think it's inappropriate to refer to high school teams as "men's water polo" or "women's volleyball." Furthermore, I have coached freshman girls who were so talented and fast that they ended up running on the varsity team. To refer to a 14 or 15 year old girl or boy as a man or woman is more than misleading; it's simply not true.
What a great group of girls...two freshman!
And I don't think our society knows exactly how to define much less relate to teen culture. Too often, I hear people describing it at its worst; perjorative remarks abound. When I tell folks I teach high school, I hear "I could never do what you do." But one thing that sustains me in working with young people is the reminder that on my best days and theirs, I find that these young men and women still have the heart of a boy or a girl and the sense of fun that goes with it.

For example, the past two weeks the corn hole set in my classroom has taken a back burner to one of the simplest games there is: Roshambo aka "Rock-Paper-Scissors." It is ridiculous to me how much fun I have with a few of my students before and after class with "two out of three." One day, as a student and I were about to face off, he said to me and his friend—with total and complete sincerity—"no one has the guts to go paper." 

I couldn't believe he had actually thought long and hard about this. And then again, of course he had. He's 17 years old. He's a young man who plays boys basketball. Competition, his teammates and his friends mean everything to him. So does the option for scissors.

It was in that spirit that I asked him and two basketball players (one boy and one girl) to stay after class. I told them about Neumann-Goretti's quest for the dual-championship. I said their star player Ja'Quan Newton told his teammates that "we had to do our part after the girls won." I wanted to know, Do you feel that same way?

Without batting an eye, they all said "yes." They told me "we think of it as a sibling rivalry. We always want to know how the boys are doing (and vice versa)." Sounds like boys and girls to me. I love it. 

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