Sunday, May 22, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credits

Monday, May 16, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 8, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Domers in the News

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

Photographic Memories by Margaret Fosmoe '85

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 6, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Marcus Freeman: Heart of Gold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credits
Freeman Family
Coach and Players