CFL Football

Football all day tomorrow. From 1000 till 1630 Pacific time. No post.

I love the CFL. Always have. I know it isn’t the NFL, what with their athletic prowess, money and hype. One of my sons is an ardent Sea-Hawks fan and there is nothing I like better than to roost him with the: “C’mon, tell me son, how can any team not get ten yards in 4 downs.” He just shrugs now. Then again the Grey Cup or Coupe de Gris is over 100 years old. Vince Lombardi? 51 years now I do believe. 

                                                                                Upper body of a bald man with a large moustache.  He is in a military uniform with several medals pinned to his left chest.

Earl Grey donated the Cup in 1909 – for Rugby initially (pics by Wikimedia)

I am an Argos fan but they sucked this year and missed the playoffs. So, being a wet coaster I have to cheer for the BC Lions – to win the west. If they lose tomorrow, I’ll have to switch allegiance to the East representative because I hate the Stampeders – they have the ugliest uniforms in the CFL, except of course for the Al’s ferry like star-dust fluttering light grey uniforms that they sometimes wore this year. And only in the CFL could one possibly see a western team – Edmonton Eskimos (my apologies to SJWs) – win the East Division and represent that region in the Grey Cup or Coupe de Gris. This year there is a remote possibility that the Edmonton Eskimos (my apologies again to those SJWs out there) could meet Calgary in the final. Something about a cross over rule I do believe.

Enjoy your Sunday.

I know where I’ll be. 

Go Lions Go!

Cheers 

SJ

COP: Final(ly)

Between Sidney, BC and Ottawa On, I have been actively involved in coaching minor hockey and Little League baseball for over 13 years.  Yet, the Sidney experience was unique and one that I doubt I will ever be part of again.

Volunteerism is essential for the fabric of any small community and especially minor sports.  Even larger cities such as Toronto and Ottawa depend a great deal on the selfless acts of its citizens to build a sense of community and neighborhood pride within the monolithic confines of a metropolis.  Yet sometimes the best intentions fail. Why? Why were we successful when many other associations that I have been part of bicker and fight to their own self-destruction?  Is it poor leadership? Jealousy? Self-gratification? Power? Who knows. Perhaps they lose sight of the reasons they are part of a team in the first place.  Perhaps they have lost their peripheral vision and are blind to the enormous talent and knowledge pool that a group of individuals can bring to the table.  Perhaps they have lost sight of their goals.

I feel that this experience is analogous to the business model of the “coach and the high performance team”.  Here we had a group of individuals who were all professionals in their chosen fields.  Yet privately we were all inconspicuous, shy; unsure of ourselves; the only common thread was being involved in the personal well-being and development of our sons’ and daughter’s through athletics.   No one knew one another very well, none of us were part of the league’s inner sanctum.  Yet most of us were actively involved as volunteer coaches and managers and understood the value and merits of effective teamwork.  We also believed in our community and in having fun.

In this case there was no one individual who assumed a leadership role.  Our dream, our vision was an intangible. It was our coach.  The “Field of Dreams” was our collective goal, our only goal.  No one person had to articulate it for us.  It was omnipresent; the functional side of the triangle and cohesive glue that held us together and kept us on target.  In effect our coach encapsulated all that was good about this endeavor and about us as individuals.  We, as individual I’s became a collective “we” and as a result became a high performance team.  Our individual knowledge was pooled, and managed, and focused to make our dream a reality.

I never gave the concept of a knowledge base much thought during this endeavour. No one asked me if I was practicing knowledge transfer or understood complexity theory, or high performance teamwork, as I was digging out the septic field for our new clubhouse.  In some respects the fundamental baseline of knowledge sharing is an intangible in itself.  But by understanding its principals and enormous potential can one fully grasp the considerable talent out there waiting to be tapped and harvested.  The only thing missing may be a vision or a good coach or the external forces necessitating change.

Being less pragmatic and hierarchical in dealing with people has captured my imagination and holds great promise. I can see its merits and potential in coaching, in running a league executive, in business or in any endeavour involving a diverse group of individuals.  The huge bureaucracy that I was part of at National Defence was anathema to a knowledge sharing environment as that experienced in Sidney. Things run at a snail’s pace.  Nevertheless even in my own small directorate there was a bevy of talent waiting to be tapped.  A group of individuals with tacit knowledge as varied and as rich as the knowledge base in our “Field of Dreams project.  All one had to do was to be cognizant that it exists.   Then create a knowledge rich environment that feeds high performance teamwork.  Establish the vision, the coach.  Enthusiasm, motivation, self confidence and commitment will follow suit.  Morale will increase, an upsurge in innovation will occur and ……………………..Life will be good.

 

COP Part 4

We had addressed the political side of the equation.  Next we held a number of informal meetings at our local pub to pool our resources.  Besides beer, we had a number of things in common.  We shared the same vision, we were focused and we were committed.  Shared values were essential traits if we were going to fulfill our dream.  We were pumped, invigorated and willing to sacrifice our time no matter how long it took.  And, surprisingly, we all got along.  Little did we know at the time just how much commitment and grunt work it was going to take.   As it turned out we had an enormous wealth of talent and knowledge within our group.  Tom, the master carpenter, had many friends in the trades.  Wayne, who managed the local home improvement center, was willing to assume the role of project manager.  Peter, a landscape architect volunteered to come up with conceptual drawings and plans; and Len, who practiced civil law, agreed to examine all of the local statutes and governance issues.  I was responsible for fund raising and general all round scrounger.  But everyone had a role to play – from finances, accounting, and sponsorship, to volunteer coordinator and public awareness.  In reality, we had formed a knowledge rich, high performance team – a “community of practice”.

Leadership among us was never an issue.   If anything the vision assumed a lifelike presence of its own accord.  In essence, an intangible became our leader, our driving force, steering us down a common path.  Our “Field of Dreams” had forged a bond between ten individuals, transforming us from a single entity; a group of  “I’s , into a collective “We”.  In our personal lives at least, the group dynamic that had been created by our collective sense of community and the strength of strong inter-personal relationships had stroked our self awareness and reinforced our sense of well being – of being alive.  We were in a process of “becoming” part of a larger picture that instilled a sense of “belonging” to something much bigger than ourselves – the community in which we lived.  In essenence what we had was a “Knowledge Base”.  We were able to link our individual talents together as we were focused toward one underlying goal – our “Field of Dreams”

Word of our predicament spread quickly around the small community.  A casual conversation between Ted, Wayne and an old man sitting beside a cop at a local donut shop revealed that a 10-acre parcel of land adjacent to the airport buffer zone might be available for a sub lease arrangement.  It turned out that the land was hardly used. The aircraft landing spooked the Guernsey’s that grazed the fields.  They were having great difficulty milking.  Our lawyer checked it out.  It was a credible arrangement.  Ted, with two other councilors sympathetic to our plight, passed a resolution at city hall and a 25 year lease was arranged with the owner.  Things were beginning to take on a life of their own.   Peter the architect came up with professional drawings based upon the 10 acre parcel of land.  Lo and behold our vision of a two diamond facility suddenly became five – enough room to accommodate Little League, a Babe Ruth senior ball park, as well as the girl’s softball.  “Go big or go home” as the saying goes – why not.  Peter came up with a “hub and spoke” configuration, the centerpiece being a two-story clubhouse, canteen, offices, washrooms and an equipment storage area.   Each diamond would branch out from the center.  Between the fences, picnic, playground and “Jungle Jim” areas were planned for the families.  A batting cage, pitching mounds, trees, bushes etc were all accounted for.  Without going into all the dirty details, suffice to say, Wayne’s project management skills became engaged very quickly.  His experience as a contractor and his knowledge of the various building suppliers around Victoria, proved invaluable.  And the cows started milking again!

Expenses were formidable.  Peter knew of a golf course designer who was willing to do all of the grading irrigation and fencing work for us but at a cost of $25,000, plus materials.   We knew it wasn’t going to be cheap.   Although many of the contractors that were hired used volunteer labour,- us – we were on the hook for all of the materials. These costs were significant.  But we applied for and received a Sports BC grant worth over $300,000.

A plan was developed to raise additional cash.  At our monthly pub-fests, imagination ran rampant.  Booze in moderation can be a wonderful creative stimulant.  The ideas that came out of our group were innovative to say the least.  We sold singles, doubles, triples and home runs with the promise of having the donator’s statistics permanently posted of the clubhouse wall.  That raised about $10,000.  We designed and sold advertisement space on the outside fences for $1500 apiece with a five-season exposure contract.  Over 105 signs were sold to various small businesses and corporations around the Capital Region District.  Bruce, our resident sign maker, charged $250.00 per sign that garnered another $130,000.00.  Scoreboard advertising was sold.  The Sidney Rotary Club donated $50,000.00 with an agreement that the facility be named “Rotary Park”.  Our biggest private donor was Trev Deeley, who owned the Harley Davidson rights for Canada.  He gave us $50,000.  Unbelievable, with the Sports BC grant, we had raised over $540,000.00.

There were a thousand good ideas and a thousand bad ones.  The clubhouse? Well we built it ourselves under the supervision of Tom and other tradesmen.   The trade’s programme at Camosun College was approached and they agreed to do all of the plumbing work for us at no cost if we paid for the materials. A retired stonemason, who just happened to be at the site looking around one Saturday afternoon, volunteered to build 10 cinderblock dugouts, if we supplied the blocks.  It was that kind of situation.  And the playing fields themselves were an enormous challenge.  Relentless raking, rock picking, and countless hours of backbreaking work taxed our patience and calloused our hands.  But with a bit of humour, beer and a barbeque, we got through it.

Wayne was a busy man. We all were.  We had organized an army of volunteers. We generated interest in all the papers and local TV.  But we finished it and had our official opening 01 May 1993. Almost three years of work – every weekend, many weeknights.  Our spouses were not amused.  Over time some of our core members lost interest and bowed out but a small cadre of men and women remained committed.  We had many arguments and fights that were fuelled by jealousy and innuendo.  Our local “wicked witch of the west”, one of many antagonists, and fuelled by jealousy and spite, tried every trick in the book to scuttle our efforts.  Even pulling a full-page ad in the local newspaper alleging fraudulent bookkeeping practices.  That alone held us back for a few months.  Not to be deterred, the strength lay in our numbers, our confidence and trust in one another and in our commitment to stay on track and on target.  There were many pitfalls to overcome and hurdles to jump however collectively we supported each other and forged ahead.  In the end we had a first class facility that was rated by Sports BC as one of the best baseball facilities in the province for minor sports.  The complex’s value, other than the land, was assessed at over $2.7M. We spent approximately $600,000.00.  Success!  William Patrick Kinsella, the author of “Shoeless Joe” presented all of us with autographed copies of his book.   In 1994, Sports BC, awarded Ted and the team the honour of “Sportsman of the Year”.

 

Final tomorrow…..SJ

 

COP: Part 3

No one really knows how the dream or vision came about for Sidney Little League.   Suffice to say, the vision seemed to appear to most of us who were involved with the league all at once.   One thing was certain.  External forces and pressures entirely beyond the control of the league arose that threatened to scuttle an important aspect of the quality of life for the families of Sidney and North Saanich.   It turned out that the land that our fields were on were part of a Federal Department of Transport buffer zone for the international airport.  That the Federal government had leased the land to the local Army, Navy and Air Force Association for services rendered during the Second World War was of no consequence.  Airport expansion and increased air traffic dictated for security and safety reasons, the integrity of the buffer zone remain intact.   Sidney Little League had two years to vacate.  The league executive, such as it was, attempted to lobby municipal and provincial representatives for support but to no avail.  Both levels of government washed their hands of the issue claiming jurisdictional responsibilities that were out of their control.   Consequently, Sidney Little League was cut adrift.  Many of the special interest group vied for the land for many reasons, none of which included an area for the community’s youth. 

At the end of season wrap-up, the bad news was conveyed to all that were present.   Like most meetings of this nature, the parents were conspicuous by their absence.   Remarkable considering the league had a registration of over 450 boys and girls.   After all, this was the main event – the venue where the verbal dukes fly as all of the past years’ dirty laundry comes out.   And like reading the letters to the editor in our local newspaper, I always looked forward to witnessing the cavalcade of insults and jeering and ego positioning that was the normal fare at these kind of meetings.   This time however, a deafening silence filled the air, a somber, sickening feeling much like a death shroud waiting for the corpse to materialize   You could have heard a pin drop.  “What’s the alternative” someone finally shouted.  “Is there a Plan B” someone else added.   The President of the league, our leader, shrugged his shoulders in resignation, added nothing, and then adjourned the meeting.   The executive left the room en masse.

I was dumbfounded and gobsmacked. How I love that word. No alternative. No Plan B, or C or D for that matter.  They must have known something like this was going to happen.   My eyes caught Wayne, my neighbor, across the room, arms folded and fixated at the now vacant head table.  Ted, beside him was shaking his head, as witnessing some tragic event unfold.  Hey, it’s only a Little League for heavens sake.   But to some of these people the loss of their playing fields and ultimately the Little League organization meant an enormous blow to their sense of community.  The fields were more than a playing field, but a meeting place, a community focal point, a catalyst, and the genesis for a host of memories that would last a lifetime.

Wayne, Ted and I, were the last to leave the hall.   We all seemed to echo the same thoughts.  So what now?   Two more years, that’s it? No, there has to be a way around this.  Collectively we came to the same conclusion.   Let’s see what can come out of this setback.   Perhaps we could find another field or share resources with another sports venue.  The very next day, Ted called for an impromptu meeting of the minds at a local eatery.   When I arrived I was surprised that a number of the fathers and mothers who were present, most of whom I had seen around the fields but had not really known that well.    The concept of a new baseball complex came up almost by rote.  Surprisingly Wayne and I were thinking the very same thing.    In fact, we discussed the idea the night before over a few beers in the backyard. 

Beer flowed and wings devoured as we were all thinking the same thing.   A new baseball complex for the community would be a difficult and challenging task when one considers the nature of the politics of Sidney and North Saanich.  Land was scarce.  The only available fields were either provincially or federally controlled or privately owned and farmed.  Not to be dissuaded, we agreed to look into the matter and see if we could come up with a number of options.   While nobody said it outright, a vision was beginning to take shape in our minds and capture the imagination of all who were present.   A new baseball facility for Sidney that was bigger and better than anything the municipality could ever have conceived.   Exciting stuff!  But how on earth were we going to pull it off?  None of us were even on the league executive.

“I use not only the brains I have, but all that I can borrow” Woodrow Wilson

About a week later we all met again at our local pub: around ten individuals, all with the same thought on our minds.  A new baseball complex for the community.   We were motivated, enthused, focused and willing to make whatever sacrifices were necessary to achieve the aim.   As we sat there discussing various alternatives and strategies, a game plan was slowly emerging.   Apparently Ted, himself a closet politician, had attended a council meeting at Sidney’s city hall the night before.  He had lobbied the group for answers and support to explore all of the options to maintain the Little League presence in the area.    He also approached North Saanich’s council to garner their thoughts on the matter – but to no avail.  Both councils felt the issue was out of their hands; that there were more pressing matters to address; and that the league could transfer its charter to a neighboring district. 

It would appear that little help was forthcoming from our elected representatives.  At the same time the league executive had accepted their fate and were exploring their options, all of which were unacceptable to us.   As a group, we wanted to keep the league a permanent part of the Sidney and North Saanich community landscape.  Almost immediately a plan emerged and we sprang into action.  Municipal elections were coming up.  We would get one of our own elected.  Ted, the consummate “A” type personality was our obvious choice.  He not only ran and won a seat but he also challenged and won the President’s position on the Little League executive.  In fact, the key positions of President, Vice, Treasurer, Equipment manager were now filled by members of our group.   Niceties aside our aim was to boot the old executive out and fill the key positions of the league executive such that we could harness as much energy as possible from all of the moms and dads out there.   The executive had to be committed as well.  As far as the council was concerned two other individuals who were sympathetic to our cause also won.  Thus we had a majority 3 vs 5 votes in our favour in the event an issue arose that affected our plans.  But we had made many enemies.  Loyalties to the old guard were deep, and one person in particular, would turn out to be a proverbial thorn in our sides.

Part 4 tomorrow’s post…..  SJ

COP Part 2

Sidney Little League was one of those organizations straight out of a Norman Rockwell picture.  Volunteer moms and dads ran the league but with a laissez-faire attitude.  There were two dirt bare lots thinly disguised as baseball fields that were donated by the local but now defunct serviceman’s club.  The chain link backstops had turned reddish brown over the years with fencing that was so full of holes its utility was more for show than anything purposeful that the designer may have had in mind.   The clubhouse was dilapidated: a small canteen manned by matronly red neck moms with cigarettes dangling from the corners of their mouths – an establishment even the pigeons avoided.   An announcer’s booth equipped with a sound system that squealed and stuttered an ear piercing tinnitus tone like an air raid siren that had seen better days.  But it did drown out the traffic from the Pat Bay Highway that was just a stones throw over the center field fences.   And to make matters worse, both fields were in the direct flight path of runway 31 of Victoria’s international airport.

First impressions were mixed.  Used to seeing and playing on better, more sophisticated digs; the fields left one with a gnawing sense of disillusionment.  Sixty bucks for this!  Yet, the faces on my 8-year-old twin boys said it all.  Eager and excited, their nervous laughter overshadowed my feelings of disappointment.  They were as anxious as I was but for different reasons.  To show their skills and play – play, that operative word that somehow gets lost in the shuffle of adult’s great expectations.   But before long we were on the field.  I say we, as I was coerced into coaching one of the teams with one of the other parents.   I must have looked the part as I was wearing a baseball cap.   Volunteering: that annoying word that scares the beejeezus out of us yet holds together the fabric and life of any small community or neighborhood.

1990 was a watershed season for the Sidney Little League organization.  Not for the play on the field but for the group of people that the season brought together. There was Ted, my partner in crime on the threadbare, splintered coaches’ bench.  Ted was an arbitration manager for the BC health services department; Wayne, a manager for a local Revelstoke franchise and my neighbor; Cliff, the roofer; Bruce the sign maker; Neil, a sales manager for CHEK TV (now CH), Terry and his green batting machine, a tailor’s nightmare; Len, the lawyer; Peter, the architect; Lori, the nurse; Susan, the grade school teacher; Bob, the Dean of Education at UVic; Tom, the master carpenter and Eric, the local accountant; Sarah,. the antagonist and me, a Naval Officer.  There were many other players, coaches and league executive, who all had a role to play, some good and some bad, but all having a part to play as antagonist or protagonist in a play that was to unfold and have a run of over 3 years.

 “The very essence of leadership is you have to have a vision” Theodore Hesburgh

They say that all successful ventures must be driven be a vision, a mission statement, a target in which to focus the collective energy of a group, corporation, and business.   Does the vision rest solely on an individual’s dream or concept or can it be generated by the collective energy and tacit knowledge, experiences, and understanding of a group of like-minded individuals? (Bennis, Parikh, Lessem)  I believe that external pressures generate a vision that fuels action to produce results.  In this case, no one individual assumed a leadership role. The vision led us.

Part 3 tomorrow…..SJ