Saturday, March 24, 2018

Three Reasons Why We Love the NCAA's Unicorn: Sister Jean

I can't tell you how many people have asked me when I will blog about Sister Jean, the 98-year-old chaplain of the Loyola men's basketball team. I'm not sure what I can say that hasn't already been said. Type in her name and everyone from People Magazine to the New York Times has a piece on this lucid, peppery woman who prays with an for the Ramblers at home in Chicago and now on the road to San Antonio. I spoke about her at the NCEA Convention last year, thanks to a thoughtful piece in America magazine. It was the only publicity of its kind.  This year, however, people can't stop talking about her? Why?
Why has a woman originally named Dolores Schmidt, become the media darling of March Madness? Why, when given a chance to teach about any topic for their Sports in the News presentation, did two of my seniors— both boys—want their classmates to learn more about this woman born in San Francisco in 1919? That's the question I would like to explore in this blog posting. Here are but a few thoughts.

We love great stories.

Nothing surprising about this claim nor the fact that great stories are born every March on the hardwood, with buzzer beaters, swishes, slams, and well, maybe—prayers, too. Loyola of Chicago, the fourth 11-seed to take make the Elite 8 has a prayer leader in their official team chaplain, Sister Jean. As written in "Meet the 97-year old nun who is Chaplain of Loyola's Basketball Team," 
The 5-foot nun can be seen at every home game of the men's team. She's most often decked out in Loyola gear and wearing her trademark maroon Nike tennis shoes with gold laces that have "Sister" stitched onto the heel of her left shoe and "Jean" stitched on the heel of her right shoe. 
She leads the team in a pregame prayer. A writer for ESPN who listened in before one game characterized it as a mix of prayer, scouting report and motivational speech. She begins each prayer with the phrase "Good and gracious God."
Sister Jean created two brackets for this year's tourney. She picked the Ramblers to head to the Sweet 16 in her "realistic" one and has them winning it all in her Cinderella bracket. A delightful YouTube clip has the team apologizing for busting that first bracket. No need for reconciliation here. Another great story...
We miss nuns
In America Magazine's 2018 feature on Sister Jean entitled "What You Don't Know About Loyola's Sister Jean," Zac Davis writes
In 1966, there were 181,421 women religious in the United States. Today, there are 47,170 (and only 9 percent are younger than 60). While many Americans grew up under the influence of religious sisters, with so few remaining, they have faded from being regular parts of our lives to residing in our nostalgic memories. Sister Jean reminds us of the work that women religious have always done without any fanfare or morning talk show spots.
On one hand, I am skeptical of his assertion that we miss nuns. For too long, I have heard negative talk about religious women—how many of them never smiled or laughed. I'm familiar with countless complaints of their strict discipline and unbending ways. They have been mocked and ridiculed and I've always thought that was...well...unfair. To say that we miss them, as Davis suggested raised an eyebrow.

However, in their defense, I'm pretty sure if I taught 50 children at one time in the same classroom all day, I wouldn't laugh or smile much either. I hate to say this, but I have also believed that religious women were the slave labor of the Church. Their work was incredibly demanding and exhausting; their rewards were too few. Yes, they took vows of obedience and poverty, but I believe that should never be exploited. It was—and that may have had an impact on our perception of these women, not to mention a characteristic of their reality. 

Yes, some were overly rigid. Others did lack the joy we hope the Chrisitan life should reveal. But countless others gave and never counted the cost. I want to say again, again and again—THANK YOU to these women AND if we can now recognize them as someone we miss, all the better.
What We Already Know
I think the real reason we are so drawn to the story of Sister Jean is that she reveals to us what we already know but so often find hard to believe: the most important people in life, the happiest people in the world are those that by the world's standards do very little.

I asked the students in my class Sports and Spirituality if they play on a team with a chaplain. About half of them raised their hands. I then asked them what the chaplain does. They said "not much...he (or she) is just there." Or "well, she travels with us...sits on the bench during our games...prays with us." Still others said, "we have team mass with our chaplain... he talks to us...and to our coach." I said, "that's exactly what a chaplain should do." However, the more I thought about what a chaplain does, I realized: isn't that what we should all be doing for our community? for one another?

Sister Jean is not a mascot. Yes, she has been featured on a bobblehead, but every article about her speaks of something more—her ministry. Sister Jean has a special role on the team: she listens, she guides them spiritually, she supports the players and the coaches and through all of her work, she demonstrates that she loves them, she loves life, and God. The world says the most important people in the world are 
the superstars, the greatest of athletes, or those with power. No, Sister Jean reminds us of something different..and guess what she has become a national superstar along the way. Excuse me, to use her words "an international" superstar along the way.

Photo Credits

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Best Kind in Insurance

This past week when asked, "what's new?" rather than comment on the fate of Irish men's and women's basketball or midterm examinations, I was able to throw something new into the mix. I got insurance. 
Talk of insurance should put most people to sleep. Really—who wants to discuss one of the five types I already hold: renter's, health, dental, life and car insurance. Heck, you probably have more than those. And, who doesn't find it difficult to talk about what feels like a financial drain?! Afterall, we take out insurance should something bad happen, but the insurance I now pay for quarterly is probably the only type of insurance that will pay out should something go right. I now have hole-in-one insurance.

As many golfers know, there is a local custom at most private clubs that the lucky person who tees their ball up only to have it land in the cup must buy drinks for all who sit at the 19th hole. Depending on your club, its bar, and your friends, this endeavor can cost a person hundreds of dollars. I say it's a price I would gladly pay, BUT truth be told—now I don't have to do so! With my insurance, should I make this shot with odds that are 12,500 to 1 I have a $500 payout good at my club and $250 at any other! Perhaps I should see if visualization really does work?!
Getting there....but 13'5" is a LONG way to the pin
Part of me wonders if I can work toward actually making the hole-in-one happen. Is it a goal that a golfer can hold? I say that because I just don't know if it's not some ratio of skill to luck, Or, hard work and determination to the fate of the golf gods? Yes, golf is a sport, but it's also a game affected by good and bad lies, bumps and runs, trees, bunkers, earth, wind and fire (ok, not that). Golf isn't without its physical demands, but the mental game weighs in so tight because of said factors and more. I have thought about the hole-in-one as its own sports goal/achievement since I read Learn to Dunk. by Michael McKnight.

McKnight, an author and talented writer for Sports Illustrated captured my imagination when he undertook the quest to slam the age of 42...standing all of 6'1" tall. As written in the article "The Dunk Quest: Why Old White Dudes Want, So Badly, to Jam," 
He’d spend long hours in the gym doing squats and lunges, deadlifts and box jumps, cleans and sprints; he’d bloody his hands on rusted rims; he’d put on a weighted vest and leap several thousand times across the playgrounds of his Los Angeles neighborhood. In all, he’d put a year into his training, 15 to 20 hours every week — a grueling, part-time dream for a father of three. “It can be done,” his piece concludes in triumph. “You can enjoy what if feels like to dunk.” 
In addition to the enjoyment, I totally get why someone would want to dunk. It's a great talking point. It's distinctive and in a game, a slam dunk makes a statement. Those who can dunk are recognized as good athletes and...they have an inkling of what it must feel like to fly. While but a few of these attributes resonate with the hole-in-one, what I found compelling is that he set out for something that I consider non-sensical. How's that? So many of our goals are quite serious. They are undertaken with a desire to improve, be better, get richer, grow smarter, become holier. How many of our goals are just—well—fun? Sure, McKnight had to become fitter in order to dunk, but his job, his livelihood, marriage, and family were in no way contingent on his success. I recommend you to read his piece to discover what he learned and gained in the process!
So, I should be committing to a program of excellence toward the hole-in-one. I would like to tell you that I will play the par-3 course at the Olympic Club, the Cliffs course two times a week. I should make it a habit to pay extra attention to the direction of the wind, the slope of the green and the exact yardage to the hole on every par-3 hole I undertake (I say that because a STRONGLY doubt I will hit a one-shot on a par-4 hole. This has been done...but I think the odds just doubled for that to occur with my game). Heck, maybe I should just take 12,500 shots banking on the fact that then the odds really will be in my favor. Mike, if you'd like to join me in this quest, I'm game. In the meantime, I'll talk about the insurance, work toward this goal as I can, take dead aim, hope for a little luck and make a point to always play with another person—another rule for the hole-in-one: it must be witnessed by another golfer. 

All of this being said, my approach toward a hole-in-one isn't' a bad rule for life: work hard, play hard, pay attention, keep your focus, hope for the best, let the wind blow as it will and take someone with you. Oh, and while you're at it, take some insurance. Let's hope I need it!

Photo Credits

Saturday, March 17, 2018

March Madness: Five Resources to Enhance Your Enjoyment

I have a great travel companion in my mom. We get along well, she is high energy and is up for the adventure associated with a Buon voyage!. I also think my mom enjoys every trip we have ever taken together more than I do because she arrives on the scene prepared, and I'm not talking about a packing list. No, my mom reads in preparation for the sojourn. In addition to a good travel guide, my mom reads a novel that speaks to the history of the locale or biographies of a country's once famous (or infamous) leaders, rulers, and monarchs. I benefit from her knowledge, but I know that discipline allows her to make the most of the time and place as we travel. Her example is one we can all learn from beyond just travel! Yes, it applies to even the greatest of afflictions or rather, travel destinations: San Antonio, Texas and Columbus, Ohio.
With this blog posting, I would like to offer in my own way, five different resources that might help you enjoy the phenomena that is March Madness a little more. Perhaps your bracket is already busted or maybe you are sitting in Vegas, Reno or AC right now and want to learn a little more. Allow these articles, podcast, and videos to expand your knowledge of one of the greatest events in all sports.

1. Bracketology
I have a feeling that many college students have sidelined their majors in sociology, accounting, finance or history in favor of one that captures their attention, hearts, and minds for a solid month. It's braketology
For those unfamiliar with this phenomena, America Magazine—the Jesuit review of faith and culture—offers a thoughtful podcast "How ESPN's Joe Lunardi Invented Bracketology." Lunardi, a self-proclaimed bracketologist is also an administrator at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia. I love the way he describes the influence his Jesuit education had on his career and more.  

2. Survive and Advance
If you haven't heard this phrase already, I will put smart money that you will between now and April 1/April 2 (the dates of the NCAA Women's and Men's finals). Given the "one and done" nature of the tourney (more on that phrase in a minute), the goal for every team is to survive. To survive means that one's team can and will advance and get to the next round, each of which are well named: the Sweet 16, the Elite Eight, the Final Four and the Championship Round. 

Many teams will barely survive...but that's all it takes to advance: a buzzer beater, an epic three, a clutch foul, a missed free throw. Pay attention to how this phrase can and will come to life. And in between the games, make some time to watch one of the best in ESPN's 30 for 30 Series: Survive and Advance. The blog posting "Survive and Advance: Not a Given" captures but a bit of the magic.

3. One and Not Done
Though the legendary Jim Valvano is no longer with us, I dare say there is another Italian American men's basketball coach—a paisan—that holds a similar charisma, the University of Kentucky's John Calipari. For those who want to now try me for blasphemy, I urge you to watch one of the latest installments in ESPN's 30 for 30 Series: "One and Not Done."

I pressed play, harboring my own suspicions about the man. I came looking to smell a rat in Coach Cal. Instead, I found myself asking questions new to me and new to what it means to be a coach. I think the Director's Take says it best
"He has supporters who deify him. And then there are those who believe he is Satan on the sidelines." 
The problem of John Calipari is the problem of college sports. Why should the person who is one of the best in his generation at what he does - a national champion and a hall of famer - make so many people angry? How come all his players love him, while so many others hate him? And why would the person who prepares more people for successful careers in their chosen field make people question the very enterprise of college basketball? 
The answer is as complicated as the man himself. But here's what's not the problem with John Calipari: you never have to wonder what he is thinking or feeling, and if you give him trust and openness, you'll get nothing but the same in return. He's funny, moody, generous, spiteful... in short, he is exceedingly human. If you already love Coach Cal or hate him, seeing the man presented raw and in full may not change your mind one way or the other. But my goal with this film was to present as complete and honest a portrait of a human being as I could - one who looks in the mirror every day and doesn't see the millionaire coach looking back at him, but the faces of the immigrant coal miners and laborers who lived and died in poverty to give him a fighting chance to make it. The American Dream is beautiful, but ambition can be ugly. John Calipari doesn't see a contradiction in that.
I encourage you to watch this 2-hour video and then watch the Kentucky Wildcats, a 5-seed play. You will end up psychoanalyzing the coach and how the team works in the process. Enjoy.

4. Aw C'mon Ref
As the granddaughter and niece of both collegiate football and basketball referees, it is in my DNA to respect and sometimes even defend the zebra. I've heard every possible complaint against them—biased, one-sided and blind. Feel free to insert your own. At our best, we know we should never let our wins and losses come down to what the referee did or did not see or call. We do.

John Feinstein, a sports writer I always enjoy has penned a thoughtful piece in the Washington Post. His words remind us that behind the stripes is a human being. If you want to continue to hate on the officiating, don't read. 

5. One Shining Moment
As we know in life, all good things come to an end. Fortunately for college basketball fans, it does so with a video—a wonderful tribute to the many colors, emotions, allegiances, defeats, and victories that is March Madness. 

Photo Credits
Survive and Advance
Coach Cal

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

My Prayer at the National Walkout: Three Coaches at Stoneman Douglas High School

Although a sad day, today was an important day for over 700 students, many teachers, coaches, counselors and administrators of St. Ignatius College Prep who took part in the National School Walkout.
As written on the SI website, 
The student-led event included participation from San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell '92, who came at the end to collect petitions signed by students, faculty and staff, which he will deliver to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, asking for stricter gun-control laws. Sen. Feinstein's representative was also at our event -- Maggie Mattson (State Executive Assistant and a 2009 SI grad). Also on hand were London Breed, President of SF's Board of Supervisors and a mayoral candidate, and Supervisor Katy Tang, who represents our district.
The event, orchestrated by a student leadership team was publicized and promoted, prayerfully planned and pulled off with a wide range of emotions—fear, despair, loss, sorrow, hope, and determination. A belief that there can be a better tomorrow. A cry that we can and will fight for our lives and put an end to gun violence. 
I talked to my own classes about the event, encouraging them to participate with but one request. "If you walk out, and I hope you do— go with a prayer and an intention." 

I did what I asked. I carried a thousand prayers with me—for an increased respect for life, for an end to gun violence, for a better understanding of mental health, for stronger communities to support those who struggle. I prayed for the students who died—in particular their parents, siblings, and friends. I prayed for Stoneman Douglas High School—for their loss, their fear, for today and their tomorrow. I must have had 100 others, but my primary intention, my prayer was for Aaron Feis,  Scott Beigel and Chris Hixon.

Aaron Feis, an alum of Stoneman Douglas returned four years after graduation to coach football. The head JV football coach for eight years and an assistant varsity coach, he was also a school security guard. According to the school's Twitter account, Feis shielded students from the shooter, when he was shot and fatally wounded. 
Feis was known for his selflessness. As written on ESPN
Feis thought about others more than he thought about himself. College recruiters got to know Feis because he made it his business to know them. And he made it his business to know them because he wanted his players to find opportunities to keep playing. 
I value his coaching philosophy. To me it's one more sign that he cared...he cared deeply. One of his own players said it best: 
He did a great job with the [offensive] line. He took pride with working with those guys. Loyalty — I trusted him. He had my back. He worked hard. Just a good man. Loved his family. Loved his brother — just an excellent family man.
Thank you, Coach.

Scott Beigel a 35-year-old Geography teacher and cross country coach at Stoneman Douglas died holding a door open so students could escape. He actually told his own mother if he were ever involved in a school shooting, he didn't want to be the one in the spotlight. As written by Amir Vera,
Whenever they talked about shootings, her son would get "intensely angry" at the media for focusing on the victims rather than doing something to prevent gun deaths, Linda Beigel Schulman told CNN on Tuesday.
I have taught for over 18 years and the thought and fear of school shootings has crossed my mind from time to time. Reading Coach Beigel's words to his mom haunt me. I can't help but think "this is our America." We are a nation in mourning. We are a nation who has experienced too many school shootings. We are a nation at risk of becoming numb to gun violence. AND—not but—we are also a nation that has teacher coaches like Scott Beigel.
In honor of their coach, "Over 800 students, staff and members of the community gathered at Pine Trails Park on Tuesday evening for "Parkland's Run 4 Beigel," a cross-country run to remember the beloved teacher and coach."
The participants ran around a field about two miles from the high school. At one point, the crowd erupted in applause for the 12 to 15 sheriff's deputies, some of whom ran in their uniforms. 
Kelsey Friend, a freshman who survived the tragedy, said that Beigel "will forever be my hero." 
"I will never forget the actions that he took for me and for fellow students in the classroom," she said. 
Schulman said that her son's actions last week did not surprise her."Those were ... his life rules. You take care of the people around you," she said.
People who think cross country is an individual sport are sorely mistaken. Ask anyone who has made it through the season. Ask coaches like Beigel, who ran with his runners regularly and pushed them to do what they might have doubted. He lived what the sport asks of participants regularly—to do what is challenging and difficult, too often without publicity, highlights or scoreboards. But as I've come to see, even in cross-country, eventually true champions can't help but end up in the spotlight. We are all sorry the spotlight found you in this way, Coach.

Chris Hixon was shot dead by "accused gunman Nikolas Cruz while he sped directly at the shooter in a golf cart. The athletic director was apparently attempting to direct students to safety and also trying to disarm Cruz himself (USA Today)." A Navy veteran, Hixon was a 49-year-old father of two sons and two adopted daughters, a loving husband to Debra, herself a school administrator. 
Beloved by many as a high school wrestling coach, his actions reflect what an AD does. One of the most thankless jobs in the school, a good AD hires (and fires) coaches and works so that young people can participate in organized sports. In his final moments, Hixon was organizing young people so they might live.

As I stood listening to the students and special guests, I realized I was standing next to my friend, another coach. I thought of the impact she has on her athletes and how hard she works in the classroom and on the field. I felt a profound weight on my heart and a few tears in my eyes. I looked at the students in front of me as a sign of hope and I said yet another prayer for those coaches who died: Aaron, Scott, and Chris. And I prayed for their families, and the thousands of athletes they have known.
Today, one political speaker said "enough of thoughts and prayers. Today is a day to take action." Although I understand what she meant, I disagree. The greatest social movements have been rooted in prayer; we should not divorce prayer from action. We cannot do it. Thoughts are one thing. Prayer is its own force. Let us not underestimate the power of prayer.
Too often we say "I'll pray for you." But how often do we actually do it? So my plea, my cry is that we continue to pray...pray often...pray loudly....pray openly....pray through the despair and pray....and yes, take action.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Soul of Youth Sports Wrap: Thank You KC!

On February 21-23, I traveled to the middle of America to join nearly 200 coaches, athletic directors and CYO program coordinators for the NCEA's Soul of Youth Sports Conference. Anyone who heard where it was being held, met me with the same response ...or rather, song. Fats Domino sang it best:
I'm going to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come.
I'm going to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come.
They got some crazy lil' women there.
And I'm gonna get me one.
Can't say I met any "crazy lil' women" but let me share what I did find: there is a vibrant and emerging ministry alive and moving in the Catholic church—and its found in, through and as part of our athletic programs. Here are but a few recollections.
Kansas City, Kansas
Locals make this distinction with ease, though I'm not sure the song does...
I ended up in the place from whence Dorothy and Toto came—or well, Lenexa to be exact. The KC on the west side of the Missouri River resides in the Diocese of Kansas City, KS which is separate from the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph (MO). Archbishop Joseph Fred Naumann, who served as the celebrant of our opening liturgy kickstarted the conference with his own insights into Sports and Spirituality before, during and after the homily.

Communion of Saints He told us about his father—a baseball player in the St. Louis Cardinals farm system. He had the honor and privilege of catching for one of the game's all-time greatest, Stan Musial (who started out as a pitcher!). He said, "I never met my father. He died before I was born." My eyes teared up thinking about his mother as a pregnant widow. I imagined what she endured and yet what she was able to give. "My mother made sure my brother and I knew and loved the game of baseball. It was a way for us to know and have a relationship with our father," he said. Again and again, I believe in the Communion of Saints.
The Better Player Before the benediction at the opening banquet, the loquacious Archbishop sought to teach us once again. Knowing that we would be celebrating sports as a school for human virtue, he told us the great Mickey Mantle once admitted: "I had a better arm, I was a better hitter and I was faster than Stan Musial, but he was a better player because he was a better man." 

In spite of his tremendous personal shortcoming, Mantle is still beloved by sports fans everywhere. Reading his humble insight on another Hall of Fame legend, it's easy to see why. What that we could teach all the young people we serve to be great people? They'll be better athletes for it. 
Arrowhead Stadium!
I'm more of an NFC football fan, but the opportunity to visit one of the founding AFC teams might have been the crown jewel in this experience. The son of the original owner, Lamar Hunt, Jr. offered our group private tours of the stadium, the locker room, the press box and his own family suite (replete with artwork chosen by his late father, football artifacts and a space for their family and guests to stay--that's right, there are six bedrooms on site). 

Though I've lived in some frigid locales, my California roots are just too strong. I reluctantly walked out into the 29-degree night air to stand on the field of natural grass (I came to learn all 8 teams in the AFC West play on it!). I looked up and around me, inside a stadium that has remained largely the same since it was built nearly 50 years ago! I thought of the history, the loyalty, the passion of the people who have filled those seats. I could almost see players of the past running routes and scoring TDs. I forgot about both the time and the temperature. And, when KC fans say they are the loudest in the game, I believe them. We were told to yell "Chiefs," the natural acoustics of the venue echoed our cry loud and clear. They had me at "Chiefs..."

Our host, Lamar Hunt, Jr. a convert to Catholicism, gives generously to Catholic schools and causes. Though his life has not been without controversy, the man we met aims to serve others through hospitality and more. His biography says:
He is a member of the board of the Hunt Family Foundation and also serves on the Advisory Board of the Catholic Radio Network, a religious broadcasting group operating radio stations in the greater Kansas City, Wichita, and Denver markets. He has served on the Case Review Task Force appointed by Archbishop Joseph Naumann, which formulated recommendations for the future growth of the Catholic Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas.
I was humbled when he thanked US for our service. "The athletes you are forming can only make us better." When he said us, he may have been referring to the Chiefs, but I think he meant the Catholic Church. Thank you, Lamar!!

Two very enthusiastic football coaches
What I Enjoyed Learning the Most
A conference like Soul of Youth Sports suits me as it provides opportunities to learn not only through the shared experiences—the trip to Arrowhead, keynote speaker, daily mass, and table fellowship but as you might expect the sessions, themselves. My favorite takeaway from the entire conference was what the head football coach and Dean of Students from Father Tolton High School in Columbia, MO shared with us. In the eight years, the school has been open, 14 students have been baptized and welcomed into the Church. Every one of those new Catholics has been a student-athlete. I would like to believe their experience of Sports and Spirituality has played a critical role in the formation of their faith. I pray it will continue too, as well.

Coach Jim Harbaugh
I could hardly believe my eyes when I read that NCEA secured the University of Michigan's own Coach Harbaugh as the keynote speaker. A high profile name, he is both polarizing and popular, beloved and bewildering. I was both excited to hear him speak and hesitant. I left with equal parts respect and resentment (ok, that's a little strong...but I like the alliteration). I'm still not 100% sold, but I like that I am not. Leaders should challenge us to consider what we value, why we do what we do and how we do it. Harbaugh did all of that and so much more. Here's the full story. Thank you, Coach!

I was able to present "Implementing the Playbook" with my friend Danielle Slaton. I love teaching others how to apply the content of my book "Pray and Practice with Purpose: A Playbook for the Spiritual Development of Athletes" but enjoyed it that much more given the classroom—the Soul of Youth Sports Conference and the opportunity to do so with a friend, colleague and all around incredibly inspiring person.

Congratulations to the NCEA staff who made this time together happen. I know none of this was possible without your commitment to this ministry, your vision for what can be in Sports and Spirituality and in particular to the leadership of Pam Bernards. Can't wait for the next one!

Photo Credits
Banner for Conference
All other photos via Twitter from #SOYSC2018

Thursday, March 8, 2018

International Women's Day: Meet Coach Muffet McGraw

Today, International Women's Day is "a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women." I would like to take the opportunity of IWD to:
  1. celebrate the example of one female coach and 
  2. continue my call and quest for more female coaches...and how these might be related.
If I were to create Mt. Rushmore of coaches at the University of Notre Dame, it would be utterly incomplete without the face of Coach Muffet McGraw. Coach McGraw now in her 31st season with the Irish has a stellar record of 765-227 (.771) and one national championship title to her name. As written on the ND website
McGraw's post at Notre Dame was further enhanced on Feb. 16, 2015, when one of her former players, point guard Karen (Robinson) Keyes ('91) and her husband, Kevin, made a $5 million gift to their alma mater to endow its head women's basketball coaching position, now known as the Karen and Kevin Keyes Family Head Women's Basketball Coach. It's also believed to be the largest endowment gift of its kind in NCAA women's basketball history, as well as the first endowed coaching position of any sort in Notre Dame athletics history. 
According to the International Women's Day's website, March 8, also "marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity." This distinction for both the position of coaching at Notre Dame and to Coach McGraw was made possible through the ardent efforts of the Advancement Office of Irish Athletics (under the Development Office) What a wonderful way to advance IWD's cause.
The accolades on the coaching profile webpage for Muffet McGraw are prolific. On one hand, words cannot capture what she is and has been as a coach, a mentor and a face for women's hoops. The page opens with her record, her tenure, and the following:
"If we searched for an entire year. I don't think we would find anyone better suited for our program."
With those words, former Notre Dame director of athletics Gene Corrigan announced the hiring of Muffet McGraw as the third head coach of the Fighting Irish women's basketball program on May 18, 1987. Corrigan may not have realized it at the time, but he also ushered in an era of unparalleled success in women's basketball at Notre Dame, brought to life on the shoulders of a 5-foot-6 dynamo who accepts nothing less than the very best from herself, her players and her program. Ask anyone familiar with women's basketball about Muffet McGraw and her Notre Dame program and inevitably, you'll hear the same two words -- consistency and excellence. And it's no wonder, when you consider what McGraw and the Fighting Irish have achieved in the past 30 seasons: 
With all due respect to Mr. Corrigan, I think "an entire year" is an understatement. They would not have found the likes of McGraw in a lifetime. However, if it's up to Coach McGraw they can and they will again.

Every level of basketball--from high school on up to the league now has upwards of four, six or eight coaches on staff. Though puzzling to me, I know that each coach has his or her specialty and purpose. Unlike many womens' D1 sports program, all seven coaches associated with Notre Dame women's basketball team are female. This is not a new trend. Many are former players. Some are moms, others are wives, partners etc. In the past, some have left to become head coaches; others will in the future. This attribute ought to be linked to the legacy of Coach Muffet McGraw.
At Notre Dame, we already have a Grotto, a Golden Dome, two lakes--not one, and the best fight song in all of collegiate sports. The campus--the flora and fauna, the grounds, the architecture is resplendent in its beauty. Artwork and statues enhance the aesthetic and find their own way of telling the story that is Notre Dame. 

For example, outside of the Hesburgh Library, the imposing and prophetic Moses stands strong. He led the Israelites to freedom...and he calls attention to the fact we are number one. Father William Corby, two-time President of Notre Dame was also chaplain to the Union Army. He is captured blessing the Irish Brigade in the American Civil War. On game day, Irish faithful refer to him as "First Down Corby." Our Lady stands on top of the Golden Dome, outside of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart (as the protector of unborn children) and adjacent to the Alumni Welcome Center with her cousin Elizabeth. "The Visitation," designed by Holy Cross Priest, Father Austin Collins, signifies pilgrimage and journey, welcome and hospitality. On a daily basis, alumni, parents, fans, and tourists travel to South Bend, Indiana to visit what can only be seen, heard, touched and felt at Notre Dame. Making a sincere case for a Mt. Rushmore of our coaches would be futile. However, on International Women's Day, I would like to call attention to the fact were we to create such a monument, the Mt. Rushmore of Coaches of the Fighting Irish would include one woman among the four faces. And, her career is not yet over—the best, may be yet to come. Thank you, Coach McGraw, for your example, for sharing your gifts and for the legacy have created and are living!. 

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Sunday, March 4, 2018

Two Words Every Coach Can and Should Say: Thank You

Every year, I attend close to half of all varsity boys' basketball games at St. Ignatius, where I teach. This year, a coworker/ friend and I picked a road game to attend, beyond the high profile Bruce Mahoney and Jungle Game. When the head coach caught word that we would be at the final regular season game, he invited us to the team dinner. I was touched that he thought to include us. He told me it is his way of saying "thank you." Those are two words that every coach can and should say.

In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a good penance will ask the confessor to pray for the one who has been hurt, to resolve the past and as we can, to right the wrong. I also think that every priest could add a simple task to Confession. Advise the penitant—male or female, young or old to say or write two words: "thank you." 
Ignatian writes
St. Ignatius believed ingratitude to be “the cause, beginning, and origin of all evils and sins.” The quote is from a letter dated March 18, 1542, cited in this helpful article on gratitude by Brian J. Lehane, SJ. Fr. Lehane writes: Perhaps God doesn’t necessarily want us always to be saying “thank you” so much as to be noticing how much we are loved and cared for by Him and, in turn, to respond by living a life of gratitude. Grateful people tend to be more generous and magnanimous with others.
I think Fr Lehane is right, those who live a life with thanksgiving are easy to be around. They take less and give more, they notice others, anticipate their needs and appreciate their surroundings. Oh, and I think they say "thank you" and write it too.

At a faith sharing meeting, a co-worker mentioned another colleague who has been a source of grace in her life. She prayed in thanksgiving for her tireless support and generosity. She admitted how much more this mentor teacher has going on in her life—she is a mom, a wife, and a varsity coach. Her words resonated with me as I have turned to this coach during the height of our seasons seeking her insight and wisdom. My sport doesn't require half of what hers does and yet, she has never made my concerns or challenges feel insignificant. A third co-worker chimed in by adding "Haley is the only coach who has ever written me a thank you note for attending her team's game." I shouldn't have been surprised. I wasn't. And yet, I was.
I have never thought of writing a "thank you" note to my colleagues for attending a meet, match or regatta. Never. It's not hard to do and this gesture obviously has meaning.

I asked Haley about her practice. She admitted that she writes thank you notes or sends e-mails to colleagues for attending because "it means SO much to the girls when they see their teachers there. They love it when people show up for their games. And, it means a lot to me, too," she said. 

Her remarks only deepened my appreciation for Haley as both my friend and as another coach. She takes notice of what matters to her team and what matters to them, matters to her. Ignatius of Loyola writes that "love is shown in deeds." The love that Haley has for her athletes and her team is put into action in extending gratitude. She says "thank you" and writes it too.

I am going to consider how I can extend gratitude to those who support my golf program.I invite other coaches to do the same. It can start with an invitation to a team dinner or just  those two simple words....

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Written Thank you

Friday, March 2, 2018

How Coaches and Athletes Might Fast During Lent

Posted in the faculty workroom is the sign "Do you want to Fast this Lent" Funny question. Do I want to fast? No. Am I called to? Yes. At least during Lent, I am!

I'm not eager to renounce myself of much, but looking at the words of Pope Francis, I realize this spiritual discipline remains an important invitation for all of us who want to grow in our faith, become more like Christ and model God's love. I also believe these are words that could be furthered by every coach with his or her team. 
Take the Holy Father's 11 recommendations and let them speak to the challenges offered in your sport. Let your captains open up each one as it has resonated with their own experience. Let each student-athlete give their voice to how fasting in this way is necessary or important. Encourage them to consider how they might be different or the team might be better if it were to fast from hurting words, sadness, anger, pessimism, worries, complaints, pressures, bitterness, selfishness and grudges? Advise them to imagine a program that is filled with gratitude, patience, hope, trust, prayer, joy, compassion and reconciliation.

Coaches might use t
his poster as a prayerful Examen. We can speak to about each one with a narrative of our own. Examples include:
  1. When we are tested, tired and pushed, it's just so easy to say hurtful words to our coaches, teammates and the referees. Sports and athletic competition is no stranger to all of it. Sometimes jealousy and resentment cloud our vision and we spread gossip, snide remarks and jeers. Instead, during Lent let us commit to finding the good in one another—and say it!
  2. What athlete or coach hasn't felt sadness at some point during the season. Injuries get us down. Other times, things don't materialize as we had hoped—the team doesn't gel, the athlete isn't developing, the thrill is gone. Fast from sadness and count your blessings. What are you grateful for? Thank God for the very fact you can have a have the chance to lead.
I coached a Spring sport for but two seasons of my coaching tenure. Undoubtedly the longest of the three sports seasons, Spring sports offer time and opportunities for prayer and reflection unlike the Fall and Winter seasons (not a value judgment; it is true for each one!). Though I do not want to return to coaching rowing, were I to coach crew again or coach track, swimming or boys golf, I know I would tap into all that Lent can offer by way of Sports and Spirituality. Pope Francis' words are but one way to do that.
He really is something, that Pope Francis...In our Lenten Lunch reflection, I also read these words: Life is a journey. When we story, things don't go right. Let us walk together during these 40 days of Lent...asking questions and fasting in the way he invites us to do.

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Do you want to fast this Lent?