Category Archives: Writes

The Silver Lining?

I love good ideas. I love problems. I love trying to figure out ways to solve problems. It’s the coach, the competitor, and the scientist in me. Some people probably say that it’s mostly the a$$hole in me but I digress.

First, a huge “THANK YOU!” to people who read my previous post, The End of an Era. It was a post about the school district’s decision to sell the iconic football stadium in Clay Center, Kansas. If you wish to share your favorite Unruh Stadium memories or histories, please add a comment on the post. I’d love to learn more from your stories!

One of the comments on the post completely blew my mind. It’s a great idea about what to do with Unruh Stadium after the school district moves out. The individual points out that since the city pretty much gave the stadium to the school district by selling it to them for one dollar, it’s only right for the school district to give it back, especially as they’ve invested very little in its physical upkeep over the years. 

Basically, the community gave USD 379 a gift in the 1990s, and perhaps it’s time for USD 379 to return the gift. 

Give it back. What an idea!

Why?

The commenter suggested that once returned to the city, the stadium could be used for public recreation. One thing that has been on many citizens’ minds over the past 15 years is the need for a real and actual Clay Center City Recreation facility in town. A group did a study a few years ago and drew up some nice plans for a facility but, if I remember correctly, the location was an identifiable problem. I agree the current stadium complex would make the perfect home for a Clay Center City Recreation facility for decades to come. 

Picture three youth soccer/flag football fields on the current football field with seating and facilities already available. Next, imagine a future recreation building/parks department office complex with courts, classrooms, and community space at the south end of the Unruh Stadium. (The area currently being developed adjacent to the Clay County Fairgrounds could be sold, shared with the Fairgrounds Board, or kept for a future city development site.) With some time, investment, and TLC, it could be a stellar recreation facility. Just as important, it’s something our capable Parks & Recreation Department could maintain.

Taking a lead from the economic benefits that the Clay Center Aquatic Park brought to the local area, an even greater economic benefit can be tapped by making Clay Center an area hub for recreation activities. Youth sports, tournaments, leagues, adult activities, exercise classes, arts and crafts, and a place for the community to be a community. 

The western corridor entering Clay Center exudes much of what Clay Center is. The Aquatic Park, Huntress Park, Schaulis Field, Montel Field, Brade’s Park & Shelter, Campbell Field, and Otto Unruh Stadium. That corridor is as identifiable with Clay Center as the Courthouse or Downtown or Utility Park. 

It’s part of what we were as a community. 

It’s part of who we are as a community. 

It’s part of what the community will become.

Silver linings can be found in every cloud. One just has to be willing to rip the cloud apart sometimes to find them.

Finally, one also has to be willing to sit down, talk to people, and exchange ideas to solve even the most daunting of problems together.

That, my friends, is how communities move forward in a positive manner.

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The End of the Era

The USD 379 Board of Education is moving forward on building a new football stadium and selling Otto Unruh Stadium. Unruh Stadium will likely be demolished as the land becomes a commercial venture. It’s a sad day for Clay Center and for an iconic community structure but we look forward with reserved optimism to what the future holds.

If my memory serves me, the City of Clay Center transferred stadium ownership to the school district for $1.00 sometime in the 1990s. Basically, the city (the community) gifted the iconic structure to the school district since they were the site’s primary users. 

I regret not trying harder over the past twenty years to convince USD 379 school boards and administrators to be better stewards of their stadium site. I apologize for not being a better advocate of Otto Unruh Stadium and demanding better from our local leadership. 

I dropped the ball on doing my part to improve things and rally community support for action. Several times while working at Campbell Field I’d walk past the rag-tag, chain link fence entrance at the south end of the football stadium and get totally pissed off at how bad it looked. If you’ve been to Unruh Stadium, you know this fence. It’s been bad since I attended my first Tiger Football home game in 1994. (Mini Rant: Couldn’t we have spent $20-30,000 at some time to have an exceptional local masonry company put in matching limestone walls and gates or, better yet, a limestone arch entry/ticket booth extension ramping up to an ADA-compliant seating area?)

Being pissed off on these occasions, I’d resolve to go to Stuart Administration Center and ask the superintendent to quit complaining about all that’s wrong with Unruh Stadium and do something right for the facility. I never did. I’m disappointed in myself for not taking a stand for our facilities and demanding more from the tax dollars being banked in the district’s capital outlay fund. 

Unruh Stadium is just a sports field. In the grand scheme of things, sports are not, and shouldn’t be, one of the top five priorities of a school district or a community. Nevertheless, Otto Unruh Stadium is a sports field that has deep meaning and history for our community. As the legend goes, it was built brick by brick by Clay Center citizens from locally-quarried limestone and funded as part of a WPA-related project.

The basic coaching tenet and philosophy “Brick by Brick”, which guided the latter half of my nine seasons as a Tiger Football coach, was based on the history and design of Unruh Stadium. To this day, I firmly believe we build better athletes, teams, and communities, and do better and deeper work when we create better bricks and build one brick at a time.

I’d hazard to guess I’ve spent more time in the shadow of Otto Unruh Stadium than many folks. As a fan, parent, coach, strength & conditioning coach, graduation speaker, baseball field volunteer, tour guide, etc. I’ve had a lot of experiences there. 

I’ve cheered in the stands, yelled at officials, been penalized, lost heartbreaker games, chased foul balls, won thrilling victories, dealt with gut-wrenching injuries, and ran the stadium stairs in Unruh. 

I’ve been a baton dad, band dad, proud dad, and a dad watching his kids learn to ride bikes there.

I’ve given tours to first graders and ended each tour with a session of top-of-our-lungs primal screaming underneath the stadium. I’ll never forget the pure joy and the smiles on the kids’ faces as our screams echoed off the walls. 

I’ve seen hundreds of senior pictures, team pictures, and family pictures taken against the backdrop of the stadium’s limestone walls.

I’ve dodged tornadoes, thunderstorms, power outages, sleet at March baseball games, and long 110°F summer American Legion tournament days inside the protection of Unruh Stadium.

I’ve “felt” the roar of the Tiger Bike Night event from the home locker room prior to a Tiger Friday Night in America football game.

I’ve “Touched the Sign”.

Many who read this will say, “Hays, you’re just a sappy, pigheaded, and sentimental old fool who needs to get with the times.” Maybe so. Oh hell, I’m about the sappiest, most pigheaded, and mega-sentimental old fool out there! It’s okay, though, because it drives my passion and sometimes drives that passion a touch too far. 

However, I’m also one who can recognize and see the potential in the people and the places we have in our community. I know the value of responsible leadership, the value of responsible tax dollar expenditures, and the responsibilities inherent in elected, paid, or volunteer public service. 

The ultimate trust must be earned by consistent action, not lip service. Lose the public trust and lose the ability to lead.

Good luck to USD 379 and to the Tiger Legacy supporters as we move forward on the new stadium project. Brick by brick. 

I’ll leave with one nugget of sports field wisdom I’ve learned over the years through time, trial, and toil:

Sports fields are easy to build. Sports fields are hard to maintain.

It’s up to us, the Clay County community, to be better stewards and demand better stewardship of our new and shiny things as well as our older and time-worn things. We cannot afford to sit back as we watch our community’s gifts deteriorate by design, lack of will, or lack of resources by our leadership.

Tiger Family always!

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Red Beans, Rice, and Teenage Stupidity

Parents of teenagers, it’s midsummer and there’s a decent chance your teenage children might be on the edge of driving you mad. Teenagers have a knack for that. However, I’m here to tell you it’s perfectly normal not only for you to feel like blowing your lid but for teenagers to act with head-scratching stupidity. This is particularly true in the summertime. School’s out, no need to use all the brain at any given time, right? 

This will pass. Teenagers and the inherent behavior that defies all logic passes. Trust me. Despite being considered an average, well-adjusted adult of almost 58 years by most of society’s standards, I was once deeply entrenched in the world of teenage stupidity.

I was reminded of this tonight when I opened the pantry door. Staring at me from eye level was a can of red beans next to a box of rice. It immediately took me back to the winter of 1979 when I was a sophomore in high school. I went out one Saturday night with two senior linemen from the football team, Bruce and Ivan. These two guys, along with the other offensive linemen from that previous fall, were my idols. Man, those guys could block like SOBs. I tried to emulate what they did and how they went about their business. They were big, athletic, smart, and ornery as hell. My kind of people.

On this particular Saturday night, there was nothing to do. It was one of those dark and cold Kansas winter nights where there’s not a whole hell of a lot going on. We drove around and hit all the hangout spots which, just a few months ago, would have been packed with high school kids celebrating beautiful autumn nights. Each hangout was abandoned to the frigid elements. Bruce said, “You know what we should do?” I looked at him skeptically. Ivan shook his head expecting something which may or may not end up getting us in trouble. “We should make red beans and rice.”

Ivan looked at him sideways and said with his Polish accent, “You mean like the New Orleans red beans and rice? Cajun food?”

“That’s the one.”

I had no clue what they were talking about. I’m from a large Irish/Croatian Catholic family and my dad was a meat and potatoes guy by nature. Italian food and tacos were about as exotic as the Hays family went.  Red beans and rice could have been from Mars and I wouldn’t have known any better. Being the youngest member of the trio, though, I was allowed to ask stupid questions. “Bruce, do you know how to make these red beans and rice?”

“Of course I do. How hard can it be? Red beans and rice. The recipe is right there in the name.”

I shrugged. Ivan shrugged. Sounded logical enough.

Bruce pulled into the nearest grocery store, hopped out of the car, and jogged through the frigid air to the front door. In a few minutes, the automatic door opened, and out he came carrying one brown paper grocery sack with a huge smile on his face. He tossed the sack onto my lap in the back seat. I looked inside. One box of rice and two cans of red beans. Bruce put the car in reverse. “I hope you boys are hungry.”

Now, when you’re hanging out with Bubbas, hunger level never needs to be asked or addressed. With Bubbas, hunger is assumed. With visions of a Cajun delicacy dancing through my head, we drove to Ivan’s house for culinary magic. A boring Saturday night just took a 180° turn for the better.

Bruce carefully measured the water to boil and Ivan took care of prepping the proper amounts of rice from the box. I was in charge of the red beans. Two cans. No problem. My can opener skills were well-honed from years of kitchen duty and the red beans were soon ready. The rice cooked on the stove as we talked with lame, southern Louisianan accents while watching puffs of steam occasionally rise from under the pot lid. 

Images of Mardi Gras, one of the few things I knew about New Orleans or Cajun life, danced in my head. A subzero winter night in Kansas City morphed into a parade down Bourbon Street. Now all we needed to complete the vibe was just about ready. Red beans and rice.

Bruce’s watch timer dinged and he dumped the red beans into the rice pot. He stirred and covered the pot again. “Ivan, get out the plates while these beans warm up.” 

With everything ready, healthy portions were dished out. Bruce took a bite. Ivan took a bite. I took a bite. There were no colorful dancers, no jazz bands, no beads being tossed. Instead of a Cajun flavor explosion, our red beans and rice tasted like a chunk of Bourbon Street pavement. Ugh. Not good. 

Our red beans and rice tasted exactly like red beans and white rice. Duh. Who knew a spicy, Cajun dish would actually need…spices? Idiots. 

I still enjoy a good laugh forty-plus years later thinking about this act of teenage stupidity. In the ensuing years, I’ve discovered how awesome authentic red beans and rice are, especially the red beans and rice they used to serve at the Hibachi Hut in Manhattan’s Aggieville. As far as making further attempts to cook red beans and rice, I’ll leave that to my wife, Zatarain’s, or professionals for now. Maybe one of these days, I’ll recover from youthful stupidity and give homemade red beans and rice a shot. With spices this time, for damn sure!

Parents with teenagers who are currently doing ridiculous things, take a deep breath. Count to ten. Smile at your teenage offspring and envision a day when they too will be productive adults. All things must pass. And remember, it’s perfectly normal to laugh hysterically on the inside as you visualize the possibility the ridiculous teenager standing in front of you attempting to explain some recent head-scratching behavior may one day have teenagers of their own. 

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What and Why?

I went to see my mom for the first time in a long while last week. She lives in a really nice assisted living apartment two and a half hours away from where I live. She’s in her upper 80s and doesn’t move around very well. As is probably a common theme across similar situations over the past two years, the pandemic times have taken a toll on her wellness. 

We had a good visit. I talk with her at least weekly on the phone and we tell stories about our household adventures when we six Hays kids were growing up. We laugh a lot about the old days. Although talking on the phone is a very good thing, it’s still nice to be able to see her in person.

Of course, during the visit last week, we laughed and told the stories as usual. She told me she was trying to learn to paint after they had a painting class a few weeks earlier. We watched the TV (an X-Files movie!) and she had her usual, highly entertaining running commentary, which let me tell you is even a whole higher level of entertaining during a science fiction story. Classic stuff. I wish you could have been there.

During our phone or face-to-face visits, we inevitably end up heading toward a tough conversation. Mom will turn a little sullen and say. “Michael, every morning I wake up and ask God why he keeps me here and what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Tough questions. They’re tough questions I’m never really prepared to answer and it leaves a hole in my gut. I often reply, “I don’t know.”

We had that conversation last week. I once again answered that I didn’t know. After a few minutes of contemplation, we were back to the movie and making fun of aliens buried under Antarctica. The movie ended, we said our goodbyes, and I headed home.

During the drive home, I couldn’t shake that conversation. I couldn’t shake the emptiness at not being able to provide an answer that could give my mother some peace of mind.

God, what am I supposed to be doing?

Today the answer hit me. It hit me in church during the funeral of one of the most selfless, kind, and giving individuals in our small town. His life was all about finding the things that needed to be done and then doing them humbly. He led a purpose-driven life at its very best.

The answer was right there all along in with my mom’s hard questions.

God keeps us here in order to find the things we’re supposed to be doing.

We are given the gift of a day. It’s up to us to find the best way to spend it. It’s up to us to find ways to be the best stewards of our world and our communities that we can be.

God keeps us here in order to find the things we’re supposed to be doing.

Thank you Mom for the question.

Thank you Dennis for a life well-lived. 

Thank you, God, for the gift of today.

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Normal?

What is normal?  Normal is yesterday and last week and last month taken together.’ – Lord Vetinari from Snuff by Terry Pratchett

Since the COVID pandemic hit in early 2020, people have lamented the desire to return to “normal”.

Normal. What is it? How do we define it? Is “normal” even a real thing?

We slosh through today hoping the experiences of all our yesterdays equip us to get through the day. If our experience isn’t enough, then we have to work at it, we have to find a way to navigate the challenges. We learn.

As soon as today is done, it becomes yesterday. It’s in the past and added to the memory banks, which are, in a way, our experience tank. The tank of experience is our normal. As Terry Pratchett says through his character Lord Vetinari, normal is the giant rubber band ball made from adding one rubber band a day. 

And being humans, we like to think we and our extensive experience tanks of normal are how everything in the future should be. We take comfort in believing we are in total and complete control. We aren’t.

So the overwhelming desire for things to return to “normal” is a fool’s errand. As I’ve written before, we are improbable beings moving at 492, 126 miles per hour through space. We are not in total and complete control. We are, however, blessed with our experience tanks. We have the tools to overcome the unknowns of tomorrow if we have the will to do the work.

We can’t move forward through tomorrow if our will is desperately hanging onto the “normal” in our heads. We stagnate. We fail to solve the problems that inevitably pop up on a daily basis. Normal is how you got through until yesterday. Normal can be part of getting through tomorrow but it can’t force the future to be the past.

In writing, the final resolution of a story, the ending, is sometimes referred to as the “new normal”. Something happens in the story that changes the character for good or bad. The events of the past lead to navigating the future. The events of the past aren’t the future.

Can you imagine how riveting the Harry Potter books would have been if life never left the room under the stairs and stepped out to navigate an unknown and scary new tomorrow? That series would have sold about 50 books instead of millions.

To make a long story short(er), don’t obsess about a return to “normal” as we traverse another day through a major life shift of a global pandemic. Do your best to get through today, bank that in your experience tank, and then attack tomorrow. 

Learn from yesterday. Use the knowledge to navigate today. Put it all together to attack the future. 

What is normal?

It’s what we make it to be.

But first, we need to leave the room under the stair.

formulanone from Huntsville, United States, CC BY-SA 2.00, via Wikimedia Commons

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Memory Banks

Buffalo Bills @ Kansas City Chiefs
AFC Divisional Playoffs
January 23, 2022
Arrowhead Stadium
Kansas City, MO

Wow! What a game between the Bills and the Chiefs!

The greatest game in NFL playoff history?

The greatest total QB performance by both Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes?

Who’s to judge? I’m biased so I am a resounding “YES!” On both counts.

I tried to sleep after the game. I was beat. Worn out from a head cold and from sitting on pins and needles for hours watching the game. Okay, I was also worn out from yelling at the TV but I’ll rant about that in a later post.

I tried to sleep. Monday morning and work were staring me in the face. I needed sleep. I knew I had to trick my mind into a relaxing slumber so I pulled up a book I’m reading on orbital mechanics. Thirty minutes into reading about eccentricity and inclination and the argument of periapsis, I was not only not tired but I was actually getting really fired up about eccentricity, inclination, and the argument of periapsis. The Chiefs’ game adrenaline was still flowing.

I gave up on trying to read myself to sleep so I contemplated the game. There was a nagging familiarity during the game that jostled my memory banks. A pleasant familiarity I couldn’t quite put a finger on during the excitement of the game.

But as I lay there in bed staring at the ceiling with the joy of the unlikeliest of Chiefs’ victories being a real and tangible victory, that specific memory came rushing back.

It happened in the early 1970s. I was watching the Vikings play the Rams from the LA Coliseum on TV from Kansas City, KS. It was a beautiful, late afternoon, Southern California day. I was, and still am, a fan of the game of football so the 8-10-year-old me was soaking in all the NFL action he could find. The young me couldn’t get enough football when it was football season, baseball when it was baseball season, or basketball when it was basketball season. It was, and still is, a blessing and a curse.

Fran Tarkenton was the quarterback for the Vikings and Roman Gabriel was the quarterback for the Rams that day. What I remember is those two great QBs of my childhood throwing long passes up and down the field in an amazing offensive game. Gabriel would drop back, set his feet, and launch a rainbow of a pass that seemed to clear the upper rim of the Coliseum. Next, Tarkenton would employ his textbook scramble, moving 30 or more yards to avoid the fierce Fearsome Foursome pass rushers and let the ball fly downfield for a completion.

Burned in the memory is this pattern of incredible passing feats that went back and forth the entire game. Bomb after bomb after bomb. It probably didn’t happen this way but that is how the kid-generated memory reads in my 57-year-old mind. The memory may not be 100% accurate, but in my memory banks, it’s 100% spectacular even after all these years. It’s a feeling of pure, youthful sports joy I hope I never outgrow.

Why do I share this 1970s football memory with you? Because I hope the young kids who watched the Bills play the Chiefs on January 23, 2022, burn the memory into their memory banks like I did in the early 1970s. I hope when they’re 57, the near-perfect performance of Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes in a game for the ages rushes back and puts a smile on their faces.

That’s what sports are all about. Magic and memory.

Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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Happy New Year 2022!

The Priestly Blessing

The LORD said to Moses:  
“Speak to Aaron and his sons and tell them:  
This is how you shall bless the Israelites.
Say to them:  
The LORD bless you and keep you!  
The LORD let his face shine upon      
you, and be gracious to you!  
The LORD look upon you kindly and      
give you peace!

So shall they invoke my name upon the Israelites,  
and I will bless them.”

Numbers 6: 22-27

Sunrise, Kansas, Nov. 2021, Sometimes you just have to pull over & appreciate.

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A Words Look: Texas In My Rear View Mirror by Mac Davis

I hadn’t heard this song for years but the line, “And when I die you can bury me in Lubbock Texas in my jeans”, popped into my head the other day for no particular reason. The mind is a weird thing—an amalgamation of stored experiences, thoughts, and dreams. I was thinking about home and found homes and adopted homes and how all three meld together to form your true home. To me, now on the downslope to sixty years on this planet, that single line from this great 1980 song defines the essence of what true home means.

Mac Davis could do just about anything in the entertainment business. Songwriter of such  megahits as Elvis’ In the Ghetto, I Believe in Music recorded by a whole slew of people, Baby Don’t Get Hooked on Me, and the late-night, driving home from a party anthem, Lord It’s Hard to Be Humble. Singer/songwriter of many popular hits and albums over a twenty-year career. He also acted. Over his long acting career, he starred in the 1979 movie, North Dallas Forty, hosted his own variety show, appeared in several TV shows, including a hosting gig for an episode of The Muppet Show, and was a voice-over talent in a handful of popular animated series. He could pull off just about anything and do it with his mix of down-home personality and general likeability. 

For some reason, probably because he did so many things well and did them in his own easy-going style, Mac Davis was never really given the credit he deserved for the talent he exhibited. He died in November of 2020 from complications after heart surgery. 

This song, Texas in My Rear View Mirror, will always be in my top 100 songs. It means as much to me now as it did in my 1980s crazy-ass youth. It’s about true home. Something I’ve been lucky enough to find and something I hope to never take for granted. Because every day, “ the vision was getting clearer in my dream”.

Texas in My Rear View Mirror by Mac Davis

I was just fifteen and out of control lost to James Dean and rock and roll
I knew down deep in my country soul that I had to get away
Hollywood was a lady in red who danced in my dreams as I tossed in bed
I knew I’d wind up in jail or dead if I have to sta
y

I thought happiness was Lubbock Texas in my rearview mirror
My mama kept calling me home but I just did not want to hear her
And the vision was getting clearer in my dream

So I let out one night in June stoned on the glow of the Texas moon
Humming an old Buddy Holly tune called Peggy Sue (pretty, pretty Peggy Sue)
With my favorite jeans and a cheap guitar, I ran off chasing a distant star
If Buddy Holly could make it that far then I figured I could too

I thought happiness was Lubbock Texas in my rearview mirror
My mama kept calling me home but I just did not want to hear her
And the vision was getting clearer in my dream

But the Hollywood moon didn’t smile the same old smile that I’d grown up with
The lady in red just wanted my last dime
And I cried myself to sleep at night too dumb to run too scared to fight
And too proud to admit it at the time

So I got me some gigs on Saturday night not much more than orchestrated fights
I’d come home drunk and I tried to write but the words came out all wrong
Hellbent and bound for a wasted youth too much gin and not enough vermouth
And no one to teach me to seek the truth before I put an end to this song

I still thought happiness was Lubbock Texas in my rearview mirror
My mama kept calling me home but I just could not, would not hear her
And the vision was getting clearer in my dream

Well I thank God each and every day for giving me the music and the words to say
I’d never had made it any other way he was my only friend
Now I sleep a little better each night and when I look in the mirror in the morning light
The man I see was both wrong and right he’s going home again

I guessed happiness was Lubbock Texas in my rearview mirror
But now happiness was Lubbock Texas growing nearer and dearer
And the vision was getting clearer in my dream

And I think I finally know just what it means
And when I die you can bury me in Lubbock Texas in my jeans

Songwriters: Mac Davis
Texas in My Rear View Mirror lyrics © BMG Rights Management

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Christmas Chaos

There are many great Christmas memories of growing up in the Hays Household. Most of these memories are not tied to any particular gifts or presents. When you are a family of eight surviving month to month on a public employee’s salary, materialism plays a prominent role only in dreams. Nevertheless, we were unbelievably happy for the most part. 

Nothing is better around the last week or so of December than to be stuck inside a house with four brothers and one sister. I’m sure my mother recalls these times through rose-colored glasses and neglects the reality of the chaos which ensued but the chaos is what made these great memories. The fights over electric football frustration (Yes, electric football was absolute frustration for a child by its very design.), who played with whose toys, who ate the reserved piece of pie tucked in the back corner of the fridge behind the vegetables, etc. The list goes on and on.

I’m sure when Madison Avenue set out to create the idyllic American Christmas with smiling families drinking punch and singing carols around a fire while opening expensive but thoughtful gifts they did not have the Hays Family in mind. Who uses the wooden nutcracker as a brotherly torture challenge to see how much pressure one could take on their thumb? What houses tumble into complete pandemonium over whose turn it is to turn on the light inside the 15” plastic Santa decoration? Not many, I would guess. Certainly no houses in the Madison Avenue plan.

This year there are two Christmas memories making me smile. The first is povitica. It is a sweet bread made by my Croatian great aunts, my grandmother, and my mother. It is a wonderful food. It’s also one of the few Croatian traditions we have left. Povitica is a mixture of melted butter, walnuts, and sugar spread over a thin layer of bread dough. The bread dough is folded over and over upon itself (which is a beautiful, synchronized dance when performed by elderly Croatian women) until it fits neatly into a bread pan. The finished product is heavenly. Where bread is usually orderly and structured, a loaf of povitica is swirls of bread layers and filling layers becoming a thing both chaotic and beautiful. To this day, when I bite into a piece of Strawberry Hill Povitica on any occasion, holiday or otherwise, the taste chaos brings with it memories of my Croatian ancestry. Good memories. Chaos that warms the soul. 

The second Christmas memory is of a plywood Santa cutout. I have no recollection of where we got this thing. Perhaps it came from a relative’s storage cleanout, I don’t know. It was about four feet tall. It had an old color printing scheme of white, red, and a kind of pea-ish green. The colored, thick cardboard print of Santa was tacked with small nails onto a cut 1/4” piece of plywood. It would often be stuck against the wall between the Christmas tree and the television set in the living room. This Christmas memory, however, is not of the Santa cutout but about projectiles and homemade weaponry.

I went through a period where it seemed like a great idea to create missiles out of paper clips to be shot from rubber band launchers. It was fun, I guess, to fire the projectiles at increasing velocities from thick and larger rubber bands. We were sons of an engineer if that helps explain anything. It turns out, however, that siblings do not like to be forced to take cover or be struck by high-velocity paper clips shaped like arrowheads. I was forced into coming up with a better target than my family members for practice and experimentation. Hence, the Santa cutout. 

After several strikes, I noticed the paper clips left a mark on the paper. I should have stopped to avoid a verbal thrashing from my mother but…science called! I began to wrap the business ends of the paper clips with masking tape. Success! The mark on jolly, old Saint Nick was barely visible, plus the “THUMP!” made when the missile found its mark was now barely audible. Success!

After all these years, that sound still brings a smile to my face. Chaos created with siblings diving out of the firing line. Chaos in placing Santa at various positions in the house for a little variety. Chaos in the memory of, not only how lucky I was to have never shattered the TV screen into a million useless shards of glass, but of the fun of growing up in the family I grew up in. 

Chaos and order. That’s the core of Christmas. It is a birth from the chaos we celebrate. A birth that brought the Savior into the world while the family’s own world was tumbling into chaos. Christmas is the turning from dark to light. It is hope inside a nutshell to be cracked with a wooden nutcracker exerting about as much pressure as it took to make my little brother’s thumb throb with enough pain to make him tap out. There is light after the dark. This is hope amidst despair.

There is beauty in the chaos of our life. Every, single day.

Merry Christmas! 

Happy Holidays to all!

The actual wooden nutcracker we used as a thumbscrew.

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The Ball Will Find You

There’s this weird and strange thing in sports. I’ve witnessed it as a player, a coach, and as a fan. I saw it quite often while coaching baseball and football, especially at the JV level. You put a player into the game at a critical junction for any number of good reasons like an injury substitution, playing time, or just a hunch. Inevitably, the ball will be hit in their direction, they’ll get targeted as a defensive back against the opponent’s best receiver, or the ball will find it’s way into their hands for the last second do-or-die shot. This scenario seems to play out with great frequency. The ball will find you.

From the highest office in the land to the lowest levels of sports, it’s important to put the people in place to get the job done. If you don’t, errors occur, mistakes are made, and systems devolve into chaos. But why? 

Because the ball will always find you. 

The negative results we often see are an effect caused by incompetence in addressing each and every situation. In short, like the third-string, sophomore right fielder seeing his first varsity action in the late innings of a state playoff game, people get put into situations that are over their heads. They neither have the tools or the experience to react with competence. 

Personally and professionally, I’m a firm believer in the old adage, “You are only as strong as your weakest link”. Weak links are holes in the ship and the holes are always most vulnerable, especially in a crisis. Holes sink ships. Weak links sink organizations, teams, and systems.

This is why when it’s time for you to make a decision, cast a vote, or trust someone with a job, you need to consider if that person is up for the job. Who’s going to get the job done and who’s going to be the weak link in a system? Who’s going to be the one who, as President Theodore Roosevelt most aptly said, will “Speak softly and carry a big stick” and who’s going to be as we said back in the day, “All blow and no show.”

The choice is up to you. 

But always remember that whomever you support, honestly evaluate whether they are capable of performing the required duties in a responsible manner. 

Because they will be tested. They need to be ready to up their game and be prepared to take on the tasks at hand. 

The ball always finds them. 

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Filed under Coaching, Rants, Reads, Writes