Saturday, September 27, 2014

I Remember Neal Armstrong

July 16, 1969 I was seven years old.  Earlier that month we had moved from the only home I had known – Oakland, Iowa – to a small apartment in Ames as my dad returned to Iowa State University to begin work on a Master’s degree.  For a seven year old, that was a tough move.  I left the only friends I had ever had, and my first season of organized baseball was over.  My younger brother Jay was the only kid I knew in our new town.  Mom and dad recognized that both of us were pretty down in the dumps, and combined with the fact that it was summer, were a bit more relaxed on bed time.  July 16 was a special evening, and one that I remember 45 years later as the four of us sat in that small apartment in front of our black and white television watching Neal Armstrong take “one giant leap for mankind.”
I do not recall any of the events of the space race prior to this.  I don’t recall John Glenn becoming the first American in space, nor Ed White taking the first space walk, which ended up nudging the United States ahead of the Russians.  But I do recall the competition between our nation and the Russians.  The Russians were evil communists in the eyes of young boys who used to pretend that they were astronauts when they weren’t being cowboys or soldiers.  We know that one result of this era was a huge emphasis on science and math in our nation’s schools.  When we think back to that time, it is incredible what people in labs developed to support the space program, products that we take for granted today.  The motive was to insure that the United States of America was the strongest nation in the world militarily and to prove the superiority of a free, democratic country.
I watched CNN’s series entitled The Sixties and did not realize how fascinated the great Walter Cronkite was with space and flight.  I recall seeing clips when tears came to his eyes as he reported Apollo 11 landing on the moon, as well as the absolute joy and wonder in his voice.  And I vaguely remember a 60 Minutes episode with him in a glider and sharing his thoughts on flying.  But he truly was a champion for the space program at this time, and it was certainly an era of great wonder and possibility, a time for heroes and dreams. 
I fear that we have lost this sense of adventure, of pushing into new frontiers.  Many see continued efforts to explore space as a waste of taxpayer dollars.  At the same time we bemoan how our schools have fallen behind other nations of the world in the performance of our students in science.  With STEM programs growing in schools, there is a renewed emphasis, but when you get down to it, all of the reasons I read about to upgrade science are economic in nature.  Maybe we need another motivator.  Maybe we need to find something else to conquer to stimulate young minds.  Perhaps we need to go back to space, or look to solve problems here on this planet that impact the well being of all people on Earth.  

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

How Did It Get to Be 'OK' for People to Be Late for Everything?

Disclaimer 1: There are times that I am late and there are times that I provide useless excuses for being late.  Disclaimer 2: I was taught that being on time meant at least five minutes early and I never remember a time growing up when we were ever late. 
At a three-day conference that many of us from NFVHS attended in Minneapolis in June, the main presenter stated up front, among other things, that all sessions would start on time – and they did, at least the ones I attended.  I make a point at meetings that I lead to let people know that we will start on time, and the vast majority of the time, we do.  Being on time, being prompt is typically a sign of discipline and respect for others.  Yet it seems that it is not as important as it once was.  And sadly, there have been times that I have fallen into this as well, thinking “it will be okay if I am a few minutes late.”  Where did this come from?  Why do people think that it is okay to keep other folks waiting? 
One of the interesting dynamics that takes place in our household is that my spouse does not share the same opinion about being on time.  She chooses to distinguish between those instances when it is important to be on time and those when it is not.  The problem that exists in our life is that we define “important” differently.  From my perspective, any time a time is set, it is important.  If it is important enough to set a time, then I believe it is important to be on time.  And, by “on time” that means that you are in place when the event starts, whatever it may be. 
Let me share an example that has caused quite a bit of disagreement in our family.  I have coached softball for the past 10 years in one capacity or another.  As a coach, I expect my players to be on time.  My instruction to them has been standard: “Be there an hour ahead of game time, shoes on ready to go.”  That means that as coach, I need to be there more than an hour ahead of time.  I see that as a hard an fast, line in the sand yet I get disagreement in my household because “it’s just warm up and the game is an hour away.”  So, why are there two such different perspectives or philosophies?  To me, it is a matter of responsibility, priority, and discipline.  Being prompt, being on time is respectful to the other people involved.  When you are late, the message I believe that sends is that “your time isn’t as important as mine.”  In the above example, both warm up and the game are important, and it is imperative to be one time.
There are cultural aspects to the issue of being on time.  A teacher at our school shared stories from numerous trips she has chaperoned with students to Costa Rica over the years and talked about “Tico time.”  Costa Ricans refer to themselves as Ticos and the reference to Tico time comes from time conscious Americans who upon visiting Costa Rica find out that there is a much more relaxed attitude to time.  There is not nearly as much importance placed on being prompt or “on time.”  Perhaps they have it right as my experience when I visited is that there really was not a lot of stress while we were there! 
As I mentioned in the disclaimer up front, I have slipped over the years.  I have tried to become more tolerant of those who do not have the same belief that I do, but at the same time, I will continue to start meetings at 7:15 because that is when I said I would start a meeting, and I will be respectful of the people that got up early to be there on time!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

What would happen if we don’t have football anymore?

Sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it?  How can I even think this in light of the way our team is playing right now, and the very strong fan support that the TigerHawks have had this year and last?  It is almost impossible to imagine this in our school district because of the success that our players have had on the field over the past twenty-plus years.  But is it?  The common sense part of me says that the game is too entrenched in American culture, and the culture in our community to disappear, but the skeptical part of me says that with all that has happened recently, it is possible.  Of course, nearly anything is possible, and from what has happened in the past few years, it is worth watching.  So what is going on!
The primary issue has to do with recent studies that have drawn a direct correlation to concussions in football and significant brain trauma that leads to a condition common called CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy.  In essence, brain tissue starts to degenerate and there is an accumulation of tau protein.  Individuals who suffer from CTE experience symptoms of dementia, such as memory loss, aggression, confusion, and depression.  These symptoms tend to emerge several years after the trauma.  There are still a lot of unanswered questions, but the reality is that many football players who have suffered numerous head injuries have experienced less than productive lives in middle age, many of them experiencing depression and choosing to end their lives.  But those are professional players, and maybe a few college players.  That’s different than high school and youth leagues.  Well, apparently parents throughout the country are taking notice of this as the participation numbers in youth and high school football are dropping dramatically, and have been over the past three years.  Parents are making choices and many have decided it is just no worth the risk.
At this point, I want to make it clear that I love the game of football.  I played and I coached the sport, and my son has played.  Few things give me as much joy as watching high school and college football games.  There is no question that people associated with the sport are taking steps to make the game more safe, and manufacturers are working on helmets and equipment that do a better job of protecting the player.   Some college coaches would argue that because of the changes in the game that have resulted in spread formations and a lot of passing – some people call it basketball on grass – the game is not as physical as it once was and thus is safer.  In our community, we have a lot of people committed to the sport and passionate about the game.  There is tradition and passion.  But is that going to be enough?
The reality is the football costs a tremendous amount of money.  It does generate revenue, yet will it be able to cover increasing costs that may in fact increase due to changes in rules and a greater emphasis on safety.  For example, right now we pay a little over $300.00 for each helmet.  Technology is at a point that there are helmets coming with sensors and other advances that are an improvement over the ones we currently use, yet the cost for those helmets may very well be twice the cost of what we currently use.  Can public schools afford that cost?  Can a school afford to not put their players in the best and safest equipment?  The other concern is that since we live in a very litigious society, when is that lawsuit coming over a head injury suffered by a player in Iowa, or somewhere else for that matter, and insurance rates increase to the point that schools simply cannot afford the risk. 
This might be an example of crying wolf, but from this perspective, the fact that multi-million, possibly billon-dollar lawsuits are pending by football players who’s lives have been ruined due to injuries they suffered from playing the game, one has to wonder whether the game can survive.  Some futurists say that the game’s days are numbered, except at the highest levels where the money can insulate it to a large extent.  Others say that because of the huge risk of permanent physical damage, parents will simply not let their kids play, and eventually there will simply not be enough kids to play.  We have seen a lack of interest in the sport result in schools drop the sport in Iowa in the past five years.  The number of youth football players has dropped significantly the past three years, as has the number playing the game at the high school level in Iowa and other states.  One has to wonder what a Friday night in October would be like without the game that so many love.