July Motivation of the Month: Leaving Home

As is our tradition here at TopOfTheCircle.com, the July Motivation of the Month is a truly unforgettable first-person account of an actual high-school player as she collected her thoughts in 1999 just before leaving home for college.

This essay, since it can’t fit into the header at the top of this page, is going to remain here for the month; daily posts will appear just below.


By Jamie Paul
Haddonfield, N.J.

I never thought when I complained and complained about school and all the rules, that when the time came to leave, I would have this empty void inside. People often told me, “Oh you’ll miss this place when you get out,” and at the time, I shrugged them off.

But as the end of senior year neared, I was quite anxious to get out of there. But wouldn’t we all be? Everyone looks forward to a break. But little did I realize that this “break” was permanent and come next September, I won’t be roaming the same old hallways and playing on the same old torn-up fields.

I miss the faces of friends congregating at lockers, I miss the “hellos” from underclassmen friends and senior buddies, and most of all, I miss the teachers, and just plainly the surroundings. Yeah, I was human and I cried at graduation, but that whole “ending” feeling never really hit me. Today, though, today it did.

As I was meandering underneath my bed for my stopwatch — which is still missing in action — I came across my memory boxes from school. And as curious as I am, I just had to open them up and leaf through my collection from these past four years. I pulled out old notes that were passed in hallways, old pictures taken of a field hockey team that was at times a second family, and Christmas and birthday cards, sent from friends that I would have never have come across, had it not been for my times at school.

And then the memories — oh God, the memories! — they haunt me like a ghost. They help at times, but at times, they hurt. Those good times, those funny times, I can’t return to them. That’s the problem: all I can do is remember. But sometimes remembering just isn’t enough.

Maybe it’s the fear of the unknown that is stirring up all these emotions, maybe it’s just looking around, at smiles and at faces of friends, that I know I am afraid to leave. Maybe it’s that fear, that unknowing feeling, that leads me to want only to return to the place that I first learned how to dare, how to dream and how to love.

The ending has ceased though, but that new beginning still awaits me. That door, still yet to be opened, flashes through my mind. At times, I cringe with excitment, and at other times, tears sting the back of my eyes and I know I’m not strong enough. Even with a strong inner faith, I can’t conquer the fear. Even running can’t take my mind off of it.

Every day I arise, knowing we’re getting one day closer. And maybe once I’m settled, once I’ve broken my new environment in, I’ll be just fine. And I’ll laugh at my craziness of wanting to cling to the past, a past of which I said all too often I wanted to forget. But I take one look back and I can’t do it. I can’t bring myself to realize that it’s all said and done. No more. No returning.

And everytime I look at my former coach, who has become so much more than a coach since the day she stepped away from the sidelines two years ago, I am convinced that there’s no way I can leave her or forget her. I stood there tonight as she stopped me, when I was out running, but yet there’s nothing to talk about. And as I ran onward and upward, I wondered if this was the way it was gonna be. Maybe being apart will strenghten our relationship, but maybe it will tear me apart before it strengthens us.

Now I wish only to return, to where there were guarantees, and I wouldn’t have to be alone. But now I’m alone and there’s no one. No familiar face to convince me anymore and maybe that’s why I am scared. Maybe this was all a dream, but somewhere I know I can conquer this. But for now, I wish only to return to yesterday.

Jamie Paul, who graduated from Haddonfield Paul VI (N.J.) on June 6, 1999, would attend Elizabethtown (Pa.) College that fall.

July 4, 2015 — A reading of a classic

During this celebration of our nation’s independence from Great Britain, there is a wonderful observance done every year on the radio: a reading of the Declaration of Independence. Take nine minutes out and reflect on what it was like in the colonies in the years leading up to the American Revolution.

July 3, 2015 — The safety of all

Yesterday, a Brazilian police officer named Carlos Silva was killed on a bicycle while he was competing with other law-enforcement officers in an Olympic-style sporting event called the World Police & Fire Games. In addition to mainstays of the Olympics such as track and field, boxing, wrestling, and swimming, the events include occupation-specific competitions involving police motorcycles, several shooting events, and handling of fire equipment.

Silva, riding in a road race, was involved in a crash when one of his fellow competitors blew a tire, causing a chain-reaction collision.

While a statement from the Games’ organizers indicated that all of the riders were wearing protective equipment, a published photograph of the scene showed that the guardrail separating the road from the shoulder was a wooden barrier barely two feet high and not the steel barriers you might see erected in somewhat dangerous parts of a road cycling course in races sanctioned by the International Cycling Union or the US Cycling Federation.

Only we don’t know exactly how much expertise that either governing body gave to the organizers to the World Police and Fire Games. Did officials inspect the course before the event? Were course marshals assigned to the area where the accident occurred?

There are many, many multisport events held around the world every year. Some, like the X-Games, are predicated upon physical risk. Some of the riskier events of the early years, such as sky surfing and street luge, are no longer contested.

The World Police and Fire Games are run by a body called the the World Police and Fire Games Federation, based in California. Many of the individual events are contested under the rules of world governing bodies; the soccer competition, for example, follows many of FIFA’s rules except for substitutions. The WPFG soccer competition even goes so far as to carry over yellow cards from game to game, just like in a World Cup.

In any sport, there is a certain amount of risk. That risk is magnified when the competitors are amateurs in comparison to the world-class athletes who jump, leap, fly, and ride at incredible speeds every day. But that risk should be mitigated through the planning and expertise of officials who oversee the sport and ensure that the competitors play safely.

The first responders who compete in these games deserve no less.

June 30, 2015 — The best of all possible worlds

The United States women’s national field hockey team all but qualified for the Olympics today.

What’s going on here? Aren’t they home right now? Didn’t they play a few weeks ago in Valencia?

True, the Americans didn’t even play in today’s quarterfinal round of the World League Semfinal in Antwerp. But with wins by Australia, New Zealand, Korea, and Holland in the quarters, this puts three sure-shot continental candidate teams, plus a team that’s already won its continental championship, in candidacy for the three automatic qualification slots for the 2016 Olympics.

Importantly, however, none of the four losing teams today — Japan (10th), Belgium (12th), India (13th), and Italy (16th) — are ranked as high as the United States, meaning that whichever of these four teams wins the consolation bracket to place fifth is going to be behind the U.S. in terms of waiting for an Olympic berth.

In other words, it was the absolute best of all possible results for the U.S. coming out of Europe this morning.

Now, for those of you new to this qualification criteria, think of the top six coming out of each of the two World League Semifinals as a two-column ladder. The Valencia half looks like this:

Team GB
Argentina (3rd)
United States (5th)
Spain (15th)

The top three (all in red) are in the Olympics. So will the top three from the Antwerp tournament. Now, it’s possible for either top-ranked Holland or No. 2 Australia to finish fourth in this World League semifinal. If they do, that would mean that they are going to be the first of the two fourth-place teams to qualify for the Olympics, with Argentina having to wait.

Of course, I could go on all day about qualification scenarios, but I’m going to borrow the words of U.S. Masters international Richard Hayden, who figured out the cataclysmic scenarios that would have to happen for the United States not to qualify for the Olympics.

For the United States (the third team in line) to not make Rio, all of the following would have to happen:

1. A team other than Holland, Great Britain, or Germany would have to win the Eurohockey title;
2. A team other than the United States or Argentina would have to win the Pan American Games;
3. A team other than South Africa would have to win the Africa Cup For Nations;
4. A team other than New Zealand or Australia would have to win the Oceania Cup.

Yep, all four.

Now, it’s entirely possible that the two unlikeliest scenarios (3 and 4) could happen if South Africa, having failed to qualify its men’s or women’s teams through a world tournament, simply decides not to spend the money to send a team to the Africa Cup. Or, if both New Zealand and Australia finish in two of the top three slots and decide to let Fiji and Samoa (a minimum 23 goals per game worse than their neighbors) have it out for the Oceania Cup.

Somehow I don’t think this cataclysmic scenario is going to occur; if you’re a field hockey supporter, I guess it’s OK to make your reservations for Rio next summer.

June 27, 2015 — Bending away from a gender normative

Tonight’s 2-1 win by England over Canada in the 2015 Women’s World Cup isn’t just an upset over the host nation.

In truth, it’s much more than that.

The 23 young women under the tutelage of Mark Sampson have had to fight numerous obstacles in order to get where they have wanted to be, and that’s one step closer to playing for a World Cup.

Many of these obstacles are cultural, some are economic and structural. But they boil down to this: before 1971, women simply didn’t kick a soccer ball in the United Kingdom. That was because of a directive in 1921 by The Football Association banning women from playing on their grounds. Instead, women who wanted to play football would have to play organized games on rugby grounds or public parks, or anywhere there was a spare acre to play.

A gender normative came into being in the United Kingdom: field hockey was for girls, and soccer was for boys. To an extent, much of that attitude remains. There are more than a million female hockey players registered with England Hockey. At last count, the number of female soccer players registered with the FA is fewer than 100,000.

And that also goes to differing attitudes that the governing bodies have towards their athletes when it comes to world-level competitions. No matter how well England does in this Women’s World Cup, none of these soccer players will not be in next year’s Rio Olympics. 

That’s because the football associations of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland failed to reach an accord to send a unified Great Britain team to the Olympic soccer tournament. 

No such failure occurred in women’s field hockey; Team GB qualified for the Olympics through its recent performance in the World League semifinals.

Tonight’s result may result in an enormous sea change in a country with one of the world’s most-followed domestic men’s professional soccer leagues.

It may result in British fans, disillusioned by the way the men’s soccer team has underachieved since the triumph of the 1966 World Cup, finding hope and nationalistic glory in their women’s performance.

And some small girl watching the BBC this evening may score a World Cup winner for England one day.

That’s the power of this achievement.

June 26, 2015 — The possibilities of a nation

Many pundits are putting forth the notion that today’s 5-4 Supreme Court decision in the Obergefell v. Hodges case is a watershed moment for the United States.

It frankly shouldn’t have been.

Instead, it was the latest chapter for socioeconomic groups who have had to struggle to win a certain group of constitutional and civil rights they should have already had but for the actions of people looking to take away those rights from people.

For as much as our nation has revered the Constitution of the United States, it is, as written, an imperfect document. Slavery was written into the Constitution, and slaves were seen as 3/5 of a person in the decennial Census. The rights and freedoms within the document were, regrettably, reserved for only a few people.

It has taken many struggles to get women the right to vote, to give former slaves and their descendants equal rights in public accommodations, to give immigrants the opportunity to become citizens, and, finally, to allow members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer, and questioning communities (and their allies) the constitutional rights that marriage gives them.

Before today, same-sex couples in many parts of this country could not inherit one another’s property at the time of death, co-sign loans, adopt children, even visit each other in the hospital, because politicians specifically wrote policies and regulations barring them from the institution of marriage.

Those regulations are now gone; marriage equality is the supreme law of the land.

It’s been a long road since the Stonewall Inn riots, which took place 46 years ago this week in New York City. Activism on many sides has led to progress in issues large and small within the LGBTQQ(A) community. In the last few weeks, there have been numerous social mileposts, including those in sports.

But let’s also look ahead. Thinking of tonight’s quarterfinal match in the Women’s World Cup, there are two members of the women’s national soccer team, Abby Wambach and Megan Rapinoe, who are gay. And the thing is, the sexual orientation angle has not been brought up at all. It is treated the same way as the heterosexual marriages of other members of the team.

Meanwhile, tonight’s opponent, China, is one of a number of countries in this year’s Women’s World Cup which has not only been slow to change, but has outright hostility to same-sex culture. Indeed, only a few months after China lost the 1999 Women’s World Cup on penalty kicks, a court in Beijing homosexuality was “abnormal and unacceptable to the Chinese public.”

There’s still a lot of work to do.

June 25, 2015 — Banning a symbol is only symbolic

Since the murder of nine people in a church in Charleston, S.C. last week, and revelations that the alleged gunman posted pictures of himself sitting on a car with a picture of the Confederate battle flag on it, there has been an amazing pullback from the flag which for some in this country is a symbol of a region of the country, but for others has become a divisive symbol of racial hatred.

Yesterday seemed to be a tipping point. Alabama removed the Confederate battle flag from some displays around the state capitol. South Carolina, which flies the flag over the state capitol building, is in the midst of voting to remove it even after years of defying boycotts, including one by the NCAA, which banned most postseason competitions from the state. There are going to be votes in several Southern states soon to remove the battle flag from public view.

Businesses such as eBay and Amazon have begun the process of removing any and all merchandise with the Confederate battle flag. Some flagmaking companies have made it known that they won’t be making the Confederate battle flag ever again. Even NASCAR, a sport which was born out of the back roads of the deep South, has called for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the South Carolina state capitol.

Your Founder was born in a state in the deep South, Mississippi, which remains the only one with the Confederate battle flag as part of its state flag. I grew up in an era in which the flag meant an area of the country with a slower lifestyle. One where neighbors waved to each other from behind the wheel of a car when you passed them on the street. One where you could strike up a conversation in the checkout line instead of trying to get out of the store in a New York minute. One where you had easy access to grits, pimento cheese sandwiches, fresh green beans, and pork cracklings.

All of that changed, however, when the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups stopped using the American flag during protests and cross burnings and instead adopted the Confederate battle flag.

Now, these kinds of removals, bans, and scrutiny of this flag are fine. The problem is, the other causes and conditions which allowed the massacre in Charleston to take place still remain.

It is far too easy for mentally unstable people to get their hands on firearms that are meant to kill dozens of people in a short amount of time. It is far too difficult for families of the mentally ill to get the necessary medical care without enormous co-pays and deductibles.

Furthermore, the current movements to remove hate symbols actually don’t do very much to remove the symbols where hate groups tend to gather: the Internet. There are still about 800 hate groups in the U.S., according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, and many hundreds of pages on the Web help recruit people to their cause. And they often use the Confederate battle flag in their visuals. They also use the flag of Nazi Germany, the flag of the old South Africa, and the flag of Rhodesia. None of those flags are in the conversation by the politicians and corporations who are lining up to disavow themselves from the Confederate battle flag.

Furthermore, I’d point out that, while it is much easier for states to regulate what kinds of imagery could appear on a license plate thanks to last week’s Walker vs. Sons of Confederate Veterans Supreme Court decision, the kinds of regulatory follow-through are likely to be ham-handed rather than nuanced.

One instance: Virginia. Yesterday, governor Terry McAuliffe vowed to change the design and eliminate the hundreds of similar Sons of Confederate Veterans flag plates in the commonwealth. Yet, Virginia is one of several southern states which have begun issuing license plates with the yellow Gadsden flag, which is the symbol of the neo-conservative Tea Party movement, which has defended the display of the Confederate battle flag as a symbol of heritage. McAuliffe has not addressed that license plate.

Ultimately, the movements that have taken place this week are necessary, and they have been incredibly swift. But unless the root causes of hate are addressed, as well as the weapons used to propagate and act out on that hate, they remain, regrettably, symbolic.


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