Tuesday, November 28, 2023

What we see and don't see: Lessons Learned from a Coach Kerr's Clipboard

Have you ever had front row seats? Have you ever sat court side for a game? I think the closest I've ever sat to the stage was in the second row for a George Strait concert or five people deep in the pit of a Springsteen show. I love, let me underscore, love being so up and close and personal. It's as though you're consumed by the sight, the energy and the intensity of what lies in front of your own eyes. But yesterday, I was reminded sometimes, you have a better vantage from the back. Sometimes, you can see more from afar. It's also possible that when you look at what's in front of you, you lose sight of what's behind or in back of you—both literally and metaphorically. 
Oakland Coliseum, 2013
For the past two days, I have been teaching in a classroom that is not my own. The teacher assembles her desks differently than I do and as I sat in her desk—located in the back room—I realized that though students don't see you, you see them...and everything they do. From this perch, I was reminded that perspective changes everything.

In the same classroom, I picked up the clipboard that the TA uses to take attendance. While I should have focused on the roster clipped to the front, I was more interested in the message taped on its back: Ten Rules for Sportsmanship. And, as someone who uses a clipboard for both teaching and coaching, I thought about my own clip board—and the messages I send—again, literally and metaphorically—from it.
Coaching XC. Crystal Springs. Love this memory and runner!
The clipboard helps me do what I do, for the benefit of my students or athletes. I use it to get to the information I need, the notes I want to review, the work out plan and more. My audience only sees me looking at what I will use for them, but I started to wonder what else do they see when I use it. 

I believe an important question for every teacher and coach to pose it what messages are we sending both directly and indirectly to those who sit in front of us. What else are they learning, doing, achieving and striving toward when we stand in front, beside or behind them?

I realized that Steve Kerr's clipboard says a lot. Whether it's chipped, broken or complete, he is always giving his players a message. That's just one reason he was awarded Coach of the Year in 2015.

One of my favorite stories from the Warriors 73 win season was told by the unanimous MVP Steph Curry about Coach Kerr and his clipboard. With the team up by but a few points late in the third quarter of a game against the Sacramento Kings, Kerr called a timeout. 
The team did not execute the play as practiced and in the process of explaining how the team failed, Kerr broke his clipboard. Curry admits he had a hard time holding back his laughter. "Here we were, the number one team in the league and Coach Kerr is coaching this game like it's the NBA Finals." With or without his clipboard, no one questions how much Steve Kerr cares. His became material for the Warriors "silly fines kitty," as written in the article "Joy Ride: On the Road with the Warriors." 
  • Kerr breaking only a small corner off his clipboard during a halftime rant in January. "Kind of weak-ass break," Green says. "At least break it in half." Kerr: "It was defective!" (Fine: TBD)
No doubt Kerr sent a message in breaking his clipboard. And his team sent one right back in "catching another Dub committing a Silly Fine for which he must contribute between $250 and $500 to the kitty. When the kitty gets big enough, there’s a half-court shooting contest. Winner takes all. Everybody gets a chance—equipment guys, trainers, even reporters. Except for Curry, who recuses himself. Unless everyone else misses."

Maybe coaches and teachers ought to start their own kitty....

We should consider what messages we are sending verbally, in writing, and by our example. Whether it's the clipboard we carry, the place where we sit or the spot where we stand, cognizance, awareness and appreciation of what our students and athletes see and don't see is worth pursuing. Ask them. Invite their responses. Inquire about their perspective. Break the clipboard if you have to....it shows that you care.

NB: I started this post on 7/18/16 and never finished it. There was some great material here. Had to finish the job!

Photo Credits
The Boss
Steve Kerr

Monday, November 27, 2023

Life in Five Senses: Stories of Celebrity Sightings and C-Mac!

The blog post Life in Five Senses: Two Stories of Voice Recognition, asks you—the reader—to determine if you have ever voice recognized someone? I recommended bringing it to your Thanksgiving table (or next social gathering). Any good stories out there? Perhaps an easier question to ask a group is Who is a celebrity—an actor or athlete, musician or model, politician or person of import they have seen in public? In other words, name a someone famous you have recognized in person. My sense is that a few good stories will follow.

In the same way that Americans have rules for what constitutes visiting all 50 states, I have mine for a bona fide celebrity sighting. For one, it must be unexpected—nearly spontaneous. If you weren't paying attention you might miss this auspicious encounter. Furthermore, it ought to occur as part of every day life. For example, seeing Aaron Rodgers with Danica Patrick at Tahoe Edgewood during the American Century Classic Golf tourney does not count. Nor does playing Blackjack next to Travis Kelce at Harrah's that same weekend. Who plays in the tourney is public information. Who pays in the casinos...well that is too. But let's use the Kanas City Chiefs tight end as an example.

As much as I love these gatherings, this tourney doesn't count for celeb sightings.
Listening to this story on KNBR this morning got me thinking about vision and sightings. It also reminded me of the joy of those encounters. As written on NBC Sports Bay Area,

Christian McCaffrey and Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce have only faced each other twice during their NFL careers, but that didn't stop the 49ers' All-Pro running back from spotting the star running back in passing while the two were in New York City.

McCaffrey shared a hilarious story about this chance encounter with Kelce during an interview on the "B Scar TV Podcast," hosted by his former Stanford teammate Brennan Scarlett.

"Fun Travis Kelce Story," McCaffrey told Scarlett. "I've met him twice. One was in passing over the Super Bowl a couple of years ago. Just like a, 'Hey, what's up, man?' The other, I was in New York. I was picking out Olivia's [Culpo] ring. I was in New York by myself. I'd taken the train from Rhode Island to New York. So, I get off at Grand Central Station. I'm sitting on the corner right there. By myself, I'm looking for a cab because I'm going to the spot- I blend in well, I'm not like a get-the-black car- I'm taking the train. I'll get in a cab and get to my destination just fine. 

"It took me a while. I'm in New York. It's busy. I'm standing on the side of the road, and all of a sudden, I hear, 'C-Mac! C-Mac!' I was like, 'What the hell is that?' That's when Travis was shooting SNL, so he's riding in the car, he's in the back of a black car, and he rolls the window down, and he's like, 'C-Mac! C-Mac!' And I was like, 'Yeah!' And that was it. That was the only other time I've ever met him. Ever since then, I'm like, 'That's the coolest guy ever.' I knew him as much as someone I'd only met once. So much energy out of the window, I was like, 'I f--cking love that guy.' Great energy. Authentic, that's who he is."

And what I love most about this story is how unexpected the event was was to both Christian and me/ the listener. Hearing C-Mac relay this memory, I CAN picture how he would blend into a crowd....The people involved, the place it happens are not entirely unlikely but they are unsuspecting. That's what makes sightings a surprise.

I associate most surprises with something positive, but that might not always be true. In the airport in Belfast, my mom and I saw Ian Paisley. A loyalist politician and Protestant religious leader from Northern Ireland who served as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, in the 1960s Paisley led and instigated loyalist opposition to the Catholic civil rights movement in Northern Ireland. That being said, I suppose he is my only celebrity sighting of that tenor. Do you have one too?

I have fiends who have a penchant for seeing people—famous people, semi-famous people and the rest of us—out and about. Their vision fascinates me. Over the years, I have learned and leaned into the power of peripheral vision. I tried to pay better attention and eliminate distraction. I've also learned to trust that vision. My gut instinct is usually on point. For example, this summer I walked by the professional golfer Tommy Fleetwood at Wimbledon. That sighting was confirmed and made sense, given that the British Open began but four days later. Therefore, here are but a few of the other sightings that count.

  • Walking down my street in San Francisco, I have seen Joe Montana and his wife Jennifer, longtime Giants outfielder Pat Burrell and former Niners head coach, Steve Mariucci. 
  • I have exited the PGA Superstore in Palo Alto only to ask Steve Young if he was getting ready for Tahoe. 
  • Right after telling my friend's brother that my golf club doesn't really have celebrity members, I invited him to turn his head to 4:00. Barry Bonds was walking behind us. Just the home run king. NBD. 
  • I've wished Steph Curry good luck before his round and gotten the shimmy shimmy from him after yelling nice shot (he was walking toward the green above where I was standing on the fairway). 
  • My friend Cort and I have attended two US Opens together. At LA Country Club, he introduced me to former Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen and at Torrey, I got to meet Niner GM John Lynch. Clearly he has one eye on golf and another on those around us. #Grateful 
  • There are plenty more—Festus Azeli, Patrick Beverly, Seal (the musician) but my all time favorite sighting was recognizing Michael Keaton in a tiny pizza place in Mt. Lebanon, PA. As a student at Notre Dame, I did not come home for Thanksgiving. Instead I traveled to the Fronduti home outside of Pittsburgh, PA. I went to use the bathroom in the back of the restaurant and I realized I just walked by Batman. I asked the waiter if that were true. He said "Bruce Wayne, indeed."

Sight and and vision are essential components, core to the curriculum of Sports and Spirituality. The athlete must hone in and never lose sight of the ball. In the spiritual life, we are called to pay attention, to see and take notice of the ways God is at work in our lives. I profess the words of the Nicene Creed with conviction. I believe in things visible and invisible. We can learn to see both. 

How did Travis Kelce happen to see Christian McCaffrey? Why does it even matter? The fact that this story has been told and shared suggests why. We are known. We not invisible, even if we think we might be. We are meant to see and be seen. I would argue, it's a spiritual exercise. Give it a go.

Photo Credits
Kelce and C-Mac
Tommy Fleetwood

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Mindfulness: Worth Teeing Up

Words, names, places to travel, even root vegetables trend in an out, up and down. Ask your friends and colleagues for examples of each. I think kale and sweet potatoes are past their peak. I hear kalettes and broccoflower are on their way in. According to Forbes, Sardinia Italy is tops for 2024. The following questions arise: Does this mean that time, or a new house in Whitefish, Montana is on the way out? Will I still have at least three girls names Sophia and four boys named Jack in my classes in the future? And what will replace mindfulness in the years to come? Hopefully, nothing. How? Why? I hope it's here to stay. 

Mindfulness: Still Trending

To me, mindfulness is a word we hear often, but what does it really mean? I know it's a key concept in the PE/Wellness course required of all ninth graders at St. Ignatius College Prep. #Mindfulness is still trending. And this section of the bookstore (since I still frequent those!) has not slimmed down. I imagine we all have our own path toward understanding and appreciating mindfulness. I found mine through golf. Though some golfers might find this ironic as golf is such a demanding, exacting game—I found it helpful.

In the USGA Golf Journal reports 

Mindfulness isn't just a buzzword, it's a life skill—one that can help you enjoy the game more. 'Mindfulness is a quality of awareness, in which you consciously block past or future interpretations, judgments and fears from affecting the present moment,' said Sharon Salzberg, author of 'Real Change: Mindfulness to Heal Ourselves and Change the World."

Rather than allowing a bad hole to blow up your found, apply the practice of "letting go," Pause, take three deep breaths, say to yourself, I'm starting over, and...let it go.
This is equally important in golf as it is in life. Ask me to name three things which might need letting go, and I can give you thirty. Where should we start? Grievances, shoulds, should nots, numbers, and much more. You can list your own.

Mindfulness however calls us to live in the present. No wonder Salzberg also suggests learning how to "return." 

If you catch yourself thinking about that report you have to turn in tomorrow, gently say to yourself, Not right now. Doing so exercises the letting go muscle, which per Salzberg, "allows you to return to the present moment quicker and with more grace or clarity." 

Let go. Return. Repeat.

If mindfulness is still beyond your grasp, perhaps this example from Olympic Club golf columnist, Gerry Stratford will help. In "A Sojourn" he writes,

I suppose that I am a sojourner on the golf course, and therefore need to cherish not just the 20 minutes that it takes me to hit the ball 80 times, but the full four hours or more that I spend in that special place. 

I occasionally go for a walk in our neighborhood with my wife, and she sets a brisk pace. With long strides and swinging arms, we get terrific exercise, but I would prefer to saunter.

Hal French once explained to me that the word saunter probably derives from the term "saunterer," which was once applied to the traveler in the Middle Ages who was en route to the Holy Land (Sainte Terre). And, if a golf course is in a way our own Sainte Terre, should we not reflect on what is there around us? Not the distance traveled, but the place where we are in the moment. The shots already made are history. They are gone. The ones to come are not yet here. They are beyond our control. Neither of them matters in the moments in between.

All that we really have now is the present, and if in this moment we hear the call of a red-tailed hawk from high in a cypress tree, feel the wind on our face with a taste of fog, or see a rainbow in a bright blue sky, we should savor that. And then, when it is time to feel the slope with our feet and imagine our target line two balls to the right of that beckoning hold, be fully in that moment also.

Mindfulness teachers us to reach out, to become aware of our surroundings. To not be distracted by our recollection of someone's latest swing tip, but just to be the fall and fly with it on its journey home.

This excerpt from "Tee to Green" invites us to consider our own Sainte Terre. Where can you be present? When do you savor the moment? What helps you to become aware of your surroundings? And when you are, what do you see? 

The practice of mindfulness need not be a passing trend. It need not be esoteric or even unpractical either. It's as simple as letting go, returning and making time to saunter....

Photo Credits
Tee it up
Mind Map
Here and Now

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Here Come the Irish: Over the Mississippi and Through the Redwoods—A Thanksgiving Weekend Tradition

"Over the River and Through the Woods," is a Thanksgiving poem written by Lydia Maria Child. Although the stanza actually says,

Over the river, and through the wood,  

To Grandfather's house we go;

the horse knows the way to carry the sleigh

through the white and drifted snow.

since 1844, Americans have changed the words to fit their holiday travels. Growing up, we would sing "over the Bay Bridge and through the Caldecott" and we meant it. Thanksgiving was spent at my grandparent's flat at 35 Ashbury Street in San Francisco. Today, it's wherever is most convenient. Regardless, holiday travel presents it own set of challenge and adventure for many— but not for all!

I've long lived the reality of "Planes, Trains and Automobiles." I respect that my brother watches this as part of his Turkey day tradition. But now that I live close to my parents and where I grew up, I don't have to travel. That is a gift. But, sometimes the best gift is when family travels to YOU. 

The effort to purchase a plane ticket, pack up, and put yourself in another time zone is not for the faint of heart. To me, having visitors—friends or family—come from far (and near) is a bonus. But for the past 20 years, there's been a double bonus—my Notre Dame family, the Fightin' Irish football team comes to Palo Alto to play the Stanford Cardinal. 

People ask me if I plan on attending the game. I've always found this question a little baffling. How could I miss this? Seeing my team requires me to travel but 45 minutes down Highway 101. The Irish have come to me (not specifically...obvi ). I am grateful.

The Legends Weekend Trophy: Waterford Crystal atop a Redwood Base

Every other year, my Thanksgiving weekend is characterized by these visitors. It prompts other questions such as Who's in town for the game? What gatherings will surround the game? Where is the team practicing?  This year, the flew in on Friday and did not practice. Where are they staying?  The Marriott in San Mateo. What will the weather be like? Sunny and not a cloud in the sky. What time is kick off? 4 p.m. What are you bringing to the tailgate? Fireball, what else?! Who will win? Irish are favored by 21 but one never knows. Will ND fans sing "I Will Always Love You" to Sam Hartman out west? I'm willing... and able.

In my blog post, The Three F's of Thanksgiving: Family, Food...and Football?! I asked the question: When you think of Thanksgiving—is "football" one of the three F's that come to mind? I cannot say otherwise. It is about family—my own family and the Notre Dame family. Football is a significant reason we come together and today, this Thanksgiving weekend why they came over the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, through the Redwood forests. Let's take it to the House Irish!

Friday, November 24, 2023

Cookies, Cocktails, Food and Fasting: A Holiday Challenge

There was a time when people woke up in the wee hours of the morning to get their Black Friday on. With e-commerce available 24/7, I wonder how many Americans head out the door to knock out the proverbial Christmas shopping list. Instead, maybe they're hitting the gym or pounding the pavement. I know I ate enough carbs to fuel a marathon. While I did not wake up with a food hangover, I went to bed in a food coma. Black Friday is now a day of personal reckoning. HBU?

With the holiday season in full swing, I said to myself, I can't feel this way for the remainder of 2023. I don't want to wake up in the new year with diabetes. The sheer amount of Christmas cookies and cocktails, snacks and seasonal treats has me thinking I need a game plan, a positive approach, a path toward "better than yesterday." One thought came to mind: intermittent fasting. 

If this catches you by surprise, it should. That's so 2018, right? According to The Fasting Cure Is No Fad, "Fasting is one of the biggest weight-loss trends to arive in recent years. Endorsed by A-list celebrities and the subject of a spate of best-selling book, it was the eighth most-Googled diet in 2018." But fasting shouldn't be dismissed as just another fad, and that is what intrigues me most.

Michaelsen argues there's a logic to intermittent fasting. "Fasting can contribute to brain health and happiness." It can help with "an array of chronic conditions and when combined with exercising can spur distinct inccreases in the best known nerve growth factor, BDNF and might even be effective in preventing the recurrence of cancer." Wow.

Sports and Spirituality views (intermittent) fasting as a timeless discipline—relevant to both domains. For example, as Michalsen writes, "fasting overcomes an instinctive need in a way that gives us physical and mental strength. As a practice, fasting is more than simply restricting calories or nutrients. For many people it is also a spiritual experience. Over the course of our lives, we encounter many kinds of deficiency, whether of money, success or affection. Fasting is a conscious renunciation, a controlled exercise in deprivation. That's why successful fasting increases self-efficacy—we overcome an instinctive need in a way that gives us physical and mental strength."

What a thoughtful way to think about entering into the Advent—a four week period of preparation for the nativity of Jesus Christ at Christmas. It is challenging to live the spirit of Advent given the abundance our consumerist culture promotes, starting November 1...long  before Black Friday! Rather, Advent is about waiting—patient waiting—and reflecting on how we can prepare our hearts and homes for Christ's birth in the world as it is today. And let us remember—Advent comes to a close on Christmas day. Joy to the World!

So why not enter into this time before Christmas with a different mindset, not to mention a physical and spiritual discipline? Give (intermittent) fasting some consideration. Try it on for size. Let me know what you think.... Happy Holidays!

Photo Credits
Kettle Bell Snowman

Thursday, November 23, 2023

The Three F's of Thanksgiving: Family, Food...and Football?!

When you think of Thanksgiving—is "football" one of the three F's that come to mind? For many Americans, the fourth Thursday in November is about family, food and football. For others, it might be turkey and stuffing? A much needed national holiday/short break? Perhaps the third F is Friendsgiving. With the recent passing of Matthew Perry, the origin story of Friendsgiving is recognized and celebrated. For me,  Thanksgiving is a day of three Fs and two S's: sports and spirituality. 

For 25 years now, students, parents, alumni, teachers and friends have gathered at Lake Merced for the St. Ignatius Turkey Trot. I am happy to report we raised over $1000 for the St. Anthony Foundation. One family went to Mass before the trot; they said the church was packed. 

It's good for all of us to pause, give thanks, and have fun. Yes, we will take in too many carbs. Others will be over-served in other ways. Some of you will toss a football and plenty others will watch it. And, since 1934, one of those two teams has been and remains the Detroit Lions.

As mentioned on ESPN Daily "no other team in professional sports can claim to be as much a part of an American holiday as the Detroit Lions." Due to World War II, they did not play from 1939-1944. However, the Lions have played on every single Thanksgiving holiday since. 

Eric Woodyard, a Michigan native and Lions insider said "I have to say, the Thanksgiving day Lions bit, is probably the single best marketing tool that they have. Even though they are not a very good franchise, if ask anyone on thing they know about the Detroit Lions, it's that they play on Thanksgiving."

"If you're a Lions fan, most of those Thanksgiving games this century have say in your stomach like leftovers gone bad...but as a quick look at the standings show, it's a new day in Motown."

Though they are 6 and 16 this century, the Lions lead the NFC North with an 8-3 record. They have some star power in WR Amon-Ra St. Brown and Defensive End Aidan Hutchinson. The Lions were the featured team in the 2022 Hard Knocks Training Camp series. I have done everything in my power to rewatch these series; I hope HBO makes it available again. Though he did not make the ¡Coaches Caliente! calendar, Dan Campbell has brought the team to relevance once more. Yes, Detroit fans have much to be thankful for.

I recommend listening to The Lions Look to Flip Their Thanksgiving Day Script. Though the team fell to the Packers 29-22, this particular podcast helped me frame how I enjoy spending the Thanksgiving holiday: start the day with faith and fitness, grab a football and conclude the night with friends and family. Given that my family eats turkey in the evening, we will be slightly distracted knowing that the Niners and Seahawks are in a battle for first place in the NFC West.

And my only other question is about marketing tools: I think the Lions use of Honolulu blue is right up there with this one. While I don't like the all-grays, that Honolulu blue is awesome. 

How do you frame your holiday? Do you have any traditions that include sports and spirituality?

Photo Credits
Dan Campbell

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Life in Five Senses: Two Stories of Voice Recognition

Have you ever voice recognized someone? Bring this question to your Thanksgiving table (or next social gathering). I wonder what people will say.
After voice recognizing 5 SF Giants, I got them to sign my Spanish workbook
When I speak of voice recognizing a person, I am not alluding to anything technical or as formal as its definition: "a deep learning technique used to identify, distinguish, and authenticate a particular person’s voice. It evaluates an individual’s unique voice biometrics, including frequency and flow of pitch, and natural accent. Although the terms “voice recognition” and “speech recognition” are often used interchangeably, they are distinct: Speech recognition recognizes spoken words; voice recognition identifies the speaker (arm.com). No. Voicing recognizing a person means that you recognize a person, unassisted, by the sound of their voice. 

I would argue everyone has done this—whether or not we are aware of it. For example, ladies: How many times have you been in a large dressing room and heard someone yell out "Mom?!" How is it that the right woman always responds? Voice recognition.

Even Jesus was in on voice recognition. In the parable about The Good Shepherd, John 10 1-4, He teaches
“Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. 2 But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out."
Indeed, Christ knew the power and import of a person's voice.

Many people admit that they don't like the sound of their voice as recorded on a phone, voicemail.  Still, everyone has their own, unique voice. Even identical twins—siblings who share the same DNA have a voice of their own. No two are the same. And, I find them fascinating. Some are deep—a baritone. Others are scratchy and shrill. Vocal fry is not becoming while folks with with good intonation sound positive, confident and pleasant.

A colleague in the Religious Studies department said, "I've always wondered What if I didn't like the sound of Jesus' voice"?' I responded by suggesting that Jesus' voice was probably neutral. 

To me, the majority of people don't have a remarkable voice; they are voice neutral. My guess is that there is a bell shaped curve when it comes to voices. Some have annoying voices: too high, too shrill, too fry and the others have great voices: resonant, distinct and attractive. Thoughts? 

Still, we know people by their voices. Obviously we know famous people by their appearance and activities, but from time to time we know a few of them by their voice, too. To voice recognize a person suggests an added level of familiarity. It means that you have heard them speak—and you may or may not know what they look like. However, the sound of their voice enables you to put two and two together.

I have but two good stories that involve voice recognition and listening to one of my favorite podcasts: Happier reminded me of the concept and my own experiences with it.

The Brett Butler Show
I was a die-hard fan of the 1989 Giants. I went to 20 games at Candlestick Park with my brother. If I didn't watch the games, I listened to them on KNBR 680 AM. The postgame show was hosted by the orange and black's centerfielder, Brett Butler. He was an excellent announcer and a great lead-off hitter.
I had a summer job at the Concord Pavilion as a "runner." In short, I would get whatever the concessions stand needed—more ice, cups, trays, etc. Some of these supplies were in "the cage" which was the backstage area. I didn't think too much about who might be backstage or what they might be doing. I needed to get from point A to point B. However, on this one night—the band Chicago was playing—I heard a voice in the darkness that I had heard many times before. I know this voice! 

I went over to the group of five men and said "
Wait...wait....You're Brett Butler." He smiled and said "yes I am." And I said "and you're Terry Kennedy...and Gary Carter." I knew each one of them by name. I told them I was a big fan. I don't remember how I went from that conversation to getting them to sign my Spanish workbook, but I've kept that page all these years.

The voice gives him away
My friend Mike has a penchant for running into famous people. He never overreacts to anyone he sees. He always says "hello" like he is their next of kin.

A couple of years ago, I ran into Mike on Chestnut Street. We started talking and he said "go into that store. Barry Bonds is in there." Bonds played for the Giants from 1993-2007 and has the single season record for the most career home runs. He is arguably one of the best baseball players of all time. 

Always pumped for an athletic star sighting, I walked in and worried that I missed #25. He was no where to be found. I tried to play it cool and browse the shop but I was looking for Bonds. Suddenly, I heard his voice. It's rather high pitched and soft. It's not what you expect when you look at this former professional athlete. I recognized his voice before I saw him in plain sight. It's hard to mistake Bonds with anyone else!

Our voice is just another attribute of our humanity. We can know a person by many things—their hair/hair color, their gait, their height, weight and so forth. It's possible to recognize another person in so many ways, including their voice. It's life in five senses, why limit ourselves to thinking of people any differently?!

An audio version of this post is not available.

Photo Credits
Brett Butler
Good Shepherd

Saturday, November 11, 2023

An Inspiring Conversation with Danielle Green '99, US Army Veteran

The term "veteran" means a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service, who was discharged or released therefrom under conditions other than dishonorable (Department of Veteran Affairs). Although we know about veterans, many Americans might not actually know one. That's because fewer than 7 percent of Americans have served in the U.S. armed forces. In fact, less than one percent have fought in war. To me, this makes the observance of Veteran's Day as a national holiday that much more important. 

Veteran's Day brings collective awareness and attention to the plight and path of men and women have responded to a call to service. We remember the fallen. We honor those who have given their time and talents to protect our values and their families who have made sacrifices along the way. Our freedom prevails because of veterans. As a nation, I hope we recognize this is not something nor are they someone we should take for granted. Ever. 

I think we have a moral obligation to recognize the tough realities our veterans endure. Veteran's Day cannot fall privy to pageantry. Truly, I appreciate the NFL's "Salute to Service

represents the NFL's unwavering dedication to honoring, empowering, and connecting with our nation's service members, veterans, and their families. It is grounded in deep partnerships with the Bob Woodruff Foundation (BWF), Pat Tillman Foundation (PTF), Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), United Service Organizations (USO) and Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP). Since 2011, more than $66 million has been raised for these Salute to Service partners. 

But let that be an invitation to learn more, to read and realize what those organizations are and why they exist.

The Admiral Callahan Society at St. Ignatius created this memorial as an invitation for the school community to recognize Veterans' Day.

On Thursday, November 17 at 8 p.m. Notre Dame Women Connect will feature U.S. Army veteran Danielle Green '99. Although I had seen her making buckets—lots of them*—as a member of the Notre Dame women's basketball team, the first time I learned more about her story is when she won the Pat Tillman award, given at the ESPYs in 2015. Through Green, one can learn more about the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), who they are and what they do.

Green,  who lost part of her left arm from a rocket-propelled grenade attack while serving in Iraq, said it was a dream for her to serve our country. In the book "Black Domers: African-American students at Notre Dame in their own words," she writes "as a child raised in poverty in the inner city of Chicago by a single parent who battled with substance abuse, it was imperative for me to dream big so I would not fall victim to my environment. I wanted to be somebody; I wanted to matter in life." What a profound, selfless and powerful way to think of becoming a veteran.

A few years after graduating, she "felt hollow inside. I thought I should be doing more with my life, so I decided to enlist in the United States Army, even though I knew the war was looming." In the tribute video shown at the EPSYs, Green admits that when she lost her arm she felt bad that she could not complete her service. She was awarded a Purple Heart by her brigade commander. And I loved reading that honor was the reason why she chose the royal, regal color at the ESPYs.

As written in Bouncing Back Stronger: Woman Warrior and Purple Heart Recipient Overcomes Adversity to Live with Purpose“I wore a purple dress because it was symbolic of the Purple Heart,” Danielle said. “I wanted people to know that I was strong, fierce. I wanted to show the world that there are female combat veterans out there and we do come back with war scars.”

Green now works Wounded Warrior Project as a Warrior Speak Spokesperson. In September WWP released the 2023 Women Warriors Report, "which highlights the unique experiences and challenges women veterans face after service, including accessing health care and undergoing a harder time transitioning back into civilian life than their male counterparts." In fact, women are the fasted growing groups of veterans. 

Green believes the best way to reach veterans is to "share stories like mine, so they realize the Wounded Warrior Project community is the place for them to heal and find acceptance.” 

In our time together, we will discuss much more than her "second hand life." She remains committed to athletics, competition, and new challenges. A mother to Daniel, her nine-year old son, we look forward to all the stories she will share through the program Inspired Conversations. This is open to alumni and friends of Notre Dame. Please register for this special event here.

On this Veteran's Day, let us remember the realities of Veterans. The very act of remembrance IS a prayer.

Photo Credits
Pat Tillman award

*Green, a left handed guard is the 17th leading scorer in Irish women's hoops history)

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Seeking, Serenity and a Super Bowl Ring: Lessons from AirPods, Jason Kelce and More

After three months, I found what I had been missing: my AirPods. I stopped looking for them about two weeks after I realized they were gone. I went through every last jacket, vest, sweatshirt and pair of pants I own. I reviewed the suspecting and unsuspecting places, but that small white jewel case was no where to be found. Given then I had already lost a) one charging case and b) a complete set, I decided as much as I wanted another pair, a third purchase was not meant to be. I figured if Aaron Rodgers was cool enough to wear the wired headset, so could I. Yes, the actual AirPods are much better, but I committed to move on and let it go. I did.

That is, until last Saturday when I found what went missing. I was dusting under a chair in my room and much to my chagrin, my eyes caught sight of my AirPods. They were alive and kicking. At that moment, my sister called and I told her what I recovered. "I love that feeling!" she said. I replied, "that which was lost has been found." No, this is not the story of the prodigal son but much like it, I think there is a valuable lesson in here, too. 

In the Matthew 7:7-9, Christ the Teacher imparts the following advice when it comes to prayer. Jesus says, 

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

I will speak for myself, I have repeated those words over and over in my life—personally, prayerfully, professionally. I have made a great career of seeking—but not always finding. And still, I pray. I pray to St. Anthony; I bargain with him. I pray for wisdom. I pray for patience— especially with myself. 

In Kelce, Amazon's popular documentary featuring the elder Kelce brother, Jason—I found a kindred spirit. I realized the Eagles center and I have something in common—he shares my plight of losing and looking.  Fast forward to the 10 minute mark, and you will see Jason looking for his Super Bowl LII ring.

He says, "If I were a Super Bowl ring, where would I be?  This is how I usually look. I start moving stuff....That didn't work right there."

His wife Kylie, looks as though she has seen this search more than once. She said, "He reads the defense very very well and calls protections very effectively. He'll go out there and see everything on a football field, but he cannot find his keys if they're in his pockets."

Jason takes the camera person into another room. He says, "
This is what it's supposed to be in. This is the box they give you so you're not doing this. It has the confetti from the game, but not the ring." He adds, "I did take it golfing...I think." 

Kylie asks, "
You checked your golf bag?"

The viewer is not privy to when, if or how Jason finds his ring. To me however, this scene embodies a lesson my spiritual director offered me long ago.

Turns out New Heights, Kelce's podcast reveals where/how Jason found his ring.

She asked me to call to mind:  What I do see. What do I notice? What is important that I pay attention to? How does that line of sight or vision help me do what matters to me—teach, love others, care for my friends, write well, etc.?

Then, she asked me what it would me to accept my limitations and shortcomings—my humanity. She said, "maybe it's okay for some things to be lost." She was both encouraging me to let things go, but she also suggested that I let things come to me. 
I see the story of my AirPods as a metaphor for that way of proceeding.

Life seems to be a very tender balance of seeking ...of finding and letting ourselves be found. We must ask ourselves, What can we let go of? What can we find? What can we replace? In what way can we replace it? I don't have the answer to these questions, because they are for each one of us to determine and to bring to prayer.

I shared this story entire story with my students. Several of them told me they had lost three, even five sets of AirPods. I showed that clip of Kelce to the mom's group at school. They  howled in laughter at Jason (the husband) seeking and not finding and Kylie (the wife) looking from afar. It struck very close to home. Therefore, let us remember to pray the words Matthew's Gospel and add our own....maybe the Serenity Prayer is a good place to start.

Photo Credits

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Let Us Remember: Sharing Matt Balano

Enter a Lasallian community and you will hear the words "Let us Remember" as the call to prayer. This antiphon is met by the words "we are in the holy presence of God" by all. One outstanding educator, Carol Devincenzi, brought this tradition from Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep—a Lasallian institution on Ellis Street to a Jesuit one in the outer Sunset. For over 20 years now "Let us remember" is how the St. Ignatius College Prep community begins morning prayer, prayer in class, at our liturgies, before games, on immersions and more.

In Judaism, the very act of remembrance IS a prayer. No wonder Jesus said to His disciples "Do this in memory of me" as he broke the bread at the Last Supper. Over 2,000 years later—we remember His life, death and resurrection. In remembering, we truly are in the presence of God.

And I offer these words because on October 16, 2023, a former colleague and friend—Matt Balano died of Esophageal cancer. He was 54 years old. This blog post is but a few examples of what I love to remember about Matt. I hope in some way this remembrance is a worthy prayer.

Shared Spaces
I shared a classroom for a year with Matt and another good friend, Dan. They taught English and I was in there for the junior Ethics, Morality and Society Justice course. I hated this room. It was a total meat locker. Located in the front corner of the building, I doubt it had any insulation for temperature or sound. This proved to be problematic a lot, but most especially when the school decided to cover the front of the nearly four story building with a banner for the sesquicentennial. For whatever reason, the maintenance crew did this during class time. The sound of drills and directive made it impossible to teach. Rather than yell, I pivoted toward quiet seat work. There was nothing quiet about this.

In Matt, I knew that I had a friend who was always willing to hear me out and let me vent. Any annoying reality was fodder for his astute, dry humor. I can still see myself turning to him with the issues in our shared space. First observation: his posture. Matt always stood tall. He would take in my complaints and respond with no guile or emotion. He was stone faced and would offer a cutting quip or backlash that got me every time. I know this "act" was an extension of his intelligence. He was super smart sans any trace of arrogance or pride. When and if I shared something a little more personal he was able to take it in and offer thoughtful, caring feedback. Matt was a trusted colleague—a true ally.

With Congressman John Lewis at SI
When you share space—whether its a classroom, the board room, a home or a neighborhood with another person—you get to know them in unexpected ways... People leave impressions on our hearts and in our memories. We do the same. In Matt, I am reminded to be grateful for the people with whom I share space today. I am grateful to those who really do listen.

Shared Students
Matt and I ended up in different classroom the next year but our paths continued to cross. We had a challenging student in common. I turned to him regularly for advice on how to work best with this young woman. As fate would have it, this student's mother called for a meeting with several of her daughter's teachers. In that conversation, she told Matt that she too was an English major and could go "toe to toe" with him. Ever the professional, Matt was surprised that he might need to do that. I gave back to him what he always gave to me. I listened and in the years since, if it was appropriate, I would remind him that I too could go "toe to toe" with him. This was not always true, but it was always funny.

Shared Reads
Yet one year later, I moved into a classroom Matt was leaving. On the back shelf near my new desk, he left a number of books. I boxed up his belongings but I managed to keep a basketball encyclopedia of his. I looked at this "bible" and thought to myself "who knows, I may need to reference this." As soon as Matt unpacked his books, he came back to Room 202 looking for that one. I admitted that I had it. For years, he reminded me of what I tried to keep without asking. 

My alibi never waffled, wavered or changed. Matt didn't need this encyclopedia because he was one. He knew all basketball, but most especially Warriors basketball inside and out. It was joy to hear who he knew, what he knew and though we didn't always agree (he came around to Klay Thompson later than I did) he was a true, loyal fan.

Shared Signs
This is not an answer for Jeopardy: What is the plural for "Aquarius?" I ask because Matt and I have birthdays that are but a few days apart in February.

A poster/pic from 2/15/12
In 2012, I decided the best way to spend my birthday was at school—for a talk given by Dr. John Carlos, followed by a varsity basketball game. Rather than go to dinner with my family, I wanted to attend a program that Matt organized and moderated. Dr. Carlos spoke about the decision he and Tommie Smith made at the 1968 Olympic games in Mexico City.

As written by Megan Pryor-Lorentz, "Matt was SI's first Director of Equity and Inclusion. He crafted a formation program for both students and educators helping us to build up our cultural proficiency. He formed students through opportunities like the Latino Summit and the innovative Burning Illusions class he crafted and taught. Matt challenged SI's adult community to dive deeper into professional development for equity and inclusion through the WPC and POCC Conferences. He worked at SI for 16 years."

Truly, Matt championed affinity spaces, celebrated the richness of our diverse community, helped us to own our limits and pushed us to grow. That evening with Dr. Carlos on February 15, 2012 was one of hundreds of offerings he provided to the SI community. What a gift.

Nobel Peace Prize Winner Rigoberta Menchu at SI

Shared Love and Respect
This might sound surprising, but one of the more arduous tasks and responsibilities I shared with Matt was serving on the hiring committee for the varsity boys basketball head coach. Anyone who has participated on a hiring committee has a sense of the time and effort it demands. It's interesting, engaging and in this case—it was NOT a done deal. We reviewed a lot of applications and conducted informal and formal interviews for a robust number of candidates. However, prior to the grind, we had philosophical and practical conversations about the type of coach we wanted to hire. We debated styles and draws of certain individuals, what we admired in coaches and what we wanted to stay away from. These were passionate pleas.

Matt and I got into it more than once. We did not agree. I remember at one point wanting to excuse myself from the whole process. Matt and I worked through things and to this day, I know I am better because of that. We grew in both love and respect for one another through that experience. We were very honest about that, too. 

Every January, the SI faculty is required to attend an overnight retreat. I cherish some of the memories of retreats past with Matt there. I am excited about our 2024 speaker—the poet and theologian Padraig O'Tuama. As I was listening to his words from On Being, I thought of my experience with Matt on that hiring committee. 

Agreement has rarely been the mandate for people who love each other. Maybe on some things, but actually, when you look at some people who are friends, you go actually they might disagree really deeply on things, but they’re somehow — I like the phrase “the argument of being alive.” Or in Irish, when you talk about trust, there’s a beautiful phrase from West Kerry where you say, “Mo sheasamh ort lá na choise tinne,” “You are the place where I stand on the day when my feet are sore.” And that is soft and kind language, but it is so robust. That is what we can have with each other.

Matt made an excellent argument of being alive. While we didn't always agree we did understand one other and from that comes love and respect for another person. That is something I want to remember.

One Final Sharing
On September 30, 2023 Matt and Donna Bullock got married. Friends and former colleagues at SI were delighted to share such joyful news, holding that they had the courage and desire to live those vows—for better or worse, in sickness and in health.

In that same interview, Krista Tippet says to O'Tuama, "There’s a lot of lovely and popular spiritual writing about the notion of “here” and “be here now.” I love this.

I'm beginning to think that when we remember, that prayer, is an invitation—a call for our loved ones to "be here now." Matt, you are "here" in our hearts, our memories, and in the legacy you have left through the Office of Equity and Inclusion AND you are in the holy presence of God. 

Matt wrote this tribute to Jim Brown: Rest in power. Rest in peace. Amen.

Photo Credits
all photos above are from Matt's Facebook page. I chose a few pictures from but a few of the powerful, meaningful and memorable events he organized and led at SI.

And because they are fun: two final memories...

  1. Male teachers were required to wear ties at SI for years. There was however one exception to the rule: the mock turtleneck. Matt's male colleagues were jealous...they said "no one could rock the mock like Balano."
  2. Matt and I talked Dubs a lot. In a recent text message I told him that I walked out of my dentist's office only to see Warriors former player/turned announcer Festus Ezeli sitting at a table having coffee. Had that been Matt, he would have sat down with "The Fighting Spirit." I say this because I remember Matt ran into Leonardo Barbosa in downtown Oakland one night and started talking to him for a long time. I told him I was surprised the "Brazilian Blur" didn't offer him tickets to a game...

Friday, October 27, 2023

We Need Not Bowl Alone: Putting an End to Gun Violence

On Monday, October 23, 2023 I began class with a P.S.A. for the St. Ignatius College Prep Bowling Club. As the moderator, I wanted my students to know that they were welcome to join the club's inaugural event of the year and why they should. I asked them, What are the virtues of bowling? My seniors said it was fun and friendly competition that doesn't require a ton of skill  Another said it's an affordable activity. Still another recognized that bowling is a multi-generational sport. Good input. I added that it is an ideal sport for cold weather climates; warm ones too (e.g. Washington DC in August!). Bowling is largely without bias—meaning— a judge or referee doesn't factor into fair play. It is gender inclusive and can accommodate for all shapes and sizes. In short, bowling is a great way for our community to come together.

And that's exactly what happened all across America this past week, except that one ended in utter tragedy as the site of the thirty-sixth mass shooting of the year. 

In Daly City, CA ten students and I met at the Classic Bowling Center for two games. In that time two sophomores and eight seniors bowled, ate pizza and even watched some Monday Night football together (Go Niners!). We talked a little strategy and scoring, and a whole lot of school, service and sports. Our time was cut short because the Monday night bowling league was about to commence. The club president thanked everyone for showing up and we made plans for our holiday bowl in December. Ugly Christmas sweater or shirt required.

As I exited the alley, I noticed the shared shirts worn by teams in the league. Men and women, ranging in age from their 20s to their 70s were warming up, having a beer, greeting their teammates and the competition. There was a buzz in the air, spares to pick up and strikes to knock down. Only one man has his picture hanging on the wall. Jerry Yee 300 on 10/18/21. 

This experience—the images, sounds and smells of the bowling alley—the energy and excitement made hearing the news about the mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine that much more unbearable. Though we are across the country and it took place two days later, the fact that Robert Card "unleashed a barrage of bullets on the bowling event at Just-in-Time Recreation, where he killed seven people" is harrowing. It is utterly tragic. This is our America.

A woman is hugged by a man at the reunification center at Auburn Middle School, in Auburn, Maine, after shootings in Lewiston on Wednesday.
NBC News writes,

It was supposed to be a night of fun competition.

A group of young people gathered at a bowling alley in Lewiston on Wednesday evening for youth league matches. Four miles away, members of a cornhole team for deaf people hosted an evening of games.

But before long, the revelry was interrupted by gunfire.

“They’re just innocent people out for a night of bowling,” said Kim McConville, whose cousin and his 14-year-old son were killed at the bowling alley. “This was a children’s event. Who expects a shooter to go into a children’s event?”

In ten months time we have had lives lost to gunfire at an Independence Day block party, another on Father's Day, at a Lunar New Year dance, in homes, and now at the Just-In-Time Recreation bowling alley. Incidentally, this is the second in Maine this year. The information about mass shootings in the United States is worth reading carefully, prayerfully and intentionally. We must take ownership for who we are and what we have become.

One need not be a political scientist or a Harvard student to have heard about or read Robert Putnam's book Bowling Alone
The Collapse and Revival of American Community

The truth of the matter is no one needs to bowl alone—on Monday nights or Wednesday nights, in times of tragedy or times of reconciliation. Whether its through a high school club, a new league, a call from an old friend or an outing with your family, we can come together to bowl, to build and sustain community. We simply have no choice, we must take ownership for ourselves and for one another. The stakes are just too high: life and death. Gun violence is a community problem. It is a sign of the collapse of our community. How might putting an end to it lead to our revival?

Prayer: Let the Shooting End by Sisters of Mercy
God, our hearts are broken with pain at the senseless deaths caused by gun violence. Families mourn, children live in fear, and some in our nation respond by arming themselves with more guns with greater capacity to end life. Our disconnection and alienation has caused some to turn to guns for protection and safety. We ask that you touch our hearts with your love, heal our brokenness, and turn us away from violence toward peace. Help us to transform our own hearts and to seek peaceful ways of resolving our differences. Let our hands reach out and connect with those who feel alone, those who live in fear, and those suffering from mental illness. Let our voices be raised asking our legislators to enact gun laws to protect all in our society, especially those most vulnerable. Let our pens write messages demanding change while also scripting words of hope and transformation. We ask this in the name of the God who desires that we live together in peace.  Amen

Photo Credits
Maine reunification