Thursday, November 25, 2010

Basketball musing

I’m feeling basketball nostalgic on the day before my our first game.  Feel free to skip this if you could care less.

-This will be my 23 year involved with the sport of basketball.

-It will be my 19th year as a coach.  It will be my 16th as a head coach.

-I didn’t start playing basketball until my freshman year in high school.  I was a soccer goalie.  I decided to play hoops because I was 6’1” and it seemed interesting.

-I played in my first game during the second game of the season against Red Bluff.

-I scored my first bucket in the low post of Passing Game against Las Plumas.

-I once had eight rebounds in three minutes during my freshmen year.

-Out of the 14 guys on the Freshman team, four made it to play through their Senior year; Mike Vance, Chris Ecklund, Shannon Rasmussen, and myself. I’m still happy that I had four years with those guys.

-I didn’t play much during my high school career.  To be perfectly honest, the guys ahead of me were better.

-Up in Anderson during my sophomore year my coach looked at me near the end of the game and asked, “What’s on your mind”.  I answered, “I’m wondering how many people are here”.  He replied, “Way to stay focused on the game, Jeff”.  It was the last time I would not be focused on the game.

-By my Senior year I had matched college team’s plays with our own and was designing different ways to run “14”, our man offense.  Fresno State was running it at the time.

-I loved UNLV’s pressure defense and fast break mentality.

-Believe it or not, I regularly coach against one of my former teammates.  How random is that.

-I first told other students that I was going to coach during my Junior year in high school.

-I ran into Shannon Rasmussen a few years later at a restaurant in Paradise wearing my Live Oak JV jacket and he said, “Holy shit!  You really did what you said!  You are a coach!”

-My Dad was drafted by the Dodgers and threw out his arm.  He never pressured me one day in athletics.

-I went into an empty classroom and cried after Chico’s Jeff Carter hit a free throw line jumper at the buzzer to kick us out of the Division Play-offs during my Senior year.  It was the last game I played in our home gym.

-I realized coaching/teaching was a real calling when I ironed my jersey for our NORCAL Play-off game at Seaside, only to leave it hanging at home.  I watched the last game of my high school career from the bench in Monterey.

-I made the Butte College team and blew out my ankle two practices in.  Another sign that I should coach.

-The coach I first worked for is still coaching, very successfully.

-Some of the best kids I know came out of a little town called Live Oak.

-I’ve almost never seen a successful situation where a father has coached his son in Junior High or High School.

-My real introduction to Islam was from a 15 year old boy who talked with me for over an hour on an away game bus trip about the Koran.

-The worst officiating in the history of the universe was in Redding, when officials were going to call the game because the Sikhs on our team wore small turbans.  They relented.

-My most embarrassing moment in as a coach was when I smashed a clipboard against a locker, shattering it.

-I was fired from one coaching job.  The Athletic Director told me after my last game.  His statement, “To be honest, I don’t think I could have worked for him this long in your position.”

-I quit from one coaching job.  After the scoreboard operator told me I was going to “get it” for playing the wrong guys, after I got calls at home about “playing the Asians over my boys”, and after a parent told me I’d “figure it out, one way or another”, I was almost there.  When the Superintendent called me in and threatened my job if I didn’t play certain players, I walked.

-A majority of ex-superstars that I’ve seen coach do a poor job at it.  Since they are in it for themselves, that’s not surprising.

-The best coaches I’ve seen are teachers of the game, period.

-Some of the best coaches I’ve seen are in the league I’m currently a part of.

-I’m still nervous before every game.

-I believe that players should be great at a few things, not average at a bunch of stuff.

-I’ve played my old high school, Paradise, one time in a summer tournament.  I’m 1-0.

-When I was asked, “How would you feel about beating your old high school”, I answered that I would want to run them out of the gym.  I was a Bobcat for four years.  I’ve been a Wildcat for ten.

-Good letters from basketball parents outnumber bad letters 10 to 1.  I keep all the good ones and toss all the bad.

-I would sit a stud if he broke the rules before the championship game, with no regrets.

-Some of the most important words I say every year take place during the one hour of my team parent meeting.

-I have too many good basketball memories to count.

-However, two years ago a double overtime win with one player hitting two buzzer beaters and the game ending with another player taking a charge ranks very high.

-I owe a vast majority of my basketball knowledge to Jim Moore, Jack Danielson, Russ Neal, and Bill Heath.  Every time a player wears a tie, plays tenacious defense, runs Hurricane to perfection, does an up-and-under step through, or executes the Wheel to a lay-up, a little nod goes to them.

Since the butterflies are still there…………………..here we go again.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving

I’ve pretty much not touched any class work since leaving my semi-messy classroom on Friday.  Basically, my classroom looks like my life; half organized chaos where I know where things are, but I’m too busy to put it all away.  I’m planning to go into my classroom for about two hours on Friday before my basketball game to tidy up and do a little grading.

Speaking of basketball, and working, I’ll throw out this number for those that think that coaching high school athletics isn’t really a job.  I will spend 23 hours this week outside of my home on basketball related work.  So much for the tired, idiotic statement that school teachers get so much time off.

I’ve also been doing more reading (fiction and magazines), watching television shows that have been on Tivo for weeks, re-watching the Harry Potter films, and talking to my wife.  Since I leave at 6:30 in the morning and don’t get home until after 8 in the evening, I don’t see my wife much.  It’s nice to reconnect.

Turkey Day in our home will be a small affair with her parents, a little football, good food, and great wine.  My wife and I agree that it is our favorite holiday because the pressure of useless gift buying doesn’t exist.  You literally eat, drink, and be merry.  Then Friday and Saturday become game days and a different joy floods into my life for the 23rd season. 

Happy Holidays!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

2010 Giants Moment #18: Adios Pelota!

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Probably the most disappointing aspect of the September 4 game against the Dodgers was the fact that the Bulldog, Matt Cain, had been torched for four early runs in a game that really mattered.  Many a television set turned off around quarter to 8 p.m. in the evening on that night, and many a Giants fan were wondering if the division run was really going to happen if this team couldn’t put away a hanger-on.
Those of us who stuck around were granted a vision of some of the magic that would roll right into the play-offs.  A series of solo home runs by Buster Posey, Edgar Renteria, and Pat Burrell started in the 7th and woke up the Giants veterans through the late innings of the once 4-0 game.  With the score 4-3, Juan Uribe stepped into the box in the Top of the 9th and flat jacked a slider off of closer Jonathon Broxton.  The two run bomb sealed the Dodger play-off fate and gave a huge confidence boost to the September run that would lead to the World Series title. 
In short, it was a game that made you scream with joy which woke up your wife who was sleeping and made her irritated that evening, then jealous that next morning.  Gotta love those.   

Relive the magic!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Laying on the 3rd rail

Unless you are brand new to my blog, you know that I think that multi-cultural focus in education is pretty much one of the biggest wastes of time I’ve ever seen.  Since Day One of the credential program in 2000, I’ve been told that the primary focus of instruction needs to be how to deal with Latino students, especially English Language Learners.  To better connect with these students, I’ve been shown techniques that are focused around Spanish speaking students, bludgeoned with the paramount importance of cultural sensitivity, and forced into spending thousands of dollars getting an addition to my credential called the CLAD,  with stands for “Crosscultural, Language, and Academic Development”.   In fact, all teachers were required to get the CLAD or face the possibility of losing their jobs.  You know what all this multi-cultural focus has gained us?  Very little.

The problem is that it is wildly unpopular to disagree with putting culture ahead of academics, as I found out two weeks ago.  So while our school held a “Dia de los Muertos” celebration at the school, grumbling started to take place about the benefit of the event.  Everything from academic distraction to cultural overload to First Amendment issues were being discussed all over campus.  I was actually ambivalent.  My own feeling was that we focus on culture too much and that it should have been an after school event, but I’d been saying this for awhile.  An e-mail was then sent out by one of the events organizers apologizing for some items that may had caused offense to some people.  In return came a dozen e-mails supporting the event, including a majority that said that if people didn’t support the “Day of the Dead” celebration, they were “ethnocentric, culturally insensitive, and racist”. 

I was fed up with hypocritical nature of the argument that disagreeing with educational philosophy equated to racism, so I sent back an e-mail, which said the following:

-Not agreeing to the celebration does not make one culturally insensitive, ethnocentric, or racist.

-I would like a discussion on the value of cultural assimilation.

-Our Latino students have chronically low test scores.

-The ratio of support classes to student population heavily favors Latinos.    

-There are a variety of cultural events including celebrations, BBQ’s, college visits, ethnic retreats, field trips, and clubs, that pull students out of class during the day, including low performing students.

-We as an institution seem to have a lower expectation from our Latino students.

-We need to accurately analyze the real cost/benefit of how involved we are with cultural issues while neglecting academic progress.

-We might be unintentionally creating a culturally decisive atmosphere.

You might have thought I advocated Nazism and the return of slavery with the reaction I got.  Scathing e-mails called me a racist, a colonial oppressor, and generally ignored any suggestions that I made toward rational discussion.  A couple of teachers went so far as to tell their students I was a racist, and one even lobbied that I be disciplined for my insensitive remarks. 

But this story has a happy second chapter, because the discussion has started in a meaningful way around the campus, even with the heads of many remaining in the sand.  Ten years and consistently high standards have made the argument that race comes into my teaching a totally dead issue with the kids.  A couple of students came to me and told me that teachers were acting in a highly unprofessional manner, and those that wanted to know about the race issue were happy when I answered “I will always have higher expectations of you.  I will always care for you.  But I think the best way for you to succeed in my class is for you to be in it.  I have no apologies for wanting to keep you here”.  I have yet to meet a student that is not satisfied with that answer.  Most know me enough to think the race card is crap anyway.

Even better are the teachers that came to my classroom to have a legitimate discussion about what I wrote.  Some told me that most of the concern was around generalizations.  The population is English Language Learners, not Latino, that I should be talking about according to some people.  Fair enough, except that when we talk about supporting certain populations we generalize all the time.  Most came out of our conversation acknowledging that a school wide discussion should take place about communication, priorities, and plenty of other issues that boil underneath because people are concerned about perception. 

This isn’t an issue of lacking work ethic.  I think teachers get offended when someone asks them to rethink how they do things that might not be efficient, even if they do work hard.  I know I would.  But we are doing Latino students a serious injustice by refusing to have a conversation about how we do things as an institution, hell, as a society!  Cutting out dialogue and playing the race card does nothing but leave education in a state of mediocrity where we talk about the same results over and over again. 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

2010 Giants Moment #19: Stepping back and showing class

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I’ll be honest, I boo’ed the shit out of Barry Zito on the Saturday before the clincher against San Diego.  I was so pissed at the walks, the body language, the damn issue of a $126 million dollar fifth starter.  It all came out along with 43,000 other people that expected more from a guy that started the season so well.  Guess what.  He’s a bigger man than I am.  So is Aaron Rowand, Pablo Sandoval, and the numerous guys that took a back seat to players that had a better opportunity at winning a championship.

Don’t get me wrong, I really don’t feel bad about guys that earn multi-million dollar contracts getting playing time.  But it would have been so easy for the Panda to start moping in the slump, for Aaron Rowand to demand to be traded, and for Barry Zito to curse the play-off line-up with a temper tantrum.  But they didn’t.  They treated their demotions like professionals and realized that a greater good was being met by supporting those that were getting the job done.  Regardless of how you thought they played, or the size of their contracts (sunk costs anyway), you had to admire the “team first” attitude displayed by these guys. 

So Barry Zito will still be around, Panda needs to show commitment, and it’s 50-50 that Aaron Rowand is on another team on Opening Day, but it is undeniable that their positive mental contributions were vital to the 2010 World Series run.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

2010 Giants Moment #20: Marty Laurie enters the studio…and doesn’t leave

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Most Giants fans don’t know that Marty Laurie has been doing baseball for over a decade, only for the A’s across the San Francisco Bay.  When the A’s station couldn’t find room for Laurie, he moved on over to KNBR 680 and started a serious pre-game and the longest post-game show in the history of radio.

It might seem weird that I included Marty Laurie into my Top 20 Moments.  But what Marty brought was a legitimate post-game show that was minus a lot of the Scott Farrell wannabe’s that dot the Giant Post Game landscape.  Yes, I’m talking about the Mychael Urban’s and F.P. Santangelo’s of sports talk radio.  The yelling and self-promotion got ridiculous, and Marty Laurie brought respect and baseball chat to late-night sports talk radio.  By the way, when I say “late night”, I mean “late night”.  Laurie became known for his Saturday and Sunday evening shows that would could for over five hours.  People were leaving Giants/Dodgers games at Chavez Ravine and pulling into their driveway in San Jose still listening to Marty talking to Bob from Brisbane.  It was a running joke that created and fostered good baseball chatter.

Marty Laurie’s knowledge and respectful passion for the game lends him to a spot in the Top 20.  My wife and I listened to Laurie’s pre and post game on our 2 1/2 hour drives to the ball park and it became part of the ritual of baseball.  When you threw in the excellent interviews (his interview of Bobby Cox was fantastic), Saturday and Sunday mornings all of the sudden became drive-time radio.  On the way to the coast?  Turn on Laurie two hours before game-time.

In the best possible way, he set the table for Giants baseball.   

Sunday, November 07, 2010

2010 World Series Champion, San Francisco Giants

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If anyone told you at the beginning of the year that the San Francisco Giants would win the World Series, they were lying.  Sure, the team had two time Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum and a battery-mate named Matt Cain, both among the leagues best pitchers.  But the next three in the rotation were questionable (Jonathon Sanchez), overpaid (Barry Zito), and pretty much unknown (Todd Wellemeyer).  Not the most competent pitching staff in many people’s views.  The diamond hadn’t changed much either.  Pablo Sandoval was nice, Bengie Molina was in the fold again, as was Juan Uribe and Edgar Renteria.  But remember that Eugenio Velez and Fred Lewis were also around, players that gave past fans fits for years.  Every fly ball to left field was questionable because Lewis couldn’t use his glove.

Well, moves were made, torture occurred, and the end result was a World Series win that I still can’t wrap my mind around.  Oh, and this is after I made a trek to San Francisco on Wednesday to actually be a part of history with one million other people.  Yep, this Giants fan still can’t believe that the first championship was a team that included Pat Burrell and some guy named Cody Ross.  My wife and I hit up about a dozen games this year, and the word World Series was nowhere near passing our lips.  Fighting for the National League West?  Yes, and we really expected a down to the wire fight.  Series win?  Not even remote. 

So I’ll spend a few weeks thanking my Giants with a few moments that I felt were memorable for me, the points that made the 2010 Giants one of the most fun teams to follow to the very end.  It was a hell of a ride.

Dealing with open classroom “oops” moments

I have a pretty open classroom.  What that means is that the flow of ideas is hardly ever impaired by things that might not be acceptable in someone else’s classroom.  I deal with Seniors in a Government/Economics setting, something that demands openness if the subject matter is going to come across as relevant. 

That openness straddles a very transparent line.  Take swearing.  I don’t condone swearing, but I do allow for a little more latitude to the use of language.  My rule is that if you slip, fix it and move on.  We talk about controversial stuff and kids get passionate sometimes.  I don’t allow anyone to call anyone else out.  Then the boundary has been crossed.  But seriously, in dealing with 17/18 year old students, what’s worse….

-“I can’t believe that people voted for some bullshit policy that deals with marriage, something that is none of anyone’s business".

or

-“You’re stupid”.

Context people.

Today’s incident wasn’t about swearing, it was about a student getting too relaxed with the open atmosphere and popping off to me.  Everyone knew it too because that line of tack and taste was far enough crossed that a collective “ohhhhhhhhhhhhh” rang out in my classroom.  I asked him to step outside of the classroom for a moment.

I’ve seen students written up with referrals (disciplinary notes) for far less.  We aren’t talking belligerent kids here, we are talking young adults who would rather be in my classroom than A-24 (the bad place) waiting to get detentions.  What’s worse, I’ve seen teachers set a mood for a classroom and then ring up a student who pushes those limits just a little bit.  Hey, if you set the environment and style of your room, you better be prepared to enact a sane method of consequences for small infractions.  Mountains out of molehills, especially those you helped build, don’t help the students.

So I wandered outside and the student immediately apologized.  He knew he crossed the line and any further punishment was going to be a strong overreaction to a minor event.  I let him know that the comment of was to far, reminded him that I enjoyed his participation, and let him off with the suggestion that he be a little more careful with his commentary.  That was it.  Problem solved and the rest of the class notes where the boundary was set without resentment from overreaction. 

The testing of boundaries will only get worse later in the Spring as Seniors realize they are almost out of here.  It isn’t mean, it’s just a boundary thing.  It culminates with graduation parties in June, where I’m invited to parent initiated gatherings where students are often drinking, and not a simple glass of champagne.  Yeah, I avoid grad parties more and more as the years go by.