Monthly Archives: August 2013

Into the Wilds of Middle School

Top of the North American food chain? Grizzly Bears, Timber Wolves, perhaps the elusive Lynx? No that spot is reserved for the Sixth Grade Girl.

While fairly unpredictable as individuals. When traveling in packs they can be absolutely ruthless to not only outsiders but their own as well. A free roaming pack of Sixth Grade Girls should be avoided at all costs. Do not make eye contact, they can smell fear.

The dynamics of these packs are in a constant state of flux as alpha members begin to evolve and splinter packs develop and break away on a daily often hourly basis. This ebb and flow unpredictability is the tactic they use most on the well meaning middle age male as he strolls naively doe-eyed in their midst. Only to be figuratively skeletonized and emasculated within moments realizing that he truly is no longer part of the popular culture.

That annoying high pitched drone that seems to follow the packs around is not the sound of the industrial accident in process, it is often mistaken for. It is the squeals of delight these packs use to signal their approval of the “boy band” du-jour. In much the same manner that white smoke signals a new pope at the vatican, the Sixth Grade Girl squeal alerts the pack that a new heart throb has been selected and all references to yesterday’s selection should be avoided and any mention of them should be ridiculed by the pack.

This is but one example of the nuanced means of verbal and nonverbal communication that the pack uses. In much the same way that whales and dolphins use a series clicks, whistles and moans to communicate, Sixth Grade Girls signal approval and disapproval through squeals, eye rolls, heavy signs and stares.

These signals are as cryptographic to the casual observer as any algorithm that modern security experts have developed. The key is not to try to decrypt these messages. As you are not a member of this pack or subgroup you can not possibly understand and this will be pointed out to you numerous times in any communication to do attempt to have with this group.

So how do you survive this scourge? You don’t survive unscathed but you hope that the 180 days of six grade doesn’t weaken you to the point that your easy pick’n for the teenage boy (another of nature’s horrors).

Anything but bored

Jacob, Mary and Joshua at White Oak Cabins near Lake Patoka

Jacob, Mary and Joshua at White Oak Cabins near Lake Patoka

Recently my kids and I spent three days in southern Indiana. We visited Holiday World, probably the cleanest family friendly amusement park in the free world.
We drove down Sunday and spent the afternoon evening riding roller coasters and other amusement rides. Proving that it truly is a small world after all (different theme park) we bumped into the Oliver family there. It was nice catching up with them and the kids had fun doing things with others their own age.
Sunday night we made our way to the cabin we rented at White Oak Cabins. The kids really liked having that much room and not having neighbors above, below or beside us.

We were met by the owners chocolate lab Big Red. He was the friendliest dog, not having ever met us but obviously used to strangers coming and going he showed us right to our cabin’s door.
We stayed there two nights and it really wasn’t enough. The grounds the cabin was on were beautiful and begged to be explored. The owner also has another 60 acres on Lake Patoka that we will have to visit next trip.

Monday we headed back to Holiday World to visit the water park. The weather was perfect, mid to upper 70’s occasional puffy cloud to offer some shade but no threat of rain. Mr. Oliver and I had the same idea that Sunday would be crowded but we would have the park to ourselves on Monday. It was a common misconception shared with several thousand other dads. All the park personnel commented that it was busy for a Monday. But that is one of the great things about Holiday World even on a busy day for them the lines and crowds are not that bad. Sure we had to wait for an hour plus to get on their newest and greatest water coaster the rest of the lines and waits were no where near that long.

The Olivers invited us back to the attached campground, where they were staying, after the park closed for dinner. We accepted and I watched over all the kids at the amusement park for a couple hours while they headed back to the RV. All five kids got along great and had fun squeezing in as many roller coasters as they could in two hours. Mary even went on the Voyage which is more roller coaster than I can handle anymore, learned that the hard way last time we visited.

Having walked over to the campgrounds I left my Jeep in the parking lot that is attached to the park and the campgrounds. I never thought they would lock it up especially before 10 p.m., but they did.
After dinner I left the kids at the campsite and walked over to get the Jeep to head out for the evening. Much to my surprise the parking lot was chained and padlocked shut. As I was straddling the top of the fence I thought “A man my age can still scale a 6ft chain link fence in Crocs but should know better.”

I got to my Jeep and began driving looking for a gate open somewhere or hoping security will see me driving around in here and come to let me out. Neither looked like it was going to happen as I watched two city police cars drive by without so much as a glance my way. So I parked by the main gates with my lights on using my phone to find a number to the Holiday World security to find out how to get out. My luck finally turned when a security person getting off work notice me sitting there and stopped to help.

It was really late by the time we got back to the cottage that evening so everyone went straight to bed and slept in a little the next morning. Tuesday we paddled on the Blue River.  The boys were in sit on top kayaks. I never gave this type of kayak much of a look before but the outfitter suggested them for several reasons. Number one was comfort. Sitting on top instead of in the kayak is not nearly as warm. I had never thought about that before but having paddled an enclosed kayak on Lake Max I can attest that they do get warm and stale.

Mary and I were in a canoe which is my preference and this worked out great. We had the cooler and the boys in the kayaks could point out the easiest route through the couple of areas of rapids. The Blue River is a fun paddle. It is more technical than most of the rivers here in northern Indiana. Now it is not that difficult at all but had a couple of rapid sections that were fun to paddle.

It was an enjoyable three days. We had fun doing a little bit everything each of us like to do. I am looking forward to our next adventure.

When a plan works

Valmont Tourney ChampsWhat was probably my last go at coaching a youth league team went according to plan. Considering I was called the night before the draft and recruited to coach at the last minute that is a nice accomplishment.

The league commissioner called and said they had 85 kids registered in the league and he had heard 84 reasons why they couldn’t coach. He was about to hear number 85 when I thought why not.

At the draft job one was to draft kids that their parents would be able to help me. On that front I did really well. Two young men their father played college ball and was very good at explaining the mechanics of how to play the game. Another young man’s father was in the same boat as me, he has helped with several teams but his work kept him from head coaching.

Next up I drafted the oldest kids I could because I wanted ball players that had played in this league before and wouldn’t need to be baby sat during the games. The only down fall to that strategy is that 16 year olds can play but they can’t pitch. So they were easy to pick up.

Next up was look for an arm to make into a pitcher. I got a couple I thought I had seen on the mound before or at least on a mound some where in the youth leagues. I also received a tip about a couple of kids from the neighboring town that would like to be on the same team for car pooling reasons.

And then it was down to drafting kids based not on what I knew about them but what I knew about the other kids that were available. Yes there were a couple of athletes available that had more talent but they brought along a lot of issues that frankly I didn’t want to deal with. I am sure I wasn’t the only one that was using this strategy because it was tempting based on who was left.

The first practice I told the players that this is just a wooden bat rec league. If they are looking for an ultra competitive instructional league they were in the wrong place. This league is played on a small diamond with very tall left field fence. We use wooden bats because the bases are only 80 feet apart and it is about 235 feet to the corners. It is a great fun league but not one I would schedule my vacation around.

I also told them that the regular season didn’t mean a lot because all the teams played in a double elimination tournament at season’s end. I told them that with some on the team playing on travel teams, high school teams and in other activities that we would use the regular season as a learning activity to see where people fit and let the results take care of themselves.

We had three rules: Have Fun, Work Hard and Be Gentlemen. This is a rec league, it is for fun, it is played against your buddies, if you are not having fun why bother. The games during the regular season are on a timer. 90 minute games and I kept practices to the same length. If you can’t turn off the phones, iPods and give me 100% of your attention and effort for an hour and half then we were going to have problems. There is no strolling or sauntering in baseball!

The final point I made was that yes the umpires in this league make mistakes and bad calls. The majority of our games are played when it is extremely warm and humid. The umpires are payed for two games played on a clock or 7 innings which ever comes first. Their strike zone seems to change inning by inning depending on how warm it is and where the catcher lets them set up. They also have a good memory for which players seem to give them the hardest time and they are not going to let a 13-16 year old kid show them up. So not if but when they are on the losing end of a bad call I didn’t want to see any theatrics just hustle back to the dugout and let me or one of the assistant coaches handle it.

We didn’t have any practices with everyone there because of the other teams they where involved in but the ones that were not playing baseball somewhere else made it and received a lot of 1 on 1 help. The regular season we played people in different positions, different line-ups looking to see what worked and what didn’t. We finished with a .500 season record.

Two nights before the season was to start Jacob broke his wrist in a high school game. What was supposed to be four weeks of rehab turned into about 6-7 and we were without a key part of our defense for all but the final two games of the regular season. I also was counting on him to be an important part of our pitching staff. In retrospect this was not as bad as I thought it would be because now I was forced to do exactly as I had planed and moved people around to some new positions.

We finished the regular season on a Friday evening with two make up games the next day. Playing 3 games in 24 hours was going to be tough with the pitching staff we had. The Friday night game was against one of the better teams in the league and would be a good test of where we stood. Saturdays doubleheader was against a team that was at the bottom of the standings but we had not played them yet so I didn’t know what to expect.

We dropped the Friday night game when they came from behind to beat us. I left a pitcher in too long because I was worried that I wouldn’t have the arms for the two games the next day. I had told the guys before the game that I was worried about the staff and that I probably wasn’t going to pull anyone. To make matters worse the other team only had 8 players show up. In this league that is not the handicap you might think. All players bat, you play 9 on the field at a time but if all 13 are in the dugout all 13 bat. So if the right 8 show up even if you have to take an out in the 9th spot you get through the order quicker.

Saturday the team showed up and I could tell that my taking the blame for last night’s game had not really helped and they looked beat. When we got a couple run lead in the first game I put in the best defense we had. I told an assistant coach I wasn’t concerned who had or had not played at that point we were going to win and they could play an extra inning in the next game. We won, and you could feel the fun return to the dugout and we dimed them the second game with everyone getting plenty of playing time.

We had a couple more make up games to play and we played well enough that I told the kids after the final game that we could beat every team in that league and that the tournament was what we had set as our goal. Well they believed me and the tournament went exactly as planned. We beat the regular season champs twice the second time for the championship in a mercy rule.

I couldn’t have been prouder of these young men. All thirteen of them came through at some point in the tournament to contribute and each of them seem to accept their role and worked hard towards the goal. They also were the perfect gentlemen and gracious winners.

The sports editor here at the paper asked if I was going to do it again next year. I said no I had what was probably the perfect year and I don’t think I could top it so I would just retire now on top and enjoy the memories of a having a plan work. It doesn’t happen very often but when it does it feels pretty special.