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A Golfer’s Dream

I don’t golf. My life is frustrating enough.

But I know a lot of people who do. And, as a result, I know a lot of people who are soon going to be drooling over the latest addition to Xavier’s sports facilities.

On April 13, the men’s and women’s golf programs are holding one of those ceremonious ribbon cutting events to officially open their new home away from home at the Maketewah Country Club, just a few miles up the road from campus. The new facility is a golfer’s dream. It’s even impressive to someone who doesn’t golf.RUST2789

Consider:

• It has several all-weather driving bays. If the weather’s nice, open a garage door and the club’s range sits in front of you. If the weather stinks, turn on the heater, turn around and you can drive into a net.

RUST2642  • One bay has six cameras that are hooked to a computer for immediate swing analysis.

• It has an indoor pitching/putting green.

• It has locker rooms with dark-wood lockers that rival the most luxurious country clubs in the country.

• It has a lounge area with a fireplace, TV and leather couches.

RUST2711   • And, it has a customized Cobra club-fitting area and pro shop with all the Puma gear a golfer might want.

The fact that the pro shop sells Cobra-Puma equipment and clothing is, of course, no accident. Bob Philion, a 1993 Xavier graduate and one-time member of the men’s golf team, is now president of Cobra-Puma Golf and the driving force behind the completion of the facility.

[Xavier magazine profiled Philion in the Fall 2011 issue,  and wrote about the facility in the Summer 2012 issue.]

RUST2700I would also suspect Philion will have Xavier’s golfers well armed with customized Cobra clubs and well dressed in Puma clothes from this point on, as well. Imagine that as a selling-point for recruits.

Xavier’s golf program has steadily grown through the years, now reaching a level where Golf Digest ranks it 19th best in the country and No. 1 in the Midwest. Success usually breeds success, but once a program reaches a certain level it’s tough to find something that has such a profound impact that it pushes everything up a notch or two. The indoor practice facility should do just that. It gives Xavier everything the warm-weather college golf programs have—with the possible exception of azalea-lined fairways.

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I once sat next to James Buchanan at a lunch. James is the director of Xavier’s Edward B. Brueggeman Center for Dialogue and one of those people who knows just waaaay too much. He’s got degrees from Yale and Chicago. He’s studied and taught in Paris, Moscow, Beijing, Hong Kong. He can talk over your head on just about any subject.

Once we finally got him off his favorite subject, music, we began talking about the Brueggeman Fellows Program, one of the most unique student programs at Xavier, which is endowed privately by the Winter/Cohen family. The program, which he oversees, has no set curriculum, no boundaries, no single purpose outside of learning. Students are asked to submit an idea for a research project they would like to do anywhere in the world.

Anywhere.

If Buchanan likes the idea, he gives them a $3,000 travel grant and sends them on their way.

Alone.

Unlike other study abroad programs that offer some comforts of having someone else do the planning and guiding, it’s up to the student to arrange for boarding, travel in the country, meetings, food, water, whatever they need. The language barrier is theirs to hurdle. They spend a year researching their topic and doing the planning, but then they’re literally on their own.

Which is incredibly uncomfortable for the students since many of them travel to places that aren’t politically stable, safe or on any kind of beaten path. Nepal. Iceland. Iran. Syria. Colombia. The Yukon Territory.

susanLloydIt’s also incredibly uncomfortable for Buchanan, as I found out during lunch. I asked him how he sleeps when the students are bouncing around the globe completely on their own. He doesn’t, he said. They’re required to check in via email every so often. Otherwise, he sweats it out until they arrive back on campus, which can stretch anywhere from  five weeks to nine months.

Not sleeping can take its toll. But, he said, it’s worth it. The end result is a student who is completely transformed in a way unlike anything else they can get in college.

Brett%20sutton1This will be Buchanan’s eighth summer sleepless in Cincinnati. The program has established itself pretty firmly, and through an email I received this morning, it has also established a new presence on the web—www.BrueggemanFellows.org.

The website offers profiles of Fellows and their projects, news, details about the program, yadda, yadda, yadda. But it also has a really fun feature: a map of the world that marks the locations of where the Fellows have traveled. So far, they’ve landed in 40 different countries.Screen shot 2013-02-19 at 2.27.20 PM (2)

The world is supposedly flat now. Small, and getting smaller. But as I look at the map I can’t help but think that it’s still a pretty large place. And venturing out into it—especially as a college student, alone—would be a journey filled with fear and fascination. But isn’t that, after all, what college is all about? Xavier offers many ways to achieve that. But it seems to me this is by far the best.

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Snow, Suffering and the Human Soul

The human soul is a marvelous thing. Although outside of the abilities of science to pinpoint, its existence is hard to deny. We’ve seen too many times the terrors of its tormented dark side—Sept. 11, Columbine, Newtown. Such reckless disregard for humanity goes beyond any anger capable of being produced by the mind and can only be regurgitated out of a hateful, hurtful soul. Yet we’ve also seen the compassion capable of being produced by a light and loving soul.

urlWhy else would first responders run into the World Trade Center towers? Why else would someone risk their own life to save another? When faced with those situations, everything in the rational mind says no. Something else must say yes.

I bring this up because of a story I just read by Rob Walsh, a 1991 graduate who makes a living as an English teacher in Stratford, Conn., teaching young adults how to write. He also practices what he preaches as a columnist for two local newspapers—one is the Stratford Sun, the other is the Fairfield Star. All he’s missing is the moon, but that’s another story.

This story is about how he spent his Saturday morning two weeks ago when the East Coast got buried by several feet of snow. It’s a story filled with a string of either remarkable coincidences or minor miracles, I’m not sure which. It’s also a story that, well, warms the soul. In the end, decisions were made and a life was saved. I won’t bore you with my rendition of what happened. I’ll simply let him tell it by providing a link to his column.

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I do. A lot.

In working to help put together all of the admissions materials, it becomes apparent that Xavier—in some subtle but evident ways—helps self-select its students. That is, we make it apparent that these are our values and beliefs, and if they don’t line up with what you, as a prospective student, are looking for, then perhaps Xavier isn’t your best choice. And that’s OK.

unknownThat helps some students avoid the frustration of dealing with things like Xavier’s Core Curriculum or emphasis on ethics. It helps Xavier retain its students and know that the ones who are here are interested in becoming men and women for others. It also helps explain why so many Xavier students end up marrying each other.

Or so it seems. As the person who edits Class Notes in Xavier magazine, the number of wedding announcements submitted from alumni seems to be endless. And growing. (If that’s possible.)

Yet another one found its way to may email box this week—Jon and Elizabeth Baker. The couple, as it turns out, met in their final class—a management course held on, of all times, Saturday mornings. I’m sure they looked their best for the class. The class isn’t offered every semester, and they both needed it to graduate. They got placed in the same small group in the class to do a project, and before they knew it they were spending more time together out of class as they were in class.

“My father always asked why I was dating a UC student when starting school at XU,” says Elizabeth. “He always said, ‘You need to find yourself a good Xavier man, Elizabeth.’ Well he got his way you could say.”

Jon and Elizabeth aren’t alone. There are dozens of stories of Xavier couples. Some have been known to propose on the X in the middle of the Academic Mall. Some have been known to get married in Bellarmine Chapel or have a Xavier Jesuit officiate. Some have even been known to hold their wedding reception at the Cintas Center and have their wedding photos taken on the X on the basketball court. (Now that’s hardcore.)

Maybe it’s something in Xavier’s water. Maybe it’s something about Xavier’s campus. Or, just maybe, it’s something in the subtle way Xavier attracts its students. Hmm.

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Going Retro

For a number of years, I had a Xavier basketball sitting on the bookshelf in my office. It was light blue with the old sports logo—the one where the Musketeer is decked out in knee-high boots and feathered hat, and is dribbling a basketball as its cape blows in the wind.

I call that old school. Others call it retro. The sports marketing world calls it a throwback. Throwbacks are big these days. Hats, jerseys. Some people are really into throwback gear because it brings back memories. Really, though, the purpose of throwbacks is marketing and money. Teams wear the gear once and then it’s sold at a premium afterward, its uniqueness making it valuable.

The fact that the gear is sold is not much of a surprise. If you want to know why anything in the world of sports (and in life) is done just follow the money.

The question, though, becomes what happens to the money? Most often it goes back into the budget. Occasionally, however, it goes to a greater cause. Such as the case of Xavier’s latest sports marketing effort.

In a game on Jan. 12, the men’s basketball team wore special uniforms. They weren’t throwbacks, but they were unique and were created with the intention of auctioning them off after the game to make money. What made them unique is that instead of saying “Xavier” across the chest, the jerseys were all inscribed with the words “Sandy Hook”—the name of the grade school in Connecticut where 20 children were gunned down in December. The uniforms were trimmed in the school’s green colors and included the school’s mascot, an eagle, on the shorts.

The idea of the uniforms and auction came from Xavier’s coaches and players, and it caught the attention of Scott Zimmer of Frankenmuth, Mich., some 300 miles north of Cincinnati. Zimmer is a member of the city’s school board and a longtime neighbor of Brad Redford, Xavier’s senior shooting guard. Redford used to babysit Zimmer’s sons, and Zimmer thought buying the uniform would be a good way to honor both Redford and Sandy Hook. So he sent out a few emails explaining his idea.

Within 10 minutes the responses—and contributions—started rolling in. Over the course of the next two weeks, he collected $4,000 from 34 families and businesses, who donated anywhere from $20 to $500.

On Jan. 12, a group from Frankenmuth came down to attend the Xavier game against George Washington University, collect their jersey and return it to Michigan, where it will be put on display in Redford’s old high school.

In all, 26 Sandy Hook items were purchased (the jerseys and shorts were sold separately) and $10,250 raised. The money was donated to the Sandy Hook School Support Fund.

In today’s society, it’s easy to get a bit cynical about all the gimmicks and promotions and money-making efforts that take place in sports. Which is why, I think, it’s even that much more refreshing when efforts like this take place—where decisions are made and actions are taken not for profit but for the greater good. And where the results make a difference to the lives of others in places like Frankenmuth, Mich., and Newtown, Conn.

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Xavier Magazine

A Glimmer of Hope

There’s a photo hanging in our office, just outside my door. It’s the cover of a Xavier magazine, actually, although not one that ever saw the printing press. It’s a mock-up those of us in the office created to give to one of our former writers, Jacob Baynham, on the day he left Xavier to move back to Montana. In the photo, Jacob is sitting on a yak. His size 12 shoes are squeezed into tiny stirrups dangling from a tiny saddle. He’s holding on to a single rope, which is attached to a ring in the yak’s nose.

“Westward,” the headline reads. “Jacob heads home to Montana, turning his yak to the sun to spend his days with family, friends and fish.”

Jacob has led an interesting life—at least in comparison to most of us. In addition to having ridden a yak, he chose to attend high school in India, where his family lived through part of his youth. He returned to the U.S. to attend college at the University of Montana—so chosen not for academic reasons but because there was good fly fishing near campus. After graduating, he ventured back into the world without a job or money, exploring parts of Asia, India and the Middle East. That trek took him to Afghanistan, which is where the yak photo was taken.

From time to time, as news of the country made the headlines because of the war, he would tell us stories about his stay in the region. The stories were almost always about the people—about how good they were, which seemed to contradict the messages the grew from the war. No Taliban. No Al Qaeda. No terrorists. Perhaps he just didn’t hang out in the right places.

I was reminded of Jacob and the yak photo recently because of an email that arrived in my inbox. I get a lot of emails each day, and sometimes the effort to reply to all of them gets to be a bit overwhelming. But this one caught my attention. It came from a woman who was corresponding with a young man in Afghanistan, who told her he has never known anything in his country but war. She was shocked and saddened by this, so she created a page on Facebook where people could upload pictures of how Afghanistan used to be when, as she says, “his country was open to the world.”

What she wanted from Xavier was contact information for two alumni who wrote a story for the magazine’s website about their experience in Afghanistan. After a dozen years worth of magazines, I couldn’t recall the specific article she was referring to, but a site search quickly revealed the story. “Afghanistan Revisited,” was the title. It ran as a web exclusive with the Winter 2002 issue, the first issue after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and subsequent invasion of Afghanistan.

The alums, Elana and Michael Hohl, recalled their days in the country and how little has changed in the 30 years since they were there. But then they offered a glimmer of hope. “Perhaps something good can still come from this death and destruction. Events since Sept. 11 have served to put Afghanistan and indeed the while Middle East, on the map. [Hopefully] the country may yet have a chance to build a stable, prosperous and terrorist-free future, a goal which would be in the best interest of the entire world.”

I forwarded the email to the Hohls, as well as to Jacob, thinking they might have something to contribute to the Facebook site—something that offers a picture of the Afghanistan they once knew and give a boy a glimpse of a world he has never known: one without war.

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Into the Wild: A Teaching Experience That is Both Intense and In Tents

Mike Cottingham is a teacher. Only his classroom is 13,770 feet up on top of Wyoming’s Grand Teton mountain. It’s also in a kayak next to a humpback whale just off Alaska’s Chochagoff Island. And in the middle of the Jatbula Track in Australia’s Northern Territory. No blackboards. No cramped little desks. No annoying intercoms with endless interruptions from the vice principal. Just nature. Lots and lots of nature.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd that’s exactly how he planned it. The 1972 MEd graduate scrapped the traditional pencils and books and created Wilderness Ventures, a school (of sorts) that teaches teenagers about all the stuff that most schools don’t: life, nature, cooperation, interdependency. The students spend anywhere from 16 days to six weeks in a remote wilderness area with no phones, no TVs, no computers. They camp, cook and clean outdoors. It’s intense and in tents.

But they leave with a new view of the world.

“Teenagers can be a challenge,” says Cottingham. “They’re not always kind to one another. They’re very into themselves and don’t typically think of others. So what we realized early on is that the greatest gift we can give them is teach them how to live in a community, how to team-build, to share, to care for one another, to be tolerant and accepting of one another. Our students all come from different backgrounds, different socioeconomic situations. Some are jocks, some are intellectuals, but out in the wilderness they all have to work together. It’s all about community.

“They learn the hard skills of being in the wilderness, but we also teach them the soft skills—how to talk, how to communicate face to face instead of sending a text message. We sit around a campfire and sing songs, talk about leadership, talk about the big questions of life. And, in the end, it makes a huge impact. We get feedback all the time from kids or their parents who see the impact, either immediately or later in life. We’ve had 30 kids who are second-generation campers.”

In the 40 years since Cottingham began his venture, he’s led more than 22,000 teenagers into the wilderness, expanding from sites scattered around the American Northwest to the wilds of Alaska. He’s taken kids to South America (Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, Belize, the Galapagos) and Europe (the Alps and Pyrenees mountains). He’s expanded to the South Pacific (Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Tahiti, Thailand) and is venturing for the first time this year into Africa.

00790-WVGenSince primitive camping and unlimited exploration is unique to America, the international trips are slightly different, with the students hiking from village to village or hut to hut. And they’re focused more on community service work. Over the course of three summers, for instance, Wilderness Ventures built a school in Fiji.

For Cottingham, it all began with, well, an effort to keep from being sent to Vietnam. He took the lessons from his own socially active childhood and earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Notre Dame. He then returned to Cincinnati and entered graduate school to study teaching—specifically alternative education models—because he loved teaching young adults. And, it offered a deferment from the draft.

By the time he graduated, the war was over and life was safe to resume. He got a job as a high school substitute teacher while his wife, Helen, worked as a middle school teacher full time. With their summers free, they spent a lot of time camping and backpacking throughout the West with the Sierra Club. Looking to combine their love of teaching with their passion for the outdoors, the two created Wilderness Ventures as a summer job in 1973.

“It began because I convinced 10 families I knew what I was doing,” he says.

It grew to 13 the second year, then 24. “I said, ‘I think we can make a living doing this.’” The two quit their teaching jobs and moved to Jackson Hole, Wyo., a place they discovered during their summer treks. “Jackson Hole was one of the most beautiful places we’d ever seen,” he says. “When we moved out here, it felt like we were coming home.”

03838-WVGenBy the ninth year, the Cottinghams started their own family and turned the teaching and leading over to younger souls, focusing instead on the business aspects—recruiting teenagers, overseeing the 11 full-time and 120 seasonal employees—and making sure their vision of impacting the lives of teenagers didn’t change even though the times did.

“Ten years ago, there wasn’t the Internet or Facebook or smartphones,” he says. “We have kids who don’t sign up when we tell them they can’t bring their phones or music. But if we can convince them that giving them up for a while will open up a new world to them, their lives will be changed. So what we offer is even more relevant today than ever.”

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Learn more about Wilderness Ventures

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Of God and Grizzly

We’re halfway up the hillside when we first see the footprints. Grizzly bear. The dirt around the edges of the prints is still loose, not compacted by the recent rain, meaning the tracks are fresh. Meaning the bear is here. Somewhere. Somewhere close.

Your senses tend to sharpen in the wilderness.  Your vision gets clearer.  You smell the pines, the mud, the decaying leaves.  You hear sounds that otherwise wouldn’t register. Your senses tend to sharpen even more when there’s a grizzly bear nearby.  Your heart also tends to beat just a little bit faster.

“The Forest Service says you should wear a bell or talk or make noise so a bear will hear you and run away,” says Leon Chartrand, our group’s leader. “That’s exactly what we’re not going to do.”

We continue up the hill, slowly, stopping frequently to search for other signs—broken twigs, snagged fur, scat. As we emerge from the woods into a clearing, Chartrand puts an end to the search. We have, he determines, reached our classroom. Priorities prevail.

[lightbox link=”http://xuxtraprod.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/41.jpg”]41[/lightbox]Chartrand is a visiting professor of theology and is leading 12 of us—10 undergraduate and two graduate students—in a theology course through the wilds of Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park. The course’s focus is on experiencing nature as primary sacred and sacramental reality, something that isn’t going to happen sitting in Alter Hall.

He pulls the group together and explains the day’s lesson, then sends us out to private spots in the area to craft a daily reflection paper. In more Jesuit terms, we are trying to find God in all things, and for the moment, at least for me, that thing remains the grizzly bear.

After a few minutes of trying to focus on the day’s lesson, my eyes and mind begin to wander up the still-uncharted hillside to the top of a ridge, where the bear is. I have to know what’s beyond it, so that’s where I go. I put down my notebook, pick up my backpack and begin walking up the hill.

The ridge, I discover, opens up to a large, open field dotted with patches of trees. Fresh bear scat litters the ground. Nothing stands between me and the woods that continue about 100 yards to the north. I stand there at the edge of the field, alone. I feel open, exposed, vulnerable. I look around but can’t see anything. But I can sense it. The bear is here. Somewhere. Watching. Watching me.

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Grizzly bears have a notoriously ruthless and arguably unfair reputation. They tolerate wolves (and are mutually tolerated) but otherwise have no real enemies except for man. Mostly, they are solitary creatures that avoid contact with humans. The occasions where bears attack people are almost always for defensive purposes, either of themselves, their cubs or food. Our failed relationship came about not because bears started infringing upon our territory, but because we infiltrated theirs.

In the early 1900s, nearly 100,000 grizzly bears roamed the lower 48 states. Today, the number is reduced to less than 1,000.  The 2.6-million acre Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park corridor in Wyoming’s northwest corner is as far south as the bear now roams. The numbers are higher and healthier in Alaska and the mountainous areas of  Western Canada, but even those numbers—estimated at 30,000—are only a fraction of what they once were.

[lightbox link=″http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtFuj6Jn0GI&feature=player_embedded″]fleming1[/lightbox]

Seeking solitude or pursuing profit, we started building homes in the woods or at the edges of mountains, which brought with it an open invitation for unwelcome encounters. And encounters have happened. Chartrand can bear witness to that. While researching his doctoral dissertation, he served as bear biologist for five years for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, trapping, relocating or—in the case of those bears who became conditioned to believe that food could be found near humans—euthanizing them.

At one point, as we drove through Grand Teton National Park, he pointed out a home that a bear broke into and caused extensive damage as it rummaged for food. Among its take, he says, was a bowl of Jolly Rancher candy. After trapping the bear, the homeowners started feeling remorse, knowing the animal was facing death. They started questioning if it was the right bear, hoping Chartrand would relocate it instead of kill it. Knowing bears don’t change their habits and can be dangerous if they no longer fear humans, Chartrand had to wait another 12 hours until the bear emptied its bowels, at which point he positively identified it by the undigested plastic candy wrappers in its scat. The proof was in the pooping.

For those like Chartrand, though, the bear isn’t something to be feared, but to be respected and, in some ways, awed. That’s how he felt after his first encounter with a bear while backpacking in Glacier National Park. There was no confrontation, just a revelation. “Things made sense to me,” he says. “My place in the world. My sense of connectedness to the land. The sense that the world is much bigger than my ability to understand. It was a transformative moment.”

Now, his goal is to share that same feeling with others, to show the correlation between ecology and theology. So he teaches.

“To put it into a theological perspective, consider that we’ve long identified the notion of The Holy,” he says. “Two characteristics associated with The Holy are fear and fascination. Interestingly, there’s a correlation between the fact that people are drawn toward bears because of fear and fascination.”

[lightbox link=”http://xuxtraprod.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/07.jpg”]07[/lightbox]

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While my classmates continue to spend their time reflecting, I stand silently, still searching for the bear. There’s something inexplicable about its presence that has captured me, beyond, even, all of the other experiences the course has brought.

“The world is charged with the grandeur of God,” wrote Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins back in 1918. To most, the phrase is a piece of poetry. To the Jesuits, it is a mantra. To those of us trekking through the Tetons and wilds of Yellowstone, it is a self-evident truth.

Throughout the week we paused for times of meaning and reflection alongside rushing rivers, at the shores of glacier-fed lakes and atop mountains. We encountered bald eagles, bison and blue heron. We watched carefully as a coyote strode past just a few feet away. We examined the skeletal remains of two young elk that offered a reminder that peril and beauty live side by side in nature. We saw towering waterfalls and boiling mud pits and snow-covered woods.

On our first day we paused in a clearing littered by the still-charred trunks of lodgepole pines felled by a forest fire in 1988. Lodgepole pines are an interesting species. Their seeds can only be opened by extreme heat, meaning the only way the trees regenerate is if the previous generation is destroyed by fire. Its life, in other words, can only be revealed through death. Grandeur, indeed.[lightbox link=”http://xuxtraprod.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/25.jpg”]25[/lightbox]

Consider the tree, we were told as we sat among the pines. What do you see when you look at a tree? Its leaves, its branches, its bark. What don’t you see? Its roots, the nutrients flowing through its trunk, the fact that it takes in carbon dioxide and gives off oxygen. Just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not there or not vital to its existence.

Cannot the same argument be made for the existence of God?

To be conscious about something is to be aware of it, no matter if it’s the inner workings of a tree, the fragility of the wildflowers or, really, the existence of God. Must we always see to believe? Might being in the presence of something be sacred enough?

[lightbox link=”http://xuxtraprod.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/10.jpg”]10[/lightbox] Thomas Berry, a Passionate priest and one of the most brilliant minds in the field of eco-theology, once wrote about a similar revelation he had about nature and religion—not with the mountains or woods of  Yellowstone but of a simple Midwestern meadow. “Religion, it seems to me, takes its origin here in the deep mystery of this setting,” he says. “The more a person thinks of the infinite number of interrelated activities that take place here, the more mysterious it all becomes. The more meaning a person finds in the Maytime blooming of the lilies, the more awestruck a person might be in simply looking out over this little patch of meadowland.”

The problem, he says, is that we are cast into our urban jungles where towering buildings create concrete canyons. We are overwhelmed by eye pollution generated by neon signs, by ear pollution caused by screaming cars and by nose pollution caused by the belching smokestacks of industry. We live in many different worlds and, unfortunately, none of them teach us how to read the book of nature. It’s become a lost skill.[lightbox link=”http://xuxtraprod.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/46.jpg”]46[/lightbox]

“We live in a political world, a nation, a business world, an economic order, a cultural tradition, a Disney dreamland,” Berry says. “We live in cities, in a world of concrete and steel, of wheels and wires, a world of unending work. We seldom see the stars at night or the planets or the moon. Even in the day we do not experience the sun in any immediate or meaningful manner.

“We have silenced too many of those wonderful voices of the universe that spoke to us of the grand mysteries of existence. We no longer hear the voices of the rivers, the mountains or the sea. The trees and meadows are no longer intimate modes of spirit presence. The world about us has become an ‘it’ rather than a ‘thou.’”

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Time is turning and the sun isn’t far from setting. Dusk and dawn are the two most active times for bears, and despite our previous disregard for Forest Service recommendations about making noise, leading a group of college students down the side of a mountain after dark with bears in the area is fraught with too many liabilities. Wiser heads prevail.

As the others start back down the hill and onto the next lesson, I turn back one last time, giving the area a final scan, hoping—praying—that I might see the bear. Still, nothing. Disappointed and perhaps a little disheartened, I slowly rejoin the group and head back down the hill as well.

One of the funny things about life that I’ve learned, though, is that the obvious isn’t always obvious at the moment. Often time is needed to reveal what isn’t seen in the moment. Sometimes reflection. Perhaps prayer.

As the night comes upon us and the next day dawns, the openness of the field and the presence of the bear keeps replaying in my mind. Where was the bear? Why didn’t it reveal itself?

Then the revelation hits:  The time spent tracking the bear up the hillside and searching for it in the open field wasn’t at all a disappointment. In fact, it was just the opposite. It was perhaps the most meaningful and educationally enlightening part of the entire journey. It pulled together all the elements of the class—man and nature, fear and fascination, God and grizzly. Nothing, in fact, could have been more theological.

Like the bear, God leaves his footprints everywhere for us to follow. It’s up to us to awaken our senses, to look for the signs, to see them. And they always lead us to a place where He is. But, like with the bear, that doesn’t always mean we will recognize the encounter or receive our visual desire. We can stand there, open, exposed, looking—praying—that we will see God. But, all too often, nothing. So, disappointed and perhaps a little disheartened, we move on, missing the mystery and meaning of the moment. That God is there. Somewhere. Watching. Watching us.

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Where are They Now?

Jack Thobe, 1962

The first time Jack Thobe ever flew on aJack plane, he was 18 years old. It was 1958, and Xavier was in the National Invitation Tournament in New York. Thobe sat in the stands at Madison Square Garden as the Musketeers beat St. Bonaventure in the semifinals, and again when they scraped past Dayton to win the tournament. The team, which was courting him as a top basketball recruit, invited him to fly back to Cincinnati with them.

By the time they landed at Lunken Airport, Thobe knew where he was going to college. “I thought, well, I’ve gotta come here,” he says.
Thobe thrived at Xavier. The 6-foot-8-inch center from Ludlow, Ky., stymied opponents with his inside hook shot, scoring 1,296 points in his three years on the varsity team.

When he graduated in 1962, Thobe was drafted by the Kansas City Steers and the Cincinnati Royals, providing him a chance to play with—instead of against—University of Cincinnati star Oscar Robertson, “the greatest I ever saw,” he says. But Thobe had just married his childhood sweetheart Blanche—his “princess charming,” as he calls her—and he wanted a steady job. So he joined the Akron Wingfoots, a corporate team sponsored by Goodyear Tire and Rubber in the National Industrial Basketball League. As part of that program, Thobe played for a year and trained in Goodyear’s plastic packaging sales division. He spent 30 years with Goodyear, eventually moving out to California where he oversaw sales in 14 Western states.

Thobe now lives in Huntington Beach, Calif. He doesn’t make it back to Cincinnati much, but he’s sure to watch all the Xavier basketball he can on television. “That’s one thing I insist on when I get a TV network, that I can see those games,” he says. Thobe has five children, all athletes in their own right. Two of his sons became Major League Baseball players, and one daughter is a professional golfer.

He also has grandchildren, whom he’s trying to teach the fundamentals of a good hook shot. “That’s basically what I lived on,” he says. “But the old legs aren’t what they used to be.”

Brandon McIntosh, 2002

20101108Xavier-6186Brandon McIntosh didn’t get to play basketball as much as he wanted at Xavier, and it broke the 6-foot-5-inch forward’s heart. But McIntosh’s faith helped him cope with the disappointment and shape who he is today.
“I was behind coming in, and that presented a challenge,” says McIntosh, who came to Xavier as a prep standout from Cincinnati’s Roger Bacon High School, but was ruled academically ineligible and didn’t get to play his first year.
“Being from Cincinnati, it was embarrassing and humbling,” he says. “I was used to playing in high school, but I was sitting on the sidelines. It was at that point, when I was heart-broken, that God started talking to me.”
McIntosh’s faith inspired him to work harder academically and to accept the future he believes God intended for him. After improving his grades, McIntosh worked his way back onto the court and graduated in three years with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in 2002. In spite of the impressive comeback, McIntosh’s dream to play basketball professionally never materialized.
“I thought the NBA was for me, but God was using basketball as a stepping stone to show me the bigger picture,” he says.
For McIntosh, the bigger picture revolves around the myriad ways in which he counsels people today to reach the potential God intends for them. He earns his living as a treatment advocate in Columbus for the National Youth Advocate Program, a foster care organization, and recently founded a non-denominational Christian church for which he is pastor. He stays connected to sports, too, as a volunteer chaplain for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
The message of Christ appeals to the young and old, to athletes, to criminals, to the rich and poor, says McIntosh, who uses his own story of despair on the basketball court to faith-inspired triumph off court to make his point.
“Everyone wants to know their purpose in life, what they are here for,” he says. “My passion is helping people see their full purpose, where they are now, versus where they should be.”

Bob Staak

Like magic, Bob Staak built Xavier into a winning team. Within six years of taking over asbob stackXavier’s new men’s head basketball coach and athletic director, he had the team winning regularly. But, more importantly, within six years he laid the foundation for what the program is today.

The University had been looking for a prominent, competitive sports program to replace football since it’s cancelation in 1973. Deciding on basketball, the University went searching for a coach who could make an impact. It found Staak.

Experienced as an assistant coach at the University of Pennsylvania, Staak rebuilt Xavier’s program from the ground up, recruiting all-state players, joining a league for the first time, moving home games to the Cincinnati Gardens, and upgrading the schedule to all Division I teams. Four of the players he recruited were drafted later by the NBA, but the highlight was taking the team to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 22 years.

After several coaching positions, Staak is making a different kind of magic now as a talent scout for the NBA’s Orlando Magic. The job is seasonal, which means he travels a lot during the fall and spring, scouting NBA and college players. In his five months of free time, he plays a lot of golf at courses around his home in Cornelius, N.C.

But Staak says his time at Xavier was the most memorable of his career. There are times he wishes he’d never left.

“Because I built it into a program that was competitive with one of the better teams in the league we were in,” he says. “That foundation moved it along and contributed to the success Xavier has now. I feel proud of the fact we were able to start it and build that foundation, and secondly that it has continued.”

Gene Smith, 1952

g.smithIt goes without saying that Gene Smith was going to be drafted after he graduated from Xavier in 1952. The 6-foot-5-inch center from Hamilton Catholic was the first Musketeer to score more than 1,000 points in his three years of varsity ball, and the first to average more than 20 points per game in a season. Smith once scored 45 points in a game against Georgetown, Ky., at Schmidt Fieldhouse.

When he graduated, Smith was drafted twice: first by the Minneapolis Lakers and second by Uncle Sam.

“The U.S. Army was sitting there waiting for me,” Smith says. It was the height of the Korean War, and Smith suited up for two years of service with the Army. If he was disappointed about missing a chance to play professionally, Smith doesn’t show it. “I did get a chance to play some top-notch basketball in the service,” he says. Some of the country’s best players were joining the military, and Smith helped lead his Army team to a tournament in Washington, D.C., where they lost to the Air Force in the finals.

When Smith left the Army, the Lakers still wanted him. But he chose to sign up with the National Industrial Basketball League, instead. Goodyear Tire and Rubber offered a program where top athletes could play for their Akron Wingfoots team and simultaneously train for a job with the company. Smith was an NIBL all-star for all three years he played for the Wingfoots. And in the days before big television deals and high-capacity arenas, he made as much as he would have in the pros. He also launched a career in sales and stayed with Goodyear for almost 40 years.

These days, Smith is in the stands at every Xavier home game—he’s been a Xavier season ticket holder since the 1970s. He says basketball has changed since he played it. “It’s a different game,” he says. “I call it one-on-one basketball—‘Throw it to me and get the hell out of the way.’ ”

Derek Strong, 1990

Derek Strong grew up in Watts, one of the poorest sections of Los Angeles where nearly halfSTRONG2_FPO
of the population lives below the poverty line. It was there, on the city’s basketball courts, that he found his profession. After graduating from Xavier in 1990 with a degree in communications, he went on to play 12 seasons in the NBA. But it was also there, in the empty parking lots of the city’s retail and office buildings, that Strong found his passion—auto racing. Strong would slide into one of his uncle’s go karts and drive as fast as he could around the makeshift parking lot race tracks.

It’s not quite the stuff of legend, like Nascar Hall of Famer Junior Johnson learning to drive fast by running moonshine through the backroads of North Carolina. But the same racing bug bit Strong, and he’s aiming to end up in the same place. Since retiring from pro basketball in 2003, Strong has traveled around the country, strapping himself into almost any racecar he could find in order to gain the experience—the “seat time,” in racing parlance—needed to excel in his second professional sport. And he’s done so with a fair amount of success, finishing in the top 10 in 67 percent of his races.

And all was progressing fine until the crash. Not a racing crash, of course, but the economic crash. When the economy went for a spin, it took out the much-needed corporate sponsorship with it. And in the world of auto racing, sponsorship equals money, money equals equipment, equipment equals speed and speed equals wins. So Strong is back out knocking on doors trying to line up sponsors for one of the series he’s hoping to race in—ARCA or the Camping World Truck Series, both minor league affiliates of Nascar.

But he’s also sharing the education he got at Xavier, working with the Memphis-based Motorsports Institute to help promote racing and reading. The Institute brings Strong and his cars to schools—and offers free tickets to races—if the students read so many pages.
He wants them to see him race, though. He’s been racing late-model and ASA cars, but—like all racers—wants something bigger and faster. “It’s time to step it up,” he says.

Michael Davenport, 1991

While Michael Davenport was dreaming of playing professional basketball, little did he know davenportthat as he tore up the court for Xavier from 1988-1991 the teamwork and leadership skills he was developing as a starting guard would benefit him more as a businessman.

And Davenport is all right with that.

“Basketball is like a business. You have to be part of a team,” he says. “Basketball teaches everything you need to know. In the business world, I’m part of a team, but I still have to do my part.”

After graduating in 1991 with more than 1,000 points under his shoes, Davenport headed for the pros. But at the tryout in Wichita, Kan., the coach ended up cutting the guy from Xavier, because in Wichita, only guys from Kansas State bring in the fans. Getting cut hurt, but Davenport could see it was a good business decision. The man who played under Pete Gillen on the first Xavier squad to go to the NCAA Sweet 16 was smart enough to realize his playing days were over.

So he got a law degree, worked as an assistant basketball coach at West Point and Xavier, and landed at US Bank in Cincinnati. Starting as a branch manager, he worked his way up to corporate compliance, where he stays abreast of federal banking regulations.

Though busy raising two boys, Davenport still makes time for his Xavier teammates— Dwayne Wilson, Jamal Walker, Tyrone Hill, Stan Kimbrough, Rich Harris. “My closest friends are my teammates,” he says. “I was in battle with them for years. It’s cool to see the knuckleheads they were coming in and see what quality men they are now.”

Jamie Gladden, 1993

Like many of Xavier’s recruits, Jamie Gladden had more than a few offers when it came timeJ Gladden 8x10(2) to decide where to play college ball in 1989. A native of Lorain, Ohio, Gladden was getting calls from Oklahoma State, Tulsa University, University of Cincinnati, Ohio State and Drake University. It became overwhelming.

“It almost felt like I was more of a number than a person,” he says. “But every time I talked to a Xavier coach, it was a totally different experience. They didn’t promise anything they couldn’t deliver.”

Gladden remembers Skip Prosser, then an assistant coach, telling him, “Whatever you get here, you’re gonna have to earn it.” Gladden respected that. He also liked Xavier’s high graduation rate.

“The first thing I noticed is the great deal of camaraderie, the family atmosphere that the team had,” Gladden says. He didn’t have to wait long for a return on his investment. In his freshman year, his skills at shooting guard helped lead the team to its first appearance in the NCAA Sweet Sixteen. Gladden graduated in 1993 with a degree in sociology. Before then he would reach the NCAA tournament two more times and score 1,780 points—the seventh highest tally in Musketeer history.

Gladden is now assistant vice president of lost mitigation at Litton Loan Services in Atlanta. He still plays basketball, but limits himself to the casual two-on-two variety, and he tries to stick to guys his age, for his knees’ sake. He also helps out with the Amateur Athletic Union basketball team of his 14-year-old son, who grew up watching old VHS recordings of Gladden’s games with his cousin. Among them was the 1990 Crosstown Shootout nail biter, and a memorable game against Loyola Marymount, just two months before their star, Hank Gathers, died on the court. Xavier won both games, thanks to buzzer-beaters from Jamal Walker.

“Jamal was their favorite player,” Gladden says. “They’d cheer for him more than they would for me.”

Rick Reder, 1970

rederRick Reder finally found his calling—at age 50. The 6-foot former guard graduated with a degree in business from Xavier in 1970, married his high school sweetheart soon after and went into the insurance business. Everything was just as it was supposed to be.

But something was missing with his work: Passion.

“It was a job,” Reder says. “I was never terribly enamored with it. I guess I was somewhat successful.”

Reder, a lifelong Catholic, realized his true calling while on retreat in the mid-1990s. “One of the priests in the group said, ‘You’d make a great deacon.’ ” Reder was unfamiliar with the role of deacons in the church. “I said, ‘I’m almost a 50-year-old Catholic, what the hell is a deacon?’ ”

Reder heeded the advice and began taking classes at the Athenaeum of Ohio in Cincinnati to become a deacon. He eventually sold his insurance business and today is the executive director of the Jesuit Spiritual Center at Milford, Ohio, which hosts retreats for individuals and groups.

“There was never even a thought about being a deacon or working in a religious environment,” he says of his early career aspirations. “But God’s there all the time. It took me 50 years to figure it out. I’m a slow learner.”

Smiling, he refers to the unlikely circumstances that led him to become director of the center. “Here I am,” he says from his office on the tree-lined grounds on the spiritual center in suburban Cincinnati. “My goal is to bring people to God and let God touch them. If we can get them here, I know God will take care of them.”

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Xavier Magazine

Fighting the War at Home

It was a warm summer evening and Lisa Dunster and her husband Sean were hosting a dinner party at their suburban Cincinnati home. Lisa was peeling some vegetables with a knife in the kitchen when Sean came inside to see how Lisa was doing. She didn’t hear him enter, and when he walked up behind her, he startled her. That was the moment life changed.

Lisa instinctively spun and swung the knife. It grazed Sean on the chin. After a moment of sheer terror, she returned to her senses and dropped the knife. As she stood there, motionless, reality began to set in—the reality of what she almost did to her husband and the reality that the person she had once been was still alive inside her.

Early in their marriage, Lisa had what she laughingly calls a “sick romance with the military.” She joined the National Guard and was sent to Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War. Her deployment only lasted six months, but six months of war is more than enough.

“I knew I wasn’t the same person,” she says. “I knew too much. I saw too much. The innocent girl who went over there was gone. The entire flight home I kept worrying, ‘What if my family doesn’t love the girl I’ve become?’ ”

She came home and changed careers. She earned her MEd in 1997 and spent the next 14 years teaching. But what she couldn’t change was the dark side of war that comes home with veterans.

“There’s an unwritten code that you don’t talk about war,” she says. “That’s wrong. That’s why the Vietnam vets ended up the way they did. So when Sept. 11 happened, I looked at Sean and told him I had to do something or we were going to have an even bigger problem than in Vietnam.”

It took a while, but in 2008 Dunster left teaching and started the Compass Retreat Center, a nonprofit business that helps vets and their families readjust to life at home.

“Having worked in education, I was familiar with the ripple effect that problems at home can have on children,” Dunster says. “So our niche is that we bring them to camp as families. And it works.”

It’s also free. Dunster says the vets already paid their dues and charging them to attend would not be fair. It’s a financial challenge, but she’s not backing down. “There’s more than enough need,” she says. “We could run the camp year round.”

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