Thursday, October 27, 2016

An Open Letter to Steve Bartman '99

Thirteen years have passed since Steve Bartman infamously reached for a foul ball from the stands in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series with the Cubs on the brink of appearing in the World Series. And, his name is still trending. The subject of endless jokes and memes, not to mention a great Halloween costume, it's fair to say that Bartman was a scapegoat created by the media—one that still draws our attention. 
I too delighted in my far share of retorts at Bartman's expense. Were I in attendance at Wrigley that fateful night, I sincerely hope I would have refrained from chanting "asshole" in his direction. I doubt that I would have thrown anything at him, but I recognize a mob mentality can be a scary thing.

I love asking folks if they know where he went to college. And I let them guess...only to bemusedly share, "he is one of our finest." A graduate from the University of Notre Dame class of 1999, Bartman and I were in school together for one year. Though I did not know the Kennanite, part of me feels as though I do. And this that is why, I would like to offer an open letter to him—from one alum to another.

Dear Steve,
If Notre Dame alumni were to identify fellow alums they are most proud of, my guess is that many of us would readily name athletes and coaches. Joe Montana, Tim Brown, John Huarte, Bryant Young, Ruth Riley, Skylar Diggins come to mind as do Knute Rockne and Lou Holtz with their honorary degrees. I'm sure many others would name Father Hesburgh, Condeleeza Rice or Alan Paige. I would like to add a personal vote for Hannah Storm and honestly, one for you. I think it's time that fellow Domers and the public at large understand why.
Any baseball fan who thinks they would have reacted differently is short-sighted. Yes, an attentive and well-informed fan would have known the official ruling for what constitutes fan interference, but the truth of the matter is in a playoff game, the energy is super high. What fan doesn't want a foul ball?! We fans must recognize, we like the limelight too. 

Too often, opportunity does more than knock. In this case, it was seeking to make a profit at someone's expense. That "lucky" fan who caught the ball sold it for $200,000 gained a tremendous windfall. Such easy money occurred at the cost of your personal safety, your private persona, and livelihood. You wanted none of it.

In spite of the fact you were offered hundreds of thousands of dollars to talk, make public appearances at card shows, and impart more about the incident you remained silent. Your choice is even more striking given the sheer magnitude of means by which we can share our side of the story. You could simply defend yourself loud and proud, have taken the "jackass" option, the legal route, the "don't tread on me" approach, but you opted for another way: total and complete silence. Anonymity was the path you chose; maybe it was the one you had to....but honestly in today's litigious society, who does that?!
You have been misunderstood and misrepresented. People thought you came to the game with just your walkman, but instead, you brought two friends... and yet you were escorted out of the stadium to safety, incognito with by one security guard. All those involved in the media that night, admit that they took this focal point of the game too far. Moises Alou's extreme reaction, the replay over and over and over, the zooming in on you—all point to the fact that an ethical line in the sand was crossed.

Good work bears good fruit. The little league baseball team you managed came to your staunch defense. They spoke of your character and virtue. Those fans around you gave a testimony that was no different. As reported in "Catching Hell" the fan who gave you his business card said: 
Of all of us there that night, including me for teasing him, Bartman had the most honor. He made a mistake. He admitted his mistake. He asked for forgiveness of the Cubs and of the fans. For all that, there's a lot of regret....for how his name was changed into a verb.
The security guard who brought you to safety said,
It was his total demeanor that has stuck with me all through the years. He was humble and kind....(she then breaks down in tears)...he was the perfect guy for this (the scapegoat). 
And Bob Costas opined 
Does anyone feel worse about it than him? 
It is a reminder that it could have been anyone of us sitting in that seat. Anyone of us could have stuck out our hand.
Your story is a human story, offering a glaring insight into the best and in this case the worst of what can come from our loyalty and passion. We care about sports and that's a good thing, but not at the expense of turning on our own....of scapegoating a vulnerable person....of thinking we are that different.

I am unsure whether or not you and I feel the same way about our alma mater, but given that you wore your class ring to the game, I believe you carry some sense of pride for Notre Dame. I would like for you to know that in your willingness to own what was a simple mistake, to issue a public apology to the team and the fans, and to remain silent all these years later reveals tremendous resolve, honor, and class. You carry a tough story with you and were we ever to meet on campus, I hope you would share what that's been like. I hope the burden has been lighter than we might guess, that you've been supported by unsuspecting people and at some point laughed out loud and hard—Keenan Review included. Oh, and I hope the Cubs gave you season tickets...for life....maybe behind home plate.

Photo Credits

Catching Hell

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

What is New Adds to an Old Tradition: The Bruce Mahoney 2016

This Friday night marks the culmination of the fall sports spirit week: the Bruce Mahoney football game—a contest that holds the distinction as the longest standing athletic rivalry between two schools west of the Mississippi River. Nearly 5,000 people will gather at the historic Kezar Stadium to watch the Wildcats of St. Ignatius College Prep take on the Fightin' Irish of Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep High School. Like so many others in our two communities, I can't wait for game time. 

Given the rate of change, the immediacy of the world we live in and the limited time span of a teenager's life, I am struck by in my students' love for this tradition. When a movie created in 2007 is considered "really old," implying it is now irrelevant, I have wondered how a trophy that honors the lives of Bill Bruce (SI 1935) and Jerry Mahoney (SH 1944), who gave their lives for their country in World War II can carry such meaning.

As written on the SI's athletic website
The Bruce-Mahoney Trophy is a prize which the students of both schools value as much today as their fathers and grandfathers did before them. And the rivalry between SI and SH is as vibrant in the twenty-first century as it was in the nineteenth, when it all began. 
And I think it's worth noting exactly when the rivalry was born.
St. Patrick's Day in 1893 marked the start of this tradition when the two schools met in Central Park at Eighth and Market Streets for a rugby game; a game won by Sacred Heart, 14-4. 
Quite often when we think of tradition, whether it be in the Church, in a school or among our sports teams our first thought is that tradition is immune to change. We ask "Is it still a tradition if we don't do x or if we add y?" We worry that if we modify or amend tradition, it will lose its meaning. And yet tradition is more than skin deep; tradition does not come out of thin air (tradition probably ties of cliches like the ones I'm throwing down). It is built on a foundation that has meaning, is proven as valuable over time and quite often is made better in the process.
In the 14 years I have taught at SI, I continue to remain humbled and ever impressed by the tradition of the Bruce Mahoney. And, in that same time I have seen how members of both communities have brought new gifts and contributions to this on-going tradition. For example, one of my favorite moments at the boys' (and girls') basketball game is the pregame prayer. Because it takes place at USF's War Memorial Gym, one school is designated as the host to lead the crowd in pregame rituals. Whether or not it's SI or SH, the student body president calls all in attendance to "Take a moment of silence." After that moment, he or she says "Let us remember" and all 1500 students respond "that we are in the holy presence of God." It's a beautiful way to gather us to pause and thank God for each other. It wasn't always the way we started our shared prayer...and I don't  see it going away anytime soon. 

In the past three years, I have had a number of female students argue for a Bruce Mahoney-type trophy to be awarded in girls' athletics. Both schools have discussed and debated what shape and form it could take. It hasn't been an easy conversation, but it's been an interesting and spirited one. I hope a new tradition will be born sooner than later! And to that point, the description of the Bruce Mahoney trophy is in need of revision. We now have students whose mothers value the honor as well. Our two school communities serve young men and women throughout the Bay Area, far beyond the 49 square miles of San Francisco. They have done so since the early '90s.
Grateful for my golf partner in today's JV
scramble. One of my former players
now on varsity!

Though the Bruce Mahoney trophy goes to the school that wins two out of three contests: football, basketball and baseball—one boy's sport for each season, the majority of our 26 varsity programs have their own "Bruce Mahoney" game. The pep rally recognizes all fall sport athletes. In our spirit week golf scramble that took place today, the varsity golfers were discussing how to make their presence known...exploding golf balls? I will cheer loudly for this spirited team and whether or not I receive a football jersey from a senior, it is one of my favorite traditions, that started maybe 10 years ago as a way for an athlete to honor a teacher, counselor or administrator. 

And the game itself, considered by many of the athletes to be the most important one of the year reflects the time that we live in. A number of students continue to take a knee during the National Anthem. They have been supported by their teammates, coaches, teachers, parents and administrators. Their decision brought the team together in a necessary dialogue that yielded a new understanding and respect for one another.

Though not all football players will kneel, all of them will wear the #54 on their helmet. Our Father President shared the following message with the SI community.
As you know, Kevin Downs '09 was seriously wounded while serving the people of San Francisco as a Police officer. The entire Saint Ignatius family reaches out to Kevin and his family with our prayers and support as he recovers. Kevin's service embodies the highest ideals of his school of being a person for and with others. 
On the Monday morning after Kevin was shot the entire St. Ignatius community offered our morning's prayer for Kevin, his wife and family and all law enforcement members who serve our community as Kevin does. Additionally, we prayed for Kevinat our recent Student Liturgy and will continue to pray for him. 
The SI football team on which Kevin played is honoring his dedication by wearing a decal with his number, 54, on the back of their helmets for the rest of the season. At this week's "Bruce-Mahoney" game there will be a 50-50 Raffle for SI and SHC where SI's proceeds will be donated to the Kevin Downs' Go-Fund Account for Ranchin' Vets, the charity that Kevin established to help soldiers reintegrate into civilian life.
I did not teach Kevin, yet I knew who he was because he created an active student club: Semper Fi. Kevin created this club in part to honor his older brother, who served in the US Marine Corps. I was not surprised when I learned that Kevin felt his own calling to serve community through law enforcement.  I want him to know of my gratitude for his service both at SI and in San Francisco.

Tradition gives a community an opportunity to look back, celebrate today, and wonder about tomorrow. The Bruce Mahoney game is a benchmark in the year—it's own type of homecoming that calls us to think of those in our history and in our midst. So at Friday's game, I will look at my colleagues in student football jerseys, at those players on the field taking a knee and the young men wearing 54 on their helmet and know we are all part of something much larger than ourselves.

Oh and by the way, SI football isn't just a team for boys. The punter is a girl....

Photo Credits

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Irresponsibility and Irrationality of Playoff Baseball

There is nothing like playoff baseball. I have a hard time believing there can be a more dramatic or marked difference between regular season and playoff contests than the one in MLB. Surely, the grind of 162 games takes its toll, especially if your club is 8, 14 or (it hurts to write it) 24 games out of first place. But for those eight teams that make the first cut...on down to four and now to two, the competition is spectacular. I've never taken speed and I don't plan on it, but attending an NLDS or NLCS game live and in person is what I imagine the drug feels like. October baseball is reminiscent to that sensation I had as a child standing in the car with my head through the sun roof. Eyes are wide, wide open. You can't even don't want to. That's October baseball.
I hate them so much.
I've thought about playoff baseball because it has consumed so much of my time. And in my deliberation, I realize it's irresponsible and irrational. Playoff ball is a royal time suck, it's expensive, and yet it's emotional, beautiful and it's thrilling. In short, baseball in October is terrific.

Irresponsibility 101
My good friend Kevin and I vacillated back and forth about whether or not to attend NLDS Game 3. With Madison Bumgarner on the mound we were optimistic about a Giants victory; so was much of the Bay Area. But, with ticket prices at $200+ on Stubhub, pulling the trigger was tough to do. Responsibility and irresponsibility engaged in an epic battle. 

ButMadBum or not, this year's team did not instill the confidence in me that those in 2010, 2012 and 2014 had. In one way, responsibility won and in other ways it did not. I must have spent two to four hours refreshing my Stubhub page in the hope that ticket prices would drop. Kevin and I talked and texted about the game for another hour. In the end, I watched an incredible game that concluded with a 6-5 Giants win in 13 innings at Dino's pizza and in my own living room.
From 7:05 pm on, my mind and heart was totally focused the Giants v. Cubs. Four-plus hours later, my roommate told me that she was going to bed. I looked at her and realized that I might irresponsibly remain on the couch for another one to two hours. In a moment of responsibility, I thought about what I had to do the next day: attend a department meeting at 8:00 a.m., teach a full load and take my golf team to practice. I realized doing all of this on less that six hours of sleep was fairly irresponsible and I felt slightly worried/guilty until I identified one more irresponsible than me: my brother. Mark lives in Washington DC. He too was glued to the game; I know this because we were texting about it. Though my time stamp read 11:37 pm and then 11:48 pm—when the Giants finally won!—his said 2:37 a.m.and 2:48 a.m. Irresponsibility has no bedtime.

I admire my brother for hundreds of reasons; his loyalty to the Giants is one of them. He is one of my favorite people to watch a Giants game with because he knows so much history, he knows the team's current stats and trends. He engages fans around him in debate and in their cheers and jeers. I was happy that the Giants won, but happier that he saw the win. When I relayed this story to my parents, they were not the least bit amused. My dad said "I hope he keeps his job." My mom bemusedly added, "I think he did this the last time they were in it. It's so irresponsible for a grown man...a father...with a full time job." So much for delighting in a great win mom and dad. It might be worth adding: my parents are two of the most responsible people I know.

The next day, my good friend from high school and Notre Dame called to ask me if I wanted to go with her to Game 4. Her husband was unable to attend; responsibility remained silent. I met her at the yard for what was an exciting game, though it ended in a Cubs 6-5 victory. Their talented team made their way into NLCS.

Talking to my parents before the game, I wondered if I should tell them that I would be at Game 4. They were tremendously excited for me. I did a near double take, thinking: are these the same two responsible people I talked to about Game 3 shenanigans. My mom, before I could say anything added: "playoff baseball is so exciting; you are so lucky. Enjoy it."
Giants blow a 3-run lead with but 3 outs...
The next day, I traipsed into school feeling as though I carried an open wound. I wanted the Giants to win that game at home. I didn't need them to win Game 5 (I say that now). I put on my responsible hat as best I could: teaching and coaching in what was a very long and full day. Driving home from our golf match that night, I was sad that no playoff baseball game was on the radio. I wanted to hear the sounds of October baseball—loud, loud cheers, boos and jeers, dramatic calls from the announcers and much more. It's a beautiful game that take a new form come the month of October. It drives me to a realm that is often irresponsible, but that's why we are called "fans"—a word that is short for "fanatic." Nothing responsible about that.

Irrationality 201
After the Giants lost, I sought out some sort of insight or wisdom from a trusted colleague. A Mets fan first, he also roots for the Giants. He told me that with both teams out, he didn't care about October baseball. I looked at him incredulously. Though his comment wasn't that deep or revelatory, it was as though I could not really understand what he was saying, However, just two days later, I could hardly believe it...  I understood precisely what he meant.

As much as I love my Giants, I was also rooting for the Washington Nationals. I go to at least one Nats game a year and my brother lives very close to the ballpark. The series between them and the Dodgers was a good one; and in Game 5, the hated LA Dodgers emerged victorious. I was surprised by how upset I was. I realized in that moment, I too didn't care anymore about October baseball. Thank you, Tim.
I should be happy for them....
Less than 24 hours later, irrationality reared its head as I quasi-lashed out at an unsuspecting student. I was climbing the stairs heading to class, when a sophomore girl, dressed in bright Dodger sweatshirt descended into my line of sight. We locked eyes and I said, "wait a minute...what's going on here? Why are you wearing that?" She laughed nervously and smiled but I rebuffed her reaction. "No, I'm serious. Why are you wearing that." Within 48 hours, I found myself watching and caring about October baseball once again. I realized, it's not that I wanted the Cubs to win, but rather, I wanted the Dodgers to lose. The Giants great rival had won the NL West four years in a row; that stat makes my blood boil. I listened to and/or checked in on every game. I wanted Kershaw to go down. I didn't even care about the loyal and plagued Cubs fans; I just don't want to see anymore Dodger blue. In the hallways at school, on television, in Sports Illustrated—none of it. 

My feelings, quite often are irrational...but it's fun how October baseball plays with them. It's part of what makes this time of year so exciting

Fox Sports' motto for the post-season is October Reign. Many people believe this is the best time of year for sports: MLB playoffs, college football and the NFL are in full swing, the NBA is about to start. Indeed, it's a great time to be a sports fan...irresponsibility, irrationality and all.  Go Indians.

Photo Credits

Giants win

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Love Letter to Running

I'm starting to think my love for Bruce Springsteen has rooted a desire to leave a common legacy. My friend Kathy and I emphatically believe the Boss will be forever known for his live performance and prolific song writing. It's hard to believe that Springsteen at 67, is still on tour and performing in shows that exceed four hours! Fans are often amazed at just how many songs he has written and never recorded, but I am not. In the seven years I have kept this blog, I have published over 500 entries. However, sitting in my draft file, are 150 that await their completion. Though it's not rock 'n' roll and my students are a far cry from adoring fans, when I'm teaching I often feel as though I've undertaken some sort of live performance. And though I don't write songs, I write letters...a lot of them. I have sent people articles and CDs that I have long since forgotten about and I am humbled by what I have received in return. Some say letter writing is a lost art, but I respectfully disagree. Precisely because it's an art, it takes new and different forms and iterations. This art is manifested well beyond Christmas cards, fan mail and thank you notes...and for what it's worth, I write all of them.
without a doubt, this was my favorite place to run...Crissy Field, San Francisco, CA
One letter that has been sitting in my draft file for too long is this one. I've waffled back and forth about whether I want to publicly share this letter—not to a person, but to a sport...and that sport is running. I am not the first to write this type of letter—Kobe and Michael Jordan each had theirs to basketball. I certainly won't be the last. However, I like the legacy that it reveals; it's one about the gift and the power of running—an important part of my role as a teacher...and as a writer. Enjoy.

Dear Running,
Six years ago, I realized I would probably have to say goodbye to you. As someone who ran "eight days a week," I never thought I would have to....but not all runners feel that way. I realize now how many runners sense that one day their knees will buckle or their back will break, demanding a farewell to arms—or in this case legs and running.

I have to admit, you had me from hello. Just kidding—I couldn't resist. Maybe it's a good thing that only a certain generation of us know how bad, yet good anything from the movie "Jerry Maguire" is. But running, I loved you from the start. Even though you are demanding and sometimes cruel, you gave me freedom. You continued to challenge and humble me. You could be simultaneously relaxing and strenuous. I looked forward to my time with you and yet, after a given amount of time together, I knew when to walk...when to push stop on my watch...and when to say "I'll see you tomorrow."
after my very favorite road race— the Spring Lake 5—with one of my favorite people
When I was diagnosed with ARVD in 2010, I became aware that our relationship would forever change. I knew that spending time with you was dangerous, but to quit entirely seemed like an impossibility. On December 12, 2015, that once scary thought came to be something I was able and did accept.

I see God's grace at work in other people's lives far more often than I do in my own. I suppose that's not uncommon, but my relationship with you was one of the greatest graces. Grace is, after all, a gift. A free one. Running was no different. The fact that you cost nothing is one of the things I love about you. Chris McDougall the author of Born to Run verified this truth in helping people to understand that not even shoes are necessary!

I could spend as much or as little time as I wanted with you. I loved you for your accessibility: lace up my shoes and head out the door. I have run through great American cities and local trails. All 10 miles of Broad Street in Philadelphia, the National Mall in Washington DC, from one end of the Golden Gate Bridge to the other and back, Forest Park in St. Louis and the Kitty Hawk trail in Dallas, were places I got to know, revere and study because of you. 
Ran it in the blistering heat/humidity, the warm nights, the hard rain and snow. Our nation's capital
It means a great deal that you are a reason why some of my dearest friendships were born. From CYO track to the varsity distance crew in high school, running affords a person with privileged conversations. They are born out of a cadence—one that looks out in the distance instead of at one another, while pursuing a common goal, a common destination.

Coaching cross country for 12 years gave me the chance to share you with young people. My philosophy was a simple one: to develop a life-long relationship with you. As a teacher and a coach, I know how elusive success can be. In those years of coaching, yes, we won league and sectional championships, but getting young women to love you too was and will always be my greatest achievement. Though I find a terrible irony in my own coaching philosophy—I can't run myself—were I to still coach cross country (and I could—it would just be very different) I wouldn't change a thing. That's success.

with a special runner....who went on to run in college. #love
I realize how much I miss you only in glimpses and shadows. Just this morning, I saw two women come to a stop from their run. They exchanged a few words, hugged and parted ways. Their skin and smiles glowed in a way that a runner knows...because it's a feeling. The runner's high.

I've nailed down the times I miss you and how I miss you
  1. the early morning run
  2. on a rainy day--just after the rain has subsided
  3. as a way to get to know American cities
  4. by the water
  5. the climb
  6. the runs I will never take...not where...but with who.
God's grace has enabled me to let go of a lot of things in my life; I'm still working on others. Running, however, isn't one of them. I had an additional five years with you after my diagnosis. I was able to let go gradually and freely. Thank you.

You shaped me in ways that are beyond my comprehension and I remain, even now, forever grateful. When people ask me if I still run, there's but the smallest chord of sadness but honestly, I can look them in the eye and say "it was a great ride." Those words and this entire reality remind me that though we are broken, we can remain whole. That's a sure sign of God's grace....a revelation from a great sport that spawned many minutes and miles. 
A spiritual place—the start line

Oh, and by the way, there's someone else now...a four letter word. Golf. Golf—you cost a lot of time and money. You are supremely high maintenance. You can ruin my day, sometimes my week...and yet, you've brought me to beautiful places and to new, interesting and inspiring people.  You may get your own due time.

Photo Credits
Crissy FieldDC National Mall

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Spirituality of Play: Notre Dame Football and Frisbee

I have always enjoyed comparing and contrasting college campuses. Working for three years at the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) whose headquarters were then nestled in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC—not far from the Foggy Bottom Metro Stop—afforded me with two opportunities to do so. Though I passed George Washington University every day, I was more intrigued by the first Catholic university in the country—its history, distinct urban setting and hilltop vista over our nation's capital. Georgetown looks and feels like a school founded in the Jesuit tradition. While it shares many traditions, a rich spirituality and lexicon with other academic institutions, those who attend Georgetown undoubtedly have a unique experience, one that I will never be able to fully capture in words. It was not my experience, and so I will leave it to those alumni who once "toiled and did not seek for rest" in the gray brick buildings not far from the Potomac River. But my experiences on their campus revealed to me what I love about Notre Dame and the spirituality of the Fightin' Irish. Thank you Hoyas.
Flashback: Heading over to the student union center, I saw something that caught my eye: two male students throwing a frisbee. One threw it beyond the reach of his friend, who made a dramatic leap to catch it. He fell short, landed in some bushes and came up after an acrobatic somersault of some sort—frisbee in hand. It was hard not to smile and applaud these college students.
In that moment of enjoyment, I turned to my friend and said "I've never seen that before." 
"What someone making a good catch in frisbee?" she queried. 
"No, a student having fun at Georgetown," I said.
Sounds like a dig doesn't it. And for those Hoya Saxas I know and love, it's not meant to be. Georgetown doesn't have a whole lot of free space, and Notre Dame has tons of it. Quite often, people wonder what it's like going to school in South Bend. It's true, there is no distraction from a city or all that urban life affords. It means that getting to campus can be more than challenging...but negatives often yield positives. It also means that student life is centered around...well...each other.

A robust number of Notre Dame students are athletes or athletically minded...and core to athletics is the notion of play. I suppose I took for granted how often my friends and classmates engaged in play—I didn't know any better, but when the weather was right, both north and south quad (the dominant ones during my time at ND) were peppered with students throwing footballs and frisbees. The Friday before game day was particularly vibrant. Students would blast music from their dorm rooms, occasionally bring couches outside (that just sounds weird) and the new season of fall served as a wonderful backdrop. Throughout the year, intramural athletics thrived through interhall athletics. The doldrums of winter allowed for a number of guys (and now girls) to train for and compete in the ND version of Fight Night, known as Bengal Bouts. Every spring, campus awoke from hibernation for Bookstore Basketball, the largest 5-on-5 basketball tourney in the world.

As Notre Dame has become increasingly more academically minded and focused, I hope its students haven't lost their willingness to play. To play is make time for it, especially as an adult isn't a given. Or, at least not in ways that may refresh the mind, body, and spirit. I know many college kids translate play to an activity linked with alcohol e.g. drinking games, keg stands, boat races, beer pong (insert your favorite here). However, the play of which I write has a spiritual dimension that we ought to consider.

In the article "March Madness," Dr. Michael Tino reminds us
Finally, sports can teach us how to have fun. And the business of fun—of play, of laughter, of lightness—is important spiritual stuff. 
Jesuit scholar Hugo Rahner is quoted as having written: “To play is to yield oneself to a kind of magic … to enter a world where different laws apply, to be relieved of all the weights that bear it down, to be free, kingly, unfettered and divine”  
Too often, in “growing up,” our society forces us to lose our inclinations to just let loose, our innate sense of fun, our ability to yield to the magic that is play. Too often, our society asks our children to let go of these things long before they should.
For varsity athletes, the demands of their sport may challenge the notion of play and having fun. This year's football, Team 128, with a record of 2-4 has not met the expectations of its Top 10 ranking at the start of the season. The media, public scrutiny, the physical and mental toil may suck the spirituality of play very dry. But the video that they created—playing Frisbee—reminded how important it is for a team to yield itself to this kind of magic. 
I watched this video in amazement at some of the sheer athleticism of the Fightin' Irish. I love the way that different personalities are revealed through the simple act of throwing a frisbee. They jump, laugh, sit cool, walk tall, stand tough, this video clip shows it, laughter, and lightness. What could be more important than this spiritual stuff? Ok....stringing it together on Saturdays true....but as these men continue to grow up, I hope they don't lose their love for the game, their teammates and the power of play. Go, Irish.

Photo Credits

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Right Place, Right Time: The 2016 Ryder Cup

Although golf proved to be wildly successful in the Olympics, my suspicions were confirmed while watching the 2016 Ryder Cup Golf Championship: the game in Rio should have featured the sport in a match play format. Match play is downright thrilling to watch. The emotions and energy runs so much higher than it typically does in a golf tournament, including the majors. And, I've got to believe that's true because each golfer is playing for something much larger than him or herself. In the Ryder Cup, golfers are playing for Team USA. And, it wouldn't take you all of but 3 minutes airtime to know that was true.
In between cheers of USA! USA! and the obligatory "in the hole" from someone in the crowd on every Par 3, I heard some entertaining insights from a colleague of mine who hosted our viewing party.. and added my own. Here's a few of them...

Great Sportsmanship Stems from a Team Mentality
Jordan Spieth conceded the match to Henrik Sten on the 16th hole when his ball landed in the water, left of the green. With both shoes off and his pant legs rolled up, he consulted a rules official about his options only to find the ball—that was once floating—now underwater in what became an unplayable lie. Jordan confirmed the likely ruling, knowing that two strokes gave Stenson the match (his ball was already close to the pin). Spieth immediately walked out of the water and up the hill to congratulate his opponent. Even before he shook his hand, he removed his hat, and started clapping for the Swede. They exchanged spirited words, shook hands and hugged it out. I looked at Spieth, standing barefoot on the green and marveled at his great sportsmanship. No golfer does it better.
I have a personal theory about Spieth. The of son collegiate athletes (his mom a basketball player at Moravian College and his father, Shawn a baseball player at Lehigh), Spieth grew up playing team sports (basketball, baseball and football). It's in his DNA and it shaped him as an athlete and a competitor. When I watch him play, Ryder Cup or any other tourney, the roots of his upbringing in team sports shines through. While some people criticize him for the use of the term "we," I don't. I love that when he succeeds he includes those people who help him along the way. However, what's interesting to me is that when he makes a mistake, he speaks in "I" statements. There is no "i" is team is no cliche for the number four player in the world.

My coworker responded to my claim by offering that he believes Spieth demonstrates true sportsmanship because he is Jesuit educated. I'll take that...and I hope every teacher in a Catholic school will too. Thanks Spiethy!

The Br0-Hug
It's always interesting to me to observe how humanity publicly demonstrates affection with one another. Indeed, gestures of affection, love, care, and intimacy differ from culture to culture, from age to age and in particular among and between the gender. 

another iteration of affection between teammates, the fist bump is super safe
In sports, men in this country are often more free to show emotion and extend a hug and a real embrace with another man than in other environments. The Ryder Cup however reveals another dimension to the PDA equation.

At the conclusion of each match between players and teams, every golfer completes the same ritual. Each removes his hat, shake hands, exchange words while looking one another in the eye only to conclude the exchange with something other than the Bro-Hug. The Bro-Hug, for those who don't know it, is an embrace between two men that is tender and tough at the same time. The arm that extends to the back on the other man must remain super straight. It acts like a near baton, beating the very one it is supposed to be loving/appreciating/acknowledging. At the Ryder Cup, the Bro-Hug was co-opted by the ceremonial pat down of the pecs. That's right, it was as if one golfer got a sense of the pectoral muscle of his opponent in this moment of what was once an embrace between Bros. It wasn't unnatural. It wasn't weird looking or awkward. It's that it was new and different. And hey, there's nothing spiritual about this, but it did leave to a spirited conversation...

Knowing Your Place
Perhaps it's more of an art than a science, but I think we should all know (or at least try to know) your place in any social setting, work environment, ceremony or celebration. We should know were we belong and where is a good place to sit, stand or be. Also, we ought to realize the right time to leave, bow out or exit. The Ryder Cup reminded me of this subtle but important truth? nuance? M.O.?
Michael Jordan ALWAYS has a place at the table. 
All of the players ran onto the green as Davis Love III's final Captain's pick, Ryan Moore, clinched the Cup for the U.S. on the 18th hole. Many of the players gathered around Moore, played golf in college and several had played Ryder Cup before, so the sense of "team golf" was by no means "lost" on them. And yet, the US has not captured the Cup in its last three contests and the feeling of golf as a team sport is many years in the past for a number of players. 

Hugging one another and Moore in this exciting moment is theirs to savor. However, in the middle of the celebration, I noticed a number of the players' wives were in the middle there too. Sorry ladies, but I don't think this is your celebration to have, in that moment. Yes, you support your husbands and boyfriends. Yes, there is a time and a place for you to be recognized for sacrifices you make to support their careers. Yes, you are big fans too, but I can't think of another sport that includes anyone but the players and coaches and elite team personnel in on that moment of the clinch....of celebration....of congratulations among teammates. It's their's to enjoy.

Right Place, Right Time.
There's a phrase that our former dean said to students quite often: wrong place, wrong time. What could be more true than knowing where you should be and when (see point above). And yet, its opposite message is also true: right place, right time. I suppose that Ryan Moore would agree. 

As much as I wish a crowd favorite like Matt Kuchar had won the match and clinched the Cup, it was not his story to tell. That lucky guy is Ryan Moore. Not only was he Love's final pick, he was on the green when golf history was made. As my mother says "you make your luck." Moore's hard work, grit and determination got him onto the team and proved to be an asset for the 2016 squad. Savor the moment Ryno and keep showing up.

The last few days at Hazeltine were bittersweet. I know that golf well-deserved hibernation mode and rest period until the first Major of the new year...and it should. But so much about the 2016 Ryder Cup exceeded my expectations: the players, the venue, the fans, the weather and the overall's why we love sports. Even though a significant number of other great contests took place today, this Championship stands out as one to just savor. If only Vin Scully could have announced it...and Arnie could have hit the ceremonial first ball off the tee. I guess we know a little bit more about what heaven will be like now....

Photo Credits

Fist Bump