Opinion: Ogden thanks workers; congratulates Laney

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Ogden.

Thanks to all of my campaign workers for their dedication and hard work in our recent mayoral campaign. I am proud of the way you worked. And thanks to the citizens who voted for me.

I want to wish Mayor-elect John Laney congratulations for a well-run campaign. It was a pleasure being your opponent.
Let me prevail on the citizens of Demopolis to support our new mayor and pull our great city together behind our new leadership.

—Arthur Ogden

 

Ogden Announces Candidacy for Demopolis Mayor

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Dr. Arthur G. Ogden

Dr. Arthur G. Ogden today announced his candidacy to run for Mayor of Demopolis.

“The rich heritage and diversity that Demopolis has as part of its very make up confirms the obvious fact that it is ‘The City of the People’,” said Ogden. “As such it is vital that its Mayor embrace and advance that heritage and diversity.”

Ogden has served in a wide variety of leadership positions during his life, from college football coach and college athletic director to college president. Presently, Ogden serves as Project Director for the Health Care on Wheels program at Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital.

Ogden has earned two doctoral degrees, one in philosophy and one in education.

His ability to reach out to people and cultures has been developed over a lengthy career that has taken him to a variety of different settings, not only as an educator but as a coach as well. He has been exposed to and worked with a number of different international cultures as he has taught in the countries of Botswana, Bahrain, Malaysia and Jamaica. He is a member of the Board of Directors for the Caribbean School of Sport Sciences.

Ogden is an Eagle Scout and is a member of the National Eagle Scout Association.

During his years in Demopolis, he has served on the Demopolis Historical Preservation Commission, as Chair of the Grants Committee for the Demopolis City Schools Foundation, and as Founding Director for the Alabama Southern Community College Campus in the Demopolis Higher Education Center. In 2007, Ogden was named “Rotarian of the Year” by the Rotary Club of Demopolis. Presently, Ogden serves as Project Director for the Health Care on Wheels program at Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital.

“My wife, Elizabeth, and I believe in the reality and the promise of Demopolis. This was the driving reason we chose to come back to Demopolis with our five young children when I retired in 2010,” said Ogden.

“The central issues facing Demopolis are not new issues,” he continued. “We all know that in order for Demopolis to grow we need an economic rejuvenation. That rejuvenation cannot become reality by dealing with our long-standing challenges in the same ways that may have worked 10-20 years ago.”

It is going to take a new and different view of how Demopolis has arrived where it is, according to Ogden.

“We all know that we have worked hard and have even worked harder. I believe it is time that we work smarter,” Ogden said, “…smarter in approach…smarter in perspective…smarter in attitude.”

This includes enhancing the rich tradition of the arts in Demopolis in addition to “extending active support of our excellent educational system,” said Ogden.

“The beauty of the ‘City of the People’ is “the People” themselves who deserve a Mayor who serves by listening, serves by being accessible, and who serves by providing active leadership,” he said.

Ogden sums up his view of Demopolis and its future as positive since his goal will be to help Demopolis be “not only the City of the People, but the City by the People and the City for the People.”

You can follow Ogden’s campaign on Facebook and on Twitter. He can also be reached by email at ogden4mayor@gmail.com.

Out of the Ashes

Demopolis, Ala. - 1-6-2015 - Arthur Ogden surveys the damage from the fire that destroyed part of the Ogden's home on Monday, January 4, 2015.

Demopolis, Ala. – 1-6-2015 – Arthur Ogden surveys the damage from the fire that destroyed part of the Ogden’s home on Monday, January 4, 2015.

I’m legendary for my status as “not a morning person.” It takes an atomic bomb to wake me up and at least two cups of coffee before anyone should ask me what my name is. But it’s amazing what adrenaline can do.

In the wee hours of Monday, January the 4th, before the sun had even begun to color the sky, my husband’s career as a football coach, his legendary status as a light sleeper and that booming coach’s voice saved us all.

He tells me that it was the 6th time he screamed my name before I answered him but the next thing he yelled was “Fire!”

I was still addled, and not thinking clearly as I ran from our bedroom to the upstairs foyer to find him beating on a tiny flicker of flame on our oldest child’s bedroom door…with his bare hand.

The bedroom door was slightly opened and my first question was where India was. My brain wasn’t all the way on but I could tell that there was light coming from her room that was surely from fire but I have a tendency to never think it’s as bad as it is. After all, he was standing there trying to extinguish flames with his bare hand…how bad could it be?

He told me she had already left for work and he began yelling the other children’s names. I too started yelling, “Up, Up, Up…let’s go.”

While I made what seemed at the time to be the logical decision to get a towel from the laundry room because you don’t beat flames with bare hands…you beat them with towels… men are so silly thinking you can battle flames with sheer force of will…towels are what are needed. Do you see why I need coffee in the morning?

By the time I returned to the foyer (no more than 10 or 15 seconds) I realized from the looks of things that I was significantly under armed with the bath towel and it was time to make sure the kids were really truly getting out of the house and not just standing around in shock.

Demopolis, Ala. - 1-6-2015 - This is a view from the staircase, up toward the second floor foyer.

Demopolis, Ala. – 1-6-2015 – This is a view from the staircase, up toward the second floor foyer.

Arthur got the girls from their bedroom, that coach’s voice never fails to generate quick action, and down the front stairs. At least I think that’s how they got downstairs. All I knew was that I had seen that my girls were safe in his care and I was going after my boys.

I headed down the back hall for the boys screaming “Up, up, up” and “Move, move,move.” I found my boys both bewildered and out of bed.. I ushered the boys down the back stairs in their bedroom and shooed them toward their Papa and sisters heading out via Arthur’s office.

Again, a testimony to lack of coffee and brilliant morning emergency thinking. I had seen the mop bucket on my way through the kitchen with the boys. I told Arthur, “I’ll get a bucket.” as he called 911 and kept the children safe.

I filled a small bucket with water in the downstairs bath tub and ran upstairs via the back hall. Barefoot, as I ran onto the wooden floor of the foyer I could feel the heat in the floor itself. I hurled the water at the now flaming door and nothing noticeable happened. I said something in my head that is not fit for print and realized it was futile. The only thing to do was get out.

I’d been working with a kind of tunnel vision, where I was only seeing the most important thing in front of me at the time. Arthur’s face, flickers of fire, buckets, towels, Nathan, Benjamin, Savannah and Zarah. I looked at India’s room burning and brief flash of “what if he was wrong…what if she wasn’t at work?” went through my mind. Everything was happening so quickly. All the thoughts and actions that had already happened couldn’t have even taken more than seven or eight minutes. But I remembered that he’d told me twice already that she was not in there and I trusted him.

A few seconds is a long time in a fire, I’m sure the brave men of the Demopolis Fire Department can tell you that. It seems like I remember every bit of what my eyes glanced over as I turned to run. The arch way leading to my room beginning to be touched by flame, India’s door putting off flames so big I could feel the hot air being pushed on my face five or six feet away, the stair rail marking the place I needed to run , the reflection of orange light being thrown off the bathroom mirror , and the escalating heat under my feet. Then I saw the doorway to the back hall that was right then free from all but a faint bit of smoke.

And I remembered the shawl. It had belonged to my great great grandmother. According to family lore she wore it on her wedding day in 1861. It had been a wedding gift from her uncle. (I’ll have to check the year, those records are in a box in my closet…who knows if it’s still there.) I had worn it myself on the day that Arthur and I took our vows in The Church.

So I chose to run out the back. I had bolted not even 10 feet when I got to the open hallway closet where I had purposefully kept the shawl to grab in case of some horrific emergency. By the time I was reaching for the satin pillow case it had always lived in I could not see nor breathe and I was surrounded by thick, hot black smoke. I thought to myself “You are a fool, run.”

Demopolis, Ala. - 1-6-2015 - The Ogden's lost much of the second floor of their home to fire on Monday. This is the room where the fire is believed to have started.

Demopolis, Ala. – 1-6-2015 – The Ogden’s lost much of the second floor of their home to fire on Monday. This is the room where the fire is believed to have started.

And blindly I took off through the boys room, down the spiral stairs and felt my way through the rec room calling for Arthur and the children. Somewhere along the way I remember hitting my foot on something but decided that I would think about that later.

By the time I found them in his office the smoke had cleared from one eye and I could see them all enough to count heads. I made him stop telling someone on the phone that our house was on fire to tell me one more time that India was at work and not upstairs.

My hero looked at his idiot wife holding a soot-stained pillow case and I asked him one more time to tell me where India was. “She’s at work, the car is gone, I promise.”

It was all I needed to hear. I’m not ashamed that at that point I went back for another great great grandmother’s butter knives that Arthur had shadowboxed for me that hung on the dining room wall while he herded the children out the door.

And we ran to Miss Vickie and Mr. Robert’s house. We’ve often said that the Taylor’s are the best neighbors we’ve ever had. True to form Vickie and Robert began being Vickie and Robert and they swung into action.

The Demopolis Fire Department’s response was quick, but Vickie had socks and shoes on us all and jackets and blankets wrapped around us before I could even wash the soot off my face. Thank goodness Robert had already started some coffee because Vickie can’t make coffee….don’t tell her I told you that.

I joke frequently about my husband’s stubborn streak. I poke fun and am sometimes irritated about all that administrating he did in academics and athletics over the years that led to him thinking that his natural born delegating and administrative skills makes him think he’s always in charge. The entire family complains about having to be sensitive to his light sleeping. It’s no fun to have to turn your music way down on the other side of the house because Papa turned in early.

Demopolis, Ala. - 1-6-2015 - This is a view from the upstairs hallway, back the the second floor foyer.

Demopolis, Ala. – 1-6-2015 – This is a view from the upstairs hallway, back toward the second floor foyer.

The running joke about him is that he can “hear smoke.” Thank God that he can. Thank God for that booming voice. Thank God for that will of iron that sometimes makes him think he can battle a house fire with his bare hands but also lets him slip effortlessly into the man you know you can count on to get your children out of a house fire.

It’s no joke, who he is, with ever fiber of his being saved us. I’ve never been so glad in my life that he was in charge and on watch. It’s not every woman who get’s to be married to her hero. I am a very lucky girl.

I can not even begin to describe the immediate and enormous outpouring of love and aid from the community. I didn’t want to watch my house burn, I had not the stomach. But I’m pretty sure the fire wasn’t all the way out when Kaye Evans appeared and the next thing I knew she was back with clothes.

I tried to alert my parents out of town to what was going on and when I finally got through to Daddy I had to tell him, “I don’t know…I have no answers yet. The house is still smoldering and I need to get off the phone because half of Demopolis has just come through Vickie’s front door and they’re all here to help.”

And since Monday morning we have received such a flood of love that it is overwhelming. I simply cannot name everyone. Our dearest friends have shown not only how much they love us but also how well they know us. Our neighbors across the street and all across town have shown the heart of this community. Our Church has stepped up so that we may lean on them. The school teachers have reached out to let us know our children will be covered when they go back to school.

I know I saw a lot of faces that morning and into the afternoon and every day since. That administrator I am married to has a list and in the near future a far more thorough thanks will come but for now I want to thank: Vickie and Robert Taylor for being who they are in general and the innumerable thoughtful and practical things they did for us and are still doing for us. John Wallace who came instantly with such kindness. The Brookers, and I’ll leave it at that because I don’t think anyone can name all of the Brookers and how awesome they are in one paragraph. Lynda Ray for knowing which of us needs what. Kaye and Arthur Evans for things large and small. Jay and Rosemary Shows for putting a roof over our heads.

Our dear friends Michael and Laura Clements get their own paragraph as thanks and as an explanation for why readers are getting this first person account. Michael left work and was in Vickie’s living room so fast I couldn’t even understand how he got there so quickly. Laura showed up and immediately stepped up to organize and shield me from having too great a load. I was back in my uniform of yoga pants, cami-tank, cardigan and signature hair clippy before noon and she didn’t even have to ask what I needed. Because it’s the South, she also brought me a brand new bag of make up…she probably color matched me better than I could have done myself. She even fussed at me until I went to the doctor and got my foot looked at. (I win the most damaged award as I broke my pinky toe in the escape, Arthur has a few burns on his feet and some singed hair…but he needed a haircut anyway.)

It was Laura who said I should write this. She knows me enough to know that I needed to do the writing. I told her I would do the telling but only if Michael used that camera of his to do the showing.

I’m incapable of being brief. But I usually can tell when I’m about to devolve into rambling. So I’ll end this by saying that 2016 is going to be a very hard year. While we look to rebuild our lives, our home and our collection of things we know it won’t be easy. The one thing we know for sure is that if this had to happen to us there’s no place we’d rather it happen. This city is a wonderment. It really and truly is The City of the People…and what people they are. We are so blessed.

Demopolis, Ala. - 1-6-2015 - This is a view of the upstairs foyer from the fire that destroyed part of the Ogden's home on Monday, January 4, 2015.

Demopolis, Ala. – 1-6-2015 – This is a view of the upstairs foyer from the fire that destroyed part of the Ogden’s home on Monday, Jan. 4, 2015.

Integrity is at Issue!

Like most of us football fans who suffered through the idiocy of the “BCS Era” the advent of the new “Playoff System” seemed to be the panacea to release us from the bonds of contradiction, regional poll voting, and outright fraudulent formulas being forced into computers weighted to favor a team or a conference.

Whether or not the four-team playoff is, in fact, a cure-all remains to be seen. What does remain is the fact that a panel of thirteen football “experts” – whose individual persona purports to have been formed in the very cauldron of integrity – has been assembled to decree which four football teams at the end of this season are worthy of the high honor to compete in the first-ever Division I football playoff.

They are the College Football Playoff (CFP) Selection Committee.

The composition of that cabal of gridiron wisdom reveals the following demographic characteristics: 12 men, 1 woman; 11 European-Americans, 2 African-Americans; by professional position there are 6 AD’s from the “Power Five Conferences” (2 from the Big 10, go figure), 1 former NCAA VP, 1 former superintendent from one of our military academies, 1 former Secretary of State, 1 former university football coach, 1 former All-American and All-Pro NFL player, 1 former conference commissioner, and 1 former college football reporter.

One of the CFP Selection Committee is Pat Haden, Athletic Director at the University of Southern California. Now, from this point on be advised that I am a bit skewed in my view since I have always been offended by the arrogance of the USC people – to wit, the general attitude of the then-USC AD Mike Garrett in response to the Reggie Bush corruption scandal. Had it not been for that Southern Cal “privileged” posture, it is likely that the NCAA penalties would not have been quite so harsh. And this lays the under-pinning landscape which seeped through in Saturday’s USC-Stanford football game.

During the third quarter of that game there was some kerfuffle along the USC sidelines punctuated by a helmet-to-helmet foul committed by a USC player against a Stanford player. The USC Head Coach, need not mention his name since in my world they are all the same just with different names, exploded as if someone had just stolen his last salt water taffy under the board walk in Atlantic City.

It was not easy to tell if this coach dropped the “F”-bomb, but it sure looked like it from where I sat in Alabama. That got him another flag!

Then, as if someone had summoned a USC savior from on high to come down to defend the poor picked-on Trojans, Southern Cal AD Haden crystallized on the sidelines with all the assumed ardor of St. Michael the Archangel combined with all the grace of Mighty Mouse (“Here I am to Save the Day!”).

Now, do I believe that an athletic director should defend his coaches? Without a doubt! Should an esteemed alumnus with credentials which included having been a Rhodes Scholar come to the aid of that alma mater? No question!

But, then, should a person with that same integrity who is a member of the CFP Selection Committee charge onto the field to confront game officials on the whim of a coach whose actions reminded me of a kid in a sandbox crying when someone did not like the fact that he bumped into another kid’s sandcastle? And that is not a rhetorical question.

What Pat Haden did in his blind zeal to “protect” his precious new coach – “precious”, indeed, after the immediate prior hire in that position – was debatably admirable as an alum and questionable at best as an AD. But as a member of a committee who will be selecting teams to play for a National Championship? Unacceptable!

I mentioned the arrogance of Southern California and I recall that venerable institution hiring Lane Kiffin away from the University of Tennessee. USC must have seen a kindred spirit in Kiffin as exhibited by his incessantly offensive comments to and about the Southeastern Conference and its legion of highly successful coaches. Kiffin was arrogance personified!

A little logic here: two things equal to the same thing are equal to each other. Hence, quod erat demonstrando (QED)!

In later utterances Haden claimed that he was “just a bystander” which he assumed would be an adequate absolution. But that was not even a mildly adequate mea culpa.

What is needed as remedy has been called for by Dan Wolken in Saturday’s USA Today – “Haden should resign from the Playoff committee.” And I wholeheartedly agree! It is more than a question of optics. It is a question of integrity and impartiality. And as Wolken adds, “An athletics director running down to argue penalties and making a spectacle of himself on national television does not exactly scream impartiality and level-headedness…Athletics directors are supposed to be out of sight, out of mind during games. Some are more demonstrative than others. But they all know they have to keep their control.”

Hence, I echo Wolken’s call for Haden’s resignation, and further endorse Wolken’s position that, “If he refuses, CFP executive director Bill Hancock should nudge him in that direction. And if Hancock doesn’t want to go down that road, the 10 commissioners of the Football Bowl Subdivision conferences should intervene and demand a change.”

Let me pose one final query: Do many people remember what bowl game in 1978 Woody Hayes punched a player on the opposing team and as a result lost his job? Precious few, I’ll wager. It was the Gator Bowl and the Clemson player Woody hit was Charlie Bauman. We recall it as the “Woody Bowl” in many instances.

The analogy holds in my perspective.

Outside of the immediate game participants and spectators, I believe that this game will be forever remembered as Pat Haden’s swansong to the CFP Selection Committee.

But if it is not his swansong and he does not voluntarily resign I would submit that the integrity of the committee has been severely, if not irreparably, tainted. Regardless of the Committee members’ “recusal” policy, whenever questions of a Pac-12 team or of Southern Cal is in the conversation the integrity of Pat Haden’s impartiality will always be suspect.

The truly sad fact is that USC will probably not even blink an eyelash. Arrogance has a blinding form of self-absolution – and Haden can take solace in the words of the USC Fight Song – “Our Alma Mater dear, looks up to you/ Fight On and win for ol’ SC!”

“Looks up to you” indeed!

At Last! It’s Football Again!

A myriad of memories and romantic reminiscences are conjured up through the lyrics of the classic love song made famous by the lilting voice of the magnificent Etta James, “At Last”, written by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren for the 1941 musical film Orchestra Wives. And I know I am dating myself with the revelation that a song more than sixty years old still inspires me in so many ways.

But today those entrancing lyrics invoke a very special advent in my life which is annually repeated when the leaves start to turn to robust colors and the Summer heat begins to abate.

It’s football season! At last!

I beg your indulgence with this near adolescent infatuation with a game that has saturated my life ever since I sat in front of a black and white television and watched Notre Dame play Purdue at the tender age of eight. I have been a captive of this great American spectacle in all its glory, with all its challenges and scandals, its color and its infectious grandeur ever since.

So, now all the talking sports heads, all the agitating sports talk radio show hosts, all the sports reporters, the broadcasters and networks who have revved us up need to sit down, shut up, and let the teams play!

Because the echoes of Etta’s alluring intonations now take me aloft into the season and as I close my eyes I hear her sing, “At last my love has come along/
My lonely days are over and life is like a song.”

Perhaps such an enchantment with a game – yes, for Heaven’s sake, it is just a game – is unflattering for someone like me, but I must admit, this is my favorite time of year because of football.

And I am blessed to live in the South – you know, “Southern by the Grace of God” and all that – but more than that, I live in SEC Country! Even though the following utterance will seem blasphemous to those who live in Massachusetts or Minnesota or Washington, the fact is that the SEC owns college football!

Why would I spew such vitriolic palaver in the face of a football nation which seems to have, as some sports “opinionists” declare, become “SEC fatigued”? It is very simple: all the color, the spectacle, the intensity, the dedication, the commitment, and the sheer joy college football prompts and manifests itself in the fan bases of the teams. Yes, through the fans!

At what other event can a stadium which seats 90,000+ be “sold out” and yet another 125,000+ loyalists are outside parked in their vans, their Winnebagos, their SUV’s watching the contest on their portable TV’s? No other sporting event consistently occasions such grand festivities – well, maybe Mardi Gras, but that’s only once a year, and we do this every Saturday, or Thursday as the schedule may dictate, for nigh onto three months!

The bands are spectacular. The cheerleaders perform their complex gymnastics! The traditions – the eagle circling the field before kickoff at Auburn, for example, or Texas A&M’s Twelfth Man – the mascots are even regal and challenging…well, except for the elephant in Tuscaloosa, but, hey, if you win that many championships you could claim to be the “Fighting Artichokes” and no one would complain!

But that is just the allure of college football, and souls like myself, who are addicted to it all, cannot avoid our nervous excitement as the first kickoff approaches!

Still, with all the pomp and ceremony attending each and every game, there remains the challenge on the field – the real reason we are so enraptured with this event. And here is where the team loyalists truly participate!

It is their team on the field. It is their young warriors carrying the colors of the university. And it is they who become the exemplars of the pride and the honor of the university. With each turn of the game circumstances, each bounce of the oddly-shaped ball, each run, each tackle, and each kick the troops in the stadium are transfixed by the heraldry of their young warriors on the field of battle.

The stadium is filled with deafening cheers, orchestrated chants, and tunes joyously trumpeting the respective combatants in their valiant efforts to preserve the esteem of the university.

College football in America is a tapestry of the elements of the country itself steeped in commitment to purpose, unified in cooperative effort, teeming with the dedication of loyal fans, presented in all its color and pageantry, and repeated with greater intensity each week and every year.

And for this old warrior there is no greater time of year, no stronger commitment to a common resolve, no more magnificent exhibition than the college gridiron!

But Etta sums it up better than I ever could with these final lines, “You smiled and then the spell was cast/And here we are in Heaven.”

Because, “At Last”, its football again!

Home is Where the Heart Is – LeBron Goes Home

At this moment the happiest people in the world are in Cleveland, Ohio. Their hometown basketball hero has returned!

LeBron James is coming home!

By marked contrast, on July 8, 2010, when unemployment was at 12.2% and neither the NFL Cleveland Browns nor the MLB Cleveland Indians had produced anything of significance, the city felt betrayed, abandoned, treated like General George Washington had been treated by Benedict Arnold in America’s war for independence when James announced on nationwide television that he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers to play for the Miami Heat. Being a product of Miami, I was elated.

The Cleveland Cavalier fans reacted with a personal hostility unlike anything we have seen in recent sport history. He was excoriated by the Cavaliers’ managing partner in ownership, Dan Gilbert, whose invective letter stayed on the Cavaliers’ website from 2010 until just last week. James’ jersey was burned. His character was attacked. Some of the most vile and vitriolic utterances one can imagine were hurled at this hometown product who had developed into the greatest basketball player on the planet.

And, although James knew he had made a business decision, he and his family were deeply hurt by Cleveland’s reaction.

Today all is forgiven – on both sides, and the “prodigal son” will return with all the pomp and ceremony Cleveland can muster when James actually steps off the plane and officially makes his presence in the city on Lake Erie a reality.

In a stirring letter, or “essay” as James calls it, which was released through Sports Illustrated, he announced his decision to return to his “home” in Northeast Ohio. The poet, Robert Frost in his poem The Death of the Hired Man, observed, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there/They have to take you in.” But for Cleveland there was no imperative “have to take you in”; it was, rather, a plaintive and constant supplication for his return during the four-year hiatus. A hiatus which, by the way, turned out to be like a wandering in the desert for Cleveland’s Cavaliers in NBA play.

He is going back “home” now, with an accomplished and polished, mature presence boasting of four consecutive appearances in the NBA Finals and two NBA Championships, along with the various MVP honors he accrued while with the Miami Heat. And all is well.

For me, however, it is all “well” because of James’ character – and only because of his character. When I read through his “essay”, as I encourage anyone who seeks any insights into the mettle of this young man, I was moved by his candor, his sincerity, his loyalty, and his class. What is more, for me, though, this mini-treatise on his departure from Miami and return to Cleveland revealed his heart and his spirit.

From my perspective, Cleveland did nothing to deserve this! Their attacks on him in 2010 were unjustified in any terms – immature, vitriolic, bitter, cruel, vicious, caustic, malicious, rancorous, and every other spiteful epithets which could be hurled at a young man who had given every ounce of effort and dedication to his city.

What I observed, and what I have observed from James for the past four years is a fully developed soul whose priorities are clear and well-defined. In his announcement he pointed out that his “relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball,” as is his honor. He has set up foundations which serve the inner city children in the Cleveland area. He has worked with the Boy’s and Girl’s Clubs on that area, and has contributed in countless, less visible ways to better his beloved Northeast Ohio.

Jesus tells St. Peter in his parable in Luke 12:48, “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” There is no doubt that the talents James has received are true gifts which have been entrusted to him – and he has done more to return those gifts than any prominent athlete in modern times. It is my belief that those gifts we are given by the Almighty are to be returned by what we do with them to improve the conditions of His people. James has fulfilled that charge a thousand-fold.

He was gracious in thanking the Miami front office – owner Mick Arison and President Pat Riley – for all they had done to give him “an amazing four years”. And as for Gilbert, a narcissistic egomaniac who castigated James so mercilessly in 2010, he simply said, “Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?”

LeBron James has a higher calling in his own eyes. “I feel my calling here [Cleveland] goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead. In more ways than one, and I take that very seriously.” And he does not see it as a burden. He sees it as an opportunity.

I am blessed with five sons and six grandsons and as each of them continues on his individual path to manhood I pray that they have the courage, the grace, the dignity, the humility and the heart that LeBron James has.

Those of us who appreciate the opportunity sport gives its participants to exhibit the character they develop understand that James is not only exceptional by his physical talent – he is gifted in the fashion he has chosen to give back to his “home” through his extraordinary moral fiber.

Miami is my hometown – but from now on, some of my heart will be in
Cleveland.

I Believe that We WILL Win!

Well, here we are the morning after our USA World Cup team lost a hard fought match against one of the best teams in the world – Belgium.

We have all seen the post-mortems in print, on video, and on Twitter.

But what does it all mean to a country whose sport commitments and blind loyalties have consigned it to some very specific sports – football (American), basketball, and baseball to mention the big three?

Let me share with you some of my personal experiences of the World’s greatest sports spectacle. First of all, I live in the Southeastern Conference Country (SEC) and soccer, as we call it, it something our youngsters do to stay in shape for American Football. The SEC primacy in college football is unparalleled. What is more I live in Alabama – yes, that’s right, the State which has provided five consecutive years of representation for the SEC in the BCS National Championship game! No other State can make that statement – OR boast.

I have a good friend who owns a sports bar with fifteen television screens and on any given Saturday in the Fall, you can go there and watch all the American Football your heart can saturate.

But for the past two weeks, his marquee signs have declared, “I believe that we will win!” echoing the chants heard all across this proud Nation. And he tells me that every night or morning or afternoon when the USA was playing, he did a fantastic business. Right here in the heart of SEC country…right here in Alabama!

For that fortnight we minimized our talk about “hurry up offenses”, blitz packages, who is projected to be the SEC Champion or the National Champion. We started talking in a strange, new sport lexicon – the “pitch”, the “match”, and what in the world was “off sides”, especially when no one on the defense jumped or the offense did not flinch before the ball was snapped.

We entered into a brave new world which has expanded our notions of sport. We learned that the best “flops” did not come in the NBA, but in FIFA futból competition. We saw a competitor take off ears as well as Mike Tyson. And we began to see why the rest of the world calls it “The Beautiful Game”.

I have two young sons, aged 9 and 13, and usually they are squabbling, actually physically fighting, over the primacy of American football in Alabama. You see, one is a loyal Auburn devotee, and the other is an out-and-out “Bammer”, or Alabama radical. It is not uncommon during any time of the year that I have to separate those two from doing serious bodily harm to each other over how many championships Bama has or if Chris Davis actually stepped out of bounds in his “Kick Six” return on the final play of the 2013 Iron Bowl.

But after the ESPN promotion of the World Cup, these two combatants became very interested in our USA World Cup team. When we defeated Ghana, they were hooked like I have never seen them hooked on anything – except the Iron Bowl – to this degree. Then, with the “almost” win versus Portugal, the 2-2 “draw”, they were all in, hook, line and sinker! Portugal was considered one of the best four teams in the World, and we hung in there with them shot for shot, pass for pass, and guts for guts. The last second “equalizer” was disheartening, but getting out of the “Group of Death”, which no one thought was possible two months ago, was good enough to win the hearts of America.

For nearly a week all I heard about was, DeMarcus Beasley, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, and Tim Howard, not to mention whether or not Jozy Altidore would be able to play in any future “matches”.

I could not believe the transformation! They were intense, focused and absolutely imbued with “I believe that we will win!” and “One Nation, One Team”. These two aspiring American football players were enthralled with the speed, the grace, and the physical nature of “the beautiful game”.

And Papa was very pleased.

What happened to my two young sons – in the middle of SEC country – was not unlike what has happened to the rest of America. We were “All In”. Nowhere was this more evident or more verified than to witness the TV ratings with more than 20 million viewers tuning in at homes and larger venues throughout the USA. The flags, the body paintings, the plethora of “Red, White and Blue” and the general feeling that the USA had become a world class team betrayed an insular mind-set that “soccer” was just something the rest of the world did, while we were preparing for American football.

But in the 2014 World Cup, something great happened to America; not only had we joined the rest of the world in “the beautiful game”, we had become a real team to be reckoned with!

And, believe me, it felt good!

Most of us were wishing we had joined the 20-some thousand American fans who filled the Brazilian stadiums to chant and cheer and support OUR American World Cup Team! Seeing them among the rest of the World’s fans representing in such unified, positive fashion affected all of us.

And we became, indeed, “One Nation, One Team!”

Our team represented well not only on the “pitch” but in their attitudes. They never quit! They never gave up! They never even considered the possibility of defeat. They played like America!

And in their final “match”, there was no greater example of this never-say-die attitude than our goalie, Tim Howard. He blocked 16 shots – a new World Cup record! In interviews afterward, he was all class, humility, and all-American!

The enthusiasm and commitment and dedication our USA World Cup Team not only exhibited but lived by ushered in a new appreciation of what “soccer” on the world stage means for America.

I believe that we will no longer languish in the shadows of our other American sports.

I believe that more and more interest and devotion to “the beautiful game” was birthed in the 2014 World Cup competition.

And I believe that in the future that we WILL win!

Cant’ wait for 2018!

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