Civil Disobedience

The power of Google tells me today is the anniversary of Louisa May Alcott’s birth 184 years ago on November 29, 1832.

Fantastic.

Really?

No, not really.

I can’t say I’m a fan of Louisa May’s work. I know her work is beloved by generation upon generation of readers and is a staple of the American educational literature canon.

Not for me.

In the 8th-grade, I ventured a few pages into the assigned LITTLE WOMEN and dove headfirst off the LMA train traveling on a steep, narrow mountain pass inhabited by rabid grizzly bears.

LITTLE WOMEN was directly responsible for my first, but not my only, academic career emergency. Well, let me back up. LITTLE WOMEN + Ms. Teacher-Who-Did-Not-Care-For-Me-For-Some-Reason almost resulted in this stubborn, young man flunking 8th-grade English class.

I was a struggling reader growing up. I still read pretty slow. If fact, I probably would have completely taken the life path of non-reader if not been fortunate to have adults who helped me trudge along the reading path or have found Jack London’s short story, To Build A Fire, in 6th-grade. I would have given up.

In 8th-grade, said Teacher assigned the entire class LITTLE WOMEN. I read a little bit. I decided it was stupid. I refused to read any more of it. Too many girls, not enough struggle against the elements on the Yukon.

Our school split a grade into the classic 1970’s leveled system. I was the dumbest kid in the smart group. I ain’t lying. Every day, I was scratching and clawing while the others floated casually down the academic river of knowledge sipping fruity drinks and eating exotic cheeses. Frustrating. Character building. I’m sure this contributed to my stubborn streak.

Said Teacher told me to read. I replied in the negative.

Said Teacher called my parents. Said Teacher met with my parents and said I would flunk. I did not care.

Said Teacher compromised with my parents. She would LET me read LITTLE MEN. Mom was happy. Dad was happy. I took one look at the cover illustration, flipped quickly through the pages and gave it back to Said Teacher. I wasn’t falling for that one. The old bait and switch. Listen, I had two ornery older brothers, I knew a con game when I saw one. LITTLE MEN was just LITTLE WOMEN in different clothes. Nice try, LMA. But, nope.

So I didn’t read either of the books. I failed the section. I scrambled the rest of the year to keep my head afloat. And I survived.

Civil disobedience. An important skill to have.

I often wonder if Said Teacher ever looked at me and dreamed I would be both an avid reader and writer of books.

I highly doubt it. She saw a shy, stocky, sports-crazed boy and that is all she allowed herself to see.

But I am a writer and a reader.

And I am damn proud of it.

Sorry, Louisa May and Louisa May fans. Have a great birthday anniversary celebration. Eat, drink, and be merry.

Just don’t expect me to read LITTLE WOMEN.

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A Circle

We once vehemently thought the world was flat. Wrong.

We thought the world revolved around us. Wrong.

We shift as we discover we are wrong. We rewrite the history of our mistakes and move on. Yet, we keep using the same tools to make new mistakes.

As The Who most succinctly wrote in 1971’s We Won’t Get Fooled Again,  “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”.

We have our mistakes playing on repeat.

  • Manifest Destiny.
  • Our current United States polarized political climate.
  • Climate change (yes, it is a real, scientific thing.)
  • Cultural disrespect.

We continue to think of ourselves as masters instead of as members. In our psyche, we are the whole part, not part of the whole.

Maybe it’s time to flip our approach. Maybe it’s time to go team first. We all win when we all win. THIS is the way we “Make America Great Again”.

Either way, we need to make a long overdue switch from the flat-world philosophy to a philosophy of the circle.  Social, political, economical, educational, institutional. You name it, we can make it better. And make it better for generations to come. 

Oglala Lakota spiritual leader, Black Elk spoke to Joseph Epes Brown about the peace and fulfillment within the sacred philosophy of the circle.

“You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. In the old days when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation, and so long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished. The flowering tree was the living center of the hoop, and the circle of the four quarters nourished it. The east gave peace and light, the south gave warmth, the west gave rain, and the north with its cold and mighty wind gave strength and endurance. This knowledge came to us from the outer world with our religion. Every-thing the Power of the World does is done in a circle. The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves. Our teepees were round like the nests of birds, and these were always set in a circle, the nation’s hoop, a nest of many nests, where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children.”

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1763

We know all about the American Revolution, right? Did not we dashing, young American children learn every important date, battle, and character of our nation’s fight for independence from British tyranny?

Huzzah!

We are such bright children. We know about the Boston Tea Party, Washington crossing the Potomac, and Jefferson and the Founding Father’s passionate Declaration of Independence. I bet most of us can recite the first line of Paul Revere’s Ride (which is probably the only thing besides his name we know of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow).

Though all these things sit prominently in the psyche of the American-educated child, they are not the things at the core of our struggle for independence in 1776. As is common in history, recorded history is in the eyes of the recorder—the information deemed vital usually results in making one group look like heroes while making another, antagonistic group look like pure evil.

My interest in this subject was prompted recently by the intersection of the PBS Hamilton Documentary, the 2016 Presidential Election, and background research of the Wyandot Indian Tribe of Kansas for a book I’m working on. Through all this information, I’ve discovered a fact that should really not be such a surprise, but it still hit me like a bat to the head.

Our Founding Fathers were imperfect human beings. The people who run our modern country are imperfect human beings. There exists both a good side and a dark side to our national heroes. Take Thomas Jefferson for example. Jefferson wrote “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” in the Declaration of Independence and then went home to the slaves he owned on his Monticello plantation.

Imperfect human beings.

So what the hell happened in 1763?

The American Revolution started.

Well, maybe not officially but that was the year the bellwether event that instigated the colonies to eventually declare their freedom occurred. On October 7, 1763, triggered by the loss of many strategic forts in the Ohio Valley that year to a loosely bound confederation of Indian tribes led by the Odawa leader, Pontiac, King George III issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763. After obtaining the land west of the Appalachian Mountains as part of their victory over the French in the French and Indian War, Great Britain attempted to appease and stop further confrontation with the Native tribes of the Ohio Valley, outlawed white settlement in those regions. The white British colonists were furious. King George III, sitting on his throne an ocean away, outlawed their expansion to the prime real estate of the frontier.  

Taxation without representation and freedom from tyranny are just a few examples we were given in history class as directly leading to the Revolution. These, however, seem to take a back seat to the accumulation of wealth emphasis by the colonists. They looked out over all those raw resources available in the new world and wanted them. Things really weren’t much different then than what we see today in America. Economics, especially lassoing as many of this new continent’s economic resources into one’s own possession, played an equal or greater role than the altruistic fight for our freedom from the oppression of King George III.

1776 was just the culmination of 13 years of frustration in the New World. 13 long years of watching the ripe apple just sit there on the western frontier inhabited by the “uncivilized” Native tribes.  

History. It’s much more fascinating when we step behind the curtain and get a look at the mechanisms behind the singular event.

Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images

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Think the 2016 Election is Bad?

Had enough of the 2016 Presidential Election? Do you think this is the craziest, most chaotic presidential election ever? In our lifetime, 2016 is definitely over-the-top insanity with our major-party-mediocrity-candidate choices. Heavy on the hate, venom, and accusations and very light on the issues but when compared to the Election of 1876, 2016 seems fairly mild.

There are similarities. A country in the wake of a tragic event drifting to polar opposites instead of joining forces for a common good. A country inching closer to being unable to sit in the same room and work to solve even the simplest of problems.

Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio for the Republicans. Samuel Tilden of New York for the Democrats. New school Republicans, fresh off their victory in the Civil War and emancipation of black slaves, vs. the old school Democrats base of the South, stinging not only from the loss of the War but from the economic hit sustained by the loss of their “free” labor force. Reconstruction in the South was a grueling process, marred by slowed progress and a lack of will for white Southerners to accept a societal change.

The election was ugly. Media was ugly. The newspapers of the time were not the “impartial” media we are used to in today’s society. The were biased and the facts were handled lightly and often created. Editorials, character attacks, and articles by Republican-leaning papers villainized Tilden. Democratic papers painted a picture of Hayes as the devil himself. Almost all these accusations had zero basis in any kind of fact or truth. It was mud-slinging that makes our ad campaigns seem mild in comparison.

The election day itself was marred by controversy. The Republicans used questionable tactics in winning three Southern states, with allegations of voter fraud being leveled by Democrats. The Democrats used fraud also, mixed with violence and intimidation practices designed to keep many black, former slave males from voting. Both sides cheated, but neither side prevailed.

Yes, you read that right. Neither side won. Or, more accurately, neither side could be declared a winner by electoral vote. Tilden won the popular vote, but Hayes kept even in electoral votes, mainly because of those possibly ill-gained electoral votes from those three Southern states. The nation was stuck.

And nobody could figure out who the next president was.

After many attempts to arrive at a conclusion failed, the powers that be formed a commission of five US Senators, five House of Representatives, and five US Supreme Court Justices to study and decide the issue. They thought the commission was neutral with 7 appointed Republicans, 7 Democrats, and one independent member. After much deliberation and study and recounting, the commissioner voted 8-7 in favor of Rutherford B. Hayes to be the 19th President of the United States.

Case solved, right?

Wrong.

Turns out the independent member of the commission was not so independent. He was a Republican and the 8 Hayes voters were all Republicans and the 7 Tilden voters were all Democrats. Partisanship at its finest.

Finally, in the week before the end of the Ulysses S. Grant’s term and the inauguration tentatively schedule in mere days, a deal was struck at the 11th hour. The Democrats would accept the results of the commission and allow Hayes to be inaugurated as president. In return, the Republicans would basically scrap the idea of Reconstruction in the South. A compromise was agreed upon.

The price of the compromise is controversial. Putting the brakes on the Reconstruction process stymied social progress and opened the door for Jim Crow policies and further entrenched racial segregation in the South. Perhaps the history of the fight for civil rights in America would have had a different face without the stopping of a Reconstruction process. Perhaps things would have turned out pretty much the same. Who knows?

So as bad as Trump/Clinton gets. As bad as two bad choices appear to be in 2016, remind yourself that our country will survive. We will move forward with all our pocks and issues and problems to continue as the best place on Earth to live.

I don’t care who you vote for. Just vote. It does matter. I will always believe that, at a minimum, voting gives one a right to complain afterward.

No voting, no crying…understand?

Remember the Election of 1876 gave us a president named Hayes. Even with the extra “e”, that’s not an all-bad thing.

Happy voting!

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Brand Rant

“Be who you are by branding who you are.”

I am fed up with one particular sports fad. Sick and tired. So over-the-top-angry it has forced me into a grumpy, “get-off-my-lawn” old man rant.

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I turned on NCAA football last Saturday. It was a Big 12 game between Texas and… 

Wait, who was that other team? The game was in Stillwater, Oklahoma so didn’t it have to be the Oklahoma State Cowboys? I couldn’t tell for sure. Eventually, I recognized some familiar OkSt names and, yes, it was Oklahoma State. Besides being orange and black, their uniforms were hardly recognizable as belonging to the Cowboys. They, like the Oregon Ducks, have gone uber crazy with alternate uniforms, helmets, and logos.

A couple of weeks ago they wore this helmet with logo.

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The week after, they wore this helmet with logo.

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In their desire to be different, they lost who they are. In their drive to be hip and cool, they became forgettable. Who they are as a brand is no longer indelible in my psyche.

Sure, in recent history, the Oregon Ducks unis can be considered as flashy. It’s just they have sacrificed a vital part of their identification in order to be whacky with the uniforms. The association with a visual that instantly brings to mind high-powered, high-octane offenses snapping the ball every 12-15 seconds, doesn’t exist for me.

Looks at this:

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I’m not a huge fan of the Texas Longhorns but when I see their uniform and when I see their helmet and logo, I immediately think about Darrel Royal and the wishbone offense, John Mackovic and the upset of the vaunted Nebraska team in the first Big 12 Championship game, or Vince Young tip-toeing into the end zone to defeat USC in the BCS National Title Game in 2006.

That’s what a brand does. It “brands” your perception of a visual image to an association of  personal memories. That’s NOT what 47 different possible uniform combinations does.

What exactly is a brand and why is it important?

As a follower of marketing expert Seth Godin, I think his basic definition of a brand comes about as close to answering the above question as any other definition I’ve read.

“A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.”

In short, having a recognizable brand pays off for your people for year after year after year.

So, please stop it!

Nike, Reebok, Adidas, Under Armor and all other apparel suppliers, help your clients with their brand, quit pushing sports programs to make your brand their brand. Last spring, I heard K-State color commentator, Stan Weber, say that Company X can’t wait for Bill Snyder to retire so they can roll out a whole line of alternate uniforms.  HEY, COMPANY X…DON”T! In fact, Company X…GO AWAY! Make shoes, sell apparel, get a stable of professional athletes to hawk your wares for you. Just stop this alternate uniform insanity.

Schools and sports programs, develop a brand and associate it with who you are as a program. Follow the lead of classics like:

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Be who you are by branding who you are.

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ROAR

Tiger Bike Night. It’s one of the highlights of our local high school football home season. Local motorcycle enthusiasts line up along the track, and, after the team walks down the line of bikes, they take a lap around the track before kickoff. It’s cool. It’s LOUD. It’s probably the closest representation of what goes on inside the head of a player at the line of scrimmage just before the ball is snapped during a game.

My favorite memory of Bike Night from the days when I still coached was the first time they ever did it. I think it was 2005 or 2006, but those details begin to fade in my aging memory. The details may fade, but the visceral feeling doesn’t (and I hope it never does.).

This Bike Night was something completely new to CCCHS. We stood outside the locker room and watched the bikes drive through the stadium gate and line up in front of the stands at the south end of Otto Unruh Stadium. There was no plan for players to interact with the bikers, so we went back into the locker room to wait for the signal for us to come out for the national anthem and player introductions.

I wish I could describe the feeling in that locker room when the riders began to rev their engines. Words will not do justice to the reaction of the body and the reaction of the fifty odd, crammed-into-a-locker room-collective-of-teenage-boys, already emotionally charged to play a football game, when they felt the roar of the bikes.
It was electric.

The player’s eyes danced as they looked to their left and right at their teammates. Tight smiles formed across the faces. Each understood what the others were feeling. The rumbling and the roar flowed through the blood spiked by the release of adrenaline. They were ready to run through the concrete walls.

Blood
Intensity
Power

Chained power in the revved engines transferred to the hearts of each and every one of us. Energy in motion. Ready to hit the opponent in the mouth with a brick. Ready to shine your shillelagh and charge onto the field. Ready to play Tiger Football the way we were supposed to play Tiger Football.

Full throttle.
Fast forward.
Balls to the wall.
Hit you like a cannon shot.
Every man, every play.

Clay Center Tiger Football. The way the game was meant to be played.

I appreciated the bike night event. The 2016 Tiger Bike Night is this Friday. I don’t know if I’ll go. I don’t know if I can feel that special ROAR again and not feel the tug on my gut that pulls unrelenting back into that world again.
That grating, tingling sense which gnaws on you like a phantom limb. Always there, yet missing. The world of competing and pushing, pulling, driving, willing over 60 kids toward a common goal each year. All this wrapped up in that visceral rumbling of dozens and dozens of bikes, each revving their engine on the most beautiful piece of real estate in the county. Our house.

Finally, if you find yourself in Otto Unruh Stadium on this Friday Night In America listening to the roar of Tiger Bike Night before the Tigers vs Goodland football game, do old Coach Hays a favor. Close your eyes and feel the ROAR. Feel it in your gut and in your chest. Close your eyes and dream of competing. Close your eyes and appreciate the community of players, coach, and fans in our little gem of a city. Then bring on the three B’s:

Bandanas
Bikers
Ball

Friday Night In America…Biker style!

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Photo courtesy of the Orange & Black Pack

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#ThatSportsParent

One of the scourges of modern youth sports is out-of-line parents. The headlines are full of incidents involving overzealous parents. Odds are, each of us can pinpoint an incident of ugly parent behavior at a sports event no matter how small a town we live in. It’s threatening the very existence of youth sports and, more importantly, taking the FUN out of the game.

But when is it okay to get involved as a parent?

“So what happens when you’re the parent that yells for your own son (good but not the star) to sit so that a few of the others on the team can get some playing time because you’re up by 10 to a way lesser team? ”

Somebody I respect greatly asked me the above question a few weeks ago. It’s a tough question to answer, but I’ll give it a try. I’ll try to answer from a coach’s perspective and try to wall off my parental perspective because Lord knows, I’ve screwed up many times on that side of this issue. I’ve been there. I’ve felt the parental frustration seep its way into my competitive fire in less than positive ways.

So, here’s my personal philosophy on sports parenting and complaints.

First and foremost, a parent should be their kid’s biggest fan, not be their sports agent. There are truly legitimate situations in which a parent should intervene on behalf of their sports child. Physical, mental, or emotional abuse from either other players or from coaches should be reported immediately. In these situations, the parent needs to be the bulldog, the protector, and jump in and refuse to back down until a resolution is achieved.

But sports parents, listen up…Depth chart and playing time and play calling probably do not fall into this category of necessary parental intervention.

I’ve always felt there are three things every parent needs to do before they get involved. They are not easy to do. A parent needs patience and the ability to wall off emotion in this context.

  1. Observe the situation from an honest viewpoint.
  2. Be honest. This can be soooo hard, especially if you have those visions of your kid being the best thing since sliced bread. Step back and take an honest look at where your kid’s talent falls in respect to the other kids.
  3. Allow your kid to handle the simple situations. Have them find out from the coach or other players where they sit and develop a plan to get better.

My playing time thoughts depend on the level of play. If it’s a varsity high school level of competition, I believe in playing as few, or as many, players as necessary for the situation. We want to be highly competitive at the varsity level. We also want to balance player/program development, situational skills we may need to groom for later use, and get game reps with new plays or skills.

The developmental level of competition, middle school, freshman, junior varsity is where I like to play everyone as equally as possible during a game. Sure, the goal is still to win the contest, but we need EVERYONE in the program learning how to do their job in order to achieve success as a team. The game situation is where we can identify individual or team areas for improvement while gaining experience. The future, both the near future or the far future, carries a higher priority at the developmental level than winning or losing. (The developmental level is where many parents allow the basic purpose to slip away and the emotions to pressurize.)

Finally, there is the private or club sports environment. This area has grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade. My only advice right now for parents in these situations is as follows:

If you, as a parent, are unhappy with a club situation, whether playing time, depth chart, game management or practice management, then I suggest talking with your kid about the situation. If it bothers your kid and/or the other kids on the team, then schedule a meeting with the coach.

Schedule this meeting at a neutral emotion time (NOT before, after, or during a game, a practice, or in a public setting.). Meet with the goal being to solve the problem, not create new problems.

If you are unhappy with the outcomes of this meeting, I suggest moving to a new situation for the next season.

If you are unhappy seek a viable alternative or take advantage of alternative solutions that are presented to you. Don’t spread your misery. Sports are too much fun to be blanketed in this negativity.

Sports can teach kids a lot about life. Allow them to learn. Allow them to develop. Allow them to understand being part of the whole is better than trying to be the whole part.

Give them the opportunity.

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