What I Learned During the First Weekend of March Madness

basketball photo

My first trip to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in 2013. Kansas vs. North Carolina.

KEEP CALM, IT’S MARCH MADNESS.  –unknown

They call it March Madness for a reason. Unpredictable and erratic…causing ordinary and sane individuals to suddenly scribble out brackets, clear their schedules and spend hours plugged into an event that spans several weekends. Crazy, right? In the interest of full disclosure, I should state that I am a Kansas Jayhawk fan–born and raised in Kansas. A KU alum, I have bought, paid for and wear the t-shirt. The 2014 NCAA tournament marks the 25th consecutive season that the Jayhawks have been a part of the madness. So…my madness has been going on a long, long time.

Every year I go into the tournament looking forward to the fun, the excitement, and often times the anguish of college basketball. I’m consistently impressed by the athletic abilities of these amazing young men. Time after time I find myself discovering new teams to root for and more reasons to vilify teams that aren’t on my top ten list. Each year I anticipate the ups and downs and without fail the tournament delivers. You’d think at some point the whole thing would become tiresome and pointless, but I haven’t crossed that line yet. I guess what I’m trying to say is that after all these years I’m still uncovering the lessons deep within the madness. For example, just the other day I learned something new about myself–I yell louder at the TV when watching basketball alone compared to when I watch with others.  Who knew?  And with that spirit of self-awareness, I offer these “noticings” after this first weekend of tourney play:

1. Life is not fair. Okay, we all know that, but sometimes it really hits you over the head.  Like with Harvard and Stanford.  Really? Not only do you have to be a “brainiac” to go there, chances are you’re well on your way to a successful and high paying career (and not necessarily in the NBA.) That’s a score. To top it off the guys on these basketball teams were both good-looking AND athletically gifted. What line were those dudes standing in and how can the rest of us get an invite. Yes, some people have it ALL and then some!

2. “Lebroning” has totally reached the college crowd. It occurs to me that in addition to team practice and free throw repetition, some coaches must be offering some type of drama course. Some of these players produce very convincing facial expressions and practically injure themselves throwing their bodies around while trying to win over a referee. I love how they act like an innocent bystander…even pointing out elbows and hands in order to avoid getting a foul call. Kudos, fellas. The Academy will be calling.

3. Yelling during free throws. Good gravy…I pray that those are college aged fans or maybe members of a team’s respective pep band. Otherwise, let’s grow up a little. Grown men and women (yes, ladies, I HEAR you) have no business screaming or booing a kid at the free throw line.

4. Speaking of pep bands…what is up with the face paint? For heaven’s sake. This year’s face painting has been especially noticeable. Now, I’m not a face painter myself, but I do recognize that there is good face painting and BAD face painting. Showing your pride through team colors—thumbs up. Looking like you’re trying out for some sort of zombie trumpet player role—thumbs down.

5. If you cry at the game…the camera will find you! When the camera zeroes in on some dejected player, my heart just withers. But you don’t have to be a team member to have your “boo hoo” moment broadcast all over the country. Coach’s wives and kids have become fair game as well. At least when we’re watching the game at home, no one can exploit our sadness 😦

6. Never before have I found myself rooting so hard against my own bracket. I play the odds when it comes to my picks and then find myself cheering for the upset. Every.  Time.  Yes, I have money on the line and yet I still can’t help myself. I get tired of the same teams winning it all year after year.

Sean with tickets to the madness.  Yes, it makes you crazy :)

Sean with tickets to the madness. Yes, it makes you crazy 🙂

7. This year, for the first time ever (in my case) the madness has caused lines to be drawn within my inner circle. I found myself second guessing beloved kin and friends (at one point I publicly announced that I was considering disowning my own son for going against my alma mater.) This stuff is for real!

So, bring on the Sweet Sixteen! I love it. It’s the lion and the lamb, the greatest highs and the deepest lows. We see teams rising to the occasion and others falling flat on their faces. Players and coaches getting caught up in the moment and commentators that make us want to pull our hair out or unplug the TV. (Have you noticed what flip-floppers these announcers are? Good thing this is basketball and not politics. Talk about playing to which ever team is ahead.) Yes, indeed this is March Madness! What else could grab die-hard fans and fun-loving onlookers and unify them into one massive sporting experience? My bracket is basically shot at this point, but I don’t care. Wait… I think that’s another symptom of the madness!

I wish I was at work instead of watching basketball.  Said NO ONE ever.  –unknown

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It Really is HOW You Play the Game….

Let me begin with this:  I don’t have an athletic bone in my body.  So, for many, I have absolutely no cred when it comes to talking about sports of any kind.  That’s okay, I don’t mind talking about it anyway 🙂  In fact, it’s not so much the sports aspect that caught my eye this weekend…it’s more the human reaction to it.  Look, they say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can pretty much get the gist of it by reading a chapter.  Satire, mystery, fiction, inspiration…you get the point.  And if the old adage also holds true—“you only get one chance to make a first impression”…then we all might want to check ourselves before, well…you know.

Anna&Kids

Flashback photo…Raising little Kansas Jayhawk fans.

So, here goes nothing.  Like most people, I’m a sports fan.  My favorite team in this great, big, wonderful world is the Kansas Jayhawks (for a myriad of reasons, but we’ll save that for later date.)  But I also  enjoy many different types of sports and follow several other teams as well.  In my community, circle of friends and in my family for that matter there’s a wide variety of sports fans.  Some of us live for football, hockey, and tennis.  Others can’t get enough NBA, golf and volleyball.  Personally, I’m a college basketball and baseball fan and thanks to my  kiddos, I have a great appreciation for soccer.  Different strokes  for different folks.  Amen, right?  Still, one of the things that always strikes me about some fans is their (my) deep, die-hard passion for our sport of choice.  We not only follow our designated tribe, but we support it with our time, energy and often, our money.  No judgement here…I’m right with you.

Where things get tricky, though, is when we start to dis each other and personally belittle our perceived opponents.  I can hear the groans and comments already…“this is why girls shouldn’t watch sports, you’re ruining the industry, this is how the game is played, if you don’t like it–don’t watch it.”  I hear you and I understand.  But it still begs the question, do we really accomplish anything when we put down our foes?  What does it prove?  Especially, if we’re on the winning end.  I’m asking….  It seems that anytime you give your heart over to something…there’s going to be passion and intensity.  Just like any relationship there will be huge highs and deep lows in fanhood.  And since our teams foster a family like comradery…things can get personal fast.  And not only do they get personal, but they can also get ugly.

This morning everyone is talking about the NFC Championship game and some of the post game antics.  It was a hard-fought game.  Can we agree on that?  Depending upon who you were rooting for (and for the sake of disclosure I will tell you that my team lost), you were either right there with this (now notorious) cornerback, Richard Sherman, or you’ve reactively thrown your support behind a man who many describe as THE  All-American quarterback, Peyton Manning.  It doesn’t take but a second to scroll through any number of social media outlets to see the reactions and commentary.  It’s been less than 24 hours since the hoopla aired, and arguments have been made on both sides.  Some have tried to rationalize and excuse the behavior by calling on player intensity and testosterone.  Others have written him off as classless and a thug.  We’re all entitled to our opinion, it’s how we choose to express it that matters.  In fact, I’ve been sort of surprised to see which side fans, sports gurus and radio personalities have signed on to.  It’s also been equally interesting to see where my own circle of friends stand on these events.

Personally, my heart hurts for Richard Sherman.  I saw his post game interview live like many other football fans.  His moment on national television, the replay of his butt slap, choking gestures and trash talk against Michael Crabtree were truly baffling to me.  Here was a man who had just demonstrated that he’s at the top of his game.  He played a key role in his team moving on to the Super Bowl.  I think the whole world expected him to be excited and amped up (and does it really matter who started it?) but using his airtime to disrespect an opponent…well it doesn’t add up, especially now that countless reports have come out about Sherman’s educational accolades, his communications degree from Stanford and blog writing/interviewing abilities.  In a world where image is everything and first impressions are lasting impressions,  Richard Sherman just cast himself as a football villain and in the hearts of many that role will last a lifetime.  Football players often live and die in the moment.  Whether it’s a consequence of personality or just the nature of the athletes who play the game, he has just categorized himself in a less than ideal light and he may spend his career (and life) trying to undo the damage of a few seconds on national television.

Unfortunately, fanhood means that we’ll never know the hearts and minds of those sports figures we idolize, but let this be a lesson to all of us.  The way you play the game…your game, my game…will be noted.  The world keeps records, it profiles and categorizes, and is not always gracious in forgiving our wrongdoings.  How much more important does it become for each of us to live our lives more thoughtfully.  Our words and actions are and will be judged.  That’s a fact.  If you don’t care, more power to you.  Still most of us, if we truly examine our hearts, want to know that we have lived life well.  As a sports fan, as part of a sports family and as a human being I want to live a life without regret.  We all have our moments…where we wish we had done things, said things, differently.  We can make amends and there are roads to reconciliation and redemption.  Thank God for that.  But wouldn’t it be better if we could just be better people?  If what spills out in our words and actions really reflect our heart wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t look and sound like self-centered, entitled, thoughtless, rude men and women?

I don’t mind telling you that I won’t be rooting for the Seahawks on Super Bowl Sunday.  In the same breath I can tell you that I also won’t be cheering on the Broncos either (I’m a Chiefs fan, and therefore diametrically opposed, you understand.)  Chances are, however, that as sports fans we’ll be checking in on the game, rating the commercials, and eating more than we should.  I’m going to keep Michael Sherman in my prayers and hope that he and all the other athletes on the field play their hearts out, take in and savor their moment in the national spotlight and finally, make good choices…because the whole world is watching (and I’m trying to raise sports fans.)

You have to learn the rules of the game.  And then you have to play better than anyone else.  –Albert Einstein

My Own Field of Dreams (and Memories)

Sean pitching 2013“Baseball…is a place where memory gathers.”  — Donald Hall

Another baseball summer has come to an end.  And so goes that magical time of year where we schlep our kiddos to and from practice, block out our evenings and weekends for games, purchase sunflower seeds and Gatorade in bulk, spend all of our money at the sporting good stores and plant ourselves for hours on end upon narrow (and often uncomfortable) bleacher seats.  Oh, how I LOVED it!   There’s just something special about being at the ballpark.  And this summer, America’s favorite pastime took on new significance for me as a typical ballgame outing transcended time and space (cue Twilight Zone music here….)

One of the consequences of living hours away from family is that the chorus of cheers and encouragement for your kid come from yourself and the parents of your kid’s friends.  I had become accustomed to hearing these familiar voices during my son’s baseball games, but on this particular weekend when my son stepped up to bat I could hear my Mom say, ‘Here you go, Sean,” followed by my Dad, “Pick a good one.”  And just like that, I was transported back in time, to ball fields in my home town.  Their voices and their presence that afternoon sent me right back to my childhood.  You see, I was a “baseball sister,” nestled in the stands…sucking on sunflower seeds, drinking soda and watching my little brothers at bat.  My Dad was on the field as coach and we all waited with bated breath for every pitch.  In a flashback moment I could see their uniforms and determined looks.  I recalled hot and dry, western Kansas evenings and the sports complex where they played little league.  I took a deep breath and present day reality set back in.
baseball 2013 004All afternoon my head (and my heart) bounced between the baseball game at hand and games past.  My mind’s eye could clearly see thrilling victories and agonizing defeats–my brothers’ sweaty faces and red, dirt stained white pants.  I remembered Dairy Queen celebrations and post game lamentations at the kitchen table.  Then I would see my son, in all his determination strike out a monster of a batter (keep in mind this is little league, but this batter was as tall as the umpire!)  In the stands, my folks and I reminisced about Gatorade gum (does that still exist?), pre-game rituals and the power of green m&ms.  Every caught ball, grounder and close call produced cheers and jeers intermixed with stories from my own childhood…Do you remember when kids wore stirrups as part of their uniforms, when entire teams ran to the parking lot for coolers loaded with soda and snacks, when games were scheduled as late at 9:30pm, and when wearing rally caps was a concept that NEVER had to be explained?  Remember when…?   
Between games, my Dad and husband talked about strategy, the ins and outs of coaching your own kid and various pitching techniques before heading back to the diamonds.  We reminisced about how much baseball caps have changed (do you recall the mesh back, plastic snap variety?) and laughed about the NO SWIMMING ON GAME DAY rule, which still holds true for the new generation of ball players, at least in my family.  We compared games of yesterday with my husband’s baseball experience on the West Coast.  Before long we found ourselves in line at the concession stand again…purchasing more sunflower seeds, of course.  And my niece helped to carefully pick out green m&ms (we might as well test out the “home run” theory) and discreetly handed them off to my son in the dugout (see candy commercial below for explanation), and finally we settled in for another inning of play.    New game, but such familiar territory.  I was living my own “Field of Dreams.”  Like the well-known baseball flick, I was experiencing a mixture of baseball past and present, family togetherness and a desire to hold on to this special summertime moment.
Three games later we were sun-worn and windblown, but smiling.  Sean pitched his very best game of the summer.  We cheered as he and his teammates celebrated in the dugout.  I took in the moment as the most important men in my life collectively grinned from ear to ear and looked so proud!  Okay, it’s just baseball and little league baseball at that, but these are the occasions that become some of our best memories.  As in life, another baseball game, another victory, another afternoon together is never promised.  For now summer baseball will continue to weave itself in and out of my son’s childhood.  We have camps to look forward to, the excitement of new teams and teammates, and the joy of taking in the occassional MLB game whenever we can.  There’s nothing like building family memories around the ball diamond and dreaming major league dreams all while celebrating little victories at the local Dairy Queen.
“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”— Rogers Hornsby
 

WINK ;) concussions

concussions😉 What I Now Know (W.I.N.K.) about concussions.

Until about  a year ago, I never really worried about my kids getting injured in sports.  Both my children have played ball since the could walk–soccer, flag football, basketball and baseball.  There were plenty of bruises and scrapes, but for the most part nothing serious.  I know that injuries are part of the deal (that’s why I made my son play flag football and not tackle.)  If injuries weren’t reality then we wouldn’t have to sign a zillion papers promising not to sue the YMCA or rec league.  That being said, I still naively thought that broken arms and sprained ankles happened to other people’s kids…and there I go, clicking my heels.

Today, I’m a little neurotic when it comes to sports injuries.  My hypersensitivity comes from my own son’s concussion last January.  My ten-year old went up to intercept a long pass at midcourt, lost his footing and landed on the back of his head.  (He would want me to mention that he DID catch the basketball!)  I will never forget how the whole gym went silent as a group of coaches and my husband ran onto the court.  My son managed to walk off on his own and sat dazed and confused on the bench as a family friend and teacher went to get ice.  At the time none of us could have imagined the scary door this injury would open up for him and our family.

He had a headache and he was grumpy (who wouldn’t be?  It was Saturday night and he had plans to go to a hockey game with a friend.)  What we didn’t realize was that this headache would last four months.  We didn’t go to the emergency room…a rookie mistake.  We did however consult a friend (a paramedic ) who recommended that we see our family doctor first thing on Monday.  The doctor’s examination was thorough and included a trip to the local hospital for x-rays, etc.  It’s amazing the things you learn about your own kids in a doctor’s office setting, you know–things they tell the doctor and not their parents.  Like the fact that when he first hit the floor everything went black for a second.  And that he couldn’t hear out of one ear for most of the weekend.  And finally that his jaw hurt on one side when he chewed (turns out he was chewing on the other side so we wouldn’t know.)  The doctor filled us in on all the results and told us that the scans had all come back clear.  We were relieved.  Now we just had to limit our son’s screen time (TV and computer), make sure he got plenty of rest, and WAIT.  Oh yeah, he couldn’t play any sports until he was headache free for 5 days straight.

I wish I could say that healing was as easy as following the doctor’s instructions.  About three days later we felt comfortable sending him back to school.  In hindsight, that was another rookie mistake.  It’s very hard to limit screen time (and READING) when you’re not present, even if all the teachers understand the situation.    I think that’s where the lesson of this particular injury really comes full circle.  Most of us (myself included) have no idea how serious a concussion is.  We see and hear about athletes all the time who take hard hits and end up  back on the field or the court the next week.  What we don’t realize is that a concussion is a brain injury and we only have one brain.  And brains take time to heal!  Especially children’s brains.  Allowing your child to return to regular activities too soon can lead to a secondary injury.  These can be very serious and cause permanent damage to the brain and even death.  You can check out Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s video for more details about concussions in children.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XnIRso_04Ks&feature=player_detailpage

It took four solid months for the headaches to go away.  My son couldn’t participate in gym, recess or any other physical activity.  This is especially deflating to a competitive ten-year old boy who eats, drinks and breathes sports.  About three months in, our doctor recommended we scale back all stimuli and pull him out of school at lunch time.  This is where we really started to see improvement.  Less means more when it comes to healing a concussion!  The Monday after Easter, almost four months to the day of his injury, my son was released for regular activity.  It’s a day I will never forget.

Sean Concussion FREE

Sean with a note from the doctor clearing him for all activities following a concussion. It was a long four months.

So, here’s what I now know about concussions:

1.  Concussions are emergencies.  Have someone look at the injury right away.

2.  Reduce all stimuli for the first week, no exceptions.  This means…no TV, cell phones, computers or electronic devices of any kind.  No reading or school.  No physical activity.  I truly believe that if we had cut out all stimuli during the first week of his injury he would have recovered much faster.  Children will kick and scream, but we must be the parents in this situation.

3.  Remind your children that they must be honest in medical situations and tell you every symptom they’re experiencing.  If I had known that my son blacked out (even momentarily) or that he couldn’t hear out of one ear, we would have certainly responded more urgently and taken him to an ER right away.

4.  Don’t be afraid to make the tough decisions and stand firm.  My son wanted to play basketball again.  We allowed him to go to the games and support his team, but he was DONE for the season.  I will tell you honestly that there was a lot of talk among friends, family and schoolmates about how we were being overprotective parents, questions of my son’s “toughness,” and many who second-guessed the seriousness of concussions in kids.

5.  Find a doctor who understands concussions in children.  We were fortunate.  I cannot tell you how much we value our kid’s doctor!

6.  Pray and ask for prayers.  As a family of faith, we believe that a mighty God was with our son and our family during this time.  The power of prayer cannot be underestimated.  The strength and support offered by our church family was vital.  I could go on and on….

Today, my son is playing basketball again.  Don’t get me wrong–we all held our breath during that first basketball game back and especially during the game that took place in the same gym where he landed on his head.  I am a more fretful mom today and I make no apologies for it.  I cringe and pay extra special attention when I hear about similar injuries.  And I make it a point to tell other parents and family members What I Now Know about concussions.

Men ought to know that from the brain, and from the brain only, arise our pleasures, joy, laughter and jests, as well as our sorrows, pains, griefs, and tears.                    Hippocrates (about 400 B.C.)

What I Now Know (W.I.N.K.) is a recurring entry on this blog.  The idea of WINK as an acronym popped into my head the other day while I was doing laundry.  You see, aside from being a slave to housework I actually have quite a bit of knowledge filed away in my overworked brain.  While I don’t claim to be an expert on anything, I know something about a few subjects that just might be worth sharing.  And just like that this new blog idea was born–WINK (What I Now Know).  I hope to share a little bit of what I’ve learned as a daughter, sister, friend, wife, mother and all-around regular, ordinary girl.  Look for ongoing posts, but What I Now Know (as a busy wife and mother) is not to promise weekly entries because life happens– and it usually happens when I want to blog!  (Here’s where if I could wink at you, I WOULD.)