Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Olympic Challenge

I enjoy the Olympics. 

I enjoy the ideals espoused and, in large, followed.

The Olympic Creed, drafted in 1908 by Pierre de Coubertin, father of the modern Olympics, reads as follows:

"The most important thing in the Olympic games is not to win but to take part, 
just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. 
The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."

I gain inspiration from that creed.

It reminds me of what, in my view, is truly best about sport - not the victories or the fame or the grandness of hardware received, but merely engaging the desire to compete. Not as profession or a means to an end, but simply competition for competition sake with people from all over the world who share that enthusiasm.

That enthusiasm is not so terribly different than what I recall playing sports as a kid. The pure enjoyment derived from playing a game for no other reason than to challenge oneself to perform. The ability and desire to load upon oneself self-doubt along with confidence, power with control, rage with calm, fear with courage, to willingly put oneself in a position to fail or succeed.

Having been an active kid, I recall only wanting to play any sport or game I could get my hands on.  I settled on a few favorites but I often tell people that I grew up playing golf. I mean this as frame of reference in time but also in regard to mental maturity. Golfers will understand what I mean. Golf, when in its most essential form, has a way of making us all very humble and also keeping us very equal. Size and strength really matters very little when it comes to golfing success. It was from that sport I learned at an early age what failure is like... frequently.

What I also learned is that when one continues to try, successes will also become apparent. I consider myself quite lucky in that most of my friends growing up felt the same way as I did and we all loved to compete with and against each other. Whether it was a fully sanctioned league game of some sort or a simple backyard challenge, I enjoyed whatever form it took. Not realizing it at the time, those days spent playing sports and games were all little defining moments in my growth to adulthood.

In my adulthood ironically, and especially I find when one has a family to be concerned with, I wonder if I too easily recuse myself from challenges, seeking the security that comes from experience and the 'knowns'. As a parent I feel often as if I default to a place of low-risk security in an attempt to provide that solid platform for my children to learn to test their own limits. I also wonder if sometimes I couldn't better exemplify behavior toward challenges by testing myself more, showing them how I define and respond to success and failure.

It's often said we learn most from our failures, and less from our successes. I happen to agree. That fact that failures are so often frequent is also what makes those fleeting moments of success all the sweeter. The Olympics exemplify this on the highest level and for that I am grateful to witness.

It also serves as a reminder that there is a little bit of Olympian in all of us... 
if we choose to embrace it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Current Sports Umbrage and Proposed Solutions

Cleaning out various physically cluttered areas of one's domicile or workplace also leads to considering where else might the general clutter in one's life be, physical or otherwise. Today's housecleaning will address some of the clutter from the sports world that occupies a (perhaps all too large) percentage of my mental energies.

Indiana High School Class Basketball 
Over four decades of life in this state and two decades of living with the changed system from single-class high-school basketball tournament to four classed tournaments leads me to this conclusion - IT SUCKS. Little pride or excitement remains for a tournament which formerly was the stuff of legend (I'd argue envy of other states) and part of the identity of the entire state. One of the greatest sports movies by most accounts, Hoosiers, is a tale based on it. 

'Hoosier Hysteria' (the origin of which can be attributed to basketball's inventor James Naismith's agreement that Indiana was the sport's spiritual home) associated with the original tournament gave us frequent 'David versus Goliath' match-ups throughout the many levels of the tournament that resonated with the people of a flyover state where national attention is a rare as a hurricane. Even the tournament's draw was televised because of the intrigue with learning who your favorite school would play. Most everyone celebrates the underdog in its struggle to overcome the larger foe - mainly because, in my view, we identify more with them as people and especially as residents of Indiana. So it was for Indiana High School basketball then and no matter if it was the early upset win in a sectional (the first and most local rounds of the tournament) or the state final, it gave the smaller teams their shot at enduring glory. 

By adopting a four-class system for the 1998 tournament (even with the four class state champions playing off in a 'Tournament of Champions' however) most fans agree that the intrigue, mystique, and legendary passion for the sport and the state's championship has waned considerably and left a state with no 'true' champion for which we yearn. Another example of the popularity of this come-all, wide-open type of single-class system can be found in the FA (Football Association) Cup Tournament in England's most-beloved sport of football. I believe this to be a net negative for the students, parents, schools, and residents of this state. Many valuable life lessons are learned through participation in athletics and the size-delineated tournaments only serve to amplify a thought that differences are to be maintained, not celebrated.

Re-instate single-class basketball. Simple as that. I'm not sure just how much or how little it would actually take to acheive, but were it actually put in the most-democratic form of a statewide referendum, I'd put dollars to donuts the vote would go 70-30 or better in favor of returning to a single-class, single-elimination high-school basketball tournament.

It is a true head-scratcher to me that the IHSAA ever saw the multiple class system as an answer to a question no one was asking. Fixing what isn't broken has never been the Hoosier way. Fix Indiana high-school basketball.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Search is Over.

Of course you, my terrific tens of readers, have been patiently waiting for an update to my thoughts on supportership of an English Premier League team from December and today you shall not be disappointed... except that to begin to understand my pain, you must watch this entire 4:04 video, which will feel more like 19 minutes of unanesthetized dental horrors:

The lyrics are insignificant. What is important is the utterly painful sounds and visuals this cubic-zirconia of an 80s musical gem offers. 

Now that you've endured it, you must know watching that pales in comparison to the utter calamity and torture of watching a passenger train named Wigan Athletic wrecking down the side of a mountain... over the course of six years. Six years of mental anguish. Six loooong years. Six very looooong years of constant 'what-ifs', 'why-nots', and head-shaking. To be fair, there were some interspersed highlights, albeit counted on less than one-hand's worth, of which nearly all revolved around a final-week reprieve from the sporting gallows.

No matter the outcome of Wigan this season, I have now officially severed all emotional and sentimental ties to this club and after some deliberation have settled on a new club.  Here are the finalists:

Sunderland - a considerably-skilled squad with great kits, decent financial backing, great fans, and storied rivalry with local opposition Newcastle. The addition of one of my favored managers in Martin O'Neill was certainly a boost to the club and my consideration. Ellis Short, an American with Irish heritage, is the current majority owner after being a partner within the previous owners' consortium. The Black Cats appear to be on the upswing although have dallied up and down with the Premiership as recently as the mid-2000s

Everton - a storied and historic club whose 108 years in the top flight of English football is second to none. Coupled with steady manager in David Moyes, the English-owned outfit has maintained an upper-half level. Over it's history Everton has won the top flight 9 times, FA Cup 5, and League Cup twice. They have American keeper Tim Howard, have loaned-in American Landon Donovan, and maintain an historic and friendly rivalry, The Merseyside Derby, with 'The Reds' of Liverpool. The 'Blues' or 'Toffees' enjoy modest, yet continual success in the top flight, and dalliances with European football, often in the shadow of cross-river rivals Liverpool.  

Aston Villa - owned by American Randy Lerner, I have some admiration for a club who hails from what I call the 'Chicago' of England - Birmingham. It is the second largest metro area outside of London with historic recognition for manufacturing and production.  Blue-collar all the way, their storied Second-City Derby with rivals Birmingham City reminds one of the Cubs-White Sox divide. They also have one with nearby West Bromwich Albion which recalls the historic Chicago Bears-Green Bay Packers rivalry. Aside from football, Aston Villa has done incredible things within its community (such as donating 300 days of hospice care and the front shirt sponsorship space to Acorns Children's Hospice. They also champion local farming and food systems and provide considerable support to local employment and training services).

Certainly not an easy choice for me but I finally have settled comfortably on one of these clubs...

"And the winner is"...


Another reason I considered Everton, which I didn't state earlier, was that when I went about first selecting a club in 2006, I was down to Wigan and Everton. 'Smaller Upstart' vs. 'Establishment'. While I respected both views and with little separating the two then, I then made my final selection (rather embarrassingly now) on the style of the Home shirt.

With some years of experience now behind me, I can see what drew me to Everton originally is what I like about them today. Granted, their kits aren't the most nattily designed, but do have a continuity which I like.  You may soon see me in something of a solid Royal Blue with the Everton badge, so henceforth, you may consider me a 'Toffee' or a 'Blue' and a fan of "The People's Club".

I extend by thanks to all of you who conscientiously offered suggestions and gave well-reasoned input. It was not in vain and did help me determine what was most important in the evaluations of teams. Nil Satis Nisi Optimum is the motto and 'Nothing but the Best' is what I intend to give them and also look to receive.

As Survivor sang, " the search is over, you were with me all the while". It is my sincere desire to not be at this point again someday, so now, as an Evertonian, I must be true. 

True Blue.