Saturday, December 2, 2017

How Have We Disrespected the Flag?

On Friday, September 22, 2017, the President of the United States fired up his base of supporters by calling out professional athletes who have expressed their 1st Amendment right of free speech and expression by taking a knee or sitting during the playing of the National Anthem.  Ever since San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee to demonstrate the treatment of of African-Americans in our nation, there has been impassioned debate about freedom of expression and speech guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States versus respect for the flag of a nation that men and women have died fighting to defend.    

This is not the first time such protest has taken place.  As a young boy I remember when John Carlos and Tommy Smith raised their fists in a black glove on the podium at the Mexico City Olympics as a protest for civil rights in 1968.  I remember protesters burning the flag in the streets at the height of the Vietnam War.  In both instances my father was outraged by those acts.  When it comes to the symbols of our great nation, emotions are very strong, and when there are instances when two different parts of the Constitution are pitted against each other, it becomes difficult if not impossible to draw black and white conclusions.  What a person often hears in this debate are statements about “respecting the flag,” many of them connected with respect for members of the armed forces.  Many Americans share this belief, I among them.  However, after the most recent flare up of attention to this issue, I sought to find out more about what determines what is respectful and what is not, and I found a source.  The United States Code Title 36 Chapter 10 outlines among other things how citizens shall behave during the playing of the national anthem and show respect for the flag.  You can do a search online and find this for yourself, and compared to many government documents, this one is pretty easy to understand.

We all learned at a very young age that when the National Anthem is played, or when we are asked to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, we are to stand at attention, face the flag, and place our right hand over our heart.  That is stated specifically in the code.  In addition, it is stated that if a flag is not present, we are to do the same and face toward the music and act in the same manner as if the flag was present.  When the flag passes in front of us, such as in a parade, we are to stand with our right hands over our heart, according to the code.  And obviously, in all of the above situations, men are to remove their headdress.

Very few times have I seen people acting disrespectful toward the flag, and most often it has been young kids at public events.  It does bother me when I see them behaving in a disrespectful manner, and when I am close enough to them, I draw attention to what they are supposed to do.  We all seem to have internalized that we are supposed to do in the circumstances identified above.  However, in my research, there are a number things that many of us do that according to the code are just as disrespectful as not standing or turning our back on the flag, and I am sure that most people are not even aware of them.

Perhaps the most violated of the standards in the code that we have all witnessed, and perhaps a few of us have done, is to use the flag “as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery.”  Personally, I have not done that as I have been aware of this for a long time.  However, I have family members that have worn flag apparel for years, especially on the Fourth of July.  In their mind, they are being patriotic, as I am sure most people believe.  But it is not.  The code says that the flag should “never” be used in that manner!  The strongest memory I have that reinforced this was when I was a small boy living in Ames, Iowa while my dad attended Iowa State University working on his graduate degree.  We were at the Veishea parade and in the middle of the parade was a large number of anti-war protesters.  One of them had the flag sewn on the hind-end of his jeans.  An older gentleman near me was very agitated by that and yelled loudly at this person about the flag being "on his ass.”  This gentleman was very upset, and when the marcher heard him, he flipped him off.  That made an incredible impression on a second-grader that I have never forgotten and is the reason why I have never worn a flag as apparel.  I have to admit that I was uncomfortable when our student section had “America Night” as a theme at a recent volleyball game because some of them were wearing flag apparel.  It just  doesn’t sit well with me because from my perspective, it is disrespectful.

I have participated in an act that disrespected the flag, and admit that I was not aware of it until I came across this part of the code: “the flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.”  Three times I have part of over two-hundred people, most of them high school marching band members from southwest Iowa, who held a 100-yard long American flag horizontal about five feet above the surface of the football field at the Fiesta Bowl.  As I reflect on this each time we were there to do this, the owners of the flag always told us the history of this huge flag and why their father made it and was determined to display it at events similar to this football game.  While I do not remember specific details of the story, I do know that it was because of a strong sense of patriotism that he did this.  I guess that now I find it a bit ironic that a gentleman that put such effort and pride into this would not have known that holding it in a horizontal, flat position was not a respectful way to display it.  Most recently, while watching our TigerHawks play football at Waukon, a group of people did the same thing with a significantly smaller flag.  They carried it horizontal to the group onto the field for the National Anthem, and then off in the same manner.  Of course they thought they were being patriotic and respectful, but they were not.

Here are a couple of other disrespectful ways that people use the flag, most likely not being aware.  “The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard. Advertising signs should not be fastened to a staff or halyard from which the flag is flown.”  How many picnics have you been to when the plates and napkins have had the flag on them?  "No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations. The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. Therefore, the lapel flag pin being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.”  How about those baseball uniforms that have a flag patch sewn on the sleeve?  How about stickers on football helmets that have the flag embossed inside a school logo?  Those two are considered to be disrespectful to the flag. As is the adornment to a pickup truck I saw the other morning at Casey’s with that ripped or torn look along the side of it and the stars and stripes being shown.

There are other examples of common day-to-day occurrences that most of us are not aware of when a lack of respect is shown to our flag.  Some may wonder that since there is a code, are their consequences?  The code is a guide of how to handle and display the Stars and Stripes.  Penalties are left to the states, and each one has its own flag law.  I do not know what the laws are in the State of Iowa, but would guess that we do have them.  Regardless, as stated earlier, most of us are very much aware of the expectations for those instances when most of us are in front of our nation’s flag, but most likely totally unaware of some of the disrespectful things that are done every day.  

This brings me to my final point.  It is a fact that nearly everyone is aware of expected decorum when we are at a sporting event, the flag appears, and the National Anthem is played, and that is why I believe so many people are offended when some of our sports heroes take a knee or raise a fist.  It is a violation of what we know and expect.  Perhaps we should be equally upset with the people with stars and stripes bikinis and t-shirts, as well as the family at their reunion on the 4th of July who use flag table clothes and cups.  Most of us won’t because we view this people as being patriotic, even though by the code, they are not.  Perhaps we should save some of our disgust for those who kneel, and remind others when they too are disrespectful by their actions.

Monday, November 20, 2017

What Has Happened To Sportsmanship In Wrestling?

Sportsmanship was always something that was stressed in the Wolverton household when I grew up.  I will not go on record saying that I always exhibited that as I certainly let my emotions get the best of me from time to time, but it did not happen often.  Particularly when I competed in wrestling as both a wrestler and a coach, win or lose, I would man up at the conclusion of a match, look the opponent in the eye, shake his hand and say “Good Job.”  Then I would walk off the mat, listen for a moment to what my coach had to say, grab my sweats and then find some place recover from the match and start preparing myself mentally for the next one.  I was not really any different than any other wrestler at that time.  There was the occasional competitor that would get real emotional after a loss and have to be sent — sometimes escorted — back to the center of the mat and then would maybe walk off the mat in the opposite direction of their coach, but that really the exception rather than the rule back in the 1970’s and 1980’s.  

In the stands there were the loud fans, most often yelling in support of their wrestler/son, and yes, some loud remarks directed at the referee, usually “He’s stalling!”  Maybe an angry dad might have to get up from their seat and go out into the hall, lobby, or outside to cool off a bit, but they went out on their own accord and kept their thoughts to themselves.  I guess that I should qualify one thing here to be totally accurate.  I do remember at a kids tournament in Bennington, NE that a couple of dads went chest to chest on the side of the mat because of a hard fought match between their two sons that was in progress.  I remember that in a great deal of detail because it was so unusual.  By no means was is perfect back in the day, but it was a lot different than what I see in the sport today.

In large part, I think that sportsmanship in wrestling has gotten as bad as it has because of changes in attitude and focus, as well as what has been emulated by athletes that are looked up to by younger wrestlers.  In this sport, the kids copy what they see from the college levels athletes, and the top high school competitors.  It is kind of interesting to see some of the changes that have evolved over the years off the mat, but that’s a story for another time.  Behavior on the mat is certainly something that is copied as well.  As much as I don’t like to admit it, some of the boorish behavior comes from the team that I have cheered for over the years, the Iowa Hawkeyes (note, this is the only University of Iowa team I cheer for!).  Back in the Gable era, they established the hard-nosed, grind and pound, wear-them-out style that lead to nearly total dominance on the mat.  I do not think Dan Gable was a poor sport, or encouraged bad sportsmanship, but I do not think he thought about it a great deal either or stressed it with his wrestlers.  Actually, some of what I see today came from the Gable era, but since then has become more extreme.

Wrestling is the ultimate individual sport.  Respect for your opponent is paramount.  Challenging oneself against the best should be goal of every wrestler.  I figure that in 2017 when Americans can compete in a physical, violent contest vs. a counterpart from Iran, shake hands after the match and walk off the mat respecting their foe regardless of the outcome, there is no reason that we have poor sportsmanship in any aspect of our sports world.  Honestly, I believe that a lot of the bad behavior that takes place in our sport is because the wrestler, coach, or parent is more upset with himself/herself than the opponent, but in the macho world of wrestling, cannot admit it at the time.  My worst behavior in a match took place when I was in 8th grade and I competed against the first kid that ever talked trash to me on the mat during a match.  Yes, he got under my skin, which is something I allowed!  What did I do?  After I had beaten him, when the referee had us shake hands and raised my arm to signify my victory, I loudly fired back at my defeated foe, loud enough that everyone in the gym could hear it.  I was lucky to get out of that school without getting pummeled.

So what is it that has happened that has lead to me writing this blog?  First of all, its more attitude than anything.  T.R. Foley, a columnist on Intermat, wrote a while back, "This isn't just running off the mat after you lose a match, or refusing to shake an opposing coach's hand. This is the constant focus on INTENSITY rather than technique, WEIGHT CUT rather than healthy dieting, and the idea of BREAKING your opponent rather than letting your excellence and hard work shine. For all the life lessons wrestling can teach young kids our culture has done a fantastic job of bastardizing it to become one with a focus on trying to KILL your opponent rather than just try to score more points or pin them.”  Foley has a great deal of knowledge about the sport on an international level, and maintains that the greatest wrestlers in the world are just the opposite, and as I have watched more of that style of wrestling in recent years, I agree.  At the local level, it is ridiculous to watch nine-year olds encouraged by the fathers to dominate their opponent.  Watch a middle school kid try to get extra physical at the start of the match and I will show you a young man that lacks confidence in himself as a wrestler.  It is a smoke screen that often results in the more skilled wrestler putting the “bully” on his back, then resulting in a fist punch to the mat, a scream, tears, a boy storming off the mat trailed by his dad yelling over his shoulder at the referee.  I have seen that repeat itself many times in recent years.

The behaviors that bother me the most and need to be eliminated are as follows:
  • Refusing to shake hands after the match.  Any thing other than standing up and shaking the opponents hand respectfully is ridiculous.  Being forced to go back by a coach to shake a hand, or the hand-slap and running off the mat technique is immature.  Even the most broken-hearted competitor has the capacity to pause for a few minutes, take a couple of deep breaths, take off their ankle bands and then stand up, go to the middle of the mat and shake hands.  
  • Posing and celebrating on the mat after a victory.  Most common is the double-bicep pose.  What is this?  I recall adults asking little kids to “Show me your muscle” but that stops when they are about three!  I have seen back flips, running around the circle of the mat, strutting around with their chest popped out, and jumping up and down while pumping one’s fist.  Save it!  You can do all of that in the locker room if you feel so inclined.  You have beaten your foe, now have some humility.  It is common after winning a state championship to run off the mat and jump into the coach’s waiting arms.  Funny how I have not seen Olympic or World champions do that.  
  • Running off the mat.  This is one of those things that started in the Gable era.  In reality, I have no problem with a wrestler getting off the mat, and in the early days, they would do that after getting up, shaking hands, and having the winner’s arm raised.  But that has grown into the defeated wrestler jumping up and an at a minimum trying to slap the winners hand as they are taking off.  They often have tears in their eyes or are very angry.  Grow up!   
  • Purposefully humiliating an inferior opponent in front of the crowd.  This has actually been going on for a long time even though a number of coaches have worked hard to convince their athletes otherwise.  The ultimate goal of wrestling is to pin your opponent.  When a wrestler puts his/her toe on the mark, they should be working for the pin.  What I am talking about is the one who easily takes an opponent down, lets them go, takes them down, lets them go and so on.  I have seen others get on top and turn an opponent a number of time to get back points, but let them return to their base without really trying to pin them.  Why?  Statistics.  They are trying to build their stats’ and in the meantime an over-matched opponent is humiliated.  After the first time one of my wrestlers did this when I was coaching, I made it clear to him and the rest of the team that in those circumstances when they had that kind of an opponent, they goal was to see how fast they could pin them.  Period.
  • Parents berating officials, coaches, wrestlers, and whomever else is in the area.  I quit going to youth tournaments seven years ago because I could not stomach the behavior of parents.  Most likely I will never return.  The problem is that parents get away with ridiculous behavior at these youth tournaments and continue that into high school.  In what world would one believe that parents would come onto the mat and assault a referee, or even more incredible, throw a punch at their son’s opponent in the middle of a match.  Yes, that has happened. 
You will note that I do not include coaches.  Actually, I believe that the behavior of coaches has improved, I think in large part because of education, rule changes, and a focus on them having good sportsmanship.  I do believe that many are not doing enough in regard to the behavior of their athletes, but concerning their own behavior, it has improved.

I think to be fair, there are other opinions on this, defenders if you will.  Some will say that some of these things are accepted aspects of the sport.  Well, there was a time they were not, and nothing says that they have to continue.  Wrestling is a tough sport, and it appeals to tough people.  Some of the negatives come with the territory.  But as long as it continues to be a sport sponsored by schools there has to be an educational component and a standard.  It is time for all wrestlers to become men and conduct themselves in an appropriate and acceptable manner.  

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Day They Played The Game An No One Came

As the point guard dribbled the ball in the backcourt, one could hear the ball as it bounced rhythmically against the wood floor, the squeak of shoes against the wooden floor, and loud comments among players from both teams as the ball was passed and screens were set.  The coaches were giving directions from the sideline and giving encouraging words.  The occasional whistle from an official seemed very loud and shrill as play came to a stop.  After a shot was made there were a couple of hand claps and a few “Good jobs!” as the players moved to the other end of the floor. 

What you didn’t hear was loud cheering and clapping, obnoxious and crude statements yelled at a referee, or nonsense chants from the student section.  There wasn’t that person sitting in the middle of the crowd standing up yelling “Traveling” while rapidly spinning his arms in front of him in the familiar manner to indicate a violation.  No loud-mouthed football players sitting in the front row chanting “Air Ball!  Air Ball!  Air Ball” when a player on the opposing team failed to draw iron on a three point attempt.  That mom that sits in the top row with a spiral notebook keeping stats because she doesn’t think the official scorekeeper does an accurate job isn’t there.  Nor is that dad that sits right behind the bench so he can signal and mouth words to his son during time outs.  None of those people are at this game.  In fact, no one is there other than the players, coaches, and officials.

This probably sounds ridiculous to many of you, and perhaps even a little unthinkable.  However, it might not be as far-fetched as one might think.  There is no question that fan behavior has been less that stellar at various sports competitions, ranging from parents attacking umpires at Little League baseball games to those throwing so many empty bottles on the field at a college football game that three entire sections of students were cleared out before the game was resumed.  We all know that “fan” is derived from “fanatic” and it appears that more people are taking fanaticism to sporting events.  Like many things there is a trickle down effect in fan behavior as college student sections tend to be much more boorish than those at high school games, though some of those behaviors have been adopted by high school kids.  The loud drunk yelling obscenities at an NFL game is much more common than at high school games, but those people do show up from time to time.  

Gyms have been emptied in high schools and middle schools in our country because of the threat of gang violence, and there has been the occasional football game played in front of empty stands because of problems between rival fan bases.  In the soccer world they use the term “Behind Closed Doors” to reference those games when fans are not allowed in the stadium to watch.  Most often it is because of crowd trouble and safety concerns, though in recent years decisions have been made in Europe due to racist behavior directed toward players.  In 2015 a Baltimore Oriole baseball game against the Chicago White Sox was moved ahead to an afternoon game and played in front of no fans because of a curfew due to civil unrest in Baltimore.

I have never been in a venue where I ever thought behavior or safety concerns warranted the game being played with only the players, coaches and officials in the gym or at the field.  That said, I have removed fans that are behaving badly and I have walked both coaches and officials off the floor out of concern of what fans, or in the case of officials, what a coach may do.  I have seen a parent rush on to a wrestling mat and rip a wrestler off the top of his son, and I saw a coach get upset with an umpire at a softball who became so enraged that when he was kicked out of the game he continued yelling at the top of his lungs all the way around the ball field as he was leaving.

So why being this up?  Why spend this amount of time writing about a hypothetical situation where fans are not allowed to be in the gym during a high school basketball game?  Well, I bring it up because I do see it happening more often at some point in the not too distant future.  I say this because it seems like we two issues that seem to be converging.  One, fan and parent behavior seems to be getting more extreme at high school events, and two, school officials are looking at more extreme ways to deal with problems that they face.  I have had conversation with coaches about this topic from time to time, and while not all of them agree with the notion of playing games in front of empty bleachers, some of them did.  Ultimately it comes down to the fact that the games are for the kids, and when those who only have a rooting interest interfere, perhaps it is time to leave them out.  

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

How About A Mandatory Two Years of Service?

I don’t know when I first heard about the concept of every American high school graduate being required to give two years of service to Uncle Sam.  This has to go back at least to when I was a teenager as I recall being told that in some countries all 18-year olds went into their country's military for a couple of years of service.  Of course, that was back in the era of the Cold War and my guess it was some of those Iron Curtain countries that had that requirement, though South Korea, Turkey, Columbia, Israel, Brazil and a number of countries do require it today.  There have been at least a couple of times in the last thirty-plus years when various leaders in our country have mentioned it, and I don’t know why but this is something that keeps coming up in my own mind.  I have thought more so about it in the past five or six years and have started to adopt the belief that every American high school graduate should be required to give two years of service to our country.  Let me explain four reasons this makes sense.

Kids Don’t Know What They Want To Do — A large percentage of this generation of young people is graduating from high school with no idea what they want to do with their life.  Who could blame them in these rapidly changing and uncertain times!  This idea of giving service will be two years — more if they choose — when they can mature and have additional experiences that may help them identify the path they want to take.  It sure would beat throwing money away for two years of college at which time majors are changed and a somewhat out of date educational system prepares many students for careers where there really are not many jobs.  A couple of more years of maturity would clarify things for these young adults.

Get Them Away From Mom and Dad — No generation of children have been raised by such over-protective, coddling, helicopter parents that have reinforced a strong sense of entitlement in their kids.  Our kids have it easy, and we are to blame for that!  We have given them everything they want, and I question whether we have given them what they need.  They haven’t had to fend for themselves or do without.  Few kids today mow the lawn, wash windows in the spring, or do dishes.  Heck, we have kids in our own community that believe it is beneath them to work at Hardee’s or Subway!  What happens with many is that 1) they are afraid to leave the nest when they graduate from high school and hang around for far too many years, or 2) they go off to college only to drive back every weekend and eventually drop out of school.  This is common!

Pay Back For What You Have Been Given — Hey, our country has given a lot to each and everyone of us.  Many people claim that our country needs to cut back on the amount the government spends on various services.  Well many of us have been beneficiaries of some of those services, such as a public education, and it could be that by giving two years of service we could better justify the money that has been spent.  We have young people who have benefitted directly or indirectly from various support programs like food stamps, social security, and unemployment.  There is nothing wrong with having them turn around and give to others, just as others have given to them.  Whether it is tutoring or running after school programs in parts of this country where education is poor, to serving as ambassadors for this great country in a Peace Corps model, everyone has something to give.   

Contribute To The Country — Perhaps the best reason is to help out the country.  Back in the era of Franklin D. Roosevelt, thousands of young people were put to work throughout the country and we still see the results of some of those WPA and CCC efforts.  Today, our political leaders will not allocate money to maintain our National Parks or infrastructure improvements such as rebuilding roads and bridges.  Labor for those projects can be provided with our nation’s 18- to 20-year olds!  Parents who can’t afford day care so they can work a job could have a ready supply of babysitters.  We can increase the size of our military, both at home and abroad.  Heck, we could have such a large labor force that in some states we may not need to use prisoners on a chain gang to pick up trash and cut weeds along the highways!   People often complain that no one is taking care of this, or taking care of that.  Well, that can be done under this plan.

Lessen The Need For Cheap Immigrant Labor — I am not anti-immigration, nor am I one that bangs the drum about needing a wall to keep out illegals.  I am realist and know that out economy still needs cheap, unskilled labor. No, this should not be a way to deliver free workers to corporations, but it could provide a pool of workers for government funded projects.  A little hard work in the fruit and vegetable fields, or time spent landscaping might help develop an appreciation of physical labor.

In my grand plan I have a few rules that go along with this.
  1. Every high school graduate has their choice of joining the military for two years or providing service to the country for the same amount of time.  
  2. No 18 year-olds are exempt except for those that are incarcerated, a resident of a mental health facility, or hospitalized for a life-threatening illness.  Once these individuals are released they will serve their two years.  Those with a physical disabilities will serve in a capacity where they are not limited.  There are many jobs where a physical disability is not a limitation.
  3. Students that dropout of high school will be required to report within thirty days of dropping out and will serve until they reach the age of 21.  While serving they will  receive educational support in order to be eligible to enter at least a community college upon completion of their service.
  4. No cell phones except for an hour on the weekend.  They will not be needed and are not necessary.
The plan isn’t perfect, but it’s close!  There is still plenty of time for all students to go on to college and have a career of their choosing.  As it stands now we have around 3.5 million young people graduate from high school each year, and about 1.2 million dropouts.  That is a sizable workforce!  We are facing uncertain times so there is a ready supply of individuals to serve in the military as well as young people that can make a difference in the lives of others.  We have a lot of places in this country that would benefit from services that people can provide and what is lacking right now are the people and the money to do it.  Well, this plan will provide the people, and since they are not being paid, they are coming at a low cost!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Final Five

There is no better picture of all that is good with the United States of America than the shot of the five members of the U.S. Women’s Gymnastic Team on the top of the podium at the 2016 Rio Olympics.  Young, driven women that achieved a dream through hard work, grit, and perseverance.  They captured the hearts of young and old over the course of the competition that was broadcast world wide.

Copyright 2016 Associated Press

They are the face of our nation, as you see two African-Americans, a Latina, a Caucasian  and a Jew.  It is a perfect example of the diversity that makes our country great, and when you look at the back story of the whole bunch you do not have to go back too far to see evidence of immigrant families making the choice to come to our great nation, the land of opportunity.  

They epitomize the Puritan work ethic and the stories of millions who through incredibly hard work, they reached the ultimate place — the top of the podium in the Olympics!  All of them overcame significant set backs, specifically injuries.  All of them experienced pain and questioned whether they had the internal fortitude to go forward.  That’s what Americans do!

All five of them are incredible role models and have had the good fortune to have positioned themselves to where they can capitalize in the market place because of their success.  Like  Mary Lou, Shawn, Nastia, Carly, Shannon, and many others, they have inspired young girls to follow in their footsteps.  They are women who have excelled and took yet another step toward equity that still alludes females in our country today.

We Americans love our sports heroes, and over the years young female gymnasts have carved a place for themselves in the nation’s conscience.  But what you will notice is how the sport has moved from one where only white girls from families who could afford the private coaching dominated the sport.  Back in 1996 with the group known as the Magnificent Seven, two of the girls were members of a minority.  That was a much different looking team than the one that rocked it in Rio.  There should be no limits placed on people, nor people excluded because of some trait.  The Final Five exemplify that belief!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A Refreshing Story About A Dad Doing The Right Thing

In June 2017 Keyshawn Johnson, Jr. was cited for suspicion of marijuana possession while on the football roster at the University of Nebraska.  He had moved to Lincoln from his home in California in January of his senior year in high school to start his college life and to be able to participate in spring football practice.  This summer he had been participating in off-season training as a member of the Cornhusker football team and living in the dorms.  Johnson, Jr. was a highly recruited 4-star wide receiver coming out of Calabassas High School and projects to be strong contributor in the next few years.  From all reports he is an engaging young man, very popular among his teammates, and is given credit for convincing others to join the Cornhuskers.  And yes, he is the son of one of the more famous professional football players in the last twenty years, Keyshawn Johnson, Sr.

Who knows what the young man was like before he moved to Lincoln, but my guess is he was pretty much the typical teenager, though one with a lot of attention because of his name.  He most likely avoided a lot of struggles that many other kids have because his father did well financially and continues to pursue opportunities, and he had both parents in the home.  My assumption is that he was a pretty good kid because 1) Coach Mike Riley and his staff screen their recruits very closely and there isn’t much about a prized recruit they don’t know, and 2) he has been covered extensively by the media and if there were warts, missteps, or skeletons in the closet, I have to believe journalists would have found them.  So, I would assume he was pretty much a normal teenager, one that hung out with his friends and did things that teenagers do.

What I like about this story is that he earned the trust of his parents such that they allowed him to move out of their home a semester early and go off a couple of thousand miles away to become a college student a semester earlier than most.  They gave him the opportunity to start the next stage of his life and to be more responsible for the decisions that would determine the path he would take.  And guess what . . . he made a bad choice.  He made a bad decision and it got him jammed up with the law.  I am sure that he was convinced he was mature enough to make his own decisions, and I am sure he convinced his parents that he could handle all of the exposure and publicity that comes with being a D-1 athlete and in the public eye.  And then he screwed up and dad says, “Whoa!  Not so fast!”  

Within a couple of days of the incident, Keyshawn Johnson, Sr. released a statement that his son was going to take a leave of absence from the Nebraska football team and was returning to California because he was not mature enough to live life on his own, yet.  Senior had him gather all of his things, pack them up, and Junior got on a plane and headed home.  In information released to the media, no decisions will be made as to his future, he has to grow up and figure some things out.

So what’s the point?  For one, a parent stepped in and held the child accountable.  KJ, Sr. did not make excuses.  He did not point fingers anywhere except directly at his son.  That in itself is refreshing because many other parents today would have found excuses, maybe blaming other guys living in the dorm or saying that having a little weed is no big deal.  This is also refreshing because he is a man — Keyshawn Johnson, Sr. — that is very proud.  He worked hard and succeeded.  He is proud of what he has accomplished and of his name. Junior tainted the Johnson name, and a lesson is going to be learned.  Dad knows what it is like to live life in the spotlight, and when it shows brightest is when people need to make sure they are doing the right thing.  Junior ignored that.  He wasn’t quite conscious of all of the responsibility that comes with fame.  I am sure that his dad had all kinds of conversations with him about that, but like they say, until you live it you can’t really appreciate it.  Junior’s actions showed that he hasn’t quite figured it out.

So, Keyshawn Johnson, Jr. will not be catching passes this fall wearing  the scarlet and cream of the Nebraska Cornhuskers.  He will be getting his education back in Calabasas, California, learning to be a man of character and how to get back in his father’s good graces.  As a Cornhusker fan I am hopeful that he returns when it works out for him, and that he becomes the man his father is raising him to be.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Beyond CTE and Brain Research

In the spring of 2016 I was at a meeting with Mike Eischeid, a former NFL punter and kicker that played for the Oakland Raiders and Minnesota Vikings.  Eischeid is as old school as it gets when it comes to football players and on his resume has three Super Bowl appearances, two for the Vikings and one for the Raiders.  He played in an era where some of the truly enigmatic characters were on the field, including some of the greatest Vikings of all time.  He was there in the era of the Purple People Eaters on defense, anchored by Alan Paige, Carl Eller, and Jim Marshall.  There were also some incredible offensive linemen, anchored by Hall of Fame center Mick Tingelhoff and Wally Hilgenberg.

Mr. Eischeid is not the first professional football player that I have had opportunity to know and talk to, but he is the only one who played in that era when I was an impressionable young boy that loved to watch the games on Sunday afternoons.  I was even a little bit of a Viking fan for a while and found out that if you wrote players a letter they would send you an autographed photograph.  All you had to do was ask!  I had a number of them pinned on the wall of my bedroom as a kid.  In my mind that was the Golden Era of professional football as I cheered mightily for the Miami Dolphins and my favorite players Larry Czonka and Jim Kiick.  And I was very aware the Purple People Eaters on the Vikings as I ran with buddies who were diehard fans.  

In my time in West Union I have not had opportunity to meet with Mr. Eischeid as much as I would like as we usually just see each other at meetings and a few community events, but I know people who know him well and have told me stories about his life as a professional football player.  However, on the day I reference above, what he and his wife shared with me made a strong impression.  We were making small talk prior to a meeting and I asked if he was in Minnesota when Mick Tingelhoff played.  Tingelhoff had just been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and was a Nebraska alum, as am I.  Mr. Eischeid affirmed that he had in fact played with him, and added with a chuckle that they were good friends and over the years had spent time with each other and their families.  I got a sense that after their playing days were over these old warriors remained good friends and would gather occasionally when their schedules allowed.  

In addition to Tingelhoff, Eischeid mentioned Wally Hilgenberg and a few other players and smiled at some unstated memories.  I listened intently and then mentioned how I found it sad that Tingelhoff was unable to give his own speech during the induction ceremony for the Hall of Fame.  The great Viking quarterback Fran Tarkenton spoke for him because Tingelhoff was unable to do so on his own due to memory loss.  Eischeid mentioned that it had been sad to watch some of these once strong athletes succumb to age and the battering they put their bodies through when they played the game.  He mentioned them not knowing where they were and how tough that was to see.  I am not an doctor and will not diagnose, but one could guess that Tingelhoff, the victim of hundreds if not thousands of head slaps and banging heads helmet to helmet, suffered some type of neurological damage due to his days playing football.  He started 240 consecutive regular season games at center, which ranks third all time.  That’s a lot of banging heads, and getting slaps and forearms to the side and back of the head.

Mr. Eischeid said that it had been a while since he had seen some of the old teammates and when I asked about Hilgenberg I was not aware that he had passed away in 2008 at the age 66 due to Lou Gehrig’s disease, or at least that is what was originally determined.  However, his widow and children agreed to donate his brain for examination and a different story came back.  Like many former players who died well before their time, Hilgenberg’s brain showed definitive signs of CTE.  What made him unique is that he was the third individual whose brain was studied that developed a type of motor neuron disease that masks itself as Lou Gehrig’s disease.  

Over the past few years I have paid a lot of attention to CTE and the brain research that has taken place and am very saddened by what I now see with some of my childhood heroes.  Long before this disordered came to the surface I was well aware of how these Sunday warriors of my youth had bodies that were broken and who moved like old men when they were still very much middle-aged.  Their daily routine was filled with pain and discomfort.  But what struck me after my conversation with Mr. Eischeid was that as many of us reflect on our younger days our memories are filled with all kinds of stories about people we knew and things we had done.  Oh what I would give to have a couple of hours to talk with him about his playing days and some of the characters he played with!  But just as Mr. Eischeid has such fond memories of Tingelhoff and Hilgenberg, because of the damage they received playing the game of football, they would not be able to sit around the table and share those same memories.  I find that very sad.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Can We Do a Better Job Raising Our Kids?

As you know I read a lot about teenagers, from how to teach them to become leaders to things about their social-emotional well-being and psychology.  I also read a lot about parenting as I work with parents of teens on a daily basis and I am also still a parent of a teenager.  Everyone has an opinion on parenting, and there is one indisputable truth: previous generations have a lot of advice for each succeeding generation in terms of what they need to do better!  It is kind of like how we like to say this generation of teens are worse than the one before, and they were worse than the one before that!  

I have said in a variety of settings that I do not believe that kids today are a whole lot different than the kids I had when I started teaching in 1985, or for that matter, when I started high school in 1977!  What has changed is how parents parent.  I ran across a blog written by Victoria Prooday, an occupational therapist, called Your OT.  She addresses the environmental factors that young people face in many families and the impact that they are having on kids.  There is also some good advice and things that parents can do to raise stronger, more independent, and capable kids.  Take a few minutes to read this one!

The Silent Tragedy Affecting Today’s Children

Sunday, September 10, 2017

It’s More Than Racism

During the week of July 4, 2016 Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philando Castile in St. Paul, Minnesota were shot and killed by law enforcement officers.  Unfortunately these two shootings just seemed to be two more in a long line of violent deaths of young black men at the hands of law enforcement.  While there was a lot of attention for a week or two on the news, like has happened so many times before, the nation moved on to something else.  

When the history books are written about this time in our nation’s history, it will be interesting to see if the names Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Freddie Gray are mentioned, and whether the use of excessive force on behalf of law enforcement is even considered an issue.  It will also be interesting to see if in those same history books whether or not the "2000-teens" will be noted for a period of racial intolerance and strife, or maybe a continuation of a civil rights movement that has been going on in our country since the 1950’s.  Or maybe we are on the front end of some other type of a movement or cultural shift in America.

From a personal perspective I have sat in the comfort of my living room in a house in a small town in a rural part of the Midwest, and I have watched these news reports, including those that reported on these shootings and the aftermath, and thought, “How is this still happening in 21st-century America?”  We recently had an African-American serve as President, and we have had women serve at high levels of government, as well as CEOs of major corporations and leaders in a number of other fields.  No, I was not under the illusion that we lived in a nation of equality, but I thought we were further down the road than this.  The level of violence we have in our country is incredible, and it seems that since the 2016 election people have become more bold, advocating taking the law into one’s own hands.  

Along these lines I have found some of the response to the Black Lives Matter movement interesting, as well as disheartening.  What I find most interesting are I guess what you would call counter-movements, specifically those who bang the drum that All Lives Matter, as well as those who show up with signs and placards that Police Lives Matter.  Maybe I am too simplistic, but duh!  Of course all lives matter!  Of course the lives of police men and women matter!  No one said that they don’t believe that!  When a minority group of people are oppressed, like African-Americans have been since they were brought to this nation, they can only hope to get action by drawing attention to their plight.  Their efforts to have change or discourse would not have much impact if they didn’t focus on their group.  Would it make a difference if their movement took on the moniker Black Lives Matter Too?

I am frustrated that people blame the media and say that they are sensationalizing it, and that a liberal bias places the focus on minority issues and do not tell the whole story.  Well, according to, police killed more than 100 unarmed black people in 2015.  That is 5 times the rate of unarmed white people killed by law enforcement.  That is not fake news, and that is not the result of biased, liberal journalism.  It is a fact, and yet there has seemed to be little concern about doing anything to bring about positive change.  The gun advocates immediately take to the airwaves and within hours after a shooting start defending the right to own guns and do not seem at all bothered by the fact that once again a human being has been killed.

As I write this we have just had three unusually hot days in a row in early June.  I am old enough to remember some of those hot summers when cities in this country burned due to racial strife.  It happened in the 60’s and again in the 90’s.  In each case there was discontent to the extent that a spark set off rioting, looting, arson, and death.  Will this be another one of those hot summers where something will happen because of the racial intolerance that still exists in our country?  At one point I thought we might be past having to worry about that, but right now I would not be surprised if it happened again.  

As a young boy I was fortunate to live in a community with a great deal of diversity for a couple of years, and then moved to one of the larger cities in Iowa where I played with kids from different ethnic backgrounds and skin colors.  There is no doubt that I have some racial bias as I think it is nearly impossible in our culture not to.  But I thank my mother in particular for teaching me respect for others and tolerance for differences.  That said I would have thought that by now our country would share that value, but we’re not there yet.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Should We Start School Later In The Day?

Some of you have perhaps read that there is evidence that says it would be better for student learning if we started school later in the morning.  It has been a topic discussed for at least 15 years, but not until recently has there been a strong piece of research that supports this notion, or a call for change from a reputable institution.  That has changed.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published a report based on data collected from the 2011-2012 school year looking at over 39,700 secondary level school students in the United States.  The results may not surprise people, though one questions whether they will have any impact.

So what did the CDC have to say?  First off, they reported that the average school start time in the United States was 8:03 a.m.  That is not much different than the start time we have at NFVHS, which is 8:15 a.m.  That said, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), high school age students need up to 9.5 hours of sleep per day.  Working backward, the would require that they go to bed somewhere around 9:30 or 10-o’clock at night.  But we know they don’t do that, and we should not be surprised because the AAP also notes that because of their natural sleep rhythms, it is very difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m.  So with the fact they generally cannot go to sleep until 11:00 p.m. and have to start school around 8:00, we have a generation of teenagers that are sleep deprived, and when one considers that many of our students are up and participating in  our strength and conditioning program at 6:00 in the morning, or rehearsing for drill team, jazz band, chamber choir, or any other number of before school activities, one has to question whether this is the best schedule to use.  

Would our students be more productive and learn at a higher level if we moved our start time later in the morning?  If research says that they would, why don’t we?  Let’s got back to the chalkboard and look at the math.  With the data above, and working backwards, it would appear that the optimal time to start the school day for high school students would be 9:30 to 10:00 a.m.  I based that on 9.5 hours of sleep and students getting to sleep at 11:00 p.m.  And, I am giving them an hour to take care of their morning routine and get to school.  Then it comes down to whether we have before school activities, something that I believe we would have to do based on the wide range of opportunities that our students have.  If we started those no earlier than 8:30, then theoretically students would get around 8 to 8.5 hours of sleep, which is significantly more than the majority get now.  Otherwise, we would look at a 10:30 a.m. start and I find it hard to believe there would be any support for this.

Before we dig into the “whys” there is a little more information to consider.  Within the past 18 months the Des Moines Public Schools looked at moving their start times later, with the district’s high schools starting at 8:30 a.m.  At the writing of this article, their five high schools start their day at 7:40 and end at 2:35 in the afternoon.  That is significantly earlier than what we are accustomed to at NFVHS.  However, may metropolitan schools start earlier than 8:00 in the morning, some as early as 7:15, which contributes to the average start time in our country being 8:03 a.m.  We would also need to decide how long we want our school day to go, and thus how late we would finish up.  Would it be so bad to have school end at 4:30 or 5:00?  Isn’t 9-to-5 more in line with the average work day?  Maybe we just need a big shift.  Few kids go home after school and have chores to do outside that require daylight, so that wouldn’t be much of an issue.

There are five issues that I see that would need to be addressed.
  • The first is whether a change like this would apply to elementary students too, and if not, the logistics and costs associated with transportation.  The research shows that it is the adolescent that is sleep deprived, not the younger students.  
  • At the high school, a later end of the day would see significant loss of instruction time when students have to leave early for extracurricular activities.  Now, when kids have to leave for school events before the end of the day they usually miss less than thirty minutes of class.  Extending the day will be more lost class time as it is doubtful that those start times for activities will change much, or can change much.  
  • The third issue applies to elementary kids, but some high school kids too.  Some parents already leave early in the morning, and drop their kids off well before the start of school.  For elementary kids that would force the expense of child care before school.  Where this becomes a problem for high school kids is that they  may be the ones that provide the child care.  They will not be getting that valuable sleep their bodies need. 
  • Some people will argue that this would result in less family time at home in the evening, though I question how much there is now with family members having their collective noses stuck in their electronic device.  I am all for quality family time, and for those households where it exists, this would be a negative.  
  • Finally, old people have routines and habits, and there is resistance from teachers and other adults to a change like this.  They come from the old school belief that a person needs to be out of bed and going early in the morning.  We see all kinds of examples of that at schools today, and thus, that would be a significant change.
Honestly, there has been very little conversation of moving the start time back in our district.  Nothing more than off-the-cuff comments whenever something new is said about it in the media.  Our conversations over the years has had more to do with making busing work than anything else.  We have had conversation about the early morning activities that take place before the start of the day.  Many people have questioned the 6:00 a.m. start to our strength and conditioning program, and perhaps on a handful of occasions over the past eight years there has been a complaint about early morning practices and rehearsals after a late night event.  There have probably been more complaints about Early Bird PE than other morning activities, though we have moved it to a little bit later start.  I find that interesting because it is totally an elective class option.  No student is required to take Early Bird PE!  This said, we should have more conversation if we truly want to do what is in the best interest of our students and their learning.  I for one would be in favor of a change to a later start time at the high school, and I’m an early morning guy.  I see a lot of kids come through those doors in the morning that are not ready for a day of learning.  I am very curious as to what parents and students would think, but in my opinion, this is a case where we need to put the students first.  After all, they’re the reason we do what we do.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Who Is In Charge?

I found this article in a recent email and it struck me that maybe it would be a good one at the start of the school year.  In essence it poses the question of who is calling the shots at home: you or your child?  Tim Elmore puts some perspective to this question and proposes how we can do a better job as parents.  There's some good advice here!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

What Does It Look Like For Jobs In The Future?

When you get down to it, the purpose of high school, and then college, is to prepare a person for a job or a career.  That is the fundamental purpose of school!  Over the past six years we have stressed to parents and students that they need to take a very honest look at career possibilities with an open mind, and yet in some respects this seems to fall on deaf ears as we have seen little difference with our students and their pursuits once they graduate from high school.  There have been a few exceptions, but it seems that students and parents are ignoring a very important sector of our labor force that is screaming to us that they need workers.  That is the skilled labor sector, a part of our economy in Iowa with a great deal of opportunity.  In fact, we have local and regional employers that cannot find enough skilled workers, and because of that, they are paying wages and providing benefits that equal if not exceed some of the white-collar occupations commonly filled by four-year college graduates.  These are good jobs and yet few students from our school are looking in that direction!

It would appear that "skilled labor" has a negative connotation, and perhaps there is a belief that this kind of work is beneath kids that are finishing high school.  The truth is that these jobs are not beneath anyone, and the reality is that there is a need for people to fill these jobs.  And more important, these jobs are indicative of what the future job market is going to be.  The reason for that is because each year there are fewer and fewer jobs that require routine cognitive work (a lot of which requires a four-year diploma) or manual labor.  Unless they are location-dependent, most of these jobs are being outsourced to foreign countries with cheaper labor, or replaced by computers and other machines.  Yet when you look at the post-graduation plans of our students we see an overwhelming number of students opting to attend a four year college and a steady number of graduates entering the workforce out of high school.  Yes, we have a good percentage of students who attend a community college, but when asking them their intention, more often than not it is to get an A.A. degree and then transfer to a four-year institution.  

Both of my kids have opted to go the four-year route, but not without me putting pro’s and con’s, as well as data in front of them.  I am worried about their employability, and would have no concern if they were to change their mind and pursue a different direction, though one has already burnt through a lot of money for three years toward a business degree and a Spanish minor!  Despite their choices I cannot help but believe that over the course of their life there will be some significant re-training or even a change in careers.  I have faith that they have the fundamental skills to make those shifts, and believe they will land on their feet.  But, it would have been easier in some respects had they followed the path for the highly skilled jobs that are in such high demand.

Our Project Lead The Way courses are designed to give a student a start on the kind of skills that highly skilled workers will need.  We have partnered with a number of local businesses and industry, and they have offered many opportunities for our students to take a closer look at these kinds of occupations.  Problem solvers and people that can work with technology are in demand.  Another field wide open is health care.  We have the good fortune to have a hospital, clinic, dentists and optometrists in our community as well as a number of other institutions the need health care professionals. There is a constant need for employees, and it is critical for the future of our community that they can find quality workers.

The video below was shown a few years back at a workshop I attended.  It would be worth your time to take the time to watch it.  I would also advise you to take some time and sit down with your son or daughter and really take a look at resources that are available to see what future prospects look like.  

Humans Need Not Apply

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

How You Can Build Confidence In Your Teen

Regular readers know how much I love the work of Tim Elmore and his Growing Leaders blog is a weekly must read for me.  Confidence is an issue that I have worked to develop in young people long before I became a teacher.  In reality I did it as a peer as that was my leadership style growing up and playing a number of team sports.  It also took place in the neighborhood playing in the vacant lot or someone’s backyard.  I was very confident in my abilities and I worked hard to instill that in my friends and teammates too.  Over the years I cannot count how much work I have done with this, and for the most part it has been successful, though in reflection, my efforts have failed more than I would have liked.  Different personalities require different approaches and sometimes I took the wrong one.  Most recently though I have worked with a few young ladies teaching them to become better softball pitchers, and in my approach I have stressed the importance of the mental approach to pitching as well as the mechanics.  Foremost in these lessons has been confidence. 

In the article below Elmore does an outstanding job summarizing key points in helping young people develop confidence.  I have made a copy of this to refer to as I continue in my work.  One bit of advice that I will give you is to read every word and don’t go halfway with any of them.  Too often we only take bits and pieces and then wonder why something doesn’t work.  These are good things to do with your child and I strongly encourage you to use them!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Still A Fan, But I've Changed

When I was a kid growing up I don’t think I was any different than any other sports obsessed American boy.  The game I played changed with the season and my aspiration in life in terms of what professional sport I was going to play followed the same path.  Throughout the summer I dreamed of hitting home runs for the Oakland A’s or playing third based for the Phillies after my hero Mike Schmidt retired.  Once the leaves changed I imagined myself pounding through the line of scrimmage just like Larry Czonka did with the Dolphins.  When I caught the wrestling bug the winter months were spent honing my skills on the mat with Olympic rings serving as my goal.  Sprinkled in there was the periodic plan to ride broncs and bulls like Larry Mahan.  As I moved on into high school and would rank my favorites, baseball and wrestling were at the top followed by football from both a participation and spectator perspective.  In addition, I loved to watch about any sport because I am fascinated by competition and human effort, along with strategy and the whole culture of sport.  Nothing beat watching a good college football rivalry game, ABC’s Wide World of Sports, or my favorite, the Olympics every four years.  

As I’ve aged things have changed a lot and I suppose that is due to all the experiences that I have gone through, including no longer being able to participate in sport at a level where it is enjoyable, having kids that compete (though in very different ways), watching significant changes in sports, and perhaps just becoming more thoughtful and reflective.  At this point in my life I am obviously a spectator, and to a very limited extent, a coach.  If I were to rank my Top 5 favorite sports, this is how it would line up: 1) softball, 2) soccer, 3) college baseball, 4) college football, and 5) rugby.  I guess that I would have to put wrestling in there as a tie for 5th as I have switched it with rugby a couple of times over the course of writing this!  The list has certainly changed!

Softball is my passion.  I absolutely love the game, and it is the only one that I am still active in, working with young players and still doing a little coaching.  From an athletic standpoint nothing has given me more joy than to watch my own daughter play the game, yet I love watching anyone play!  Some people think that it is just baseball played with a bigger ball on a smaller field, but it is much more than that.  The game itself is faster than baseball and there is strategy in softball that does not exist on the big diamond.  And, girls have gotten so much more athletic in the last fifteen years that it has become a truly entertaining game to watch.  There is a lot of hustle and energy on the field and it is a game that continues to get better.  I played a little fast pitch in my younger days and one of my few regrets is that I had to move on and get a life and a job!  

My new found passion is soccer, more accurately, professional and international football.  Once August rolls around I am up every Saturday and Sunday morning by 5:30 to watch the English Premier League games live on the NBC networks.  I keep up to date on four different websites with what is happening in the major professional leagues.  I do not miss a Team USA game on television, men or women.  I admit that I am still working on remembering the players and the lineups, though I have a pretty good perspective of the top players and who they play for.  I am also fairly slow at learning a lot of the nuances of the game, but I am coming along.  I need to sit down with a true soccer coach and learn more about the offenses, defenses, and set pieces.  That’s on my list for the fall!  Both of my kids played soccer when they were young and both of them loved it.  I sincerely wish that both of them would have had a chance to play in high school, but that’s how it goes.

Baseball continues to be another passion of mine, though most of my attention is given to the college game.  This past year when the eight teams assembled in Omaha for the College World Series, I picked Coastal Carolina and UC-Santa Barbara, and tossed in Arizona as my third pick.  From my standpoint I could not have asked for a better 19 days!  Coastal won it all in a tremendous three game series against Arizona.  And while this was the fourth year since 1968 that I missed being at the CWS, I watched a lot of games.  One of the truly difficult things for me personally in our move to northeast Iowa was being so far away from Lincoln and Nebraska Cornhusker baseball, and Omaha for the CWS.  I watch a lot of games on television and wish that BTN would broadcast more of them.  One benefit of our move is that I am very close to many of the Northwoods League teams, one of the premier summer programs for college baseball players.  I do follow Major League Baseball during the playoffs, and still cheer on the A’s and Phillies, but I can’t name more than two or three players on each of those teams.  I was very frustrated back in the early 1990’s when baseball shut down and vowed that I wasn’t going to go to any MLB games again.  Well, time heals wounds and I have been to two, Dodger Stadium was too good of an opportunity to pass up, and most recently, I went to a game in Minneapolis to watch the Twins play my Phillies.  The cost of professional games does not make it real attractive to start going to some of these new ballparks, but who knows.  

Nothing matches the pageantry and game day excitement of college football.  I love the game and cheer enthusiastically for the Nebraska Cornhuskers and Iowa State Cyclones.  Few things give me as much enjoyment as spending all day Saturday watching college football.  The game is still creative and traditions still pull me in.  I have a bucket list of stadiums that I want to travel to and watch a game, and will hopefully be able to check a few of them off in the near future.  The frustrating part of college football, and the thing that puts a bad taste in my mouth is the exploitation of the athletes and all of the money — billions! — that is poured into a game that is played by students who attend academic institutions.  That part really turns me off, but up until now I am able to block all of that from my conscience on Saturdays when I am watching the game.  The NFL holds little interest to me.  The schemes on both sides of the ball are cookie cutter and honestly, there is little excitement on the field.  The past two years I watched less than a full game of professional football during the regular season.  I did tune in during the playoffs to see if Peyton Manning could get it done one more time, but other than that, I spend my time doing something else on Sunday afternoons.

Rugby and wrestling are the other sports that are on my passion list.  I have really enjoyed rugby, actually since my college days when a couple of friends of mine played on the club team at Nebraska.  In hindsight I wish I had joined the club and played.  Today, we have a couple of teachers at NFV that are playing the game with a club out of Decorah, and a few students that have expressed an interest.  It is a viable option to football and in my opinion, a game that I would have no problem seeing replace football.  This is a game that I still need to learn more about from a rules perspective, but I really enjoy watching them play.  Talk about incredible athletes.  No sport is more honest than wrestling.  One on one vs. your foe.  It is the true way to challenge oneself.  The sport has really come a long way in terms of technique and the quality of the elite level wrestlers.  On the other hand, I really don’t like what I see at the youth level, and the negative impact I see it having on high school wrestling.  The sport has suffered from the “participation trophy” syndrome, and I think that the rules are outdated and could be changed to make it more exciting and appeal to new fans.  That said, I missed not being able to watch as much wrestling as I would like the past few years because my daughter was playing basketball, and it has been great to get back into the gym and see the fellas square off against one another.

Things have changed over the years and I am certainly spending my leisure time different than how I used to thirty years ago.  I don’t think it is unusual for people’s likes and preferences to change over time, and maybe I will even change more in my choices.  While I wait to see if that happens, I write this with the state softball tournament just ending  and I am counting the days to the start of the soccer season and college football!  If you need me on a Saturday or Sunday morning, I’ll be watching a game!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

What’s the Deal With Small Towns, Kids, and Cars?

I’m a small town kid, having spent the majority of my formative years between birth and age 18 living in Oakland, Iowa, population somewhere in the ball park of 2000, located just east of the Loess Hills region of southwest Iowa.  We did not have a stoplight, not even a yellow flasher — still isn’t one.  When I lived there I could list the names of every family living on both sides of the street, and I lived on a long street!  We had two small family owned grocery stores, three service stations, four cafes, two barbershops, a pharmacy, two hardware stores, two lumberyards, and a variety of other small retail establishments.  If you lived in Oakland you attended either the Lutheran church on the hill, went to the Christian church near the school, or went downtown to either the Congregational or Methodist church.  The few Catholics we had in town traveled fifteen miles up the road to Avoca.  Yes, in those first 18 years of my life I spent a year and a half living in Ames, Iowa, and another five as a resident of Council Bluffs, both of them cities by Iowa standards.  But even with those experiences, I was still a small town kid, proudly so!

In my adult life I have lived in a number of places, and through my professional life have met all kinds of people who live in communities vastly different from small town Iowa.  I am fascinated by the differences in living in major cities, as well as in different regions of the country.  I often think of how neat it would be to live in other places, recognizing some of the differences from what I am used to.  I have shared with others the value of living in a small town in the middle of this great country, pointing out cons as well, such as vicious gossip that spreads like the plague.  I can defend and rationalize a lot of the quirks of small town life, except for one — teenagers and their absolute need for  a car.  That is something I don’t understand, never have understood, and most likely will never be able to agree with.

Why the obsession with getting a car?  Why do kids as young as fifteen think they need a car?  Better yet, why do parents think they need to get their child a car?  For the sake of clarification, when I say a teenager having a car, I refer to possession across the spectrum of actually owning a car to having almost exclusive use of a specific vehicle regardless of who owns it on paper.  I will give you that living in a rural area and a number of our students living on a farm, or living in one of the towns other than West Union, it makes sense for  those who are involved in after school activities to have a vehicle to drive.  What gets me is that rather than driving the old family clunker generally they get a nicer one that they can call their own.  And, what’s up with each kid in the family getting one?  I can’t believe that there are families who live 15 miles from school having two or three kids driving back and forth each day, burning up fuel.  How about sharing a ride in the family clunker!  

Okay, let’s give farm kids, and those living quite a ways away from West Union a little bit of a pass in terms of needing to drive, but to have a vehicle of their own, I don’t quite buy it.  That said, no way can I understand the reason kids living within the city limits of our town needing a car.  I love it when our exchange friends from Germany come every other October.  They walk everywhere!  Go to any large city in our country and people walk!  We have a huge issue in our nation with obesity among people of all ages and yet parents allow their child to have a car to drive a few blocks every day to school.  What’s the point of that?  I also hear from a number of our students “Well, I need a car to get to work.”  Why do you need to work?  “To pay for my car/insurance/gas!”  How much sense does that make?

I understand that we live in a car world, but I am amazed at this perceived need.  We have school provided transportation for everyone, except those who live close enough to walk.  I guess it isn’t cool to ride the bus, but kids in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, and Chicago don’t seem to suffer by doing that.  What truly bothers me is that we have high school students who should be focused on learning, and learning as much as they can, who love to drive around in their cars or insist on getting that aforementioned job to be able to have a car.   And, some of the cars that are driven to school are a lot fancier than those parked in the teacher’s lot!  The car becomes a focal point, and kids often make choices that impact their life just to have that car. 

There reality is that a car is not a necessity for a high school student.  More high school kids in our country don’t have a car than those that do!  And while there is an argument for those living a distance away, there are alternative ways for a young person to get to school.  A car is huge expense, not to mention the insurance and fuel costs.  Yes, there is a lot that can be learned in terms of responsibility, but those lessons can be learned in terms of completing homework to the best of one’s ability or spending quality time with family.  I guess this is one of those small town things that I never understood.  Like a lot of things in life, after high school there’s plenty of time to have a car!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Teenage Drinking: How To Make A Difference

One of my simple joys is listening to the radio when I am driving.  Sometimes I just look forward to taking a drive anywhere so that I can listen.  My two favorite things to listen to are sports talk and classic rock.  Occasionally I will mix in a country station, and if someone else is with me in the car I will acquiesce and listen to a little current popular music.  However, this article isn’t about some story I heard on a sports station or reminiscing about a song that took me back to my formative years.  What occurred to me is the number of times I have heard stories or commercials about the influence parents have on whether or not their child drinks.  Over the course of about a week, I heard a couple of news reports, and then a couple of commercials about how parents play the major role in their child’s decision to drink or not drink.

I first heard it when news reports came out about a significant drop in the drinking rate of  young people age 12 to 20.  According to a report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in 2014 underage drinking dropped 21% and underage binge drinking saw a 26.4% decline.  While this is a significant decrease, researchers are very quick to caution that underage drinking is still a major problem.  Recognizing this, I still take this as a good sign, and one that shows that there is a shift in the trend of underage drinking.

There is additional good news in these most current studies, specifically in regard to drinking and driving.  It appears that young people are making better choices when it comes to getting behind the wheel of a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.  The most recent report showed a 54% drop in the incidence of underage youth drinking and driving.  College binge drinking has dropped 13% in the past decade, but as stated above, while a very positive statistic, binge drinking on college campuses is still prevalent.  Again, one needs to use a little caution, but overall these are good numbers.

However, there are a few very negative statistics related to college level students. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries and 20% of college students struggle with an alcohol use disorder each year.  Alcohol is often associated with violent behavior among college students with more than 690,000 students being assaulted by another student who has been drinking, and more than 97,000 students being victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or rape.  And, about 25% of college students report diminished academic performance as a result of their drinking, including missing classes, falling behind, poor performance on exams or papers and receiving lower grades.

While we do not have all of the same data for our students at North Fayette Valley High School that is shared above, our most current data about our students comes from the Iowa Youth Survey in the same year, 2014.  At the time of the survey 10% of NFV 8th graders and 24% of 11th graders said that they currently consumed alcohol on a regular basis, and 28% of 8th graders and 66% of 11th graders self reported that they had consumed alcohol at some point in their life.  All of those are higher than the State of Iowa average.  Even worse news is that all of those data points are higher than the previous survey done in 2013 except current users in 11th grade, which dropped 6%.  One has to be careful with statistics because there are always a variety of interpretations, but one can draw the conclusion that while underage drinking is on the decline nationally, we continue to see a rise in our own communities.  Students in our school are drinking more than they were before, and that bucks the national trend.

In some respects I am not surprised.  There is a strong drinking culture in our communities among adults, and thus a high level of acceptance.  We see a “well, they’re going to do it anyway” or “kids will be kids” attitude among many.  There are also reported incidents of parents who make the decision for other parents to allow kids to drink in their homes.  I have it from a good source that it is not unusual for a few parents in our community to allow their children to host parties with alcohol in their home as long as the kids who attend give them their keys.  My questions for those parents is:  Who gave you permission to allow my child to drink?  What gives you the right to make parenting decisions for me?  As a parent, I would expect a fellow parent to report to me that my child has engaged in illegal activity!  This “kids will be kids” excuse, coupled with an attitude that drinking alcohol is not big deal are the biggest obstacles that exist in terms of a healthy environment for our kids. 

So what can be done about this?  This is where I will go back to the radio ads that I referenced in the first paragraph.  The number one and by far the very best way to convince teenagers not to drink is for the parents to tell them not to drink!  The number one influence in a teen’s life in terms of making a decision whether or not to drink is his/her parents!  When mom and/or dad start having conversations with their child about staying away from alcohol until they are of legal age, there is a significantly better chance that they won’t drink.  According to the National Institute on Health and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, parents should start talking to their child between the ages of 10 and 14, even if they are not drinking.  These can be hard conversations, but most kids are not drinking at this age, and a parents’ disapproval of alcohol use is the primary reason that kids make the choice not to drink!  Parents that develop strong, trusting relationships with their kids establish in their children the confidence to stand against peer pressure and to have confidence in the decisions that they make.  Folks, there is no silver bullet that guarantees a child will not drink before they are of legal age.  But there is one strong deterrent . . . parents are the difference in their child’s decision to drink.