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Xavier Magazine

Home Sweet Home

Former men’s basketball coach Skip Prosser used to tell the story about trying to recruit players to Xavier before the Cintas Center was built. The Cincinnati Gardens was the team’s home court at the time, so he’d drive them over to the Gardens, show them the team’s locker room and then walk them out into the arena—where there would be a rodeo going on. Or a tractor pull. Or a circus.

“Just imagine a basketball court over there where the elephants are,” he’d say.

The Gardens was a step up from Schmidt Fieldhouse, and the team still managed to sign some top-flight players—Byron Larkin, Derek Strong, Brian Grant, Tyrone Hill, James Posey, Aaron Williams, David West. But it was a tough sell. And, being five miles away from campus, it was hard to truly call it home.

All of that changed 10 years ago, though, with the opening of the Cintas Center. The 10,250-seat arena put Xavier on an even recruiting plane with the best basketball programs in the country and ahead of most of its competition.

“The Gardens was a great home, but it wasn’t our home,” says Xavier’s director for athletics Mike Bobinski. “We only used it for men’s basketball—volleyball and women’s basketball were still in Schmidt Fieldhouse—and we couldn’t really use it for recruiting. Today, when we bring in recruits, we don’t hide anything. Players want to go to a place that they can see is committed to the program, and there are very few, if any, on-campus arenas that I would put ahead of the Cintas Center.”

Watch a timelapse video of the new Cintas Center scoreboard being erected.

In today’s world, attracting student-athletes—especially highly recruited, national caliber players—is a whole new game compared to years past. Colleges begin recruiting certain players when they’re still freshmen in high school. The athletes are wined and dined to the extent that the National Collegiate Athletic Association will allow. And since many programs make many of the same offers—playing time, dynamic coach, games on TV—what used to be nothing more than materialistic extras like how fancy the arenas and locker rooms are or whose shoes you wear are now big selling points.

“It makes a huge difference to them, rightly or wrongly,” says Bobinski. “Those are the kinds of things that get the attention of young people today. You’re bringing them here when they’re 17, 16, heck sometimes even 15 years old, and a facility is part of the equation. Whether it should or shouldn’t be is open for debate.”

Which is why Xavier has updated the locker rooms, weight rooms, the scoreboard and various other parts of the building over the last 10 years. “You’re hard pressed to say it’s a 10-year-old building,” says Bobinski.

And it’s also why both Xavier and the Cintas Center have become benchmarks for other colleges. Officials from numerous universities—Saint Louis, Fordham, Duquesne, St. Joseph’s—have cited the building as one of the main reasons for Xavier’s athletic success and claimed that the only way they can keep pace with the Musketeers is to have a Cintas Center-like facility of their own.

And many have done just that. In the decade since its opening, there’s been a steady stream of people from other universities around the country who have toured the building, examining its operations and structure, and using it as a standard for how they could afford to build one of their own.

“People from the University of Virginia came three times,” says Bobinski. “Saint Louis more than that. Notre Dame was here.”

The reality is, says Bobinski, that Xavier’s overall athletic success has been part of a long-term plan and years in the making. But the opening of the Cintas Center 10 years ago was one of—if not the—major turning point.

“To say that we’re where we are today because of it is a very fair statement,” says Bobinski. “Having the right people in place is the biggest reason, but having a great facility for them to recruit in and compete in is a very close second.”

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Xavier Magazine

Mack Attack

The more things change, the more, it seems, they stay the same.

In May, men’s basketball coach Sean Miller announced he was leaving to take the head coaching job at the University of Arizona, leaving Xavier to search for its fifth head coach in the last 15 years. And, after searching the country for a replacement, the University once again turned inward for the answer. Like Skip Prosser and Miller who were groomed as Xavier assistant coaches, the University promoted assistant coach and former Musketeer guard Chris Mack to the head coach’s slot.

“He won the job,” says director for athletics Mike Bobinski. “It wasn’t given to him. It was not by default. He flat earned it. Why was he the right guy? Total belief and commitment to Xavier. He’s smart, energetic, incredibly competitive, confident, his own man. He believes in what he believes in. He has a long history of winning and being successful, and that’s a habit that’s hard to get away from. And there’s no one better prepared to lead Xavier basketball in years to come as we continue on our road to success.”

“I’ve seen Xavier from every perspective,” Mack says. “Fan, camper, recruit, opponent, player, administrator, coach, now head coach. I think I’m going to like this vantage point the best. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but I always believed that if I stood on my own two feet, did my job and just let the chips fall, everything would be fine. I was raised that way—if you do the right things, right things happen.”

Mack’s new challenge is to continue the streak of success that has elevated Xavier into the upper echelon of college basketball, but he already has one big factor pointing toward success: infrastructure.

From the moment Miller announced he was leaving, Bobinski began making the point: Xavier isn’t as dependant as other universities on who sits in the head coach’s office. Xavier basketball is more than its coach. It’s bigger than its coach. What’s really been the key to the success of the program is the program itself. The “infrastructure” that the program is built upon is firmly in place—the facilities such as the Cintas Center, locker rooms and weight rooms; the academic structure and discipline so the players and their parents know they’re going to graduate; the
intangibles such as charter flights, adequate recruiting budgets and scouting technologies.

These are the fundamental elements that allow a coach to step in and do what he’s supposed to do—recruit and coach. If he doesn’t have to worry about who’s academically eligible or about the team missing a commercial flight or being able to afford to fly out to recruit a player, that should translate into wins. It has in the past. And it’s one of the reasons Bobinski had far more options—and could be more selective, focusing not just on someone who knew the game but fit into the Xavier mold—on whom to hire than before. From the moment the rumors about Miller leaving started flying, Bobinski’s phone started ringing.

“Without a doubt, the level of interest is completely different with this phase,” he says. “Now, there are agents and reps who call pushing coaches, which is understandable because the coaches all want to protect themselves. But if you look at how we went about the process of hiring, it’s very similar. That didn’t change because the goal is exactly the same: get the right answer. And we did that.”

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Xavier Magazine

The Monk Next Door

For a year and a half I lived next door to a Tibetan monk. While this might not be unusual in Tibet, it’s not what one expects in suburban Cincinnati. Still, it was an interesting—if not enlightening—experience.

Consider, for instance, the first time we met. After standing on the sidewalk and talking for about 15 minutes, he looked at me and nonchalantly summed me up:

“I can see you’re a good, average man,” he said.

“Thank you,” I said. “I think.”

He went by the name Gexe—pronounced Gee-she—which really isn’t as much of a name as it is a title. Gexe literally translates into “knowledgeable,” but it’s more like an academic title for someone who earned a religious doctorate. Kind of like calling someone with a Ph.D. a doctor.

Every day I would see Gexe in his burgundy and gold clothes walking to or from the library down the block. Sometimes I would see him outside snipping a bud from a row of wild flowers to take inside to symbolize nature for his prayers. When I would get up early in the morning to run, I would always see his light on and I could hear him ringing the bell that is part of the Buddhist prayer ritual.

“Why do you ring the bell?” I once asked.

“Oh,” he said with a laugh. “That’s just to keep me from falling asleep when I pray. Ah ha ha ha ha.”

We came to be neighbors when the elderly woman who lived next door died, and her son and daughter debated what to do with the house. It was the home they grew up in. He wanted to sell; she didn’t. So while their debate raged on, they agreed to at least have someone watch the house. Interestingly, she had heard at her parish of a Buddhist monk from Tibet who was in the area and needed a place to stay. A week later there was a monk next door.

Although he was outgoing, quick to laugh and as harmless as one would expect from a monk, people from the area would stare at him as he walked or carefully avoid making any kind of contact. Perhaps one of the reasons we got along so well while he was here was because I would take the time to say hi and talk.

When he found out I worked at a Catholic university, he would ask, “What’s the latest news from Rome?”

I would simply shrug my shoulders. “I don’t know. The pope didn’t call today.”

“Ah ha ha ha.”

Our proximity to the local library was ideal for him, as his life was about learning and enlightenment, particularly as it related to the Dalai Lama. Gexe was an ardent follower of the Dalai Lama and would search the Web daily to find out the latest news about the exiled Tibetan religious leader.

Once during a backyard conversation that had, inevitably, turned to the Dalai Lama, he ran back to his house and returned with one of his most prized—and only—possessions: a framed 3×5-inch photo. Those who earn the title of Gexe must defend their dissertations before a 16-member panel of high-ranking lamas, and the day he defended his, the Dalai Lama showed up. So there he was, this young monk in the middle of his defense, with the Dalai Lama seated a few feet away.

While our religious beliefs were vastly different, we never let that get in the way. I even felt somewhat privileged when he asked me to help him meet some of his Buddhist needs. The Buddhists have a tradition, for instance, of going to the highest ground on a certain holy day and spending time in prayer. He wanted to do this in Eden Park and asked if I would take him. I did. I later helped him e-mail a letter to a newspaper defending the Dalai Lama.

One other time he came over all upset. His hair clippers had broken and his hair was getting too long. Since most of the time when we saw each other I was outside trying to fix something on our old house, I guess he figured I might be able to fix his hair clippers as well. If nothing else, I had a lot of tools. So he brought the clippers over and, somehow, I managed to get them working again. He was most grateful.

Then, one day, Gexe was gone. The sister finally decided she was ready to sell the house, so he had to leave. I haven’t seen him since.

I was reminded of him, though, when I learned about the Brueggeman Center bringing Tibetan monks to campus from April 10-14. The monks are spending the week in the library creating a Mandala—a large, highly detailed picture made with millions of grains of colored sand—as well as teaching such arts as butter sculpture and sand painting.

Buddhist monks are not all the same, I once learned during one of our conversations. Some don’t follow the Dalai Lama. These particular monks do, though. They’re brothers in the cloth, sort of. So I’m wondering if Gexe will be there. I’m hoping so. It’s always nice to catch up with old neighbors.

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Xavier Magazine

Serving Others Fit to a T

When I was in high school, we had a “College T-shirt Day,” in which those who were going to college were encouraged to wear a T-shirt showing the school they were attending. The chosen day was around the same time as students on the yearbook staff were walking around the hallways and classrooms searching for anything and everything to take a picture of in order to fill the book’s pages.

All of this came flooding back to me not too long ago after I received an invitation for a class reunion. The event marked a certain milestone for our class year and was set to take place in a hotel ballroom not too far from the scene of the crime. .

For several days I kicked around the notion of attending the event—or not. My college of choice was located some 500 miles away, and upon packing my bags and stepping into the next level of my life, I never really returned to the area. Winter vacations were spent elsewhere and summers were typically spent on campus. And unlike today, when students keep in contact with their high school friends at other colleges via text messaging and cell phones, I quickly lost touch with the people I knew. They were, essentially, strangers now. So I debated. Would I remember everyone? Would I forget memories that were supposed to be burned into my brain? Did I really want to dig up those embarrassing moments of youthful stupidity? .

Eventually, sanity overruled fear, and I decided to go. It was great fun. Before I went, though, I went digging through the dusty locker where all of my yearbooks, pictures and assorted memory-joggers are stored. I pulled out my senior class yearbook and began thumbing through it, recalling names and faces and, just for the moment, reliving pieces of my past. .

It was then, while looking at the photos, the memories of “College T-shirt Day” came back to me. I’m sure the school’s administration came up with the idea in an effort to show a little pride in how many seniors decided to continue their education. As I looked at the photos, though, what I remember most was the pride each student showed on that particular day in his or her college choice. The college they chose became, in a way, a part of them. .

And in many ways, that never ends. We are, and will forever be, the college we attended. To some, the connection is stronger than with others. But it’s there. And it’s something that continues down through the generations. Last week I returned from vacation out West, and while sitting in the airport waiting to return home, I glanced up and noticed a family walking toward me. What caught my attention was the college-age son was wearing a Xavier T-shirt. .

With the offices of the national alumni association just down the hall, I hear stories regularly about people who run into Xavier grads all over the world—usually identifying them by a piece of clothing. I once got a letter from a gentleman who received a Burnes of Boston picture frame for Christmas, and the picture that came with the frame was of a young couple, one of whom was wearing a Xavier hat. .

One of the many things that make Xavier so special, though, is that it can take something as simple as a piece of clothing and turn it into something more. Last year some folks at the University bookstore came up with an idea to create an annual Xavier T-shirt contest. Students would submit design concepts, and the winning design would be made into a T-shirt, which would become the collector’s item of the year. .

The end result was the “Xavier Nation” T-shirt that featured a photo of the University’s first basketball team on the back. Students bought them in hordes. And wore them with pride. But the end result was also $6,400 in profits. Rather than keeping the money, though, it was given to Matthew 25: Ministries, a local non-profit organization. Suddenly a T-shirt wasn’t just a T-shirt. It was a T-shirt for the greater good. And that’s worth being proud about.

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Xavier Magazine

Loftier Dreams of Dorm Living

Early in my freshman year, my roommate, John, and I pooled together what little funds we had, trekked off to the local home improvement store and picked up some lumber, a handful of bolts and some wood stain. We had a plan.

The rooms in this particular residence hall were long and rectangular, with built-in closets at one end, built-in desks at the other and a couple of beds sandwiched in between. The room was cramped, sterile and barely left enough room to walk down the middle. What we were after with our collection of building materials was a little space. The way I saw it, the architect who drew up the blueprints for the residence hall was only interested in the economics of the building—squeezing in as many rooms and people as possible so the University could make as much money as possible. He had absolutely no interest designing for comfort or quality of life. And why not? After all, he didn’t have to live there.

We did, though. So we hauled our building materials back to our room and put our plan in motion. Our plan wasn’t original. It was one of those hand-me-down ideas from some previous generation of students that you hear about when you first move in and wonder how in the world you are ever going to live in such tiny, cramped quarters. Others in the hall built bunk beds to alleviate the limitations, which was fine. That freed up space in half the room. But our plan was more ambitious. Our plan was to build an A-frame-shaped loft that would raise both beds off the ground and free up all the space underneath.

So we found an old handsaw and an auger to drill the holes (power tools were out of our price range) and began construction. We moved our beds out into the hallway, laid out the wood and started building. Blueprints or any type of printed plans were, of course, nowhere to be found. We just winged it based on someone else’s description, making adjustments and alterations as we went along.

It took the better part of a day, but in the end it worked. We found a piece of carpeting, plugged in a mini-refrigerator, plopped down a couple of beanbag chairs and were living large.

That structure served us well. A lot of people commented on it. Some people copied it. Some really didn’t care, shaking their heads in disbelief and preferring to just live with what they got. For us, though, the loft made life in the dorms much more tolerable. Why suffer through the confines of what you’re given when a little ingenuity and effort can dramatically improve matters? Your home is your home, after all, no matter if it’s in a college dorm or a mansion on a hill.

And that’s one of the thoughts that led us to create the “Extreme Makeover: Dorm Edition” story in the summer issue of Xavier magazine. Xavier’s dorms are typically much nicer and accommodating to student life than they were back in the day—and they almost have to be since students today are used to a certain standard of living and will use the quality of their rooms as a factor in deciding where to go to school.

We had heard some stories about how students at other universities go to great lengths and expense to fix up their rooms. Some international students fixed theirs with a flair from their homeland. Others just brought in expensive accessories. We wondered if that was the case at Xavier, too, so we put out a call for dorm photos.

We also wondered what it would take to move a room from normal to nice, so we called a couple of Xavier grads who work in the home decorating business. We gave them $300—a reasonable expense account—and a list of regulations on what can and can’t be done with dorm rooms. “See what you can do,” we told them. They went to town and made over two dorm rooms, one for a pair of guys and one for a pair of girls. The end result? You’ll have to see for yourself. With photos from photographer Greg Rust and audio commentary from associate editor Caroline Purtell, we put together a slide show documenting the transformations. How did the rooms turn out? You be the judge. Click here to watch.

The students liked them, though. And why not? After all, your home is still your home, even if it’s in a college dorm.

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Xavier Magazine

College, Then and Now

I suppose what I did was illegal. Still, considering the circumstances and the fact that it was 2:00 a.m., it seemed justifiable. Especially to a college student. When you’re 20 years old, logic and law don’t always exist in parallel universes.

What happened was this: Unlike some majors where the necessary knowledge and skills can be perfected in a classroom, when studying journalism—my chosen path—what’s needed is practice and experience. That’s practice and experience in reporting, practice and experience in writing, and practice and experience in working on deadline. And the only real way to teach this in the classroom is to make the students do it. So often classes would involve the professor standing up and saying, “This is going on right now. I want you to cover it and write a story about it by the end of class. You have 45 minutes. Go.”

One class in particular was structured to do nothing else but this. It took place once a week from, 3:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m. in a basement classroom of the journalism building, which at the time was Lasher Hall. And it was taught by a professor whose grading style and unbending nature earned her the nickname “The Slasher from Lasher.” She would invite in a guest, we would collectively interview this person for two hours and then be required to have a rather lengthy feature story under her door by 8:00 a.m. the next day.

All of which was fine and offered great practical experience, except for two things: One, I had a job working at a local newspaper and had to report to work as soon as the class was over. And, two, I lived about as far away from Lasher Hall as anyone could and still be considered on campus. That meant that I couldn’t start writing the paper until my work duties were done, which on a good night was around midnight. That also meant that if I wanted to get the paper in on time, I had to get up early and trudge all the way across campus to be there by 8:00 a.m. Or, even worse, risk oversleeping and getting an “F” because I didn’t get the paper in on time.

What was needed was another plan. What I needed was to drop off the paper before I went home from my job that night. The problem was, by that hour—usually around 2:00 a.m.—the building was locked. This is where the waters of legality became somewhat murky.

While I consider myself a legally, ethically and morally responsible person, apparently not all of my youth was productively spent. That is to say, somewhere along the trail of my boyhood I learned how to open locked doors. This was not a skill I ever put to any real use—or even thought about—but combining the circumstances of the moment with what were probably too many philosophy classes, I reasoned that no harm would come if I just slipped in, dropped off the paper and slipped out.

So I did.

Each week.

For a semester.

I never said anything to anyone except one of my co-workers at the newspaper who was also a student and who also had the same class—and the same problem—the next semester. She asked how I dealt with the issue and I fessed up.

“Can you teach me?” she said. I was reminded of this sordid piece of my past recently while editing a story about the new Learning Commons and how it’s going to be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. While college has always been a place of odd hours for students—study when you can, sleep when you have to—that hasn’t always been the case for the facilities. Until recently. We’re living in a non-stop world, and the University is following that trend. The library now offers access to a librarian 24/7. The Gallagher Student Center recently began staying open 24/7 after much student clamoring for a place to go late at night.

It’s all part of college in the 21st century, which seems to be becoming more and more a distant relative of the college I went to. Oh, the concept is the same—teaching people to think—but the ways and places that gets done are barely recognizable. Students want to learn in groups instead of individually. They want to sit around in café-like environments with their computers instead of holing up in the library with a stack of books. Classes are interdisciplinary. Classrooms are flexible. Technology is everywhere.

If that’s what it takes for students to learn, though, that’s OK. If nothing else, at least they won’t have to worry about how they’re going to have to turn in their papers at 2:00 a.m.

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Xavier Magazine

The Art of Living

My freshman year of college, I was walking down the main street that served as a connector/demilitarized zone between the campus and the city where it was located when I was stopped by a homeless person. By that point in my still-young life I was already accustomed to homeless people asking for money—quarter beggars, we called them in that era of political incorrectness—and usually brushed past them. I was paying tuition and, literally, didn’t have a spare quarter. But this particular moment was different. First, the man wasn’t asking me for money. And, second, the man was Art.

Art was a bit of a local legend in town. He was homeless, yes, and had all of the characteristics one would expect of someone in his position—unkempt, somewhat malodorous, kind of scary. He would throw beer cans at cars and curse at people when they stared. But Art also stuck around through the bitterly cold winters, unlike many of his fellow homeless people who would catch a boxcar south for the winter and then return in flocks during the pleasant summer months. And Art was also somewhat enterprising, which played well with the city’s blue-collar crowd. Somewhere along the way he picked up a bucket and squeegee and traveled up and down State Street washing the windows of the record shops and T-shirt stores in exchange for a few dollars.

He became well-known enough that one entrepreneurial person even had T-shirts made up that posed the question: “What is Art?” Right below that was a photo of Art, holding his squeegee in an American Gothic-like pose, and the answer: “A window washer on State Street.”

My lone brush with Art came outside of a liquor store. It was a Friday night and Art wanted to start his weekend with something to drink. The store’s owner refused to sell him anything, however, because it was rumored Art’s health was deteriorating and he didn’t want to contribute to his demise. Such is the price of being a cultural icon, I suppose. So Art flagged me down and asked if I would go inside and buy something for him. He pulled out a couple of crinkled bills and a handful of coins, placed them in my hand with detailed instructions on what he wanted and even where it was located.

In some ways, I felt a bizarre sense of honor for being asked by Art to buy his booze. I reasoned that it was quite a leap of faith for a homeless person to hand over his money to a total stranger, and I was that person. But why me? Did I look honest enough? Did he think he could catch me if I took off with his cash? No matter, I walked into the store and grabbed a bottle of his desired drink.

“Nope,” the owner said. “You’re buying this for Art, and I won’t sell it to you, either.” It was his store and he could do what he wanted, so I walked out empty-handed. I gave the money back to Art and explained what happened. “Sorry,” I said. “Thanks,” he said. We went our separate ways.

That was all I saw or heard about Art until my sophomore year when a front-page story carried the news: Art died. The alcohol and years of exposure finally took their toll. After a brief chronicle of his life and comments from those around town, the story ended by noting that he died with only one possession: a wallet. Brushing passed the irony of a homeless man owning nothing but a wallet, the story simply noted what was inside: no money, no photos, no ID, just a card that read “Jesus loves Arthur.”

I’ve often thought about that. Who gave him that card? Why did he keep that and nothing else? Among the destitute conditions, loneliness and daily struggles of his life, did he find a ray of hope in the love of Jesus?

I was reminded of all of this again while editing the story in the Summer 2006 issue of Xavier magazine about Ben Urmston, S.J., the founder and, for now, lone leader of the University’s peace and justice programs. Urmston is retiring, but one of the many efforts he created in his 25 years on the job was Shantytown, the annual event in which students learn and raise awareness about homelessness by building cardboard tents in the middle of the academic mall and living in them for a week. Sometimes it rains. Sometimes it snows. It’s a hard lesson that generally leaves an imprint on the memories of those who participate.

Seeing a city of unstable cardboard lean-tos and plastic tarps on the academic mall isn’t a pretty site, but that’s one of the great things about college and, in particular, Xavier. There’s more to an education than what’s in a book, and most lessons usually aren’t wrapped up in nice, neat, easily understood packages. Life is messy. Teaching in the untidy realm outside of the academic arena is a focus at this University, though, including—if not particularly—the peace and justice programs.

Academic service-learning semesters, alternative break, Habitat for Humanity—many of the programs designed to educate students on how to live as men and women for others fall under the guidance of the peace and justice programs. They are the kinds of programs that make Xavier different, and the kinds of programs I wish were available to me when I was in school. The University is still searching for someone to replace Urmston, although that’s proving to be a difficult task. Filling the position may be easy; replacing the passion is another. But it’s worth it to try, because the program and the efforts are vital. It’s what St. Ignatius had in mind. It’s what St. Francis Xavier went to the Far East to do. Not everyone can be saints in the Catholic Church, but we can do our little part. Even if it’s just giving a homeless person a card telling them that Jesus loves them.

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Xavier Magazine

Personality Profiling

A number of years ago I lived in a large apartment complex in the suburbs—a residence that, how should I say, sometimes made sleeping a challenge. People would come and go at all hours of the night, doors would slam, parties would linger into the wee hours. One particular night, around 3:00 a.m., I was awakened by the terrifying sounds of a woman screaming hysterically: “No. Stop it. Stop it. Put me down. Put me down.”

Fearing someone was being attacked, I jumped from my bed and ran to the window to investigate and, if possible, help. I discovered, though, that the screaming woman wasn’t being assaulted. Rather, she was being repossessed. Or at least her car was. She made the discovery in mid-repo and ran outside in her bare feet to try to keep her car from being hauled away. She jumped on the hood just as the tow truck driver was lifting it off the ground and straddled the hood ornament with her feet on the front bumper.

“No. Stop. Put me down.”

“Lady,” the tow truck operator said, “I have a letter here from the bank that says you haven’t made your payments and they want their car back.”

“Stop it. You can’t. Put me down.”

“Lady, if you don’t get down off that car right now I’m going to drive away.”

“Put me down.”

“This is your last chance, lady.”

“Stop. Stop.”

“OK, lady.”

A man of his word, the tow truck driver got in his truck, threw it in gear and drove away with this forlorn woman riding the hood of the car like a rodeo rider on a bull, screaming non-stop as he drove away: “No. Stop. Put me dowwwwwwwwwn.”

Being repossessed notwithstanding, the attachment people have with their cars is a funny thing. We spend so much time in them that, in many ways, we become a part of them and they become a part of us. We pick the color and the style to match who we are or who we think we are. Some are small and sporty, some are giant wheeled barges. Some are open so the wind can blow through our hair, some are buttoned-up and appointed with bells and whistles. People talk to their cars, give them names, curse them when they break down. I’m sure Freud found cars to be an extension of our personalities or something. “We are what we drive,” he might say.

All of this was brought to the forefront of my thinking recently for two reasons. One, because I just bought a new car after nearly 13 years in my old one. It was tough parting with that old car. There was definitely a bond between us. We shared a lot of memories and, literally, went down a lot of roads together. When I left that car at the dealership, I must admit that I looked in my mirror and became a bit misty-eyed. I bought that particular car because I felt it seemed to best fit my personality—outdoorsy, open, four-wheel-drive so I could get out of trouble just as easily as I seemed to get into it. My new one—a truck, actually—has four doors and room to haul my regular purchases from Lowe’s. It’s more family friendly and more utilitarian. Then again, so am I now.

The second reason I was thinking about the bond between people and their cars has to do with two incoming freshmen—Monica Laco of Lakewood, Ohio, and Nora Tighe of Toledo, Ohio. They are, whether they realize it or not, the beneficiaries of this odd attachment between people and their cars.

In mid-July, the national alumni association announced that Laco and Tighe were the first two winners of its newly created legacy scholarship program. Each year, starting this year, two students who are lineal descendants of a Xavier graduate each receive a $3,000 scholarship. What makes it relevant here is the money to fund such scholarships comes from people and their cars.

The state of Ohio has a special program in which the University receives $25 for each specialized Xavier license plate someone buys for his or her car. This program began a few years back, and so many people have purchased these Xavier license plates since then that the national alumni association was able to set up a special scholarship fund with the money.

Really, the two concepts were bound to be joined because about the only thing that can be equated to the bond between people and their cars is the bond between people and their college. The effort they go through to pick a college is much like a car—they research their options, consider the cost, read the reviews. They visit campuses to give the schools a metaphorical test drive and tire kick. And, ultimately, their final choice speaks directly of their personalities. “We are where we attend college,” Freud might say.

And that decision is something people carry with them throughout life—not to mention proudly display on, of course, their cars. Witness the number of people who adorn their car windows with college stickers. Or their license plate frames. Or key chains. Or front license plates. Or window flags. Or antenna toppers. The Xavier bookstore’s web site has a whole category just for auto accessories.

So it’s only natural that cars and colleges would form this bond. The attachment people have for both of them is a funny thing. And two incoming freshmen each year are laughing all the way to the bank.

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Xavier Magazine

Saving a City

One afternoon during my freshman year I walked back to my dorm room after finishing classes for the day. No sooner did I close the door and lay down my backpack than I heard a door slam and a knock on my door. It was my neighbor, Doug.

“What are you doing?” he said.

“Nothing,” I said. “I just…”

“Good. I need your help.”

“…finished classes and I was going to study.”

“You can study later. I just bought a couple of speakers for my stereo and I need someone to help me carry them back. They’re at a store out at the mall. If we hurry we can catch the next bus.”

“Bus? You want to bring back speakers on a bus?”

“Yep. C’mon. Wait until you see these things.”

Like a fool, I went along. It was only when we arrived at the mall, though, did I truly understand why he needed some help. This was back in the day when bigger equated to better, and these speakers were what would then be considered the best. Each of the two speakers had a woofer—the main speaker—that was 18 inches in diameter. Other smaller speakers were also built into the unit, which was about three feet tall, made of wood and must have weighed 2,500 pounds—or so it seemed as we struggled to carry these monsters through the door and down the aisle of a crowded metro bus.

After dropping them off in his room, word quickly spread about Doug’s new purchase. They garnered pretty much everyone’s attention, including Don, the resident assistant on the floor, who was obviously concerned that Doug would use them in the way they were intended to be used—loudly.

The following afternoon, Don walked out of class in a building a block away and heard music blaring from the general direction of our residence hall. Immediately realizing where the music was coming from, he broke into a sprint. Upon arriving at Doug’s room sweaty and out of breath, he started pounding on the door as hard as he could. No good. The music was so loud inside no one could hear Don’s pounding on the outside. With nothing to show for his efforts but sore knuckles, Don quickly came up with Plan B: He went to his room and called Doug’s room, hoping someone might hear the phone ring. Someone did.

“Hello?”

“Open the door.”

“OK.”

That was, essentially, the end of the speakers. As I recall, a limit was placed on how far Doug was allowed to turn up the volume on his stereo, and I believe the limit was two—out of 10. After spending who knows how much money on massive speakers with 18-inch woofers, Doug wasn’t allowed to play them at a level much beyond that of your typical elevator music.

Doug’s speakers story came to mind the other day when I heard a story about a Xavier student, Mark Manning. It’s interesting how students approach college. Yes, every college student is going to have his share of fun and probably does something that, if he survives, leaves him with a story to retell over beers every Reunion Weekend. But some students use their time more wisely, more productively. They do things like get internships or co-ops or jobs that help them gain experience and get a job after graduation.

Doug wasn’t one of those people. Manning is. A student in the Philosophy, Politics and the Public honors program, Manning earned an unpaid internship in the mayor’s office over the summer. After reading a report about Cincinnati’s declining population in June, Manning approached Mayor Mark Mallory about examining the report. The numbers, he said, just didn’t seem right. OK, Mallory said, have at it.

Manning was right. The numbers were wrong. His work determined there was a miscount of 22,000 people, meaning Cincinnati actually increased its number of residents. That translates into big changes in the amount of federal money the city receives for grants, the per-capita crime statistics and even in perception. Suddenly, after Manning’s work, Cincinnati is bigger than Pittsburgh and Tampa.

Mallory called a press conference to announce the findings and give Manning his well-deserved pat on the back in front of the TV cameras the newspaper reporters. Manning gave a nod in acknowledgement and then had to leave in a hurry. It turns out he had another commitment—he had to go to class. Now that’s a good approach to college. Some students make news; others make noise.

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Xavier Magazine

Saturdays in the Fall

During my freshman year of college, the university awoke one morning to find the grassy hill that served as the center of campus covered with several hundred pink flamingos—not the real ones, but those tacky plastic ones typically found in gaudy homes and gardens or perhaps your average trailer park. Apparently, while most of us were sleeping or studying our way through the night, some mischievous students slipped out and planted this flock of flamingos on the hillside as a joke.

As one might imagine, the campus was abuzz that morning. Where did they come from? Who was responsible? What’s the university going to do with several hundred plastic pink flamingos?

The latter question was answered sooner than the others—much sooner, really. Recognizing their potential as tasteless dorm decorations, the flamingos were plucked from their resting spots by students who hauled them back to their rooms. By noon, the flamingos were gone and the hillside was once again green. With demand outpacing supply, the flamingos quickly became a quasi-collector’s item or status symbol. Those who got them proudly displayed them in their windows, while those who didn’t lamented their lack of foresight or speed. Apparently, there’s no accounting for taste, especially among college students.

And, thanks to the snooping of those at the student newspaper, the other questions were eventually answered, too. It turns out the culprits behind the escapade were the president and vice president of the student government. Although the college was well known for its political fervor, the students did not put nearly as much effort or interest into the selection of their campus representatives. The end result was the top two student governmental positions were taken by a pair of merry pranksters. I don’t recall their names, but I do recall their works.

In addition to the flamingos—which, it was reported, were once the contents of a stolen tractor trailer—the two purchased a wooden replica of the Statue of Liberty’s head and arm. During the previous winter, they placed it on the frozen lake adjacent to campus so it looked like it was sticking out of the ground, much like one of the famous scenes from the Planet of the Apes movies, which were popular in that era. They also elected themselves president and vice president for life. Since student government meetings were so lightly attended, one put forth the proposal and the other seconded it. No one objected, so the motion was carried forward.

I’m not sure whatever happened to them. My guess is they’re either entrepreneurial geniuses or corporate criminals—maybe both.

Fortunately for Xavier, students here take the election of their student representatives a little more seriously. Last year, nearly 1,100 students voted in the student government elections, electing Steve Bentley president and Joe Moorman and Willie Byrd as his top executives. The group ran on two main issues: opening a convenience store on campus and bringing football back to Xavier.

And much to the delight of those on campus, they’ve kept their campaign promises—or at least one of them. This fall, football is being played at Xavier for the first time since 1973. Granted, it’s at the club level, far from the varsity days of old. But, still, the glory of fall football Saturdays is back.

The group hired former Villanova football player Tom Powers as its coach and is playing games against other club programs or the JV teams from local Division III programs such as the College of Mount St. Joseph or Wilmington College. The group has picked up some donations—both financial and in-kind gifts such as used equipment—to help defray the costs, and each player is going to have to pay $250 for the privilege of knocking helmets with someone. But it’s still football on campus. It’s been 30 years since organized football was last played at Xavier. And the only bad news out of all of this is the highly popular “Xavier football: Undefeated since 1973” T-shirts will have to disappear. Such is life. Maybe they, too, will become quasi-collector items or status symbols like the pink flamingos, and students can use them to decorate their dorms. Are you ready for some football?

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