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

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