Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Why Every D1 Football Program Should Play a Service Academy

Every other year the US Navy football team hosts Notre Dame on a gridiron far from their home turf in Annapolis, Maryland. In my 22 years as an alum, I have seen the Midshipmen take on the Fightin' Irish in locales throughout the country, including the late Veteran's Stadium in Philadelphia, Jack Kent Cooke in Washington DC and as of this past weekend, San Diego, CA. (The two shall meet in 2020 in Dublin, Ireland!) Grateful for the win and the experience of this contest between "friends before rivals" I left SDCCU stadium—a relic among sports complexes—convinced that every D1 team should play one of the service academies.
My belief is far cry from what I usually hear among sports fans. Notre Dame's schedule is often mocked for playing at least one, if not two of our armed force teams. From some of my own friends, I have been asked "who do the Irish have this weekend? The Coast Guard?!" Forbes magazine joined in the fray, as it published "Notre Dame Needs to Drop Kick Navy" the night before the 91st annual gathering. I couldn't disagree more. Here's why.

In a sport that is increasingly more about the almighty dollar (ND is not immune from any of this), I can't help but respect the players from the academies for playing football—period. They have already received a scholarship given their appointment and their institutions aren't likely pathways to the NFL. They play football because they want to play football; the love of the game is palpable.

I do not have a direct connection to Army, Navy or Air Force, so I can't say that I watch their games with any regularity. However, this intersectional rivalry has served as an opportunity to see these athletes fight the fight, year after year. They are competing, tackling, running and striving no differently than their opponents. Most of them will channel that same effort onto an aircraft carrier, in a squadron, in deployment and if necessary in battle after they graduate—an accomplishment that is not a given in college football programs.

Beyond just the players, I'm always fascinated by the messages a school decides to send to its fans and its "rival" within the confines of a football stadium or gynasium. 
Athletic contests are indeed an opportunity for institutions to recruit—overtly and tacitly. Furthermore, timeouts and game breaks provide an avenue for the host team to profile professors, celebrate their others athletic teams and recognize alumni. The academies have no shortage of men and women many see are "heroes" that we ought to "meet" or at least learn more about. 

That being said, the halftime show might have been the highlight of the entire game, as it featured Navy Seals LEAP Frogs falling from the sky only to land on the field. The speed and velocity by which they descended onto the gridiron, one after another was near other-wordly. I watched these Navy Seals knowing the real reason they have been trained to do this act, but I was able to hold that cold, hard truth AND delight in the other side of this coin. They are the best of the best and this show proved it. If Notre Dame didn't play Navy, I'm not sure where I would see these paratroopers demonstrate their sheer physicality and their utter excellence. I'm grateful I was able to in a domain where they are encouraged and supported.

With the clock at zero,  Notre Dame earned its eighth win in a row this season. Both teams united midfield to extend their congratulations. But a few moments later, all players, coaches and their staff migrated to stand and face the Navy marching band. With the Middies up front and arms locked together, they sang their alma mater. The Fightin' Irish stood directly behind them and swayed with the music. Shortly thereafter, ND turned around and walked to the other corner of the end zone. Irish alumni and fans joined the players in singing "Notre Dame, Our Mother," our alma mater. Navy stood behind us, standing tall, tipping their caps with all hail to the victor. I don't know another team or program that does this deed of great sportsmanship. Again, grateful to be a part of that.
I wish a military were not necessary. I would rather that our tax dollars be spent on physical and mental health, education and caring for the poor, but the world requires something other. I get but a glimpse of who these folks are that are willing to step into those shoes—the men and women who literally put their boots on the ground—in these games. The exposure to their culture, their modus operandi, their traditions, and their celebrations are something every program could benefit from witnessing.

Next time I'm asked if Notre Dame is playing Army or Navy, I can't wait to tell them "yes." University President, Father Walsh had a vision for that long ago.
 In the 1927 game program, he wrote, 
“Notre Dame, Army, and Navy make an ideal group for a football triangle,” he wrote. “Their students live on campus, they draw their student body from all parts of the country.” 
“The outcome of our games with the Navy and with the Army is not so important as that the best feeling of sport and good-fellowship always prevail. We are indeed happy to have Navy on our schedule: we trust it will continue so long and so amiably as to become a part of our best-loved traditions.”
So grateful he did.

Photo Credits

Sunday, October 28, 2018

To Stay or Not to Stay: A Question in Sports and Spirituality

During the top of the 8th inning, when John Sciambi of ESPN radio reported that Dodger fans were starting to leave the ballpark, I wasn't surprised. San Francisco Giants fans love to explicate their reasons for despising our NL West rival (*notice I didn't say hate). We find it unacceptable that Dodger fans show up late and leave early. Such behavior calls us to question their loyalty. Randy Newman may sing, "I Love LA!" but we wonder how much LA loves its Dodgers. Having been to Dodger Stadium, I understand that Chavez Ravine isn't the easiest venue to enter and exit; I know it's never fun to sit in a parking lot and move but 500 feet in 30 minutes. But, the choices we make about what we attend and how we attend them are worth considering. These are real questions that pertain to both Sports and Spirituality.
At the back of the church where I went to grade school—St. Mary's in Walnut Creek—hangs a small placard above a font for holy water. It reads "The whole mass, not less." As a child, I didn't totally understand its meaning. Though terse, those words stayed with me. They may have formed my conscience. In fact, I know they did as they returned to me years later subconsciously in my faith practice and consciously in an unsuspecting way. I was at a weeknight Giants game and Bonds tied it up at the bottom of the ninth inning. My friend asked if I wanted to stay. In what could have been a simple "yes/no" question I responded with a story about that sign. I concluded it with the words, "the whole game, nothing less." He replied, "that's the greatest thing I've ever heard." We left the yard three innings later.

At mass this evening, I had an internal debate with myself for about 3 minutes before I went to the altar to receive the Eucharist. My preoccupied mind was assessing if I could get to where I needed to go after Mass on time. Should I "dine and dash?" as some millennial Catholics quip. This has rarely been my practice (see conscience formation). I took a deep breath and decided to focus my heart and my mind on where I was and what I was doing. 

Mass is a time to listen to the Word of God, to pray with and for others. I offer thanks and learn more about my community of faith. When I leave early, I pray less. I don't have that conversation with friends and families as we exit, grab a donut or walk to our cars. There's a reason the pastor hung that sign and yet, I can't help but notice fewer people are even going to Mass. I look around the Church in awe of the people who continue to show up, faithfully, in light of recent events. I don't take for granted the fact that anyone will show up. I'm glad they do.

A World Series ticket, however, is a different ball of wax. I've been to numerous NLDS and NLCS games, but never the big show. Thinking it might never happen, I used to joke that I would rob a bank if the Giants got there. It did. In fact, the Giants made it to the October Classic three times in five years. No banks were robbed. I hope to get to a World Series game—someday. However, it baffles me that any Dodger fan would leave early. The stakes couldn't be higher or the quality of the games any better. In Game 3, the men in Pantone 294 tied it up in the bottom of the 13th inning with two outs. They ended up winning five long innings later. As we now know the Red Sox prevailed, but as the fans who stayed now know, we don't call it "the bitter end" for nothing.
Analytics aren't my thing, I would certainly love to know how many fans stayed for all 18 innings of Game 3. They have a story to tell. Don't get me wrong, I have left Giants game early before. I can't write that I am a total purist. but I do think the rule of thumb should be "the whole game, nothing less." I believe the arguments for staying are better than they are for leaving. Game 3 took place on a Friday night. I will only speak for my situation because I know others have various obligations and responsibilities: the only thing I would be leaving early for would be my bed. Some would argue that they don't want to see the final out—the loss and the celebration of another team. Though not fun for the losing team's fans, I think it's important to see these moments too. I need to see my team hug one another. I too hang my head in disappointment; I want to see their tears and their ability to support one another in victory and in defeat!

The World Series is as close as a baseball fan gets to Kairos—God's time. Let Chronos—chronilogical time be gone! And maybe that's the what these questions are really pointing to. We are always fighting Chonos. Father Time is a powerful figure. And yet, Kairos is what makes our lives worth living. How do we reconcile our obligations, pursue our passions, have both fun and faith? These are questions worth considering. Sometimes, a simple sign can point the way.
I admire those who did stay.
Congratulations to the Boston Red Sox and to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Thanks for another exciting World Series and thank you to the players, managers, coaches and fans who made this year memorable in its own way. Until mid-February....when hope Spring Training's eternal...
Photo Credits
Game 3
Empty Seats

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Lessons Learned from the Love and Hate for Notre Dame Football

Someone once said the opposite of love is apathy, but a die-hard sports fan knows that's not true. It's hate. Sports is no stranger to the face of hatred. Hate rears its ugly head in the face of a rival—at his or her success, or can be seen in oneself—for failing to get the job done. Failure is ugly, but I'm here to say that hate is uglier. 
Notre Dame Football is 7-0. The Fightin' Irish are now ranked number three in the nation. I have been treading lightly at work, among football fans, around the gym and beyond—knowing that things can change very quickly. I have yet to brag, trash talk or even hold my head remotely high. And still, or reasons I don't completely understand, I find that some sports fans want me to offer some sort of an apology. "For winning?" I ask. One colleague made sure I was aware how lucky we were to get the "W" in two games (true). Another wanted me to admit ND isn't that good (I don't know what to say. Winning close games is crucial). I've been told that this coming weekend, like the past three contests, is a "trap game"—and we should watch out (NB: not every game can be a trap game....that works against its definition). I've been a Notre Dame fan for most of my life, so predicaments such as these aren't unfamiliar to me. But, they aren't fun either. Perhaps you understand. The tension, animosity, snarky comments, and even suspicion remind me of the weight that comes with being loyal to someone or something...of having a passion and sharing it with the world. The face of hate has served as an invitation to examine something I love.

I love Notre Dame football because it offers a very public face of my alma mater, one that demands my attention and calls me to think of what's happening on campus from September through (hopefully) January. Football is ethically complex and it's athletically fascinating. The plays, passes, runs, tackles, kicks and catches—though violent can be beautiful. Each player does his job in his own way, and yet there are an unwavering standard and expectation for how that ought to be done at Notre Dame. The team is comprised of student-athletes who live, study, party and pray in the same places and spaces I did. In the movie Concussion, Dr. Joseph Maroon says "Football is the most popular sport in America because it is so goddamn fantastic. And that, right there? [points out the window to Heinz Field] That is the beating heart of this city." Though he speaks of Pittsburgh, PA, his words are equally true in South Bend, IN. Notre Dame Stadium is a heart that beats loudly—too loudly for some.
Though I am the first to concede I carry an immense bias—my love for the Irish runneth too deep—I am not entirely blind, deaf or dumb for why people do not share my affection for this team. Some of the reasons for hate include: the national television coverage of games—even in the lean years, the inflated(?) relentless expectations of its fan base to be in contention for a national title every year, the over-zealous, overly-loyal alumni that want you to know within five minutes of meeting them that they went to Notre Dame. I'll stop here for one reason, and it's not that I don't "get it" OR that you can read a book on the topic. No, it's that as much as I understand some of the distaste or misgivings for Notre Dame football, I also believe hate should not be confused with other sentiments.

Many people, including me, struggle with jealousy, envy, and the inability to celebrate the success of others from time to time. We are limited beings. We compare and we contrast. No one can have it all, but sometimes it appears as though others do. Sports is just one place where truth—this component of our humanity—is revealed. 

I don't gloat over ND's success in football, ever (though I may want to). I (almost always) let another person say to me "great win!" or "how about them Irish?!" FIRST. These words serve as an invitation for me to express my joy and gratitude. Many times, I want to thank the person who initiates a conversation about this topic—one that I love so much. 

Hate has never been necessary for me to understand my passion, but it has helped me examine it in a new light. I wish I could say "let the haters, hate" but that's not really how I feel. Go ahead—jar and jab, pinch and prod, but let's allow for respect, understanding, and appreciation IN SPITE of our differences trump all. No hate is necessary.

Photo Credits
Dan Devine Quote

Saturday, October 20, 2018

How to Build a Fellowship of Coaches: Thank you, Haley Scott DeMaria

Like teachers, coaches can be a tough audience. We are used to creating the program and running the show. We might not be the best listeners but if you find just the right frequency and speak the same language—a group of coaches can be a captive, willing and an extraordinarily receptive audience—as evidenced at the fall Fellowship of Coaches gathering.
Haley with SI swim coaches!
As written by our athletic director, "Fellowship nights are offered to SI coaches to bring us together. A fellowship is a group of people that join together for a common purpose or interest. Although each of our sports is different, we are under one mission coaching at a Jesuit High School. That mission should be interwoven in our coaching—from practice planning to post-game speeches." Fellowship nights offer time to discuss not just the why, but the how we do that, when and where. We aim to offer three of these gatherings—one per sports season—during the school year. 

I speak to coaching staffs at secondary schools throughout the country. In my talk, I urge athletic departments to develop and promote a "sorority and fraternity of coaching." What might this mean? At its best, I hope that other coaches might see ourselves united in a common endeavor. Yes, we speak a common language; some of us even have the same dialect. We carry a lot and we give a lot. Our responsibilities are many. We cannot do it alone, nor should we. We can all learn from one another, no matter your sport or season. Whether or not you coach girls or boys, varsity or JV, fellowship nights can help workers in the vineyard to learn a little more about our ministry, and our craft.
Great for our coaches to get together; both those in and out of season.
On Monday, October 8, the coaches at St. Ignatius College Prep gathered to hear Haley Scott DeMaria speak on "Faith and Triumph." Haley was the ideal spokesperson for this evening. She is immensely professional and personal and offered her own story as chronicled in her book "What Though the Odds." As written on her website
When the Notre Dame women's swim team suffered a fatal bus crash, the lives of those on the bus, their families, and the community were changed forever. Paralyzed after the accident, Haley Scott was told she would never walk again. That was unacceptable to her. With the help of those who cared most about her - her family, her school and her teammates - she chose a different fate and promised not only to walk, but to swim again for the Fighting Irish.
Haley's story is inspiring and tragic, honest and difficult to hear/read at times. And yet, why might it be a message for high school coaches to hear? What does it offer for those of us working with athletes much younger, some less competitive or talented, or others in sports far different than swimming? The answer: much more than I could have anticipated.
Haley set the tone with her presentation through a quote from Lou Holtz, the former University of Notre Dame head football coach. He wrote, “Show me a leader, and I’ll show you someone who has overcome adversity.” I saw these words as a challenge. As a coach, I need leaders on my team. Furthermore, I want to shape the young women in my care into leaders. I started to think of how coaches work with and through adversity to do that. I wrote down my question to discuss with the others at my table.

After addressing how swimming became her sport, Haley told us about four of her swim coaches and what she learned from each one. Her first coach taught her the importance of loving your sport. Her club coach taught her the importance of having the desire to work hard. Each profile gave me pause to consider the "lesson" she learned and question how/if I do that: To what degree can we help our athletes love our sport? And how do we model our love for it? Do my athletes have the desire to work hard? Do they see this in me? 
When it was time to speak about Tim Welsh, her coach at Notre Dame, she shared his mission statement. It is
The purpose of Notre Dame Swimming is to pursue athletic excellence, with self-discipline and love for one another.
Coach Welsh offered his mission statement to his team on the first day of practice. Haley shared her understanding of it as an 18-year-old. The pursuit of athletic excellence was a given, no explanation was necessary. The second half of his mission, however, required a little deconstruction. At that moment I thought to myself, Do my athletes know of my mission statement? Let's encourage each other to share our mission statement on the first day of practice / put it in the team syllabus. 

The story of this Notre Dame swimmer is how Coach Welsh's mission statement was a lived truth, a reality that extends beyond even just those men and women on the team. What might our athletes say?

While it might be obvious that self-discipline propels a swimmer to train harder and smarter, Haley came to realize how important it is out of the water too. A student-athlete is not unfamiliar with the demands of balancing training, competition and being a member of a team with getting to class on time, studying, and following up with teachers accordingly. However, in college, those responsibilities fall on an individual, especially a student-athlete, in a new way. Given the absence of parents, the support of day to day home life, of no detention for missing class/no tardy for being late, one must flex the muscle of self-discipline in ways that are challenging or even counter-cultural to collegiate life....but not totally unfamiliar to athletes. Coach Welsh named self-discipline in his mission statement to speak to its primacy. Athletic excellence is deficient without it. As I listened, I considered the self-discipline that golf requires. How am I helping my golfers focus and improve in self-discipline? How do they model it for one another? How is that "training" paying off outside of golf?
Haley would come to learn first hand, swimming at Notre Dame under Coach Welsh was fueled by love for another. She admitted that her original interpretation of the words "love for one another" as an 18-year old on a co-ed team was much different than what she came to know and live. Her personal story—the one she shared with our coaches—is a chronicle of what love for one another can do for a person, a team and a school community. Love for one another meant that one of her teammates sat at her side at the site of the bus crash until paramedics could help, love for one another meant that we visit the sick and feed the hungry. Haley was in three different hospitals and had five surgeries. Her visitors ranged from the University President, Father Monk Malloy to the parents of her teammates who died. Hungry for news of everyday life, Haley's teammates and classmates visited in the ICU and even in San Diego. I wondered how my own athletes grow in "love for one another" as a result of our time together. I wanted to know how they interpret these words.

In 1 Corinthians 13, St. Paul writes "so faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love." No greater act of love could have been demonstrated to or for the Notre Dame swim team than when Haley was able to return to the first time to compete. Coach Welsh placed Haley in two events: butterfly and freestyle—the favorites of Meghan and Colleen. To honor their legacy, Haley swam these strokes with no other ND swimmers competing against her. This decision permitted the team to cheer, celebrate and remember those they loved and lost. Humbled and inspired by his plan, I wondered if I would have the vision that Coach Welsh did for his team? I said a silent prayer and asked God for the wisdom of Solomon...or in this case a coach like Tim. 
Haley's presentation—her talk, her story, her very presence—prompted thoughtful conversations with other coaches. I have never received the number of "thank yous" and questions from my colleagues as I did in response to her message. One cross-country coach shared with the coaches who weren't able to attend her key takeaways. They are 
  • How are we building life skills in our athletes? If they were never to compete again, how would their participation on xc (or any sport) best serve them as young people?
  • When students are injured, how are we supporting them? Are there ways we could be more inclusive and supportive to those who are struggling with both the physical and emotional challenges of not being able to compete in the ways they wish they could?
  • How are we participating as members of an athletic community? Haley spoke about how present the rest of the athletic community was as she recovered-- not just the swim team. 
For me, it was nice to hear from an athlete (and a coach) who participated in an individual sport that works as a team. Quite often we hear from the perspective of the coach of a team sport e.g. basketball, football or volleyball. And yet, many sports like tennis, golf, swimming, and diving require a leader to work with a group of individuals who become something more.
My seniors!
The seniors in my Sports and Spirituality class read "What Though the Odds" and were able to hear a similar presentation and meet the author! The woman behind the story and journey we have shared. I loved knowing that some of their own coaches could share a conversation about their own takeaways and what they have gained from her message. 

A fellowship of coaches—a fraternity or sorority of men and women united an endeavor that aims to bring a young person from one place to another over the course of a season—is worth creating and developing. The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Let us support and encourage, love and celebrate those workers.... Thank you, Haley, for reminding us of the primacy and impact of what those workers do.

Photo Credits
Haley and Tim 

Friday, October 12, 2018

The Best Form of Team Building: Service with and for Others

Jesuit education promotes a "faith that does justice." We aim to become "men and women for and with others." There is but one path we all must walk to get there—one that is paved by service. Service among the poor and needy. Service with people and for people on the margins. Quite often, these folks aren't isolated or that far away. There is a great need within our own communities, sometimes at places we pass every day. Too often these people, these places go seen and unseen. Scripture tells us The Lord hears the cry of the poor—do we? Serving others can enlarge our heart, but it might also sharpen our vision and improve our hearing. How?
This year, I have been working as a liaison between coaches and social service agencies so that our sports teams can serve together. Given the demands of coaching, once the season gets started, finding and making the time to serve is always a desire and a challenge. It can be tough to find an organization that can host a group the size of some of our sports teams or a time slot that can work with school and practice schedules. However, persistence, creativity, flexibility and tapping into our networks and social resources have yielded an opportunity to give, and to receive, to serve and to be served.

This may sound strange, but my greatest concern was that I would help other teams serve together and leave my own team behind. Considering the number of matches per week and the amount of travel, I worried that I wouldn't be able to make time for service work. In that sense, I know how most coaches feel. In another, I knew it would be that much more difficult to ask others to do what I had not done. Amidst my questions and concerns, a need presented itself as an opportunity to serve. 
Every spring, SI hosts a basketball game with athletes from the Pomeroy Center.
Wildcats have yet to win...
St Ignatius, where I teach, has a long-standing relationship with the Janet Pomeroy Center—a place that as its mission declares, "provides recreational, vocational and educational opportunities for people with disabilities through programs and services that encourage self-expression, promote personal achievement, and lead to greater independence." A few weeks ago, a faculty member let us know that the JPC had summoned our help. He wrote,
Today I received an email from the Executive Director of the Pomeroy Center. Not sure if you saw this in the news last week, but there was a sting operation that uncovered six senior and child care facilities that were also being used for human trafficking. 
Those facilities were shut down and all of the resident care clients were left without housing. The Pomeroy Center has stepped into to care for eight of the adults (three of whom are full-time clients).  Although the Pomeroy Center isn’t a full-time overnight facility they do have a Respite Wing which they will use on weekends which is now being used seven days a week to care for these displaced adults.  How can we help?   
Even though the Pomeroy Center has a kitchen and respite care for eight, the employees could use some help with meal preparation. They asked if we would be willing to supply one dinner a night for the next few weeks until they can find permanent housing. If so, I am sure the Pomeroy staff, as well as the those displaced, would be thrilled. 
Given the size of the junior varsity girls program, I knew that cooking a meal together could work. I looked at our schedule and talked to my captains. We planned our menu during our van ride to a match. Rather than divide up the list of ingredients, we went to Trader Joe's together (who knew grocery shopping could be an opportunity for team bonding)?! We divided, we conquered and arrived at the JPC ready to cook.
Though I had told my team about the mission of the Janet Pomeroy Center and the folks who benefit from their programs, this population was very new to most girls. We arrived on the scene and were confronted by excited adults, and one who told us "you don't belong here." Others were largely non-verbal, some were older, many were young. A few girls asked me why some people in wheelchairs had to wear helmets; we were all impressed to learn a select group plays golf on Fridays through the First Tee program. 
We have done a good bit of team building this season, but none of it compares with our experience of working together in service of others. I looked at the photo I took of these girls and all I could see was their goodness. My heart felt pretty full...so much that I decided to share that photo with these words.
Thank you for your willingness to jump in and serve at the Janet Pomeroy Center. When we first arrived, I'm sure you were wondering where your Coach had taken you. JPC and be uncomfortable for new visitors—communication with folks can be challenging....we don't know how others will react....but as you were able to see in our time there, it's an important place for those with developmental and/or physical disabilities to grow and find their independence! In the same way, we are seeking to do things on our own and yet cultivate a community, JPC does this for a population we see too infrequently.  
I hope in our time together you learned a few things about your teammates and about yourself. Serving others does that--just like golf! AND as I heard a number of you say—we had fun too. My biggest regret isn't a) locking us out of the van at Trader Joe's or b) not setting a timer for the brownies but c) that we didn't take a photo of the bubbling lasagne! I think the folks who receive our meal will enjoy, Food that is cooked with love always tastes better!!
I urge all coaches and programs to make the effort to serve together. You might have to seek out the opportunity...maybe it will find you. One girl remarked "we drive by this place every single time we go to practice. I can't believe I didn't know it was here." Another added, "I realize I've been very sheltered. We don't see people like those the JPC serves very often. I'm so glad there is a place they can go and have fun." What we were able to see and hear, taste and feel as a result of our time together reaffirmed another core teaching in Jesuit education: God can be found in all things. I firmly believe that includes sports—and most especially when a team serves together.

Photo Credits

Saturday, October 6, 2018

The Trap Game: What We Can Learn

A colleague asked me who Notre Dame is playing this first weekend in October. "Virginia Tech," I said, "in Blacksburg." He responded, "trap game." I replied, "there's no trap in this game,. We know what we're in for."
Irish nearly fell into this trap beating Ball State 24-16
A "trap game" is a game played against an opponent generally deemed to be easy to defeat. As a result, a person or team may not prepare as thoroughly as they would for a formidable opponent. Often this attitude and its attendant lack of preparation lead to a loss. Although a cool term, the Irish have a worthy opponent in the 24th ranked Hokies. Notre Dame, like a lot of teams, has been privy to the trap game in the past. However, humility, a viable commitment to excellence and concentration can keep the trap at bay.

I speak about the trap game because it leads me to reflect on a larger ideal: the power of mindset, preparation, and focus. It causes to me to question how often we can really see things and people for what they are...and want to be. As much as I delighted in the 38-17 victory over Stanford at Notre Dame stadium, I'm not sure I realized the significance of the feat until it was spelled out before me in "Stanford: What I Learned" by Irish Athletics information director John Heisler. He noted, "the impressive Irish win against seventh-rated Stanford in what was Notre Dame's first home-field win over a top-10 opponent in 14 years." 14 years! That extends far beyond Coach Kelly's tenure. 

In this case, I didn't underestimate the opponent. Indeed, it was a great day for the Irish, but traps can come in many forms. Sometimes we assume things to be true without real investigation. Other times we wear blinders which restrict our vision and limit our perspective. Here are a few other realizations I had...traps be gone.
A new respect
I don't even pretend to like the University of Southern California. I seldom, if ever, have to explain my disdain for the men and women of Troy. While I don't apologize to students when they tell me they are going to USC, I don't feign any excitement or admiration. It is what it is.

However, traveling to South Bend for the Stanford game gave me a new insight on the Trojans. I was on a flight out of SFO with a viable number of Stanford fans. That Southwest airliner might have been the largest single gathering of the Cardinal I saw all weekend. Their presence in the visitor section was anemic, which is surprising given their record and ranking (before the game). Calfornia is a long way, but that has never stopped USC from showing up for our storied rivalry.

USC fans travel and they travel in droves. Their obnoxious maroon and gold can be seen and their fight song can be heard. AND, I have to say, I respect them for that. I'm not sure I would have ever written that I respect USC fans. In this instance, I do.

The Heart of Campus
As I wrote in "God Doesn't Care Who Wins, but His Mother Does," The "Dome is the center of campus. It sits as the crown jewel on God Quad. An aerial view of this space reveals a heart, to signify the Sacred Heart of Jesus." Some have expressed concern that the expansion of the campus signifies both literally and metaphorically how the University has moved in a different direction. Time at Notre Dame today might lead one to infer that the football stadium is the heart of campus, and they might be right. I'm sure a few can make a case for that that might not be fitting. Others could argue it's a bigger problem than we realize. When I see Notre Dame stadium today, I see many things.

For one, I have always been struck by the fact that this incredible structure is but a 5 to 10-minute walk, at most, for all students. Notre Dame stadium is ON CAMPUS. It is not separate from, but completely a part of University life. In fact, with the Duncan Student Center, classrooms and meeting space that were added to the stadium's edifice, it might be more integrated into student life than ever. 

As a student, I went to every home game, so I never had the perspective of being in my dorm and hearing the cheer from the stadium but a good stone's throw away. But, those volley cheers sent on high would be loud and proud. Loud because they are on campus and proud, because "We are ND."
Second, the design and attention to detail of the stadium are remarkable. Walking around the stadium, you can't help but see the original house that Rockne built. Those walls and bricks are still in place—where they can be. I love that there are four gates that are named after four historic coaches. From the inside, fans will see a line of the Fight Song underscoring an image of the team. And, as much as I wish we had kept the south end lowered for a full view of "Touchdown Jesus" the vistas from the walkways around the stadium are stunning. One can see "The Word of Life," the spires of the Basilica and the Dome in its glory. 
The location of the stadium and its significance is something I think about often. Returning to Notre Dame and looking at its design and its location amidst the ever growing, ever improving campus, however, has helped me make sense of who Notre Dame has been, is now and wants to be. #appreciation.

Every reflection on Sports and Spirituality will concur that losing can be a great teacher, but I would like to make the claim that is not the only path toward increased self-realization, growth and excellence. Preparation, careful attention to detail, a personal inventory and honest assessment can get anyone to where they want to go...and avoid the trap. In our personal and spiritual lives, we ought to do no differently.

Photo Credits
Ball State
USC fans

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Notre Dame Football and the Nourishment of Alma Mater

For some reason, I have struggled to make sense of all that I felt, saw and remember from my 2018 Notre Dame football weekend. I think my comprehension was waning because upon completing the pilgrimage to South Bend, there's no sleep till Brooklyn...or in my case Midway. Maybe it's because I return to campus with high hopes and expectations, a few concerns and more. Will the Irish win? How can I meet up with this person? I wish I could see "x"...if only "y" were here. I hope the weather is good! And yet, I look at the pictures, each one capturing a memory and I realize no smile is forced. My enjoyment is not fake. It's not just any place for me. It's Notre Dame, my Alma Mater. This phrase is variously translated as "nourishing mother," suggesting that a school provides intellectual nourishment to its students. At Notre Dame, we know it gives that much more. So I thought I would let this blog posting serve as a reflection on the nourishment that the Golden Dome has offered—beyond all that I gained in the classroom, with my degree— both past and present.
The friendships that I have made in and through Notre Dame cannot be counted—there are too many. I say that because many of my friends were classmates, teammates, roommates and study buddies. Thanks to the "stay dorm" system, I developed friendships with women older and younger than me. My experience in the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program yielded some of my most treasured friendships; these men and women were partners in ministry and companions in faith. My involvement in the local alumni chapters in both Washington DC and San Francisco put me in touch with men and women who became mentors, even colleagues, and more specifically friends. 

For the past four years, a Notre Dame home game has meant an opportunity for me to spend time with my good friend Erin. I wouldn't know this talented, wise, vibrant, committed, beautiful wife, mom and engineering major from the Class of '99 if it weren't for what ND offers after graduation. Through the San Francisco Bay Area alumni chapter, I posted an ad for a roommate. The luck of the Irish brought me someone who became so much more. We overlapped but one year at ND and yet we share many common values and our love of Notre Dame is just one of them. I am so grateful to her (and her husband) for the memories we have made and continue to make by returning to campus for one game each Fall (this year's edition featured her 8-year old daughter, Audrey in tow!). Erin and I are 4-0 when we return to Notre Dame stadium for Irish football. Maybe we should purchase season tickets?!
Notre Dame defeats Stanford 38-17. Standing after the win with
Steve, a good friend from SF Alumni Board, Erin, and Audrey
A Shared Journey
The word "classmate" is not a throwaway term to me. In the 20 plus years since I graduated from Notre Dame, I have come to understand the significance of what it means to refer to another as my classmate—a fellow member of the Class of '96. 
We were not only the class profiled in the book "Domers" by Kevin Coyne, but we were celebrated for having the highest number of female students in the school's history. We may have studied different disciplines and lived in varied dorms, but we were all there for the Game of the Century (ND defeated FSU). We heard the same music, we drank many of the same beers. Indeed, we shared the same journey in a specific moment in history—and those hours, weeks, months and days shaped us into the men and women we became upon graduation, until today.

Walking into the stadium, I passed another classmate. I have not seen him since graduation. I may not see him again—but we smiled at one another, genuinely happy to see the other and share the same walk we did from 1992 until May 1996.
Classmates, teammates, and family. Gotta love the Giants Irish Night hat & note the Ryder Cup jacket.
The Spirituality of Teammates
In the essay "For the Love of the Game," Richard Gaillardetz writes

Perhaps the only other human bond of communion that can match that between teammates is that among soldiers. Many athletes will speak years later of the powerful bonds created among team members who spent hours each day in training, honing their skills and learning how to work cooperatively with one another in a seamless, efficient unit. We must not underestimate the strength of this bond. 
Gaillardetz captures what I know to be true among fellow members of Notre Dame crew. I was rower for all four years in college. The fall was head season—think distance rowing— and the spring brought the sprints. I made many sacrifices to earn my seat on this team. What I gained, however, is something I am still discovering.

With kickoff approaching, I left a tailgate only to run into Alex and Tom— my classmates AND teammates. I traveled throughout the Midwest, east coast and southeastern United States with these men to compete on majestic, grand and difficult waterways. Though we had but a half hour together, we sat to eat with a certain familiarity that you know only with your teammates. 

Thinking back upon the friendships, the relationships among classmates and teammates, I have a deeper appreciation for "The Notre Dame family." It is a term the University references often, but it is not in vain. It's a remarkable place that makes classmate and teammates into something more. Returning to campus, I am always reminded of that simple truth.
Welcome to the Duggan family!
One very special component for me was welcoming a long time Notre Dame fan to campus for the first time. My friendship with John is rooted in many things—basketball, SI, a common sense of humor and our mutual love for Irish athletics. To hear his impressions, insights, and questions about ND live and as they unfolded was a treat. Though he sat at the 50-yard line, I felt like the lucky one as I was able to have a beer with his family—his dad and brother-in-law, amidst my family—the Notre Dame family.

Paul V. Kollman, C.S.C.
Look at the joy in that smile.
The Spirit of Notre Dame: 
For the past few years, I have joined my friend Paul Kollman, CSC for breakfast on game day. Though our meeting time is an ungodly hour on the West Coast, I am so grateful that someone as busy as Father Paul takes time to meet with me. I learn from him about the state of the University and the universal Church. He tells me about student life and how they express their faith. He ends every meeting by thanking me for visiting Notre Dame. His words leave me speechless. They are sincere and heartfelt and to hear them from a man—a priest, teacher and friend like him who is the best ambassador of Our Lady's' University that I know—makes my heart swell. This year, he thanked me for being a teacher in a Catholic school during these difficult times. My heart was both full and yet broken. I wish I had thanked him for serving the Church through this crisis, first. 

Children are supposed to leave their homes. Students ought to study, earn their degree and leave their alma mater. Notre Dame prepares its student body to put the Golden Dome in the review mirror and yet bring it to their corner of the world. Some folks, like Paul, ought to return to the motherland. They keep the spirit alive so that when we come back, we get renourished and go home with a mind that's a little more clear and a heart that's maybe a little too full.

Football is a significant reason that people of all ages from throughout the United States come to Notre Dame. When I take a bird's eye view of what happens on the gridiron, I find myself asking the question: Will this be here in 100 years from now? I don't know, but I think about it. For now, I can only express my gratitude that this game provides me an opportunity to be nourished every fall by my Notre Dame family.