Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Notes From My Knapsack 4-6-08
Jeff Gill

Elevate Your Game With John Wooden

John Wooden is at every NCAA basketball national championship, whether he makes it to the hall where it’s played or not.

No one has won more of them as a coach; shoot, no school has won more in their entire history than Wooden did at UCLA, ten of ‘em. (Adolph Rupp won four, and Kentucky has seven.)

He became the “Wizard of Westwood,” but he’s a Hoosier boy through and through, at 97 still giving the occasional interview, though his health – understandably – hasn’t left him free to make every home game the way he once did, let alone travel to the Final Four.

If you watch the coverage, you’ll hear his name. I can pretty much guarantee it.

Growing up in Indiana, and around basketball (I know, that was redundant), you heard about and even saw Wooden – so to speak. When my high school basketball team (full disclosure: I was the manager) played in the state semi-final game at Purdue, our pre-game meal was in a banquet room at the Holiday Inn with a ten foot tall black and white image of a young John Wooden on the wall.

He’s got gyms and post offices named for him from Martinsville, Indiana to the San Fernando Valley, and books of his counsel for coaching and for life are many.

But he says it all boils down to a seven point creed that was printed on a card his father, Joshua Wooden, gave him when he was a boy. Those simple statements Coach Wooden says gave him all he’s needed to build a successful and honorable life – see what you think.

Be true to yourself.
Make each day your masterpiece.
Help others.
Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible.
Make friendship a fine art.
Build a shelter against a rainy day.
Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings every day.

These seven lines are on cards John Wooden still hands out, now with pictures of both Joshua and his son John, and what Coach Wooden calls “Two sets of threes” from other counsel that his dad gave him.

The first set is:

Never lie.
Never cheat.
Never steal.

And then:

Don’t whine.
Don’t complain.
Don’t make excuses.

You know, as a life philosophy, you don’t need much more than that. Plus, a really good recruiting strategy that includes having a beach nearby. But if it were just about the beach, Kansas wouldn’t be in the Final Four, so give Coach Wooden the credit.

Kansas, of course, is where the inventor of the game of basketball, James Naismith, closed out his coaching career, which began at the literal beginning in a Springfield, MA YMCA with some peach baskets. He is, ironically, the only losing basketball coach Kansas has ever had – someone should have given him a Wooden card.

Personally, I hope someone gives the entire Cubs lineup a set of these cards this year, the 100th anniversary of the franchise’s last World Series win. They’re gonna need some character building sentiments to buck them up through another year of happy futility.

My take on the Cubs’ plight is simply that you don’t get to play in the most beautiful ballpark in the major leagues (sorry, Boston, what’s with that big ugly green thing in left field?) and also play in the World Series. And any true Cubs fan will tell you – if the choice is between a World Series win while playing at suburban Megacorp Stadium, or losing the pennant again at Wrigley Field, we’ll take the Friendly Confines.

Friday, April 11, from 8 pm until who knows when at Brews Too (their basement bar located waaay upstairs), “Heavens to Betsy” and other musical friends of the Licking County Coalition for Housing are having a benefit concert. Titled “Home Again,” the musicians involved are giving the ten bucks a head to help alleviate homelessness in Licking County. What else you spend is up to you, but you can get a fun evening while helping keep others from a desperate one.

If enough people show up, they might even play “Freebird.”

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; his Wrigley Field memories are rich and full, while he knows little about World Series victors of the last century. Tell him about the Yankees at

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