A Little Love for the SMC Gaels

In preparation for this year’s NCAA March Madness tournament, I’d like to take a look back into the annals of my personal history.  To say that I am a basketball fan is a bit of an understatement.  At one time, I had a favorite player from each team, and could identify colleges and hometowns for many of the players in the NBA.  I still, on occasion, will surprise somebody when they mention they went to Southwestern Missouri State and I ask if they’ve heard of Jackie Stiles, or they mention that they went to UC Riverside, and I say “Oh, the Highlanders?”  In college, I put this passion to work, as I broadcast the women’s basketball games for our campus station, KSMC.  This year, I expected to see both the Gaels’ men and women in the NCAA tournament for the first time since I began following SMC athletics.  Alas, the women’s team did not beat the Zags in the conference finals, and the NCAA wouldn’t let two or three teams in from the tiny West Coast Conference.

I get a little worked up about the NCAA tournament games, yes, but at a certain point, I’m cheering for the laundry.  Without cable (and I’m definitely not complaining here), it’s tough to watch any NCAA games.  I am a bit removed from my alma mater, which is understandable given that I graduated more than a decade ago; I haven’t met any of the Gaels’ current players, and I don’t expect to do so any time soon.  At the same time, I have had a positive relationship with virtually every student athlete that I’ve met from St. Mary’s.  I’d like to take the time to recognize two of these student athletes for their endeavors into the world of writing, as well as their kindness and care as ambassadors for our alma mater.

Jon Sanders (Class of ’05)

I had very little interaction with the men’s basketball team as a whole; I shared classes with one player, a reserve guard who played sparingly, and the only times I could see a men’s game were when the women’s team was out on the road or had a gap in their schedule.  For these and other reasons, I saw far less than I would have liked of Jon Sanders.  Sanders, a 6’8″ point forward from Colorado, transferred to St. Mary’s and began playing as a Gael during my freshman year.  I had very little interaction with Jon, except to occasionally see him around campus or at parties, so I never had any conversation that was of any real substance with the man.  However, I could tell from our many brief interactions, which are more likely to happen on a small college campus, that the man had a great outlook on life.  He called me “Little Buddy” on a couple of occasions, which probably was just what he called people, but I think he understood his role as a celebrity and as one of the many faces of St. Mary’s College.  It was also one of the few times in my adult life that I’ve been called little anything, so there’s a novelty to that expression.  My correspondence with Jon since he graduated in 2005 has been brief.  For a while, he became a post player for teams overseas (Taiwan and Lithuania). Now, he spends his time as a trainer, a coach, a poet, and an author of children’s books.  Jon expresses an interest in politics and race relations, and I think that these are evident in his most recent poems, “Confused, Naked, and Cursed,” and “JIM CROWING ONCE AGAIN!”

These poems, perhaps a result of the recent socio-political climate, include two speakers who both express pain.  The first poem, which is in the first person and is apparently written from a female’s perspective, is different from many of Jon’s poems in the sense that it has an alternating rhyming scheme.  In most stanzas, every even line rhymes.  It’s not a consistent rhyme scheme, as there are also rhyming couplets, and the first stanza has only a near rhyme of “kill” and “feel.”  “JIM CROWING ONCE AGAIN” is more indicative of what I’ve seen from Jon’s work to this point, with a free verse and no consistent rhyme scheme or meter.  He uses allusion or reference more than he uses rhyme, and is much more direct in his subject matter.  His first-person speaker makes very little reference to himself as a speaker, and only uses indications of the first person to set a conversational mood.

Jon published his first book, a childrens book, The Kid Who Found a Basketball, through McNally Jackson Press.  You can find it here.

You can read Jon’s poetry here.

Mikaela Cowles (Class of ’08)

When I signed on as the play-by-play man for KSMC radio coverage of St. Mary’s Gaels women’s basketball games, I held true to a mandate that I was to be a fly on the wall, and a guest to the teams that I covered. It was, indeed, a privilege to cover the women’s basketball teams and, on rare occasion, the men’s baseball team. To their credit, the teams largely left me alone; they were able to focus on their games, and I was able to focus on my broadcasting. This isn’t to say that they weren’t friendly, and there were several players that I saw around campus from time-to-time. Two were English majors in my graduating class, so I would see them virtually every day, except for when they were out on the road. I’ve lost touch with many of the players that I knew over the years. To the best of my knowledge, only one player has pursued a career in writing: Mikaela Cowles.

Mikaela is two years my junior. She came to SMC from the Seattle area.  As a 6’1″ forward, Mikaela may have guarded every position on the floor in her time as a Gael.  Mikaela was the definition of a student-athlete, as she not only was a member of our basketball team, she was also a member of the highly-prestigious Integral program, an intensive liberal arts program that was effectively a university-within-a-university, and SMC’s closest equivalent to an honors college.

Mikaela has taken a very different route to her blogging.  While I want to engage with my audience in order to share my experiences and thoughts as a novelist, Mikaela blogs to advertise her business; Mikaela runs Making Language Count, LLC, a language consultancy firm, where she assists in creating tag lines, generating copy for small and mid-sized businesses, and various forms of editing work.  Creating marketing and sales copy does not fall within my particular expertise. However, I have looked over Mikaela’s portfolio and blog.  Her writing illustrates several characteristics of language that make me reminisce of times spent with SMC’s creative writing instructors.

When we talk about language, we observe several things.  On the macro level, we might talk about the content of the story versus the delivery.  On the micro level, we might talk about diction, or word choice.  I’ve observed the particular treatment that SMC professors give to word choice.  Within poetry, it may come down to a single word choice, but short story writers are also highly concerned with the delivery of the message, from the individual sentences on out to the entire 500 or 2,000+ word story.  Mikaela uses both of these to address concrete tasks, such as creating a bio, as well as the more abstract or bare bones, such as pacing a narrative.  When investigating her site for the purposes of this post, I uncovered her post about reasons for and against using long sentences.  It reminded me of one of my classes.  My professor drove home the point about using long sentences sparingly.  He, of course, showed us examples of long sentences followed by incisive, short sentences.  I’m sure that he isn’t the only writer who feels this way, and wasn’t the only professor at SMC to advocate for short sentences.  I am also certain that, if he ever read this post, he would immediately point out a dozen sentences that were too long for his liking. It makes me think that Mikaela was also one of Professor Tenorio’s students.

Through editing my own work, I’ve realized the usefulness of being terse.  There are actually statistics to back me up on this. In his recent blog post for Medium, Joshua Isard directed readers to this site: LitCharts.  Note where Hemingway stands relative to other great novels of the early 20th Century.  Note where The Grapes of Wrath lies relative to Hemingway.  One of the most recognized works by one of the most recognized writers in American history averaged less than 10 words per sentence.  Furthermore, neither Hemingway nor Steinbeck provide a high frequency of long words; in fact, they venture far below the average when it comes to words that exceed eight letters.  In terms of making language count, there’s a clichéd sports term that may apply: it’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.

Find out more about Making Language Count here.

Thanks to fellow Gaels Jonathan Sanders and Mikaela Cowles for showing great examples of scholars and athletes.  Before I go, there’s one other Gael wordsmith-athlete that I’d like to mention; Tom Meschery, the former San Francisco Warrior, graduated from St. Mary’s in 1961.  Before he ended his career as a professional basketball player, he published his first book of poems in 1970.  Tom Meschery retired after a second career as a teacher, and continues to write poetry and blogs.

Most, if not all, of Tom’s blog posts end with a poem. Check them out, here.

The countdown to tipoff is starting, and I’m looking forward to the NCAA tournament.  Are there any Gaels writer-athletes I’ve missed?  How about any other writers who were also collegiate athletes? Feel free to mention them in the comments below.  Until next time, Go Gaels!

On to victory, the Red and Blue will win today…

—-

In case you missed them above:

The Poetry of Jon Sanders

The Kid Who Found a Basketball

Making Language Count

Meschery’s Musings on Sports, Literature and Life

For more information:

Saint Mary’s College of California

KSMC 89.5: The Voice of St. Mary’s College

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