Apartheid, Sweat, and Coach Grant

Coach Oliver 'Skip' Grant, who seriously did bend some arcs
Coach Oliver ‘Skip’ Grant, who seriously did bend some arcs of the universe

Had a chance to catch a few minutes of the news yesterday evening. Immediately thought of a black man of terrifying moral authority, whom I grew up admiring.

Not President Mandela, may he rest in peace. My high-school cross-country coach, Oliver Grant.

To get us into what he regarded as good shape, Coach Grant dispatched us on courses he had devised, covering huge swaths of the city. If you know northwest Washington, his names for our assigned runs—‘Ward-Tenley,’ ‘Westmoreland-Western,’ and the dreaded 11-mile roundtrip ‘Naval Medical’—these names might mean something to you. Something terrifying. We ran all those miles on a daily basis.

On especially hot days, Coach Grant, who knew no mercy, often prescribed ‘Scott Circle, with Normanstone.’ This run took us past the impressive building that was then the Embassy of South Africa. Which meant that we saw the sidewalk marches of the anti-Apartheid demonstrators and heard their chants, “Free South Africa!” Then, after practice, we would go home and listen to Bono and U2 sing rock songs against Apartheid.

anti-apartheid demonstrators south africa embassy

That was all a very long time ago. My generation and I have grown old. Coach Grant retired 15 years ago. The last time I saw him, he had mellowed enormously, and the relentlessly demanding tyrant who made a man out of me, with buckets full of sweat in the Washington summer heat—he has become an indulgent grandpa.

But the demands of justice have not mellowed. If we think that the world is a more just place now than it was in 1985, we are fooling ourselves shamefully.

1. The innocent and defenseless unborn child.

2. The undocumented immigrant whose home country has been rendered unlivable by drug violence.

Back in the 80’s, if you didn’t stand up for the blacks of South Africa, cool people regarded you as a loser. Frankly, I was much more concerned with coming out alive after one of Coach Grant’s workouts. Nelson Mandela was in prison on the other side of the world.

But in the 2010’s, if we do not stand up for the innocent and defenseless unborn child and for the undocumented immigrant who has to live a shadow-life right here in our own country—if we don’t stand up for these people, I’ll tell you what: We are losers. Whatever reward Nelson Mandela now enjoys, we will not receive it—unless we stand up in 2014 for the unborn and for immigrants.

Philip Frohman

Washington National Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral
This morning I had the privilege of con-celebrating Holy Mass in a church designed by the same architect who designed the church building that helped to teach me to love God between the ages of twelve and sixteen.

Philip Frohman designed the National Cathedral on Mount St. Alban in Washington. His design employed the “pure Gothic” style.

When I was a student at St. Albans, I spent a lot of time staring up at the cathedral. I wrote poems and stories about it, including one about a cathedral janitor who begged to be allowed to go up to the roof to see the view. (The top of the cathedral tower is the highest place in Washington.) When he got up there, he realized that what he really loved was to look UP at the cathedral, not look out from it. From the roof, he could see everything else, but not the one thing he loved so much, the cathedral itself.

My father was an altarboy at the National Cathedral when he was a student at St. Albans in the 1950’s. He always loved the cathedral. My aunt and my cousin were married there.

Our Lady of the Wayside, Chaptico, Md.
Our Lady of the Wayside, Chaptico, Md.
After he designed the cathedral, Frohman converted to Catholicism. I have not been able to find any information about how his conversion came to pass. If you know anything about it, please chime in.

After he became Catholic, Frohman designed two parish churches in St. Mary’s County, Maryland. One of these parishes is under the care of a good friend of mine.

Our Lady of the Wayside church is probably about one-twentieth the size of the National Cathedral. But it possesses beautiful English Gothic touches. Being in the sacristy this morning felt like being in the Verger’s passageway in the cathedral (where I have not been in many years).

May God be praised in the beautiful buildings dedicated to His service!

Perhaps it will please God someday to have the beautiful National Cathedral finally come under the care of the Roman Catholic Church.

Washington Wizards in Europe

The Wizards’ pre-season trip to Europe, including Spain, reminds me of when I played international ball back in 1986.

My tenth-grade Spanish-class teacher was a Spaniard. He was kind enough to take some of his students on a trip to Spain, including Barcelona, which the Wizards will visit this week. One of the most beautiful places on earth.

During our trip, when we (fifteen cheeky St.-Albans’ boys, full of swagger) were walking through the Parque de Buen Retiro in Madrid, a group of Spanish teenagers challenged us to a basketball game.

We schooled ’em. I mean, we whipped them. It was wonderful. I think I even had a dunk. (There was a brief, precious period of my life when I could dunk a basketball. Just barely–no monster jams–but I could do it. I pray that I get to heaven, and then the good Lord will let me be able to do it again, and I will be throwing down tomahawks in the everlasting five-on-five.)

Anyway…After the basketball game the Spanish boys challenged us to a re-match, but in soccer. We thought: Soccer? Kicking that little ball around? No problem. You’re on! Si, si, amigos!

It was not pretty. They made us look like a bunch of flat-footed girls. What goes around comes around.