Saturday, December 31, 2022

Reflections on My 22* for 2022

On New Year's Eve 2021, I offered a reflection on one of the best habits I acquired that year—reading for 21 minutes each day. It stayed with me in 2022 and on a good day, I found time to read for 22 minutes plus. At that time, I revealed my 22 for 2022

Most, though not all, rounds of golf on new courses were played with this crew. Thanks OC ladies!

My goal is to play 22 new golf courses in 2022. This will be a fun and interesting challenge, and it's one I know I can accomplish as I will be paying greens fees at 12 new ones in Ireland in July. God willing! I am excited for the new places and perspectives I will gain by hitting the same ball (more or less) with my same clubs on new links. 

And, being that I don't write and teach about Sports and Spirituality—but actually live it!—my goal is to attend Mass at 22 new Catholic churches. I am committed to Sunday mass at my parish but I always enjoy the opportunity to pray with a new community in a different, often historic, and beautiful setting.

Similar to my tracking the books I read, I look forward to doing the same with my golf courses and Catholic parishes.

It's funny to think about it now, but 2022 threw a good number of surprises my way—most notably, a job change—taking me back to St. Ignatius. I realized, I couldn't do it all—live in San Francisco and commute to Mountain View. That same spirit and perspective is how I approached my lofty goal for this year. After playing 10, not 12 golf courses in Ireland. I realized  getting in 10+ rounds at new venues by the year's end was too ambitious. Plenty of golfers don't even play 22 rounds of golf, let alone do so at a new locale. I decided to combine forces and marry  sport and spirituality into one lump sum.

A great day for Sports and Spirituality. The HMB Pumpkin Run/Walk 5K is beautiful.
We finished in time for mass. I told James here my prayer was answered--the priest's homily finally came to and end...

While it's always fun (and challenging) to play a new golf course, much to my surprise, going to new churches proved more interesting. I shared this goal with my students and discovered I had unique stories, new insights and meaningful life lessons from most, if not all of the churches listed below. A personal highlight from this form of evangelization came by way of an unsuspecting student who approached me after class and asked "Do you only visit Catholic churches? I think you might like mine." She proceeded to tell me about her church, the community and what about it is special to her. She will love this year's 23 for 2023!

I will offer but a few insights from I gained from each and would love to hear if you've been to these places and/or want to go. Where will 2023 bring you? What sports and in what ways will spirituality be part of you life? 

1. Our Lady of Joy—Carefree, AZ
The Blessed Mother has many titles, this one might be one of my favorites. What made this mass memorable is that I went with my Uncle Jay (who lives in Washington State). If you know him, you know he truly lives his faith. I am always better having spent time with him.

2. Chapel of Saint Charles Borromeo—Alumni Hall, Notre Dame IN
I'm not convinced proceeds from the Catholics v. Convicts shirts didn't fund the of the restoration of the incredible stained glass windows in this chapel. All hail to the Dawghouse.

3. Chapel Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center in Sierra Madres, CA 
I don't take for granted that I have the opportunity to pray with my colleagues. I was one of five educators sent from Saint Francis High School to participate in the "Living the Mission" retreat—bringing together Moreau Catholic and Notre Dame Sherman Oaks—all Holy Cross schools. The mission of the Passionists is "the communication of the saving message of the Cross of Jesus Christ." This was made evident in the prayers of the faithful. So many people suffer in this world—their health, financially, etc. We are called to bring our suffering to the Lord.

4. Geddes Hall Chapel—Notre Dame, IN
Site and house of worship for the Notre Dame Women Connect retreat. NB: Don't be in charge of a retreat when it's also your 25 +1 year reunion and your classmates pay off the DJ to play for an extra hour. Ask Mike Golic if you don't believe me.

5. St. Mary's of the Angels, Dublin, Ireland
I was in Ireland during a heat wave. Even the church was uncomfortably warm. Who knew?!
Love that they offer a mass in Gaelic.

6. Franciscan Friary, Killarney, IRL
One of the most meaningful homilies I have heard to date. It still stays with me. Prompted this blog post: 
The Wide World of Sports and Spirituality: Killarney, Kerry vs Galway and Why We Should Pray

7. Loretto—St. Mary's College, Notre Dame, CA
Mass in the round. Trés Vatican II. Only made better by the presider being a good friend—Father Paul Kollman, CSC.

The old church: St. Anne in Byron, CA

8. St. Anne's—Byron, CA
I had just taught my sophomores about Why Jesus was baptized and I'm glad I did because otherwise, I might have walked out. I'm quite partial to a short(er) mass.

The child that was being welcomed into the Church was part of such a loving family I could not tell who were the parents and who were the Godparents. After the chrism was poured on the baby, the priest extended the baptismal candle to the child's parents (I think!). This little boy extended his arm as if to receive it, too. This child was welcomed to the faith with open arms and full hearts. 

A very warm and inclusive parish, the new St Anne's in Byron

9. Our Lady of the Pillar—Half Moon Bay, CA
A tie for my favorite visit of the year. Following the 44th Annual Pumpkin Run in Half Moon Bay, my dear friends Eileen and her son, James and I went to the one Catholic Church in town. I told Eileen, I knew but one family who are members of this parish.

Sure enough, the father—Chris served as the lector that day. At the sign of peace he did a double take when he saw I was there for mass. In his excitement, he pulled up the wedding photos of his daughter, who I taught. Instead of getting to the photo however, he hit his music file and Springsteen's "Hungry Heart" started playing loud and clear. I turned to Eileen and said "Chris is from Jersey. When I met his brother, he was wearing a Stone Pony t-shirt." Chris tried to stop the music, but it kept playing. If only the entire church had been invited to sing along!

10. St. John the Baptist—Rio Vista, CA 
Following a visit to Foster's Big Horn, I was able to attend the Saturday vigil mass. There were very few young people at this service but I was happy to see grandparent and his grandson both volunteered to take the collection. I started to wonder how many more young people might welcome the opportunity to go to mass with their grandparents. While many people don't live close to extended family, for those that do—I read about how meaningful this is for my students all the time...

11. St. Raymond's—Menlo Park, CA
My other favorite visit of the year, this vigil mass included the First Holy Communion of a young man who had Downs Syndrome. I wasn't quite sure why he didn't participate in the communal experience of the sacrament. Regardless, the joy of his special day was infectious!

After he received the Eucharist, he hugged and kissed his parents and Godparents, and smiled. He prayed and we all sat down, followed by a few moments of silence. It was time to bring the liturgy to a close, so the he presider said "Let us pray." to which this boy sang back "let us pray!" The two priests, the altar servers and those who could hear smiled. 

I was reminded of what a gift it is to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. It should prompt us to sing. Some of our greatest teachers can be people that society deems to be a challenge or burden...and sadly in our world today—expendable. In the spirit of Sports and Spirituality, I followed up this story with sharing the success of collegiate golfer, Amy Bockerstette.

Attending mass in a new church reveals the gifts and unique spirit of many different communities. Take an opportunity to go to Mass in a new place in 2023.

1. The Fountaingrove Golf Club, Santa Rosa, CA
The shotgun started began at 1:00 p.m. and the temperatures climbed to well over 100 degrees. my back never felt so loose.

2. Valley of the Moon, Santa Rosa, CA
Very, very humbling to see the effects of the Tubbs Fire. Makes the danger of forest fires that much more real.

3. The K Club—Palmer Ryder Cup Course
Can we say jet lag? heat wave? Most golfers can as there is always a reason that the struggle is real. That and the fact that the club championship took place on the course earlier in the day. Yes, the pin placements were diabolical.

4. Royal Dublin—Contarf East, Dublin, IRL
My caddy spoke Irish (Gaelic) and was interested in the University of Notre Dame. I begged him to apply.

5. Portmarnock Golf Club—Dublin, IRL

The Irish Blessing says "may the wind be always at your back." Amen, especially when you play links golf. 

6. Fota Island—Deerpark Course, Cork, IRL
Somehow missed the fact that the course is adjacent to a zoo. Says something about how much concentration golf asks of me.

7. Old Head GL—Kinsale, IRL
Captivating. Prompted me to write The Benefits of Blue Space.

Monica and I never got to play together, but we did play A LOT of Hearts.
I admit it, I loved throwing down the Queen of Spades on her...

8. Dook's Golf Links, Glenbeigh, IRL
Thank you to my very fit caddy who never gave up on me, though I wanted to...

9. Killarney—Killeen Golf Course, IRL
This is what you see when you pick up a postcard from Ireland.

10. Ballybunion—Old Golf Course, IRL
Don't fade to the right off the first tee. Your ball will end up in a cemetery. Not a metaphor or an allegory. Irish truth.

11. Lahinch GL—Old Course, IRL
First round in the wake of COVID. Missed out on Waterville and Tralee, it was great to be back out there.

12. Adare Manor, IRL
When you play that much golf, the descriptor "resort course" is a most welcome thing (minus the final hole).

Naming my 22 for 2022, gave me license to talk about this challenge and welcome others into the fold. I'm so grateful for the people who shared in the journey with me—my playing partners, caddies, friends new and old, fellow Catholics and curious Christians, my students and more. I hope you will join me in my 23 for 2023.... 

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

The Doppelgänger—Who's Yours?!

I want to thank Deuschland—Germany and its culture for their contributions to the world: Bach and Beethoven, Audis and Porsche, pretzels, Oktoberfest, Steffi Graf and Boris Becker to name a few. Za German's impact on the holiday season is particularly impressive—from Kris Kringle, to the Christmas tree— Oh Tannebaum! But a singular contribution I want to highlight is something you might be able to use at the dinner table, your next festive gathering or on New Year's eve: the doppelgänger.

Nick Bosa leads the league in sacks. And, every time he gets one, his gesture reminds me of Mickey...

You have seen them as memes, posted on the internet and even discovered through various apps.
Though it has a darker past, today, it is benign. As written in Britannica

in German folklore, a wraith or apparition of a living person, as distinguished from a ghost. The concept of the existence of a spirit double, an exact but usually invisible replica of every man, bird, or beast, is an ancient and widespread belief. To meet one’s double is a sign that one’s death is imminent. The doppelgänger became a popular symbol of horror literature, and the theme took on considerable complexity. In The Double (1846), by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, for example, a poor clerk, Golyadkin, driven to madness by poverty and unrequited love, beholds his own wraith, who succeeds in everything at which Golyadkin has failed. Finally the wraith succeeds in disposing of his original.

Most likely, your experience of the doppelgänger is what the word means in German: “double goer."

I used to get rocker, Sheryl Crow. But during my sophomore year, I was the only underclassman on my boat. I never talked, just smiled. They called me Janet ;-)

Finding another person's 
doppelgänger is a fun way to draw a comparison between a friend or family member with a celebrity or cartoon character. It requires a healthy sense of humor and good bit of humility. Not all people celebrate their doppelgänger—but when you get a good match, it's hard not to! 

For those who are observant, pay attention to detail and delight in observing human behavior— naming another's doppelgänger isn't overly challenging. And yet, it's also something you want to share with a good bit of confidence and accuracy. While not all people will see what you see and we won't all agree, doppelgänging (how German, I just made that up!) gets everyone thinking. Who do you know? What traits stand out? What is similar? What is different?

Yes, we are all made in the image and likeness of God. In fact, we are fearfully and wonderfully made! No two of us are the same...but some are pretty close (and I am not just talking about twins). Who knows, maybe even the good Lord has had fun with za doppelgänger.

two legends: Matt Cain and Linus van Pelt

So this holiday if you need an activity, consider how to play with the 

  • Invite people to come up with their own. 
  • Create a pub trivia type of form so you can match the double goer. 
  • Make a matching list—of celebrities doppelgängers. I have had fun thinking of athletes with cartoon characters (as you can see here). 
  • If you're really brave, allow people on the spot to share what they see in others at that time. This might NOT go well, depending on your audience and who is a person's match!
  • Have people in the group share who people tell them they look like/who they hear they look like. Rate that on a scale of 1-10 for purported accuracy.

Just a taste of what's to come for the SI faculty...

The faculty of Saint Ignatius College Prep begins the new year with a two-day retreat. This is a meaningful way to conclude the Christmas break and commence the second semester. For our evening entertainment, one of the activities will be the unveiling of faculty doppelgängers. No one is required to submit—it is opt in! The doubles that people have shared have brought me to tears (of laughter). Some people have such a fantastic sense of humor. But a few have had me scratching my head. I have to say the commentary and/or context for each match has been priceless. It's always good to laugh and when we can, to laugh at ourselves. The activity itself has served as fun and light hearted talking point—something that is always a good thing.  Thank you, Germany.

Let me know what you think....and what you see?! Who is your match?!

Sunday, December 18, 2022

An Open Letter to Caleb Williams, the 2022 Heisman Award Winner

Dear Caleb,

Congratulations on winning the 2022 Heisman trophy. When I return to the LA Coliseum, I will look in the east zone for that jersey featuring your name and number— one among seven others in Trojan history. Impressive. 

I did not know that you graduated from Gonzaga College High School in DC until I heard your speech. As an educator in a Jesuit high school, I appreciate the credit you gave to your Catholic education for showing you how to be a man for others—a motto credited to Pedro Arrupe, SJ and known throughout Ignatian circles.

It was simply awesome to see the reaction of current Bulldogs when your name was called. So many of my colleagues in other Jesuit schools have shared your story. The connection from one school to another is significant. Your speech lit up my Instagram feed, as I follow the likes of Jesuit Schools Network, Jesuits West among others. Your win is a near win for Jesuit education and athletics!

In a statement to CNA, the president of your alma mater, Father Joseph Lingan, SJ said, “We remain proud of Caleb’s leadership both on and off the field, his charitable nature, and his gracious and humble character … on behalf of the entire Gonzaga Community CONGRATULATIONS CALEB!”

While I understand it is important to give credit where credit is due, I do not celebrate your nomination. I have serious doubts and concerns about lauding you as a graduate of a Catholic Jesuit school, given other messaging you have sent throughout the season. Those messages were visible and they were public. And, as the starting quarterback of the team, they were hard not to notice or see. They were on the fingernails of your left and right hands.

Many people know you paint your fingernails before a game. When asked "Why?," on Good Morning America you shared it is because of your mom. You said, "My mom was my inspiration, I mean, she's been doing nails since I could remember. And and she's always done it. I think since she was probably like 14, she's always done it." Painting of your nails is far from problematic. However, the message you have on them is.

You painted F*** ND, F*** UCLA and F*** Utah before playing each school.
As written on SportingNews, "He sported "F--- Cal" polish when USC beat Colorado in what seemed to be the ultimate disrespect. Against Washington State, he painted the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline onto his nails. In fact, the profanity seemed to come later on in the year, as they were often designs early in USC's season. He donned USC's logo in his debut against Rice, and against Stanford he put the Stanford logo onto his middle finger. It's not hard to figure what he means by that."

As I wrote in my post: Profanity and The Why: Questions from USC Quarterback, Caleb WilliamsI have no idea how demonstrating that type of profanity honors the game, your own team or your rival. I would argue that message goes against what sport is and should be.

You thanked your Coach Randy Trivers who is on campus as a faculty member—teaching both Classical and African American literature. I wonder, did you consider what he might say if asked "Why does your former player paint his nails in that way?" Is it consistent with his coaching philosophy?

You said, “Coach, you may not know this, but the Gonzaga mantra that you drilled into us, ‘men for others,’ has helped inspire me to create the Caleb Cares Foundation, which is all about giving back, so thank you coach, thank you Gonzaga.”

While I do not take for granted that you acknowledged and thanked your coach, I do not know how the words, being a man for others, permits participation in this type of pregame ritual. I have a strong suspicion that had you painted your nails like this in high school, one of your coaches would have noticed. I can't help but think J.U.G. is one possible consequence.

I write because it could have been different. The beauty of a motto or mantra is that it can guide a young person to live and love a certain way. But, they also run the risk of ringing hollow or hypocritical. This is where I raise my question: Why?

In 2009, the former principal of St. Ignatius College Prep (who happens to be a graduate of Gonzaga HS) noticed a picture in the front of Sports Illustrated. Written on the wrist tape of the Stanford offensive guard was the Jesuit motto: AMDG. 
It caught his attention. Why? Stanford isn't a Jesuit school, but the athlete who wrote it hails from one. Andrew Phillips is a graduate of Georgetown Prep.

I reached out to Phillips to find out why he did this. Much to my delight, he responded.

The Jesuits taught me that everything you did was meant to be done with the knowledge that your actions were giving glory to God. I always took a mindset as a player that my play wasn't just helping my team win, but as an expression of my talents it was actually a personal way of giving glory to my creator. There was something very centering in my ritual of putting those letters onto my wrist tape, and my wife even surprised me by having AMDG etched into the inside of my wedding ring. Though I hung up my pads several years ago, the principle of  Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam is still something I use as a guide in my daily life. 

How might your message be seen and heard differently had you painted AMDG on your nails? or in promotion of your own team?  Though I am not a USC fan, this nomination would serve as a notable affirmation of who we are and what we aim to do. Instead, I find the inconsistency deeply problematic. In fact, it invites me to double down and re-examine what we teach, value, promote and why. That is never a bad thing.

A platform used for the good is AMDG.


Anne Stricherz
St. Ignatius College Prep
San Francisco, California

Photo Credits

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Kylian Mbappé: The Remnant

But I will leave as a remnant in your midst, a holy people humble and lowly, who shall take refuge in the name of the Lord: the remnant of Israel. —Zep 3:1-2, 9-13

Tomorrow, Argentina and France will face off in the finals of the 2022 World Cup. It is safe to say that the two faces that represent each team are Lionel Messi (ARG) and Kylian Mbappé (FRA). While soccer fans are anxious to see if Messi will secure his first World Cup victory, there is something worth paying attention to in France's forward Kylian Mbappé. Yes, he's fast but there's more to his game. Think of him this way: as a remnant…

When I hear the word “remnant,” I think of a fabric and material—stacks or piles of it. Growing up, my mom sewed a lot. I would accompany her at the fabric store. I was drawn to the beautiful patterns, and colors of remnants. Each one was marked on discount. Why? Remnants are what is left. They are what remains on a bolt of fabric. The Prophet Zephaniah was addressing something similar, yet different. 

The remnant is a recurring theme throughout the Bible. The Anchor Bible Dictionary describes it as "What is left of a community after it undergoes a catastrophe." The concept has stronger representation in the Old Testament than in the New Testament.

Though the door has yet to officially close on the COVID-19 pandemic, it is safe to say our world underwent a colossal catastrophe. It might be wise to consider What is left? I would like to offer but one answer....and invite you to put Mbappé to your mind's eye as a reminder.

COVID forced us to slow down. We had no choice but to stay home, stay local and stay safe. Though far from a retreat, the tough, long and even dark days of COVID were not hurried. Traffic subsided, we reviewed our expectations and minimized our obligations. We were forced to put on the brakes—even when we did not want to.

There is great wisdom in slowing down. As Matthew Kelly says "our obsession with efficiency and remaining on the go often lures us away from what matters most."

What matters most are what the Christmas season brings—occasion for family and friends to come together, the rich rituals and traditions of Advent, the celebration of the Incarnation, the joy of giving, sweets and treats, and new memories to make. Sadly, the pressing demands, expectations and obligations of it all lead to stress, anxiety and the inability to do what we should: rest, relax, slow down, enjoy. Some people are able to do, others are not. 

This is where a careful analysis of one's own life and the game of Mbappé might help.

An avid soccer fan and good friend shared this insight with me. "When asked about Mbappé and what makes him so special—speed is the usual response. But a true connoisseur if the sport replied. “It’s not his speed, but his brakes.” 

Slowing down is a skill worth developing. It might actually take practice and effort—but it won't take away from your day—it will add to it. Do you agree?

Examples and exemplars help. Who in your life is good at taking the "hurry" out of their day? Who comes to mind when you think of "putting on the brakes" in a tactical, important way?  

When you watch the finals of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, look to 
Mbappé—the remnant— and how he puts on the brakes. Take some time to slow down and reflect further upon what matters most this Christmas. 

Photo Credits

Sunday, December 11, 2022

BELIEVE! The Ted Lasso Effect: Carol of the Bells Discussion Guide

It's the holiday season and my neighbors have a red glitter sign posted on their front door. It says "BELIEVE." I immediately think of...Ted Lasso

I admitted this to a friend—a mom of two young children and a Ted fan. "That's about Santa Clause!" she cried. "I know...I know," I said. "Must be the Ted Lasso effect."Maybe you understand. 

Do you find yourself saying "Oi!" I do, especially when I miss a 3 foot putt. That's the Roy Kent effect. Do you think some look like one of the show's characters? I have a dead ringer for Jamie Tartt, in personality too! I another for Dani Rojas."Football IS life," right? Has Ted Lasso increased your interest in the World Cup? If you have answered "yes" to any of these questions, you might be wondering how you too can bring the Ted Lasso effect into the Christmas season? What might it take to help others really "BELIEVE?" Here's my suggestion: Bring friends and family together to watch Season 4, Episode 2: Carol of the Bells. Your discussion guide is below.

"God Bless Me, Everyone." —Jamie Tartt

The holiday season is back but not at the speed it once was. Between COVID concerns and inflation, some party hosts are opting to pass. But this is a fun way to gather for drinks,  discussion and good holiday cheer. Guests need not wear their favorite soccer jersey nor do they need to have seen prior episodes. This one can stand alone.

The IMDB's plot summary says: "It's Christmas in Richmond. Rebecca enlists Ted for a secret mission, Roy and Keeley search for a miracle and the Higginses open up their home."

Begin with the entry level questions. These are questions that are low stakes and easy to talk about. The show doesn't have the complexity, character development or depth of the other episodes, but that doesn't mean you can't add that to the discussion.

Christmas in August

  • This episode was released on August 12. When do you start celebrating the Christmas season? 
  • Do you have any personal rules as what and when you engage in "the most wonderful time of the year? e.g. the day after Thanksgiving? November 15? Not until two weeks before Christmas do any lights go up? etc.
The Gift of Music

  • When is the last time you went Christmas caroling?
  • What are songs of the season that are meaningful for you?
  • This song lists two of my favorite Christmas songs—"Little Saint Nick" by the Beach Boys and "Fairytale of New York" by The Pogues (which brings me to tears for some reason). What is your favorite Christmas hit?

So many Christmas Movies!

  • This episode references Love Actually, Once, It’s a Wonderful Life and a Christmas Story. Do you have a favorite Christmas story or movie?
  • Is there a Christmas movie you watch every year?

The next set of questions pertain to Ted Lasso as a series. 

Friendship is an important theme—one that is demonstrated among several different characters. Friendship is portrayed in a very positive light between Ted and Coach Beard, Keely and Miranda and among teammates.

  • What do you want to see in a Hollywood friendship?
  • Take that idea of watching something on a screen (from a distance): What have you learned from the friendships that your parents have? Your siblings have? Your spouse? Your children? 
  • What have you learned about yourself in the friendships that you have?
  • 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 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 as a seamless, efficient unit. We must not underestimate the strength of this bond. Describe some of the friendships you have made through sport. How would you. characterize those friendships?

Positivity is a quality that first drew fans to the showed. Launched during COVID, we needed examples of positivity, in spite of our struggles. Ted was one answer.

  • Think of a positive person you know/are close to…
    • How do they do it?
    • What do they do?
  • Is this something you work on? Need to work on?

The episode is but 30 minutes long. The discussion can last as long as you want. Maybe you will add your own question or comment. For example, I love how Lesley Hingiss addresses every athlete at his table. He said "To you and all your families back in Lagos, Guadalajara, Groningen, Cordon, Montreal, Benin City, Harare, Kingston... and Santa Cruz de la Sierra. Happy Christmas." I always remember where a person is from; I loved that he nailed every locale. In him, I have a kindred spirit. 

Out of COVID, I think we learned to not take the opportunity to come together for granted. And yet, the hectic schedules and busy time of the holiday season make that difficult for many of us. I hope this post might serve as an impetus to do so—to grow more positive and to help one another BELIEVE. Oi yeah!

NB: 1) This discussion guide was used with a group of woman during a breakout session on a retreat. 2) This episode has some adult language and content; it is not appropriate for children of a certain age.

Photo Credits
Miranda and Ted
Jamie Tartt

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Profanity and The Why: Questions from USC Quarterback, Caleb Williams

In athletics, we talk about "the why" a lot. Athletic directors emphasize the importance of this question. Coaches: Why do you coach? Athletes: Why do you compete? Why do you play the sport that you do? Why participate on your high school team? Why are you a member of a club team? And a recent choice by USC quarterback, Caleb Williams has prompted me to again ask about "the why."

I will admit, I have grown weary of talking about "the why." It feels idealistic and at times, a near platitude. It sounds great on paper but the day to day grind and lived reality is light years from "the why." And still, I recognize it's worth asking.

As a high school teacher, at times I dread walking through the student center. It opens my ears to complaints about my fellow teachers (and me) and gripes about grades. I hear claims of what is or isn't fair. While it's fun to hear the sound of laughter and a good joke, too often I hear profanity, cuss words and foul language.

Before I entered the belly of the beast on a Friday after school, I braced myself. In less than two minutes I saw a freshman boy walking toward me with his friends. He locked eyes with the two girls right in front of me and then said "F*** you. F*** you, *itches" His message wasn't super charged. He didn't even look intimidating or angry. But he offered the king of swear words loudly and clearly for these girls and others to hear.

I stopped. Suddenly, everyone saw me. I looked at this boy, turned to the girl, and returned my gaze to him as I uttered my disapproval. "Whoa, whoa, whoa! What is going on here? We don't use words like that."

He immediately apologized to me. I said, "I'm not the one you should apologize too. Nor should we be using language like that."

Upset and disappointed by these students, I turned to a coworker to share what happened. Equally shocked, he said "Why would you say that? Why is that necessary?" My colleague wasn't asking this question about my comments. No. He was asking me why a freshman would say that to another freshman in this time and space. 

"I wish that had been my response," I said. "That is the perfect question. Why would you say that?" Explain to me the "why" behind that," I added.

At times, rather than telling a young person, what not to do, why not ask them "Why?" In this instance, if I was there again I would say "Why drop an "F" bomb on a classmate, two times on a nice Friday afternoon? Why use profanity for everyone around you to hear?"

Hours later, I learned that Trojan QB1, Caleb Williams painted the full word "F*** ND on his fingernails before the USC vs. Notre Dame game on November 27, 2022. My response was prompted by what I learned earlier in the day. "Why? Why are you seeking attention in this way? Why would you do that?" I asked.

According to Fansided, "Williams paints his nails for every game, a tradition going back to his debut season with Oklahoma."

He had a similar message for UCLA before that rivalry game.

I have no idea how demonstrating that type of profanity honors the game, your own team or your rival. I would argue that message goes against what sport is and should be.

In the article "What is Sport? What Should it Be?" Daniel Dombrowski writes, 

Why has the competitive aspect of sports become subject to such critcism? Much criticism is rooted less in competition itself than in the way in which competition has become debased in contemporary culture. 
The literal meaning of the word "competition" comes from the Latin competitionem, which surprisingly means to strive with someone else, rather than against someone else. The word would be "anti-petition" if it meant to struggle against someone else. But this is not a word we use. The upshot of competition is that a sporting event without an opponent is no sporting event at all. The competitors are in effect, asking each other the question "Which of us is better at a certain activity?" Think of how boxers congratulate each other immediately after a bout. This is competition in the best sense of the term.
Putting down one's opponent. Demeaning a rival by the use of profanity for fans to see is anti-peition. It is a debasement of competition and a distraction. As far as I'm concerned a waste of time. 

After seeing Williams' stellar performance in the 38-27 win over the Irish, I found him to be a worthy candidate of the 2002 Heisman. After seeing this small, yet disrespectful hype move, I just shook my head and thought "really? You are at the top of your game, and this how your name and image goes viral? Why?"

True champions elevate the game. They make their teammates AND their rivals better. They teach younger athletes how to compete and comport oneself. That's why we look to them, follow them and become their fans. 

There it is..."the why." 

Photo Credits
The F Word

Monday, December 5, 2022

The Color of Change is Prime: University of Colorado Head Coach, Deion Sanders

Lime must be a prime color...excuse me, a Prime color. It's neon too. You read that right. How? Why? Deion Sanders, also known as "Neon Deion", or "Prime Time" is in the limelight again. The once professional multi-sport athlete is moving to Mountain Time, where he will serve as the 28th full time head coach for the University of Colorado. 

Sanders played in two Super Bowls (1994, 1995) and one World Series (1992). Named the head football coach at Jackson State University in Mississippi in September 2020, “Coach Prime” came to that HBCU hoping to change lives and the perspective of HBCU football. 

If change has a color, I guess it's neon, lime and prime too.

Sanders shared news of his new role via Twitter with a thematic focus on change. He wrote

Change makes people get uncomfortable. Change is inevitable in every age & stage of life but it somehow someway brings Love but Hate, Joy but Sorrow & Life & Death. There's a time & season for every activity under the sun the bible declares.  CHANGE is INEVITABLE. #CoachPrime

Change is inevitable, and yet, that doesn't mean it's easy. For those eager and hopeful to play for Coach Prime, his move is a loss. But for those who are excited about what he will bring to a program that has only two winning seasons in the past 17 years, this change is good.

If you happened to catch the 60 Minutes interview of Coach Prime in November 2022 then his decision to change by coaching elsewhere isn't a huge surprise. Nor is his reference to the Book of Ecclesiastes. Coach Prime is a man of God. 

When asked “Why are you here?” Sanders said “God called me collect…and I had to accept the charges. When you accept those charges, it’s going to cost you something.” For Sanders, one of those charges is “a lot of sleep.”

Upon arrival at Jackson State, Sanders was struck by the needs of the program, the student athletes and the facilities. He responded with action (see the video for more). Furthermore, Coach Prime believes in the Providence of God’s timing. He took the position at Jackson State three months after the shooting of George Floyd. He said he is there to coach to “change lives. I had to step up and do right by these kids.”

Coach Prime invites us to think about the power of change and what role we can make it furthering it for the good. While life is a push pull between accepting change and making it happen, one thing is clear—change shines prime.

To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, And a time to die; A time to plant, And a time to pluck what is planted; A time to kill, And a time to heal; A time to break down, And a time to build up; A time to weep, And a time to laugh; A time to mourn, And a time to dance. —Ecclesiastes 3:1-22
Best of luck, Coach. I wonder what collect calls God will be making to you in Boulder...

Photo Credits
Coach Prime

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Giving JOY on #GivingTuesday—Thank you, World Cup Soccer Fans

As they walked in from break, well over half of my students asked me if we could watch the USA vs Iran soccer match during class. They know I am a sports fan. I will admit I love the live experience. Reluctantly, I told them we had too much to do. However, our lesson on Advent sparked a conversation about #GivingTuesday and joy and made room for a few minutes of viewing time. USA 1, — Iran 0. Great wins!

At the start of class we prayed over the Advent wreath. As a way to teach about this holy season, I asked my students to "name a symbol or tradition associated with the Christmas season that is meaningful to you." One student said "decorating the Christmas tree." Another added, "opening the Advent calendar." Love it. And still another said, "I appreciate that this is a season of giving." I pointed to our boxes for our Christmas food drive and said "thank you for that example. What a great way to think about this time of year."

Perhaps she knew today is Giving Tuesday—a day of giving that follows three days of material consumption: Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. But the article Giving Tuesday 2022 Is Today: What It Means and How You Can Help offers another insight. 

It's a great way for people across the country to think about their communities and to help those they don't know. Since its inception 10 years ago, the movement has raised billions of dollars for nonprofit organizations across the spectrum, whether it's for at-risk youth, the environment or pet adoptions.And while the money is incredibly significant, there are other ways to help besides giving cash: You can volunteer with a nonprofit, for example, or donate your old clothes to a shelter. You can even just be kind to your neighbor. 

Here, here.
I thought about the invitation to give in different ways. No doubt, giving kindness is a great gift...but I would like to suggest one other precious resource. While kindness may ask something of us, this costs nothing. It need not be in short supply, but too often it is. It's a theme of this season and it's worth passing on and sharing. It's a mentioned in many a Christmas Carol and it's what two of my colleagues brought to me by just being who they are. It's joy.

I walked into school today with a heavy heart. I went straight to my classroom only to see red, white and blue off in the distance. A long time coach and player, John came to school today in a former warm-up jacket from the US Men's National Team from the 90s. It's classic. 

He was talking to another colleague in the hallway about the match up of Iran vs. the USA, smiling ear to ear. His energy and enthusiasm were contagious. I turned around only to see Carlos in his jacket and I thought back to watching Womens' World Cup matches with the two of them in the summer of 2019. I think they arrived at the bar when it opened. 
I love the way that sports fans demonstrate their devotion and allegiance to their teams. My dear friend Eileen worse this repurposed face mask as a head band for game day. My friend and coworker Patrick wore one of the more handsome USA soccer jackets I have seen. He claims it was from the Gold Cup. As a sports fan, I am an easy target, but I also saw the smiles and joyful reactions from my students when I shared the photo of their teachers fired up, in anticipation of what each World Cup Match would bring. 

One student said "King!" I didn't understand what he meant. I said "I'm sorry, what did you say." He didn't want to answer. Another student explained what he meant. I still didn't understand. Members of the class laughed; I tried to move on. I couldn't. He said, "it's like saying they are icons. It's a compliment."

After class, that student came up to me and showed me the Urban Dictionary definition of "King."
Learning a new word, especially a positive one—a shout out like this brings me joy, too.

Joy is worth giving to others on #GivingTuesday and more. It is worth receiving, too. Thanks soccer fans!

Photo Credits none needed!

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Thanksgiving: It's Both Caught and Taught

Today our nation observes a day for the sole purpose of giving thanks. Thanks be to God for that...and much more!

I was reminded of how great gratitude makes a person feel when I came home last Saturday to a card from the varsity girls' golf team at St. Ignatius. Though I have coached girls' golf in the past, this year I was simply a "friend of the program." I drove these athletes to several of their matches deep down the WCAL highway to South and East San Jose. In addition to a personal note from each golfer, I received a gift card for a local restaurant (way to support a local business). I was touched by their thoughtfulness and I let them know I am happy to help in any way I can.

Their gesture is not something I take for granted. Thanksgiving, thankfulness, appreciation and gratitude is something that is both caught and taught....and personally, I don't want to live in a world without it. We must model it and teach one another how and why it's important. It is. Whether or not that feels perfunctory does not matter. Saying "thank you" is always the right thing to do. 

The window between Thanksgiving and Christmas is an easy yet worthy time to extend gratitude everyone who makes our athletics programs go. 

Athletic directors: thank the men and women who run the clocks, keep book, work the gates, officiate and give their time so our athletes can compete. Ask student athletes to sign a card of thanks so they can understand the role others play—so that we can play.  You can delegate this task to coaches or to captains of teams to finish!

Head coaches: thank the athletic director and all those in the athletics office. Having been in that office, I know just how much happens behind the scenes. To thank these people is to be aware of what they do for you. Moreover, talk to your AD about how to recognize those who make your athletic programs go. You can delegate this task to coaches or to captains of teams. It's always good to be on the same page when it comes time to thank others.
Team Captains: make sure you have a card or gift for your coaches. No youth sports coach does what they do for the money or for a gift. We do it because we enjoy working with young people, we love sports and want to have fun. Let us know what you appreciate about our program or coaching style and method. Share with your coaches what is fun about working together. Remember, a little goes a long way. You can reach out to team parents for help with ways to extend gratitude to your head coach and all the assistant coaches.

The Gratitude Habitat reminds us

Two of the most profound words we have in our vocabulary are ‘thank you’. Gratitude is infinite and when we express our appreciation, we are, by definition, offering a prayer. When we are living and absorbed in the moment rather than confined by the past or worrying about the future, we open ourselves to everything around us. Sights, sounds, colors…everything is heightened. In turn, this enhanced awareness allows gratitude to flow freely. And when we feel truly grateful, giving thanks is the perfect expression of our appreciation.

Each day, say your prayers. Say ‘thank you’!

Prayer is something that is both caught and taught too. To teach and model saying thanks is to help another person pray. Meister Eckart said  If the only prayer you ever say in your life is ‘thank you’, that would suffice.

Amen. Happy Thanksgiving

Photo Credits

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Feel the Breath....World Cup 2022

This year's Thanksgiving already feels different. While there is the lifting of COVID restrictions, Americans are paying a steeper price for the family feast. Yes, American football will be played at many a turkey toss-up, and for the first time in eight years, U.S. fans have a rooting interest in the World Cup.

While US women's national soccer team have acquired a bunch of hardware since 2014 and in that time, the men's squad has transformed itself. It's a first World Cup for 25 of the 26 players who'll suit up in stars and stripes. In fact, the U.S. is tied with Ecuador as the second youngest teams in Qatar. 

In Special Series: The FIFA World Cup 2022, Tom Goldman's article, The 2022 World Cup in Qatar begins, warts and all addresses the question many of us have been asking: How might we embrace this wildly popular event? Should we? Thank you, NPR. 

In its first match, the U.S. faced a team that has been absent for 64 years. One that reminded the world with a 1-1 tie, that "we're still here!" The Welsh national soccer team is led by captain Gareth Bale and the head coach Rob Page.Thus, the purpose of this post is to share a living, breathing reminder of just how and and why it's hard not to embrace the World Cup (and full disclosure, I'm not a big soccer/football fan).

In case you have not heard for yourself or heard about it, Michael Sheen took it upon himself to remind sports fans, soccer enthusiasts and the people of Wales what might be possible.

I first heard the Welsh actor resound his barbaric yawp while driving to work and listening to my morning sports talk radio show. Murph and Mac, the cohosts played what I have posted here. Both men sat silent. No one knew exactly how to respond. What just happened? What did we just hear? 

I could feel the synapses flying in my brain as I began a personal inventory of any prior knowledge I might have to all things Wales. Capital city is Cardiff. Their language is unique—lots of LONG words. Tom Jones is a native son. So it Catherine Zeta-Jones. Maybe the poet Dylan Thomas too. Yes?

I felt as though I just heard a Shakespearean performance, a passionate plea that the British bard could have scripted over 400 years ago! 

As written by Hollywood Insider.

If Wales performs miracles at the upcoming soccer World Cup, then Michael Sheen may have played his own small part.

The Welsh actor has gone viral on social media for the second time in as many weeks for his rousing pre-tournament pep talks for the Wales men’s national soccer team as they enter final preparations for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

In his speech, Sheen offers images and story. He references color and specific emotions. He reminds his countrymen who they are and from whence they came. It's spiritual.

The line that stands out among the rest for me his call: "Feel the breath.... on the back of your necks." 

The word spirituality comes from the Latin spiritus which means breath.  Where we feel the spirit, how we feel the spirit is worth paying attention to. Thank you, Michael Sheen for the opportunity to do that.

Shakespeare and soccer fans everywhere get it. 

Photo Credits
Sheen with Jersey
World Cup Team

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Forever Giants: Three Reasons to Celebrate Dusty Baker

I'm beginning to believe there's truth in the motto: Forever Giants.

I noticed the jersey retirement ceremonies of Barry Bonds and Will Clark were marketed and celebrated under the banner: Forever Giants. The orange and black welcome former players and successful teams—the '89 Giants, the 2002 Giants, 2010, 2012 and 2014 squads—back to the yard with these words. 

The Giants' 2022 season concluded on October 5 (some would say after being swept by the Dodgers in late August). However, for MLB it ended on Saturday night, November 5 when the Houston Astros defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 6 by a score of 4 to 1. Although the Bay Area is a long way from Houston, local sports talk radio celebrated loud and proud the manager who led this team to a World Series title: former Giants hitting coach and manager Dusty Baker. The joy and appreciation for the man from fellow Giants fans confirmed those words: Forever Giant are not just lip service. I'm proud to claim him as part of our past and this great game's present. 

Here are three reasons this Forever Giants is worth celebrating.

A Model of Perseverance 
At 73, Dusty Baker is the senior (read: nice way to say old) manager in MLB. He has managed two different teams in the World Series: the Giants and Astros and teams that nearly got there/should have gotten there: the Cubs, Reds and Nationals. Bottom line: it's never too late to pursue your dream.

Dusty said "But my mom and dad taught me perseverance. And you gotta persevere, you gotta believe in yourself." He did.

Baker was without a job from 2017 to 2020. He said, "I didn't know the time was gonna come when I couldn't got a job, but I knew if I got a job, the time was gonna come. You keep journeying, you keep hustling, and you keep staying with it."

Those words make a whole lot of sense now, but it was accepting this particular job was a huge risk. Following the Astros cheating scandal, the club that fired its manager and GM. He had to build something new. He had to help the team stay calm amidst the storms of ridicule and resentment, taunting and teasing, criticism and stay cool. When it comes to being calm, cool and collected, look no further than Dusty Baker. 

Paragon of Cool
What does it mean to be cool? Ever since I read Philosophy Now's The Human ConditionWhat Does It Mean To Be Cool? Thorsten Botz-Bornstein links Stoicism and Hip Hop. I've used the adjective sparingly. To be cool is to have a certain power, mystique and style. Like the word awesome, it ought to be used sparingly. Why? Because what is really cool is cool.

With a name like Johnnie B. Baker, Jr. being cool might be your birthright. The oldest of five, Dusty earned his nickname "from his mother because of his propensity for playing in a dirt spot in the backyard." For some reason, it's still cool.

Look at the paragon of cool: the toothpick, the brow-line glasses, his affect and posture, his laugh and even his managerial style. I'm not so sure about the black latex gloves, but the man is cool. No wonder so many former fans are drawn to him. 

But what makes Dusty super cool is that it's not about him. Cool is as cool does. Bo Jackson was cool. And like Bo, Dusty knows...

"I kept seeing those signs, ‘Do it for Dusty’ and the players were staying ‘Hey we’re gonna do this for you….' I was like 'Hey man, that's cool and everything, but let's do it for us, let's do it for the city of Houston and do it for hopefully all the stuff that we've been going through the last three years. Hopefully it's over.' You gotta let it ride. Because these guys are some good ballplayers. Great ballplayers."

The High Five
Although he was in on its inception, Dusty Baker did not invent the high-five. He gives credit to his former Dodger teammate, Glenn Burke. Baker said "Did I invent the high five? No! All I did was respond to Glenn."

He added "sometimes you don't know why you do the things you do, especially when you're extremely happy—you just respond to each other." That's part of how the high five was born....but there's more to it. The 30 for 30 short "The High Five" says it all. 

I told my students about this. Many paused and one had the courage to say, "wait, someone invented the high five? That wasn't always around?" I knew someone--just one student--was actually listening. His realization was on point.

I said, "I know, but you and I only know a world where high fives are a reality."

I then realized but the fist bump wasn't always around in the way it was now. I mentioned this and said, "I love a good "pound it." 

Someone added, "I guess people just shook hands in the past." I said "but there are all kinds of hand shakes too, aren't there?!"

Another student said "well, what gesture do you prefer, Ms Stricherz?" I said "In honor of Dusty, the high five!"

Dusty couldn't get any cooler.

In Conclusion
Schools, universities, sports teams and organizations have mottos. Some have great ones. For example in Jesuit education we claim to be "men and women for and with others." We aim to "find God in all things" and study, work and play "for the greater glory of God. AMDG." But what good is a motto if the words ring hollow? We must hold one another accountable to live up to what we proclaim. Our word is at stake. And for a group—in this case a professional sports team—why should it be any different? 

To be a Giant is to be Forever Giant. Baseball fans, that's just one more reason to stand behind the orange and black!