Sunday, June 25, 2017

Pep Talk: "Keep Swinging"

A Stronger Cord is blessed with great partners, including Union Baptist Church. The community outreach wellness movement uses the church’s gym Monday nights. In return, it’s our job to keep the two-acre grounds in Denver’s northeast Park Hill neighborhood clear of trash. Win. Win.

Recently your knucklehead scribe was playing trash man. There was a youth baseball game about to commence on the church’s “Marvin Freeman Field.” It’s a community field the Colorado Rockies built in 1995. As a sportscaster back then for CBS4, I remember covering the ceremony unveiling the beautiful diamond. At the time, Freeman was a Rockies’ reliever and a good interview. Always had something to say.

Anyway, back to the story. So, I’m walking around the field’s perimeter while young “Dodgers” and “Rockies” were warming up. A coach was patiently tossing Wiffle balls to a determined but inexperienced lad. The kid noticed the trash man was observing. The freckle-faced nine-year-old appeared embarrassed. “Keep on swinging buddy!” was my encouragement before wandering back to the task at hand.

Keep on swinging. The phrase jarred memories from earlier on this Saturday morning. I had been the substitute devotion leader for guys in the Denver Rescue Mission's New Life Program. We had talked about what the Bible says in Isaiah about “forgetting the former things, do not dwell on the past and focus on new things.” I had read a story from 2017 Daily Guideposts. In the story, author Julie Garmon shared about leading a pregnancy resource center meeting. In a room full of new moms and dads, Garmon asked how God was working in their lives. She was shocked to hear several stories of trials and tribulations overcome to reach a spot in life where they were joyfully bouncing new born kids on knees. “Forgetting former things and focusing on new.” Amen.

However, sure easy to talk about, far more difficult to live, right? Life can get messy. Of the 70 or so dudes in the morning devotion, the numbers are not good. For a myriad of reasons, few succeed in developing a new life. Recovery success rates are dismal. It’s a real challenge to forget former things, focus on new and keep swinging. Old habits are hard to break.

It’s true for all of us, not just guys on the comeback trail from addiction or incarceration. Life is constantly throwing curveballs. A Stronger Cord recently expanded to All Soul's Catholic Church in Englewood. An older participant was eager and devoted. A regular attendee. Tragically, the gentle soul died unexpectedly of aneurism. Here today, gone tomorrow.

Miracles happen too. Like, a buddy’s son surviving a scary four-wheeler accident. The 11-year-old was, as a precaution, airlifted to a nearby hospital but is home with scrapes and bruises but no major injuries.
Uncertainty. Tragedy. Miracles. Life’s a roller coaster ride. We try like heck to forget the former and focus on the present and future. What I offered the young slugger was meant for me. Hopefully, it’s also encouragement to you:  KEEP SWINGING!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Pep Talk: "DNA"

“It’s Father’s Day and I’m not into thinking,” your knucklehead scribe cracked to the patient United Airlines' employee. It was early morning. The friendly woman was checking a golf bag and suitcase for my return trip to Denver from Kansas City and a wonderful weekend of connecting with hometown family and friends.

Father’s Day 2017. I can’t help but think of my old man. Cancer and heart disease took the father of four more than a decade ago. It was hard not to think of him during the visit. His presence was certainly felt while sleeping, visiting, playing golf and commiserating with others possessing Raytown, Missouri roots. 

Those cherishing such moments gathered for a golf outing at Hillcrest Country Club to raise money for additional youth sports, arts and music opportunities for current kiddos in the 9,000-student school district. Raytown’s a proud community with a long history. It sits on KC’s eastern edge near the Truman Sports Complex where the beloved Chiefs and Royals play.

I think of my father and think of my children. Two beautiful kids maturing into healthy and mindful adults. I think of the influence my father had on my life. The admiration for overcoming obstacles. Marvin Walter McIntosh, Jr. was a survivor who, at least not to me, bemoaned life’s circumstances. The hard-working dude knew a thing or two about a comeback. It was required often. Whether from childhood poverty, lack of education, health issues, divorce and other difficult moments. Dad had little, if no, empathy for complainers.

Like all of us, “Hacker Mac” had his flaws. A hard scrabble beginning calloused the oldest son of six in ways sometimes uncomfortable for others. What the heck, beautiful Cindy Crawford has a mole on her cheek too. Nobody’s perfect, right?

I think of my father and think of his grandchildren. My children. Yes, I’m sure they’ll remember times when their old man was a pain in the ass. However, I hope and pray they remember their father like their father remembers their Grandpa: A good and respectable man who displayed unconditional love and support. Sure, there were times when my old man and I butted heads, especially in the formative years when, “You’ve got a bright athletic future, don’t do anything dumb” was lectured more than once.

Back then, it didn’t seem like Dad wanted his second-oldest son to have any fun. I now know he just had my best interests at heart. He wanted that for all his kids. Heck, the popular guy wanted that for everybody encountered. The golf enthusiast was a “glass way-more-than-half-full” kinda guy. Beloved.

In retrospect, “It’s Father’s Day and I’m not into thinking,” was a blatant lie to the congenial airline employee. On this special day, I did a lot of thinking about my kids and what their Grandpa represented. The thought process was a powerful reminder to emulate the good in those who positively influence our lives. 

Their DNA resides within. Shame on us for not infecting others. It is good!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Pep Talk: "Mental Miner's Hats"

“At night the school janitor used to let me into the gym but I had to practice basketball without the lights on to avoid detection,” said the Denver community activist. “I learned to play hoops in darkness.”

Randy Perkins was really good at hoops and played collegiately for the University of Northern Colorado, in Greeley. However, the founder of Colorado Miners Community Center, in the Mile High City’s Elyria neighborhood, is even more talented at serving others. “We named the center ‘Colorado Miners’ because so many kids/families in this neighborhood have little hope. Gangs are quite active, there’s a large undocumented population, the I-70 expansion project is disruptive and poverty is rampant. Many who walk into our facility are like miners. In a dark and deep hole. We provide light.”

Beautiful. Here’s an example. When the facility first opened, graffiti was a problem. “I got to know the perpetrators, earned their trust and invited them to share their art inside, where we could acknowledge their talents,” Perkins said. “The tagging stopped.”

The community center has a daycare/school, gym, weight room, kitchen and meeting rooms. It’s an abandoned city of Denver recreation facility. Long ago, “Coach Randy” shared with the Denver Post: “This place now, it breathes life — it has resuscitated this community. It feeds my soul every day.”

The former business executive walked away from a lucrative career and right into one of Denver’s poorest neighborhood’s with a servant’s heart and, figuratively, a miner’s hat offering illumination for others with dimly lit and uncertain tunnels ahead.

While visiting with Perkins recently your knucklehead scribe’s mind ventured to a 27-year-old man who has known too much darkness. About six months ago while in the Denver Rescue Mission's New Life Program and active in A Stronger Cord, the smart dude shared at ASC Monday Night. “My mom was a prostitute. I have no idea who my father is. There were always parties at my house. When I was nine, my mom began to offer me to her clients. I ran away at 12.”


15 years later this handsome young man was offered a miner’s hat via the New Life program. A Stronger Cord is trying to help too. The night he courageously revealed this tragic tale, I can remember hugging him afterward with, “I admire you’re still trying.”

Our past experiences and the fertile soil they provide. Personally, a senior year in college spent too intoxicated on self pity but spared brushes with law enforcement for egregious acts, inspire an ol’ jock to engage others through a community outreach wellness movement based on fitness, relationship building and community service. Gratefully, in my darkness, many family and friends were nearby and equipped with extra miner’s hats.

What about you? Where might it be time to utilize talents and tools developed from challenging times? This week, like Perkins, make sure to carry along a mental miner’s hat or two. Your encouragement could illuminate someone’s path and offer hope and confidence to those who can’t see a bright future.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Pep Talk: "Never Let It Rest"

The view from the stage was inspiring. The Evie Garrett Dennis campus community room was packed with eighth-graders from Omar D. Blair School. It was their “Continuation” ceremony. Many family and friends of the Denver Public charter school in  the Mile High City’s Green Valley Ranch area had shown up to wish the kids well as they moved on to high school.

Your knucklehead scribe was blessed to have the opportunity to give the teenage scholars a Pep Talk about the big move. While sitting facing the kids and waiting to share, for whatever reason, my mind wandered to a sobering statistic read recently in the Denver Post about the Centennial State’s graduation rates.

According to the eighth "Building A GradNation" report, Colorado’s high-school graduation rate was 77%. Six points below the national average and about 1.5% lower than its 2016 grade. According to the study, Colorado’s seventh LOWEST in the nation. Not good.

The school leader introducing me was wrapping up comments when the graduation numbers zipped through my brain. I hope the kids, in enduring 15 minutes of “Following your passion, working hard, making healthy choices and showing respect for others” encouragement, heard a nugget that will stick.

Earlier on this day something sure stuck with me. While playing in a charity golf tournament for a high school baseball team, a foursome partner, upon learning of the event, offered: “Challenge those kids to have AT LEAST one more graduation.” Amen, dude.

Another member of the foursome immediately followed with something that didn’t just stick, it knocked my socks off. “Southpaw,” barked Bill McCartney, the former University of Colorado and Hall of Fame college football coach, “Tell the kids this: Good, better and best; never let it rest. Till their good is better and their better is best!” Double amen.

I threw that gem into closing remarks. Thankfully at the end, the whole crowd, scholars and supporters, was enthusiastically shouting that wonderful refrain. It was cool to encourage those gathered in the packed auditorium to believe in a simple, but not easy, life task: There is always room for improvement.

“Good, better and best, never let it rest....” Where might that mantra apply to us? I shared about interviewing, during a long television sportscasting career,  basketball legend Michael Jordan. It was impressive, when the Chicago Bulls played in Denver, to observe the six-time NBA champion. He was always the last player off the court after practice. The best player in the game always embraced the value of hard work. Many of the kids’ mouths dropped wide open when reminded, “Jordan was cut from his ninth-grade basketball team.”

It was fun debating future high schoolers about who was better. Jordan or Cleveland’s LeBron James? Everybody had an opinion. The point was to emphasize Jordan’s devotion to hard work. Regardless of age, race, ethnicity or socio-economic status, let’s never let it rest. 

Till OUR good is better and our better is best. Everybody will benefit. Especially kiddos we’re trying to influence!

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