Narcissist or Athlete

 

Commercials are interesting, at least for me. I view them as reflectors of our culture and not as attempts pushing me toward a product or make. A recent commercial for a brand of potato chip is a good example of mirroring us.

A mother stands in her kitchen eating from a bag of popular potato chips. A large, cloth carrier is next to her on the counter. A girl about six years of age bounces into the kitchen, fully dressed for a soccer game. (Since when where cleats allowed to be worn in the house?). The child cheerfully announces that the coach is letting her play forward, and she tells her mother that if she scores a goal, she has her “happy dance” all planned. She then performs the dance, and her mother repeats it, both mother and daughter smiling all the time. The girl also tells her  mother that she is to bring the team snack, but the mother stops worrying when she looks into the large carrier which happens to be holding bags and bags of chips. All is well because the mother has purchased the correct chips, the child player is prepared with a celebratory dance, and the commercial ends with a shot of the young player eating from a bag of the right chips. Great! But no, all is not well in my view, even with THE chips.

Many years ago, I heard a story of a head coach in the NFL studying a game film with his  players. When a receiver on the opposing team made a catch, he yelled at his defensive back, “You’re paid $80,000 to keep him from doing that.” The back responded, “But he’s paid $200,000 to do it.”

I like that story because as a high school coach, I used it to remind my players not to show emotion after a win or loss. I wanted them to act like the twins who wrestle at the Naval Academy or the brothers who wrestled for Clarke County in Virginia. Watching any of them walk off the mat, you would not know whether a win or loss had happened, even after multiple state championships or matches won at such events as Dapper Dan. As competitors, I would tell my runners or wrestlers or jumpers, we are, in a way, paid, and we act professionally. We never want our competitors to  know how we feel—win or lose. Celebrate later, with family and friends, not spectators. Never, I repeated often, let your opponent know how good winning or how bad losing means. Be analytical like the defensive back of the NFL.

Sadly, the celebrations by overly paid athletes have morphed into performances of narcissism. For me there is too much strutting and puffing and gloating in professional sports that has seeped, like a sewage, down all the way to a six-year-old soccer player who has a dance planned if she scores a goal. “Yea, look at me world. I am great. I scored a goal,” her wished-for dance says.

But is catching, kicking, hitting, or shooting a ball all that important when compared to other accomplishments of life?  Where does that skill with a ball mesh with the other, more important ones necessary for a life of quality?  One would think that the self-serving jubilations of some athletes, from the child clubs to adult professionals , proclaims their identities. Truly, even if a student wins four state championships, or sets a record in a race, what does that count for in the longer race we all share?

It seems to me that the value in a record or championship is only as good as we use it to sharpen our skills for living each day: to eat its bread, thankful for its blessings, and its opportunities.

“Mirror, Mirror….”

 

In his March 05 on-line report concerning the West Charlotte and Ardrey Kell basketball game Mr. Langston Wertz, Jr., a Charlotte Observer reporter wrote: “As for Ardrey Kell, a successful season ended under a cloud of controversy and with a suspended star player. Several Knights’ families who attended the game declined to talk about the week’s events. After initially answering an Observer’s questions about the controversies preceding the game, another Kell parent ripped the page out of the reporter’s notebook containing her comments.”

Now, if citizens were not aware of how much the two schools mirror each other, they do now. One rich. One poor. That is a mirror, just one we do not want to acknowledge because what is reflected is the injustice of our educational system which is managed by elected politicians who are highly influenced by the biggest dollar. Re-read the reported words of Wertz and ask what would prompt a person to think he or she has the right to rip a page from anyone’s notebook?  Arrogance of the righteous derived out of wealth or position or both is my answer.

Think of it: a Kell parent speaks of the events surrounding, of all things, a high school basketball game, then another parent (her husband?) rips the page of her comments from Wertz’s notebook. Yes, a family, a school, and its coach has apologized for the racial slur posted on social media. Apologies are good and necessary. However, that racial slur came from somewhere and that somewhere is more than a non-thinking 17-year-old basketball star playing for Kell.

What the Kell parent did to the reporter speaks more than all the apologies erupting from Kell. The act of invading anyone’s space, much less to take their property, is one of the highest acts of disdain. I was not present, but I wonder if the woman and the person who ripped the page from Wertz’s notebook are white. I wonder if the one who violently took the page is male. I don’t know, but I  know that contempt like that is usually bred out of arrogance of being white and well-to-do and sometimes leads one to think he or  she is above the rules for the rest of us. To paraphrase Mark Twain, The Kell parent acted like a Christian holding four aces because every influence valued by our society is in his or her corner.

Racism is a sin, and like other sins, it can be easily concealed and denied. However, when a person shows such aggressive arrogance to a  person doing his job, the sin is revealed. How could anyone think that type of act is right?

The boy who posted the slur did not act in isolation. He and his environment need to honestly examine themselves. It is convenient to verbally deny racism or envy or lust or any other sin. However, our acts expose who we are. And, it does not matter if the persons who engaged the reporter are white or black. The act of invading his notebook was wrong. As is the arrogance that feeds such acts.

In order to  accommodate the fans, the game had to be moved from the small (450 capacity) gym of West Charlotte. However, a part of me wishes that the Kell players had to dress, play, and  shower at West Charlotte. I wish the Kell fans had to drive to West Charlotte and sit in the small gym and have a new experience. They would have come away impressed had their eyes been opened.

It takes more than an apology or confession to eradicate a sin. While both are the first steps to right living, actions must be taken to demonstrate our change of heart.

Let’s all look into the mirror and see what is honestly there. If the image is right, good. If it is wrong, work to change it by words and deeds.

Letter to a Newborn

 

You are just two days old, but I want to write to you and try to share some of the woman you are named for—my mother. Being her child gives me some insights to her, and I hope what I write will allow you to “know” her, and her love for God.

She had a hard life as a single mother of six who worked in a cotton mill. Not only did she struggle financially, she suffered physical and emotional abuse from her husband in the days of “boys will be boys.” Yet, she always told us children to respect our father because he was our father, whom she never stopped loving. Divorced twice, he died one night while sleeping, separated from wife number three. Mother told one of my sisters how she heard him come into her house whistling  at the time of his death. You see, Mother never stopped seeing herself as his wife, and she knew that he had come to tell her good-bye. No doubt this was a  memory of a better time for her. After his funeral, she insisted on treating everyone, even his other two wives, to a meal at a restaurant. A lady for sure.

Many of her Sunday School students visited her, maybe inviting her to their graduation, or just simply sat with her on the porch of 312, her mill house, sharing a Sunday School memory from a lesson which shaped their lives. Her church honored her when she turned 100, and one of her students, who now teaches the same Sunday School class, shared some memories of being in Mother’s class, but most importantly told how Mother loved her when others turned their backs to her—when she became a young, unmarried mother.

Mother had a sense of humor, and as we grew older, she would tell us jokes-some a tad randy. She shared stories of growing up at Woodward Mill in the Sandhills, and it was obvious to any listener how much she loved her father. Sometimes she planted a vegetable garden in the back yard of 312 and told us of the gardens her father planted to feed his large family. Trees, however, were her favorite of all plants. When we moved to 312, she planted a row of sugar maples next to the driveway, and their descendants still shade the yard. She could recite Joyce Kilmer’s poem and introduced us to it and other literature because she was a reader.

She told us about lying in bed in the little, green house on Applewood Street long ago, worrying about how to care for her six children and keep them all together. She told how a form appeared above her, and a gentle voice said for her not to worry. She and her children faced difficulties after that, but in the words of St. Paul, she was “careful for nothing” (KJV) from then on. Speaking of the Bible, Mother not only knew the Bible, she understood it because she read and studied it while praying for wisdom. I never saw a commentary in her house, but she always could explain a passage or parable or event. A Deacon at her church tells how, of all the prayers for Sunday School teachers , “hers were the sweetest ones.”

No doubt you will hear many stories of Mother: her charity, unconditional love, wisdom, courage, strength, and biscuits. I imagine all, and more, will be true; perhaps some will be a bit embellished, but true.

What I want you to understand, Flora Belle, is that carrying her name can be a burden or a joy. You may choose to let her legacy bury you and make you a lesser creation of God. But I hope you will choose to be like Mother—a woman of God, full of faith and love, who lived by her convictions.

Best wishes on your journey,

Roger Barbee (March 03, 2019)

Athletes or Girls

 

According to my internet search,  just 4.1% of boys who wrestle in high school continue to compete in any level of college and for girl wrestlers the percentage is 2.9. For all high school athletes, the percentage who continue into college competition at any level is just over 7%.  Thus, for the youngster who plays a high school varsity sport for whatever reason, his or her last competition will end with high school graduation. For some of them, this will be of no consequence because they never aspired for college competition, and for others it will be a hard check by the reality of college athletics. Yet, for most teenagers I taught or coached in several high schools,  sports were a way to have fun, participate, and/or support their school. And most of them worked to improve and were serious about becoming better competitors. This is true for both sexes.

Some girls choose to wrestle, and I have coached girls at the middle school level and coached against girls on the high school level. Because the number of female wrestlers is small, there is normally no separate division for girls, so they compete against boys. While several state athletic associations have added divisions for girls only, most of the matches they wrestle are against boys. And, I saw three girl wrestlers who qualified for the 2019 western 4A NC state regional tournament held in Mooresville. Girls can, and girls do, wrestle and often well. In Virginia’s 2A division where I coached, my 126 pounder lost three times to a girl (team captain her senior year) from George Mason High School. So, it is no surprise that in one division of the Colorado state tournament, two girls qualified at 106 pounds.

On the first day of the tournament, Brendan Johnson, a 106 pounder for The Classical Academy, forfeited to Jasylnn Gallegos. On the second day in his consolation round, Johnson forfeited to Angel Rios, whom he forfeited to three times during the regular season. Rios finished 4th and Gallegos 5th in the tournament. Johnson did not place, saying that “Wrestling is something we do, it’s not who we are, and there are more important things to me than my wrestling. And I’m willing to have those priorities.” In his junior year at the state tournament, Johnson forfeited to a girl and said after he forfeited to Rios and Gallegos this year,  “I think it’s possible to forfeit while still respecting them as athletes and competitors. I really don’t want to disrespect the hard work these ladies have put in. They’ve done a lot of that too. Some people think by forfeiting I’m disrespecting them. That’s not my intention at all.” Johnson followed this up with, “And I guess the physical aggression, too. I don’t want to treat a young lady like that on the mat. Or off the mat. And not to disrespect the heart or the effort that she’s put in. That’s not what I want to do, either.”  Does Johnson deserve applause for his willingness to stand behind his conviction, or are his good intentions misplaced?

Like other sports, wrestling has regulations, rules, and a points system. In high school there are fourteen weight classes and wrestlers in the same class compete. At times, a team  may not have a wrestler in a weight class and must forfeit, which is point costly. Sometimes a coach will use a forfeit(s) to rest his wrestlers. However, the expectation of coaches and wrestlers is that if a team weighs-in a wrestler, he or she is prepared to wrestle any competitor in the same class. That expectation makes it tough for a boy who wrestles a girl because if he wins he “only beat a girl”, and if he loses, like my 126 pounder did, he may be embarrassed.

But as a coach, I never forfeited to a girl because of her sex. My teams and I respected any student who had done the hard work of being prepared to walk out on a mat to face an opponent. The female team captain from  George Mason High School was an accomplished technician who perfected certain moves to compensate for her lack of physical strength. There was no shame in losing to her.

Young Johnson could not be on any of my wrestling teams if he would not wrestle a female opponent . For her time on the mat, she is a wrestler who has earned, by her being there, the respect due any wrestler. Her sex is not an issue, but her ability to beat you might be. I hope Rios is “a lady” at the necessary times, but on the mat she is a wrestler. Give her that respect.

 

 

 

 

 

Thomas and Pine Trees

 

When the weather reporter announced a wind advisory, he also warned that trees might topple because roots cannot hold well in the sodden soil caused by recent rains. Since we have forty-two pine trees in our front yard, we listened to the report with interest.

Going out this morning for my ride, I noticed some small, fallen debris, but all our magnificent pines rose into the morning light sliding over Lake Norman. Riding into the morning, I remembered being told when we moved here, not to thin the trees because they supported each other. Riding on, I thought of Disciple Thomas.

Not present when Jesus appeared in the Upper Room, Thomas wanted to see and touch Jesus’ wounds from the Cross. For this, he has been cast as “Doubting Thomas.” We are not told where Thomas was and what he was doing when Jesus appears to the disciples. But we give him an unfair moniker.

However, I see Thomas as a Disciple who saw his Master killed on the Cross. A human and a follower of Jesus, he suffers from this loss and goes to some unknown place to be alone and deal with his sorrow. In pain, he follows his Master’s example and goes off to be alone and pray. Remember that this is the Disciple in John 11:16 who says, when Jesus announces that he is going to Judaea (where He risks death from the Jews) to raise Lazarus, “Let us also  go, that we may die with him [Jesus].” What Thomas did after the Crucifixion mirrors some of our actions today-he sought loneliness not fellowship, and on his return to the others, he expressed honesty by his doubt. It is as if he said, “I will not believe until I am sure.”

Thomas’ mistake was not seeking fellowship and healing with the other Disciples, the Christians that he belonged with. Like the forty-two pine trees in our front yard which support each other, Christians need each other for support and strength. Perhaps most importantly we need the energy from each other so that we might fulfill the Great Commission and honestly follow Matthew 5-7. In Proverbs 27:7 it is written that “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.”

Like the pine trees, we need to support each other. Through our unity we will be stronger to do His work.

 

 

 

312 (for MAM)

 

The above numbers are the street address for my mother’s mill house. She and her six children moved there in March 1955. For many reasons it was a significant move, but the best were  that our mother could walk the three blocks to Cannon Mills Plant 1 where she hemmed wash cloths, and it had an indoor bathroom. In that March move we entered a house, but over the years it became a home.

The house was like all the other ones on “the mill hill.” The rent was $1 a month per room, Cannon Mills maintained it by making necessary repairs and painted it every four years-inside and out. The tenant had to work for the company and maintain the yard and keep it neat in appearance. For workers like my mother, the house was a boon. The seven of us shared the one bathroom, my three older sisters occupied the front bedroom, my mother and baby sister the middle one, and my brother and I had the back one. The large kitchen was our eating and social center with the television sitting in the adjacent hallway, and the front porch was a place to sit and  socialize with neighbors or romantic friends as we grew into teenagers . The front room, mostly a passageway to the kitchen, was used for special occasions such as Christmas or a place to snuggle with a date. All mill houses had a garage, but since we had no automobile it was used for other things: a storage space, a “hideout” for a young boy, and a first test for children and grandchildren and great grandchildren who all learned about courage when they climbed the wide door to the roof and jumped into the encouraging cheers of cousins. Those lessons proved useful later in adult living.

Soon after we moved to 312, our mother planted a sapling that she knew, even then,  would grow into a mighty oak that still shades her front porch. The gardenia at the corner perfumes the porch with each bloom, and her much loved sugar maples still grace the side and back yards. The three metal posts placed by Mr. Rowland to hold her clothes line stand still;  erect, rusting relics that witness to the days of wringer washing machines and cotton clothes, sheets, and towels dried by sun and wind. Sadly, the chinaberry tree growing next to the back alley died, but its memory for a boy seeking a high scouting post still lingers as does the one of the “paint shed” where large containers of SWP paint were stored. Mr. Holtzclaw, one of the painters and fondly called “Hoggie”, would  tell us children that SWP stood for “Sweet William Papa.” We would learn later that it was one more tease of his, but it pleased us in that young, innocent time.

Unlike the house on Applewood or Rankin Streets, 312 was near town. We walked to school, Plant 1, the YMCA, stores, and church. Without an automobile, walk we did, but everything we needed or wanted was within blocks. We grew, forged new friendships and romances, attended church each Sunday, graduated high school, worked, went to college, some married, all the things of ordinary lives. And, the center of all this activity remained 312. We always returned, like homing pigeons.

Husbands, wives, girlfriends, friends, in-laws, ex-in-laws, and grandchildren before their own children walked on the pine floors and gathered in the kitchen, to talk while waiting for a pan of mother’s biscuits to pop from the oven. Served with streaked meat, beans, and lots of butter, they became the metaphor of life in 312. And always in the middle mother moved, hands white from biscuit flour.

Now her hands no longer pat dough into biscuits. They hold the edge of her blanket which covers her frail body and strong spirit. Just turned 100, she spends her time in bed, too weak to even move herself. In her mill house’s middle bedroom, she is visited by family and friends, but our family gatherings grow fewer and smaller in number. One day, upon her death, we all will gather one last time in 312 to  celebrate her life. Then, 312 will return to what is was before March 1955: a place like a shell plucked from beach sand by an early riser and carried home to realize later that it is just a shell where once a life, which passed like a vapor, lived.

Grim Futures

 

In the Charlotte Observer article “Students: Rising CMS grad rates mask grim future for many blacks” of February 15, 2019, Alyana Jenkins, a West Mecklenberg High School senior speaks truth: “I’m asking for you [CMS school board] to raise expectations for the school system across the board.” She is  speaking not only against the credit recovery program, which is a farce, but also pleading for educational principles of quality scholarship, which often cannot be measured by a machine graded multiple-quess test.

However, I hope Jenkins and everyone else involved, realize the consequences of raised expectations. In his book, Study is Hard Work, William  Armstrong writes, “The secret of how to study is locked up in the desire to learn….good students are  made by constant and deliberate practice of good study habits, and for this there is absolutely no substitute.” As a teacher for forty years, I know that the harder I worked my students, the harder I  had to work. No modern pretentious language will mask what is required. Work for the classroom means showing up on time, being eager to learn, being prepared by having done self-study (homework), and open to hearing. That is for teachers and students. Scholarship is rewarded, but it requires discipline and dedication. We have a high school senior begging for this, and we must honor her plea.

In 1963 James Baldwin wrote that if he were teaching in “any Negro school, and I was dealing with Negro children, …I would try to make them know-that those streets, those houses, those dangers, those agonies by which they are surrounded, are criminal. I would try to make each child know that these things are the  result of a criminal conspiracy to destroy him.” Programs such as the credit recovery one are conspiracies to destroy marginalized students.

Having worked in a computer-based, “self-learning” recovery program in high school, I  know that the programs offer nothing but a “criminal conspiracy” to marginalize students. In the Observer article, state board member Ms. Becky Taylor is quoted as saying in 2017 “Sometimes it makes you wonder if there’s a little bit of a numbers game going on.” Now, two years later, we have our students confirming her words. Hear the truth: graduation rates prove little or nothing. How we prepare our children for productive lives does, but that cannot be a line on a chart.

Armstrong’s book that I cited above was written in 1956. Baldwin spoke his words in 1963 to  New York City teachers. Bear with me as I cite one more scholar. In 1960, educator Claude M. Fuess writes: “In a majority of secondary schools, the emphasis is not primarily on scholastic attainment; the vacations are too long, the standards are too low, and too much emphasis  is  placed on games.” Sounds like what Ms. Jenkins rails against in her West Mecklenberg High School.

Readers may call me a backward person, but I believe that we have taken the easy way out in educating our children. We stick them in front of computer screens for them to silently learn. Guess what? Learning is, or should be, a  social experience involving a teacher and peers. For instance, can any child learn to pitch a curve ball, dribble a basketball or throw a football, excellently, without instruction from a master teacher? That won’t happen; in the process of learning one of those skills the pupil athlete will be instructed, critiqued, but not criticized. The master teacher will work with the pupil as she or he does repeats and drills. Over and over and over. Oh, and the pupil will be willing, even eager, to hear the words of the master and to do the drills, over and over. That is hard work for both the pupil athlete and the master teacher.

Scholarship requires the same dedication. Pupils and teachers must be eager to learn and to work. But, as only one example, they cannot do it as effectively if classrooms are filled with thirty (or more) pupils. School boards must facilitate an environment for scholarship, not rote and false standards. School boards must be willing to work and learn, then provide the necessary tools without latching onto the latest “innovation” that settles for mediocrity instead of excellence.

As a retired English teacher, (forgive me other disciplines) I hope that teachers of Ms. Jenkins have required her to read, study, discuss, and write about Their Eyes Were Watching God and The Women of Brewster Place and A Gathering of Old Men and Romeo and Juliet and Beowulf and so on. I hope her teachers have “piled” on the reading and writing for such jewels as she. But I fear that is not the case, and her loss is also ours.