Archive for August 2016

Coaching Twelve Year Old Football Rookies

August 31, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             August 31, 2016

                          

Yesterday was the first game for the Timberview Middle School Timberwolves 7th Grade football team. Thirty-one excited twelve year olds boarded the yellow school bus for the slow forty minute ride to one of the southern schools in our league. Most of them even had their uniforms on correctly!

With their blue game pants and blue jerseys on this is still the greenest group of kids I’ve ever coached! Most of them are more familiar with Madden 2016 than what a Spread Formation looks like. There are some powerful thumbs in this group, but have them drop and do push-ups and you quickly realize that the power begins and ends in the big digits.

This “green” blue team is a great group of kids, and I love coaching with Coach Steve Achor, but we knew we weren’t ready for our first game. Lightning had forced us inside so much in our first week that we had only been able to have three days of player to player contact. Understand that those three days included the coaching discoveries of who even wanted to tackle and who wanted to just hang out by the water cooler as we were tackling. Middle school football always has kids who just aren’t totally convinced they want to be there. It sounded good to them upfront, with the uniforms being sharp and all, but once the contact started and a few of those hot August afternoons in full football pads arrive, the scent of uncertainty becomes as profound as the odor in the boy’s locker room.

A few years ago I had a player who was in his first year of playing football. He was never entirely convinced that it was a good thing to do. One day in practice he was playing cornerback and was so close to the sideline he looked like a pony trying to make a break for the open range. I said to him, “Teddy (Not his real name)! Come on in some closer to the play! There’s no one over there!” He looked at me, and with his high-pitched voice said, “No! I’m okay out here!”

And so we traveled with excitement and uncertainty. More than half of our squad had never played football before. Several of them are not tall enough to ride roller coasters at the amusement parks yet. Several others would be too timid to ride a roller coaster yet. Last Friday we had a controlled intra-squad scrimmage…after the lightning storm had passed and we were allowed to go outside! It gave some of our players a warped idea of how good they were, as the first-team running backs kept running for touchdowns against the second unit defense. Could it be this easy? Players answer: Yes! Coaches’ answer: No! No! No!

The plan was to keep the play calling simple. Amazingly no turnovers happened the whole game. On the other hand, every play had something that needed correcting. The good thing about first games is they show you so many things that need to be worked on in practice.

The final score was 28-8, and the home team’s last TD came in the last minute of the game. My back-up quarterback had to play the last quarter. Let me emphasize…my back-up quarterback who I had just discovered in an informal conversation the day before to have played some quarterback and had not practiced that position yet…yes, that back-up quarterback…had to play the last quarter. We scored our touchdown at the beginning of that quarter on a seventy yard sweep run. I sent the play in for the two-point conversion, and quickly noticed everyone standing around in confusion. I yelled “Let’s go! Let’s go!”, and I heard one player say “Coach, we’re missing Brandon!” Brandon is the back-up quarterback. He had been watching Peyton Manning too much, and Peyton Manning was never in for the PAT. Welcome to middle school football!

But you know something! I love coaching these kids! Coach Achor and I have the unique privilege and opportunity to teach them about the game and life, to help them experience what it means to be a team with ups and downs, trials and successes. Bottom line: I am truly blessed!

What Would You Sell Your Convictions For?

August 29, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            August 29, 2016

                         

I was born in eastern Kentucky…Winchester, to be exact…so the story that came out last week about vote-selling in several eastern Kentucky counties isn’t that surprising to me. There’s a certain desperation in the lives of impoverished people that makes the exercising of our right to vote a lower priority than surviving another week.

In case you missed it, there have been several convictions of people who have bought votes in various Kentucky elections for $25 to $50 a vote. But Kentucky isn’t the only state that has had to deal with vote-selling. In West Virginia a county sheriff would show up at people’s homes and tell them who to vote for. Evidently, having the gun-toting sheriff show up at your home was motivation enough for people. In Tennessee one candidate would buy a vote for a pint of whiskey.

As our American history gets further away from the stories of those who sacrificed everything for freedom it could be that what was once important will not be viewed as valuable. After all, stealing elections is not that hard in counties where only twenty to thirty percent of registered voters vote. The indifference towards casting a voter’s ballot is a troubling trend.

There are some threads of connection between vote-selling and faith-selling. Just as the freedom to vote is at the core of our democracy the Lordship of Christ is at the core of who we are as Christians. It is the “why” of our faith! As people become less knowledgeable about the Bible it is also the “why” that gets glazed over.

“What I get out of it” becomes a more important question than “why do I believe this?” Self-interests trumps sacrifice. Having convictions is never because of convenience. Convictions, faith convictions that is, are because of our belief in a cause that we know is necessary to fall in line behind. The cause becomes our defining point. It’s the first domino and everything falls in line behind it.

How important is it to me? Just as their are American citizens who sell their vote for a pint of whiskey there are church-going Christians who stay true to their convictions until a better offer comes their way. At that point what they really value is no longer hidden behind their backs…and they don’t feel bad about it!

 

Surrendering To A Head Cold

August 27, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            August 27, 2016

                               

Like dark clouds appearing over Pike’s Peak, I could feel it coming on yesterday! A head cold!  I think I’d rather have a hemorrhoid than a head cold, but this isn’t “Let’s Make A Deal!”, and I didn’t get to choose between Door Number 1 and Door Number 2.

I hear the phrase quite often, “Fighting a cold!” There’s probably some legitimate remedies that we soldiers of life can follow for that to happen, but for me it seems to be more “surrendering to a cold.” I just give in…let it do its thing…and pick up the scattered tissues afterwards.

I was talking to Sara, one of my local Starbucks employees and mother of three, yesterday morning and she mentioned how two of her kids had been out of school this week with colds. Maybe she planted the seed in my head, but it seemed like I started feeling a little tightness in my throat at that moment. By the end of football practice that afternoon my throat had a slight dryness to it, but I was hoping that was just connected to the amount of “corrected instruction” I had to do during the practice. By the end of dinner last night there was no question what my problem was. I checked our supply of tissue boxes before I went to bed.

This morning I’m sitting at my spot in Starbucks and every once in a while it feels like a bug is crawling down out of my left nostril. Thank God, it isn’t! But it is a nasal discharge, or, in middle school student language, snot! My voice makes me sound like Marlon Brando in The Godfather.

My white flag has gone up! I’ve surrendered! In a couple of days this culprit will get tired of me and move on, leaving me to pick up the pieces. Sometimes we just have to give in and give up, and write a blog post about the experience. I’ll surrender to my bed for a time of rest this afternoon, read a book, whine a little bit to Carol who will say how sorry she is…and then she’ll resume watching the Cubs game on TV. I’ll get a cup of hot tea and drink it with my pinky extended. I’ll make sure we have some Nyquil for bedtime to supplement another cup of tea, this time Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime blend. Like the inevitability of Finals Week for a college student, I’ll just get through it!

Head colds are direct consequences for the many times we’ve been head cases. They remind us that we’re fallen creatures living in the midst of other fallen creatures. I guest taught a seventh grade health class this week. The subject matter was “Nasty Habits That Mess With our Health.” One of the nasty habits was not covering our mouth and nose when we sneeze. the alarming statistic was that “snot” comes out of our nose and mouth at a hundred miles an hour and travels ten feet. Watch out! If I’m around my grandson, who hasn’t mastered the habit of sneezing in the bend of his elbow, I can easily get sprayed. It’s like getting slimed in a Ghostbusters movie. I don’t get upset. It is what it is!

The level of tissues in my Kleenex box is going down rapidly. Where does all this fluid in my nostrils come from? Why do es my head feel like a beachball? Why does it feel like I have to urinate every fifteen minutes? Why? Why? Why?

Forget the questions! I’m just surrendering to the reality…and thinking fondly of hemorrhoids!

Guest Teaching Middle School Physical Education

August 24, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             August 24, 2016

                     

My first day and a half of “guest teaching”…a.k.a. substitute teacher…got kicking this week in two different schools teaching physical education. What a hoot!

Are middle school students hilarious or what? Yes…yes…I know, some of them are obnoxious and will do anything for attention. Some of them would rather be sitting outside the Assistant Principal’s office waiting in one of the Death Row chairs than being in math class! Some of them…many of them…feel uncomfortable in their bodies at that point, from the ones who aren’t tall enough yet to ride the roller coasters to the ones who got double doses of height and size at early ages. But still, I receive so much writing material from being with middle school students!

“Coach Wolfe, are you teaching our P.E. class today?” asked the seventh grade boy with the high-pitched voice and a mouth full of braces.

“You got it!”

He smiled wide showing the extent of the work of his orthodontist. I wasn’t sure if he was excited that I was subbing, or excited that he had a guest teacher who was a P.E. class rookie!

Physical Education class first thing in the morning reveals who slept until the very last minutes before coming to school and who are the morning butterflies, already flapping their wings with energy. Monday’s lesson plans started with a period of kickball. We marched out to the field and established the ground rules: no spitting, no tripping one another, no acting like a jerk, no apathy…okay, strike that one! Some middle schoolers dress themselves in “uninterested” when they get up in the morning.

I divided the students into two teams trying to gauge talent levels and make the two squads as equal as possible. Note to self: At eight o’clock in the morning middle school students are not that interested in the teams being fair. They are much more interested in being social than being kickball phenomenons! They are much more interested in talking to one another than they are in answering questions posed by the teacher. Even outstanding plays that showed athleticism were met with indifference. Mistakes, however, were razzed and ridiculed.

It was picture day, that one day when each student gets their photo taken. Therefore, as the kickball game continued some students put the brakes on their interest and effort. They were the ones who were overly concerned about appearance. Looking good for their picture pose was more important than movement towards a kicked flyball. No one will remember the score of the first period kickball game, but that picture!…they will have tp live with that picture for the rest of their lives!

The questions started! “How much more time before we go in?” “Do I have to keep playing?” “Do I have to still kick, because I really don’t want to?”

When answers to questions did not fit into the desired responses that the student wanted to hear the excuses started rising to the surface. “I don’t feel very good. Can I sit out for a little while?” “My ankle hurts!” Amazingly the afflicted were quickly healed as class was coming to an end!

And just so I wasn’t getting the idea that these middle school students were different than the norm, the next day I was at a different school teaching another class of eighth graders in eight o’clock kickball and guess what? The only difference between the two experiences was that it wasn’t picture day at the second school!

Like I said, middle schoolers are hilarious!

Being With Obsessed Cub Fans

August 21, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               August 21, 2016

                                   

Yesterday my wife and I traveled up the highway from Colorado Springs to Coors Field in Denver to watch a baseball game. Not just any baseball game, mind you! This was a game between the Chicago Cubs and the Colorado Rockies.

I said the Cubs! The team that has left more broken hearts in its littered trail of the past than anyone else!

I remember those fantastic starts to the season back in the 60’s and 70’s only to be fried away by the August sun. “August swoon” was a term that I think the Cubs invented. That, as well as, “Wait ’til next year!”

I grew up in Cincinnati Reds’ territory in the monster years of “The Big Red Machine”. I can remember watching games from the extreme upper deck as Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, Ken Griffey, and Davey Concepcion dominated the astroturf. Spending my last college years and seminary years in Chicago brought me into the strange realm of Cub Nation. Each year I resided in Chicagoland the academic year would be ending with Cub hopes rising, but by the time a new school year began in late August the hope had long since flown south and been replaced by misery and disappointment. Like a new puppy helping a child move on from the death of a pet, the beginning of the Bears’ football season would be the grief solution for the latest lost Cubs’ season.

This year is different, however! 34 games over five hundred with 40 games to play…a 13 game lead over the hated Cardinals. My Reds looking up from 25 games out!  And last night in the Rockies’ home stadium with a crowd just shy of 50,000 there had to be 30,000 Cubs fans there! They were boisterous, many intoxicated by their team with the assistance of several beers. Cub jerseys were worn proudly. “Cub-anatics” conversed about where they were from, reminisced in last year’s journey to the National League championship series with the Mets. Optimism that this is the year was firmly entrenched in the crowd.

My wife Carol is one of those “Cub-anatics”! When a Cubs game is not on Cable TV I frequently find her sitting in our Honda Civic in the garage listening to the game on satellite radio. She loved being in the midst of Cub Nation yesterday, wearing her team shirt, rooting passionately for “the boys!”

I was caught up in the peer pressure and rooted for them as well. Happy wife, happy life!

And the Rockies management saw the Cubs coming! They aren’t stupid! Ticket prices became outrageous. Carol has sight limitations, so I needed seats that were close enough to help her understand what was going on, but not so close that we would need to take out a mortgage on the tickets. Our seats were lower deck in the left field corner. Quite honestly, she couldn’t see the ball when it was hit but she was captivated by the atmosphere.

A group of eleven people around us had traveled in from different parts of the country for the weekend series. They flew in from Chicago, Florida, Springfield, Illinois, California, and Arizona to see their Cubbies! Scattered around me I saw Cub jerseys with names of the past and the present on the back: Banks, Sandberg, Rizzo, Santo, Bryant, Dawson. People brought the past with them to cheer on the future. Carol posted a picture of us at the game on Facebook. I was taken back by all the comments from people saying “Go Cubs!” It was like having an army of “Cub-anatics” living the moment through us. Our nephew’s wife…the poster child of “Cub-anaticism”, sent us a message “You are bringing good luck! Keep it up!”  We had a responsibility!

It was an event! “The boys” raced out to a 7-0 lead and cruised. I expected people to start filtering out in the eighth inning, but at the end of the three hour game almost every one was still there. Cub fans bathe in the glow of a win. White flags with blue “W’s” on them came out in the crowd. Carol didn’t want to leave. I enjoyed seeing her enjoyment!

It was a great evening, one that we will remember for a long, long time!

Carrying The Weight of the World

August 20, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            August 20, 2016

                                  

There was a situation recently that took a bad turn for a friend of mine. Even though he was not responsible for the outcome his immediate reaction was to take the blame and question his value as a person. Even though the root of the problem was planted in the bad decisions and words of others he still felt guilty.

I felt bad for him. The next time I see him I’ll make it a point to tell him what an incredible person he is. Perhaps if I, and others, tell him that enough times the scales that seem to tip so easily to the side that gets “down on himself” will be balanced. The thing is…this person is a caring, compassionate individual who will do anything to help someone else.

I have had long stretches in my life where I tried to carry the weight of the world. If there was a conflict in the church I pastored there were many times that I assumed the responsibility or, bore the guilt even though I was not the culprit or instigator. Mind you, sometimes I was the culprit, but my ability to differentiate between being the cause and not being the cause was limited.

It is difficult for many of us to not bear the blame. We often throw around that saying that we live in a wounded world, but what we detour around is the fact that each one of us is wounded. One of the side effects of being wounded is to carry the blame. Another of the side effects surfaces in some wounded folk who willingly make someone else the source of the problem. Not assuming any responsibility is the scar of their woundedness.

Guilt-carriers and guilt-givers…we’re all cut from the same mold.

One of the things I love about writing is that I can think through a snappy response that will put the attacking person in their place. If only real life was like that! But it isn’t! Too often the verbal accusations are thrown in my direction and I catch it like a sure-handed tight end, but then fall to my knees in misery and self-flagellation of my spirit.

I’ve preached numerous sermons and talked to even more people about the fact that Jesus took our sins upon himself when he went to the cross. I’ve recited those words from Isaiah 53:5-6 countless times:

“But he was pierced for our transgressions,

    he was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was on him,

    and by his wounds we are healed. 

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,

    each of us has turned to our own way;

and the Lord has laid on him

    the iniquity of us all.

But sometimes even the messenger surrenders to the voices and retreats back into that place of doubt, and picks up the weight of the world once again. It is part of who we were, and it is part of the lie that we keep believing over and over again.

We treat the redemption of Jesus like a home mortgage; one that won’t get paid off for thirty years or more…so we keep thinking we have to make the monthly payments.

One of the most powerful scenes I’ve experienced in any movie came in the film entitled The Mission. Robert DeNiro was cast as one of the main characters, a man who bore the guilt of killing his brother in a dispute. A Catholic priest who has set up a mission to one of the primitive tribes in one of the mountain areas of South America has him join him at the mission. To get there they must climb up part of the mountain beside a waterfall. DeNiro has a net tied to him that is carrying the weight of various possessions in it. He won’t let anyone else help him. He must carry the weight. The scene is painful to watch as he slowly climbs the mountain. There are more elements to the story that I won’t go into, but at the top of the mountain one of the men of the tribe takes a knife and cuts the rope away from DeNiro and tosses it over the side of the waterfall. The implications are clear. The weight-carrier has been freed. It’s the beginning of healing for a tormented soul.

I think of that scene often as I’m about to bend over and pick up the weight of a situation. When someone throws the blame in my direction I’m getting somewhat better in remembering that I’m not the sure-handed football tight end but rather one position over, offensive tackle- an ineligible receiver! I don’t need to catch everything that is thrown in my direction!

Coaching Middle School Football

August 18, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 August 18, 2016

                                  

It happened about twelve years ago in the midst of a Pike’s Perk coffee shop. I was drinking my first cup of the day when Russ Peters, the middle school assistant principal in charge of athletics, entered. I greeted him from my table with a “Good morning, Russ!” He looked at me and said, “Hey Coach! Do you coach football?”

I didn’t! I had coached basketball at the school for a couple of years, worked well with the players, and so the administration kept asking me to return. But football…no!

The school had encountered the problem of hiring football coaches each year for the past several. “Russ, didn’t you have this problem last year?” He hung his head and nodded.

And that was my interview for the position. I agreed to coach football for the middle school, but I told him, “You just need to understand that I’m a basketball coach who just happens to be standing on a football field!”

Now twelve years later I’m still coaching football at the same school. Another season has started just like the others before it- players of all sizes…players who aren’t sure which is the front of their practice pants and which is the back…players who think their helmet is too tight…players who have played for several years…players who have never played a lick…players who have played Madden on their game system at home, and think that tackling a steamrolling running back will be just like that…players who have never worn a jock strap…and players who leave parts of their equipment as a trail behind them like Hansel and Gretel’s bread crumbs.

And in the midst of these seventh grade boys who are still more clueless than clued in we have to teach them football terminology, a play calling system, passing routes, defensive formations, figure out who can catch versus who can’t catch a cold, assemble special teams, teach them how to tackle, try to keep a new kid the size of Tiny Tim how to not get killed or maimed, and equip each of them in a way that makes them look like a football player, not someone who has arranged his football wardrobe off leftover garage sale clothing.

My fellow coach, Coach Achor, and I see ourselves as teachers, encouragers, discipline instructors, role models, protectors, counselors, and coaches. Part of middle school football coaching is about the game, and the rest is about being like a shepherd who the sheep follow and trust.

Yesterday we taught them a couple of offensive plays out of a basic formation. “Spread Right Rocket 28”, and “Spread Left Laser 49”. Two basic plays! It took fifteen minutes to get all of them…okay, most of them…to understand. The quarterback would hand off to the wrong running back, the running back would fail to go in motion, the wrong running back would go in motion, the running back would run the wrong way, the quarterback wouldn’t hand the ball off to anybody…fifteen minutes to get two plays right!

I have to remind myself that students learning how to read didn’t start off reading The Iliad. There had to be a lot of “Dick, Jane, and Sally” reading times before beginners could go on.

Today will be the first day in full pads for most of them. Some will look impressive, and others will cause us to chuckle.

We will seek to have them take a few more steps up the “understanding ladder” today, and as coaches we will seek to learn more of their names. Right now I’ve got a Number 76 who is 4’6” and weighs sixty-five pounds. Learning his name won’t make him any bigger, but it will let him know that i know who he is.

And the ultimate privilege for Coach Achor and myself is that the players know who we are and they call us that name that we are privileged to have: Coach!