Monday, May 13, 2013

In Our Mothers’ Names

Each year as part of our Mother’s Day celebration, St. Alban’s parishioners donate bags of food in our mothers’ names. The Monday following Mother’s Day, we deliver these bags to our Tucson neighbors.

Today was the first time I participated in the delivery.

Willow's truck: Part of the 277-bag load
Willow was not available to make the trip, as she’s finishing up her last few hours of high school classes; but she loaned us her big, green truck. She told me there was “plenty of gas” to get from home to the church and then to South Tucson, however, the minute I got behind the wheel and turned down the country music, I noticed the gas needle in the red. 

It was the perfect illustration of the difference between a teenager’s interpretation of “plenty of gas” vs. a mother’s.  So, her truck donation proved to be a perk since I stopped and filled up the tank. (It should get her through the rest of her high school career).

We had a small army of volunteers at the church loading trucks and cars with canned and dry goods. In total we counted 277 bags. Then we paraded from our serene Foothills location, southwest to the Casa Maria Soup Kitchen at 352 E. 25th Street.

Once we arrived, it took less than half the time to unload the bags as it did to load them. We had a lot of help.

Brian Flagg runs the Casa Maria operation, which consists of several small buildings each serving a purpose to help those in need. We literally filled one of the houses with our bags, and this house was across the street from the Señora de Guadalupe y Cocina Gratis. Other members of the Casa Maria staff live nearby, including Flagg, who opens his home to provide showers.

Flagg has a long history of social and community activism. When I shook his hand and looked into his eyes, I was bathed in his kindness and warmth. This is a man who clearly walks-the-walk.

St. Alban's Fr. Bruce with Brian Flagg of Casa Maria
Casa Maria serves 500-650 bag lunches plus soup, and also distributes 250 family bags per day. Flagg says they help to feed at least 1,000 per day. And by the way, he’s been at this for 30 years and pays himself $10/week.

According to the U.S. Border Beat newsletter, Casa Maria Catholic Worker House also provides medical aid and legal services, and offers United States citizenship classes in Spanish.

Willow only has a couple weeks left in Tucson before heading to her future in Wisconsin. She’s got a calendar full of activities leading up to graduation and more party and event invitations than we can count. But now that she’s got a truck full of gas, I hope we can find a few hours one morning to make it back to South Tucson to volunteer our time by the side of Brian Flagg. He said they need volunteers every morning between 8:30-10:00 a.m.

I believe exposing her to this operation would be the most valuable graduation gift I could give her.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Prom Queens vs. Academics:
A Soccer Mom’s Dirty Laundry

Last Sunday, the soccer team I manage, the first place seed in the state championship tournament, qualified for the semi-final game. It was immediately brought to my attention that this game, scheduled for the following Saturday morning, conflicted with the plans of several of our players taking the SAT exam.

TVSC 95 Girls Blue "Samba": U-18 Division 1 State Semi-finalists
Therefore, I checked the Arizona Youth Soccer Association (AYSA) website to read the rules about rescheduling games. It listed SAT/ACT exams as the number one priority. Next, I informed our coach and we approached the coach of our semi-final opponents, who had just won their semi-finalist spot on the field next to us. This coach had no problem moving the game to an afternoon start time. I told them I’d call the AYSA on Monday morning to request the change.

I did. The AYSA administrator told me to put the request in writing, and to include the reason and that we had already discussed the change with the opposing team. By the way, it’s a tough opponent with a current state rank of #3. We are ranked #13 (in spite of our seeding in the tournament). We need all our players.

Monday afternoon we received notice that the game was rescheduled to 1:50 p.m. Although this time would only give our test-takers one hour and 20 minutes from test end to game start, we were thankful for the change. We understood our players would be late to the field (it’s a 1.5 hour drive from Tucson to Casa Grande/ Grande Sports Complex), and that they’d have no warm-up; however, we were willing to accept this compromise.

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end with this compromise. The next day, Tuesday, I received an email asking if we could change the game to Friday night in Phoenix. I knew we were unavailable because, for one, our team captain was performing in a school play—the drama department’s senior swan song—and several of our girls planned to attend. Then I received an email asking how many of our girls were taking the SAT. I responded, “four.”

On Wednesday, I received yet another email indicating that the game had been rescheduled again. It was moved to a 12:45 start. I had to read the email twice to make sure I was reading correctly.

How could this be? It meant that our test-takers would be lucky to make it to the field for maybe the last 15 minutes of the 90-minute game. And this scenario meant they’d need to put down their pencils, grab their soccer bags, change in the car and have their drivers speed up I-10 with a prayer that the Interstate corridor connecting Tucson and Phoenix, which is often plagued with roll-overs, fender-benders and haboobs (!) would be traffic jam free.

In other words, a 12:45 start time was NOT a workable option for us. So, before I sent word to the team, I called the AYSA office to find out why the game had been rescheduled again.

Did I get a straight answer? Absolutely not. You’d think I had asked this administrator to reveal her weight. Or her politics? Her views on the death penalty or abortion? What ensued was a crazy, even shocking conversation.

This is how I worded my inquiry: “I just received word about the U-18 game being rescheduled again and before I inform the team, I’d like to be able to tell them the reason why it was changed.”

This is the response I received: “It was a compromise. All the U-17 and U-18 games needed to be rescheduled for a variety of reasons, and we did our best to accommodate the most people. There wasn’t an easy way to do it without impacting someone.”

I reminded her that the first change was a compromise for us and that it had an impact. I added that the new change was unworkable, and then asked again: “Would you please tell me the specific reason that our game was changed?”

Obviously, I pressed a button that switched on this woman’s defenses. She immediately went on the attack. First she told me that I was the ONLY one who wasn’t accepting this current compromise. Given that I called her about 15 minutes after receiving the change I was surprised that she had already heard from EVERY OTHER manager, coach, player and parent affected. But I let that slide. I repeated the question until I finally got her to say that the opposing team had five players going to prom that evening.

Yes, she said “prom.”

Samba Goes to the Prom
Now believe me, I understand that prom is important to U-17 and U-18 girls and I also understand that after ACT/SAT exams and coaches with multiple teams/conflicts, consideration of proms ranks #3 on the list of priorities for rescheduling consideration. What I didn’t understand was, why would a game scheduled for 1:50 p.m. (90 minutes of play plus 10-minutes halftime break) affect girls attending a prom that evening? Yes, they faced a one-hour drive from field to salon, but is that still not enough time to get their hair and nails done and enjoy the full evening?

Samba Goes to the Prom
In Tucson, our proms began at 7:30 p.m. Those attending the pre-prom dinner we hosted arrived at 6pm. I realize it takes some girls longer to get ready than others, however, if you can’t accomplish this in 2.5 hours, something’s wrong. It’s not the Oscars for pity’s sake!

“What time does their prom start?” I asked the administrator.

“Photos begin at 4pm,” she said.


Yes, photos. I had to refer to the AYSA priority list again for rescheduling:


You can see for yourself, there’s NO mention of prom PHOTOS.

“So let me get this straight,” I said. “The answer to my question regarding the specific reason the game was changed was that the team we’re playing has prom photos and that prom photos took priority over the SAT exam?”

She would not admit this and I understand why. It was TOO ridiculous.

“Look,” she said, “Everyone needs to compromise. You’ll just have to accept that your girls will arrive late but it evens out because their girls will need to leave early.”

Even more ridiculous. I was supposed to accept that our girls would miss most of the game AND believe that the other team’s coach was going to let five of his girls leave the state semi-finals early in order to primp for prom? 

On what planet?

I wish I could say it ended there. I figured this was going to be my last call ever to the AYSA so I might as well make the most of it. I kept trying to get her to answer my question—to admit specifically why the AYSA made this scheduling decision— and she amped up her personal attack.

I think it’s fair to say that this woman CRACKED. She called me “pitiful.” She suggested that I (and my team) “are always crying ‘poor-poor me’ and the ‘AYSA is always out to get me!’ ” She said I was spinning the situation to be in line with my consistent claims that the AYSA is always treating our team unfairly.

“Really?” I asked? “You’re really going to insult me like this instead of simply answer my question?“ I told her she didn’t know me nor did she seem to understand our team’s history and the problems we’ve faced with scheduling games with this league.

“Oh we ALL know who you are,” she spit . . .

She went on to hurl insults not worth repeating because she was clearly confused, highly stressed and unable to face the consequences of her actions. Not only did she not follow the rules of the AYSA, but also she was so caught up in defending her actions that I can only conclude she was guilty of giving preferential treatment to the Phoenix-based team. That’s an obvious no-no she wasn’t going to admit.

Instead she opted to take the avenue of turning the situation on me by insulting me, and accusing me of being uncompromising and pitiful.  In some circles, that’s called “victim blaming.”

It was difficult to keep my composure, but I did.  Yes, I was upset on behalf of my team; however, I knew I was perfectly within my rights to have made that call, and I believed my team deserved an honest explanation.

Further, I knew the administrator with whom I was speaking had faced a very difficult task and obviously had a lot of pressure from parents calling in on behalf of their daughters’ upcoming photo sessions. I understood she had a lot more people with whom she had to deal than I, and I didn’t envy her for this job. It was clear to me that she was unable to properly handle the pressure in a professional manner.

A wise person once told me: “There will always be someone who is worse off than you.” That is a certain truth. And on that afternoon it was this AYSA administrator.

I ended the conversation by saying that since I managed a U-18 team it would be the last time she had to deal with this pitiful, uncompromising person—me—and also said, for the record, that I was very disappointed in her language and her unprofessional demeanor.

“Well, I’m sorry you feel that way,” she said sarcastically.

Clearly, she wasn’t the least bit sorry.

I contacted the parents of players planning to take the SAT and they all opted to reschedule the exam (it’s a $20 fee) because it was the only workable option for our team.

So, we found a way to make this situation work because we are neither pitiful nor uncompromising. On the contrary.

I’d like to point out that I believe my job as a manager is to A: understand the problem, and then B: Find a way to solve the problem. We accomplished this as a team, and the result is that none of our girls will be late for the game on Saturday.

Meanwhile I wonder, will the prom girls on the opposing team still leave early?

You can BET I’ll be watching.