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.

The Fine Wine Dine

I can’t explain why.  I really can’t.  All I can say is that the evening stood out.  It was a first among equals night. It was one of those moments . . . a moment that as it happens everyone knows that it is destined to become a memory.

Ten of us had gathered.  All of us were friends.  Each of us had a strong connection to one or more of us. Yet none of us were childhood friends with all of us.  Our interests were diverse – nature, health, the spirit, the spirits, enterprise, numbers, learning, teaching – with a lot of some and a little of others.   We met at twilight – the time of magic between daylight and darkness on a cool crisp mid-winter evening.

Those hosting had planned and prepared and welcomed the rest upon arrival.  Though all of us had seen each other over the past couple of months, our greetings were as if we had not. Handshakes, hugs, kisses, pats-on-the-back, smiles – it was a tete-a-tete for ten that started the evening out perfectly. Again, I can’t explain why, but from the moment our feet crossed the threshold of the door, the aura of the making of a memory began.

Our intent was simple – food and wine and conversation followed by more food and more wine and more conversation.  The emphasis here should be, in particular, on the conversation about the wine, of which there was a great deal, for nine of us were learning from the one of us who was a master in that area.

For this year’s fine wine dine, the table setting included numerous wine glasses which to me looked like birds on a wire – straight, dainty, orderly and whimsical.  In addition, each setting included two black goblets, mysterious in both color and shape.  The first four wine flights to be served at the table had been pre-poured.  So all was ready.

However, like most gatherings, our first moments were spent in the kitchen.  We stood, and mingled, and chatted.  We listened and learned about recent trials and tribulations that occurred in our lives.  We watched as those cooking finalized the meal with brief finishing touches.  We were served our first wine flight coupled with a much appreciated antipasto.  Most importantly, we were pausing our busy lives for something beyond the ordinary. Worked stopped.  Fun ensued.

As we moved out of the kitchen, we soon learned much more about the mysterious black goblets.  Regardless of our viticulture ability – (me, a mere novice) – we were to identify each of the goblet’s contents without the ability to see it.  A better name for this portion of the evening might be the fine blind wine dine, a puzzling, curious challenge that had nine of us laughing on edge.

And laughter kept coming, from beginning to end.  We laughed at our ability or inability as hopeful wine connoisseurs.  We laughed at ourselves, at each other, at our futures, at our days gone by, at everything and anything.  At times, we laughed until we cried. We just laughed.  For hours.  For fun.  With friends.

Hours later, as we all departed, we seemed reluctant to cross over that threshold and head in the opposite direction.  If I had thought about my thoughts at that time, I probably was thinking about my luck – to be with a group of friends for a moment of fun on that mid-winter’s night.

I can’t explain why.  I really can’t, but I am going to try.

Like everyone else, there are twenty-four hours in my day and seven days in my week.  Of those twenty-four hours and seven days, the moments that I can recall are few and far between.  I remember the spectacular – the weddings, the graduations, the holidays, the birthdays, the anniversaries.  I remember the somber – the deaths, the funerals, the illnesses.  Most of my memories revolve around my family who are the individuals with whom I share hours upon hours upon hours of my time.   My mother, God rest her soul, has been gone for many years; yet, I can still hear her calling my name from the days of my childhood.

And somewhere in those memories now sits something a little bit different . . . unusual . . . unique.  It doesn’t involve the spectacular or the somber or my family.  It isn’t something of tradition or tragedy.  It isn’t marked by a date on the calendar or tied to a sibling, an aunt, an uncle or my parents.

It is a moment in my life that I spent with friends, good friends, doing something rather ordinary in an extraordinary way – eating, drinking, laughing, talking – personified.  The exact stories we told and why we laughed . . . I am not sure of it now.  I think it was all funny, but . . . then . . . it could have been the wine speaking.

What I am a little more sure about is the value of good friends.  I may not know my wines (to even the basest level of knowing the difference between red or white wine when placed in a black goblet), but I do know that friends are treasures beyond words.

Lesson learned. Enough said.

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The Mysterious Black Goblets

The Untold Stories of the Word of the Year

“Challenge.  It’s my word for 2015,” she said.

At that moment, for reasons I cannot explain, we knew that the conversation to follow would be memorable.  It was just clear that the four of us had moved from frivolous, fun, no-direction chatter to a much higher, sequential, magical plane.  We were about to discuss life and its importance. And from my vantage point, we weren’t disappointed with what followed.

Her plan was to select one word.  Just one word.  She would use that one word as a guide, a beacon for her journey from January until December.  She offered no additional rules, and asked if we wanted to participate.  Just choose one word and keep a steadfast focus on that word until the end of the year.  We all nodded in agreement.

In less than one week, my three friends had landed on their words: Challenge . . . Change . . . Zen, all intriguing, inspiring, daring, complex choices. But, within the same week,  I was still in some type of holding pattern.  Wordless.

Along with starting off 2015 searching for the right word, it just happened that I had been reading some very interesting writing.  A blog, familiar to me in the year past, was detailing circumstances in countries beyond my experiences.  The topics varied from post to post with what I identified as a golden thread of humanity holding it all together.  I would see the photos and read the words, and quickly my mind was blurring with thoughts.

Suddenly, I had a plethora of potential 2015 word possibilities: free, help, center, food, happy, others, world, poverty, irony, give, get, lost, woman.  The more I read, the more words floated to the top.  Now, my problem was no longer a lack of words; it was finding and selecting the right word from the crowded list.

Hmmm . . . what to do . . . .

Though my friend provided no particular rules, by default there seems to be a couple.  First, the one word that I choose must fit all occasions.  It must be able to balance between moments of distinct joy and happiness as well as moments of considerable pain and sadness.  The word must be able to lead me to new adventures, remind me of the difference between good and evil, give me an anchor when I need it, and allow me to laugh, love, and learn throughout an entire year.  It should be bold, blessed, and at times, comical . . . humorous . . . fun.   It should have an intent.

Even with knowledge and consideration of such rules, the days of 2015 began to pass in rapid succession without me finalizing my pick.  I truly was headed towards a million choices and not the selection of one, floundering in a pile of words, until . . . today.

In an odd moment early this morning, I found my word.  I happened to be walking through a snow-covered field at 7:45am.  It was a quiet moment.  The snow had settled, the morning had no wind, and the hour was too early for any traffic. The sun was peeking over a ridge of barren trees and a lonely bird swooned overhead.  It was a picturesque moment, an outdoor winter splendor.

A Crazy-Funny Winter Moment

A Crazy-Funny Winter Moment

Regardless of the extent of the beauty before me, my attitude was not following in kind.  My feet were cold, my shoes were wet.  The 6+ inches of snow buried the trail for my walk, and each step felt like I was trudging through cement moments before it solidified. My iPod blared out all the wrong music, but with a temperature below zero, I wasn’t about to remove my gloves to change it.  And the struggle in walking through the mounds of snow was causing me to be what I thought was late for my eventual rendezvous with my family – who were all comfortably inside about two miles away.

In that moment, at that time, just as my frustrations were nearly getting the best of me, it happened.  After nearly fifty days and after some interesting thinking on my part, I found that one word that I could hang my hat on for the rest of 2015.  As a matter of course, the one word is actually two, but its essence fits the bill.

So for 2015, I am going with crazy-funny.

For good or for bad, I have a tendency towards the serious side of things.  No doubt, I often see the world as having many challenges and problems.  And I know, deep in my heart,  that I must do all I can to help solve and resolve issues that press at all humans.  I must focus on the greater good at all times, lending all of my talents and treasures to such. It is easy to know that I all should do so.  But it is difficult to follow through with that focus for all of us. –  always.

That’s where my word crazy-funny works for me.

As I seek the greater good, I can see that it is important to laugh – laugh at myself, at life, at the crazy-funny situations that happen each moment.  This morning, I had chosen to walk to my destination through that snow-covered field.  I should have known that the entire experience was going to be nothing more than a crazy-funny circumstance and have expected nothing more.

Once I started to laugh at the strange pickle I was in, (wading through piles of snow with an attitude that was creating a huge weight around my neck), my trek became my pleasure.  It was a classic crazy-funny moment.  It just depended on how I looked at it.  Seeing it as crazy-funny made it so.  Still the same amount of snow, still the same distance, still the same challenges with walking, but it was all different because of the way I interpreted it.

I am hoping that my word choice will allow me  – and force me – to look at my 2015 with a truly different vision. Here’s hoping that I can hold onto the crazy-funny year ahead of me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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