Monday, March 25, 2024

Is Surfing a Subversive Activity?

With a full day ahead of me, I realized if I was going to get any exercise in for the day it would need to be early. I decided I should beat the traffic and arrived at the office, aka, school early. I put on my walking shoes and head phones a little annoyed that I didn't have enough time to walk the loop in my neighborhood. Full disclosure: the walk near work offers me an unadulterated view of the Pacific Ocean. I remind myself of that fact on a regular basis and yet—there's something to be said for creature comforts—or in this case, my signature stroll.

I made my way toward Ocean Beach with 30 minutes to spare. It was slightly gray and a little cold, with no wind to be found. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of something I had never seen before: a surfer with a board attached to his bicycle. Riding his bi-ped in a wet suit, I found the physics of this feat to be one of the coolest things I've ever seen. I thought to myself,  Nice. What a perfect way to start the day. I envy this man. Freedom and fun. Let's go!

Later in the day, I walked behind the school building; from this perch one can still see the Pacific. For some reason, that surfer came to mind. A burning question popped into my head. I needed an answer. I wondered, Is surfing a subversive activity?

I started to consider the ways I think it might be. You're going to tell me that a human being can enter into that vast pull and power of the ocean and work with it for no other purpose than enjoyment. Seems daring. Pretty ridiculous. Totally scary. Rather improbable and yet magnificent.

Let me be clear, no government is or ever will be overthrown by surfers or an organized union of them. Why not? Because part of surfing is that its very nature defies organization. For example, the name of the popular movie "Soul Surfer" actually describes philosophical and spiritual concept first developed and introduced in the 1960s to define the sport - or activity - in its purest form.

As written in "Twelve Signs You Know You're a Soul Surfer," 

As with many other sports, there is always an innate drive to seek and find the original and unadulterated values, virtues, and essence of something simultaneously special and fragile.

The roots of surfing are rich and culturally significant.

The practice of riding waves blends utility and pleasure, necessity and joy, and has been socially adopted by Polynesian and Peruvian societies for thousands of years.

So, when the sport of surfing became a commercial hit in the Southern California beach culture, some felt the need to detach themselves from the profit-oriented side that quickly emerged from it.

Surfing purists are often called soul surfers.

The expression "soul surfer" was first used to name a song by Johnny Fortune (1943-2006), a surf guitar hero from Warren, Ohio.

Soul surfers are the guardians of the ultimate joy of walking on water.

They (aim to) represent the sport's counterculture; they're an informal army of unarmed soldiers or missionaries that remind us of what, in the end, surfing is all about.

"Never defined by tenets or principles, soul surfing nonetheless came into its own in the mid-and late-1970s as the catchall opposition philosophy to professional surfing, which encompassed not only prize money competition but much of the surf industry and surf media," notes Matt Warshaw, author of "The Encyclopedia of Surfing."

Whether or not that man with the board on a bike is a full fledged soul surfer, in the Outer Sunset, there is the sent that surfers surf for joy, to connect to nature. They surf to be part of a community, to live a life less ordinary. As written in Soul & Surf, "They don’t surf as a sport to win prizes... it's a little bit more spiritual than that. It is a complete and consuming immersion in nature, a submission to the whims of a set of corduroy lines determined by a pressure system in a faraway ocean. It is soul and life and compassion and style – and a glimmer of connection to the present moment that is addictive and extraordinary and essential." In short, they surf for the stoke.

Ocean Beach, San Francisco

And this is what I find subversive. In a culture obsessed with measurement and gain, rankings and titles, surfing stands somewhat singular. It says "try me" on a whim and a dare. It brings a man or woman, teen and a few elders into the chilly ocean—saltwater and all—offrring but a  simple message: enjoy. You may or may not agree with my deducction, but it's hard to deny: surfing certainly is spiritual.

I can't join these soul surfers (I did ask my caridologist) but please know, I nod and bow to those of you looking for but one thing on a Monday, Wednesday or Saturday morning: the perfect wave. 

I'll end with the closure of a former surfing club president wrote on his emails: stay stoked. I mean it.

Photo Credits
Ocean Beach
Local Surfers

Friday, March 22, 2024

Sports and Spirituality: Making Teaching Fun Again

I asked a few colleagues at lunch the other day, "When is teaching fun?" I heard answers like "when you are not grading." Someone else said, "when you are not giving detention for dress code." I didn't get the information I was seeking. And then I realized that no one should ask this question at the end of the third quarter. Timing is everything, right?

Here's the good news. In spite of the grind and the rampant senioritis, I have answers. Teaching is fun when I get to engage with my favorite topics, play with ideas, make connections, think creatively and invite young people to come along. For me, it fun to teach and talk about culture, language and of course sports and spirituality. 

Though I do teach Sports and Spirituality, a senior elective in the Religious Studies department, one need not have a class dedicated to the topic alone. I think there is a way for every teacher to incorporate what they love into their curriculum. There's a lot to be said for the teacher who is enthusiastic and passionate about the subject. #Differencemaker. 

So to keep some, if any, fun in teaching—give this a go. You can use this information at the beginning of class as students settle in or as a fun way to wrap up the period. Whether or not you are an educator, each one offers something to think about. Enjoy.
Opening Day, South Korea and Population Demography
March 20 marked Opening Day for Major League Baseball. If you feel the need to put an asterisk by that, I unerstand. For 28 of the 30 MLB teams, Opening Day is not until Thursday, March 28. To further complicate matters, MLB teams have the home opener (if their team starts on the road), Opening Night and Opening Day. I have written about this misnomer before. Regardless, the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers traveled to Seoul for a two game road stand in what is the first time an official MLB game has been played in South Korea.

A number of questions should follow:
  1. Why South Korea?
  2. Why those two teams?
  3. Does having more than one Opening Day compromise the significance of the tradition?
A few answers: For one, baseball has exploded in popularity in South Korea. As noted by sportswriter Jee-ho Yoo, "People just love baseball here." Turns out the country has produced 28 MLB players and the first to be drafted in the United States. Chan-Ho Park, who pitched in MLB for nine years, threw out the first pitch—wearing a dual team jersey. Perhaps that is why those two particular teams made the cross-Pacific flight to what is the sixth largest metro area in the world.
Sixth largest!? Yes, Seoul is home to 24.3 million people. I think it's valuable to teach and share population demongraphy. Ask students if they have been to Seoul.  Invite students to guess the other answers.

Thank you to YahooSportsAM for the material...and the hint: The five largest metro areas are in Japan, India, Indonesia, China and the Philippines.

  • Tokyo, Japan (36.5 million); 
  • Delhi, India (30.1 million); 
  • Jakarta, Indonesia (29.8 million); 
  • Shanghai, China (26.9 million); 
  • Manila, Philippines (25 million)
Most students got two or three out of the five. And, I had but a handful of Opening Day purists. Students think it is good to grow the game and give international exposure.

Feel free to research the faith traditions of those countries named. I guessed higher, but Korea is 11.9% Catholic. 

A Different Kind of Holy Week
The 2024 Masters will take place April 11-14. The events that preceed the first major of the year are magnificent; each one steeped in tradition. It starts in Augusta’s clubhouse on the Tuesday night of tournament week with the Champions Dinner. The reigning champion sets the menu and gets to pay the bill for this elite dinner party. Past winners only.

The 2023 winner Jon Rahm who hails from Bairika Spain created a menu that reflects his Basque heritage. My mouth started watering and I recalled traveling to the Northeast part of Spain to walk the Camino Ignaciano. Each day concluded with a delicious meal featuring cured meats and flavors much like what you see here.
Ignatius of Loyola, the patron saint of the school where I teach and the founder of the Society of Jesus is also Basque. Having lived over 500 years ago, it can be challening to relate to his identity, personality and humanity, too. However, food is a fundamental for connection. It speaks to culture without words....all taste buds.

March Madness
I came to find out that "eight schools in this year's men's NCAA tournament have won multiple national championships." Thanks again to YahooSportsAM. This weekday resource asked me to name them (hint: three are in the same state), I started to wonder if any Catholic colleges made the cut. Negative.

I then considered what Catholic University has the most NCAA championships. I held on to hope that my alma mater has that locked in for the women's tourney. The Irish do, with two titles in 2001 and 2018. For the men, the answer is difiifferent. Want to guess? Villanoa has three. Impressive.
When speaking about Catholic schools in this context, I always find it worthwhile to teach about the religious communities that founded them— the Augustinians at Villanova and the Congregation of Holy Cross at Notre Dame. Invariably that information is news to people. So much so that Sister Jean Lenz, OSF included an anecdote about this perception in her book "Loyal Sons and DAUGHTERS: A Notre Dame Memoir." 
It's hard to imagine that I knew nothing about the Congregation of Holy Cross and its relationship to the University of Notre Dame during my adolescence on the South Side of Chicago. I suspect if anyone tested me along the way, I might have guessed Notre Dame was run by the Jesuits, a belief which fits into that somewhat legendary story about how the Jesuits took a poll to find out—among other things—which of their universities was considered the most well know, only to discover that Notre Dame had landed the top spot. 
Furthermore, it has always been surpring to me how many people thought I went to school "back East." South Bend, Indiana is as midwest as it gets. Why not get students to locate each school on a map? South Bend sits on the SOUTH bend of the St. Joseph River. Sometimes life makes sense....

I hear it often: I would love to teach Sports and Spirituality! Others tell me they wish they could take a class on Sports and Spirituality. Here! Here!  Wth this blog post, I hope I got your mind thinking of ways to get those synapses flying, your noggin moving and face smiling. There's always a lot to learn. Why not make it fun?!

Photo Credits
Chan Ho Park, Opening Day and MM Trophy

Sunday, March 17, 2024

A Case for a Good Editor: Thank You, Kobe

Spelling, pronunciaion, using proper nouns, writing in paragraphs. Proofreading your word, making edits and keeping it "tights" (thank you, Hemingway) may be out of style in the personal lives of my students but not in my classroom. Do teachers today need to double down on a classical education? Does my personal commitment to detail make me a grouch or an Ignatian educator? Might the answer be both?

While I have given up some battles at this point in the year—detention for dress code or tardies for students not in their seat when the bell rings—I have left a few dogs in the fight. The fundamentals of writing is one of them. 

For exampl,e any student that submits a paper without paragraphs gets a deduction in points and the same comment: paragraphs help you organize your ideas and your reader to comprehend them. The usage of paragraphs is a non-negotiable. I circle, highlight and mark any "I" or name that is not capitalized. I have shared the best tactic I was given for how to proof read. I went out of my way to tell my seniors that the Super Bowl is a 1) a proper noun and 2) two words. Yes, this a hill I am willing to die on. But why? Why is accuracy in language and the fundamentals of writing important? The recent unveiling of the Kobe Bryant statue in front of Arena gave me an opporunity for students to get the "why." to ask my classes what they thought.

I showed the photo of the new statue. One student, a basketball player, was excited to tell us it is the first of three to be placed in front of the Lakers' home court. Those to come will feature Bryant in his No. 24 jersey, and the other will be of him standing next to Gianna, who died with him and seven others in a 2020 helicopter crash. But the first, unveiled on 2/8/24 (a special date) already needs revision. Why? At its based is a replica box score of Bryant's 81-point game. José Calderón is misspelled as Jose Calderson, Von Wafer is "Vom Wafer," and "DNP — Coach's Decicion" has a typo. There's also a formatting mistake in Bryant's career accomplishments. The Lakers are working on a fix.

I told my class, "As you know I can be a stickler for grammar, spelling and more, but honestly, why should the Lakers fix this? Seems like it will cost a lot of money. Who really cares? Aren't they making a big deal out of nothing?" Responses varied.

One student said "it should have never happened in the first place. Period."

  • Agreed. But it did happen. So why not leave it?
Another student said "it shows respect for those people and their accomplishments." 
  • Okay. So attention to details matters.
I asked "if you change one letter in your last name, does that make a difference? Might some of you have a different name altogether?" A few realized that could be true.

And when one student said "One approach to take is to assume you are always wrong. As someone else to verify. Everyone needs a good editor." I wanted to do a backflip. I asked the class, "Did everyone hear that?"

I admitted that I took on the role of devil's advocate, and was happy to do so. Why? If their teachers and peers don't advocate for proofreading, good writing, editing and more—this is what happens. Rather than talk about the statue and its signficance, we now focus on this. Much to their suprise I added, "And as much as I don't like the Lakers, I'm not throwing any stones here. To their surprise, I shared the story of when something similar happened at SI." I will link the story here.

Discipline of any sort requires commitment, a steadfast spirit, a belief in purpose and a willingness to "stick to it." My guess is that if we extend that to writing, it will most likely carry over into other areas of our lives as well.

Full disclosure: I know there are several necessary edits needed. for this post, too

Photo Credits

Sunday, March 10, 2024

A Story to Celebrate on International Women's Day: The San Diego Splash

The month of March has been designated as Women's History month and March 8 is International Women's Day. If you are on social media, no doubt you were reminded and/or made aware of this celebration. But what exactly does it all mean? In other words, what are we to do with a day that has grown in popularlity and public recognition? How are we to proceed with a month that Americans are ever more familiar with and supportive of? It's not a major holiday or a minor one. Here's my approach: share a story. 
First, I'll begin with a story. I decided I would search for answers to my question on ChatGPT. I figured why not? That's where many of my students find their own. I asked this chatbot, developed by OpenAI "What does International Women's Day mean?" I got a good answer.
It is a day dedicated to recognizing and celebrating the achievements, contributions, and advancements of women worldwide. The day also serves as a reminder of the ongoing fight for gender equality and the need to address challenges and disparities that women face.
In particular, I appreciated the key aspects and meanings of International Women's Day. I think these suggestions can serve as an important path for proceeding. 

Celebrating Achievements: IWD provides an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the accomplishments of women in various fields, including politics, science, arts, business, and more. It highlights their contributions to social, economic, cultural, and political development.

Advocacy for Gender Equality: International Women's Day is a platform for advocating gender equality and promoting equal opportunities for women in all aspects of life. It draws attention to persisting gender disparities and works towards fostering a more inclusive and equitable world.

Raising Awareness: The day serves as a catalyst for raising awareness about issues such as gender-based discrimination, violence against women, and systemic inequalities. It encourages conversations and actions to address these challenges.
Inspiring Change: International Women's Day inspires individuals and communities to take action towards creating a more inclusive and gender-equal world. This can involve challenging stereotypes, supporting women's rights, and promoting policies that advance gender equality.

Empowering Women: IWD is a time to empower and uplift women, fostering a sense of solidarity and unity. It encourages women to pursue their aspirations, break barriers, and overcome challenges in their personal and professional lives.

Recognizing Intersectionality: International Women's Day recognizes that women's experiences and challenges are diverse and can be influenced by factors such as race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and more. It emphasizes the importance of an inclusive approach that considers the intersecting identities of women.

Highlighting Unfinished Work: While celebrating progress, International Women's Day also highlights the unfinished work in achieving gender equality. It encourages continued efforts to address existing disparities and challenges.

However, the problem with AI is what too often goes missing: the personal touch, the unique approach that makes any ritual or obligation meaingful or memorable. (From what I am told, will only get better). I believe a key aspect for IWD is sharing stories of women past and present. And I believe one I used in my recent talk at Regis Jesuit's Diversity Day 2024: The Wisdom of Women in Sports and Spiritulaity is worth sharing.
First, meet the San Diego Spalsh— a group of trailblazing women in their 80s and 90s who played basketball in San Diego Senior Women’s Basketball Association (SWBA). 

They are the subject of “Make A Splash—a new sports film about a team of women in their 80s and 90s – not from the 1980s or 1990s – who play real basketball, with off-ball picks and turnaround jumpers." (The Guardian)

These pioneers have powerful stories to share regarding equal rights for women in sports. They continue to lead by example and shatter stereotypes regarding women in sports & beyond. It would be tempting to watch the players and say: Wow, look at those old ladies make cuts and sink those shots! Aren’t they just so … cute? It would also, like an air ball, miss the point.”

As you watch, pay attention to the 96 year old Grace Larsen. Larsen, a former municipal court deputy clerk in San Diego, always enjoyed sports but didn't have the opportunity to play organized athletics in her youth because they didn't exist for girls at the time. Instead, she played football in the street or basketball in gym class. One of the most basic lessons they teach us is to play because you can. What an invaluable lesson for all of us.

The lives of the players are their coaches are forever changed by the sisterhood that comes from being in a league of their own. They travel for competition, they practice and develop set plays. Some players communicate more effectively with one another on the hardwood. Others share similar struggles and life losses off the court. They celebrate birthdays and the end of life, too. In short, they love one another.
Their wisdom cannot be hidden. In one poignant scene, they watch a group of young girls playing their game. One woman shouts, “That's the future right there!” Another adds, “My school—we weren't allowed to play full court basketball.They didn't have many sports for girls.” Her teammate announces “Title IX gave an okay for women to be athletic, period.”

There are many ways to teach about the importance of Title IX, Women's History Month and International Women's Day—and I can make a strong argument that we should. But, I think stories that reveal that truth, might be the most convincing way for everyone to understand its impact and celebrate what it means. I found a memorable, meaningful one in ESPN’s Fifty/50: Make a Splash but there are countless others. Look and listen, show and tell. Make a splash...
Splash on three....!

Photo Credits
Hands in
Team work

Thursday, March 7, 2024

Good Recommedation, Great Friend: The Gift of Building Others Up

We get recommendations about shows to watch and movies to see all the time. What prompts you to put that series into your queue? What gets you to press play? How often do you really listen to a friend or family member's advice?

I believe I follow up on a recommendation based on the message and the messenger. Sorta. If it's a messenger I know and trust, a person who "gets" my passions, interests, indiosyncracies— then I am all in. I'm grateful for these influencers. And one of the best is my friend and classmate, Alex Montoya.
Check out this photo....Cyndi Lauper. MJ. The Boss. Is that Kenny Loggins or Billy Joel?!
In late January 2024, Alex sent me a text that said: You have to see “The Greatest Night in Pop” on Netflix. Wow.

Alex knows me. He knows and shares my love of music. I opened up my laptop and 96 minutes later came up for air. I must have emailed and texted any and everyone my age and older who I knew would delight in the collaborative genius.

However, I thanked Alex for the recommendation first. We shared our observations and musing. His insights are always on point—or rather in tune and on key. He asked me when I was going to write about the program  for this blog. I gave it a pass—but not a hard one. I quoted from another one of our favorites movies and said "negative ghostrider. The pattern is full." I added, "Remember, this is a blog about sports and spirituality!"  Though I have touched on music over the years, my focus is always on sports...sports with a spiritual problem. And nothing about this documentary connected those dots. That is, until it did. It does. It has. It will. Here's the scoop.
Readers look good on you, A-Mo
Thirty five plus years of being a Springsteen fan has given me a lot of expsoure to and understanding of The Boss. I've seen him live 23 times, I have read at least five books about him, countless articles and more. I always pay very close attention to his message, his body language, his affect and his insights when he speaks in concert and especially in interviews. When Bruce Springsteen weighs in on a music documentary, people listen. Though I find him rather diffident, he is a legend, a musical genius, a singer and a songwriter, a poet and a performer.

Springsteen plays an important part in the recording of "We Are the World." Coming in hot from the Born in the USA tour, he made a good effort to be in Los Angeles for the session. Almost 40 years later, he still looks good (he turns 75 on 9/23). He recalls why he decided to show up and what that great night was like. As the egos were checked at the door and different voices found their harmony, in one snapshot scence (from today) Springsteen said, "Steve Perry can sing. He's got that great voice, up in that Sam Cooke territory."His words did not surprise me. The  realization I had from the documentary however did.

Bruce Springsteen always always always builds up other musicians. In countless interviews, I have heard him name the music he is listening to and what music he is excited about. He thanks those who have gone before him, who has made an impact, and how they did it. I know who they are because he builds them up. Examples include The Clash, the Sex Pistols, Bob Dylan, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Elvis Costello and more. He speaks to their strengths. He shares what inspires him about other artists, too. What an exceptional quality.

One could say that Bruce is able to compliment others because he is so secure and grounded in who he is and the success he has had. To me, that's a sad, sullen justification. Not everything in life is a competition. To give credit where credit is due, to offer praise and build someone up costs nothing. It's just so easy to tear others down. People do it all the time. However, I've noticed—it may feel right at the moment, but ultimately it leaves everyone feeling less connected, less loving, less whole...less holy. Life is hard enough. I don't know why we can't build each other up instead of tear each other down. 

This singular, stand out quality in Bruce Springsteen has prompted me to look for it in others. Fortunately, I have found it in a few people. Though my Dad is not an athlete (today) one of the reasons I think my he is a great sports fan is because of the way he builds up certain athletes. For example, Jeff Ulbrich was one of the candidates for the position of defensive coordinator with the 49ers. Ulbrich, who is currently with the Jets played at linebacker for the Niners for nine years. My dad said, "I loved his drive and desire on the field. He was a total overacheiver. The man always played hard. I can see that now as he coaches on the sidelines. Doesn't surprise me." One might read "overachiever" as a put down—it's not. Ulbrich played up. He was more than his height and weight and what his scouting report ever put into print. 
For reasons like this, I enjoy talking to my Dad about sports. He has a good habit for finding the best in a player, especially when they are on our team....and even when they are not. Let me be clear—what I am referring to should not be confused with toxic positivity (more on that another time. Sorry Denver).

In my Lenten journal from The Grotto Network, I was invited to respond to this quote and question today, Day 22 of Lent
He who goes aboutto reform the world must begin with himself. —St. Ignatius of Loyola
Name one change you would like to see in the world. How can you make a starting point within yourself for that change? 
I truly would like to live in a world that builds others up. I hope we can see, recognize and celebrate the gifts and talents of one others and ourselves. Let us not always view ourselves in competition with one another. As written in the song "We are the World" We're all a part of God's great big family And the truth, you know, love is all we need."

Thank you, Alex for building me up all these years and believing in my writing. I managed to get a little sports and a whole lot of spirituality in here.

Photo Credits