The Bounce Pass

“Ladies, never ever underestimate the power of the bounce pass.”

How often I have recalled the ten words that Coach stressed to our team moments before we took the court on that snowy December day.

We played in a rag-tag grade school athletic league. Me and six of my closest fifth grade school mates – with all seven of our young fathers standing right behind us – dreamed of becoming the Catholic Youth Council City/County Basketball champs – which at the time was the equivalent of earning a gold medal for the USA Olympic Team, playing in the NCAA March Madness Final Four, and winning the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes all in one.

This was the 1960s.  Sporting activities for women – basketball and/or otherwise – were just starting to come into their own.  The powers to be had been forced to organize a league for us girls, with games played at any time the boys weren’t using a nearby gym.  The good news is that we had gym time for games, but we were out of luck in terms of using an indoor facility for practice.

But being young, budding athletes, who, by-the-way, had little to no basketball experience whatsoever, we cared little about what we lacked (gym time, experience, or otherwise) and more about what we were going to be learning.  So our pops did a little organizing for us, found a suitable outdoor court, identified the one dad who had more than just a little hoop experience, and set us on the course towards the City/County Championship.

Coach quickly recognized that some of us – well nearly all of us – needed to learn a little more – well a lot more – about the artful game of basketball before we ever played a real game.   We would form a circle around him, and he would toss the ball to each of us.  Regardless of whether we tossed it back correctly, incorrectly, or not at all, he would compliment us on our action.  “Great job” were two words that seemed to flow out of his mouth easily.

And because we were basketball newbies, hearing those words helped.  Coach taught us to dribble, to shoot, to rebound, to block out, to dish, to pivot, and to play zone.  We were proud of what we were learning even if it looked like we knew more about double dribbling, fouling, traveling, palming, over-and-back, and violating the key than the afore mentioned list.

Coach didn’t pay too much attention to what we did wrong.  In fact, I can’t remember a time I really did much right, but he gave me the feeling that every pass I made put me closer to becoming Nera White – the most famous basketball player of my time, a 15 year AAU All American and an athletic role model for all young ladies growing up in the 60s.

This new basketball activity seemed to be not just the thrill of the year for me and my BFFs, but also for our dads.  They figured out how to get us matching uniforms, made sure we had enough and the right equipment, created intricate and complex plays for us – in case we ever got to the point of using them, and in general bonded with each other as we, young ladies, were doing.

It was Coach, however, who had us all mesmerized. Though I didn’t know it at the time, he was a little more involved in the world of basketball than the rest of our dads.  He had not only played high school and college basketball, but he had played it well, a member of the 1948 NIT Championship Team.  He knew the rules and the lingo.  He was versed in successful models for offensive and defensive play. He rubbed elbows with local athletic greats.  And he was our coach.

More importantly to me at that time, he was the nice dad who seemed to know how to lead seven sport novices towards the ability to play hoops with pride.  His focus was always on the fundamentals of basketball – and I learned them, one by one.  But, somehow, in some unexplainable way, I seemed to be learning more about honesty, critical thinking, problem solving, and collegiality without Coach ever saying one word about any of those topics- ever.

So on that snowy day in December, we suited up for our very first game.  Moments before the buzzer blasted to start the game, Coach huddled us up for his very last pep talk before we were on our own to make the dream reality.  He leaned in told us that we would be great, and gave us his final instructional mojo.  His eyes wide.  His hands on his hips.  It just rolled off his lips.

“Ladies, never ever underestimate the power of the bounce pass!”

I am sad to say, that I can’t remember if we won or lost the game.  I have no idea whether I played more than a minute or the entire time. I don’t think we made it anywhere near the Catholic Youth Council City/County Championship that year. Maybe we did, and I have forgotten.  It was, however, a most memorable year in a totally different way.

I learned to never ever underestimate the power of the bounce pass.

In this world, it is the two hand push pass that is most commonly used and universally expected.  We receive the ball and hand it off more often than not without a single bounce. We repeat this action over and over, often times routinely and mindlessly. Generally, because it works but not always. Sometimes because it is comfortable.  It’s what we always did before.   That method, however, isn’t always the most powerful, most effective path towards success.

A coach a long time ago told me to consider thinking outside the box.   He told me to act with authority and to think about my ability to control my destiny.  He told me to look up and see the possibilities, think about my options, and choose the path less traveled.  Coach told me to bounce the ball, surprise others, and add a healthy level of wonder into my world.

Ten words to live by.

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I am sure they have never under estimated the power of anything.

We Are Many Parts

As I glanced around the room, I felt that time had finally stood still.  All of us had obviously changed, grown, aged, but none of that change seemed to matter.  It was clear that many years had rolled by us, but somehow we were collectively channeling back to what had been such a glorious time in our lives.  We were chatting, laughing, gabbing, and smiling with each other as if we hadn’t missed a moment, as if we hadn’t aged.

There was plenty of food, lots of drink, and a band that beat all bands.  The weather was stunning, the setting was appropriate, and the cost was a drop-in-the-bucket of what it should or could have been. Our conversations were incredible – bringing forth the best in all of us.  It was an evening for the ages as the 1974 graduating class of St. Thomas Aquinas High School had reconvened in full force to celebrate its fortieth anniversary – in style.

We danced, we drank, and we ate.  More importantly, we talked.  Denise become a grandmother three times over earlier in the day.  Jerry traveled to Italy with his entire family.  D’Anne found a bottle of wine with our high school name on it.  Bought it and brought it, of course.  Viv sang with the band.  Larry had rehabbed a house. We all sat and listened to the stories of our lives, and learned a great deal about the actions and activities that had happened over four decades.

I initially thought that what kept us together was that we graduated from the same place many moons ago.  We all attended a Catholic co-educational high school, with rules out the ying-yang, faculty whose behavior today may have been cause for alarm, classes that challenged us to the bone, and tuition that forced our parents to sacrifice.  It was a tough school, whose primary goal wasn’t to produce students who scored well on standardized tests.  Nor was its main purpose to ensure steady and successful transitions to college and or employment.  As a youngster, I didn’t really know why it existed.

I do now.

St. Thomas Aquinas taught us to care.  I listened to story after story from my classmates about my classmates finding themselves in situations that required caring and self-less attitudes and actions.  Folks volunteering to help newborns and their mothers.  Men and women reaching out and helping relatives in any way possible,  moving moms, dads, aunts, and uncles into their homes if necessary.  Classmates participating in fundraising activities and, in general, looking out for those who can not do so for themselves.

St. Thomas Aquinas taught us to think.  We studied algebra, chemistry, world religions.  But, we learned to problem solve, critically think, innovate.  It wasn’t about ensuring that we would forever and a day be able to remember and use the Pythagorean Theorem.  It  was ensuring that we could and would create a successful life for ourselves and our families.  At the reunion, there were folks who had recently retired, who had started new jobs, opened their own companies, raised successful families, and in general, used their wits to live glorious lives. Everyone had different narratives, but all of them seem to indicate lives worth living and lives lived to the fullest.

St. Thomas Aquinas taught us to be accepting.  And on this one, I was most surprised for the 1970s weren’t necessarily a time where people embraced differences.  In fact, differences were often shunned.  But somehow, the Class of ’74 seemed to have pushed beyond the past.  The 80+ people gathered for the reunion were quite different from each other.  No two characters were alike.  But, we – forty years later – were capitalizing on those who were unique – which was everyone – and details on that which made us different, not on that which made us the same.

Learning to care, learning to think, learning to accept are topics for the ages.

To me, these topics are just as relevant today as they were in 1974.  High school students have an inherent tendency to focus more on self than others.  Placing them in settings where they are forced to put others first does build that first needed foundation for caring.

And teaching students to think is a learning gift – a gem. My high school used quirky and unconventional methods in this area, but they worked.  Classroom days built on the pursuit of learning about learning will build a society of great thinkers.  Class of 1974 – case in point.

Finally, the trilogy is complete when students are taught to accept.  There are so many paths that lead high school students towards the low road of non-acceptance.  It can be a time of either fearing those who are different or fearing being different.  I hope – and pray – that those who are leading learning in today’s American high schools, much like those who did so at my high school, figure out ways to encourage students to becoming people who thrive on the differences in others.

At the end of the evening, I had hoped that I would have a memorable take-away.  I thought it would have been something more comical, something that may have happened throughout the event that raised eye-brows and caused chuckles.  Perhaps something that involved some kind of excess and the police.  Something to take me back to my high school days – and the moments when we broken the rules just enough to surprise, but not enough to cause concern.

Not the case.  My thanks to all my caring, thoughtful, and accepting classmates from STA 74.

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St. Thomas Aquinas 1974

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Man of Few Words

Recently, my little brother, Rich, and I entered into an interesting partnership.  And during the time we were considering whether to do so, both Rich and I consulted with our father. And in comparing notes, my brother and I found that we were both asked the same questions:

“Do you trust him?” my father asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Do you love him?”

“Yes,” I replied again.

“Then do it,” he said, “Everything else will work out fine.”

In this conversation, my dad was brief and to the point. If the time elapsed was more than one minute, I will be shocked.  My pop only had two questions – one about trust and the other about love.  Never having been a man of many words and certainly never having been a touchy-feeling type guy, he assumed that the two question eight-word piece of advice was enough and it would be all that I would need.  And odd as it may sound, it was.

But it was only odd to me. Clearly, it was not odd to him.  For, as I sat next to my dad listening to those two questions and watching him deliver that very brief message, it became strangely clear that this wasn’t the only time that he had used this advice.

Throughout the next several weeks, as my brother and I cinched our partnership (keeping our dad apprised of the smaller subsequent decisions and choices we were making), my dad began opening up about the times that those two poignant questions guided him.

Should he marry my mother – the love of his life – and the love of ours? Yes.  Should he take a risk and move his family to a great new frontier called Florissant? Yes.  Should he listen to the advice from his father and take a job with a company formerly called Union Electric – now Ameren UE?  Yes.  Should he, himself, enter into all types of adventures and mis-adventures with his own brother, Bud – his dearest and lifelong best friend? Yes.

With love in his back pocket and trust at his side, he had no fear of his decisions.  He just didn’t. He still doesn’t. The outcome of his decisions may not always have been as planned, may not always have been perfect, and may have led down new and unexpected paths, but with love and trust, he always felt that his decisions were . . . correct . . . right . . . just.  Where some may have fear, he had confidence.  And at the moment he was asking me his two greatest questions, he wanted me to be confident, to have no fear.

When my father asked me if I trusted my brother, he made the term . . . the idea . . . seem so simple. He didn’t want frivolous conversation from me.  He didn’t want a lengthy discussion on trust, the origins of trust, and the positive benefits of trust.  He wasn’t planning on spending hours and days introducing the concept of trust and pondering its definition with me.  He wanted me to answer his question with a brief but confident yes or no.  He really didn’t want me to discuss the degree to which I trusted my brother or any reasons why I should or should not trust him or the dangers of doing so.  In fact, I think he was hoping that I wouldn’t speak, rather simply move my head yes or no – preferably yes, which I did.

When he asked me if I loved my baby brother, the same premise applied.  Yes or no.  Did I love him?  My pop didn’t want to know the details that could have been attached to that question.  He didn’t want to know any challenges surrounding it.  In fact, I think that had I begun some type of discussion when my pop asked that question, he may have given me the awe-inspiring, dad-blaster ‘no time for talking’ look – the look that fathers use to pretty much stop space and time – in order to refocus me.  He just wanted me to give him that one word answer, again with confidence – which was yes.

In less than one minute, with eight words in two questions, my pop did it again.  It was masterful advice in the blink of an eye.  He didn’t say it this way, but I definitely heard: Trust those you love . . . and love those you trust . . . everything beyond will fall in place.

His confidence in knowing that if I had trust and if I had love, then I should have no fear was moving.  And my dad has been right.  My brother and I are having the time of our lives – and couldn’t be happier with our decision.

I know that I, like my father, will keep those two questions handy.  And as I face complicated, challenging decisions in the future, I know that – like him – I will hope that those eight words give me the same type of guidance that they have done for my dad.

But I do have to chuckle.How in the world am I ever going to meet that standard!  Heck, 1000 words isn’t always enough for me to convey whatever it is that I want to convey. Well . . . at least I have a target!

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Icicles

As a child, just the sight of icicles meant that my world was about to become very exciting.  Icicles meant winter. . . which meant cold . . . which meant time for action.  But there was always a lingering question.  Would it be cold enough?

Weather forecasting during my childhood wasn’t near as easy as it is today.  In the 60s and 70s, we would check the St. Louis newspaper’s weather bird, repeatedly dial the free weather phone number, turn on the television to watch the five minute 10:00pm weather report, and/or stick our heads outside and look around.  Even then, the long term weather forecast seemed like a guess.

When icicles appeared, it was most important to know that those icicles would be sticking around for several days – weeks – longer!  For if there was even a remote thought that a hard, down and dirty winter had arrived, the crazy-fun was going to begin.

My mother would stand at the front door with us – peering at the winter sky, thinking . . . pondering.  Isabelle was a petite young thing and a stay-at-home parent to six wild children (with the oldest 15 years older than the youngest), living in a home with one bathroom, in charge of anything and everything related to ensuring that my four brothers, one sister and I reached adulthood respectfully.

She wasn’t one to jump to conclusions quickly.  Rather, she would review the situation carefully, using a squint face which meant that her mind was somehow completing a unique mathematical calculation.  If after looking outside, she turned towards the living room closet, we were golden!  If not, our patience as children would be tested.

Sometime in the winter of 1971, I had just finished a grueling day of toiling at the local ice cream shop. (Yes, once I considered it hard work.  Now I see it as being paid to eat dessert, chat with friends, and occasionally serve food to others.)  Walking home from that job, which was only up the street from my home, I could see my siblings and mother all huddled around the front door.  Isabelle’s two eyes looked like slits as she gazed up at the house guttering.

As most would agree, winter evening weather can create an amazing hushed beauty.  Nothing is better than being outside on a cold, silent, clear, moonlit evening.  It can seem like the earth is on pause, standing still for just a moment.

And this time, my family’s anticipation only added to that beauty.

I walked off the sidewalk, talking the shortcut up my front lawn.  With each step, I heard the crunching of the frozen grass beneath my feet.   Life all around me was below-zero frozen.  And I slyly smiled because I was beginning to understand the scene.

Nearing the front door, I could see what my family could see.  With a brilliant moon in the background on a starry evening at the beginning of winter, there it was . . . a long line of big, perfect, giant, shiny, stoic icicles hanging down from the rooftop of 200 Duquette Lane.  And happy smiles on everyone’s face.

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From that point forward, the person we knew as a traditional hardworking, intentional-driven mom turned into this crazy-funny person.  Bedtime . . . forget it! Homework . . . not tonight! Safety . . . ignore it! Practicality . . . dream on!

She shouted and some of us suited up.  Hats, coats, gloves, scarves, boots – check.  The rest headed for the basement.  Acting like a volunteer firefighting brigade, my siblings unhooked the downstairs washing machine from its water source.  They secured a spray nossel to the backyard hose which was patiently waiting three feet away just for these occasions.  They attached the hose to the now-barren water source, and threaded it out the basement window to my waiting mom.

With all systems a-go, Isabelle gave the on-signal.  Now, all it took was watching, waiting, and spraying.

My mother, in her early to mid-forties, wearing non-waterproof everything, would stand in the dark of the backyard, on such icicle evenings, for hours – with or without the rest of the brigade – holding a cold, wet hose, spreading a thin layer of water on the lawn in order to create one heck-of-a-great time for the family.

The nearest commercial ice-skating rink was both out of sight in terms of distance and  cost.  But, with a little luck and a little elbow grease, the back yard of 200 Duquette Lane could turn into one of the finest skating arenas in the nation.

According to Isabelle, there was an art to freezing the backyard.  First, she would apply a continual fine misting over the grass.  Once the grass was covered, she would remove the spray nossel and use a flooding approach.

By the time she had completed step one, she, herself, looked like a frozen popsicle, with icicles hanging from the ridge of her gloves, coat, body.  We would help as much as possible, but this moment was hers.  It was a time for Isabelle to step out of her responsible mother role and do something so absolutely nutty, that it befuddles me even today.

Throughout the night and into the morning, she would pace the back yard, hose in hand, until every inch was covered in ice.  My father, who left for work before 5:00am each day was a trusty assistant, but could not lead this madness.  It was an Isabelle project all the way.

Upon waking, we would skate the heck out of the back yard – daytime, nighttime, before school, after school.  That crazy-funny ice rink with three giant trees in its middle was a winter treasure beyond belief. We had the time of our lives.

Isabelle?  She really didn’t like to skate, but she watched us like a mom from the nearby kitchen window.  And for as long as the icicles stayed, we felt like the luckiest bunch of kids on the face of the earth.  Who knew that a postage stamp yard in the middle of suburbia Missouri could become such a splendor-land.

Well maybe, only that squinting mother of six who saw icicles as opportunities.