Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Cheerleading and Such

When I was in college, I was afforded a rare and unlikely opportunity. I got into cheerleading. Now, I know what everyone out there in cyberspace is thinking; "this guy has to be gay". And I can understand that. After all, that is a pretty common nomenclature associated with male cheerleaders. But in all honesty, it was the hardest thing I ever tried to do in my life. I was never so sore, or so injured, or so tired as I was after having a practice or cheering a game.

When I graduated, naturally, I wanted to stay involved on some level with some team somewhere. It was in my blood now and nothing else I had ever undertaken was nearly as challanging. As luck would have it, I managed to get in with a local area high school as a slot opened up for a coach. I was met with dubious looks from faculty, staff, and parents but was chosen due primarily to my experience.

When I met the girls and found out what their regiments of practice and training entailed, I was annoyed to say the least. It was no fault of the students, and ultimately, it wasn't really even the fault of the coaches. But "coach" was not the term that best fit the situation. The would- be coaches were really more of advisors. They were teachers in the district that had been cheerleaders once upon a time at some level, primarily high school, so they brought little to the table as far as new skills. All they knew was what they learned years ago, and even that was hazy. Once again, not their fault, but like playing a game of telephone, the information becomes more and more garbled. What was really unfortunate, is that the girls weren't allowed to stunt, except at non-conference games and events. By stunt I mean pyramids, basket tosses, or if we had any guys at our disposal, even a little one on one partner stunts. So while not only were the girls ground bound, but few of them had any idea how to tumble and once again the current coaches were not at all equipped to teach such skills. My outlook on cheerleaders always was that they were most definately athletes, and my time on a team strongly reaffirmed that. But prohibiting stunts and the inability to teach tumbling confines cheerleaders to the prehistoric stereotype of jumping up and down on the sidelines and yelling with no other purpose. And if that's all you're doing, I got news; you're not an athlete anymore.

Here's the rub; in my cheerleading career, I broke my nose 3 times, took 15 stitches, had more bruises then I care to remember, and usually had a sore or pulled something or other. I broken nose, all stitches, and a lot of pulled or sore muscles came from the tumbing, not the stunting. The injuries that I befell from stunts came from me trying silly garbage or move that were entirely to advanced for me at the time and were usually preceeded by the phrase "hey watch this". The point is this that tumbling is every single inch as dangerous as stunting for all parties concerned. You risk injury every single time you make a tumbling pass. So why is it that tumbling is a fine and well an good?

Odd analogy time; cheering is like a gun. Injuries or even death come when there is no respect and overwhelming curiosity. I have had friends that have had loaded and accessible firearms in their houses their entire lives and never once had any safety issues. There was never any curiosity, and there was always respect for something so potentially dangerous. Stunts and tumbling can be sorted into a similar, but more generic vein because as curious as participants are, they will never be taught the proper, entertaining, and safe way to do any of these things. It's sad. It is sad to me that because would-be coaches are so unfamiliar, incapable, or so far removed from these activites that they can no longer teach, future generations will not learn. And because they will not learn, they miss a huge amount of the fun, excitement, work, and reward that cheering has to offer.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Cutting the Last String

If you are a young child, either young in years or young at heart, you may not want to read any futher. In fact, I would encourage you not to read any more because I am going to speak of Santa now, and well...you may not like it.

Once upon about 13 or so years ago, I sat before a smoldering fire late in the evening with my mother on a peaceful Christmas Eve. We sat, talking of things that didn't really matter and memories of Christmases past, people we missed, friends we were looking forward to seeing, and such. And as the embers began to fade, I became particularly aware of how tired I was.

I was 12 years old, and though I had been sheltered from a number of youthful exploits, but I had little question in my mind that Santa was a figment of youthful imagination. I always have considered Santa to be a real idea, even now at 25. And people can surmise a great deal of comfort, or enjoyment, or anything else they see fit for their own piece of mind. I don't ever want to loose the mysticism or gain the skepticism that would lead me to loose sight of that idea, spirit, or what ever you choose to call it. But on this night, all youthful delusions would be wiped out.

As instinct or maybe reflex would have it, I turn to my mother before I headed up to bed and said "well, do you think I should leave some food out for Santa this year?" And she turns to me as plainly as a person ever could and says "Aw hell I don't know...do I have to eat it this year?" The room fell silent until we errupted into laughter. We laughed because it was funny. We laughed because it was true. We laughed because we knew that we had been mutually humoring one another for several seasons now. We laughed until it wasn't funny anymore, and then laughed some more because we were still laughing at something that was no longer that funny.

And even now, more than a dozen years later, I can't help but giggle at the abrupt ending to every child's holiday understandings.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Thanksgiving Stuff

I don't want to get into writing all kinds of sappy this and that about time that I remember when I was a child. About times that I traced my hand with a crayon and colored it in to look like a turkey. About time that my family sat together and shared things that we were all thankful for. There has always been an alternative reason that makes this holiday my favorite.

There are various religions that find reasons to celebrate events in their histories. Many celebrate different ways. Some may choose to recognize and not formally celebrate at all. I think it's safe to say that Christmas is a front-running holiday when it comes to recognition. By that I mean other religions know what it is or at least that it exists. The Jewish faith has their celebrations, Asian religions may embrace the Tete holiday. We may find people that connect with the the nature of the Ramadan. I think that it is a safer bet still that we could find such people living through out the United States.

What I love about Thanksgiving though, is that it is blind to such circumstances. There is no religion or set of beliefs to which one must subscribe. You could believe in the birth of Christ, Buddah, Muhammad, or what ever gives you comfort. Hell, go outside and worship a maple tree if it suits you. But anyone who chooses to do so may recognize Thanksgiving without the cognative dissonance (you know, that nasty feeling in your gut when something just doesn't feel right?) of separating one's self from one's beliefs.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Everyone Can Play Volleyball

Anyone out there play volleyball? I'm big into volleyball personally. Now I know what you're thinking. "This guy says he can play volleyball so he played in gym class once." Or maybe "Ah yeah...certainly he can play. After all, he did happen to stand on one side of a makeshift court with 8 other people at a family function hacking and stabbing at a ball trying to send it over a net that happens to be about 6 feet high because it came in a volleyball/badmitton set."

Hey, I can dig it and I understand the skepticism. I'm the exact same way. Now I don't mean to sound like a hardass but the facts are these; I played 3 years of club level volleyball at U.C. which has it's own governing body called NIRSA. It's designed for every school that can't have a men's team due to Title IX (and believe me, there will probably be an angry blog about that at some point too) to have an organization to report to and it really helps give a sense of formality to the game. They have standings, Nationals, and even select people to First and Second teams, which is their equivilant to an All American. In my time I had 3 National appearances, with out team finishing as runner-up in my second year and being placed on the first team. When I'm not inside, I'm trying to get together with people on a sand court for pick up or what ever tournaments I can get a partner for. My point is this; I'm extremely serious about volleyball.

I don't like to talk about it in most cases. Reason for being, is that as soon as someone says "volleyball" the conversations generally degenerate to sound like this. "Oh yeah I used to play some sand....yada yada yada." I respond "Oh yeah? Where at? What did you play?" and various other generic questions I toss out there to appease people, trying as best I can to diffuse the conversation. The response is usually "I played in a league at...." inserting what ever bar happens to be close and have a court, and almost invariably the league was 6-person co-ed sand. While I will come under fire from your work-a-day recreational player, anyone who is serious about playing sand volleyball will agree that 6-person co-ed sand at a bar league ain't volleyball! Sorry folks, it's just not.

Now what really cracks me up or makes me roll my eyes depending on the company I'm in, is when people get to talking about playing indoor. Once again, everyone has played something at some level. And that's cool. Get some exposure, play a little ball. Don't get hurt. I'm with ya. But this is where it gets a little tricky. As often as not, someone's played in a co-ed league. But this isn't as telling as 6 people in sand. I've known some pretty hardcore indoor co-ed teams. But my next question almost reflexively is "So what position do you play?" Asking the question is like the 3-1 pitch with 2 outs. It's time for the payoff. Probably better than 90% of the time the answer comes back the same "Oh yeah I'm a setter."

Now this is the point where setters the world over start sending me hate mail, or, if they are really good players and masters of their craft are nodding their heads in agreement and maybe even fighting back a little giggle. Reason? Because of 90% of the people that say that they are setters in casual conversation, maybe 2% of those people really are. And why is it that they choose to say they are setters? Because it's the only daggone position people know exists! Everyone knows pitcher, catch, first base, quarterback, linebacker, or goalie. If someone can really play volleyball, as least most people I know probably don't set, they "dish" or "run the point" or any other number of various slang that could be construed in the proper context to suggest that they are a setter. On the other hand, if someone says "I swing left side" or "I go middle" or "I'm an opposite" then I'm willing to bet every day of the week that they are the real thing. But everyone who has ever heard of volleyball can set.

Didn't know that did you? Imagine what you'll know tomorrow.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Tossing Beanbags and Drinking Beer

There is a game played in Cincinnati, known as cornhole. Now, despite the graphic inuendo and liberal suggestion towards vile acts, it has nothing at all to do with sex. In fact, the game draws it's name for tossing bean bags, originally filled with kernels of corn on to boards a certain distance away with a hole cut near the top. One point for landing a bag on the board, 3 for dropping one through the hole, 4 bags are thrown in alternating turn and points are acrued or rescinded based on where your opponent manages to land their bags. Chances are, you or someone you know has played. Different people call it by different names depending on reigon. Ultimately, it's a more interesting, faster moving, and somewhat safer version of horseshoes. Why is it safer? Because drunken competitive people trying desperately to regain their glory years are not firing heavy, awkward, metal objects at one another with fuzzy eyesight and lacking body control. Where as people have taken stiches in the shin from horseshoes, a 6 ounce beanbag smacking you in the leg it little more than annoying.

So a short time ago, I'm enjoying myself at a co-workers surprise 40th birthday party. True to form, there was nice weather so there had to be a makeshift cornhole tournament. By makeshift tournament I mean a short-handed way to get as many people playing as possible, regardless of "talent" for the game while being able to keep a hand free to eat or drink. By tournament I do not mean an eruption of fragile ego in which gauntlets are thrown in specific spite of the manner in which one makes a bag come to rest on a board 25 feet away. Are you kidding me? Are people really so strung out on this game that we are about to see a 7 person fist fight because someone reached to far on their release? I mean fellas come on...If we're gonna scrap at least say somethin' 'bout somebody's momma.

The day presses on, and I find myself tossing against someone I have never met prior who is throwing with his own set of monogramed beanbags! Wow...last picked at kickball were we? In an attempt to hide my flagrant laughter, I decided to cut away from the action to grab a beer. Trying to be as graceful as I can, I turn to this loon and say "Hey man, I'm grabbing a beer...want one?" You'd have thought I called his baby ugly. Fixing me with a blazing glare he responds as cool as he thinks he can "I don't drink when I'm playing cornhole. And it's rude to hold up the game by leaving." It was always my understanding that the backbone, underlying cause, whole daggone reason to play cornhole was to find an excuse to sit around and drink.

Now clearly at the boiling point, the guys next to us on the "warm up boards"...oh did I forget to mention that? Yeah, these guys are so agressive about throwing 6 oz. bags of corn kernals that instead of playing 2 games at one time, there are warm up boards! The guy next to me bounds into a series of "son of a's" and various other explicatives as he stands nose to nose with the last pick of the last round in the 1976 school yard kickball draft.

At that point, I was done. Time to go home. I will relegate myself to the ranks of Xbox and Coke while the Eastsiders and Westsiders duke it out for utter supremacy of worthless knowledge as it pretains to the game of cornhole all because some guy didn't want a beer.

Saturday, November 05, 2005


When I was 18, I started college as so many high school graduates do. I took what I thought would be my first steps into the world to stake my claim and make myself a career. I remembered feeling like a toddler who was just beginning to walk on his own. Little hands no longer clutched the fingers of a proud parent who walked just behind helping less and less for balance. As fate would have it, on my first orientation day, I met Andy.

Andy was from a bit north of Cincinnati from a small town with little more than 3 stop lights. His simple understandings of complex rationales made people feel comfortable. Fortunately, Andy ended up being not only in my dorm, but living about 5 doors down. Time passed, we got older, eventually we moved out of the dorms only to move in together and share and apartment, and later a house.

We both turned 21 within a little less than a month of one another, and it had always been a published fact in my family that there was to be a trip to Las Vegas, the coolest city in the world, in the summer following my birthday. It only made sense that Andy come along. So, in August of 2001, we embarked on a voyage out west.

For 4 days we were flooded with sensory overloading stimulation. Sights, sounds, smells, tastes, things we would see and say "Well now I've seen everything" only to walk a few hundred feet to stand corrected. But one evening, as we were playing blackjack and considering walking outside to see the Waters of Bellagio, I heard a dull rumble over the commotion of the casino. It sounded vaguely like the crash of bowling pins, but a bit more drawn out. Pushing it from my mind, I focused my attention on the game at hand and my whoping five-dollar bet out on the felt of the table. Nothing but high rollers in this joint. Naturally, the dealer would fill several hands in a row, and with an apologetic smile, thought it in her best interests to take all my chips.

Being dead broke for the moment, Andy and I pressed outside and moved down the strip to take in the dancing waters, when my attention was broken again by a similar rumble. This time it was more definitive and Andy noticed it to. As we took up our positions along the packed street before the megacasino, I began to hear what sounded like rain falling very hard on concrete, only to look up, and see none. We felt nothing, but the hot evening air, but the sound was unmistakable. It was rain, but the ground was dry. It was as if the rain were evaportaing before it hit the ground.

As I glanced to my left down the strip I saw the glistening gold pannels of the Mandalay Bay casino reflecting the setting sun. Loosing all interest in the water before me, the hotel captivated my attention when a shocking bright light burst across the reflection of the sunset and was gone. It happened again, and again, and again, almost simultaneously. A few people around us noticed to it but paid little mind. It wasn't until after all bursts had dissipated that I realized it had been lightning. It had been a brief lightning storm over the middle of the desert, a place that by definition only gets 10 or less inches of rain a year. I lost $500 in 3 days and left content that I saw something that few people would ever see or at least notice.

This was more than 4 years ago, and 2 of those years I have been out of school. It's been even longer than that since I sat and spoke with Andy, in spite of having lived together. His life took him one way, mine took me another, neither of us agreeing with what the others had to offer. He's married now, with a child. At least one that I know of anyway. I miss my friend. I long to see him, to sit and talk with him as though we were still 20 years old with nothing better to do then sit around and figure out how, with 9 months to go, we could negotiate our way in to a place that we had to be 21 gain admittance. But I wonder if now, he remembers then? And the brilliance of a bolt of lightning in the least likely place.