FAST Blast: Reflecting on sports, holiness and Messiah College soccer

01/25/2017

Related post:
Intangibles at heart of stellar Messiah College soccer program

+++

FOR THE MOMENT, let’s view sports through the prism of the scientific method and examine the following statement: The Messiah College soccer program is successful.

Which multiple-choice option most accurately describes that statement:

A. Hypothesis
B. Theory
C. Accepted Fact

If your knowledge of Messiah College soccer is minimal or nil, you have no choice but to choose A — such is the scientific method. However, if you’re conversant with Messiah soccer and/or the Division III soccer landscape, you know the indisputable answer is C.

Indeed, Messiah is a small-college soccer powerhouse. To say the program is successful is clearly far more fact than theory — it’s akin to saying New Jersey is on the East Coast, or water is wet, or the grass is green on Messiah’s Shoemaker Field.

Here is the evidence, by the numbers, for the success of the Messiah women’s soccer program:

• 12 Final Fours
• 5 national championships
• 9 national championship games overall
• 17 straight NCAA tournaments
• 6 undefeated seasons
• Conference regular-season record, past 17 seasons: 113-0-3
• Record under coach Scott Frey: 362-20-20

Coach Frey has been at the helm for those 17 seasons, from 2000 to 2016. To my knowledge, his winning percentage at Messiah is the best in college soccer history among coaches with 10-plus years of experience — across NCAA Divisions I, II and III.

Those five national championships are tied (with UC San Diego) for the most in NCAA D-III women’s soccer history; the first championship game was played in 1986.

And here is the evidence, by the numbers, for the success of the Messiah men’s soccer program:

• 12 Final Fours
• 10 national championships
• 10 national championship games overall
• 19 NCAA tournaments in past 20 years

Those 10 national championships are the most in men’s college soccer history — across NCAA Divisions I, II and III — and the first D-III championship game was played in 1974.

Which program has the most national championships in college soccer history, across all divisions? The D-I North Carolina women, with 21.

By the way, you’ve likely noticed the 12-year delay between the first D-III men’s title game and the first women’s title game. Apparently, Title IX didn’t get an invite to that NCAA dance for a dozen years.

Note: The above info is based on statistics from the NCAA and Messiah websites — and since my daughter Kayla just completed her Messiah career, I naturally have more interest in the women’s program … so consider the additional women’s stats a minor coup for Title IX.

+++

Moreover, the Messiah men’s and women’s soccer programs share a singular distinction: The two teams have won national championships in the same year. No other college or university soccer program in the country can claim such synchronized titles — in NCAA Divisions I, II or III.

Accomplishing that unprecedented feat once, however, wasn’t enough for Messiah soccer. Twice wasn’t enough, either. Or thrice.

When you blaze a trail to the mountaintop and the view is magnificent, why not make the trek again … and again?

The Messiah men’s and women’s soccer programs have won national championships in the same year four times — in 2005, 2008, 2009 and 2012.

Widening the scope to all college sports reveals that only two other schools join Messiah in the Men’s-Women’s Same-Sport/Same-Year National Championship Club. The closest competition: Connecticut men’s and women’s basketball. Both programs captured Division I national titles in 2004 and 2014.

The other club member: In 1984 the University of Central Missouri, known then as Central Missouri State, won the men’s and women’s Division II basketball titles.

To review — and pay attention closely in case there’s a test — here’s the tally for dual national titles:

Messiah College, 4 — all other NCAA schools, 3

Note: If I’ve missed another college that has dual titles, please let me know — based on my knowledge and research, these three schools are the only members of this exceedingly exclusive club.

+++

Some of the terms employed in this post — singular, distinction, exclusive — dovetail with one of my earlier posts:
Who wants to be holy? Reflections on sports and holiness

The gist of that post is this premise: Root words indicate that to be holy means to be set apart and distinct, and we can glean lessons about holiness from the world of sports.

That concept applies exquisitely to Messiah soccer and the statistics associated with the men’s and women’s programs. Their success sets them apart — makes them, in the root-word sense, holy.

While Messiah’s soccer numbers are staggering, both programs quantify big-picture success in ways that can be measured only outside the lines. Naturally, as a Christian college, Messiah’s goals for holiness go beyond scoring goals and winning games.

Yet some might question: Why would anyone want to be holy?

This view may perceive holiness as boring or needlessly rule-based. Some critics perceive a holier-than-thou attitude in the church and cite that as a reason to dismiss the Christian faith.

But Jesus of Nazareth had a distaste for that type of holiness, too.

Remember the root words mentioned above: Holiness means being set apart and distinct. Another root word: wholeness. Yes, to be holy is to be whole.

This begs a different question: Why would anyone not want to be holy?

In other words, who wouldn’t want to realize the distinction of a record-setting athletic program (or fill in the blank with your enterprise of choice)? And who wouldn’t want to experience the wholeness symbolized by a well-trained athlete on a field of play?

So … here’s a further question: How can we acquire the holiness we desire?

Perhaps there are as many answers to that query as there are philosophies, religions and worldviews.

Messiah women’s soccer (or MWS) has a tradition of closing the season with a celebration banquet. Each senior speaks and articulates the program’s core values — for one, investing in relationships — and notes the astonishing impact those friendships have on the team’s success. They also speak of the One they believe is the source of all true friendship, and all true holiness: Jesus of Nazareth.

One of my daughter’s teammates says: “I know my life wouldn’t be what it is now without the caring hearts of my best friends who taught me, guided me, listened to me, shared with me, and above all showed me what the unconditional grace and love of Christ looks like.”

She continues, “MWS is so not about soccer. Sure, it brings us together, but our God is at the root of it all.”

My daughter’s comments about MWS coincide with those sentiments (also quoted in my previous post, but worth repeating here):

“I saw friendships that were marked by a willingness to care for the other in radical, sacrificial ways. Most importantly, what I found was the foundation from which all these actions stemmed — the desire to love God and love others. Although soccer is what brought our team together, that is not the foundation of our program. Our goal is to point back to God…”

These teammates and friends attest that the Creator of the universe is the foundation for the excellence that infuses Messiah College soccer — they see God’s reality not as a hypothesis or theory, but as an established fact.

Of course, not every college, Christian or secular, enjoys the success of Messiah’s soccer programs. It’s safe to say that believing in God doesn’t guarantee on-field success, or any other kind of success as defined by society.

Yet when an individual or a team struggles — as the Messiah women did early this past season before making a run to the national title game — these players and coaches also see God as the source of the perseverance needed to continue pursuing excellence as He defines it … and to not give up.

Do you long for wholeness and excellence — for holiness? Where do you believe that longing comes from?

And what is your hypothesis for how such holiness can be attained?

© Bruce William Deckert 2017

FAST Blast: Intangibles at heart of stellar Messiah College soccer program

01/02/2017

’Tis the season.

Not for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc. That holiday season is history — until next December, anyway.

In the American sports world, ’tis the season for … well, you know: basketball, hockey and football — though for football, ’tis the postseason.

But wait — ’tis the season for the other football. In the United States it’s called soccer, of course, but whichever term you prefer, it is undeniably the world’s most popular sport. Leagues across Europe and the world are in the thick of their campaigns, from the Premier League (England) to Ligue 1 (France) to the Bundesliga (Germany) to Serie A (Italy) to La Liga (Spain).

Meanwhile, American soccer is in its offseason after championships were decided in December both professionally (Major League Soccer) and collegiately (three NCAA divisions plus other associations).

My focus is on one of those college divisions, NCAA D-III women’s soccer, and I’ll spotlight one Division III team: the Messiah College Falcons.

+++

Early last month, the Messiah women reached the national championship game — which ended in a pulse-pounding 1-1 tie after two overtimes — and then fell 5-4 in penalty kicks to Washington-St. Louis.

The Falcons went on a steamrolling run through the regular season and the NCAA tournament. After starting the season with a 2-2 record, the Messiah women won 20 straight games — including the tournament — and advanced to the Final Four by going on the road to defeat defending champ Williams.

FYI: My daughter Kayla just completed her senior season at Messiah, in case you were wondering whether I chose this team at random.

She was a central defender as a junior and senior, and a wingback/fullback as a freshman and sophomore. I would list her career accomplishments, but then I suspect I’d be diagnosed with Proud-Obnoxious-Father Syndrome.

Besides, my focus is on the program and the ideals it aims for — and often fulfills, according to those who know the program best. And who knows it best? The players, naturally.

At the end-of-season team banquets I’ve attended, a consistent theme has been voiced by graduating seniors (each speaks at the banquet): Coaches care about the players as people first and soccer players second.

These seniors refer to the program’s core values — such as putting team before individual, investing in relationships, pursuing excellence — and thank coaches for living lives that are worth emulating on and off the field.

Seniors speak of friendships forged with teammates — through sharing day-to-day life and the crucible of offseason training and the pure joy of zany team events such as Halloween costume competitions. Speaking of training: 20 straight 200-yard sprints, anyone?

Here’s a sample of what my daughter said in her speech:

“I think about the teammates who went far beyond the surface level and saw who I really am — the way girls intentionally pursue relationships with one another. I see a group of people who love to be together, plain and simple. I couldn’t be more grateful for my four years in this program. It was a dream of mine for a while [to play at Messiah], but the reality of being a Messiah women’s soccer player surpasses anything I could have imagined.”

By the way, the emphasis on cultivating healthy and strong relationships hasn’t come at the expense of success in the win-loss department — far from it. In fact, you can make a case that such an emphasis has been a key reason for the program’s amazing achievements.

Sure, too much water will hurt a garden — just as out-of-kilter relationships can damage a team — but the right amount of free-flowing water is, safe to say, essential for a garden’s well-being.

How successful is Messiah women’s soccer in the record book?

Led by coach Scott Frey, the program has won five national championships, the first in 2005 and the next four coming in a five-year span from 2008 to 2012. To my knowledge, his winning percentage at Messiah (in the .930 range) is the best in college soccer history across all divisions among coaches with 10-plus years of experience.

My daughter’s class finished with a four-year record of 86-6-7 — with plenty of help, of course, from other classes. If you’re keeping score at home, here are the season-by-season marks:

2016 — 22-3
2015 — 22-0-3
2014 — 22-0-3
2013 — 20-3-1

The impressive distinction of such numbers goes hand in hand with players’ testimonies about their growth outside the lines, thanks to the impact of coaches and teammates. It’s no wonder that one of my daughter’s classmates said in her speech that Messiah is “the greatest place in the country to play soccer” — a sentiment expressed by many student-athletes who have appreciated the program’s fusion of deep friendships and extraordinary soccer.

This remarkable blend dovetails with the college’s athletic mission:

The Department of Athletics at Messiah College seeks to develop Christian character while pursuing athletic excellence. In doing so, the Department fulfills Messiah College’s mission to educate men and women toward maturity of intellect, character, and Christian faith.

In addition to the team banquet, my daughter was among the players who spoke at the NCAA D-III Final Four banquet in December. While parents weren’t invited — the event was for the eight Final Four teams — I read her speech.

(If the phrase eight Final Four teams is jarring to your mathematical sensibilities, the solution is easier than you might imagine: The banquet was for the men’s and women’s Final Four. Now, back to your regularly scheduled post…)

Note how this excerpt of her speech is a real-life, real-time example of Messiah’s athletic department mission:

“I noticed a coaching staff who demanded our absolute best on the field, but who also invested in our character development. At practice, leading meant being the first person to get water, pick up cones and move goals…”

“I saw friendships that were marked by a willingness to care for the other in radical, sacrificial ways. Most importantly, what I found was the foundation from which all these actions stemmed — the desire to love God and love others. Although soccer is what brought our team together, that is not the foundation of our program. Our goal is to point back to God…”

Coach Frey has summed up Messiah women’s soccer this way: “We’re playing a sport we love, with teammates we love, for a God we love.”

+++

For those who believe in God — soccer fans or not — perhaps you’re ready to say “amen.”

For those who don’t believe in God — skeptics or otherwise — perhaps you’re prone to question or dismiss such talk.

I grew up in the church, and I’m aiming to persevere in the church, yet I have wrestled with faith questions for most of my life. Of course, the writers of Scripture express plenty of questions along with their affirmations of faith.

So while this blog post has arrived at a natural stopping place — and is lengthy enough already — I invite you to stay tuned for a follow-up post on some life-and-faith motifs that are interwoven with Messiah soccer.

P.S. To receive an email notice when there’s a new post, you can enter your email address on the top right of this blog. I average about one post per month; the max I’ll post is one per week.

© Bruce William Deckert 2017

Follow-up post:
Reflecting on sports, holiness and Messiah College soccer

All-Name Teams #19

10/31/2016

Featuring names from across the world of sports

“I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.” — Nelson Mandela

All-Holy Team 2
Jahvid Best — football
Vontaze Burfict — football
Eric LeGrand — football
Mike Singletary — football
Jayson Werth — baseball

All-Horror Team 2
Danny Gorrer — football
Igor Olshansky — football
Deaysean Rippy — football
James Skelton — baseball
Casper Ware — basketball

All-Saints Team 2
Isaiah Canaan — basketball
Ezequiel Lavezzi — soccer
Paulus Moses — boxing
Joakim Noah — basketball
Elijah Qualls — basketball

Procedural Note — If you’re wondering why there are five people per team, it’s simple … basketball was my favorite sport as I was growing up, and since the rules of basketball (last time I checked) allow five players per team on the court, I’m going with five-person teams.

Bruce William Deckert

All-Name Teams #18

09/30/2016

Featuring names from across the world of sports

All-Fire Team
Ricky Burns — boxing
Mike Fiers — baseball
Jakub Kindl — hockey
Justin Smoak — baseball
Shona Thorburn— basketball
“I have come to set the world on fire, and I wish it were already
burning!”

All-Time Team
Austin Daye — basketball
Briann January — basketball
Brandon Morrow — baseball
Jeff Saturday — football
Kevin Weekes — hockey
“And remember that I am always with you, until the end of time.”

All-Way Team
Wayne Hedgpeth — boxing
Mollie Pathman — soccer
Tuffy Rhodes — baseball
Huston Street — baseball
Wayman Tisdale — basketball
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father
except through me.”

• Related quotes — Jesus of Nazareth

FAST Blast: Revisiting Derek Redmond’s extraordinary Olympic story (replay)

08/07/2016

Since the Rio Olympics are underway, it’s an appropriate time to replay the Olympic-themed post I wrote four years ago this month in conjunction with the London Games — in fact, it’s the post that launched this blog. (Full disclosure: I’ve revised the below version slightly.) The story is essentially timeless, and I hope you find it worthwhile.

Originally Posted: August 2012

PREGAME TALK — Welcome to A Slow Life in the FAST Lane. The stars of this blog, faith and sports, need no introduction. And for those who think, “I’m not a person of faith and I’m definitely not religious” — that’s an understandable sentiment, but think again!

Consider these dictionary definitions: Religion is “something of overwhelming importance to a person: football is his religion.” Further: Religion is “something a person believes in devotedly” — and aren’t we all devoted to someone and/or something? I think so. …

Once more, welcome — read, vote, comment as you wish … and
play ball!

Bruce Deckert

+++

TWO DECADES LATER, a riveting Olympic story still resonates.

This story echoes like a starter’s gun across the tracks and fields of time, signaling dreams deferred and shattered — and then, after the heartbreak, dreams somehow restored and reborn.

This story pulsates with an afflicted runner’s energy, reverberates with raw emotion, celebrates the never-give-up Olympic ethos.

This is the true-life tale of Derek Redmond.

The setting: the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
The event: the 400-meter dash (semifinal).
The backstory: Redmond’s career was beset by Achilles tendon injuries and surgeries, and at the Beijing Games in ’88 a tendon injury forced him to withdraw moments before his first race. Four long years later, some considered the 26-year-old British sprinter a medal favorite…

The TV coverage leading up to Redmond’s semifinal reminds viewers how he missed the ’88 Games and documents how hard he trained to return to Olympic glory.

Redmond starts strong — but after about 150 meters injury strikes again, this time a torn right hamstring. Devastated, he kneels on the track. When medical staff come to him, he decides to keep going. Rising to his feet, he begins to hobble along — and I mean hobble.

“The thought that went through my mind — as crazy as it sounds now — was, ‘I can still catch them,'” Redmond says. “I just remember thinking to myself, ‘I’m not going to stop. I’m going to finish this race.'”

What happens next is an indelible Olympic moment.

A man descends from the stands to the track and, getting past security, chases Redmond from behind. A crazed spectator, perhaps?

The man catches up with the limping sprinter … and puts his arm around Redmond’s shoulder.

The man is Derek’s Dad.

“The old man went to put his arms around me,” Derek says, “and I was just about to try and push him off because I thought it was someone else — I didn’t see him, he sort of jogged from behind. And he said, ‘Look, you don’t need to do this. You can stop now, you haven’t got nothing to prove.’ And I said, ‘Oh, I have — now get me back into Lane 5. I want to finish.’”

Jim Redmond wants his son to stop in case he’s able to recover and compete in the 4×400-meter relay for the British team that won gold at the ’91 World Championships.

But Derek is determined to complete the course, so his Dad says, “Well then, we’re going to finish this together.”

Derek continues his strange and moving race, with his Dad’s arm draped around him (and vice versa). As they walk around the track together, Derek is overcome by the emotion of the moment and his tears flow freely. He sobs at intervals, leaning on his Dad’s shoulder.

“You just knew how destroyed he was and just how much that race meant to him,” says Sally Gunnell, the British women’s team captain in ’92 who won gold in the 400-meter hurdles. “It’s … a picture that just stays in your mind forever.”

Meanwhile, 65,000 fans stand and applaud — and some weep along with Derek. When father and son reach the cusp of the finish line, Dad releases his hold and Derek crosses the line solo.

In a postrace interview, Jim Redmond says, “He had to finish, and I was there to help him finish. … We started his career together, and I think we should finish it together.”

+++

A standing ovation.

Why such rousing applause for an injured athlete who won neither a race nor a medal? The answer, I believe, is simple: This story reflects the deep yearning of the human heart.

Twenty years ago, I was awestruck at the glimpse Derek Redmond’s story gives into the message of the Christian faith.

Yes, I grew up in the Church, and I’m persevering in the Church. As someone who subscribes to the historic Christian faith, while aiming to avoid its caricatures and counterfeits, I believe there are solid reasons why a genuine biblical worldview makes all the sense in the world. Yet I also continue to wrestle with questions — by the way, I reckon I’d have questions whatever worldview I embraced — and one of them is the timeless query that’s older than Mount Olympus: What, really, is the meaning of life?

Naturally, the world’s various faiths, worldviews and philosophies all give an answer, and so do people who consider themselves nonreligious — and while everyone is at it, could someone also answer the mystifying question of how on earth the Yankees lost to the Red Sox in the 2004 ALCS? No MLB team had ever surrendered a 3-0 series lead before. It still seems surreal — are we sure it actually happened?

But I digress … back to the standing O for Derek and his Dad: Do the messages of other worldviews elicit such a deep human response?

Let’s imagine a couple of parallel-universe versions of Derek Redmond’s story.

After his hamstring snapped, what if Derek had sat on the track and penned a poem about the meaninglessness of life, or cursed his fate, or smiled in the face of his misfortune — and then hobbled into the tunnel under the stadium, never to be seen again?

Spectators might have considered him stoic, perhaps quasi-heroic — but would they have been moved to stand and applaud with abandon? If each human being departs into nothingness, as atheism proclaims, is the human heart moved to high praise?

What if Derek had sat on the track, accepted his suffering bravely, and disappeared into the stadium tunnel … and then another sprinter emerged from the tunnel? But an announcement was made that this new sprinter was Derek in another form. And this occurred over and over, a la some types of pantheism.

Spectators might have been heartened about Derek’s ever-new opportunity to run the race. Still, do New Age philosophies and pantheistic religions such as Hinduism — replete with the professed hope of reincarnation, yet also the apparent loss of individuality — provide a personal narrative that moves people to weep openly at a father’s intervention?

What of Christian theism — does it furnish a framework for a resounding ovation as a father’s heart responds to his child’s pain?

The parable of the Prodigal Son gives us more than an inkling.

In the incarnation, God enters the arena of human history, coming alongside hurting human beings and offering to guide us home. In the crucifixion, Jesus of Nazareth experiences human suffering as the Son of Man and the Son of God, sharing all our wounds and heartache while enduring hamstring (and heart) replacement surgery for our sake, sans anesthesia. In the resurrection, Jesus achieves brand-new life — physically, athletically and otherwise — on the other side of the finish line called death.

British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge once declared: “Every happening, great and small, is a parable whereby God speaks to us, and the art of life is to get the message.”

That statement resonates with me. True, Derek Redmond’s Olympic moment doesn’t answer all my questions about the meaning of life, but it does offer a clue — some athletic forensic evidence in the case of a lifetime … a case about which we all will make a decision.

Do you think God speaks through Derek Redmond’s Olympic story? Or do you believe such occurrences are unlikely or impossible? Does a Creator exist, and if so, does He speak to people through the world of sports?

This blog aims to investigate such questions.

You are invited to join me on this journey to discover the answers that can be found at the intersection of sports and faith…

+++

P.S. A few observers have dismissed Derek Redmond’s actions in Barcelona as melodramatic and attention-seeking. I’ve watched the video, and I don’t see an act. For my money, his 400-meter race is the signature moment in the history of the Olympics.

The signature accomplishment in Olympic history, in my view, is the remarkable four-gold triumph of U.S. star Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany.

• Related post: Derek Redmond’s Olympic heartbreak and the problem of suffering

Information and quotes from various media outlets and YouTube were used in this article.

© Bruce William Deckert 2012

FAST Blast: Who wants to be holy? Reflections on sports and holiness

06/05/2016

Do you want to be holy?

Does anyone want to be holy? After all, why would anyone want to be holy?

Perhaps many associate the idea of holiness with a religious context. And yes, the dictionary goes there too, using definitions such as sacred and consecrated. So anyone turned off by religion may likewise be turned off by the mention of holiness.

By the way, if you’re in that category, you’re in good company. Ironically, you’re in the company of someone who is considered a classic religious figure: Jesus of Nazareth was known to be turned off by religion — or at least the Pharisees’ expression of it. His followers, though, say He is far more than a religious figure.

But the dictionary also dives deeper in its examination of holiness. Analyzing root words in Middle English, to be holy is to be healthy and whole. Perusing root words in Greek and Hebrew, holiness means being set apart and distinct.

So how about a revision of the above questions, with a new take: Who wouldn’t want to be holy?

Those root word definitions resonate with me. Let’s take a look at the latter pair.

While I have a desire to be connected with family and friends, I also long to be distinct — for instance, via excellence in my work. To rephrase the line of questions once more: Who doesn’t want to be distinct?

The world of sports gives a compelling glimpse into holiness — what it means and why, apparently, we crave it.

In “The Natural,” the classic baseball movie, Robert Redford portrays Roy Hobbs, an extraordinary hitter whose budding career became tragically sidetracked until he embarked on one magical season many years later.

In a scene toward the end of the story, Hobbs is speaking with the woman who was his hometown sweetheart, Iris Gaines (portrayed by Glenn Close).

Hobbs tells Iris, “I coulda been better. I coulda broke every record in the book.”

Iris says, “And then?”

Hobbs replies, “And then? And then when I walked down the street, people would’ve looked and they would’ve said: There goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was in this game.”

Holiness — that’s what Roy Hobbs wanted. To be set apart, to be distinct, and to be recognized as such.

For further examples, let’s stay in the baseball realm — ’tis the season, after all. Clayton Kershaw, a starting pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, has won three Cy Young Awards and a National League MVP Award. This season he has added another remarkable accolade to his resume: He is the first pitcher in baseball history to reach the 100-strikeout mark in a season with only five walks, according to MLB.com.

Through the month of May this season, Kershaw had 105 strikeouts and, yes, five walks. That’s holiness — distinctiveness of the Clayton Kershaw variety.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, “When you put it into context … when 2-to-1 is a pretty good strikeout-to-walk ratio, and now you’re looking at 20-to-1, that’s something you don’t imagine.”

Said Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis: “That’s a big unfathomable number right there, that ratio.”

Something you don’t imagine … unfathomable … holy.

On a major-league team level, the New York Yankees have won 27 World Series, setting the franchise apart — though their archrival, the Boston Red Sox, have a 3-1 edge this century in world championships.

If Yankees fans protest and say their team has two titles this century, I’m not counting their World Series win in 2000 because that actually came in the previous century. In other words, in each century we count to 100, starting at 1 and ending at 100, and 100 is part of that century, not the next century. Even an English major like me can handle that math!

But 27 championships? That’s distinctive — the most titles, by far, for a franchise in American professional sports. And it’s a prime example of being distinctive and set apart … of being holy.

Based on this evidence — and there is so much more evidence if only we had the time — it appears that a longing for holiness is in our DNA.

Most of us won’t experience the baseball distinction — the baseball holiness — of Roy Hobbs or Clayton Kershaw or the Yankees (or the Red Sox, if you prefer). But how can we find the distinctiveness we desire?

Let’s consider that question next time…

To be continued

© Bruce William Deckert 2016

P.S. Speaking of distinctions: While Roberts is the Dodgers’ manager now, he was a player for the Red Sox in 2004 when he made the biggest — and holiest — steal in Sox history. His ninth-inning stolen base in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series helped the Sox rally versus the Yankees, who were on the verge of a sweep.

After Roberts stole second against legendary closer Mariano Rivera and scored the tying run, Boston won Game 4 in extra innings and ultimately took the series — the only time in baseball history that a team has overcome a 3-0 series deficit. Yes, Red Sox fans, you’re right: On that count, the Sox are holier than the Yankees. Boston then won the World Series for the first time since 1918.

And yes, Dave Roberts is a popular guy among Boston sports fans. Surely, in that arena, he’s one holy dude.

All-Name Teams #17

04/30/2016

Featuring names from across the world of sports

The first team in this post — the All-Art Team — is in honor of the Master Artist as springtime displays its splendor here in New England and elsewhere. Yes, I’m referring to the One who is known as the Maker of the universe and whose museum is that very universe.

Of course, not everyone agrees about whether a Creator exists. Yet while I tend to find God tough to discern, the art of springtime gives evidence of His goodness and reality … in the midst of other evidence that calls His goodness and existence into question.

The key, it seems, is following the sometimes conflicting clues to an accurate conclusion. With God’s help, I hope and pray that you and I reach the correct verdict about springtime beauty — and the less-beautiful realities of life.

Bruce William Deckert

All-Art Team 1
Jeff Brushie — snowboarding
Robert Gallery — football
Curtis Painter — football
Matt Painter — basketball
Nate Potter — football

All-Bird Team 3
Jennie Finch — softball
Sylvia Fowles — basketball
A.J. Hawk — football
Brad Peacock — baseball
Frank Wren — baseball

All-Construction Team 1
Bobby Carpenter — football
Skylar Diggins — basketball
D’Brickashaw Ferguson — football
Mason Plumlee — basketball
Kevin Towers — baseball

FAST Sonnets in Cyberspace #8

03/31/2016

Your arrows have pierced me. Scorn has broken
My heart. You’re close to the brokenhearted.
“I will remove your heart of stone” (token
Of fall) “and give you a new heart” (started
Before world was fashioned) — for cold heart’s blight
Is congenital, deceptive, beyond
Cure or hope or might … yet darkness is light
To You. Take dark heart from me — this free bond,
Blown boon, renegade risk, haunted home, torn
Tune, charred star — can’t be done, You say? No way,
Nohow, not now — save Your die-to-be-born
Way. Create in me a clean core — safe clay.
You are greater than my heart, and You know
All … search me, grow true me — old throw, new sow.

© Bruce William Deckert 2016

+++

NOTES — POETRY 411

• This sonnet employs a number of scriptural statements about the heart and related topics in an attempt to explore the nature of the human condition — namely, the crushing concept of the old nature and the hope of the new nature as espoused by the Christian worldview.

• Since this blog focuses on sports-and-faith issues, each sonnet I’m posting has at least an oblique sports connection. Here the connection comes in the first line, though it may have been elusive: archery, of course!

• In my book, the sonnet is the ideal poem for residents of the time-challenged 21st century — rather than long-winded free verse, the sonnet features 14 concise and power-packed lines.

• This is a Shakespearean (or English) sonnet — a 14-line poem comprised of three four-line stanzas and a closing couplet, with a rhyme scheme of abab cdcd efef gg. In places, though, this poem departs from the classic rhythm of the English sonnet, iambic pentameter. Such a departure is common enough, to my knowledge, but I include the caveat for the sake of any sonnet purists who have ventured to this post.

• Let me know your thoughts, however brief, in the comment section. Thanks for stopping by — I hope you’ve found your time here to be worthwhile.

Non Sequiturs + Other Quasi-Funny Stuff #10

02/14/2016

Unintentional humor from the Internet journalism realm — actual excerpts, published to the Web, in bold … though the all-caps headlines are mine:

SUPER BOWL: THIS DOES NOT COMPUTE

The NFL announced … that Super Bowl 50 will be graphically represented using numbers instead of Roman numerals, which the league has been using since Super Bowl V in 1971. … The league started using the word “Super Bowl” for the third game in 1969. Note: This news went public long before this year’s big game.

Let’s note the absurdity of what this excerpt actually says. First, a numeral is, by definition, a number. So the initial sentence above essentially says: …Super Bowl 50 will be graphically represented using numbers instead of Roman numbers.

This is, of course, nonsensical. Adding one word, however, would make the sentence work. Which word would you add? I’m going with Arabic, to wit: …Super Bowl 50 will be graphically represented using Arabic numbers instead of Roman numerals.

How about the second sentence? Specifically, this reference: …the word “Super Bowl.” Correct me if I’m wrong, but the name “Super Bowl” contains two words.

To fix this in accord with Logic 101 standards, I’d change one word: …the term “Super Bowl.” If you’re skeptical, here’s the Dictionary.com definition of term: “a word or group of words designating something, especially in a particular field.”

+++

DEPARTMENT OF REDUNDANCY DEPARTMENT

Look for Taj Gibson to remain a big part of the Bulls … as a sixth man off the bench.

Yes, this writer needs to review some basketball basics: Since five players start for each team, a sixth man always begins the game by coming — you guessed it — off the bench.

Hence the inclusion of the above excerpt in the Department of the Redundancy Department. You know, because it’s redundant. And unnecessarily repetitive. And … oops. Never mind.

+++

TWO TEAMS, ONE UNPLEASANT TRIP TO THE BATHROOM

Arsenal and Manchester City have thrown up some spectacular games in recent seasons.

Let’s keep it simple: Please, use a different choice of words than, you know, thrown up.

+++

MORE REDUNDANCY FOLLIES

Why he’s No. 1: In summary, a combination of athleticism and upside helped Josh Sweat edge out a competitive group to land in the top spot. … Sweat is a talented prospect who has demonstrated a competitive nature…

For the record, the context here is the realm of college football recruiting. First, we learn that Josh Sweat is ranked No. 1 in the nation (at the DE position, by the way). Then, we read this: Sweat is a talented prospect.

Since he’s among the very best prospects in the country, is it necessary to say that he’s talented?

I don’t think so either.

+++

SOCCER MISFORTUNE?

Unfortunately for Mexico, one of their strongest players in terms of blunting the attacks of opponents is Jose Juan “Gallito” Vazquez. His persistent play and constant movement in games were key for Mexico in the group stage, but he will miss the match against the Dutch due to yellow-card accumulation.

Huh? So let’s get this straight — the first sentence here says it’s unfortunate for Mexico that Vazquez is one of their strongest defensive players? Yup, that’s what it says.

I’ll make a suggestion: Move unfortunately to the second sentence, right after but — and call it a day.

P.S. Or, if you want to avoid editorializing, simply delete unfortunately.

© Bruce William Deckert 2016

All-Name Teams #16

12/28/2015

Featuring names from across the world of sports

“She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” — an angel to Joseph (per Matthew 1)

“You will … give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High … his kingdom will never end.” — the angel Gabriel to Mary (per Luke 1)

All-Christmas Team 4
Kenjon Barner — football
Santi Cazorla — soccer
Demarcus Christmas — football
Noel Mazzone — football
Quevyn Winters — basketball

All-King Team 2
Prince Amukamara — football
Royal Ivey — basketball
Tavarres King — football
Kliff Kingsbury — football
Epiphanny Prince — basketball

All-Journey Team 1
Teddy Atlas — boxing
Majestic Mapp — basketball
Scientific Mapp — basketball
Jurickson Profar — baseball
Angela Rhoades — volleyball

You may wonder: Why five members per team? Simple — since basketball was my favorite sport growing up, I’m going with five-person teams.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
from A Slow Life in the FAST Lane!