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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Red Hatters - A Secret Cult Revisited

It has been brought to my attention recently, that a group of possible extremists may be hiding their nefarious social plots beneath the guise of a flamboyent lifestyle. Who are these people and what are they up to? On the surface they appear to be local collections of grandmotherly types. But research reveals that they have "cells" scattered all across the nation.
Yes, I have a personal connection to this suspicious group. Last summer I was invited by Mrs. T. herself to "go along" for the afternoon to a local fishing hot spot. There number of ladies wearing red hats showed up and quickly commandeered the pontoon boat moored to the dock. The hapless husbands were enticed to remain behind on the deck by coolers full of beer and other adult beverages. "What gives here", I thought, when I noticed not a single female entering the pontoon had brought a fishing pole with them. It soon became evident that they were heading off to a secretive rendezvous. Perhaps to meet others of their own persuasion?
When the group returned, some hours later, they appeared to be in a frivoulous mood. It was then that I noticed several had brought binoculars with them. Again to what suspicious purpose? During the lighthearted conversation that occured during the beer and brats picnic that followed, someone let slip that the next meeting of the group might be at a casino in Iowa, a state known for its radical corn growing and hog raising types. Obviously these women were now prepared to take great gambles in their endeavors. I tried to imagine what this was all about, but couldn't draw any definite conclusions.

It was a fellow blogger who first spotted and then photographed , for the first time, one of their semi-secret headquarters, tucked away in the hills of southeastern Minnesota. A large silo like building, gaudily painted in purple, with a red roof on the top. A secret signal, no doubt. Extreme, yes, but brazen as well. This cult must be gaining quickly in self-confidence, whatever their plans are!
Warning by Jenny Josep,
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people's gardens And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes
.But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

Monday, February 21, 2011

My Losing Season - Part 2

Pat Conroy wrote best sellers like the Prince of Tides, The Lords of Discipline, and The Great Santani. Some were made into popular movies. And then their was My Losing Season, a memoir of his year playing on a losing basketball team, at the Citadel, a military college in Charleston, South Carolina. He will tell you in that book, that winning is easy. Sure enough. That Americans love winners. That losing is hard.... and that it saved his life. That last part got my attention and interest.
This is not a feel good jock book. It is, though, about basketball, which I coached and love. It’s also more about growing up, and a family where the father, an authoritarian, tyrannical Marine colonel, beat his wife and children. And a son, who finds athletics his escape and avenue into adulthood. It’s describes life in a military school and the "plebe system" common to all schools of that type. It was the most demeaning type of "character building" education you could imagine. Pat is front row, second from the left, on the team picture.

There is much in this book that I found truely appalling and ordinarily would not even consider reading. The authors writing style is often over the top, with plenty of seemingly exaggerated adjectives. There is also basketball jargon and "insider" talk. And yet, it was one of those books I couldn’t put down. Perhaps, it was my curiosity as to the bottom line. Where did all the physical and mental abuse at home, in school and on the practice floor lead ? Were there any redeeming qualities in this story? How did a boy with such a background become a world renowned writer? What happened to the men, whose promising team, was broken by another authoritarian and insensitive character, their college coach? That’s why I stuck with it to end. Was it worth it? Yes. Or as Conroy claims, loss is the experience that teaches us the most about dealing with life itself. I believe that...

Saturday, February 19, 2011

My Losing Season

This is a book review. It's about author Pat Conroys book, My Losing Season. It also gets personal. It's about some of my own experiences in coaching high school athletics. I'll start with that.... Small rural school districts, like the kind I taught in for nigh 40 years, often have a hard time keeping coaches. Ther are lots of reasons for this, starting with community gripes against "losing coaches & records", and parental complaints on the "fact" that my all star son or daughter doesn't get to play enough. That's always been there but the recent trend toward scapegoating public education for all the ills of modern society hasn't helped either.
When I was a young teacher, I was determined to separate myself from the image of history and social studies teachers as "jocks." Although I loved football, basketball and tennis, I wanted to focus purely on academics. I'm not even sure where that came from. But it was there and so for twenty years that's what I did. I had even turned down higher paying jobs and promotions because I was unwilling to coach.
Then, when my sons were mostly grown up and out of high school, I was ready to do something new. Our athletic directer, unable to find male teachers to coach, asked me to consider taking football & basketball. "Well if you want somerone to install a single wing offense on the football team, (that system was big in the 30's thru the 50's) I'll consider it," I replied. He laughed. I decided to take the basket ball job, of which, I knew even less of the modern game.
My reasoning was quite simple. Athletics was also under fire especially in the era of public budget cutting in education. I knew from my own experieces and that of my sons, how valuable sports could be to young people in growing up. That is, in terms of building self confidence, character, teamwork and friendships. I also was looking for a new avenue to relate to the boys in my classes. It was perfect for that. And so, halfway through my teaching career, I decided to become a jock... well sort of. This was after most of my friends and contempories had given the trade up.
I learned the modern game, in all its complexities and got, I must say, pretty good at teaching it. More important, I knew kids, their ups and downs, their families, and their hearts from classroom experiences. I shuffled them all in and out of games ,in situations where they could be successful and be the best they could be as a team. I'm often reminded by parents of games and situations they witnessed their sons grow and learn. Like the young man, of limited ability, but was a decent free throw shooter, who was sent into a game against an arch rival with a couple of seconds left. Our team was behind ( it was always "we" not I) by a single point. We set up a play inbounds under our offensive basket. Our best player got the ball and was swarmed by two defenders. He passed the ball ( as planned) to our twelfth man standing alone in the corner. That boy broke along the baseline to shoot, as instructed, gots fouled and in the final second made two freethrows to win. To this day, his mother reminds me of this and says it was the highlight of his school days.
It was so much fun. Yes, one year we lost every game. On a couple of occasions, after foul outs we had only four players left on the floor. And yet, I have fond memories of that team. They never quit. They never complained or blamed each other. It stood them well later n life. In more recent years , with several very talented teams, we won 57 straight games. And those teams played with class and humility. Which, in my roundabout way, of thinking leads me to a book about basketball and growing up. About coaches and fathers. About a military college (The Citadel) and the "plebe system." Above discipline and love. About failure and redemption. About heart and soul. Best selling author, Pat Conroy tells it all in My Losing Season. It's told in the language of athletics but it's really about life. I"ll tell you what fascinated, stunned and even appalled me about this intruiguing book.