Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Gentler Stroke for Swim Coach Shoulberg

Shoulberg coaching in 2001. Courtesy Philadelphia Inquirer
For those of us who know the anger and hurt of a demeaning end to a productive career, the news today from Germantown Academy is a relief.

Acclaimed swim coach Dick Shoulberg, 74, will come back in a new role, as "Coach Emeritus," before retiring in spring 2015.  His sudden departure from his top coach job this fall -- announced through an email to parents -- had stunned the nation's competitive swimming community and spurred a national letter-writing campaign. As of this morning 1621 people had signed a petition to have him reinstated. 

According to Swimming World, which obtained a copy of the letter issued by head master Jim Conner,
"Both Coach Shoulberg and GA feel it is unfortunate that during this transitional period, when we have been sorting out the logistics of his new role, certain inaccurate information has circulated both within and outside the GA community."  
If a rumored incident involving rude behavior or worse between two students was to blame, no one is talking right now. 
The full letter can be read here. And stories in the Philadelphia Inquirer, here and here.
I find it scandalous that companies and institutions that now usher departing employees out of the office within seconds of their dismissal and cut off their email haven't figured out how to treat with respect those employees who gave their creative and intellectual energy -- and their total allegiance -- to them for decades.
Recently, a friend of mine suffered the humiliating "escort" and email lockdown after 13 years of devoted and energetic service to Columbia University's School of Journalism. Academic institutions seem to be following the harsh footsteps of corporate America.
No wonder younger generations feel little-to-no commitment to their employers. 
No good deed goes unpunished.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Hot Time with Sweet Potatoes

What do baked sweet potatoes on a cold winter day have to do with retirement? Not much, really.
Except, perhaps, for the opportunity for a good laugh.
That comes via someone I connected with through my blog. She is the author of "The Frugal Scholar" blog and I learned about her when, some time ago, I decided to volunteer in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans while my husband attended a meeting there. The Frugal Scholar, as you might have guessed, is an academic. She and her academic husband are still working, but with frozen salaries and the threat of job eliminations, she is determined to pinch pennies.
And so, on a chilly New Orleans day, this is what she did.
Anyone have some good sweet potato recipes?

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Pissing Match at an Elite Private School

The truth is slowly emerging surrounding the removal of famed swim coach Dick Shoulberg after 44 years at his post at Germantown Academy, outside Philadelphia. An incident two years ago between two teenage boys appears to underlie Shoulberg's leave for "personnel" reasons. It's alleged that one youth urinated on the other. Not surprisingly, the boys reportedly still don't get along. How Shoulberg, a coach to numerous Olympic athletes, handled the matter is still not clear. The Philadelphia Inquirer tonight posted a more complete story.

For previous blogs on the developing story:

Swim Coach Story is Not Yet Over

Pressure is building to reinstate in some fashion Dick Shoulberg, the nationally renowned, much-loved swim coach at Germantown Academy, whose dismissal this fall became public in the last few days.  It had to come out. Too many people are upset. On Nov. 26, just before Thanksgiving, GA held a very private, closed- door, meeting with parents of swimmers who were outraged by Shoulberg's leaving.
"They had a meeting because the kids were so upset. They love this guy," one parent of a high school swimmer coached by Shoulberg told me today. The school has been "absolutely unfair to him." Shoulberg is "one of the "biggest influences in my daughter's life. My daughter is getting heavily recruited because of him."

According to this parent, those at the meeting "ripped" the current head of this prestigious private school. And some of them are very influential people in the Philadelphia community.
What triggered this fiasco? According to this parent, it was a verbal student-on-student hazing incident that Shoulberg reported "up the line." And while there was a "gentleman's agreement" for Shoulberg to come back, that's been mired in lawyer-speak, apparently.
Is this version of events true? I have no idea.
Meanwhile, a letter writing campaign in support of Shoulberg has launched, some of which appears on the website Chuck Connor, former president of the American Swimming Coaches Association writes with passion of his long connection to Shoulberg.
"What I find so unique about how Dick Shoulberg does his work, and lives his life, is that he is an open book. He can be abrupt and perhaps you are feeling challenged by this. His emotions are worn on his sleeve. I’ve seen him tremble and cry in embarrassment over receiving yet another national award, and generate a similar emotion calling his wife to tell her of the achievements of your students. I’ve watched him greet your students for swim classes with a booming voice that shakes them. And they love it."
It's had nearly 1,000 "likes."
Clearly, age plays a role in the outrage. I'm not sure how to parse it exactly. Shoulberg -- at "74 1/2," as he puts it -- is clearly an "elder" in the way that Indian societies used the word: revered, deserving of respect, wise. Many still want to sit at his feet (or in the pool) to learn from his lifetime of experience and success. 
Perhaps GA will find a way through this public relations disaster to figure that out.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Is Acclaimed Swim Coach Dick Shoulberg at the Finish Line?

Richard Shoulberg
Dick Shoulberg has had a long and storied career as a swim coach. As the Philadelphia Inquirer reported today, over four decades at Germantown Academy, he “sent 16 swimmers to the Olympics, coached U.S. teams, centered two halls of fame, and won five national coaching awards.”
And now he’s suddenly out.  
For no other reason, he says, than age and speaking his mind.

“I haven’t done anything wrong, other than being 74 ½ and looking people in the eye and telling them, ‘You’re wrong,’” Shoulberg is quoted as saying.
Claire Crippen stepping in for former coach Shoulberg
We don’t know Germantown Academy’s side of the story. School officials emailed parents recently saying others would be coaching this year.  The head of the Fort Washington, Pa. school told the Inquirer, it was a "personnel issue," that Shoulberg was placed on administrative leave. Maybe the school wants to give Claire Crippen, named one of two acting coaches to replace Shoulberg, a chance for the limelight. She’s a champion University of Virginia swimmer in her own right, former captain of their team. Her sister Maddy was a 2000 Olympian. Another sister, Teresa, nearly made the 2012 Olympic swim team. And her famed brother, Fran, tragically drowned in 2011 during an international race in the too-warm waters of the United Arab Emirates.
All the Crippen siblings grew up coached by Dick Shoulberg, so for Claire to step into his shoes must be a decision rife with conflicting emotions.
Maybe Shoulberg is no longer at the top of his game. It happens. Or maybe he really ticked someone off.
Still, is there no place for the role of “elder” for such a man, one widely regarded by his protégées as a father figure, a “class act,” a man who “changed me as a person in addition to a swimmer.”
Shoulberg says he has asked Germantown Academy if he could come back as “coach emeritus and only help if needed.” Even teaching preschoolers. “My life is not just coaching world-class athletes. It’s teaching all aspects of aquatics,” he says.
The school this morning said it was an issue it hoped to resolve soon.
Whether or not news stories raising questions about Shoulberg’s departure change the course of anything, we know one thing for sure:
It is harder to pick up the pieces of a long career and move forward when the leaving is so bitter.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

On Her Tractor: Wisty Sows New Jobs

Wisty Rorabacher: Working to create work

At a children's Halloween party in Northampton, Mass, the only two women of a certain age gravitate towards each other.
I like how Wisty Rorabacher is dressed – plaid shirt, corduroy overalls and a brown tweed  British newsboy cap. Our conversation is as relaxed – and as surprising – as she looks. Because Wisty has accomplished something in her so-called retirement that, in two years of interviewing people,  I had not found:
Wisty has created jobs. She puts a lie to the idea that older people are draining the nation financially and taking jobs from the young. In fact, she’s done the opposite. How?
Six years ago, Wisty found herself, like a lot of retired people, moving to be closer to a son and daughter-in-law. She and her longtime partner arrived in Greenfield, Mass. from the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, with no jobs, no friends, no history, no connections.
 “Part of it was, I just retired. I don’t have 20 years to slowly make friends.  I had to hit the pavement. And I decide I’m going to do something, right here, right now. I really wanted to work on being physically healthy. So I joined the Y and worked out three hours, three days a week there. You gain friends in the locker room. Women didn’t used to do that, But you get your locker room friends. So there were those people.
“I really wanted to get involved in the community.” Greenfield “is like 18,000 people and if you want to get involved, you get involved. One of the things I read about Greenfield before I moved was that there was a national sustainable energy organization. I called them up and said, ‘I’ll do whatever you want. I’ll help out.’
Plowing Greenfield's community garden
“They had some gardens in their solar park. They needed someone to work those gardens. I had just come off the land in Arkansas. I know how to garden and I missed it. So they gave me the best gift and they were thrilled to find somebody who felt good about doing that.”
“Meanwhile,” she continued, “I was meeting all these people in the sustainable energy community. So I got onto some committees on energy.  One thing led to another and it was real easy to start an identity from being active in that community.”

Soon, she was helping to pull in federal and state grant money and large donations for the community farm to sustain open space and grow crops for local residents.  Low-income families pay just $5 a week. And she was garnering press for Greenfield Community Garden, driving a tractor, plowing 20 acres of the 60-acre tract that she’d helped preserve in perpetuity. Suddenly, there were jobs to be filled: a full time farmer, a full time person who does education, an executive director and assistant director to oversee media and volunteer work. Others are hired seasonally, including an apprentice who helps weed and harvest and work in the farmers market.
If that weren’t enough, Wisty, who spent her career in education – teaching special ed and early childhood education in Minnesota and then gifted students in Arkansas--also is creating jobs in the Greenfield public schools.
In a permaculture gardening class, she met a woman who wanted to get YMCA members to volunteer in the public schools. “Nancy said, ‘How bout if we work together on it?’ Wisty recalled.  “So we made a proposal; the superintendent liked it and asked us to run with it, so we did. It quickly became apparent that we needed to hire somebody” to coordinate the volunteers.
“It was one of those things in a smallish community, if you see a need and you can show that you’re reliable,  responsible, you’re gonna follow through, then people will give you leeway. And it happened.”

Next for Wisty:  Her work to tie the community farm program into the schools, with students coming out to the farm and educational programs, got her doing some research. She found that none of the agricultural courses in the state’s tech or vocational schools focused on small organic farming, despite growing demand. She’s now intent on creating such a program with the high school.
“If that happens, “ she says, “it will open up more jobs.”
Wisty told me all this because I asked. She doesn’t usually wear her accomplishments on her overalls that way, even though those who’ve left careers often yearn to be acknowledged.
“One of the things that I learned to treasure,” she says, “ is to just walk around with that knowledge myself. Maybe nobody else has a clue about [what I’m doing] but it’s like part of the whole of me. You know what I mean?”