Diagramming Dumb

#This. Every. Bleeping. Year.

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Cheerleaders Dinged for…Leading Cheers

GettyImages-486404464.0Well, Tuesday night college football is already a little odd, so why not have an odd referee call to go with it?

A referee apparently felt the Central Michigan Chippewa cheerleaders and band were a little too peppy, making it too hard for the Toledo Rockets to hear their snap count. He stopped the game to issue the warning, deep in Central Michigan territory. The Chips’ cheerleaders were located in the back of the end zone of CMU’s Kelly/Shorts Stadium.

Ironically, the half-filled stadium woke up after the call, and the sudden noise caused Toledo kicker Jameson Vest to miss a chip shot field goal that would have given the Rockets a seven-point lead.

However, Toledo ended up winning 28-23. But more important, I think it demonstrates that cheerleaders are, in fact, more than just pretty faces on the sidelines. They do make a difference.

It’s not a new argument—is cheerleading a sport? What do they do exactly anyway? Why are they necessary?

As far as cheerleading being a sport, or at least athletic, there is no doubt (I know because I was one). They run, lift weights, lift each other, and compete against other squads, as you’ve probably seen at 2am on ESPN.

But if they are so athletic, why aren’t they playing a “real” sport—football, gymnastics, baseball? people ask. If you’ve seen the arms on some of the male cheerleaders, you know what I mean.

I don’t know. What I do know is this: cheerleading is fun. In high school my favorite days were Fridays, when we got to wear our uniforms to school. You felt special, pretty, part of the electricity of game night.

And at the game, you really felt like you were helping urge the team along, by screaming your fool head off (or at least releasing stress from a bad algebra test).

Eventually I did find my way into “real” sports. But some people are simply born with the charisma to energize others, to raise spirits and—in the case of the Chippewas—even change the flow of a game.

Do sports need cheerleaders to function? No. Do pro cheerleaders need to dress like poledancers? No (though I don’t hear a lot of complaints from my male counterparts).

But take them away, and a key part of the pageantry would be missing. No pompons, no pyramids? I promise you would notice.

And what else would you watch channel-surfing at 2am?

David, Goliath, and Roscoe

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Even then, Centre students knew to use “who” vs. “that.” Suck it, Harvard.

Imagine today, October 29, but in 1921. A ragtag football team, from a college of fewer than 200 students, has traveled by train hundreds of miles from the foamy green hills of Kentucky to don moth-eaten uniforms and stumble onto the field before a roaring crowd of 45,000 at Harvard Stadium.

The mighty Crimson are the de facto national champions for three years running.

Led by coach “Uncle Charley” Moran–who also served as equipment manager, mentor, masseur and trainer–and a swaggering quarterback, Bo McMillan–who never met a dice game or a bourbon he didn’t like–the Centre College “Prayin’ Colonels” pause for their usual prayer before the game (then a novelty, thus their nickname).

They go on to defeat Harvard 6-0. McMillan rushes for the lone touchdown that makes Centre the first school from outside the East ever to beat one of the Ivy League’s “Big Three” of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. The win is later voted by the Associated Press as “the greatest sports upset of the first half of the 20th century.” Of course as a Centre alum myself, I elevate it a little higher.

The lore of the game is endless, if a little dubious–that Bostonians so loved the Centre team, they cheered when the train rolled in, and took the boys out on the town.

That the fellas purposely wore distressed-looking clothing to play up their poverty-stricken backgrounds and hustle the sharks to bet against Centre so the team would win money.

That the Colonels’ African-American water man, Roscoe, dressed in a silk hat and vest to perform the “cakewalk” for Harvard fans, and brought down the house.

And that the same Roscoe wasn’t the stereotype he appeared–in the days when coaches couldn’t send in plays from the sidelines, Roscoe would sit on and rotate a water bucket lettered with C-E-N-T-R-E, each letter corresponding to a play. Whichever letter faced the field was the secret play to run.

Whether these stories are fully accurate or not we’ll never know. But two things are true: 1) the term “David vs. Goliath” is overused, and yet, 2) no other phrase defines this game better.

(By the way, if you want to see Kentucky at its finest, check out the annual Breeder’s Cup at Lexington’s remarkable Keeneland racetrack Saturday at 5:30 ET on NBC.)

Word Up Wednesday! Inside-the-Park Home Run

escobarThis year’s first World Series game made history in several ways, like being the longest World Series game ever and Fox experiencing a seven-minute broadcast outage that they didn’t blame on Beyonce, Taylor Swift or Obama.

The game also saw the first inside-the-park home run to lead off a World Series since 1903–the first Series. Kansas City shortstop Alcides Escobar took the Mets’ Matt Harvey’s first pitch and sent it to deep left-center field, where it bounced off outfielder Yoenis Cespedes’ leg and continued to the wall. As the outfielders chased it down, Escobar rounded all the bases to score.

Meanwhile, Cespedes’ efforts were not ruled as an error. Runners often reach extra bases, even score, when the defense makes a mistake. These I’ve seen. And my friends (aka Guys Who Think They Are Sports Smarty Pantses) and I debated whether that is what happened, thereby scoring Escobar merely as advancing on an error (also known as a “Little League home run” if multiple errors are involved).

But in this case, Escobar scored on his own efforts (aka I WAS RIGHT). And having never seen an inside-the-park home run before, I wanted to make sure I was clear on just what it was.

By definition, it means the batter hits a home run without actually hitting the ball outside the field of play–the ball doesn’t clear the wall. Instead, it takes a lucky path far enough from the outfielders to give the batter time to make it home.

Luckily for the Mets, no one was on base yet–inside-the-park grand slams happen too, most recently against my Washington Nationals in September, even though they were SUPPOSED TO WIN THE WHOLE DAMNED WORLD SERIES AND BE LIKE THE BEST TEAM EVER ON THE PLANET BUT THE METS KNOCKED US OUT OF CONTENTION!

But I’m not bitter at all.

And the Essay Winners Are…

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It was a difficult selection process, but we have our winner and runner-up for the first-ever Ladies Room Sports Essay Contest! Congratulations to Carol Dowd-Forte of West Palm Beach, Fla., for her winning essay, “Spring 1977.” And the runner-up is Tara Armstrong of Iowa City, Iowa, for “Coaching Unicorns Bill Murray Style”. They will receive a $150 and $50 VISA Gift Card, respectively.

Also thank you to our judges, and everyone who participated! Read on for the two winning entries, and we’ll post other “honorable mentions” in upcoming days…

***

Spring 1977

by Carol Dowd-Forte

Bent over, hands on my thighs, I was glad I’d remembered to spread my feet apart before displaying to my teammates what I’d eaten for lunch.

I knew that second Devil Dog was a mistake.

With the inning nearing an end, I had run off the field from my position in Loser-Land, right field.
“Hey, Spike, you alright?”

I muttered that I was fine and reiterated the verdict about snack cake number two.

On the train ride home the scene came back to me in Technicolor splendor, and my stomach was calm as I walked down 102nd Street toward the brown-shingled, three-story house I’d grown up in. The early spring sunset slipped into dusk and then evening, and I looked up at our second floor kitchen’s rear window. Streetlights flickered on, and their jaundiced halos illustrated there was no light in the back of the house, an anomaly at dinnertime with six people for my mother to feed.

Silence greeted me at the bottom of the stairs, even though Rebel usually barked when someone came home. I called out to see if anyone was home before I walked up the two wooden flights, opened the door to the living room and saw my father sitting alone on the couch, Rebel at his feet. Only the lamp was on; the television screen black.

“Pop died,” he said.

I swallowed and said, “Okay.”

“What the hell do you mean, Okay? I just told you your grandfather died and all you have to say is Okay?”
But no one had ever died on me before, and I didn’t know the rules for mourning. But from Dad’s reaction I guess I was doing it wrong.

My father was not a sports fan, but Pop was a Mets maniac, and he and Nana took my brother and me to games when they could afford the tickets, or when my dad got them free for working security at Shea Stadium. The year Pete Rose screwed up the Amazins’ shot at the World Series—by eluding Bud Harrelson’s tag at second base during a key playoff game—Pop brought home a bunch of lobsters. He said he got them “from a guy I know”—wink, wink—and grinned with unabashed glee as he dropped the largest one, which he had named Pete, into the boiling pot of payback on the kitchen stove.

Pop made me laugh. He called me Twiggy. He paid attention to me. And he was dead.

“What time did he die?”

“That’s what you want to know?”

I nodded.

“Around 4:30.”

In my mind it was hours earlier and I was back on the sidelines. Feet splayed. Head bowed. Thankful for my aim and glad I wouldn’t smell of vomit on the subway ride home. I lifted my head, wiped my mouth, and glanced at the scoreboard clock.

It was 4:32.

After the funeral, the house was full of food and people and grief. I told my father I had a game that afternoon and needed a ride to the field. I was a junior, and on the day of my grandfather’s funeral my father saw my high school for the first and only time before graduation day.

But I had a game to play. I think Pop would have wanted it that way.

***

Coaching Unicorns Bill Murray Style

174433d6-0f1e-4f3b-ba7a-1ddb843c38b9While avoiding eye contact with my therapist, Lynda, I sat uncomfortably in her dimly lit 8×8 office staring at the grey carpet.

Tears were streaming down my cheeks, then dripping onto my manmade chest. Lynda was helping me form a personal game plan for the fast-approaching volleyball season as I no longer felt qualified to encourage or coach youth to keep going when I was struggling to see any bright side.

“What would you say to one of your players if they came to you saying they were having an awful time, like what you’re going through?”

“First, I’d be shocked if one of my eighth graders came to me saying, ‘Coach Tara, I’m losing my shit right now because this constant pain from my prophylactic double mastectomy just won’t stop, and my surgeon is currently being a big baby because I compliment him excessively and he now thinks I’m in love with him.’ Second, I would say, ‘well, kid, we have that in common.’ Then I’d give her a reassuring fist bump.”

Lynda gave a deep, mocking chuckle. “There she is. That’s dark-humored Tara I know. But don’t you think bright spots would be better suited for your team?”

“Probably. I’m having difficulty processing bright spots because my source for them is no longer writing any. It feels wrong to tell the kids it’ll get better. Especially when it’s not a guarantee. Even if things “get better” it doesn’t really last. I don’t want to lie to them. I don’t want to be to them, what everyone else has been to me— misleading abandoners.”

“I don’t think you’re misleading when you encourage them to be who they are and embrace the awkwardness. There’s something those kids, and many others, see in you.”

“Why do you do this, Lynda? I have no light, only abysmally ironic humor. Isn’t it time for you to give up on me, like the rest?”

“Because those kids need you. You have an inner light, Tara. You started practicing bright spots the first year you coached and started winning after you implemented the bright spots, right?

“We won one game that year.”

“But last year you started bright spots with them the first day. You made them practice those positive affirmations daily. You sent team texts on game days. How many games did you win last year?”

“All but one.”

“Exactly, atypical for the underdogs. Didn’t you also go to the apple orchard post-season because what you created with those girls was a sisterhood? They still email you. You inspired one of them to stop cutting by helping her to write about her emotions. How did you do that as ‘just’ a volleyball coach?”

“By embracing awkwardness and listening…” This made me smile as I remembered our huddle chant; “Unicorns on three!” Then “Mad Dawg” would rise from the middle of our circle with one hand on her head pointing up, serving as her unicorn horn. From there she’d dance on the sideline, chanting Bill Murray’s best motivational advice from Meatballs, and our team’s motto about losing versus winning: “It just doesn’t matter! It just doesn’t matter!” And Mad Dawg was right, ‘it’ doesn’t matter, but my team does.

I didn’t let an infection that almost claimed my right breast implant at the end of last season stop me from being there for them. Why should I let my anxiety and depression stop me from being there for my new team this year?

I finally looked at Lynda.

“You can do this, Tara.”

Girls: #SorryNotSorry

This is her attitude at this age--but what about later?

This is her attitude at this age–but what about later?

It is so critical for young girls to know their worth, yet it’s a concept still forehead-slappingly foreign to society, governments, religions, many men (even unintentionally)–and therefore the girls themselves.

A volleyball coach friend of mine recently posted the following experience on Facebook. With her permission, I am publishing it here because it, and her amazing response, is exactly what I mean. Too often, girls, myself included, approach life with an apologetic attitude, like we don’t deserve space there. We MUST teach them to remove the word “sorry” from their vocabularies (and sports, coincidentally, is a great place to start):

Second day of tryouts and all I kept hearing was “sorry, that was a bad toss.” “Sorry, I’m not good at setting.” “I’m sorry, I just can’t hit very good.” Sorry, sorry, sorry…they just couldn’t stop.

Until I blew my whistle and interrupted everyone and gave a little speech. It went like this…

“I keep hearing all of you saying sorry and I don’t understand why. No one needs to be apologizing for a “bad” toss, a missed hit, a “bad” set, a missed serve. Those mistakes don’t matter. It’s the improvements that matter.

What I see when you start saying “sorry” is something that leads to self-doubt. “Sorry I made a bad toss to the setter, which caused the setter to not set right, which means I can’t hit it right and I’m never going to make it over that net.”

When you do this, you place an unnecessary blame on yourself. Who cares if you make a mistake? It’s practice! You didn’t miss that ball because you suck, you missed that ball because of physics! If you need to blame, blame physics, blame science. Don’t blame yourself.

When you do that it makes it easier for others to blame you and that’s not fair either. Our society has created a messed up norm where females are taught to take on blame that doesn’t belong to them. Females are taught to apologize for pretty much everything. STOP apologizing. You don’t need to say sorry to the ball. The ball does not care. Instead of saying sorry, start saying I CAN DO THIS!

Do males your age say “sorry” constantly when they make little mistakes, or hurt your feelings, etc?

(silence and cricket noises)

Then one voice pipes up, “no, guys don’t apologize unless they have to. They’re boys.”

Me, “Exactly. Our society has taught us that dudes don’t have to apologize, but it’s expected of females. So from now on, this is ‘Dude Volleyball.’ No more saying ‘sorry’. Or you will run.”

After this, the energy in the room shifted from super anxious to machines. Best part…as we were leaving a kid came back and asked “Coach, can we play Dude Volleyball again tomorrow?”

Me, “from now on every day is Dude Volleyball.” This was met with “Woo Hoo! Dude Volleyball rocks!” as she skipped out the door unapologetically happy and excited about practice tomorrow. Yep, not sorry.

Nope, not sorry. Nor should the girls in your life be. So help them to remember that.

A True World Series

Johnny Depp, or Little League coach?

Johnny Depp, or Little League coach?

I love love LOVE the Little League World Series. First, unlike Major League Baseball and the NFL’s “World Champion” rings despite only playing stateside, the LLWS is a true “world” series with both international and U.S. teams.

And there is just something so uplifting about seeing these young men and women compete with such heart and sportsmanship that has become all too rare in the adult sports world with the tweet battles and dirty plays. These boys shake hands, help each other up after collisions. Yes, there have been occasional scandals in the past, but due to choices of the adults, not the kids.

Also impressive are the parents and fans who support them–nearly 50,000 are expected today for the final (3 pm ET, ABC) of  Tokyo and Lewisberry, Pennsylvania. That’s more than nearly ever MLB stadium in the country.

The coaches, too, so passionate and supportive, are heart-wrenching to watch, their very souls invested in developing the kids’ skills, but more important, character.

Take Texas coach Andrew Soloman–he promised to cut his now-famous purple dred-locks if his boys won. (They are currently playing Mexico in the consolation game, so the dreds will live to fight another day.) And did I mention he is a professor of law at the South Texas College of Law?

Once again, the Keystone State figures into the drama. Williamsport, Pa. is the yearly host of the international tournament. Last year, Philadelphia female pitcher Moné Davis stole the show, if not the trophy, throwing a complete game. This year, Lewisberry seeks to be the first Pennsylvania team to win the World Series title since Levittown did it in 1960.

It’s a shame to see the tournament come to an end, but school is calling. They have all, already though, received lessons in friendship, hard work and love.