Monday, November 30, 2015

Why Losing Hurts: Stanford 38, Notre Dame 36

I know there are big problems in the world today. We live in crazy, sad times. In Luke's Gospel, for the first Sunday in Advent, Jesus speaks to his disciples about times that feel like today. He says: 
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves.People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
I hate to admit it, but I woke up on Sunday morning a little shaken. I found myself moping around the house. "Not ready to go back to work?" my mom asked. was something else. It was the 38-36 loss of the Fightin' Irish of Notre Dame to the Stanford Cardinal. 
5th year student Joe Schmidt's last game 
I know that I saw (what most people consider) a great game Saturday night at Stanford Stadium. I am aware that a contest of that caliber is a win for college football, but I walked away with but one question on my mind: Why does losing hurt so badly? 

We all know that losing provides great life lessons. Yes, it can be a great teacher. I know. But I'd like to cast that sentiment to the side. Let's get to the hurt. Let's stare at the wound. No scab just yet. The bandage is removed. This is what I've got so far....

1. When your team loses, you question who you are and what you are about.
When you win, you simply delight in the elation of victory. You ride a bit of an emotional high and overlook the mistakes and missed opportunities. When you lose, every single one of those takes on added weight.

  • The face mask penalty with less than 30 seconds left cost Notre Dame the game.
  • Amir Carlisle drops a would-be touchdown pass in the red zone.
  • DeShone Kizer fumbled at Stanford's 22 with 29 seconds left in the first hafl
  • Why did Coach Kelly call for the 2-point conversion in the third quarter?
In 2010, Coach Brian Kelly stated "you have to stop losing before you start winning." A loss like this one makes me pause and reconsider. I thought to myself, "Have we stopped losing?" I think the record, which was 10-1 going into the game answers that question. Why should 10-2 feel differently. 

When you lose, your mind starts to play tricks on what could have been. It's just too easy to go there, and it's not a good place to be.
2. I despise the pity party. 
I don't want to hear from the nominal fan of ND football or the distant co-worker—the one who rarely talks to me in general—about what they thought of the game. I don't want them to ask me if I was at the game. To one person I said "I live 2500 miles from South Bend and 25 from Palo Alto. Tell me why I would not be at the game." We could have covered that for the past six months leading up to it—believe me, I am more than willing to talk about that.

What helps the hurt is hearing from those folks who can offer constructive feedback. Less pity, more insight. For example, "ND would benefit with a stronger player at Tight End—like Kyle Rudolph or Tyler Eifert who are having great seasons!" or "the team really missed Kevare Russell, especially during that final play." I am hungry for conversations like these and not the sympathy. For you to tell me "I saw the ending. It was just so sad" is something different than salt in the wound. It simply keeps it exposed...and it makes me feel as though I can't get those two minutes of my life back. Strong? yes. This pity party does not need to include more than one person. 

3. After a loss, I have had to remind myself that my ability (or instinct) to trust people is remarkably low. 
I know many people hate ND; for these folks an Irish upset is tantamount to the Gift of the Magi. In general, I try to avoid these people. There are however those who are lukewarm toward Notre Dame and yet they love to see the Irish lose. I find myself trying to sniff these people out. Anyone without a football loyalty is suspicious. Again this is no way to live.
And our hearts forever, love thee Notre Dame
4. The Team
But losing hurts like this because of one thing: the team. My friend Mike '90 said "one of my favorite teams ever." I would have to agree; I feel as though I personally know these guys thanks to "A Season with Notre Dame Football." If you would have told me that we would have the injuries we did in August, I never would have said we would fight for a place in the college play-offs. But I want this year's squad, replete with all of those who emerged as contributors, to know they put the pep back in our rallies and the fight back into our song. In the past a loss like this hurt because we just were not contenders. Now we are, and we need to get the "W." 

As a coach, I know there is no greater joy than working with a group that came together. One that beat the odds and one that embodies the best of a school community. I see that in the 2015 football team from the University of Notre Dame.

I carry with me hundreds of images from Saturday's upset. I saw senior captain Sheldon Day unable to move on the field after completed a 45 yard field goal to win the game with no time remaining. That hurts. He will be greatly missed next year. Which again reminds me that losing hurts. Losing players to injuries, to graduation, to academic integrity, to Florida all hurts. But if I didn't care, it wouldn't hurt.

The care is huge. Thanks Irish for a great season. Can't wait for the Bowl Game. I mean that.

Photo Credits
The Team

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The University of Notre Dame Asks: What Would You Fight For? My Answer: Homelessness

The Thanksgiving holiday reminds me that I have a much bigger family than I think. Though there will be but a few people at our table for turkey dinner, on Thanksgiving morning I will gather with family I find in the school community where I teach. Alumni, current students, colleagues and families run, walk and stroll around Lake Merced to burn a few calories, release a few endorphins and raise money for St. Anthony's. A Turkey Trot is a great way to start this national holiday.

And every other year, the Notre Dame family descends upon the San Francisco Bay Area as the Fightin' Irish travel west to play Stanford. Though we may gather for a football game, those in the ND family know there's more to it than what will transpire on the gridiron. There is a pep rally, a golf scramble, tailgates and mass (after the win?!). All are welcome, Blue, gold and green are a must.

I am ever grateful to be a member of the Notre Dame family. It connects me to men and women, students, alumni, teachers and fans near and wide who hold similar values and desires. One of those values is the conviction that there are things worth fighting for. 

During every football game, The University of Notre runs an advertisement entitled "What would you fight for?" As written on the Notre Dame website
The University of Notre Dame’s award-winning “What Would You Fight For?” series, now in its ninth season, showcases the work, scholarly achievements, and global impact of Notre Dame faculty, students, and alumni. These two-minute segments, each originally aired during a home football game broadcast on NBC, highlight the University’s proud moniker, the Fighting Irish, and tell the stories of the members of the Notre Dame family who fight to bring solutions to a world in need.
It's encouraging and inspiring to learn about the study, work, and efforts of the Notre Dame family. If  I could make a request for but one episode, I might ask that the University would "Fight to end homelessness."

I say that because in the city I call home, I am reminded everyday that many people—too many people—are living without one. The video "At Home with the Irish" taught me many things, one of which is that "the number of homeless children in the United States has surged in recent years to an all time high amounting to one child in every 30 according to a comprehensive state-by-state report. —AP, Nov 17, 2014."

The message of this video speaks for itself. I sincerely hope you will watch it and pass it on. 

If you watch it, you will quickly realize the story of the two teenage girls, Felisha and Alliyah is unique. Their day to day reality is far, far different. They tell us, "we are the first people to get on the bus in the morning and the last to get off." They wake up in a single room that they share with their mother; their possessions are confined to a small storage area.

They know what eviction can and does to the notion of home. As Steve Camilleri Director of the Center for the Homeless in South Bend points out "for teens, it's not easy to be at the Center. One great example is when I was a teenager I had my friends come over to my house. They knew where I lived. It's not like we're seeing all of their friends come back here, hang out and spend time in their rooms."

Their differences may define them, but their faith and total lack of egocentricity has shaped them into something beautiful. Without knowing it or intending to do so, Felisha and Alliyah have taught me a lot. 
What we learn about their faith, though simple is quite profound. Alliyah says "I believe in God because if He weren't true, we wouldn't be here right now." And being here—at a football game—is a big deal.

As the girls walk through the tunnel to the field, Alliyah starts to cry. "I was anxious. I was cold and at the same time, my tears was getting cold."

When asked why she was crying she said "it's tears of joy. I'm happy. It's too much for kids our age." And her tears spawn tears in Felisha and Casey, the student-athlete who accompanies them at the game. 

It was hard for me not to get choked up at this moment. I have been to, by now, hundreds of football games. Their joy and appreciation reminded me that a ticket to a game is a big deal; it's a wonderful opportunity. I hope it's something I never take for granted. I hoped in that moment, that I too could be so happy that I might cry tears of joy for an experience like a Notre Dame football game...or be that happy for a friend who I can share it with!

Their story is perhaps one of the more important stories I have learned and taught this past year. They have endured more hardships than people of their age ought to face and yet their suffering, their belief in a higher power and their care for another person makes them more than human; they are holy.

It goes without saying we have so much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving holiday, the least of which is a place to call home. Many of us will open our home for family or friends. Others will traipse "over the river and through the woods" to the home of our grandparents, our parents, aunts or uncles etc. I am ever grateful the Notre Dame family has opened its home for those who don't have one, be it in the Center for the Homeless or the House that Rockne built.

We are...the Fighting Irish.
We will...fight to end homelessness.

Photo Credits
What would you fight for?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Michael Phelps and High School Students Today....

It's becoming increasingly harder for teachers to get students to read. I'm sure the challenge of which I speak has beleaguered every Literature teacher since the dawn of the printing press. But today's technology has yielded more distractions, shortened attention spans and instant gratification as a norm. My students are more passive in thought. And why wouldn't they be--they can watch a YouTube video clip synopsis of just about anything.

The fact that you are reading what I have written right now isn't something I take for granted. Thank you.

But every challenge must be met with a response. And rather than wade in the faculty room cesspool of complaints, I have to fight this good fight. I know I'm supposed to; that's what educators, parents, coaches and mentors are meant to do.
This past weekend, I read the cover story on the November 16, 2015 issue of Sports Illustrated: The Rehabilitation of Michael Phelps. I'm not a huge fan of swimming or even of the Olympics in the way that some sports fan are, but I looked at the infographic that says: "A New Man: A year ago the best swimmer in Olympic history was lost. Now after coming to terms with himself, the best of MICHAEL PHELPS might lie ahead." I then looked to the image of Phelps, fit, tall and strong but serious. He is not smiling. He has a goatee that doesn't really look that good. It's a very honest picture. I saw that the 8-page piece was written by Tim Layden—an author I admire greatly. I decided to read it.

And? It was excellent...yet I wasn't sure why. I think that's why I brought it to school. 

Reading is never a solitary venture. A good book, article or blog posting will prompt the reader to share it with others. It's a wonderful feeling to encounter a person who feels the same way you do about something you have read. Conversely, it can feel like a personal attack when someone feels differently. Only now do I realize what I was seeking.  

I left the issue on a desk in my classroom and a student picked it up. Another one said "he looks so different." I quickly realized that every student in the room knows who Michael Phelps is. 
I held up the magazine and told my class: the emphasis of the story is what brought Phelps to rehabilitation and what he hopes will come of it. I added, "if anyone wants it, it's yours for the taking and the reading." I passed it around and many, not all, of my students stopped to read a significant portion of it.

I decided that challenge had met opportunity. Everyday, I could bring a magazine or article of interest for my students to read. You better believe there will be future postings that speak to this quest.

But reading also yields one other gift worth mentioning. When we read, we see the world much differently. We make connections more readily. Later that day, my sophomores were studying the story of Jacob from the Book of Genesis. Jacob wrestles with an angel, which our textbook refers to as a "spiritual or psychological adversary." In "The Man Who Wrestled with God," John Sanford writes: 
Everyone who wrestles with his spiritual and psychological experiences, and, no matter how dark or frightening it is, refuses to let it go until he discovers its meaning, is having something of a Jacob experience. Such a person can come through his dark struggle to the other side reborn, but one who retreats or runs from his encounter with spiritual reality cannot be transformed.
They understood the significance of the "Jacob experience" but were unable to name what might be a psychological adversary. I was hoping they could.  And then I realized, that's what exactly what Phelps was battling. I drew from the words of Tim Layden. He writes:
For me, not having a father always there was hard,” says Michael. “I had Bob and I had Peter [Carlisle], these guys who acted as father figures. But deep down, inside, it was really hard. That was something that was a struggle for me to talk about for a long time, even with friends or my mother. Getting that off my chest in therapy was this huge weight off my shoulders.”
With that example, every sophomore understood the struggle of Jacob, of Phelps and the one that I have been facing. 

If we want kids to read, a good start is to bring them to it and allow for the words to give life in new ways each and every day. That's why we celebrate the Liturgy of the Word. That's why we have poetry slams. That's why we write, blog and tweet. We have ideas to share and truths to be understood. The Word and the word must be kept alive....and read. 

And that's why this weekend's homework is for students to read the excerpt entitled "I Hate Tennis" from Andre Agassi's autobiography, "Open." I told them "read as much as you want. But if you read the latter part, I guarantee you will say "Ms Stricherz he did ...??!!!"

Photo Credits
Phelps Cover Story
Phelps wins

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Persevere Mates, Persevere: The Message of Father Miscamble and Jason Day

There introductory US History course I took my freshman year at Notre Dame was memorable for strange, important and poignant reasons. 

Strange: For one it was taught inside the Center for Social Concerns, a building that was once used for film and television at Notre Dame. This former studio space served as the lecture hall for my professor, Father Wilson Miscamble, CSC. He held a PhD in American history and wrote extensively about American foreign policy.  Although it may have seemed strange at the time, I grew to appreciate his lens on my country's history; one that admittedly might have been more (or less) objective. How's that? Father Miscamble hails from Queensland, Australia.

Important: I met one of my closest friends from Notre Dame in this class. Mark was also my teammate on crew and we both taught in the Alliance for Catholic Education. Mark went on to study Government and I earned my degree in American Studies. Our friendship began in our small group sharing sessions. Great courses elicit ideas and friendship.

Poignant: Father Miscamble began every class with prayer; I believe this is the only course that carried this Catholic school tradition into my college classroom. Even his lectures had a prayerful or spirit-filled aura to them. And watching the story of Jason Day an Aussie on the PGA tour reminded me of that.

One of the striking images from those class lectures was Father Bill urging my classmates and I do one thing: "Persevere mates, Persevere!!" I can still see it now. Not only did he elicit his enthusiastic rally cry with total sincerity, he did so while lifting one of his unusually long arms. This arm flapped at a 90 degree angle to his body. By God, (or at least Job) that arm coupled with his Australian accent made me want to persevere. I still do.

This virtue is the theme of  "Never Say Die" a sobering yet powerful bio-pic about Jason Day As written on YouTube:
Jason Day’s journey to the top of the golf world is unlike anyone else’s. From humble beginnings in Australia, Jason overcame adversity to find his path through hard work and dedication. Through exclusive, behind-the-scenes access Jason’s story is shared with the world for the first time here.
In the  his opening remarks Day says "it's amazing—the journey that you take in life." To know Jason Day is know much more than the story of a 27 year old man who became the number one golfer in the world in 2015. It is to know what happens to a person whose journey has been filled with tragedy and suffering takes risks and perseveres.

It's strange, it's important and it's poignant. I hope you will watch it here and when you do here are some questions worth considering:
  • What opportunities in your life have been born from unfortunate circumstances or even tragedies and have changed your life for the better?
  • Have you ever gotten addicted to the process of getting better at something? 
  • Do you think that some people get many lifelines? Do you think others (like Day) get one?
  • Who is an athlete you have seen that you would describe as "genuinely hungry?"
  • What do you take pride in (in your life)?
  • What are the visuals you play in your head to help you succeed?
  • Who works in a way that you want to emulate. What do they do? How can they help you?
  • Why should we "never say die?"

Photo Credits
Father Bill

Day with Col

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Heroes and Superheroes

I know that Veteran's Day is important. We cannot forget the sacrifice that countless men and women have made—giving their lives both literally and figuratively to defend and protect our freedoms. But an internal struggle tares at my heart on November 11. On the one hand, I recognize that war and destruction is a reality and unfortunately a military—like our police force—is necessary to keep order and human rights flourishing. And on the other, I am weighed down by the lives that have been lost, the dreams deferred and the physical, emotional, and psychological trauma due to combat and war.

For the men and women who have served past and present, I salute you. You are heroes to many people. Thank you for your service. But it's also fair to admit that not everyone in the military is a hero. Enlisting in one of the armed forces doesn't make you one. I also think it's important to also acknowledge that "hero" is not a word we use loosely. No, the term is used to identify a person whose actions and words speak loudly. Heroes do heroic things....they give and do not count the cost. They put themselves in harm's way for the good of others. They utilize their God-given talents, abilities, and wit to outsmart the enemy. And they give us plenty to talk about.

There are heroes, and there are superheroes. Heroes are the everyday men and women we know who do those heroic acts. Superheroes? Well, they might be more legend than lore. They are both fictional and real. With this posting, I would like to honor both. Which means that I find myself writing, once again, about my favorite superhero. Pardon me, my favorite female athlete: Serena Williams. 

I asked a friend who is a professional athlete "Why does Serena play tennis?" Given who he is and what he does, I was curious to hear his perspective on her career.
"Because she wants to totally dominate," he said. 
I paused. "Maybe." 
"It allows for her to unleash all that aggression." 
I thought to myself, Is tennis the best sport for a female athlete to do that?
Granted there any innumerable ways for men and for women to channel their aggression—some healthy and some aren't. Tennis has proven to be an outstanding sport for Serena to do so. I have thought many many times of sports Serena could play. ...that Serena should play. Perhaps the bigger question is: Are we okay with women having power and strength? Does the female athlete challenge our views on the way we think women ought to be seen or perceived? Can women be aggressive? Should they?

Our conversation took another turn, so, unfortunately, we didn't finish the thought. But I have continued to think about the "why."  Why does Serena Williams play tennis?

The obvious answer speaks to the fact that it's what she grew up with and was destined to do (according to her father, Richard). Today, tennis is a shared activity, sport and lifestyle she values and shares with her parents as well as her sister Venus. It provides a platform for Serena to display her incredible athletic abilities, style, personality (or as she would say personalities). Serena loves to win. I could go on and on, but the more I really thought about it—doing away with the cliches and easy answers, the more I came to one realization. Serena Williams plays tennis because she wants to be a superhero. 

Serena has no time for being an ordinary hero, she doesn't do anything halfway. 
Superheroes have but one name. They do the impossible. They challenge norms and modus operands. The risks they take are far beyond calculation. And they have a message, and here's Serena's: Always keep your things close! Fight for what's right. Stand for what you believe in! Be a superhero! You can read about the incident here.

Her posting, though largely self-congratulatory, was obviously not run through her PR person or communications rep. But, what I love about this story is that the message she shared is one she lives.

When she says "keep things close" I know it's not just the material possessions in your hand. I have written about this idea before. Who or what do you keep close to you? That's an important person, every person—mortal or superhero should answer.

Fight for what's right. Serena has. Some might say her sister is the real superhero in this regard. It is well known that Venus fought for equal pay for female tennis players. Both sisters have spoken out about racism they have encountered on the tour and beyond.

Stand for what you believe in. This might be Serena's most compelling message. Because it's not one that she articulates as much as one that she lives. She believes that she can be the best. 
One of my students shared this story in class because it was not only interesting and local (it happened in downtown San Francisco) but it hit even closer to home. In the spring of 2013, the students at St Ignatius saw their principal in a new way. Already a beacon of personalism and professionalism, Patrick Ruff a hero to many kids took on SuperHero status.

Our school had been robbed of iPads for weeks. Although I want to recognize it's a first world problem, it was real. It is disturbing and unfortunate when anyone has something stolen. It's worth reading about the events and the response here. It made for good stories for weeks. 

Whether real or perceived, legend or lore, our heroes point us to something much bigger than ourselves. They encourage us to lift our eyes off the ground or at least away from our phones. They bring questions to life—How can we prevent war? Can we? and What do I believe in? What should I keep close to me?  And they keep us talking...or writing...

Photo Credits

Veterans Day Quote

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Odds of Hitting a Hole-in-One? The Odds of Doing the Right Thing?

There's a registry for folks who have hit the
much coveted "hole-in-one."
I am fairly convinced that some things in life will never happen to me. I say this because I know how I am and how I would react. Said items would be too much for me to handle. Good, bad or otherwise, I think one of those items—and it pains me to write this— is a hole-in-one.

I say this because if I were to hit a hole-in-one, I know I would find a way to integrate it into any given conversation. Relevance be damned! I would be able to weave my feat into any exchange in under five minutes. Waiting in line in the grocery store or any other line for that matter would allow me to preach to a new audience on a regular basis.

I'm sure my hole-in-one would grow in size and stature with each passing version of the story. I would start with my club selection, "I decided to club up" and I would carefully explain what I did/how it happened. I might lie and say something to the effect of "I didn't know where the ball went and I looked in the cup. There it was!" That will never be true. I hope for one on any and every par 3 hole I approach. 

I would add color commentary by way of my friends' reactions and from those on the course. I hope we would celebrate in the club house where I had taken insurance out just a month prior to hitting the eagle shot.

NB:A tradition at many golf clubs is that when a person hits a hole-in-one, they must buy drinks for everyone at the club for the rest of the day. Consequently, many clubs allow members to take out insurance against a hole in one, meaning  your ledger includes a small monthly fee so you will not be responsible for that day's bar bill. I can't think of another example in life where one takes out insurance for something good to happen. Fire, earthquake and home insurance is only used if my property is damaged. Life insurance is really death insurance, etc.

The BMW was the prize for shooting a hole-in-one at a fundraiser for a charity called Winners Lacrosse. Colin Dunn did something even better than acing the 17th hole and keeping the car. (Jimmy Fiske/Courtesy of Winners Lacrosse)
I've been fortunate in my 4-year golfing career to have seen a hole-in-one just once. I wrote about it and I still talk about it. And this story about Colin Dunn, who went to Notre Dame for his MBA  is not only remarkable, it points to the type of person who should get a hole-in-one. 

I enjoyed everything about this story: the trick he played on his wife (I would do that to my husband), that he was involved in a golf tournament for a cause near and dear to his heart and most especially the last two lines of the story. I hope you will read the Washington Post local piece: A local golfer aced his tee shot, and then he did what?

Congratulations Colin. You gave me plenty to talk about in the grocery store line and beyond for the past two weeks, and it wasn't just the choice of the 5-wood. Because of your example, the odds of doing the right thing might be a little less than 13,000 to 1. Golf has a way of doing's the only sport where a negative is a positive. 

Photo Credits
Hole in One Registry

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Spoils...No, Pizza to the Victors. Congratulations KC

My grandfather always said "there's no such thing as a free lunch." I understand what he meant by this metaphor and still, I have often thought otherwise.  I will allow a thoughtful gesture by my beloved San Francisco Giants to serve as my evidence that—well grandpa— sometimes, there is. And wow, do they taste good. 
Today, Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News wrote: 
The Giants front office sent 25 pizzas to Royals front office employees at Kauffman Stadium. It’s a tradition the Boston Red Sox started a year earlier, when they ordered pies and had them delivered to Giants employees at AT&T Park. 
We can’t take credit for this, but we’re happy to continue it,” Giants vice president Staci Slaughter said.
The story would have climbed to epic proportions of food lore had they sent San Francisco's best pizza, which I believe is Tony's pizza. But, I took comfort in reading "the Giants didn’t just call up the local Pizza Hut or Domino’s. They placed a call to Minsky’s CafĂ© and Bar and asked them to include a note with the order: 'Have fun planning the parade – and enjoy the ride!”

I shared this story with my students at the beginning of class today because it left me smiling. I said "So what does this story have to do with Esau and Jacob? well, nothing but this is what my grandfather once said...and it's funny to me just how much we love a free lunch. Pizza isn't that uncommon; it's not even a delicacy—but I know how sweet those pies tasted."

They thought so too. "it's the thought behind it that counts," said one sophomore. "Yeah, that someone would take the time and realize what the Royals did, and act upon in a special way, says a lot," said another.

I have coached three different sports now on the high school level. Everyone of them holds something in common: a love for food, and for talking about it. Food nourishes our bodies, it tastes great, it brings people together and it's meant to be enjoyed. No wonder Jesus gathered his disciples to share a meal and remember Him in that way.

Hopefully the Royals will continue this tradition and pay it forward to whoever wins the World Series in 2016. They should and hearing about something special they did at the conclusion of last year's Fall Classic,  I wouldn't be surprised if they did. 

Kansas City is known as the “City of Fountains” and is said to have more fountains than Rome. According to their Parks & Rec page, "the  unique water sculptures and statuary celebrate generations of Kansas Citians." Even if you didn't know this about a city actually located in Missouri, it makes sense. A waterfall hangs in the outfield of Kaufmann Stadium—home of the Royals.

After the Giants defeated the Royals in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, those fountains—a symbol of the city—ran orange, as a way to say congratulations. 

It's easy for the victors to share the spoils, it's different when you're on the losing end.

Perhaps that incredulous gesture is yet another reason the San Francisco Giants sent a free lunch to the Royals. I love the fact that they did

Photo Credits
Royals Staff
Note on Pizza Box