Sunday, November 17, 2013



    1.  strong enough to withstand adverse conditions or rough or careless handling.
    synonyms: durable, strong, resilient, sturdy, rugged, solid, stout, long-lasting, heavy-duty, industrial-strength, well-built, made to last.
    2. involving considerable difficulty or hardship; requiring great determination or effort.
    synonyms:  arduous, onerous, strenuous, grueling, exacting, difficult, demanding, hard, taxing, tiring, exhausting, punishing, laborious, stressful, back-breaking.

    1. a tough person, esp. a gangster or criminal.
    synonyms: ruffian, thug, goon, hoodlum, hooligan
    1. endure a period of hardship or difficulty.

My son was cut from his high school basketball team this week. I had incredibly mixed feelings about him even making the team again. His experiences last year – to say it nicely – were character building. Along with a stimulating education on the many uses of the f-word, he whole-heartedly learned the meaning of the word tough. Tough – not like I can kick anyone’s trash, but tough – as in able to handle incredibly difficult situations. He found out what he was made of. It’s a skill that should be valued more than the ability to dunk a ball through a silly hoop. Funny thing, his coaches would probably say he was cut because he wasn’t tough enough. Yes, while other teammates were bossing the underclassmen and taking advantage of every situation to exploit another, my son was helping carry the equipment. Toughness is remembering how it felt when you were degraded and choosing not to do that to others. Toughness is being concerned about each individual and helping them to feel included. Toughness is knowing your chances of making the team might be slim but sticking with it and taking advantage of every opportunity to improve your skills while others who feel comfortable with their spot on the team do not even show up. Toughness is following the rules even when others – the privileged few who don’t need to – are not. Toughness is being completely knocked down and showing up the next day.   

His coach said he wished there was room on the team to keep him. It was a nice sentiment, but sadly, there will never be room on the team for kids like my son. And quite frankly it is their complete loss. 

For additional reading on the my son's basketball experience, my previous post is a memoir paper I wrote for school.

Tough Post #2

Game Day Blues
It’s the blue shirt. I absolutely hate that blasted thing. Maybe if it was white it wouldn’t be so obvious. Then it would not pain me so much to look at it. And why, oh why does it have long sleeves? They seem to go down to his ankles and scream look at me. I swear one day I will burn that thing. It has definitely sucked the life out of me. I never knew an inanimate object could invoke so much emotion. Just washing it and hanging it in his closet infuriates me. One time he forgot that wretched thing, and I had to jump through hoops to get it to him. And I now wonder why I did. Oh, I absolutely adore the boy who wears it – and maybe that is the problem. But that shirt, it has to go. 

If truth be told, it is really not the shirt I loathe – or even its color – but every single rotten thing it represents. My initial jubilation over the prospects of that shirt seems almost unimaginable now. I can’t believe that I had actually prayed for my son to have the opportunity to wear it. What was I thinking?

Well, I’ll tell you. Bryson was born in my old age. Okay, I was only 32. But having four children by the time I was 27, when he came along five years later, although I was not, I felt long past the “normal” child-bearing age. He was a surprise. Deep down I had always felt someone was missing from our family, but the thought of another pregnancy or meeting the needs of a fifth child – quite frankly, number four had done me in – overwhelmed me. But he came anyway. 

I am sure there have been many times when Bryson wondered why he had to belong to this family. Having four older and very active siblings, he was constantly drug from the sidelines of a rainy soccer match, to the hot stands of an all-day track meet, to the prickly chairs at the piano recital, then to sit on the hard benches at his sister’s softball game, to the bleachers of an incredibly long and muggy swim meet, and then back again the next day. He hated going and, quite frankly, I dreaded taking him. Just witnessing his sister donning her track uniform would cause him extreme trepidation of the event he would now be required to sit and endure. 

All of that changed when he entered kindergarten. He was finally old enough to join his own team. Junior Jazz was calling his name. Finally his siblings would get the opportunity to watch him play, and he loved having the roles reversed. Although he played other sports, basketball became his passion. Not only did he know how to dribble, he was much taller than his peers – a definite perk for a basketball player. 

Year after year, he played ball. He scored points, grabbedrebounds, and made a few blocks. I was having a ball watching my baby shoot some hoops. I did not want it to end. With each new growth spurt, his potential for making the high school team seemed to increase. Finally, I would get to be an enthusiastic parent of a high school athlete competing in a “real” sport. 

By the time Bryson was fifteen, he stood 6’3” tall and wore a size 14 shoe. His arms were long, but he wasn’t one of those tall skinny awkward looking kids either. He had a little meat on his bones, and he definitely had a booty that would help him get position under the basket. And I loved to watch his flaxen locks flowing in the breeze as he would streak down the court. I was a proud momma. 

It wasn’t just his basketball prowess that made me delighted to call this young man my son. Bryson is one of the kindest, most obedient, and loving kids you would ever meet. He never leaves me without saying, “I love you.” And it doesn’t matter who is around to hear him. I always say that every family deserves a Bryson, and every Bryson deserves good things.

Good things for my Bryson meant a spot on the high school team. Each night I would wait anxiously by the phone to hear him say, “I made the cut!” when he called for a ride home after an exhausting evening of tryouts. We were both emotionally drained by the time tryouts ended. When he called home on the final day, I was completely elated to hear him scream, “I made it!” We could not believe our good fortune.

And indeed a small fortune is what one needs to be on a high school basketball team. It is not just a uniform that is required to play, but team shoes, 2 pair of – 14 dollar – Nike socks, travel gear, team sweats, a ball bag, and the all-important blue warm-up shirt are must have items for each athlete. It was a lot of money. Fortunately Bryson has always looked good in the color blue – it makes his eyes pop. The day after he received his team apparel, he was eager to be seen walking the halls sporting his basketball hoodie. 

If success was merely measured by how a team looked, ours was destined to win the state title. Each athlete was adorned with matching Michael Jordan shoes, a bright white uniform, and a navy blue warm-up shirt. As you looked at the bench, it was easy to spot who had been in the game. Once their number was called, a player would eagerly remove that blue shirt and check in at the scorer’s table. The pecking order was easily recognized as one scanned the bench observing whose warm-up shirt still remained. 

Although it was not as early in the game as he would have liked, Bryson was able to get his shirt off every game until that cold December morning. His team was playing in a holiday tournament. They had already lost a game and were now competing in the loser’s bracket. Winning the tournament was no longer an option. And yet, the way things went down that game it was as if nobody seemed to understand that little fact.

That game started out as one in which our team could not miss a shot, and the other team could not buy a basket. At the end of the first quarter, the score was 22-2. It seemed it would be impossible for us to lose. But lose we did. It was not just a loss on the scoreboard either, but a forfeit of team unity, sportsmanship, and concern for individual players. And I lost the will to stomach the ruthlessness of team sports.

After the initial surge, everything seemed to fall apart. No one was playing particularly well, and in fact, numerous players made mistake after mistake. I kept anticipating Bryson would get his shot. My hopes were deflated each time the frustrated coach looked down the bench and motioned a player other than Bryson to enter the game. At the half, he was the only player still wearing that blue shirt. During the half-time shoot around, the dejection he felt was easily seen on his face. During the remainder of the game, with each substitution, my heart sank, and sank, and sank.

Whether he was wearing that shirt or not, he would have felt bad at not getting a chance to play, but having it obviously visible that he was the only one who did not play made it a humiliating experience for him. Because Bryson would never embarrass, demean, or publically “teach” anyone a lesson, it was a difficult situation for him to grasp.

It wasn’t just the fact that his coach – through a variety of degrading experiences – was trying to toughen him up at this – and each proceeding – game that caused me reflection on why we are obsessed with our children playing sports, but the intensity and attitude of every adult in that gym gave me pause on the win-at-all-cost mentality that has invaded our childhood games. 

As I sat – almost as if I was outside myself – watching the hurt on my son’s face, the unbelievable anger the coach exuded at the impending loss, and the gloomy countenance of each unproductive player as he was jerked from the game and relegated to the end of the bench – next to Bryson – and listened to the chants and jeers of every frustrated parent, I personally did not care whether we won or lost, I just needed it to end – for me and my son. However, the way the other parents were acting during that game, one would have thought a full-ride scholarship for their child to play ball at Duke University was dependent on a win that day. Somehow they forgot it was just a stupid game in the lowly loser’s bracket of a silly holiday tournament.  

I was completely embarrassed by how our fans behaved. On each possession her son was in the game, one mother annoyingly screamed, “Pass the ball!” to the dribbling guard because she felt her son deserved a turn. In the last few seconds of the game, when one young man stepped over the line on an inbound play – for the second time – an uncle of another player bellowed, “You idiot! You just cost us the game.” It didn’t even matter that the mother of this player was sitting right in front of him. Every call – or no call – by the officials was challenged. “That was a foul!” or “Oh, you have got to be kidding me!” and “Hey Ref, are you blind? That was travelling.” were continually heard from the spectators. And my all-time favorite gripe, “Call it on both sides Blue!” was shouted by more than one parent. 

Even after the loss, while the players were being chewed out by the coach, one over-bearing mother was aggressively peppering each parent as to their view on a missed call at the end of the game. She seemed determined to get the players back on the court and re-play the last few seconds of the game – as if that would give us the “much needed win” she felt our team deserved. I personally wanted to console my son and just take him home – I am a fixer – but school rules require him to take a lonely ride home on the big yellow bus, and so he did.

It is funny what you learn at a sporting event when you are no longer worrying about your own child’s contribution to the game. Following that game, I recognized the likelihood of Bryson removing that blue shirt in future games was minimal. I hoped he was acquiring life skills while he sat at his designated spot at the end of the bench. I realized it was just a game, and in so many ways, we were failing to teach our athletes that little fact. It is just a game. Personal growth and character development have been benched because too many have bought into the notion of “Winning takes care of everything” currently being projected by Tiger Woods and his Nike sponsor. It’s as if any immoral, dishonest, or unsportsmanlike behavior is tolerated and excused as long as you can put a tally in the win column. Bryson’s coaches believe it, the fans seem to encourage it, and although my son experienced the same games, gratefully, he knows differently.

Once I understood Bryson’s role on the team was different than we had initially anticipated, my heart no longer ached with the same intensity when I observed his coach’s toughening techniques. He was becoming strong. He was dealing with disappointment and humiliation and holding his head high. He was cheering for the outstanding plays and consoling the discouraged teammates with equal importance. I was proud of how my son contributed to his team while warming the bench.

As I sat in the stands the remainder of the season, oh how I longed for a track meet. I missed the 13 seconds of excitement as I cheered my child during a 100 yard dash. I realized that there is something magical about contending against your own previous accomplishments. Unfortunately, so many of the “real” sports require the failure of another player in order for an athlete to achieve success. A pitcher must strike out a batter. One player is stuffed while another makes a block. When a linebacker makes a tackle, someone hits the ground. I would never begrudge being in the hot stands of a track meet again.

I am grateful to my son Bryson. He taught me that even sitting at the end of a bench in a blue warm-up shirt you can be a winner. I guess I don’t hate that blue shirt after all.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Then End of March Madness?

Chucking the ball at another player, trash talking, holding jerseys, and shoving may not always be considered sportsmanlike conduct; however, each is still accepted as tolerable actions among players on the basketball court. Some would say it is all just part of the game. It seems that someone forgot to tell Rutger’s Mike Rice that he was definitely not in the game or even listed  among the names on the players’ roster. It actually might have been helpful during his team’s practice, when he began his derogatory tirades and childish kicking, if someone would have reminded him that there was a “Coach” in front of his name.
It is common knowledge that college basketball coaches desire and compete all year for an invite to participate in the NCAA tournament each spring, Yet, this coach was not just enticed by the lure of March Madness, but seemed to aspire to February Fits, April Aggression, and May Meltdowns.

            If these videos had not been released by ESPN’s Outside the Lines, one must wonder how long this “coach” would have been allowed by Rutger’s University to berate, belittle, and accost “his” players. After all, the Athletic Director Tim Pernetti has had a copy of these videos in his possession for several months. So, it’s not surprising that Pernetti now admits that he probably should have done more concerning these allegations. Oh, really? Pernetti has discovered, unfortunately, a little too late for him – and these ball players – that when one makes excuses for someone who merits absolutely no job security, you usually end up losing your job too. Perhaps he will learn something during his deserved unemployment and will have a desire to look out for – and protect – the right people in the future.
            The sports’ headlines and news programs are all abuzz with their take on Mike Rice. On April 6, Salt Lake Tribune columnist Gordon Monson asked the question many have wondered after viewing these abusive videos, “How many Mike Rices are out there coaching our kids?” On the following day, USA Today answered the question with their headline, “Mike Rice not alone in abuse, just caught.” Sadly, I agree. 

             The larger question is why, oh why, do we tolerate this behavior among adults who are given the responsibility to guide, teach, direct, and instruct our children. We would never allow a teacher in a classroom setting to drop the f-bomb at will, but very few adults bat an eye when it is yelled in the face of a player on the sidelines of a game. That type of behavior has become commonplace among coaches and widely accepted as part of the game. My son’s high school basketball coach was heard using that word during a game, and no one questioned him.
            In fact, that coach was quite fluent in colorful language and freely shared his skills. The line my son heard most often was”&*#% Bryson! Catch the #@% - &$#% ball!” I should probably be grateful that my son did not find that blankity-blank ball making a point-blank bee line for his head – courtesy of his irritated coach. 
            Often parents – and I am one of them – have feared it will hurt their child’s chances on the field if they speak up, or perhaps, we might worry that our actions will cause more abuse for the kids during practice. We definitely have given too much authority and power to the coaches, and in turn, we have left our children defenseless.    
            Just viewing the complete submissiveness of each player as Rice shoved, grabbed, kicked, threw balls, and verbally attacked them made my stomach queasy. And then when some of the players publically defended him, I thought my head my actually explode.  I wondered how and why they thought any of this behavior was okay.
On the one hand, we desire compassion for our children and have national campaigns to prevent bullying in schools and on the playground, but when there is a coach in front of an individual’s name, we condone their intimidation methods all in the name of motivation, toughness, and winning. It is hard to have it both ways.
I say that we have enough self-centered, name calling, jerks in the world. Let us not raise another generation of Mike Rices because we believe it is more important for our children to be tough, aggressive athletes than kind human beings.
            Coach is a title we automatically respect, but those who warrant that admiration are the ones who teach discipline and resilience by example. After all, how can we expect young athletes to show self-control if their coach cannot. Thankfully, not every coach is a Mike Rice. There are many who understand that when they are called coach, a young athlete regards them as a wise and trusted mentor.
            Next year, let’s hope the Madness in March simply refers to Cinderella stories, buzzer beaters, and that one glorious shining moment, and if any frustration is involved, it is towards your mate and his or her bracket and not a misguided, potty-mouthed, fit-throwing, angry-eyed, little man.