Saturday, November 30, 2013

College Football and the Cliffs of Insanity

A friend of mine who recently moved to the United States sent me a note the other day that she and her husband were looking forward to understanding college football. She sought my advice as to what they should pay attention to.

I have to admit that it was an open ended question.

The closest experience I have in this area is when I tried to explain college football to my wife. She understood little of the game itself, despite her high school marching band years. In addition, she attended a university that didn’t have a football team. When we lived in Oregon, she would come with me to Auburn alumni get-togethers to watch at a sports bar. The only thing she learned was that I ignored her when games were on. The first college football game she ever attended was Auburn vs. Alabama, admittedly not my brightest idea. If you’re going to show a newbie The Princess Bride, you don’t start the movie at the Cliffs of Insanity.

So how do you explain college football to someone with no frame of reference? How do you explain the beauty pageant that is the BCS and the bowl system? Power conferences? Mid-majors? How do you explain that a conference called the Big Ten has 12 teams and a conference called the Big XII has ten teams?

And to do it during rivalry week?

Talk about the Cliffs of Insanity.

So, I explained that groups called conferences exist and then mentioned the most familiar names. Then I sent a schedule of important games with rankings, briefly pointing out which games might have some national appeal. From there, I decided to let my friend and her husband decide for themselves what they want to watch, hoping not to inundate them with information.

If only I’d thought of this when I first tried to explain it to my wife.

So, if you had to explain college football to someone with no frame of reference, how would you do it?

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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy thanksgiving, everyone. I plan to spend my day with family, eat a lot, and watch football.

What will you be doing?

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Friday, November 22, 2013

Fantasy and Reality

This is my first year of playing fantasy football.

I turned it down a couple of times at the office, thinking I had no time and knowing my wife would go “you’re doing what?” and also having to learn about pro football beyond the teams I follow. But then two of my friends issued a challenge I couldn’t ignore: me and my two sons vs. each of them and their two sons. Winners would be decided by total family points amassed. Two losing families would treat winning family to dinner at a wing joint.

Even my wife said, “Bring it on.”

So, while downing burgers and chips one evening, we held our draft and picked our teams, each round proving that I let my 11-y.o. watch way too much Sportscenter. The season then began with high anticipation.

It soon developed into despair. While my 16-y.o. did his version of the Denver Broncos and my 11-y.o. looked like the Carolina Panthers (appropriate since my older son had Peyton Manning and my younger one had Cam Newton). However, my players consistently underperformed and I lost game-after-game. My first win came against my 11-y.o. However, my victories have been few. In our two division league, my sons occupy first place in both while I run dead last in my younger son’s division.

But then come the points.

On a wins total, we were first, despite my 11-y.o.’s comments of, “Dad, you’re bringing us down.” However, on the points total, we’re a distant third with the winner already pretty much determined.

Despite all this, I’ve noticed one thing. Fantasy football gave us one reality. It gave my sons and me another reason to bond. It’s not that we didn’t talk before, but for fantasy football, we thought as a team, checking on each other to ensure that we substituted for players who had a bye week and that our projected totals had a shot, even though those projections never seemed to match. It’s been fun. When it’s over, we’ll go out for dinner and enjoy the company of good friends.

And we’ll do it as a family. 

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Amazing Ms. Gail

My wife is a substitute teacher. She started out by volunteering in the school library at our kids’ school when the boys were both of elementary school age. Eventually, she decided she liked going every day.

She works only elementary schools and meets many interesting people. One of them is a parent who I’ll refer to as Ms. Gail. Every time my wife subbed at one particular school in the area, Ms. Gail always seemed to be there. My wife didn’t know if she was a volunteer or a preferred sub attached to one school. Her best guess was PTA President. She knew Ms. Gail actually had kids at this particular school and her passion for the kids was evident.

Last year, on the last day before Christmas holidays, my wife found herself subbing again at Ms. Gail’s school. There had been a Christmas party that morning and one of the children in my wife’s class had wanted to go home with his grandmother (since some kids were going home early). However, the kid learned he would need to stay for the rest of the day.

After the party, the kids went out to the playground. The kid, likely thinking his grandmother was still around, bolted for the parking lot. My wife was caught between watching the 24 other kids under her charge or chasing after the child.

Ms. Gail noticed. She nodded to my wife as to say I got this. Ms. Gail then took off, covering 30-40 yards before the kid ran another five. She reached the child, picking him up in her arms, and brought him back to my wife.

My wife thanked her deeply, and then proceeded to retell the story through the Christmas holidays. In reference to Ms. Gail, my wife said she’d never seen anyone run so fast in her life.

I don’t remember when it happened, but someone she was telling the story to realized something: my wife had no idea who Ms. Gail really was.

Three-time Olympic gold medalist in hurdles: Gail Devers.


The next time wife saw her, she again thanked Ms. Devers for her actions. Ms. Devers was gracious, and then asked my wife where she bought her cool boots.

The amazing Ms. Gail:

Three-time Olympic gold medalist

School volunteer

Devoted mom.

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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Dedication Meets Drive

There are times when my wife thinks I rave too much about our kids. However, even she will agree this isn’t one of those times.

Two weeks ago, my wife and I attended an Academic Awards ceremony for our sophomore age son. He’d earned a letter for maintaining an “A” average for his freshman year. He did it, while taking accelerated courses in math and science, and participating in marching band, Boy Scouts, and rec league baseball. When he walked that aisle, my wife and I glowed like all of the parents at the ceremony.

However, we may have glowed for different reasons.

My teenager has a learning disability: a severe speech delay. It’s a challenge he’s struggled with all his life. Speaking and writing have always come difficult for him. Since pre-K, he has taken speech and language lessons. At home, my wife and I also worked with him to improve his speech.  

We also struggled with him on his homework. Language Arts is his nemesis. My wife once commented that English is our son’s second language and we have no idea what his first one is. Familiarity was achieved slowly through drills, but perfection remains elusive. Despite the language challenge, he showed an aptitude for Math and Science, through hours of studying each day.

When he hit middle school, the subjects got harder. However, something also got easier. He had learned to study. When his math class proved too easy, he asked if we could move him to the higher level math class. All he needed to do was pass a test. We told him no. We wanted him to have one easy subject, we explained to him. The following week he came home with a note, saying that he passed the math test and could be elevated to the higher class. Math was the one class where his disability didn’t affect him. He took pride in it. We acquiesced. Because he could do the math, he got moved to the upper level science course. We allowed it.

By the time he started high school, language arts still haunted his efforts, but the idea of taking harder courses in other subjects was no longer debated. The first year saw many hours hitting his studies. Seeing what he’s gone through to get there, my wife and I stood amazed with the results.

                                                    My son and his high school principal

For students who maintain their “A” average, the school my son attends awards bars to go with the letter. After the event, my son noted that the groups in the higher grades were smaller. His studies continue to be hard. He knows he may not make it back next year.

But he has his letter. He’ll always have his letter.

And come this Christmas, he’ll have a school letterman jacket to put it on.

What has made you the most proud of your kids?

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