Friday, March 4, 2016

A New Vision: Much More than a De La Salle Play Off Game

Returning to the De La Salle high school gym on for their NCS D-1 semifinal game against Castro Valley High School earlier this week, I realize what I see now is far different than what I did as a student some 20+ years ago. Sure, some of what isn't—a man to man defense and the value of a player who continually crashes the board hasn't changed, but today, my vision captures moments.They are the subject of this blog, Today, when I go to a big game I collect insights that add up to much more than a mark in the win column or a ticket to the next round. They are Sports and Spirituality....and here are three of them.
1. A new coach, a new era
De La Salle is led by a new coach, AJ Kuhle (pronounced "Cool"). Coach Kuhle played on the 2000 championship team under the former head coach, Frank Allocco. Kuhle left his position as a long time assistnat coach at University of Denver to return to his alma mater. I get the sense that his players are glad he did.

Without a doubt, Kuhle has big shoes to fill. His predecessor is considered by many to be one of the best high school coaches, period. With over 600 wins to his name, Coach Allocco is now across the bay at the University of San Francisco as an assistant to head coach Rex Walters. USF fans are hopeful he will help the Dons' return glory back to the Hilltop. 

A a personal friend of Coach Allocco, I missed seeing him on the Spartans' court. Friends delight in seeing their friends succeed and that's how I felt when I went to DLS games during his time there. An expert of fundamentals, his teams were tremendously well coached—truly a basketball purists' delight. And to no one's surprise, Coach Kuhle's team isn't much different. Granted these guys played under Allocco, many for three straight years, but what struck me isn't what I saw on the court by the players, but what I didn't see from the coaching staff.

Looking at the Spartan bench, I saw Coach Kuhle and his assistants sitting for the majority of the game. He seldom stood up; if you didn't pay careful attention, it's conceivable that you could have left the game and not known who was who. Whereas many coaches pace the floor, stomp their foot, talk to the ref, or get in the ear of their players, as written on Twitter: "Coach Kuhle lives up to his name." I have joked that one coach in the WCAL probably gets his 10,000 steps recommended by FitBit in a single game, but not the head coach of the Spartans. Every coach has his or her own style; it's interesting for me to see how they do what they do.

I believe Coach Kuhle's sends a powerful message to his players: it's one of trust and respect. It's one that says—without words—a lot. During a game, the players must take ownership for what they have been coached to do. A team practices set plays and it's their job to execute. A good coach will make adjustments and intervene with players and officials when necessary, but ultimately, it's up to them. Timeouts and half time serve that purpose for coaches and players in a different way. It was neat to see. 

I don't know if an unintended consequence of Kuhle's stoic nature gave rise to this, but from my perspective I felt that the team—collectively— became a noticeable source of support and raw energy. When a time out was called, everyone stood from the bench, clapping and cheering. At one point, I wondered, "is the game over?" I say that because the team lined up to greet each player as they came off the floor with high fives and hugs. It's as important a game as it gets, so I would hope that any team would do that, but I do wonder: to what degree does standing back give rise to something new/different?
I have since learned that the legendary Coach John Wooden often coached from his chair. We know the consequences—intended and unintended—of that. 10 national championships.

2. The role of Mary, Our Mother

A colleague who teaches a senior elective course, "The Ignatian Way," informed me that her class studied the life of the Blessed Mother this week. She was sad to discover that so many students were largely unfamiliar with who Mary is and why you would want to develop a relationship with her. But, one student came to the rescue, as they often do.

This student said "think of it this way, people listen to their mother. If you need something from Jesus, talk to his mother. It works." I love that a high school student articulated what I have found to be true in life. And I saw that very truth in action during the game.

My parents and I happened to be sitting one row behind the mother of one of the starting players. In the middle of the fourth quarter, with the score closer than DLS had hoped, a foul was called on this athlete. He stood alongside the key while the opposing player took his free throws. With his back standing to us, his mother yelled "Jordan, tuck in your shirt." The game is on the line, it's fairly intense and amidst the focus on the court, what does Jordan do? He tucks in his shirt. But since it was not to his mother's liking, she yells it again. Without even looking at her, Jordan's teammate runs behind him to tuck in his shirt for him. 

It was hard not to laugh and smile in that moment. Doesn't matter what the stakes of something may or many not be, we know our mother's voice and we listen to it.
Brian who oversees @DLS151 took this photo
& interviewed Coach Kuhle

3. #TraditionNeverGraduates 
After the game, I brought my parents over to the other side of the gym to meet up with my brother's close high school friend, Brian. In the middle of talking to Brian, he tells me that two others we know from high school—the Barry Brothers were also at the game. 

The sons of Warrior legend and NBA Hall of Fame player, Rick Barry, Brent played for 14 years in the NBA and Scooter played on the 1988 Kansas national championship team. I learned from Brian that they met with the team after the game and had a chance to talk to them. I would have loved to have heard stories that they told about their days on the same court and what memories they carry. Those are for the 2016 Spartans to have and hold. Someday, they will share their own. 

De La Salle holds the motto, "Enter to learn, leave to serve." I appreciate the way that Scooter and Brent have done this through basketball and the relationships they maintain in the DLS community. I know what their simple act of showing up and meeting with the team means because I hear about it from my own students and athletes. I have heard what they think, what they hear and what they learn from those who have walked their path before.

I will conclude this posting with something I read by a friend of friend. He posts a message of gratitude daily, and thie latest one resonates with my vision of returning to a familiar place...a space that holds great memories and powerful stories that are born from sports. Indeed, they are the seedbed for what I find spiritual.

I need to get my eyes checked. I read with 2.0 reading lenses. When I looked down at my dinner last night it looked kinda blurry...tasted kinda blurry as well...wasn't one of my better efforts at the grill. I can still see things far away...but get too close and you take on fuzzy edges. I think I'm kinda grateful for this. I prefer to have a sharper view of things further away...distant...both in space and time. I'm grateful for the ways that distant vision keeps the immediate in proper focus. This has helped me with own and students I've taught. All it takes is a momentary glimpse of what someone might be in time or what a situation might be in time to re-inspire me to endure, to work, to believe that the twitch or the blurry edge is just now...and not forever.

Photo Credits
DLS book
AJ Kuhle: Developing Men of Faith

Coach Kuhle

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