Gentlemen playing a hooligan’s game…

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The title of this blog post describes the sport of rugby, and although the origin of the quote might be difficult to trace, if you were to watch a game in person, it wouldn’t be all that hard to understand why the game was described as such. Standing on the sideline close enough to hear the bone-crushing tackles, the normally secret sounds of the game, and the thunder of the traveling pack… that’s when you truly get a feel for the game. Between the lines, rugby is an incredibly physical and highly demanding team sport, one that requires a willingness to both give, and accept, a level of physical abuse that borders on barbarism… all in the name of stopping your opponent, gaining possession, and advancing the ball down the field.

As with most team sports, the concept is really quite basic… one ball, two teams each defending their own territory, and, within a given a set of rules, one team trying to get the ball into the area the other is defending. Sounds simple, eh? When the whistle blows, rugby players engage in what looks like a violent battle, apparently willing to rip each other apart to help their team win. Even as the carnage ensues though, traditionally there is still an air of honor and civility afforded the opponent. Like someone once said… gentlemen playing a hooligan’s (or thug’s) game.

In his youth, Sam played just about every sport, dabbling in soccer, basketball and even football, before he settled on baseball as his chosen sport. Growing up playing sports myself, and still coaching soccer today, I totally get the lessons to be learned and values to be shared by being part of a team, so when Sam arrived on campus at Bowdoin and embraced not only the sport of rugby, but also the group of guys he got to hang out with, we were very pleased for him. Most of us have an innate desire to belong, and as a parent seeing their child leave the house and take a step into a brand new world filled with strangers, we have been thankful for the welcome he has received from his rugby playing friends (and the Bowdoin College community in general). Being passionate about whatever you do in life is one of the most important traits any individual could have, and as we spent a bright, spring morning proudly watching Sam (#5) and his friends play rugby, it was very obvious how much this game – and his teammates – meant to him. Go Polar Bears!

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A Day at the Zoo

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Central Park Zoo has long been a favorite destination of ours. Ever since Sam was little, when visiting the city we would always plan on spending some time at this small, but wonderfully intimate zoo. It never got old for Sam as we would return again and again to explore the indoor rain forest where he could eagerly search for all sorts of exotic birds, insects, and reptiles. He would look forward to observing the fascinating group of snow monkeys socializing on the rocky island, and he would carefully plan our time so that we would be able to catch the scheduled feeding of the sea lions and see them do their tricks. Before leaving, he would insist on stopping by the penguin exhibit… and of course… he would usually spend a chunk of his time trying to get a really good look at Gus and Ida, the two resident and spectacular Polar Bears.

Things haven’t changed much over the years at the zoo, and even though there haven’t been many new exhibits added, it is still one of the coolest places to visit when in the city. This Thanksgiving holiday we were able to make a quick day trip into Manhattan, and after filling our bellies with some delicious NY pizza, we made a bee line for Central Park and our favorite zoo.

Sam was a very willing guide for Jack, enthusiastically leading him from one exhibit to another, along the way sharing with him everything he remembered about his earlier times spent here. Jack was absolutely delighted to be given the tour by his big brother, and now seeing him marvel at the sights and sounds of the zoo brought back great memories for all of us. We certainly enjoyed becoming reacquainted with all of the old favorites, but I think the highlight for everyone was seeing the new (at least since our last visit) snow leopard exhibit that opened in June of 2009.

There are three of the endangered big cats in the zoo, though we were expecting them to be pretty private and probably quite reclusive. After spending some time scanning the compound unsuccessfully for signs of life, we were just about to move along when we suddenly caught a glimpse of something large and very stealthy working his (or her) way through the vegetation. Imagine our surprise when he (or she) then appeared in the open right next to where we were standing, and after posing ever so briefly for us, this big, beautiful cat gracefully disappeared back into the undergrowth. The snow leopard is an absolutely striking animal, and it is sad to realize that due to hunting there are only between 3,500 and 7,000 of them left alive in the wilds of the Himalayas. How could anyone want to harm such a beautiful creature?