‘I was living in a van’

August 31, 2011

Hi friends – Martha here.  Michael is out running all over our little world here being a chiropractor, and comforting and encouraging the football coaches he cares for.  We are so blessed to have that provision to sustain us as we grow our charity work.  Somehow, it’s all morphing into the same thing, but that’s another story…

I have recently volunteered at the Atlanta Union Mission with the Children’s Restoration Network doing resume workshops for women. I could go on for pages about the desperate circumstances, seemingly hopeless situations, God help them! One girl’s story in particular I think synthesizes them all.

‘I was living in a van until four days ago’. That was what the young girl sitting in front of me finally said after we had been talking for a few minutes. I had been working through her information with, frankly, a huge sinking sensation in my stomach. I didn’t know how to help her. I’d done this many times before, and once even worked for a friend who had a professional resume writing business for a spell. It’s relatively simple – take the narrative of the job history and condense it down to descriptive and powerful key words and phrases. And then get it in good chronological order.

This young girl had no work history. Nothing, nada, zip, zero….and she was apologizing to me for it. Ashamed, defeated, helpless, overwhelmed.

Now I had seen some of this before when doing professional resumes. From very accomplished people – Vice Presidents of corporations no less. Out of work, desperate, overwhelmed, heading toward being defeated. And ashamed.

But, the extraction of the ‘transferable’ job and life skills from their stories showed a myriad of possibilities, and a huge landscape of the job market available to them.

For both of them, what I was really able to do was to help them believe in themselves again, to help rewrite the autobiography of their lives

The similarities of the two people in what this process provided are that HOPE is something that people can give each other, regardless of the circumstances. Organizations like the Children’s Restoration Network are a powerful example of how the simple act of caring for another human being can grow into a network of volunteers that can literally save lives.

Chutes and Ladders – terror at any age

January 25, 2010

St. Joe's hawk on the move...look out Villanova wildcat!

I used to love to play at Powell Road Park growing up because anyone who was anyone in Springfield played there. We had a great basketball tradition in my home town.  I knew Geoff Petre (GM for the Sacramento Kings and All-American at Princeton), Tom Inglesby (Cardinal O’Hara, Villanova and Atlanta Hawks)  and Dave Batton (Notre Dame and several years in the NBA and Europe) played there.  I imagine the great Ted Crary (Michigan State) played there before any of us were in diapers.   

In our minds, we imagined that the Powell Road Park basketball court was like the Jerusalem of basketball, even though we knew it really was the Palestra on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania.  Home of the BIG FIVE. Villanova, Temple, U Penn, La Salle and St. Joe’s. Families would be divided over these rivalries, friends alienated… in fact our family friends avoiding humiliation would go to an earlier mass after a Saturday night game to avoid the Tiesers, Gavins, Duffys or Mooneys  fresh off a defeat. There were bets of steak and seafood. It was local college basketball at its very best from the court being littered with streamers after the first basket to the fights between mascots that broke out into a Donnybrook  with fur and feathers flying literally (although nobody ever messed with the Explorer -who wore a diving helmet- and the Quaker just wouldn’t fight).     

I played at Springfield Delco at a time that was the golden age of basketball in Philadelphia. Dr. J and George McGinnis were tearing it up for the Philadelphia 76ers. Mo Cheeks, Bobby Jones, Darrel Dawkins, Steve Mix and Andrew Toney were our heroes. Moses Malone promised us a fo fo fo run through the playoffs. Turned out it was fo five fo but we didn’t care. We  took that passion on the heals of the 76’ers success all the way to the PIAA State finals largely because of the sharp shooting of Dion Irons and the leadership of Kevin Boyles my junior year. We matured as seniors and went all the way to the Final Four  because we were unselfish, played great defense and knew what to expect, because of scars earned the year before. Kirkpatrick,  Mallon,  Butler,  Whittmann,  Siano, Wright, DiMaio, Ulmer, Shada, Krauter, Stumph, Berger, Caporaletti, Coach Q and Mooney.  There is so much more to say about that road traveled, but another time.     

During the summer of my sophomore year at a Powell Road pick up game Greg Reuling asked me how tall I was as he was covering me. I said that I was 6’2″. Maybe I was 6’1″ but I knew I was in the middle of a growth spurt and I was feeling pretty confident. He cackled “Did you hear that guys?!  Siano says he’s 6’2″.  It started as  heckling and got to the point where he would seek me out and even got his upperclassmen  friends to join.  The ribbing from the upperclassmen did not stop, in fact it seemed directly proportional to the growth spurt I went through.  Somehow at 6′ 4′ the name 6-2 didn’t seem right.    

I broke into the starting varsity lineup at about game 4 of the football season.  Did he stop calling me 6-2?  No, but, he seemed to say it a lot nicer.  Did that mean I didn’t have to go through my fair share of hazing,  I sure did.     

Forever I have wondered why teams use hazing as a right of passage. To me being mean to the younger guys is just being mean. I have heard the argument that its testing the younger guys to see how they will react under stress. I have always thought that was the coach’s job.    

Teasing is something that has not gone away or even skipped a generation. I recently was counseling one of our players who was getting a hard time from another student. What I’ve learned is that if you don’t pay attention, you can miss it. Kids will tell you what’s bothering them in one sentence out of 100 and if you don’t pick it up, the opportunity is missed.  Working with kids is as rewarding as playing, and often you can set them straight with just a word of encouragement or a sentence of direction. In sport the difference in a game is a catch, a shot or a turnover at the right instance.  With kids, if you catch it, it’s a step up a ladder, if you miss it, it’s sometimes the first step on a slippery chute. The great thing about kids is you get a restart with a new game every day.     

I had 3 older brothers along with all their friends to deal with growing up. Let’s say I was on the short end of my fair share of ribbing.  Heck,  I was downright traumatized. I can’t even remember when it started. I know they threw me down the laundry chute as a kid. I remember my brother John referring to a nail sticking out of the chute that would catch the odd sock or pair of underwear as a speed bump. To them it was my right of passage. To me it was just painful scary passage from the second floor to the first.  You see at this point I was an expert at getting teased. Even at a young age, I had been gone over by experts.    

In our non-profit we deal with thousands of kids and after going on four years,  there are about 2,500 people in my Facebook contact list.  I have students talk to me about everything from bullying to drugs, alcohol and even expectations about sexuality that seemed completely accelerated to what I had to deal with as a kid.  For years I have just tried to be a soft place to land for our students.  They tell us through social media things that they most likely wouldn’t tell their parents, counselors or even their clergy.  I’m not in any way claiming  to be more important than any of them,  I just try to tell them how much we value them and how important they are to the work we are doing and how we value their input not only in the games they have participated in but for the health of future games.  That they are all stars in their own right and they are always welcome back to mentor to the current class. Of course the only expectation is that they take the responsibility serious and live well.    

We know we are only scratching the surface with these kids.  Our all-star events are beautiful points of light that draw the best out of everyone.  God is urging us to take a big step towards creating character development programs in schools and perhaps even a youth conference.  If we asked you, would you come?   

What do nuns and red beets have in common?

November 6, 2009

nuns with gunsYou guessed it, I grew up afraid of both of them – nuns and red beets.  In fact, being 7th in a family of 8 children, I was afraid of lots of things. I like to call it “Trickle Down Terror”.  I don’t care for scary movies either. How do they qualify as entertainment?

Going to school with nuns was quite an experience.  Looking back on it, they were really sweet and some great teachers. The age of tying your left hand behind your back and forcing you to write with your right hand was OVER. I hoped. I remember the older brothers and sisters talking about it all the time, but by the time I got to 1st grade they just were not doing it anymore. I hoped. I was the only left-hander in the family. “Trickle Down Terror”.  I remember Sister Grace Isabel talking to my mom about it the first day 0f school as I was standing in the hall. I remember overhearing my mom as she said they were not interested in me writing with my right hand and my dad would have gone nuts if the nuns forced the issue.  I think the only thing the nuns were afraid of besides God was my dad.

I’ll never forget the look on Sister Ann Rosario’s  face when my brother Jim went back to school after being disruptive in her class – with no hair. I think she had just wanted to get control of the situation, but I fear she had no idea the “Trickle Down Terror” she was about to unleash in my dad.  I remember watching the haircut as well. It was the age when if you got in trouble at school you were in trouble at home, double.

You have to remember the time, only the people who were getting shipped off to Viet Nam were getting their hair cut short. It was the time of The Beatles, Free Love and Hippies with bell bottom pants, Flower Power and people standing up against “The Man”. I was 6 and happy to have a seat at the table. Not the equal partner, member of a team, seat at the table, that you might be thinking about …. I’m talking about just a regular old seat at the dinner table.

I don’ t think the blades on those clippers were very sharp, or it could have been the force at which he was cutting Jim’s hair, ’cause I remember it was kinda patchy.  My dad, a former marine, for all intents and  purposes was never de-programmed after being trained by Uncle Sam as a killing machine – or so it seemed. So my dad admired his work….. and then he said “Hey Charlie” – that’s what he called me, not because he didn’t know my name but because our football team that he coached had about 8 Michael’s on it – “Lets cut your hair as well”. There was nowhere to run. There was nowhere to hide. My next older brother Stephen knew to stay far away from the situation, although I think he got it in the end. By the end of the day you could smell smoke and burnt hair coming from those clippers. They don’t make them like they used to.

I have a vivid recollection of the fight trilogy with Michael Gildea that started  in room 7 of the St. Francis primary school, then spilled over into the boy’s room, and then  the “Thrilla in Manila” in the playground in front of Conway Hall, which had  started with the classic line “Who cut your hair, Sitting Bull?”…. It was go time…. I was afraid of a lot of things growing up but Michael Gildea was not one of them. But that’s another story.

We had some legendary food issues at our house growing up.  You could tell at our house what day it was by what we were having for dinner. Monday and Tuesday sandwiches because my dad was away on business. Wednesday was chicken legs and rice. I think when the family was at peak my mom must have cooked like 30 chicken legs and 2 boxes of Minute Rice. Thursday was spaghetti with meatballs and/or sausage. Friday and Saturday was sandwiches. and we had a roast on Sunday. We had a milk machine and the local WaWa store delivered 5 gallon boxes of milk for it.  I think it was designed for restaurants because my friends always talked about it having legendary status. We never were lacking for food; my parents made sure that never happened.

But my parents, who grew up during the “Great Depression”, were not ones to waste food and hence we were not going to be allowed to waste it as kids either. Every once in a while my dad would help in the kitchen. I’ll never forget the day.  It was the depth of winter, there were about 8 inches of snow and I wanted to get to school. My dad and I had a stand-off…. he cooked a jelly omelet…. I do not like jelly omelets… I do not like them here or there… I do not like them anywhere … you get the story…  eventually after a good 45 minutes I tried it and it wasn’ t so bad. By that time I had to eat it or else.  I remember my dad bringing me to the school which was in full session to explain my tardy. I was an hour late for school…nuns… dad…bring on the water works. 

Then there was the ‘ants in the oatmeal’ episode.  My mom made oatmeal for breakfast and we were all going to eat it no matter what we said… as it turns out there were ants in the oatmeal ’cause there was a hole in the bottom of the box. She then tried to pass them off as raisins…Yuk…

And then, the canned red beats. My brother Jim swore to me that the red liquid they were stored in was blood. This was after we had all watched the original movie “The Blob”, which was a big fleshy bloody thing that ate up people.  And then buildings.  I was young,  I was impressionable,  heck I was downright unprotected…

Here’s some nun fun  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LBYs__VRqBs

Plucked again from disaster, God must have a plan for me

October 13, 2009

hand of godIt all happened in the winter of 1989. I was playing rugby in Scotland in a beautiful city called Ayr.  Ayr is famous for a few things that make it a wonderful place to visit. They boast arguably the best salmon fishing , the best links golf , the best whiskey and the best wool in the world. I lived just a few miles from Prestwick Golf  course, the original home of the British Open. or as they would say ‘The Open’.  The weather was pretty mild by Scotland standards, but the thing that was really getting to me was that it was winter and the days were getting short. Being so far north the sun would come out around 9:30 a.m. and start to get dark around 3:30 p.m. It was a lot to take. Seasonal affective disorder was becoming more than something I read about in a  medical journal. I had been on a trip to New Zealand during the previous summer where it was winter there, and I now felt like I was in an episode of Ground Hogs Day.  It was winter all the time.

Don’t get me wrong, I was having the time of my life.  I was traveling all the time playing rugby all over the world.  Problem was when I went home, I had to face the fact that I wasn’t chasing the ‘American Dream’ and did not have a job to speak of.  Who was going to hire a 23-year-old kid that wanted at least 10 weeks off a year to travel and play?  Plus, the likelihood of me coming in to work on Monday with a black eye was pretty good.

So in one instance I was acting as an ambassador for the US as an international rugby player, but when I came home I was like the guy from Candace Bergen show Murphy Brown stretching out a painting job for a couple of years at my great friend Mr Archbold’s home or his office building.  Arch had kept me employed during summers when I was at Syracuse, and I don’t think I would have made it through school let alone the next 3 or 4 years without his help keeping me employed in fits and starts.

Needless to say I was conflicted.

I was fast tracked onto the U.S. Rugby national team by my brother Stephen’s reputation and my seven-a-side coach Emil Signes’ willingness to take a chance on someone who had essentially never played rugby.   FYI, Rugby 7’s was just announced to be part of the 2016 games in Rio De Janeiro. A huge plus for international rugby, and for the United States, which is the 2-time defending Olympic Champion in Rugby fifteens.  The U.S. was number 1 internationally and a gold medal Olympics title defender from 1920 and 1924.  In 1924 rugby was removed from the Olympics, so technically the U.S. is still the defending gold medal team. More on that later for sure.

My rugby travels took me to far away lands like Hong Kong and Australia, to Argentina and England, Ireland and Uruguay.  After a tournament at a Celtic Festival in the “Christmas City”  Bethlehem PA, I met Derrick Stark, Scotland’s leading try scorer (a ‘try’ is a touchdown equivalent) who invited me to come to play a season with his club in Scotland. He and I became great friends like you often do in that sport. I tell kids in college that they don’t need to join a fraternity to make friends. Join a rugby club and you have 40 friends in an instant. The hospitality in Scotland was amazing – they opened up their homes for me and made me feel welcome, and I made some great friends there.

One of the things you struggle with here in the U.S. is good quality rugby games week in and week out. Some of the games in Scotland were so physical and the pace of play was much faster. I was on a tremendous learning curve and I was having the time of my life. I remember coming off the field all the time and people would ask me if I enjoyed it. I had to think about it.  No one in all the years of football and basketball and lacrosse in the U.S.  EVER ask me if I enjoyed it.  When I thought about it, the answer was a resounding Yes! Yes! Yes!  I was enjoying it. What an amazing epiphany.. I was playing a sport and someone actually cared if I enjoyed myself.  Not something you would ever hear from Buddy Ryan or Marty Schottenheimer, in whose NFL training camps I got to participate.

The season was coming to its winter break and I needed to get back to the states. We had a huge win during the fall over Melrose, the birthplace of the 7-a-side game which they started as a fund raiser for their club. By accident, they discovered they had an action packed game that could be played by lots of players in a tournament fashion and the competition could be done in a day. The original tournament still exists today at Melrose and is the most prestigious one in the western Hemisphere. This is the game that the Olympic committee adopted for Rio in 2016.

The trouble started when I went to make my flight home. As had been the theme for the last few years,  I was broke.  The rugby club had agreed to pay my flight back to the States  but I was interested in visiting our friends Neil and Helen from my rugby club back in Philadelphia who had returned to London. I looked at the trip a hundred ways and there was no way I could do the trip to London to see them and fly out of Heathrow. I was disappointed and I’m sure they were OK with it.  Looking back, a big  ‘yank’ on their couch as they were trying to prepare for Christmas may have been something they could have done without anyway.  So as it worked out I just flew home from Glasgow.

What I failed to tell you was that if I kept my plans to sojourn to London, I’d be dead.  The flight I was scheduled to take out of London was Flight 103 that crashed over Lockerbie Scotland.  The flight had students from Syracuse University on the it, and to this day I have a recurring dream of me getting on that flight. It was one of the worst disasters in U.S. aviation history and a precursor to the 911 bombing that felled the world trade towers.

God absolutely plucked me from disaster that day. I know now that He was then and had been for a long time trying to get my attention. I believe He does that for all of us, all the time. Some of us get the message the hard way, unfortunately, I came from that group.  My heart goes out to the families of the passengers on that flight. So many lives lost, so many families left incomplete. So many chapters in families’ histories left untold.

A few years back, while I was pressure-washing a sidewalk at my old church, God put on my heart that He wanted his children back. So many of our young people can be positively influenced by a word or a gesture or helping them craft a clearly articulated vision for their lives.  We started the American Youth council with $273.00 and a dream of helping young people. We organized and put on the 1st Cobb Senior Bowl in January of 2008, with a lot a determination and a ferocity that our vision would not be compromised. Now only a year and a half later we host 4 separate all star events consisting of 12 all star games,  2 tournaments along with a coaching clinic and a lacrosse camp with John Desko from Syracuse, the top coach in the country.

We remain true to our vision of developing a Leadership Academy for Engaged Citizens and a program in Character Coaching. Will you join us by participating in the American Youth Council and giving your support?

http://www.americanyouthcouncil.org

here are some lucky lucky people:

It was the summer of cement

October 5, 2009
Back...Back...Back...that rock's outta here!

Back...Back...Back...that rock's outta here!

I got a real education in leadership, politics and team dynamics the summers between my sophomore and senior years in high school.  None of it had anything to do with me actually leading, but that’s another story.

Back then it was the norm for high school kids to have summer jobs, in fact if you expected to have any pocket change or movie money, it was the only way you were going to get it.  At least in my neighborhood.  There were kids that I knew whose families sent them to sports camps, or fun summer camps in the Poconos, but in an Irish-Italian family of 8 kids,  in a neighborhood of large families, we could have our own summer camps and most always did.  We had enough kids to put together a touch football team almost any weekend, and Whiffle ball tournaments of epic proportion and kick-the-can games that were marathons stretching over days and weeks of summer play.

And the summer before my senior year I began to see the value in my apprenticeship during the ‘Summers of Cement’, and our small family enterprise run by my brother Stephen, a calm solid natural leader who was the best rugby team captain I ever had….but that’s another story.

Before my senior year, I worked at Camp Indian Springs, which was primarily made up of affluent kids from the ‘Main Line’, a Philadelphia train line which runs from the old inner city neighborhoods, out to Wayne, one of Montgomery county’s charming cities. My role at the camp was as the doer of all things not otherwise done by counselors,  the one  janitor Bill Jones (who was like Paw Rugg, the muttering father bear character from the Hannah Barbera cartoon series Hillbilly Bears.  Nobody EVER understood him.), and anyone else who had something they didn’t want to do themselves. Fortunately for me, my two ‘Summers of Cement’ had humbled me to the point where  I was just grateful to be clean and included, and somewhat in charge of my own destiny.  It was also the summer I was learning to drive, and there were lots of hours where I was left on the 45 acre camp by myself and the camp pickup truck was way too attractive to be left alone.  Unfortunately for me there was a corral, a narrow gate, the right front corner panel of the truck….you get the picture. Being in charge of my own destiny was going to have to happen without access to moving vehicles that summer.  But I already had another experience with trucks, just not the right kind.

In the summers before my sophomore and junior years, my brother Stephen’s  business was removing and replacing old pieces of cement sidewalk and curb that the township had marked for replacement.  Back in those days, homeowners had to maintain their own piece of the sidewalk, and we provided that service.  It was Stephen, myself, and my other two older brothers Jimbo and Johnny.  The job consisted of breaking up the old concrete with a sledgehammer, loading the pieces onto a truck, hauling them to rock quarry for disposal, and pouring new cement.

There were plenty of days those summers that I went swimming after work and thank God I took the cement covered shoes off.  Because packed down like that,  and as tired as I was from how hard we all worked, I could have been swimming with the fishes stuck at the bottom of a pool or Springton Lake.

We would load up a 24 foot moving van (yes… moving van) and then drive it to the quarry. I’m not sure if the rental company ever knew the extent of the stress we were putting on those vans. Needless to say, they were not designed to haul 300 pound cement pieces.  And back then, things were made better….

I remember one of the first times at the quarry backing the truck up to the edge of the cliff and throwing the broken concrete into the hole.  Grueling.  After unloading by hand a few times, Jimbo suggested that we put the van in reverse, jam on the brakes,  and as we got close to the edge of the cliff the rock would simply slide and fly right out of the truck.

We quickly discovered that the fastest way to unload a truck WAS just that simple. How were we to know that simple technique would give us legendary status at Gallantino’s Quarry?  Because as you can imagine they were used to dump truck after dump truck backing their load to the edge of the quarry and using the proper hydraulics, tilting the bed to such a degree that the waste would simply fall out the back of the truck.  Our rapid reverse/brake action/ejection technique had not been seen at any quarry since the time of Fred Flintstone.  (I imagine it was hard to teach a dinosaur to run in reverse).

It was quite the spectacle, in fact all the drivers, staff and quarry workers would stop what they were doing, come out to the road leading to the cliff overlooking the quarry, and watch the rented Ford moving van slam on its brakes and eject 5 tons of concrete out the back.    There had to be a perfect combination of high speed, timing and braking associated with this process.  If you knew my brother Jimmy, you would know that he was the perfect person for the task.    Headstrong, willful, fearless.  The next year in physics for me, when we learned about force, velocity, mass….it put a real-world spin on F=ma and E=mc2 for me.  And my brother Jim went on to invent a brilliant piece of equipment for the railroad industry all over the world.  The fact that it removes and ejects railroad ties from the tracks has an oddly familiar ring to it.

After off-loading the rubble, we then would have to run back to the job site in time for the delivery of cement and the set up the forms and get ready for the pour. Once the pour happened we had a short period of time to sculpt the cement into concrete.  We did this several hundred times over the summer .. good for the quarry, not so good for the moving vans. I learned the other day that the quarry is now full and thankfully without a Ford moving van at the bottom.

Working with my three older brothers I learned a lot those summers.  Show up for work on time , work the whole time. there was always work to be done and having a tool in your hand did not constitute working, AND fifteen-year-olds did not have opinions no matter how well they were formed, AND 6 dollars an hour was like a fortune to me.  I know for a fact I had more disposable income then than I do now. I was thankful to have the work.  I had dreams of us all working together in a family business. I still do.

I learned the other day, in reminiscing with my brother Stephen that I spent a great deal of time those summers complaining that I wasn’t making as much money as the rest of my brothers.  Now that I’m wiser, and have a fifteen-year-old of my own, I’m sorry for my youthful pride. I found out that I DID make as much as the others and for the whole summer made a spectacle of myself.  Back then, my brothers were tolerant and forgiving and had my best interests at heart.  I try to convey that to my son with stories of ‘Uncle Stephen Says’, which has elevated him to legendary status in my house.

What I know now was that the idea of having a concrete business was not my idea, and it I who should have been thankful to have a job.  No one else was offering to put up with my rebelliousness. AND paying me.  There were other lessons I learned that year and one was to be part of a team and work for the good of it. I was a laborer plain and simple – I didn’t get the jobs, didn’t organize the jobs,  didn’t negotiate any of the costs or bid on the jobs.   I was a laborer. I did not know how to set up the forms, I did not know how to order the cement.  I was too immature to know I was being treated fairly.  As a member of that team, looking back on the events of the summer, what I really wanted was to feel valued for my participation. The money as I remember it was not nearly as important.

‘Be more concerned with your character than your reputation. Character is what you really are. Reputation is what people say you are.  Reputation is often based on character – but not always.  Character is how you react to things – sensibly, without getting carried away by yourself or your circumstances.  A person of character is trustworthy, and for a dollar he or she will give you a dollar.  The other kind of person looks for the easy way out.  I like to think the players I coached, however they came to UCLA, left as men of character.  But in truth, if they didn’t have it when they came, I couldn’t give it to them.  By then it was too late.  That’s a job for a mother and father.’  – UCLA Basketball Coaching Legend John Wooden.

Some Hillbilly Bears fun:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v9HV4EhSW08

It’s All About Positioning

September 29, 2009
Right Place Right Time

Right Place Right Time with Dan O'Brien Before the 1996 Olympics

My wife is driving me nuts. For those of you that know her, you know that she is a brilliant business development person, and the brains of the outfit.  But for 14 years she has been peppering me with ‘corporate speak’, a language I admit I’ve been reluctant to learn.  We’ve been side-by-side, slogging through life, loving every minute of the challenge, and we’ve got to the point where we have figured out a LOT of stuff.  And, to her, like Joe Pesci said at the end of ‘My Cousin Vinny’ when he won his first case and had to admit to Marisa Tomei’s character, ‘I have to say thank you’.

This morning I was standing in the garden after mowing the lawn (we work from home, a wonderful thing, still….), minding my own business when my wife’s voice chirped out the window ‘How doin?’.  And out of my mouth came the words ‘It’s all about positioning!’.  She got really excited that I’d had an epiphany, that I’d finally figured it out – google searches and blog ranking, and search engine optimization,……..all I was saying was that I was in the one place in the yard where she could see me from the office without moving her chair.  That’s all I meant, honest.

AND, my ‘jock’ thinking processes would take the word ‘positioning’ and apply it to the x’s and o’s of the football field, the man-to-man vs zone coverage in basketball, the hockey-like formations of lacrosse.  I like it there.. its’ comfortable.  I understand it in the deep recesses of my being.  As a wide receiver in football or a forward in basketball  much of being effective has to do with body position, foot placement and technique.  Simple things that stick in your head, like 100% concentration, 100% of the time and, to be as fast as possible, you had to relax and not tense up. You have to look the ball all the way into your hands.  When the adrenaline gets pumping in your body the game actually happens in slow motion.. Just some things I remember about performing at the highest possible level in sports.

I’m not perfect, just ask my mother.  But all my life I’ve put heart and soul into everything I’ve tried to do.  In fact, I’ve been in more situations than I can count where I wanted a chance to play better and faster and harder.  Just not always in the right position. I’ve got a lot of experience in being at the right place at the wrong time.  Both in life and in sports, and I think I’ve probably got a lot of company.

Like Michael Jordan, cut from his sophomore basketball team.  Heck, I got cut and I didn’t even get a tryout.  As a sophomore, I was playing JV basketball and I just knew I could play varsity, so I went for it.  The coach frog-marched me to the other side of the court and told me to stay put, I was playing JV and that was all there was to it.  And, playing JV football as a freshman at Syracuse cost me a year of eligibility.  Wrong place, right time.

When I graduated from Syracuse,  I managed to go into professional football the year the USFL folded.  Right place, wrong time.  There were more guys looking for a spot in the NFL than you could count.  AND the teams were locked up as tight as the nuts on an Arkansas bridge.  AND all the players went on strike before the next season.  AND, I ended up playing a few games as a replacement player (AND just like the Kevin Costner character in Bull Durham, I had ‘the best 21 days of my life, 3 weeks in the show..the stadiums were like cathedrals…’ ).  But my brother Stephen (in pure family fashion) assured me that the football was fake.  I responded, ‘maybe,  but the checks were real’.  Right place, wrong time.

The way I look at all these things, though, is like Grantland Rice’s poem:

You wonder how they do it and you look to see the knack,
You watch the foot in action, or the shoulder or the back,
But when you spot the answer where the higher glamours lurk,
You’ll find in moving higher up the laurel covered spire,
That the most of it is practice and the rest of it is work.

With the launch of this blog, we’ve now entered into a landscape of new verbiage – blog, tweet, webbots, social media.  I’ll do my best to pay attention, but I know that the best position for me is in my own little world remembering all these great stories and passing them along and working with kids and coaches.  Definitely the right place at the right time…. it’s what has enabled us to develop a sports based non profit.  The fact that I think like a 10 year-old really helps too.  Keeps things fresh.

Here is a great video with Dan O’Brien:   

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cvqSgdkpVlQ

 
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Just because you have a ride, it doesn’t mean you don’t have to hold on

September 25, 2009
'Four Wheel Drive' - you're going to need it

'Four Wheel Drive' - you're going to need it

Right now, for whatever reason, I seem to be really stuck on remembering my freshman year at Syracuse University.  Could be because it was the year of my life when I discovered that all the awards, accolades, newspaper articles, and my excitement at being given a scholarship to play, pretty much faded into oblivion the minute I stepped on to the campus.  I was definitely not in high school any more.

Could be because I was on a team with some legendary coaches….George O’Leary, now at Central Florida, Ivan Fears my position coach and now at the New England Patriots, Randy Edsall who is the Head coach at the University of Connecticut, Dave Campo who went on to be the Head Coach at the Dallas Cowboys, Kevin Kelly who is now the Head Coach at Georgetown, Jim Tressel who is the Head Coach at Ohio State, Don McPherson who was just inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008 and led SU in an undefeated season in 1987. And teammates the likes of Doug Marrone now the Head Coach at Syracuse, Tim Green who is an author and news analyst who had a distinguished career with the Atlanta Falcons, Paul Frase who had a decade + career in the NFL, Daryl Johnston played for the Dallas Cowboys, went to 3 SuperBowls and is currently a Fox News commentator.  And so many more stories.

I was in the company of giants in the sport, and even as an 18-year-old rookie, I could smell the dream.

At summer training my freshman year at Syracuse, I was young, fit, and in shape ( I even did the whole off-season training they had sent me in the mail).   Fit or not, it was the biggest challenge of my life.   One of my teammates, Derrick Fredrickson summed it up when he told me, ‘the hardest you were EVER hit in high school is the way you’ll get hit EVERY time in college’.  The fact that he told me this after he’d just hit me and put me flat on my back really drove the point home.   Oh, and by the way, it’s not really stars you see, it’s sort of like a black and white checkered pattern that swirls.  And bells, definitely bells.

The school, (in an effort to save money for the University I think – a recurring theme), made us walk from the dorms to the campus to the dining hall, AND to the practice field. Like the John Wayne character in the “Quiet Man” it was just a good stretch of the legs.  Hard to do after two grueling practices, so we all became pretty adept at hitchhiking. I’m surprised we ever got a ride in our orange short shorts and white half-shirts (!).  Good thing Syracuse was such a small town in 1982. 

I will never forget the day we were at the end of summer practice and all set to move into our Skytop apartments.  Skytop had nothing to do with the type of apartments they were, in fact they were old converted Army barracks. But for me as a freshman away from home with my own room and no curfew to speak of, it was like heaven.  On moving day, everything started out ok and we managed to get everything moved after practice, even with the hitchhiking back and forth, but when we all got to dinner that night, there was a story flying around about ‘New England Red’ (names have been changed to protect the innocent) which had everyone laughing uncontrollably.

 ‘Red’ was first team all state in high school  and to look at him you would think you just saw a mountain.  He stood 6′ 5″ and about 290 pounds and as you can imagine would fill up a doorway.  In my opinion, he would have been the best wedge breaker in the county.  For those of you that don’t know what that is… he is the guy on the kickoff team that runs down and takes out a series of blockers, kinda like the human version of bowling…man bowling.  ‘Red’ was fast too and when he hit you it was always full speed.   Needless to say I tried to stay away from him in practice, even though we both played on the offensive side of the ball (!).

Anyway, back to the ‘INCIDENT’.  An eye witness account described it as a tumbleweed rolling across the Texas Panhandle in the middle of summer, except for every rotation or so you could make out a knee or an elbow or his head.   Somehow, ‘Red’ had managed to fall out of the back of the physical plant pickup truck and had ended up in the road.  It had probably never occurred to him to hang on.  It did to everyone else. Was he hurt?  Naaaah.  He was just mad.  Madder than a wet hen.  Not at himself or his teammates who could maybe have tried to help (and who had collapsed in a fit of hysterical laughter), but at the nice man who had innocently offered the teammates a ride. 

‘Red’s career at Syracuse probably didn’t turn out as he had hoped but quite frankly, whose did turn out as they had planned?

The point to this whole story is that life can come at you pretty fast and usually does whether in the form of a defensive back, a directionally challenged offensive tackle or the complexities of life.  My freshman year was a microcosm of that.   What I learned is to keep your head on a swivel or your gonna catch one in the ear hole and that no matter who you are, its hard to look cool in the back of a pickup truck.  Oh yeah, and make sure you have a secure hand hold…

Here is a new clip from Syracuse University talking about the long proud history of the program:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=smASaXPfeAM

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I never put pepper in my sister’s cereal

September 23, 2009

If the face does not fit, you must acquit

In a family of eight children, there are many traditions that are handed down from sibling to sibling. Not all those things are good, one of which is what I thought was my ordained right to pick on my younger sister. Heck, from what I  had seen, it was a right of passage. There was nothing in the family dynamic to  tell me otherwise.  It helped me out later as a competitive athlete, but at the age of 5, it made me even more determined; to do what I wasn’t sure, but as survival training…priceless.

I have one older brother that just cringes at the thought that he may have behaved that way,  in fact when the subject comes up, he asks me to recall stories so that he can apologize. The other two brothers… well that’s a look through a whole different view finder. They are 7 and 8 years older than I am, and I’m sure that as they are reading this there is not recollection of how my head made the sound of a ripe melon as one of them practiced whacking me with his class ring, or of how my scalp just happened to get in the way of their dart throwing in the backyard. My favorite was when we were playing football in the backyard and I would make a fantastic move and be on my way to scoring a touchdown. Little did I know that I was part of their practicing the ‘Ankle Tap’, where I would run by one of them and he would tap one of my feet and I would essentially trip myself. When I would watch Lucy pull the ball away from Charlie Brown EVERY time he kicked it… let’s just say I knew what he was going through.

Don’t get me wrong, all of this was unbelievable training for my future as a college football wide receiver, and professional rugby player.  Ahhh, rugby……….but that’s for another story.  If playing sport at the highest level is overcoming a series of adversities, by the age of seven I had a Harvard degree. 

Having two parents that grew up in the depression era, one thing that was not to be messed with in our house was food. We had rituals around the dinner table that I’m sure were the same in every other household in America.  No elbows on the table, eat your vegetables, and you had to compete for food;  well you didn’t really have to compete for food, but it may have seemed like that to the 7th of 8 children. Don’t get me wrong there was always plenty of food, but as far as the really good stuff, like ‘Gladiator Steak’, I was definitely at the bottom of the heap.  Like most families at that time, steak was not the norm, maybe if we were lucky once a month, EXCEPT during football season.  Seemed someone in my house was always playing football, and there was always a steak the morning of the big game. Did the family call it ‘Gladiator Steak’, honestly I don’t remember, but is was sure what it felt like to a 5-year-old.  And if I really hustled, I got some before the herd completely devoured the carcass.  But I digress, the pepper in the cereal…read on.

Looking back on it, I think the most effective behavioral technique  in our house was taking what the kids were passionate about and holding it over their heads.  And my parents excelled in this particular methodology. 

In the 8th grade at St. Francis of Assisi in Springfield PA there were a few things you really had to look forward to;  there was the class field trip (and as you probably know by now it was not an option for the kid that had been caught setting all the clocks in the school forward 10 minutes so that release time would be early), some dances at the Knights of Columbus and playing out the Catholic Youth Organization sports schedule. The basketball season was coming to a beautiful crescendo and everyone knew it was coming down to two of the best 7th/8th grade teams –  St. Dorothy’s of Drexel Hill and St. Francis of Springfield. 

As it turned out, that game was to happen without me,  not because I put pepper in my sister’s cereal, because like I said before I didn’t,  but because I just TOLD her that I did.  She freaked out, my mom did a lot of yelling, my dad didn’t come to my rescue, and I was ‘benched’.  Fortunately, the team struggled on without me and St. Dorothy’s went down anyway.

What turned out to be a disastrous day for me was packed with lessons that I took on to a successful sports and professional career and that have really helped me as a parent.  What I have learned from all this is that you don’t pick on the little kids, you have not scored until you have scored, and being part of a team can be the most painful, wonderful, frustrating, rewarding, challenging and worthwhile experience in the world.

Here’s a link to a clip that pretty well sums up why I always tell my son…’You Can Do It’           

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QsmzDL61oME&feature=related

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What women don’t know about offensive linemen

September 22, 2009

 

Does this jersey make my butt look fat?

Does this jersey make my butt look fat?

 

I get asked this all the time

What is was like playing college football?  It must have been nerve racking playing against the top teams in the country.

As freshmen at Syracuse my teammates and I played against opponents that had the most amazing quarterback class in the history of college football. The one thing that no one talks about that they all had in common was that every one of them, except John Elway and Jim Kelly, had Syracuse on the schedule and as a Homecoming game when possible.  The schedule included a date with Pittsburgh’s Dan Marino, Penn State’s Todd Blackledge, West Virginia’s Jeff Hostetler, Navy’s Tom Tarquinio, Boston College’s Doug Flutie, Illinois’ Tony Eason, Maryland’s Boomer Esiason…  good for a fan of college football,  bad for Syracuse.

They say you only really learn when you lose; that being the case, that year we learned a lot.

At Syracuse our locker room was divided into two parts, numbers 1 to 49 and 50 to 99.  It was like the popular video of Patrick Swayze and Chris Farley dancing as Chippendales on SNL.  One extreme or the other….one side lean mean skills position types (except for our kicker and that’s a whole other story, big into weight lifting, showing his arms, but really should have been with the higher numbers…..).  On the other side, it was ‘Big Guys In a Little Suit’ (sorry, another Chris Farley reference).

Before every game,  there was tension that could only be described as unbearable. I knew from  public speaking  that a good visualization trick to keep from being nervous was to imagine the audience as being in their underwear. What I learned from the 50- 99 side of the locker room was far better than any public speaking technique.  Not just underwear, which in and of itself was priceless, but I knew that eventually they were going to have to put on their jerseys.  So to break the tension of pre-game jitters,  my teammates and I used plot out the exact moment that the jersey struggle began.  You think women have a hard time with pantyhose?  Not even close.  The snorting, the grunting, the swearing, the red faces, the collective groaning….the anticipation of  their heads popping out through the shoulder pads like the last bit of toothpaste coming out of a tube.  I remember laughing so hard that a few times I almost passed out. Those of you that remember the Pittsburg Steelers’ Mike Webster know that two things were going on with these offensive lineman.  One, the jerseys were uncomfortably tight and two, if you had big arms this was the time to show them.

In life, just as in football, sometimes the greatest struggles are just in the getting ready.  Ladies as you know, just because it says 12 on the label doesn’t mean it fits.  The best we can hope for sometimes is that our spouse doesn’t come over to our side of the locker room for comic relief.

Hope this makes you laugh   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGWbt3DSje0

 

 Photo from www.sportsuniform.blogspot.com

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What I learned from 8 year old football – as a 5 year old

September 21, 2009
Doesn't my dad know I have a season under my belt?

Doesn't my dad know I have a season under my belt?

After a distinguished career as a Springfield PA Boys’ Club mascot, I had retired.  Problem was, my dad didn’t know it. I know now all he wanted was a team photo with me in the picture.  It was more than my little 5 year old eyes could handle.  What if my hero, Penn State Heisman trophy winner John Cappelletti found out about it?  I was not about to take a step backwards.  I had hoped I’d have the chance to explain to my dad that I was my own man and had my own team and this mascot stuff was for babies.  I did it in the best way I knew how.  I cried my eyes out.

We had our struggles over the years but all and all it was the best most joy filled time of my life.  I went on to play 7 more years in the Boys Club program with 3 of that having my dad as my coach…. more on that as we go..

God has blessed me with the most amazing work.  My wife and I founded a non profit for kids called the American Youth Council, Inc. (www.americanyouthcouncil.com).   We develop and produce football all star games for Cobb and DeKalb Counties in Georgia.  Basketball all star games in Cobb for boys and girls. The state of Georgia Lacrosse Classic which is all star games for boys and girls from middle school all the way up to high school seniors.  We are looking at a number of opportunities in other sports in different parts of the state.  The games are set up like a Super Bowl week where we celebrate with the stakeholders in these children’s lives.  We partner with groups like the FCA and corporations that are in line with our work.  We bring in speakers like Joe Ehrmann, whose work is to teach and model positive life skills for young men and women. We take the kids on an outing with special needs kids.  We based our format on the Big 33, where we have friends that have been involved in that great event for many years.

These all star games have brought us into the public school system, where there are so many great stories of kids who every day walk out their dreams for their lives, and we hope to build programs to develop Character and Leadership with them.  Over the next few months I will be talking about my own personal experiences along with examples of our young people acting as leaders of the future.  For now, here are some good ideas for life……

http://www.dumblittleman.com/2009/09/5-practical-keys-to-living-life-of-your.html

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