Thanks for Title IX, coaches, sports journalists, and (yup) umpires

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turkey_joe-blakeAt times, I cannot believe I get paid to teach and write about sports. I’m no longer the kid impressed by big events and star athletes. (That ended after I interviewed Earl Anthony so many years ago.) Now, I’m more impressed by smaller events, athletes fighting hard against all odds, and about private acts of kindness.

I’m thankful …

that I could spend time with the wild, passionate fans who attended the NCAA Cross Country Championships last weekend in Terre Haute, Ind. In high school, I ran cross country but I was never talented enough to reach a major event like this, where fans were so excited that they ran across the course to catch a fleeting glimpse of athletes straining and pushing themselves just a little beyond what they should, even the runners at the back of the packs. This is a must-see event for any true sports fan.

that I was able to coach a travel softball team filled with hard-working and fun-loving kids. We did not spend 500 bucks a month on pitching or hitting coaches like some of the bigger teams in Chicago and Indianapolis, nor did we have an indoor facility like the big-time teams, but our girls fought hard every game – fouling off high fastballs, running full bore around the bases, diving for balls – and laughing at their coach’s stupid puns and jokes. I look forward to another season with an equally goofy, determined group of middle schoolers.

for all the youth, high school and college coaches who devote their lives to teaching kids about sports and life, developing their players both on and off the fields. I’ve met hundreds of dedicated coaches through the years who spend several hours a day pushing kids to do (and be) better. And who take the time to speak with kids in their offices (when nobody else will do so), and work with the lumbering miler as much as the stud sprinter. They buy shoes for kids who cannot afford them, endure bus trips with screaming (hormonal) youths, and teach the importance of a solid work ethic. I wish more people would remember this before screaming at coaches during games.

turkey1at the same time, I’m thankful for referees, umpires and other officials whose dedication is necessary for any event to take place. These guys and gals receive very little compensation for their hard work. Making the correct call is harder than you think. I’ve felt more pressure calling pitches during a middle school game than I ever had as a coach or player.

that Title IX allows my daughters to play sports. My youngest is aghast that my 80-year-old mother never played sports as a kid. In the 1930s, girls hop-scotched, jumped rope, and slid down slides. They did not dive for loose basketballs, hit line shots into left field, nor slide tackle a player dribbling a soccer ball. Thank God for this opportunity. Only morons are opposed to Title IX.

that the New York Giants captured last year’s Super Bowl, offering me the most exciting sports fan moment in my life. And that’s saying something. The Giants’ final drive gave me chills (and indigestion). My wife and daughter, though, did not understand why I leaped off the coach, yelled “expletive yeah!” and danced around the living room like some stupid middle-aged fan. Man, that was fun.

that so many sports writers have taken the time to offer advice for my sports journalism book. I can think of nothing finer than hanging out with journalists, the most informed (and fun) people you’ll ever meet.

that an Oregon cross country runner, walking away from the media tent, spotted the young kid clutching a program and watching the runners walk toward the award podium. He offered the kid an autograph and a chance to meet teammate, Galen Rupp, who had just won the men’s title. Boy, that kid’s eyes lit up.

that a friend of mine, who coaches a women’s sports program, walked several blocks in gusty 20-degree temps to get my daughter sweatpants and extra socks as we froze at the NCAA field hockey championships. This is the kind of coach I want my daughters to play for – and somebody I’m honored to call a friend.

that my teen-aged daughter is sitting in my home office, reading and hanging out with her dad, who is writing and listening to schmalzy 70s music on iTunes. Not sure when teens start avoiding parents, but I’m feeling the love as long as I can.

that so many college athletes have taken the time to speak to my daughters through the years. (My youngest spoke with some athletes at the NCAA field hockey championships last week.) No athletes have embraced my girls more than Eastern Illinois’ varsity rugby squad, who have shown that one can accomplish anything they set their minds to. Young girls need more female role models like this.

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