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SMILING WITH THE SEAHAWKS: The enlightening side of team spirit

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Getting out to Boseman Field to go beyond petty partisan politics to engage in real human team-building.

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I grew up playing sports. I still smile while watching good players play with poise (think the quiet confidence of Derek Jeter or controlled passion of Serena Williams), and admire excellent coaches who build generations of teams and teach resilience to diverse egos (Dean Smith or Pat Summitt). Watching her peers play well brings a smile to my daughter’s face. Last Saturday we both had something to smile about as we watched the fourth no-hitter in UNCW softball history.

Peyton Jordan allowed a lead-off walk before she and her rock-solid defense locked into “The Zone.” What heady play and teamwork! The third baseman dove to the line, saving a double in the middle innings, and the first baseman saved the no-hitter late in the game by letting a swinging bunt roll foul. The pitcher cracked a grateful grin each time and continued her gem.

Earlier in the spring, UNCW’s coach, Kristy Norton, and her staff coordinated a team-building event with UNCW anthropology professor and Cape Fear River Rowing Club’s president, Dr. Carolyn Jost Robinson. The softball players stepped out of their comfort zone to learn the rudiments of rowing. (The team rowed together better than some rowers I’ve coached.) About zero rowing-specific skills are useful in a ballgame, but the team-building elements of making boats go fast gets we rowers on motivational posters in offices across the country.

Coach Norton invited a colleague and I to step outside the office (and my comfort zone) and share a few mindful breathing techniques—to spend a few minutes witnessing her elite athletes find focus and flow on the field. My colleague is a healthcare provider, athlete, yoga instructor, US Marine veteran, and woman. UNCW’s elite athletes connected with her example of the similarities between the calm focus necessary to become a marksman and the focused attention required to hit well. (Keep in mind the reaction time to hit a 60-mph softball pitch is roughly the same as major league fastball. If you hit anything at this level, you are elite.)

Peyton Jordan finished as conference “Pitcher of the Week,” the Seahawks finished a successful home stand, and I returned to March Madness. During a commercial in Carolina’s thrilling win over Kentucky, a woman athlete said, “We shouldn’t need a commercial to tell you we’re powerful. Genders don’t play sports, athletes do.”

My March experiences provided an opportunity to reflect on our cultural evolution and human team-building we are all a part of. Doctor/president Carolyn Jost Robinson? Head coach Kristy Norton? Marine veteran Jen Brier? Women’s History Month?

Only a few generations ago a woman’s place was in the home! Women couldn’t vote, earning doctorates was a rarity, and it was considered unseemly for women to sweat and compete in elite athletics. When Hall of Fame coach Pat Summit started her coaching career in the early 1970’s, the NCAA didn’t even have a woman’s basketball championship tournament! And women in the Marines? Seriously?

Through most of the last century we’ve been building the team differently. Part of our cultural evolution clearly results from women’s heroic groundbreakers, but there have also been grudging attitude shifts among men. The loud dude in the stands wearing the MAGA cap wouldn’t want his daughter pulled out of the classroom, off the field, and barefoot and pregnant “in the home” any more than I would want mine. Part of our progress is legislated. The 19th Amendment codified women’s right to officially have their voices heard, and Title IX ensures any program receiving federal financial aid not discriminate based on sex.

Perhaps as our evolution continues, pitcher Peyton Jordan or one of her heavy hitting teammates will look forward to not only finishing a college degree, but to the major league minimum of $535,000. Until then, I’ll smile knowing that evolution happens regardless of character flaws of any POTUS or political party in power. We somehow progress beyond our petty partisan politics to engage each other in real human team-building. My daughter and I will also catch another few games at Boseman Field. I hope you get out there too!

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