Archive for the ‘Freedom’ category

First Day of Cross-Country Practice

August 14, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     August 14, 2018

                            

It was an optional practice day so the other coaches and I were a bit surprised that about 25 middle school students showed up for it. “I thought there would be four or five!” exclaimed Coach Barry.

But here they were! About 25 sixth, seventh, and eighth graders wondering what the next hour and a half would hold for them, their lungs, and their legs!

“I’m Coach Wolfe, and it’s great to see all of you here this afternoon!” 

Some smiled back at me.  Others looked down at the ground like they feared a sudden sinkhole would open up and swallow them down into the depths. One girl with shaking knees was hoping for a sinkhole!

A hand shot up. 

“Coach Wolfe, what will we be doing in our cross-country practices?”

“Well, let’s see! We’ll watch some Justin Bieber Youtube videos, have Fudgesicle eating contests, and finish each day with some tug-of-war competitions.”

He looked at me in disbelief.

“No, that’s a different sport I’m thinking of! In cross-country we’ll…RUN! We’ll run long, we’ll run fast, we’ll run easy and hard, up hills and down hills, on paths through the woods and sidewalks around the neighborhoods. We’ll run down to 7-11 and get Slurpies and to Boriello Brothers and get pizza…okay, strike the pizza idea! Basically, we’ll run in a variety of ways!

“Coach Wolfe!” This time the girl hoping for a sinkhole had her hand up.

“Yes.”

“How far will we run?”

“Some days further than others. Roughly three miles a day.” Her eyes opened as wide as the sinkholes she hoped for.

“Just three miles?” asked a new sixth grader. “I’ve been on a running team that competes in the nationals each year and we usually do six to seven miles a day.”

“Go for it! When we get done with our practice you can do a Forrest Gump and just keep running!”

A young man with blonde hair and a heavy dose of anxiety raised his hand halfway and looked at me.

“Yes, sir!”

“I just moved here from Texas. Do you think I’ll have a hard time with the altitude change?”

“Yes.”

“Oh!” he replied with a facial expression that resembled when the time his mom told him Santa Claus doesn’t ride in a sleigh.

“It will take you a while, but you’ll get used to it.”

“Thank you,” he said as he bit his lower lip.

“Each of you is at a different point than everybody else. Some of you have been running since you were about the size of a ladybug and others are brand new. Your coaches will seek to help each of you get better as a runner and also understand how to run. We’ll expect you to work hard, but we also want you to have fun!”

At the mention of having fun a few eyebrows went up, like I was saying that it was fun to go to the doctor and get a flu shot, or it was fun to wear underwear inside-out and backwards! 

But it will be fun! In fact, today…Day 2 and another optional practice before the first official practice on Wednesday…I’m getting popsicles for the end of practice. For a popsicle I bet the one young lady would even jump over a sinkhole! 

And I’ll high five each of them and joke with them and then send them all home thinking, “This is going to be awesome!”

Parents Following Directions

August 12, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             August 12, 2018

                                   

This past week I was doing laps around our middle school track. It was also a day when students were stopping by the school to check in and get their assigned locker. Most of them had a parent with them.

Our middle school is undergoing a construction project at the school entrance to provide a more secure environment. The work is not done yet, thus there were two construction indicators on the sidewalk leading up to the entrance. The first was a sign that informed parents and students that construction was being done on the entrance. It directed them to enter the building by the side entrance. The large arrow pointing the direction to the side entrance was visible at least twenty yards away.

The second indictor was a line of orange cones across the sidewalk. 

Each time I came around the track I saw the decision-making process taking place. First, a parent and their child, or children, would walk up the sidewalk to where the sign was located. They would then either turn and walk towards the side of the building…or walk past the sign and past the orange cones and proceed to the front entrance. 

A rough calculation of those I observed indicated that half followed directions and half didn’t! (One good thing about the experience is that it took my mind off the laps I ran!) 

Half followed directions and half did their own thing! And these were the parents!

Was there misunderstanding? Were the orange cones not bright enough? Was the arrow pointing towards the side entrance confusing? Was the sounds of the drill and the pounding of nails disorienting?

There may have been a few reasons why so many of them continued on the forbidden path. My cynical and critical nature tells me that some of them felt the sign didn’t apply to them. It was for those OTHER people! Kind of like those handicapped parking spots are okay to park in when no one is parking in them! Or that additional check-out line that just opened up  at the grocery store is meant for them even those six people are in front of them in the previous line! Or that person who believes he can speed by the waiting line of cars on the highway even though the road sign a mile back told him his lane was ending due to road construction!

There’s parental entitlement that is seeping through in various subtle ways. 

I know, I know…it’s only a door! Yes, maybe I’m reading too much into it, but my guess is that all of us have experienced every one of those situations I mentioned…and we gritted our teeth in frustration or dropped our mouthes open in disbelief. 

Perhaps Little Jimmy’s apple of attitude didn’t fall too far from the tree!

The Troubling of Sports Officials

August 8, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  August 8, 2018

                          

It’s a situation that basketball game assignors started dealing with a few years ago: too many games and not enough referees to cover them safely and effectively. So a trend started! Games on heavy volume days began to be rescheduled…or, in a few cases, officials had to cover three games in one day…often at two different locations. 

It was a warning sign that most wanted to pretend wasn’t happening; that the number of people officiating basketball games was gradually decreasing while the number of games being played gradually had been increasing. A few people saw the impending crisis, but most went on like there wasn’t any problem. After all, how do you fix the part of the basketball game that is best seen but not heard. That is, officials long to run up and down a court where the participants with numbered uniforms play the game fairly and under control, to the point where a whistle rarely needs to be blown.

I still remember a girl’s varsity game I officiated several years ago at St. Mary’s High School in Colorado Springs. St. Mary’s was hosting Trinidad. Two excellent coaches, George Dasko and Mike Burkett, led their teams. I can even remember my officiating partners for that game: Rachel Martinez and Kevin Kizewski. We rarely had to blow our whistles in a contest that was well-played and close the whole way. I remember that, even with the ten minute halftime and the uncertainty of the outcome down to the last few seconds, the contest was finished in an hour. 

Unfortunately, most basketball games are not like that! And that hints at the problem. It gives us an inkling of why the number of people willing to put on a striped shirt, run up and down a court with a whistle in their mouth, and have their intelligence questioned is slipping.

I’ve been on both sides of the sidelines, wearing a black and white striped shirt inside the lines and a shirt and tie on the other side of it. I’ve asked coaches to stay in their “box” (the designated area in front of their team bench that runs now from the baseline to the 28-foot line) and also been the one standing in the box.

Sixteen years as a basketball official and twenty plus years as a basketball coach. After the 2017 high school basketball season I decided to hang up the striped shirt. I made that decision for several reasons. 

The first two were quite simple; I wasn’t getting any younger, and I enjoyed coaching much more than officiating. Two good reasons…except for the acknowledgment of my advancing age as an AARP member!

The other reasons, however, were troubling. 

Parents! How do you fix parents, specially parents of young athletes? In the increasing of games that need to be covered, youth basketball games are like a locust storm. In helping out our game assignor in the covering of some of these games I had to deal with parents that were belligerent, unrealistic, and obnoxious. One mom, who I asked to relocate from underneath one of the baskets to the side of the court because of her language during a 5th-6th grade game, told me she had paid admission to get in. Since I heard her urge her son (I’m assuming it was her son!) to kill one of the opposing players I moved her and informed her that we weren’t going to start the game again until she relocated. She had lost perspective! She forgot that this was a game that was being played by young boys and it was for their enjoyment, not for her “revenge on life” attitude!

How do you fix parents? I tell the parents of the players I coach to keep perspective on what it is we’re about. If anything needs to be said to an official I’ll say it, not them. 

In saying that let me also say that most parents are great! They understand that having their child’s team beat the archival is a great moment, but not life-defining. Finding a cure for cancer would be life-defining for the discoverer and the people helped by it. Being a community peacekeeper would be life-defining. Walking with a family through struggles and heartaches would be life-defining. Most parents understand that and help their adolescent athletes develop a balanced view on life.

Here’s another reason! The blurring of authority. That is, the minimizing of the respect for the ones blowing the whistles. The disrespect comes from fans, coaches, and players. For every coach with integrity like Mike Burkett there’s a coach on the other side of the fence who sees the referees as the enemies. In recent years the number of assaults on referees has increased. A recent basketball game between two club teams ended with players from one of teams physically attacking the officials. Physical assaults happen just as much at contests between teams of younger-aged players as they do with high school teams.

In other words, those wearing the striped shirts have become the targets to aim at for frustrated players, coaches, and fans. People have forgotten what the purposes are for there to be people wearing the stripes. Perhaps it’s simply a smaller arena example of how authority has become blurred in our culture. 

Ask public school teachers if changes have occurred in regards to the respect of their authority during their teaching career! 

Ask coaches about the attitudes of their athletes. Even though the size of the ball has remained the same the way they coach their players has to now contend with some attitude warts.

The examples of the abuse of authority has contributed to the disdain of authority. 

As a coach I keep perspective on how things are. Last year I coached two middle school basketball teams and a freshman team. The officials we had were often new officials who still make the same boneheaded decisions that I made in my first few years of refereeing. So I would tell my players that new officials need to start someplace, and we’re the place they usually start…so it is what it is! Let me be the one to ask them questions! My players saw that I wasn’t contentious or abrasive, but rather that those wearing the striped shirts and I each had a role and a purpose and we, in most situations, tried to work together to be participants of a great athletic contest. 

After all, if there aren’t any people to wear the stripes and officiate the games who will do it? 

The parents?????

Is There Another Word?

August 7, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      August 7, 2018

                                  

Carol and I were watching a DVD movie last night and I found it ninety percent enjoyable. It was a comedy that was creative, included surprising twists and witty humor. The only distraction for me as I watched it was the language.

Okay! Call me old-fashioned and a fuddy-duddy, but profanity more and more seems to be an attempt to fit in rather than searching for that word that raises the level of the manuscript or dialogue. 

In the film the f-bombs that got tossed out as abundantly as bird seed in a park for the pigeons had no purpose. That is, they didn’t add anything to the film’s plot or flow of action. They just…were there! Like they were trying to make the film more appealing, more certain of it’s “R” rating. 

It seems that our culture is very sensitive about language that could be construed as degrading to a certain gender, ethnic group, or social class, but indifferently tolerant towards language that if uttered in the range of our moms hearing would have them sprinting to us with bars of Dial soap in their hands. 

The “F word” especially has become mainstream. Even people who don’t say it are being drawn towards it. I hear words like “freaking” and “frecking” being used by people who are being drawn to the edge of the cliff but they still have enough self-control to not jump into the “ff-ing chasm!”

A basketball coach friend of mine, whose teams have been successful year after year, doesn’t allow profanity from his players at practice or during games. He holds to the biblical principle that James writes about in his New Testament letter. James spends a good amount of time talking about the use of the tongue and the effect of our words. He writes, Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” (James 1:26, NIV). 

I’d like to take this “language” issue in another direction, however. I’d like to think of the benefits, the positive directions, that our words can take us. Proverbs 12:18 tells us, “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

I live in the world of words. Quite often as I write my “Words from WW” I sit and ponder what the next “right” word should be. What I write can lead to apathy or interest, laughter or yawning, confusion or clarity. And so I search for the word to help paddle the blog boat on down the stream.

We live in a culture that is language lazy and more concerned with looking relevant than intelligent. It is a culture that’’s comfortable with shallow talk instead of communication that goes deeper than superficial.  Deep ideas and profound words of wisdom make us think, and not everyone is comfortable with that.

What do you think? 

The Rabbits of My Life (and Backyard!)

August 6, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  August 6, 2018

                          

Our neighborhood has more rabbits than people and pets combined. Rabbits are not pets on our block. They are the new neighbors who have moved in, but always keep their blinds drawn and garage door down…distant and suspicious, but always close! For our city block they are as common as sunny eighty degree July and August days. 

Each morning when I leave around 7:00 to head to Starbucks for some morning java I’m watched by at least three pairs of bunny eyes as I proceed down the street. Sometimes I feel like I’m the suspicious visitor and they’re the Neighborhood Watch. 

Last week, as I mowed the backyard, two rabbits kept hopping around from one side to the other. It was weird! Like a Hitchcock remake of Birds, but the sequel Bunnies! Although we have no film footage evidence, we’re pretty sure the zucchini that was growing in a pot on our deck has hare teethmarks. In fact, our backyard seems to be their Sprouts produce section.

A few days ago, however, our neighbor did see a hawk swoop down for dinner! We need a few more swoops, like a sale…grab one and get one!

Side point! I remember my mom serving delicious chicken one night when I was about six years old. The drumstick seemed smaller than usual, but I said “Mom, this is really good chicken!” She replied, “Thank you, Bill! But it’s not chicken, it’s rabbit!” Huh!!!

Of course, my life has its rabbits! They change positions and hop around in my life, but they are always there. Some of my rabbits are cute and cuddly, but others are irritating and invading.

There’s the rabbit of my financial obligations…every month! Many of them are now automatic bank drafts that I only see when I go online, but when I do…there they are! Every month I am incredulous as I view how much CenturyLink is charging me for “bundling” cable TV, internet, and a land line together…but then I see the other rabbit of Sprint trying to hide in the high grass of my bank statement. And it seems that these two bunnies of my existence seem to be getting bigger as they munch away on the assuredness of their necessity. 

There’s the rabbits shaped like my grandkids! They hop around and bring joy to my soul. There is the growing of their minds and bodies and their life perspectives that amaze and humor. Sometimes we miss seeing the important rabbits in my lives because we’re focused on how fast the grass is growing. If, however, there was suddenly a drought in our relationships such as these we would regrettably realize the lost moments that are no longer retrievable.

As I age I experience the rabbits of aches and pains each day. They seem to relocate from one spot to another…hip to knee, neck to back. My definition of “feeling good” has been reworked in recent years, although I have one personal rabbit who is known by the name “Stiff!” My pill box of prescriptions reminds me of this new way of life. When my dad passed away a few months ago he had a “prescription litter” in his kitchen cabinet.

Life has its rabbits! We live with them. We become accustomed to them. We mow around them! But thank God, as far as I know, there aren’t any Monty Python killer rabbits in our lives launching themselves at our jugular veins!

The Now Whats of Life

August 6, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      August 5, 2018

                                     

On Friday I reached my summer running goal of 200 miles. It’s a challenge that I gave to my middle school cross-country runners at the end of their school year, and since I challenged them I took it up myself. 

Yesterday, the first day after reaching my goal, I found myself struggling with any motivation to run even three miles. I did, but the drive wasn’t there.

I realized that I had reached the “Now What?” moment. Goals are great and result in significant achievements being made, but after the conquered goal where does one go? It’s like a clear path through the woods that suddenly seems to fade. You can look behind you and see with clarity where you have come from, but now you’re not sure where you should be going.

The “Now What?” isn’t just a running situation. When I retired from pastoral ministry after 36 years I reached that “now what?” moment. Think of it! We look towards retirement as that goal we strive for, but when it’s reached many people flounder in the aftermath. The way has been paved through forty hour work weeks…week after week after week…and then the Monday morning after handing in the keys to the office arrives. Through the exhilarating sense of being freed the question rises within us: Now what?

In the midst of every success and milestone the question looms. Someone’s new CD goes gangbusters, a team wins a major championship, a company reaches a new sales record, a politician wins a race for office, the last child leaves home and it’s now officially an empty nest…the list goes on and on.

As I contemplated my attitude of apathy yesterday it made me go deeper. Why run? What are the benefits of continuing? Is it something that I simply go through the motions with, or does it answer a need I have? If I continue putting in the miles it needs to be because I want to, not because of a goal I’m running towards…or should I just set another goal to run towards?

When I pastored the “now what?” came up quite often. We spent so much time focused on Christmas and Easter that the question surfaced right after those energy-draining ministry times. It surfaced every year around budget preparation time. If the congregation had been spot on with their giving the question was raised in the midst of a group of optimists and pessimists. Depending on one’s view of life and the church, the “now what?” was answered with either holding steady or taking that next step of financial faith.

So I’ve had to battle the dual attitudes of optimism and pessimism within me about the next “leg” of my running journey. Why keep doing it? Well…because I am physically in better shape than I have been for some time, and because it’s part of my quiet time. As I huff and puff I pray and ponder, think and consider. And like in life, some days are more difficult than others, and other days have me more motivated than others. 

Finally, I reach that “now what?” moment every time I write a blog post. It’s done, so now what? What can I possibly write about next? 

Funny! God always seems to spring up something in my mind. 

Rants, Raves, and Wonders

July 26, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        July 26, 2018

                                 

I’m not a complainer. I whine a little bit about the heat, overcooked beef, and wimpy water pressure in the shower, but other than that…and a few other things, I’m pretty mature and rational.

And so I let things simmer inside me…thoughts, rants, unanswerable questions, things that prick at me like when you find out that pinching in your butt was a wood splinter all along! (And then you start wondering “How did a wood splinter get inside my underwear?”)

My ranting and wondering this time around was ignited by recent experiences with American Airlines. In all of my checking in and gate experiences I never experienced a smile. In fact, I thought I had been transported back in time to the lunch room aides at Williamstown Elementary in Williamstown, West Virginia in 1961. They were ladies devoid of happiness and consumed with straight student lines as we walked towards our executions by way of the consumption of the worst mac and cheese ever created. 

Perhaps they had flunked out of flight attendant college and had been offered positions terrorizing passengers before they boarded…I don’t know! All I know is they looked like they had been sucking on lemons.

That was a rant!

On my first flight from Colorado Springs to Dallas (The first of three flights! It takes some doing to get to Huntington, West Virginia!) I was amused by the instructional video that was shown before we departed…you know, how to put your seat belt on and what to do if the plane crash lands in water. The video was well-done, but what plane were they on? There was like three feet of space between each row! And no one in that video had ever been through a buffet line! They were all slim and orderly and probably don’t even eat pie ever. On my last flight back last night my seat was next to a man who flowed over on my side because of his size. He was a nice guy, but he definitely had not been in cast as a passenger in the pre-flight safety video. This morning I’m leaning to the right out of habit!

That was a rant with a small wonder!

My brother and I went to church last Sunday at the Southern Baptist church we were raised in back in Winchester, Kentucky. One question! Why do so many churches, Southern Baptist and other flavors on the conservative side, only have females in staff positions that deal with children or hospitality? The church we revisited (The last time I had been there was when I was 8!) had four pastors for pastoral care, youth, worship, and teaching…and then one female name at the bottom of the list for children’s programs!

That was something I was wondering about, albeit a confused wondering! 

This morning a lady in front of me at Starbucks mentioned to Rhea, one of the baristas, that it seemed warm and humid in the place. I wanted to correct her, but I held back. I wanted to say “Honey, you don’t know what humidity is until you’ve been in Proctorville, Ohio, situated on the banks of the Ohio River, in late July. It’s so humid there I could squeeze juice out of my face!” 

I didn’t say that, however. I just looked at her and smiled.

One last thing! Why does Bob Evans sausage taste so good? I had sausage patties and sausage gravy yesterday on the way to the Huntington airport. Before I met another round of American Airlines employees with sour dispositions I wanted to leave Huntington with a good memory- breakfast at the restaurant where Dad and I would dine. Bob Evans is also the only restaurant I know of where I can get fried cornmeal mush! Yum, yum!

And that, my friends, is a rave!