Monday, June 2, 2014

The Privilege of Sports: Near and Far

When it comes to sports, numbers are important. From those in the win-loss column, to those on your jersey or the scoreboard, numbers define who we are and what we do. At the St. Ignatius Athletics Department end of the year dinner, the athletic director proudly proclaimed some impressive ones. With 67 teams (26 sports that have boys and girls teams), over 1,000 of our students participate in at least one sport. The athletic department handed out 1,400 different uniforms and oversees 130 coaches. We had a number of WCAL and CCS league championships and countless PRs. One stat that was not mentioned however was how many miles these teams traveled.
The Athletics Department last Friday honored seniors who have been recruited by colleges for their athletic prowess.
As part of a unique athletic league, the West Catholic Athletic League, our teams travel as far south along 280 (the WCAL highway) as 50 miles for a game. For some CCS competition, our teams have traveled even further. As much as I wanted to support our boys varsity volleyball team, I could not drive 110 miles south to Seaside for their first round CCS playoff match. And, several teams had the distinct privilege of traveling out of state to compete against some of the best teams in the country. Over spring break, our girls' lacrosse team went to Denver and our boys battled it out against schools in Wilmington, DE and Alexandria, VA. Our rowing teams head to the San Diego Crew Classic the first weekend in May every year. Such opportunities may feel like "the norm" for high school athletics today, but I hope we can remember they are the hallmarks of being people of privilege. 
This past Saturday marked the 155th Commencement Exercises of St. Ignatius College Prep. I hope this remarkable day for students, their families, teachers and administrators is one I never take for granted. Indeed, it is an event that indicates we are in fact "people of privilege." Every member of this class earned their high school diploma and will be pursuing higher education—the majority of whom will enroll at a four-year institution. They will travel on athletic scholarships across the country to Boston College (lacrosse) and Harvard (football/lacrosse/track0, up north to Washington State (basketball) and University of Washington (rowing), down south to USC (soccer) and down the road to Santa Clara (water polo). Thinking about their futures—new opportunities, teams, coaches is exciting. On graduation day, anything seems possible.

And that is the spirit of commencement at its best... but the numbers also point to another truth. The reading of 350 names takes a solid 45 minutes; I wish I knew every person that crossed the stage and earned his or her diploma but I don't. To help the time pass a little faster, I sneak some light reading into the black graduation gown all faculty must wear. This year, what I read made me stop and look up at my students.  The story Raven Saunders as reported in the June 2, 2014 issue of Sports Illustrated reminded me of our privilege and how important it is to appreciate every opportunity we have. Graduation day is as great a day as any to do that.
In "Crowdfund Goes Wild" SI reports
In March, Raven Saunders (FACES IN THE CROWD, Jan. 13) set the national high school indoor shot put record, at 56' 7 1/2". In April she broke the outdoor mark, with a 56' 8 1/4" heave. The only distance it seemed the senior at South Carolina's Burke High couldn't cover was the 2,434 miles between her hometown, Charleston and Eugene, Ore., where junior nationals will be held in July. Her mom, a single parent, was unable to fund the trip, so Raven sought donations on Her fundraising languished at $255 until rival schools heard about her predicament, and with a $1,000 boost from Bishop England High track team, she soon topped her $5,000 goal. The support means a lot. "I'm representing something bigger than our school—it's my country, my region, my state," she says. "It's a while lot bigger than me." —A.F.
Sports Illustrated reminded me that the miles we travel aren't a given. They often come with challenge but also with opportunity. I'm inspired by the response from rival schools and even more by Raven's resourcefulness and desire to fulfill her dream—and who she is carrying that for.
No one knows miles more than runners. And one of the great lessons the girls' cross country team has taken to heart is the simple truth that participation in a sport—any sport—is a privilege. The now deceased, legendary University High School cross country coach Jim Tracy was all the evidence that they needed. He coached as long as ALS would allow him to—first with a brace and much later with a full motorized wheelchair. Today, an unofficial motto of our team is one we learned from him: "We run because we can."

Thank you Lord for the privilege to run freely, for the miles that have humbled me, shaped me and challenged me. Thank you too for the miles our student athletes travel to compete near and far. And thank you for the lesson I have learned from the miles Raven will travel.

Photo Credits
SI Seniors

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