Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The gloaming...the lesson learned...(& other ramblings)

Times were hard. Not "Swarthmore, take the children to school in the Cadillac, the Rolls is being detailed" hard but "are we going to have enough to eat this week" hard. It was the fall of 1958 or '59, somewhere in there and my dad was a coalminer. Back then, that didn't mean what it does now. The big money and the UMWA were still a dozen years away. Reality was something called the Southern Labor Union, $1.00 an hour, dangerous conditions and hard work. The wolf wasn't at our door, but if you sat in my grandmother's rocking chair on the front porch after supper, you could hear him howling down in the Studhoss Bottoms.

A wildcat strike had broken out in eastern Kentucky and quickly spread to West Virginia. Those good ole boys from the hills and hollers had finally had enough. They felt they were being worked to death for pennies while their cheap labor made the coal companies millions. The only thing worse than a mad hillbilly is a mad hillbilly who knows he's right. They set out to shut down all U.S. coal production. This included the mines in northwest Alabama. One morning my dad (and every other miner in this part of the world) was greeted at the entrance to his workplace by a picket line, manned by people he'd never seen before. These boys weren't playing around, either. A couple of days later, they got into a gunbattle with state troopers at a mine entrance just north of the Winston County line, off Highway 13 above Eldridge. My dad and everybody else turned around and went home to worry. Worry about feeding their families. Worry about simply surviving 'til the strike was settled.

Willie Nelson was right. It's funny how the passing of time changes things. Next time you're riding through Bazemore, slow down and look at the pile of blocks and timbers in front of Butch and Rhonda Hudson's house. You'd never know that this spot was once the center of a busy community. That pile of rubble was Ector Hollingsworth's general store. You could get anything at Ector's store, from Watkins Horse Liniment (guaranteed to cure everything from the common cold to leprosy) to a center-cut pork chop. It was a wonderful place. It was wonderful mostly because of Ector and his wife, Miss Ethel. I've never met two finer people. This was where our family did all our shopping. For everything.

It was almost dark as my dad pulled the old Chevrolet into the gravel beside Ector's store. I could tell something was bothering him. He was quiet and almost nervous, which was out of character for him. We got out and went inside and I heard my dad ask Ector if he could speak to him outside. The three of us went out the door on the back side of the building into the twilight. I remember standing under an old goose-neck light fixture painted white, with a naked lightbulb shining. Dad explained to Ector about the strike and told him he might not be able to pay him off every Friday, like he had always done, until the strike ended. I'll never forget what Ector told my dad. He said, "Red, don't worry about a thing, we'll all get through this just fine." He put his hand on my head, leaned down toward me and said, "Don't you worry either, son. Everything's gonna be okay." Did you catch that? The "we" part? There's no doubt in my mind every bell in heaven rang just about then. Folks, that's how one decent, compassionate, upright man treats another decent, compassionate, upright man. Although I was just a child, I knew I had witnessed something very special. And please, don't think you can do or say things in front of your children and they won't remember them years later. I'm not sure I could tell you what I had for breakfast this morning, but I can quote that conversation from over half a century ago word for word. Some things God doesn't mean for you to forget.

As I've told you before, I don't dream much. But when I do, it's generally something serious or something that has real meaning from somewhere in my life. Once or twice a year I dream about that afternoon at the store. It's always after I wake up at 2 or 3 a.m. and am trying to go back to sleep. I'm somewhere in that place between sleep and awareness. That twilight place my Irish grandmother called "the gloaming." She said it was the period between the time the sun disappeared and until it became completely dark. According to her, this was when "the magic happened." Maybe she was more right than either of us realized. Just maybe. My dream always begins the same. I'm walking south on the Bazemore road just above the store. I know it's a dream because I'm walking, strong and confident. No pain, no limp. It's wonderful. Off to my left, I see Miss Cora Hollingsworth going inside after working in her yard. Over to the right, Jerry and Larry McCollum are going up the steps into their house, somebody's calling them in to supper. As I walk on, there's an old frame house on the left which belongs to Bill McCollum. The house where Rhonda and Melissa Lynn grew up hasn't been built yet. To my right the store is still there. The lights are on and I can see Miss Ethel inside, patiently waiting on the last few customers of the day. I take two or three more steps and it's then I see them. There at the door under a naked lightbulb are two men and a little boy. The two men talk quietly for a minute or so, the older man rubs the little boy's head and says something to him and then they do something strange. Instead of going back inside the store, they turn and walk alongside the building toward Butch and Rhonda's house. The two men continue to talk quietly and the younger man reaches and takes the little boy's hand and the three of them gradually fade into the misty twilight. Gone.

But they're not really gone at all. They're just...walking in a different place. Men like my dad and Ector Hollingsworth never die. The good they did, the lives they led, the things they stood for, last for eternity. They've joined a long line of other good men. A line that stretches from here all the way to heaven. God help me remember the example the two of them showed me that day. God help me pass their lesson on to others. God help me hold on to that afternoon in the gloaming so many years ago. God help me be worthy of a place in that line someday. God help me...please.

The Old Gray Lion

This month's recommended reading: The Oxford American Magazine.
Cheap rates, great writing and wildly disparate observations of the things that make our part of the world so special.

This month's recommended movie: Fandango, starring Kevin Costner.
An absolute delight from start to finish. The adventure at the Pecos Parachute School may be the funniest thing I've ever seen. The ending is visually stunning, the sound track is great and the final stages are filmed in the most beautiful little town in Texas. One of the best endings ever. If I remember correctly, everybody can watch. You will never forget Truman J. Sparks or his airplane. That's a promise.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tradition never graduates--ain't it wonderful? (& other ramblings)

Are these ladies terrific or what? The 2009 Lady Lions softball season was another brick in the wall of consecutive great seasons. We came in having to replace three of the best players in program history. Yes, Jesi McMillan, Chasidy Tucker and Nicole McGuff, I'm talking about you. These warriors started as a unit for five years. Instead of throwing up their hands and surrendering, Coach and the girls regarded 2009 as a challenge and went to work. That hard work and a winning attitude resulted in another great season.

How good of a season was it? Let's look at it from a 20-20 hindsight point of view. We finished with 27 wins and 11 losses. That's a 71% winning percentage. Only that dadgum James Spann kept us from winning 30 games for the fourth time in 5 years. The first half of the season was wetter than the dance floor on the Titanic. All our rain-outs were against teams we would have been favored over. But that's neither here nor there. The hard facts are as follows:
  1. We finished #4 in the final ASWA 1A state poll, our highest ranking ever.
  2. The Lady Lions won the NAC Tournament for the third time in 4 years. We won at Vina in 2006, Berry in 2007, and at Hackleburg this year. That's an excellent achievement, ladies. Congratulations and thank you.
When you add in the NAC basketball championship we won earlier in the year, this was one of the best years in Lady Lion history. And at this school, that's saying something. Also, a good barometer of our season is who we beat. Look at it, we beat 3A state tournament semi-finalist Carbon Hill twice, 1A state tournament runner-up South Lamar twice, top ten and 1A state tournament team Lynn twice, a very good Parrish team three times, and an outstanding Ragland team in the North Central Regional. Equally telling is who you lose to. Of our 11 losses, 8 of them were to: 3A Sumiton Christian (another state tournament team), Carbon Hill, South Lamar, Lynn and Ragland. No sisters of the poor there--these were all really good teams. Only a very close loss in the "who goes to the state tournament game" in the North Central Regional at Vestavia Hills kept us from a third straight trip to Montgomery.

I really don't know where to begin talking about our seniors. They've been so good, so dedicated, for so long. Jamie, Tiffany and Brooke join Jesi Mac, Bug and Nicole on the list of the very best in our fast-pitch history. Jamie was a 5-year starter in the outfield. Excellent defensively, she was best known for her explosive bat. Jamie could hit the ball out of any park, up to and including Yellowstone. Of the many drives she hit, 3 really stand out in my memory:
  1. The monster shot she hit against Spring Garden in the 2008 state tournament at Lagoon Park. Anything that travels that far and that high should have a stewardess on it.
  2. The powershot she hit against Maplesville in the sub-state at the Hub. Their entire team turned in perfect synchronization and watched it fly. When they turned around, they all had a different look on their faces. Game, set, match. Frankenstein was not only loose, he was headed for the village with a rusty Kaiser blade.
  3. Finally, a double she hit off the Great Wall of Guin two years ago. It was still climbing when it hit the Big Red Monster in right-center, about 40 feet up. I'm convinced if it had cleared the fence, it would have broken somebody's windshield up on the interstate at Yampertown. Wow!
Oh, before I forget, Jamie has more career RBIs than anybody in program history. Congratulations on a great career. You (and big sister Nikki) have been a big part of our success for a long time. We're going to miss you, young lady.

Tiffany Oden is not overly swift, not particularly strong, nor is she uncommonly athletic. These things only make the fact that she's one of the best players in our history all the more amazing. She's without doubt the best defensive outfielder I've ever seen. And as somebody once wrote about Shoeless Joe Jackson, her "glove was where triples went to die." Time after time she caught balls nobody could believe she got to, let alone caught. And when she moved in to play shortstop this season, she made the move with a smile and a great attitude. She became a really good infielder with good range and an excellent arm. Tiff was one of those special players who always put the team ahead of herself. She never hit for a spectacular average, never hit a ball over the fence, but she was a great clutch hitter. Tiff was at her best when things were tightest. Anybody remember who got the hit that beat eventual 2A state champion Oakman at Hub a couple of seasons ago? I do. Tiffany Oden. How about who lead off the 7th with a double in the NAC finals and scored the tournament winning run on Taylor's single this last April at Hackleburg? Right again, Tiffany Oden. She is a shining example of heart and want-to being more valuable than raw talent and ability. If any of you younger girls are worried about playing time, just follow in Tiff's footsteps. She's already proven that hard work, effort and a great attitude trumps whatever else people think is required to be a great player. Good luck and continued success, Tiff. You're going to be greatly missed.

Brooke Everette. Where do I begin? If I listed all her honors, this blog would be too long to read. Simply stated, she is the best player in Hub fast-pitch history. Period. We've had great pitchers before (Chasidy Tucker). We've had great hitters before (Jesi McMillan, Jamie Hancock, Maegan McCollum, Jennifer Oden). We've had great infielders before (Jesi Mac, Bug, Nicole). But we've never had them all rolled into one player until Brooke Everette. Four times first team All-State, received a scholarship to play at Bevill State Sumiton, led Hub to two consecutive state tournaments, three 30-win seasons, 4 consecutive ASWA Top 10 finishes and was three times named to the Tuscaloosa News Super 10 Team. She owns every career record at Hub except homeruns and RBIs. Whew! The last time a Lady Lion team took the field without Brooke in the starting lineup was May of 2003. Amazing, isn't it? You're the best, kid, and to say we're going to miss you is a big understatement. May success and happiness be your constant companions.

So where do we go from here? After losing 6 of the best players in team history (Jesi Mac, Bug, Nicole, Jamie, Tiffany and Brooke) in the past 2 years, it's all over, right? Horse Manure. We've lost great players to graduation. So what? It's happened before and it will happen again. Remember, tradition never graduates. That's not just a slogan at the Hub, it's a way of life. We will practice longer, harder and better than anybody we play. We will out-hustle them, we will play with more heart, we will be better prepared, better coached and have better fan support than anybody we play. We're the Hubbertville Lady Lions. We don't rebuild, we reload. 24 consecutive winning seasons don't lie. No Lady Lion in the history of either the slow-pitch or the fast-pitch programs has ever played on a losing team. That says a lot about the ladies who have played on those 24 teams and a whole lot about the man who has coached every one of them.

I want all the ladies returning to the 2010 team and all those who have ever played Hub softball to do something for me. Be proud. You're a part of a very exclusive club. Be proud that you are a part of something so consistently excellent. You wear an invisible badge of honor that separates you from ordinary high school athletes. When you tell people, "I played at Hubbertville for Coach Harris," you've told them everything they need to know about you. It says you're a can-do person, tough as $2.00 steak, and no stranger to hard work and maximum effort. It also says what you're not, that you're not a thumb-sucking, diaper-wearing Mama's baby who ran for the couch when things got tough. In this age of whiney babies, you can be proud you're not one of them. You earned your place in history.

One last observation about the 2010 team. We return 6 starters, including Molley, Leigh Ann, Taylor, Katie, Alley and Alisha. We also have some valuable reserves and some promising rookies coming along. It's a good blend of experience and youth. There's no doubt in my mind this will be a good team. The only question is how good. Hard work, dedication, and a winning attitude can take you from good to great. You control your own fate. But please don't think you're in this alone. There are 24 teams, 24 years of a tradition of excellence watching you. Don't let them, or yourselves, down.

The Old Gray Lion

This month's recommended reading: The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey.
Common sense financial advice. Good stuff.

This month's recommended TV: No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain.
Mondays at 9 p.m. on the Travel Channel. I don't agree with all that Bourdain says but he may be the most delightfully sarcastic human being on the face of the earth.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Uncle Ralph (& other ramblings)

I'm in trouble. When he reads this, there's no doubt in my mind he will, at the very least, attempt to beat me with a softball bat. But like you've heard me say before, some things just need to be said. "Uncle Ralph" Kelley is an invaluable part of Hub Athletics and his dedication and hard work need to be recognized. Thanks Uncle Ralph.

This guy wears a lot of different hats. During football and basketball seasons he films our games. This is not a hard job. This is a hard job to do correctly. Just ask Coach Harris. You wouldn't believe some of the stuff we've been given by schools we've traded films with over the years. Those films vary from looking like satellite video from outer space to being so zoomed-in you can only see 3 players, while the other 8 are roaming around in video no-man's land. Not the case with Uncle Ralph's videos. Always in focus. Always showing the entire offense or defense. This takes skill, and Ralph is the best there is. He also does something that other videographers rarely do. He constantly cuts to the clock and scoreboard. Sounds simple, doesn't it? It's not. It's a big problem, especially in basketball. Try scouting a team when you don't know what the score is or even what quarter it is. You have no context, no feel for what's happening. That's a problem we don't have thanks to Uncle Ralph.

Softball season is Ralph's favorite time of the year. He helps in so many ways it's hard to keep up with them all. He works with batting practice, the JV, the outfielders, and generally helps Coach run practice. This is on top of helping with mowing, groundskeeping and getting the softball fields in game-ready condition. Ralph is always there, helping in any way he can. But his main claim to fame is as a scout and defensive positioning expert. I'm not exaggerating a bit when I tell you he is a legend in Alabama high school softball. When we go to tournaments, we don't get through the gate before other coaches begin to ask both him and Coach Harris for information on teams we've played or scouted. They all know Ralph has them pegged. Have you ever noticed that you very rarely see one of our players make one of those spectacular ESPN Sportscenter catches? There's a reason for that. That reason is Ralph. He charts where every player on every team we play hits the ball. If that weren't enough, he also keeps up with who's pitching. He can tell you where hitters will hit the ball against different speed pitchers. He can tell you who can or can't hit a change-up, who likes the pitch on the outside half of the plate, who doesn't like the fastball up and in, and on and on. The man is amazing.

People like Ralph are getting increasingly rare. In this age of "what's in it for me," his only concern is how he can help out. And if you're looking for some ulterior motive, don't bother. He's not on the payroll and his kids finished high school years ago. He has no "dog in the hunt." Dedication like this is pretty much a thing of the past. I hope everyone realizes how fortunate we are to have Ralph as part of our athletic family.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009. Mark that day down on your calendar. That's Veterans Day. Please hunt up Uncle Ralph and thank him for his service and sacrifice. Thank him for defending you, your family, your way of life, your country. He and tens of thousands of others gave so much and expected so little in return. For those of you who don't know the story, Ralph was badly wounded in Viet Nam--that's how he got the wounded arm. Not a carwreck, not an industrial accident, but gunfire from a man who meant to kill him. That makes Ralph Kelley a hero. Somebody we can all look up to and respect. And in all the years I've known him, I've never once heard him complain. That's what American heroes do. They play the cards they were dealt and do the very best they can. And that's what we of the Maroon Nation get from Ralph Kelley every day. His very best. Thank you, Ralph.

The Old Gray Lion

This month's recommended reading: "The Prince of Frogtown" by Rick Bragg.
The final installment in Rick's trilogy about his family. Great stuff.

This month's recommended movie: "Stay Hungry"
Filmed in and around Birmingham in 1975. A cult classic. Wildly funny. Lots of local folks make appearances. Jeff Bridges, Sally Field, Arnold Schwarzenegger, R.G. Armstrong, Robert Englund, Roger Mosley and Scatman Crothers. Pretty tame by today's standards but still Rated R. No kids, please. Don't miss the moonshine/buck dancing scene filmed up in Blount County. Classic.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Remembering other ramblings

What can I tell you about Nick Threlkeld? Lots of things. Things like the fact he caught more passes than anybody who ever played football in the state of Alabama. His record still stands. And yes, more than Julio Jones, Ozzie Newsome and all the other greats. How 'bout the fact he was a high school All-American in both football and basketball. He would have been in three sports if Hub had a baseball team. He made first team All-State in both sports for three consecutive years. He once blocked 14 shots in a single high school basketball game. He once made 3 free throws with no time left on the clock to win an area championship. He once scored 48 points, including swishing a 45 footer at the buzzer of a 4-overtime game to win a NAC Championship. He had free run of the Alabama sidelines with his sideline pass at Crimson Tide home games. He could have signed to play SEC football with Bama, the Florida Gators or the Tennessee Vols. I once heard a Hall of Fame coach tell him, after playing the Hub, that he was the finest high school football player he had seen in 30 years of coaching. He signed with a Division I basketball team. He scored over 2,500 points, had over 1500 rebounds and blocked over 400 shots in his high school career. All this is staggering, utterly amazing. But it tells you absolutely nothing about what a wonderful human being he was. As great an athlete as he was, he was an even better person.

Today's elite athletes are, for the most part, a group of arrogant, self-centered horse's rear ends who feel like everyone should bow when they walk by. (There are some notable exceptions.) Even the top high school athletes are often infected with the disease of arrogance. Not Nick. Never. Always accessible, always friendly. Coach Harris used to have a poster up in the fieldhouse which said, "You can judge the character of a man by how he treats the people who can do absolutely nothing for him." That fit Nick perfectly. He was kind and compassionate to everyone. I remember his senior year, we were headed to Notasulga in the football playoffs. The charter bus stopped to let us all eat at a Ryan's in Montgomery near Crampton Bowl. We were about to begin eating when I heard a voice say, "Hey guys, it's Threlkeld!" A team from Greene County was also traveling to a playoff game and happened to be in this particular Ryan's when one of them recognized Nick. I sat and watched in amazement (and admiration) while he shook hands, signed autographs and even took some photos with what seemed to be nearly the whole team. These were his fans, his friends, and he was going to return the love they were showing him. It was a great thing to watch. I remember him looking over at me while all this was going on. His expression seemed to say, "why in the world would anybody want my autograph?" I just smiled and nodded at him. I knew exactly why they wanted it. I wish I had one now.

I can only imagine the pressure that went with being Nick. A lot of us unintentionally heaped tons of our expectations and failed dreams on his broad shoulders. He never complained. But how many times did we hear the following or something close to it? "We're counting on you." "Make us proud." "You're going to put us on the map one day." "You're sure to make the big time." "We can't lose as long as we have you." "You're going to play on Sunday someday." "Don't forget about us when you make it in the NBA." "Don't let us down." That's the one that really eats at me. Because I know how desperately he wanted to make everyone happy and proud. And he did. I can only hope he knew how well he succeeded.

We didn't see much of Nick after his college playing days were over. He was busy. Busy working. Busy starting a family. Busy with life. Occasionally, somebody would run into him and would give us a report on how he was doing. But I'm sure there was more to his absence than just being busy. I'm sure he felt like he had let everybody down. That's just the kind of kid he was. But he was so very, very wrong. He took us to places and successes we had only dreamed of. He made us all prouder than ever to be part of a little country school with no town. Proud of the great athlete, yes. But more importantly, proud of him as a person and how he represented us and the Maroon Nation. In so many, many ways, he was the very best of us.

What can I tell you about Nick Threlkeld? Lots of things. He was a good kid. He was a fine young man, carrying on in the tradition of his father, who is one of the finest men I've ever known. Nick was a good husband. A good father. A good son. He was a loyal, caring friend. He was never too busy to help someone. He was one of the very few young people I ever met who realized how a few words of encouragement and a few minutes of attention could make a difference in somebody's life. He was humble, modest and didn't have a hateful bone in his body. He loved the Lord, his family, his many friends and this big old crazy world we're all trying to find our way through. I can also tell you this--we're not likely to see his equal again in our lifetime. Not as an athlete, not as a person. He was one of a kind and we were so lucky to have him as a part of our family.

Nick's passing has left all of us stunned. We're all wondering and worrying about why things happen like they do. That's not for us to know or understand. Somebody infinitely wiser and more powerful than us controls those things. But I do have an idea in my mind that gives me a great deal of comfort. I'm pretty sure that when Nick reached his reward, just inside the gate waiting to give him a hug and show him around were Coach Rodney Marcum, Thomas Dunavant and George Wages. Good friends. Good men. Good lives...goodbye.

The Old Gray Lion

Monday, March 23, 2009

Success...expected & otherwise (& other ramblings)

Congratulations to the 2008-09 Hubbertville Lady Lions basketball team. What a great season! Sit back and observe. 24 wins, tying the school record for wins in a season. Only 3 losses--twice to a 3A Winfield team which won 28 games and was ranked #7 in the final ASWA poll, and once to eventual state champion Hazlewood. Also, add a Northwest Conference Tournament championship, an undefeated Area 10 regular season championship, an Area 10 Tournament championship, a third straight regional appearance (2 Central and this year's Northwest), and a third consecutive year ranked in the final ASWA 1A Top Ten Poll. Not bad for a team that started the year with more questions than answers.

Don't get me wrong. I think all of us expected this edition of the Lady Lions to be pretty good. The key words being "pretty good." There was no way we could be as successful as last season after losing Jesi Mac, Bug and Nicole, right? Wrong. There's a panel on the outfield fence up at the softball field that tells the tale. Look for it next time you're up there, it says "Tradition Never Graduates." For those who need a translation it means this: when you pull on that maroon jersey, you are expected to win. No excuses, no "yes, but." Prepare, compete, win. Period. That's the expectation at the Hub. Every day. Every season. Every year. No matter who graduated, no matter who quit, no matter who moved to Bummelbanger, Minnesota, no matter who did what. In the famous words of Al Davis: "just win, baby, just win."

It's hard to imagine a Hub girls game without Brooke Everette on the court. The last time that happened was very early in the season in 2003. That's been awhile, folks. I can vividly remember sitting on the bleachers 10 years or so ago at my daughter Jennifer's varsity practice, watching this flying little munchkin zip by me dribbling a basketball about a hundred miles an hour. From one end to the other, right hand down, left hand back. Amazing. That was my introduction to Brooke the basketball player. Now it's 10 years later and I'm still amazed. 1,190 points, 503 assists, 580 rebounds, and 200 steals. Those numbers speak for themselves. But they don't say a thing about the other things Brooke brought to the table. Leadership, unspoken intangibles, and a gritty toughness that shone like a beacon. We're gonna miss you, kid.

Somebody else we're gonna miss is Tiffany Oden. What a zone-buster! In her 3 years as a starter, Tiff made 148 3-pointers. Not many players (boys or girls) average 50 3's a season. Time after time, we've been involved in a close 4 or 5 point game and Tiff would throw in a couple of bombs from downtown in less than a minute and suddenly, "put the chairs in the wagon, the singing is over." Like Brooke, Tiffany made the people around her better. Her accurate long-range shooting made it impossible to sink back and collapse on our inside people. Unselfish to a fault, Tiff had less ego than most great 3-point shooters. She was the ultimate team player and the finest long range ace at Hub since Tonya Mahoney. Thanks for the memories, kiddo.

The losses are huge; there's no minimizing the loss of our seniors. But the cupboard is far from being bare. We return what will be a tall, battle-tested group of experienced Lady Lions. Leigh Ann White and Brooke Hubbert, Taylor Benton, Katie Key, Whittley Haley-Ricks, Rebecca Cook and the Three Amigos (Jessie Bowles, Alley Norris, Alisha Marcum) are all coming back. That's a good blend of experience, size, athleticism and "want to." Add a lot of hard work and some leadership and this should be another excellent group for 2009-2010. And before I forget, let me thank someone else who won't be coming back next season: Lisa Pakkenberg. This junior exchange student from Denmark has been an absolute delight. Intelligent, friendly, polite and kind beyond compare, she has captivated everyone who has met her. She played in the first basketball game she ever saw and showed a real aptitude for the game. We're gonna miss you, Frugen. May success and happiness follow you back home and beyond. We're all richer for having known you.

Recently I've run across a couple of quotes from hall of fame coaches that have really stuck with me. The first was "If I've learned anything in my years of coaching it's this. Championships are won in the off season." --Coach Pat Summit, 8-time NCAA Champion. The other was from Coach Bob Knight, "Playing hard is a skill just like shooting, passing and playing defense. But if you don't play hard, none of your other skills are worth a plug nickel." I hope our returning Lady Lions will take these to heart and learn from them. Slogans and quotes are effective only if you find a way to translate them into hard work and results.

High school sports have changed dramatically in Alabama in the last 10 years or so. The days when you could just show up and be successful because you're gifted athletically are over. Even the junior high and elementary kids are working and training in the off season. There are several things we can do to improve our chances of success:
  1. Give 100% in your off-season workouts. Coach has designed this program to improve your skills, techniques and conditioning. Don't just go through the motions. Show up, work hard and be a leader. This is the single most important thing you can do to improve.
  2. Work on your own. This is where you can really improve your game. This is particularly true of shooting. Stop and pop, drives, off-the-dribble, free throws. 300 shots a day would be a good place to start. Work at it.
  3. Play some sort of organized ball. Church summer leagues and tournaments, park and rec games, or just a Tuesday night make 'em take 'em tournament at a school gym, church facility or a park. And don't forget we have an outdoor facility (sort of) with a covered court and regulation goals at our own Hub Pavilion. The weather is no excuse.
  4. Instructional videos. These can be very helpful if used correctly. The best I've seen is the series by the Better Basketball Foundation. Louisville Coach Rick Pittino also has some excellent teaching videos. Check them out online.
  5. Watch your TV. No, I'm not talking about Jerry Springer or Big-Fat Redneck Wedding. With the NCAA games, NBA and NBA Summer League games, Euro-League games, D League games, and high school games on TV virtually 365 days a year, there is no lack of opportunity to watch and learn. Look for stuff: what offense are they running, what defense, what kind of press are they running, how are they breaking the press, who's setting the screens and where, how did they get #20 so open on that 3 pointer, what out of bounds plays do they run, how are they shutting down this player who's been averaging 30 points a game? The questions and the learning opportunities are endless. Watch and learn. Watch and learn.
  6. Weights and fitness. Ladies, we need to get stronger. Particularly upper body strength. Do we expect or want you to pump iron to the point you look like the Bulgarian shot-put champion Iva Liftabuick? No. But we need to be stronger to the point that a good hard outlet pass doesn't take you, ball and all into the third row with the cheerleaders. Get a 10 lb. set, get a good program and get to work.
  7. Nutrition, health and general well-being. Go to the doctor and have regular checkups. Ask him or her for some paperwork on proper nutrition. A lot of this is just common sense. If you've got 2 people going head to head and one has had a pregame meal of a pork chop and mashed potatoes and the other had a Pepsi and a ding-dong, my money is on the pig and the spuds every time. While you're at the doctor, ask about B12 shots, flu shots, vitamin supplements. I'm not saying demand them, I'm saying ask about them. Your nearest GNC (Jasper Mall) can fix you up with an individualized daily dose blister pack if it turns out you have a vitamin deficiency. Take care of yourself. This is the only bod you're ever going to be issued.
Here's one last thing for you to think about. While you're sitting on the couch watching MTV, eating Pringles and sucking on a Mountain Dew, somewhere out there the girl you're going to go head to head with in clutch situations next season is in a hot gym, sweating. She's probably alone. Dropped off at a dark, quiet gym by her father after borrowing the key from her coach. There's nobody there to tell her what a wonderful job she's doing, nobody to praise her effort. That's not why she's there. She's there to become a better player. Why? Because she remembers how bad it felt to lose to you and your team last season. She never wants to feel like that again. She never wants to see you and your teammates celebrating at her expense again. She's made her decision. She's willing to do the work, make the sacrifices. How about you? Are you serious about winning or are you just one more of the pretenders?

The Old Gray Lion

This month's suggested reading: "The Winter of Our Discontent" by John Steinbeck.
Still relevant. Still powerful. Still a mirror in America's face.

This month's suggested movie: "Necessary Roughness"
Scott Bakula, Robert Loggia, Jason Bateman, Fred Dalton Thompson, Larry Miller, Kathy Ireland. One of the funniest sports movies ever made. PG-13. Some salty language.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

5 smooth stones (& other ramblings)

I'm back. Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the blogosphere. First, let me apologize for missing last month. Between a very busy boys and girls basketball schedule and the stats and paperwork they generate, I just let the month get away from me. Sorry. I don't work well without some sort of structure, so from this point forward, I will have a new Hublog ready somewhere between the 15th and the 20th of every month. The Good Lord willing.

I've had a real problem picking a topic this time around. Not coming up with one, but rather picking one from the several I have been kicking around in my head. The most obvious one is the great girls varsity basketball season we've just completed. This was one of the best years for the girls in school history and be advised, this will be next month's topic.

Have you ever heard a song on the radio on the way to work or school in the morning and gone around all day singing or humming it? Sure you have. I do ideas like that. No matter how hard I try to ignore it or file it away for later, I can't shake it off. It's what my grandmother McCaleb used to call "getting a bee in your bonnet." You have to deal with it. The following is my "bee."

I was sitting in my recliner the other night watching first one thing and then another. As I was happily flipping along, I noticed a movie about to start called "The Valley of Elah." I knew it was an Iraq war story and that it starred Tommy Lee Jones, among others. As usual, I jumped the gun and assumed that it was just another liberal Hollywood anti-war propaganda piece. A whole lot of those left-coast folks haven't figured out that freedom isn't free. Far from it. Freedom, from time to time, requires the highest price a man and his nation can pay. That's the truth as I see it. Anyway. I decided to watch primarily because I admire Tommy Lee Jones' ability as an actor. Besides, his movies give me an opportunity to act, too. Tommy Lee pretends to be some new and interesting character and I pretend not to be bothered by the fact that he was Al Gore's roommate at Harvard and the probability that his politics are somewhere to the left of Helen Keller's. Ah yes, the illustrious Miss Keller. If Annie Sullivan had known what we know now, she may very well have held Helen's head instead of her hands under that spigot in Tuscumbia. Oh well, I digress.

Pretty early into the movie I realized that the valley of Elah is where David met the Philistine giant, Goliath. I stopped watching Tommy Lee and reached for my Bible and began to read. Wow! Double Wow! This is one of the greatest stories ever told. Each time I read and re-read it, I get that "10 feet tall and bulletproof and where's that grizzly bear you wanted me to spank with a flyflap?" feeling. It's remarkable. My mind kept going back to the 40th verse of I Samuel, Chapter 17 where David chose 5 smooth stones from the brook. Those words create an amazing picture, don't they? Here's a small young boy armed with a slingshot, about to face a man in combat who is roughly 5 feet taller than him, 400-500 pounds heavier than him and armed with the finest weapons available. And here's the kid, picking out smooth stones in the creek. Amazing. But it also made me wonder, if I were him, which 5 stones would I choose? How about you? Got 5 in mind?

I've thought a lot about this question. I'm about to give you my 5 choices to put in my pouch. Yours may be totally different. That doesn't really matter; what's important is that you make your picks and pack them close. You're going to need them.
Smooth Stone #1 - Courage
I firmly believe that everyone has courage somewhere inside them. It just takes the right set of circumstances and the right trigger to turn it loose. You've got the guts to do a lot of things you don't think you can do. The best example I can think of is the small middle-aged man who was splashing in the ocean with his kids and grandkids in the Gulf of Mexico a few years back. An 8-foot bull shark slipped up into the shallow water and nibbled on one of his grandkids. To make a long story short, grandpa grabbed the shark by the tail and dragged him onto the shore. When the cops and paramedics got there, he was straddling our friend the shark and pounding his head with a concrete block. There's a lot to be said for righteous rage. Don't sell yourself short.

Smooth Stone #2 - Faith
Our boy David was the king of faith. He not only strode out to meet Goliath with nothing but a slingshot, he was talking smack to him before he ever threw the rock! Check out I Samuel, Chapter 17, verse 46: "This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand and I will strike you and take your head from you." That wasn't just David talking--that was David's faith talking. That kind of faith will have you hunting bears with a yard broom. Make sure your faith is solid, identify your monsters and grab yourself a smooth rock. Good hunting.

Smooth Stone #3 - Basic Humanity
We're all in this together. None of us are going to get out of here alive. I'm far from being one of those tree-hugging, 'we are the world'-singing, kumbayah types. But really, shouldn't there be more things we share than things that pull us apart? Many years ago, Dr. M.L. King made a great observation: "An injustice to any man anywhere is an injustice to all men everywhere." That pretty much says it all. Think about it.

Smooth Stone #4 - Love
Love can knock down immovable barriers, make midnight as bright as noonday, make the worst day of your life a treasure, right any wrong, and make the most useless of lives truly meaningful. And as I once heard a man say, "If you don't love anybody but yourself, what good are you?" 'Nuff said.

Smooth Stone #5 - Hope
Hope is the fuel which runs your dreams. Hope keeps us going as human beings--hope for a better future, hope for a better life. Not just for youself, but for your family, your friends, your nation, the world. Never underestimate the power of hope. As long as you have hope, you have a chance. Without it, it's all over.
Like my old friend Forrest Gump, I am not a smart man. But there are things I instinctively know to be true. One of them is this. Somewhere down the line, we're all going to have to go face-to-face with our own Goliath. He's there waiting, I promise you. Oh, by the way, his name is probably not going to be Goliath. His name may be Death of a loved one, Divorce, Financial Ruin, Betrayal by a friend, Sickness, Accident, Injury, or Failure to achieve your dreams. The old foe has many names, many faces. So choose your stones wisely. Pack them in tight. Keep them close by you. Fight the good fight. Because he's out there, waiting, in the morning mist of a valley just over the horizon, out of sight. Don't forget your slingshot.

The Old Gray Lion

This month's recommended reading:
  1. The Bible, King James Version, I Samuel. This is magnificent, inspirational stuff.
  2. Rick Bragg (again), "Ava's Man" If you grew up poor in the South, this is required reading. It will make you proud.
This month's recommended movie: "Hoosiers" Yeah, I know most of you have already seen it but watch it again--it's that good. When the old country preacher bows his head and says, "and David put his hand in his pouch and brought forth a smooth stone," the fine hairs on your arms and the back of your neck will tingle and stand on end. If they don't, just go on down to Norwood's Funeral Home and turn yourself in. You're dead and don't know it. Take a pass on the "The Valley of Elah." It's just too rough to watch. It's about soldiers who act and talk like soldiers. Don't let kids anywhere near this movie.