Disneyland Family 5K -2014

Disneyland Family 5K -2014

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Glory days, in the blink of a young (wo)man's eye...

As some of you know, I'm a bit of a weekend warrior these days. I play basketball in a league on Sundays, sometimes going the rest of the week without working out and sucking wind on the following Sunday because of it. Most of you probably remember that I played hoops in high school, for one of the best teams in the county, under the tutelage of a great coach (Coach Rod Holmes). I also played in college, under a coach who, at the time, had one of the best records in the NCAA, across all divisions, men or women.

Despite my seemingly auspicious beginnings, the WBNA did not come calling and scouts were not following me every where I went. When my knees went bad 2 years into college, I switched to volleyball and hung up the high tops. (Except to give a few guys a schooling here and there in pick-up games.)

These days, I'm happy to be back on the court. There is something comforting about the sound of the ball bouncing on the hardwood, or the swish of the hoop as the ball passes through, and yes, even the way the gym smells after a day of games. But at the same time, I have to laugh at some of what I see in the younger generation of players. Although I don't consider myself "old" by any means, I think I have achieved a certain level of understanding that comes with being 20 years out from the intense days of high school or college competition: the knowledge that, at the end of the day, there are things that are more important than this game.

I had this realization just this past Sunday night. It has been a few weeks in coming, but this last game helped clarify things for me. We have several players on our team that are younger, by 10 or even 15 years. They are much closer in time to their "glory days" of high school. They feel the pinch of losing much more acutely than I do, and they seem to almost rebel against it. Don't get me wrong, I hate to lose as much as the next guy. But there is a time and place for things, and I get to a point where I simply lack the patience to deal with some of these women ( not my teammates, but players on other teams) who forget that this is a game and forget that at the end of our hour on the court, we go back to our "real" lives. Perhaps it is age or experience or just being taught a different way, but I reached a point in that last game, where I thought "it just isn't worth it."

At one point in the game, we were down by 15 points and the other team was challenging our inbounds pass on their end of the court (a full court press.). Excuse me? You are up by 15 and you are pressing? This is where lessons learned on Coach Holmes' court kicked in. My first thought was that the other team had crossed the line into "bush" league. Maybe other coaches taught things differently, but you just don't pour on the press when you are leading by 15. (I should also note that these games typically top out at around 40 or 50 points for the winning team - they are not what you would call "high scoring" games.).

I have to wonder how much of that "win at all costs" attitude comes from a lack of education in the sport, or possibly from playing for a coach who was ruthless or had a "win at all costs" mentality. Those coaches rarely included class in their missives. It could also be that some of these women never played "organized" ball and so don't realize that you can't hug someone when playing defense or that to set a proper screen, you have to plant your feet (and can't stick your knee out to trip the defense.). These things must be taught and maybe these poor souls weren't as lucky as I was to have the fundamentals drilled into their heads over many years.

It could also be that for some of these ladies (and yes, I use that term loosely), this is their moment in the sun, and for them, the "glory days" are not over. They believe that someone is still looking for them, or their moment in the sun is just around the corner. (Sadly, it isn't coming in the Sunday league at the rec gym in Burbank California.). I have to laugh when some of these teams come out guns blazing, running designed plays. For what? If you win the league, you might get a pat on the back and if you're lucky, a t-shirt. Woo hoo! For that, let's put someone's eye out! No thank you.

In the midst of Sunday's chaos, I missed jumpers and had some rebounds that did not fall. One of my teammates (who is still in her 20s and displays a normal to slightly high dislike for losing) came up to me at the foul line and said "you're so much taller than them, just gather yourself and go up." I smiled at her -probably a goofy grin- because my brain couldn't come up with a quick enough crack about my age and because I've heard those words somewhere in my past, and then I just let it go.  A few seconds later I trudged back down the court.

I smiled because what she doesn't yet realize (and hopefully will someday) is that there are things more important than killing myself to win that game. For me, those "things" are aged 2 and 7. I want them to see me play with class because I want them to grow up and play the same way. I don't want them to see me whining to the refs or taking cheap shots under the basket when no one is watching. (But I will teach them to take a charge and that free throws can win games, and remind them that you can't teach height.)

By the time my teammate made the comment to me, we were about 30 minutes into the (40 minute) game and I had scrapped for a jump ball and smashed up my finger, I had tried to take a charge and been knocked on my ass, and I'd been grabbed and held and knocked around so much under the basket that I was done. That is not to say that I quit, or gave up, or didn't get back on "D" or run the court right up to the end. (I even drained a 3 pointer to bring us within 4, and I still maintain that the scorekeeper messed up and gave them 2 extra points.)  But I was done with the drama and the swearing (the other team) and the feigned surprise at being called for a foul (also the other team).

I do feel bad for some of the younger girls on our team, and I can sense the frustration over losing that seems to come more often than we would like.  (Although we have been doing better since we added to "younger" girls who like to run the court.)  But at the same time, I just don't have the same energy I had 15 or 20 years ago.

This last week, my girls got to watch me play hard, sink a few shots and do pretty well for an "old" lady. In the end we lost, but I can walk off the court knowing that I did my best and have nothing to be ashamed of and even this far removed from high school and college, I still played with class. If my little ones decide to follow in my footsteps in that regard, I guess I'm doing o.k.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Don't Forget Me

For the past week or so, I've been thinking quite a bit about places I have been and things that I have done.  Some parts of my life I have literally left behind, moving across the country for school and to pursue my career.  With Facebook, it has become much easier to reconnect with the past, with parts of our lives we thought completely left behind and no longer reachable.  We can now reconnect with people in parts of the world we may never visit again.

As part of that reconnecting, I have found my way back to a piece of me in high school.  Not just through my classmates (many of whom are on Facebook,) but through the basketball program.  A guy who was a local sports writer when I was in high school was a great friend of our basketball program and an unofficial assistant coach - of sorts.  He would come to all of the practices and games, and even ran drills and played pick-up with us.  He is still involved with the program (I think he even became an "official" assistant at one point) and now posts from time to time about the current team and players and our coach.  There is also now a separate page for the girls' basketball program, where updates and pictures are posted.

It was a picture in one of those recent posts that struck me.  It was a picture of our friend, Don, being carried by several players, to a birthday celebration.  It looks like the picture was taken in a cafeteria, but having never been in the new school building, I can't be sure.  What struck me at that moment, was that the high school that I attended - the physical building - was gone.  Thomas Wolfe said "You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood ... back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame ... back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory."  In this instance, that quote could not be more true, since part of my childhood no longer exists.

I went back to Jefferson last summer, for my 20th high school reunion.  My best friend and I drove to the high school and wandered around the new football stadium and peeked into some windows of the new school. (It sits on a spot that was an overgrown field 20 years ago.)  The spot where our school building stood is now mostly a parking lot.  There are no markers, no sign of what was.  I can never go back to that building, its layout etched forever in my mind, and wander the halls.  I can't go back to my old locker and see if the combination is still the same: 20-32-10.  I can't poke my head into Mr. Mizer's biology class and see if he is still torturing students with frog dissection.  (I was his teacher's aide senior year and used to come in every morning with a can of Pepsi and a pop-tart and laugh at the kids in his bio class.)  This is one situation when I cannot go back, even if I really wanted to.   (And sometimes, I really want to.)

As I looked at the picture in the recent post, of life continuing on at the "new" school, I was a bit sad and I wondered - does anyone there remember me?  Is there anything at the "new" school that marks me or my class - that we passed through?   Do those kids even know about us?

It is human nature, I think, to expect that people feel the same way about us that we feel about them.  When we leave and miss someone, we expect and hope and believe that the other person feels the same way as we do, and misses us just as much.  Unfortunately, of course that is usually not the way "life" goes.  Consider a couple that breaks up.  The girl may move on, thinking that there is something better out there for her and has no plans to come back to the guy.  She picks up and moves on.  But at the same time, if he moves on and starts dating someone else, she might get angry or jealous.  Even though she is moving on, she expects him to sit around and wait.  She hopes that she meant so much to him that when she is gone, his life ceases and he must sit and wait for her to come back, in order for his life to begin again.

In some ways, I find myself hoping that the same is true for places that I've been.  I left Jefferson, Ohio 21 years ago. I packed my car for college and aside from the usual trips home for the holidays, I did not look back.  While I know that life moved on, a small part of me almost wishes that the clocks had all stopped the day I left.  For in that, wouldn't it prove just a tiny bit of worth on my part?  Would it mean that I was important to someone or something there?  That I had just as much impact on the place and time, as the place and time had on me? 

I have also reconnected with many friends from college - those 4 brief years that I spent in upstate New York.  So much living and so many experiences crammed into 48 short months, and then I packed my car again - this time to LA, where I still am.  It has been 17 years, and I have been back twice.  And yet, when I see my old friends from college posting about their lives and I see postings on the school's alumni page, I can't help but feel that same tiny bit of a question - what about me?  Do you remember me?  Does anyone there today know what we went through in that place?

Some of my nostalgia these days could also be blamed on my playing basketball again.  Last year I got connected with the Lady Lawyer's League - a group of women from Georgetown Law, who had all played ball in college and decided that it didn't have to end with graduation.  They set up leagues and began playing on a regular basis.  When some of the group moved to other parts of the country, the league followed.  The LA branch had set up a tournament, and I decided to play.  (Crazy, considering it had been a few years since I had played.)  It only took a few minutes for all of the memories to start washing over me, the smell of the gym, the sound of the ball hitting the hardwood, and the words of the coach ringing in my ears.  (Although I played ball in college, I think my high school coach had much more of an impact on me and it has been his lessons that have stuck with me.)  I was asked to join the team that I was matched with, for their regular Sunday leagues and have been playing most of the last year.  It is almost like riding a bicycle, coming back to play after so many years.  There are some things you just never forget.

Going back to my high school team - Don posted a link today to an article he wrote, about the end of the Winter sports season and that feeling for seniors, when you know it is the last time you will be on that floor, with that team, those people, those friends.  You can see his article here:   http://starbeacon.com/localsports/x766088572/A-Don-McCormack-column-Heartbreak-Highway-you-can-check-in-but-you-can-never-leave  I posted a comment to his page in response, that I remember that feeling of heartbreak.  I remember it very well.  My heartbreak at the end of my senior year was even photographed, and then run in the paper for all to see.  A senior, accepting a "runner-up" award ("There are no points for second place"), and fighting back tears.  I don't remember the bus ride home that night, but I do remember that sense of loss and emptiness, knowing that my time in the gym (at least for high school) was over.  Of course, that gym is gone now, and for that part of my life, I truly can never go home again.

I have grown up in the 21 years since that picture was taken and have experienced more loss and heartbreak, some of which has been public and some not.  I've moved more times than I can remember and have made friends in many places.  I can only hope that the people I've met remember me as fondly as I remember them, and that in some small way, each of the places that I have been is changed for my having been there and, without me, won't ever be quite the same again.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Put me in Coach, I'm ready to play!

Have you ever noticed how former athletes carry the lessons learned on the field into their professional lives?  I don't think that I could say that everyone does it, but I think in general terms, most competitive athletes continue to feel that competitive drive in everything they do after sports.  The lessons learned stick with them.  It is easy to see a football player ruthlessly pursuing a target and taking it down - whether that target is a business deal to be closed, or a receiver to be tackled.  A basketball player will keep taking those shots, over and over - whether it is by grabbing a rebound and putting it back up, or by continuing to make plans and close deals.

But what about the baseball player?  How does someone who did not play a contact sport turn drive or determination into their business.  I would offer the argument that it is different, and in some cases, a former baseball player might lack the killer instinct required in some settings.

A few thoughts on the sport before I close the loop on this analogy.  Baseball is the only sport where you do NOT control the ball when you are on offense.  When you are on defense, you might spend quite a bit of time just standing around, waiting for something to happen.  Baseball is not a contact sport.  Yes, you might run into the catcher when there is a play at the plate or slide into the second baseman when you are stealing, but there is not real contact.  Similarly, there is no real opportunity for retaliation or self preservation.  In basketball, if someone on defense elbows you when you are going for a lay-up, you have a few options.  You can elbow them back right then, or you can elbow them when you are on defense.  The response can be almost immediate and depending on how closely the refs are looking, can be quite satisfying.  In the "paint" (or the "key") you can be jostling for position - you can actually feel yourself moving others around and the struggle for position is palpable.  You can feel it.  Nothing quite like that happens in baseball.

Baseball is certainly a more sedate game.  People often complain that they don't like to watch baseball because it is boring.  Long stretches of time pass with nothing happening.  When you are playing the game, you sit when your team is on offense, every half inning, unless you are up to bat - and even then your at bat could take mere minutes if you can't connect.  What other mainstream sport allows you to win a game by sitting on your butt?  And how about retaliation?  If a pitcher thinks that you are crowding the plate and buzzes you, you have no immediate recourse.  You can't throw the ball back and "buzz" the pitcher.  You can't do anything, except wait until the other team is up to bat and your pitcher can then buzz someone else.  (You don't even get the opportunity to retaliate for yourself.)  Of course, one way to get back at the pitcher might be to hit it out of the park, or even drive a come-backer right down his throat, but for the most part, you don't get to have your own revenge, and there is no real jostling for position.

The reason I bring this up is because I was a basketball player.  I believe that I have a killer instinct.  I turned that killer instinct toward the law and now get paid to argue and fight for a living.  For the most part, I fight with words and on paper, but every once in awhile, I go to court and argue with other attorneys in front of the judge.  I get pumped up just like I used to when playing sports, and I like it.  I like the rush of adrenaline that comes with knowing my position is the right one, and believing that I am going to win.  Even when dealing with my own clients, I tend to approach things aggressively.  I do sometimes have to remember to slow down and change tactics, as aggression does not suit every circumstance, but I would say that generally speaking, I like to attack.  I think that this instinct comes, at least in part, from my days of playing sports (and more specifically, basketball.) 

Unfortunately, I think that some athletes missed that boat, based solely on their sport of choice.  Baseball.  I have a friend who played baseball competitively and is now an attorney.  There is a situation developing that needs a response.  I look at the situation and see the need for a swift and aggressive response - whether the response is directed at the client, or at the opposing side.  I feel that action, immediate action (i.e. a retaliatory elbow to the nose) is appropriate.  My friend is choosing to take a few steps back and look at the situation (perhaps more calmly assessing things than I would),  and is even considering the outcome of things down the road.  My feeling is that you deal with the "here and now" in the "here and now" and worry about the rest later.  If the guy elbows you now and you don't respond, he will continue to elbow you every time down the court, until you establish your position on the court, by getting your own elbows out... and using them.  Some might argue that where the "other guy" is your client, you want to be more conservative in your approach.  I would certainly never discount that position, but I think it also depends on the situation.

Yes, I'm definitely more aggressive.  I would not say that my friend's approach to this problem is a bad one or the wrong one, or that my approach is a better one or the "right" one.  I mention them only as different ways to approach an issue, and highlight the fact that I think our approaches are in some respects, a result of our backgrounds in sport.  There is no way to know how this situation will play out, until the final buzzer (or until the third out in the 9th is in the books.)  In the meantime, I'll be over in the corner, sharpening my elbows, ready to attack when needed.