Sunday, September 25, 2016

Players Make Plays

I've been on a hiatus from blogging for a while now, but that doesn't mean nothing's been on my mind. Quite the contrary. Syria. The election. Police. It's all hard to turn off. But something happened last week that sent me back to the Balcony View. Thankfully, I remembered my password.

Players make plays is probably my favorite sports saying. The line between the joy and despair of athletics is often microscopic. When the stakes are high and the outcome uncertain, someone has to make a play. Coaches talk about players who want the ball in their hands at that moment. They don't fear failure. They just want to make the play.

Paul Jesperson's half court shot that lifted the Panthers over Texas in the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament comes to mind.  A player doing what he does. Happy for the opportunity.


I'm not one to confuse sports with more important things in life, but it's true that there are so many parallels.

Our department has had the privilege of hosting a doctoral student from southeast Africa for the last year. We he arrived, it was his first trip outside of his developing country. Everything, and I mean everything was new. Culture, climate, food, currency, technology. Things my department colleagues and I held as assumptions had to be revisited as we worked to host our guest, a tremendously intelligent and well-schooled student intent on earning a doctorate from a respected American university.

My colleagues stepped forward in countless but significant ways, taking him to the grocery store to find food that he could eat. They helped set up his apartment, worked on his hand-me-down TV so he could catch a soccer game and not just QVC. They brought turkey sandwiches, pies, cookies, rice and pineapples. They invited him to their homes for American holidays. They found a bike for him to use. They showed him snow and bought him a coat, hat, and gloves and took him into their homes to meet their families. They helped and welcomed him in ways that transcend lines on a map. They showed that care is care and a smile is a smile. They showed humanity in a world that often feels angry and cold.

Last spring, he needed a surgery that was cost prohibitive for the basic insurance he carries as a student in the USA. Support from  St. Stephens Catholic Student Center and the University helped  make the unexpected trip home possible. He returned this fall to continue his quest to earn his doctorate.

Last Saturday night, I was watching the Panthers on TV when my email chimed. When I read it, I could no longer hear the TV. He wrote that his son had died after a short illness back home and the burial was scheduled for Monday. My first thought was that he needed to go home but I knew he lacked the resources to go and it was not possible to get there in time anyway. Over the phone, he politely refused my offer to come and sit with him, preferring to be alone.

I shared the news in an email to my colleagues in the Department of Educational Leadership and Postsecondary Education. Because it was Saturday night, I sent a text message asking everyone to check their email. Dr. Sue, who has mentored the student in ways that are ten steps past heartwarming, spoke to him on the phone and asked directly if he wanted to go home. He did and said the burial could be delayed if he could get there. Over the next few hours, the phone calls, text messages and emails rolled in. This is his son. We have to get him home. Unanimous.

St. Stephens Catholic Student Center and its new Priest, Father Nick, again stepped forward to help, as did the Dean of Students. Dr. Sue went to work to look for a ticket for the nearly 10,000 mile trip. The initial costs were north of $4,000, but she was unphazed. This is family. We have to get him home. Her resourcefulness and determination eventually yielded a round-trip ticket for less than half that figure.

The hearts of people I get to work with are truly remarkable. In less than 24 hours, our student was on a flight leaving O'Hare Airport, but not because she found a reasonably priced ticket. He was on the flight because players make plays. And wow, does the group I am so privileged to lead have some players.


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