Thursday, June 16, 2022

Three Reasons to Get Behind Golden State: Go Warriors!

Bay Area sports fans are donning royal blue and bright yellow today as the Golden State Warriors take on the Boston Celtics in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. Whether or not you follow the Dubs, regardless of any affiliation you may or may not have to the Boston Garden, I would like to offer three reasons you should consider paying attention, leaning in, checking out and cheering for the Western Conference Champions: GSW.

There's a singular quality about the Warriors which draws people in. It's a core value of the head coach, Steve Kerr. It's palpable. It's infectious and it's real: joy.

If you have watched any of the past five games, not to mention the playoff games leading up to the finals, you know how intense it has been on the hardwood. The players are fiercely competitive and incredibly physical. Tempers flare, temperatures rise. Officials are necessary to keep things cool but too often, they fan the flames. In spite of it all, media and sports talk radio continues to report on the joy the Warriors bring—to one another and to their fans.

It must be liberating to have joy on your side. But what does this mean and how do we know if we have it?

According to Kerr, "joy means losing oneself in the game and letting it take you away." 

Andre Igoudala added "We play a game and it is a job, but when you're having fun—there is no other feeling like that. You're not afraid. You're not worried about missing a shot or what could go wrong. There are no negative thoughts." 

As a fan, I see joy as a byproduct of balance. To me, the Warriors have the perfect mix of set plays and improvisation. The players take shots we expect them to make and others we never saw coming. What happens in between? There's the joy...and pain!

The joyful dance on the hardwood unfolds with a certain freedom because every player knows his role on the team. There is trust among the athletes to take on their role and a healthy respect for the role of others.

As one Warrior said, "There is a spirit that is infectious out there on the court. Taking pride and excitement in each others' successes, not just your own. That's what makes our team go...playing with joy. When you combine all those ingredients, it's brings out the best in all of us."

Sounds like a great description of joy to me. Thank you Dubs!

From Agitator to Animator
Draymond Green makes a name for himself year round, but the playoffs seem to trigger him from animator to agitator. 

As the animator, his competitive spirit drives the team. It's a controlled fire, a passion that gives life late in the third quarter or when the team trails by ten. This is Green at his best!

Its shadow side prods and provides. An agitator gets under the skin of the opponent and that's on them to react and respond. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but at its worst, agitation leads to distraction and breeds contempt. The negativity debilitates the agitator, causes conflict and can quickly get out of control. 

ESPN analyst Kendrick Perkins has been critical of Green. When asked what advice he had for #23 he said 

Draymond, it is time for you to lose yourself in the team.  Be that emotional leader. Be the heart and soul of the team (read: animator). We know that Steph is the best player on the team, but when it comes to leadership it's about Draymond. Other guys are watching you: Andrew Wiggins, Jordan Poole, these younger guys are watching you. 

If he's not having a good game, he still needs to be an extension of Steve Kerr and the coaching staff. They need him to  make sure he leads those other guys to do their part. 

Draymond, don't let those emotions get in the way of leading the young core of players on this team!

Coach Kerr who loves and respects Draymond for who he is ought to give him one simple reminder: animate, don't agitate. 

Courage and Life
I miss seeing both of Steph Curry's parents sitting together in the stands. Having Sonya and Dell Curry on the "sidelines" personalized the professional game. They are still there, both in spirit and sitting separately.

Since their divorce, the mother of the future Hall of Famer shared her own life lessons. One in particular is quite poignant. Cerith Gardiner of 
Aleteia writes

34 years ago, Curry’s mom, Sonya, nearly came close to aborting her son. In her book, Fierce Love: A Memoir of Family, Faith, and Purpose, the mom of three explained that having already had an abortion while in high school, she found herself pregnant again.

As she was about to enter a Planned Parenthood clinic, she felt the Holy Spirit intervene, according to a report in Daily Citizen:

“God had a plan for that child. There could be no Stephen. If I would have gone through that there would have been no Wardell Stephen Curry II.”

It could also be said that God certainly had a plan for Sonya, too. Through her own experience, the basketball star’s mom has now been able to share her story with so many others, and maybe inspire them, too, in difficult life decisions.

As she shared with People, “I wrote Fierce Love to share my story, my testimony, and my experience so that others may find strength and purpose in their own journeys. I want to encourage others to pray continuously, live intentionally, love fiercely, and laugh daily.”

And thanks to her decision to follow God’s path, Sonya has blessed the basketball world with a true sporting hero, and taught him the fundamentals in life. As Curry shared: “From the beginning, my mom has been a rock of encouragement, faith, discipline, and gratitude for me and my siblings.”

I think it takes a lot of courage to share this story, as it does to take on an unwanted pregnancy. 
We will be hearing a lot about that reality as the Dobbs decision comes down in the weeks to come. I want restrictions on guns and I want them on abortion. You might find that overly simplistic, but I do believe we can and should protect the rights of the unborn. I also think we need to do a great deal more to help women—whether is Sonya Curry or someone who could never share her story. I keep reminding myself of the words of Mr. Rogers, Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping. Let us help one another to live in a place where abortion need never even be a choice a woman might have to make.

Before Tip Off Remember
Joy, Animation, Courage and Life.....not a bad cocktail to hold in our hand. I can certainly raise a glass to that...and I plan to. Go Warriors!!

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Memory, Time and Perfection: Thank you, Matt Cain

While I am aware the modern understanding of time is based on Einstein's theory of relativity, can someone help me get a grasp on how memory works? 

I can't remember what I had for lunch yesterday or how I spent last week and yet there are events that occurred five or fifteen years ago that are frozen in time. The perfect game thrown by San Francisco Giants pitcher Matt Cain 10 years from today is one of them.

I imagine legions of baseball fans have miraculous plays and specific games etched in their mind's eye. No doubt a perfect game—a game in which the pitcher completes a minimum of nine innings without a batter from the opposing team reaching any base—ought to qualify for memory lock. It was the first and only perfect game in San Francisco (and New York) Giants history. Thank you, Matty!

For Bay Area residents, June 13, 2012 was just one event in a week that made us feel as though any search for center of the universe would show the Bay. For one, the 112th US Open took place at the Olympic Club on the west side of the city. On June 12, the Giants celebrated Irish Night at the yard by welcoming Rory McIlroy to throw the first pitch. One day later, Dustin Johnson, one of the top golfers in the world joined Matt Cain behind home plate to tee it up. AT&T Park became a driving range with a dramatic target— the McCovey Cove waterway up and over the right field bleachers. Cain admitted this pregame warm-up was one reason he was so relaxed that evening. Note to coaches and managers....

I remember all of it. In high def, in 3-D, in living color. Go Giants!

June can be warm and free of the fog that characterizes the coldest winter Mark Twain event spent. On this night the temperatures were warm and the skies were almost heavy. I can still see and feel it. How is that possible?

I remember a certain buzz started percolating in the sixth inning around the status of this game; the no hit watch was on. At first, the conversation was purely speculation. I thought, there's a lot of baseball left! My friend Heather texted me to tell me her husband was at the game. I was so excited for the Giants and for him!

As Cain continued to put three up and three down, nerves, jitters, excitement and joy reached a boiling point. Gregor Blanco's spectacular diving catch in the seventh inning not only preserved the perfect game, it sent emotions and amazement over the top. After the game Matt Cain asked the right fielder "What can I give you as a thank you gift? A Rolex? Down payment on a house?" Love it.

This once in a lifetime feat, in the midst of one of my favorite sporting events of the year prompted magical conversations on this day—the day after the perfect game: June 14, 10 yeas ago!

Last week I attended my college twenty-fifth plus one year reunion at Notre Dame. It was such a gift to have time with my classmates to reconnect, recall stories and share stories. The biggest surprise wasn't how people look or what became of so and so, it was what I could remember and what I couldn't. I pride myself on having a good memory and I could hardly believe some of the details about classes and teachers, dorm life and people my friends and I discussed. This was both humbling and inspiring. Memory is not a given. Hold on to what you can!

The poet Virgil wrote, “No Day Shall Erase You From the Memory of Time.” Time may or may not fade our memories. The passage of time can deepen out appreciation for what we have been given. And yet, his words, from Book IX of "The Aeneid" suggest the transformative potential of remembrance. So let us exercise our memory and celebrate the milestones—whether it be a perfect game, 25 year reunion or the first month of sobriety for in them lies the potential for transformation, gratitude, inspiration and joy.

Thank you, Matt Cain. Thank you, Gregor Blanco. Thank you DJ and all those who played some part in perfection 10 years ago!

Photo Credits
10 years

Friday, June 10, 2022

Thank You, June: Finding, Coaching and Teaching the Intangibles

Although I am a long ways away from retirement, I get a small taste of it every June. After graduation, I close my grade book and a shift begins. Though I am still working on campus, it's at a much different pace. Sporting comfortable summer clothes, I have conversations with my colleagues no longer defined by the bell. This time together is both restorative and rejuvenating. I sure hope retirement is no different.

I came back from lunch and decided I would return the cross and anchor figure/ statue to its home in the football office. (The cross and anchor is the symbol for Holy Cross, who founded St Francis High School. This figurine travels! One will find it in the end zone at a football game, on the scoring table in the gym and in the photos of many athletic teams). I walked in to see that coaches had already been hard at work. I placed the heavy cross and anchor on its perch and heard "Hi Anne."

During the school year, not all encounters are welcome. It sounds terrible but when you have to get to class or coach a match, any distraction can be problematic. Not in June.

I started talking to Dan a football coach and English teacher about our summer plans. We chatted about his son, the Saudi-back league: LIV Golf (it's more than just a creative name), Ireland and the football practice schedule. For whatever reason, in that moment time was inconsequential. 

I don't understand the physics of time. I have a sense that it might be relative—which both retirement and June affirm. That sense allowed me to really enjoy the conversation and it gave me the opportunity to ask about one of his players. 

St. Francis running back Viliami Teu won the Nick Dillingham Memorial Trophy for Athlete of the Year. He was first team all league, the Bay Area News Group's Player of the Year and the list goes on. 

As written in the San Jose Mercury News, "Teu, whom his friends call “Juju,” ran for an average of 184.3 yards per game. He finished with 2,211 and scored 28 touchdowns. Along the way, he broke the West Catholic Athletic League’s single-season rushing record with 1,449 in seven league games."

These athletes don't come along every year, every five or ten; they are not to be taken for granted. I asked Dan his thoughts on how Juju might do next year at San Jose State University. I worry, Is he big enough?  and then I asked him a question I love to ask coaches. Why was he that good? 

Most people know how fast and shifty Juju can be on the field. He has to be--he's a running back. But instead, Dan started to describe Juju's vision. He said it was unlike anything he had ever seen (pun unintended). Juju's vision allowed for the coaches to create news system for blocking, running routes, etc. 

When talking about vision in football, it's usually linked to the quarterback. But, I heard this attribute ascribed to Emmitt Smith and Walter Peyton. Enter in Juju. Interesting. 

Dan admitted, "I don't know how to coach vision." He was searching to describe ways that he has in the past and how he has seen it. He noted the difference it made on the field and with this team. I understood its importance and wondered how anyone might coach vision.

Great athletes have singular, specific intangibles that amaze and inspire coaches, teammates and fan. Such intangibles are seemingly impossible to coach. While some will name effort, attitude and communication as such intangibles, I like to think about the others: vision, toughness and sport specific intelligence. While they seem largely fixed, there is a path toward growth. 

I love thinking about how to coach vision. How do you coach up the basketball IQ of a player? How can you get a player to take the heat and hit and play tough?

We can't wait for retirement to ask, discuss, discover and share these questions. We might find time in June to raise them, but they're too enjoyable, too interesting and engaging, too creative and energizing to wait. 

I know this is what we love about summer—the days are longer and slower. I hope this season affords you with moments to talk to others about the intangibles in their craft and consider what attributes you find in the greats. And when summer moves to fall, remember—time is relative....

Photo Credits
Marcus Smart

Monday, June 6, 2022

Graduation Day Rituals: Pomp, Circumstance, Highs and Lows

At graduation, I make a point of extending congratulations to every student, parent and grandparent I see. This year, I found myself saying those very words to my colleagues too.

I would argue, graduation is an important day in the life of every educator. While we may grumble about our assigned duties and the early arrival time, the pomp and circumstance affirm what we do. The joy and smiles I give and receive from graduates confirm this job is a vocation. 

After handing out sheepskins to students with last names N-P, I departed from campus in my robe and hood on a natural high. I thought about the many students I would miss and the impact they had on me and in the classroom. I love seeing them dressed up replete with robe and regalia. It is important to formally gather to bless, recognize, award and call the name of every student before we send them into the world. 

At the conclusion of each year, I partake in my own graduation ritual: I share my highs and lows of the year with a trusted colleague. My friend Kerrie and I sat down for Mimosas and I unpacked those I had as an athletic director and a teacher.

In the Classroom
Returning to school with all 30+ fully masked students was not easy. Even though I offer varied instruction and many ways to participate in group work, the 80-minute class proved to be very difficult for my seniors. I knew something needed to change.

Based on some past evaluations, I decided to create a final project called "Living Sports and Spirituality." In short, this assignment asks students to undertake a sports discipline and a spiritual one. For one month, my seniors practice a physical or health discipline related and a spiritual one of their choosing. Some are religious, emotional, mindful or holistic in nature. They research what they are drawn to and track their progress. They must report on the graces and fruits of each practice. Was it challenging? Would they recommend it to others? Why or why not? 

Part of why this project was a high for the year is because we practiced a number of sports and spiritual disciplines as a class. For example, we watched a video on how to complete a pull-up and then went outside to the track where there are 3 sets of pull-up bars. I enjoyed going to the Wrestling room to practice climbing the rope (not that I did it). Not sure how many others did, though. We meditated for 3 minutes with Depak Chopra; we prayed with an icon of Christ. Everyday brought something new.

The journey and the destination were equally enjoyable. Not only are the final projects fun to watch, they reveal much more about each student than one might expect. For any teacher who is interested in assignment please let me know and I will share it with you.

Second, it's never just the curriculum that accounts for highs and lows—relationships with students and other colleagues always find an in. Once again the San Francisco Giants found themselves in the post-season, finishing the season one game ahead of those pesky Dodgers to win the National League West title. Go Giants!

One of my more spirited and outgoing seniors is a huge Dodger fan. He came to class ready to taunt me with his Dodger blue, Pantone 294. When we realized our respective teams would battle each other in the NL Division Series, he said "game on."

I came to class on Monday after the National League Division Series resulted in a tie: 1-1. Giants took Game one and lost Game two—the one I attended. 

One of my favorite aspects of going to a game is when the big screen captures who is in the audience. At the conclusion of the third inning, the song "Danger Zone" filled Oracle Park. Then the camera zoomed in on Tom Cruise, call sign Maverick. He smiled and was met with clapping and cheers. Cruise is a great many things these days both disparaging and highly questionable....but he's also beloved. He's Pete Mitchell. He's Top Gun. He's Maverick.

The spiritual life invites us to pay attention and notice. Other times it calls us to sit and be still. If I been in the beer line or the bathroom, I would have missed this moment. I'm so grateful I had it.

My students walked in on Monday morning to the song "Danger Zone." I shared the story from the weekend and invited them of this truth. It probably was lost on them, but it was personal high for the school year. My student, the Dodger fan reminded me we lost the game. I said "it's a 5 game series." Smiles all around.

In Athletics
Working in Athletics means that I supervise a number of games. This duty means I work at number of late nights and Saturdays, which can make for long days and full weeks. However, I never felt like I was working when I was on call for varsity boys' volleyball. It's easy for me to say this team who won the WCAL, CCS and Nor Cal championships was dominant. Yes, they were incredibly talented but what appealed to me most is that they played with joy. 

Joy in sports is not a quality to be taken for granted. I will probably write more about this as it pertains to the Golden State Warriors, too. When you see it, you know it. It's contagious, it's infectious. Simply put, I watching their games. If that's work...not bad.

Graduation day is an important day, no doubt. We didn't need the loss of public gatherings, ceremonies or shared rituals in the past few years to reveal how important they are. We got that message nonetheless. With that reminder in our hearts and short term memories, I want to encourage students and teachers to take a moment to reflect upon the past year....every year. Acknowledge the challenges They always lead to lessons and naming them through this annual ritual helps me to let them. Celebrate the graces and ask others to do the same

Photo Credits
Rope Climb

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Small Gesture but a Big Impression: Congratulations, Ernesto Sanchez, Jr.

How often have you read the line "studies show...."? Do those words prompt a reaction? Or simply confirm what you already know to be true. I ask because I have a question. I don't even know if there is a way to quantify the research. Do studies show it's the little things that make a difference? Can they? 

When I think back upon an event or recall a special memory, what I savor most is not the big award or the dramatic ending—it is something small. More often than not, I hold on to a gesture that might have gone unnoticed or insight that I have gained through reflection. It's amazing that something so small can make such a lasting impression and cultivate joy. I want to thank Ernesto Sanchez, Jr. for this reminder.

On Friday, May 20, 2022 I attended the San Jose Sports Authority REACH Youth Scholarship Award breakfast. I was there with Lancer football coaches Greg Calcagno and Ray Hisatake on behalf of two Saint Francis High School student athletes—Jacob Meza ‘22 and Ernesto Sanchez, Jr. ‘22 

Established in 1996, the program’s goal is to recognize and honor local high school senior student-athletes who have overcome adversity to excel academically and athletically. At the heart of the REACH program is the belief that "participating in sports can be a source for good in a young person’s life, especially during difficult times." Neither Jacob nor Ernesto are strangers to adversity yet, they each have persevered and generously, passionately contributed to their respective teams. Jacob played soccer and is a member of the track and field team; Ernesto played football and is on track and field.

Honorary co-chairs Ronnie Lott and Brandi Chastain conferred the Dwight Clark Memorial Award, a $5,000 scholarship on Ernesto, a varsity wide receiver and sprinter. He will play football at Foothill College this Fall.

Ernesto, a young man of strong faith was able to tell his story to the scholarship committee and in a video, which all in attendance saw (I hope to post that here once it is available). Ernesto's father died by suicide at the beginning of COVID. His father must have struggled with mental health for some time, as Ernesto asked his mom "Did he finally do it?" when she approached him with tears to bear the tragic news to her son. During that difficult time, Ernesto turned to his teammates and coaches for support. He found it both on and off the field.

Upon receiving this prestigious distinction, Ernesto thanked his family, coaches and those who made the day possible. He said, “Thank you for this great opportunity. You got to hear a little bit of my story. Congratulations to all the other nominees. I wish we could hear your stories, too.”

Ernesto did not know he would be invited to speak at the microphone. The fact that he thought of his peers and their perspectives at this time brought even more tears to my eyes. He was right, I think everyone would appreciate the opportunity to hear the stories of these outstanding student-athletes. I would like Ernesto to know I admire the courage it took to share his.

As an ethics teacher, I teach about character, conscience and virtue. Our character is our destiny! We build it by the decisions we make and don't make. In class, we unpack what is the first, second and the third level of character for more understanding of who we are and who we are becoming. To the frustration of some, our third level of character—our core—is in some sense, a mystery. We get but a glimpse of our deepest selves in how we respond in times of adversity and strife as well as good fortune and great accomplishment. 

I can only hope if I was put in such situations, I would do as Ernesto has done. He remained a committed teammate and turned to his coaches for support. He has kept his faith and continues to pray for his Dad and for others. In victory on the field and at the scholarship breakfast, Ernesto did something seemingly small—he recognized others—and the impact was huge. Our hearts are still burning within....

Photo Credits

Monday, May 16, 2022

One Antidote to Senioritis....Thank you, Tom Brady and Golden State Warriors

There is no vaccine for senioritis. I have wondered if there were, what effects it would mitigate. This year's variant of the spring malady is characterized by a resistance to reading and committing more than seven minutes to a specific task. I have witnessed stronger variants of senioritis in the past. In 2022, there are days when students have energy and enthusiasm and other days when apathy reigns. How ought we teachers treat it? What should be do in response? 

Likely answers include varied instruction, in-class experiences for learning, letting go and having fun. The problem with "having fun" is that it feels like catching "lightning in a bottle" with these 17 and 18 year olds. So when you catch it--enjoy the ride. And that is exactly what I did. How I wish my students understood teachers and students having a good day is not mutually exclusive. This lesson was a win-win.

Last week, my class and I listened to the podcast, "Why Sports Matter: Authenticity." While this particular episode focuses on a Death Match wrestler—Jeff "Cannonball" Guerrero, the creator and narrator, Gotham Chopra interviews Tom Brady and Michael Strahan as well. All men find the flow channel through their respective sports.

About half way through, Deepak Chopra, mindfulness guru and Gotham's father identifies the characteristics of flow and how it can help us understand our true selves. As written on Apple Podcasts, 

"We are what we pretend to be, so you gotta be careful what you pretend to be." Jeff Guerriero works a desk job during the day. At night, his Death Match wrestler alter ego “Cannonball” gets cheese graters raked across his head and wraps barbed wire around his neck. It’s in the transformation from Jeff to "Cannonball" where he finds purpose and contentment.  
Jeff may be an extreme example but it’s not that far removed from any other weekend warrior who plays or follows sports – or even other forms of expression like painting, acting, or comedy. Is part of the appeal of sports that they act as a vessel to get many closer to their true, authentic selves? We search for answers in our final episode of the season by talking to some of the greatest athletes in the history of sports. 

Although my students did not want to see live footage of Death Match wrestling, it does capture their attention. And so do the claims made by Brady and Strahan. Students left class that day intrigued and curious to know more. 

The next class, I used the following questions for review. This is when and where the fun set in. Take a look for yourself.

  • True or False: Extraordinary people tend to have addictive personalities.
  • What does Tom Brady seek or “look for” every game?
  • Brady said the football field is where he is his true self. What does that look like for TB12. Respond.
  • Strahan said if he had to do it over again, he might not. “It’s too hard.” Thoughts? 
  • Tom Brady signed a monster 10-year, $375 million deal from Fox Sports. What is the challenge he will face? What is the skill set he needs?
The answers prompted a spirited discussion. Here is a summary of their ideas.
  1. True: Extraordinary people DO tend to have addictive personalities. Students saw this as both positive and negative. It was not something they were seeking to emulate
  2. The perfect pass. We unpacked what that looks like for Brady and then shared what we might "look for" in what we do (when in flow). I look to hit my irons pure. Today, I enjoyed my round of golf a lot more because I did hit them well!!
  3. For Brady, this means if he's angry he can yell or scream. He doesn't need to hold back his emotions. Students felt that adrenaline factored in to this reality. Others said football is an incredibly emotional game; this is not surprising.
  4. Appreciation 
  5. This question reflects the introductory criteria for flow: challenge and skill set must align. If the challenge is too high and skills are undeveloped, a person will confront anxiety. If the challenge is too low and skills are strong, a person will experience apathy or boredom. One student believes that Brady's challenge will be to explain the game and its systems in a way that others can understand. He certainly knows the game!
I have taught seniors for over 20 years now. I love them in the Fall semester and less so in the Spring. However, come second semester, I know what I'm in for and I think we all appreciate that. I enjoy sharing in this special chapter of their life. I value their leadership, their sudden willingness to try new experiences and have conversations with other classmates. They are more comfortable in their own skin and see their teachers as human beings. 

I have to say the Golden State Warriors were mentioned several times for the sheer witness they bear to being in the flow channel. No senioritis there! Lots of perfect passes, perfect shots, and players allowed to be who their authentic selves. Go Dubs!

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Notre Dame Magazine: Spring 2022 Sports and Spirituality Review: Postcards to Alma Mater

In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill that designated the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day. Mother's Day is that special day when we honor and remember those women in our lives who have made God's love for us a reality. They brought us into this world, loved us, and helped shape us as we live our lives. Thank you, Mom!

My alma mater holds a unique place in the history of this unofficial national holiday. As noted by the Notre Dame Alumni Association, "In 1904, Frank Herring, an alumnus and administrator of the University, observed a class of students sending penny postcards to their mothers. Inspired, he spent the next decade advocating for a day of recognition" for moms. It became a holiday 10 years later, and Herring is still recognized as one of its founders. Go Irish!

It should come as no surprise that a University dedicated to Our Lady made some sort of an impact on this special day. From the gilded statue of the Blessed Mother who overlooks the campus to the song that concludes student gatherings, alumni mass, and even football games—the Alma Mater—the Mother of Jesus, Notre Dame is much more than the name of the school. She is patroness of the University. She is tender, strong and true. She is our Morning Star and guiding light. 

I refer to Notre Dame as my Alma Mater with reverence, respect an affection. I know those from hundreds of other schools do the same. The term is an allegorical Latin phrase used to identify a school, college or university that one formerly attended, or graduated from. The phrase is translated as "nourishing mother," suggesting that a school provides intellectual nourishment to her students. But Notre Dame offered me much more than nourishment of the mind. The word in Spanish for soul is "alma." How fitting. ND "shaped my heart and soul, too.

One way Notre Dame has continued to nourish my heart and mind is through FaithND and Notre Dame Magazine. Since 2019, I have posted a Sports and Spirituality review of each seasonal addition of ND Mag. I have enjoyed reading the printed word looking for stories of sport, spiritual lessons, and the symbiosis of the two.

The Spring 2022 issue features Our Lady of the Snite—a stucco with polychrome statue that has stood at the entrance of Notre Dame's art museum for decades. Created by Jacopo Sansovino, this "500-year-old Madonna and Child received a meticulous makeover for its move to Raclin-Murphy," the on-campus museum to come.

Many of the stories in this issue are spiritual such as:

Each one offers tremendous insight and is of timely import. Thank you editors! Few have a sports leaning, and that's okay! Here is what you may want to check out.

Domers in the News

  • Bryant Young '94 (football) and Shannon Boxx '99 (soccer) or should I write "American football and football," have both earned their sports highest awards. 
  • Boo Corrigan '90 the AD at North Carolina State has been named chair of the College Football Playoff selection committee and
  • Sports media celebs Mike Golic '85 and Jessica Smetana '16 have teamed up for a Draftings video podcast
Indeed, Notre Dame alumni are making an impact on professional sports.

Photographic Memories by Margaret Fosmoe '85

"They were the emails, texts and Instagram images of their day. Starting at the dawn of the 20th century, a postcard craze swept America." Check out how many of them feature Notre Dame football! As a rower, I can't help but love the crew on St. Joseph's Lake.

While I was on campus during Spring Break, I had a chance to send a penny card from the Alumni Office, so I did. My mom and my dad made it possible for me to attend Notre Dame, Carondelet High School and Saint Mary's grade school. My mom in particular wanted her children to have a Catholic education. On that postcard, I had a chance to thank her once again for the love and support she has given to me. Truly she has made God's love a reality in my own life...and so have hundreds of women I have met at and through Notre Dame.

Who would have thought that a penny postcard and an observant teacher could prompt a day like today! To moms, grandmoms, Godmothers, foster moms, stepmoms—thank you. ENJOY!

Photo Credits
Our Lady of the Snite
Bryant Young
Alma Mater
ND Postcard

Friday, May 6, 2022

Mother Angelica and Pau Gasol Walk Into a Bar....Those Who Love Us Tell The Truth

Mother's Day prompts a tornado of tender tributes to the women we call "Mom." It is touching to read the life lessons credited to the women who undertake the most important job in the world. For example, my mom has taught me a truth about truth. She always says, “The truth shouldn’t hurt.” She’s right, it shouldn’t. However, quite often the truth does hurt. And yet, if it’s true, it’s true. Mom!!!

During my virtual spring cleaning, I rediscovered a tribute to a spiritual mother, Mother Angelica. This joyful, humorous, and loving Franciscan Sister, died on Easter Sunday, 2016. It is fitting that this holy woman who built EWTN, a world-wide Catholic cable television network, in 1981 was able to rejoice with the Lord and all the saints and angels in heaven on this great Feast Day. 

Her legacy lives on. Perhaps you remember Mother for her unique voice—it called us to trust in the Lord. Maybe you abide by her “everyday spirituality,” one born of a practical faith, that reminded us when we put our gifts at the service of the Lord we can do amazing things. Her wit and wisdom are the stuff of many popular quotations. One popular quote resonates with the words of my mom. 

She said, "those who tell the Truth love you. Those who tell you what you want to hear love themselves."
Yes, the truth can be hard to hear. It’s hard to admit our failings. Life is difficult; each one of us is fallen and lives in need of God’s grace. Sometimes it’s easier to live the lie, or worse, let those we love live it.

When someone has the courage to share the truth, it’s tempting to become defensive.We might write them off, shouldering resentment and blame for their words or insight. However, their act ought to be viewed as one of love.

We need the truth in the same way that we need God. Gandhi said, “God is truth and truth is God.” Those who speak it share God’s word. What a powerful message! There is much food for thought.

Truth about truth is what I found in yet another article from that pile. In "Swan Song: Pau Gasol says goodbye to retiring Kobe Bryant," the two time NBA Champion wrote 
We didn’t hang out that much off the court, but toward the end we had several meals one-on-one, and we would reminisce. When I was deciding whether to leave the Lakers in 2014, he came to my house in Redondo Beach. He said he wanted me to stay in L.A. and battle with him and finish our careers together. Those were his words. I told him I was in a place where I needed a change in my heart. I needed a change of air. It was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done, telling him, “I’m deciding not to play with you anymore.” 
I signed with the Bulls because I wanted to put myself in position to win another title. I haven’t been able to do that. I miss him a lot. I miss his presence. I miss that attitude. Not many players have it.  
The White Swan, the Black Swan, all of that, it didn’t upset me. It didn’t frustrate me. It showed he cared about me. It was tough love. He was challenging me because he expected more from me. When somebody cares about you, that’s when they challenge you. When they don’t care about you, they ignore you. That’s when you should worry.
What I take from this tribute is that Gasol and Bryant were much more than just teammates. I see them as true friends. They were both able to be truthful with one another, one challenging the other with a spirit of love and excellence. The truth didn't hurt—but the loss still does.
Pau Gasol also wrote "An Open Letter About Female Coaches" that reveals another important truth, that has shaped his view of the world. As written in the Players Tribune, he said, 
I grew up just outside of Barcelona, a child of two highly successful professionals. My father was a nurse and my mother was a doctor. 

I remember how people would often mistake my father as the doctor and my mom as the nurse — it happened more often than it should have, in my mind. To me, that my mother was a successful doctor … this was just the norm. And don’t get me wrong: I admired my dad’s hard work and job as well. But I grew up knowing that my mom got into a more rigorous school and program, and thus she had the more prominent job. That wasn’t weird, or a judgment in any direction. It was just the truth. And we never really thought twice about it. 
I can only imagine the life lessons his mom offered by her example and teachings. No doubt, that perspective is but one significant reason Gasol is so supportive of female coaches, especially in the NBA. 

I am grateful to my mom for the example and values she has instilled in me. I love talking to her on the phone, literally everyday and hearing the truth!

I have to believe this might the first article to ever combine Mother Angelica with Pau Gasol. I suppose if they two were to walk into a bar, we know not what they would talk about but we can guess it would be characterized by truth. Vero?!

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Marcus Freeman: Heart of Gold

A highlight of Spring Break 2022 was the opportunity to participate in this year's Alumni Association Leadership Conference, with approximately 150 leaders from the US and beyond, on campus at Notre Dame. It was an exciting three day gathering of networking, sharing, and celebrating—focused on listening and learning about leadership and its importance. With full knowledge of the audience, the Alumni Association made sure enthusiastic alumni and friends were able to meet with a new, dynamic and principled leader: Coach Marcus Freeman.

In her session "Leading Ourselves in a Changing World...Bringing Our Whole Selves to Our Work," one of the keynote speakers, Dr. Angela Logan identified what it means to be a Tender-Strong-True leader (those are words to describe Notre Dame, Our Mother). She believes one characteristic of a "Strong" leader is that they: Have deeply-rooted moral and spiritual values and convictions that are the fruit of deep reflection. Her teaching invited me to consider where leaders acquire those moral and spiritual values. 

As a teacher in a Catholic school, I want my students name Saint Francis High School as one answer. As a member of a parish, I hope my fellow parishioners would name St. Vincent de Paul as another. Where else? And what if you are unaffiliated with a faith tradition or community? Where and how do you form those values and convictions. 

My friend Father Paul, a Holy Cross priest said relationships are a valuable place for young people and all leaders to develop and deepen their values. I know he is right; I have experienced this in my own life. My family, mentors, friends, classmates and teammates have had a deep and lasting impact on who I am and what I believe. Their example, their own convictions, choices and sacrifices continue to influence my reflection and in turn, what I value. And this realization is yet another example of why I am excited and encouraged by the naming of Marcus Freeman as the 30th head coach for the Fightin' Irish of Notre Dame.

In the days, weeks and months to come, there is no shortage of what you can learn and read about Coach Freeman. I would like for this post to offer but two insights on his value as a Strong leader who has deeply rooted moral and spiritual values.

The power of personal example
Marcus and Joanna Freeman are the parents of six children: four boys and two girls. As you might suspect, people want to know how me manages coaching, being a husband and father of young kids. 

Freeman said "I usually have one to four of my kids with me at a time. They will come to practice and they love to run around, play together, or watch the players. Whether we have a meal or share 20 minutes during that time, it's something. I want my players to see the example of their coach as a father and a husband. So many of them did not have that example in their own lives. I think this is important."

Teachers are reminded time and again that our students are watching us. We need to remember that our example speaks volume. Coach Freeman lives this message in 3-D!

Bringing Spirituality back to Sport
Marcus Freeman, who played linebacker at Ohio State University was recruited by the Irish and made an official visit in the Fall of 2002. He said, "I went to Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart and joined the team as they walked to Notre Dame Stadium before the game. That ritual made such an impression on me."

During the Kelly era, the team went to Mass on Friday walked from the Gug (Guglielmino Athletics Complex) to the stadium on game day.

He added, "I told Ron Powlus how much I loved that tradition.He turned to me, smiled and said 'well, there's only one person who can make that change'."

Freeman was happy to report "so we will return to the Basilica on Saturdays. I want to do that because two hours before the game, you are so vulnerable. It's important to open your heart. Sitting in Church allows us to see the bigger picture and listen to God's word. Here at Notre Dame we embrace our faith."

I was able to see for myself that Coach Freeman practiced what he preached as I watched the football team exit the Basilica on Saturday morning before the Blue and Gold game.

Notre Dame Women Connect Board, Spring 2022
Tender, Strong and True
In Marcus Freeman, I see a leader who is tender, strong and true. I am excited about the relationships he is building in the Notre Dame family and to strengthen the Notre Dame family. I appreciate that he is a man of strong moral and spiritual values and convictions. In his speech to alumni, it became clear to me that decisions he has made are the fruit of reflection, rooted in his values. 

The final presentation of the conference, How Do You Achieve Impact as a Leader? was given by Father Dan Groody, C.S.C. He admitted that early in his life, he desire was to become a great downhill skier, and not a priest. As he got older he wanted to study under the Golden Dome. Once he got to Notre Dame, he found that he began searching for a golden heart. He said "Neil Young got it write when he sang about searching for a Heart of Gold." Well, Irish, I think we have found one in Coach Marcus Freeman. I could be wrong, but all signs are pointing true north.

Photo Credits
Freeman Family
Coach and Players

Monday, April 18, 2022

Notre Dame Magazine Sports and Spirituality Review: Spring Cleaning—Winter 2022

In her weekly e-mail "Five Things Making Me Happy" Gretchen Rubin asks, "Are you spring cleaning? Hark Audio curated spring-cleaning tips from seven different podcasts, including Happier. Very helpful ideas." I should have known this timely topic would appeal to loyal listeners. Vodka, Spit and Coke: How to Spring Clean like an adult" wins the prize for the most creative podcast title I've heard in while. 

Are you Spring cleaning? What does that look like in your household? (and what might it mean to do so like an adult?! stay tuned!) One answer is reducing my physical and virtual inbox closer to zero. With Spring break this week, I have set a deadline to either read or toss those magazine articles and emails I have intended to read by the conclusion of the Easter Octave. So here goes! 

Before I can toss the Winter 2021-2022 issue of Notre Dame Magazine and begin to read the Spring edition, allow me to offer my Sports and Spirituality review from the 50 year anniversary edition! Enjoy

"Outlined against a dark November sky...." this photograph of interhall football by Matt Cashore '94, features the Keenan Hall Knights practicing under lights. Lights! replete with a video tower, I wonder how many teams tape their games and review plays. Interhall, you've come a long way, baby!

From front steps ban to bikes in trees, campus traditions evolve by Margaret Fosmore '85
In Sports and Spirituality, I ask my students often to name rituals and traditions that have meaning for them in both domains. To be a student at both Saint Francis High School and at Notre Dame is to know that the lines between the two aren't always separate.

"Countless campus traditions have waxed, waned and transformed over time to meet the needs of a changing student body within a changing nation. What do these changes — and the firm traditions — say about the University and its culture?"

What a great question for students and alumni to consider and answer!

“Everyone shows up at Notre Dame at a different point in time. Those traditions are one way that you connect to that larger history,” says Katherine Walden, an assistant teaching professor of American studies who offers a Football in America course.

I think it's important for young people to know what went before them, what they share in and what they may contribute. “All traditions serve a purpose, and they have to be able to organically grow or fade,” Collier says. He sometimes is troubled by efforts to market longstanding campus customs, like the pep rallies, rather than allowing them to blossom or die naturally. Students are drawn to the authentic, he says, which brings us to his challenge to the next generation of students: “What traditions will you bring to Notre Dame? What customs can you start?”

Echoes: Remembering the Flamboyant Verly E. Smith by Margaret Fosmore '85

It's hard to hear about the success of a football team without at least a nod if not a game ball given to the Strength and Conditioning Coordinator. Irish football fans breathed a massive sigh of relief when Matt Balis, Director of Football Performance announced that he would stay following Coach Brian Kelly's departure to LSU. I hope somewhere in his office is a photo of Notre Dame's original strength and conditioning coordinator: Mr. Verly Smith.

"Hired to heal the muscle strains and other injuries of Rockne’s players — records indicate Smith was probably Notre Dame’s very first African American employee — he also took on trainer duties for the basketball, track and baseball teams."

"In the early 1920s, Smith was hired as a trainer for the Notre Dame football team. His grandsons don’t know how or when he first met Knute Rockne, or whether it was Rockne who offered the job, but Smith was the team’s trainer during the height of Rockne’s coaching career, including in 1924 — the season of the Four Horsemen, the famous Irish backfield." 

Flashy and flamboyant he was an entrepreneur, an innovator, a husband, father and grandfather, trainer and gambler—Verly E Smith is an important character in the legend and lore of Notre Dame football. I feel the need to ask Coach Balis about that photo....

Deaths in the Family

Timothy Francis Welsh coached the men’s swimming team for three decades, leading both men’s and women’s swimming for 10 of those years. His teams won the Big East championship six times, earned the University’s first invitations to the NCAA Championship meet, garnered its first All-American honors, set multiple records and sent swimmers to the Olympic Games.

In 2014, the College Swimming Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) presented Welsh with its highest honor, the National Collegiate and Scholastic Swimming Trophy. But the most eloquent testimonial about the quality of his leadership may have been the former swimmers who visited their coach during the final leg in his battle with pancreatic cancer. Welsh died June 2 at age 76.

As a coach, he motivated his swimmers to pursue personal excellence and encouraged a familial devotion to teammates. Rarely was that sense of family more apparent than in the wake of a fatal bus crash in 1992, when the women’s team was returning to campus from a meet.

My good friend and podcast partner, Haley Scott DeMaria is one of those swimmers who not only survived the bus crash but was with Coach Welsh until the end. Through her ongoing personal testimony of his impact, I have a much stronger sense of what it means to be not a good coach, but a great one. Though swimming is an individual sport, the members of his squads know what is possible when we truly give of ourselves for the good of the team. Thank you, Coach Welsh. You are missed!

The (Next) Line That Can’t Be Crossed by Jason Kelly '95
If you're looking to gain a perspective on where college athletics is going—including the impact of NLI and "putting paid to amateurism" take your time and read up here and now.

As the subtitle suggests: The history of college athletics can be measured in a series of singular moves that traditionalists said were steps too far. The story starts with a phone call for Coach Parseghian about a football game 
rescheduled at ABC’s behest. "Instead of a routine November weekend road trip to Georgia Tech, the defending champion Fighting Irish would open the season with a Monday night prime-time spectacle in Atlanta under stadium lights and the metaphorical kliegs of national television." The year was 1974.
Less than 20 years later, the NBC became the University's official broadcasting partner. "This season, Notre Dame dipped a toe into live-streaming with the home opener against the University of Toledo available only on NBC’s subscription service, Peacock. Director of athletics Jack Swarbrick ’76 emphasized that he — not NBC — made that decision, which upset many fans accustomed to free, over-the-air access to Fighting Irish football. He chose the Peacock experiment with one eye on the program’s history and another on its future." What's next? As a Notre Dame football fan, one thing is for sure—we'll find out.

What's funny is that Red Smith, stated a poignant question that applies to our world today. In 1927 he wrote, “The concept of intercollegiate sports as a leisure-time recreation is long out of date. But whatever became of the concept of athletics as part of a balanced academic program, the mens sana in corpore sano approach, the notion that the coach is a professor whose classroom measures 360 feet by 160?” Are we not asking those same questions nearly 100 years later?

If Spring cleaning goes well, I'll have the Sports and Spirituality review of the Spring issue by the end of the week. Hope springs eternal! 

Photo Credits

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Extreme Sports: Extreme Altruism

Forget that March Madness lived up to its name once again. Or that five athletes presented at the 94th Academy Awards show. My local SportsTalk radio couldn't stop talking about what transpired at the hands of Best Actor, Will Smith. That event took away from his Oscar winning performance as Richard Williams in "King Richard" and the fact that Venus and Serena executive producers of the film were both on hand. The other three athletes on stage at Hollywood's Dolby Theatre on ABC were a trio from the world of Extreme Sports. It's safe to say the media and Hollywood enjoys taking things to extremes...but so do some athletes and now—some philanthropists, too! 

Extreme sport legends Tony Hawk, Kelly Slater and Shaun White "weren’t there because the Academy decided to retroactively recognize Lords of Dogtown or Surf’s Up as the cinematic masterpieces that they are." (Outside) No, the superstar surfer, snowboarder, and skateboarder (respectively) traded their boards for tuxedos to present a tribute to the 60 year anniversary of the James Bond franchise.

I was intrigued but not surprised that Hollywood sought out extreme sport athletes to promote Bond. Watch but a few moments of any era James Bond film and you will come to realize that what Connery/Moore/Dalton/Brosnan and Craig do is nothing short of extreme. I suppose what draws a fan to extreme sports and Bond is one in the same.

So allow me to take a giant leap—much like the ones that Bond takes to get from one train car to another. Or that gets White in the air for the half pipe. Might we as a society be ready for extreme altruism?

Jesus—an extremist for love, compassion, inclusion and mercy—spoke of extremes long before the X-games I read about it in America Magazine. In the parable "The Rich Young Man," Jesus is asked "What must I do to inherit eternal life?"Jesus answers, “If you wish to be perfect,* go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 

Extremes have never been easy, then or now. As written in Matthew's Gospel, "the young man "went away sad, for he has many possessions. I know I would have, too. And yet, extremes are but one way the Lord may draw us in. Look to Saul who becomes Paul for but one example.

Katie Acosta, who shared her story in "I donated my kidney to a stranger. The hardest part was people’s reaction," is another. It chronicles her decision and experience with non-directed kidney donation. 

She writes "I knew that you only needed one kidney to live and that friends and family could potentially donate a kidney to a loved one in need, but I had no idea that there was an entire process through which a random person could be matched with another random person in need of a kidney. After a couple of hours spent researching the matching process, the surgery, recovery time and potential risks, I knew that this was something that I wanted to do." 

She adds, 

I also somehow ended up as one of the subjects of a documentary exploring the idea of altruism. The filmmakers included non-directed kidney donation as a form of “extreme altruism.” I said yes to being in the film because I figured that if even one person saw it and decided that they wanted to look into non-directed donation, it would be worth it.

But I am also concerned that the film suggests that non-directed kidney donation should be considered extreme altruism or that I am some kind of special person for doing this.

I have gotten to know myself pretty well over the past 30 years, and I can say with some certainty that I am not a good person. Don’t get me wrong, I am not the complete worst either, just what I consider to be very “medium.” And yet, faced with the decision to electively donate an organ to potentially save someone else’s life, it never really felt like a choice. And I firmly believe that so many people, even the very “medium” ones like me, would feel similarly if they really knew that this was an option. So I am here to tell you that it is.

As Catholics, we are called to serve others. While I have struggled greatly with the Catholic Church as an institution in the wake of the sexual abuse crisis, an appreciation for the Gospel call to serve is one area of my Catholic faith that has never wavered. But when I read the article on kidney donation, it occurred to me that I was doing nothing at the time to actually live out that part of my faith. If my faith was asking me to give of myself, kidney donation would allow me to do that literally. I just knew that this was something I could do.

Acosta's donation is almost otherworldly. Yes, we are called—especially Lent, to give alms—money, food or material possessions to the poor, but to not call it extreme would be misguided. 
Yet, what ought to be considered is that the person who freely made this choice "knew this was something I could do." To her, the extreme is not necessarily easy (read the rest of the article) but not beyond her abilities, either. And so it is for Tony Hawk, Kelly Slater, Shaun White and hundreds of other extreme sport athletes. Their examples are well known and popular. Might we benefit from more like hers?

Psalm 139 says "you are fearfully and wonderfully made." Need evidence? Look no further. We all have our own unique gifts, talents and abilities. In this Easter season, what might it look like to give.... to the extremes?!

Photo Credits