Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Move Over Lou Gehrig: Reflections on Golf at Bandon Dunes

As I exited my flight from Eugene Oregon to SFO, I thought of what a friend told me about her life in retirement. She said "I am the luckiest person on the face of the earth....besides Lou Gehrig." Considering that I spent Memorial Day weekend in Bandon Dunes, Oregon: four rounds of golf in four days with 20 dynamic woman who also happen to be outstanding golfers, I realized Lou Gehrig might not have anything on me. Here are but a few reasons that I am giving the late and great Pride of the Yankees, a run for the money.
1. The shoulders upon which I stand.
I don't know a Notre Dame without women. The only St. Ignatius College Prep I have worked at is co-ed (thank God, I love having both!!) and the Olympic Club I joined in 2013 has women and girls as members. However, I am also aware that a much different reality existed for many years prior to my experiences at said institutions. I have never taken for granted the opportunities I have and the community I am a part of because so many women (and men) worked tirelessly for the right to gain membership. Because of their efforts I am able to participate, survive and thrive at places that truly enrich my life.

The group with whom I traveled to Bandon Dunes—the Women's Golf Network— has been a significant force for inclusion and development of women's golf at the Olympic Club, an athletic club that began accepting women has members in 1993. Many of these women had to be outspoken, diligent, and resilient. It was never a given that we would get tee times or board support, opportunities and much more. The program that exists today is the sweet fruit of their labor.

The WGN seeks excellence far beyond golf. I am impressed by the WGN's efforts to continually recruit and retain more members. We have tournaments, casual play, on-going instruction and education. We travel, compete and most importantly we have fun. One of the group pioneers raised a glass to toast the leadership team who gives so much of their time and talent to make our group go. I had to raise another in gratitude for those who did so over 20 years ago.
2. The golf
Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, situated along the southern Oregon coast is considered by many to be the Cathedral of golf. Golfers travel from far and wide, near and far to hit these links—a word that is used too often in association with the game. Not all courses are links style, but in Bandon, they are. Whether or not a golfer prefers this style of golf course, the links in Bandon give the game of soccer, known as "the beautiful game" its own run for the money.

As my golfing buddies know, my heart (metaphorically) and back (literally) prefer warm weather golf. I came to Bandon having heard that you must be ready for all types of weather—the least common of which is sunny and warm. I packed accordingly and left my expectations behind. We were treated to the full palette of Bandon Dunes golf and weather. I froze my tail off, I felt my face and lips chapped by the wind, I was very comfortable in a skirt and polo shirt on Day 3 and exercised my rain gear on the final round.

The elements, the Pacific Ocean, the vistas, mammoth greens and range of elevation made for challenging golf but great golf. I had to dig deep many times...and I had to smile when I heard that the caddies refer to their job site as "BanDiego" on the sunny day we received. #Grateful.
3. The Index...of Improvement
I loved coaching girls' cross country for many reasons, but chief among them was the index of improvement. I knew, professed and believed that any girl who committed to training with our program would see results. The head coach worked tirelessly to plan workouts that were the perfect mix of speed and strength training; we kept our runners healthy and hopefully happy. Their times dropped and PRs—personal records—were achieved. 

In both track and cross country less is more; the same is true to golf. Golf is a sport where a negative is a positive (birdie is -1 on the score card, the eagle is -2).  And spending time on this trip, I have seen among the women I started with in the WGN, improvement in their game and on the scorecard. 
I love discussing with the other members what it takes to improve. I ask about their "training regimen." I look to the examples of some truly great golfers, hungry to discover what they do that has helped them they are scoring new PRs.

Cross country is much more of a team sport than anyone outside of it could ever possibly imagine. Thanks to the WGN and the women I know who truly love the game, I've come to understand that golf isn't that different.

4. The trash talk.
There's a good reason that dreams of my WNBA career came to a halt in in 7th grade (the year I stopped playing on a basketball team), I am a complete trash talker. Contact sports, like hoops, invite competitive jabber more than others. Let's be honest, it's just not easy to talk trash from the backcourt while playing tennis or yelling across a river or lake while rowing (Crew). Trash talking is not consistent with my belief in good sportsmanship, so it is probably best that I remained a competitive athlete in sports that inherently limit the temptation. Too's just so much fun.

At Bandon however, I was paired for two days with a caddie who brought out the best I've got. For example, I may have dropped an f-bomb on him for clubbing me up (translation: he doubted my power/ability to hit the ball far). Later in the round as he was telling another caddie about an NCAA golfer who blew a three shot lead on the 18th hold, out of nowhere, I said to him with a straight face and absolutely no affect "I wonder if her caddie clubbed her up too." It was the perfect riff. 

Usually trash talk is exchanged between opponents, but so long as it's playful I don't see why it can't be among teammates. It's purpose is to fire up and motivate an athlete. I got three skins out of this....musta worked!

5. The 19th Hole
I always notice the music that plays in the background at a restaurant, bar or in this case lodge. On Saturday night, my ears were treated to the Allman Brothers, a band I have loved since I saw them perform FIVE times! at the Concord Pavilion (where I worked in high school). I felt supremely relaxed as I was able to enjoy the long holiday weekend, the Oregon coast, and early summer skies with some classic Rock 'n' Roll. Later that evening, my sister told me that Gregg Allman, the lead singer and songwriter of the band died. She and I both love tributes and I will remain ever thankful that his music...his writing:  Midnight Rider, Sunny Day, Melissa, Ramblin' Man now frame my memories of Bandon Dunes as will the conversations I had later that night.

We are told to never talk politics or religion at dinner. And yet we are starving for conversation and true dialogue about issues that matter. I dare say this group is willing to go there, and I think it has something to do with the fact that we play together. When you recreate with folks, it's just that much easier to enter into a different kind of dialogue (or not!). Because I teach Religious Studies, I am an easy target for some big questions, friendly debate, challenging ideas and personal sharing. And, I am grateful to say that exchange was a perfect way to conclude our final evening. 
We discussed the sex abuse crisis, why people have left the Catholic Church, what they have as images of God and their admiration for Pope Francis. Honestly, these conversations are never easy for me. When people are hurt or angry at the Church, I listen. I must. I seek to understand. I know many of these stories all too well, and yet I also know each one is unique. True dialogue expects nothing less than for us to listen without judgement, to be honest in response and open to what is revealed. I also believe the most important dialogue I participate in is captured by St. Francis who said, "Preach the Gospel at all times, when necessary, use words."  I try.

In Conclusion....
The late A. Bartlett Giamatti, philosopher and commissioner of Major League baseball wrote in "Take Time for Paradise: Americans and Their Games," 
Sport is an instrument for vision, and it ever seeks to make the common—what we all see, if we look—uncommon. Not forever, not impossibly perfect, but uncommon enough to remain a bright spot in the memory, thus creating a reservoir of transformation to which we can return when we are free to do so.
Four rounds of golf in four days, 20 talented golfers and one outstanding game... I maybe transformation isn't that far away.

Photo Credits
Thanks to the Babes of Bandon photo sharing!

Friday, May 26, 2017

Strength in Number 35: Why I Love Kevin Durant

One of the more interesting Sports in the News presentations in Sports and Spirituality was the topic of Player Loyalty. A group of four young men, all Golden State Warriors fans, questioned the ethics of building a super team. They raised questions like: Is it okay for a player to leave a team or city to pursue a championship? How does that change if they're leaving for more money? Does it? And to what degree does a player have a relationship and some sort of commitment to a city?  Given that relationships do not run one way...I would like to know To what degree do teams and owners in particular have a loyalty to a player? Do they?! 
Student artwork at St. Ignatius. Some kids think it's creepy...I love it.
The reason we discussed and debated "Chasing Rings" is because the hottest team in the San Francisco Bay Area is on the *winning* side of the issue. On July 4, 2016, the Golden State Warriors signed Kevin Durant, a free agent out of Oklahoma City. And like Dubs fans everywhere, I'm glad he did. Kevin Durant is my favorite Warrior. 

I am sure the tenor of this conversation would be much different in OKC or in Cleveland after LeBron headed south in 2010. Some of my students' claims were interesting e.g. I think it's selfish for any city to want to keep it's players only to have another student admit that he would break down and cry if Steph Curry got traded. A day later I asked him if he would take a bullet for Steph. "During the play-offs?" he asked...."maybe." 

The timing of this conversation maintained relevance as the Yankees retired #2 for Derek Jeter, a player who spent his entire career in one city, with one team. Meanwhile, back in Oakland—a city that will only be the home of the Dubs for but one more season—this super team steadily and easily made its way to their third straight Finals appearance. The opponent will be the same...that's right, hit repeat on the 2015 and 2016 series and we shall see what unfolds. "LeBron has never played better in his life" But what facts and stats won't let you forget, as much as he would like for you to, is that Kevin Durant is in his first NBA Finals since 2012. Here are but a few reasons I love him from the lens of Sports and Spirituality.

1. Closest thing to a 7-footer
Athletes are defined by their stats: height, weight, wing span, vertical leap...the list goes on. It's more than safe to say a given number of them are inflated. I would like to stand next to Isaiah Thomas to see how he and I match up. I have a sense that he stands 5'9" on a very good day. However, there is no need to single out the Celtics star point guard for I don't know a single player in the league who doesn't do the same...except for one Kevin Durant. Listed at 6'9" that is a lie. He's 7'0" or  rather a bit shy of it. 

I love what this indicates about who he is. In a culture and a league that up-sells, here's the guy that remains understated.

2. His ball-handling skills baffle me.
The fundamental skills of the game: dribbling, shooting and passing among these professional athletes has to be exceptional, and it is. Still, I often view the game through the lens of position oriented view: guards bring up the ball, forwards rebound down low and inside. But that's not true when Durant is on your team. When he first became a Warrior, I was surprised to see how often KD dribbled the ball up the court, swinging it high and low only to cut inside, dribble and shoot. He handles the ball with ease and with efficiency (even at 7'0"*). Why? I friend told me that KD played guard for many years. He had a growth spurt—about 6" in one year's time—and transitioned from one position to another. Those ball handling skills didn't go away...he adjusted them to his new frame and it's a joy for us to watch, and his teammates to handle.
3. Mom, Wanda Durant remains the Real MVP and a model of...
It's hard to miss Kevin's mom. Loud and proud, Wanda Durant stood court side to congratulate her second born son after the Warriors claimed the West. Dressed in a bright yellow skirt to reflect her loyalty, she looks like the inspiration that she is,

Aristotle said there are three requirements for humanity to acquire virtue(s). They

1. must be taught, 2. practiced and 3. we need role models. Resilience is a wonderful virtue and I dare say a popular one. We want young people to become resilient as they navigate the rough waters of adolescence into adulthood and beyond. 

Ms. Wanda is a good role model for what resilience means.  As stated on the mailer for the Support Circle event, "Durant, lovingly known as The Real MVP is an inspirational speaker who propels women, single mothers, and children to follow their dreams and set life goals. She is looking forward to sharing her upbeat message of resilience with us on April 12." Those of us lucky to hear her speak have a much better sense of what this virtue is all about, how to develop it and why it's worth having. 

4. His hero
Speaking of role models, I encourage all people—young and old—to have them. Maybe you refer to these folks as heroes or mentors. The need for examples of people who use their gift and talents AMDG for the greater glory of God never wanes. The Catholic Church recognizes this in naming holy men and women as Saints and saints. In sports, we honor certain athletes by memorializing them with an award or entry into a hall of fame. But I'd like to let people in on a secret I always consider when I think about my heroes: I want to know how THEY admire. Who do my role models look up to? Who inspires THEM. 
When I learned who that person is for Kevin Durant, I admired him even more. Is that possible?! The article, "You Can't Give In: Monty Williams on Life After Tragedya must read mentioned in this blog posting revealed KD's special relationship with Monty Williams. Chris Ballard writes: 
Durant, who worked with Monty for a season in OKC, says, “He’ll hate that I say this, but he’s the best man that I know. And that’s no slight to my dad, my godfather, my uncle or any coaches that I’ve had.” For Durant, lots of men have tried to fill the role of mentor. Most had lots of advice; few wanted to listen. Fewer still shared the hiccups in their own life. “Monty listens, allows you to vent,” Durant says, “but then he’ll bring you back in and keep it real with you.” 
Which is why when Durant needed advice last summer, while trying to decide whether to sign with the Warriors, he called Williams. A man most recently employed by the team he was considering leaving. (Williams didn’t try to sway him: “The only way I could help was to say, ‘Look, don’t let anybody else make this decision for you. Your family or your boys or your shoe company. It’s your decision.’ ”) 
Says Durant, “I was on the phone with him the second I made the decision, right after, right before. A lot of people keep their mind in this basketball bubble and he looked at the whole life. He was there for me as a friend first.”
5. He gave the Bay Area the best 4th of July...ever.
I don't know that gift giving is a part of Independence Day, but all Warriors fans got one on July 4, 2016 when Kevin Durant signed with the Dubs. I remember exactly where I was when the ESPN update came through on my phone. I was watching the 4th of July parade with my brother and nieces in Danville, CA only to have that ESPN ring tone followed by a deluge of text messages about the acquisition. The buzz in the air about the strength in numbers now was as loud and bright as the fireworks we saw later that evening. 

I suppose our freedom is the gift worth celebrating on our nation's birthday, but Kevin Durant signing with my team? Yay America!!!

Photo Credits

Sunday, May 21, 2017

One Way to Animate the Vision: Name the High & Low of the School Year

One of the reasons I love teaching is because there is a unique ebb and flow to the work. School years come to an end, sometimes faster than we could ever anticipate. How I love June, July and August! Just when the desire to not work grows strongest, a new school year, students, schedule and classes, supplies, opportunities and challenges await. The energy and excitement grows and by that first day of class I am ready. However, what most people don't know is that another feeling "creeps in on little cat feet." Like the fog, this sentiment can range from soft and subtle to a thick, heavy cloud affecting my vision. I look around and realize that the students I once knew as seniors have graduated. I know what this means when they leave us in June...but I see it, I live with it in the Fall. I am already aware that I will miss not only my former students, but some colleagues, too. Sigh. And so I find it quite fitting that the highs and the lows of the 2016-2017 are characterized by that audience.
The vision from St. Ignatius College Prep. Easy to see high and low.
As written about before, I think every teacher should participate in the high/low ritual close to graduation. This reflection can take place over a beer or in a much more formal context. For example, as  I was writing a required end of the year reflection for the principal, I was grateful to share that one of my highlights was an opportunity he encouraged. I had a chance to lead a faculty day of prayer at Xavier College Prep in Palm Dessert. A co-ed high school in the Jesuit tradition, Xavier is a community not all that different from St. Ignatius. To help XCP examine their own story in light of prayer, I shared stories from my own community. I reflected upon the ways which we Animate the Vision of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Founder of the Society of the Jesus, and asked them to do the same.

Ignatius' vision was "finding God in all things" and as a friend says, "in all things, find God." At times, I am sincere when I say it takes little to no effort to find God. However, during those dark days,  long weeks without the smallest break (literally and metaphorically) finding God is a stretch. And yet, if I have learned anything in my 15 plus years of teaching, this is exactly where I am called to find God. The paradox remains, the harder the task the greater His presence. I can't say this is always true. I don't wish challenges on anyone, but I also hate what I know unfolds....experiences, relationships, opportunities that are well, animated by God's grace and glory.

I hope in the sharing of two poignant examples—a tribute to people who will be leaving the SI community and deep impressions on my heart—you will come to realize your own highs and lows for the year. 

Mateo: Stomp on the Tierra
Two years ago, I had the opportunity to serve on a committee to hire the boys' varsity basketball coach. With four other faculty members, we were tasked with sorting through 105 applications and speaking via phone with about 30 of them. A basketball fan and avid supporter of our program, I was excited to participate and to give of my time and hope for this program's future. So was Matt.

Matt, our director of diversity and inclusion in a die-hard NBA fan. I once *stole* his basketball encyclopedia; he hasn't let me live that down. Matt has a strong personality and maybe, just maybe, I do too. Though we both wanted similar goods for the program, we communicated those desires differently and at times unapologetically. I remember after one meeting, a time during which Matt appropriately corrected me, I approached the head of the committee and said I wasn't sure I should stay. I was never that athlete who wanted to quit the team, but because of my interactions with Matt, I did. Truly, a new low for me.

The chair listened to me, encouraged me and asked me to be who I am. I did, but with real trepidation. I'm not sure I made eye contact with Matt for a week. Not all hiring committees are created equal. I have served on a few and some were smooth and easy, others were much more complex; I wasn't sure how this story would end, least of all with Matt, but I stuck it out. At the time, the vision was animated by animosity, intensity and debate. Some it it was interesting, a lot challenging. And as low as I felt at times, our vision was on something greater...for our school, our program and its future.

Time, hard work, listening, working toward a common goal changed everything. Matt and I, (as well as the other three committee members) heard the desire and passion of these applicants, we saw these people putting their dreams on the table and we had choices to make. I can't name the turning point....ok I can.....but in that process, I found in Matt a colleague that I already knew to be smart and but I also found a friend who supported me in ways I never could have anticipated. He trusted me and taught me a lot. We still laugh about some of the tough moments and relish some of the insanity. I'm one of hundreds of people who will miss him as he and his son leave for Southern California.  Getting to know a colleague in the work—the hard work like that—animated my vision like never before. 

I don't think Matt needs to read what has been written here; I have the sense it's something he already knows...but one thing I would like to share is that another high from this year emerged from another low. 

A low for many teachers at SI are the three weeks time during which you are on lunch duty. A colleague, lovingly refers to this time as "pet patrol." I don't enjoy standing for 40 minutes and wandering the cafeteria in between classes so I can tell students to throw away their trash. I hate seeing how much uneaten food and waste they leave behind. I don't want to be "that teacher" but that's the part of the job.  Animating the vision is tough to do...that is, until you let yourself do it.

Niko: The Boy Who Can (now) Dunk
Standing in the cafeteria, I noticed Matt walking through. I wanted to share something about Kareem Abdul Jabbar—his Presidential medal of Freedom? latest book? name on the list of those who have scored more than 30,000 points in the NBA?—to kill the time. As we were talking, a beloved student—an ardent sports fan and basketball player Niko, came over say "hello." 

Matt started to pontificate about the greatness of KAJ only to have Niko off-handedly dismiss him as no where close to the greatness of Michael Jordan. I'm not sure Niko had any idea that his words were fightin' ones. What unfolded for—no joke—the next 15 minutes was great debate about who is the greater player. I felt as though I were watching a tennis match: volley, cross court return, slice deep to the backhand only to run back up to the net for a small blooper that lands on the line of stats, facts, records, accolades of both men and the game we love. Both Matt and Niko were en fuego, teacher and student, young and old, two basketball junkies, one who dreams of dunking and the other who did so in his prime. That might have been the shortest lunch hour of the year. 

I had my three minutes of being Hannah Storm, those two got their fix and the smiles live on. You might think having a high like that for a school year is well, rather inconsequential. Maybe you expect a story of the proverbial light bulb going on or a student falling in love with Sports and Spirituality. I hold some of those moments close to me....but this moment reigns supreme because of the great affection I have for those involved.

Niko was enrolled in my fall Sports and Spirituality class which was and /or could have been a great class, except for the fact that it one student in there literally drained every possible resource out of me. A self-professed nihilist, he challenged me on matters I did not know could be challenged (e.g. the greatness of KAJ. Who does that?). His mockery of the subject matter was hurtful, but the way he brought others down in the process was even more. I can look myself in the mirror and take pride in the fact that I extended the respect that every student deserves, regardless of whether or not they give it to me. I prayed for him I do for all of my students. We teachers know we cannot possibly reach every student, no matter how hard we try, and so we ought to focus on all of those we do, like Niko. He speaks Sports and Spirituality with passion and verve. He made us laugh and he keeps me hopeful. When my vision was animated by dread and dismay, a student like Niko couldn't let that be. Sometimes the highs are just that much higher because of the lows.
This picture of the desert stands in the hallways, second floor at Xavier College Prep
Xavier College Prep's campus is surrounded by dessert, a striking contrast to St. Ignatius that overlooks the vast Pacific Ocean. Though the vision of a student or teacher at either school might seem different—one over a hot and arrid landscape and the other through the fog to the blue waters from the west—it's animated by the same Force...the same Being who made us in His image....the One who makes highs out of lows.  I love you, Lord.

I know on graduation day, as I think back on the 2016-2017, I will picture Matt and Niko, two highs that emerged from the lows. 
Matt, cheering for the Dubs while hating LeBron and Niko, the boy who can now finally dunk

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Girl / Woman Who Loves Sports

I am not a tomboy. I never have been. However, I believe the narrative that still clogs too many airwaves is that a young girl who loves sports is one....or that she is unusual...even atypical. Maybe you agree; hopefully you don't....

I might be overly sensitive, but at a recent event, a woman admitted that her 16-month old daughter "just loves sports. She's a real tomboy," she said. The crowd smiled and laughed, but I didn't. I winced and then I checked myself. As I exhaled I said under my breath, "let's give her, and her daughter the benefit of the doubt....maybe she really is a tomboy, and there's nothing wrong with that," and still, I would appreciate the telling of another story. For example, when a parent has a girl that is athletic or takes to sports, perhaps they can share thoughts like My daughter loves sports, period. Or, I hope she plays defense much better than I ever did! Maybe you see the great hand-eye coordination of your spouse in your child. Celebrate that—say it!

I share this true-confession because recently I have given more thought to what it means to be a girl or a woman who loves sports and (still) views herself as an athlete. My "Sporty Spice" manifesto is but a collection of thoughts and observations I have had about myself and seen in others who share this identity. Enjoy

1. It means that you are always wearing something sporty. 
I came to realize and name this truth as I was modeling to my seniors their final presentation for Sports and Spirituality. One of the many requirements is to use a photo that captures who they are. I shared the photo you see to the right because it's totally me. I love the J. Crew blouse with its eyelet print. I like my hair in this photo (not always a given!). It is at the end of summer, and I used to be much more concerned about my tan that I am now (Vitamin D is good, skin cancer is not). I know that I am standing in front of a picture of one of my favorite golfers, Bubba Watson, as well as an interlocking ND. #somuchlove

As nice as this photo may appear, I know that it is compromised by my running watch. I am certain that if I were standing in front of my mom she would see it and look with disgust. I can hear her now: "Take that thing off!" I understand that this sporty object comes as the cost of the "perfect outfit," but it's what I wear. This habit is hard to break. My high school track coach is smiling now.

As I used my laser pointer to hone in on the hot pink Polar digital watch and what that suggests, I noticed how many of my female students were looking at me and smiling. They understood.

I used to rationalize wearing a nice dress with an unattractive watch. When I coached cross country, I wore my running watch from August until the end of the season. Wearing one watch made life much simpler....but that's a lie. I'm always wearing something that compromises the elegance of my attire because of sports. For example, I probably have a hair tie on my wrist or maybe my hair is tied up in a pony tail/bun right now. When you play sports you are always on the go. No wonder people say "You go girl!"

2. Means that you might make clothing and accessory purchases to satisfy two domains
As a golfer, following a dress code is a reality. It is also a concern, because yes, you want to look good while playing 18 holes but really, How often are you wearing a collared shirt outside of the links? Some women more than others, yes. Never fear, popular clothing lines like Lacoste or Tory Burch have provided me with an easy solution. Tory's polo shirts have a feminine flare that I have worn for work and for play. And, the resurgence of the alligator has has helped too.

Bottom line: I have found that I am willing to spend what is probably too much money so I can purchase a shirt that satisfies two domains. This is true for running shoes, tote bags and jewelry too. Quite often, I am drawn to earrings for dual action wear. You can't have bling that is too big, but a little bit of flash or color in a stud or small hoop is always welcome. Said purchases are the tell-tale signs of a sportswoman.

3. Yes, we love the personal interest stories, but really, we can enjoy the technical stuff too.
I think it's human to want to know what an athlete has overcome in his or her personal life to get to the victory stand. The Olympic games is fertile ground incredulous tales such as these, to the point that it nearly become cliche. It seems that every other competitor has met tragedy at the worst possible time, overcome addition, left an abusive relationship or made it out of dire poverty. It's very hard not to be both humbled and inspired, but the real sports fan in me always wants a little more.

I love knowing that DeShone Kizer was a three-sport athlete at Central Catholic High School in Toledo, OH but I am more concerned about how many yards he passed for in his sophomore and junior seasons. I hate that the Irish left too many unanswered points on the scoreboard; no wonder we finished the season 4-8.

Though I noticed what Paulina Gretzky was wearing when her fiancĂ©  Dustin Justin won the US Open, I am much more interested in the second shot he took on the 18th hole...the one with the 6-iron (my go-to club) from 191 yards out, up hill that landed within 3 feet of the pin. He won the tournament—and his first major—finishing 5 strokes under par. The conversation that non-golf fans have about DJ is different than those who love the game. I won't deny his colored past, but I would much rather discuss what his game looks like today. BTW: he's the favorite for this year's Open at Erin Hills.
My favorite sports magazine, Sports Illustrated, has outstanding sports writers that impart extended pieces on an athlete's profile, inclusive of their background and personal lives as well as their technical skills, impact on the game, stats, and awards. SI consults an athlete's coaches and teammates, offers history and perspective, great sports photography and more. Twenty-five percent of their subscribers are female; I have a sense those women aren't much different than me.

I don't know that I have arrived at a full understanding of what it means to be a woman who loves sports/is an athlete. I don't know that I ever will...or even want to. I have fun with some insights: 
  • For some reason, I have always been comfortable in a tennis or golf skirt. The mini-skirt? not so much. Who knew?
  • Why some people always assume that Sports and Spirituality has more boys than girls in it. The best classes I have had are a 50/50 mix!
And laugh at or with others
  • A close friend walked in during the 7th inning of Game 7 of the 2014 World Series. The bar/restaurant was packed—it should have been for I live in San Francisco, and the Giants were battling the Royals in KC. My friend wanted to know how everyone was doing. I could not answer that question. I refuse to apologize to this day for that. 
  • Girls can and do love sports. They love pink, purple and green. They also love red and blue. They are feminine and others are not. They love dance, ballet and the San Francisco Giants.
I don't claim to have a monopoly on this understanding or be an authority on it. I do however know I named an truth about myself that resonated with several other young women I know. I teach and coach them, I may be a mentor to some and others inspire me. I hope they will think more about their own identity and share it with others. Play Ball!

Photo Credits
Cute Polo

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Wanda Durant: The Real MVP

Wanda Durant, lovingly known as The Real MVP, is not only the mother of NBA All Star Kevin Durant, she is an inspirational speaker who offered the keynote address at the Support Circle's 33rd Annual Benefit on April 12, 2017. I write about her as we honor our moms on an unofficial national holiday: Mother's Day. Or should we call it "the Real MVP day?!"
Support Circle seeks to offer time, space and support for women— particularly those who face an unintended pregnancy. This pregnancy clinic aims to make "choice" a viable and living option. Too often in our country "choice" means terminating a pregnancy in abortion. What if choice meant that a woman (and a man) understood she would have access to medical and emotional support, personal and professional counseling services, referrals and resources, mentoring, nursing consultants and more. What might she choose? Though Support Circle wants to protect the born and the unborn, of the 170 new clients they served in 2016, only 11 chose abortion. Support Circle remained, for all of these women—regardless of their choice— what it claims to be: inclusive, helpful and open.

Wanda Durant missed the final regular season of the game at Oracle to share her story and her message with over 500 people. Dressed in a magnificent red dress and gorgeous high heels, Ms. Durant admitted that she never thought she would look this good at 50. Her sense of humor and ability to laugh at herself served as leaven for a reality that was once quite grim. 

She said, "my father wasn't in my life. I made some bad choices in my teenage years. I wanted to have fun, I wanted acceptance, and I sought attention from a man, because I wasn't getting it at home." Durant shared that those desires explain why she became pregnant at 18, though she grew up in a community of strong Christian values and support." 

She added, "when I found out I was pregnant it was scary. I felt so alone. At this point in my life, I had no goals, no dreams. What you need to understand is that my sons saved my life."

Her words elicited a collective gasp and a near moment of silence. As I took in her message, I thought of the narrative that too often surrounds the conversation around "choice." Too often, we consider an abortion to the be right decision because it will save a woman's life, it will keep her job, she can finish college, or sadly, there is no other option. But how often do we think of the choice to keep the the pregnancy as saving the life of those already living. Wow.

Ms. Durant shared many other important insights that she learned in those early years as a single mother. When a nurse consultant through social services told her, "do "x" for yourself and your children will benefit, I laughed," she said. "And then I realized, she was right. When I began to take care of myself, I took better care of my children. But again, I have to give them credit for without them, I don't know if there would have been a 'me' to take care of!"

Durant said it's important to tell anyone with an unplanned pregnancy, "Even though it may look a little dim right now, you never know what the possibilities are. But hold on. If you decide to take the journey of parenthood, you never know what the outcome will be. As long as you continue to work hard and strive hard for your family, things will get better," she said.  From what I heard and have read about Ms. Durant, I attribute her fighting spirit, deep faith in God and inner resolve for the real fact that things did get better. 

"I remember in the early years, their (AAU) coach might require them to do 25 of a given drill. I stood there and made them do 200 more. At some point, I turned that advice on myself. My sons never had the chance to quit, so I can't and I won't."

When asked what is her favorite moment in Kevin's career, she replied "When he called me the real MVP!" Today, Wanda Durant has trademarked this term, one that she says she must continue to live up to. "My goal is to be more of myself, meaning who I really am.'

could have used an organization like Support Circle. They help women discover who they can be. And, that's why I am here tonight." 
To the crowd's delight someone in the audience asked Wanda if her son is dating Warriors announcer Rosalyn Gold-Onwude. Every last one of us was given the opportunity to meet her and take a photo together. She had us in tears, in silence, laughing and praying together. "The most important thing to teach your children is that their is a God. God knew I needed my children more than I could have known I would need them. That's our God...loving, generous and wise." Sounds like God is a mother to me.

Photo Credits
Support Circle
KD and Ros

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Remembering Two San Francisco Giants: Father John Ring and Archbishop Niederauer

This past week the Catholic community in San Francisco has mourned the loss of two holy men, Father John Ring and Archbishop George Niederauer. Father Ring was a true shepherd—I knew him as the pastor of St. Vincent de Paul in the Marina District and Archbishop Niederauer was a "shepherd of shepherds,' serving as the eighth Archbishop in the City of St. Francis. Both priests lived up to the words of Pope Francis: they smelled like sheep. 
Father Ring sat in the back corner of every Young Adult gathering I ever attended at SVdP. He listened to the comments and questions of those men and women in their 20s and 30s in his parish and offered his own ideas, input and of course, prayers. Though I did not always agree with him, I never questioned his commitment to the priesthood, knowledge of his flock or love for the Church. Countless friendships, marriages, job leads and opportunities for service were born of this group that he valued and supported. 

Bishop George Neiderhauer once spoke at the SVdP YAG on Faithful Citizenship. He addressed the Church's position on many issues on the November ballot. Never before had I heard someone teach so thoughtfully or didactically about tough, critical social issues. While SF Gate may remember him as a "leader in the contentious 2008 battle to pass Proposition 8 that banned same-sex marriage in California," I do no. I cannot. I knew him as so much more...

As written in Catholic San Francisco, 
Archbishop George H. Niederauer as a gentle shepherd who led the archdiocese with wit, intelligence and a thoroughly pastoral but at times unapologetically countercultural proclamation of the Gospel. 
“To follow the Gospel is to swim against the current,” Archbishop Niederauer told an October 2008 gathering of young adult Catholics at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in San Francisco, two weeks before an election that included church-supported Proposition 8 on the California ballot.
I can say with confidence this man knew what it meant to engage in true dialogue, an art...that may be lost. CSF added, 
At his inaugural press conference on Dec. 15, 2005, Archbishop Niederauer said he sees the role of bishop as “priest, prophet and shepherd” and was immediately asked by reporters how he would reconcile the “conservative” positions of the church with the “liberal” city of San Francisco, the National Catholic Register reported at the time. “I want to get past labels,” Archbishop Niederauer said. “I think the ministry of Christ, the ministry of Christ in his church is to meet men, women and children everywhere ... to teach the good news which is good news for right, left, and center.”
This Bishop was also a true teacher; he convened a gathering of the chairs of Theology Departments of the Catholic secondary schools in the Archdiocese on a regular basis. As a former high school English teacher, I would like to think he felt at home with these shepherds of another ministry. The Archbishop knew the importance of these workers in the vineyard. Again, his ability to dialogue yielded great fruit...fruit that has borne knew life in the graduates of our schools.

And yet, what I want to remember about both men is more than their vocation, and thanks be to God for their ministry. No, I want to remember their humanity.

Father Ring
Father Ring was an Irishman through and through. He often wore an Irish wool flat cap and on those rare warm days in San Francisco, his complexion would glow to a near red from the collar on up. I knew that wilted look of the Foreign Born Irish, as my mom is one. He loved to tell a good joke be it at the beginning of a homily or the end of a YAG meeting. There's a song entitled "When Irish Eyes are Smiling" for a reason. If you knew Father Ring, at his best, you could see that tune incarnate. Please raise a Guinness for this man.

Archbishop Niederauer had a wonderful and precious gift that is as human as it gets: a great voice. This man had what many people refer to as a "radio voice." It was deep, resonate and clear. I loved to hear him preach the gospel and listen to his homilies because that voice was a delight to the ear. 

Those who know me, know that I appreciate a good voice. People like the Giants broadcaster, Jon Miller or Morgan Freeman immediately come to mind. Our voices are as unique as we are. My favorite baseball player Will Clark was once called "Will the Shrill." My God daughter and niece Grace is just that much more awesome/lovable/adorable because she has a deep voice for a little girl. To have a rich voice as a priest is an asset for they are called to preach, teach and speak to the challenges of our time. Archbishop Niederauer did all three and much more. In fact, I saved a hard copy "Flannery O'Connor's Religious Visionbecause I loved it so much. This article, featured in America Magazine is one I have passed on and shared with my five favorite words: You should check this out. Please do!

I first met Archbishop Niederauer at the Hibernian Newman lunch on St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 2006. This group honored the newly appointed Archbishop with a jersey in his honor. I look at this photo and, that was before three World Series titles....and back when the Young Adult Group at SVdP was robust. So much has changed in the City by the Bay where both priests served the faithful. We are better for their ministry and ever more in need of their leadership. Father Ring, Archbishop Niederauer, pray for us.

Eternal light grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace.

Photo Credits
Father Ring

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

My Love Language, Reading More Sports and Spirituality

I have what I believe is a good habit: I read articles only to send or give them away. If you are my friend, colleague, student, athlete, brother or sister, cousin, teacher, teammate...I don't know where the list stops, you have at some point in time been the recipient of an article I think you should read. I wish I could say I read books and journals for lunch. I would like to read Vanity Faire, The New Yorker and maybe Golf Digest on a weekly basis, but the truth of the matter is if I get through Sports Illustrated's Letters to the Editor, that's a good week. And those responses often prompt me to go back and read what I missed.

My not so filthy habit has however divided my world into a category of two types of people: those kindred spirits who love what I send and those who well...have other things going on. For those who you who fall into category A, and you know who you are, you rock. Thank you for following up with me to discuss ideas or stories. I am grateful, more than you might realize for the unexpected times when you share an article you think I will enjoy with me. So much so that when I read the words of David Dark, the author of "In the Age of Trump, Can Mr. Rogers Help us Manage Our Anger" in the May 1, 2017 issue of America magazine, I felt affirmed and understood. His words jumped out at me, as he wrote
Urging upon people a love of liberating arts (a liberal arts education) is my full-time song and dance, and I really do think of thoughtfulness as a living community in which I myself am initiated anew whenever someone introduces me to another thoughtful person by way of a link, a reading recommendation or a video. "You should check this out" is my love language. We get to set out the table of intellectual hospitality to one another in countless ways all day long. The survival of the species, I know from my own experience, depends on it.
Thank you Double D for helping me name my love language. Stories, essays, personal narratives color my days and electrify my dreams. And, to share them with another person builds relationship and community.
Spring break afforded me with more time to read. Hence, love is in the air...or rather, in an email or article to you. I'm so grateful as I encountered some creative, moving, thoughtful and interesting articles, all of which relate to my passion—and yours—of Sport and Spirituality. I have told a good number of people "You should check this out" but I read so many, I wanted to put them in one place, for the reading pleasure of anyone who stumbles this way. I hope you will enjoy.

Where My 'Zags At? by Nigel Williams-Goss. The Players' Tribune
Shared by a former and much-loved student, how is now at Gonzaga. Williams-Goss' reflection is so colorful and interesting, that I have since shared it with countless others ('Zag alumni, basketball players, etc). One student remarked, "I pretty much love anything on The Player's Tribune." Though I understand that he would, this piece is exceptional for it captures the spirituality of a team, the power of a coach in leadership and what losing as well as knowing your own history can teach all of us. Stella!

The Great Super Bowl Jersey Caper by Robert Klemko and Jenny Vrentas. Sports Illustrated 
This piece serves as reason 22 that I do not read fiction. I'm sure that you have heard the, oddity? that is Tom Brady's jersey being stolen...for the second time after the Super Bowl. Why? How? Here's the story.
The Give and Go, by Brian Doyle '78. Notre Dame Magazine
I feel the same way about Brian Doyle as I do about Sports Illustrated's Steve Rushin. Both authors are tremendously creative; when I read their writing, the engine that is my brain is forced to go Mach 30 (is that a legitimate speed?). Their words are often like Red Bull for the brain and yet, they always find a way to land the plane with a resonate truth.

The reason I enjoyed this article is that it serves as a necessary reminder of what we also get to do as coaches...and teachers.

You Can't Give In by Chris Ballard. Sports Illustrated
I have long been wanting...meaning to write about Monty Williams as he was the only Notre Dame alum active in the NBA in recent years. That is until Jerian Grant and Patrick Connaughton made the jump! When Williams' wife Ingrid died in a car accident in February 2016, I immediately thought that the new assistant coach is a modern day Job: a good and righteous man who has been tested by God.

At times, I had to put down this article because of its tragic beauty and I know I was not the only one. As written in SI's "Inbox," Mike Campbell of Madison, TN shared "It took me two days to read Chris Ballard's story on Monty Williams in its entirety because I had to stop to cry so often. Your magazine has told many wonderful stories of human interest and compassion, but never one as strong and compelling as this one." Amen.

Seeking Signs of a Catholic Revival in France: by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry. America Magazine
  • Religion is playing an unexpectedly large role in this spring's presidential election
France and Catholicism have a long-standing, rich and colorful history. The number of saints to have been born in a country that at one point in time held the Vatican redux (Avignon) is notable. Not only are these French saints numerous, their impact has been quite significant. Frogs like St. Vincent de Paul,  founded religious communities that have been of outstanding service to the church. But this nation that redefines my understanding of what liberal means is often described as a place where churches are....completely empty. Indeed, the only narrative I have heard in my 40 years is that Catholicism is on life support. To my surprise and delight, that is not exactly true, as the opening paragraph states....
A few years ago, I started to realize something. Whenever I was less than five minutes early for Mass, I had to go to the overflow room, and I would typically have to step over people sitting on the floor to get there. The church was filled to the gills every Sunday, with young families and children most of the time. But we had a compelling priest, and we were in one of the poshest areas in Paris, 
I spoke to a French teacher at school about this. I paid more attention to their election as a result of this phenomenon, also known as "Zombie Catholicism." Read more! 
Rod Dreher's Monastic Vision: by Joshua Rothman. The New Yorker 
  • An orthodox Christian says his side has lost the culture wars—and argues for a "strategic retreat"
Spiritual readers and writers love Walker Percy for his ability to capture a sense of place. Rothman's piece requires the reader to "deep dive" into two places, both of which are rich in culture and personalities that make it so.

There are a few others that are worth mentioning—like Michael Bamberger's article on the elusive 62. No one has shot under 63 in one of golf's major. Every sport has its glass ceiling, waiting to be broken. My book, "Pray and Practice with Purpose: A Playbook for the Spiritual Development of Athletes" is yet another, but I find when I have too much to read, I seldom get through what I should....unless of course, the material is something you have given to me. Thank you and I look forward to hearing those lovely words "You should check this out." I will.  

Photo Credits
Love Language
Monty Williams

Tom Brady