Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Bigtime Coach, Well Grounded

This interview with St. Mary's men's basketball coach Randy Bennett is a nice look inside the personal life of the man at the helm of a collegiate basketball program that has made some waves on the national scene in recent years.

We go to the same church as the Bennetts, and they just completed their first year with the swim club we belong to, where their two young boys are both strong competitors. They are also, unsurprisingly, involved in the local basketball youth league. Coach Bennett helped out at the league's evaluation day last month (held at St. Mary's, shockingly enough). Michael ended up scrimmaging in front of Coach Bennett a couple of times; he even pulled off a sweet crossover dribble and drive to the hoop under the Coach's watchful eye. Is it too early to start thinking about scholarships?

Belying his growing stature in the very public and glamorous world of Division I college basketball, Coach Bennett is quiet and unassuming. He and his family have committed to setting down roots in Moraga (Coach Bennett recently signed a 10-year contract extension), which is the intention of most families with kids in elementary school around here. This portion of the article shows why he is such a good fit here (because he shares my views, of course):
Bennett and his family are Moraga homebodies, he confides. A sandwich from Bianca's or pizza from Panini's is about as good as it gets.

"We kind of stick around here; Walnut Creek is a long trip," he laughs, but isn't kidding.

It is a little exciting to have a semi-celebrity in your midst on a regular basis. Even better, though, it getting to spend time around a terrific family that shares your interests, values and goals and struggles.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

What A Difference A Week Makes

Last week, Michael's soccer team was blitzed by, um, Germany, ending up on the wrong side of a 4-0 deficit by halftime. Michael's hat trick made the game exciting, but it was only a moral victory.

Things were different this week. It was our turn to come out of the blocks blazing. The boys passed really well and put the pressure on the other team from the opening whistle. The ball was never played on our defensive side of the field in the opening half.

Michael didn't score three goals this week.

He scored four.

He also had two assists in the 7-0 victory, and could have scored at least two more in the second half had he not terminated several of his breakaways to look for teammates to pass to. His coach has now made Michael the designated taker of corner kicks after he deposited one into the middle of the goal box in the first half (past everybody except one of our players, who was so shocked to see the ball he whiffed on the shot). Michael's second assist came off a corner kick in the second half.

This little guy (for once I'm not referring to Michael) scored that goal. Pound-for-pound he is our best player: clever feet, good vision and judgment, a motor that never stops, and surprising speed and power for his size. Michael is the best player overall, a deadly finisher with skills and a lot of power and speed when he chooses to use it, but our little number four is an indispensable piece of the team.

That didn't stop us from giving him and our other best player to the other team for the second half to even things up a bit (they were already missing a player and used one of ours in each quarter, and we gave them another for the second half so that we were playing a man down), but we still scored two more goals and they only had a handful of threatening moments against us.

The boys are very squirrelly in practice, but apparently something is getting through. They scored well because they played well, for the most part. They will come crashing back to earth at some point, but for today, they got a taste of what happens when they follow their coaching to distribute the ball around and play hard.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Who Is That Old Guy In The Mirror?

Being the parent of an elementary school student and a high school student creates unexpected fissures in your sense of self. At the gradeschool back to school night last week, I looked around the room at all the young, attractive, fit parents and thought with satisfaction, ah, these are my peers.

At the high school back to school night we attended last night, I looked around at all the old, tired, weary people filling the room and thought, this can't be right -- these are my peers?

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Forgotten Sport Resumes

In my childhood, and in the first part of my own children's childhoods, soccer was the only youth sport of note in the household. Soccer has always been an integral element of the fall frenzy, a seasonal houseguest with a standing invitation.

Then the kids got older, and we found ourselves in a community with many more sporting options. That, and the implication of public shunning if your children do not compete in at least three sports or the course of the year, two of which must be played simultaneously, led us to a multitude of new sporting arenas. Basketball, baseball, volleyball and swimming quickly took over our youth sporting lives. We have all had great fun, made many friends, and experienced many new highs and lows with these sports.

The one constant over the years, though, was soccer. The local program is not as far-reaching as the AYSO of our early years, nor is it as intensely competitive or time-consuming as the local club systems. It provides the essential opportunity, however, for hundreds of kids to stay connected with a game that is as much a part of the lexicon of childhood these days as the Nintendo DS and SpongeBob SquarePants. Personally, there is a comfort to returning to the soccer fields every fall, a settling and resetting of the psyche in line with the new school year.

Sadly, Kelly no longer plays. If AYSO had managed to secure a beachhead in our community, she would. Her last coach – my baseball co-coach – attempted to bring AYSO to town last year to supplement the local organization's program, which essentially ends at eight grade. Although many saw the wisdom of giving our kids access to AYSO's established program, which would give older kids an opportunity to play regular season games as well as in post-season tournaments, the entrenched powers-that-be in the local organization would not hear of it. That may change sometime in the future, but too late to prolong Kelly's career. Instead, she gets to be a (reluctant) spectator like the rest of us at Michael's games.

When Michael's coach first contacted us, we did not recognize any of the names on the e-mail list. In contrast to the other soccer teams he has been on over the last three years, when nearly everyone on his teams was a classmate, all but three of the kids on this year's team go to one of the other elementary schools in town. After the first practice, his reviews were not good. He was not impressed by the skill level or attention span of his teammates. I had to remind him that he was the big fourth-grader now, on the team with a number of third graders. Last year he had the luxury of being a third grader on a team with a couple of dominant fourth-graders; now he has to be the player the others look to.

At the first game this Saturday, things went as expected, unfortunately. Against a team full of Michael's friends, we were down 4-0 by halftime. Michael was playing a center forward position, but hardly had any opportunities to do anything with the ball, as most of the gameplay was in front of our own goal.

Michael facing off against his friend Nick.

To start the second half, we made a couple of small adjustments to the lineup. Within a couple of minutes, one of Michael's teammates got him the ball in the opponent's side of the field. Michael took the breakaway and slotted a strong shot between the goalie and the near post. Thirty seconds later, he did it again. A few minutes later, he had another breakaway opportunity. He put good moves on the two defenders, then scored on a cross-goal shot as the goalie came out to take away any near-post opportunities. In the span of a few minutes, what had seemed to be the harbinger of a very long season became an energetic, fiercely contested game. Our defenders suddenly figured out how to play with energy and the other team lost its swagger. The game was still played mostly on our end of the field, but it became an entertaining game to watch rather than the beat down it had been in the first half. One of the other parents even came over to Michael before the fourth quarter to thank him for making the game fun and interesting again.

On the way to a breakaway goal.

We spend much time shaving seconds off of lap times in the pool, tweaking batting stances and honing free-throw form, but without any fanfare, Michael dropped right back in the soccer with a hat trick in the first game. The team still lost, and has a long way to go to figure out how to play good soccer as a team (including Michael; he is a great finisher, but needs to figure out how to be part of the overall flow of the game). Fortunately, the team also knows that it has at least one solid offensive weapon. With any luck, the goals will still come, but in support of at least a few wins.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Bright(ened) Eyes

Three day weekends at home generally mean projects around the house. In the past, many rooms have received fresh coats of paint. Running short of compelling home improvement ideas lately, I have found myself taking care of little projects with the cars that are not crucial, but scratch certain itches that are peculiar to me.

On Memorial Day, I polished the exhaust tips on my car:

Yeah, they will be dirty again in a day. What's your point?

Over Labor Day, I finally tackled the plastic headlight covers on the family car, which had begun to develop the cataracts common to so many cars these days (now that glass headlights are rare):

Before. Click to enlarge to see how bad they were.

I had previously tried a fix that used only a polish and a drill-mounted soft buffer, which did absolutely nothing. Stay away from that snakeoil. This time I went with the big guns, a wet-sanding process that I hoped would clear the lenses and not ruin them under my inexperienced hand. The technique involves using the drill to sand with 500 grit paper, then 800 grit paper, then a wet foam pad, and finally a sponge with a rubbing compound.

After sanding. I sure hope this is going to work.

It is counterintuitive to induce clarity by adding scratches, but for the most part, it works as advertised:

After. Sparkly.

The lenses are not as good as new and never will be, but they are far better than they were before. Mission accomplished.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

The Boys Of Summer, Anytime


Just in time for the pennant races. This will really be nice to have in January when the season is still two months away and we're tired of basketball, hockey and football. Baseball will always be the sport of summer. A breath of the green warmth of summer will be most welcome in the frosty depths of winter.