Sports Doing Good Newsletter, #187

Nov. 1 – Nov. 7, 2015

Welcome to week one hundred eighty-seven of the Sports Doing Good newsletter. This week’s 10 stories include:

  1. Where Actors, Dealers, Bouncers, Comics Hoop Together
  2. Cycling Redefined: Rwanda’s Joan of Arc
  3. Topps to feature cards of players who overcame disabilities
  4. Q&A with Justine Siegal: The Female Baseball Coach Breaking Barriers in the MLB (Up2Us)
  5. Runners With Disabilities Gain Confidence And Community Through New York City Marathon
  6. Meet two men in their 70s who have been running the NYC Marathon together since 1978
  7. Using sport memories to tackle dementia
  8. As Polo Sheds Its Elitist Image, Teams Crop Up on Campus
  9. 49ers Awarded Sport Team of the Year For Community Efforts by Beyond Sport
  10. Duncan, Spurs go where no player-team tandem have gone before

Few things in sports capture our attention and wonder than when a barrier is broken. Establishing a record that was once thought impossible or becoming the first person to do something is exciting. It lets us feel that as the human race, we continue to get better and that we should and do strive to do more. Sports is ripe with these types of situations.

This week we have several stories that speak to this phenomenon. We learn of: a female cyclist from Rwanda for the first time participating at a world championship level; a new set of cards from legendary baseball card company Topps that features former and current players who overcame significant health or physical challenges to reach the top level of baseball competition; have an interview with the first female baseball coach to instruct MLB players; the many participants in the just completed New York Marathon that broke personal barriers to complete the 26.2 mile run; and the sport of polo’s effort to break out of a long-viewed barrier of wealth and privilege to include a wider audience.

The other stories we are proud to feature include: a first-person account of finding and then loving a place to play basketball; a pair of friends who have stayed in touch through their yearly 26.2 mile run through NYC; an important look at how sport is being used to work with those who are burdened with the condition of dementia; a look at the great work being done by the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers; and a nod to one of the all-time great players and franchises in the NBA (Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs).

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So enjoy. And have a good week.

Where Actors, Dealers, Bouncers, Comics Hoop Together
When I step on the court, I am naturally judged. Being short and white does not usually mean skilled basketball player, but at Poinsettia I always felt welcomed. We all were. It was the one place where such an eclectic cast of characters could come together as one. It was a place where unemployed actors, drug dealers, bouncers, comedians, lawyers and engineers could come together as a team. No one judged. No one assumed. Everyone just played. Basketball made life simple. It was about cutting, screening, shooting, rebounding, defending and hustling. These ideals trumped race, ethnicity, status, everything. I stood out, not really because of my skills (although I had my moments and could hold my own), but because of my heart. I dove on the gravel, took on guys twice my size, and never gave up no matter the score. I was the tough little guy. In fact, Bullet, an ex-con with a killer jump shot and rap sheet, openly feared playing against little old me. I was the guy you loved as a teammate and hated as an opponent. And the one who acknowledged me most was Stuff.

Credit Paul Cooley

Cycling Redefined: Rwanda’s Joan of Arc
In Richmond at the UCI Championships on Saturday, Jeanne D’Arc Girubuntu made history just by competing. The end result, at first glance, was far from cinematic. Jeanne D’Arc finished in last place, seven minutes behind the winner. Yet, to quote the film White Men Can’t Jump, “sometimes when you lose you really win.” Girubuntu and Team Rwanda are going to return home as conquering heroes. Cycling is a national love in their country, with an astounding three and a half million people—in a country of 12 million—lining the streets for the Tour of Rwanda race that crowns their national champions. For women, there are persistent stigmas attached to the sport that were common a century ago in the United States: the idea that a woman should not even risk cycling for fear it could wreck their ability to have children. In some corners women are also seen as somehow “not real women” if they also ride a bike. But like that other Joan of Arc, Jeanne d’Arc Girubuntu is redefining, inside of Rwanda, just how “being a woman” should be understood. Stereotypes stand little chance when confronted with the real-life brilliance of Jeanne d’Arc. As for outside of her country, Jeanne d’Arc, along with her male teammates, are attempting to forge another redefinition: They want to redefine what it means to be Rwandan beyond the trappings of tragedy.

Jeanne D’Arc Girubuntu at the UCI Championships, Richmond, VA, 2015. (Heaton Johnson, CC BY 2.0)

Topps to feature cards of players who overcame disabilities
The set is called, “Pride & Perseverance,’’ which will be released Wednesday morning to celebrate the 70th anniversary of National Disability Employment Awareness month and honor 25 years of Americans with disabilities legislation. “As a game for all, baseball is proud to be the sport of Jim Abbott, Curtis Pride and many world-class athletes who have overcome obstacles en route to success in the Major Leagues,” Wendy Lewis, MLB Senior Vice President of Diversity, Inclusion & Strategic Alliances, said in a release provided to USA TODAY Sports. “This special set from Topps is a terrific way not only to honor all individuals who have faced challenges and reached the highest level of their chosen sport, but also to inspire anyone who dreams of one day being a part of the “National Pastime”.–perseverance/74314206/

Baseball card of Jim Abbott. (Photo: Topps)

Q&A with Justine Siegal: The Female Baseball Coach Breaking Barriers in the MLB (Up2Us)
This fall, Justine Siegal made history by serving as a guest coach for the Oakland Athletics’ instructional league.  This isn’t the first time she’s been the first woman on a male-dominated coaching staff.  In 2011, Justine was the first woman to throw an MLB batting practice when she attended the Cleveland Indians spring training.  Since then, she has thrown batting practice for five more teams.  With all of this inspirational work, we knew we had to sit down and talk to Justine.
US: Tell us about Baseball For All – how it started, how it’s grown and where it’s going.
JS: Baseball For All is a national nonprofit providing opportunities for girls in baseball as players, coaches, umpires, and other leadership positions. Our goal is getting girls baseball leagues around the country. Our next big event is the 2016 Nationals in San Francisco, where we will have playing opportunities at the 8u, 10u, 13u, and 16u age groups. I started Baseball For All when I was just 23 years old. I was tired of waiting for opportunities so I decided to create them.

When she isn’t coaching professional baseball players, Justine coaches kids at Baseball for All, an Up2Us Sports member organization with a mission to provide meaningful instruction and opportunity in baseball, especially for girls.

Runners With Disabilities Gain Confidence And Community Through New York City Marathon
Cooper is just one of Achilles International’s 294 disabled athletes who, paired with a physically abled guide, will be running or handcycling on Sunday in the 45th annual New York City Marathon. And Achilles is just one of countless charitable organizations that have been working with physically and mentally disabled marathon hopefuls around the boroughs, spending months, sometimes years, training them to fight through their ailments and run those 26.2 miles. In fact, according to Stephanie Paddock of the Michael J. Fox Foundation’s Team Fox, this year’s marathon is so chock full of foundations and nonprofits that some charities have had to limit their number of runners. Team Fox will see 130 of its members step onto the course Sunday — a “significantly lower” headcount than usual, but a change it has embraced given the added opportunities for the other grassroot organizations involved.

Fox and Kelly meeting along the marathon route. Mary Kelly Mires

Meet two men in their 70s who have been running the NYC Marathon together since 1978
A pair of runners who met at the New York City Marathon 37 years ago are partnering up again to run the big race on Sunday. Neil Dreyer and Marshall Ackerman are in their 70s and have each run dozens of New York City Marathons since they met in 1978 — this will be Ackerman’s 36th race in the city and Dreyer’s 30th… Weekends, the pair trains together with their longest run of the week on Sundays. “I think we have developed a sort of rapport,” Dreyer said. “You have to talk to each other — we don’t run for hours in silence. So you just sort of carry on a conversation and we enjoy talking to each other. “So it’s a friendship. I think friendship has developed out of the running and that’s what makes it more palatable rather than painful.”

Neil Dreyer (left) and Marshall Ackerman (right) have been running the NYC Marathon together since the late 1970s. via Marshall Ackerman

Using sport memories to tackle dementia
From playing with friends on the field to watching professionals from a rusty stand, every football fan cherishes their memory snippets from the past. The Sporting Memories Network uses such recollection to engage elderly community members, and help tackle dementia, depression and loneliness. “It challenges their ability to believe in themselves,” according to project coordinator Norrie Gallagher. “Their confidence comes, and you build on that week on week.” I visited a group in East Kilbride that meets up every Tuesday morning to share stories from yesteryear. Jim, one of the members, played for numerous amateur and junior teams in Ayrshire and East Kilbride as a young man. “Most of the guys here have got dementia,” he told me. “I’ve certainly got it.”

Images are used to promote discussion around football characters from the past

As Polo Sheds Its Elitist Image, Teams Crop Up on Campus
Barring another government takeover, it’s unlikely college polo will reach the heights it enjoyed almost a century ago. But the players are working to see polo grow. “We’re kind of hoping that our team is going to help other SUNY schools realize they can start teams as well,” Ms. Wohlschlegel said. “Because a lot of people are like us. We didn’t go to Cornell or to other schools that already had polo, but we wanted to continue playing.” To that end, she and Ms. Campbell recruited two classmates who’d never played polo but had experience with competitive rodeo. The hope is that the newbies’ cowgirl flair will translate to tactical finesse on the field, and to more victories at regional and national tournaments. Polo’s small team size makes it feasible to start a new squad from scratch, but it also makes teams vulnerable to folding when one or more players leave. “We want to create a team that’s going to stick around. I think we’ve found that,” Ms. Campbell said. The recruits’ lack of polo pedigree doesn’t concern her. “The Alfred State brand of polo,” she said, “is for anyone who’s willing to work hard.”

Alfred State and the Western New York Polo Club in a scrimmage in Piffard, N.Y. Credit Heather Ainsworth for The New York Times

49ers Awarded Sport Team of the Year for Community Efforts by Beyond Sport
In 2014 alone, the 49ers community relations department hosted a total of 45 team events, 160 youth football clinics and camps, and supported more than 100 partner events. In total, 49ers 2014 community relations and outreach efforts directly impacted roughly 30,000 community members and 49ers Faithful, logged more than 500 community service hours, donated $4.6 million to the community and inspired many more through their charitable activities. “Every day our team takes the field, they are focused on winning the game. Similarly, every day of the year, the San Francisco 49ers organization strives to be the best community partner we can be,” said John York, 49ers co-chairman. “Community involvement has always been top priority for the 49ers, so to receive an international recognition such as this from a prestigious group like Beyond Sport is an honor that means a great deal to us all. Just like the name of this award suggests, there is more to sport than simply what takes place on the playing field.”

Joanne Pasternack, Vice President & Executive Director of Community Relations & 49ers Foundation, receives the Sport Team of the Year Award from Avraham Burg, Former Speaker of the Knesset and Chairman of Mifalot on Tuesday, October 20, in London.

Duncan, Spurs go where no player-team tandem have gone before
He has won more games with the Spurs than any other NBA player with one team, yet Tim Duncan doesn’t exactly know what they want from him. With LaMarcus Aldridge on board and Kawhi Leonard’s game blossoming, Duncan isn’t sure what his role is. “I’m still trying to figure that out,” he said. “I’m not really sure what it is yet, but I’m trying to figure it out.” He and the Spurs are winning while they learn… Duncan had 16 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in his NBA-record 954th victory with one team. He passed Hall of Fame point guard John Stockton, who went 953-551 with the Utah Jazz. Duncan, in his 19th season, is 954-381.

Tim Duncan (left) and Tony Parker have together long been synonymous with the San Antonio Spurs’ success. But Monday night belonged to the big guy. Nathaniel S. Butler / NBAE via Getty Images

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Our goal is to have Sports Doing Good be a portal housing original content and excerpts from and links to the increasing number of articles, websites, video, and other media that showcase the good in sports and society. We aim to celebrate those concepts, activities, events, and individuals by highlighting them for a wider audience. Much of the news today, whether sports- related or not, is incredibly negative and increasingly polarizing, biased, and quite annoying. We are trying to refocus some of the discussion on the good, with a focus on sports.

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