Friday, June 29, 2012

Donn Cabral, Olympian

Anytime TigerBlog finds himself in some big-time pressure situation in athletics, he always remembers what former men's lacrosse coach Bill Tierney always said about such moments: "Think of what you do best and do it."

Of course, for TB, such pressure situations are almost always in squash at lunchtime.

When TB plays lacrosse with the old guys, he's sort of at a loss in those situations, because there really is nothing that he does best as a lacrosse player.

As TB watched the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials last night, he couldn't help but think of another comment he heard Tierney say many times. In this case, Tierney always said that the round with the most pressure in the NCAA tournament was the quarterfinal round.

Win that, and you've accomplished something tangible simply by making the Final Four. Lose in the quarters and it leaves you with an empty feeling.

Combine those two issues - dealing with pressure and the emptiness of coming oh-so-close - and you have the Olympic Trials.

Reaching the Olympics is the culmination of a lifelong dream - and of a lifetime training. To be an Olympian in swimming or track or any other individual sport requires personal sacrifice and near-100% focus on the task at hand, or else there is little chance of achieving the goal.

And even if you were a medal favorite and you come away empty from the Games themselves, you're still an Olympian, a distinction that can never be taken away. The opportunity to march in the opening ceremonies and the opportunity to be part of the Olympic experience as a whole has to be wild enough all by itself.

TB cannot imagine what the woman who faded at the end of the 5,000 and missed out on the Olympics by an eyelash is thinking right now.

He cannot imagine waking up the next day and realizing that you came so close to all of it, only to let it get away right at the end.

All of this brings us to Donn Cabral.

Way back in the fall, Cabral set some lofty goals for himself, culminating in winning the NCAA steeplechase championship and making the Olympics in the same event.

TB doesn't claim to know a lot about track and field, but his best guess is that Cabral really pushed it, going through cross country, indoor track and then outdoor track and then almost immediately to the Olympic Trials.

And there he was, with three laps to go, in fourth place.

What could he possibly have been thinking at that moment? What could any of them?

Cabral had already run the Olympic A qualifying standard, but then again so did most of his serious competition in the race. In other words, he needed a top three finish to make it to London.

Watching the race on TV, TB came away with even more of an appreciation for how grueling it is to run a 3,000-meter race that also includes 28 hurdles and seven water jumps. And how it can slip away with one, well, slip, on a hurdle or a water jump.

And each time the runners land in the water pit, their shoes get soaked, making it even more difficult to keep going around the track.

By the second to last lap, it started to be clear that Cabral had little to worry about in terms of making the Olympics. By the last lap, he was locked in second place, and that's where he finished.

It was an amazing accomplishment, to go through the physical pounding of three collegiate seasons and the mental pounding of a senior thesis and finishing up at Princeton and then still be able to compete on an international level to make the Olympic team.

For a little historical perspective, Cabral is the first Princeton men's athlete to qualify for the Olympics in a running race since J. Coard Taylor ran the 400 and William Stevenson ran on the 4x400 relay (winning gold) way back in 1924 in Paris.

When it was over, Cabral was interviewed on TV along with the other two Americans to qualify.

When he was asked about his long year in getting ready for the Trials, his response was simple: "I love to race."

Well, he gets to race some more this summer. On the biggest stage in the sport.

Donn Cabral is an Olympian.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Corporal Steven R. Koch

TigerBlog was stopped at a red light on Route 1 yesterday when he noticed the little message on the license plate holder of the car in front of him.

Usually, it'll say something like the name of a college or a car dealer or something like that. This one didn't seem much different, as it said "KIA," which TB originally took to mean the name of the South Korean car company.

As TB read across, though, he saw it actually said "KIA in Afghanistan," with the name of Corporal Steven R. Koch. And the date: March 3, 2008.

TigerBlog had never heard of Corporal Steven R. Koch before yesterday. When the light turned green, the car in front went straight and TB got off to make the jughandle across Route 1, and he never got a chance to see who was driving or figure out what their connection was to Corporal Koch.

Something, though, made TB remember the name and the date.

Maybe it's because the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq lasted so long and yet in many ways didn't really touch the overwhelming majority of Americans, including TB, who knows only a handful of people who served and no one who was killed or wounded.

After awhile, the average citizen became numb to the casualty reports and just went about their lives.

TB was no different.

The day Corporal Koch was killed was a Monday. Two days earlier, Princeton had been thumped by Johns Hopkins in men's lacrosse at the Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic in Baltimore, and five days later, the Tigers would be hosting Virginia on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium.

If there was a news report about Koch's death, TB probably missed it.

It's been more than four years now since that day, and an entire generation of Princeton athletes has come and gone. Like TB, the focus of those athletes has been on their lives, their futures, what they need to accomplish today, while looking toward tomorrow.

That's what they're supposed to do. That's what TB is supposed to do.

And Corporal Koch?
He was 23 when he died. He left his parents, a brother, a sister, a wife and a 15-month-old daughter named Zoe.

He attended East Brunswick High School, which is about 20 minutes or so from Princeton, and like many he was drawn to the military by the 9/11 attacks.

TigerBlog learned all this with a simple search of Cpl. Steven R. Koch.

He looks like he was one tough guy, as you might expect from someone who volunteered and served in the 82nd Airborne. His headstone says he earned a Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

 On one site, TB saw this quote from Koch: "I would bleed on the flag to keep the stripes red."

And he did. 

Once the summer break is over, it'll be time for another academic year, more Princeton athletic events that will be important to those who coach them, compete in them, watch them, chronicle them.

And that's okay. That's a large part of what those who serve are protecting.

It's just that so many of them never came back. Steven R. Koch is one them.

TB couldn't get his name off his mind yesterday, after a simple stop at a traffic light on Route 1, the name of a stranger with whom TB has no connection.

As he learned about him, he wondered what his plans were for his life, what he'd be doing today if he'd come back from Afghanistan, wondered what happened to his wife and Zoe, wondered how his parents were doing, wondered, for that matter, who was driving the car.

He's not even sure what the point of writing about him is, other than to that he wants to let Koch's family know that he isn't forgotten.

And that he won't be.

At least not by TB.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

FCS Champs

There's going to be a college football playoff. Sort of.

There's going to be a four-team tournament that will wrap itself into the bowl system and won't start until 2014. TigerBlog was somewhat confused when he saw that, since he wasn't sure if that meant January 2014 (which would mean the end of next season) or after the 2014 season (which would mean two more years of the current format).

The current format is horrible, so anything that attempts to improve on that is a good thing in TB's eyes.

And while some would prefer an eight-team or even 16-team field, TB is fine with four, though he could live with eight. He just doesn't want to see college football turn into college basketball, with its nearly irrelevant regular season.

TB also knows that the reason for changing the format isn't altruistic in the least. It's monetary.

The existing Bowl Championship Series produced a game last year that nobody but nobody wanted to see, as Alabama had a rematch with LSU that nobody cared about and more importantly fewer than in years past actually watched.

It's a terrible way to choose a champion for a sport that is probably second only to professional football in terms of fan interest. And there is nothing in American sports that rivals culturally college football.

For all that, the season ends with meaningless bowl games followed by a championship game that is played somewhere around six weeks or so after the last time the teams played a game. If you were to start a system from scratch, that would be about the dumbest idea anyone came up with.

So the new system is a start.

It won't be perfect, of course, but arguing about whether or not a team deserved to be in the semifinals is a lot different than arguing if a team should be in the final. It's unlikely that an undefeated team will get left out or that the obviously deserving team is ignored.

So good for college football.

For those who think this is NCAA-driven, there is little NCAA input on college football. The BCS is an independent organization from the NCAA, which can regulate eligibility issues and such in football but little else.

The world of Division I is divided into the BCS and non-BCS for all sports other than football, interestingly enough, as in "Butler is a non-BCS school in the basketball final" or something like that.

Within Division I football, there used to be Division I-A and I-AA, but now they're called the Football Bowl Subdivision and the Football Championship Subdivision.

Those are very bulky names, ones that are shortened to FBS and FCS. TigerBlog can hardly keep them straight.

The FBS schools are by definition those in the bigger conferences, with the bigger budgets, with the bigger football programs. The FCS schools are everyone else.

The Learfield Sports Directors' Cup uses a points system to rank college teams for their performance in NCAA championship competition and has done so for the last 19 years.

In Division III, Middlebury ended a 13-year run by Williams. In Division II, Grand Canyon ended an eight-year run by Grand Valley.

In Division I, Stanford won again, making it 18 years in a row after not winning the first one.

Princeton finished the 2011-12 academic year in 39th place, which wasn't as good as last year, when the Tigers were, well, 38th.

Princeton has never finished lower than 63rd and has only been out of the Top 50 three times.

Aside form that, Princeton has never below 47th, and Princeton has been in the Top 40 14 times in 19 years. There have been five Top 30 finishes, with an all-time best of 21st in 2001-02.

Once again, Princeton is not only the top finishing Ivy League school (16 times in 19 years) but also the top finishing FCS school as well.

The Directors' Cup is meant to reward broad-based athletic success, and Princeton's goal each year is to attain that. Princeton received points from field hockey, cross country, basketball, track and field, water polo, swimming and diving, lacrosse, rowing, fencing and wrestling (and TB hopes he hasn't forgotten anyone).

And this doesn't even include the national championship in men's squash, which isn't an NCAA sport.

Being the top FCS school is an accomplishment that Princeton is proud of, and the Cup itself is something that Princeton takes seriously.

So congrats to the three winners.

And to those who made Princeton No. 39 - and a champion in its own right.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Reading Up

The most common question that TigerBlog hears in casual conversation asks whether or not he has to go to work in the summer.

Obviously, the answer is yes.

It's just that in the business of intercollegiate athletics, the No. 1 all-consuming endeavor is to have athletic events, and there aren't any of those in the summer.

So yes, it's much calmer around here from June to August. Still, it doesn't mean that nothing is getting done.

Essentially, Princeton's Office of Athletic Communications is in the website business, and it's important that information constantly be updated, or else the audience dries up.

The 600+ sporting events per academic year provide the bulk of the stories for the webpage, with a preview story and game story for each. This summer, the OAC types will be discussing what the future of game stories should be, if traditional game stories have any value - you know, the usual stuff TB always wonders.

As an aside, it appears, judging by the vacation calendar, that that meeting will be Aug. 16, which is the next day that everyone in the office will be here on the same day.

Meanwhile, before next year comes upon us, TB thought it'd be interesting to see what the most-read stories on the website were for the academic year of 2011-12.

As he is writing this, he has generated the report that will have the answers, but he hasn't yet looked at it. In his mind, he's trying to figure out what would be up there.

And, of the top 20 most-read stories, how many fit into each various category. He's saying that game recaps account for five or fewer.

Okay, time to look.

And ...

He was wrong.

Of the top 20 stories, seven were postgame stories. This list, by the way, only includes articles, not video, audio or anything like that.

The No. 1 story of the year was in fact a postgame story. Did you want to guess what it was?

Also, only one sport had more than one postgame story on that list. Four sports were represented once each, while the other sport had three of its recaps in the top 20 for the year. Want to guess that as well?

TB will give you a few paragraphs.

Doing the math, if seven were postgame stories, then 13 weren't. Does that mean there's almost twice as much interest in reading about games before they happen or reading feature stories or reading general news?


And if so, is it because there are so many ways now to find out who won the game that reading about it becomes unnecessary?

If that's the case, what should a college athletic communications with that information? Not do stories after games? Write some shorter text with a bunch of notes? Just do video from games?

 The top five stories in terms of readership for 2011-12?

No. 5 was the men's basketball win over Harvard.

No. 4 was the EIWA wrestling page that was set up.

No. 3 was the advance story on the Sam Howell Invitational track and field meet.

No. 2?

That was TigerBlog's feature on Nick Bates, Chris Bates and the men's lacrosse players after the death of Ann Bates.

And No. 1? Give up?

It was the men's squash win over Trinity to win the national championship.

There are some interesting numbers on the list.

The question is what are they telling the Princeton OAC about the work it does and possibly what other directions if any should be emphasized.

Big questions.

Coming Aug. 16, maybe there'll even be some answers.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Thoughts From Under The Tree

Miss TigerBlog - she's no longer Little Miss TigerBlog because she's no longer little - had a lacrosse tournament Friday in South Jersey.

Game 1 was supposed to be at 1:30, with Game 2 at 4:30. The tournament is famous for its parking nightmares, so it was recommended that everyone get there early.

TB and MTB arrived before noon, figuring it'd take a half-hour or so to park, only to find that the parking lots were widely empty.

MTB's team warmed up and was getting ready to play when a huge bolt of lightning and crack of thunder appeared at around 1:25, cancelling the first round of games. And so it was that the team didn't play until 4:30, by which time TB, MTB and many others had been sitting under a tree for, well, a long time.

It was pretty nice, actually, as the lightning and thunder surrounded the field but never attacked. Not one raindrop fell, but the temperature and humidity both did, all while a nice breeze steadily blew through. Added all together, it made for a serene environment.

By the time the girls actually played, TB had met one parent who coaches football with former Princeton assistant Mike Schoenwolf and had relayed to Schoenwolf TB's message that he remains the dirtiest player TB ever played lunchtime basketball with here - not to mention a very good guy, so TB was happy to hear he's done so well coaching and administrating on the high school level.

Another parent, who arrived after the parking situation had deteriorated, talked about parking in a nearby residential neighborhood, one separated from the fields by a fence. It was a long walk around the fence to the fields, and when he considered hopping the fence, the owner of the house came by and offered him the use of a step ladder, as opposed to, say, calling the cops because he was trespassing.

Still another woman talked about how she ended up in business with her husband, laughing about transitioning back and forth between their person and professional relationships.

The jury was still deliberating in the Jerry Sandusky trial at the time, and the woman also mentioned that she was a Penn State alum.

Like any other alum that TB has ever heard, this woman spoke glowingly of the school, her experience there, her affection for it and her disbelief over what to make of the entire Sandusky episode.

TB has never met anyone who went to Penn State who didn't love it there. TB's own experiences at Penn State are limited, but he was amazed at how a school that gigantic could give a feel of being so small-town, so welcoming, so friendly, so intimate.

It's easy to forget that just about eight months ago, the beloved Joe Paterno was chasing down the record for all-time wins by a coach, Sandusky was known for his great defenses and charity work and Penn State University was an idyllic, sheltering place.

And then it all fell apart in one weekend.

Sandusky is where he belongs, facing up to 442 years in prison (442 years ago was the year 1570).
Paterno, in order, broke the record, tried to say he'd retire at the end of the year, was fired and then died of lung cancer that he didn't even know he had when the scandal all broke. What should have been an untarnished legacy of one of the all-time, top 10 greatest examples of what college athletics could and should be instead has become a debate over what he knew, what he did, what he should have done and how he in the world he didn't do more when children were being molested in his locker room.

And Penn State? The University is reeling, having seen two administrators already indicted, its president forced to resign (and, according to news reports, possibly facing his own legal issues) and almost surely on the hook for countless millions of dollars about to be paid out to settle lawsuits.

From under the tree, TB was asked the question of whether or not he could imagine something like that at Princeton.

His response is the same as it was when he first wrote about the scandal, back when it first started to break.

The answer is "Yes."

It could be happening here right now. Or at Harvard. Or with the Yankees. Or with your local youth sports league. Or in school. Or at the religious institution. Or anywhere.

Is it happening here right now? Unlikely. Is it possible? Yes. All it takes is one authority figure with the pathological makeup of Jerry Sandusky.

To think otherwise would be naive.

If it could be Jerry Sandusky and Penn State, it could be anywhere.

The difference is what to do about it. It cannot be covered up. That is what undoes everyone beyond just the abuser.

It's frightening to think that Princeton could be put into the same situation that Penn State has found itself all these months, with many of the same ramifications.

As TB has said before, one major difference between Penn State and Princeton is that no athletic endeavor here is bigger than the University itself, and therefore the football or basketball coach cannot become the most important person on campus.

TB hopes - is 100% certain, actually - that Princeton would act quickly in a similar situation, but all the action in the world wouldn't undo the damage that one predator could do to a school.

TB plays squash almost every day here. He spends a lot of time in the Caldwell lockerrooms.

He hopes that the one day he shows up at an odd time to grab something out of his locker that he doesn't see what Mike McQueary saw all that time ago.

Friday, June 22, 2012

On The Subway Walls

TigerBlog's belief is that the two movies with the greatest opening credit scenes are "Saturday Night Fever" and "The Graduate."

In that order.

John Travolta as struts through Brooklyn while holding a paint can, stopping to decide whether or not to get two or three (he goes with two, slices of pizza that is), all while the Bee Gees sing "Stayin' Alive?" Untoppable.

The only movie that comes close is "The Graduate," as the brooding recent college graduate Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman in his debut) flies into Los Angeles, gets his bag and then ends up looking through a fish tank, all with a blank look on his face of "now what?" In this case, it's all done to the Simon and Garfunkel classic "The Sounds of Silence."

TB has always loved that song, going back as far as he can remember. In fact, it is the first song he can actually remember liking.

When TigerBlog Jr. took up playing the guitar, TB pointed him to the song "The Sounds of Silence."

The beauty of the song is its simplicity, with its almost-whispered vocals and basic melody, all tied into a message of warning about going along with the crowd and not being an independent thinker and the catastrophe that would lead to if the entire population followed suit.

The first line of "hello darkness my old friend" sets the tone for the song, all the way up to the end, with the penultimate line of "the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls.

It's a great, great, great song, even after all this time. TB goes out of his way to listen to it often.

These days, the words of the prophets, as it were, can also be found on internet message boards, and this raises all kinds of questions for college athletic departments and their communications offices.

The big issue is what to do when false information is out there.

Message boards are huge. TB's belief is that people read the comments under the stories with much greater interest than the stories themselves, and message boards are an even greater extension of that.

The people who post to the boards can be anyone, and they do not have to disclose their names, positions, how they know the information they're claiming to know. Most importantly, they don't have to be right in what they say.

As longtime TB readers know, another given for him is that people believe what they read.

TB has found himself many times in the situation where he knew what he was reading contradicted facts he knew to be true and yet it still took him awhile to remember that.

So what do you do if you're Princeton, say, and people are posting things on message boards that are incorrect?

TB isn't talking about attacks on coaches or administrators or the webpage or something. That's just part of the game. People are entitled to their opinions.

But what about facts?

TB isn't really sure.

As an athletic department, you can't spend your entire time monitoring everything that's said looking for inaccuracies. And you have to be super-sensitive to commenting publicly on internal issues and processes and all.

At the same time, public opinion is often shaped by what is read on the message boards, so correcting wrong information becomes hugely important.

But if you start reacting to everything that's written, then you'd never get anything done. And if you react selectively, then you're sort of giving tacit approval of the stuff that you're not correcting.

And there's also the issue of addressing information posted by people who aren't identifying themselves by their real names.

Maybe it's best to just leave it all alone and let people take all information from all sources and then have to figure out what's true and what isn't.

Or maybe there's a responsibility to the department to get the right information out there.

TB will continue to ponder this issue.

He has no idea what the correct answer is.

But he will leave you with this:

Don't believe everything you read. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Rock Star

If you really want to sweat, then go down to the squash courts on D level of Jadwin Gym and just stand there.

You don't even have to play. Just standing there will make you drip sweat in no time.

And if you play? Forget it.

TigerBlog got back on the court the last few days, delayed from the normal late-morning start time by squash camp, as sport camp season is getting into the swing here on campus.

Predictably, TB's gray shirt was soaked after about seven points or so.

TB is pretty fortunate that he works in a building that has 10 squash courts, or else he shudders to think what he would do for exercise. He was a longtime lunchtime basketball player here, and he used to swim in the pool at Rider back when he was in the newspaper business.

One thing TB has never liked to do is run for exercise. To him, it's dull, not to mention painful (shins knees, etc.).

And there's no competition, unless you're racing someone, but TB figures there are hardly any people out there he could beat.

If you added up all the times TB has gone running in his life, it probably doesn't equal one marathon.

He knows people who like to run, and they talk about the workout and the alone time and the ability to challenge themselves. TB gets that - he'd just rather play squash.

He's come to have a much greater appreciation for runners by sitting in his office and watching Donn Cabral fly around the track every day during practice.

Cabral has become a complete rock star around here, the first since men's squash player Yasser El Halaby. Anytime Cabral was around - running or just walking into the building - everyone gave him the "there he is" look. It's the rock star treatment.

He's not a big man, and in TB's limited dealings with him, he's quiet. He seems polite, respectful. And driven, very, very driven.

TB doesn't remember too many athletes who have competed here who drew attention to themselves simply with the sheer impressiveness of their training the way Cabral has. It's as if he's putting on a show for the people who happen to look out on the track when he goes through his workouts.

TB has stood on the balcony and watched him, along with other people in the department, and muttered only "wow" as he went lap after lap, seemingly in a dead sprint the whole time.

At one point during the football season, TB wrote a story about Cabral for the game program. It's the only time he's ever really spoken to Cabral, and it was on the phone.

During that conversation, Cabral spelled out a year-long training schedule that he hoped would take him to the victory stand at the NCAA track and field championships, the Olympic Trials and finally the Olympic Games in his best event, the 3,000-meter steeplechase.

He's already accomplished the first two, including becoming Princeton's first runner to win an NCAA title since 1934.

He runs next week in Eugene, Ore., in the Trials, with the preliminaries Monday and the final Thursday. Cabral has a lot going for him in terms of qualifying, as he has run the fastest time by an American this year and has met the Olympic A qualifying standard.

The only way he wouldn't make the Olympics, as TB understands it, would be to not finish in the top three at the Trials AND have all three of the ones who do also beat the Olympic A standard.

Of course, he's not a lock to be on the team, and a lot could change in one or two races in Eugene.

Still, TB would love to turn on the Olympics this summer and see the rock star run in London.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

We Need A Bigger Boat

TigerBlog spent six summers at sleepaway camp, the first five at Camp Toledo and then, after a year off, the last one at Camp Echo.

He can still see the two camps in his mind, with their idyllic locations in the Catskills and their Wonder Years-like coming-of-age charm that saw pre-teens with their first serious crushes (in TB's case, with a Long Island girl a year older than he named Randee who apparently went on to Cornell and whom TB lost track of long before high school ended).

TB remembers much about his summer at Camp Echo, including the fact that the same movie was playing at the Pond Road theater when he left and when he returned. Back then, there was only one movie in the theater, as opposed to 12 or 15 or whatever there are now.

The movie that played all summer and probably for much longer was "Jaws," which according to "This Day In History" opened on this day in 1975.

TigerBlog is going to assume that everyone has seen "Jaws." If you're not old enough to have been around when the movie came out, then you really can't fully appreciate its impact on American culture of the time.

Shark teeth became a big seller. People were afraid to go into the ocean. The "land shark" skit on "Saturday Night Live" became a staple.

Everybody - everybody - saw the movie, which at the time became the highest-grossing movie ever.

TB has seen "Jaws" a billion or so times since the first time he saw it, in the Pond Road theater.

As an aside, the theater no longer exists, though several of the stores in the shopping center - including Attilio's Pizza (get the mussels) and Fred and Murray's Kosher Deli (get anything, it's all great) - remain unchanged.

Meanwhile, back at "Jaws," TB's favorite scene - by far - is the one where Quint (Robert Shaw), Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) are drinking on Quint's boat, singing and telling stories and then Quint tells the story of his time on the USS Indianapolis. That's one of the great scenes in any movie TB has ever seen.

He also likes the scenes on land where Hooper is interacting with the locals, especially the mayor. And when Quint runs his fingers down the blackboard.

As for the parts where they chase the shark on the water, the best moment is when Brody is throwing the stuff in the ocean and the shark appears and he says "I think we need a bigger boat."

TB's point is that what makes the movie great is the interaction between the main characters, the drama of how they're going to get everyone understand that it's not business as usual and then how they're going to catch the shark and the suspense of what happens on the water, heightened by the iconic music that plays when the the audience realizes the shark is there but the people on screen don't.

It's not the gore, of which there is plenty in the movie.

And there's a lesson in there.

The Ivy League announced yesterday that it is partnering with the Big 10 conference to do considerable research on the effect of head injuries in sports, especially focusing on concussions.

This is obviously the biggest issue in football now, on every level, from the NFL through college and down to high school and youth leagues.

It's a situation unlike anything that TB can ever remember in sports.

Football is the biggest sport in America, and it's in danger of disappearing if it doesn't do something radically different.

The Ivy League can have all of the studies it wants about concussions. The reality is that preventing them in football means completely overhauling the game.

The rules have to be changed to eliminate any contact with the head, and it mostly has to start with how defense is played.

The problem is that this is where the violence in the sport comes from, and there is a general feeling that the violence draws in the fans, who draw the sponsors and TV ratings and ticket sales and all, leading to billions and billions of dollars for NFL teams and so on.

There is the side issue that the violence is glorified on television and in video games and the other side issue that the younger kids who play the sport imitate what they see on television.

It's not just the fact that players are getting concussions. It's that former players are killing themselves.

It's not something that needs to be tweaked. It needs to be overhauled.

The Ivy League and Big 10 are great partners. Despite the differences in their athletic approaches, both conferences are made up of schools that are committed to research.

If any two conferences were going to make headway on this issue, it'd be these two.

But the main problem is that their research is going to have plenty of case studies until the rules are overhauled.

The game doesn't have to be about violence.

"Jaws" isn't.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Carol And Phyllis

TigerBlog has often said that of the 50 funniest things he's ever seen or heard, Pete Carril is probably responsible for 25 of them.

Bryce Chase? He's on the list somewhere, at least once, maybe more.

There are two woman who have been very much woven into the fabric of Princeton Athletics who can offer 100 stories about each for every one TB can.

And both are leaving that fabric in the next few weeks.

Carol Weston and Phyllis Chase, who between them have 62 years of service to this department, are retiring at the end of the month.

Carol spent much of her time here as Carril's secretary, though that hardly covers their relationship. She was the glue of the basketball operation here, and he was highly dependent on her to tie up any and all loose ends.

Through the years after Carril left here and Carol moved from basketball to work with some other programs, the mere mention of his name would make her laugh and remember this time or that time.

TigerBlog knows much of Carril's bio and many of his mannerisms. Carol knows all of both.

TB hasn't seen too many combinations like the two of them, with the mutual respect and the way they always protected each other.

Carol, whose husband Don has a 15-word title that TB believes boils down to running purchasing for the University, spent a lot of years in Carril's shadow.

Outside of that shadow, she's her own person of course. She and Don have kids and grandkids, and she spent a lot of time here talking about them and all of her other interests. When TB thinks about all the years he worked with her, he thinks about 1) her laugh and 2) Carril. Hey, there are way worse people to be lumped in with, right?

Phyllis, whose husband Bryce is a longtime player/coach/consigliere for the men's lacrosse team, spent 29 years as the travel coordinator, and so many meals, trips, flights, hotels and the rest went through her that TB would say they were incalculable, had she not calculated them all.

Phyllis was honored at the Princeton Varsity Club banquet with the Lorin Mauer Award for her contributions to the department and the athletes. TB had this to say about her then:

 As much as Phyllis impacted the student-athletes, she also had a tremendous effect on the people who have been fortunate enough to work with her.

Phyllis owns a never vanishing smile and a laugh that can be heard throughout the building. her office was always open to anyone who ever wanted to stop in and say hello, and she and her husband Bryce even opened their home to dozens of new hires who had not yet found a place of their own to live.
she has provided humor, counsel, sympathy, advice and anything else a situation called for to all of those with whom she has come in contact, and even long before we were fortunate to be clothed by Nike, she made orange and black Fridays mandatory in Jadwin Gym.

As TB said, the two are woven into the fabric of the department. 

There has never been a time that TB has been around this building when Carol and Phyllis didn't work here, and it'll be a huge adjustment not to have them around.

It's part of how it works in the world, of course.

People are thrown together in the workplace, and they form their friendships and groups and like some and don't like others. But they work together every day to a common goal, in this case, providing a great experience for Princeton's athletes.

TigerBlog will miss both of them. He's sure he'll see them at events and such, but the building will be  a little sadder, a little less friendly, without them.

Somewhat ironically, as TB hit send, his iTunes shifted to "Free Bird," the Lynyrd Skynyrd song that starts out "if I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?"

Well, the two of them are leaving. And TB will remember them.


Monday, June 18, 2012

Miss Anything?

So anyway, during its trip to Costa Rica, the men's lacrosse team ... just kidding. TigerBlog figures six entries about the trip might have been enough.

Besides, he missed a lot when he was in Costa Rica.

Most notably, Henry Hill died.

There are very few people who could die and have almost their entire obituary reference a movie, rather than the actuality of what happened in his/her life. Hill was one of them.

As far back he could remember, Henry Hill wanted to be a gangster. And he was. And then it was all over, and he was an average nobody, had to live the rest of his life like a schnook.

Hill, of course, was the central figure in the movie "Goodfellas," which, by the way, is as good as any movie on any subject ever made. When Hill's death became known, TB had more than one person say that they didn't know there was a real Henry Hill and that the movie was mostly true.

In fact it was.

Robert DeNiro's character was named Jimmy Conway, though in real life his name was Jimmy Burke (whose family didn't give permission to use his real name). The same was true for several of the other characters' names, though the event were fairly well documented by Nicholas Pileggi in the book "Wiseguy" and reproduced in the movie by Pileggi and Martin Scorsese.

Hill was the one who provided the details for the book, published in 1986, after he'd entered the witness protection program.

If you've seen the movie, it's easy to think of it as fiction. It's hard to imagine that people actually lived their lives like that.

Also from the movie, it's easy to root for these guys, or at least see them as the good guys Henry, Jimmy and Tommy, in much the same way that Tony, Silvio and Paulie were the good guys in "The Sopranos."

As TB said, Hill's obituary referred way more to the movie and to quotes in the movie, with very little of Hills subsequent life. It was almost as if Ray Liotta, who played Hill, was the one being talked about and not Hill himself.

TB was also in Costa Rica for the end of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the start of the NBA finals, Chris Young's return to the Major Leagues and the season finale of "Mad Men."

He also missed the NCAA track and field championships, which were a spectacular success for the Princeton participants.

There were six Princeton athletes - five men and one woman - who were in Des Moines, and all six earned All-America honors - three first-team for finishing in the top eight and three second-team for finishing ninth through 16th.

The event was actually re-shown on ESPNU over the weekend, so TB got to see some of it. The best part, actually.

First he saw Greta Feldman charge from the back of the pack to fifth in the final 300 meters of the 1,500.

Then he saw the steeplechase.

Princeton had not had an NCAA outdoor track and field champion since Tora Harris won the high jump in 2002. There had not been a national champion in a running event since way back in 1934, when William Bonthron won the mile.

All that changed last week when Donn Cabral won the 3,000-meter steeplechase, winning, in fact, by more than five seconds.

The steeplechase is fairly grueling, with its four hurdles and one water jump for each of its seven laps. Grueling, though, doesn't really bother Cabral, as anyone who watched his workouts every afternoon through the Jadwin Gym windows can attest.

With the NCAA title behind him, Cabral can now focus on the Olympic Trials, coming up in two weeks. He's already run the Olympic A qualifying standard, which gives him a leg up to make it to London.

So far this year, the top 20 times in the world in the steeplechase break down this way: 17 from African runners, two from Spaniards and Cabral.

It's been a long, long year for Cabral, whose training has been insane since he was running at altitude in Utah last summer, through cross country, indoor and now outdoor track.

His first goal was the NCAA steeplechase title. Check.

His second goal was London.

Stay tuned.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Last Thoughts Of Costa Rica

United Flight 1446 made a long sweeping turn shortly after takeoff from Aeropuerto Internacional Daniel Oduber QuirĂ³s airport yesterday afternoon, giving TigerBlog one more opportunity to marvel at the stunning natural beauty that is Costa Rica.

He’s pretty sure the plane flew over the Caribbean Sea coast, as opposed to the Pacific Ocean one, as TB could see the forest that went right up to the water’s edge, as Diego, one of the three guides on the Princeton men’s lacrosse trip, said it did.

The astonishing colors of green that make up any Costa Rican landscape all blended together from the air. Eventually, the plane climbed above some cloud cover and then out of Costa Rican airspace, and the Tigers’ week in the country was officially over.

TigerBlog hopes his recaps and blogs on the trip weren’t redundant or boring, because it’s really hard to oversell the experience that the men’s lacrosse team had in its seven days in Costa Rica.

The NCAA permits teams to make one international trip every four years, giving each player the opportunity to go once. Or, if you’re Zach Drexler, a player on the team four years ago that went to Spain and Ireland and the undergraduate assistant coach this past year, you can go twice.

Drexler didn’t hesitate to say that he liked this trip better than that last, and he didn’t hesitate to describe Spain and Ireland in one word: great.

That’s an indication of what this trip was.

The  biggest difference between the two trips was of course the impact that the Tigers had on the locals.

In Spain, Princeton stayed at a great resort and played two great lacrosse games against the English national team. In Ireland, Princeton stayed right in the heart of the Temple Bar district of Dublin, which is still the nicest city TigerBlog has ever been to, but the Irish people that the Tigers met were in restaurants and bars and on the streets and were exclusively adults. 

Both countries offered a great cultural opportunity, and there isn't a person who was on that trip four years ago who doesn't smile when remembering the time there.

Greg Raymond, Princeton’s assistant coach, took nearly 500 pictures from that trip four years ago, and for some reason, every one of them is still on TB’s hard drive. Through the years since, TB has gone through them and thought about what a great time he had and how awesome the whole trip was.

In fact, the background on his desktop since he returned from the 2008 trip has been the picture Raymond took of the Upper Lake at Glendalough, about 90 minutes from Dublin.

Still, TB has to agree with Drexler on this one. This most recent trip wasn’t just awesome for the whitewater rafting and ziplining (which, by the way, TB didn’t do, skipping the zipping, as it were, to hang out with John McPhee).

No, this one was made by the people that the Tigers met, mostly the children, and hopefully those people feel the same.

International travel is a big luxury that not every team at every school can afford to do every four years. The lacrosse programs at Princeton are lucky in this regard, and the women’s team will be heading to Malta and London in the fall.

TigerBlog remembers the end of the Princeton-Yale game in the Ivy League tournament back in early May, when the Tigers were beaten by a Yale team that played two games that weekend as well as lacrosse can be played. When the NCAA tournament field was announced later in the day and Princeton was in it, TB's first thought was that he was happy for the team, especially the seniors, whose careers didn’t have to end with that empty feeling of losing at home.

Princeton fell 6-5 to UVa in the first round of the NCAA tournament on a day when the difference between the two teams was a fluke goal at the end of the first half and an act of bravery (insanity?) on the part of Virginia’s Chris LaPierre, who stepped in front of a rocket from Forest Sonnenfeldt that might have tied the game in the final seconds.

As this trip went along, TB was sure that the feeling of not going further in the tournament was fading, in favor of realizing that the team had won the Ivy League championship with a perfect 6-0 record one year after missing the Ivy tournament, let alone the NCAA tournament.

And that feeling was helped along by this time away together again as this Prineton team for the last time.

When the recent grads look back to how their Princeton experience ended, they’ll remember Costa Rica first and not that they lost in the tournament.

When the three mini-buses pulled up to the airport Thursday morning and the Tigers got off one last time, the saddest people were the guides and drivers who had been with the team every minute of the last week. 

Diego and Victor were on TB's bus. The other guides were Hurben and Jheudi; the other drivers were Jose and Carlos. All six of them were awesome.

Diego called the Tigers one of his top five favorite groups that he’s ever worked with. He had every person on his bus sign one of his company shirts, and he made sure to get everyone’s email address. 

Earlier, he climbed into the middle of the bus, which had 15 members of the travel party on it, and got his picture taken. As he did, Victor, the driver, pretended to pull off to the side to get in as well. When the bus reached the airport, there were more pictures, including with Victor, and each of the other buses were doing the same thing.

The first thing TB did when the team landed at Newark Liberty last night was to email Diego to tell him that the group got back without a problem and to thank him for everything. When each player on the bus woke up today, he was greeted with an email from Diego thanking him for making the week so great and with two pictures attached.

Before the buses left the hotel on the beach in Tamarindo, head coach Chris Bates stood facing out to the ocean, soaking it in again, not wanting to let it go.

It was 10 times tougher to say goodbye to Diego, Victor and the others.

That was the kind of trip it was.

Marvel at the natural beauty.

Touch, and be touched by, the people.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Friends For Life

At one point during Wednesday's leisurely day in Tamarindo, Costa Rica, Princeton men's lacrosse head coach Chris Bates asked TigerBlog where that deli is that TB is always going to on the way back from Harvard.

TB informed Bates that it's Rein's Deli and that it's located off exit 65 of I-84 in the Connecticut town of Vernon. TB also pointed out that he didn't exactly expect Bates to pull the Princeton bus off the highway the next time the Tigers are in the neighborhood.

TigerBlog never travels on the lacrosse bus. He prefers to go his own way, at his own pace, going to the game when he wants, stopping to eat where and when he wants.

It dawned on TigerBlog during that simple conversation that a part of his education during his week in Costa Rica has had nothing to do with the Costa Ricans themselves and everything to do with Princeton and its men''s lacrosse program.

TigerBlog hasn't missed a Princeton men's lacrosse game in years, and there is no current member of the team who has ever played a game for the Tigers that TB wasn't at.

His job is basically to chronicle what these people do, and so he has to be familiar with who they are. And from watching them play, he can basically see who leads, who follows, how each player's personality is observable from how they play.

What TB hadn't seen from these players, though, is what they're like when they're just being themselves, when they're away from lacrosse, the only vehicle in which TB has ever seen them.

And, after spending seven days with them, TB is more impressed than he's ever been.

It's an extraordinary group to travel with, beginning with its three senior captains - John Cunningham, Tyler Fiorito and Chad Wiedmaier - and its sophomore superstar Tom Schreiber.

It's not just those four, though. It's really all of them, individually, in their small groups that they pare off into and in the entire team dynamic.

They come together, college athletic teams do, from all over, and it's a bizarre dynamic. The entire world of college athletics essentially revolves around the concept of "come play for our school, only once you're here, we're going to try to find somebody better than you ever year."

These teams are just thrown together, really, after coaches go out and find the best players they can or the ones who fit their biggest needs from year to year. Yes, thought is given to how they'll fit together, but talent always wins out over putting together a cohesive team.

In fact, the hope is that once they're all assembled under the banner of, say, Notre Dame football or Florida State baseball or Princeton lacrosse, they'll all figure out that they're in it together and that a team chemistry will form from that.

And often, but not always, it does.

This Princeton men's lacrosse team, though, is a bit different. Maybe it's because they've been through more together than most college athletic teams have, with the death of their coach's wife, the responsibility of helping to take care of Nick Bates and, less importantly but still a substantial task, rebuilding the program from 4-8 a year ago to an Ivy League championship and NCAA tournament appearance this year.

Whatever it is, there is an unmistakable sense around these guys that they are just a bit different. And yes, they have their moments of immaturity, but hey, they're 18- to 22-year-olds.

It's been a week of never-ending jokes at each other's expense, of competing against each other in every challenge, of experiences that none of them will ever forget.

They have a term for it: friends for life.

In some ways, it matches the "pura vida" concept that the Costa Ricans have.

Last night, the Tigers had a team dinner, along with their guides and drivers, to celebrate the week here and to say farewell to Costa Rica. Bates presented each driver and guide with either a Princeton shirt or hat, and when he gave each out, those who were on each of their mini-buses cheered wildly for their guys.

It was an instant loyalty to guide and driver, even though each person ended up on these mini-buses quite randomly, after simply getting on one of the three as they were parked outside the airport one week ago.

That's how they are. Loyal, above all else.

When TB thinks back to his week in Costa Rica, he'll remember how cool the World Cup qualifier soccer game was. He'll remember the beauty of the Paquare River and the whitewater rafting. He'll remember the lacrosse game against the Costa Ricans and working with the children in Samara.

He'll remember how amazing the Costa Rican landscape is. He'll remember Diego, the guide who brought it all to life.

And he'll remember the players that he got to see a little more up close than he normally does, and what a high quality group of human beings they are. He'll think of what an honor it's been for him to be part of all this.

Now it's time to leave Costa Rica. The plane leaves in the early afternoon here, and a little more than four hours later, they'll be back in New Jersey.

This trip could have been to any number of places, including some beautiful European destinations.

Instead, the Tiger coaching staff chose Costa Rica, for the chance to bring lacrosse here, the chance to meet the Costa Ricans, the chance to learn top-to-bottom the culture of this nation.

TigerBlog couldn't be happier that they did.

It's been a wondrous seven days.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Working Vacation

The hotel in Tamarindo, on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, has a certain hint of paradise to it.

There is an open-air lobby, one that leads to the pool and then beyond that to the ocean. There are shops and restaurants throughout the immediate area, and of course each member of the Princeton men's lacrosse travel party has an ocean view from the rooms, almost all of which have a balcony.

Between arrival late Tuesday afternoon and departure for the airport and return trip home Thursday, there is only one scheduled activity - surfing, to be held Wednesday morning. Other than that, it's pure relaxation.

After the four hours that Princeton spent at the Samara community center Tuesday, the Tigers deserve a little leisure time.

Princeton's trip to Costa Rica is now reaching its end.

It has been an extraordinary trip, and if it's main goal was to show a group of American college students what life is like throughout this country, then it has been a raging success. 

As TigerBlog learned, about two million American tourists come here each year, and about two-thirds of them, or 1.3 million, go only to the coastal resorts, like the one in Tamarindo.

Princeton, on the other hand, has been almost everywhere, from the mountainous region for ziplining to the capital city of San Jose to the Pequare River for whitewater rafting and now to one of the high-end beach resorts. 

In between was the town of Samara, also on the beach and also at a resort. 

In Samara, about a two-hour drive from Tamarindo, the Tigers really got their hands dirty, literally and figuratively.

First, there was a trip to a field Monday for clinics and then an exhibition game for the children of the town.

Then it was back to the field Tuesday, this time for some hard work.

Princeton was back at the field to help with some much-needed renovating. Included in the tasks were building benches and bleachers, painting goal posts and painting the interior of the open-air building next to the field.

The work started with some humor. 

Head coach Chris Bates wanted to randomly divide the team into five groups, to be assigned different tasks. To accomplish this, Bates wanted the team to count off, which led to this:

The next person was supposed to start over and say "one," and when everyone was done, then all the ones would be the first group, all the twos would be the second group and so on.

Except that the next person was a bit unclear, so he said: "Six."

Once that was all straightened out, it was on to the work itself. And it was not easy.

For starters, it was oppressively hot and humid. For another, this was serious, hard work.

The Tigers attacked the project, perhaps owing to the competitive nature of being in these groups and not wanting to be the group that slacked off. 

In fact, no member of the travel party did that. TigerBlog was going to list the people who did the most work, but it was really everyone. Okay, maybe he'll single out Hunter deButts, Tucker Shanley, Mike MacDonald, Alex Beatty. Maybe not. 

As he writes this, he realizes that it was everyone, players, coaches, members of the travel party, Nick Bates, TigerBlog Jr. - everyone.

John McPhee, a man in his 80s, was painting fence posts next to team physician Margot Putukian. Everyone was involved.

It was an incredible moment, seeing this group of people - mostly young college athletes - buy into the idea of doing something so selfless, and doing so with great precision, competence and humor. There were maybe five kids there watching and playing around with the players, but the majority of the people who will use the center were elsewhere during this time.

This wasn't a photo op. This wasn't a self-serving moment. 

This was a genuine effort to help a local community, and it was one of the defining moments of this trip. By the time four hours went by, the center looked 100 percent better, with new benches and fresh paint everywhere - and an obvious sense of pride on the part of those who had made it happen.

After the work was done, there was time for some "horsing around," as three players - Peter Smyth, Jeff Froccaro, Cliff Larkin - made the 100-yard or so walk to the beach and came back on horseback.

There was also time for Larkin to do something that was much more serious.

Most of the people on the paint crew signed their name (or nickname or uniform number) to the benches in the center's building.

Larkin wrote in red paint against a white background in the very corner of the benches the name "Ann Bates," the late wife of Chris Bates and Nick's mother.

From what TB knows about Ann Bates, the trip to the community center would have been right in her wheelhouse. She would have been the first one with a piece of sand paper or paint brush or shovel or hammer - and she probably would have been the first to ride back on a horse to the group when they were done.

It was a great gesture on Larkin's part. 

And the whole day was something Ann would have been proud of.

And you should be proud too, proud of what the Princeton men's lacrosse team did in a small coastal town in Costa Rica, one that was a much better place when the Tigers left than it was when they got there two days earlier, better because of the way the Tigers touched up the center itself - and touched the people who will use it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Yo Quiero Agua

The humidity in the Samara area of Costa Rica is oppressive.

How oppressive? There's no point in showering, because it does no good at all against the endless sweating.

It's likely that Alex Capretta, who scored 23 goals and added 11 assists during his recently completed senior season, never once sweated as badly as a Princeton lacrosse player as he did Monday afternoon on a field in Samara, Costa Rica, simply by getting off the mini-bus.

The humidity wasn't lost on the local children, even though they live with it full-time.

TigerBlog was holding a bottle of water, one that was about one-third gone, when a pair of young Costa Rican eyes looked up at him, from inside an oversized Princeton lacrosse helmet, and muttered in Spanish, barely audible:

"Yo quiero agua."

TB isn't sure if that means "I want water" or "I need water."

He did understand that the boy was really, really thirsty, so TB gave him his bottle.

Which the young boy promptly chugged.

The language barrier was not an issue on this field for these two hours. Here were children, holding lacrosse sticks, and there were American Ivy League college lacrosse players, waiting to play with the kids.

It was quite a scene, right from the second the Tigers stepped off their mini-buses.

It started with bags opened up to the children, who put on Princeton helmets, gloves, pads and all. After that, it was a few minutes of stretching, a few more minutes of drills and finally a game among the kids, followed by a 15-minute exhibition intrasquad Princeton game.

The kids couldn't have been more appreciative.

Princeton head coach Chris Bates had one command for his players when they stepped on the field: Make sure no child is left alone.

He didn't have to worry. Each kid was throwing, catching, playing goalie (with tennis balls), running around being chased by three Princeton players. 

It was a great scene, and it was such an important moment of this trip. It came on a day that began with bicycling, jogging on the beach, jumping into the Pacific Ocean on a pristine beach at a scenic resort hotel.

And then in the afternoon, it was a, what, one-mile ride to this field, tucked into a community center, for a few hours with children - and their parents - who were so touched by the fact that these Princeton players were there for them.

Those kids will never forget this day.

The question is this:

How does a two-hour stop at this field impact the big picture of lacrosse here in Costa Rica?

Well, this is how it starts.

Combine this with the game that Princeton played against the Costa Rican national team the day before four hours away in San Jose, and the grass roots effort has begun.

The need is to keep the sticks in their hands, so that the next group of kids who sees them gets curious and want to get sticks in their hands. Eventually, there are enough players who move up in age together and actually play and have other teams against whom to compete.

Over time, the sport can grow from the grass roots up. It'll never be anywhere near soccer in this country, but it can became what the English national lacrosse team, whom Princeton played on its international trip four years ago in Spain and Ireland, an alternative to athletes who come up and aren't identified as soccer prospects.

It'll take a long time to get there, and hey, maybe it'll never come close to that.

If it does, then the last two days here with the Princeton men's lacrosse team will have been the turning point for the sport in Costa Rica.

If not, then the Tigers still did something very, very nice Monday afternoon.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Pura Vida

When TigerBlog heard that the Princeton men’s lacrosse team was going to Costa Rica, he probably couldn’t have found the country on a map.

He could have come close, of course. It’s just that he didn’t really know much about the country, other than that it was in Central America and that it was famous for ziplining.

Now, after four days in Costa Rica as part of the men’s lacrosse team’s trip, TigerBlog is fascinated by the country.

It’s a wildly varying place, with areas of obvious poverty and filthy streets surrounded by intense natural beauty, as far up into the mountains as can be seen.

It’s a country that has been gifted by a nearly perfect climate for growing some of the most sought-after commodities in the world, such as pineapples, bananas, coffee and others.

The wind blows from northeast to southwest, in from the Caribbean Sea and through the mountains in the middle of the country, bringing with it moisture that makes for the greenest of colors, along with species of insects and birds that most countries can’t match. Everywhere one looks, the view is of plants or flowers or crops that aren’t seen in too many other spots on the planet.

There are times when TB cannot believe what he is seeing here, from a positive and negative standpoint.

Nowhere was this more evident than during yesterday’s five-hour bus ride from San Jose, the capital, to Samara, where the Tigers have transitioned to their service-oriented – and beach-oriented - portion of the trip.

Driving north and west, the Princeton mini-buses went on a highway that was either one lane or two lanes each way.

Looking out the window, TB could see shacks, businesses struggling to get by (or those that have already been abandoned), stray dogs and garbage piled up. In fact, the stadium where Princeton played the Costa Rican national team Sunday before the bus ride was framed on three sides by many of these sites.

He could see houses, packed closely together, many with locked gates topped by razor wire. TB assumes this is a crime-prevention necessity.

At the same time, he could see mountain tops, with rolling white clouds just below the summits, all framed by crystal clear shades of green. When the bus would drive over a bridge on the highway, more often than not it was connecting roadway above gorges that were deep and beautiful.

Diego, the guide in TigerBlog’s bus, has been joking that to create a town in Costa Rica, start with a flat piece of grass for a soccer field and then add a bar and a church.

In addition to being a quick wit, Diego is also a conservationist, and he is able to identify the various species of plants and animals that are visible throughout the travels. For someone with his interest on the subject (he holds a bachelor’s degree as well), Costa Rica is a paradise.

And Diego himself certainly personifies the Costa Rican motto of “Pura Vida,” or “pure life.” From Wikipedia:
Pura Vida literally means Pura = pure and vida = life, but "Pure life" in Spanish would be "Vida pura" instead, so the real meaning is closer to "plenty of life", "full of life", "this is living!", "going great", "real living", "Awesome!" or "cool!".[4] It can be used both as a greeting or a farewell, universally known in Costa Rica and it has been used by many Costa Ricans (and expatriates) since 1956

The three most important pieces to the Costa Rican economy are the microchips produced here for Intel, the agricultural sector and of course tourism.

Each year, two million Americans alone come to this country, with a population of its own of four millions. About two-thirds come to the coastal regions that include Samara and Tamarindo, Princeton’s last stop on the trip.

Looking out the window of the buses has been an education for TigerBlog.

And, hopefully, for the Princeton players.

For TB, that’s as interesting a piece of the puzzle as there is.

The economy depends so much on tourism, yet how could the locals not be at least a bit resentful of people who come here and have so much more than they do and then leave after a week or two, leaving them to worry about the country’s issues?

That’s even truer, it would seem, of a college lacrosse team from the Ivy League.

Do the players have a sense of what is going on here beyond just the whitewater rafting, ziplines and nightlife?

That’s been a big part of the trip, or at least that’s the hope.

The second half of the trip includes service activities through Fields of Growth, the organization that has done so much with lacrosse – and with Princeton’s Chad Wiedmaier and now Tom Schrieber – in Uganda.

The goal is to have Princeton’s players leave here Thursday with a much greater sense of what they have in life, the great gift they’ve been given to study at a place like Princeton, play the sport they love and not have the day-to-day worries that many in Costa Rica live with.

Almost from the time the wheels of the plane touched down last Thursday night, those lessons have been there for the Princeton players to see first-hand.

Hey, it’s been slapping them in the face.

Hopefully they’ve noticed. And taken it all in.

After all, there is much to be learned from this fascinating place.

And not all of the lessons are in the conservation books that Diego reads.

Some have to be learned by themselves, visible each day through the windows of the mini-buses and in the eyes of the locals.

Friday, June 8, 2012

TigerBlog At 36,000 Feet

TigerBlog is a huge fan of the monitors in airports that show all the departing and arriving flights.

It’s always fascinating to see the number of different directions that everyone gathered in the same airport is headed.

On the departing board at Newark Liberty International Airport yesterday afternoon, for instance, there was a row in the L’s that had in order Las Vegas, Lisbon, London, Los Angeles.

TB’s flight yesterday was in the S’s.

Directly above was San Francisco. Directly below were San Juan, Seattle-Tacoma and Shannon.

TB’s flight was headed to San Jose, the one in Costa Rica, not the one in California.

The occasion was the men’s lacrosse team’s international trip, which began yesterday and will run through this coming Thursday, all in Costa Rica.

NCAA rules permit teams to make one international trip every four years, ostensibly to give each athlete the opportunity to go once during their time in school.

Four years ago, Princeton went to Spain and Ireland, and it was a fabulous experience for them – and for TigerBlog.

This time around, the entire trip is in Costa Rica, and it is part of Princeton’s growing relationship with Fields of Growth, which is using lacrosse as an educational and cultural tool in what can be considered emerging lacrosse nations, most notably Uganda and now Costa Rica.

Princeton’s connection with the organization began last summer when All-America defenseman Chad Wiedmaier went to Uganda for four weeks, a journey that will be repeated in a few weeks by first-team All-America middie Tom Schreiber.

Of the travel party from the trip four years ago, there are very few repeaters.

TigerBlog is back, obviously, as are academic athletic fellow John McPhee, athletic trainer George O’Neil, team doctor Margot Putukian, program consigliere Bryce Chase and assistant coach Greg Raymond.

Other than that, everyone is new, including head coach Chris Bates, his son Nick and even TigerBlog Jr., who gets to tag along.

The trip to Costa Rica is about one-third third vacation, one-third Fields of Growth service and one-third lacrosse. The Tigers will play the Costa Rican national team, and there will also be clinics and exhibitions during the week.

Princeton will make three stops, the first in the capital city of San Jose and then in coastal regions Samara and ultimately Tamarindo, from where the team will fly home.

Among the activities are white water rafting, surfing, beach lacrosse with a group of local children and several service projects.

Oh, and ziplining.

Anyone that TB has spoken to about Costa Rica raves about it, saying it is among the nicest places they’ve ever seen. In fact, the white water rafting trip is on a river called Pacuare, which National Geographic ranks as the third-most scenic river in the world.

Of course, the first words out of all of their mouths has been ziplining.

Open heights are not TB’s best thing, and he’s going to be an 11th hour decision on the ziplining. He’s leaning away from doing it, since having someone puke on the floor of the rain forest from a zipline doesn’t seem to have much value.

The flight to Costa Rica was on a 737-800, which is one with three seats on each side of the aisle. TB sat in seat 29D, next to one of four friends – New York City firefighters, including one who played lacrosse at Towson -  who were heading to Costa Rica for his bachelor party, ahead of a July 3 wedding. Next to him was Schreiber, who read the “Catcher in the Rye” and somewhat infuriatingly to TB kept the window shade down during taxi and takeoff.

It didn’t take long for the fireman and Schreiber to realize they had a common acquaintance, the fireman’s uncle, who was one of Schreiber’s lacrosse coaches at St. Anthony High School. During the course of the flight, they talked about Long Island, police vs. firefighter athletic contests, what Schreiber’s future plans are, the difference between indoor and field lacrosse, the value of always carrying baby wipes with you and a bunch of other topics, with the time spent talking ratio between them somewhere in the order of 10:1, with Schreiber the one.

There was DIRECTV access on the monitors in front of every seat, at a cost of $7.99.  Also infuriatingly, the service automatically stopped when the plane left U.S. airspace, or just before halftime of the Celtics-Heat game.

Across the aisle from TB was supposed to be Chase, but Andy McCall traded seats with him, since McCall, a California native and frequent flyer, got an automatic upgrade to first class, which is where Chase got to sit during the four-hour, 30-minute flight, which was pretty nice of McCall, if you ask TigerBlog.

And what did McCall get for being so nice? Scolded by the flight attendant when he stood up to get something out of his carry-on after the plane had pushed back from the gate.

If you’ve ever flown out of Newark Airport, you know that leaving in the late afternoon usually means a long wait between pushback and takeoff, and Princeton’s flight was no different.

The plane hadn’t budged in 10 minutes when McCall stood up, and it wouldn’t move for another 10 after that. In all, it was an hour between boarding and takeoff.

And yet that didn’t stop McCall from hearing this from the flight attendant as she walked by: “Maybe we should hold up the whole flight just for you.”

McCall took it in stride.

After all, that’s how it is with the start of a trip like this one.

It’s really hard to have anything get you down. 

After landing, it was about a 20-minute ride to the hotel, in three separate mini-buses. Diego, one of the guides, said that Costa Rica is the friendliest place on Earth.

So now it’s off for Day 1in Costa Rica, which begins with the white water rafting trip

Let’s see if everyone was right about this country. 

TB has a hunch they were.