Favorites Playing

pizzaSome favorites are easier to pick than others. I have favorite NFL, MLB and NHL teams; a favorite brand of running shoes; a favorite toothpaste; and even a favorite coffee mug. But as far as something like a favorite band or favorite beer – I could never pick those because there are just way too many good alternatives to choose from.

And there are favorites that you can never pick – like a favorite parent; or a favorite child. (Though all three of our kids would probably tell you that one of the others is the favorite.)

People have asked me which team was my favorite when I wrote my book, The Fields of Fall. I bleed Cardinal red, so of course my home town team, Earlham, is the team in which I have the most rooting interest. But of the other teams, it’s kind of like picking a favorite child – I just can’t do it.

If I absolutely had to pick a favorite, however, Decorah and North Fayette would be top contenders. And these two teams just happen to play each other in week 1 this year.

To get an idea as to why I have such warm feelings for these schools, here are excerpts from the book.

From a trip to Decorah (at a post-game gathering at Coach Post’s house):
“I was invited to start in on the food, but what little social decorum I do possess told me to hold off until some other guests arrived. It was torture, but folks started showing up quickly and soon the house was nearly full. But even though I had met most of these folks last time, I didn’t want to be the uncouth stranger, so I only filled up about half a plate with some chips and a couple of sweets. I was thirsty, too, and the beer I quickly consumed hit my empty stomach with a vengeance. Somebody asked me if I wanted another and I said, “Yes.” Maybe not the best idea; until the rest of the party food showed up—about a dozen pizzas from Mabe’s. The pizza and beer combination temporarily made the impartial journalist in me disappear and the fan and admirer in me emerge, and I found myself hoping that these folks would win the high school football championship of the world and never lose another game—ever.”

From a trip to North Fayette:
“The staff and their significant others usually get together after home games at the home of volunteer coach Gary Bemiss. When Jennifer and I arrived, there was already a healthy mix of celebration and preparation going on. Assistant coach Heins was already breaking down the game tape in between slices of pizza, while Bemiss, who runs the local beer distributorship, made sure everyone was properly supplied with libations.”

These stories may give you the idea that I’m easily won over by beer and pizza. Well…yes, I am. But it goes much deeper than that. Decorah and North Fayette play an old-school, run-first, slobber-knocking brand of football that I really enjoy. Passing teams are great, but watching these two teams’ o-lines work their magic is inspiring. The over/under on total passes attempted by both teams on Friday is probably around nine – which is just the way I like it.

But besides having football teams that win year after year, Decorah and North Fayette have a lot of really nice people in and around the programs. I got to know several of the coaches and fans pretty well that fall – thanks in large part to the terrific fare and beverages – and I enjoyed conversations about football, education, and life in general. Good people build strong communities. And strong communities tend to have consistent, excellent sports programs – which lead to quality kids. Which leads to…well, you get the idea.

Friday, my feet will be in Woodward as the Cardinals take on Woodward Academy, but a piece of me will be in West Union as the TigerHawks take on the Vikings. I’m not a big fan of ties, but…


The Case for Three More “Rs”

RI came across a recent quote from a mayor of an Iowa city last week that I digested with equal parts amusement and disgust. In vetoing a project that would have expanded the football facility at the local college, he said, “The world doesn’t need any more football players.” As a huge fan of amateur football, of course I was disgusted with this sentiment. I was amused, as well, because sometimes when I hear something like this from the mouths of elected officials, I have to laugh to keep from crying. Someone should tell Mr. Mayor – college and high school football programs aren’t in the business of producing football players; they produce young men who are better prepared for the real world because they learned about hard work, dedication and sacrifice by playing the game. Just like volleyball teams and softball teams produce young women with the same attributes.

I don’t know all the details of this particular situation in this town. Maybe it doesn’t work financially and I’m sure there are other circumstances, but for a leader to say something this short-sighted is unfortunate. Not surprising, though, since many of our elected officials these days are career politicians that don’t know or have forgotten how the real world works.

What the real world needs is young people who know how to contribute to society by doing what they do best and doing it well; by working well with others; by improving themselves every day. What better way to learn things like that than by playing football – or any sport – in high school and college?

If a math department needed money for classroom space or new materials, would Mr. Mayor or anyone say, “The world doesn’t need any more mathematicians.” Probably not – even though that sentiment has admittedly been suggested many times in our household. But when any of our kids have struggled with math (just like their mom and I did in school) and use the famous line “I’m never going to use geometry after I graduate,” I tell them that they are missing the point. Learning that sometimes it takes extra effort and plenty of blood, sweat and tears to achieve a goal (or at least pass the class!) – not necessarily remembering exactly how to determine the volume of a rectangular prism – is what will pay off for them in the future.

Would anyone insult the band by saying, “The world doesn’t need any more musicians.” We have a terrific music program in Earlham, but I don’t think it’s producing any Grammy winners. Again – that’s not the point. Although Quinn is a pretty good singer and has shown the ability to play a couple instruments, sold-out arenas may not be in his future. Still, I want him perfecting his craft and learning to be a part of something bigger than he is. Plus, he’ll get to wear a uniform on Friday nights, but without having to block someone twice his size.

If a prestigious law school was proposing to spend money on new facilities, would anyone say, “The world doesn’t need any more lawyers.” Okay, I guess I would say that.

But too often, naysayers think of sports and academics as separate things. Sports (and all extra-curricular activities) and academics are all under the same umbrella called “education.” For a well-rounded education, we need them all. Not every kid is going to be the starting quarterback, but not every kid is going to be first chair trumpet or valedictorian, either.

So to give sports more of what it’s due in the educational process, I am proposing that the “Three Rs” of education be expanded to six. Henceforth, Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmetic shall be joined by Running, ‘Rasslin, and Rebounding. And in case any more clueless elected officials get in the way, there is one more R that can be added – Recount.