Saturday, April 28, 2018

Typical: Meet Atypical. Welcome Mike McGlinchey

I have a lot of fun with words and phrases—or at least I try to. Case in point: when someone tells me, "it's nice to see you," the typical response is a gracious one—"thank you." But it's much more fun to say something atypical or different. I say "it's nice to be seen." It is. So when the San Francisco 49ers took Notre Dame left tackle Mike McGlinchey as their ninth pick in the 2018 NFL draft, I knew my students would expect me to make an announcement about it. They know I am itching for any reason to talk ND and they're right. So as I was scheming an atypical way to make news, I realized a fitting theme was emerging: McGlinchey is both typical and atypical. 
I began class by showing an image of San Francisco's City Hall. This majestic building at Larkin and Central Streets was lit in red and gold. One need not be a football fan to understand why—the Niners' colors and distinct—but I made sure everyone knew the NFL draft was underway.  
I then said "sometimes you go to a place. For example, as you know I go to Notre Dame—at least once a year—and I hope some of you will visit too. But sometimes you guys...Notre Dame comes to you." I then flashed the photo you see here. 

A student responded by asking "Did you see the reactions of the Niners fans when he was picked? Rather than jumping up and down, everyone was looking at one another with a look of confusion. They were saying What? Who did we draft?" I wasn't about to let anyone curb my enthusiasm. I replied "I know. That's a typical response anytime a lineman gets drafted. They never attract attention; they are workhorses. He has the most important job on the team—he has to protect Jimmy G. Standing 6''8" and 304 lbs, I think we are in good hands." 

I wish I had told them just how atypical those numbers are in the McGlinchey clan. In "Things I Know: And the Things I Learned from Experience" McGlinchey writes:
My dad is about 5'11". My mom is 5'8". So it must have been a genetic mutation—I got lucky. I’ve got two cousins who are 6-3 and 6-4 but nothing quite like 6-7. I was always the biggest thing in everything I did. Notre Dame got lucky with McGlinchey. He is a two-time captain and All-American who can add "first-round draft choice" to his accolades."

A few minutes later, in case I needed to add value to this great pick, I was happy to report, "By the way, he was a graduate student at Notre Dame last year. That's because in May 2017 he graduated with a degree in film, television and theatre from the College of Arts and Letters. A true student-athlete." Another student responded by saying "no offense Ms. Stricherz, but that's typical for a lineman. They're smart." Someone looked at him and said "you play O-line, right." Typical student banter. Love it.

McGlinchey hails from a huge Catholic family, which has been much discussed because his first cousin is Matt Ryan, the Atlanta Falcon's QB. The Niner's #69 writes
I grew up an Irish Catholic kid—in a very religious family. Notre Dame was always that school off in the distance that always had some interest for me because it was the Catholic school and they were on TV every Saturday and we really liked being able to celebrate the things we shared with Notre Dame. My uncle (John Loughery) played quarterback at Boston College in the ‘70s and my older cousin Matt (Ryan) played there, too, and is now getting his number retired there. Boston College was my first offer, and I thought I would wind up going to BC like they did. But I kind of held out for that envelope with the little golden dome on it. Once those envelopes started coming and Coach (Harry) Hiestand got the (offensive line coach) job and started recruiting me I came out here and never wanted to leave. In one visit I confirmed everything I’d always thought about Notre Dame.
I am heartened to know that a young person would value the Catholic character of Notre Dame, even from a distance. I hope that appreciation isn't atypical.

Though his clan sounds typical—so many siblings and cousins, we know in American life today with its many demands, this isn't. McGlinchey's "Strong of Heart" profile confirms the McGlinchey is much more than typical—they are exceptional in their love and support for his younger brother Jim who has autism.
The more I think about it, I don't think anyone is typical. We all have our own gifts, stories, attributes, talents, and gifts that prove we are atypical. However, I think we can all do our part to ask the questions, to respond, to play with words and ideas that let that truth reveal itself. I'll keep at it. Thank you Niners--thank you, Notre Dame. Mike McGlinchey—WELCOME. The Faithful await...

Photo Credits
Mike and sibs

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

What We Can Learn From Our Rivals: More About Ourselves

At approximately 1:00 pm on Monday, April 23 a cadre of student-athletes from Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep arrived at St. Ignatius College Prep to reclaim for the second time in 19 years the coveted Bruce Mahoney trophy. My classroom, that faces the main entrance of the school was filled with their cheers of excitement at reclaiming what has been gone from Ellis Street for far too long. As my students looked on with disappointment, some kids said "we should boo" knowing that wouldn't be right.  A few turned away, not wanting to see the impact of the loss. Still, others said "farewell for now. See you next year." I told them what I tell my students every year: they are lucky to have a rival. A good rival is never a given, and they have a good one.
What makes for a good rival? In "How Rivalries Bring Out the Best—And Worst," Matthew Hutson writes, 
A rivalry is more than just a competition, according to Gavin Kilduff, a professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business (who’s currently in Rio for the World Cup). It typically emerges when competitors are similar, when they face off repeatedly, and when they’re about evenly matched. When these circumstances are present, they can lend a given competitive event a psychological weight that goes well beyond its tangible stakes. 
Kilduff has found that rivalry increases both effort and performance. An analysis of competitive runners showed that they shaved more than four seconds per kilometer off their times when a rival was in the same race. In another study, Kilduff and colleagues found that NCAA basketball teams play stronger defense — a good measure of hustle — when competing against rivals. He believes that accentuating rivalry is a good tool for success when a task is effort-based and when there isn’t much leeway for cutting corners. It increases motivation, and “Motivation,” he says, “is a holy grail of management.” Rivalry also increases group cohesion: Universities with more intense rivalries receive donations from more of their alumni, and patriotism is never so great as it is during the World Cup. 
But Kilduff and collaborators have conducted several studies, some of them presented recently at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, showing that rivalry also has a dark side: It increases unethical behavior.
Indeed, a rivalry is much more than just competition. In the throes of a heated contest, truly our rival can be our worst enemy, but both before, after, and in the moment they can be our greatest teacher. Though rivalries magnify differences—many of which are true, I believe that if we can take a step back, we will realize our rival is more similar to us than we care to admit. For example, I'll never forget when a classmate of mine at Notre Dame pointed to this truth about the Trojans of USC. Notre Dame fans will claim that this rival is also known as the "University of Spoiled Children" and for years they compromised academic integrity in order to win national championships. That might be true, but so is the fact that USC fans are fiercely loyal to their alma mater. They are known for proclaiming their allegiance to the Maroon and Gold within the first five minutes of any given conversation. Their interest in Fightin' On is loud and proud. So is their band. The alumni base is so strong and a significant number of the current student body qualifies as a legacy. Sounds a lot like Notre Dame to me...Agh!
Self-knowledge is never that easy to acquire. Perhaps we should look to our rival.

Students of SI and SHC might benefit from such an investigation. Though there are differences, Huston's claim is true: the "competitors are similar." The students who comprise each student body grew up together. They went to the same grade schools and many (may) make a choice to attend the same high school as one of their parents: SI or SHC, Jesuit of Christian Brothers, Red and Blue or Green and Blue both located in the City of St. Francis.

These teams "face off regularly," and the significance of the Bruce Mahoney trophy puts more weight behind those contests. Though the series is comprised of football, basketball and baseball, every varsity team in both schools as their team's "Bruce Mahoney game."

Though no senior class wants to be known as the group that lost the Bruce Mahoney trophy, a rivalry is strengthened "when they are evenly matched." The trophy should not become a relic at either institution; its vibrancy shines brighter when it is claimed or reclaimed by both parties. I would like to think "unethical behavior" does not factor in....
The game came down to the bottom of the 7th inning. 2-1 win for SHC
Ask any athlete, coach, student or alumni about the "group cohesion" that results from the Bruce Mahoneyrivalryy and you will hear hundreds of stories about time, place, people, wins, losses, tears, and joy. And, because of our Catholic heritage, we are able to come together in prayer before each game to bless all those who support and comprise our communities. More importantly, we remember the two men who gave selflessly the greatest gift one could give—their life in service so that we might live in freedom today. I hope we do this in our school-wide prayers on the day of the games, not just on the field. Ours is a storied tradition, a living one. A rivalry worth celebrating.

In "For the Love of the Game" Richard Gaillardetz writes, "In ancient Greek culture, sport was considered from two different perspectives. The first was termed agon and the referred to the spirit of competition and the second was arete, and was oriented toward the pursuit of excellence. There is an inclination to oppose these two but the agnostic character of sport is always, at its best, also a pursuit of excellence." I have no idea if Bill Bruce or Jerry Mahoney would ever guess that their service has become a legacy that allows young men (and hopefully women) to pursue excellence in the way it has and will in the future. Thank you for all you have taught us—in the rivalry and in that journey.

Photo Credits

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Skill of Appreciating the Tradition: The Bruce-Mahoney

Though the title of his research sounds discouraging, in his book "Going, Going, Gone: The Dynamics of Disaffiliation of Young Catholics," Bob McCarty offers positive and realistic solutions for how to re-engage young people in the Church. He names several skills that ought to be taught and promoted to keep Catholic youth curious, involved and eager for more. For example, a few faith skills might be 1) how to pray 2) how to use Scripture and 3) how to recognize God's presence/instilling a sense of wonder and awe in one another. He notes that skills require preparation, experience, and reflection. His ideas and recommendations totally make sense to me; teaching a course like Sports and Spirituality, I hope that I offer a creative way to teach and instill those skills on a regular basis. And, there are no better means by which to teach about, practice and promote another skill: the skill of Appreciating the Tradition, than the Bruce-Mahoney trophy. 
At 5:15,  the Wildcats of St. Ignatius College Prep will take on the Fightin' Irish of Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep at AT&T Ballpark in what is the third installment of the Bruce Mahoney contest. As written about many times before, this storied rivalry holds the distinction as the longest standing athletic rivalry between two schools west of the Mississippi River. Based on the outcome of today's baseball game, the trophy will either remain at SI or be claimed sometime later this week by student-athletes from SHC. The series is comprised of football, basketball and baseball and what makes today's game special is that the series is split. SH prevailed on the gridiron, lost to SI on the hardwood and we shall see what occurs on the diamond later today. Indeed there is much to appreciate about this tradition beyond the athletic competition, iconic San Francisco venues, and the fact that alumni from each institution return year after year to wear either Green and White or Red and Blue. A starting point for appreciation ought to be education about the namesakes of the trophy: Bill Bruce and Jerry Mahoney. 

A fellow SI faculty member who I consider our resident archivist and historian shared with the faculty the "tribute to Bill Bruce written by Bill Leiser, sports editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, published on April 18, 1943—four days after Bill was killed in a plane crash. Leiser addresses the spirit of sacrifice that is at the heart of the Bruce-Mahoney competition." You can read it here.
I asked my seniors, young men and women just two months from leaving SI to comment on what stands out...what do they appreciate about Bill Bruce. They loved that he was deemed a "right guy." Every single one of them noted that me "meant more to the football team than the best galloping ghost halfback." A few were confused about why he left the NFL for the Navy; their peers and I were quick to help them understand a). the Broncos is a reference to Santa Clara University and the football team they once had and b). the NFL didn't even come into existence until 1960 (if you are to consider what it is today). Context. Still, others added that he was an "orphan," a word you don't hear that often today....or the term "St. Ignatius High School." "God rest his soul" is a beautiful way to conclude the tribute. Amen.
The Bruce-Mahoney is a wonderful tradition to appreciate and what I think adds value to it is that the tradition is a living one. This past year, including female athletics into the series, has been a subject of serious conversation, planning, and debate like never before. Though many young women and men have in years past discussed and done what they can to determine how this rivalry can both remain true to its roots and yet accommodate for who we are today, those conversations haven't had the immanence and desire for an answer like they do now. I'm excited to discover what will be!

Celebrating the Bruce-Mahoney has kept graduates of St. Ignatius and Sacred Heart Cathedral engaged, involved and curious in our communities. Let us in the Church use this as a powerful example that Appreciating a Tradition is a skill that can and should be prepared, experience and practiced. Today, my students have a better sense of who Bill Bruce is. In a few hours, they will experience the spirit of sacrifice out at the Yard and I hope at some point, they will reflect upon the gift that is this rivalry—a living tradition.

Photo Credits
Girls Hoops

Sunday, April 15, 2018

This Is How We Do It: Thoughts on National Championships and Siblings Day

Both NPR and Facebook reminded me that National Siblings Day is observed every year on April 10. As written on the National Day Calendar's website
Siblings Day is a day created to honor our brothers and sisters.  
Siblings. They are sometimes our best friends or our worst enemies. At times, siblings will provide us with our biggest competition, strongest encouragement and remind us of our most embarrassing moments.
I have always felt lucky to have one of each. In addition to their companionship, love, and support, my older brother and younger sister taught me I am not the center of the universe. Because of them, I have had to learn how to manage conflict in order to survive. We fight and we forgive. They believe in me, they challenge me and well,...they annoy me. (I can say with complete confidence that I annoy them too. Regularly). And yet, I wouldn't have it any other way. I say that because living in a crowded city like San Francisco, working with teenagers, even playing a game like golf means that I am annoyed on a near regular basis. Having siblings has increased my ability to withstand that which is annoying. Thank you, Mark and Sarah! I hope you can thank me too.
Just because something is annoying, however, doesn't mean it ought to be completely done away with. No, when I am annoyed with something or someone, I am reminded of my humanity and theirs. Often, my siblings' annoying actions can be a source of frustration at the time and humor much later. The Notre Dame women's national championship brought this truth to my attention.

I can't tell you how lucky I feel that I got to watch the semifinal and final round of the Women's NCAA Basketball tournament with my two nieces. Visiting Washington DC for Easter, I stayed with my brother and his two daughters, Grace (almost 11) and Lucy (9). They were as excited as I was to see the Irish clinch two clutch wins. 

On Good Friday, in the Final Four game, with 20 seconds to go and up by 5 points, rather than keep eyes glued on the TV, my brother started to play Montel Jordan's hit "This is How We Do It." I did not want any distractions from the game and this hip-hop melody just wasn't necessary. As history will tell, what the Irish did, or rather what UConn did was send the game into overtime. ND held on and beat the mighty Huskies. As everyone was doing what we could to process what happened: WE BEAT UCONN! my brother—once again—queued up this hit. I wanted to hear Coach Muffet McGraw speak....I wanted all the commentary I could get from Rebecca Lobo et al. Nope....instead all I could was "This is how we do it. All hands are in the air!" #Annoying.

Two days later, in the Championship game, the setting, the excitement, the drama and even the game-winning shot wasn't that much different. Neither was my brother's response. I was so annoyed part of me wondered if he enjoyed playing this song more than seeing the Irish win. Grace, Lucy and I continued to jump up and down, high five and celebrate. All Mark wanted to do was dance to "This is How We Do It." Super Annoying.

Still on an emotional high from the win, I went nuts when I heard that Irish guard Arike Ogunbowale, the woman with "Ice in her veins—TWICE!" was invited by Ellen Degeneres to appear on her show. Carrying the NCAA Championship trophy, wearing a Notre Dame women's national championship t-shirt and a beautiful cross around her neck, Arike talked about the adversity the team had faced all season, how their coach made adjustments and believed in them and what it was like to win and complete the game-winning shot. Ellen profiled the public's response to Arike's Easter basket. Not only is Arike featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, but NBA legend Kobe Bryant, who was in attendance at the game vs. UConn took to the Twittersphere to give props. Arike laughed and nodded with humility—she added that the media attention, the moment, even the response on campus has been extraordinary.
As sports fans know, great moments beget others. Ellen played cool and asked Arike about being a Kobe Bryant fan. Arike admitted that she wears 24 for him and even named her dog after the Black Mamba. She shared that she had never met her idol. "Really?" asked Ellen. "Well, that's about to change."

I should see these moments coming from a mile away. I don't. I get so excited by the moment—as it is unfolding—that I almost can't imagine the next one is revealed.

It's Kobe! Of course, it is.
He's on the stage to meet Arike Ogunbowale. Of course, he is.

They are adding a chair so the Black Mamba can sit next to the new superstar.
Oh, wait...what's that song playing in the background.

No, it's not....Oh yes, it is
They could have played a million different songs, but what is queued up and ready to go?
Did my brother know this all along?
Is this really how we do it?

There was nothing annoying about that song at this moment. Rather, those notes tie together fantastic memories from a legendary victory and make me ever more grateful I was able to share that moment with one of my siblings. 

Photo Credits
Kobe Tweet
Kobe and Arike

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Sunday at the Masters: Keep Your Expectations!

I've learned more than I ever thought I would from the Notre Dame Women's basketball team's National Championship. Their win reminded me—once again—of how much more I enjoy life when I hold no expectations. Holding low to no expectations allows a person to receive events, people, places as a gift. When I hold on too tightly or want an outcome too much, invariably I am disappointed. So after feeling joy and elation all week from the Irish win, I couldn't help but tread lightly into the 2018 Masters. 
Patrick & Justine Reed at Notre Dame Stadium. Fall, 2017
Undoubtedly my favorite sports week of the year, I was so afraid that Sunday at the Masters might be sleepy. Last year, was truly one for the ages and I was fearful that this year would be but a whimper....or a whisper. As anyone who watched the 82nd Masters Tourney knows: it never disappoints. Here are but a few thoughts...

Amen Corner
For the past two years, I have watched the first of the four Majors at what might be my favorite party of the year. The host family hangs a Masters flag outside, decorates their homes with Azaleas and we eat and drink the traditional food found at Augusta National. I love that the gathering begins with Mass and I should have known it was going to be a great day when the priest, a friend of the host family, sat in one corner of the living room and welcomed us to Amen Corner. I loved his nod to the treacherous though beautiful twelfth hole. It was a quick round, excuse me, Mass and a wonderful way to gather 
for "Divine Mercy Sunday." 

No need for the golf gods to descend their mercy on the players today, a championship round is always a gift. And despite my fear, today was no exception.
I honestly think my favorite moment of the entire tournament was when Jordan Speith cleared the water on that illustrious and infamous twelfth hole in Amen Corner. I think you can both see and feel trepidation. I wasn't there, so I don't know, but coming to the tee box with his score—five under par—I have a sense you could smell the trepidation, too.

In "Masters 2018, Jordan Spieth comes up short, but adds to his Augusta aura with Sunday 64," Spieth said
“What we did on 12 today was really cool,” began the 24-year-old Dallas native, who smiled when he saw his 9-iron reach dry land. “I mean that hole, even when I didn’t hit it in the water in previous years, I three‑putted in 2015 for bogey. So, to play a disciplined shot, probably the most pressure‑packed shot I’ve ever hit. Again, I had no idea where I stood, but still the Sunday pin at Augusta, and I know what I’ve done, and my history there. To stand in that kind of pressure and hit the shot to the safe zone, [and] to knock that putt in was massive for me going forward.”
Though golf is not a great spectator sport, moments like this—experienced in the flesh—are electric. Spieth gave his caddy, Michael Greller a strong high five. Knowing his history, the crowd breathed a sigh of relief, gave each other high fives and celebrated as Spieth threw that monkey off his back.

On this hole, even a par for Jordan Spieth on Sunday at the Masters is a victory. Instead, he sank a 30-foot putt from off the back of the green, marking what was his sixth birdie on the day. That's great golf.
The Collective, Communal Experience
As I have written before, so much about the Masters is counterintuitive to life today. One spends a whole lot of money to attend a tournament where you don't have to pay for parking. Yes, you read that right. And, as a sign of hospitality, the prices are kept low inside the concessions stands. You will wonder if you read those signs correctly, too. One won't find a cell phone in sight, a fact that is nearly impossible for my students to believe. Consequently, other than a whole lot of gear one can only purchase at Augusta National, all I carry with me from the 2016 Masters are the memories. No tweets on site, nothing. 

The upside of walking the course hands-free is that people look up, out and above. Instead of gazing at a screen for scores and player profiles, I talked to others. We smelled the Azaleas, referred to the printed schedule and reviewed the map and kept eyes and ears on the hand opereated leaderboard. 

That's right, the sounds of Augusta don't come from an electronic device or a pre-recorded sound session. There is nothing digital about it. What you will hear at the Masters are birds, the crowd clapping and cheering and from time to time a roar when a golfer makes a magnificent feat or as was the case on Sunday, the leaderboard reveals a player is moving. After back to back Birdies on 15 and 16, the scorekeeper made the adjustment. Spieth was moving....his new score? 9 under par. (the red is intentional!) 

In today's world, any fan on site gets the information as it happens. For those at the Masters, some saw Spieth's shot. Other may have heard rumors. But, the collective experience meant that fans learned about the great competition together. There's something to be said for it.
Patrick Reed
Though I was hoping for Jordan Spieth or Rickie Fowler to emerge victoriously, I was happy for the first-time champion Patrick Reed. Most golf fans know Reed from his performance as "Captain America" in the 2016 Ryder Cup. This showdown of great golf put Team USA in the lead as he defeated his Sunday pairing, Rory McIlroy. However, 
I have been a quiet fan since I watched his interview on Feherty, a spot he earned—no doubt—after a win for the Red, White, and Blue. 

Reed is an aggressive golfer. His style is fun to watch. His wife, Justine served as his caddy for years. Time on the road and the demands of golf must tax even the strongest of relationships. Knowing they worked together in this way, made me appreciate something more about this bold and brash superstar (mostly in his mind). Mrs. Reed handed the bag over to her brother, Kessler Karain when she became pregnant with their first child. To David Feherty, Reed offered wonderful remarks about Justine's knowledge of the game and the support she has provided both on and off the course.

When I saw them both at the Notre Dame vs. Georgia game, my tacit approval changed into true fandom. He could have worn Red and Black. Instead, he made the wiser choice: Blue and Gold. Too bad he went with that fuschia pink on Sunday!!

Thank You
Early this week, countless people have said to me "I think of you when I see the Masters." Thank you! That insight and personal sharing mean a lot to me. But, I get just as excited to hear sports fans and non-sports, golfers and non-golfers discussing the greatness that is this wonderful tournament—an event that lives up to its expectations and its name. I'm already excited for next year...!

Photo Credits
@ND: Thank you Don!!
Jordan Happy/Spieth and Greller

Saturday, April 7, 2018

The Agony and The Ecstasy: Humor in Golf

Not many teachers will say what I am about to admit: I really like teaching Sophomores. Watching what went down at the Par-3 championship at Augusta National during Masters Week 2018 has revealed to me why.
Sophomores or 10th graders can be tricky. Ever known as the "wise fool," they are the middle child of secondary education. Too often Sophs feel as though they have been forgotten, or overlooked in the high school mix. The truth of the matter is their lack of maturity combined with their degree of self-absorption often gets in the way of just about everything: teaching, coaching, learning and more (does that sound too harsh? please visit!). However, the good news is that Sophomores are an acquired taste—one I have come to appreciate and cherish. 

How did this happen? And why? We share the same sense of humor. Yes, ma'am. I laugh at the same things that a 10th grader does. I am no better, no worse than the fifteen and sixteen-year-olds with whom I spend September through May. This fear? realization? insight about my lack of maturity came as I watched the professional golfer Tony Finau hit a hole in one, only have hit feat end in a sobering fashion as he contorted his ankle while running to the green. That's right, Finau, who is technically a pro-athlete, lept and ran toward the green—across a stunningly beautiful fairway of lush green grass. No rocks, no trail ledge, no moving parts not even a linebacker or free safety in sight. And what happened? The 34th ranked player in the world fell and hurt himself. Watch the video. I did. I laughed. I laughed a lot...and out loud...and made others watch it. I thought it was so funny. I should have been concerned about him. Nope, not me. I thought to myself: "Oh me, oh life: The ecstasy and the agony."
 Life is...well sometimes you just have to laugh.

What happened to Finau is a simple reflection of the fact that we are human beings. Our humanity means that we do great things—like that golf shot and things that well, aren't so great—we trip for no reason. And, I believe golf is the perfect paradigm to display this truth.

As a golfer, I know how seriously we can take the game. The mental demands can cloud and clog our vision. I find myself using the word "blowhard" quit often. It is very to forget it is "just a game." I realize for Tony Finau and many other men and women, it's not a game—it's their profession—but they too are often the first to admit how lucky they are to do what they do for a living. And, I'd like to add in whatever we do, I believe it's important to keep one's sense of humor about it.

Golfers are notorious for having some of the worst high-five exchanges in all of sports. I guess one's ability to drive a 1.68" in diameter 300 feel down the fairway doesn't always translate to simple coordination, hops or connection. Perhaps this is poetic justice because they get to do what they do on acres of land surrounded by azaleas on what was once a nursery or beside the Pacific Ocean as the waves crash upon Pebble Beach. The agony and the ecstasy make for a game women and men can play for a lifetime. The agony and the ecstasy will undoubtedly characterize the final round of the 2018 Masters as another golfer seeks the green jacket. I guess there's nothing funny about that.

NB: the beauty of teaching Sophomores is that if I showed them ESPN's video, I would 1). admit I have never had a hole-in-one, so props 2). also admit that I'm fairly convinced when/if I have a hole-in-one, I could see something like this happening to me. and 3) if it did, they better not laugh at me ;-)

Photo Credits
Tony Finau celebrates
Tiger Missing His High Five

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Notre Dame Women's Basketball: THANK YOU

Standing in front of 75 coaches, athletic directors and campus ministers at NCEA's Convention in Cincinnati for my session: Sports and Spirituality 4.0: What If? I wasn't sure if this presentation was going to fly. My technology proved to be incompatible. I took a deep breath, put my trust in the hands of the tech team (and the Lord) and waited. An optimistic (and patient) coach in the audience broke the silence and my tension in asking: Will you be talking about the shot? I said, "Victor, I would be more than happy to talk about the shot and the entire game for the next hour and fifteen minutes." Moments later, the synapses fired, the technology connected and my presentation flew. So here's what—if given the chance—I would like to say about the 2018 NCAA Women's Basketball National Championship, shot and all.
Thank You
The team was welcomed back to campus on 12:30 pm, Easter Monday in a formal, official capacity. A win of this magnitude merits an organized and well-publicized celebration. I'm not going to wax poetic about the days of yore when students initiated the greeting on their the Main the middle of a snowstorm...and 40 below—though part of me longs for the organic and spontaneous response from the student body, by the student body. Instead, I'd like to focus on what technology allows for today: one can watch this celebration live, though 2000 miles from campus. And I did.

Father John Jenkins' remarks capture the mission of Notre Dame and what it stands for. But I appreciated two simple, yet important words:
 Thank you. He said, "Thanks for the excitement you brought us, thanks for the victories, thanks for the example of how a great team plays together and thank you for winning a National Championship." Heartfelt and sincere, he meant it ....we meant it.  Which leads to...
National Championships Are Precious
The last women's championship was 17 years prior—to the very same day! I remember that victory and the road to get another one has not been easy. Though the Irish have made an annual trip to the tourney since the 2001 championship, they have been the runner-up four times, the Final Four once and the Elite Eight another time.

Winning—and championships—are never a given. I watched this team hold up the NCAA title trophy and thought about the rocky road they took to get there—looking at the players who sat on the bench because their injuries wouldn't allow them to be in the game. I recalled some of their losses and what was demanded of them as they redefined who they were and wanted to be. I let my mind flash back to the last National Championship when ND defeated Purdue 68-66. I don't care if you have had two in three years like Villanova or one in seventeen, I maintain and sincerely believe National Championships are precious. This title cannot be taken from this team. Their banner will hang high for years and years and years to come. And part of the reason for that is...

The Shot
If you're going to win a National Championship, why not do so in a dramatic fashion?! Arike Ogunbowale's heroic 3-point shot put the Irish up by three points with 0.1 seconds left on the clock (I have since come to find out it is impossible to get a shot off with less than 0.7 seconds. Though the referee required both teams to play out that final moment, the game had been decided—magnificently!). And, considering that she sent home an undefeated Connecticut team with the same clutch shooting in the semi-finals, served as a double explanation point. Her appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated is well deserved. It certainly makes up for the fact that.... 

T.E.A.M. Together Everyone Achieves More
The article "Towers of Power" by Richard Deitsch in the "March Madness" issue of Sports Illustrated appeared as the lone piece profiling women's competition in the 2018 NCAA basketball tourney. It made the argument that "Just like the top men's contenders, the best women's teams of all have one [ahem] big thing in common; a multitalented post presence who can control the game from the tip-off to the final buzzer." Not only did it profile those players who fit this mold, but it called out an SI's All America Team and made predictions for who we would see in the Final Four. Notre Dame was not even mentioned. No player or coach was profiled. 

As a loyal fan, I have watched the Notre Dame women's teams in years past with certain expectations. I think it's fair, given this team's record and disabled list, that our expectations were tempered. I am, however, not convinced that Coach Muffet McGraw nor this team would agree. The road to victory is paved not by midseason training or practice. No, it's foundation was laid by coaches, starters, subs and practice players in the time between last year's tourney and today, not to mention years, even decades prior. I am not a fan of sports cliches, but I am of this one because it's true: TEAM is an acronym for: Together Everyone Achieves More. This victory is case in point. Which is why I loved....

Celebrating Those Who Have Paved the Way
As I trolled @NDWBB for at least 48 hours after the win, though many photos caught my eyes and my heart, the one profiling former players struck me. I wasn't aware that teams did something like this. I don't know that they do. It costs nothing and yet it makes a profound statement. Above the photo, I read the tweet, "To our alumnae—who were with us every step of this journey—we couldn't have done this without you!" I love that Notre Dame women's basketball sought to recognize those who have paved the way. They ALL deserve to hold that trophy and relish the win. 

Through the Eyes of Young Children—>Girls

I watched both the semifinals and the finals with my two nieces, Lucy and Grace who are nine and ten years old. They told their dad, my brother, who plays basketball every week, that they prefer women's basketball over men's. On Saturday morning, the first words Lucy said to me were "Aunt Anne, I'm SO happy Notre Dame won last night." I brought these ponies to water....the team quenched a thirst I didn't know they had. #BestDayEver.

Grace wanted to emulate the hairstyles of the players, so I made sure we wore our own topknots to support the team. Lucy, who wears a headband on a regular basis preferred to keep that on—she will be getting a blue and gold one soon. No surprise her favorite player is a fellow headband wearing point guard, Jackie Young—the athlete who has inspired me to...

Hit the Gym
The Irish defeated UConn in the overtime victory thanks to the efforts of yes, Arike but also point guard Jackie Young. In the postgame shout outs, Coach McGraw recognized Young for going 32-11. As those points, rebounds, and assists were happening, Rebecca Lobo added color commentary that caught my ear. She said, "in the offseason, Jackie Young hit the gym and committed to building muscle and it shows." There is nothing revolutionary about what she said, except for the fact that they served as an important reminder to me that a commitment to training and to excellence, really does pay off...and opportunities will present themselves for that. I went to the gym next day, channeling the ND women.

And so, the story of this team is one of where opportunity met skill set. They entered the FLOW channel and rode it through Colombus and back to South Bend where we celebrate and honor this team, the all-female staff and the mission of Notre Dame revealed through their feat. THANK YOU, Irish Women's Basketball!

Photo Credts
All taken from @ndwbb