Booyah

If you are a sports fan who grew up watching or listening to sports, you’ve no doubt had a broadcaster or play by play announcer who impacted how you hear and see sports today. Vin Scully. Harry Carey. Pat Summerall and John Madden. Howard Cosel. Bob Uecker. Bob Costas, sometimes with Bob Uecker and Howard Cosel. For me, one of those iconic voices was Stuart Scott. He started at SportsCenter in 1993 when I was a kid living on a sports island in our little state. Situated in the upper midwest, we got the Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Vikings, Denver Broncos and Nebraska Cornhuskers games. As I got older and our cable provider expanded, we also got TBS and WGN so we also got to see most of the Braves and Cubs games. When the Colorado Rockies expanded into the MLB, we got them too. NBA games were on sporadically. NFL was on Mondays and Sundays. Saturday was the Huskers and Notre Dame and on occasion, one or two other games. I don’t think I saw a hockey game until I was in junior high school. There was no Sunday Ticket, no Center Ice. National TV deals were a decade away. I had never even heard of the Internet and if I was talking to my friend on the phone, I had to step around the corner becuase our phones still had cords on them. If you wanted to know what was happening outside of our regional sports bubble, SportsCenter was the only way to know. Every night, after the Twins were over, my dad would flip to SportsCenter and we would catch up on how the rest of the world was going. And it was good television. There was Rich and Stuart and Keith and Dan. And they did it all, from sideline interviews to studio segments and anything in between. At the young age I was, I didn’t appreciate what a trailblazing moment I was witnessing; a young black man sitting among the white men. What I did know was he made me laugh. You had to pay attention to Stuart Scott because he would throw one liners out at rapid fire pace and leave you laughing so hard you might miss the next play. And there were no DVR’s so if you missed something you wanted to see, you had to sit through the next hour in order to catch it. And that was fine, because Rich Eisen and Stuart Scott together was pure television gold.

Over the years, Stuart Scott interviewed the who’s who of the sporting world, from Tiger Woods to Michael Jordan to his annual tradition of presenting the NBA Championship trophy at the end of the NBA Finals. Some of the most iconic interviews in sports history were done with Stuart Scott sitting across the table. As quick witted as he was on the set of SportsCenter, he was equally as kind and compassionate when dealing with the tricky issues of the day. To that end, his kindness and compassion always felt genuine. He was one of those guys you could see hanging out in a backyard, beer in hand, listening as intently to a friend as he did to Tiger Woods and you never doubted that image. When he gave his instantly iconic and legendary speech at the 2014 ESPY awards after being presented the Jimmy V Award, his speech solidified that image in my mind. He almost didn’t make the trip to accept the award and when he stood, I was shocked at how frail and thin he looked. As he approached the stage, I remember hoping that his smooth voice didn’t sound as weak as he looked. How selfish of me, this courageous man who literally used every ounce of strength he had for those 10 minutes and it was I who was worried about it not sounding right. Hindsight is a beautiful thing, my friends. Any fear I had was dashed the moment he opened his mouth. The words he spoke are going to live on, much like the words of the awards namesake, Coach Jimmy Valvano. That speech will remain a part of sports history forever, long after the memorials are over, after the tears are wiped away and yes, as his memory begins to fade. If you haven’t seen the speech, it’s everywhere on YouTube right now. And you owe it to yourself, even if this is the first you’ve ever heard of Stuart Scott, you owe it to yourself to watch it. The honesty and genuineness with which he speaks, the way he refers to his young daughters and the way he conducted himself, presumably in the face of death, is a testament to how he truly loved life. Hearing the news Sunday morning was like finding out I had lost an old friend.

Maybe this eulogy of someone I’ve never met is a little on the creeper side. I get it. I struggled with whether I should write this entry or not. But in a way, I grew up with Stuart Scott. He’s part of some of my favorite sports memories over the years. And some of my favorite childhood memories, sprawled out on the floor with my dad, peppering him with sports questions until bedtime. And, if we missed one of those famous one liners, sometimes well AFTER bedtime! Perhaps I’m hypersensitive to this because it comes on the heels of losing my brother in law just 2 weeks ago, ironically at almost the exact same age of Stuart Scott, at 48. He too leaves young children along with 2 grandchildren. He was one of the people in this world to whom I was closest and his death has hit me hard. So, I can’t explain why I chose to write this. I know this much: Life is bigger than sports. Nobody personified that better than Stuart Scott. I will miss his voice, his wit and his ability to make me laugh. He was as cool as the other side of the pillow.

Let Them Be Kids

If your kids have ever been in sports, I’m sure you’ve seen parents that maybe take 6 year old soccer just a little too seriously. I’ve always tried really hard not to be that mom. I’m super competitive and I want my kids to do their best, but I understand that they can’t always win or always be on the best team. Most of the time. However, I would never, in my wildest dreams, imagine calling out a league that my child was participating in because something didn’t work out in their favor. Which leads me to the background of this post.

Our football program also runs a youth flag football program. The teams are broken down by grade and school and they play each other’s grade-level teams. They’re half field games on our college field, flag rules and the coaches and refs are our freshman players. Parents pay to enroll their kids, but it’s also a fundraiser for our scholarship program so it’s an important part of what we’re doing on multiple fronts. It’s great for the kids, big and small, and it’s a fun afternoon for the parents. This past weekend was week 3 and so far, very few hiccups have happened. A couple of jerseys didn’t find their owners right away and a coach here and there has been late, but the games have gone without a hitch, only a couple of minor injuries (first and second graders are as graceful as a baby deer on ice skates sometimes!) and overall, it’s been a great 3 weeks. Until today. We have a Facebook page to keep the parents informed and post photos, scores, updates and other info. I post scores from the games on Sunday nights. This week, I forgot. I remembered it last night, after working all day, soccer practice, play auditions, running through the rain to grab take out dinner and finally settling on the couch at about 8:30. I input the scores and went on about my night. This morning, I awoke to a NASTY comment from a parent. He was upset about a call during his son’s game, which his son’s team ultimately lost. I replied, nicely, that he needed to bring these things to our attention when the problem arises so we can take care of it and please not wait 2 days. He responded with more anger and nonsense, which triggered other parents to post, in our defense, that there was no way for everyone to see everything. This gentlemen was insisting that I should have noticed this particular play. What he doesn’t realize is on any given Sunday, there are 207 kids, 60 of our players and who knows how many parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, etc. on our field. I’m lucky if I remember MY name by the end, let alone a single play during a game.

Now, do I think he should apologize? I think it would teach his son a great deal if he did. Do I expect it? No. In 5 years of doing this, he’s certainly not the first parent who has taken exception to Little Johnny’s team not winning something. However, he crossed a line by ripping his son’s coaches and the ref. These are 18 and 19 year old kids. As much as we would like to say they’re adults, they are tall, hairy children. And they’re volunteering their time, taking away from their studies (or XBox playing, or sleeping…) to coach these kids. If they made a bad call, that’s unfortunate. If they got something wrong, that’s also unfortunate. However, I would hazard a guess that this man, at some point in his life, has gotten something wrong. And if he hasn’t, his behavior here should be a learning tool for him because he is certainly in the wrong today.

My point to this post, which is probably lost in my storytelling, is that at some point, kids deserve to just be kids. The little guy in this scenario is in 1st grade, which makes him the ripe old age of 6 or 7 years old. If his team loses a game or two, is it really the end of the world? Is his varsity coach going to stand in front of him with a clipboard when he’s in high school and say, “Well, son….I’d love to give you this starting job, but I see here that your flag football team lost a game when you were 7, so I have to leave you on the bench?” No. Of course not. So parents, coaches, team moms, whoever is reading this; please. I implore upon you, just let your kids be kids. Let them learn to win AND lose graciously. They’ll thank you for it later.

Atlas….not a map anymore

So I know I promised a rivalry post over a month ago. Since then, my darn job has managed to get in the way and more importantly, the region where we live was hit by a massive early season snow storm. Storm Atlas dumped over 3 feet of snow, shut our area down for days, left thousands without power and heat, some for as much as an entire week, and worst of all, killed thousands of cattle and livestock. For those of you who haven’t been following the devastation, I urge you, no, I BEG you to Google this. The loss of the livestock will not only be felt by our local families who produce and raise these animals but will be felt in the coming months by consumers when the demand for beef is higher than the supply. It will be felt throughout the ranching community for years, even decades. Many cattle who were killed were from lines that are generations old. It’s sickening and there has been ZERO national coverage on this issue. My family was fortunate in that we only lost power for a few hours, we do not produce so we did not lose any stock, but we have far too many friends who were left in shambles. They are picking up the pieces and moving on because that’s just what we do here, but it won’t be the same. Ever. And as for FEMA or any other government assistance? Nope. And that’s not just because the government was shut down. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a FEMA trailer in my state for any reason. If we have a problem, we get together and fix it. That’s one of the reasons I love living where we do.

This is a sports blog. Sports are a constant, they’re always around. I was reminded of that last weekend as we gathered for another tailgate, another Saturday. We exchanged blizzard stories and caught each other up on how we stayed warm and what creative ways we had come up with to entertain ourselves and our families during the several days most of us were without power. We talked to one wife about how her ranching family was coping. Not well, but they’ll be fine. You pray. You hope. You work your butt off and it will be okay. The storm blew through Friday and Saturday the week of our bye (thank goodness!). By Saturday afternoon the snow was actually melting and by Sunday it was almost 60 degrees. Our football team spent Monday shoveling, hauling tree branches and getting campus back up and moving. My husband and a friend of ours spent until 1:30 a.m. on Tuesday at the stadium cleaning the field up after our maintenance would not do so. The team practiced wherever they could find on Monday and Tuesday; the school gym, a local indoor arena. They only got 2 practices and a walk through on their own turf before the game. By kickoff on game day, all that remained from the storm were some downed tree branches and a few small piles of snow still dotting the parking lots.

The game went on. We lost, but considering the adversity we were under just a few days prior, the game was fantastic. The opposing coach even contributed to a very classy article complimenting our team and staff. A rare occurrence!! All in all, things have returned to normal. It’s a new normal, but it’s normal. This state, OUR state, will never know our old normal again. But we press on. We pray, we hope, we help each other. It’s what we do. Through it all, the game goes on!

Reality Check

I got a nice gut punch this morning. By way of background, a former player who we had asked to our home for Thanksgiving dinner last year when he couldn’t go home and had nowhere to go, who had been a very positive influence in my children’s lives, decided not to come back for this season and school year. Now, I have no idea why he made this decision. I’ve wondered, sure. When we saw him last May he was excited to come back and finish what the team had started. Over the weekend, a mutual friend of ours on Facebook had commented on a post he had made. Curious, I clicked on it. What I saw made me almost sick.

The post that our mutual friend had commented on was a bit of a rant mixed with some nostalgia about not being able to play on Saturdays and opining that others were taking advantage of his hard work and blood, sweat and tears to make it happen. Following that were comments from friends lending support. It was toward the end of the comments that he had chimed in with anecdotes about how “unprofessional” the coaching staff was and how “unfair” the program here had been to him. I was immediately upset. Yes, the program was overhauled last year but he was a part of that overhaul. And yes, some players did not play as much as before, but that’s what happens when a new staff comes in.

Now, I know that I am overprotective of my husband’s job. He works hundreds of hours a week, sees his family as much as possible and works his tail off. The same goes for the other coaches on the staff. Of all the staffs we have been on, this is by far the best we’ve had. The family aspect is very close, both within the staff and on the team. Parents have told me they appreciate the family feel and players have made it clear in exit interviews, recruiting trips, etc. that they feel the family aspect of the team is one of the main reasons they play here. Which I think is why that posting caught me so off guard. Especially considering this young man had fit the mold so well. We truly had embraced him as part of our family and seeing him say those hurtful things for the world to see stung. It stung more than it should have and much more than I had expected it to.

Now that I’ve had some time to digest and step away from it, I know there are 2 sides to this. I have no doubt he felt that something had happened that was not fair. I have no doubt that whatever it was probably wasn’t as bad as he perceived. That’s human nature; we blow things out of proportion that in reality aren’t a huge problem. I also have no doubt that better communication on both sides probably could have resolved the issue. It’s too late for all of that now. Regardless of his comments, I will always consider him part of “the family”. I’ve had hundreds of honorary sons over the years and he will always be one of them. I will continue to cheer him on in life and in football. I don’t know the story nor will I probably ever know and that’s okay. It really is.

What this moment taught me more than anything is this: Open communication. Always. Talking out your problems is key. It’s a lesson most of us could probably use on a daily basis. For myself, I need to take things like this far less personally. Whatever happened probably had nothing to do with me or my children. I need to separate myself and understand that this is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that a player leaves and has mean things to say afterward. Decisions should never be made in an emotional or angry moment, yet that’s when we as humans seem to make the most drastic of them. So despite the fact that this was not the way I had hoped to start my day, I am going to embrace it, make it a teaching moment, put it aside, pray for him and his continued endeavors and continue on with the season. We can only change what we can control. And this I cannot.

Be blessed, all! What is your personal teaching moment for today?