Thursday, January 26, 2006

Toughest girl in the 14th grade

There are several reasons I prefer women’s athletics to men’s. One reason is the simple fact that in post-game interviews, girls can generally form complete sentences. A little over a year ago, I interviewed a player for a game preview I was working on for the local paper. When asked what the team needed to work on, she replied, “We need to work on our defense and taking care of the ball. But we are getting there, progressively.”

Simply adding that word “progressively” changed that from a typical jock sentence into a prime example of what differentiates female athletes from men in most cases. I mean, when is the last time you heard a jock use any word that is more than two syllables? Much less, use it correctly.

Another reason I enjoy women’s athletic is because they are less like to showboat, show off, gloat or any of the other crap that ticks me off. I can’t stand all that extra curricular garbage that guys, for some reason, think makes them look cool. Their team may be down by 20 points, but if one of them dunks the ball they have to tug on their jersey, play to the crowd or make some sort of hand gesture that nobody understands as they perform their various renditions of the “look-at-me” dance.

I will admit that I have seen women do the same thing, but on a much lesser scale. And when women do it, it’s really stupid. But for the most part, the female athletes celebrate with simple high 5s for a teammate, or they just run back and play defense.

The same can be said for injuries. Guys always play it up, looking for sympathy. One of my biggest pet peeves is when an athlete supposedly gets hurt, wallows around on the floor like he is dying, takes an extended period of time getting up and then has to be helped off the floor only to return to the game after a few minutes. I literally told a high school athlete one day after witnessing such an incident that if I ever saw him do that I was going to personally kick his hind quarters. That young man went on to play basketball for Bob Knight at Texas Tech University and to the best my knowledge never did anything like that.

Female athletes typically don’t do that. Unfortunately, I have seen some serious injuries at which time the athlete is lying on the court in pain and has to be carried off. But those were legitimate injuries, not a jammed finger or ingrown toenail. For the most part, female athletes would prefer to get off the floor and deal with the minor injuries somewhere else.

Case in point: Last Saturday our women’s basketball team was playing against the No. 10 ranked team in the country. Our team has been struggling through conference play this year, but the young ladies valiantly took the court.

Midway through the second half, a sophomore guard who had just been reinserted into the game waved at the coaches to take her out. Not understanding why she had tired so quickly the coaches sent a player to check in for her. However, since there was no apparent rush, this player stayed in the game and continued to play hard for another trip down the court.

When the whistle finally blew to stop play, this young lady made her way over the bench, looking at her hand. The pinky finger on her left hand was sticking out sideways at an angle. She looked at her finger, looked at her coach and said, “I think it’s broken.”

On Tuesday, the young lady had surgery to repair the finger that had not only broken, but had twisted. Needless to say, she will miss several weeks while the finger heals. For some reason, healthy hands are key when playing basketball.

But as she played on with a broken finger and then came off the court, there was not a complaint, not a whimper, no wallowing around on the floor or jumping up and down at mid-court wanting everyone in the gymnasium to "look at her" … she just kept playing.

Tough kid, and that’s why I appreciate women’s athletics.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


I stole this from mi hermana, Spooky.

1) When you looked in the mirror first thing this morning, what was the first thing you thought? Huh.
2) How much cash do you have on you? $1.05 all in dimes and nickels – just in case I need a coke at the bookstore later today.
3) What's a word that rhymes with TEST? vest.
4) Planet? Neptune.
5) Who is the fourth person on your missed calls? I don’t miss calls, I just don’t answer the phone.
6) What is your favorite ring on your phone? Whichever one doesn’t sound like everybody else’s.
7) What shirt are you wearing? An off-white polo style with the university logo on it.
8) What do you label yourself as? Right! (as in correct not conservative. Although I am conservative. I’m just not right-wing conservative except on the third Tuesday of every month.)
9) Name the brand of shoes you've recently worn. Ummm... I have no idea. They were brown? (stole the answer from Spooky, also.)
10) Bright room or dark room? Dark or dim. It’s better for doing graphic work on the computer.
11) What were you doing at midnight last night? Sleeping.
12) What did the last text message on your phone say? Oh Please, I have better things to do than type on a telephone keypad.
13) Where is your nearest 7-11? Big Flat City, 45 miles south of here. (Again, same as Spooky’s, but we do have other convenience stores in the area.)
14) What's a saying you say a lot? I have no catch phrases. I try to vary my responses to things.
15) Who told you they loved you last? Wife.
16) Last furry thing you touched? Ghost kitty.
17) How many drugs have you done in the past three days? Let’s see … I shoot up three times a day and take one pill. Throw in that allergy medicine I took last night and I’m all good.
18) How many rolls of film do you need to get developed? Two, although I doubt that they are still good. I think I have had them around since I graduated from college roughly 10 years ago.
20) Your worst enemy? Stupid people … or administrators who are pathetically slow about doing anything other than holding uneventful meetings.
21) What is your current desktop picture? A picture of a small castle in Ireland. The photo was taken by a former student I know who went there on a study tour last summer.
22) What was the last thing you said to someone? "...I’m not sure who is supposed to pay for that pregnancy ad!"
23) If you had to choose between a millions bucks and being able to fly, which would you choose? Flying. If I could fly, I’d make a million bucks as the star of a freak show, or as a professional basketball player, or by saving money on gas.
24) Do you like someone? Yes. (Whew, that was a tough one.)
25) The last song you listened to? Theme music from The Incredibles. I watched it with the 5-year-old last night.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Bless the little cheerleaders

Have you ever caught yourself saying something you never thought you would say?

I found myself in this very situation the other day.

I love sports. I played sports in high school. Made a living for several years as a sports editor of various newspapers and currently maintain a close relationship with a few coaches and teams at the university where I work.

Throughout this time, however, I have found one constant in my opinion … cheerleaders are worthless. They don’t really pay attention to the game and very often have to ask the person next to them how to spell G-O for the next chant they are planning. Even as a strapping young lad in high school, I never really paid attention to the cheerleaders. Quite frankly, I thought the athletes had much more going for them.

Needless to say, I have little use for cheerleaders who typically don’t lead cheers anyway. They do their little flips and gyrations during timeouts, but the real cheerleading comes from the athletes on the bench who actually know what’s going on in the game.

And I have no problem telling cheerleaders this. Last year, we had a student worker in our office who was a cheerleader and I constantly made fun of her. She was a good kid, though, and took it well. I did tell her I might have to change my outlook on cheerleaders after dealing with her for year. A current member of our Sunday school class is an ex-cheerleader. I haven’t really made fun of her, though. Her husband still plays for the basketball team. He’s bigger than me and has really sharp elbows. But they are both nice kids, too.

Back to my point … my 5-year-old teenager has stated for several years now that she wants to be a cheerleader. This hurts my heart. I try to get her to hang out with the athletes as much as possible and her babysitter, whom she adores, is even a basketball player. But that doesn’t change the stubborn offspring’s mind when asked what she wants to do.

“I want to be a cheerleader!”

Well, our church started a youth basketball league last year and this year expanded that league to include cheerleading. You know, it’s one of those leagues where people don’t keep score at the games because you just want the kids to have fun. That, my friends, is another huge soap box altogether.

Anyway, my youngster wanted to join the cheerleading along with her other little friends, so my wife and I decided to give it a shot. We paid the fee and collected the little outfit complete with pom-poms, a megaphone and weekly Bible verses that are way too long and have little to do with the day-to-day life a 5-year-old. (Another soap box).

Being the good father, I decided to support my child in this endeavor. Last week, I loaded up my camera and headed out for the games with cheerleader extraordinaire in tow. I snapped away while the little nugget cheered her heart out.

At one point, after a timeout, my daughter leaned over to me and said …

“Da-da, do you like this game?”

“No,” I replied. “I’m just here to watch the cheerleaders.”

Monday, January 09, 2006

KD and the broken nose

I slowly walked into the gym.

I was a little early for my 2 p.m. appointment with the men’s basketball coach, so I decided to watch the women’s team practice for a while. It had been two days since a humiliating beat-down at the hands of a conference opponent and I wanted to see how the young ladies were reacting.

Now you must understand, being a man approaching his mid-30s, 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, there aren’t many things that make me go “eeewwww!” And certainly, a group of college basketball players running up and down the court generally doesn’t fit into that category, aside from dodging a pair of sweaty socks that were thrown at me one day. But that is another story altogether.

Today, however, was different.

Standing on the sidelines was one of the starting guards still decked out in street clothes as her teammates pounded the hardwood under the scrutiny of their coach. You see, while the team took it on its proverbial chin the preceding Saturday, this young lady took it on the nose – literally. A sophomore, roughly 5-foot-8 and 100-and-nothing pounds dripping wet, this young lady plays much tougher than she looks. She is not afraid to take the ball to the basket among the bigger, stronger players, and has suffered a few injuries.

On Saturday, however, a trip to the backboard landed her in the hospital. As the team was hoping to claw back into the game shortly after halftime, this young lady crashed the boards looking for a rebound. All she found, however, was the heel of her teammates hand as it came crashing down across the bridge of her nose. After the 10-count, play was stopped to attend to the injury.

The coaches and trainers rushed to the court, as the young lady lay on her back clutching her face. Although I knew she had been hit in the nose, it was difficult to really tell what the injury was because there was not a drop of blood anywhere on the court.

She was helped off the court and taken to the training room where a doctor looked at her and diagnosed that she had indeed broken her nose.

Two days later, she stood on the edge of the court cheering her teammates as they worked. I walked across the gym floor to where she was standing. If I hadn’t known better I never would have guessed she had a broken nose. There was a little swelling, but very little bruising or discoloration. Her pettite glasses rested carefully on the bridge of her nose, giving her a rather studious look as she surveyed the court.

“Hey, girl,” I said as she turned toward me. “Way to take a punch.”

She smiled as we began to discuss the injury and her impending treatment. It turns out that she is going to be fitted for a face mask and then play the rest of the season. In her words, she wasn’t even going to miss a game. The coach, however, is going to wait for the doctor’s clearance before he allows her back on the court.

Due to the way her nose was broken, it was impossible for doctor to set it without minor surgery. However, if she plays the rest of the season the nose will heal itself slightly out of position, although no one would notice by looking at her.

She explained that after the season, the doctor will have to break her nose again and set it properly. This, of course, sent shudders down my spine, but she said she could handle it as long as they knock her out first.

As we continued our conversation I told her I was amazed at the lack of bruising and overall appearance. I've seen broken noses before and many times they are accompanied by a pair of black eyes.

“… And I can’t believe it didn’t bleed,” I said.

“I know,” she agreed. “The doctor looked at it and said there was definitely blood in there, but it had been stopped up.”

“That’s kind of weird,” I said, wondering how you stop a major nose bleed without even trying. I mean, I’ve woken up on dry winter mornings and have done little more than sit up in bed and my nose starts bleeding.

As I contemplated the strangeness of the situation and how the blood flow could collect without ever releasing, I wasn't really prepared for what she said next.

“Yeah,” she said. “But this morning I had a really big sneeze ……….


Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Over the river and through the woods

The holidays are over and it’s back to work. Surprisingly, I was ready to return to a semblance of normalcy after a rather hectic week in which my wife, child and I visited both sets of grandparents, opened a lot of presents, ate too much food, got too little sleep, circumvented grass fires, drove through a snow storm, crossed the continental divide, dodged a few deer, worked in a round of golf, watched a few basketball games, nearly fell off a mountain, drove 2,189 miles and spent $245 on gas.

Was it worth it? Absolutely … except perhaps the part about nearly falling off a mountain.

After spending Christmas weekend in Norman, Okla., with my in-laws, we loaded the van and headed west for Grand Junction, Colo., where our college basketball team was playing a few games. We apparently got out of the Oklahoma City area just before the fires started on Tuesday.

The drive to Grand Junction was uneventful and gorgeous as we followed highway 50 through Colorado which runs alongside the Arkansas River for several miles. The drive through Gunnison was gorgeous as the snow-covered mountains overlooked the frozen lake.

My daughter kept asking if we were “stuck,” or “driving in circles” since we crossed the lake several times as we wound through the mountains.

We made it to Grand Junction with no trouble at all where we watched the basketball team play a couple of games. The team played really well even though it lost one of the two games.

My favorite player played great. I didn’t really get to tell her that prior to leaving Friday, because we were in a hurry to get on the road, but I’ll make it a priority to point out to her that I thought she played great over the weekend. She boosted her scoring average by more than a point and played solid defense. She also didn't make any big mistakes which has always been one of her strengths as a player.

The final game finished around 8 p.m. (Texas time) on Friday night. I knew the bus was returning home that night, so I had made plans to leave after the game as well. We were heading different directions because the family and I had to drive farther south and decided to cut across New Mexico.

While the bus had a rather uneventful return trip, aside from the stench of a loaded restroom tank and one player’s illness, our trip was far more taxing.

We had to dodge a herd of deer on a two-lane highway at one point. We came through unscathed, although a little rattled, but that was nothing compared to what we were about to face.

When a mountain pass becomes treacherous, highway departments should really consider posting signs that read “Stupid flatlanders must stop now!” There were plenty of signs reading “Chains required on all commercial vehicles.” But what the heck does that mean for me?

At one point as we trudged along in the snow and ice, we passed a sign that said the summit is 13 miles. “Good,” I think to myself. “If we can reach the top, we should be OK.” It took us an hour to reach the top of the mountain from that point.

And just to add anxiety to the already harrowing trip, as we reached a flat area on top of the mountain, we passed a sign that read “Chains or snow tires required on all vehicles beyond this point.”

Great! Here we are at the top of the mountain in a vehicle ill-equipped to continue the journey. My options are to turn around and go back down the way we came or break the law – and it was pointed out that proceeding without the proper equipment was unlawful – and go down the mountain by continuing forward.

I decided that if I had to go down the mountain one way or another, I was going to continue going forward.

The minutes passed into hours and the anxiety never lessened as we continued down the mountain only to discover that we had to reach the summit two more times before truly beginning the trek down. But our trusty van and its front-wheel drive, never slipped and never skidded on the ice, for which we gave much thanks to God. We were also lucky enough to fall in behind a snow plow and follow the freshly plowed highway much of the way down.

We were fortunate that after a long, hard day of cheering for her favorite team, my 5-year-old was asleep the entire trip. Had she been awake, I’m sure she would have constantly been asking … “Da-da, are we going to boom?” You see, the word “crash” has been outlawed in our van after we bumped bumpers with another vehicle backing out of a driveway one day a year or so ago.

After several days of hearing our 5-year-old repeat the story and reprimand us for “crashing,” my wife finally told her that the word “crash” is a bad word and must not be repeated in the van. She has stuck with that rule, occasionally correcting us if we use the word in casual conversation.

But we didn’t crash or boom.

By my calculations, it is approximately 170 miles from Grand Junction to Durango. For a West Texas boy, 170 miles means about 2 and a half hours of road time. But on the fateful night in the driving snow, it took us more than five hours to make that trip.

We eventually stopped about an hour south of Durango, in Bloomfield, N.M., where we stayed at a Super 8. Our room smelled as if it had housed someone’s hunting dogs the night before. The smell was probably similar to what the team was experiencing on their bus ride home with the loaded sewer tank. But at 3 a.m. and completely exhausted from the tense travel, what else were we going to do? If we passed up this motel, it was another two hours until we reached civilization.

We decided to sleep for four hours before returning to the road. After all, we still had roughly 11 hours of road time ahead of us before reaching my parents house on New Year’s Eve.

Needless to say, that 11 hours was nothing. We even killed an hour in Albuquerque eating a late breakfast. We traded our 10 to 20-mile per hour drive the night before for a pleasant 80-mile per hour pace on Saturday and finally came to a stop at 5 p.m.

The next day we took communion at my father’s church, dug into a big pile of world famous steak fingers then drove the final 2 and a half hours home. It was nice to get home and see that our cats were still alive and hadn’t destroyed the house. It was nice to finally sleep in our own beds, and it was nice to look around and see nothing but flat land, albeit burning out of control in several places.

After 2,189 miles in eight days, one gets a little road weary. But it won’t last long. After all, I have to get back on the road this Saturday if I’m going to watch the team play in Oklahoma City.