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!

Thursday, November 3, 2022

How Do You Show Appreciation? A Lesson from Jimmy G and the O-Line

A good story offers more than a laugh or a shared memory. As someone who collects stories, I have come to believe the best ones spark a realization or reveal a truth. I try to share a story in such a way that it prompts students to think critically and creatively. I find this to be a worthy challenge. It energizes me. I invite always invite students to respond—openly, honestly and authentically. When I share a good story, teacher and student might have more questions than answers. And the story of a dinner attended by the offensive line of the San Francisco Forty Niners is a great example. 

Offensive guard Aaron Banks was drafted by the 49ers in the second round of the 2021 NFL draft. In spite of the loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, Banks was featured on local sports talk radio KNBR as the Niner player of the week. As both a product of the Bay Area and linesman for Notre Dame, I couldn't help but lean in and listen to his story. And yet, in true offensive linesman style, the interview with Murph and Mac became less and less about his story and much more about others who have had an influence on him. One person who got a special shout out was Jimmy G.

As the interview was winding down, Brian Murphy said "My last question is about Jimmy. He's known as a being friend to the O-Line. Can you share anything about that? How has it been blocking for him and being in the huddle with him?"

Banks spoke without hesitation. As the listener, it was easy to believe him when he said. "Jimmy is a great guy." (smile in his voice) 

He added, "One night the O-Line went out to dinner at The Greenbrier. We kept saying "rookies are going to pay, rookies are going to pay. By the time we got to the end of the dinner we found out from the waiter, your quarterback picked up the tab. And we said ah damn, that's huge! It's little things like that—he's always thinking of the next guy, especially the O-Line as we do our best to protect him." 

I have heard of athletes doing what Jimmy G did before. I know that he gave the O-line a pair of Bose headphones last Christmas. And yet, this story of paying for someone else's meal got me thinking a little more.

I said to my students, "These men make millions of dollars a year. All of them can afford the meal they ate, so What's the big deal? Why is this even a story?"

Most students recognized the value in showing appreciation. Another picked up on what Banks said about the little things. She said, "for them an expensive meal might be a little thing...but it's something he made happen." Another student cocked his head and added "it's sort of like Jimmy is saying I got you and that's important, given his role on the team."

I concluded this story telling session seeking additional insights on the many different ways we can show appreciation.

I added "some of you are too young to remember a San Francisco before we had one, let alone three World Series trophies. You may have heard the manager of those teams, Bruce Bochy just took a job with the Texas Rangers. Regardless, I hope that man never pays for a meal anytime he is in the Bay Area. Ever. Please remember that."

As much as I enjoyed sharing this story with my students, I realized I was asking the wrong question. The question shouldn't be Why do the players care? Or, why does an athlete share this story? No, the question I am now considering for myself is Why do I care? Why do I savor this story? Why did it make me smile? 

I think the answer is simple: the unique and unexpected ways we express appreciation, gratitude and thoughtfulness is a timeless message worth sharing. A story is the vehicle. To have a good one costs nothing and is worth giving away.  

Jimmy Garrapolo celebrated his 31st birthday on Tuesday, November 2, 2022. I imagine he went out to dinner to celebrate and someone else picked up the tab. If there's a story there, pass it on....

Photo Credits
Jimmy and guys
Jimmy and O-Line

Monday, October 31, 2022

Trick or Treat: Sports and Spirituality Style

I make a point of reading the student newspaper. For one, I'm glad high schools still have them—even if it is digital form only. But realistically, reading what students write and report, how they express their opinions and understanding what captures their imagination is important to me. When I'm at my very best, I make an effort to read the same books they are reading in English class....maybe that is a good goal for the Spring.

The Fall issue of InSIde SI—the newspaper of Saint Ignatius College Preparatory—is a Halloween edition! In addition to a movie review of Hokus Pokus 2, Cultural Folktales, a survey of favorite Halloween candy, traditions and whether or not you like candy corn is a section entitled "Tricks and Treats." 

The editors wrote: Beware of the Halloween spirits that are roaming the halls from the dreaded midterms to the deans spooky calls. Here are the Tricks & Treats we experience at SI in a friendly list to help guide you through the Halloween festivities!

Many of both the tricks and the treats are very creative. I chose a few to include here

Trick – having homework over the quarter break
Trick – getting detention for being one minute late to class
Trick – Canterbury Tales...that’s it
Trick – thinking about the molecular structure of sugar every time you see Halloween candy #TheEffectsofAPBio

Treat – watching the Women's volleyball team win the first game of the Bruce Mahoney
Treat – having early college applications submitted
Treat – playing in the Women's Flag Football game

Thus, in the spirit of Austin Kleon's book "Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative" here is my own list Sports and Spirituality style. 

Trick –
this trick is a treat. In the 49ers win over Rams, the newly acquired Christian McCaffrey threw a trick-play TD pass to Brandon Aiyuk for his first score with 49ers. He is one of three running backs in NFL history to throw for a touch down, rush for a TD and catch one. Treat, treat, treat!
Treat – If McCaffrey stays healthy....!
Trick – still referring to girls' flag football as "powder puff." #please
Trick or Treat? – cheering for the Astros. (aka the Asterisks) only because you want the manager, Dusty Baker to get a ring.
Treat – having both Monday Night Football AND a World Series game scheduled for the same date.
Trick – a rain out game! (Game 3 will be played on Tuesday, 11/1)
Trick – still not knowing the start time on the Notre Dame vs. USC game, Thanksgiving weekend...makes travel tough!
Treat Even skeletons are Warriors and Steph Curry fans!
Trick – Being asked if you are a maintenance person, gas attendant or gardener while sporting your Halloween costume.
Treat – Those who love sports recognizing and appreciating your costume for what it is: representative of the best major in golf! #MastersCaddy
Treat – the teaming up of Jerome Bettis, and Peyton and Eli Manning on campus at Notre Dame for a very special Halloween epsiode on ESPN+ Watch it here

Treat – When students lead meaningful, personal prayer in class. One of my classes is praying with current events.
Trick – When no one offers personal intentions. (I will offer creative ways to do this!)
Treat – Attending the Hesburgh Lecture on the Global Future of the Catholic Church. Hosted by the Notre Dame Alumni Club of San Jose/Silicon Valley, my good friend Father Paul Kollman, CSC was the presenter. I learned SO much and the crowd was highly engaged.
Trick or Treat – All Saints Day is Tuesday, November 1. Is it a Holy Day of Obligation or a Holy Day of Opportunity?

I encourage you to come up with your own. Happy Hallow's Eve!

Photo Credits

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Guest Speakers: An Exercise in Hospitality +

Dear Fellow Teachers and Coaches,

I want to extend a work of encouragement and a friendly reminder here: invite guest speakers, to talk in your classroom and/or with your team

This message it not new. It will require some effort on your part, but anyone in education is no stranger to hard work. While it is always prudent to vet your speaker, when you find a good one—keep them close and tell other teachers and coaches about them. Their presence, wisdom, experience and expertise break up the grind. Their stories, connections and insights leaven the load. I was reminded of this when three men affiliated with the San Francisco Police Department came to speak at St. Ignatius College Prep on Tuesday, October 18, 2022.

While the intended audience was the Criminal Justice class, I found Sports and Spirituality connections from each speaker. Cross-curricular connections make listening and learning more meaningful and fun. They are worth celebrating (which is where the realm athletics CAN serve as the "8th period of the day."). 

I ran into Greg Suhr '76, former Chief of Police at the gym before school. After I critiqued his form on on the rowing machine (the erg) he told me that he would be on campus to speak to seniors. He noted that the students prepared a long list of questions for the panel. I learned a lot from what the students asked and opined. 

One question was about the image society has of the police. Greg explained that when he was as student at SI, he had a positive image of law enforcement because so many of his coaches were cops. He added, "building personal relationships with young people, especially through sports is essential to what we do. I'm going to let J.J. speak to that, as it's part of his story."

Officer Jason Johnson grew up in the Bayview neighborhood and admitted, "I was one of those kids who did not trust the police whatsoever. So I get it." He recalled a turning point for him personally and professionally at the Boys and Girls club. He said "I was standing inside the gym in my uniform; the kids were looking at me with suspicion and making comments like the ones I used to make. One of the basketballs rolled over to where I was standing and I started dribbling. I then took it to the hoop and dunked it. All of a sudden, all the kids wanted to know how they too could dunk." A relationship was born.

That recollection led to my favorite story of the day: It's worth watching (see above) and learning more about here.

Office Peter Walsh '87 was proud to share with the Wildcats that he has been with SFPD for 31 years. A fellow parishioners at St. Vincent de Paul, I have to admit I enjoy going to church that much more when I know people in the pews. 

Officer Walsh addressed a number of questions about tasers—an acronym for  Tom A. Swift Electric Rifle. (This was fascinating to me because I recently re-read a post from 2010 about Philly police using a taser on a fan who stormed the field. Spellcheck kept running the word taser as misspelled because it recognizes the word as an acronym!). The San Francisco Board of City Supervisors held back police funding of these handheld devices, citing the need for a more comprehensive understanding of their costs. 

He made a distinction about "causation" and "contributing to."  Studies found that tasers—which incapacitate a person by transmitting a high-volt electric shock, do not cause death but have been a contributing factor—along with issues of mental health, drug usage, etc to death. I was surprised by how many questions the students had about this topic!

The crew also answered questions about tips—what qualifies as a legitimate tip or not. This was timely as the serial killer in Stockton had been caught in part to some tips to the police. They spoke about de-escalation, harm reduction (as a tactic in working with drug users, not sellers), bias, body cameras and more. Suhr said their biggest challenge is also their greatest need: good men and women to serve in the department and improving their image. I looked around the room and thought a number of these students would excel in law enforcement. 

This class was made better because of conversations like this one. It only happens because of an invitation and a willingness to give of ourselves to one another. And that's what true hospitality is. Parker Palmer writes "hospitality is not an end of itself. It is offered for the sake of what it can allow, permit, encourage, and yield.” 

Welcoming guest speakers into our classrooms, to address a student body and meet with our teams is but a starting point for this biblical virtue. 

“Hospitality, Henri Nouwen writes, “means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.” Amen.

Let’s welcome guests into our communities. This is a wonderful means for our students to learn more about themselves and one another. 

Thank you, Danielle, Greg, JJ and Pete: your knowledge, the breadth of your experiences, humor, humility and professionalism made for a riveting class period. I am a better teacher and citizen because of your time! AMDG

A special note of thanks to Daniel McMahon of DeMatha HS, Hyattsville, MD for the inspiration to write about hospitality.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Sports and Spirituality Review: Summer 2022. Sisterhood

The joy of a bye week means a few good things: a Saturday that's wide open and a little less stress. During the regular season, sports fans take one to three days to review the past game. Close to midweek however, it's time to turn your attention to the upcoming opponent. However when the schedule says bye, there is more time for reading about something other than your football team. I can't be the only person who feels this way...

With a bye on October 1, I had a chance to read Notre Dame Magazine: Summer 2022 from front to back. Entitled "Sisterhood" it is an issue by and about women. It is is a fitting tribute to 50 years of co-education.

The Letter from the Editor: "A Woman's Point of View" begins with a story of Sports and Spirituality I have never heard. Kerry Temple '74, writes

I was in Lyons Hall on Thursday night, September 20, 1973 — one of 50 million Americans watching ABC on prime-time television — when Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in the “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match. Minutes later, hundreds of women marched across campus singing, “I am woman, hear me roar,” belting out with gusto the popular Helen Reddy song, “I Am Woman.” Our first-floor window was open, and we heard the proclamation: “I am strong, I am invincible, I am woman.” The eruption of defiant self-determination made an impression. It said so much.
I was a student during the mid-90s, a relatively peaceful, passive era. I never saw students march across campus as I heard they had—during the Vietnam era. This would have been a sight to see.

The two photos in "Stillpoint" capture the spirit of Notre Dame, the spirt of sports. Here's how.

The caption beside Cashore's photo reads, "Having long dreamed of throwing a pass in Notre Dame Stadium, Archbishop Borys Gudziak hurled the pigskin toward the Cheering Class of 2022...The graduate who got the grab is Edie Uebelhor, a water polo player (first?!) and a chemical engineer from Encintas, CA.

I would love to see a stat on the number of commencement speakers at Notre Dame who make an overt reference to Sports...and of course Spirituality. Go Irish!

At 50 Years
This essay examines "a half-century after the start of co-education, how Notre Dame has changed—and not changed—for women." Each profile paints its own profile of progress, while recalling past (and present) pain and challenge.

The story of Molly Kinder '01, the first female member of the Irish Guard piqued my interest. The Irish Guard always have. I've been mesmerized ever since I first caught sight of that tall,  tartan clad, forward facing group—one that has now had several female members.

"Standing 6-foot-3, Kinder had met the Guard’s height requirement — since eliminated — and she passed the rigorous tryout." However, she was tested in many other ways.

As difficult as personal and institutional change can be, especially at a place like Notre Dame, I also hope she found she had her own champions and gracious support.

Who Do I Say I Am?
Maraya Steadman '89 puts a great twist on one of the Gospel's essential questions. This piece is about "a woman who has reached her middle years and confronts an age-old question." She weaves sport, spirituality and science into her story in such a way that when it comes to a close, my primary response/reaction was simple. "Thank you."

She writes "Descent is not a place I want to be." Therefore Steadman notes, "My first step was a pivot move away from my obvious choices: going back to work, volunteering or suffocating the daughter who is still at home by continuing to be a full-time, stay-at-home parent.  After the pivot, I took the shot. I don’t know if it went in or not; I may never know. I have no idea what will happen next, but I do know that “you will always miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.” This quote has been attributed to both Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky, so you can’t use it in a sophomore writing seminar. I know that not because I remember anything from my classes at Notre Dame, where I majored in accounting, but because I am now an undergraduate English major at a college close to my home in the Chicago suburbs. I tried to include a quote in a paper without citation — “Education will make you free.” My professor advised me to take it out."

My only challenge to Steadman is this: you *might* be among the minority. In my experience, accounting majors, engineers and bio-chem geniuses seem to quote their liberal arts teachers from ND as often as me. I am proud of my B.A. American Studies. I believe they got many of the benefits of a liberal arts education, too.

She's Got GameTitle IX gave women the right to compete on level playing fields. When given the chance, Notre Dame’s female athletes have soared.

This is a piece every Irish sports fan ought to read. The history, testimonials, and stats that have emerged from the implementation of Title IX are worth knowing and celebrating. Here are but a few that stood out to me!

  • Betsy Fallon ’76 organized the school’s first intercollegiate women’s tennis match when she was a freshman in 1973, at a time when female athletes started their own clubs, drove the vans and did the laundry, all for love of the game. 

  • Swimming became a varsity sport in 1981. The next year, three swimmers were All-America selections, including Teri Schindler ’83, who competed in breaststroke at the national swimming and diving championships. Schindler, who became the first woman to produce basketball games for the Big East, was hired by NBA commissioner David Stern to be the inaugural vice president of WNBA broadcasting. She remembers the value of swimming at Notre Dame.

  • Molly Seidel ’16 finished her career with four national championships and won a bronze medal in the marathon at last year’s Tokyo Olympics. Softball and golf earned varsity status in 1988, followed by rowing in 1996 and lacrosse in 1997. There are now 13 varsity sports for women at Notre Dame.

  • The men’s and women’s combined team has won 12 national championships — one more than the football team — and the women have compiled glittering resumes.

  • Basketball now carries the school’s mantle of excellence and visibility, but it took a while to run the weave. The varsity team, which launched in 1977, didn’t play a Division I schedule until 1980, which included a 124-48 loss to South Carolina. The program first joined the North Star Conference, then the Midwestern Collegiate Conference.

Lesley Vesser writes "Those 37 words, signed into law by President Richard Nixon on June 23, 1972, changed American society. They created the explosion of girls’ and women’s sports that has taken female athletes at Notre Dame and other colleges and universities to national championships, the Olympics and professional careers."

She adds, "The road has not been easy. And yet, "Every female athlete today owes her gratitude to the women who overcame those obstacles, both on the court and in the courts." I agree.

Domers in the News
ND Women are contributing on to the wide world of sports on the field, in the front office and in the production booth.

Lindsay Schanzer ’11. The NBC Sports producer has overseen the network’s coverage of horse racing’s other two jewels, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes, and on May 7 became the first woman to lead a broadcast of the legendary Derby. “What’s really important to me is on this day we’re reaching an audience, many of whom never watched horse racing,” Schanzer told The Associated Press, “so it’s inviting them and also not alienating the audience that watches horse racing throughout the year.”

In Conclusion
Sports and Spirituality offer but two perspectives to reflect on our society. At Notre Dame, I daresay those points of view constitute "the blood in the bricks." 

The Summer issue of Notre Dame Magazine: Sisterhood celebrates 50 years of co-education. I find Coach McGraw's quote to be a fitting way to think back on that milestone.

“I always struggle to find the perfect words to say how great Notre Dame is,” McGraw says. “I’m big on accountability. I demanded it from my players and myself. At Notre Dame, everybody makes a promise to do it the right way.”

We have and and we have not. This is a chronicle of success and failure and the effort to do it the right way...!

Photo Credits
all from ND Magazine
Lindsay Schanzer

Thursday, October 6, 2022

Another Lesson from Aaron Judge: Keep Your Eyes Up

At the conclusion of the HBO documentary, "Nine Innings from Ground Zero," former New York City major Rudy Guiliani states "It was something about baseball which is the American had a wonderful impact on the morale of the city. It's exactly what we needed to get our eyes up off the ground and looking up..." Pop flies, foul balls into the stands and home runs are but a few ways that the American past time gets us to look up. And thanks to Aaron Judge, America is doing it once again.

Every day I battle getting my sophomores to look up. While their eyes are not on the ground, they are fixed to their device. Although I do not allow cell phone usage inside my classroom, their eyes are rapidly moving from Tik Tok reel, to imessage, to their fantasy football standings and more. During class their iPads are to remain closed until instructed otherwise but as soon as they enter my classroom, they sit down and scroll what and where they can, until the bell rings. While not all students engage with their tech during this window of time, a good number do. That is, except for class on Wednesday, October 5. 2022.

When students walk into my classroom, the drop down screen (think of a small movie screen) highlights the agenda and that night's homework. While some teachers have a clever thought or quote of the day on their introductory slide, I usually have a photo or work of art related to the curriculum. However, after the Yankee slugger broke Roger Maris' record of 61 home runs in a single season the night before, I simply put the photo you see here on the screen.

Students looked at it. Many even talked to someone sitting near them about it. These 15 year olds knew what this was about and many had their own opinions to share.

"It's just the American League home run record!"

"Judge is so yoked. He should have that record."

"He said himself that he views Barry Bonds' 73 home runs as the number to beat!"

"I love that he gave #61 to his mom!"

I let the conversation run its course. I wanted to hear what my students knew and had to say. I shared with them the article I had been reading about the man who caught the long ball. 

As written in Aaron Judge’s 62nd home run ball is valued in the region of $1-2 million, experts say

Cory Youmans – sitting in left field with a front-row seat – was the lucky fan who caught the historic souvenir at Globe Life Field.

A Dallas resident and Texas Rangers fan, Youmans said he doesn’t know yet whether he’ll keep the ball, and after making the catch – an event that prompted euphoric celebrations – he was escorted from the section of seats by security.

Should Youmans sell the ball, he could be set for a handsome payday.

“In the last week or so, our colleagues at Memory Lane auction house have guaranteed to pay the person who catches the ball $2 million,” Bobby Livingston, Executive Vice President of RR Auction, told CNN.

I added "I know that his eyes needed to be looking up in order to get that ball. Remember: keep your head up. Good things can come your way." I think there was an eye roll after that preaching.

Whether or not it is the most impressive record in all of sports, incredible feats like Judge's 62nd home run of the year do more than serve as a talking point. I believe transcendent moments create a space for us to be present to one another. This is not something I take for granted. There are ever more challenges to living in the moment, standing or sitting still and looking up. However, thanks to talent, desire, passion, and achievement we are drawn to something more. St. Irenaus said it best, "The glory of God is the human being fully alive."

Photo Credits
Judge photo for class
Profile smile
Judge's mom

Monday, October 3, 2022

Our Most Valuable Resource: What Athletes Already Know

Not sure how he does it. But Matthew Kelly always has at least one item in Ideas and Inspiration that gets me to hit click. This week, 5 Secrets to MORE ENERGY! grabbed my attention and snapped me out of my post-lunch food coma. Thank you, Matthew. 

Watch and listen. The Catholic author and social media influencer makes the bold claim that energy—not time— is our most valuable resource. In fact, he states that for too long we have been subscribing to myths such as stress is bad, money drives performance, and down time is a waste of time. He speaks to how each of these cultural beliefs is not true. I think he's right. Do you agree?

The five ways to increase your energy level are not difficult to practice or remember. In fact, they aren't even  that surprising. As you view, consider for yourself: Is there one way that you need to practice? Is there one way that you can applaud yourself for making a regular habit? Is there another way that might be missing? I'm sure Matthew Kelly could have named 10 more.

I would argue there are at minimum five spiritual ways one can increase their energy level.  Here are a few that come to mind.

  1. Practice gratitude. Thank God for something specific and something different every day.
  2. Offer a new intention during daily prayer.
  3. Forgive....or pray for the grace to forgive.
  4. Sing a new song unto the Lord. In other words, offer a new prayer or let religious music be your prayer!
  5. Serve others with love. MLK and Mother would agree.
Athletes know the importance of energy. It takes stamina, endurance, vigor and strength to finish the race, to win the game, or play your best. To name the practical yet "secret" steps to make the most of this precious resource, his message is clear.

I challenge all coaches to invite their athletes to consider the sport specific and spiritual ways one can get more energy. Now that's a good investment!

Photo Credits

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Week 3 in the NFL: Lessons on What Losing Looks Like

Week 3 in the NFL offered a shake up in every which way. From the new power rankings to the  emergence of this week's number one, the 2022-2023 is full of surprises. Some are exciting—Is Miami really that brilliantly coached?  while others—such as the number of season-ending injuries before October 1 are much more than unfortunate. We continue to talk about the talent of Tom Brady and the antics of Aaron Rodgers and yet, Week 3 afforded a new type of question. It's one I think coaches should discuss with their athletes, and parents with their children. How do you respond when you lose? And how should you respond?

Week 3 offered two very different reactions to use as examples and for discussion. On one end of the spectrum, at Mile High Stadium in Denver, the 49ers lost 11-10 to the Broncos. In a world that isn't afraid to point fingers, one is directed at the once-again starting quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo 

In his first start since Trey Lance was ruled out for the season with an ankle injury, Jimmy G stepped out of his own end zone for a safety, he threw an interception and lost a fumble on a poor snap exchange. The 49ers' offense produced just 10 points, punting the football away seven times and committing three turnovers.

Despite all the ugly play, Jimmy G and the 49ers had a pair of chances in the final minutes of the game to take the lead. Both drives ended in turnovers. Still, he was smiling—mega watt smiling— as he approached Broncos lineman Cameron Fleming after the game. He gave him a huge embrace and looked as if he did not have a care in the world. To his credit as a pro-athlete the man did not look winded or as though he had just spent the past three hours in a physical contest. Good on him, right? wrong?

Ask athletes and coaches to respond. Is Jimmy G's carefree, good vibes demeanor immediately after a loss okay? Is it appropriate to "flush it" so quickly? When you team loses, should team leaders—like the quarterback be upset? angry? frustrated or disgusted? Does it matter?

Meanwhile in Miami, Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey had a massive meltdown from the coaching box. 

Greg Papke writes, "Dorsey lost his cool at the end of the game as the Bills failed to get set and spike the ball in time to attempt a game-winning field goal attempt in a 21-19 loss. The video went viral and attracted some amusement, but not from Josh Allen, who said he did not see the reaction as “bad frustration.” 

In fact, when asked about the video, Allen said "You show me someone who's ok with losing and I'll show you a loser." 

Dorsey addressed his behavior to the media. He said,  "I don't ever want to take the passion out of the game. And we're in this to win football games for the Bills, for our fans. But it's something I'm going to learn from and make sure to correct going forward." Fair enough.

Losing one's cool, overreacting, and showing poor form is not uncommon. It always merits reflection, conversation and reconciliation. 

Tom Brady loses his cool by throwing an iPad during Week 2 in a loss to the Saints

While passion for the game and a desire to win fuels the fire, it is always worth tempering and keeping in control. Ask athletes to articulate how they keep themselves in check. 

Model the behavior you want to see and call out what you don't. Never assume that your team knows what is expected in terms of behavior. Preach, teach, model and more on a regular basis.

For example, when my golf team returned to competition post COVID, I noticed high school golfers were at a loss of how they ought to conclude the match. At that time, people were still wary of shaking hands. Consequently, a number of golfers just exited the green without acknowledging, thanking and congratulating their opponents. Just because the hand shake was out, doesn't mean the spirit behind the post game ritual ought to go away. I required my athletes to make a point of connecting with their teammates and opponents in a new and safe way.

And for those athletes who are able to shake it off, seconds after the final out, bell, etc I hope I would offer constructive criticism. Former Niners tight-end, Brent Jones offers a fine example.

He said, "I want to see Jimmy grabbing a couple receivers and talking to them, I want to see him patting his linemen on the shoulder and saying ‘I need some time." I agree. A leader of the team need not have a temper tantrum or go dark. Instead, he or she can communicate and contact their teammates to make it it right....while working to change the outcome in the future.

How we comport ourselves is another form of communication. And I don't know a person on the planet who doesn't need to think about and work on communication regularly. We all do better with good communication. Good coaches excel at this. Teams thrive when it is strong. Does it change winning or losing? Truth of the matter is, it probably does. Here's to Week 4.

Photo Credits
Jimmy G
TB12 Throwing

Monday, September 26, 2022

The Joy and Light He Brings: Four Lessons from Frances Tiafoe

Serena Williams has never been one to let the spotlight shine elsewhere. I dare say that one reason she defied the expectations by making it to the Round of 16 in  the 2022 U.S. Open is because a larger story was brewing. While sports fans everywhere followed her quest for her 24th Grand Slam title, they fell is love with another black American tennis player: Frances Tiafoe. 

The 24 year old from College Park, Maryland defeated Rafael Nadal only to lose in five sets in the semifinals to Carlos Alcaraz. All of sport is buzzing about his remarkable personal story. The son of immigrants from Sierra Leone, Tiafoe's father worked as a day laborer and the maintenance man at a tennis facility. He converted an office into a home where Frances and his twin brother Franklin could sleep five nights a week (as their mother was working two jobs). Tiafoe turned pro at the age of 16 and is the first black man to make it to the semifinals of the US Open since Arthur Ashe, in 1972. He was a fan favorite inside Arther Ashe Stadium.

He got social media shout outs from the likes of LeBron James and and a visit from the former First Lady, Michelle Obama. He was the subject of CBS Evening News at night and Good Morning America in the a.m. He didn't steal Serena's thunder, but he certainly shared the spotlight. 

After asking him to flash his winning Strahan smile, Robin Roberts concluded the GMA Cover Story interview with Tiafoe by thanking him. She said "Congratulations Frances. Thank you for the joy and the light you bring." I was so moved by the interview, I decided I had to write about him and offer five lessons I've learned from his life.

1. Everyone writes their own story.
When Frances faced doubt, his father, 
Constant Tiafoe offered his own words of encouragement. He said "everyone writes their own story and you are the pioneer of that." 

It telling his son you pen your purpose, he reminded Frances that how we respond or react is our choice. Ultimately, that is what shapes our story. 

I love his message. Every last part of me wants to agree 100%. I think it's more true that false. Frances Tiafoe is an example that it is. What do you think? 

2. Mindset
Frances' parents encouraged him to play competitive tennis to pay for his college education (in earning a full scholarship). Frances however had other dreams in mind. 

He said, "how about we let tennis change our lives—forever!" He added, "having that mindset at a young age enabled me to do that now."

Mindset determines the course of action—what we would do and why we  do it. 

In Frances, I am reminded how important it is to dream big. His parents had a vision of what could be and he looked beyond. What an outlook! What has your own mindset determined for you? How do you see what you want to achieve?

3. Prove yourself right
So often we start from the place of proving others wrong, but given his mindset, Frances focused on proving himself right. His father said "there will always be people who don't believe or are laughing at you when you're wearing the hand-me-down stuff." He asked his son "are you going to fall into that or develop that underdog mentality?! Prove yourself right!"

I love this outlook. Accentuate the positive. Eliminate the negative. Why not!

Is there something that you want to prove to yourself? 

It's not about where you are now...
Roberts asked Tiafoe what he would say to others who might find themselves in a similar situation. 

Frances responded by sharing "the biggest thing is understanding—it's not about where you are right now, but where you are going. Live through that process and in having dreams that people laugh at—that don't seem realistic at all—everything you do is about chasing that dream. Understand what your gift is and fall in love with your passion.

I wonder how many of us actually know where we are going. Perhaps that is half the battle. But if you "fall in love with your passion," my sense is that you have the fuel for the fire. Go for it.

There is a joy and a light that surrounds Frances Tiafoe. I saw it for the first time in 2017, when nearly defeated Roger Federer in the first round of the U.S. Open. (Fed won  4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 1-6, 6-4). 
It was hard not to notice this great athlete and catch wind of her personal story. As noted in "The Players Tribune: Something Bigger" it's safe to say, Frances to say "you belong" is an understatement. We are so much better for it.

Photo Credits
Tiafoe Family

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Simply the Best: A Tribute to the 2022 US Open

One of the great joys of my life, is being a sports fan. I'm not joking. This passion means that I live from one season to the next in anticipation of what a team, athlete, coach and fan base will give and receive, achieve and accomplish, dare and dream. Furthermore, as a golf and tennis fan, four times a year, I am privy to a championship that never fails to live up to its billing. Every grand slam or golf major is special, most are memorable and a few are exceptional. The 2022 United States Tennis Open is one of those.

Now in its 142nd year, this year's tourney drew even more press when six time champion, Serena Williams announced her farewell to tennis—in her own terms. While her performance at the Open merits its own reflection, her bon voyage was far from the only story that made this Open so special. Here are but a few thoughts, questions, and remembrances I would like to share.

Simply the Best
Many expected Serena's first round match against Danka Kovinić to be her last. Given that she played professional tennis less than ten times in 2022 and that she lost in the first round at Wimbledon, I understand the conjecture. However, the spirit that fueled both Agassi and Connors while standing in those same tennis shoes, suggested much more.

Serena's second round defeat of the number two seed, Anett Kontaveit was a match for the ages. Under the lights on Arthur Ashe Court, it's possible that Tiger Woods' forearm grew weary from flexing so often.

Although my hopes ran high as Serena won the second set in her third round match, her opponent, did not relent. Ajla Tomljanović broke Williams again and again in the third set, and as she did, I sensed a shift. I still cheered loudly and nervously, but I began to hold on. I  savored every last cross court winner, ace and "Come on!" she could muster. Though my vision of a 24th Grand Slam title was put in the rear view mirror, like everyone else in attendance I anticipated how she would bid adieu.

The crowd was brought to their feet. All were clapping, many holding back tears. I let mine go. In the background, the song "Simply the Best" by Tina Turner took over the airwaves. I love it when a song can underscore all that we feel.

Serena began by thanking her parents. She concluded with words of gratitude to her sister, Venus. So fitting.

What to do about Kyrgios?
If John McEnroe played tennis today, it's quite possible he might be known for more than his tantrums. I wonder how the fire that fueled the outbursts, obscenities and passionate plea "you can't be serious!" would be channeled differently. Why? The odds are, McEnroe was probably right.

Now an announcer, John McEnroe played professional tennis before the Hawk-eye system. He also has exceptional vision. This technology works in tandem with the line judges who are—good, bad or otherwise wrong—a lot.  (please note, the Hawk-eye system, is not flawless either).

While McEnroe may have been right about those outs that were in, he is wrong about what he divulged to the 20th ranked player in the world, Nick Kyrgios.

He told the hard and creative hitting, fast serving Krygios, "tennis needs you." He said "you're one of the best things we've got."

I understand why he appealed to the fit and insanely talented Krygios. His game is truly electric. To me, it's like watching basketball on the tennis court. He has finesse and flare; his athleticism is second to none. I find it impossible NOT to cheer for him...until I don't.

While I am sympathetic to how he handles the pressure of the game, I am challenged, disappointed and disgusted time and again by just how far he takes things. Kyrgios screams foul language. He throws, hurls and tosses equipment—violently. Although the game assesses penalties and fines for unsportsmanlike conduct and racket abuse, he continues to lose control. I often wonder, does he care?!

I have a wide berth for his frustration but when he slammed his racket and couldn't muster the ability to wave to the crowd to thank them for being behind him all night, I said no more. I want to love him, but at some point enough is enough. Right?

Political Nuances of the Game
While unvaccinated players were not allowed to play in the 2022 U.S. Open, men and women from a certain country were. 

Back in April, the organizers of Wimbledon made the decision to ban players from Russia (and Belarus) in response to the invasion of Ukraine. This boycott excluded some of the ATP and WTA top players. While you would have seen some of the games greats like Daniil Medvedev Andrey Rublev, and Karen Khachanov or Aryna Sabalenka and Daria Kasatkina, you would not see a flag next to their name. When these players were introduced, no announcer said from where they call home.

I don't know if Putin is a tennis fan, but it is widely known that he does love sport. And tennis always brings attention to one's homeland.  And speaking of which....

The American Dream: Watch this video!

Perhaps the greatest story to emerge from the 2022 is the tale of Tiafoe. I will let his personal profile speak for itself here. If this is the future face of American tennis, we are in for joy, athleticism and great competition. I love his game!

In Conclusion
While I don't look forward to the conclusion of summer and going back to school, this time of year affords the magical moments and memories created only at the U.S. Open. This year was one for the ages. And, I know there will be another one to come...

Photo Credits
No Flag