Monday, April 18, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deaths in the Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credits

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Extreme Sports: Extreme Altruism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She adds, 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credits

Sunday, April 10, 2022

The Masters 2022: Scottie Does Know...!

Although he was speaking about The Masters, PGA professional Charl Schwartzel revealed a truth that all sports fans can understand. The South African golfer said, "the minute I start to drive away from the clubhouse and down Magnolia Lane, I start to look forward to next year's tourney."  Whether it's "One Shining Moment"—the highlight reel shown after the March Madness nets are down, the final out of the World Series or at the closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games, the joy of victory and celebration is coupled with a certain sadness. Good things do come to an end. And yet Schwartzel reminds us to stay positive. I appreciate his optimism. We have next year, the next one, and the next season. So here's to what is to be in 2023, and seven points to remember from 2022.

1. How do you not love a man named Scottie?!
Growing up, lots of boys go by Danny, Johnny, and Joey. As they get older, it's natural to drop the "ie" or "y." Those who don't, must have some sort of personality to pull it off....and I love it.

Men my age named Scott, must have endured some social trials with the popularity of "Scotty Doesn't Know." Not sure that would matter to Scheffler. After he missed his second putt on the the 18th hole, the crowd yelled "Scottie! Scottie!" I found myself joining in. Just a small reason to get behind the first time major champion!

2. One secret to Scottie's success
Teddy. And how do you not love a man who goes by Teddy?!

Ted Scott, knows winning at Augusta National. Having served as Bubba Watson's caddy for 15 years, he stood in the winner's circle 10 years ago when Watson won his first of two Masters' championship titles.

Scott is not only well known, he's interesting—as reported in Who's Scottie Scheffler's caddie? 9 things you might not know about Ted Scott. Of particular import are the questions he had for the number one player in the world before deciding to work for him. Golf Digest reports,

“Teddy and Scottie talked for quite awhile before they went to work for him,” Tesori says. “Scottie’s young and has had a bit of a habit of getting a little angry on the golf course, and maybe even a little angry toward his caddie. 
“Ted being a veteran, almost 50 years old, being out here for so long, he was able to say: ‘I want to come work for you, but you have got to promise me that you’re going to work on these areas.’ And not only did Scottie say yes, he has absolutely done it.”

No where was this more telling that how Scheffler and Scott handled the situation on the 18th hole on Saturday. #teamwork!

3. The other secret to his success
Although he slept well on Saturday night, Scheffler admitted that Sunday morning at the Masters was far from easy. He suffered a panic attack and could not stop crying.

However, he was able to regain his composure and remain balanced with a little help from his wife, Meredith, and his faith in Jesus Christ.

“So for me, my identity isn’t a golf score,” Scheffler said. “Like Meredith told me this morning, if you win this golf tournament today, if you lose this golf tournament by 10 shots, if you never win another golf tournament again she goes, I’m still going to love you, you’re still going to be the same person, Jesus loves you and nothing changes.

“All I’m trying to do is glorify God and that’s why I’m here and that’s why I’m in position. So for me, it’s not–it’s not about a golf score.”

In an interview after the round, he added, "You know, you don't expect things to come to you in this life. You just do the best that you can and with the hand you're dealt and just go from there." In other words, Scottie understands that "all is grace—a free gift from God." Sounds like a perspective that leads to success.

4. It's electric
With Scheffler carrying a 3-stroke lead into the final 18 holes, many people doubted that this Sunday at the Masters could live up to its hype. However, the magic of this major is not to be underestimated. 

Look no further than Rory McIlroy who tied the record for the low round with a 64 on Sunday. As written on The Comeback,

McIlroy was on fire all day. He came to the final hole at seven-under. But after hitting his tee shot into a fairway bunker, his approach shot landed in the greenside bunker, leaving a tough up and down for par. Well, it would be tough for most golfers. For McIlroy, the up and down was a non-issue. He just got down, making a birdie to send himself — and the patrons around him — into a frenzy.

But electricity was in the air. Just minutes later, his playing partner Collin Morikawa did the same thing. Double your pleasure, double your fun.

5. Birdie to Bogey
A friend and I could no longer take the asinine commentary from a man sitting near us at the clubhouse bar. He was loud and offensive, inappropriate and inaccurate. It took everything in me to not answer one of his questions.

Cameron Smith, who finished tied for third in the tourney missed a putt for birdie on the 10th hole. This man yelled at Smith "How do you miss that?!" He then belittled the Aussie who was 7 under at that time. 

I find it shocking when sports fans criticize players and coaches. I believe some questions that fans ask are ludicrous. 

I don't know that this man has ever played a championship course. I am not sure that he's been in a contest where he is three strokes down and partnered with the leader. I doubt that Smith would ask that question of another player at Augusta.

I play the Lake Course at Olympic Club about once a month. It humbles me in a way that goes far beyond what golf regularly does. And that humility starts on the green. I have putted for birdie and posted a bogey. 

Golf is a cruel game. Cruel fans are not necessary.

6. Tiger Woods Must Be Irish
iven the amount of air time Tiger Woods gets you might not know that 90 other men are in contention for the green jacket. This is a fact that rubs many true golf friends raw. I understand. And still, the media can't get enough of him. 

But remember, Tiger is just one more example of why I prefer non-fiction to fiction. We cannot make up what he does, what he accomplishes and what he gets away with.  Truly he has the luck of the Irish—or at least lives by a proverb of the Irish people! See blogpost for more!

7. Sunday Best
As a sports and spirituality enthusiast, today is a special day. It's both Sunday at the Masters and Palm Sunday. 

I arrived at Church to find the congregation gathered outside so we could process in with our palm branches. The Gospel reading recalls the Passion and several lectors play specific roles. Each one was dressed up, including the narrator in a handsome suit and tie. I looked at each of them are was reminded of what we used to call "our Sunday best." I have wondered if young people today understand what "church clothes" means. If they need a definition, I found one. 

And yet, looking at Tiger Woods a few hours later, I found what might be a helpful analog. Dressed in his iconic red shirt and black pants, 
Woods looks his best on Sundays, too. Ryan Bellangee writes

“I've worn red ever since my college days basically, or junior golf days – big events on the last day,” Woods said. “I just stuck with it and it worked. I just happened to choose a school that actually was red, and we wore red on our final day of events. So it worked out.”

The "uniform" is striking and maybe superstitious, but it conveys a similar message. Our attire can honor something beyond ourselves. Sundays really are big days.

I've noticed that a number of people who know me reached out to me this past week. Many were anxious to talk Masters traditions and picks, share stories and imagine what it would be like to be there. I have come to realize, a simple question—checking in with others as it relates to their passions—is an act of love.

I used to wonder why people would ask me if I was going to "x" game or if I was planning on watching "y" contest. And now, I simply appreciate the chance to share a little bit of what I love and hope that they might begin to love it, too.

Golf isn't for everyone. The traditions and rituals of The Masters prompted some thoughtful class discussions, some of which are not easy. And still, this is such a special time of year. Indeed hope springs eternal. I hope Schwartzel enjoyed that ride down Magnolia Lane, filled with gratitude and hope for next year. I can't wait.

Photo Credits
green jacket
Tiger Woods
Teddy and Scottie
Cam Smith
With Hideki

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Tiger Woods: Must Be Irish....

In a 1997 interview on "The Oprah Winfrey Show"—Tiger Woods said he came up with a name to describe his background—a blend of Caucasian, black, Indian and Asian."I'm Cablinasian," he said. I would like to suggest however, Tiger left one key component out. He must be Irish.

How so? One could make for the fact he's had a good amount of luck (but that's not confined to the Emerald Isle). And great athletes know, you make your luck, right?. Rather, Tiger Woods must be Irish because he lives by the Irish proverb: the only thing worse then being talked not being talked about.

I can't think of an athlete who generates more press that Eldrick Tont "Tiger" Woods. He is a fiction writer's worst nightmare. Whereas said authors get to pen the story how they want, with Woods, there's simply no need to do so. Good, bad and otherwise, no one could possibly make up what he does. Non-fiction talks.

At 46 years old, Woods has 15 majors, five green jackets (the Masters), and 82 tournament victories. He is one of three athletes to have been named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year twice—the first in 1996 and the second in 2000 (the other two are LeBron James and Tom Brady. In other words, Tiger Woods has created buzz for over 25 years now.

Tiger looks good in green, on the green!

And that buzz was primarily quite positive until November 2009, when news of his "transgressions" began to surface. Smashing golf clubs onto a Cadillac Escalade SUV became a sight, symbol and sound for poetic justice. In the years after, we had the video footage of the DUI test, the mug shot, not to mention the "Mac Daddy Santa." Woods made some headlines for dating Lindsey Vonn and returning to the number one slot from March 2013 until May 2014; that's 58 weeks!. How's that for buzz?

It would have been easy for Woods to fade away into retirement. He underwent four back surgeries from 2014-2017. Like Bo Jackson, we would have understood that a great athlete was  "here today, gone tomorrow." We would share our own stories of the red shirt/black pants player who changed the game, look for him to play The Masters, given his exemption as a past champion, and guess who could (ever) take his place.

But Tiger didn't retire. Tiger didn't fade away. In fact, he only turned up the volume. He won the 2018 Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, only to do what was at one point unimaginable: win the 2019 Masters. Truly, it must be one of the greatest comeback wins of all time. I'd never felt so conflicted of what it means to be a "hero." Tiger, you got us talking. 

Due to COVID-19, Tiger Woods defended his green jacket in November of 2020. He tied for 38th and but a few months later, survived a rollover car accident. Removed from the vehicle via the "jaws of life," Woods sustained compound fractures in both legs. Many surmised he would never play golf again. A little over one year later, we anticipate what is once again unthinkable: Woods will play in the 2022 Masters tourney. Buzz begets buzz!

Tiger Woods wouldn't know what it's like to NOT be talked about. Jay Busbee of Yahoo! Sports writes

Yes, Tiger Woods has dominated all golf conversation for the last quarter-century. There’s a reason for that: he’s more compelling than any other golfer that’s teed it up in the last quarter-century. Want proof? Can you name the No. 1 golfer in the world right now? Go ahead, take your time.

This is why we’re still so focused on Woods: because he contains multitudes. He’s the son who achieved his father’s dreams. He’s the father who takes immense, boundless pride in his children. He’s the competitor who looked every one of his challengers in the eye and broke them down, one by one. He’s the striver who set astounding goals and came closer than anyone could have imagined — closer than anyone in history — to achieving them. He’s a player who found his purpose in life early, and then remade an entire sport in his image. He’s a success and a failure, and he’s used those failures to propel himself to even greater successes.

Golf fans are anxious to know what kind of success will meet Tiger Woods at the 2022 Masters. Will he make the cut? Is he able to play like Tiger again? And in case he didn't provide enough reason to talk about him this past week, he did affirm, with conviction, his belief he can win. Luck of the Irish to you, Tiger!

Photo Credits
In green, on the green
Tiger and Joe
Navy...not Seal
Great jacket: Masters