Wednesday, March 23, 2011


The Daily Hampshire Gazette yesterday published my piece about the lessons I learned watching a 3rd and 4th grade boys' basketball team's championship season. 

The link to the piece is here.

You can read the original piece right here.

Something Special Happened on the Way to the Championship

As a basketball fan and a father, I came as close as I think I ever will to having all of my basketball hopes realized while watching the performance of this year’s Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton 3rd and 4th grade boys CYO basketball team. 

With a 3rd and 4th grade girls’ team as well, this season marks the first foray into CYO basketball for Northampton’s newly formed Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton parish. As I write this, the boys’ team is preparing to play for their division championship.  I suppose I could have waited for the results of the championship game to write this reflection, but the truth is, a championship couldn’t make me feel any better about this season.

None of these players will probably ever be able to dunk, and they probably won’t end up starting in high school, let alone college or the pros.  But they executed more than one perfect fast break during the season and often they played perfect defense.  Most importantly, they learned and developed their skills over the course of the season.  At times, they simply played basketball beautifully as they worked together as a team.  And as a result, they won a lot of games.

Now, whenever you roll a ball out there, divide the players into teams and keep score, there’s the potential for hard feelings.  The chances increase dramatically when family members watch. But over the course of the season, I didn’t see any inappropriate behavior, and that’s a big reason why I really enjoyed watching the SEAS team play, because there wasn’t been any of the ugliness that has become so common in all levels of sport.  In their last game, however, Northampton had a fast break and their opponents had no real way to stop it.  Just before the layup, one fan of the opposing team, who was sitting behind me, shouted out, “Hit him, Mack,” in effect urging this nine-or-ten-year-old kid to hurt another player.  That’s when it hit me that it was time for the season to end.

Soon, there will be a picture of this team hanging on one of the parish walls, and maybe there will be a trophy to go along with it.  And hopefully, the program will continue to thrive and a few years down the road, there will be more pictures and trophies.  But while I hope the team wins this weekend, what I hope for more is that each of these eight boys remembers just what a great season it’s been, regardless of wins and losses.

I hope they appreciate the kind pats on the back they got from their coaches when they were taken out of the game for a rest.  I hope that they realize the value of lining up after the game, shaking your opponent’s hand, and saying, win or lose, “good game.” 

I hope they remember how the coaches who yelled the loudest because their teams weren’t paying attention didn’t seem to understand that the more you yell, the less likely people are to listen. 

I hope they appreciate the effort their parents put in to make sure that they got to every game and every practice, on time for the most part.

I hope they remember the pats on the back they gave each other when they did something good, or even not-so-good.

Finally, I hope when they get older and they begin hearing the bad things that crowds are capable of, they will remember that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Andrew Shelffo
200 Prospect St.
Northampton, MA 01060
(413) 582-0712


Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Silly Season

Outrage is easy, because it doesn't require any deep thinking or foresight on the part of the outraged. It's a pretty simple game plan: get upset about something--it doesn't matter what, exactly, but it's more helpful if it's something that will allow you to claim that you've been victimized and wronged--shout about it, the more noise and exaggeration the better, and then demand that the wrong is righted immediately.  And then repeat.  If you do this enough, you never have to be productive; all you have to do is point out how everything your opponent does is motivated by either petty vindictiveness or elaborate conspiracies.

Over the past few days in Northampton, we've seen former City Council President Michael Bardsley stand up at City Council meeting and declare that the actions of the City Council regarding a recent land purchase were one of the "Top Five" blunders in the history of the council.  Northampton was founded 357 years ago, so that has to be one big blunder.  Then, we read about how Bardsley and three sitting Councilors were defamed in a private email City Council President Narkewicz sent to the Ward 3 Association president.  What I don't know is who let the word out about the email.  Ultimately, it's probably not important, but I wouldn't put it past someone to use it as a launching pad for outrage somewhere down the line.

And then we learn that Mayor Higgins will not be seeking re-election for Mayor.  I'm sure that Mayor Higgins' legacy will be reviewed for a little while, and then debated and dissected as battle lines are drawn for elections that won't happen for 8 months.  Michael Bardsley has already thrown his hat into the ring.  No opponent has officially announced his/her candidacy, though the rumors are flying.

But I think it's important to remember, which means that probably no one will remember it, that the volume of outrage does not correspond directly to the rightness of one's position.  In fact, those who are the loudest often use volume to cover up the shortcomings of their arguments.  And claiming that you speak for those who are reluctant to speak, or who can't speak for themselves for some reason, is a poor cousin to outrage.

Now let's fasten our seat belts and get ready for what will be a bumpy ride.