Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Travel Channel's Man v. Food Special on Syracuse Eateries

Photo of the Original Dinosaur Barbecue in Syracuse, started in 1983.

Syracuse Lacrosse players, despite winning their first national championship in 1983, had very little star power on campus because the sport of lacrosse then did not have any of the national exposure that it does today. ESPN televised the championship games back then, several days after it was over and the champion already crowned and quarter and semi-final games never came on national television. As one of two African Americans on the team that fall, black folks on campus didn’t know what to make of me and that strange sport I played. When attended SU, the city of Syracuse was known for its college football and basketball teams and the Dinosaur Barbecue recently started by three bikers in 1983. Today the city is known for both the barbecue joint and a hot lacrosse program with many national championships, All Americans, and Hall of Famers. This Wednesday September 1st the Travel Channel show Man v. Food with Adam Richman will about Syracuse eateries dear to my heart. Here's a sneak preview of the show http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i1Qm8wqW36Y

Monday, August 30, 2010

Mira, Miguel Jordan!

Michael Jordan and Spike Lee, sorry folks Mike is much taller than me with bigger ears.

I will never forget seeing the shanty town built up around the international airport in Guadalajara as my plane came in for a landing. I’ve seen similar slums around airports in other parts of Latin America thereafter. But this being my first time I wondered if I had picked the wrong place to study Spanish (see yesterday's post in the blog archive). Next I negotiated my way through the baggage pickup, customs, and the taxi stand with my rudimentary Spanish and fear and insecurity crawling all over me. I managed using sign language and the address written on a card to explain where I was trying to go to the driver and we were off. I realized that I did not study enough Spanish before arriving in the middle of this now very real Spanish speaking city. I addition I noticed in the airport that locals thought I was “Miguel Jordan” and they thus starred at me incisively. This mistaken identity and starring went on for three months accompanied by the customary “Mira, Miguel Jordan [Look Michael Jordan]!” This was in the middle of the June 1992 NBA playoffs when Bulls were the team to beat and Michael Jordan was at the peak of his international celebrity status. As my taxi pulled out of the airport we headed through what seemed like some rough sections of the city—rough even by South Bronx and South East DC standards. Again, I thought, this looks like the wrong place to study Spanish. More tomorrow.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Learn Spanish in Three Months, Fat Chance

While coaching at Gettysburg and going to graduate school at Shippensburg University I played for Maryland Lacrosse Club (MLC) back when it existed as a member of the United States Lacrosse Club Association (USLCA). In my last season with MLC the club made it to the championship that year against I believe the New York Athletic Club (NYAC) at Hofstra University. The game was scheduled for the same time I was scheduled to be in Mexico enrolled in a Spanish immersion program. Earning a PhD in history required that I pass foreign language translation exams. So the summer before I returned to Syracuse I started studying Spanish first with a tutor at Gettysburg College. My tutor was one of the librarians in the college library (women named Francis something?) that I got to know while studying for my master’s degree in history. I had an introduction to Spanish book I used that summer then headed to Guadalajara, Mexico for three months Spanish language immersion program (course work plus live with a family). As part of my interim dean contract with Gettysburg College I cut a deal that they would pay for my graduate studies should the following year should I stay on as the dean. Well as the spring semester came to a close, Dean Janet Ramsey called me to her office to inform me that the school would be doing search to for a permanent dean and I would not be considered for the job. I didn’t get offended, and I as part of my departing package the provost of the college agreed to pay for immersion program in Mexico where the college sent its students too. Now was really naive I had convinced myself that after some study with my book and tutor and the three month immersion program I would be close I would be close to fluency—fat chance!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

We Will Be Judged By the Least in Our Community

Let me explain a little more to those who you who wonder why I became a closet lacrosse player the year I entered a doctoral program in history and returned to Syracuse University where I was an undergrad and student athlete. I've seen my share of teammates at all levels who played high and or hung over on various legal and illegal substances and still played well. I often wondered just how much better they would have been if they were detoxed and in the best possible shape; I hear that Rugby has a similar culture as lacrosse. Not sure how the players coming up today are compared to my playing day in this regard. From what I’ve heard about drug use in high schools and recent heroin overdoses in my own home county, it sounds like the situation is worse. But then again, I am not sure because the college players today are much bigger, faster, and stronger and on rigorous workout routines-perhaps they realize that the abuse of booze and drugs are detrimental to how they play. When I played, I'd seen my share of guys who seemed to have serious drinking and drug problems. It seemed acceptable in the lacrosse community because that was how lacrosse culture and folks bragged about friends and teammates who played well without much sleep and too much of "a good thing the night before." As a player, I thrived on fourth quarter situations in which the partying often caught up to the guy I was covering and I would jump on them like white on rice because chose not to live my life that way and being in shape gave me an advantage. So I hid all association with the lacrosse community for about eight years starting in the fall of 1992 because I felt that the actions of some of members were a liability for me. If you’re a lacrosse person you know how you feel when someone in our community messes up and that makes it into the national news cycle. Say what you will, but we will always be judged buy the perceived negative behavior of the least in our community.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Going Further Into the Closet

Before the end of my last season as a Gettysburg assistance lacrosse coach, I did something memorable for my players and emblematic of where I was spiritually at the time. I gathered almost all of the lacrosse swag that I had collected over the years, with much of it 1990 National Team stuff, and gave it away. Everyone was on the team bus headed to an away game. I knew my players rather well and I walked up the aisle of the bus dipping in a big bag of swag and handed out gear to players who I thought would appreciate it. The players were shocked and thankful at the same time. Perhaps they thought I had lost my mind or received news that I had months to live. I was following the principal of give and it shall be given unto you. I needed to sow some good seed in my mind if I was going to have the kind of harvest that would get me through what I believed would be a tough five years of graduate studies at Syracuse. I was also going deeper into the psychological closet I had entered as a lacrosse player. I was stripping away my Syracuse Lacrosse and US National Team identity because psychologically I thought those identities would not serve me well in the ivory towers I was about to enter. For the next several years I emotionally buried that part of my history never bringing it up around my classmates or professors. Lacrosse players on college campus don’t in my experience have great reputations. As ambassador of the sport, lacrosse players have developed a culture of partying and hell raising that doesn’t impress most college professors.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

SAT & GRE Scores Are Not Indicators of Future Success

Writing about my graduate admission process long ago (see earlier post) When I contacted history professor Otey M Scruggs at Syracuse University about the PhD program there back in the early spring of 1992, I immediately hit it off with him on the phone. Professor Scruggs was African Americans with a PhD in history from Harvard University in 1958. We had similar backgrounds in athletics with him a decathlete at Santa Barbara University in California. In fact he received an invitation to an US Olympic trial losing a spot on the team to the gold medalist Rayford Johnson. Professor Scruggs advocated for me and got the Dean’s Office at the Maxwell School to see that I gained admission to the school and tuition scholarship. This happened after the history department had already given out scholarship money to it’s in coming class of graduate students for the 1992-1993 academic year. This was a real break for me because I did not get accepted to any of other graduate programs. As I said earlier my transcript was suspect and I certainly understand why the other schools rejected me. But my current achievements also go to show that standardized test don’t tell the whole story and they are not the best indicators of student’s ability. Just imagine, I’ve taught at Morehouse and Marist Colleges and I’m starting a new job at Babson College this fall. In addition, I’ve turned down a job at a major research one institution. As a high school senior I could not have gained admission to any of these institutions based on my SAT scores, class rank, and GPA. In addition I publish with major university presses and I am talking head to the media on my area of expertise.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

When You Become Successful Always Remain Approachable

Princeton Professors Cornel West & Al Raboteau

Princeton University with a host of impressive faculty in the history department and African American studies was one of my top choices as place to do my doctoral studies. At the time they had Cornel West, Al Raboteau, Tony Morrison, and Neil Painter-if these profs were lacrosse players consider them 2 x first All Americans, world team players, and hall of famers. Their names typed into a good college online catalog will pull up twenty books or more between them. I sought out Painter, an historian, as a possible advisor and contacted her. She invited me to sit in on one of her graduate seminars. As I drove to Princeton I was as excited as any NCAA playoff game I played in as a Syracuse lacrosse player. I briefly met with Professor Painter who was warm and gracious. However when sat in on the seminar my rush deflated because felt like a cultural outcast among a group of elitist acting grad students trying to impress the prof. At conservation at the break in the class with a cool Latino brother in the seminar confirmed what I suspected. He could tell was not comfortable and said that his colleagues were indeed trying to impress Professor Painter. In addition he said, “Look man I hear you. I’m married so I don’t hang with these folks outside of class; I don’t have anything in common with them.” I also contacted Eric Foner at Columbia University in Harlem. Although he was and still is one of the premier historians in the world, he made time to talk to me and showed that he was an approachable unlike other profs I have met over the years with much lesser reputations. I’ve gotten to know Eric over the past couple of years and I can say he is a quality person with a wealth of knowledge about the profession. But most important I’ve learned that even when you become successful in your field always be approachable. I also contacted Ottey Scruggs at Syracuse and we hit it off; more tomorrow.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Academic Rap on Syracuse Lacrosse Players

1983 SU NCAA championship celebration, this was the first of ten

I’m starting my tenth academic year as a college history professor and my seventh as a published author. I am a Syracuse lacrosse alumni talking about how I made the transition from athletics to academics back in 1991. This is important I believe when in times past at least, some Syracuse lacrosse alumni have given the lacrosse world the impression that as a program we don’t take school seriously and major in lacrosse. That’s the exception and not the rule in my opinion. But you know the old saying; empty barrels make the most noise. I know plenty of SU lacrosse alum who were outstanding students in college, have graduate degrees from some of the most prestigious institutions, and who are now leaders in their fields. In fact the list of those who have graduated on time and much higher GPAs then mind are too numerous to name. So let’s not focus on the few empty barrels that have played at Syracuse over the years because almost every elite lacrosse program has those too.