Tag Archives: Illinois Wesleyan

Looking for a team to cheer for in March Madness?

Are you looking for a team to cheer for in March Madness this weekend?  It’s still early, so most people’s brackets are still in tact.  Maybe you don’t need extra incentive to cheer for anyone in the Big Dance, but let me suggest to you a team from the “Little Dance.”  The Division III NCAA Final Four is being held this weekend.

The women are playing in Holland, Michigan while the men are playing in Salem, Virginia.  While the big schools of Illinois went ‘ofer’ the tourney, sorry Wildcats, Illini, Salukies, Blue Demons and the like, two teams from Illinois have kept their championship dreams alive.

The Titans of Illinois Wesleyan have a team in both Final Fours (and I should add that the Titans would mop up either Final Four in a mascot bracket).  Division III athletics might not have the flash or the talent of their DI counterparts, but they mostly don’t have the agents, egos, shoe deals or point-shaving scandals either.  They also still live up the moniker student-athlete.

The Illinois Wesleyan Women have had an especially tumultuous season.  In today’s Chicago Tribune is a fabulous piece by David Haugh.  Titan head coach Mia Smith has coached the majority of this basketball season while undergoing treatment for breast cancer.

According to Haugh, she started chemotherapy in December.  On December 10, the Titans record was an uncharacteristic 3-4.  In 2011, the Titans fourth loss came in late January on their way to the school’s first-ever trip to the Final Four.   In 2010, the Titans lost only two games all year.  It is hard to say why they had the difficult start, but the four teams they lost to all finished in the top 20 according to d3hoops.com.  According to some figures, the Titans faced the second toughest schedule in the nation.  When you factor in breast cancer into their list of opponents, I think it’s safe to say it was tougher than that.

Mia Smith is the all-time winningest coach at Illinois Wesleyan.  In her 14th season, Smith is at the helm of one of the dominant programs in the country (since the 06-07 season her Titans are 159-23) .  Her teams play a frenetic full-court press that she likes to call “Run and Jump.”  They shoot well, run fast, dive for loose balls, and scrap for every rebound.  They are a fun team to watch and have developed a strong fan base that well surely support them well in Holland this weekend.

Smith has had  a lot of support this season.  Chemotherapy is one of the worst things a person can endure.  I don’t know all the details, but it is basically poison that kills everything it can.  To say that it leaves people with less energy is like saying a marathon is a light stroll.  Coaching basketball is a high-energy profession.  Clearly the Titans have fed off of her strength, but according to her she has fed off of her player’s strength as well.

She told David Haugh “People have thanked me for being a good role model for these young ladies as I endured hardship, but I’m telling you, it’s the other way around.  All I had to do was think of how hard those girls work at practice, and that was all the inspiration I needed to get up.”

So tonight as you’re following the madness on four different national cable networks plus highlights on the ESPN family, can I suggest one more team to support?  They aren’t on any of the brackets you filled out, but they’re worth a moment or two.  Drop by this site to watch the games.  There won’t be any agents or NBA scouts.  There will be eight teams playing their hearts out and a few thousand loyal fans hoping to witness their own one shining moment.

There will be one coach that has stared down cancer, and a team that has carried her through it.  I’ve said it before, but tonight with my computer on my lap as a I agonize over every basket while switching between games, it will never be more true.  I’m proud to be a Titan.

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Filed under Sports

Homecoming

On Saturday my wife and I went back to our alma mater for the wonderful event that is Homecoming.  It was a sunny fall day, a little warmer than we expected.  Our football team lost a heartbreaker to a disliked (but not bitterly hated) rival, and during the game we talked with several of my fraternity brothers who were back for their 10th reunion.

Whenever I meet an old friend who didn’t know that I was a pastor, I always hold my breath for a moment before I tell them.  I anxiously await the small-talk to progress because, “What do you do?” is always among the first three or four questions in a conversation such as this.  I’m not sure why I have anxiety about telling an old friend what I do for a living.  Perhaps it is because they just know too much.

“I’m an accountant for Bork Bork Inc. in Chicago,” says Fraternity Brother A.  “What do you do now? Are you still doing the sportswriting?”

“No, I’m a pastor of a small United Methodist Church in Chenoa.”

At this point I fear a mainly two different responses:

  • “Oh, that’s cool. So uh… Oh, there’s Fraternity Brother B, I’m going to go say hi.”
  • “Really? You’re a pastor? Didn’t you pass out in my bathtub once?”

I think most of my fear comes from the absurd mental juxtaposition of me as fraternity brother, passed out in someone’s bathtub, and me as pastor, baptizing someone’s baby.  But I know that’s not entirely fair.  We all have pasts.  Pastor or not, everyone has moments of which we aren’t particularly proud.  I know though, that I am not imagining all of the uncomfortableness.

Most people get very antsy when religion is suddenly thrust into the conversation.  It’s not that they aren’t good people, or religious, or even Christian.  It’s just that they were not expecting religion to come at them while talking in the end zone during a football game.  Luckily, Facebook has had the effect of dulling this blindside attack, but still, saying, “I’m a pastor,” is a little bit of a conversation killer.

People aren’t sure what that means.  It is one of the few jobs that has so much societal baggage attached to it.  I guess I could say, “I’m an abortion doctor,” and people would be slightly more uncomfortable (mental note for my own 10th reunion).  It is like people suddenly feel obligated to talk about their faith, which is uncomfortable for most people.  “Oh, my wife and I go to church pretty often.”  I’m not sure if they want me to give them some special blessing, or pull out some Communion bread or what.

As the initial uncomfortableness wore off (or was it just in my head because of my own fears and self-doubt), the religion stuff faded again.  We went back to a campus bar after the game, and I ordered a round of beers, and as we gathered around the golden elixir that was the focal point of so many of our gatherings in the past, the years seemed to fade away.  I wasn’t defined as “pastor” any more than my buddy was defined as “accountant.”  I was just Mac again.  I actually had a great conversation about the church and the struggles of being a new dad and a Pastor with a guy I hadn’t seen in ten years (who happens to be Jewish, and I’m not sure if that is significant).

We talked about old parties and new adventures.  And then the conversation drifted to a brother of ours who came out of the closet during his junior year because he wanted to take his boyfriend (who we all blindly believed was his cousin) to our formal.  Suddenly I remembered that I was a pastor again and said, “When he brought Jeremy to formal – without any backlash whatsoever – That was when I was the most proud of our fraternity.”

I was reminded again that I was a pastor at 9 p.m. on Saturday, when I knew I had to get going. I pulled out my favorite worn-out line, “Well, I have to work in the morning,” shook some hands, shared some hugs, and went home a few hours before I really wanted to, just when the stories were getting good.

The fact is, I certainly had many moments of which I am not proud during college.  There were things that I did and said and drank that were not highlights of my life.  But I would not change a thing.  I learned more from that group of guys than I did in four years in the classroom.  I learned about people in that house.  I learned about conflict.  The wealthy kid from the suburbs that felt entitled to everything, I knew him.  The farmer from southern Illinois with the chew in his cheek, he lived down the hall.  The pot-head wasting away on his couch, I hung out with him.  The alcoholic with anger issues, I worried about him.  The homosexual from a small town learning how to be “out,” I hugged him.  We all had stories.  We all had moments we weren’t proud of, but we learned how to live together.  We learned how to be men together.  And wouldn’t change a moment of it.  Even the night I spent in the bathtub.

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Filed under Personal Reflection