Posted tagged ‘Football’

The Rightness of The Moment, Not The Headline

November 5, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                November 5, 2017

                          

When Coach Jim Franklin ran like a madman towards the end zone at the end of his Penn State football team’s heartbreaking loss at Michigan State yesterday I, like most people who saw him sprinting, thought he was going to chastise the officials for some perceived blunder. When it turned out he was sprinting to catch some of his players who were heading to the locker room without shaking hands with the Spartan players it was reassuring that in the intensity of the contest someone whose job depends on winning still had the right perspective.

Even though the cameras caught his mad dash it was not something that had been orchestrated. It was simply the right thing to do, the correct decision made at a moment’s notice. The integrity of the decision was amplified considering the game had been interrupted by a weather delay of almost three and a half hours.

How many of us would have lost our cool if we had to wait to catch a delayed flight for three and a half hours? Raise your hand! Both of mine are pointing skyward.

There seem to be a lot of people who are willing to preach what is right in the moment when the cameras are rolling, or the press has a microphone stuck in front of their face, but the list gets a lot shorter of people who are willing to do the right thing in the heat of the moment.

Recently my wife, Carol, was at a high school volleyball game. Liberty High School was playing one of their arch rivals at the opponent’s gym. She heard and observed some actions- or, perhaps inactions- of a group of students of the host school. One young man had made a comment to one of the Liberty players on the court that had explicit sexual connotations to it. The group he was a part of included several young ladies. What Carol noticed was that not one of the female students was willing to do what was right at that moment. No one was willing to confront the young man with inappropriateness of his comment.

Yes, they were just high school students! High school students who have had it drilled into them in recent years about what sexual harassment and bullying is. Sometimes, however, all the knowledge in the world won’t cause someone to do what is right in the moment. Embarrassing someone causes cheap laughter and integrity never seeks to humiliate. It is too respectful for that.

Each one of us gets faced with a multiple of decisions that have two or more solutions. Many of those decisions also have a dividing line. Think a volleyball court with one side being right and the other side wrong. There are clear indications as to which side the ball- the decided on response- is on. None of us make all the right decisions, but over the course of a day, a week, a month it becomes clear who are the people who have integrity and who aren’t. Who are the ones who understand the right decision, the right thing to say, at that moment; and who are the ones who lack character and moral substance.

As a pastor I wish I could say that Christians have it all together, but, alas, I’ve met and seen too many people who confess to following Christ and have no integrity- people who stomp off towards the locker room when they don’t get their way.

Jim Franklin gets paid a lot of money to make right decisions, but they usually have to do with deciding when it’s a good time to blitz the quarterback or do a fake punt. His sprint to the end zone yesterday wasn’t what Penn State had in mind when they paid him to make the right decisions, and yet it was probably the best right decision he made all day.

Talking Soccer With American Football Dads

September 9, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       September 9, 2017

                      

Even though I’ve coached middle school football for thirteen years my family is a soccer family. I’m a soccer dad. All three of our kids played soccer through high school- our son was a part of one undefeated state championship team and a member of the state runner-up team the year before that. Our two son-in-laws play soccer. Their wives (our daughters) still play on indoor teams and an occasional outdoor team. Our two oldest grandchildren play soccer. I took up the game later on and played in an “older than dirt” league for men. I coached two of my kids’ teams when they were younger.

So, as you can tell, we’re a soccer family!

With the growing concerns about concussions in football I’m seeing more kids start with soccer and stay with soccer. In our nine year old grandson’s soccer program the boys aren’t allowed to do headers yet. That doesn’t become legal for another year.

What amuses me are the number of football dads who now frequent soccer fields but don’t quite understand the game yet. They bring football terminology and football philosophy to another sport that is more about finesse than brutal power, more about speed and touch than holding a block and running over someone.

And a lot of the dads are having a hard time making that transition from what was to what is! My high school in Ironton, Ohio was, and is, a football town. Kids start playing just after they’re conceived. Our high school teams became dominant in the 70’s and 80’s. Ironton High School still does not have a soccer team. You have to enroll your child as a student at Ironton St. Joseph if you want him to kick a round ball.

But Ironton is the exception, the one who has been slow coming to the dance! They have been resistant to the transition from what was to what is. To change would mean learning a whole new sports language.

Football dads still bring the mindset that any kick or punt needs to be launched into space, the longer the better! You’ll hear a football dad yelling “Kick it! Kick it!”, and then shouting in celebration when the soccer ball is booted down the field…even though it’s kicked to someone from the other team. With football dads distance is over-valued.

Ironton usually used a tight offensive formation. Power football over the guards. Soccer is about spacing and anticipation, weird concepts for an Ohio culture that grew up with the Woody Hayes’ philosophy of “three yards and a cloud of dust”!

At our six year old granddaughter’s soccer game this morning I heard a couple of dads talking about game situations. One had been a soccer dad for about a year and the other was making his rookie dad debut at a soccer field. Several times I heard the soccer dad begin a statement with the words “That means…”, and then explain the unfamiliar concepts to this new parent in a foreign land.

To be fair, Americans football is still more ingrained in our culture than soccer. No one gets together at Buffalo Wild Wings for Fantasy Soccer Draft Night, but BWW sells a lot of wings to people who gather there for Fantasy Football Draft Night. In fact, they even have a draft kit for each fantasy league commissioner. Yesterday at the middle school where I coach it was “Favorite Team Day”. Students could wear the hat or jersey of their favorite team. I think I saw about…two soccer jerseys, both of teams in the English Premier League, and about a gazillion professional football jerseys!

Football is ingrained in us and, therefore, I expect to hear more statements at the soccer fields in the coming week like “That was out of the end zone!” and “Why aren’t they huddling?”

You’ve just got to be patient sometimes and bring some football dads along slowly.

Putting Football Pads on 60 pound Boys

August 19, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           August 19, 2017

                                

I began my thirteenth year of coaching middle school football this past Monday. Over the years the school where I coach has had a few good sized boys…and many, many other boys who could be blown away by the wind. As coaches we don’t know if it’s the water or what, but we are surrounded by lightweights.

In our equipment shed we have different container bins that are filled with practice pants and girdles that contain the football pads in them. Some bins contain adult sizes and other bins contain youth sizes. After handing out equipment the first day the youth-sized bins are depleted…and the adult-sized bins are now just barely below the top of the bin!

Boy after boy with high-pitched voices checked out their equipment with me. Not once did I need to say, “Your voice is too low. Can you speak up so I can hear you better?”

As player after player tried on equipment I was reminded of the biblical story of David trying on Saul’s armor! I tried to envision a slingshot in each of their hands, but as three of them put their practice jersey on backwards my hope in pint-sized conquerors was waning!

Our participation numbers took a dip this year, as concerns about the long-term and immediate effects of concussions have intensified. BUT the dip was not in sixty pounders, but rather in those double that weight. One of the biggest boys in the school, who can also chew gum and walk at the same time, decided not to play because he was worried about getting hurt. The “Little Freddie’s”, who can barely reach the urinal in the restroom, are out in mass though!

Hey! I was one of those Freddie’s back in the day! I needed “Youth Extra Small” as my size when I was in middle school. There was not another student smaller than me in my class no matter what gender you’re talking about! I know what it feels like to be the smallest. Our team however is like landing in Munchkinland in The Wizard of Oz! Our school nickname is the Timberwolves, but we’re thinking of renaming ourselves the “Tiny-Wolves!”

BUT…yes, there is a BUT…most of these sixty pound packages play with heart. Just like when David stepped forward and volunteered to go one-on-one against a giant, while the men twice his size were trying to become small, these mini-mites have heart, hustle and fearlessness. In football, which is a sport that is uncomfortable to play, those attributes make up for a lot of pounds. Over the years I’ve had massive boys who didn’t want their pants to get dirty; boys who were huge, but had no heart, hustle, and even ran from their own shadow.

So maybe our team story this year, our motivation, will be the David and Goliath story of a shepherd boy taking a nine foot giant to the ground!

That reminds me! I need to order a few more pairs of “Youth Small” practice pants!

The Bet

June 19, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             June 19, 2017

                                                  

In September of 1977 I began dating a young lady named Carol Faletti. Both of us were involved in the leadership of Young Life in the western suburbs of Chicago, and we hit it off pretty well to begin with. A couple of dates and a lot of laughter, it seemed like the relationship had possibilities. I was beginning my second year of seminary. She was teaching pre-school deaf children.

And then we made a bet!

I was still rooting for the Buckeyes of Ohio State at that point. Her brother-in-law had attended Oklahoma University. The Sooners were scheduled to invade “The Horseshoe” in Columbus for a football showdown, so we made a wager on the game. If the Sooners won I would buy Carol a steak dinner. If the Buckeyes were victorious she would do the same for me. Oklahoma kicker, Uwe von Schamann kicked a 41 yard field goal with two seconds left and Oklahoma was triumphant 29-28.

Before I could buy the steak dinner for her, however, both of us started dating other people!  Time passed and paying my debt got buried underneath term papers and textbooks. I didn’t really think of it any more…and then around Christmas of 1978 I received a Christmas card from Carol wishing me glad tidings, but also with the statement “Still waiting on my steak dinner!”

I had taken a class that fall in “Liberation Theology”, and was still intrigued by the language so I sent her a quick reply that said something like “The oppressed shall serve the oppressor, and I’ll buy you a steak dinner when I get back from Christmas break.”

On January 8, 1979 we had a nice romantic dinner at that restaurant hot spot where so many romances begin, Sizzler! Two months later we got engaged! Four and a half months after that we were married!

When I look back at those events I’m amazed at how an unfulfilled promise set in motion a thirty-eight year commitment! So many factors could have altered or derailed our journey. Von Schamann could have missed the field goal and Carol would have quickly paid up her bet. There would have not been a reason to get back together a year and a half later. She could have forgotten about the bet and we would never have renewed our relationship. Each of us could have gotten involved in another relationship that could have resulted in our paths never crossing again.

So many other possible outcomes, but a bet…one silly unfulfilled bet…caused two young adults to risk the possibility of love.

That story continues to amaze me, even after 38 years! It draws me towards the Great Designer, the Orchestrator, and gives me a sense of assurance that He knows what He’s doing! I would even go so far as to say that Use von Schamann didn’t make the 41 yard field goal. God did…because he had two people in mind who he wanted to bring together!

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!

Lord of the Spartan Impossible

October 19, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                               October 19, 2015

                                        

As the late Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over until it’s over!” According to a Grand Rapids TV station it was over before it was over, as the reporter stood outside Michigan Stadium…the Big House…and reported Michigan as the victors over Michigan State.

But it wasn’t over! Obviously, he had a deadline! All U of M had to do was punt the ball, or at least hold on to the ball, for the final ten seconds and the victory over their in-state rivals would be assured. The TV broadcasters were even talking about the Wolverines getting the upper hand once again in regards to in-state recruiting.

And then the impossible happened!

Now…I’m not one to believe that God is partial to someone when it comes to a game of some kind, but could that thunder be the laughter of heaven?

I have to admit that I had resigned myself to a Spartan loss. My youngest daughter was already texting in whining words! According to the odds, Michigan State had a 0.2% of victory heading into those final 10 seconds.

I wonder what the odds were for the Hebrew people to make it through the Red Sea? I wonder what the chances of Daniel making it out of the Lion’s Den un-chewed were? I wonder what the odds were for Jesus to make it out of the tomb?

It ain’t over until it’s over!

The picture of the Michigan student with his hands on top of his head was a scene of disbelief. Expect it to be in SI this week!

The scene of disbelief in that final play will rival the ending of the Cal-Stanford football game in 1982 where the Cal player ran the final twenty yards or so through part of the Stanford band, who thought the game was over.

This play will be right up there, complete with open mouths and resurrected Spartan hopes.

Wow!

 

Hope-Praying, Peace-Living

December 23, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                           December 23, 2014

                                                

     Two days from Christmas and there’s an empty feeling within me. I’ve had my share of fudge, chips, and Christmas cookies…so it isn’t my tummy that is empty. The emptiness is tied tightly to the events and conversations of our world these past few months. It feels like a tearing apart of lives, communities, and relationships.

Two days ago a professional football player stomped on the ankle of an opponent who was lying on the ground. In the news conference afterwards when he was asked about it he denied any wrong-doing.

Film doesn’t lie!

But this isn’t about the brutality and abuses of the National Football League…although that could be a long list even after being checked twice! That picture is a visual for what is going on in our world these days.

A scorn for the person who is down…or the person who is helping the downtrodden…like the ninety year old man who has been arrested a couple of times in a Florida city for feeding the homeless.

A disregard for someone in a different uniform. The hostility of ISIS towards anyone who doesn’t convert to their understanding and practice of Islam. Slaughtering the men and boys of a village and posting the film on the internet.

Denying wrongdoing. A Florida State quarterback, who has a golden arm, had charges dismissed this week by the university. In reading the news reports the situation seemed to be handled a little suspiciously by the school, and the quarterback has denied any wrongdoing. Odd that it has taken almost two years to get to this point…or, should I say, two football seasons later.

In other words, what seems to be important to our culture is not having people around who make us feel uncomfortable, stepping on those who disagree with us, and football championship trophies…and the millions that got with it.

Perhaps I’ll narrow-minded in my view. After all I was raised in southern Ohio, but I’m troubled by the strange priorities, avoidance of responsibility, and the exaltation of athletic talent.

What can I do about it? Live my life with compassion, mercy, and selflessness.

Be hope-praying and peace-living.

Pray for the hopeless and pray against hopelessness! Pray with hope, even when things look like they are being ripped asunder.

Live with peace and in peace. Be a person of peace even the hate-filled seem to be winning. Commit to peace for the journey, not just for a moment, and yet know that the journey consists of many, many moments, each a step towards a better tomorrow.

Hope and peace are two of the greatest gifts from our heavenly Father, and yet they are often put back on the shelf like flawed products that have no appeal.

Lord, help me as I strive today to be a pray-er of hope and an example of peace! Amen!