Thursday, December 19, 2013

Prayers for Laney, Her Family and Those Fighting For Her

It is human nature for us to feel sorry for ourselves when things are slightly less than perfect. Then somehow, some way you find something that reminds you of the truest meaning of life.

Early Wednesday morning my dog woke me up at an obscene time between 4 and 5 a.m. I took her outside. When I came back in I saw some students from Penn State’s Berks County Campus had asked me to re-tweet something encouraging people to pray for Laney—a Four Diamonds Child fighting for her life.

I re-tweeted it immediately. It is a small thing to do. That morning as I said some prayers I added some for Laney and her family, but I still did not know her story.

About two hours later I got an e-mail from my wife that was a post Laney’s mother had put on facebook. It was a story that struck her heart, and I dare say would strike a chord in every mother's soul.

It was heartbreaking, terrifying yet in an instant some of what Laney’s mother said were among the most beautiful things I have ever read:

Today we were told the worst news of our lives. Laney has 70% cancer cells in her blood. If they would treat the cancer the virus that she has would kill her. And if they treat the virus the cancer will kill her.

They gave her a couple days to a couple weeks to live.

My heart is breaking. I sit here looking at her face trying to remember every contour of it, I breathe deeply ...against her skin trying to always remember her smell. Every time she speaks I try to listen for the different way she says certain words so that I never forget. I keep putting my lips against her warm skin because I never want to forget how that feels. I'm devastated and I'm hoping that I will wake up from this nightmare.

We told Laney and she said she wanted to be the one to tell Kylee and Jacob. She told Jacob that when she's gone he is to be a good big brother to Kylee. And she thanked Kylee for being a great sister and her best friend. They all cried in each other's arms. I have never felt this type of pain in my life.

We will be taking her home on hospice tomorrow and will be trying to let her have as much fun as she can handle. We will watch her blow out her eighth birthday candles knowing that she won't have a ninth. We will also ask Santa to come early this year because Laney has been such a good girl. Please pray for Laney and our family. Please pray for a miracle. We will be spending every second with her till God decides he needs another beautiful angel up in heaven.

Her words are a testament, bearing witness to what a mother’s love can and should be for her child. If you are a parent you cannot read what she wrote and not be moved and not feel the warmth of tears rolling down your face. If you’ve ever sat in a hospital and watched a loved one knowing what is most likely inevitable you know some of what the Browns are feeling.

Laney is part of The Penn State IFC Dance Marathon family and that makes her part of the Penn State family. Penn State’s finest hour every year is THON—easily eclipsing all other triumphs. That is what WE ARE all about. The entire Penn State community pulling together raising millions of dollars so that the miracles we pray for today become routine cures tomorrow.

It is Laney’s story and the words of a mother facing heart-rending pain yet holding hope for faith in what is yet unseen that remind us all what THON is truly about. Laney’s mother Jenn and her whole family hold onto faith in a miracle that many people she will never know and never meet are praying for even now.

That is why our students dance, that is why they stand on corners asking for change, that is why they spend an entire year so they can hold up a fund-raising total yet again that blows us all away.

It is all For The Kids—but also for the families as well. Jenn’s words about her daughter remind us of that.

But the words remain as a call to arms, as a challenge to push every day to raise money, to find cures, to ease the burden of the children and their families and to save lives.

That call is being answered every day by students at Penn State through THON and that is what WE ARE.

When you next pray please keep in mind a young girl and her family. Pray for a miracle that only the gentle hand of God can grant. But also pray for the students at Penn State and their yearly mission fighting for the children and families—people like Laney and her family.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Living The Dream

I coached at Penn State for 17 years and it was a unique place. The program stood apart in this regard: graduation rates for Black student-athletes and White student-athletes were equally high--both over 80% when the national average was around 50% overall. Across big-time college football Penn State's graduation rate equality was the exception, a huge exception.

Today 50 years after The March on Washington I was thinking about a passage from the eulogy I delivered for my father's Memorial Service. It captures what made the football program at Penn State special.
"The players that came here to Penn State, came here because here was Martin Luther King's dream. Here was a place where black kids and white kids could hold hands in a huddle, where we would all be given a chance -- an equal chance -- where they would be judged by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin, nor the way in which they prayed to their God. Bound by a common cause our differences would melt away."

The truth and dream Martin Luther King, Jr articulated 50 years ago today is a standard that we should hope we can measure up to every day.

As Julian Bond said last night on C-Span "Martin Luther King spoke to black people and white people in the common language of evangelical Christianity that they both understood."

The key point being that he spoke to all of us.....our challenge is to make sure we are all listening. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Bocce Memories & A Salute To Carm Cassese

Having an Italian last name does not necessarily mean one was born with a Pauline ball in your hand springing from the womb ready to bowl some Bocce. As a kid we played Bocce from time to time in the grass in Sunset Park along with other games like Horseshoes and everyone’s favorite the ever-dangerous/now outlawed Lawn Darts.

It wasn’t until 2008 and 2009 when I saw what real Bocce was all about. I went to Youngstown, Ohio to participate in Cardinal Mooney High School’s Football Camp. The day before the camp, they hosted an all-day Bocce Tournament. This was the big leagues.

The owner of The M.V.R. Carm Cassese ran an outstanding restaurant and it seemed like the whole family worked there. Outside they had six Bocce courts with finely crushed stone, almost like a dust. The courts were superb; even and consistent in the roll of the ball.

At that event every politician in town was there including U.S. Congressman Tim Ryan. The games were intense and competitive and it didn’t take long for me to realize that I was way out of my league. Playing in the grass at Sunset Park is one thing, this was something completely different.

It was a great day, but the highlight came that night.

After we were all eliminated we played one fun match. The other team was made up of Ohio State Head Coach Jim Tressel, Oklahoma Head Coach Bob Stoops, Arziona Defensive Coordinator Mark Stoops and ESPN Analyst Kirk Herbstreit. I was joined on our team by Nebraska Head Coach Bo Pelini, ESPN Analyst Todd Blackledge and MVR Owner Carm Cassese.

What started out as a game for fun quickly got very, very competitive. Jim Tressel was not going to lose if he could help it, but ultimately the owner Carm Cassese was the difference and our team won. The biggest complaint was that we had all the Italians stacked on one side.

It wasn’t that we had all the Italians, it was that we had the RIGHT Italian. This was after all his home court.

After the game we all sat down and talked football for another two hours while the Cassese family brought out plate after plate of pasta and sausage and every kind of sauce you could imagine. Each new dish was even better than the last one.

Sitting around with all those guys, talking football and eating all that food ranks among the best nights I ever had as a coach. Even though we competed against each other in the fall, this was a time when we put all that aside and got to know each other away from the stress of a big football game.

Sadly I learned that just two weeks ago Carm Cassese died of cancer. He will be missed by so many, many people. Every time I walked into the M.V.R. he’d come out and talk, and say hello and talk about my father. Despite his allegiance to Ohio State and Jim Tressel he always shared the respect he had for my father as a fellow Italian and for the way we ran our program.

Well I hope I said it to him enough and if not I certainly hope his family hears this; I had nothing but respect for Carm Cassese and his family and for the way they ran the M.V.R. I haven’t been in Youngstown in a while, but when I do get back out there I will stop in, have a big plate of pasta and, even though I do not drink, I will hoist and drink a glass of Italian Red Wine in his honor.





Friday, May 24, 2013

At Home Thrift Shop Finds

Thrift Shop--Poppin' Tags at Home

In the course of doing some Spring cleaning and going through an old tub of gear I found some cool old Penn State Football stuff. Each find triggers a memory that makes me laugh or in this case maybe even cry (the outcome of the January 1, 1979 Sugar Bowl was not exactly what PSU fans had wanted).

ABC's Keith Jackson still says that the 1979 Sugar Bowl between #1 Penn State and #2 Alabama (a 14-7 Alabama win) was the greatest game he ever called. That is pretty high praise and it is warranted. It was a phenomenal football game. Years later I can look back and be proud I was there to see it. Keep in mind that Keith Jackson did not call the 1987 Fiesta Bowl between Miami and Penn State a game TV Guide called the greatest bowl game ever televised (more on that on another date).

I did not actually cry when I saw this shirt but it did trigger a story. As we left the Superdome after the loss and walked onto a rainy New Orleans street my mother was sad. A few tears were in her eyes. Being an insenstive 10 year old boy I told my Mom that she shouldn't cry.

My mother looked at the rain and told me "Even God is crying."

There was no comeback for that one.

One funny note about the T-shirt--it appears that Alabama is actually matched up with UNC--given the Carolina Blue pants and helmet that Penn State Quarterback Chuck Fusina is wearing.

I have found a whole bunch of stuff so check back next Friday to see what turns up.