Chuck.

Back in junior high, I decided to try my hand at organized basketball. It was the sport that I grew up around. The Dream Team was big at the time, and everyone in my neighborhood of us would go to the local park for a pick-up game where we would pretend to be one of the members. In my eighth-grade year, I was excited to try out for the junior high varsity squad.

This was going to be my year!

During tryouts, I would hustle for every loose ball, grab every rebound with authority, and make every type of impossible layup that I could to impress the coach. When tryouts were over. The coach said that he would deliberate and paste a list on the locker room floor. I left out of there feeling like I conquered the world — of course I made it!
Until hours later, when I, along with another friend and teammate were summoned into the head coaches’ office:
“Well, I am going to come right out and say it, you two are at the bottom of the varsity list, so I will give you a choice. You either can choose to be on varsity squad were you may not play very much — if at all, or you can play junior varsity as an 8th grader, where you will most likely start. I will give you a day to think about it.”

Both of us looked at each other and said in unison,
“Nope. We don’t need a day, We’ll play junior varsity.”
Truthfully, we did not give a shit which team we played on, we just wanted to play basketball.

Towards the middle of the season, I started noticing a guy sitting awkwardly in the bleachers after halftime of each home game. He would sit with his back on the above bleachers with his elbows pulled up, chest level rested on them — like he was sitting in a Laz-E-Boy. He was lightly swinging a bottle of Diet Coke in one hand, his legs were crossed, and he was wearing a red and light blue jumpsuit. The expression on his face was as if he did not have a care in the world.

Who in the Hell is this joker?!
Whose dad is this?

Each home game, I would often make jokes about the awkward, guy white-haired guy who sat mid-bleacher.

Until one day, one of the varsity players overheard me.

“Dude, that is Chuck White. That is the head coach of the East Anchorage Thunderbirds!”

I will take this time to add context —

The East Anchorage Thunderbirds are a storied team coached by a legend. They literally were the “New York Yankees of Alaska” — everyone loved to hate us. We are talking about a team that not only won the basketball boys state championship almost every year but also had players going to play college ball somewhere in the country. As far as anyone in our school was concerned, making a Thunderbird roster was making it out of any kind of negative environment that you were in.

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I loved my years of high school basketball.

And so, I found my mission: play junior varsity this year, impress the coach with my play while I had him in the audience during the second half, and make a Thunderbird roster when I got to high school.

And, wouldn’t you know it, my sophomore year, I, along with four others made the team.

Let me be clear, there were significant benefits to making the varsity team. You received:

  • A practice jersey with shorts,
  • Travel sweats with your jersey number,
  • A travel jacket and pants embroidered with your name and number (the same red and blue ones that I would see him wear when in junior high), and,
  • Team shoes. Yup. As a sophomore, I had arrived.

What I did not realize was, making the team would be the easiest part of this journey. In the three years that I was on the squad, Coach White would continue to teach me lessons that I would carry with me for the rest of my life.

  1. Although you are small, you can still be mighty: I have no idea what Coach saw in me when he decided to put me on varsity sophomore year. I couldn’t shoot well, my free throw percentage was garbage, and at 5’11”, I played post — where everyone else was 6’2″ and up. Years later when I asked coached why he chose me, he said, “Just because you aren’t six-foot-five does not mean you can’t play like you are six-foot-five.”
  2. Coach them hard, love them harder: A majority of the tactics employed by coach would not be accepted by parents today. He expected a lot from you both on, and off, of the court. If you were not able to perform, keep promises, or take care of responsibilities, he did not have time for you. Being part of his team meant playing your part a system that required maximum time and effort; not everybody was cut out for that system. But if you stayed around long enough, you knew that you were part of a brotherhood – something that was bigger than you.
  3. A measure of a man is not by how much he uses profanity: Although this is true, I do use a lot of profanity still (Sorry, Chuck). Many would watch this man become splittingly mad (seriously, splittingly). But he would never curse. He would stomp his foot or hit his chair, exclaiming, “GOD BLESS IT!” But cursing was beneath him.
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    He was a fierce competitor as a coach. He yelled but never cursed.
  4. Although people are not perfect. It does not mean that you cannot expect it from your athletes. He would always say. “I know we can’t be perfect all of the time, but we can darn sure work towards it.” Coach paid attention to every detail, which is why his teams would execute every offensive and defensive play with precision.
  5. If your athletes make mistakes, it is the coach’s lack of preparation: Coach did not take too kindly to losing; we barely ever did. But he knew that when we did lose, we were not prepared physically, or mentally. So he did everything he could to help us get another victory.
  6. The “Our Father” prayer: He was careful to never participate with us. But he knew how important prayer was. So, every game, he would give us our pre-game talk, then quickly leave so that we had our moment of prayer.
  7. Not to give a damn what other people thought: I have never seen a person who was hated, but loved; respected, yet revered; accepted, but feared. I thought those things could not go together. But they can. And truth be told, I don’t think he gave one damn who was on what side. I watched him chew a ref out, get kicked out of a game, then joke around with the same referee 15 minutes after the game had ended. He never took it personally.
  8. Fake Hustle. This is something that he would yell constantly. (the other thing he would do – call you by your mother’s name while your mother sat behind you, laughing).
  9. Every tough guy has a soft spot: East High teams were known for their defensive schemes. You had to be able to interpret a crazy numbering system he had and be able to carry out any directives to perfection. This system, when done correctly, made our team one of the most feared in the state. This meant that players had to be in their top physical condition in order to keep up with these demands.We ran.A lot.And after we ran, we ran some more.
  10. But there was a way out of running — his daughter showing up to practice. We had finally found his kryptonite. She was the same age as I and would often go to the practices waiting for her father. When she did, he got a big smile on his face and eased up on the crushers. During classes, we would often beg her to show up at the end — before conditioning, of course.
  11. It doesn’t matter if the other team knows your plays, winning is about execution: Anyone who has played for or against a Coach White team knows the plays 2 High (or 4 High), 4 Low, Kentucky, Open and Basic (there were a few others, but it really didn’t deviate from there). So why did they work? How was he so successful? Because there was a lot of autonomy in those plays. There was always an option B, C, and D if A did not work. He played chess while the opposing coach played checkers.

I could go on and on with the lessons both big and small that I learned from Coach White. But, I was not the only athlete that had the privilege to be under his care. Upon his passing, hundreds of men gave testimony to his caring, nurturing, and tough-as-nails discipline. His 914 wins, 18 state titles, and 81 percent winning average pails in comparison to the impact that he left on so many young men. He gave 45 years of coaching and mentorship to a community that so desperately needed it; his wife gave a piece of her husband and gained many sons; his daughter and son gave a piece of their father and gained many brothers. Learning of his death was a sad day for many. A pivotal figure in our lives went to heaven. What a gift he gave us all. Rest in paradise, Coach. We love you.

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You could hear that laugh from a mile away.

#tbirds

#eagles

#family

Diary Entry from a Junior High Dad

Dear Diary,

Junior high sucks so far. First of all, why do the hallways of the school smell like teen spirit, angst, armpit, elbows and toes, and Axe? Every time I walk into a junior high school, I wonder how the custodians are going to clear the building of that smell. Do they open all of the doors and windows to the school for an hour before school starts and for an hour after school ends?

Nope. That odor is in the paint. Yup, definitely in the paint.

Like seriously, what is going on here?! First of all, my loving, innocent child is now doing everything to not noticeably be my child.

Attitude

She rolls her eyes at me;

she sucks her teeth at me;

she is constantly mumbling under her breath after I tell her to do the smallest task;

and, she has become a parenting guru — often stating how other parents “do not treat their children this way.”

This child is literally walking around my house as if I don’t pay for shit – like I am not her lifeline – like I am only her landlord, and she is my tenant. She barely looks up at her phone when discussing anything with us.

Cell Phone

Yes, the phone: The social connection with the virtual outside world that is ironically keeping her from physically connecting with the actual outside world. It is like pulling teeth to get her to part with that thing.

When an actual person talks to her, like, I don’t know, her mother and me; she stays fixated on the phone, smiling. The only time I get a response is when she looks up at me — usually with a scowl.

Screw it, she should move out. That will show her.

Shit. That is illegal.

Wait. Is it?

Chores

The chores are always half-assed completed. For example:

“Hey, can you put this in the garbage in the kitchen for me?”

(looks up from her phone, the one I pay for, sucks teeth) “Fine. Whatever.”

“Hey, thanks.”

(inaudible mumble)

Where do I find that item that was supposed to be in the garbage? Oh look, it is on the damn counter!

Next to the garbage can.

She’s trying to kill me.

Yup, that’s it. She is trying to kill me. She wants my blood pressure to go through the roof. She is trying to make me have a cardiac arrest. That has to be it – because there is no viable reason why she would be doing this to me, right?

Wait.

Money

There is a positive. My child is sweet to me when she wants money. Yup, money is definitely a motivator. I can get her to do a lot of chores for a dollar.

But she wants a $10 bill? Oh, hell, no!

Ope, there we go. I am the biggest asshole in the world again. I can hear her saying it under her breath.

And really? The entire world? All the people in this world, and I am the biggest asshole?

On second thought, maybe she is right, but that is not the point.

Holy shit, we are not even halfway through the year!

Pray for us.

A Force to be Reckoned With

When I was in junior high, I had the opportunity to take part in an accelerated language arts program. This meant that I was able to handle a bigger workload and take on more responsibility. The teacher was a plump man with a round face, facial hair, and a ponytail that went down to the middle of his back. He looked like the type of guy who loved books.

No, I love books.

I mean, LOOOOVES books.

The first assignment he gave us on the very first day of school (really, who does that!) was to read Fahrenheit 451 within the first two weeks of school. As I shockingly gazed at the thickness of the book, along with the “further required reading” list that accompanied the book. I knew that this class wasn’t for me.

I went to my counselor.

So my counselor took me out of the program and placed me in one of the regular classes. I walked into the class and gave the transfer sheet to the teacher. This was no ordinary teacher, this was a woman — a black woman, which was weird because I had only ever once encountered a black female teacher throughout my academic career (at that point).

She took the slip from me.

“Mmmmm-hmm. You can sit over there.”

I sat — still in shock.

She had a personality that was bigger than life, she had a loud, booming voice, she had a slight southern twang to her voice, and she did not take shit from anyone.

…and I mean anyone.

To tell the truth, I was scared of this woman for the first quarter of the school year. Every time she asked for a volunteer, I sank a little lower in my seat. When she wanted one of the students to diagram a sentence, I would stare directly at my paper, trying my damnedest not to make eye contact. When it was time to go, I would hurriedly get my shit together and get the hell out of that room.

One day, everything changed. That day, I did not get my shit together fast enough.

“How come you never give the answer?”

She smiled.

Oh, shit.

“What do you mean?”

“I know you have the answer. I know you came from the accelerated class. You need to start answering the questions in class. Don’t hide your genius.”

I was confused as hell. Although I have been trying to avoid her, she has been paying attention to me.

“Tell your mom and your sister, I said hello.”

Fuck.

From that moment on, she would push me academically and personally. She would be one of the most influential people in my life — often giving me lessons not only on being a man but a black man as well. She would teach me about responsibility, she would teach me about perseverance, and she would also teach me about respect for myself and for others. I had a mother at home, and I had a mother at school.

What started out as a teacher to student relationship would years later become a relationship as colleagues as I was hired in the same district that I grew up in, and that she still taught in. What I did not know was that she was always looking out for me and doing what she could to give me every opportunity to succeed.

Sixteen years after I sat in her classroom, moved to another state, and started a family, I embarked on a mission to attain my doctoral degree. In the orientation class, we were tasked with writing a letter of appreciation to the person who got you to this point. To tell the truth, many helped me along the way. But there was one person who took it upon herself to not only discuss just how successful I could be but to hold me to a higher standard based on that potential.

I found out that Mrs. Francine Jackson passed away on May 11th.  I never knew if she received that letter in particular, but I think she knew the impact that she would have on my life and the lives of countless students in our area. I can only hope that I am living my life in a way that would do her memory justice.

14 Years of Marriage to an Extrovert

The following post was written and submitted by my uber-talented wife, Heather…

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Nothing surprises me.  It’s not because my husband is all that predictable.  No, he’s acted on plenty of off the wall ideas during the tenure of our marriage.  It’s just that I’ve come to expect literally anything from him.  What will David do today?  Will he buy a foosball table?  Will he spray paint our patio furniture on our concrete driveway?  Will he go to Scheel’s and to purchase NDSU jerseys for our daughters while I am in the hospital in labor with one of them?  Will he snap his Achilles’ tendon when I’m 39 weeks pregnant?  Will he claim that Trey’s interest in the game is what drives him to continue playing Pokémon Go?  Will he join an adult soccer league in a fit of a midlife crisis?  Will his plan of attack for any problem or situation be totally different than the one I would choose?  The answer to all of these questions is:  Yes.  And I’m not surprised.

A few years ago, I told David I thought we should write each other a love poem for Valentine’s Day.  We’re both English teachers; we can admire a beautiful piece of writing.  Why shouldn’t we immortalize our love in verse?  He said no; but I suspected he was secretly creating his masterpiece so I started work on my own.  Valentine’s Day came and went and neither of us mentioned the poems.  But I wasn’t surprised when I woke up on February 15th and saw that he had posted his free verse, narrative, comical, yet sincere litany of love 11:59pm the night before.  This is my life with an extrovert; it’s what I’ve come to expect.  That evening, in true introvert fashion, I presented him privately with a compact ten-line poem complete with couplets.

 

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Not much ever changes.

 

Fast forward to mid-November that year.  A few days after giving birth to our fourth child, David went to Fargo to see a tattoo artist.  He wanted to incorporate Reese’s name into an existing tattoo.  I want to take a moment to describe the state I was in when he came home that evening.  I was six days into recovery from my third C-section and my body was in shambles.  I couldn’t yet tie my shoes and stairs hurt.  Child number four hadn’t yet slept more than two hours in a row and I was nursing exclusively.  November is a tough time to have a baby.  The first three had summer birthdays; it’s easier to enter into new motherhood when daylight isn’t in short supply.  Once the November sun goes down, a feeling of hopelessness set in and the nights were long.  When David returned from his tattoo appointment late that afternoon, it was already dark.  “I have a surprise for you!” he crooned, grinning.  I asked the only question a woman in my state could: “What?  Did you get me a burrito from Qdoba?”  My recollection of the new few minutes plays back in slow motion.  He peels back the plastic covering his arm to reveal a new tattoo.  My poem is forever memorialized on my husband’s forearm.  I was surprised, speechless and horrified.

In Susan Cain’s Ted Talk about introversion, she says that we all fall at different points along the introvert/extrovert spectrum and that no one is a pure introvert or a pure extrovert.  This is true, but there’s a good amount of distance between David’s “dot” on that line and mine.  It’s one of the things I love about him and it keeps marriage interesting.  Just like that old Diamond Rio song and so many aspects of our union, “Meet in the Middle” and “that’s what love’s about.”   Happy anniversary, honey.

 

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So far, it has been one hell of a ride.

 

The Letter She Received this Morning

Look at you! My first-born in her first varsity competition! I have dreamed about this day since you were born… although I did not think it would come this soon.

You were so nervous when you found out that you were chosen, you freaked out and started crying. You started the dangerous game of playing all of the “what if” scenarios in your head.

What if I miss?

What if I do the wrong thing?

What if I suck?

It was funny to watch such a composed girl, a girl who I have viewed countless times score baskets in numerous situations, freak out about something that seems so trivial.

But then I remember how young you are. I often forget that. You have conducted yourself in such a way that it is easy for anyone to forget that you are a year or more younger than girls in your grade.

As you are traveling to the venue, I know you are nervous, so I am going to give you some advice:

• You are going to suck; embrace it – It is your first crack at some real competition. Newsflash: you may not win. The coach believes in you but understands that you are very green. You do not have a target on your back, so you are in a low risk/high reward situation. Just go out there and compete.

• Have fun in the moment – There are many who would love to be in your shoes. Next week, it could be someone else; but today, it is all you. Live in the moment, and everything will be fine.

• Take notes – There is going to be a lot of good athletes out there. Most of them have been playing this sport a lot longer than you. Take notes on the best or the ones that you favor. Look at their routines, study their approaches, emulate their techniques so that later you can make those same techniques work for you.

• Do not try to live up to any other athletes’ standard – As I said before, these athletes have been doing this a lot longer than you have. Don’t try too hard to outplay them. You are here to gain varsity experience so that you can learn the game at a different level and with a different pace. If you make this a head game, you will be terrible. Relax, slow down, and play like this is recreational. Winning is nice, but it is not the point.

• It is really about the small victories – Playing a sport that you just picked up 2 months ago is a win; daring to join the school team is a win; being chosen for varsity is a win. Enjoy the small victories. The big ones will come later, don’t look for them now. If they happen – great, but if they don’t, learn from it, count yourself fortunate, and move on.

Your mother and I are proud of you. And we cannot wait to hear about the day.

Now, go have fun.

It is not you, it is me… Promise.

Where have I been? Yes, I know, I have not written a post for a while.
I took a break this summer. I took some “me” time. I did this for one primary reason:
I am selfish.
I don’t feel ashamed.
I don’t owe anybody an apology.
I needed time.
I am a husband, I am a father, I am a coach of many disciplines, an educator, a doctoral student, I am a school board member, a committee member, a writer, and a very active community member – I wear a lot of hats.
I do it gladly – I love being busy, I love having projects, and I love giving myself to others.
But, unfortunately, I burned out.
I found out that I was pulling myself in too many directions, which made me less effective in all other aspects; but most importantly, I was not an effective father or husband. And that is not okay.
So I put all of my responsibilities aside. I walked away from everything.
Except for family.
Family is essential, and we must place emphasis on spending as much time with them as possible. Kids grow up, parents work, significant others get busy. It is too easy to let the time fly by due to everyday “business of life.”
I refused to let that happen. So, I made a conscious decision:
I traveled with family.

 

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If you have not been to Folklorama, you are really missing out.

I explored.

 

 

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Canadian Museum of Human Rights – Winnipeg, Manitoba.

I lived with reckless abandon.

 

 

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I did not get a hole-in-one, but I did split a golf ball in half.

I learned a lot about my kids’ lives.

 

 

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Never too young for a checkers beat-down.

And…
I reconnected with my wife.

 

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It was awesome.
The moral of this story? We all get super busy with life. Make sure you take the time to see what is around you; not just what is in front of you. We are constantly reminded that we do not have very many years on this earth. Make sure you take the time to reflect on what is essential and what is sacred. If there is something that you want to do; someplace you wish to see; someone that you want to spend time with – do it!
I know what you are going to say, “Not everyone has the time and/or resources to cast responsibility aside…”
…And I will gladly call bullshit on that statement… mostly because it is the easy answer.
Yes, we only have 16 hours in our day. A good portion of that day is taken up with employment. But that still leaves us time to practice the things to which I am speaking – we just have to make it a priority.
Just make sure you fill your own bucket first.

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1 Difference is Just as Good as 100

So, I had this idea: why don’t I use my non-profit as a vehicle to create an opportunity for fathers or father-figures to read to their children. Afterward, both could go to a local restaurant and enjoy a root beer float together.

…And so I planned, I networked, I advertised. I played and replayed all possible scenarios, which all pointed to a successful event.

On the day of the event, I waited at the venue for people to flood the event. Slam Dunk!

One hour in and only one person came to enjoy the opportunity.

What the Hell?

This seemed like a slam dunk to me. Why wouldn’t a person take 15 minutes out of their schedule to read to their child? The way I see it, it’s a win-win for our community! Kids are read to, thus increasing their brain capacity; the local public library gains more readership, and a local restaurant gains patrons. I sat on the step wondering where I went wrong.

One hour in, I was ready to walk away.

But, just then, I see a father and his daughter walk in and grab a book.

Shit! A glimmer of hope. Would you look at that?

After choosing a book, they both walk outside, sit together under the gazebo, and read together.

…and that made it all worth it.

Maybe the event did not work out as I wanted it to…

Maybe I should have done a better job planning within the logistical side…

Maybe I should have been more aggressive with my advertising – shook a few more hands/handed out more materials.

I could “maybe” this thing all day. Grasping at what went wrong.

What I do know is that I possibly helped make a difference in that little girl’s life. She got to spend quality time with her father, under the gazebo.

Today, she and her father possibly made a memory.

I won.

 

To Be Young, Gifted and Black…

By now, you have either seen or heard it…

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/05/08/mayor-reportedly-said-her-city-isnt-ready-black-leader-council-member-went-further/?utm_term=.e70aa4383b15

Yes. Discrimination is everywhere. Racism is everywhere.

But, it is no longer the person who stands outside your house and burns a cross in your front yard; it is no longer the person who calls you a nigger (or some variation of it) to your face; it is not in the signage around town that prohibits you from using a certain fountain, or entering through the front door of a business. It is systematic. It is when people accept the status quo; It is when people say, “Well, that is how it has always been.” It is when people stand by and refuse to get involved because it is “none of their business.”

There is one line that hit me really hard in this article.

“I can’t imagine anyone is going to be applying for anything in that city anytime soon,” Fuller said. “I can’t imagine businesses are going to want to move in there with the current leaders in City Hall.”

This is where I will concentrate this post.

I live in a town where few African Americans live. Are there people in the town who are blatantly racist? no. Have I been discriminated against and denied opportunities because of my race? yes, but mostly because of the ingrained ignorance that sometimes exists within the community. Ignorance that allows people to discriminate against ethnic minorities.

Most unknowingly. But they do not get a pass.

…which is why it is my duty to make sure that they have no choice but to see me for who I am.

Young, Gifted, and Black.

I did not ask to be black, but I am. My parents taught me that being black comes with responsibilities:

You must be the best.
You must work the hardest.
You must put yourself in a position where saying no hurts them, not you.
If you can help it, you must live to see another day.

When they told me these responsibilities, they did not say:

You must be better than white people.
You must work harder than white people…

It was indiscriminate. They meant all people.

My parents made me realize that being black was the best gift my ancestors ever gave me. I, along with others, get the responsibility of carrying centuries of history on my back. My people were built for this; we made the world go around, we made economies grow, we built cities from the ground up.

And I am the fruit of all of that labor.

I will teach your children,
I will coach your children,
I will sit on your boards and councils,
I will create your businesses, and (God willing), I will be called Doctor.

I will do this because there are more like me. There are more blacks that are driven to accomplish the same goals that I want to accomplish. More brothers and sisters who believe that accomplishing these goals are a responsibility that is owed to our people – a responsibility to your people as well. Your community is not whole without us.

So, although the community in this article may not have been ready, I hope you are ready; you don’t have a choice.

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