What should sports be teaching our kids?

 

I’ve spent most of my life in the sports world. I ice skated, skied, and swam as a kid. I was a sports reporter for about 15 years. For the past four decades, I’ve officiated amateur sports: mostly football and baseball, but I’ve called basketball, ice hockey, and soccer games, as well.

So, I feel qualified to take a good hard look at the American sports scene. And what I see isn’t pretty, which is upsetting for someone who’s always believed that participation in sports makes us better people, endowing us with skills needed to be successful in both our personal and professional lives.

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I read a book recently that crystalized some of the issues affecting sports in the U.S.  In Norwich, a story detailing a tiny Vermont town that has produced an inordinate number of well-adjusted Olympic athletes, New York Times reporter Karen Crouse writes, “(T)he parents of Norwich learned through trial and error the best methods of nourishing happy athletes: by valuing participation and sportsmanship, and stressing fun, community, and self-improvement.”

Anyone who has attended a youth-level sports competition over the last two decades must surely know that idyllic communities like Norwich are about as common as unicorns. The “winning is everything” adage is on display in the behavior of parents, coaches, and fans even when children are in elementary school, a time when sports competition should focus on teamwork, building friendships, and learning to win and lose gracefully.

What has changed? Dollar signs. Parents see pro athletes in an 11-year-old Pop Warner football player or a Little League pitcher. The inevitable leap to specialization and year-round club teams all in the hope they will spawn the next major leaguer is both sad and disturbing.

I have spent the last 19 years teaching in an inner-city high school in Phoenix. Way too many of my students say they want to be professional athletes. I explain they should have a Plan B, since statistics clearly show most will never play organized sports after high school, and that, even if they receive that rare college-sports scholarship, the chance of ever getting a professional tryout is like winning the Powerball lottery.

Why do my students want to be pro athletes? They imagine that multimillion-dollar lifestyle. These kids – like the previously mentioned helicopter parents – seem to care only about the fame and financial riches to be gained. When I point out that pro careers are difficult, generally very short, and that the vast majority of athletes are not banking millions and living in mansions, they scoff.

According to Crouse, children in Norwich are not raised to believe that the raison d’être of sports participation is material gain. “(T)he social tapestry of Norwich represents a triumph of nurture over the natural order of the modern world, which has given us a wealth and acquisition model that favors autonomy over relationships and independence over community.”

The point in encouraging children to participate in sports has never been about money and fame. It’s about teaching them to be happy, well-adjusted adults. Competing in sports teaches discipline, respect for authority, persistence, teamwork, dedication, self-esteem, and, perhaps most importantly, how to cope with failure.

However, forcing a child into a single sport, in order to chase dreams of college scholarships and a pro career, ignores the possibility that they might excel in different areas if given the opportunity, and often produces injuries, burnout, and depression. This strategy differs greatly from that of the parents of Norwich who, “When in doubt, erred on the side of giving their children freedom. They were determined not to be like the parents who control their children’s choices for reasons having to do with their own egos or anxieties.”

Young people need to have the opportunity to try new things, which is the first step in determining what they might like to do in the future. While I encourage my students to compete in sports, I would be remiss if I stopped there. I want them to take art and music and drama and woodworking and culinary arts and any other subject that stirs their imagination. These experiences will help guide their decisions for the future, when they must consider what they like, what they’re good at, and what someone will pay them to do.

I am sometimes reminded of a moment I witnessed while refereeing a high school football game. At halftime, the marching band took the field. And there, in the horn section, was a football player — sans helmet and shoulder pads — playing the trumpet. I wanted to applaud him for branching out, and congratulate his coach for granting the player the opportunity to pursue music.

I wish I could say sights like this are common, but sadly they’re not. I only mention it because I think the people of Norwich would have been proud.

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March 2, 2109

Small Towns Big on Sports

Karen Crouse   Norwich

John Branch   The Last Cowboys

University of Arizona Bookstore

1:00-2:00 PM

On March 2, 2019, in Tucson, Arizona, I will have the honor of moderating a discussion between Karen Crouse and John Branch, both New York Times reporters, who have written books about special communities that have organically produced incredibly successful athletes. Crouse’s book, Norwich, details a tiny Vermont town that has supported and nourished young athletes, and produced a stunning number of Olympic competitors over the years.  In The Last Cowboys, Branch writes about a ranching family living in the wilds of Southern Utah that has dominated the rodeo scene for several generations. As the modern world encroaches, both of these communities face change. Come and join us for the discussion and Q&A session. Crouse and Branch will sign copies of their books following the event.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Light in the Desert is “gritty and well scripted”

I am delighted to share that the February 2019 issue the book review magazine “Small Press Bookwatch” features a review of  my novel A Light in the Desert.

Small Press Bookwatch is a subsidiary of the Midwest Book Review, an organization that was founded in 1976 and is “committed to promoting literacy, library usage, and small press publishing.”

My thanks to the Midwest Book Review for taking the time to read and review A Light in the Desert.

“A gritty, well scripted novel with elements of Post-Traumatic Stress, sheer survival, and issues associated with child abuse, Anne Montgomery’s ‘A Light in the Desert’ is an intrinsically gripping read from beginning to end by an author with a genuine flair for originality and compelling narrative driven storytelling. While unreservedly recommended for community library Contemporary General Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that ‘A Light in the Desert’ is also available in a digital book format.”

Midwest Book Review  February 2019

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

Mystery/Suspense

Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.

 

 

Celebrating imagination

I was not a horribly bright kid. A low level of dyslexia scrambled my brain just enough to make me hate reading, struggle in math, and earn disapproving looks from my highly-educated parents.

However, what I lacked in classroom smarts, I made up for with imagination. Today, parents are called on to celebrate that creative spark, but I don’t think my mom or dad got that particular message.

How I wish they’d listened to Albert Einstein. “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.”

I know for a fact that lots of kids had imagination when I was growing up. After all, we had no cellphones or video games. Nor did we adhere to rigorous schedules filled with sports and hobbies and playdates, all under the watchful eyes of parents who might swoop in should there be the slightest hint we might get our feelings hurt.

Mostly we played. Outdoors. We made up games and managed to keep ourselves occupied for hours without fancy toys. A ball. A bat. And, everyone’s favorite, a big cardboard box. Remember the day mom and dad unwrapped the new refrigerator and tossed that giant carton in the backyard? We’d play with that box until it drooped from the strain of having to double as a neighborhood fort.

One time, however, my imagination got me into a bit of a pickle. If memory serves, my problem began with a TV show about a discovery in France. The Lascaux Caves were found in 1940 when a teenager was walking his dog and the animal fell down a hole. The boy returned later with three friends to explore the depression, only to find fabulous paintings of creatures – stags and horses, bison and birds – as well as humans and abstract symbols. Two-thousand figures adorned the cave walls, artwork estimated to be up to 20,000-years-old.

I was captivated. My 12-year-old brain whirled with questions about the ancient people who created the art. I then realized we had paintings on our walls at home, as well. Ipso facto, I determined that prehistoric people had probably lived in my house.

Stop laughing. The whole idea seemed quite plausible. But I needed proof. So, I went out to our suburban New Jersey garage and stared intently at those whitish walls. My dad’s fly-fishing waders – which resembled the bottom half of a booted, rubber corpse – hung on a piece of pegboard and lent just the right degree of gravity.

While it’s true there was no artwork decorating those walls, there was an interesting hollow sound when I thumped my hand in certain spots. It was then that I considered the possibility that ancient artifacts might be buried inside the walls.

I located my dad’s hammer and a screwdriver and, without the slightest hesitation, I began my excavation. It was quite thrilling digging into the wall, looking into the dark space inside, my expectations high as I considered the treasures I might find.

It wasn’t until I heard a car pull into the driveway that I thought I might have erred. I watched my mother step out of our wood-paneled station wagon and stare from behind black, cat-eye glasses.

Did I try to explain? No! I dropped those tools and ran.

It’s funny, I don’t recall my punishment for ruining the garage wall, but I do remember my dad spending the weekend immersed in metal mesh and spackle, mumbling under his breath.

Back then, my nascent attempts at archaeology were considered just plain dumb. But today, I’m pretty sure they’d declare me gifted and put me in a class with other remarkable children.

I think Einstein would have been proud.

Einstein

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

Mystery/Suspense

Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.

https://www.changinghands.com/event/november2018/anne-montgomery-light-desert

What are you afraid of?

The first lesson my freshman students are task with is one that horrifies them. Public speaking, which usually ranks right up there with death and pain and failure as something people fear most.

Even though I explain that, like anything else, they will improve with practice, many just shake their heads, finding the thought of speaking before a group terrifying.

“You will get better and be more at ease, if you just keep trying,” I explain.

A hand goes up. “Hey, Ms. M, what are you afraid of?”

I have promised my students that they can ask me anything and that I will always tell them the truth, no matter how awkward the answer. I stare at my shoes for a moment and then face them.

“Line drives.”

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I umpired baseball for about 25 years: mostly youth and adult leagues and high school games. I also worked a few college scrimmages and a New York Mets inter-squad Spring Training match while attending umpire school. I even had the opportunity to work a televised exhibition game between the San Francisco Giants and the AAA Phoenix Firebirds, where I called balls and strikes and accepted a line-up card from skipper Dusty Baker.

And yet, despite all that time on the diamond, I still fear line drives.

When I mentioned this to an old friend, he seemed a bit disappointed in me. He’d been a pitcher in high school, his wild hair and mustache scaring opponents perhaps more than his fastball. I sensed I’d slipped a notch on the tough-girl scale.

Why am I afraid of line drives? The easy answer is … they hurt. A lot. But it’s more than that, because I’ve been hit by foul balls probably hundreds of times, yet they are much less menacing.

Umpires are usually whacked by foul balls and the occasional pitch when working the plate, a time during which one is mostly encased in protective gear. These hits generally cause no lasting damage, though I did periodically long for a chest protector made with a woman in mind. Balls that ricochet off exposed body parts – arms and thighs for example – can leave one severely bruised. Occasionally, boney parts get thumped – an elbow or collar bone – which for a while feels reminiscent of a root canal. And yet, I did not actively fear these hits.

Me Umpiring 2 300

A line drive is different for two reasons. One is that, unlike my pitcher friend, I had no glove with which to defend myself. Even if I did, an umpire in the field is not permitted to touch a live ball. The other issue is that we can see a line drive coming. I know what you’re thinking. Just get out of the way. But that isn’t always as easy as it sounds.

A case in point: I was working a men’s league game one evening on a field that was already poorly lit when a dust storm came in. I had the bases with runners at first and second, so I was positioned in the infield between second and third. As the pitcher came set, I leaned forward and placed my hands on my thighs. He delivered the pitch and the batter smacked a rocket right at me. Did I lose it in the red haze? I don’t know. But the ball thunked off the inside of my right thigh. I was surprised when two players rushed over to assist me, since there is not often much sympathy for us folks in blue. I waved them away, both hurt and embarrassed, and limped through the rest of the game. I wore that bruise for weeks, and watched it morph through a kaleidoscope of colors: black and purple, green and sickly yellow.

Though I suffered only a few line-drive smacks over the years, those hits permanently etch my brain. Other than the bruises themselves, it was the reactions they sometimes elicited from strangers that I remember most.

Once, a woman watched me limping around off the field. “Oh, honey,” she said, placing her hand on my shoulder. “Let’s get the bastard.”

“Oh, no! You see, I’m an umpire. I got hit with a baseball. A line drive.”

“You don’t have to lie.”

“I’m not! I can show you the seams.”

But she just shook her head and walked away.

Sometimes, I miss umpiring baseball. My gear remains, having survived myriad household attempts at downsizing. Yet, if I’m being honest, I have to admit I still fear line drives.

All I can say is … you pick your monsters, I’ll pick mine.

What are you afraid of?

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

Mystery/Suspense

Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.

https://www.changinghands.com/event/november2018/anne-montgomery-light-desert

 

 

 

Falling out of love … with stuff

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Is our obsession for ever-bigger houses connected to our constant need for more possessions?

Recently, I was waiting to get a haircut when I reached toward a glossy stack of magazines. Some were pretty-people publications chock full of what I assumed were famous younger folks. Had anyone nearby inquired, I would have had to admit that I didn’t recognize any of them and had no idea from their pouty expressions just what they might be famous for.

I thumbed my way through the periodicals and discovered that the vast majority were not about pretty people but pretty houses. I used to love home and garden-type magazines. I even had a few of them delivered over the years. Excitement stirred when looking at the gorgeous residences with their incredible landscaping often situated in exotic locales.

fancy home

Lovely yes, but could one not find happiness with less?

I did not purchase a home until I was 50, having spent a few decades bouncing around the country chasing job opportunities. So, gazing at those spectacular edifices fueled a fantasy.

But somewhere along the way, something happened to that dream. A case in point: When the magazine I was holding opened to a long shot of a featured domicile, I laughed. True, it was fabulous. But at 15,000 square feet it more resembled a resort than a home. A dozen shiny pages showcased the indoor pool, vaulted wine cellar, eight bedrooms, eight-and-a-half baths, perfect plantings, and spectacular wrap-around views. The writer described the abode breathlessly – stunning, superb, magnificent, striking, exquisite. Tasteful seemed a bit of an afterthought.

It wasn’t that I disagreed with all those superlatives, it’s just that they had me thinking about who would need such abundance. The fact that the owners spent only six months each year at the home had me wondering what their other residence might be like. Perhaps this was their summer “cottage.”

I glanced at the art-like photographs, rooms filled with perfectly-positioned treasures, every pillow in place, and not a lamp cord in sight. I flashed on my brown couch where, no doubt, a large cattle dog now splayed, shedding black and white fur, scrunching worn pillows beneath her. I looked closely at the furniture and floors in those pictures. No pets. No kids. Not possible.

You are correct in thinking that people have a right to spend their earnings any way they see fit. I will not argue with that. But how have we come to believe that these massive houses are desirable? Statistics show that the average home in the U.S. has nearly tripled in size over the last 50 years, yet the average family has shrunk considerably.

Perhaps we need the space because, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times, there are 300,000 items in the average American home. So, clearly, we love our stuff and need a big place to keep it. And yet, when on a whim, I typed downsizing into my search engine, over 91 million results popped up. Maybe we don’t want so many things after all.

I have written before about the fact that humans perhaps survived early extinction because of their ability to hunt and gather objects of value, whether for consumption or trade. And that, today, we might all carry a gene bequeathed to us from those ancient forbearers, one that compels us to find and hold on to items that might get us through lean times. But I don’t think that completely explains our unending desire for stuff.

closet clutter

My closet calls for help.

I admit, it’s hard to get off this particular train. But I know I’m not alone. That’s why Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is all the rage. Maybe I’ll get her book.

But first I’ll tackle the closet.

 

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

 

Mystery/Suspense

Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.