Friday, January 16, 2015

Artists and Other Athletes

The pencil drawing set sits silently, staring at me day after day mockingly daring me to pick up the pencils and try to make my hands draw what my mind sees. So far, I have been too much of a chicken to attempt it. In my attempts to learn to things, I usually am able to rise to at least the level of mediocrity. Not so with art. One look at my handwriting gives a clue to my clumsiness with my hands and any writing tool placed in them. I have failed at several attempt to draw a straight line. I mentioned my sad condition to an art teacher who advised me that I could draw if I followed advice that sounded exactly like something a basketball coach or trombone instructor would say. “keep drawing lines and circles.” She said. “Draw the same shapes repeatedly until you grow comfortable with them. Draw them slowly at first. Eventually you will build the muscle memory needed to move on to other shapes. This will take lots of practice.” This, by the way, is the same advice I have heard music instructors give all of my life. Practice long tones until the sound is pleasant. Play new pieces slowly at first so that muscle memory develops. Speed and accuracy will come with practice. It’s the same advice received when I was learning to swim competitively. Work on your balance. Slowly practice your form. Get the form right and speed and endurance will come. I mentioned to the teacher that it was the same advice athletes get. She agrees. Art is a discipline like any other. Now, I only have to conquer the fear of creating drawings any fifth grader could exceed in quality and skill.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Grace and Athletes Like Her

Grace is one of those student athletes whose name I can remember from among the thousands of faces of athletes I never even hear. It is rare that I am even introduced to an athlete by name. Mostly, I just call them “kid”. But Grace is one of those athletes I will remember not because of her athletic ability but because of her sincerity. I ran into her last night as she was preparing to play basketball for her varsity team. “Are you reffing our game?” she asked. I told her I wasn’t. I had the JV game. “Awww...” she went on. “You are a really good ref. “ “I had you in volleyball,” I repied. “I might just suck at basketball.” “I like you because you are calm and happy.” As it turned out, one of the officials for the varsity game drove her car into a ditch on the way to the game. I had to stay and ref the varsity game as well. When I lined up for the second game, she trotted over and expressed her satisfaction. Grace, and athletes like her, bring joy to the game for me. They play hard. They take their lumps. They have fun. They will occasionally object to a call, but they quickly regain focus. Afterward, they say thank you. Grace won’t be playing ball in college. At just five foot one and slight of build she doesn’t have the physical characteristics necessary for being competitive in collegiate ball. Besides, she tells me that she is ready to move on. I’m sad that I won’t be able to see her play anymore as I have for the past four years in both volleyball and basketball. She, as well as student athletes like her, has demonstrated the joy and meaning of scholastic sports.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Luree Could Make the NBA, But Us Old White Refs Will Need to Help

Basketball refs should remember the name Luree Brown. She is a Detroit native who is in her mid-twenties and one heck of a good basketball referee. With any luck, she will make the NBA as a ref. I emphasize that it will take some luck. If skill and commitment were the only requirements for climbing the ranks she would be a shoe-in to make the big show. But, there are so many more hurdles she will have to overcome as she works at the high school level that have nothing to do with her talent. The system favors middle aged white males. Referee assignments are determined by assignors who are generally middle aged (or older) men who favor seniority over talent. You may have noticed that the refs at your students' basketball games seem to be getting older and slower. This is because many assignors believe that seniority and skill are one and the same thing. Therefore, many of us will continue to referee games long after we have lost our ability to get down the court. Luree could work ten more years at the junior varsity level before getting a varsity schedule despite the fact that she would stand out as a top tier varsity official today. New referees tend to be friends with current referees. Since current refs tend to be white males, the friends they recruit tend to be other white males. And, since they are already friends, they tend not to reach outside their circles to help promote younger officials. Finally, there is no system of evaluation in the high school ranks other than coaches ratings. A talented referee easily goes unnoticed unless that ref works for an assignor who goes to games to evaluate his staff members. In my experience, I have only had one assignor show up to a game I was working. Even though Luree has the talent and presence to work higher level games, she could very well go unnoticed. Luree has worked high school ball for the past four years. For the most part, she works the middle school and junior varsity games she is assigned. I worked a men’s rec league game with her last night. Besides talent and hustle, she has the court presence to set her apart as one of the elite. Now, let’s hope she gets noticed.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

USA Volleyball and a Bad Alternator

I felt tremendously blessed in the moment and in an instant felt like I had been suddenly cursed. That moment occurred while driving home on the Ohio turnpike after becoming certified as a USA Volleyball referee. I had a long day of being evaluated by top volleyball officials in the Ohio Valley Region. The day went very well. I was halfway home, feeling the glow of success, when my headlamps dimmed and the battery light came on. My alternator had died. Now, instead of feeling blessed I was worried about being stranded on the side of the road. Circumstances can change quickly. The mind races when faced with a crisis. Barbara and I feel the post holiday financial crunch. We don’t have excess cash. I wonder if the car will make it home. What do I do if it doesn’t? What is the safest route home? How do we get through the week with one car? The car made it home. The headlamps had all but died, but I was in my driveway. As I recalled my day the feeling of being blessed returned. As we worked our budget we realized we could make it, although things will be tight for a couple weeks. We know God provides. But, we get nervous so we pray. I got offered a large officiating contract. I accepted another basketball game. I get another basketball tournament. The alternator gives out. I don’t like it but I admit that it does serve a purpose. It forces Barbara and I to get creative in how we save money this week. I bake a week’s worth of lunches for the boys. I figure that will save $20 over the cost of school lunch. They show gratitude. We reduce the satellite television package. On it goes until everything balances. Circumstances conspire to bring me from highs to lows all in the space of an hour. Faith smoothes out the highs and lows with a steady realizing that God provides and that things will all work out.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Things I Learned at School: McDonald's Will Kill You

“McDonald’s Will Kill You.” That was the message on one of the many anti-McDonalds posters lining the halls of a middle school I recently visited. The posters were an assignment accompanying the movie “Supersize Me” that is part of the health curriculum at the school. Although I believe the school sincerely promotes healthy living, this assignment offended me. I felt as if I personally had been violated. After much thought, I think I know why I was offended. The assignment inspired values that insinuated that people, like me, who ate at McDonald’s were doing something immoral by eating there. I’ve seen the movie. It chronicles a man who ate all of his meals at McDonald’s for thirty days. By the end of the month he was several pounds heavier and emotionally lethargic. By the end of the movie, I was getting nauseous at the thought of eating there. I’m an adult who can reason that eating at the golden arches once in awhile is different than eating every meal every day there. But, many sixth graders don’t have an adult reasoning ability. The point of the movie was to make young people feel bad whenever they see the arches. The way I see it, it was an attempt to damage young minds in an attempt to hurt a legitimate business. The movie and accompanying curriculum is an attack on poor people. Having been raised in poverty, I know how good it felt to go out to eat once in awhile. When I was a child, my family went to McDonald’s. It was all my parents could afford. It is all millions of people can afford. The food tastes good and it is inexpensive. One can’t argue the immorality of McDonalds without arguing the morality of those who eat there. The movie implies poor people are immoral. If McDonald’s is evil, so is pretty much every restaurant in the world. Calories are the same there as they are at any restaurant. In fact, they are the same as the ones people eat at home. Calories are not evil. People need them to survive. And, consuming excess calories on occasion is neither unhealthy nor dangerous. The school, despite its best intentions, attacks a restaurant instead of attacking a problem. The problem is portion control. The problem is lack of exercise. The problem isn’t McDonald’s. Attacking the real problem shouldn’t involve manipulating emotions and creating moral judgments about people and institutions.

Friday, January 09, 2015

A Student Athlete To Remember

Grace is one of those student athletes whose name I can remember from among the thousands of faces of athletes I never even hear. It is rare that I am even introduced to an athlete by name. Mostly, I just call them “kid”. But Grace is one of those athletes I will remember not because of her athletic ability but because of her sincerity. I ran into her last night as she was preparing to play basketball for her varsity team. “Are you reffing our game?” she asked. I told her I wasn’t. I had the JV game. “Awww...” she went on. “You are a really good ref. “ “I had you in volleyball,” I replied. “I might just suck at this.” “No, I like you because you are calm and happy.” As it turned out, one of the officials for the varsity game drove her car into a ditch on the way to the game. I had to stay and ref the varsity game as well. When I lined up for the second game, she trotted over and expressed her satisfaction. Grace, and athletes like her, bring joy to the game for me. They play hard. They take their lumps. They have fun. They will occasionally object to a call, but they quickly regain focus. Afterward, they say thank you. Grace won’t be playing ball next year in college. At just five foot one and slight of build she possess the physical characteristics necessary for being competitive in collegiate ball. Besides, she tells me that she is ready to move on. I’m sad that I won’t be able to see her play anymore as I have for the past four years in both volleyball and basketball. She, as well as student athletes like her, has demonstrated the joy and meaning of scholastic sports.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

The Substitute Teacher's Joy

I wouldn’t be a substitute teacher unless it was fun. As far as “pizza money” jobs go, you can’t be the hours, money, and independence that comes with it. Of course, there are many potential problems that come with the job, too. Today I’m having one of those days that make it worth doing. As I walked to the classroom, several students cheerfully greeted me. It felt good to know that they remembered me since I hadn’t been to this particular school in several weeks. When I arrived in the room, the teacher warmly said, “I’m really glad it’s you coming in today. The students like you.” This surprises me because I don’t think of myself as particularly friendly. I insist that students follow the plans. I don’t tolerate speaking out of turn. I tell them right at the start of the class, “Three things will turn me into the mean sub; interrupting me, making me repeat things, and showing disrespect.” In fact, I go out of my way not to appear as if I want the students to like me. This is particularly true for middle school students. I enjoy being around students, though. I am inspired by their desire to learn and discover things whether academic or not. I like the sounds of laughter. Their hurts break my heart. One young lady said, “you are my favorite sub. I’m glad you are back.” I softly growled at her, “good to see you, kid.” I am careful to keep an emotional distance. But her words do affect me. Yesterday, I was a special education learning resource room sub. I had to prod, somewhat forcefully at times, unmotivated students to do their work. I was hard on them. I challenged one particularly difficult student to finish a project that was long overdue. He fought against me the entire time but eventually finished. Afterward, I gruffly told him that if put as much effort into doing work as he did avoiding it he would be an advanced student. Then, I told him I was proud of the work he had just done. “Wow, Mr. Lester, that’s the first time anyone has said that to me.” The boy was sincere. Like I said, I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t fun. However, I won’t let it show.