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Posts Tagged ‘Georgia

God and cheerleader at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High

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If you attend one school board meeting this year, it looks like the one to attend will be Tues., Oct. 13’s regularly scheduled session of the Catoosa County School Board in Ringgold, Ga. That’s because the meeting will feature a large crowd of people always known to liven up an otherwise staid board or town hall meeting — religious fundamentalists.

They’re descending on Ringgold because over the last few weeks, a story has developed over Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High’s varsity football cheerleaders writing Bible verses on the huge tissue-paper poster the players run through for their spirited pregame entry, instead of their writing something less controversial like “Go Warriors,” “We’re 14th in the State in SAT Scores,” or “Meet Me After the Game for a Hand Job.”

3921854829_4e2645cf92How to strip a Bible verse of its context. The 10th chapter of Ezra starts like this: While Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a large crowd of Israelites—men, women and children—gathered around him. They too wept bitterly. Then Shecaniah son of Jehiel, one of the descendants of Elam, said to Ezra, “We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the peoples around us. But in spite of this, there is still hope for Israel. Now let us make a covenant before our God to send away all these women and their children, in accordance with the counsel of my lord and of those who fear the commands of our God. Let it be done according to the Law. Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it.” So Ezra rose up and put the leading priests and Levites and all Israel under oath to do what had been suggested. And they took the oath.

This case of religion in public school sports is a bit of an oddball because the local resident who pointed out the possible illegality of the sign was not a hard-core atheist or someone else with a religious bone to pick. It was a parent who had taken a law class at the Jerry Falwell-founded Liberty University, and who had picked up the lesson through that religiously sympathetic institution that the cheerleaders’ signs could violate separation-of-church-and-state laws and be potentially divisive in the community.

Also a bit of an oddball, the superintendent, instead of sending the Holy Wrath of the Lord on all who would desecrate the cheerleaders’ sign, ordered no more Bible verses on the field. Denia Reese’s statement is a testament, no pun intended, to how a school official can grudgingly balance her personal beliefs and the rights of others:

“I regret that we had to ask the LFO cheerleaders to change the signs used in the stadium prior to football games. Personally, I appreciate this expression of their Christian values; however, as Superintendent I have the responsibility of protecting the school district from legal action by groups who do not support their beliefs.”

On the surface, the upcoming school board meeting appears to be a tribute to Christian passive-aggressiveness. From the Facebook page of those organizing a rally at the meeting:

This is not a political rally! This is simply a call to Christians to come out and pray for our school system and leaders who are making decisions. Also, to show our support for the sign.

We are going to continue to pray that some how the cheerleaders will get their signs back!

Several members of the community will be speaking to the board at 6 PM during public participation. We will gather for prayer outside of the board room at 7 PM.

Still, the way any public meeting goes, whether it’s about religion or not, there should be some fire and brimstone brought to the microphone stand. Hopefully, the school board stands firm. Like the superintendent, it can be as personally sympathetic as it wants. It can talk about what a good Christian community the school represents. It can talk about how the hand of Satan is behind the sign being taken away. But what the school board can’t do is give its blessing, no pun intended, that the sign return.

The superintendent set up a compromise where a big ol’ Bible verse sign can be put up before any steps onto school grounds to see a game. Hey, that’s great. But she and the board knows that if that sign goes back up on the field, a lawsuit is sure to follow, especially now that this case has gotten nationwide attention. It’s the same old story — nobody is stopping you from praying privately and on your own time that Jesus helps you smite the opposition. Just don’t make everyone pray with you.

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Written by rkcookjr

October 12, 2009 at 12:14 am

City slicker knocks hick town's Little League nose out of joint

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“That column was written in New York City!” — “New York City!!!!!!!??????”

Daaaaaaaadgummit, are they hoppin’ mad in Georgia over some snooty big-town writer accusing their Little League team of being bad sports. Imagine that, someone in big, bad New York City saying polite Southerners are the rude ones! Well, I never!

The first round in this media civil war was fired by the New York Post’s sports-moralizer-in-chief, Phil Mushnick, in an Aug. 23 column titled, “Lack of Sportsmanship at LLWS No Surprise.” Mushnick’s lede: “Every August, if you’re interested in gauging our starts-young “sports culture,” especially in the hands of TV, there’s the Little League World Series on ABC/ESPN. It can cure stomach discomfort. By making you sick. ” (Wow, pretty subtle for Mushnick, and the Post.)

Mushnick saved his most pointed finger wag for the coaches of the Georgia team, for how it reacted when a pitcher from the Staten Island, N.Y., team (in the Post’s readership area) tried to intentionally walk one of the Georgia players, and for the ABC crew, which didn’t call the coaches on it.

Saturday, the 12-year-olds representing Georgia were up, 4-1, against the kids from Staten Island when a Georgia batter, being intentionally walked, was at 3-0. But with the catcher again setting up outside and the ball again thrown outside, the batter swung and, of course, missed.

On ABC, Gary Thorne, known for presenting bad guesswork as fact, claimed that the batter “swung at that, just fooling around.”

Oh no,he didn’t. If he had, Georgia’s coach, immediately shown coaching third, would not have responded with silence and a knowing look. It was clear that with Staten Island’s starter’s pitch-count nearing the maximum allowed, 85, the kid had been instructed to swing at 3-0, to increase the total.

Here was another example of adults encouraging kids to forget playing ball and instead try to win by hook or by crook, to exploit every rule, to worm through loopholes.

ABC’s broadcast truck half got it. It cut to a shot of an electric pitch-count board in the outfield, except it focused on the wrong team’s. A close-up showed Georgia’s starter to have thrown 44, when N.Y.’s starter, after that kid swung at 3-0, had reached 77.

Mushnick went on to sprain other fingers while wagging them about the Little League World Series, but no matter. To the state of Georgia, specifically Joe Kovac Jr. of the Telegraph in Macon, them fighting words had already been spoken. Daaaaaaaadgummit, apparently Phil Mushnick doesn’t like winners, especially smarty-pants Southerners outslicking the city slickers. Warner Robins American Little League, the Georgia rep,  won the World Series in 2007, and its girls won the Little League softball World Series a month back, making it the first league to have boys and girls winners.

Kovac Jr. responded today in a column titled, “New York City tabloid says Warner Robins Little Leaguers poor sports.” In case you missed the seething dripping from the phrase “New York City tabloid” — as in, “Big City Asswiper” — Kovac Jr.’s lede was, “Leave it to the New York press to stir up a mild stink over, of all things, the strategic subtleties of Little League baseball.”

Mushnick’s observations came two days after the Georgia boys out-foxed the New Yorkers 6-3 in a contest televised on ABC. Well within the rules of the Little League game, Warner Robins sought to do all it could to up the Mid-Atlantic starting hurler’s pitch count.

Warner Robins leadoff batter Justin Jones, who had cracked a two-run homer earlier in the game, was at the plate with two out in the fourth. The Big Apple squad opted to issue him an intentional pass. Its pitcher tossed three pitchouts to the catcher.

On what would have been ball four, with the Staten Island starter’s pitch count within eight of the 85-pitch, Little League limit, Jones, with the apparent OK from his father, Warner Robins manager and third-base coach Randy Jones, took a half-hearted swing at the unhittable pitch. That ran the count to three balls and a strike, the idea being to chase the strong-throwing starter from the game in hope that a lesser pitcher might come on in relief. Or, perhaps, to even coax the New Yorkers to try their luck and pitch to Jones.

In last year’s regional round in Gulfport, Fla., the Warner Robins team bit on such a move. Its pitcher, facing Tennessee’s mightiest hitter, opted to pitch to the slugger after he took hacks at a pair of would-be ball fours. With the count 3-2, Warner Robins pitched to him and, whammo, saw the ball fly out of the park for a home run.

Saturday, Jones didn’t swing to make it 3-2 and instead walked. The batter behind him struck out to end the inning, but in the next frame the Warner Robins leadoff man went down on strikes, but it spelled the end for the New York starter who’d hit the 85-pitch mark.

Monday evening, during a postgame interview session with reporters after Warner Robins’ 3-2 victory over the Northwest team, the Georgia team’s manager was asked if the New York Post piece was accurate in saying Justin Jones was instructed to swing to increase the pitch tally.

“Do I need my attorney?” Randy Jones deadpanned, drawing laughs from reporters. “The pitch count is a part of the game, and it’s here to stay. And for those who aren’t willing to find strategic ways to use it to their benefit, they will find themselves going home.”

He said he figured to get questions as to the appropriateness of Saturday’s strategizing eventually.

“I think the way that that question was answered the best was by one of the umpires. … Apparently the (New York) coach came out and, as soon as we did that, claimed that I was making a travesty of the game, which is a very broad rule in the book,” Jones said. “But, anyhow, the umpire’s response to him was, ‘I think it’s a travesty that you won’t pitch to the kid.’ So he didn’t say anything else and went back to the dugout. So that took care of that problem.”

You know who is right here? The umpire.

It was a travesty that the Staten Island coaches decided to intentionally walk a player in the fourth inning. You’re not Tony LaRussa. You’re Little League coaches. Just pitch to the kid. Tell your pitcher not to throw him anything hittable, but at least look like you’re trying. Also, congratulations, you’ve just told one of your best pitchers he’s not capable of getting one of the best hitters out. Way to build his confidence. Unless you’re getting a cash bonus for winning this World Series (and if you are, that’s disgusting in its own right), forget the intentional walks unless it’s a real baseball reason — like there are runners on second and third with less than one out.

Georgia, if you think the ump sided with you, you’re wrong. Bascially, he called you out for being rule-bending knuckleheads, too, for cheaply trying to push the Staten Island pitcher to his limit. The ump was saying two wrongs don’t make a right, as in, the only thing more ridiculous than the pitcher trying to walk your guy was your guy swinging at an intentional walk pitch. Oh, and another thing more ridiculous — cheaply trying to use the pitch-count limit against somebody. The spirit of the rule is to keep a kid’s arm from falling off, not so you can game who you get to face.

As for Mushnick and Kovac Jr.:

Mushnick, if you were going to finger-wag, you should have included your homeboys of Staten Island for the intentional walk.

Kovac Jr., you should stop being such a huckleberry about big cities. Then, you should stop talking about the subtleties of Little League managing as if they involve baseball strategy. The biggest subtleties of any youth sports league involve how you develop players, not only their skills but also a love of the game. Not whether you can work the opponent’s pitch count up. Oh, and nice job referring to “a lesser pitcher” on a group of 11- and 12-year-olds. You sound like a heckling parent, daaaaaaaadgummit.

Written by rkcookjr

August 25, 2009 at 1:50 pm

Outcasts United — the review

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In my Twitter-sized review of Warren St. John’s “Outcasts United,” I wrote as a top-of-my-head response after reading: “Makes you love America without feeling all Hannity.”

I don’t mean to get political, though it’s hard to read a book about a group of immigrants without thinking of Lou Dobbs yelling from the nearest television.

“Outcasts United,” about a group of refugee children dumped into a troubled suburb of Atlanta who are shaped into a soccer team by a Jordanian woman dumped by her father for staying in America, is a book about immigrants that the staunchest conservatives and the bleedingest-hearted of liberals could love.

The conservatives would love how the coach is tough on her charges and how the immigrants who are succeeding are lifting themselves up by their thin, thin bootstraps without demanding a handout. The liberals would love the inspirational tale of children of many nations coming together for a common purpose, and fighting oppression and prejudice all the way.

The book might be an easier sell if it took a political side. Instead, St. John, a New York Times reporter, does something more radical: he tells the story without going for the Big Lesson. You learn how immigrants need America, and better yet how American needs immigrants, as the story of the Fugees soccer team of Clarkston, Ga., develops.

The story might be about soccer, and it might be about people who come from you’re-from-where lands as Burundi, but it’s the prototypical American story: immigrants arrive to seek American dream; immigrants learn getting American dream isn’t so easy; immigrants strive to reach that dream; Americans in place resent immigrants “changing” things; immigrant parents and Americanizing children fight over pursuit of that dream; immigrants suffer oppression and violence; immigrants’ children fall prey to American temptations; Americans discover their use for immigrants; and America is renewed, and the American dream begins to be fulfilled, as immigrants blend into the melting pot. It’s also about how modern immigration works — not everyone arriving in the biggest cities, but odd ethnicities in out-of-the-way places, like Somalis concentrating in Lewiston, Maine, Burmese in Fort Wayne, Ind., Marshall Islanders in Springdale, Ark., and, as Dobbs will tell you, Latinos in small towns all over the United States.

Of course, it’s an enjoyable story on its own, a tale that breathes new life into all those cliches about the lessons sports can teach, and turns on its head cliches about small towns and the people in them. The beauty of “Outcasts United” is St. John’s thorough reporting and straight-ahead writing allowing the story to unfold in directions you might have never expected. You can see some of that here in an early version of the story, published in the New York Times.

No surprise, movie rights to “Outcasts United” have already been sold. However, I would recommend you read the book and not wait for the movie. I fear that a movie will strip all the subtlety out of the book, changing characters so you have more goody-goody good guys and more one-dimensional villains (and teary-eyed dramatic acceptance of immigrants). If you want be inspired not just by a team but by the country that messily allows it to thrive, pick up the book.

Written by rkcookjr

May 10, 2009 at 10:41 am