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Keith John Paul Horcasitas

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2012 Summer Olympics Reflections tied in to childhood and adult memories of life lessons learned from healthy competition.

Pic: Summer 1968, Carrollton Boosters Baseball Park, New Orlenas, LA; Milne Boys Home in background; Keith: 9 1/2 y/o - back row, 2nd on right; Mr. Murphy, Coach

With the Summer Olympics ending today in London, I couldn't help but reflect on what I have learned from cheering on our country's heroes – both for the individuals and teams, but mostly for the latter. I was brought up learning healthy competition and teamwork from playing little league baseball and end-of-the-year school running events as a kid, junior varsity participation in high school tennis and latter on as an adult through jogging events like the Banana Relay.

Whether it was Gabby in gymnastics, Micheal Phelps in swimming or others like the “Dream Team” in basketball, we all have been enthused to see individuals and teams conquest barriers that seemed impenetrable. The gold, silver or bronze medals symbolizing pinnacle achievements by contestants certainly bring an indescribable sense of accomplishment and value to the recipients.

It was interesting to note how some competitors like Phelps, whose 8 gold medals from the 2008 Beijing Olympics had eclipsed the seemingly never-to-be broken 7 gold medals record of Mark Spitz, seemed to thrive from a slow start this year and from being spurred by team competition – not only from other country's contestants but also from within his own team, particularly, Ryan Lochte. While Phelps holds the new individual record for the most medals ever awarded to one person (22 – 18 gold, 2 silver and 2 bronze), he was quoted in the past as humbly saying: “I always thought, it would be neat to make the Olympic team.”

In my own background, I recall how important teamwork principles were instilled in me through playing little league baseball from when I was 7 years of age till about 12. In the Uptown area of New Orleans, we got to play baseball at Carrollton Boosters, which was located off of South Carrollton Avenue near Earhart Blvd. behind the beautiful and stately Milne Boys Home building with its massive white columns, which is currently scheduled for some post Katrina repairs soon.

Schoolmate buddies like Jimmy, whose daddy, Mr. Murphy, was one of my coaches, joined me and our “Viking Meats” (Mr. Julian Hillery, Sr.) sponsored team with our bright red, white and blue shirts in many-a-summer nights at the ballpark in striving to emulate our major league heroes from the field of dreams. My favorite baseball player back then was Harmon Killebrew, otherwise known as "Killer" and "Hammerin' Harmon," with the Minnesota Twins. I dreamed of just hitting of few of the long distance home-runs that he became famous for!

Baseball cards were a big thing back then for us kids, so I had a few of Killebrew and managed to get a letter off to his fan club, which enabled me to have a nice pic of him holding his “killer bat” and wearing his subsequently retired number 3 jersey! While I'd like to think that my favorite number came from a spiritual emphasis as noted in the Trinity, I know that an overriding factor actually was my influence for Harmon!

Once, when I was a pitcher for the team, we were about to face a challenge from a team known for high scoring wins and shut-outs. Besides doing a lot of pitch training with an older friend, Michael, who lived next door, I also did more batting practice on his fastballs. Dad certainly motivated me by flashing a 5 dollar bill in the stands at the beginning of the game as an incentive to not only pitch for a victory but also to hit a ball over the fence, as he had told me that on the way to Carrollton Boosters that day.

While I pitched decently, didn't allow a homer on me and kept the score within one run to the bottom of the ninth inning, I was very nervous getting ready in the batting rotation. My other friends on the team had certainly kept us in the game with some great hits and scores, as well as excellent fielding. After one teammate singled to lead us off, another one popped up a short fly-ball infield for an out, so my turn was next. After a few strikes and almost getting hit on an inside wild pitch, I connected with a fastball that went over the fence – what a thrill that we all shared in the victory – and my piggy bank certainly got bigger, as well as dad gave me a great bear hug!

During my grammar school days at the Most Holy Name of Jesus School in New Orleans, the highlight of the years were not only the beginning of summer but what preceded that – the fun end of the school year track and field competition events. Like the Olympics, some of these were individual oriented and others were in teams. While I excelled in almost always winning the 100 yard dash, it was really fun doing relay races when you had to rely on working together – especially with not dropping baton like I was prone to doing – much to the chagrin of my buddies!

In high school at De La Salle, I was able to barely make the Junior Varsity Tennis Team. Br. Eugene was my English teacher as well as our tennis coach. He not only could help us in prose, but with tennis he kept us on our toes! There was nothing like the thrill of making an “ace” while serving the ball on the first try like Pete Sampras did in the past and Roger Federer can still do so well. My hero back in high school was Bjorn Borg, the long haired Swedish dude who also gave me reason to avoid haircuts! While I never won a tournament nor moved up to the Varsity level, Br. Eugene instilled in us the importance of working together – especially as signified in doubles' matches.

Over the years, our own children have enjoyed many sports activities like soccer and T-Ball, which have been great team experiences for them. While the “Everyone is a Winner” and “No One is Keeping Score” emphasis have been more prevalent lately for most little league types of competition, I believe that learning to lose at times, like in real life, can be helpful for children and all of us. I know that most of the life lessons and “teachable moments” for me have come more from “the agony of defeat than from the thrill of victory” - whether individually or in team situations. One of my favorite Child Psychologist columnists, John Rosemond, has alluded to this in his practical parenting tips.

One last fun note about teamwork and competition involves running is the "Banana Relay," which used to end with Watermelon and goodies at the BREC Webb Pool! The first runner would complete ¼ of a 5K Loop, pass the banana onto to a partner who would do the same, then the first runner and partner would do the same again. Steve and I did this a few times in the past and by the time that banana got passed the 3rd and 4th time, it would be coming to shreds. Some serious entrants in the race would put duct tape on the fruit, but we had fun and tried to make it as slippery as possible for the receiver!

So while Paul McCartney sang old favorite old Beatles tunes at some of the current Olympic ceremonies like “Hey Jude” and “All You Need Is Love,” he certainly could have added “All Together Now” to highlight the dimension of teamwork and unity which the Olympics promote! While I'll always love the theme music for “Chariots of Fire” when I think of the Olympics and running (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-7Vu7cqB20), if I were ever able to make the “Banana Relay Olympics,” Paul Simon would surely have to sing one for me: Slip Sliding Away: “You know the nearer your destination, the more you're slip slidin' away ...!”

Keith John Paul Horcasitas, LCSW, MHA, 1133 Knollhaven Drive, BRLA 70810, khorcasitas.yahoo.com, August 12, 2012.  


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Reviewed by Donna Chandler 8/18/2012
Wonderful memories and I completely agree that our children need to learn 'losing' once in a while.

Donna
Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado 8/13/2012
Delightful story, Keith; very well penned! Thoroughly enjoyed!

(((HUGS))) and much love, your friend in Texas, Karen Lynn. :D

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