Category Archives: Sports

Inspiration from the Sports World for our Sons

Some inspiration for our boys from the world of sports:

Princeton Renaissance Athlete:

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Caraun Reid, a December 2013 Princeton graduate, is a two time All American and an N.F.L. prospect who some predict could become Princeton’s highest draft pick in over 30 years. As reported in a recent New York Times article found here, Reid, a 305 pound defensive tackle who didn’t play organized football until his freshman year in high school, isn’t just a talented football player awaiting his fate in tomorrow’s draft. He is also a talented singer, who regularly performed with a Princeton a cappella group; a musician who had regular gigs with his jazz band (he plays guitar and drums); a gospel singer and an executive board member of the campus ministry program. Small wonder that one of his challenges as he headed into draft season was convincing scouts that he was sufficiently serious about football. But his stellar performance in a pass rushing academy and the Senior Bowl convinced them that he was N.F.L. material.

Reid’s parents, both immigrants from Jamaica, encouraged their son to maintain balance in his life by combining athletics with music, schoolwork and worship. His father, Courton Reid, explained, “We believe in that — we believe our children should be well-rounded. We’d say you never know what could be your niche.” Good advice for life, and refreshing to hear in a world where athletic boys are trained to be singularly focused on their sport from an early age. Hope things go well for him in tomorrow’s draft.

Kevin Durant, NBA M.V.P:

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Grab a box of tissues and your son and watch Durant’s speech as he accepts the league’s Most Valuable Player Award. Not only does he give a heartfelt personalized shout out to each of his teammates, he saves the highest praise for his mom, thanking her for the many sacrifices she made to raise him and his brother, and calling her “the real M.V.P.”. Great speech from a thoughtful young man with some good home training. You can watch the long-but-worth-it speech here.

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Filed under Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 5-7, Ages 8-12, Parents, Sports

Talk to Your Sons About The L.A.Clippers

It has been front page news for a few days now: L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling allegedly made some outrageously offensive racist comments about Black people to his Black and Hispanic girlfriend. Talk to your sons about this situation, and ask them what they would do if they played for or were the coach of the L.A. Clippers.

The team decided to play yesterday’s game, and staging a silent protest during warm-ups, and they are playing again on Monday night. Would your son have decided to play the game? Talk about the issues that probably came up during a team discussion: whether they should forfeit the playoff game that they’d been working all season to get to play in, or whether they should continue to play for an owner who appears to have made blatantly racist comments. Talk about all the competing pressures on the team: the instinct to walk away from the game, likely supported by outraged family and friends, versus the urge to prove to themselves that they have the ability to win, coupled with the potential economic consequences of refusing to play, and how much does that matter under these circumstances?

Certainly you have had may versions of these conversations with friends and co-workers over the past few days, conversations which will continue as the playoff games continue and the NBA Commissioner attempts to authenticate the recording of these comments and determine the league’s response. But take the time to talk with your sons about this situation, and keep talking with them about it as events unfold. More importantly, keep listening to their thoughts about these events. Ask them what they would do going forward if they were a Clippers player, if they were the NBA Commissioner. Keep talking, and keep listening.

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Filed under Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 8-12, College Bound Students, Parents, Saving Our Sons, Sports

A Legacy of Excellence for Seattle Seahawks Quarterback Russell Wilson

As everyone probably knows by now, the Seattle Seahawks will face the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVII on February 2, 2014. And most of you football fans know that the Seahawks were led to victory yesterday by Russell Wilson, their young African-American quarterback. But what will likely come as news to many is the family legacy of excellence that Wilson is continuing and building upon. NY Times columnist Bill Rhoden tells the impressive story of Wilson’s family in an article found here.

Russell Wilson is the son of the late Harrison Benjamin Wilson III (Harry), an attorney who died in 2010 at age 55 from complications of diabetes. Russell’s grandfather, Harrison Benjamin Wilson, Jr. was the men’s basketball coach and an assistant football coach at Jackson State in the 1950s, and went on to become president of Norfolk State. President Wilson had three sons, all of whom went to the New England prep school Wilbraham and then onto Dartmouth, where they played varsity football. Russell’s father Harry went on to University of Virginia law school and practiced law in Richmond Virginia, where Russell grew up. Ben Wilson, Harry’s brother, graduated from Harvard Law School and practises in Washington DC. As the NY Times article explains, Ben has stepped into his late brother’s shoes to encourage and support Russell’s professional development.

While Russell was encouraged by his family to consider Dartmouth and recruited by Duke, his choice of North Carolina State allowed him to seriously pursue two college sports, football and baseball, and enabled his impressive football skills to be properly showcased. He was drafted by the Seahawks in the third round of the 2012 NFL draft, and won the starting quarterback position as a rookie.

What is clear from this article as well as others about the Wilson family (found here and here) is that they’ve demonstrated a committment to excellence, both academic and athletic, which is now three generations strong. And it does not stop with Russell: his older brother Harrison IV also played football and baseball in college, at Richmond; sister Anna is a basketball star who verbally committed to Stanford as a high school sophomore.

Russell has told his Seahawk teammates that when he was young his father encouraged him to consider and be ready for the possibilities which lie ahead, and would ask him “Why not you, Russ? Why not you?” What a great question to pose to our boys.

So as you watch Super Bowl XLVII in a few weeks be sure to tell your sons about how Russell Wilson is carrying on an impressive family tradition of excellence. Whether you are a Seahawks or a Broncos fan, you’ve got to give him props for that.

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Champions, Yes, but Graduates? Maybe Not: Black College Players and the 2014 Bowl Games

Happy New Year! In this our third year of operation, we are going to mix it up a bit. In addition to posting longer one subject articles chock full of info, GCP will be doing quick posts of interesting bits–news items, parenting things to think about, etc.–on a more regular basis. The goal is to post more regularly, and post more info. So stay tuned.

Black Male Student Athletes and the 2014 Bowl Championship Series: Just ran across this really interesting piece (thanks to GCP Dad Roy Johnson) in which Shaun Harper of UPenn’s Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education examines the graduation rates for the black college football players in the recent bowl championship series. Hate to bum out all of you guys celebrating FSU’s impressive win last night, but the school has a pretty dismal graduation rate for its Black football players. You can find the report here. Most of these college players don’t make the NFL, and leaving college after four or five years with no degree really limits their options. It is a travesty that more attention is not paid to this issue, and kudos to Harper and his Center for focusing on this in a timely fashion. With all the crazy money these schools make on these bowl games, why don’t they just give these guys a free pass to stay in school as long as it takes them to graduate?

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Filed under College Bound Students, Sports

J.R. Smith and The Power of Mentoring

New York Knicks shooting guard J.R.Smith recently received the NBA’s 2013 Sixth Man award, which is given annually to the league’s most valuable player coming off the bench as a substitute. A recent New York Times article about the award found here describes Smith’s transition on the Knicks team from a talented but volatile lone wolf player to an incredibly valuable teammate. Smith made this transition under the guidance of Knicks coach Mike Woodson, who saw the potential in this young man despite his reputation for being hard to handle. Smith initially disagreed with Woodson’s decision not to include him in the starting five lineup, but took Woodson’s coaching advice to heart and worked hard to change his ways. “I’ve been known as such a selfish player for so long,” Smith acknowledged after receiving his award. “I just wanted to show everybody that I can be a team guy and it’s all about team.” Woodson was beaming like a proud father when Smith rose to accept his award.

This is a good story for many reasons, not the least of which is that I am a big Knicks fan. (Go Knicks!) But what I really like about this story is the lessons it offers us and our children. A lesson about having the determination to make a difficult situation better, and most significantly, a lesson about the power of a good mentor.

J.R. Smith is a talented player who developed a reputation early in his career for being a loose cannon on and off the court. When Smith joined the Knicks last year, Coach Woodson knew that Smith needed a different perspective. Woodson told the NY Times that he began by helping Smith look the part of a team player: “I want his shorts pulled up. I want him to look presentable, be a professional.” Woodson also knew that he didn’t want Smith to start. He strategized that Smith would be more helpful to the team and to himself if he came off the bench, and told Smith this on the first day of the Knicks pre season training camp.

Smith was not happy with this news. As he told USA Today Sports, “Once I heard I wasn’t starting it threw a monkey wrench into my goals.” He didn’t like Woodson’s explanation that “it’s not a matter of who starts but who finishes the game,” and that he wanted Smith to come off the bench to execute winning plays for the Knicks. But Smith figured out how to swallow his disappointment and anger, put things in perspective, and over time accepted his role. And he has become a better player for it, as evidenced by the Knick’s strong performance in the latter half of this season, and Smith’s being voted as the best sixth man in the league.

Smith had tremendous professional and personal growth this season: he faced a difficult situation, learned to accept it, focused on a goal bigger than his individual desire, and success followed. But key to this was having Woodson as a mentor. Some might say that this is just part of a coach’s job, but Woodson took a focused interest in helping Smith change his ways. He assessed Smith’s strengths and weaknesses, engineered a plan to use Smith’s talents to maximize team effort, and guided Smith along the path to becoming a more mature and better player.

The power of mentoring was also greatly in evidence at the Big Brothers Big Sisters of NYC’s fundraising benefit which I attended a few nights ago. Their mission is to provide children facing adversity in New York City with professionally supported 1-to-1 mentoring relationships with adults. This organization, which has been facilitating such mentoring relationships for over 108 years, proudly declares as their motto that their mentoring work has “The Power to Change Lives”. We saw this in action that night as three pairs of “Bigs” (the mentors) and their “Littles” (the children) introduced themselves, talked about their mentoring relationship, and introduced the honorees for the evening.

Watching those adorable, well spoken “littles” (one of whom proudly proclaimed that his favorite Knick was J.R. Smith, by the way) confidently tell the packed room how much they admired and appreciated their “Bigs”, and hearing the “Bigs” say how rewarding it was to spend time with and learn from their “littles” was truly inspirational. No doubt that these are life changing relationships.

So as you are watching the Knicks sweep the playoffs(!), and J.R. Smith makes an impressive move on the court, chat with your sons (and daughters) about how he got there, and the lessons he learned along the way. Remind them that everyone can benefit from the power of mentoring.

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Mathematics in Gym Class?

What is your son doing in his gym class? Are he and his classmates running around, learning sports and playing games? And are they reviewing vocabulary words and math concepts as they play? Some schools in the 45 states which have adopted more rigorous English and Math standards are bringing this intensified curriculum into gym class as well. In a West Palm Beach Florida classroom profiled in a recent New York Times article found here, the gym teacher had her students counting by fours during their exercise routine, running math based relay games, and learning vocabulary words as they did push ups. In Chesapeake, VA, students count in other languages as they do their exercises. D.C. schools have added health and fitness questions to their year-end standardized test. The push to add an academic component to gym class isn’t solely born of a need to ramp up the rigor. Schools claim that making the class more academic justifies keeping gym class at a time when non academic courses (like art and music) are disappearing from the curriculum to make room for additional core coursework.

But some schools are resisting adding this academic element to gym class, believing that the national focus on childhood obesity and the diminishing recess time in schools suggest that a gym class which focuses on physical activity is important to preserve. Moreover, studies have shown that regular physical exercise can help children to focus, concentrate and learn. Janis Andrews, the Palm Beach district chief academic officer, would agree, noting in the article: “Some children just learn better through more movement than they do sitting at a desk. Some kids are going to have that ‘aha’ moment not in the classroom, but the light bulb is going to finally go on outside.” Those of us with active boys would readily agree that they need and benefit from every possible opportunity to run around during their school day.

Some parent’s perspective on the importance of a “gym only” gym class will depend upon their own gym class experiences. If gym class for you meant the chance to finally race around and let off steam, or hone/show off your skills on the court or the field, then you may consider this concept of including academics both unnecessary and unwelcome. If you (like me) were more on the slow or uncoordinated side in school, and/or regularly the last chosen for any game or sport, perhaps the concept of learning something else during gym may sound like a more productive (and less discouraging) use of time.

GCP readers, what do you think? First of all, how much do you know about what goes on in your son’s (or daughter’s) p.e. class? Are their schools trying to incorporate academic instruction into the gym class, and if so, is it at the expense of the physical exercise? As the mother of athletic, active boys, but who certainly understands (from personal experience) that not every student falls into that category, I’d rather have gym time include more activities designed to make everyone enthusiastic about moving around and enjoying the process of getting physically fit (not just the budding athletes) rather than have the students solving math problems and learning vocabulary words during gym. Your thoughts?

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Parenting a Potential Star Athlete

Today’s New York Times has two articles in its sports section, each featuring a talented young Black male basketball player with NBA dreams. Jahlil Okafor, a 17 year old high school junior at Whitney Young High School in Chicago who stands at 6 feet 11 inches, is considered the top high school player in national rankings. He was offered a college scholarship when he was in the 8th grade, and now the best college coaches in the country are all offering scholarships. His story, found here, is one of hard work, focus, composure under pressure, and grace.

Some measure of that grace, composure and determination was born of tragedy: At 11, he watched his mother collapse and ultimately succumb to complications of bronchitis. He coped with this loss by burying himself in basketball, shooting outdoors for hours on end to avoid thinking about his mom. Fortunately, his father, Chukwudi Okafor, a former college basketball player (as was his wife), who works as an assistant for his son’s high school team, has been there every step of the way to guide him with respect to basketball and life in general. When Jahlil couldn’t find classmates and friends to play with him in the neighborhood because he was too tall and by his own admission “super competitive”, his father took him to neighboring courts and watched him play with the older players. While the elder Okafor has always encouraged his son’s ambitions, he didn’t push. As Jahlil explained, “He might tell me a few things, like put some more arc on your shot. But he wasnt coaching me, making me do push-ups every night, or anything like that.” His father confirmed that he doesn’t want his son to get lost in the all-encompassing world of basketball. He elaborated: “As far as coaches, media, recruiting? He doesn’t owe anyone anything, and I tell him that all the time.” Jahlil is a good student with an interest in British Literature, who blogs about his basketball recruiting experience for USA Today.

Years away from any college recruiter’s grasp is fifth grader Julian Newman, an 11-year-old, 4 feet 5 inch young man who plays with on his Orlando Florida school’s high school varsity team. He began this season on the middle school team, but was promoted to varsity when he scored first 69, then 91 points in games. Since joining the varsity squad he has led the team, which is coached by his father Jamie, from being at the bottom of its low-level league to dominance, with an 18-5 record. As the article found here details, Julian, whose basketball YouTube clips have attracted over a million viewers and interest from around the world, is obsessed with improving his skills. He sinks 100 free throws, 200 floaters and 200 jump shots every day, which can easily take three hours or more. Julian does not recall ever taking off more than two straight days from this regimen. His parents Jamie and Vivian Newman, who met when they were point guards for their rival Orlando high schools, consider Jamie a self driven prodigy. They describe him as a straight A student, motivated to study by their requirement of “homework before hoops” (although this has led him to rush through homework at recess so that he could get to the court after school).

Julian’s father, like Jahlil’s dad, saw the athletic potential in his son early and encouraged it. He gave his son regulation sized balls at age 3 and encouraged him to play against older boys in recreational leagues. While Julian’s chances at a professional career on the court can’t be predicted, both because of his age and his genetic makeup (with parents standing 5 foot 6 inches and 5 feet even, he is not expected to grow to 6 feet), this does not diminish his father’s hoop dreams. Says the proud father about his son: “He can do stuff that Chris Paul and Derrick Rose can’t.” Jamie has no plans to leave his job as coach of the high school team. And notwithstanding his strong interest in Jamie’s development as a player, he intends to keep his son at the school with him. His rationale: “if you can play, you can play. If it’s right for you academically and socially, by all means, stay there”.

Two young basketball players with great potential in the sport. Two fathers who have mentored their sons from an early age about the process of pursuing excellence. While it would have been good to learn more about their academic interests and focus in these articles, it appears that both boys are thus far on track to achieve on both sides of the student-athlete equation. I must confess that I wince a bit to read of a father entertaining thoughts of an NBA career for his 11-year-old, and hope that his zealous support of his son’s obsession doesn’t cloud his judgment with respect to his son’s academic and athletic potential. But it is insightful to view how both men have dealt with the challenges (and benefits) of raising sons with early signs of prodigious talent. And I have to say, it is great to read about these boys being guided by their strong, focused and loving fathers. GCP readers, how do you help your sons manage their sports superstar aspirations (regardless of their talent) and keep their eyes on the academic prize?? Details, please!

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Redskins’ Alfred Morris: Good Home Training

As I write, the Washington Redskins are battling the Seattle Seahawks in the wild card game to see who will play in the NFC divisional playoffs. All Redskins fans are hoping that the dynamic duo of their rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III and rookie running back Alfred Morris will lead their team to this important victory. Tens of thousands of these fans are in Washington D.C. Fedex field, soaking up the action. But according to the New York Times in a recent article found here, one of Morris’ biggest and most important fans is not in the stadium. His mom Yvonne Morris opted to watch the game from home in Florida, because she teaches reading to 9th and 10th graders at Pine Forest High School in Pensacola, Fla. and the game’s 4:30 p.m. start would force her to miss classes Monday. She couldn’t be happier for the Redskins and prouder of her son Alfred, but “I have an obligation to those kids,” she explains. “I really love teaching, and it is kind of difficult to part ways.”

As the Times notes, Mrs. Morris clearly has passed her strong work ethic on to her son Alfred, the fourth of the seven sons she has raised with her husband Ronald, a chef. Alfred had a team-record 1,613 rushing yards this year, which represents the third-highest total in league history for a rookie. Morris pushes himself so hard in practice, that the offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan finds it impossible to slow him down, even during practices when players are asked to just go through the motions. “We make fun of him because he won’t ever go walk-through tempo,” Shanahan said. “He’s always full speed.”

His meteoric rise this year is even more remarkable considering that he was not a heavily recruited college or professional athlete. In fact, his alma mater Florida Atlantic was the only N.C.A.A. Division I program to offer him a scholarship. In the professional draft he was passed over by all 32 N.F.L. teams until Washington chose him 173rd over all amid concerns about his size (5 feet 9 inches, 216 pounds) and speed (4.68 in the 40-yard dash). But these hurdles only made Morris more determined. “I’ve been an underdog my whole life,” Morris told the Times. “People underestimate you, but I’ve always believed in myself.”

Gotta love this story, and gotta admire his mom Yvonne for her strong sense of commitment and a passion for work, which has so influenced her son. (How many moms out there would miss being in the stands for this game so they could be at work the next day?) Regardless of what happens in tonight’s game, Morris is a winner.

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The Power of Dreaming Big: NFL Player Predicts His Future in Fourth Grade

Let’s start the New Year off on an inspirational and positive note. For those of you who don’t follow football or missed this, it was recently discovered that Colin Kaepernick, starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, wrote a letter to himself when he was in the fourth grade detailing his plans for the future. (You can see a copy of the letter and his fourth grade picture here.) Young Kaepernick wrote:

I’m 5 ft 2 inches 91 pounds. Good athelet. I think in 7 years I will be between 6 ft- to 6 ft 4 inches 190 pounds. I hope I go to a good college in football then go to the pros and play on the niners or the packers even if they aren’t good in seven years. My friends are Jason, Kyler, Leo, Spencer, Mark and Jacob. Sincerly Colin

Not only did Kaepernick call his academic journey, profession and team, he even nailed his height (he is 6’4″). How cool is that? And considering the odds of this adorable biracial fourth grader making it to the NFL, never mind being the starting QB for the team of his dreams, how inspirational is that?

The moral of this story, which we should share with our boys, is not to be afraid to Dream Big. Let’s encourage our young boys to dream of their futures, write down those dreams, and keep them in a safe place (with our help) for future reflection. Many schools have this as an in-class assignment, and if they do, be sure to keep track of those letters or notes over the years. If your son’s school doesn’t assign this, you might want to make this a weekend project. No comments about or criticism of whatever he comes up with, just encourage the dreaming. The goal is not to have him predict a superstar career (or the career of your dreams), but to begin thinking and dreaming of his future, and imagining it to be wonderful.

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Who is Peter Ramsey? You and Your Kids Are About to Find Out

On November 21, DreamWorks will release “Rise of the Guardians”, its latest animation feature. Based on “The Guardians of Childhood,” a series of children’s books by author and illustrator William Joyce, the Guardians are a no-nonsense Santa Claus, a rebellious Jack Frost, a fearless Tooth Fairy and a tough Easter Bunny, who must band together to protect the children of the world from the wrath of the dark spirit, Pitch. It has an all-star voice cast which includes Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman, Isla Fisher, Chris Pine, and Jude Law.

Sounds like another garden variety blockbuster, right? But here’s news: it is directed by Peter Ramsey, the first African American director of a big budget CG (computer) animated film. Ramsey, 49, is being heralded by DreamWorks head Jeffrey Katzenberg as having an “extraordinary gift for storytelling and creativity”, and the film is already winning awards from international film festivals.

But Ramsey’s path to directing this film has been anything but textbook. He was born and raised in Crenshaw, a predominantly black low to middle income neighborhood in Los Angeles. As a recent article in the Glendale News-Press, found here, notes, as a child he was mesmerized by the animated movies his parents would occasionally take him to see, but he never dreamed of being able to create them. It wasn’t until he was much older that opportunity knocked. “I was in my 20s, working in a bookstore, and I had a friend that got me a job painting a mural on a film set. And that’s where it started,” Ramsey says. “That’s when I realized it was possible. But I am completely self-taught. It was all on-the-job training.”

Ramsey eventually became a storyboard artist and worked on many live-action films including “Fight Club”, “Panic Room,” and Francis Ford Coppola’s “Dracula”, before moving into animation at DreamWorks, working on “Shrek the Third” and “Monsters vs. Aliens.” He has been working on “Rise of the Guardians” for three years.

I had the opportunity to see and hear Ramsey on a panel at a conference recently, and was thrilled to hear the inspirational story of his career. Directors of animated films don’t always have the high profile that directors of live action films receive, so it is good to see that Ramsey is getting the attention he deserves. Good to see as well that the significance of Ramsey at the helm of this movie is not lost on DreamWorks. As Katzenberg noted in the Glendale News-Press article: “What is remarkable is that here is a kid that grew up in the inner city of Los Angeles. The notion of some day being an artist/animator and storyteller and director is an incomprehensible idea; and the fact that he has not only succeeded, but succeeded to the extent he has, is his testament to how talented he is.” Ramsey wants others to be inspired by his success as well. “One of my big hopes is to get out there and talk to kids in connection with the movie,” he told the Glendale News-Press, “show them where I started and what they can do.”

So let’s do our part to support Ramsey. Take your sons (and daughters) to see “Rise of the Guardians” when it opens on Thanksgiving weekend, and look for his name in the credits. Talk to them about Ramsey, and how he exemplifies that wherever your starting point may be, being open to opportunity and putting in good hard work can place you squarely on the path to success.

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