Today, November 22, 2013, is Jack and Dee’s 61st anniversary. Fifty years ago, Dee was seven months pregnant with my sister Teresa. It was a Friday afternoon in Mrs. Aulisio’s fifth grade class, on the church side of the school, next to the side entrance. Our afternoon was interrupted by a distraught Sister who interrupted to tell us to immediately begin the rosary.  We stood as a class. I was second row from the wall, opposite the windows, second desk from the front. 

I remember thinking afterwards that the president died because I,  a few weeks before my tenth birthday, reached up and unbuttoned my top button and loosened my tie. After all, we prayed from the moment we heard until the end of the school day. Probably no more than an hour, but we knew our prayers weren’t answered when Mrs. Aulisio’s nephew Joe, a sixth grader, ran past the window on the way to his patrol post shouting, “President Kennedy’s dead!”  Catholic guilt is a strong potion.

It’s hard to say just when things changed in America. But change they did. From that endless weekend of black-and-white, 24/7 images first from Dallas, and then from Washington, DC, by the end of the twentieth century, says Robert D. Putnam, author of the bestselling book “Bowling Alone,” “Americans…were watching more TV, watching it more habitually, more pervasively, and more often alone, and watching more programs that were associated specifically with civic disengagement.” Unlike that fateful long weekend, today among children 8-18, less than five percent of their TV-watching is done with their parents.

September 11, 2001, is called “The day that never ends.” For those old enough to recall, November 22, 1963, was our September 11, like our parents’ Pearl Harbor-- the day you knew where you were. It was also the end of Camelot. That term is overwrought. Unquestionably there were problems at the start of the 1960s. But perhaps Kennedy’s assassination prepared us in some ways for the explosions that marked the end of the decade.

We did indeed put a man on the moon, in July of 1969, as Kennedy himself had challenged us to do. In an age before computers, cell phones, and total quality management, it is almost inconceivable that we could do that, but not do Obamacare. 

We also reeled at the death of Martin Luther King, Jack’s brother Bobby, the Manson Family, Chappaquiddick, My Lai, and the Democratic Convention-turned-to-pandemonium in Chicago.  

In 1964, the percentage of Americans who agreed with the statement, “most people can be trusted,” was 77 percent.  By 2005, the number had plummeted to 45 percent. In 1965, 36 percent of Americans—more than one in three-- said they’d “like to see their children go into politics as a life’s work.” Today’s under-thirties pay less attention to the news and know less about current events than their elders do today or than people their own age did three decades ago.  Oddly, the numbers are worse for college graduates. 

But here we are. Jack and Dee are still going strong, if a little more slowly, and we are still doing the best we can. Their children, now eight, still marry and have babies and stay in touch, and…watch their children marry.

On a brilliant day in 1963, the man with the ready, brilliant smile waved his last, and a nation stared in shock, at one another, at the horror, and at the incredible fragility of what we possess. Kennedy concluded his “Moon” speech by saying, “It is heartening to know, as I journey abroad, that our country is united in its commitment to freedom and is ready to do its duty.”   

Does the flame still burn? Happy Anniversary, Jack and Dee!

This past weekend closed out the season for two sports teams I’ve been following. One, the Freedom Stars 11-and-under Fall Baseball team, the other the South Carroll High School Boys Soccer team. Fall baseball has no playoffs, so it was the last regularly scheduled game, against the number-one team. South Carroll competed in the Maryland state 2A semifinals. 

A typical Saturday morning, I divided time between two baseball games—my older son plays too—and the snack bar, so I only saw the last half-inning of Collin’s game. Oddly, he was pitching. He loves to, even though it is an exercise in humility, and it was only his second time this year. 

My nephew Zach Shattuck, the four-foot, six-inch high school senior with the towering heart, was playing possibly his last game of his last season. Of course that has often been said before. His storied soccer career began when he was barely out of pull-ups. It was bracing, to say the least, in the Belair High School stands as Zach’s team took on the vaunted Fallston High School Cougars in a game under the lights.  

Amazingly, Collin’s team was up by six runs, so it seemed a safe bet to let him pitch out the last inning. The worst that could happen would be a six-run inning by their opponents that would close out the game, and the season, in a tie due to the mercy rule.

The South Carroll /Fallston soccer match ended in regulation in a 1-1 tie. The first ten-minute overtime ended still tied.  To the hoarse cheers of the freezing fans, the second overtime got underway. If a score didn’t end the game, Zach's breathtaking match would come down to penalty strokes. Whatever that means.

In the bright, windy morning, red-cheeked moms and dads cheered and prayed for a quick ending as siblings huddled under blankets with their electronics. The outs, and the runs, piled up. Through it all, Collin bore down, chin set, determined, nodding at the endless encouragement from the coaching staff, and aiming for the plate. I emphasize aiming.

With barely two minutes remaining in the second overtime, Zach, in his usual pesky manner, was buzzing the Fallston players.  Once it looked like he was elbowed to the ground. Just moments later, with a Fallston player down well away from the play, it appeared Zach was knocked down again. The ref called time.

Coach John Bittorie strolled to the mound with two outs and the Stars up by two, and chatted briefly with Collin. I waited for the inevitable hand to be raised, palm up, but instead, a steady coach’s hand patted Collin’s back, and Coach returned to his upturned five-gallon throne. Collin nodded at the catcher and started his windup.

When play resumed on the field, incredibly, the ref lined up Fallston for a free kick. Whatever that is.  Stunned fans and South Carroll players reacted slowly, trying to process the sequence. Seconds later, the Fallston stands and sidelines exploded at a fantastic play off the free kick into the right side of the goal. A shocked South Carroll contingent stepped down wearily from the stands as their stunned warriors shuffled across the field to accept comfort and sad congratulations on a magnificent season.

When the dust settled, a single shot to the outfield had cleared two runners across the plate, and my son watched helpless as the players rounded the bases. Coach John had to remind the Stars that a seven-run inning wasn’t allowed. Final score, 16-16. 

I don’t know how the South Carroll team processed the ending to their wonderful run this year. I did ask Coach John in an email what made him decide to leave my son on the mound, even though I was pretty sure I already knew the answer: “The score wasn't as much a factor because I like to give all kids a chance to play in a position they might not otherwise get a chance to play…I hope to put some desire in each kid's heart to come back and keep playing baseball.”

As for Zach and the South Carroll Cavaliers boys soccer team, thanks for a great season, and for the memory of your iconic circle-up. To the Fallston Cougars, I hope you win it all. To the refs, I would never want your job. And for all those who through countless anonymous Saturdays teach our kids that it really is how you play the game, nothing in life is more important than what you do. In case I forget to mention it as often as I should.