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Swing Shift

I already knew I was getting a swingset for my sixth birthday—it would be impossible to hide a large box from a snoopy child, or surprise me with it erected in the backyard where I constantly tripped around, wrestling the dogs or plucking honeysuckle blooms to sip with my neighbor Colleen, our always-bare feet hard as hide. So my father invited me to help install it.

Long before McDonald's was sued for hot coffee, millions of baby butts fried on these. AND WE CAME BACK FOR MORE!

Long before McDonald’s was sued for hot coffee, millions of baby butts fried on these. AND WE CAME BACK FOR MORE!

I considered his time with me a gift in itself.

Enter our Sports Essay Contest! Deadline Sept. 8!

I churned at a bucket of cement with skinny wrists as I watched him dig four deep, perfect circles into the grass with a post-drill. He filled each hole from the bucket I could barely lift, then hoisted the entire clanging gym set assembly above his 6-3 frame in one smooth motion and settled each leg into its home to dry, tightening screws and ensuring the angles.

Handyman, hunter, homicide detective. Was there anything my Daddy couldn’t do?

Actually, to call it a “swingset” was an insult to that sparkling edifice of entertainment. Over the years it became so much more—babysitter, princess castle, reading nook, pouting place, “home base” for countless games of hide and seek. The patches of worn turf beneath it didn’t grow back until I was in high school.

It was also massive, like an elephant suddenly appeared in the yard. I didn’t understand my father’s bipolar disorder then, but if I benefited, so be it. When I asked for a swingset, I expected the standard lineup of a plastic swing, a teeter-totter and midget metal slide that would burn your backside in the summer.

Instead, Daddy backed the truck into the driveway that weekend bearing the Aston Martin of jungle gyms. Once completed, its steel frame arched beyond our roof eaves, with glossy red and blue stripes spiraling around poles that extended from a spine of monkey bars I would race across, hand over hand, back and forth, or stop and dangle from for minutes at a time just because I could.

From each end, sturdy silver bars extended in bright T’s, supporting swings, a trapeze, a thick, knotted rope, and a set of black rubber rings on chains. Flinging my way from one station to another, I grew thick calluses across my palms that would eventually crack and tear off, leaving raw pink divots. But I didn’t care—I raced to the gym set every day after school, wheeling, swinging, twisting, spinning, because it simply felt so good to move, to be dizzy and dirty and alive. Life was easy. Then.

On his good days, Daddy would join me on the gym, doing pull-ups from the monkey bars or pushing me on the swings as our Lab rabble leaped over my ankles. I ate his attention; I never knew when the next dark days, the tears, the whiskey, were coming.

I loved showing off my rings skills. These were my favorite piece of equipment, as I fancied myself an Olympian someday; gymnastics were the only sport for girls my age then. I would lock my arms and hold my sweaty legs outstretched, then whip them under and up again, the momentum whirling me into a flip, sticking the landing on an old dog bed as Daddy whooped his approval.

I felt so strong and sure, with kinesthesis so reliable, I was stunned the day I lost control rolling through space and crashed into a nearby stump. The bark ripped my shin to the bone, the torrent of blood so orange and fierce it didn’t look real. It hurt, but I didn’t cry; I was too embarrassed. Worry–an unfamiliar emotion–quietly nagged me: What did I do wrong? What if I fell again? as Daddy wrapped a beach towel around my leg, set me in the truck, and rumbled us off to the emergency room.

"All kids should have a swing set." The hospital, not so much.

“All kids should have a swing set.” The “hospital,” not so much.

My mother had to lie down when she saw me, but Daddy wasn’t fazed at all. In fact he seemed excited. An adventure! He chattered away, punched at the radio buttons, cracked jokes, and even stopped at 7-11 for Slurpees along the way. He assured me I would be back on the gym set that very day.

By the time the nurse called us back I was almost looking forward to getting stitches. Daddy distracted me with armpit farts and teased the still-pimply intern assigned to my care. Did he have a girlfriend? This gal here’s available! What time was he off work? Watching the nervous young doctor clean my leg, Daddy went for the superfecta, explaining how those little bits of raw pink flesh, flicked onto the blue paper sheet, resembled the evidence he’d recently found in a car trunk that had transported a murder victim’s battered body.

The doctor raised an eyebrow. I smiled. I was nine. And I was fascinated.

What I didn’t see was the toll such work extracted from my father’s soul. I thought he had the most exciting job in the world, and that he shared it with me because he saw me as mature, a peer. But really, I was the only friend he had who wouldn’t judge his moods, or punish his worsening drinking bouts. When he looked into my eyes, his reflection was still that of hero.

When drinking finally did take him a few years later, the gym set lost its allure. Not because I was sad, although I was, but I was 13 now. I’d rather go to the mall than swing on dirty metal bars. I liked wearing makeup and having soft palms to couple-skate with, not that it happened often.

Eventually the gym’s rusted husk collapsed, and my mother had it hauled away to the junkyard. I grew up and learned that life had mortgages and migraines, consequences, shitty people, and too often, the very worries and depression my own father had experienced. And I didn’t have him any more to dissuade them with Slurpees and jokes.

But I had our memories. I never became a gymnast but I did play sports all the way through college, which helped me find work that I loved. And it all began doing ring routines for my father on that gym, where I learned to stick the landing, even when he could not.

DEADLINE EXTENDED! Enter our Sports Essay Contest! New deadline: September 8! Prizes!

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Enter Our Essay Contest!

chesternatscloseDEADLINE EXTENDED to Sept. 8!!! It’s the first-ever Ladies Room Sports Essay Contest! 

We thought we’d try something new and fun. After a couple months traveling (and pneumonia. Seriously. Pneumonia. In July.), our blog is back–and that could mean a $150 Visa Gift Card for you! And FREE entry!

Send your non-fiction piece, up to 500 words, about what you love (or hate) about sports, today or in your past. Taking your kids to the ballpark. Winning your first Field Day race. Losing your girlfriend to the quarterback. Or have you witnessed someone else’s sports story? How have sports, however tangentially, affected you or someone you know? Dugouts, dunks, dodgeball–we want to read it!.

Winner receives a $150 Visa Gift Card, and second place a $50 Visa Gift Card! Winners and various other selections will be published on the Ladies Room Sports blog.

Judges will consist of members of the esteemed Yale Writers’ Conference. And possibly a small dog.

Seriously though, we are looking for essays on how sports have made some impact, good or bad, on people’s lives. We also welcome more traditional sportswriting as long as they are short essays/creative non-fiction as opposed to a regular game summary. Think beyond the box score!

Send your entry (one per person, please, attachments or in email body are fine) to laura.boswell@ladiesroomsports.com. Deadline is September 8, 2015. Previously published work is OK as long as it fits the guidelines. And PS – Ladies Room editors will merely facilitate, so if you know us, it’s OK! Like the Publishers’ Clearing House says, “Go ahead, send it in!.” Please submit non-fiction only–but don’t worry, fiction writers and poets, your spot on the varsity team will open soon.

And finally, this is our first try at this, so please bear with us as we work out the kinks. Send questions to the address above and we will help asap! Enter now!

Mullets Grow. Can Character?

Sadly the drugs aren't why I wear my hair this way.

Sadly the drugs aren’t why I wear my hair this way.

It may be true that “cheaters never prosper,” but in sports this week, they did gain a little ground.

Now, to no surprise, none of Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa even came close to being voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. All have confirmed or alleged use of steroids to thank. (Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Jon Smoltz and Craig Biggio did get the nods.)

And in the world of mixed martial arts, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, crowned just last Saturday with a unanimous win over nemesis Daniel Cormier (even their press conferences become octagons), tested positive for cocaine metabolites and entered rehab.

On the other hand, a baseball signed by six of the eight players involved in the 1919 Black Sox cheating scandal, most notably “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, will go on the auction block beginning Monday for a $100,000 starting price, along with two other items from what may be the most famous gambling gambits of all time: during the 1919 World Series between the Chicago White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds, eight White Sox players were accused of losing games intentionally for money from gamblers. Although they were acquitted in court, all eight were banned from baseball for life. Their story was the inspiration for a number of books and movies, particularly Field of Dreams.

And finally, the brash-talking, muscle-flexing, mullet-wearing 80s football sensation Brian “The Boz” Bosworth was selected for the College Football Hall of Fame, despite admitted performance-enhancing drug use and an NFL career that was at best injury-riddled and at worst, one of the sport’s biggest flops. Former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, currently serving a five-year NCAA penalty for failing to report players’ impermissible benefits, was also allowed in. (Ohio State seems to have recovered, too; they play Oregon for the national title Monday night.)

So what’s the moral? Cheaters have a chance? Football is more forgiving? I don’t know. Mullets eventually grow. Maybe character can too.

High Five Headlines: They Are the World, They Are the Winners

Last week saw a foreign invasion as we watched two major sports taken by players born beyond U.S. borders, and another sport with no Americans playing at all (yet). Your High Five Headlines from the best stories last week…

I didn't realize my 6th grade solar system was part of the World Cup.

Even my 6th grade solar system is going to the World Cup.

1) German Martin Kaymer won the U.S. Men’s Golf Open on Sunday. Although none of the “big” names like Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson finished near the top, and Tiger Woods sat out the tourney with back issues, there was still excitement watching the 29-year-old winner lead start to finish. Zach Johnson also sunk a hole-in-one on the famous “Pinehurst (N.C.) No. 2” course’s ninth hole.

But the most excitement may lie with the pro ladies, who this weekend will play their Open at Pinehurst. It’s the first time the men and women have played two Opens consecutively on the same course—and not an easy one. Pinehurst No. 2 is one of the world’s most famous and difficult venues and the site of more single golf championships than other American course.

Better yet, this nod to the women, despite concerns over a second tournament so soon harming the greens, and well, money—the Women’s Open loses $4-5 million while the men’s Open is responsible for more than 90% of the USGA revenue—some of golf’s most influential fellas, like former USGA executive director David Fay, were behind the idea and the decision (thanks guys!). Look for Natalie Elbis (sort of the pin-up girl of golf) and 17-year-old sensation Lydia Ko to tee off on Thursday.

2) San Antonio gave a butt-whoopin’ clinic at home Sunday night, taking down the two-time champion Miami Heat for the 2014 NBA title, 104-87. It was the Spurs’ fifth championship, and a Father’s Day gift for Tim Duncan,38, who has played his entire career with the organization. He wandered the floor in disbelief, carrying his son and daughter as other Spurs like Manu Ginobili (Argentina) and Tony Parker (France) celebrated a team that claims players from seven foreign countries.

Meanwhile, know who Lebron James is? Now how about Kawhi Leonard? No? You will now. The quiet, multi-talented, awww-shucks team-player seemed stunned when awarded the MVP trophy James claimed last year, thanking the “guys behind him” for the “surreal” experience.

Ronaldo. Yup.

Ronaldo. Yup.


3) The World Cup continues today with, let’s face it, probably the only soccer game most of us will watch in four years, the U.S. vs. Ghana at 6 p.m. ET. I won’t pretend I can expound on soccer much, but perhaps the biggest storyline thus far is The Netherlands’ upset of reigning champion Spain, 5-1. And four of Holland’s goals came in the second half. Spain defeated Holland for the title four years ago—will revenge come this year?

A few other items to watch for:

  • Ronaldo. One word: Injured. (and Gorgeous. OK, two words.) How will the world’s best player fare? Not well, hopes America; Portugal is in our group.
  • Lionel Messi, the world’s other best player, scored a goal to help Argentina to a 2-1 victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina. Look for him in the 173 Gatorade soccer commercials currently running.
  • World Cup Crowds: The costumes are genius, the team spirit electrifying, and maybe even more entertaining than the games.

4) Scottish tennis champion Andy Murray lost at the Aegon Championships after 19 unbeaten matches on grass. However, his loss has raised eyebrows not just because grass is his favorite surface, but he has a new coach, Amelie Mauresmo.

(Who happens to be a woman.) Yes, the French former Wimbledon champ herself was hired personally by Murray after his previous coach, legend Ivan Lendl, became weary of the travel. Naturally her presence is being heavily scrutinized. But it must be said Lendl was a notorious grump and an inexperienced coach—who then led Murray to the 2012 Olympic and 2013 Wimbledon titles.

5) Finally, Father’s Day was especially lucky for the dad below, who caught a baseball bare-handed, while holding his baby in the other hand, at the San Francisco-Colorado game.

A Sports Poet and I Didn’t Know It…

For today, a little bit o’ verse to sum up last week’s biggest headlines:

I'm here, I'm queer, and I'm gonna make you wish you'd never picked up a football.

I’m here, I’m queer, and I’m gonna make you wish you’d never picked up a football.

Duke beats Syracuse when Coach Boeheim is sent away

Michael Sam’s football prowess overshadows being gay

Jason Collins, also gay, returns to play in the NBA

(Could it be we’re FINALLY seeing opinions on this issue sway?)

American hockey teams are sad Olympics reach final their day

With round-one knockout, Ronda Rousey makes Sara McMann pay

Dale Jr. wins Daytona (and sends first-ever tweet!) after rain delay

And a career-best win for adorable Aussie golfer Jason Day!

Happy Monday! Remember, the Olympics may be over, but pro hockey is BACK and baseball spring training is starting up! WOOT!

Baby, Baby, Baby, Ohhhh (Crap). Plus the Extra Point’s Future, Billion Dollar Brackets, and Tiger Declawed

—1—“The kick is up, and it…is…” no longer existent?

So, baby, you mean, baby, if I can't beat these charges, baby, I can't be an NFL kicker? Ohhhh.

So, baby, you mean, baby, if I can’t beat these charges, baby, I can’t be an NFL kicker? Ohhhh.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suggested this week that the league do away with the extra point or “PAT,” point after touchdown. “The extra point is almost automatic,” he told NFL Network Monday. “I believe we had five missed extra points this year out of 1,200 some odd attempts. So it’s a very small fraction of the play, and you want to add excitement with every play.” Instead he suggests making a touchdown worth seven points instead of six, with an extra play after from the scrimmage line worth an eighth point. But, if the team fails, their touchdown is only worth six points.

You would think concussions and crime would be enough “excitement” for the NFL any given day, but I must admit I am intrigued.

—2—Ahhhh, Warren Buffett. Gazillionaire, Philanthropist, College Basketball Fan. And now he and Quicken Loans are offering a $1 billion cash prize to anyone who correctly predicts this year’s men’s NCAA Tournament Bracket in the Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge. Unfortunately, the odds of getting all 63 games right, are around 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808. That’s nine quintillion. But if you do win, you get 40 annual installments of $25 million or a lump sum payment of $500 million. If there are multiple winners, the pot is divided, and the 20 brackets closest to the perfect outcome will still receive $100,000 each from Quicken Loans to purchase or remodel a home or refinance a mortgage. Contest starts March 3.

—3—There are two new sheriffs in Tennis Town. If tennis players wore hats, spurs and funny mustaches. China’s Li Na had been contemplating retirement, but defeated Dominika Cibulkova (who had ousted #3 Maria Sharapova) for the Australian Open crown, and at 31 became the oldest women’s champion in the Open Era. Known for her funny remarks in broken English, Li joked in post-match interviews about her husband and his snoring, and thanked her agent “for making me rich.”

On the men’s side, it was Switzerland’s #8 Stanislas Wawrinka who finally hoisted the trophy after defeating #1 Rafael Nadal. Nadal had previously knocked out Roger Federer to reach the Australian Open final for the third time. It would have been Rafa’s 14th Grand Slam title. But he struggled with several small but nagging injuries, including a blister on his serving hand that drew gasps from the crowd when one TV camera got a little too close. Wawrinka was the first man in 21 years to beat the #1 and #2-ranked players (Novak Djokovic) en route to a Grand Slam title.

—4—For the first time in his career, world #1 Tiger Woods failed to make the PGA Tour’s secondary cut at Torrey Pines in San Diego. His 7-over-par 79 was his worst in an event he has won seven times. And it all means….meh, nothing. It’s the start of the season, and now, with girlfriend skier Lindsey Vonn sitting out the Olympics, they’ll enjoy a few free days before heading to Dubai.

5Finally, Saturday Night Live did two great sports parodies on “Weekend Update” the other night, one with Russian villagewoman, “Olya Povlatsky.” “So Olya, are your surprised the Olympics are coming to Russia?” “I surprised anyone would come to Russia…What was the other options, Haiti or middle of ocean?” The other had Kenan Thompson playing the Miami police officer who arrested Justin Bieber for drinking and drag racing. “You must have been shocked to pull someone over and discover it was Justin Bieber.” “Oh Cecily, I work in Miami. Nothin’ shocks me. When I pull somebody over, they usually got a tiger in the back seat, and an alligator in the trunk to guard their cocaine. It’s the only city where NBA players are the best behaved people.”

Re-hiring a Man Rihanna Wouldn’t Take Back, Why Ski-Jumping Hurts Your Lady Parts, and Why Won’t Alex Rodriguez JUST GO AWAY ALREADY????

1–I forget whether “SMH” means “shaking my head” or scratching it, but I’ve been doing both, along with most of Louisville, since the University re-hired its former football coach Bobby Petrino on Thursday. Petrino will replace Charlie Strong, who departed to coach the University of Texas.

Can we speed up this press conference? I've got an interview--I mean, a date, I mean, I gotta take my Mom to church at 2.

Can we speed up this press conference? I’ve got an interview–I mean, a date, I mean, I gotta take my Mom to church at 2.

Petrino, a 52-year-old married father of three and a grandfather, spent the last decade sneaking interviews behind schools’ backs (and getting caught), abandoning jobs (his one pro season with the Atlanta Falcons lasted 9 games) and BEST OF ALL, for crashing a motorcycle with his mistress, a 25-year-old former volleyball player and his football staff employee, while he was the Arkansas head coach in 2012. He was subsequently fired. (Her too.)

I mean, Rihanna wouldn’t take this guy back.

Still, Louisville chose Petrino (not to be confused with Louisville men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino, but we will get to him in a second…). This may seem to make sense. He did lead the Cardinals to a 41-9 record from 2003-2006 and an Orange Bowl title. Louisville finished 12-1 this year under Strong, so I guess they wanted a sure winner. Now Petrino has a 7-year, $24.5 million contract, alongside Pitino, a married father of five who over the years has been alleged to have several affairs, and in 2009 admitted sexual relations with the wife of the team equipment manager (she was charged with extortion by federal officials).

As a Memphis fan, Louisville has traditionally been our biggest rival, but Cardinals, I feel for you here. And you ladies who were part of this, I’m lookin’ at you too. SMH.

2–Speaking of Charlie Strong, his hiring (the first black coach ever) at perennial powerhouse Texas was overshadowed this week when billionaire booster Red McCombs complained to the university, the media, his dog, anyone who would listen, that Strong was not fit for the job. OK, McCombs has given $100 million to UT and has a statue in the stadium, so sure, he has a right to voice his opinion. Unfortunately, remarks like calling the choice “a kick in the face” came across to some as just a wee bit racist for one of the last schools to integrate its football team.

Actually I think McCombs just felt burned for not being consulted more in the hiring process. The co-founder of Clear Channel Communications and former owner of the San Antonio Spurs, the Denver Nuggets and the Minnesota Vikings, McCombs must have some idea of how to manage sports right. I don’t think he consciously intended to come across as racist, and he did apologize. I mean, come on, surely a grown white man in the South would know better than to do something so stupid.

(Then again, please refer to this column’s item #1.)

3—Champion skier Lindsey Vonn, 29, will not compete in the 2014 Sochi Games due to ongoing complications with her right knee. Vonn won the gold in Olympic downhill four years ago.

“On a positive note, this means there will be an additional spot so that one of my teammates can go for the gold,” Vonn tweeted. More good news: this year’s Games will see the debut of women’s ski jumping, so hopefully athletes like Jessica Jerome and Lindsey Van can make the podium—unless it’s too high, of course! After all, jumping off things “seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view,” said Gian Franco Kasper, president of the International Ski Federation. (Not a doctor. Not even on TV.) In other words, ski jumping can make you infertile.

OK, this isn’t an official reason the International Olympics Committee has overlooked the sport since the men debuted 90 years ago, but it’s been an off-the-record, “If we believe it, it must be true” kind of belief. Kind of like a flat Earth. Or Sasquatch. Or whatever invisible thing on the wall my deaf dog barks at all the time. Yeah, like that.

4—The Baseball Hall of Fame 2014 Class was announced last week: pitcher Greg Maddux, pitcher Tom Glavine, and designated hitter Frank Thomas, who was a five-time all-star and spent most of his career with the Chicago White Sox. Maddux won the Gold Glove so many times his number, 31, was retired at both the Chicago Cubs and the Atlanta Braves. And Glavine was a multiple all-star, Cy Young and Silver Slugger winner. All three were voted in their first year, a total 180 from last year in which no living, modern-era player made the cut, largely due to the shadow of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).

Oh, PEDs you say?

5—New York Yankees’ third baseman Alex Rodriguez learned his original suspension for alleged PED use would be shortened by independent arbitrator Fredric Horowitz from 211 games to 162 games. This constitutes one full season of baseball. But Rodriguez, 38, is not satisfied, claiming he did not use any banned substances despite being named as a client of the now-defunct Coral Gables, Fla., anti-aging clinic Biogenesis, and he will take his case to federal court. Biogenesis founder Anthony Bosch says he injected Rodriguez with banned substances. Legal experts say arbitration rulings are rarely overturned.