Archive for April, 2009

Swimming is worth fighting for

April 23, 2009

“Lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for.”

— Clarence Darrow

 It was a little more than 10 years ago when I got my first head coaching job. It was as wrestling coach at a wonderful little Catholic high school in Leavenworth, Kan., called Immaculata (Go RAIDERS!!!). It was a program that constantly was struggling for numbers, constantly struggling for support and basically constantly struggling to stay alive.

Shortly after I got the job, one of the wrestling parents came up to me at a community function, and with a laugh handed me a small medal on a chain.

“This is St. Jude,” he said. “I know you’re not Catholic, but it’s the patron saint of desperate causes. With this program it’s not a bad idea to keep this around.”

I hung on to the medal, usually had it with me at most meets. It was kind of a good luck charm, and it paid off. In four years we went from a team that once lost a dual meet 84-0 to one that was pretty competitive in a tough conference and at the Regional and State levels by the time I was done.

I have always been a champion of the lost cause. I guess that is how I ended up as swimming coach at Vinton-Shellsburg High School. And I still have the medal.

Don’t get me wrong; swimming is not a lost cause. Actually it’s far from it. It is a great sport, it’s the greatest conditioning activity you can do, and frankly, it’s a lot of fun. I was always disappointed that we didn’t have high school swimming yet when I was in school; I may have done that instead of wrestle (I know I’d have been better at it).

For 30 years swimming has been at sport in Vinton. It hasn’t gotten the notice of a lot of sports, and many times it has had to be fought for in front of a school board meeting. But it has survived. Now it’s time for it to thrive.

Monday night we once again kept boys’ swimming alive. Yeah, I’m working for free next season. Someone tried to get me to that another time, but this time it was worth fighting for.

And I’m sure someone will be asking me every other day how many kids I have out, but we’re going to have a team and we’re going to have a season and that’s what matters the most.

Right now, I’m working on sign-up for our girls’ program that we share with our friends at Union High School. I’m hoping to have a couple of dozen young ladies swimming for VSU this fall. We made history last year by hosting the state’s first-ever outdoor high school meet and will do it even bigger and better Aug. 29, when we host the second Fun In The Sun Classic at the La Porte City Family Aquatic Center.

Why do I do this? I don’t know; you could probably question my sanity or judgment. But there is one very good reason: I love it (LOVE IT) when someone tells me I can’t do something.

When my wife, Angie, and I started the Vinton Eagle in 2005 (there’s irony for you), lots and lots of people told us we were crazy. Yet, we succeeded. Until the day we left, we put out a quality product and never lost sight of our journalistic values. If nothing else, we helped the Cedar Valley Daily Times get better. That’s we wanted – our hometown to have a good paper.

And that’s kind of the way I approach coaching swimming at Vinton-Shellsburg. There are a lot of people out there still telling me that swimming is a lost cause. “It’s not a WaMaC sport (I’m so sick of that argument); it’s getting in the way of other programs; Blah, Blah, Blah….”

Bring it on. From me and my swimmers and our supporters, we say bring it on. Tell us we can’t. Tell us we don’t belong. Tell us whatever you want. And keep telling us.

Next year, I’m sure I’ll be right back in front of the school board, making the same arguments again. I have no problem with that. I love to talk about my program and my kids and I love a good fight. The way I figure it, the higher the barrier someone puts in front of you, the sweeter the feeling when you clear it.

Eventually, our numbers will be big enough and our success will be good enough that we’ll outlast the people that want to get rid of us.

As Clarence Darrow so aptly put it, lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for. Darrow fought for causes that no lawyer in his right mind would fight for, and while he didn’t always win, he always fought.

And, we are inspired by the fight of our greatest champion, Vinton-Shellsburg school board member Megan Rickels, who carried our banner the highest. She knows something about fighting on herself. Thank you Megan, we won’t let you down.

So VSU and Vinton-Shellsburg swimmers, we fight on. And we fight because it’s worth fighting for.

Bring it on!

Young Angel’s death felt here in Eastern Iowa

April 11, 2009

My favorite professional sport has always been baseball. I was raised a Cardinal fan by father whose hero was Stan Musial. I became a Royals fan in the 1970s when I was stationed near Kansas City while I was in the Army and only reinforced that when we lived in the KC metro for seven years.

angels1But another team always fascinated me. Their name, their uniforms (the halos on top of their 1960s caps were awesome), and lately, their class as a team and organization is something I truly respect and admire. I am speaking of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

The Angels suffered a horrible tragedy Wednesday morning when Nick Adenhart, a 22-year old pitcher for the team, was killed along with two friends by drunk driver in Fullerton, CA. Adenhart’s death came just a few hours after he had made his fourth major league start and it was his best. Adenhart threw six shutout innings at the Oakland Athletics, and while his team lost the team, he and team officials were overjoyed with his performance.

But just hours later that joy turned to sorrow, as Adenhart passed from us too soon.

Local fans remember Adenhart. It was just a few years ago that he was a member of the Cedar Rapids Kernels, who are one of the Angels’ Class A farm clubs. As is the case with many major leaguers, Adenhart grew an army of fans as he passed through the Angels farm system.

I remember back in the mid-1990s when Cedar Rapids first created a working agreement with the Angels, I thought it was a strange fit. It’s usually nice to have the parent club of a farm club to be somewhere in the area. But the Cardinals, Twins, White Sox, Brewers, Royals, and Cubs had other commitments, so here came the Angels.

But while it might have seemed like a strange fit at the time, it has turned out to be good one for the Angels, the Kernels and baseball fans of this area. Under the Angels guidance, the Kernels and their fans have been treated to good baseball, a new ballpark and one of the classiest groups of young athletes imaginable. They contributed to the community in a positive way, made public appearances and always have time for their young fans.

adenhart1Many former Kernels have made it the majors, including many that have been part of the club’s recent years of success with a slew of division titles and the 2002 World Series. In fact, the Angels won the Series just weeks before our son Sage was born, so they will always be his World Championship team.

The quality of the individuals playing in that organization, was so evident last summer, when many current Angels recorded messages to the local media of support and concern for their one-time summer home. Many contributed money and other donations to the flood relief.

During the early aftershocks of Nick Adenhart’s tragic death Wednesday morning, ESPN’s Buster Onley commented on how the Angels create such a family atmosphere in their organization and how closely the big-league team follows the progress of every player in the farm system. They aren’t just roster names, they are individuals to the Angels and that is far from common in today’s business of baseball.

Nick Adenhart was a member of that family. Despite only four years in the organization and just making his fourth big-league start, it was evident that his death deeply affected every member of the team in a very personal way.

We are lucky that our area’s professional baseball team, the Cedar Rapids Kernels, is part of such a class act organization. And this summer, I hope that everyone in the area will, while supporting their favorite team, also pull a little but for the Angels, for Nick Adenhart and for a class-act of an organization that is going through a tough time.

They did it for us; we can do it for them.

Continuing to learn during Autism Awareness Month

April 3, 2009

April is Autism Awareness Month, and Thursday was World Autism Awareness Day. In our family, both the day and the month are important ones.

 autism-ribbon2When our son Sage was diagnosed at age 3 with Pervasive Development Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (the highest functioning form of the disorder) in 2006, we, as parents went through the whole gambit of emotions.

 Our son was now “labeled.” He would now be known as different. He would be in special education. He would be (as one of the special education professionals from Grant Wood AEA put it) “one of the retards on the short bus.”

 But we realized that for Sage to get the help and support he needed, we had to do this; we needed to get him into special education and we needed to get him the support that – try as we might – we can’t always give him.

And as we head into the third year of the diagnosis, we have come to learn something. While we obviously wish Sage did not have the developmental struggles he has, we have discovered that he is at the same time truly unique and wonderful in his own special way.

He is one of the most loving children I have ever met. Not just to his family, but to his friends, his teachers – everyone. He loves to give hugs and tell you to have a nice day. He loves to talk to people and while he has had issues over the years with parallel rather than playing with friends, he is getting better with that every day.

He is also a musical genius. Sage has an incredible aptitude for music, especially playing keyboards. He learns songs by ear, and has even begun to plunk out melodies of his own, which he has learned how to record into the memory of the keyboards. My son, American Idol, Season 20!

Sage, the ever-goofball, doing his impression of Jerry Lewis.

Sage, the ever-goofball, doing his impression of Jerry Lewis.

Sage also has an incredible sense of humor. He loves to laugh and make people around him laugh. His latest bit is getting my incredibly nerdy-looking reading glasses on, then doing kind of a Jerry Lewis/Professor Frink thing that will have you rolling the floor in seconds. And the more you laugh the more it delights him.

So where am I going with all of this? I’m really sure, other than to say this: the label of autism has come to mean many things, and the spectrum of it is vast and, at times, hard to totally understand.

But for Sage and for our family, while there are struggles at times, there are also many, many other times where it almost feels like a gift. We have been given a beautiful, intelligent, talented and loving child. And isn’t that what every parent wants?