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Saturday Soccer Fun

If you want to be entertained, go to the YMCA soccer field Saturday morning. It’s entertaining watching happy children run on the grassy field and kick a ball.

My first game was about two years ago while visiting our Grands and their parents who live across country. Daniel, then 5, competes to win, and he was in the middle of the cluster of his teammates and opponents chasing the ball. The objective is to get the ball in the opposing team’s goal to score a point. But a kick that sends the ball downfield warrants cheers, and not just from the parents and grandparents of the kicker, everyone cheers a good play.

Celebrating Daniel’s success when he scored a goal was worth the airplane ride to visit him. Because the ending score is usually low, maybe 1 to 3, a goal is cause for high fives. Daniel ran along the sideline of the field to slap outstretched hands.

Recently, on a cool misty morning, Husband and I donned our raincoats and carried umbrellas to watch Lucy, almost 7, play. Twelve players, a referee, and two coaches standing took the field. We fans, the players’ parents, siblings, and grandparents, stood along the sideline. Seasoned fans sat in their folding chairs.

Lucy had told me how she kicked the ball in the goal the week before when I was out of town. “I scored!” she said. “Gran, you gotta’ come watch.” She and the other players took the field wearing their short sleeve uniform shirts, shorts, shin guards, knee-high socks, and shoes with cleats. No team, professional or collegiate, looked more ready to play.

Just like in Daniel’s game, a team member, the goalie, stood in front of the goal to stop the ball. Lucy and four teammates ran the field, seemingly oblivious to the cool rain shower. We and other spectators raised umbrellas and rain jacket hoods. The players seated on the sidelines huddled under plastic covers that parents held.

I’m learning soccer rules. Players cannot kick, trip, tackle, hold, push, strike, jump on, or spit on an opponent. Seems like school playground rules to me. And except for the goalie, players aren’t allowed to touch the ball with their hands. When a penalty kick was awarded to Lucy’s opposing team, she and her teammates stood shoulder to shoulder in front of the goal while the rain came down more steadily.

During the second period, Lucy took a rest and I watched her team’s goalie, a little guy who moved fast. When the ball was on the other end of the field, he jumped and kicked for no apparent reason. Then the players were hit with wind swept, hard rain. The goalie stopped, looked up, and opened his mouth wide. He caught raindrops, but not the ball that whizzed past him and into the goal.

I might be hooked. Even if my Grands aren’t playing, I’ll take in little kids’ soccer games. They are that fun.

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March Madness Inside the Arena

When we bought tickets for Rounds 1 and 2 of the NCAA* Men’s Basketball Championship, Husband and I hoped to watch some of our favorite teams. At least one SEC* team and maybe the OVC* team would play in Nashville at Bridgestone Arena. And it’d be fun to watch Son’s favorite team, North Carolina. The sports analysts whetted our hopes. Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, #1 Virginia were all mentioned as possibilities in Nashville. So when the bracket was announced, I was disappointed.

I knew nothing about the eight teams, except Missouri which is in the SEC. I stretched a connection that Husband and I ate supper at Shakespeare’s Pizza adjacent to the University of Missouri and then strolled across the university campus.

I like March Madness* so I’d go, pick teams, and have a good time. Watching sports on TV isn’t nearly as fun as seeing live games and all that goes on in the stands, on the sidelines, on the court that cameras can’t take in.

If there had been a wear-your-colors contest, the Cincinnati Bearcat fans decked out in red would’ve won. Also they, led by a small group seated behind the team bench, were the loudest, especially shouting DE-FENSE. And they appreciated great plays. Even when an opposing team player dunked for two points, they joined everyone in the stands and stood with arms stretched high.

The Florida State coach was the most entertaining. Dressed in a navy nylon sports sweatshirt and white tennis shoes, he paced the sideline and worked as hard as his players. He kicked his leg waist high and threw punches in the air.

Cincinnati also won the Battle of the Bands, in my opinion. During a timeout of every game, the arena announcer challenged the school’s bands to “do your best!” As Cincinnati played “Rolling Down the River,” fans clapped to keep time.

Mascots could take lessons from Texas Hook ‘Em. He danced Nevada’s Alfie off the floor during the Mascot Dance Off.   While Alfie swayed his wolf tail, Hook ‘Em moonwalked. Then he hit the floor with the Gator and next did the splits. Alfie threw up his paws in defeat.

The announced attendance was 17, 552 and the best Texas fan was seated right behind me. His continuous calm monologue entertained. “Take the easy lane – down the middle.   It was worth a try – you’ll hit it next time. Get down, you gotta’ get on the floor and dirty sometimes. The ball don’t lie – it’ll go where you shoot it.”  Even when his team lost in overtime, he was upbeat. “What a game! Somebody’s gotta’ lose.”

Up next are the Sweet Sixteen games and I’ll watch on TV and cheer for the two teams that won in Nashville. Nevada, a come-from-behind-team and Florida State that led only once over top-seeded Xavier.  And I’ll wish I were there. There’s more than basketball games to take in.

*NCAA – National Collegiate Athletic Association

*SEC – Southeastern Conference

*OVC – Ohio Valley Conference

*March Madness – the annual college basketball tournament

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Why play team sports?

It was the last game of the season. The last time this basketball season that I’d sit beside my Grand’s other grandmother and we’d chitchat about the five young children and their parents we both love. Our 11-year old Grand knocked the ball out of his opponent’s hands and dribbled down the court toward his team’s goal. “Oh, I hope he hits the shot,” I said.

David threw the ball high. It bounced off the backboard and swished through the net. His sister, two years younger, stood and cheered as if her brother had scored the winning basket in the NCAA* championship game. David and his teammates ran back to the other end of the court to play defense. My Grand looked over his left shoulder and pointed to a teammate to move closer to the goal.

What was in the article I’d read a few days before? A list of the benefits of team sports. Confidence building. David had gained the confidence to steal the ball and risk dribbling for a layup. Something he didn’t do during the first games of the season.

Connect with his teammates. Were David and others in position on the court to play defense? On offense they signaled with nods and hand pointing. Sometimes they connected and successfully scored. Sometimes a pass went out of bounds.

Encourages family involvement. My Grand’s family – parents, grandparents, siblings – came together to support his team. To cheer the team on. To celebrate good plays and wins. To commiserate mistakes and losses.

Provides physical exercise. Practices with the team.   At home, shooting baskets and dribbling and playing pick-up with parents and siblings.

Develops relationships. With players and coaches. Children can form friendships as teammates that carry into adulthood.  And a coach, whether volunteer or paid, is always known as “coach.”

Contributes to stronger academics. It has been documented that children who play team sports are likely to excel in academics. Why? Do they learn to manage time? Are they required to achieve an academic standard to participate in sports?

Teaches respect. Respect for people of authority: referees, umpires, coaches. When the referee blows the whistle and calls a foul on a player, there’s no arguing with his call.   Respect for other players. The game ends. These young 5th and 6th grade boys form two single file lines. Opponents walk past each other with their hands in the air. High-fives just like those of basketball players in high stakes games.

I love team sports. I’ve watched my Grand grow as a ball player, as a person, from game one to the final game. And since he’s learned more about basketball, it’ll be more fun to watch televised games with him. Just in time for my favorite sports month!

Together we’ll take in March Madness, a whole month of NCAA basketball. And think of those college players’ rewards. Team players reap benefits and learn, even when they are no longer children.

*National Collegiate Athletic Association

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learning to Swim

Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 8.42.55 AMLast week I took two of my Grands for a swim lesson. I watched them splash and kick and laugh and thought of my childhood days in a much different pool. It wasn’t a huge pool and didn’t have a big area of ankle-to-shoulder-deep water, like the one my Grands were in.

In Pickett County, during the 1950s, the only public swimming pool was at Star Point Dock, now Star Point Resort, on Dale Hollow Lake. And no one had a backyard pool. At that time, Ted and Gwen Mochow, good friends of my parents, owned Star Point.

I contacted the Mochows’ son, Mike, to confirm a few details. During the week, guests who stayed in Star Point cabins and the motel used the pool. On weekends, it was available to the public and admission was 50 cents. We swimmers walked through a footbath, about two by four feet in size, to sanitize our feet with a disinfectant before getting in the pool.

The concrete pool was divided into two sections: one for non-swimmers, one for swimmers. The non-swimmer side, where the water was about four feet deep, I knew well. I clung to the side and walked around the edge of that 10 x 40 foot pool (my best guess of the size) and I never wore a life jacket or water wings or any flotation device. I gripped the concrete, hand over hand, all the time watching my older brother and friends in the huge deep pool, on the other side of a concrete divider. My goal was to jump off the diving board (no aspiration to dive) and swim in the ten-foot deep water, to the steps. I could imagine myself climbing up those metal steps, onto the narrow concrete deck.

My family wasn’t a water recreation family. Occasionally, on a Saturday afternoon after we’d finished weekly chores – cleaning house, burning trash, mowing the yard – Dad took my brother and me to the pool, but he never got in the water. Mom didn’t swim, and she was happy to stay home and watch a baseball game on TV.

The only times both Mom and Dad were within the metal fence pool enclosure at Star Point pool were when the Mochows invited us for family cookouts and swim parties. Ted and Gwen were skilled swimmers, and they organized water games and contests. Even Dad swam and played. Gwen finally convinced Mom that for safety she should learn to swim, and so when I was about 10 years old, Mom and I took swimming lessons together.

Side by side we lay prone in the water, held to the pool’s edge, and kicked. We blew bubbles. We bobbed our heads in the water. And eventually, I swam. No fancy stokes. No side breathing. I kicked and used an arm stoke well enough to accomplish my goal. Swimming in the deep swimmer’s pool was just as big a deal as I thought it’d be. And Mom’s backstroke qualified her as a swimmer.

Now, my young Grands are overcoming the discomfort of water up their noses and learning to enjoy the water, with confidence. Elaine, age 5, told me, “You know what, Gran? I flapped my arms like this (she flapped like a bird) and moved all by myself. And I can touch bottom a long way.”

Pools and teaching techniques have changed. But my Grands will soon know the same success I felt the first time I climbed up the metal steps out of the swimmer’s pool. And I’ll celebrate with them.

Make a Successful Adult

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 3.48.06 PMSometimes I hear something that strikes my heart and that happened at the WCTE/PBS Annual Dinner last week. Tara Brown, known as The Connection Coach, said that kids need to hear, “You are good at ________.” (Fill in the blank.) The motto under Ms. Brown’s name on the event program read, “Helping schools build stronger connections with every student.” She’s a speaker, trainer, author who inspires audiences to embrace authentic connections to unleash the potential of young people. She said, “A kid needs five healthy adult relationships to be a successful adult.”

You are good at ________. Five healthy adult relationships. Those words hit me like a neon sign printed in all caps. I had healthy, strong, loving relationships. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles. But it was a high school teacher and coach who instilled confidence in me as a gangly, awkward teenager and taught me some life lessons.

I grew up in Pickett County where basketball reigned, and still reigns, as the number one sport. Our high school gym was packed for every home game and students vied for a position on the team. Wearing a black and gold Bobcat uniform was a challenge and an honor. As a 9th grader, I was one of the tallest girls to try out for the team, and I’m sure that Coach Elaine Sells, who had been a Pickett County basketball star and had recently graduated from Tennessee Tech, thought she could train me to be a good player.

It was the days when girls’ basketball was played half court. Three players on offense. Three on defense. All I had to do was post up with my back to the goal, catch the ball, and, with a sweeping arc motion, throw the ball into the goal behind me. No dribbling. No fancy footwork. A simple smooth move for a hook shot. But the balls I threw rarely went through the net. Most times, nowhere near the net.

Elaine did her best. She demonstrated the perfect hook shot. She stood in front of me and I mimicked her movements. I practiced hook shots with and without a basketball. After team practices, Elaine worked one on one with me. At home, I stood in front of the basketball goal in our backyard and tried and tried to master a hook shot. For two basketball seasons, I dressed out in uniform and sat on the bench. The few times that I played in games, I hoped that no one would throw me the ball. Not only was I the tallest player on the team, I was the most uncoordinated and the least competitive, but I loved being a team member.

Elaine kept me on the team. Those two years as a player and the next two years as team manager. She had encouraged me to try and work hard. And then she taught me to accept my limitations and use my assets. I was happy to gather towels and basketballs and cheer loudly and encourage my teammates, especially the younger players.

So, this is a public thank you to Elaine for not giving up on a gangly, awkward girl who loved basketball and couldn’t play a lick. Thank you for giving me a job that I could do well and making me feel successful.

Homecoming Suit, Shoes, and Corsage

menu-aboutIf I dressed for TTU’s Homecoming this Saturday as I did as a student, I’d look as out of place as a model wearing white sandals in the September issue of Vogue magazine. Imagine showing up at a football game wearing a matching wool jacket and skirt, nylon hose, and heels. And a corsage pinned to my lapel. But that’s how we co-eds dressed way back when. We dressed up and we wore flowers.

I particularly remember one Homecoming. Mom had made an orange wool tweed suit for me that fall and I saved it to wear for Homecoming. The three-button jacket and an A-line skirt were perfect, but I didn’t have the right shoes. I had black heels and wearing orange required brown shoes. The closest place I could buy shoes to fit my extra long, extra narrow was Nashville, and I didn’t have a car. So a friend drove me to Nashville, I went into one shoe store and bought the perfect taupe-colored, high heel leather shoes, and we came back to Cookeville. It was that important to have exactly the right outfit for Homecoming.

My attire wasn’t complete without flowers, a corsage that showed Tech’s colors, purple and gold. Husband, who was Boyfriend at the time, knew exactly what I wanted. Three yellow roses surrounded by sprigs of feather fern and a bit of baby’s breath. Gold colored ribbon, with just a couple of loops of purple, but mostly gold so the purple wouldn’t clash with my orange suit.

Most Homecoming corsages were yellow chrysanthemums, better known as a mum. Huge, mums, as big as saucers, and heavy. I’d worn one of those the previous year. It was so heavy that not even three long corsage pins held it in place, and the flower petals began to fall out before the final buzzer of the football game.

Most girls wore variations of the basic mum corsage, a plain yellow mum with a purple bow made from ½ inch ribbon. The mum could be surrounded by purple or gold net or a combination of the two colors. The letters TTU could be written in purple glitter on a yellow ribbon streamer or with gold stick-on letters on purple ribbon, but that meant the ribbon was 1½ inches wide. If the mum was exceptionally large, TTU formed with purple pipe cleaners could be placed right in the middle of the flower. Big wide bows made from purple and gold ribbon finished that look.

Homecoming 1967 was a cold, rainy day, but I didn’t give a thought to not wearing my homecoming outfit. I put on my wool suit, my brand new shoes, and Boyfriend pinned on my rose corsage. He held a black umbrella over our heads, we wore our knee-length raincoats, and we walked from the dormitory where I lived to the football stadium. It rained all afternoon, but we didn’t consider leaving. We got wet. So wet that I poured water out of my new shoes, which were ruined forever with water spots.

Did my team, Tennessee Tech, win the game? I don’t remember. Having the perfect homecoming outfit and corsage was much more important than any ballgame.

Final Four

Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 9.05.07 AMNow there are four men’s teams and only three more games. I’m already feeling withdrawal and sad because this time next week the college basketball season will be finished, over, done. Some of you are saying, “Thank goodness!’ March Madness has almost been a round-the-clock reality TV show for the past two weeks. A reality show that I’ve recorded and watched and then read about in the newspaper. A reality show that will end when the players of the championship team cut down the net. “One Shining Moment” will be the background music for a video of the tournaments’ highlights. I’ll shed a tear or two.

I understand not everyone cut teeth on basketball gym bleachers as I did and not everyone cares about the Final Four. Maybe you have barely tolerated friends and family who’ve talked nonstop basketball. Maybe you’ve cheered for our OVC and Tennessee teams, and when those teams lost, you lost interest. This writing is for you.

Isn’t there something interesting besides the game score?  Some trivia? According to ESPN.go.com, the Florida Gators’ colors are orange and blue. Florida’s forward Jacob Kurtz used to be the team manager. He washed practice gear and handed out socks. From laundry boy to walk-on player to scholarship player.

The Connecticut Huskies wear blue and white. Connecticut, aka UConn, is the only university in the country that offers a Masters in the Puppet Arts.   UConn’s Shabazz Napier would play for Puerto Rico, his mother’s homeland, if that team gets into the 2016 Olympics. He could have quit college and played professionally, but he promised his mother that he would graduate. And on Mother’s Day, he will.

The Kentucky Wildcats’ color is blue. All of Kentucky’s starting players are freshmen. How does a coach teach 19 year-olds to share and play together? Kentucky has two great freshmen players who are identical twins, Andrew and Aaron Harrison. Imagine how proud their parents are. And a silly anagram for Kentucky Wildcats is “Twisty Dunk (cackle).”

The Wisconsin Badgers wear cardinal and white.  The school’s mascot name came from miners in the 1820s who dug like a badger. Without housing in winter, the miners burrowed into hillside tunnels. During the play of a game, watch 7 foot center Frank Kaminsky – he talks to himself. His teammates are sometimes distracted. Maybe his opponents, too.

Who? When? Where?   On Saturday night, Florida vs. Connecticut and Kentucky vs. Wisconsin. The winners play the championship game Monday night.   Arlington, Texas (close to Fort Worth) at the A T & T Stadium.

To make it through the next few days around us basketball fans, pretend to be interested. Pick a team, based on any criteria. A color or mascot. One of my Grands said he’s for Wisconsin because his daddy knows people who live there. I narrowed my choice to Florida and Kentucky because those schools are in the SEC (Southeastern Conference) – the same conference that the University of Tennessee is in. I’m going with Florida. Those Kentucky freshmen will get another chance.

And you should know that the women’s Final Four games will be played in Nashville, Music City USA, Sunday and Tuesday. I’ll be in a nosebleed seat. As I write, the women’s final four teams haven’t been determined, but I know my team is the one who plays UConn. I can’t tell you why here. Ask me and I will.