Underrated Cities

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In July I spent some time in (and took runs in) a couple of cities that I hadn’t much more than passed through before – Kansas City and Sacramento. As I was looping around the California state capital building above it dawned on me how some cities are just ‘underrated.’

My own hometown of Charlotte, NC probably falls into the underrated category – a ‘not quite big city’ in the Southeast that doesn’t really have that ONE THING that it is known for around the world. Yeah, we’ve got the Panthers and Bank of America, but no one really knows the truly great things about Charlotte until they come for a visit and ask a resident where they should go? Depending on who you ask, you’ll get a variety, but there’s a good chance they’ll tell you to eat in Dilworth, NoDa or Plaza Midwood; spend a day at Lake Norman, catch a baseball game at BB&T Park, or hit the Mint Museum if that’s your style. Or they might send you to my personal favorite – a day at the US National Whitewater Center for rafting, mountain biking, rock climbing, zip lining, good food, great beer, and live music. We always exceed expectations!

Kansas City and Sacramento are much the same in that regards. I found great food in both towns – Hock Farm Craft and Provisions in SacTown, and Anton’s Taproom in KC. Both had interesting historical features – The National World War 1 Museum is in Kansas City (picture above is taken from the museum looking back at the city), and Sacramento is the oldest incorporated city in California and has been the state capital since just after it was granted statehood. The people in both of these cities were fantastic to me and I think they are truly underrated.

So, is there a lesson in all of this? Maybe not, but then again, maybe their is…if you keep an open mind and dig around a little bit, there is something special and unique about just about everywhere. People in mid-sized cities like Charlotte, Kansas City, and Sacramento always seem to be trying to keep a secret (their city is really pretty great) because they don’t want too many more people to know about it, lest it change them. I’m all for exploring every city to find the very best it has to offer right under its underrated surface.

Giving Back to Basketball

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The game of basketball has given me an awful lot in my life.

This past weekend, I had a chance to give a little bit back and I’m so glad I did. From Thursday to Sunday I was the Camp Director of the Jay Bilas Skills Camp on the campus of Queens University in Charlotte, NC. Jay and I have gotten to know each other over the past couple of years and decided that we wanted to put together an “old school” basketball skills camp that would provide sound basketball teaching from experienced coaches and competitive environments that maintained the values of the game that we had been taught as young men learning how to play. 

On Sunday, as parents were checking out their very tired boys, we heard a lot of great comments about much the guys enjoyed the camp, what they learned, how hard they worked, and how it improved their game on and off the court. For all of our coaches, it was an exhausting camp: they taught stations in the morning, ran competitions all afternoon, and coached 5-on-5 teams every evening before being rewarded by sleeping on a hard dorm mattress! Jay and I got to talking about why these very experienced coaches would do this and I think it is pretty simple…if they are anything like me, they want to give back to the game that has given them so much.

It could probably be argued that nearly everything of value that has happened to me in life has somehow been a result of the game of basketball. As a young man in junior high and high school, the game provided the start of my identity, giving me something to be proud of myself for because I was good at it. It was in the 5th grade when I played on my first school team that I first learned the value of teamwork and the importance of everyone understanding and playing their role. The game of basketball was the first thing that my dad and I really connected over, and it is still an important bond between us 30 years later.

In high school I learned how to really compete for the first time through basketball and the game helped pay for my college education. When I got to college, the game of basketball started to teach me what hard work REALLY was and how hard I was going to have to work to be a champion. During those same college years, basketball brought me teammates who became my best friends, and who 20 years later are the most important men in my life.

After I hung up my jersey for the last time, the game continued to give to me. Basketball provided me a living for 10 years as I coached the game full time at the high school, NCAA Division 3, Division 2, and Division 1 levels. At one of my first stops on that coaching adventure, basketball introduced me to my wife, who was also working in the athletic department and 13 years later, the game is still one of the things we enjoy watching together. During my coaching career, basketball taught me how to sacrifice for something I was passionate about, how to treat people in a professional setting, the importance of relationships to careers, and the reality of life that sometimes you get fired and have to get back up and try again.

It’s been over 6 years since I blew a whistle for a living, but the game has continued to give to me. It has given me the pleasure of watching a great game in person or on tv, it has given me open doors of opportunity in the business world because of relationships within the game, and it has continued to give me the opportunity to teach the game to young people even though I’m not doing it for a living anymore. At this stage in my life, the game has taught me that you can never stop learning new things and the value of giving people an honest evaluation even if they don’t want to hear it.

I’m not pleased with everything about the game of basketball in 2014. It is a different game than when I grew up with different influencers, different expectations, and different motivations for many involved. I don’t like the way AAU basketball has morphed into a big business that has created an environment where it is hard for kids to remember that it is still just a game. I wish players wanted to work on their skills without any prizes or coaches or referees, but that seems to be slipping away. I can’t fix the entire game of basketball, but I can influence the very small corner of the game that I have been given to look after. The game has given me so much that the least I can do is give back to the game in any way I can in that small corner of the basketball world. It is a great game that has made me who I am today.

Hometown Appreciation

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I love to travel and fortunately, I get the opportunity to travel quite a bit. However, today I’m thinking about some Hometown Appreciation.

I live in the Lake Norman area of Charlotte. Lake Norman is made up of the four small communities of Huntersville, Cornelius, Davidson, and Mooresville. It is a literal ‘vacation spot’ 18 miles from downtown Charlotte on the state’s largest lake. It is a great place to live and raise a family.

This morning, I got a 5 mile run in on a portion of the Carolina Thread Trail that runs through Davidson about 4 miles from my house. It was a beautiful day for a run and there were quite a few people on the trail for a Friday morning. Today while I ran I didn’t think about anything deep or profound, just tried to dwell on the things I have to be thankful for…and they are many. 

Along with my appreciation for where I live, and the obvious thankfulness I have for my family, I am grateful to work for a company that gives me a generous amount of Paid Time Off so I can take a Friday like today and enjoy a very long holiday weekend; I’m thankful for friends who remind me that the path I have chosen and the quietness that I seek are in themselves ‘where it is at’ and not some means to other things; and I’m glad to have a creative mind that seeks ways to express itself in various parts of my personal and professional life.

So, today, and this weekend, I’m going to savor a little Hometown Appreciation – I’m going to do a little local grocery shopping and bike to get my haircut, I’m grilling out for the extended family tonight while the kids play in the neighborhood, and we’re going to WALK over to a new restaurant on the lake tomorrow after a few hours at the neighborhood pool. Happy Memorial Day weekend! I’m grateful for my father-in-law and all of or veterans who have fought to give us the freedom to live this life in our hometowns. 

America is All the Same

It is true, if you travel to just about anywhere in America and go airport to hotel to meetings to hotel to airport, America is all the same. From Peoria to Portland, Charlotte to Champaign, Madison to Miami, San Francisco to Saginaw, or Dallas to Davenport every town in America has suburbs that are mind-numbing, bums on the street, non-descript strip malls, and the same chain restaurants. The inside of every hotel room is pretty much the same and it can all be depressing.

BUT…the good news is that if you are willing to be just a little bit adventurous, and look around, every town in America is also unique and cool! I’ve experienced Bricktown in Oklahoma City, The Student Union in Madison, WI, Livermore Valley outside of San Francisco, The Riverfront of Peoria, IL, The Harbor Center in Buffalo, NY and my own hometown’s US National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, NC just to name a few. All of these places are extremely cool and were memorable experiences. All it really takes is a desire to try something new, venture off the beaten path, and learn about the place you are in to realize that every town in America has something cool and unique about it. 

Here’s to finding what is COOL about where you live and the next place you visit.