My most memorable moment from UH vs. UT Basketball Game

Last Wednesday, the Houston Cougars beat the Texas Longhorns in men’s basketball with the score of 73-72. I hope you were there in person to experience the most poignant moment of the game.

No, I am not talking about the alley-oop pass by Danuel House to kick off the game, although it did set the tone for the rest of the evening.

No, I am not talking about Joseph Young’s buzzer-beater 3-pointer to end the first half, although that did bring the entire house down.

No, I am not talking about Cougar’s 72-seconds 11-0 run, although that did bring UT’s momentum to a screeching halt.

And no, I am not talking about House’s dazzling shot with 17.7 seconds remaining on the clock, although it was the winning score of the night.

My poignant moment came at the conclusion of the game.  Cougar players did not take pictures of the scoreboard, they did not hug each other and danced on the court, they did not run to their coaches and lifted them on their shoulders.  Instead, these Cougars ran toward the student section, jumped up in the stands, joined them in  victory chorus and danced with them.  The rest of the fans delayed their exist and watched this touching moment. The band played on, the cheerleaders cheered, the spectators stood mid-court. All eyes were on the student section!  Students–they filled two entire sections–had stayed and supported their team like never before.  They cheered. They chanted. They screamed. They waved their hands. And they created a thundering noise.  Undoubtedly they were a big factor in swinging the momentum of the game. The players knew it, too, and now it was time for the players to be with their supporters to express their gratitude and share their joy.

To me, that is what college athletics is all about.  Winning and losing?  Of course!  But most important, learning to bind as a force and belong as a community.  At that moment, those players were the heroes and they could have easily huddled together and celebrated themselves, but they did what Cougars always do. Share their joy with others!

To me personally, who never had a chance to play any sports (my high school and college, like most in rural India, did not have any), this was a magical moment!

Congratulations Team!  The win was good, but the winners were the best!!

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It is more than March Madness

College sports have a way of taking over our lives. Each year, I vow to remain calm, but each year I get more emotionally vested than the year before. Day-long tailgates, red-hot rivalries, logic-defying superstitions, post-game dances, post-loss depressions, pre-game butterflies, nail-biting anxieties–I have lived it all. I thought I was a real serious fan until I met Murray and Sharon Stinson.

Since the day they settled in Houston 35 years ago, Murray and Sharon have attended every single University of Houston Cougar football and basketball game–at home or away–except 8. Eight misses in 35 years! Yes, it makes for nearly 1,600 games! Whether the football team was 0-12 or 12-0, whether the basketball team was the famous Phi Slama Jama or filled with yet-to-be-proven new recruits, whether the game was in California on a Tuesday night or in Orlando on a Wednesday afternoon, or whether the weather was subzero or above 100°, they were at the game. They were simply there.

Sometimes at away games, Murray and Sharon were the only two people in the stands wearing red, but they were there.murray and Sharon Stinson

I sat next to them at my first Cougar basketball game in 2008. Murray was intense, but mostly quiet. Sharon, on the other hand, was animated, calling out players by name, yelling at referees, and signaling the crowd to make some noise. They knew every coach and cared for every player. They even knew all about the referees.

Since then, I saw them at every game and every Cougar sporting event. No bragging, no egos, no grandstanding, and no sideline coaching…they were at the games for the simple joy of the moment. In all of my years as president, which included major athletics decision points like recruiting an athletic director, a football coach, and a basketball coach, I never recall Murray or Sharon telling me what I should do or who I should hire.

Just like a rainbow, their support comes in different colors. They have endowed scholarships for student-athletes. Murray introduced the Helmet Buggy which runs on the field after every touchdown. On senior nights, Sharon bakes cupcakes for the entire team. They do so much and all of it for the simple joy of supporting their team.

During this time of March Madness, Murray and Sharon remind us that there is more to athletics than the few weeks of madness, that there is more to the games than winning or losing, that there is more to college sports than being a fair-weather fan.

Real madness is loving your school 1,600 times over!

How she became my Spanish teacher?

I had seen her a few times before, but every time I tried to make eye contact, she looked away. She would walk shyly behind her cleaning supply cart, and we would be like two strangers crossing paths in the hallway…I with my heavy, steady, and long steps and she with her soft, gentle and short steps. That day also, I passed by her, but then stopped and walked back.

“Hi, how are you?” Like a few times before, she looked the other way and moved towards the wall, but I persisted, “What is your name? I have seen you a couple of times before. You are new here. Right?” She smiled and told me that her name was Lupe. “Lupe!” I repeated and asked her about her work and family. Her English was limited but my Spanish was zero.  Finally, I said apologetically that I did not know Spanish, that I always wanted to learn it, but that I never found the time to do so.

And then, Lupe picked up a bottle from her cleaning cart, waved it in front of me and said, “Botella.” I smiled and repeated after her. Next she pointed to a paper and said, “Papel.” Her voice was firm and confident. I repeated the word twice. Next came “Escoba,” “Toalla,” and then she pointed to the peanuts in my hand and said, “Cacahuete.” At this point, I resisted and said, “Oh no, that is a difficult word. I could never remember that one.” Lupe immediately took a napkin from her cart and wrote down all five words for me. She handed me the paper and said something in Spanish which I understood to mean that I was to practice these words.

Amused, I took the paper, dropped it in my purse and thanked her. Lupe walked away, this time with steady steps. She was no longer a shy woman ready to blend into the landscape.

Three days later, I was at my desk engrossed in reading a legal document when I heard a soft knock. Here was Lupe with my assistant right behind her. Luckily, I had held and studied that napkin a few times while searching for other things in my purse. Lupe seemed very pleased with my progress and introduced new words–the different parts of the face. I struggled to repeat them, so she picked up a piece of paper from my desk and drew out the entire lesson. See it in the photo here.

Spanish Lesson

I realized then that Lupe was serious about my Spanish lessons, so I downloaded several Spanish apps on my iPhone. I thought I better start learning simple words on my own becasue Lupe’s lessons followed no logical progression and when it came to expecting results, she was merciless.

So, here I am…the same person who could never find time to learn Spanish is memorizing Lupe’s words while on the treadmill and while walking my dog! I am starting to see Spanish words everywhere in my surroundings. How come I had not noticed them before?

Last time I saw Lupe, I asked her if she enjoyed working at the University of Houston. With a twinkle in her eyes, she said, “Si, Tier One!” Thank you, Lupe. You are my Tier One teacher!