Saturday, September 9, 2017

U.S. Open Champion Sloane Stevens

A teenage-Sloane in 2010. 
During the summer of 2010, I had the chance to go to Wimbledon. It was my first visit to a Grand Slam event, and although I didn't have a ticket to see Serena in her semi-final match, I did have the chance to catch an upcoming American on one of the outside courts.

Sloane Stephens lost in three sets that day, but I've been following her career ever since. It also helped that I met her mom and taught her brother who attended my middle school several years ago. Her brother has a big personality, and I got to coach him in baseball, teach him English, and help him plan for the future in our Emerson Sports Academy. 

That spring, in 2011, Sloane climbed the ranks and qualified for the main draws at the French Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open. So, when I saw her outside of my school on a spring afternoon, I congratulated her on her success. She smiled and was kind, and I continued to be a fan. I watched her beat Serena at the Australian in 2013, and hoped that would be the moment when Sloane would break into the top 10 to stay. But Sloane was inconsistent and struggled with injuries. 
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

Her brother came back to visit a couple years ago, as he was graduation from high school and heading off to college. He wrote me a note using the Cornell Notes we'd forced them to do in Sports Academy. It was one of those wonderful moments in teaching when you get to see phenomenal growth in a young person.

So, this afternoon, after 11 months away from the game, I cried watching Sloane climb into the stands to hug her coach and mom after winning her first Grand Slam title. Her journey has brought her maturity and positivity on the court that she was missing earlier in her career. It was wonderful to see such phenomenal growth in Sloane. I hope this is the first of many victories for her. As always, I'll be pulling for her!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Happy National Championship Game Day!

A year ago, I was so stressed out about our Ducks being in the National Title game. The victory over Florida State in the Rose Bowl was awesome, but then there was that long wait for a match-up against Ohio State. There were suspensions and endless commentary and then the game itself got out of hand early.

It was no fun. I'm sure if we'd won I'd be nostalgic about the whole thing. But we lost. So, this bowl season I really didn't care all that much. Even after that oh-so-painful, triple-overtime, Alamo Bowl loss, I was like, "Meh. It's just the Alamo Bowl." It might have actually been harder if Vernon Adams hadn't gotten hurt, if we had continued to roll making me wonder, what if Adams had been healthy all season? Could we have made the playoffs with just a loss against Michigan State? But Adams got hurt, and Oregon's second string drop off is Grand-Canyon-Lethal.

So, tonight I'll sit back and watch Clemson and Alabama after getting the kids to bed. I'll root against the SEC and enjoy the spectacle. This season I've realized that sometimes it's a whole lot easier not to have a duck in the fight.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Oregon Football, Jameis Winston, and Institutional Handling of Sexual Assault Accusations

Jeff Gross/Getty Images 
While basking in the last few minutes of the Oregon victory over Florida State in the first college play-off game, I posted this article from The Nation: A Reality of Their Own: Jameis Winston, Rape and Seminole Fandom at Florida State. I was proud of Oregon's win, but I also felt so relieved because finally the good guys won.

Then, as the Ducks celebrated, they were criticized for chanting "No Means No" to the rhythm of the Seminole war chant. Coach Helfrich stated these players would face discipline and although I haven't heard what discipline would be given, it's ironic that these players, who were celebrating a victory by rubbing an opponent's face (not very sportsman-like) and weren't likely providing a display of support for Winston's victim, will face more formal discipline than Winston ever will.

I wish I could say these players, and the Oregon fans who also chanted "No Means No," were providing a thoughtful critique of FSU's mishandling of rape accusations and their use of a racist chant, but in this testosterone charged college football bowl game atmosphere, this was likely more fueled by alcohol and adrenaline than political commentary.

Still, at Oregon, students and student athletes are well-aware of what sexual assault accusations look like and how they can be handled. U of O students protested and forced the hand of administration to  act on sexual assault charges brought against three U of O basketball players. Just like the Winston case, the district attorney never brought charges, but that is when the athletic department and University stepped in. Not only were these three players were dismissed from the team, they were later suspended from Oregon for as long as the victim attended.

Our colleges and universities and their associated athletic programs have a great deal to learn about how to create safe campuses for women, but at least U of O is moving in the right direction. Once again, go Ducks!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Multitasking While Watching the 2014 US Open

I've always dreamed that for a year I would follow the tennis tour, go to all four major and write about tennis. If anyone would like to fund this venture, hit me up, but for now, just a few thoughts as I watch Djokovic v. Murray after a long day (we took 215 students to a Dodger game).

It's the second set. It's been back and forth, but Murray is looking strong in this second set. Cut to: Amelie Mauresmo in the stands with an emphatic fist-pump after a Murray winner. She's coaching Murray? That's all kinds of awesome. Which got me wondering about some other women's tennis players. So, Gabriella Sabatini, according to, has a perfume line and cycles to stay in shape. She's a few years older than me and looks amazing. Jennifer Capriati is on twitter @JenCapriati, and Monica Seles still reminds me of Celine Dion.

And how are the men holding up? Well, Mats Wilander, Stephan Edberg and Bjorn Borg look so much older than I expected but in a dignified kind of way.

Now, back to the match: another tiebreaker!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Escape to Brazil for World Cup

After losing my mom a few weeks ago, sports has provided a wonderful escape. My Dodgers pitched a no-hitter (thanks for the edit, Matt Rose), the French Open ended, Wimbledon started, and the World Cup is in full swing. David and I visited Rio a few years ago and it is a beautiful place for this beautiful game. Thank you to all of these athletes for the much needed distraction, but to Luis Suarez, come on. Even The Boss says there's no biting in sports.

  Bruce Springsteen -- Hey Suarez, There's No Biting In Sports!!!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Farewell to March...

For a sports fan March is a glorious time of year and this past weekend was the perfect example of this.

A few weeks ago perfect brackets awaited the chaos, but now, with tattered brackets in hand, we had the Elite Eight games for the men's NCAA tournament as well as the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight games for the women's tournament to enjoy. Two weeks into the tournament, every team has a story and with close games and continued upsets, every game held heartbreak and triumph. This is what win or go home is all about. This is what happens when every possession and every shot counts.

And then, on this last day of March, Major League Baseball opened its season. After an overseas opening day for the Dodgers and Diamondbacks, top pitchers took to the mound in ballparks all over the league. Overlooking gorgeous outfields of green and flawless infield of dirt, every team started their season with the possibility of winning it all.

And now it is April. The Final Four games will close out the college basketball season, and soon stories will emerge from Major League Baseball of teams over and underachieving, of aging ball players like Jeter and new stars like Trout and Puig. This Dodgers fan will remain optimistic, but I know it's a long time before October.

March ends, and spring and summer stretch out before us. Filled with possibility I will embrace this one shining moment while I can.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Free Throws

After Oklahoma State hoops player, Marcus Smart, went into the stands a couple of weeks ago I've been thinking about crowds, and fans, and all the indiscretions that people get away with at sporting events. And since I'm working on a high school memoir, I went back to the early nineties, to this moment in the Crook County High School gym: my least favorite place to play in all of Central Oregon.

Free Throws
I stand at the line, find the center and press the toe of my high top to the edge. I take my three dribbles and lift the heels of my feet in little steps like I always do. I spin the ball to my fingertips, set, shoot, and drain the first of two free throws.

I step away from the line.

That’s when I hear someone from the crowd yell, “Connie Chung.”

I freeze. The sweat chills on my skin. I forget the score. I want to peer over my shoulder, to rewind the audio and listen again to make sure I really just heard that. With my ears piqued, I hear laughter from the crowd, and then silence. Then I hear it again. “Connie Chung” in that sing-songy way that crowds chant names. But it’s not a crowd. It’s just one voice. Then the giggles again.

I step to back up to the line and the referee bounces me the ball. I line up my toe and on that first dribble I wonder if someone is really saying that to me. I’m not sure. All I do know is that I’m the only one with an Asian name on the court. I’m the only Asian in the gym since Dad isn’t here. I shake my head. I dribble again.

Second dribble. I barely even look Asian since I'm only half, and don’t they know Connie Chung, the news anchor, is Chinese American and I’m Japanese? And my name’s in the program. Nori Nakada. Clearly Japanese, not Chinese. Why can’t people even be racist right?

My third dribble echoes in the silence of the gym. At least no one is joining in.

I take a deep breath and it’s there again, “Connie Chung.” The laughter again.

I take a second deep breath. I never do that. I never break my free-throw shooting routine, the one I took on in middle school and haven’t changed since. The one I’ve used to shoot over 90% from the line all through high school.

I stare through the net at the back of the rim and suddenly want to cry. I study the orange metal, feel the ball heavy in my palm, bend my knees and shoot. Don’t think. Just shoot. Rely on all that muscle memory.

I shoot, watch the ball arch through the silence, and I swishes right through. Figures. Another stereotype. The model minority.