Saturday, June 27, 2015

A Nugget in the Gold Rush: The Niner Museum

Tonight, thousands of Grateful Dead fans will descend upon Levi's Stadium for the "Fare Thee Well" Tour. If you know anything about the band or the venue, you can't help but find it strange. Perhaps that's fitting. What a long strange trip it has been for the San Francisco 49ers who now call that $1.3 billion dollar complex home.

Brian Murphy of KNBR's Murph and Mac show said it well when he admitted, "it's popular to hate on Levi's Stadium." I'm a nominal fan and his words resonated more deeply with me than they should have. As someone who has lived and worked in the City by the Bay for 15 years now (I can't believe that!), it's unfortunate that our team now plays in a venue 40 miles south. Miles! minutes might be another...?... For Niner fans, the (hate) list is long. But I would like to offer a nugget in the gold rush that has hit Silicon Valley and San Francisco for the Forty-Niner Faithful: The 49er Museum.

I don't know why, but I entered with little to no expectations. I am a sports enthusiast and American Studies major, so I should have held high hopes. I guess Murph's words have removed the rose in my colored glasses. But that rose, or Niner red is back and with this posting, I would like to offer three insights I gained that will stay me with!
1. The Forty-Niners are the first professional sports team born and bred in San Francisco.
The Giants came to town in 1958, but that was by way of the Polo Grounds in New York. So when the Morabito brothers bought the franchise—a dream that allegedly began over many lunch breaks at the Saint Francis Creamery—what is now also the oldest professional sports team from the West Coast became a reality.

Of additional interest might be the purported story behind the Niner's team colors. Victor and Tony, two graduates of St. Ignatius (where I teach) played football at Santa Clara University. They adopted the colors of their collegiate alma mater for their team. NB: today Santa Clara goes with a maroon and white and like many other schools—black. As I've said before "black is the new black." 
The greatest WR & QB in Niner history

2. It's all about chemistry.
Anyone who has ever been in a romantic relationship knows this is true, but chemistry is never limited to a love interest. A good team has great chemistry. Friends "click" or they don't. When my roommate and I asked a new priest why he chose to be a diocesan priest rather than one in a religious order, he admitted that he didn't find the right chemistry with the religious communities he visited. "I liken it to a relationship, I didn't find the right chemistry" he confessed. "Everyone understands it when I put it that way." Indeed.

Look up to the ceiling when you are inside the Niner museum and you will see footballs hanging midair—206 of them. This display plays tribute to the 206 passes that Jerry Rice caught for touchdowns, as a Niner. 19 of those pigskins were for TDs in the post-season. According to #80, the majority of those were made possible because of the great chemistry he shared with quarterback Joe Montana. In the introductory video, Rice says "I always told Joe, if you were a woman I would date you."  I have a feeling a lot of men might feel that same way.

As I heard that, I thought of all that great chemistry has made possible. Chemistry is a factor we cannot control, as much as we would like to. Give thanks to the Creator for those with whom you share great chemistry.
The image in the video is up close and hard to believe!

3. The role of the Superbowl Championship in 1981.
I love history and I love it that much more when it includes the context of sport.

I recommend that you take the 10 minutes to watch the introductory video inside the museum as it sets the tone for what you will see decade by decade. Many stories, profiles, facts and accomplishments have stayed with me, but a poignant one was the impact of the Niner's victory in their first Superbowl.

The Niners had struggled in the late '70s. They were the laughing stock of the NFL and even coaching Bill Walsh didn't make the switch overnight. The city itself had seen very dark days with the assassination of Mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk. Racism and crime were tearing neighborhoods apart.

But times began to change. Dwight Clark and "The Catch" led to a win over the hated Dallas Cowboys and an entry to Motown for Superbowl XVI against the Cincinnati Bengals. With the 26-21 victory, the city had something to rally around and celebrate, as oppose to mourn. 

There is an image that captures the victory parade. Players, politicians and coaches wave from their respective cable cars to thousands upon thousands of adoring fans. The image looks like a cartoon it is so incredible...whimsical...supersize. It made me wish I had been there.

Forty-niner fans have much to be grateful for. I have only written but a few observations from my brief visit with a friend in town from Washington, DC. We both enjoyed interactive presentations as well—I tried my stint as a Niner cheerleader (a member of the Gold Rush) and he at the NFL combine.

Maybe it's appropriate that the Dead are playing at Levi's. A band that lived in the Haight and whose music has underscored the energy of the city by the bay has another chapter in its book. One worth learning and celebrating...even if it is 45 miles south of Shakedown Street.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Moral Bucket List: 3 Life Lessons from Pinehurst

Brooks writes regularly for the New York Times
One of the best articles I've read in a long while is "The Moral Bucket List" by David Brooks. I think other people feel that same way too; it has been inspiring to discuss it with unlikely people in unlikely capacities. If you haven't read it, click here.

Brooks drew me in with his initial claim. It is an astute observation. He writes, "About once a month I run across a person who radiates an inner light." Who doesn't want to be one of these people?

He describes them further.

"These people can be in any walk of life. They seem deeply good. They listen well. They make you feel funny and valued. You often catch them looking after other people and as they do so their laugh is musical and their manner is infused with gratitude. They are not thinking about what wonderful work they are doing. They are not thinking about themselves at all.
When I meet such a person it brightens my whole day. But I confess I often have a sadder thought: It occurs to me that I’ve achieved a decent level of career success, but I have not achieved that. I have not achieved that generosity of spirit, or that depth of character."
So why write about them? Because like me, he wants to be like these type of people. And the good news is that these "great people are made, they are not born." 

It occurred to Brooks that in life, we are measured by two standards: resume virtues and eulogy virtues—those that we speak about when our time has come. We know which ones are more important but he believes our culture and educational system spend more time teaching skills and strategies for career success. However, the qualities that you need to "radiate an inner light" require inner work, and character development. So, Brooks names them for us. And the more I read, I more I thought to myself: many of these qualities can be acquired from the game of golf.
26 Women from the Olympic Club in SF faced off against NC women at the historic Pine Needles Golf Course
I just returned from a 6 day vacation to Pinehurst, North Carolina. I traveled with 26 women to play five rounds of golf. Some women played more, some less. I wish I had jumped in for 36 holes on Sunday. Way to go warriors that is. 

That much time committed to one sport revealed several of the morals on Brooks' bucket list. Perhaps you can determine how they apply to your sport. Maybe you play golf and will agree with my thoughts. Give them a shot. 

The first virtue he names should be the most obvious one of all: Brooks calls it...

"The Humility Shift."

Nothing keeps a person humble like the game of golf. Earlier this year, I played golf with a 72-year old woman who carried her bag for 18 holes. I used a push cart. She hit the ball farther and with more accuracy that anyone else in my foursome.  

At Pinehurst, our groups played in a number of games/competitions. During one round, a friend told me I scored a nine. I said 'no, I got an eight." It was a little bit awkward and uncomfortable to discuss what I scored on the hole. I try to count by the clubs I use, but when you use the same one twice to get out of two different bunkers, it's easy to lose count. She was right, and she was kind (sometimes certain virtues work in harmony with one another, sometimes not so much). She said "Are you upset?" I said "No, I'm not upset with you. I'm upset with myself. It bothers me that I can't keep track of my own strokes. That's upsetting to me."

Two holes later, the same friend said "nice par." I said "I didn't par, that was my fifth shot. I bogeyed." On this one she underestimated; how I wish she had been right. We were able laugh. 

The root of humility is humus which mean earth. It's why we have the expression "down to earth." Humble people are down to earth. They aren't inflated by a sense of self-importance. They realize we all have a few bad shots in us. And some more than others. #Humility.

Sunday on the historic #2

Self Defeat

Brooks states that "character is built during the confrontation with your own weakness." To play golf is to confront limitations on a regular basis. Every golfer knows exactly what his or her own weakness is and we only have so much control over "fixing it." We take lessons, we ask others for advice, we trouble shoot and we hope the golf gods are good to us. We also share the struggle.

On Sunday that struggle involved turtle greens and waste bunkers on Pinehurst #2. As I played, I remembered that golfing legends Payne Stewart and Phil Mickelson have played where I did and met their own struggles. It always helps to put a challenge in perspective; it can prevent self-defeat. Knowing those guys had walked with their caddies there before me was fun to imagine and kept me sane. 

Tiger Woods once said "play to your strengths." I agree, but the sport and life offer us opportunities to improve ourselves all the time. 

The Dependency Leap
Brooks writes, "people on the road to character understand that no person can achieve self-mastery on his or her own. Individual will, reason and compassion are not strong enough to consistently defeat selfishness, pride and self-deception. We all need redemptive assistance from outside."

The night before I went to Pinehurst, a friend warned me about my trip. He said "Wow, you haven't broken 100 yet and you're going to play golf for five days? Good luck." I knew I was in for a challenge, but his words were discouraging. Thank God for the Dependency Leap.

I played with some excellent golfers. So many of them were more than generous with their encouragement and "redemptive assistance." They saw my potential and helped me stay calm and focused when necessary. One golfer struggled to get out of the bunkers (we all do). A more veteran golfer heeded her to do it right. It wasn't about their score or rushing the hole. She wanted her to learn now so she could understand. It worked! Dependency isn't all that bad.

One of my favorite golfers, the late Payne Stewart is memorialized here. He won the 1999 US Open over Mickelson.
Brooks names three other virtues: Energizing Love, The Call within the Call and The Conscience Leap. For me to connect those to golf would be a stretch, but later this summer I might have the opportunity to gain more insight into those when I travel with 10 students to Camden, New Jersey. There, we will  stand with the poor and vulnerable, the elderly and disenfranchised, the sad and the lonely. Many of them radiate that inner light. I think that light shines brighter when its amidst so many struggles.That's Camden.

For many golf enthusiasts traveling to Pinehurst is on their life's bucket list. For me, it was a wonderful way to start summer and a thoughtful way to test out Brooks' "Moral Bucket List." In any given group, folks possess the eulogy virtues and the resume builders. This group was no exception. The game of golf was simply our paradigm. It certainly builds...and reveals character.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The US Open, Father's Day and Jason Day

In early June, I was on my first golf trip. I traveled with 25 other women from the Olympic Club in San Francisco for five rounds of golf in five days in Pinehurst, NC. On most days, I played with someone new. I had a caddy and forecaddies for the first time. I had a lot of time to talk to a lot of different people An easy question to ask any golfer is: How did you start playing? A good number in this group said something I hope to hear more often—they learned from their mom! In fact, one golfer learned the game from her own mother who played on the LPGA tour in the 1950s. That was inspiring. But, the majority of golfers learn the game from, their dad.
Jason Day and his son Dash
I picked up my first golf club in high school when I took a 6-pack of group lessons run by the City of Walnut Creek. My dad signed up with me. He didn't need to take lessons; I'm not even sure he was serious about playing the game, but I understand now why he did. Thanks Dad!

The final round of the U.S. Open always falls on Father's Day. I would be interested to know how long this tradition has stood, because it's a great one. On my flight home from the 115th Open at Chambers Bay in University Place, WA I talked to the President of my golf club. He shared with me that his favorite part of Father's Day is that it's the one day of the year his daughters will sit down with him to watch golf. 

For those that do watch, you will see a series of ads run by the USGA that feature current players and their fathers. I can only imagine how many hours these dads spent with their sons on the links. I would hope that golf has strengthened their relationship. After all, the game demands a lot of time. And if there's one thing we still cannot buy, it's time. 
Justin Rose honored his own father with his US Open victory in 2013 at Merion
A number of  professional football, basketball and baseball players have fathers who played the game professionally as well. On the current tour among golfers, only Jimmy Walker comes to mind. There are however, some golfers you will not see with their fathers, as they are no longer with us. When Justin Rose captured the U.S. Open in Merion, PA, he took a moment to honor his father with a prayer, some tears and a point to the sky before he sank his final putt for the victory. His dad had died of Leukemia at but 57 years of age. Bubba Watson's father was the only coach he ever had. I didn't understand why the already emotional Bubba was blubbering as he won the Master's in 2012. His father and namesake Gerry Lester Watson, Sr had died of throat but a year and a half prior. 

Many eyes will be on Jason Day today as he shares the lead with three other golfers. Day's father, Alvin—an Aussie died of stomach cancer when Jason was but 12 years old. Day, learned the game from this man and since his death Jason has certainly face, battled and overcome his fair share of personal struggle and adversity. 
J-Day and his caddie, who has been like a father to him
One need not win a tournament to honor their father, but excellence in golf is always an invitation to something more. Golfers will analyze the length of their average drive, their number of putts, greens on regulation, etc, but many of us also want to know the story behind the journey. Jason Day himself is a father. His son Dash was born in 2012. His caddie Colin Swatton has been like a father to him. I will be cheering for him because I want to see him take that turn. Day has been the runner up in three majors (two US Opens and the Masters). I also think he's good for golf, to me, he has the "x" factor. 

How's that? It's merely just speculation and it's something fun to think about: I think he might be the Andre Igoudala of the PGA. Unfortunately, more people now know who Jason Day is because he collapsed from Vertigo on his final hole during Round 2 of the Open; I would prefer that they know about him because he's an exciting golfer to watch. In the article "Andre and the Giant" I read something pretty remarkable:
​​​Andre Iguodala lay in bed after Game 2 of the NBA Finals and his fiancée, Christina Gutierrez, placed a hand on his stomach. “Your skin,” she said, “feels hot.” Several hours had passed since Iguodala left Oakland’s Oracle Arena, but he was still burning up, as if he had just sprinted off the court. He wasn’t sick, but he popped a Tylenol and set the thermostat in his house to a frosty 60°. When theWarriors forward returned home five days later from Cleveland, he found that his air-conditioning unit had broken, maddening because his Finals fever had not. He joked that he shaved his head in hopes of cooling down. Iguodala’s condition may sound implausible, but one league trainer claims it is common for stress hormones to rise in demanding situations, causing spikes in body temperature. “It’s like you’re a car,” Iguodala says, “and your engine is overheating.” Such is the strain required to survive 48-minute collisions with the turbo-powered tank known as LeBron James
I was wondering if it was a combo of Vertigo, dehydration and stress hormones that led to his collapse. Did he overheat? That course is big and brutal. Iggy came back and was the Finals MVP. J-Day came back during Round 3 and is in contention. Today will be the next chapter in his story....

Friday, June 19, 2015

Chicago Blackhawks: Management, Logos and Winning

Stan Borman, ND '95
You know you're old when It's one thing when professional athletes are no longer your age...For most of my life they were older than me—a lot older than me. With Steve Nash retiring this year, I have come to accept new roles for my peer group. I have found one in Stan Bowman, the President and General Manager of the Chicago Blackhawks.

I remember Stan as a fellow undergraduate student at Notre Dame. He is one year older than me and we had friends in common. His father, Scotty Bowman was the head coach of the Detroit Red Wings. Stan wore a faded red hat that bore the teams name almost every day. For some reason, we thought it was very funny that he was named after the sport's highest honor—the Stanley Cup. Look who's laughing now.

But that's not why I wanted to write about the NHL champions a few days after they captured their third title in six years in their 2-0 defeat of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Last July, I wrote about the usage of Native Americans as mascots: Saint Kateri Tekawitha: Proud to Be. That posting prompted a "Sports in the News presentation" in my Sports & Spirituality course. It spawned further questions and an ethical debate. With this posting, I would like to offer insights on how the Chicago Blackhawks contribute to this conversation.

First, the Blackhawks are not a tribe of native people. No. The team name refers to something different. As written in Sports Illustrated, "When coffee bean baron Frederic McLaughlin bought the Portland Rosebuds in 1926 and moved them to Chicago, he renamed the team after the 86th Infantry "Blackhawk" Division he commanded in World War I. His wife, Broadway dancer Irene Castle, had already introduced Americans to the bob haircut and the foxtrot before making her greatest contribution to pop culture. She drew a gallant Indian head for the new team's sweaters."

You could easily raise the question: Why should the face of a Native American serve as a hockey teams' logo. And if you stated the question that way, you are correct. How? Why? The mascot of the team is something different. The actual mascot of the team is "Tommy Hawk." I love what the team website has to say about him. 

Tommy is the best mascot in the NHL. This feathery fowl loves to dance, play hockey and generally cause mascot mayhem wherever he goes. Tommy is not only at all Blackhawks home games, but Tommy makes numerous appearances throughout the Chicagoland area and the country. 

Name: Tommy Hawk
Position: Center (of Attention)
Weight: 2,356 Hockey Pucks
Shoots: Pucks and t-shirts for the crowd
Resides: In Tommy’s Nest on top of the United Center
Hobbies: Playing hockey, reading, dancing, spraying silly string, laying eggs, getting the bird’s eye view
Favorite Foods: Roasted Duck, Pickled Penguin, Coyote Burgers, Buffalo wings
Favorite Song: Here Come the Hawks, Freebird, Shake ya Tail Feather,
Dislikes: Detroit, being called an eagle, getting his tail feathers plucked.

It's fitting that Tommy Hawk is the mascot because that term is derived from is the French word "mascotte” meaning a charm or luck. A mascot is a way to represent a group with public identities, such as a school, pro sports team, military unit or brand name. In fact, has traditionally been understood to be a person, animal or object thought to bring luck to this group. Today, we are aware of it in another context. It is a highly marketed representative of the organization, in sports used for merchandising.

But what is worth paying attention to is that among many sports teams, nicknames and mascots are not interchangeable. For example, the University of Alabama is nicknamed the Crimson Tide. Fans yell “Roll Tide!” Their mascot, however, is Big Al: an elephant. And as with the NHL Champions, you have a mascot that is a bird and a team name that refers to a division of the military. So what gives with the illustration that adorns the Blackhawks jersey loud and proud, front and center.

I don't know that I can or should answer that question. I am open to hearing and learning from others (but I think it is one of the most regal and striking logos there are. A native person himself said it was "bad ass'). However, what I did learn in my other research is how and why the term "Redskin" is offensive. As I wrote about before, "Redskin" refers to a bounty, the number of heads that were brought in as the kill. No longer is a native person a human being, they are a cash prize. 

The article Why Is the Chicago Blackhawks Logo Okay but Washington Redskins Racist? states "The Hawks don’t use a caricature or slur that other teams have come under fire for. In fact, there is almost zero Native American 'stuff' used by the organization other than just their very famous logo. Read more here

I hope you will consider these questions and give them more thought. In the meantime, congratulations to my peer, Stan Bowman '95 and the Chicago Blackhawks
  1. Should we continue to use people as mascots? As logos? For marketing purposes?
  2. To what degree does a person as a mascot compromise human dignity? To what extent does it build/honor human dignity?
  3. Why have Native Americans been deemed as mascots more often than other groups? Why are they used as logos for so many others?
  4. What is lost when we are politically correct? What is gained?
  5. How often is basic respect mislabeled as “politically correct?”
Photo Credits
Stan Bowman
Tommy Hawk

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Dear St. Anthony, Please Help Me Find My....

I like to think that I am a fairly organized person, but truth be told I lose a lot of things—my cell phone, my other earring, my mind. Recently, I lost my drive in golf. When it's on, it's by far the strongest part of my game. But it's been missing and I need it back. So I decided I'm going to do what I always do when I lose something—say a prayer to St. Anthony.
Yesterday, June 13, we celebrated the Feast Day of St. Anthony of Padua. You might be familiar with this holy man because he is the patron of lost things. However, he's so much more than a clerk of the Lost and Found. So, with this blog I would like to offer a little bit of biographical information about this Franciscan priest and a new way to honor him as he helps us find our way.
Father Dan Kroger, OFM the publisher of Franciscan Media writes: 
St. Anthony, a native of Lisbon, Portugal, was ordained as an Augustinian, but was so inspired by the martyrdom of a group of Franciscan friars killed while preaching in Morocco, that he asked permission to join the Franciscans thinking that he, too, was called to be a martyr. 
God had other plans for Anthony. As he sailed for North Africa in order to preach the Gospel, his voyage ended when the ship in which he travelled was hit by a storm. He was shipwrecked on the Italian peninsula. Friars there cared for the wannabe martyr until they took him with them to a Pentecost assembly of all the friars in Assisi.  Anthony was assigned to a retiro, or retreat house where he worked and prayed with his new brothers. 
When the brothers discovered that Anthony was a skilled preacher and theologian, his ministry took a new turn. He was charged with teaching theology to the brothers in training and eventually he became an itinerant preacher working out of Padua. He gained a reputation as a staunch opponent of the Albigensians, a thirteenth century heretical group that denied the validity of the sacraments. 
In a short time Anthony became known for his concern to the poor and his powerful preaching. Today Anthony is one of the most popular Catholic saints. Frequently people ask his help when they lose things. I do that myself. But even if I don’t find what was lost, it is my experience that just praying and asking the saint’s help has a positive effect. If you’d like to read further about St. Anthony I would suggest St. Anthony of Padua by Fr. Jack Wintz, OFM.
There is much more to learn about this great saint. For example, St. Anthony is often featured in his Franciscan robe, holding the Christ child. It's an endearing image. It's also one that wasn't popularized until the 17th Century. You can read more here

In the city of St. Francis, it is worth noting that one of the most beloved houses of hospitality for the poor and vulnerable is St. Anthony's. It opened its doors on the Feast of St. Francis—October 4, 1950 by Franciscan friar, Father Alfred Boeddeker, OFM. 

Today, whenever one of my colleagues loses something, she puts a ransom on the lost item. Depending on its value, she promises to give a certain amount of money to St. Anthony's Foundation should it be found. From time to time, she will up the ante when and if St. Anthony is preoccupied or slow to the job.

I like her approach. Thinking that a saint can find our lost goods isn't exactly why we ought to pray to them. But it certainly humanizes them and in this case, it allows them and us to do good works in the Tenderloin of San Francisco or wherever you think the great St. Anthony would be in your community.

I love the golf ball I had that featured St. Anthony. Unfortunately it now resides in some rough on a golf course in the San Francisco Bay Area. But I think it's time I pony up and give the St Anthony Foundation a new donation. If I find my drive again, I will only give thanks and praise. Amen.

Photo Credits

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Collegial Observation by Coach Steve Kerr: A Path to Victory

Even though he was not named NBA Coach of the Year, Steve Kerr could (and should?) have been. Kerr, a first year head coach for the Golden State Warriors led this team to a regular season record of 67-15. They had all of two losses at home. The Dubs (as we call them) are now in the NBA Finals, hoping to take their first victory title in 40 years. The question that former head coach Mark Jackson, Warriors fans and NBA enthusiasts have asked is: How has he done it? He doesn't' have experience. He has the same players. What's the secret to their success?

Kerr, who played for 15 years in the NBA was a TV analyst, broadcaster and served in the front office of the Phoenix Suns before he was named a head coach. He has studied the game  for most of his life, but he's also studied other things: human nature. Kerr went out of his way to meet with every player before the season began. He flew to the Black Falcon's nest in Miami to meet Harrison Barnes. He took this team bowling—yes bowling. I'm sure he wasn't as concerned with throwing strikes but rather than they spend time together in a way that fuels their competitive natures. He also did something that every coach and teacher ought to consider. He visited and shadowed another coach. (With all due respect, it's hard for me to get super excited about his visiting Pete Carroll).

Every faculty member at the school where I teach is required to observe a colleague once a year. Too often it feels like another requirement to complete. Of the twelve years I have taught at St. Ignatius, I think I have checked that box and hastily completed the official "Collegial Observation Form" two days before it's due...or errr......after.

Logistics aside, I have never regretted the time I spent in a co-worker's classroom. You get ideas of how to run things differently—for better or for worse. You gain insight into how personality can motivate and accentuate a lesson plan.In addition to a new lesson plan, you get a sense of pace and space, timing, when to ask questions and how to ask them. Sounds a lot like basketball doesn't it?
I love that he visited another coach, but did it have to be this one!?
But what's so beneficial about a collegial observation is that one party doesn't reap all of the benefits. It helps to know what someone else sees. They can draw attention to our strengths and what to tweak to make something better. This past year, I welcomed one of our librarians into Sports and Spirituality. She shared several articles related to the topic of my lesson plan after our time together. It was also fun to hear what she thought of the class and what it's all about.

I was talking to our head football coach yesterday. He was telling me that he wants to observe the varsity boys' golf coach. You might wonder why or how anything from a sport like golf might transpire to a contact, team sport like football. But what he understands is that the head boys golf coach is a great coach. He had led both girls and boys cross country teams and now golf teams to championship upon championship. Anyone should be asking the question that we are asking of Steve Kerr: How?

I have always believed it's best to study the behaviors and choices of the people we admire most. That is exactly why I sought a spiritual director twelve years ago. The holiest people I know have them. Teachers and coaches, make time this season or in the new school year to shadow and observe someone you admire...someone who is committed to excellence...see what they do and make it your own. And have fun doing it.

Photo Credits
Coach and athlete

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The High of the 2014-2015 School Year: The Story of Liam— Something Beautiful for God

In my last posting, I shared 4 of the 5 highs for the 2014-2015 school year. Here's #1

The high of my year began with an introductory assignment in the senior Religious Studies elective, Sports and Spirituality. To set the tone of the course and for my students to get to know one another, we share a "Sports Moment of Grace." One of my "spiritual MVPs," Claire—who is now an alumna and a friend, told the story of a boy named Liam.

Claire met Liam while serving as a manager for the varsity football team. Working beside two other student-managers, she has contributed invaluably to the football team and has the respect of the athletes she assists. Many of those guys were in my class.

When Claire shared Liam's story: who he is, how he's involved with the team and why he's captured so many hearts, everyone in class understood we were let in on something special. The football players listened to Claire and added to her moment of grace. I realized his impact was too beautiful not to share beyond the gridrion and Room 202. The story you will read below was in the Spring issue of Genesis—the alumni magazine of St. Ignatius, but it will also stay with me as the high of this school year. 

It was an honor for me to have Claire as my student, to see the football players treat this young man with love and kindness and to interview him and his dad. Here's some insight into who he is.

From Genesis: Come to a varsity boys’ football game and it’s likely that you will notice an eighth-grade boy running along the sidelines, high-fiving the players and cheering on the Wildcats. He talks the ear off of the athletic directors, assists the managers, and wants to know why the school doesn’t have a pep band.
That redheaded boy, Liam Caraher is an extra needs kid—and the nephew of assistant coach Tim Caraher His father, Pete Caraher said, “ever since my brother started coaching at SI, all Liam ever wanted to do was go on the field and really experience football.”

Born with a motor-planning issue, Apraxia affects Liam’s speech and causes some cognitive delays. It hasn’t, however, dampened his love for SI football or his desire to be an unofficial member of the team.

Five years ago, Coach Caraher introduced Liam to players and brought him onto the field after games. His role however changed two years ago when a varsity captain and the quarterback went out of their way to include him and make him feel welcome. In doing so, Liam and the team have never been the same.

Pete said “these boys have been accepting and supportive of my son. They never treated him differently. Instead the realized he just does things differently.” According to senior captain Alex Griffith, “Liam is everyone's biggest fan and just one of the guys.”

Claire added, “I see the impact Liam has on the team at every game. It's the brotherly love he shares with all the players. Whether they be poking each other on the sidelines or giving each other a fist bump after a good play, it is easy for Liam to meet a new friend. He clearly idolizes each of the boys, but the entire football program idolizes his spirit for SI Football.”

It’s inspiring to learn about the symbiosis of this relationship. “These young men have made my son the happiest 12-year old boy in the Bay Area.” This year, the team honored Liam with two football jerseys. “I got #60 for home and #46 for away games!” said Liam.

“Liam's positive spirit and excitement each and every day had a huge impact on my life and motivated our team to grow closer together,” said quarterback Ryan Hagfelt.

That spirit was evidenced in the locker room after a disappointing loss. Alex Grifftih said, “everyone was either silent or had their head down in tears. When we began to talk about our memories of the season, Freddie reminded us that it was Liam's birthday that day. He came to the middle and we sang Happy Birthday to him. He began to cry out of happiness and excitement.

“It was very special for us to be included in that moment.” Pete said, “Every senior shared something. It was so obvious by what they said that teamwork, compassion and responsibility are core values of the program. I am confident my son will be a successful member of society knowing that these boys are watching out for him.”
Liam and SI Varsity Football Managers
He added, “Liam will probably never be able to attend SI, or play organized football or any other sport. That’s okay because he knows in his heart that he is a member of a team that accepts and welcomes him as a teammate.”

Talking to those involved in the SI football program about Liam Caraher reminded me of the words of Mother Teresa. She wrote, "What I can do, you cannot. What you can do, I cannot. But together we can do something beautiful for God." 

By some standards, there are many things that Liam cannot do. But to see Liam join the team in Wildcat jacks and stand in the locker room before, during and after games, you see much more than what he can do. You see something beaiutiful.

Claire said,  “When he sees the boys start to line up in the end zone, he drops everything and says, "I gotta go see my boys."

What could be more beautiful than that?

Monday, June 1, 2015

The High-Low Ritual: My Top 5

A great friend & colleague to share "high/low" with!
I have always believed that Commencement is a time to look back, before moving into the future. Even though I am not graduating, every year I make a point of reflecting upon the graces of the year. This exercise became a ritual with a former colleague over a pint after Baccalaureate Mass. He had us share our highs and lows for the year. In recognizing the joys and the challenges with a friend, I was able to see each year affords unique gifts. Even some burdens became blessings. Not all....but many did. This year was no exception. And I would like this posting to be a Top 5 list of the 2014-2015 school year's highs. 

We start with the lows—graduation is also a time for celebration, so we aim to get the hard stuff out of the way. The details of these will be sparse, as this might not be the appropriate venue for such sharing and each would require more and necessary context. They are in no particular order. 

They are: the death of a cross-country parent, at one point in the year seriously questioning if I was still able to reach students anymore, accepting that my ability to run has become compromised to the point that I should not run with the cross country team, and disillusionment with some folks I trust.

The lows are tough. Tragedy still hurts. But many of these challenges have served as a pathway to a new opportunity or understanding. For the grace in that, I am grateful. And the fact that my Top 5 moments of the year are all rooted in Sports and Spirituality affirms the grace in this discipline. Here goes!

5. The Great Pink Out.
Sometimes in life, things just come together in a way that screams: serendipity. On October 1, 2014, the Giants played the Pittsburgh Pirates in the single-game for the National League Wildcard spot. The Pirates had the winningest record at home in NL. This do-or-die game took place on the eve of WCAL I: a practice day that the SI girls cross country team designates as our spirit day.

Per tradition, the captains chose a theme. Orange and Black for our Giants was an easy choice, but October is also breast cancer awareness month. The girls called for a great "Pink Out" to be highlighted by Giants hats or gear. However, I just read of a great cause that combines awareness, education and charitable efforts for single mothers with breast cancer. I read about it in the San Francisco GIANTS magazine. The rest of the story is here.

4. My Golf Boys
Coming this Fall, I will have 10 "golf girls." I am really looking forward to serving as the head coach of the St. Ignatius girls junior varsity golf team. I have finally accepted that the way I run—which is now a very slow jog—and the pace our girls cross country team runs are not compatible. Ten years wit SI XC; It was a great run (pun intended!)
3 of the 6
This spring, the JV boys golf coach encouraged me to accompany him to practice. I played a few rounds with the guys, talked trash on the driving range and handed out a lot of encouragement (they did too!). In May, I had the opportunity to join the varsity boys coach for the California Central Coast Sectional Championship. I drove the van, we shared a practice round, broke bread together and I followed their final match of the year. We had a total blast; a former golf coach referred to a high school boys golf team as a bunch of "squids." Nothing could be further from the truth...and they became MY golf boys. You can read about them here.

3. Klay Thompson's 37 Points
I would like to thank this Splash Brother for his perfect timing. The shooting guard out of Washington State dropped 37 points in the third quarter in a game against the Sacramento Kings. In doing so, Mr. Thompson secured an NBA record: the most points by a player in a single quarter and he electrified my course, Sports and Spirituality. 

In this Religious Studies elective, I teach about a "flow," a concept coined by a psychologist and author Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. As written in an outstanding article "Experiencing Life's Flow" by Patrick Kelly, 
Csíkszentmihályi criticized the discipline of psychology for attending too exclusively to the negative or dysfunctional aspects of human experience. His goal was to understand the phenomenology of human development and well-being in general. In the course of his research, he discovered a “common experiential state” that people described during their participation in sports and other activities. He refers to this as “flow” because the respondents themselves often used the word when asked about their experience. Flow, as he uses that word, “denotes the wholistic sensation present when we act with total involvement. It is the kind of feeling after which one nostalgically says: ‘That was fun,’ or ‘That was enjoyable.’”
And the beauty of the Flow channel is that age, race, creed, financial status is irrelevant. Anyone can enter into the flow when the appropriate challenge meets one's skill set. If you're interested, you can read more in Csíkszentmihályi's  book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience or you can simply watch highlights of Thompson's performance and see what it looks like. It's more than "fun." It's incredible.

2. The Day After the World Series
I don't think I ever realized just how special a 7-game World Series can be. I suppose those on the winning side of them know exactly what I am talking about. 

Travis Ishikawa's clutch hit in NLCS!
I don't think many San Francisco Giants fans ever would have thought that team would pull off their third World Series title in five years (see point #5 for more evidence). Although it may have felt as though the 2014 Sportsman of the Year singlehandedly brought home that beautiful trophy, it was the managing and coaching, it was the clutch hits by unlikely and likely heroes. 

The Giants beat the Royals in Kansas City on a Wednesday night. I will never forget the energy that filled the hallways at school the next morning. Everyone was smiling. The joy was palpable. The celebration that took place on the field at Kaufmann Stadium continued in our hallways that special day. Makes me smile thinking about it now.

1. A Boy Named Liam: Something Beautiful for God.
This story merits its own posting. The highest high. Read it here.

Photo Credits