Monday, May 31, 2021

In Addition to the COVID Vaccine, a Different Shot in the Arm

I just completed my twenty-second year of teaching. On the last day of class, I congratulated my students for making it through such a challenging year, for having patience through every change and development, phase and Zoom delay. I gave a special shout out for those students who sent direct messages in the chat telling me, "Ms. Stricherz, we can't hear you" and the others who always kept their screens on when so many others did not. Applause! I told them I teach because I love learning and the relationships that form from that experience. With the Grace of God, both still happened. I said farewell to the 2020-2021 school year, hello to a better tomorrow and thank you to something equally significant: those shots in the arm.

I am grateful that so many of my students and golfers gotten the COVID-19 vaccine. I want to thank athletes like Bill Russell who have embraced creative campaigns to get one. The legendary Celtic said "this is one shot I won't block." Me either. As long time basketball fans know, although Hakeem Olajuwon holds the records for most blocked shots of all time, the accolade goes to Russell. How so? The NBA did not recognize blocked shots as an official stat until the 1973-74 season (Russell retired in 1969 after playing professionally for 13 seasons). Earlier this year however, he did not play defense when it came to vaxing up. Russell is one of many.  

I want to thank the HR department at Saint Francis who worked so hard to keep teachers and staff informed about the latest updates and opportunities so we could get vaxed early. I got mine in February and March but Pfizer wasn't the only shot I received during the past 14 months to keep people like me—a teacher, coach and administrator—healthy and happy. 

Just this past week, I had three former Sports and Spirituality students come by with a note of thanks. Each one expressed their gratitude for what they learned and the relationships that were born from that experience. Their words, the memories, prayers and hopes for the future are a shot without side effects. This was a different kind of heart burn.

One month prior, the girls' volleyball team sent hand-written, personalized thank you notes to the Athletic Office at Saint Francis for all we did to help them have a season this school year. My boss, the Director of Athletics told me about this first. He was so touched by the gesture, he brought it up in our weekly meeting. A few days later, I went to my mailbox at school only to find a stack of these missives addressed to me, too. Several were written by girls that I know but there were others I don't. It didn't matter. I read each one and I smiled. It felt GREAT. I was touched by their thoughtfulness and their realization that playing a sport is not something that just happens. Thanks to the hard work of many people, a season, practice, participation and competition in athletics can go live and thrive. We didn't need COVID to teach any of that, but it's one by-product of challenging times.

Coaches: Feel free to steal this idea!

Interesting historical perspective. This isn't the first time celebrities have been used to promote a vaccine
Here we have Elvis Presley getting the Polio vaccine in 1956

I have taught in a school where we lost not one but two students to death by suicide in the same year. There was a five year period, where teenage life was so precarious, we carried a burden that still confounds me. Long ago, I realized if we could make it through those dark days, we could make it through anything. Though true, it still didn't make this past year easier. It did however help me frame what I know: it is important to give thanks each day. Whether our gratitude is for our daily bread, a teacher or coach, the gift of life or the gift of a season of sport—let us remind one another that those words of thanksgiving whether written or said—are another great shot in the arm. And, we grow healthier and perhaps more resilient because of them.

When my friend Malia got her vaccine, she started to tear up. Relief, gratitude, thanksgiving. The nurse told her "honey, no one tells you those are another side effect of the shot." Here, here. And to more shots in the arm....thanks be to God.

Photo Credits
Bill Russell
St Francis Thank you notes--my photo!

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The Gift of Work Friends

There are all kinds of quotes honoring old and new friends, girl friends, guy friends, friends of friends (when your friend introduces you to their friend... and the two of you become even better friends?!), best friends, childhood friends and friends for a lifetime. But, I have yet to read one about a very special type of friend: those co-workers who become friends. I say this because I am richly blessed. I have so many colleagues who have not just become friends, but dear friends. Close friends. And, my recent visit to Washington DC reminded me how many of them are rooted in Sports and Spirituality.

At the historic and iconic Clyde's in Washington, DC

My friendship with Bill is a story of Spirituality and Sports. We taught in the Religious Studies department at St. Ignatius College Prep in San Francisco for twelve years together. He and his wife Mary—who is also a treasure of a friend and former colleague—now live in Boyds, Maryland. He teaches at Georgetown Prep, Mary is at Holy Child and I teach at Saint Francis High School. 

Bill arrived at SI two years before I did and established himself as the RS 300: Foundations of Ethics: Morality and Justice level leader and World Religions guru. He brought a love for Thomas Merton—the true self, Thich Nhat Hanh—Living Buddha, Living Christ and Ecological Justice to our common curriculum. To this day, I still smile when I think of a student creation—a painting of the symbols for major world religions—that he stole from my classroom and hung on his wall. He was unapologetic in hijacking it; I have a feeling that painting  hangs today on the wall in Room 205. I learned so much about spirituality from him as both his friend and colleague.

Bill also coached boys and girls tennis, and teacher coach friends are a double bonus. With Bill, the game wasn't just something he taught and developed in his athletes—to this day, tennis colors his imagination, attention, calendar and more. And, as someone who has professed many times that tennis was and is my first love, this was a triple bonus. 

up close and personal with King Fed

Bill is unparalleled in his knowledge of  the men's and women's game, both past and present. How many more times can I identify this as a bonus in a friend!? I eagerly soaked up all that he knew— his updates, stories, stats and more. I remember a friend once gave me a lengthy profile from the New York Times about Roger Federer, Bill's favorite player I started reading it only to realize, I didn't need to finish it. Why? I already knew everything in the report thanks to Bill.

Working with your friends means you get to see them five days a week. And every September, during the fortnight of the US Open, I would tread lightly in the Religious Studies hallway until I knew one thing: if Bill knew the outcome of matches from the night before. Why? I came to learn this the hard way. I still remember the disdain—the shock and disappointment— on his face when I started talking about a certain upset in a quarterfinal match. Bill taped most of the tourney's matches, AND watched them too, so he would occasionally not follow things in real time. As a sports fan, I get it.  I'm proud to report I never made that same mistake. Furthermore, I did all that I could to keep my composure and not let my body language give anything away until he was ready to chat. Those are good memories. 

While I should say that a tennis highlight I share with Bill involves traveling with a group to Indian Wells for the BNP Paribas Open or connecting every July for the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, my favorite memory is not about a match but about meeting a player—one we grew up watching and integrating into our classes.

Taken in 2009, we went to Indian Wells—also known as "The Fifth Grand Slam."
At this tourney we met American tennis star, John Isner. While I slept in most days, Bill arrived at sunrise and stayed until the lights went out.
SI teachers and students will fondly remember that our Fridays once concluded at 1:00 pm. This schedule allowed Bill and me to meet the former number one player in the world— eight time grand slam champion—Andre Agassi. Three years after his retirement he released "Open: An Autobiography" which is one of my top 10 sports books. Even if he really does "hate tennis," the stories he shared at this book talk and signing is a memory I still treasure. 

There are more stories I could share—most are true, some are enhanced. Most of them are rooted in Sports and Spirituality but they all are made possible by a friendship born in the workplace.

Elie Wiesel had it right when he wrote "friends are the jewel of life." In fact, Mary—a friend from work taught me that quote. And, as I penned this post, I realized I could go on and on. For example, Mary—who teaches Spanish loves Nadal. Bill is a diehard Washington Football team fan. He is a Notre Dame fan too, thanks to his Dad. Their son Liam—who was born in San Francisco—is a Giants and Warriors fan. Great call Liam! And, I might add that over five years have now passed since we work together. I am so grateful that our friendship remains and our love for both Sports and Spirituality is but one way we stay connected.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

ND Magazine: The Spring Sports and Spirituality Synopsis

Although many of the inmates tell Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding—one of two main characters in The Shawshank Redemption—that he speaks out of his a**, Red got it right when he said, “It was outdoor detail — and May is one damn fine month to be working outdoors.” And the same can be said for reading outdoors. 

Allow that to set the stage for the Sports and Spirituality Synopsis of the Notre Dame Magazine Spring edition. Take your printed copy and head outside. Here's what to look for.

Stillpoint: photograph
Given that I have applied sunscreen before coaching and playing golf everyday this week, this photo of male students curling next to a pile of white snow does not resonate with me or with the month of May . That “famously famous sport of the Winter Olympics” found its way onto campus.

Check out how and why. Print edition only.

Cool Classes During Winter Session
With to an extra-long winter break due to the coronavirus pandemic—students completed final exams in November and didn’t have to endure South Bend’s longest month of the year: January. 

To mind the gap, professors created more than 125 virtual courses that ranged from one to four credits per class. Boxing in America is one I gladly would have taken.

I can’t say that I follow boxing regularly. If a big fight is scheduled for a Saturday evening, I do enjoy talking to sports fans and gauging my students' about their interest. I can stomach the blows, I attended Bengal Bouts every year. I am intrigued by the number of films that feature boxing as the subject, back drop and call that so many men and now women are drawn to... I would imagine this course examines how and why.

Parenting x 3: All Aiming for Medical School, the Ekanayake triplets each excel in their own way

Samantha, Cameron and Derrick. For the Class of 2021, I can't imagine those names don't mean something.

Cameron, the middle child, once dreamt of playing football at the US Naval Academy and booming a military surgeon—but a shoulder injury got in the way. 

In spite of the ups and downs of his recovery, he played well enough to get an invitation from Notre Dame football as a preferred walk on.

He had no delusions about climbing the depth chart or winning the Heisman Trophy. He knew instead that his time and effort would prepare others for glory. “You have to be grounded in reality,” Cameron says. “As walk-ons, you know you might not receive the benefit of your work. But there’s something to be said about suffering and struggling with all these other people.”

I’m not sure what impresses me most. His manifold gifts and talents or his perspective on all of it.

Father Pete: The spirited, energetic, people-loving gregarious Holy Cross priest has become a campus favorite—by being himself.

Take one look at the 44-year old Director of Campus Ministry and you will understand what Saint Ireanus meant what he said “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.” 

My guess is that Father Pete came out of the womb with aplomb, enthusiasm and was ready to roll. To read that he has been on campus for 14 years, as an assistant rector, rector and chaplain of the men’s basketball team makes me appreciate that God-given energy, love of life and the Lord. No wonder he’s beloved...and that he's committed to being that way.

The Classes
Out here in California, beach volleyball has become so popular, and mainstream that it isn’t uncommon for high schools to offer it as a varsity sport. At ND, the Irish partake in what the lake effect affords: Snow volleyball. Side out!

Section: Print Issue Only 

In Closing
May is the month of Our Lady, Notre Dame. Thank you, to the University founded in her honor—celebrating sport and the spiritual life. 

Now get busy living....

Photo Credits
All from ND Magazine!

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

ISO Creativity...Thank You Shohei Ohtani

Albert Einstein said "Creativity is contagious. Pass it on." Yes please. I'll take what I can get. Why? Creativity reveals human genius. can solve problems and forge new pathways. It is the love child of inspiration, intelligence and insight. And, it is more than catch-as-catch-can, right? Right! Certain people cultivate it, others embody it. One example in worth noting and celebrating is Angels pitcher and outfielder Shohei Ohtani and I'd like to thank him for passing it on.

As a teacher and a coach I am in search of creativity every single day. I want a lesson plan that is creative to engage my students' minds. I seek to go beyond that which is expected. And, as a coach I am constantly in search of a creative approach to help my golfers improve. The game is hard enough; creativity might just make another avenue worth trying. 

There is however, a delicate dance we all do with creativity. Most often, I go looking for it. For example, just this week I committed time and attention to not just flipping through VOGUE magazine, I gazed at each fashion photo shoot and read the articles. Amanda Gorman was the feature story. To link her to creativity is a given. 

To find creativity—look, listen and learn from creative people. I also believe, that if you live your life this way—creativity will find you. And it did, on my morning walk. 

After my #21for2021 (21 minutes of reading) I head out the door for about 25 minutes, put in my headphones and listen to ESPN Sports Daily. The feature on story on May 3, entitled "Shohei Ohtani's Baseball Experiment is Working" offered me a creative insight that I shared with my golf team later that day.

For those unfamiliar with the Los Angeles Angels star, according to Joe Levin, Ohtani "stepped onto the pitcher’s mound and into the history books on April 26. That day, he became the first player since Babe Ruth (Yes, Babe Ruth) to be a game’s starting pitcher while also leading the league in home runs."

His manager, Joe Madden has been extremely supportive of Ohtani's desire to work as a two-way player. Madden and other coaches have found this to be a win-win situation. Why? How? 

Alden Gonzalez reports that "hitting and pitching on the same day is actually a major benefit for Shohei Ohtani because it doesn't allow him the bandwidth to dwell on either of the two. His last start is a perfect example of this. Think about how crazy this is: he gives up four runs in the bottom of the first. His team is down 4-1. He comes back up in the top of the second. He's got two runners on. He lines a two-run double to right field. It's a 4-3 game. He's on second base. Mike Trout hits a bloop single. Shohei comes around to score. All of a sudden it's 4-4. Shohei said he went back to the mound with a renewed confidence, with a feeling this was a brand new game and from that point forward he retired 12 of the next 13 batters he faced. Eight of them on strikeouts. He was a completely new guy and that was the perfect encapsulation for why the Angels feel like this is exactly the way they need to treat Shoehi Ohtani."

I heard this story and creative juices started flowing. I began to wonder if I might offer this as an analog to my golfers.

High school golf offers the experience of "team" for an individual sport. Helping golfers to understand what that means and what impact they can have takes time, maturity and wisdom.  Yes, the lowest five out of six scores determine a win or loss, but a good teammate will know that a victory is achieved by more than just low scores. Success is found in good golf AND in positive presence and active participation with your playing partner. This is not new news for my golf team. However, using the example of Ohtani was. It might be a reach, but it was one I was ready to make.

I told the girls to consider letting go of the pressure to post a low score on every hole. I said if you have a bad hole but your teammate has a birdie, celebrate that with her. This is the beauty of team golf. Let that leverage your spirits. I know you want to avoid mistakes. I know you want to play well on every hole but don't give it the bandwidth when the putt doesn't drop, the pitch doesn't fly or the drive has gone OB. Focus on the positive, wherever you can find it!

I told them about Shohei Ohtani and the unconventional role he has on his team and how it has helped him. I added that I never take for granted than any of them are playing high school golf. Certainly, many could just play junior tournaments in the area, but I encouraged them to think of what team golf affords and can do for their game and mental mindset. I hope they got it. Even if they didn't, it's fun for me—as their coach—to encounter creative examples and ideas for how we approach a tough game. If anything, I've lived up to Einstein's message....your turn to pass it on.

Is what ways do you express your creativity? Does your job require it? Is creativity something a person can cultivate? Can one be creative "on demand?" Does it take something out of you? 

Photo Credits

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Happy 90th Birthday to the Say Hey Kid: Willie Mays

I walked out of my front door onto Fillmore Street and took notice of a great sight. Tucked inside the newspaper stand—yes, those still exist—front, center and above the fold of the San Francisco Examiner proudly paid tribute to the Say Hey Kid. "Happy 90th Birthday Willie Mays." I love beginning my day with someone to celebrate.

My commute was abuzz with all that #24 means to the Giants, the City by the Bay—where he both lived and labored—and to all of Major League Baseball. Thanks KNBR! Murph and Mac, hosts of the morning show dedicated May 6 to sharing stories, recalling memories and offering tributes to one of the greatest athletes to ever play the game.

Willie Mays is a Hall of Fame centerfielder who is one of four men alive today who played in both the Negro Leagues (The Black Barons) and in MLB (New York/San Francisco Giants and the Mets). The Godfather of Barry Bonds, "Willie Mays hit 660 home runs, drove in 1,903 runs, batted .302 and was an All-Star in 20 of those seasons. He led his league in homers four times, in stolen bases four times, and had more than 100 RBIs in 10 seasons. He had a thrilling talent and personality that captured the hearts of fans from coast to coast." Those numbers, those stats merely skim the surface. It is hard to capture in words all that he has meant and still means to America's past time. No wonder I find "The Say Hey Kid's career in pictures" so poignant. Give it a look.  The images, the quotes, the video clips only tell part of the story. 

But on this day, I made a commitment to asking those who love baseball, those who have lived in San Francisco, and those who celebrate the "Say Hey Kid" to tell me a story about him—because people have them....and they are worth hearing. I reached out to former coworkers at St. Ignatius College Prep in San Francisco. I talked to my parents. I sought the input from those who were in that inner circle.

For example, the late Peter Magowan—managing partner of the Giants— said

He would routinely do things you never saw anyone else do. He'd score from first base on a single. He'd take two bases on a pop-up. He'd throw somebody out at the plate on one bounce. And the bigger the game, the better he played

I'm proud to say I have a Willie Mays story of my own. It might not be about how he hit, or played defense, but it's my story and I feel lucky to have it.

Sometime during the George W. Bush administration, I was at a game with my good friend Kevin. We were sitting in lower box seats—thanks StubHub—maybe about 20 rows up from the field on the first base side. 

It was a weeknight game and it was well attended, but not packed to the gills. One or two innings into the game, I noticed a buzz was bubbling from the seats closer to the dugout/home plate. I saw a few men in suits wearing earpieces in one ear. A common sight in Washington DC, I began to wonder who they were protecting. A few minutes later, I realized Condoleezza Rice was making her way to her seat. She was greeted by a less than friendly reception. Why?

It's safe to say: San Franciscans hated George W. Bush. Whenever things reached a boiling point during the Trump years, I recalled the sheer disdain people had for #43. (People didn't know how good they had it). I offer this context because as the Secretary of State, Giants fans saw Rice affiliated with Bush. Again, she wasn't well received.

About five minutes later however, the tenor changed. Much to the delight of everyone in the crowd, the "Say Hey! Kid" walked down the same aisle only to join Dr. Rice and take a seat next to her. Willie got a standing ovation. Cheers, no jeers. Clapping, smiles, mad respect all around.

Turns out, Rice's mother was a science teacher at Fairfield Industrial High School in the Fairfield neighborhood of Birmingham, AL. One of her students was....Willie Mays. 

I sure wish I could have sat in on that conversation. Common folk. Harding working people. Extraordinary Americans. 

Their stories are but excerpts from the lives of great Americans. I'm grateful to hear them, to read them, to share them and pass them on. 

The San Francisco Giants will honor the great Willie Mays on Friday, May 7 before the orange and black take the field against the Padres. All of San Francisco ought to join in and sing "Happy Birthday" to a living legend—ninety years young. Those at the ballpark will, for sure. I wonder if Condi will return again....

Photo Credits
Say Hey
Cover Shot