Tennis has not only given me much, it has taught me much. It's no accident that tennis uses the language of life, service, advantage, break, fault, love; the lessons of tennis are the lessons of maturity. –Andre Agassi
I thought it was the greatest scam going.
My high school administrators allowed athletes to leave for an athletic study hall during the last hour of the school day to begin practice early. So, by 2:30 pm every afternoon, I was on the familiar concrete tennis court with white lines, and nets that were probably a few inches too low, ready to play the only sport I’ve ever really loved to play.
On the days when nobody else showed up early, I had the coach all to myself. His name was Phil Gradoville. His personality was an odd mixture of snark and stoicism, but you never doubted that he cared about you, or the game. He wasn’t the type of coach who pushed you if you didn’t show the desire to be pushed, but it you wanted to improve, he was there for you.
On the days I showed up before other players, Coach worked with me on my volleys, feeding me one ball after another. My body type wasn’t exactly conducive for tennis, so it made sense for me to try to end points early. He knew that.
“Don’t swing at volleys,” he would say. “Punch them … like this.” He would show me the proper motion – no more than six inches of racquet movement – and when I listened to him, my volleys sprang to life. And since this was before the modern advancements in equipment, the serve-and-volley game was still a winning strategy for those who had the hands for it.
So that’s what we worked on – my serve, and volleys.
Coach Gradoville placed tennis ball canisters in various places of the service boxes and told me to hit them. At first, I couldn’t pull it off, even with a full basket of balls, but eventually I improved to the point that I could hit them several times per basket. Coach was teaching me the importance of hitting my spot on command, so I could charge the net while my opponent was in a defensive position.
“You need to be inside the service line by the time you hit your volley,” he would say. “Don’t get too close to the net though because that makes you susceptible to the lob – especially from a player who is on the defensive, but try to get a couple of feet inside the service line and then meet the ball.”
I didn’t know it at the time, but this was a life lesson. All of life is about proper positioning. If you talk to the right people, and contemplate what they say, then take action, you’ll find you are exactly where you need to be when the right moment comes along. I only wish I had realized this sooner.
When tennis practice began officially, Coach had the team work on other fundamentals. And I benefited from all of them. In fact, playing the serve-and-volley game, as well as sticking to the other fundamentals Coach taught, helped me transition from hack to good player status. I was never great, but I was as good as I could be and that made me feel comfortable in my own skin for the first time in my life.
As the overweight kid who simply wanted to blend in, I rarely did. Instead, I picked up size-related nicknames: Big Guy, Big Man, and later, Slow-Mo (“because you look like you are in slow motion when you run”). Most of the nicknames faded over time, but they did their damage – driving an already shy kid even further inside himself.
I worked hard during the summers leading into my junior and senior years to get into the best shape possible, and as I look back on those photos now, I realize I was in the best shape of my life. But the track and field coach still wasn’t going to come calling. In my mind, I was still the same kid who didn’t want to poke his head into reality – fearful of what new nickname might be waiting for me.
Over time though, tennis, and Coach Gradoville, changed that. As I implemented what he taught, my tennis skills improved. My intuition on the court did, too. I ran down balls I had no business running down because I could anticipate where an opponent was going to hit his shots before he actually did. I made volleys and half volleys that would satisfy the best of players. And to my surprise, and delight, I wasn’t Slow-Mo on the court. I was Normal-Mo – maybe even Fast-Mo.
That’s why this article in the Wall Street Journal nearly ruined me, in the best way possible. It’s a story about a high school tennis coach named Ward Gay from Massachusetts who made a tremendous impact on his kids over the course of 40 years. He passed away recently, but his legacy lives on in those boys.
I know how that feels.
Coach Gradoville passed away twenty plus years ago after health complications set in from a car accident. I took time off work to attend his funeral. The church was packed with former players and students. Many wore green (the color of the school where he was teaching when he died) blazers to show their support. We mourned, and celebrated, en masse.
And every year around this time, during the US Open tennis tournament, I celebrate and mourn all over again.
Five years ago, I created an author/journalist FB page, but I never developed it – partially because I didn’t want to have a page with eight ‘Likes’ that never grew, and partially because I’m more of a Twitter person.
But this old dog is trying to learn new tricks.
So, here’s a link to my new author/journalist page: Lee Warren. I’ll be discussing the publishing industry and the topics I write about (faith, sports, heritage, singleness). I’ll also be sharing my publishing news, links to articles I’ve written, upcoming book signings, etc. And I hope to field questions from new writers.
I would appreciate it if you would stop by to ‘Like’ the page when you get a chance.
When I announced this on my personal Facebook page this weekend, I didn’t know what to expect, but several dozen of you have already stopped by and a few of you have even shared the link with your friends. Thank you!
I hit the road again this past week, covering a task force called Heartland Interstate Strategy (HIS) that is working to facilitate church plants along the 800-mile stretch of Interstate 29, from Kansas City to Winnipeg.
As a journalist, I’m always looking for a moment that defines a person, a movement or an event. On this particular trip, it occurred on Prospect Hill in Sioux City, Iowa.
Just as the rain let up on Wednesday morning, our bus pulled off I-29 in Sioux City and wound through a neighborhood toward Prospect Hill (where you can see into Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota). I was anxious to see the monument honoring the work of three Presbyterian missionaries named Rev. Sheldon Jackson, Rev. T. H. Cleland and Rev. J. C. Elliott who looked across the great expanse and prayed for “the great unchurched areas” on that very spot in 1869.
On Wednesday, nearly 150 years later, members of the HIS task force stood in that same spot and prayed a similar prayer.
“Lord, you called us to a purpose – to go and make disciples of all nations,” prayed Dr. Leo Endel, the executive director of the Minnesota Wisconsin Baptist Convention. “And there are vast groups of people west of us, just like 150 years ago, that do not know your son as their Savior and you have brought us to this place today, not by accident, but by calling.”
A group of maybe 25 Southern Baptists joined Dr. Endel in prayer, standing on the shoulders of three Presbyterian missionaries who came before them. I sensed that heaven was applauding as kingdom work became front and center.
I’ll post a link to the article once it goes live on the newspaper’s website.
Speaking of links, I’ve been updating links to the Articles page here on my website and have come across several I hadn’t been aware of. Since I write for a newspaper within the Baptist Press network, I never know where my work will end up within that association of publications.
Here is an example. I wrote a story for “The Pathway” newspaper in Missouri recently about a vision tour that the Missouri Baptist Bikers Fellowship took of the I-29 corridor. Here’s a link to that story: Mo. Baptist Bikers Fellowship: ‘We need to overwhelm the north with our presence.’ That same article ended up on the Baptist Press website: Baptist bikers ‘spy out the land’ for ministry. And on Townhall.com: Baptist bikers ‘spy out the land’ for ministry.
I don’t have any news yet about the re-release date of my Christmas devotional for families, “The Experience of Christmas,” but I should have some soon. Also should be able to share the new cover with you.
As a freelance writer who has seen his pool of magazines and newspapers shrink over the past three years because of the public’s expectation of free online news, I’ve been watching a new crowdfunding startup for freelancer journalists called Beacon Reader, and I’m wondering if it will be the answer.
The model is pretty simple. Readers support one journalist they follow/enjoy with a $5.00 monthly subscription fee paid directly to Beacon Reader, and the reader gains access to everything that writer, and every other writer on the site, has written or will continue to write. Currently, the website says the company has 80 journalists in 30+ countries.
Beacon Reader does take a 30% cut of the $5.00 subscription fee – a portion of which is paid out in bonuses for the best performing articles. With that said, journalists keep all rights to their work, so this really is a new model. And articles are ad-free, which is a welcome change from the flurry of floating, blinking, sneaky, embedded, intrusive ads we often see on news websites.
Writers are guaranteed 70% of each subscription fee and are paid montly, which, assuming Beacon Reader keeps up their end of the bargain, is a real benefit for freelancers who have no control over when a check is going to be cut under the old model.
For this new model to really work, the process largely relies on journalists to reach out to readers they have already built relationships with – people who know and trust their work and are willing to support it.
Will that work?
The model has already successfully funded quite a few journalists on the site. One project raised nearly $4,000 to fund a journalist who is reporting on Vietnam’s “invisible children.” Another raised over $9,000 to support a journalist who wants to write about acidic oceans. Another project raised nearly $1,000 for a journalist who is writing about South Korean culture.
The Huffington Post is trying to raise $40,000 on the Beacon Reader site over the next three weeks to fund a journalist for one year to report about what is going on in Ferguson, Missouri (to date, they have raised nearly $8,000).
Clearly some readers are willing to support journalists who write about topics they care about. But are there enough of those types of readers?
I just don’t know.
Here’s a recent video interview with co-founder, Adrian Sanders, about the business model. Regardless of whether you are a journalist, or a reader, I’d love for you to watch the video and then offer your opinion. If you are a freelance journalist, would you consider using the service? If you are a reader, would you support a journalist with $5.00 a month?
I was at a concert last Saturday night about an hour away from my home when the news broke about the death of Kevin Ward, Jr. at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, so I still had Jana Kramer songs running through my mind when I opened Twitter early Sunday morning before going to sleep.
I could hardly believe what I was reading – NASCAR driver Tony Stewart hit and killed Ward, a 20-year-old sprint car driver, in an on-track incident. Ward was upset with Stewart about a racing incident, so he got out of his wrecked vehicle while the race was under caution to show Stewart his displeasure the next time the cars came around the track. Tragically, Stewart struck and killed him.
No details were available Saturday night about Stewart’s intentionality, or lack thereof, but it didn’t take long for fans to choose sides, which I didn’t understand. A video of the incident surfaced and it seemed to drive an even deeper divide. National news pundits picked up on the story and by Sunday afternoon, it was all over the place.
Ontario County sheriff Philip Povero has repeatedly issued statements saying the accident is under investigation, but that no criminal charges were pending at this point. On Monday, Povero said, “At this time, there are no facts that exist that support any criminal behavior or conduct or any probable cause of a criminal act in this investigation.” He has since indicated that the investigation could take two weeks, or longer. It’s far more important to get the facts straight than it is to set an arbitrary timetable.
But that still hasn’t kept people from taking to Twitter to offer their opinions about Stewart’s intentionality, calling him a murderer – go ahead and search Twitter for “Tony Stewart” and “murder” and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
The truth is, none of us know what was going through Stewart’s mind as he made that lap under caution. Maybe he couldn’t see Ward and hit him accidentally. Maybe Stewart was trying to send Ward a message by getting close to him and he got closer than he intended. Or maybe the unthinkable happened. But referring to Stewart as a murderer without due process is a rush to judgment.
If you’ve followed my NASCAR writing over the years, then you’ll know I’m far from a Stewart apologist. He has inconsistent expectations from his competitors at times (screaming about opponents who block one week, and then wrecking half the field just a few weeks later while blocking). He is cocky, hot-headed and often shows a lack of respect for the print media (the same media who helps to spread the NASCAR gospel to the masses). But none of those traits make him a murder.
He’s also far more than just an abrasive personality.
In my NASCAR book, Racin’ Flat Out for Christ: Spiritual Lessons from the World of NASCAR, I include a section about Stewart's philanthropy. I tell a story about how he has helped long-time NASCAR driver Morgan Shepherd on numerous occasions.
Near the end of the 2011 season, Shepherd’s car was destroyed in an accident at Phoenix International Raceway. The aging veteran, who had limited sponsorship, had no idea how he would get the engine in shape for the next week, let alone put tires on the car (a set of tires in NASCAR costs roughly $2,000). He managed to repair the engine in time, and then Tony Stewart came calling, buying Shepherd two sets of tires so he could continue racing. It wasn’t the first time Stewart did that for Shepherd. It was Stewart’s way of honoring a driver who helped pave the way for the modern NASCAR era.
Stewart also has a foundation in which he raises funds to help care for children who have been diagnosed with critical or chronic illnesses, drivers who have been injured and at-risk animals. He won the 2010 NMPA Home Depot Humanitarian Award. USA Weekend once named him “Most Caring Athlete.” His “Prelude to the Dream” race has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity over the years. He has spent time at the Victory Junction Gang Camp and been part of the efforts of the Darrell Gwynn Foundation to give paralyzed people new wheelchairs. And from what I hear, that’s just a tip of the iceberg. He does much more of this type of work behind the scenes.
In other words, he’s not a coldhearted monster.
He does allow his emotions to get the best of him sometimes, and that may or may not have been the case last Saturday night. Only Tony knows. But until we have clear evidence that incriminates him, can we just let the legal process run its course? If you aren’t convinced you want to do so, then download the August 12 edition of the “Marty & McGee” podcast. Both of these journalists have been around the sport a long time, and they are both calling for the same thing.
Meanwhile, let’s pray for the Ward family. They buried their loved one Thursday and are hurting beyond words at this very moment.
Lee Warren is a freelance writer and editor who has written twelve non-fiction books, one novella and hundreds of articles for various newspapers and magazines as well as edited more than 50 books that currently appear in print. He's a fan of NASCAR, baseball, tennis, books, movies and coffee shops.