In Celebration: a tribute

I’m often asked why I got into fundraising. I’ve heard it all, from “I couldn’t ask people for money” to “fundraisers are just glorified car salesman.” What people don’t understand is that there is so much more involved. We make connections, share stories, get to know one another and if the affinity for our mission is there, we make an ask, but it doesn’t stop there. We’ve built a relationship.

Fundraising is not just about the money. Yes, the dollars are important if we want to provide for the organizations we serve. Sure, we have goals to meet, but if we believe in the mission, see the impact and know we are making a difference, then pursuing those goals is easier, even more so knowing the next person we meet might become part of our life.

For me, it’s all about the people.  Since I began in this field in 2006, I’ve met some incredible humans. They’ve shared their personal histories, their life stories and many have become friends. I no longer work at WSU where my fundraising journey began, but I still exchange Christmas cards, have lunch, email and catch up when we can with some of the most genuine people. They’ve become a part of my life mosaic and for that I am blessed. One such piece of that mosaic is Duane Smith.

My first interaction with Duane was over lunch at Bella Luna. He greeted me, a stranger, with a hug then proceeded to show me a framed photo of his beloved “May Queen,” his wife. He shared with me about their journey with Alzheimer’s and how he cared for her in their home except when he had an appointment, needed to run errands, or attended a Shocker game, at which time he had a nurse or family member stay with her. When he spoke of her, you could see his love and dedication, you could hear it in his voice.

And, he told me about his volunteerism. He volunteered at the Ronald McDonald House, Meals on Wheels and the Alzheimer’s Association of Central Kansas where he was a guest speaker and helped other caregivers and in 2012, was honored when the Alzheimer’s Association created the Duane R. Smith Annual Caregiver of the Year Award.

He was inspiring, especially through the sharing of his motto, Continue to Celebrate! Duane told me he believed in celebrating life – all things, big and small. He told me we should not wait to just celebrate the big stuff and the milestones, or we might find ourselves holding a bag of confetti never to be tossed. He used to sign all his emails and cards in celebration of life and was tickled when I began to do the same.

After I left the WSU Foundation, we kept in touch although lunches were a bit harder to schedule. He moved his May Queen into an assisted living and soon moved himself into a retirement community. At every Shocker game (he was a season ticket holder for 50 years), he would come sit with me, my dad and husband and talk basketball, as well as catch up on dad’s golf game and ask about Brad’s business. But, a few seasons ago he had to move from his seat to the handicapped area and we would go to visit him at his seat, so he didn’t have to climb the stairs.

When I left WSU, a virus erased all my contacts in my cell phone and I was not able to call or email him, but he found me, sleuth that he was, at the Wichita Children’s Home. We had lunch on the day after his birthday and although he was no longer driving and was moving a bit slower, he was still sharp-witted, looking forward to the Shocker basketball season, and celebrating. We planned to have lunch again after the season started to compare notes.

Sadly, I discovered through an announcement by his daughter that Duane passed away on October 30 after an illness and hospital stay. I am heartbroken but take comfort in knowing he is with his May Queen, once again. And while I am saddened, my spirit also soars in having the honor of knowing Duane Smith. He inspired and more importantly, he celebrated. Duane always reminded me that people should be celebrated just as much or even more so than events or things. We don’t celebrate one another enough.

In his honor, I will continue to celebrate.  You cannot imagine the simple joy it can bring to sign an email or card with “Still celebrating,” “Continuing the celebration,” or “In celebration of you.” To celebrate means to praise, extol or eulogize, so I can think of no better way to pay tribute to Duane than to carry on his celebration, and I hope you will do the same.

Always in celebration,

Natalie, Your Mermaid of the Plains

For more about Duane, I’d like to share a story from the Wichita Business Journal when he was recognized as a Health Care Hero, as well as his obituary. Godspeed, Mr. Smith. Thank you for teaching me to celebrate all that life has to offer. Your champion spirit shall be greatly missed.

 

 

 

 

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Like the Day after Christmas: The End of Basketball Season

For just a few teams, four to be exact, the season has not yet ended. But for me, the squeak of shoes on the court at Koch Arena has faded, the home/away schedule has been taken off the refrigerator, and the courtship of Coach Marshall by bigger, richer programs has begun. Shocker hoops season is officially closed.

I liken the end of the season to the day after Christmas. You are exhausted, but still euphoric from the time spent with family, friends, the parties, and the unexpected gifts but, you are also heavy with sadness, something you cannot quite shake, because it ended much too quickly. Just like that, it seems, it’s over. And now you have to wait a very long time to feel the anticipation, the excitement, and the delirious joy that comes with the season. You carefully tuck away the foam finger and the WuShock wig in the closet under the stairs, nestle numerous strands of yellow and black beads in your top dresser drawer along with leftover face tattoos and ticket stubs you were too superstitious to throw away, and with a tear in your eye, (which you explain to the neighbor was caused by those stinking, blooming Bradford pear trees), take down the gold and black flags that have flapped their loyalty through wind, rain, sleet and snow.

There is one saving grace which makes the end of basketball season easier to endure and that is the wearing of ones colors throughout the year. While you’d probably be ridiculed for wearing a red t-shirt of Santa’s jolly face in the middle of June, no one will blink if you wear your team colors every day of the week until November. If I had to stash away all of my Shocker gear until next season, fold it all neatly into black and yellow tubs and store them in the attic or basement, I’d lose my mind. Plus, we’d probably have to rent out a storage unit. I know wearing my Wu Shocked the Rock Chalk t-shirt in August will not only help me get through the hot summer days, it will bring to mind another incredible Shocker season.

Coming into the 2014-2015 season, we knew expectations would again be high, but we also knew we had a different team on the floor with many new, young faces. While we still had Van Vleet, Baker, Cotton, Wessel, and Carter, the thought of an inexperienced bench made everyone a little nervous, even my dad. The inconsistency of the bench and the obvious lack of trust in the bench from our veterans forced a few nail biters, but overall, they persevered and a few of those fresh faces emerged as our future stars. Shocker Nation, spoiled now by seasons of winning, grew restless after one loss, then critical after two. Personally, I figured this to be a five, possibly six-loss season, and was proud of our team for only one loss in conference play and a total of three losses during the entire season prior to the two tournament losses. So, let’s talk about those unexpected gifts.

Sure, having a starting five of Fred, Ron, Tekele, Evan and Darius is a gift in itself, but the emergence of our freshmen was the first gift under the black and gold tree. By the end of the season, Morris, Brown, and Bush had made their presence known and stepped up during some of the biggest games of the season.

The second? On February 28th, a date forever marked on the calendar as one of the biggest days in Shocker basketball history, the Shockers were crowned the season MVC Champs, back to back champions for the first time in 50 years. And, while the game against Northern Iowa was already significant with the winner the outright champ, ESPN’s College Game Day came to town to witness firsthand the electricity of Shocker Nation. Not even a late season snow storm would stop us from showing Bilas and the boys just what Wichita and Wichita State were made of. The energy from that morning spilled over into the game, igniting an already determined Shocker team to handily beat the Panthers. It was probably the loudest I have ever heard the fans in Koch Arena. Absolute delirium. I guess you could say this was one of those three-in-one gifts, where you have to open all three back-to-back-to-back to take in the full measure of just how awesome a gift you’ve just received.

Any other season that three-in-one would have been the grand finale gift, but not this year. Despite losing to Illinois State in the MVC tournament, which was disappointing but not life-ending, the Shockers were invited to the Big Dance for the fourth year in a row, a school record. And for the second year in a row, they had a tough road ahead of them to reach the Final Four: Indiana, Kansas, Notre Dame, and Kentucky. But, the only game able to distract all fans from the thought of a rematch against Kentucky was the possibility of finally playing Kansas. Yes, KU. The wait was over. No longer would Coach Self be able to ignore the media and fans and their constant badgering of why the Jayhawks would not schedule a game against the Shockers. For Shocker Nation, it was well worth the wait. Jim Rome described the outcome as “Kansas getting their nose broken by their so-called little brother,” but I see WSU and KU more like cousins. One, a working class kid with a chip on his shoulder and the other, a wealthy kid who knows he’ll get everything on his Christmas list. One kid works hard for everything he has earned. The other kid expects it and takes it for granted. This explains a lot of the bitterness following the game.

When the buzzer sounded and Wichita State was crowned the new “Kings of Kansas,” it was unknown territory for Jayhawk fans. When you are used to being on top, when you are hailed as a blue blood program, and you have numerous conference championships and a handful of National Championships, it hurts to be thought of as “second” in your home state, if even for a moment. But, for Shocker Nation, this may have been the biggest gift of the season. I don’t expect Jayhawk fans to truly understand or comprehend what this game meant to us, especially for fans like my father who’ve wanted to see a series between WSU, KU and K-State for years. And, as a true basketball fan, my father supports both programs of Kansas and Kansas State, but his heart and history belongs to WSU. The look on his face after the game was reminiscence of when we attended the Final Four in 2013. Sheer joy.

Many referred to this game as our Super Bowl, and maybe it was, which would explain why the Shockers just didn’t seem to have the energy to keep up with Notre Dame. They’d given everything they had on the court to ensure Shocker Nation was able to bask in a win against the blue and crimson team from Lawrence. Icing on the cake was a trip to the Sweet 16. Beating the University of Kansas for a trip to the Sweet 16 was like waking up on Christmas to find a black and yellow tandem Schwinn bicycle or Harley Davidson Sportster, depending on your preference of two-wheeled transportation, next to the tree.

Overall, it’s been a wonderful Christmas basketball season. The anticipation was immense, there were a lot of great parties and quality time spent with family and friends, and the gifts were bigger and better than were initially scribbled in letters to Santa WuShock. With that in mind, I will exercise great patience in waiting for November and enjoy the summer dreaming of another black and gold basketball season and many more unexpected gifts.

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MVP-Revisited

Today is my father’s 82nd birthday. In honor of this great man, a re-posting of MVP from 2010. Happy birthday, dad. –

Yesterday was my father’s birthday. He turned 78. There is so much I can say about my dad, he has been the true constant in my life. Yes, he instilled my love of sports, but more than that, he taught me to work hard, appreciate the results, be kind to everyone, place God and family first. And all by example. He is the quiet, gentle lead-by-example hero in my life. I consider myself more than lucky, more than blessed.

This is one of my favorite pictures of my father:

This is from his 1954-55 season with one of the city league teams. I’m not sure if it’s the church league, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, or the Naismith league with the VFW. But I love this picture. My dad was a player. He has a mustard-colored scrapbook filled with black and whites like this one, newspaper clippings, self-written or typed notecards with the team stats. He also has a shelf in the basement filled with trophies. They used to sit on the television console, then were moved to a long table in the living room. I used to glide my fingers across the shiny miniature basketball players, trace the engravings of his name, his team. There was even an ivory and gold trophy I swore was bigger than me, three-tiered and decorated with golden wreaths. I loved these trophies. They were a part of my father. A piece of him I only knew of. Never witnessed. Because by the time I was old enough to walk, he had retired from the game, except for the occasional pick-up game.

While many wouldn’t consider my father’s basketball career a success, in my eyes and the eyes of my siblings, there was no other player more successful than my father. And while I never got to see him play, I knew this by the stories my mother and older sister shared. The stories his friends shared. Their eyes would light up when they talked about my dad on the court. “Your dad could play…best hook shot I ever saw…greatest assist man…so smooth, he was down the court before you realized it…unselfish…cool.”

The first time I met local football icon, Linwood Sexton, a huge grin spread across his face as he commenced to tell me that if my father had been given the opportunity to play high school ball and come to WU, his jersey would be hanging in those rafters at Levitt Arena (now, Koch arena). “Your dad was the best basketball player I’d ever seen.” And he would know. As coach of the basketball team for St. Peter Claver, Sexton coached against my dad.

I remember gazing up at those jerseys, Littleton, Stallworth, and I wondered…what if. What if my dad had been given the opportunity? But life for a poor Mexican kid from Lyons, Kansas didn’t come with too many opportunities. Especially when my grandfather was killed in a grain elevator accident when my father was only twelve, leaving he and his seven siblings to care for their mother. They moved to Wichita to be closer to family. And those who were old enough to work, found jobs. My grandmother spoke little English and her husband’s death burdened her with an unshakable depression. The children took over the family. So at twelve, my father walked two miles to what was then Crestview Country Club near the University of Wichita, where he caddied for seventy-five cents for 18 holes. His first job. And it was there he fell in love with golf. And it was in Wichita he began to play basketball.

That’s him, second from the left. Not much of a team, but my dad loved playing. And he continued to play, even after he dropped out of high school to work full time he found city leagues, church leagues, and later the Mexican-American league. He just had to play.

One of the newspaper clippings from 1951, the Naismith league season, reads: “…with four minutes remaining, Oscar Castro, high-jumping VFW key man, dumped in two quick baskets to give VFW a 44-39 lead…”  My father averaged 9 points that season. Other clippings praise his coolness on the free throw line or how he made 5 of 6 shots in the waning minutes of a game. The clippings are many. The photos are fading. But the memories are alive every time someone recalls seeing my father play.

I once asked him if he wished things had been different. If he’d been able to play at North High and at WSU. Did he wish he could change his path. And he simply answered, no. No hesitation, no thought, no regrets. Just, no. And in that simple answer I truly understood my father. And this recognition brought to mind a quote, “Each one of us will one day be judged by our standard of life-not by our standard of living; by our measure of giving-not by our measure of wealth; by our simple goodness-not by our seeming greatness.”

Because my father is more than “the greatest basketball player ever seen,” more than those now dust-ridden trophies in the basement, those yellowed clippings. He is respected for his honesty, his integrity, his kindness, his love of family. And for that, he is more than a most valuable player.

So last night, I decided if I couldn’t get my father’s jersey in the rafters at Koch, I could at least get his name in lights.

Even if for a brief moment. He was surprised. He said it made his day, that and the Shockers won their conference opener 91-57 (first conference opener win of Marshall’s WSU career). It was a good birthday. And when he asked for copies of the pictures, I knew they would find a place  in those few remaining pages of his scrapbook. A continuation of his success in life. And I couldn’t be more honored.

Day #16 of Wild and Exciting Little Things: A walk through campus

On a crisp, fall morning, there is nothing I enjoy more than walking through campus. Now, I love walking on campus anytime, but when the leaves are changing and the newness of the academic year is fresh upon the breeze, that is when I feel most connected.

This morning, the air felt clean as I walked in the morning shadows of the buildings, a few golden leaves smattering the sidewalk. It was early, with students just beginning to arrive, so the campus was relatively quiet, the slightest sound echoing between the geology building and Ahlberg Hall. I walked carefully, the sun reflecting off the new WSU logo and tall glass windows of the Rhatigan Student Center. I breathed deep, purposefully, the fresh-cut grass, decaying flowers, and the smell of coffee escaping through open doors.

Walking on campus is sentimental in its memories of being a student and wistful in its dreams of being a professor. While my career path is different from what I’d planned, I am still a part of the university I love and whose future I want to share until I can no longer take these walks unassisted. Until then, I will make my way along these sidewalks, always aware of how fortunate I am to be a tiny piece of the history of this campus that still sits proudly on the hill.

A WSU holiday

This is the button I received last Thursday at the WSU Alumni Breakfast Series featuring Linwood Sexton. For those of you unfamiliar with this gentle man, he is a 1948 graduate of the University of Wichita, a standout Shocker football player who holds WSU’s career rushing record, was named All-Missouri Valley Conference First Team three times, was a charter inductee into the Shocker Sports Hall of Fame, an honoree of the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame, and a new inductee into the MVC Hall of Fame. He earned a bachelor’s degree in education, taught school at Wichita’s L’Ouverture Elementary, became a sales manager for Hiland Dairy, and is a lauded community leader who has worked tirelessly for equal opportunity and social justice. And that is just a hint of the man.

At the breakfast, he didn’t speak of his famed college football career, his local icon status, or his many community awards. He told a story. A story of a young black kid who lived in the segregated neighborhood of Wichita who could have easily grown up a bitter and angry man. He shared his experience as the only black athlete at WU and how the university took a chance giving a scholarship to a young black athlete when no one in their conference would dare. He described what it felt like to not be allowed to stay with his teammates on road trips, to be asked to leave the hotel or the restaurant because of the color of his skin, to stay at the “black only” hotel or with host black families, and how his teammates rallied around him. His teammates learned from him and he learned from his teammates. When Tulsa and Texas told the WU program not to bring their black athlete with them because they couldn’t guarantee he would make it back on the bus, the team  battled harder, winning for Linwood and the injustice of it all, taking their safety into their own hands to bring him the game winning football. He spoke of what it felt like to be invited into their homes and especially their small white towns, while he in turn invited them to his neighborhood, his home, and introduced them to his mother’s cooking. He spoke gently, with a bit of humor, and he spoke reverently, at times his voice heavy with nostalgia, and at other times he spoke firmly, punctuating his words, driving home how far we have come.

I met Linwood many years ago, introduced to him by my father,  and I wrote about their relationship. I knew they shared a love of sports and I knew they shared many of the same obstacles in life, so hearing Linwood’s story was like listening to my father. Their experiences were similar, especially the part where they became compassionate, gentle, yet strong men.

President Beggs declared March 10th as Linwood Sexton Day and I wore my button proudly everywhere I went, even taking the time to share Linwood’s story with those who inquired, in the check-out line at Target, with an afternoon golfer in the parking lot, and with three people at my salon. And each person I spoke with was equally touched by Linwood’s story. I already respected the man, liked him immensely, but on a crisp Thursday morning in March I loved him. Loved him for all he endured, for all he became, and for all he continues to do to ensure others understand what truly makes a man.

WuShock takes a tumble. Literally

When your fearless mascot takes a tumble down the arena stairs during the first half of the semi-finals in a tournament, call me superstitious but it’s game over. Not only did Wu fall, but he suffered what was thought to be a broken ankle. Turns out it’s a high ankle sprain, but nonetheless our Great Bundle of Wheat had to be carried out of the arena. And to make matters worse, the Shox soon fell to Indiana State and crushed all hope of an invite to the NCAA tournment.

Saturday afternoon exemplified an entire season. Quite possibly I should have listened to my father when the Shockers were picked to win the Valley, “Don’t get your hopes up, I don’t think they’re that good of a team.” Come on, Dad. Don’t be so pessimistic. This is our year. We have the pieces. We’re going all the way.

But with expectations so elevated, there was only one way for Shocker fans to truly go and that was down. And down. And down. Yes, one can argue a 25-7 record boasts of a winning season and it is, unless you’re in the Missouri Valley. As a so-called Mid-Major, a 25-7 record will get you a possible home game in the NIT. In comparison, Michigan State with a sorry record of 17-13 is still being considered a bubble team for the real dance. Seriously.

But that’s a whole other lament. With a record of 25-7, one expects a conference title, if not a tournament championship, but alas, the Shox brought home neither. What we suffered were four horrific home losses, a continuing saga of “will the real starting five please stand up”,  and a whole lot of head scratching.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my Shockers. But had I not let my own fantasies of circling the Shox on my NCAA bracket get in the way and listened to my dad, Saturday’s loss would not have hurt so darn bad. And hurt it did. All the way down to my black and gold soul. As a matter of fact, it still hurts. And if it hurts for me, I can’t imagine what those young men must be feeling.

My dad blames a lot of this season on coaching. Where we needed a true point guard, we had a trifecta of nervous point guards. Where we needed to keep our big men in the paint, we had big men pretending to be shooting guards and taking three’s. When we needed a real starting five, we had somewhat ten. And then, when a player was hot with their shot, covering their man, bringing energy to the floor, suddenly they were substituted by a player who’s highest stats of the game were those of turnovers.

See, I told you I was still upset. I’m sure when the pain subsides I’ll be able to look back on this season and remember the highlights. Moments like sweeping Creighton, including on their home court, the triple-OT win at home against Indiana State (I guess we should have seen this coming), the almost undefeated road record. Those were good times. Of course, the main highlight is always sitting with my dad in that arena, wearing our black and gold, and watching the boys warm up.

If WuShock can bear the pain, so can I.  We are Wheatshockers. We can and will endure and always come back stronger, even if it does take us a little while to bounce back after the storm.

Maybe Wu will let me borrow his crutches. Lord knows, I could use them.

Right where we want ’em

Yes, it’s taken me this long to get over the loss to Missouri State. Once again the Shox came out flat in the first half and their shining moments came too little, too late. I can’t figure it out. Was  their lackadaisical first-half attitude throughout the season a result of being picked to win the MVC  title at the beginning?Did this lead them to believe they would easily win over each MVC opponent? Surely not. More than half of our rotating ten have faced MVC opponents before. They are familiar with the buzzer beater woes of Creighton, the smothering defense of UNI and SIU. So why was it so tough to put two halves together?

I still think it’s because we played most of the season without a true point guard. Torre Murray is not a point guard. I know I’m not alone in this thinking. Forcing him to the point guard position has ruined him as a player. He now lacks confidence, an outside shot and he makes desperate decisions. This is not the same kid we could rely to win a game, to carry the burden of his team beyond the three-point line and knowingly take the final shot. He looks confused, almost terrified. And I can’t blame him. He is not a point guard and should never  have been forced to play the position until Demetric got his act together or Joe blossomed. Joe probably would’ve blossomed a lot sooner had he been given the full responsibility of leading his team on the court. My heart breaks for Torre. He tries so hard, he wants so much to redeem himself on that court. My hope is he finds a way during this tournament.

But what do I know, I’m no coach. Just a fan. A fan impatiently waiting for Friday evening at 6:05 and tip-off of our first game in the MVC tournament.

Some say we are right where we want to be. After all, the only way to get two MVC teams in the Big Dance was for one to win the conference title and another to win the tournament. We worked this out with MSU. You get to win at home for the title, we get to win on the road in St. Louis for the tournament title and automatic bid. A win-win.

Right where we want’em.

I hope they’re right.

Posted for good luck: me, Old Wu, and Dad in D.C. for the Sweet Sixteen.

A (Wu) Shocker in Allen Field House

Again, a busy sports week. Or two.  I was disappointed to see Jerry Sloan leave the Utah Jazz. How can you not respect Coach Sloan? One of my favorite playoff rivalries were the Bulls vs. Jazz. Jordan and Pippen vs. Malone and Stockton. Very sad to see the end of an incredible era.

MLB spring training has begun, complete with Brian Wilson sightings and, of course, the will-he-will-they contract negotiations (or not) between Pujols and the Cardinals (trust me, he will not play for any team but the Cardinals).

But, I have a story to finish. I finally got over the Bird flu, my Shox destroyed UNI at home (without the brutish, but smart O’Rear) and continued their 7-0 record on the road against Evansville last night. Next, VCU at Koch Arena as part of the ESPN Bracket Buster weekend. We are nearing the madness of March and I can hardly wait.

So what of my trip to Lawrence? I confess, I enjoyed it. From the Free State Brewery to The Wheel; Allen Field House and the Rock Chalk Chant;  perusing the museum of KU history, including a moment of honor for the Kansas Comet himself, Gale Sayers;  Jayhawk popcorn and a history lesson in “why we hate Mizzou” (thank you, Mr. Ochs); and a lovely stay at The Halcyon Bread and Breakfast.

It was a whirlwind, worth it, wild and wacky trip. Words cannot begin to describe it, so I’ll toss in some pictures for good measure. Final thought, whether you are a KU Jayhawk fan or not, if you get the opportunity to see a game in Allen Field House…GO! If you love college basketball, you will not be disappointed. You will be in awe. You will get goose bumps. You will smile. And if you’re like me, feel a little guilty about “cheating” on your home team. But I promise, you will enjoy every moment. And if you don’t, you’re not a college basketball fan. At least, not in my book.

(the culprits responsible for the attempted ‘Hawk conversion: Scott and Carole Ochs)

After The Wheel, we headed to the Jayhawk Cafe which houses a very scary basement bar. A true fire hazard.

Gale Sayers, the Kansas Comet. This alone was worth the trip.

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MVP

Yesterday was my father’s birthday. He turned 78. There is so much I can say about my dad, he has been the true constant in my life. Yes, he instilled my love of sports, but more than that, he taught me to work hard, appreciate the results, be kind to everyone, place God and family first. And all by example. He is the quiet, gentle lead-by-example hero in my life. I consider myself more than lucky, more than blessed.

This is one of my favorite pictures of my father:

This is from his 1954-55 season with one of the city league teams. I’m not sure if it’s the church league, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, or the Naismith league with the VFW. But I love this picture. My dad was a player. He has a mustard-colored scrapbook filled with black and whites like this one, newspaper clippings, self-written or typed notecards with the team stats. He also has a shelf in the basement filled with trophies. They used to sit on the television console, then were moved to a long table in the living room. I used to glide my fingers across the shiny miniature basketball players, trace the engravings of his name, his team. There was even an ivory and gold trophy I swore was bigger than me, three-tiered and decorated with golden wreaths. I loved these trophies. They were a part of my father. A piece of him I only knew of. Never witnessed. Because by the time I was old enough to walk, he had retired from the game, except for the occasional pick-up game.

While many wouldn’t consider my father’s basketball career a success, in my eyes and the eyes of my siblings, there was no other player more successful than my father. And while I never got to see him play, I knew this by the stories my mother and older sister shared. The stories his friends shared. Their eyes would light up when they talked about my dad on the court. “Your dad could play…best hook shot I ever saw…greatest assist man…so smooth, he was down the court before you realized it…unselfish…cool.”

The first time I met local football icon, Linwood Sexton, a huge grin spread across his face as he commenced to tell me that if my father had been given the opportunity to play high school ball and come to WU, his jersey would be hanging in those rafters at Levitt Arena (now, Koch arena). “Your dad was the best basketball player I’d ever seen.” And he would know. As coach of the basketball team for St. Peter Claver, Sexton coached against my dad.

I remember gazing up at those jerseys, Littleton, Stallworth, and I wondered…what if. What if my dad had been given the opportunity? But life for a poor Mexican kid from Lyons, Kansas didn’t come with too many opportunities. Especially when my grandfather was killed in a grain elevator accident when my father was only twelve, leaving he and his seven siblings to care for their mother. They moved to Wichita to be closer to family. And those who were old enough to work, found jobs. My grandmother spoke little English and her husband’s death burdened her with an unshakable depression. The children took over the family. So at twelve, my father walked two miles to what was then Crestview Country Club near the University of Wichita, where he caddied for seventy-five cents for 18 holes. His first job. And it was there he fell in love with golf. And it was in Wichita he began to play basketball.

That’s him, second from the left. Not much of a team, but my dad loved playing. And he continued to play, even after he dropped out of high school to work full time he found city leagues, church leagues, and later the Mexican-American league. He just had to play.

One of the newspaper clippings from 1951, the Naismith league season, reads: “…with four minutes remaining, Oscar Castro, high-jumping VFW key man, dumped in two quick baskets to give VFW a 44-39 lead…”  My father averaged 9 points that season. Other clippings praise his coolness on the free throw line or how he made 5 of 6 shots in the waning minutes of a game. The clippings are many. The photos are fading. But the memories are alive every time someone recalls seeing my father play.

I once asked him if he wished things had been different. If he’d been able to play at North High and at WSU. Did he wish he could change his path. And he simply answered, no. No hesitation, no thought, no regrets. Just, no. And in that simple answer I truly understood my father. And this recognition brought to mind a quote, “Each one of us will one day be judged by our standard of life-not by our standard of living; by our measure of giving-not by our measure of wealth; by our simple goodness-not by our seeming greatness.”

Because my father is more than “the greatest basketball player ever seen,” more than those now dust-ridden trophies in the basement, those yellowed clippings. He is respected for his honesty, his integrity, his kindness, his love of family. And for that, he is more than a most valuable player.

So last night, I decided if I couldn’t get my father’s jersey in the rafters at Koch, I could at least get his name in lights.

Even if for a brief moment. He was surprised. He said it made his day, that and the Shockers won their conference opener 91-57 (first conference opener win of Marshall’s WSU career). It was a good birthday. And when he asked for copies of the pictures, I knew they would find a place  in those few remaining pages of his scrapbook. A continuation of his success in life. And I couldn’t be more honored.

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Innovative bundles of wheat

Recently, I was forwarded a photo of the 1905 Wheatshocker football team. It was from an article in the Wichita Eagle about implementing two innovations of the football game: the “first and ten” and the forward pass.

Love this photo. These are the mighty Wheatshockers, now known as the  Shockers. While our football team at Wichita State University is currently known as the team “undefeated since 1986,” the year our program was axed, as well as the incredible tragedy befallen the 1970 Gold and Black, there is so much history behind the “angry bundles of wheat”(as Mr. Scott Ochs  refers to his former brethren).

That history includes the first night game ever held, with the field lit by 32 gas lanterns, courtesy of the Coleman Company. 28 lanterns were stationed along the sidelines  and two at each end zone. The year was 1905.

The same year the first forward pass was implemented during a Wheatshocker game, thrown by Bill Davis (’07) to right end Art Solter (’07).  In 2009, the Shocker alumni magazine ran a great story on that game.

This photo was sent courtesy of an alum whose grandfather is in the picture, first row and fourth guy from the left , next to the “mean-looking guy holding the football,” who just happens to be Bill Davis. Grandpa Glenn was just the first of many Shocker graduates in this particular family. You gotta love a legacy of Shockers.

And you have to appreciate the WSU football program and teams for the richness of their history and their pioneering attitude. While we no longer have a program, trust me our campus rings with the richness of that history. When the wind is just right, you can hear those gas lanterns swinging in the Kansas night air, the roar of the crowd, the brass of the band. Long live Shocker football.