Sports grab bag: K-State FB and hoops, Royals and Chiefs

Lots of “sports thoughts” careening around in this big old noggin of mine, so it’s time to put a few of them out there for ya.

In no particular order, here’s what I’m thinking regarding K-State football and men’s hoops, a Royals managerial hire, and my beloved Chiefs.

First, Coach Chris Klieman’s football Wildcats.

This is being written just three hours after the Cats fell short to Texas in Austin by a 27-24 margin.

K-State is now 6-3 overall and 3-3 in Big 12 play. And to be completely honest with you, those six overall victories and three in league play were what I thought Klieman and Co. would have TOTAL by season’s end.

Those who work inside the walls of the Vanier Complex – and the players who are in and out of it enough to make it their home away from home – may have been the lone group with a belief that more than .500 was possible.

If you’re completely objective – and not just looking at things through “lavender colored glasses” – you have to admit that K-State has a talent deficit, and at the least a depth deficit, at nearly every position on the field.

And last year, with Coach Bill Snyder and his staff looking out of touch and lacking motivation, a group that previously might have been coaxed into overachieving was simply not talented enough to make a bowl game.

There are still a ton of players on this roster – players inherited by Klieman – who won’t be good enough to have played for K-State when Klieman and his staff of talented coaches and recruiters are done reshaping the roster.

A group that is bigger, faster and stronger is on the way – and it needs to be.

Snyder found in the mid to late 1990s that it was ENTIRELY POSSIBLE to recruit highly-talented players to Manhattan. It can happen again.

By the end of the Hall of Fame Coach’s second tenure in charge at K-State, he and his staff were reaching on far too many players. The magic was gone.

But Klieman, the aforementioned staff, and those who surround the program (like talented motivational guru Ben Newman) have breathed new life into a program that desperately needed it.

That’s why Saturday’s loss to Texas should just be viewed as part of the process or a greater journey.

When Texas decided to take full advantage in the second half of obvious athletic mismatches at several positions on the field, it dominated the Cats. Oklahoma State won over K-State in Stillwater earlier in the year by doing the very same thing.

Klieman and his staff are smart enough to understand that this “first team” of theirs in MHK won’t be nearly as good as a crew four years from now is likely to be.

But they’re too damn competitive to not coach the hell out of this current group and see whether or not the sky can truly be the limit.

Those of us who were going to be happy if the team simply sniffed .500 should just enjoy the remainder of the 2019 ride. We’ve received a gift at least a year earlier than most of us expected.

Second, the K-State men’s basketball team.

If you like roller coaster rides and restaurants that will serve you an award-winning meal one night, and offer up Waffle House slop the next, this might be the group for you.

One criticism of Coach Bruce Weber’s teams since he’s been in Manhattan is that they’re at times almost painful to watch.

That’s NOT going to be any different this year. In fact, with this many young players being thrust into important roles with the departure of last year’s “Big Three,” the growing pains will be on display for all to witness.

Weber’s defenses, for example, have allowed K-State to carve out an identity late in each of the last two seasons. But they’re damn difficult to master, even for someone with years in the program.

These new players, though talented, will struggle on that end of the floor maybe more than anywhere. When they can react instinctively and not get caught in “paralysis by analysis,” they’ll be fine. But that may not happen until midway through the Big 12 portion of the schedule.

And if it does, there shouldn’t be any “firebruce.com” sites popping up on the internet.

The idea here, much as it should be with football, is BE PATIENT, people. Weber’s 2020 recruiting class (if it sticks together) has a chance to be the best to come into Manhattan since a junior college coach named Dana Altman came to Manhattan to be on Lon Kruger’s staff and brought along some Missouri juco players named Mitch Richmond, Charles Bledsoe and Will Scott.

No, I’m not predicting that any of those recruits will be of Richmond’s ilk. But I AM saying that there’s reason to smile as you scream as the roller coaster careens downhill this year. And it will.

But this will end up being a fun ride before it’s all over.

Third, Mike Matheny and the Royals.

No, Dayton Moore and Mike Matheny aren’t the Kansas City version of a baseball “God Squad.” And no, there won’t be “organized brainwashing” going on in Spring Training in a few months in Surprise, Arizona.

Sure, Moore and Matheny would be the first to tell you that their faith and beliefs guide every move they make in life. They both have the type of foundational belief that is a common denominator for most successful leaders.

It might be a belief in God. It might be a belief in an unwavering set of principles. Heck, it could even be a belief in lower taxes or universal health care.

But show me a leader who can’t articulate what’s REALLY important to her or him, and I’ll show you someone who isn’t REALLY a leader at all.

Much has been made of the “Matheny Manifesto” that the new Royals manager wrote when he was just “Little League Coach Mike” after his big league playing days had ended.

What that document – which was later made into a book – really set out to do was put on paper a set of foundational beliefs as to what made for good baseball teams.

If you believe all of the negative press Matheny got near the end of his St. Louis managerial tenure, this hire scares the bejeezus out of you. And if you believe that Matheny is the wonder boy that his first three years at the helm of the Cardinals might have you thinking he is, you’re probably also mistaken.

But Moore isn’t a dummy. He’s had Matheny around for a year, just like he did Ned Yost before hiring him. He knows Matheny’s positives and negatives likely better than anyone but Matheny’s wife and children.

And, even knowing “warts and all” about Matheny, Moore trusted the future of the Royals franchise – and Moore’s legacy – with his new manager.

Matheny admits he’s spent the last year-plus learning about himself, the game, and how to better deal with others.

If he’s truly learned from that introspection, and he holds to those core beliefs that we spoke to earlier, all of us who support the Royals will be just fine – whether or not we want to share a pew with M & M in church.

Fourth, and finally, MVPat and our Chiefs.

Patrick Mahomes is like that awesome new toy we got as a kid. We played with that thing non-stop, and had the absolute time of our lives. We never wanted to put the toy down. We played with that thing morning, noon and night. And then the battery ran out.

And we got scared.

Would the toy ever work again? What were we going to do without it? How would we survive?

Then we got new batteries, installed them in the toy, and we were off and running again – literally playing with that toy until it simply no longer functioned.

Fear not, Chiefs fans. Our lives are not about to come to an end. And our time without batteries for our toy IS about over…for now.

Patrick Mahomes is back tomorrow for the Chiefs when they battle the Titans in Nashville.

For those who suggested holding Mahomes out for yet another week, here’s my take: Relax. The two groups with the ABSOLUTE MOST to lose here – the Chiefs franchise and Mahomes himself – have deemed it the right thing to do to have him play.

They’ve green-lighted putting batteries back in the toy and cranking that sucker back up.

So, let’s do it and see how long we can enjoy the heck out of the thing.

Because the kid’s a blessing. A once-in-a-lifetime talent.

But we’re not promised tomorrow, so since the team and Patrick himself have said “he’s a go,” let’s enjoy the heck out of our “todays.”

And we can worry about finding a new toy in a decade or two.

 

The “voice of Chicago” is back with a new solo LP…and his name is Scheff, not Cetera

The band Chicago provided the soundtrack to millions of lives in its heyday. Mine was one of those lives, particularly during my college days.

Chicago 16 was released less than a month after my high school graduation, and contained the hit single “Hard To Say I’m Sorry,” with Peter Cetera’s soaring vocals. And during the final month of my sophomore year at K-State, Chicago 17 hit the shelves and we fans were treated to “Stay The Night,” “Hard Habit To Break,” and “You’re The Inspiration.”

But by the time I had started my fifth year as an undergrad, Cetera had departed for a solo career, and a “kid” just two years older than I was at the time was singing lead and playing bass for one of my two favorite bands ever.

Jason Scheff had seemingly impossible shoes to fill.

When Scheff left Chicago himself 30 – that’s right, THIRTY – years later, it was his voice that most Chicago fans most-closely connected with the iconic “band with the awesome horn section.”

For “Chicago junkies” like myself, having Cetera leave the group stung for a decade…at least. But all the while, Scheff was growing on us. No, he wasn’t Peter. No one is Peter Cetera except Peter himself.

But Jason’s work on “Will You Still Love Me” and “If She Would Have Been Faithful” on Chicago 18 WAS Chicago! The vocal quality was still raw at that point, but the energy was definitely there.

And by the time “What Kind Of Man Would I Be?” was released in November 1989 as the final single from Chicago 19, the band was his – with apologies to Robert Lamm and the three dynamic horn players (Loughnane, Pankow and Parazaider).

Scheff, in fact, was stretching himself as a songwriter as well, earning credits on both Chicago 18 and 19.

Though the group failed to release new material entirely of its own composition from 1991’s Chicago Twenty 1 until 2006’s Chicago XXX, Scheff was a road warrior, and even the material from the first 17 Chicago albums was now HIS.

That’s why when Scheff left the group in 2016 for personal reasons, it marked the end of an amazing run for one of the greatest rock bands of all time.

Sure, Chicago is still touring with a rotating cast of “guys not named Cetera or Scheff” singing lead and playing bass, but the group that’s out there isn’t MY Chicago. And much to my surprise, the Chicago with Scheff singing lead had become MY Chicago over those amazing 30 years.

Scheff’s virtual disappearance from view was something completely understandable – and yet left a void in the musical universe for fans like me.

So, when he started hinting on social media that a new album was in the works, I joined legions of his fans who were excited.

But since I’d seen the former lead singer of my other favorite rock band – Steve Perry, formerly of Journey – tease solo efforts for DECADES before finally getting to it, I wasn’t holding my breath.

But the dogged determination of Scheff’s friend Jay DeMarcus of Rascal Flatts – who was the producer of Chicago XXX – got Scheff’s “Here I Am” LP (or CD, or whatever we call them these days) into our hands on Friday.

And as I wrote to Jason in an Instagram post to which he later responded, it is an album filled with opportunities to sing along at the top of your lungs, choke back a tear (or two), and hum along with the new stuff as you learn the lyrics.

With incredible backing vocals from former Chicago bandmate Bill Champlin – whose voice always blended well with Jason’s on the band’s late 1980s and early 1990s chart-toppers – along with DeMarcus, the new Scheff LP is nothing if not jam packed with vocal artistry.

Add Alex Lifeson (Rush), Robbie Krieger (The Doors), Tommy Thayer (Kiss) and session great Pino Palladino on guitars and bass, and you’ve got a polished presentation that those of “my generation” will absolutely love.

Scheff and DeMarcus smartly chose a combination of five Chicago songs and five new tunes to roll out here.

But the Chicago cuts the duo chose could surprise some folks. “Will You Still Love Me?” was a no-brainer, since the original version featured Scheff on lead vocal. “Look Away” was originally released with Champlin on lead vocals, but here features Scheff on lead with Bill grabbing the spotlight in just a few spots.

“Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” was a Cetera-era tune that Scheff had done thousands of times in concert, but never quite like this. And “Hard To Say I’m Sorry” was another Cetera chart-topper. But with “What Kind Of Man (Would I Be)?” also included, Scheff junkies got another chance to hear a new take on a terrific song originally fronted by Scheff himself.

Of the new material, the title track “Here I Am” is a soaring anthem, as is “Wonderful Day.” More introspective are “If You Only Knew” and “Never Even Had The Chance.” The album’s final cut, “Away,” leaves the listener hoping that Scheff’s hints that he’s not done recording – even hinting at a project with Champlin (inject that straight into my veins, please!) – aren’t just hints.

Chicago may be on its last legs. And Cetera continues to be fun to catch on tour and listen to with your eyes closed, remembering the days he fronted the iconic “band with the awesome horn section.”

But as his new album’s title track would seem to suggest, Scheff has a pretty good idea of who the “true” lead singer of Chicago is for millions of us. It’s him.

Here I Am, indeed.

Rest In Peace, Don

My brother Don died yesterday.

No, we didn’t share the same DNA. But we were alike in so many ways. And I hope he knows that I — and so many others — loved him dearly.

Donald W. Grier became a member of Delta Sigma Phi one year after I did. He was initiated in 1984, and he made an impact on K-State’s Alpha Upsilon Chapter almost immediately.

This Pratt Greenback was no ordinary college student. Far from it, in fact. He was a “38-year-old when he was 18.” He wore a pocket protector in his shirt and a calculator on his belt. He walked with a distinct gait that was all his own. And he had a sense of humor that could be best referred to as unique…or warped.

We were BOTH socially awkward, yet he was nearly always the life of any party he stumbled upon. I was always a bit jealous of him for that. No one ever designed a t-shirt for a party with MY likeness on it. But they did for Don. He was special.

When his fellow Delta Sig brothers elected him as our treasurer in November 1984, little did they know that they were shaping the future of our chapter of our beloved fraternity for decades to come.

Let me repeat that: Don Grier’s work as treasurer of the Alpha Upsilon Chapter in the Spring Semester of 1985 was one of the key reasons there is still an Alpha Upsilon Chapter of Delta Sigma Phi.

A little history lesson is in order here. In the early- to mid-1980s, the Alpha Upsilon Chapter was in debt to virtually everyone a fraternity could be indebted to: the National fraternity, local banks, alumni members…you name a group, we likely owed them money.

But the men in the house during that period of time were determined to change all of that — none more so than the guy with the calculator on his belt.

During that fateful Spring 1985 semester (yes, it was important enough to refer to it in that way), I got a first-hand look at Don’s “wizardry” with our chapter’s finances. I was lucky enough to be President of the house during that same semester. And the amount of time I spent with Don — figuring out ways to “make the debt vanish” dwarfed anything that either of us did that semester.

But I’ll take very little credit for what happened during that amazing five months. The men of the chapter closed off New Wing and all moved into the “old” portion of the house, attempting to save money wherever we could. We probably didn’t actually save all that much, but I’d like to think the sacrifice brought us closer in ways that you couldn’t qualify in dollars and cents.

We eliminated meal service from Friday night until Monday morning. An “open” kitchen? You’re kidding, right? The “pit” was locked up tighter than a drum! And when we did sit down for a meal, it was more than likely “stew on a plate.” That “stew” was more than likely a whole lot of vegetables and VERY little meat.

And though the house was still “wet” at that point, there was NO social budget. Brotherhood bonding? It was “on your own dime.”

When that semester was over, we were “in the black” on more than one ledger sheet. It was, simply, the work of a group of men who loved each other WAY BEFORE it was en vogue to openly say so. It was, simply, orchestrated by one remarkable man.

And when I handed the reigns of the house to the remarkable Kevin Vondra — who served honorably as President for three semesters (unheard of at that time) — the men of Alpha Upsilon had a chance to REALLY change the face of Delta Sig on the K-State campus.

There was a move into the top quartile academically, athletic success we could only dream of, and growth in membership numbers that was unprecedented for Alpha Upsilon at that time.

Yes, my friends and brothers, it’s NO EXAGGERATION to say that the man with the pocket protector, the distinctive walk, and more “theories” than you could shake a stick at IS and WAS a big part of the reason that the CURRENT Alpha Upsilon Chapter of Delta Sigma Phi even had a snowball’s chance in Hell of becoming the juggernaut it is today.

Best K-State fraternity? You can make that argument for sure.

But our world, and the beloved Pyramid of ours that’s the center of that world for so many of us, is a bit less special today.

You can be damn sure, however, that God, Cliff Veatch and Jack Taylor are laughing along with my brother tonight.

Rest In Peace, Don.

 

 

Longing for fatherhood as a 55-year-old single man…and finding it in a way that was obvious all along

“‘Father’ is the noblest title a man can be given. It is more than a biological role. It signifies a patriarch, a leader, an exemplar, a confidant, a teacher, a hero, a friend.” – Robert L. Backman

As a 55-year-old single man, I think you can safely say I’m more than a bit socially awkward.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t laugh, cry, hurt, heal, long and love just as passionately as “the next guy.”

In fact, I may do all of these things at a level that’s more than a bit uncommon.

And so, on several occasions a year — most specifically Valentine’s Day and Father’s Day — I’m left to reflect on what I’ve missed through the years…and what I’ll miss in the future…by not being a husband or father.

That reflection, lately, has led me to what I now like to think of as my “reality,” and it’s something I hope holds some degree of truth….and is not just a rationalization designed to get me through the days, weeks, months and years which lie ahead.

I think I knew, early on in my college years, that having a long-term relationship — one that ended in marriage — was going to be a chore. And by the time I was three or four years into my teaching and coaching career, I was pretty darn sure I was going to be single for life.

I just had NO IDEA as to where to start a relationship, no clue as to how to spark that “special something” in someone else…and have it last.

But I was fairly certain, however, that at least one thing I wanted — the chance to be the leader, confidant, hero and friend spoken to in the quote that opens this piece — was something I could achieve through teaching and coaching.

And for 18 years, I hope I did just that for what I’ve got to believe were hundreds of young people in a pair of special communities. It’s why I dove headlong into teaching and coaching, into establishing relationships with my students and athletes that were “beyond the norm.”

But it’s also partly the reason that I never seemed to completely “connect” with those closest to me: my blood family. Yup, when it came to truly loving and caring relationships, I seemed destined to be awkward for life.

That’s when my teaching career came to a screeching halt, and I found myself searching…searching for who I was, who I wanted to be, and how I was going to get there.

It’s taken me well into my 50s, but I think I’m finally the son, brother, nephew, uncle and cousin my family deserves. I only wish my grandparents — particularly my Grandmother and Granddad Waeckerle — could have been here to receive some of that love in the way they gave it to me.

But it was the way that Granddad Waeckerle, and my dad, “found their emotional, loving footing” later in their lives that gave me hopes of a similar turnaround.

It was a decision in mid 2014, however — just less than four years AFTER leaving teaching and coaching — that gave me the opportunity to open myself up, make myself vulnerable, and hopefully keep other men from making some of the same mistakes I made through the first 50 years of my life.

That decision, to return to involvement in my fraternity — Delta Sigma Phi — was the single most-important thing I’ve done in my adult life.

Why? Because when I “came back” to Delta Sig, I did so determined to make a REAL, palpable difference in the lives of those men who touched my heart…and allowed me close enough to touch theirs.

I can’t tell you how important it was, is, and will continue to be that three young men — in particular — have allowed me to be so involved in their lives. And though I know DJ Bartels, Hunter Post and Trayton Post have probably REALLY regretted opening their hearts to me on MORE than just a few occasions, each of them has given me the chance to be a confidant and friend.

And I can’t tell you what that means to me. Words just don’t do it justice. So I continue to pour out my heart, to those three men in particular, and hope that some of it…any of it…makes a true difference.

Their REAL dads — two remarkable men named Dan Bartels and Mark Post — have allowed a peer (me) to take a huge role in the lives of their sons, and have done so seemingly unblinkingly. I can’t tell you what that means. Again, words just don’t do it justice.

And though DJ, Hunter and Trayton hold the largest segments of my heart, they’re by no means alone. Young men named Stephen, Colby, Ryan, Mario, Neal, Chaz, Noah, Avery and others have allowed me “in,” letting me be part of their lives, letting me share in some of the emotion that keeps me sane and keeps me thriving.

Heck, even Taryn and Ashley — the Post and Bartels SISTERS — have let this old man in…if only for a few fleeting minutes at a time.

Sure, the new way I’m choosing to live my life leaves some more than a bit confused. They ONLY see the “socially awkward thing,” and don’t take the time to see the respect, caring and love that comes along with it…if time and trust are allowed to build.

But, like the best of those friendships I built in my days as a Delta Sig undergrad — with men named Randy, Brad, Rob, Dan, Jeff, Jack, Keith, Kent, Dave, Chad and Chuck — they’re relationships built to stand the test of time.

And they join those I gained through my years as a coach, with such tremendous men as Matt, Justin, Joey, Chris, John, Tito, Brandon, Ben, Michael, Tyler, Collin and Ryan.

So, really, when all is said and done, maybe I haven’t fared too badly for someone who came out of the womb with “two left feet” when it came to the social graces.

But, if those young people — who will eventually become men who will lead their communities, if they’re not already doing so — will just allow me to have just a piece of their hearts, I might just be able to craft my own definition of “father.”

And maybe, just maybe, its a definition that won’t leave my heart hurting on Father’s Day, longing for something I’ve never had.

Maybe, just maybe, my own version of being a confidant and friend CAN be good enough.

My prayers, and a significant segment of my heart, damn sure hope so.

 

Not in a hurry to say “goodbye” to 2017, but excited about the future because of Faith, Family, Fraternity and Friendship

There are a lot of people, all around the world, who have been ready to “say goodbye” to 2017 for quite some time.

I’m not one of them.

As excited as I am for 2018 to start – and I am VERY excited – I’m not all that enthused about ending what, in many ways, was my best year ever.

Why was 2017 so great for me?

I’m from a journalism background, so the 5 Ws and I H (Who, What, Where, When, Why and How) have been important to me for decades.

This year, however, was all about the 4 Fs: Faith, Family, Fraternity and Friendship.

It all begins, as I think it should, with Faith. Thanks to my own decision to “take a deeper dive” into my own Catholic faith over the past two years, my life has done nothing but get better as I’ve let “Jesus take the wheel.”

I’ve never really been all that comfortable talking about my faith. I believe what I believe, and I hope that others can, and will, decide to walk alongside.

But I’ve learned so much these two years by reading, listening, talking and just plain opening my heart to something – someone – far greater than myself.

As a result, the fire FOR my Faith has never been greater. And with a determination to dive in even deeper in the days, weeks and months to come, I expect that to continue.

Why do I expect that to continue? Well, Family is a big reason why.

My definition of “family” starts with the “blood” relatives we’re all blessed to have, and grows to include those we choose to share the most intimate parts of our lives with.

So, as much as there’s part of me that will always first be Svoboda, Waeckerle or Basile, there’s an equally growing part of me that is Post, Bartels and Faflick.

My parents were the first to introduce me to the idea of Faith, and they continue to be the greatest single example of what that faith can do. On January 5, they’ll celebrate their 55th wedding anniversary.

And through things both big and small – through tithing and ushering, through greeting and distributing communion – they continue to carve a path I can’t help but want to follow.

On January 11, just days after that anniversary, they’ll open a new chapter of their lives by moving into a gorgeous new apartment in Overland Park, and they’re even doing THAT with incredible love for one another and faith in their own future together.

My blood family also includes my younger siblings – Brian and Ruthie – who continue to demonstrate faith and love in more ways than I can count. Their loving families are something I envy, and their belief in their spouses and siblings is second to none.

I miss having Brian, Jill and Cori in the Midwest. That’s for sure. But knowing that the person who has been my best friend since his birth in October 1966 is just a phone call away is VERY comforting. And having the owner of the world’s best laugh just across town in Olathe is a blessing.

Brian and Jill have done a tremendous job with Cori, who is graduating from college in May. Damn, how did that happen? I was just rocking her in my favorite glider rocker days ago…or was that over 20 years ago?

And with Steve alongside, Ruthie has done a fabulous job of raising two kids in Henry and Abby that are smarter than this Uncle David (they have two Uncle Dave’s…ain’t they lucky??) ever could have hoped to be.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t include my Aunt Roberta and her family, and my Uncle Cy and his, as part of the group that makes me whole. It’s blood, but it’s way more than that.

There’s no common blood shared by me and those five incredible members of my “adopted” family, the Posts, but there’s a love there that is so deep it’s hard to adequately put into words.

In March 2015, Hunter came into my life through Delta Sig. In the weeks, months and years since then, Natalie, Mark, Trayton and Taryn (and Hunter’s girlfriend Carrie) have each carved out a place in my heart that will be theirs forever.

Hunter, Trayton and I now share a brotherhood – through Delta Sig – that’s to be shared for a lifetime. That bond is tremendous, but the love I have for each of them goes beyond fraternity. If I was to have sons of my own, I couldn’t possibly have created two young people this “perfect” in their own ways.

And in Natalie and Mark, I have a “second” brother and “second” sister that I’ve enjoyed the heck out of sharing time, laughter, tears and a heck of a lot of food and drink with over the past 15 months.

And then there’s Taryn, who would be just the kind of daughter I would have dreamed of having…just like her brothers would have been my dream sons. And Carrie fits that description, too!

Yes, I love me some Posts (and a Mulder).

And I love me some Bartels’, too.

Way back in what seems like eons ago, I was a groomsman in Dan and Rachel’s wedding. And then, like friends sometimes do, we fell out of touch.

But family has a way of finding its way back together, and I eventually found my way – first through DJ – back to Dan, Rachel, DJ, Stephen and Ashley.

There was a reason Dan and I first became friends in the late 1980s. He’s loyal and level headed, loving and prideful.

And he hasn’t changed. He’ll be the first to tell you, however, that Rachel is the glue that holds him, and his family, together. She’s great.

And DJ and Stephen join their dad, my brother Brian, Hunter and Trayton as my Delta Sig brothers. We’re one big, happy, Pyramid-loving group of YITBOSses.

Again, there’s a love from me toward DJ and Stephen that goes beyond fraternity.

And Ashley joins Taryn as someone who will always be someone I look out for as I would a daughter of my own.

Then there’s that Faflick guy. Nate isn’t attached to a family I’ve “thrust myself into”…at least not yet.

But there are very few people on planet Earth who will hug you like that guy will. You won’t find a more genuine, loving person than Nate. And again, though there are decades between us in age, I think of him as a brother, a son…as family.

And the third “F” – Fraternity – does not end with my blood brother Brian, the Post boys, the Bartels boys, or my buddy Nate. No, it just grows stronger and stronger by the day.

Men like Randy Withrow, Keith Ely, Kent Ely, Dave Ott, Brad Bodine, Rob Brune and countless others will ALWAYS be the backbone of my Delta Sig existence. But newer brothers like Pierce Stephens, Joey Wenberg, Mario Garcia, Matt Mindrup, Colby Works, Avery Bolar, and a group of “Rho Bros” will also be forever part of who I am.

Yeah, A LOT of these relationships – with family, and in the fraternity – did nothing but grow and get stronger in 2017.

And the friendships I have beyond fraternity – with those current and past work colleagues, with my former students and student-athletes, and with countless others – are all things that sustained me and helped me grow in the year gone by.

So, yes, there are LOTS of reasons I’m sad to see 2017 in the rearview mirror.

But each of the 4 Fs aren’t going anywhere, and as long as I have Faith, Family, Fraternity and Friendships, the date on the calendar won’t matter.

It’s the love that sustains me.

To each of you, thanks. And Happy New Year.

 

 

My voice will be heard for my brothers in Delta Sigma Phi…and brothers to be

In June 1982, my life changed forever.

It was then that my dream of attending the University of Kansas – of becoming a Jayhawk – was snuffed out faster than you can say “Rock Chalk.”

I was a co-valedictorian at a medium-sized Kansas Class 5A high school. Not a big deal, but a 4.0 GPA for four years HAD to mean something, right?

Well, in the eyes of those at KU, evidently not. My ACT composite score, a 28, wasn’t going to turn any heads, but I thought the 4.0 was proof positive that I worked my ass off – despite being somewhat limited in certain areas academically.

I succeeded where others may not have.

Thank the Lord for Kansas State University.

K-State, it seemed, liked the idea of a young person overcoming deficiencies and succeeding at the highest level.

K-State, it seemed, rewarded young people who fit this description.

K-State, it seemed, was going to become my new home. All that crimson and blue was going to end up at Goodwill. I was trading it in for royal purple and white.

If I could find a place to live.

And it couldn’t be a dorm. I was lost enough socially as it is. I’d have drowned in a dorm.

Thank the Lord, again, for the miracle that was and is Delta Sigma Phi.

By the end of July 1982, I was a Delta Sig pledge. Yes, they called us “pledges” back then. We weren’t “new member candidates” or “new members.”  We were pledges, plebes…or worse. And it was the most awesome thing on Earth.

Delta Sig gave this self-confessed social outcast (some things haven’t changed much in the 35 years since, come to think of it) a place I could call home. Delta Sig gave me an instant set of brothers – black, white, gay, straight, drunk, sober, intelligent, less so….

You get the picture.

And 35 years later, Delta Sig is still giving me gifts I can never hope to repay – though I’ll keep chasing that elusive ideal of paying back all that Delta Sig has given me until the day I die.

Early next month, I’ll attend my FIRST Delta Sigma Phi National Convention.

Those of you who are Delta Sigs are probably awfully confused right about now. Yes, it’s true: someone who LOVES his fraternity with all of his heart, all of his soul, and would do just about anything for a handful of men who have become MORE than brothers to me HAS NEVER attended the largest celebration his fraternity throws for itself.

And that’s another reason I love Delta Sig: the idea that I can simply “be me” without having to answer a ton of questions.

The first few conventions I missed (as I remember it, anyway) were because I simply had given too much of my life to coaching baseball. National conventions were during the summer months, and I was not doing ANYTHING that took me off of a baseball diamond.

Missing those conventions probably also had a little to do with being so socially awkward (or maybe A LOT to do with it), but it was a matter of priorities. My fraternity was always going to be there. It was a rock. It was a constant.

But now, that constancy is being threatened on campuses across the nation.

The very idea of fraternity is at risk, and in many places, fraternity men have no one but themselves to blame.

That’s why the drought is about to end for me.

No, I haven’t quit coaching baseball – I’ve been doing that for 36 straight years! But I have abandoned the idea that my fraternity will always be there, that it will always be my rock, my constant.

I’ve simply decided that Delta Sig means too much to me to remain on the sidelines while fraternity and sorority life is in peril on campuses across this great nation.

I can’t affect sweeping change. I’m not that powerful. I don’t give enough money to Delta Sig, Kansas State or any organization to swing a big stick.

But my voice can, and will, be heard.

There’s too much at stake for it not to be heard, too many men who have become too important to me to see those relationships forever altered – or snuffed out before they even get started.

I want to have the chance to be WHEELED into an Alpha Upsilon Alumni Reunion in the year 2052 at age 88 and share stories of a life that was made all the more remarkable by the concept of brotherhood.

Yes, my voice can, and will, be heard.

It will be heard for Dr. Pat Bosco, my first Delta Sig mentor. Dr. Bosco spent so much time with a homesick kid whose parents were just 60 miles away that he should have received a Congressional medal of honor 10 times over….and that was in just my first semester at K-State!

It will be heard for Randy Withrow, my long-time Delta Sig roommate, best friend, and the one person in my life who can complete my sentences for me…even if we’re apart for weeks, months or years at a time.

It will be heard for my biological brother, Brian, who I became closer to during my days at Delta Sig than I ever had been during nearly 16 years of sharing the same bedroom growing up. There’s something about our Delta Sig brotherhood that drew us together in ways that blood never could.

It will be heard for Cliff Veatch, whose life was taken far too soon by cancer. Cliff was by far the most-talented Delta Sig undergrad I was fortunate enough to share 1100 Fremont with – no offense to any of the other great men there with us. If Cliff were alive today, he’d have a prominent role in the National fraternity and a starring role in everything he was involved with.

It will be heard for Jack Taylor, the man with a laugh that could fill the halls of The Pyramid like no one before or since. Jack, too, was gone way too soon. But not before his love was shared with countless K-Staters and Delta Sigs. Besides Pat Bosco, Jack probably touched more lives on the K-State campus than anyone I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.

It will be heard for Hunter Post, a young man who I’ve known for just 26 months, but someone who I can say without hesitation was the one who grabbed the match and tossed it on my simmering Delta Sig flame. That fire, it can be said, has now fully engulfed this 53-year-old.

It will be heard for Trayton Post, Hunter’s brother and a kid who hasn’t yet started his college career. I love Trayton, just like I do Hunter, like I would a son. And I want Trayton to experience all the wonder that Delta Sig has to offer. I want for him what I found in 1982 and found again in 2015.

And it will be heard for Dan Bartels, Brad Schultz, Dan Prohaska and hopefully others just like them – all men I spent time with at Delta Sig as an undergrad who now either have sons who are brothers (kinda neat how that happens) or sons who soon will be. DJ, Stephen, Braden and Luke should be allowed to experience the joy their fathers did – or will – when THEIR sons become their brothers.

Yes, my voice can, and will, be heard.

Delta Sigma Phi isn’t simply a social organization. Delta Sigma Phi isn’t just a beat up old hospital building across from City Park. Delta Sigma Phi isn’t only a place to hang out for a few years and leave in the rear view mirror.

No, my friends – no, my brothers – Delta Sigma Phi is a transformative organization like no other anywhere on this planet. Delta Sigma Phi is brotherhood defined. Delta Sigma Phi is, to paraphrase a line from Field of Dreams, “everything that is good about fraternity, and could be again.”

The Delta Sigma Phi whose convention I will attend in a little less than a month is far from perfect. And heck, I’ve got myself at least partially to blame for that. I’m the one who was “gone” for a period of years before returning those aforementioned 26 months ago.

But the Delta Sigma Phi whose convention I will attend in a little less than a month is loyalty, honor, respect, friendship and love in one great big gift that just keeps on giving.

Yes, my voice can, and will be heard. And it will be heard for men named Pat, Randy, Brian, Cliff, Jack, Hunter, Trayton, Dan, Brad, Dan, DJ, Stephen, Braden, Luke…and thousands of others whose lives have yet to connect with mine.

Thanks to the fine folks at the University of Kansas – and their snub of 35 summers ago – I received the gift of a lifetime.

I received the gift of Delta Sigma Phi. And it’s a gift I intend to fight to keep.

YITBOS, to those who know.

“Resist” no more: Work at making our Catholic faith your own in today’s world

A few of my Catholic friends and I are reading Matthew Kelly’s Resisting Happiness this Lent as a way of sharing our faith.

Today, as we got underway on Ash Wednesday, we encountered what Kelly calls “resistance.” The concept is at the center of the book, and in many forms, it is what ails the Catholic church itself right now.

How does resistance impact the Catholic faith? The answer, I believe, lies in the idea that many of us fail — on a daily basis — to truly make the faith our own.

Through the years, I’ve seen several people I’m close to — inside my own family and out — leave the Catholic faith “in search of” what they term “a better fit” for their spiritual needs.

As Catholics, they met resistance in its many forms and chose to deal with it by seeking out something different — instead of using that resistance as a call to change themselves, or how they experience the faith, in a way that would allow them to remain part of the church in which they were raised.

Through my recent dealings with some extremely talented young people at K-State, I’ve heard a common refrain: the Catholic church doesn’t meet all of my needs.

Here’s where I’d love to see them — and the older Catholics who may have “faith shopped” and left the church — undertake a process in which they overcome that resistance and make the Catholic faith truly their own.

Here are a few examples of how they might do that:

  1. Volunteer to be part of the Mass. Usher. Be a lector. Sing in the choir. Distribute communion. During my days at St. Isidore’s in Manhattan, I was as close to God in every facet of my life as I’ve ever been. And I think that was, in large part, because I was completely immersed in the “process.” I absolutely loved lectoring, and need to get back to doing it again!
  2. Get “into” the weekly readings…and maybe into the Bible for the first time. One of the things I’ve attempted to do with some of my K-State friends is to provide them a Missal so that they might have the weekly readings at hand prior to…and during…the Mass. In too many Catholic churches, attendees sit idly by during the First and Second Readings — and the Gospel reading, for that matter — rather than fully engaging in what is being shared. And for years, those of us who grew up as “old school” Catholics resisted reading the Bible. It was “something those of other faiths” did on a regular basis. I really spent little or no time in reading the Bible myself until my participation in Christ Renews His Parish while living in Lenexa. It was then, in 2012, that I “gave myself permission” to do something that I had heretofore considered to be “un-Catholic.”
  3. Seek out Homilies worth listening to. If you’re not hearing a Homily each week that moves you, get online and find one! Several of the best Catholic priests in the country post their Homilies, and time spent listening to those podcasts or watching those YouTube videos is time well-spent!
  4. Put together a small group of Catholic friends…and grow the group naturally. It doesn’t matter what brings you together. It could be the desire to really break down the four Gospels. It might be the need to find someone to work with on a philanthropic endeavor. Or it simply might be a need to remind yourself of how beautiful the Catholic faith was when you first learned of its rich history and traditions.

What “overcoming resistance” comes down to, in regard to how we grow our Catholic faith, is really fairly simple.

We each need to remember what drew us to our faith in the first place. We need to take a trip back in time to when that faith was fresh, when it was exciting, when it was filled with wonder. We need to celebrate the traditions that make our shared Catholic faith unlike any other, anywhere.

In short, we need to resist the notion that it’s better to leave our Catholic faith than to work at making it our own, where we’re at TODAY.

Resist no more, my Catholic friends. Our faith is there in all of its beauty, to be rediscovered and redefined — for you, and by you.

 

Remembering a friend gone far too soon

In November 2011, just over a year removed from coaching in my last high school football game as an assistant at Basehor-Linwood, I wrote the following words for a column that appeared in PrepsKC about what I missed most about coaching.

They were about a man who I hardly knew, yet greatly admired – Blue Valley Coach Eric Driskell.

Here’s a guy (Driskell) I knew only from a chance meeting at a coaching clinic shortly after he had taken over the job from Steve Rampy. He was the guy who had edged out Paul Brown, my friend, for that job.

I can now see why the Blue Valley brass was so enamored with him. Driskell is integrity, aggressiveness, character, toughness and heart all rolled into one very impressive coach…and man.

My postgame interviews with him were like talks with a long-lost friend. He was quiet, yet always brutally honest. And he wears his emotions on his sleeve – and his love for his players and fellow coaches is always out front.

Over the three years I worked regularly for PrepsKC, I was privileged to cover Driskell’s Blue Valley teams on multiple occasions. In fact, I covered his second State title win as a head coach in 2013 in Emporia.

On the field after that heart-stopping win over Salina South, I watched Driskell watch everyone else associated with the Blue Valley program soak in the moment. Instead of being smack dab in the middle of that moment, he worked the outside of the mass of humanity at midfield, beaming as he saw the joy the triumph had given others.

It was moments like those that really defined Eric Driskell.

Though I did not get to know him as closely as have many others, I was proud to consider him a friend, and honored that he thought of me as one as well.

Thus, when I heard he had fallen victim to a brain aneurysm just days ago, eventually passing away late this afternoon, my heart sunk.

As was Eric, I’m a firm believer in God. As did Eric, I know that God has a plan for all of our lives.

We may scratch our heads at moments like this, struggling to find sense in them.

But it’s easy to make sense of one, unavoidable fact: Our world was blessed to have Eric Driskell as a part of it.

Make no mistake about it: His loss will resonate for days into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years.

But also make no mistake about this: Eric Driskell’s impact on all who he touched will resonate for those same weeks, months and years.

He had so, so many gifts. And he was always giving of those gifts to others he came into contact with – even to those he contacted infrequently, like me.

Rest in peace, my friend. And Lord, please allow those who remain here on Earth to honor Eric by living life as he lived it.

Thank you, Del Miller

If the rumors are true, Del Miller is on the verge of retirement.

Del is currently the co-offensive coordinator and quarterback coach at K-State. He’s tutored several amazing QBs at K-State through the years, including the one who now appears poised to replace him as the position coach – Collin Klein.

I’ve been honored to work with Del in a variety of different ways through the years since his arrival in Manhattan in the late 1980s.

First, I was fortunate to cover Coach Bill Snyder, Del, and the rest of the talented K-State coaching staff as a graduate student and reporter for a variety of different print publications at the start of Snyder’s days in Manhattan.

Second, beginning in 1990, my relationship with Del and his wife Jan took a different turn – I was blessed to coach two of his three sons: Todd and Tad. I was an assistant JV coach at Manhattan High when I worked with Todd, and worked with Tad during a pair of awesome summers as the head coach of a Manhattan area traveling team.

On a few of those traveling team road trips, I got to see Del as a husband and father FIRST, and as a football coach second. It was awesome. He was, and is, great at both jobs.

And his skills in both roles would come to the ultimate test when the family lost Troy to a prolonged illness in 2004.

During the years between Troy’s death and Coach Snyder’s initial retirement, I worked with Del in a different role. By this time, I had become a high school football coach, working with quarterbacks and receivers. Thus, I got to spend some quality time with Del at several of K-State’s awesome coaching clinics – sitting in front of a chalkboard or dry erase board, talking ball while eating pizza and drinking beer.

Del left K-State for San Diego State for a period while Coach Snyder was retired, but returned in 2009 and we got to rekindle the relationship prior to the 2009 and 2010 seasons. I then left high school teaching and coaching, and unfortunately fell out of touch with Del.

So why the history lesson?

Mostly, to let you know how much respect I have for Coach Miller as a man. He’s extremely loyal, compassionate, hard-working, and just the kind of role model that made everyone in locker rooms in Iowa City, Manhattan, Springfield and San Diego better for having known and worked with him.

So, if Del is on his way out, here’s hoping he gets the respect he deserves. Coach Bill Snyder will be remembered forever at K-State. For 20 years, Coach Del Miller has been at Coach Snyder’s side. For 20 years, Coach Miller has been trusted by Coach Snyder as few men have ever been. That, in and of itself, says one hell of a lot.

Thanks, Del Miller, for impacting all of us in ways you may not have even recognized. And enjoy your retirement – you and Jan deserve nothing but the best!

There’s a lot to admire about today’s K-State Delta Sigs

If you’ve known me for any period of time, you’re no doubt aware of my membership in — and love for — the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity.

I pledged in 1982, became a brother in January 1983, and have enjoyed every day I’ve spent as a member of the Alpha Upsilon Chapter.

delta-sigma-phi

But it was only recently that my passion for my fraternity and chapter were strongly rekindled. I’ve spoken to that in other posts, and in other forums, so I won’t bore you with a re-hash of those things here.

What I thought I’d do this morning — and I’m writing this as I sit in New Lounge at the house — is rattle off a few of the things I admire about those Delta Sigs (current members and young alumni) I’ve met in the last 20 months or so.

I admire…

  • The obvious affection and love these men have for one another. Keeping with the University-wide theme of FAMILY, these guys very obviously share something together that is special. And it goes beyond mere friendship.
  • The incredible desire these men have to give back to their communities and the world at large. I know we have had several Alpha Upsilon Delta Sigs involved on a national and international basis in a variety of activities through the years, but this “current crop” is exceptional. There simply is no limit to what each can achieve.
  • The ability of these men to dream…and do. I have to admit, when I was at K-State, I was concerned with getting a degree and then finding a good job. And that was my fairly narrow focus. These guys are planning ways to make an impact on world hunger, discovering new methods for treating — and curing — disease, and dreaming of the day they can make an impact on fraternity and sorority life around the country that will be lasting and real.
  • The way each of these men seemingly immerses himself in the situation and community he is in. I’ve lived in metro Kansas City for 14 years, and yet I’ve done more “in and around my city” in the past 12 months than I did for the previous 156. The reason for that? Some of these guys. The things they do in KC, the places they visit, the fun they have…it’s all worth emulating.
  • The willingness of some of these men to let a guy who is 30+ years older than most of them into their lives in meaningful ways. When I was in school, I was no doubt impacted by those older than me. Heck, another Delta Sig — Dr. Pat Bosco — was one of my two biggest influences at K-State. And, yes, I’ve met them more than halfway in my desire to build meaningful relationships, but there has to be some reciprocation…and there has been.
  • The fact a great majority of these men see membership in Delta Sigma Phi as a launching point to becoming better men leading better lives. Sure, you never really know what the future holds, but if current involvement is any indicator, these men will be the doctors, lawyers, politicians, architects, engineers, teachers and first responders that make the remaining decades of my life fuller and more meaningful.

I hope that in the coming days and weeks, more of my alumni brothers will join me in “coming home” to the Alpha Upsilon Chapter of Delta Sigma Phi. As they do, they’ll find a group of men worthy of building relationships with — for now and in the long term.

They’ll find a group of men that’s easy to admire.