Sunday, February 22, 2009

It's Been Awhile...

Yeah, I know I haven't posted in a bit. In my defense, though, I did write something intended for this space a couple of weeks ago; it just ended up in the newspaper instead.

Here's the deal: my sons, who are in third grade, are playing basketball this year. They've been playing in this league since they were in kindergarten, but this year things got much, much more competitive. There's shouting, name-calling, swearing, and even near-brawling.

And I don't mean the kids. I'm talking about the parents and coaches.

Over the course of this season, I've seen a coach throw down his clipboard after he didn't like a call; parents and coaches mercilessly riding referees (who, incidentally, are just teenagers); coaches blatantly playing favorites and doing anything to win.

And I've heard stories, as well. Stories about coaches actually scouting other teams. Stories about a coach calling another coach an "a-hole," right in earshot of the children. (I'm censoring here; he didn't.) Stories about a coach who got so angry about a call, he and the ref nearly came to blows.

Did I mention these kids were in THIRD GRADE?

So I decided to write a piece about all this for my blog, which I called "When Coaches Lose Perspective, Kids Lose More." But before I posted it, I showed it to my wife to get her thoughts. I don't always run my blog posts by anyone, but this was one was different, because I was being critical of some people in the community; we still have to live here, after all.

Not only did my wife like the piece, she suggested I send it in to the Hartford Courant. She has a good sense about these things, so I took a chance. I figured if they didn't like it, I could just publish it myself.

That was a Tuesday. On Friday, the editor called and said he was going to publish it. On Sunday, February 8, the piece appeared in the Opinions section of the Courant under the headline, "Only a Game-- Until the Adults Suck the Fun Out of It."

I had concerns that the subject matter wasn't particularly original, but the piece definitely generated some great conversation. Even people I hardly knew or didn't know at all sent me e-mails and messages to my Facebook account and even hand-written letters to my high school. A woman who works at my sons' school stopped my wife and asked if she was married to the guy who wrote that piece in the paper. And the feedback was all good (a welcome change from the feedback I got for my Kid Rock article from last July).

Everyone had a story to share, about an incident at a local game involving overzealous parents or an obsessive coach. Everyone agreed that things get too competitive too soon.

And I was even able to take my sons to basketball without getting beat up by the coaches-- which either means they didn't read it, or they read it, but didn't know I was the guy who wrote it, or they read it, knew I was the guy who wrote it, but didn't think I was referring to them.

Here's the great lesson I took out of this whole thing: people still read the newspaper. I've heard a lot over the past couple of years about how newspapers are becoming extinct because everyone gets their news online. That's hooey, I say. People are still reading; they're still sitting down with their coffee and Corn Flakes on Sunday morning and flipping through the paper. That's comforting to me. (So sayth the guy who's writing a blog.)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Sweater Resurgence of 2009

This winter, if you've noticed your kid complaining a little more about the chilly temperature in school, don’t go hating on your superintendent. He or she is just joining the club.

According to a 2008 study conducted by the American Association of School Administrators, 62 percent of superintendents surveyed have already resorted to “altering thermostats” as a way to reduce costs during this economic downturn.

Now, some may regard this trend of turning down school heat a sad sign of the times. Me, I welcome it, as another step in the Great Sweater Comeback.

“Comeback?” you ask. “When did sweaters ever leave?” Well, as a high school teacher, I can assure you: sweaters have fallen out of favor among adolescents. And I mean way out of favor: not only do many teenagers claim they don’t own sweaters, a disturbing number don't even seem to know what sweaters are.

After an informal poll of the sweater-wearing habits of the students in my school, I was able to divide teenagers into the following categories:

(1) Students who deride sweaters as Nerd Uniforms.
(2) Students who don’t mind sweaters but prefer “hoodies” (“sweatshirt,” in teen lingo). Said one young man: “If I’m wearing something heavy, it better have a hood. It’s like sitting on a couch without a remote—it just feels awkward.”
(3) Students who claim they don’t own sweaters.
(4) Students who believe they do wear sweaters, when in fact, they’re wearing sweatshirts.

I don’t know what to say about the first two categories; I may not agree with them, but—hey, it’s a matter of taste. The third and fourth groups, though, baffle me. Students who don’t own a single sweater? Could it be possible? I work in a pretty affluent town: do you mean to tell me these kids’ grandmothers didn’t buy them sweaters at some point? (Actually, I’m guessing Grandmas are buying sweaters, but the kids—indignant they didn’t get an iPod, Guitar Hero game, or a Lexus—immediately banish them to the back of the closet.)

Even more bewildering to me is the sizable percentage of students who can’t distinguish a sweater from a sweatshirt. Is the truth that unknowable? Look, if what you’re wearing has pockets, a hood, and the words ‘G. Unit’ across the front, it’s probably not a sweater.

Now, some may say, “Sweaters aren’t out of style, because they were never actually in style.” Personally, I don’t believe that. Think about all the pop-culture sweater references from just a decade ago: on TV, Chandler Bing tried to do for the sweater vest what the Fonz did for leather jackets; and on the radio, the Cardigans polluted the airwaves with that despicable “Lovefool” song, while disenchanted teens across the nation rocked out to Weezer’s great argyle anthem, “The Sweater Song.”

And a decade before that, Dr. Cliff Huxtable offended millions of Cosby Show viewers every week with his freakish, multicolored abominations.

Who does this generation have? Who are their sweater icons—their Chandler Bings, their Dr. Huxtables? Quite simply, they have none.

In the past, some well-meaning crusaders have done their darnedest to spark a sweater resurgence. Nearly two years ago, for example, school systems in the Netherlands turned down the heat to celebrate Warm Sweater Day (in an attempt to reduce emissions of greenhouse gas). And last spring, an American non-profit called Family Communications Inc. christened March 20th “National Sweater Day,” in honor of what would have been Mr. Rogers’ 80th birthday.

So far, these attempts haven’t done much to turn the tide of sweater apathy among adolescents. But maybe fiddling with the thermostat will finally do the trick.

So, teens, in these trying economic times, I implore you: pull those pullovers out of your drawers. Let the turtlenecks peek out from the dark shell of your closet. Ask your grandfather if you can borrow his classic white button-down—you know, the one with the little green Izod alligator.

Wear a sweater. Stay warm. Start a revolution.

So, yes, turning down the heat in our schools is not ideal, but if these measures help to bring sweaters back into fashion—well, maybe that’s the silver lining. Luckily, in this case, the lining is fleece.