Tuesday, September 30, 2014

August 2014: The First Day of School and the Opening of Football Season

Forward:  Wow.  I am putting out my August letter at the end of September.  I cannot speak for any of the readers, but I am astonished at this.  I have been very good for ten plus years of getting the letter out in the month that it represents.
What are the reasons for this?  Clearly, it has been other priorities.  The reasons are tied to one of the two topics in this letter, the start of the school year,  and the AYF Olympics.
I started a new, full tima e, faculty position at North Park University.  I am teaching four courses, three of them for the first time which requires a lot of prep time.  It was easily my top priority.
The August letter might have been posted in the closing days of August:  Labor Day Weekend.  I certainly wrote a lot that weekend, but everything I wrote was about the AYF Olympics. I posted articles to the online edition summarizing every day of festivities from Thursday, August 28th to Tuesday, September 2nd.

 It was a lot of fun taking photos all weekend and reporting on the Olympics festivities.  I enjoyed the weekend even more reporting on it… but it left no time to write this letter.
Between the start of school and the AYF Olympics, I have not had the time to dedicate to getting this letter out.  Sometimes, priorities force trade-offs and, as the Clint Eastwood character said in Heartbreak Ridge, “we adapt, modify, and overcome.”  I did adapt and modify my schedule.  I am in the process of overcoming.   Part of this involves putting out the August and September letters within a few days.

The first day of school is a special time.  To me, from the day I started kindergarten until today when I am a professor, the first day of school is more like the beginning of a new year than any January 1 I have ever experienced.  The first day of school is more like the beginning of a new year than the first day of any fiscal year I have ever experienced.  The first day of school is important to many families.  I have to believe the importance I put on the first day of school has to put me in the top few percentile points in this regard.
I have to attribute and credit this to my mother and grandmother.  From as early as I can remember, my mother and grandmother emphasized the importance of an education.  In fact, the way they talked and encouraged me about school was more than just importance.  They made it more of a mission with almost religious overtones and undertones.  They would refer to my paternal grandfather and great uncle as examples I should aspire to.  This is not to mean this is all they talked about or emphasized. It was not.  They were not at all over the top but when they did talk about the value and importance of education, it was in this special way.
The other part of this equation is me.  My mother and grandmother emphasized more than education.   They advocated devotion to family and nation, humility, the golden rule, and sound money management to name a few.  These all resonated with me but all paled in comparison to education.  Education appealed to me.  It clearly was something innate.  So, the motivation was both intrinsic and extrinsic.  No wonder, the first day of school is such a special time for me.
The first day of school is like the first day of baseball season.  It is full of hope and unlimited potential.  As a kid on opening day, there was always great hope and possibility that the Detroit Tigers were going to win the pennant and World Series.  Similarly on the first day of school, there was no limit to what I would learn in English, history, and especially science.  It was all full of hope, potential, and magic.
These feelings were amplified by getting and organizing new school supplies.  Brand new, pristine, bright, and shiny binders, notebooks, pencils, pens, crayons, rulers, and loose leaf paper contributed significantly to the hope, potential, and magic of the school year that was about to start.  A notebook of blank pages combined with brand new pencils and pens.  It was possible that these pages might be filled with a world class novel or perhaps the proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem.  There was no limit to what I imagined was possible.
Of course, be the second week, school was much more like a job than it was a hopeful and magical thing.  By the second grade I realized the magicof the start of school would most certainly dissipate once the work load got into full swing.  Even with that knowledge, there was no way to stop that euphoria of the new beginning.  For that reason, it is exactly like the start of a new baseball season.

August 25:  It was the first day of school today.  It was the first day of school for my daughter Armene, a first grade teacher, as well.  She sent us a text and photo :  “1st day of school obligatory picture :)”  I have been getting first day of school photos from her from her first day of kindergarten.  They are more meaningful to me than most of her official class photos taken a few weeks after class started.  Armene used to be excited to take the first day of school photos pretty much through elementary school.  In middle school, high school, and college, I had to coax her to take the photo.  Being the great sport she is and knowing it meant a lot to me, she took cute, parody, photos.
She thought she was done when she graduated from college.  But, as she chose teaching as her profession, she still continued to have first days of school.  I thought it quite natural to continue asking for the photos.  “Really?” she said.  I didn’t say anything.  I must have had that “you’ll always be my little girl” look, so she complied that year and every year since without another word or look.  It is often the little things that contribute to the strongest bonds and fondest memories.
On Facebook today, one of my first and favorite North Park students, Lindsay Synek, posted the following:  “Today’s my last first day of school… Where did time go.”  I am not so sure Lindsay, don’t be so quick to say it is over.  Graduate school, teaching, and coaching may be in future… not to mention a puppy dog look from you Dad someday.
With one grandson born and another due in December, I can see this first day of school photo tradition continuing a long time and that would be very fine for me.

Football Season:  It was silly to equate the first day of school with opening day in baseball.  While it was a good analogy, I should have equated the first day of school with the beginning of college football… especially given that the beginning of the college football season was my second topic. 
With the first day of school comes another beginning full of hope and very high expectations:  the college football season begins.  Die-hard fans all over the country are quietly or quite openly expecting great things from their teams even if somewhere deep down they know they are rooting for a cellar dweller.  Until the first game is played, every time has the same record, and some chance of winning a conference or national championship. 
Michigan has not been a great era for Michigan Football.  They have not been the team the alumni and fan base have come to expect for the past few years.  Lloyd Carr was the head coach from 1995 through the 2007 season.  He had six seasons in which he won ten games or more.  His teams finished ranked in the AP top 20 every year except for 2005 when the team was 7-5.  Let us not forget that Lloyd Carr’s 1997 won the first National Championship in like fifty years.  In his final game, the 2008 Capital One Bowl, the Wolverines took it too Urban Meyers and the Florida Gators.  He retired or was urged to retire because he was on a losing streak against Jim Tressel and Ohio State and there was a general feeling that the modern no huddle spread offense game had passed the coach by. 
Michigan squares off against Appalachian State on Saturday August 30th for the first game of this season.  The last time Michigan played them was in the opener of the 2007 season which was Carr’s last season.  A good Appalachian State running a no huddle spread offense upset the Wolverines.  It was an embarrassing loss.  That loss did more to secure Carr’s departure and for the school to hire Rich Rodriguez who had made his name at West Virginia with exactly the kind of offense.
So, Michigan made a change first for Rich Rodriguez and then Brady Hoke.  It has not been for the better.  In the Rich Rod era, Michigan was 15-22.   We had two losing seasons which we were definitely not used to or prepared for.  We did not tolerate those years very well.  His three winning seasons were of seven and eight games.  His first two seasons, the losing seasons, sealed his fate.  We were looking for the second coming of Bo and he was not it. 
We thought Brady Hoke might be, especially when in his first season he went 11-2 which included a Sugar Bowl victory over Virginia Tech.  His next two seasons were more like Rich Rod’s last few years.  We were 8-6 in 2012 and 7-6 in 2013.  Rich Rod’s record improved every year.  Hoke’s has gotten worse.  An August 21, 2014 Sports Illustrated article stated the situation perfectly, “When you go 7-6 at Michigan, people just assume you are clueless.”  Hoke is clearly in the hot seat. 
Michigan opened up against Appalachian State on August 30.  This was only the second time these teams played each other.  The first time they played, Appalachian State shocked Michigan by beating us 34 – 32.  It set a horrible tone for the rest of Michigan’s season that year and definitely contributed to the retirement of Lloyd Carr.  This time Michigan routed them 52 – 14 racking up 560 yards of offense to their 280.
Clearly, there was great hope for a great Michigan Football season at the time this was written.  More to follow, for sure, in the September letter.

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