Doodling with Snoopy

My wife travels with me and my golf partner, Shawn Barker…not because she loves golf. She simply loves the surroundings and the time spent wandering places like Flagstaff and Monterey and Santa Rosa. After a yoga session in Santa Rosa this past week, she sat alone in a coffee shop and a man across the aisle sat with his dog. Karen wore sunglasses but no makeup, and was still sweaty from hot yoga. The man looked over at Karen and said, “That’s the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen.” The man finished his coffee, got up and slowly walked past Karen’s table and he said to the dog, “Yep, most beautiful women I’ve ever seen.”

Which made me feel good because I’ve always wanted to be married to the most beautiful women in the world.

This is why I want to be a travel writer when I grow up, not because of sumptuous food or remarkable scenery,

Crepeville Sacramento
Crepe with Prawns, mushrooms, peppers, and pesto in Sacramento

but simply because when we travel, we meet people and discover stories and those stories spin around my brain like moths around a lamp at midnight. I write like a child doodling because the flurrying moths inside my head can only escape through the point of a pencil onto paper. 

This makes sense to me as I affectionately call my eldest daughter noodles and she calls me doodles. Maybe she calls me that simply because it rhymes with noodles, but now I know the deeper reason. I doodle.  

My favorite doodler hails from Santa Rosa, California, where we vacationed. His name is Charles Schulz, and he doodled Charlie Brown and Linus and Snoopy and an entire neighborhood of children who heard all grown up words as simply a muted trombone played by a jazz musician…wahwahwahwahwahwah…which is remarkably artistic. Karen and I are not artists, but we are doodlers, and we have a go-to doodle, a solitary subject each time we feel the need to draw.

Mine is Charlie Brown.

Charlie Brown
I drew this much better in 4th grade

Karen’s is a flop-eared puppy.

Puppy dog doodle Karen
Karen’s doodle dog

Four days in Santa Rosa gave us the opportunity to see the majestic redwoods

Redwood vertical
This redwood is taller than a football field is long


and countless rows of grapes traversing the Sonoma County hills, and to hear stories about the man who inspired my artless doodle, Charles Schulz. Since I have always loved the Peanuts comic strip as well as the animated cartoon, it was a joy to meet a tennis partner of Mr. Schulz on our trip to Sonoma County.

Redwood and Karen
This redwood is taller, wider, and older than my wife…but not prettier

Dean James has a welcoming face that looks like a sun-faded catchers mitt and kind learned eyes that twinkle like stars when he tells stories about Sparky, as his close friends refer to Mr. Schulz. Dean swims every morning at 5 A.M. and is an avid tennis player who often played with Sparky.

Dean was also a well-known professional golfer who used to work at the Oakmont Golf Club. He started his professional career in Utah at the Alpine Country Club in 1959, then went to such locales as the Monterey Peninsula Country Club and Santa Rosa Golf & Country Club.                                                                                                                                     

Golf Mayacama hole 2
Mayacama Golf Club Hole 2

While playing golf at Mayacama, on the final hole, while I prepared to hit a hybrid to the green from 215 yards, a doe and fawn ambled onto the green and the fawn brusquely lunged underneath her mother to suckle while I waited for the green to clear. The mother shook off the fawn as if to say, “You’ve had your fill,” and I hit a high draw onto the lower plateau of the green. Dean told us that Mr. Schulz owned these 1,600 acres of rolling hills north of Santa Rosa.  He sold it and Jack Nicklaus then designed and built the Mayacama golf course.

There is a signature par five hole with a lovely high vista and a series of hair pin trails. Dean said, “A Stanford Heisman quarterback drove off that cart trail and into a steep thorny ravine but I can’t think of his name.” I could only remember one Heisman quarterback from Stanford, so I said, “Jim Plunkett?” Dean’s eyes lit up and he said, “Yes, Jim Plunkett!”

Dean told us that in 1967, trying to qualify for the Bing Crosby golf championship at Pebble Beach, he three-putted the final hole to miss qualifying by one shot. But he got to play Pebble Beach after all, when Charles Schulz subsequently asked his tennis buddy to play with him in the pro-am at the Crosby. He did for several years then was replaced on Schulz team by the golf legend Johnny Miller. Dean graduated from BYU and knew Mr. Miller, who also graduated from BYU and was also a friend of Mr. Schulz. Charles Schulz died 18 years ago and Dean told us about a conversation with Johnny Miller regarding the eulogy. Dean said to Johnny, “You are a tv golf announcer, you should do the eulogy.” Mr. Miller told Dean, “No, you do it.” And so Dean spoke at the eulogy along with Billie Jean King at Mr. Schulz memorial.

One day Dean was playing doubles with Sparky and Dean missed a couple shots into the net. Dean slammed his racquet into the right net support shattering it into a useless heap of leather, string, and fiberglass. Schulz reminded Dean of that outburst from time to time…until one day Dean opened the paper and saw this Peanuts strip:

snoopy tennis
The comic strip inspired by Dean James

Dean James still has a copy of this comic strip autographed by Charles Schulz.

That’s a pretty cool doodle!


Kicking the Wickets with Yogi

I miss the elocution of Yogi Berra. He once said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.” Last night as I watched Draymond Green’s leg fly north like a sledge hammer on wings directly into the fork of Steven Adam’s wickets, I couldn’t help but remember how much better it was in the old days when I played basketball and the physics of a 5’9” white kid who couldn’t jump nor discriminately kick past ankle height made the basketball court a safe haven for opponents body parts.  

Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams reportedly said Draymond Green has reached “peak annoyingness,” to which Draymond replied with gleeful wit, “I just be me.”

Apparently the advanced physical gifts of today’s high-flying athletes has hamstrung their elocution. I miss the old days when athletes spoke meaningfully, without malice, and with full wisdom and transparency, like Yogi Berra.

If only Draymond could tell us what happened in the language of Yogi.

Maybe he would have said, “When you come to a fork in the road, kick it.”

I miss the old days of plain simple to understand language from sports heroes. It’s accessible. I can understand it. And it points out the absurdity of trying to figure out everything on my own. In that spirit of human understanding, I’ve listed some of my favorites bits of wisdom from one of the greatest catchers and philosophers in baseball history, Yogi Berra.

Yogi knew how to rate a 5 star hotel.

“The towels were so thick there I could hardly close my suitcase.”

And he gave much thought to legacy.

  • Yogi was asked in an interview to play a game of word association and the interviewer said, “Mickey Mantle”, Yogi answered “What about him?”
  • On death and memory: “You should always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise, they won’t come to yours.”
  • And my favorite quote about death when his wife Carmen Berra said, “Yogi, you are from St. Louis, we live in New Jersey, and you played ball in New York. If you go before I do, where would you like me to have you buried?” Yogi replied, “Surprise me.”

Yogi was so wise, he could subdue Mother Nature. “It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility.”

And yes, Yogi summarized the basis of all scientific methodology in seven words. “You can observe a lot by watching.”

Yogi also knew the value of goal-setting when he reminded us, “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.”

And he certainly gave me my finest tip on selecting a restaurant. “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.”

There have been Nobel Prizes awarded for economic thought that were less nuanced than Yogi’s words, “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”

And as someone who has swung a golf club all my life, I relate to Mr. Berra’s advice on how to swing a bat. “How can you think and hit at the same time?”


And, some words from Yogi about what Draymond may have been thinking when he flailed his leg long after the basketball had left his hand and his foot had found a home, “You don’t have to swing hard to hit a homerun. If you got the timing, it’ll go.”

Finally, words from Yogi that express how I felt the first time I visited the New Jersey home of my wife to be,

“It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much.” Thanks for the memories Yogi, I remember that like it was yesterday, or was that tomorrow?

More than enough

I can envision a time when I stop watching sports, because it’s become self-congratulatory, narcissistic, all-important, and ugly. And then a guy like Buddy comes along and redeems my cynicism and helps me remember the days of my youth when I played sports for no other reason than I loved the thrill of seeing the basketball net ripple and I would shoot until I couldn’t see the net ripple because it was dark but I could still shoot by feel and hear the swish. Thanks Buddy, for that great smile and four great years of joyful basketball.

Here’s an article by Buddy Hield that will help restore your faith not only in basketball, but in humanity.

Seven Reasons Dez Bryant did NOT Catch that Football

Dez Bryant’s play late in the fourth quarter in the Divisional Playoff game between the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers was a football catch for the ages in a million backyards, a thousand Friday nights, and a hundred campus Saturdays, just not according to the technocrats at the National Football League.

I was seven when I watched Jerry Kramer and Forest Gregg plow a path over Jethro Pugh in the NFL Championship Game of 1967 while Bart Starr snuck into the end zone beating the Cowboys. This loss to the Packers wasn’t as cold, nor as bitter. It was, however, the stage for one of the best catches I’ve ever seen, rendered irrelevant by the handcuffed interpretation of a poorly written rule.

Bart Starr, #15, face mask in the dirt just short of the goal line, but clearly, making a “football move”, one “common to the game.”Ice Bowl Sneak in Progress

So in honor of the days when boys in backyards knew what a catch was without instant replay, here is my defense of the overturned ruling on the field in the Cowboys/Packers game last night. After all, we can’t have players making up “football things” as they go, it wouldn’t be American, and it wouldn’t be something common to this great game. So, here are seven reasons Dez Bryant did NOT catch that football.

1. Jethro Pugh’s frozen mouthpiece from the 1967 ice bowl, still imbedded on the 1-yard line dislodged the ball.

2. That catch would have been overturned by simple eyesight in a million backyard games, the lights of a thousand friday nights, and the sunlight of a hundred college games without the aid of ten cameras. Anyone who has ever played football knows that wasn’t a catch.

3. Dez of his own volition, despite wearing a helmet, pads, and cleats, danced Swan Lake by Reisinger & Tchaikovsky, after securing possession of the ball, instead of making a “football move.”

4. Football is simple. Block. Tackle. Pass. Catch. Complete the process. Make a football move. Multi-tasking isn’t allowed. You must complete the process and then make a football, move, in that order.

5. While extending the ball to the end zone, Dez was doing the State Farm double check he had seen Aaron Rodgers doing, instead of securing the ball with both hands and going down in a safe insurable manner.

6. Dez did not complete the process of the catch, which easily could have been done while running three steps with the ball, between the six and the one yard line, by logging on to, and completing a short form borrowed from

7. Bryant’s catch was not “an act common to the game,” like Bart Starr sneaking across the goal line with his face in the frozen tundra of Lambeau. This was an act of an uncommon athlete. Anything so uncommon is best eliminated using the beautiful, richly-grained wooden rigidity of the arcane.

Icebergs in Corn Fields

When Belinda Carlisle of the Go-Go’s sings “Heaven is a place on earth” I stop whatever I’m doing and sing along. ‘Ooh baby do you know what that’s worth, you make heaven a place on earth’ It happened today, in my truck while driving to Tulsa and a blue-haired lady with a handicap sign hanging from her rear view mirror stared me down as she passed on the left. I guess my singing slows my driving and octogenarians humming Sinatra pass me.

Is Heaven revealed in common moments, unassuming revelation, like Belinda Carlisle singing about love? Is Heaven a place on earth? Not all the time, but rather in tip of the iceberg moments we see now and then, understanding the ice flow is mostly under the surface of the ocean, unrevealed.

Which reminds me of my favorite baseball movie, Field of Dreams.
Field Of Dreams 5
Ray Kinsella walked out the door of his childhood home at the age of seventeen and he never spoke to his Dad again. He tells Terrance Mann played by James Earl Jones, “By the time I was ten, playing baseball got to be like eating vegetables or taking out the garbage. So when I was 14, I started to refuse. Could you believe that? An American boy refusing to play catch with his father.”

His Dad died before they reconciled. And now, on a brilliant green baseball diamond in the midst of Iowa corn Ray Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner, sees his Dad, and as the catcher’s mask comes off they have a catch as I struggle to swallow. Every time I see that moment in the movie a baseball leaps from the screen into my throat and I can’t swallow and my eyes mist over.


John Kinsella (father): Is this heaven?
Ray Kinsella: It’s Iowa.
John Kinsella: Iowa? I could have sworn this was heaven.
[starts to walk away]
Ray Kinsella: Is there a heaven?
John Kinsella: Oh yeah. It’s the place where dreams come true.
[Ray looks around, seeing his wife playing with their daughter on the porch]
Ray Kinsella: Maybe this is heaven.

Robert Farrar Capon likes to suggest as the image of God’s providence and mercy an iceberg. For, like the mighty expanse of ice from the polar caps the ice extends out into the ocean in all directions, and the sailors of those areas have to be on guard and alert for the tip of the icebergs where the grace of God makes a brief revelation of its power, light, and love. The iceberg seen is not all there is and someday when the ocean is drained we may see the full extent of the ice, but for the time being all we see, if we are alert, are the iceberg tips. Those who are a part of the people of the light have to keep watch for the icebergs so that they might continue to know and to see the nature and purpose of God and to encourage each other with stories and testimonies about the icebergs.
Perhaps while preaching the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus said to pray, “Thy Kingdom Come Thy Will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven,” he was talking about being watchful for the tip of the iceberg, a son and father having a catch, a moment swinging on the front porch with someone you love, holding your child seconds after she is revealed as not only a miracle but a miracle in which you were asked to participate, or moments when the world is turned upside down and the poor become rich and the weak become strong, as Heaven breaks out on Earth.

I once thought Knute Rockne was the author of The Lord’s Prayer, but it wasn’t prayed by Jesus so football players would have something to say in those awkward locker room moments just before kick off when frothy violence and masculine intimacy touch and recoil. It’s a prayer about the intersection of Heaven and Earth, where the dirt road of earth dwellers intersects the street of gold, a place that should have a stop sign. And, if you have ‘ears to hear’ as Jesus encouraged, perhaps like Ray Kinsella you will hear voices and build ball fields in corn as high as an elephant’s eye, while singing out loud a Go-Go’s song about a four-way stop where Heaven meets Earth. It’s the place dreams come true and mountains begin to move and rivers change their course.

The Color of God

The bus crossed the 7th street bridge and I peered over the rail through an open window at the eddies of a muddy river, swirling coffee relentlessly shaping the bank of naked earth. On my first day of junior high ringing bells punctuated my hourly class schedule. This change in my academic life assaulted my senses, along with the smell of lingering cigarette smoke in bathrooms, hot sawdust and oiled metal cuttings from shop class, the musty sour odor of the gym class unwashed, and the siren smell of shampooed hair, the same hair that framed stick figure girls in grade school now bent beautiful by the refraction of our hormones and youthful vision, those same linear girls now inhabiting the curved bodies of mystic goddesses.

Junior high was loud and the noise drove me to quiet corners like a dog pawing ears to muffle the roar of constant chatter in the halls, the din of the gorgeous set against the quietness of those not, a dissonance heard only by the muted introverts. Gym teachers yelled, music teachers coaxed, math teachers factored, while the whispers of the popular determined the fate of the not, along with something similar, ancient but newly strange…racism. This was my first round in the boxing ring, a toe to toe match with the colorful tapestry of peers that would one day become a coat of many colors.

I came from an all-white grade school and burst into a place that exploded my world of sameness, milling hallways filled with kids of color and culture, and began my education at Central Junior High learning new names, Walter, Papa, Stevie, before understanding how different I was, that I wasn’t normal, that I was indeed the odd one, because of how little I knew about the beliefs and traditions, the myths and stories of people who didn’t look like me, who didn’t sound like me, amazingly, my new friends didn’t even play basketball like me.

I was hidden under a white wicker basket in a cloistered and wooded haven, happy in my oblivious suburb, not unlike the canopied Caney river dividing our town into an east and west side as it flowed indifferently towards the Gulf of Mexico. This unhurried river, hidden by oak and elm, flowed like warm caramel along the path of least resistance, seduced by gravity and an ever fattening burden of silt, a mirror of my flowing subconscious, silent truth cutting great banks of earth and changing course unaware. As I crossed over the Caney, I became aware of the river separating me, a wonder bread kid from the east side, and my friend, Walter, who lived across the river on the west side, a million miles away.

My latent blindness was as innocent as my Grandma’s, as she read her Bible and prayed and went to Africa on a mission trip…and in blind moments of remarkable relief set against my filter of appropriateness, used the “N” word, without any hint of malice, although my innocence mistook her condescension for affection. She was a very kind-hearted woman, so I don’t judge her. But I had seen black folk on television, and thought them to be normal, even heroic. I watched Sidney Poitier in The Lilies of the Field, Cassius Clay standing over Sonny Liston, and Jim Brown in a Cleveland Brown’s uniform (I thought they named the team for him instead of Paul) running with a football and a satchel of grenades in an army uniform sprinting to his heroic death in the movie, The Dirty Dozen.

I had no idea blacks could hate blacks and whites could hate whites, as I sang Jesus loves the little children in Sunday school. I did not understand yet the array of rich but lighter colored ethnicity baked into the bagels and ciabattas and ryes and sourdough of America’s cultural oven. I hadn’t seen the Godfather yet with the opening scenes of the wedding party which would remind me of the Italians I met when I lived in South Jersey twenty years later as I suddenly became the white minority and Italians, Jews, Irish and Jersey Pineys made fun of my slow midwest accent and asked me about the Indians in Oklahoma. Nor had I discovered white on white bigotry in my own backyard, a festering socioeconomic hatred framed poetically by S.E. Hinton in The Outsiders, a world sharply divided by grease and shampoo. I was culturally snowblind in the womb of my midwestern cocoon of sameness.

I walked close to the walls of Central Junior High, kept my head down, stayed away from those who were different. I wasn’t hostile or socially dull, just underexposed to culture other than my own. My integration had thus far been limited to my television set, seminal moments, mostly athletic, involving African-Americans, including the Black Power salute by Tommy Smith raising a black gloved right fist and John Carlos raising his left gloved fist while standing on the award pedestal after finishing 1st and 3rd respectively in the two hundred meter dash at the Olympic Games in October of 1968. I once sensed defiance in pictures of Tommy Smith and John Carlos. Now I understand defiant posture as a plea for justice, the animation of prayer in the oppressed, two men standing together with a white sprinter from Australia name Peter, asking God to set right the world, a world inhabited by red, yellow, black and white, a world that presented a gold medal to Tommy Smith but told him he was excluded from certain hotels and restaurants, country clubs and conversations.

There is a grand tradition of fists raised in the name of justice, some might even name it wrestling with God, times where prayer is more of a dialogue rather than monologue, spirited debating with God Almighty. Abraham questioned God’s promise and his own virility, Moses argued incompetence and asked God to send a more eloquent man to Pharaoh, Job ranted, David’s mouth grew parched calling for help, and Jacob transformed wrestling with someone you love into an art form by calling on God to bless him before he was beaten to a pulp.

As time goes by, I think of prayer with progressively bigger shoulders, throwing an occasional punch, less a mental exercise, more sweat and heavy lifting, like a spirit in motion, gulping raw eggs with Rocky and running the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Arts, like Tommy Smith and John Carlos raising gloved fists. In the United States of America, African-Americans have prayed for many years with emotion, prayed with faith, prayed with belief that someday life will be better and not just better, just.

And so I think of the journey beginning with my exposure to people of a different color and culture at my junior high school in 1971, which brought me to my senses and extinguished my hope of playing NBA basketball. But Walter and I loved basketball. We found friendship playing ball, although we lived on opposite sides of the river and chiseled our places in the pecking order of junior high school culture using unique forms of power and leverage steeped in the tradition each of us knew. This constant social tension was unspoken but real. Sometimes punches were thrown, some malicious, some unintentional, both often landed.

My front upper left tooth was chipped courtesy of a shadow boxing match gone awry between Walter and me. It was our freshman year and we were in the locker room being fourteen year old boys, feigning machismo, seeking affirmation, something or someone to tell us we were men.

Strength was the default measuring stick, the standard marker of dominance. I saw gloveless boxing, fighting in the halls, black on white, white versus white, black on black, bare knuckles, playground fighting, slamming one another into lockers over the trivialities that kids often fought over. It was the standard dueling method rather than pistols at twenty paces. Only Walter and me weren’t really fighting, just horsing around, he could have slammed dunked me and mopped the tile floors shiny with my raggedy head. No, it was more like a big brother patronizing a younger, letting him get in a blow, shadow boxing playfully, just throwing punches with the intent of saying I could take you if I wanted, but not really wanting to hurt you. Except he miscalculated and busted my tooth.

Walter was the best athlete I knew.
During the winter of our ninth grade year, I watched from the bench as Walter and Mike and Myron and Ricky, all African-American kids along with a white Catholic kid named Chet, led a team of otherwise short white guys to a rousing basketball win over our cross-town rival across the river, the all-white team that hadn’t been beaten in their entire three-year junior high career.

That was a surreal moment for me as I thought we had no chance to win. I never really thought about those four African-American starters, about how it made them feel, how it may have empowered them, helped them become stronger in a world still dominated by white teachers and coaches and principals and mayors and governors and presidents. Perhaps this tension was unspoken but visceral, resulting in many wildly thrown punches at something unseen, undefined, not yet born in our social consciousness.

We were trying to understand this shift in attitudes which started with the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln on January 1, 1863 and traveled a bloody and bitter battle along back roads of hatred and ignorance, through the Supreme Court and Brown vs. Brown, and through the armed force of the National Guard at Central High School in Little Rock.

And it came down to a white kid with a chipped tooth swinging wildly at a black kid who could kick my butt. I hadn’t heard Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have a Dream Speech. I didn’t know much of letting freedom ring. I was just trying to get along as best I could. But I did know that the world in which I had been introduced left me uncertain, timid, unsure. The basketball court, however, was the place of refuge for me and for kids of all color, the place we lost our fear and found our competitive pride and spirit. For many of us who defined each other by sport, a basketball court was where we found freedoms ring.

Not long after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1966 NCAA National Championship game when Texas Western beat an all-white Kentucky basketball team, I was introduced to the freeing of the spirit of black America. The trail of struggle and history spilled out into our world, our playgrounds and locker rooms, our athletic fields and stages, our hallways and classrooms. We were kids struggling to enflesh the skeleton of laws decreed by our government that transformed our junior high from a place of Constitutional theory to one of practical consequence, made vibrant and colorful by the idea that all men and women are created equal.

I don’t really think of those days as the “good old days”. They were difficult, awkward, we didn’t even know we were punching and ducking, bobbing and weaving. We were, in fact, living out the words of the old Negro spiritual reconstituted by U2, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, believing in a Kingdom where all the colors bleed into one, but not knowing how, except to get into the ring and spar with sweat, blood and paint spilled on the canvas, bold, fresh, thrown together like Oreos in a milkshake mixer.

James McBride was the son of a black father and white Jewish mother and when he was young, he asked his mother about her being different. She would simply say ‘I’m light skinned.’ Then he began to think himself different and asked his mother if he was black or white. ‘You’re a human being,’ she replied. Then James asked her, “What color is God?” For years he asked this question and his mother declined to answer. Finally, one day he asked and she told him, “God is the color of water.”

Some days I’m reminded of the surreal nature of this earth and that I’m a stranger in a strange land. I’m grateful for those awkward days of youth and thankful for a slightly broken smile that reminds me of the way it used to be when we shadow boxed one another in the halls of our school bobbing and weaving and swinging, challenged to understand what it meant to live in a world of red and yellow and black and white, in a Kingdom where all the colors are bleeding into one, in a Universe created by a God who is for all I know, the color of water.

Demigods & Champions

Soccer Jenna SeniorI love to watch athletes compete…any age, any level…just lay it all out there and try, find a way, play better than anyone ever thought you could. Runners best their career time, diving shortstops covered in dirt, cross-country runners busting the tape with nothing left, talking to their legs and ordering them forward by sheer grit and will. And of course I love the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat when it’s tempered with grace and humanity. That’s the greatness of sport, finding what we have deep down inside, our will, our passion, the uncovering of an indomitable spirit not evident in other parts of our personhood.

As a lover of sport, I’ve had my fill of the media coverage about the culture of football locker rooms. I don’t have much comfort to offer men making millions playing a game in front of adoring fans, when they begin talking about not being able to get along. And I’m guilty as the next fan of the worshipful way we watch and gossip about college football and the demigods strapping on brand new uniforms each week. Any idea what it costs to outfit an entire college football team in new uniforms and helmets each week? $100,000. Black out uniforms, camo uniforms, pink uniforms, Halloween uniforms, retro unies. I’ve never seen Oregon wear the same helmets and uniforms in the same year. They wear a new ensemble each game like divas dressing from chandeliered closets. What happened to simple light and dark home and away unies?

I’m at the office on a Saturday morning and I switched on ESPN and saw this stunning earth-shattering tidbit scrolling along the screen. ESPN listed 4 & 5 star high school football recruits who will be attending the Alabama-LSU college football game tonight. Really? Oh my.

My wife, Karen, came of age right on the coat tails of Title IX, playing field hockey and softball and basketball in New Jersey and she struggles with the glorification culture of sport, particularly men’s sports, more specifically football. My wife hates football. Not really, our son played youth football and high school football so she learned to watch, and she does watch some college football. But she did hate football before her son started playing. Not so much the sport and the competition, but rather the adulation and phony machismo that some young men apply to their sense of self like an overdose of Brute cologne.
Harding U Womens Seniors Collage
And so it’s been refreshing to watch a group of college women mature and come together without fanfare and attention and adulation and fresh uniform design for each game. We’ve watched Harding University Lady Bisons win six games in a row. It’s fun to watch them win but it’s not the winning I’m proud of, it’s how they’ve come together and played hard and jelled as a team, playing soccer with passion and abandon like they did when they played youth soccer and enjoyed orange slices and juice box drinks with straws after the game. Smiling, cheering, yelling, competing, diving, sweating, working, just leaving it all on the field. It’s great stuff to watch and I’m proud of all the girls, but especially the seniors, Erin Haltiwanger, Allison Ritchie, Hannah Hatcher, Jenna Taylor and Ashley Martin. They’ve finished their careers outside the limelight, but they’ve worked just as hard and played with as much passion and had as much fun as those guys wearing fresh uniforms each week and playing in front of 80,000 fans. They’ve finished with class and style. They are what is good and right and healthy about sports and about life.
2013 Harding Women's Soccer Team

And so today, my daughter Jenna played her final college soccer game on the windswept plains of western Oklahoma in front of an enthusiastic but sparse crowd of supporters. There were no ESPN banners or cameras, no Game Day crew, no media credentials were extended. They finished as Great American Conference runner-up but they are champions for how they’ve played this fall.

I stood in a cluster of parents on the opposite side of the field and watched her waddle towards us for the last time, wide-gaited because there were two giant ice bags on each knee looking like jumbo snow cones. Two ACL surgeries, two MCL tears, a high ankle sprain, several concussions, scars from stitches in her noggin. Her uniform is dirty and grass stained, she spends a lot of time on the ground.

She made first team all-conference and I suppose that honor will be framed and hung on a wall in her home someday. I don’t need to see that to know she’s a champion and that she loves the game, loves the contact, the battle, the competition. She’s twenty-one years old. I started watching her play when she was five, before the scars and ice packs and surgeries and stitches. She never quit trying through it all, the injuries, the pain, the rehabilitation, the tears, the losses. She’s always been able to smile through it all and that’s what I’ve loved the most about her. That smile, that joy in playing, that pure love of the game.

Today, I watched her walk across the field wearing a champion’s smile on her beautiful face. Way to finish young lady, way to finish. You walked off this field a champion, and you’ve been a champion every step of the way.