March Madness, the much-viewed annual NCAA basketball tournament, has just completed its first weekend, and already the upsets are mounting up.  Two number one seeds fell—one to a sixteen seed!—and all of the top four are out in another bracket.  I’ll keep rooting for two of the best-coached teams in the tournament, Duke and Gonzaga.

That said, I’d like the whole thing to just go away.  Our country’s colleges and universities have no business—add a stress to the world “business”—acting as a minor league, or “developmental” league, to professional sports.  None.

Professional baseball began developing its farm system in the 1930s, when Branch Rickey—then the general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals (he later became G.M. of the Brooklyn Dodgers, where he was responsible for breaking baseball’s “color line”)—recognized the need to assure his team of well-trained, well-prepared younger players.

Today, our institutions of higher learning have been co-opted into providing a steady stream of partly-seasoned athletes, ready to move on to the professional ranks.  The only problem is . . . that’s not their calling!  Their entire job is two-fold:  one, teach kids to acquire and access information; two, teach kids to process that data, to turn that information into a useful format so that employers will pay them for their skill set.

That’s it.  Train their minds, not their bodies.

A subset to this problem of disparity of goals is this:  my favorite coach, Duke’s “Coach K,” is paid nearly nine million dollars a year to coach basketball in college!  Alabama’s football coach is paid more than eleven million!  Let that sink in.  More than their state’s governor.  More than their college’s president.  More than our country’s president, for crying out loud!  (When Krzyzewski was first hired at Duke, the student newspaper’s sub-headline read, “This is not a misprint.”  Ha!)

Last year, the NCAA allowed more than 800 players to transfer schools.  Why were these kids transferring?  To find a better physics prof?  Nope.  They were looking for a better, more amenable coach, more playing time, and/or a better platform from which to secure a higher draft pick status (and more money, upon signing a professional contract).  There is also the cruel, mean irony that coaches—many of whom routinely skip out of their obligation to a school for another school’s higher salary—equally routinely pooh-pooh or prevent their own players from transferring to a better situation.  Never mind the FBI investigations into corruption, payoffs and prostitutes in college sport.

How is any of this relatable to the goals and precepts of higher education?  It isn’t.  Not at all.  Arizona State University’s President Michael Crow recently spoke out against college as a developmental league, suggesting that sport in college return to just that:  intramural college sport.  “I’m a big believer that people coming in from high school should really focus on learning to be a student, and then developing their athletic ability to a higher level,” he told the Arizona Republic.  “We shouldn’t be a place where somehow we’re a semi-pro, half-college this, half-college that. . . .  It’s college basketball.  There’s a deep fundamental problem that we have to solve.”

Crow pointed to the fact that, out of the more than half million college kids who participate in collegiate athletics, only a few hundred are ever paid to play professional sports.  It is not now, nor should it ever be part of an institution’s job description to spend the billions that are currently outlaid to the sole benefit of so very few (especially the one-and-done players, those who play just their freshman year).  It is neither economically sound nor is it morally right.  Which should be all that you need to know.

©2018 Richard Paul Hinkle



I had the most extraordinary experience a couple of weeks ago, and I’m just now processing the fullness of its effect on me.  I get giddy and delirious just thinking about it, recreating it in my mind.  It was a wonderful acceptance of sorts, and that’s all one really wants from life isn’t it?  To be accepted, to be taken in, to be embraced.

I got into a five-on-five basketball game on a gorgeous hardwood court at the University of California-San Francisco Medical Center’s recreational facility.  I haven’t played five-on-five since college intramurals.  Our court at the YMCA—where I play virtually every Monday-Wednesday-Friday that I am alive—is only sixty feet long.  (A regulation basketball court is ninety-four feet, baseline to baseline.)  So, at the “Y,” we play four-on-four.  There just isn’t room enough for the real thing.

So, back to San Francisco a couple of weeks ago.  It’s a pick-up game, and most of the guys are in their twenties and thirties, with a couple of fellows maybe forty-ish.  So, I stand out a little, as I am going to turn 72 next month.  And, worse, I don’t have good-grip basketball kicks on, or even tennis shoes.  I’m wearing slip-ons.  Because that’s all I’ve got.  So I’m a little tentative on my wheels.

Long story short, I miss a right-handed hook shot from the low right post, but it’s a good effort and smooth, and I feel that the guys can intuit that I know what I’m doing.  On the next play, I get a rebound and put in a difficult reverse lay-up left-handed from just under the backboard on the left side.  After that, I hit a tough twelve-foot step-back jumper off the dribble and then a three from the top of the key and—in an instant—I’m just one of the guys.  No better, no worse, just . . . accepted and symbolically embraced, as an equal in the brotherhood of basketball.

This was, forgive me, utterly glorious.  I am still giddy with it.  There is no other word for it.  It is glorious to be just one of the guys.

©2018 Richard Paul Hinkle


As our society ages, those of us in the Boomer demographic are being increasingly drawn into the discussion as to what constitutes a “good death.”  We instinctively cotton to the notion of a pain-free death with dignity.

What does that mean?  Oregon led the way in allowing citizens to have assistance in ending their own lives.  British neurosurgeon Henry Marsh, in his recent book Admissions, writes movingly about having the burden of caring for patients for whom euthanasia would have been a blessing . . . and a legal nightmare, with probable prison, for any kindly attending physician with the guts to assist in the transition from life to death.

“I see little merit or virtue,” he writes, “in the physical indignity which so often accompanies out last few days or weeks of life, however good the hospice care which a minority of us might be lucky enough to receive. . . . [I] hope that in future the law in England will change—that I might be able to die in my own bed, with my family beside me, as my mother did, but quickly and peacefully, truly falling asleep, as the tombstone euphemisms put it, rather than incontinent and gasping with the death rattle.”

An admitted atheist, Marsh says, “I do not believe in an afterlife—my concern is simply to achieve a good death.  What the time comes, I want to get it over with.  I do not want it to be some prolonged and unpleasant experience, presided over by terminal-care professionals, who derive their own sense of meaning and purpose from my suffering [italics mine].  The only meaning of death is how I live my life now and what I will have to look back upon as I lie dying.  If euthanasia is legalized, this question of how we can have a good death, for those of us who want it, with pointless suffering avoided, can be openly discussed, and we can make our own choice, rather than have it imposed upon us.”

Hamlet refers to death as “the undiscover’d country from whose bourn no traveler returns.”  I don’t know what is on the other side of this life, and no one else does, either.  Oh, there are hucksters a-plenty out there ready to sell you everlasting life on the cheap.  You don’t even have to look for them; they’ll find you.

But what they’re selling is our collective insecurity, and many of us are willing to splurge on the “protection” they’re selling.  That’s what it is, really, isn’t it?  A “feel-good” bit of insurance against our own weaknesses.  I’m not buying.  You?

Whatever the reality, I am slowly coming to terms with my own death.  I try to keep my mental, physical, social and spiritual “selves” in good shape so that I can continue living well and attentively if those selves so allow.

But I am also preparing myself to accept the inevitable when it happens.  It has become exponentially easier to do so knowing—as I do now—that both of our children have worked their way into satisfying work and extraordinary relationships whereby they share lives with people they can carry on a fruitful conversation with for decades to come.  So, I’m good to go.

©2018 Richard Paul Hinkle


Don’t kid yourself.  The words we choose drive the attitudes we adopt.  If you choose proactive words, you are almost forced to move forward with positive attitudes.  It is that wonderful concept of the self-fulfilling prophecy:  When you prepare yourself for success, good outcomes follow.

The great St. Louis Cardinal and Brooklyn Dodger general manager Branch Rickey—he’s the one who prepared Jackie Robinson to break baseball’s color line—always said, “I prefer the errors of enthusiasm to the indifference of wisdom.”

Whenever I am about to run into someone—in the supermarket, on the street—my automatic utterance is, “Fake left, go right.  Sometimes that works.”  Invariably there is a smile of recognition.  Yes, that would work. When we invite people over for dinner they often ask if they can bring something.  My response is, “Wit, charm and appetite.  Or the best two of the three.”

Baseball plays big part in my life and, as I get older, I spend a little more time playing first base.  When an opposing runner reaches that bag, like as not I’ll playfully grab the sleeve of his jersey and yell to my pitcher, “I’m holding the runner!”  Almost always that elicits at least a grin.  But once, a no-nonsense opponent swatted at my hand as if I were holding him for the constabulary.  Geez.  Get a life!  (And when I come to bat, I often ask the pitcher if he’s got a hanging curve he needs to work on.)

People who take life too seriously forget that most of life is practice.  We’re just trying to get a little better at each task.  And science if proving, rather conclusively, that if we take the practice a little more lightly . . . that we’ll live longer and happier lives.  A current Yale University study showed that even those who carried the gene variant linked to dementia—but also had a positive attitude about the aging process—were 50 percent less likely to develop same than a similar group who faced aging pessimistically.

When someone phones for my wife and asks if she’s around, I often say, “No, she’s a trapezoid.”  Which gets, in return, either a stunned silence or rich merriment.  I prefer the latter, don’t ya know.

If you don’t have a quick response to a question or comment, I find that there are two responses that you can almost toss in at any point in a conversation.  “That’s what she said, too” is one.  The other?  “A lot of people think that . . .”  Universal retorts.

I choose words that put a positive light on things, most often looking for laughter as Nature’s palliative.  When I approach someone walking a dog, after first asking permission to pet the pooch, I always thank them for a moment of “free pet therapy.”

When I see someone walking with a child (and or a pet), my instinct is to note that, “It’s getting harder and harder to go anywhere without a consultant or two.”  That almost always gets at least a smile, if not an outright chuckle.  Or even a chortle.  Better, a guffaw.

On the tennis court, I often make note of the old bromide, “The Lord giveth and the net taketh away.”  Most people don’t know that one, but there you are.

The takeaway from all this is that I see life from the optimist’s point of view.  I’m an optimist-bordering-on-Pollyanna.  The alternative—that carping, negative view of life—is wasteful and, worse, fruitless.  When people ask me how I am, it’s either “If I were any better I’d be hard to live with,” or “As good as a coyote during Spring lambing!”  Go for the laugh, go for the positive, always and always.  It’s lots more fun, you’ll live longer, and you’ll feel a whole lot better for it.  Ha!

©2018 Richard Paul Hinkle


There was a short piece on ESPN the other night about a 16-year-old high school kid who dreamed of making his school’s football team.  Nothing unusual in that.  Playing high school football is a big deal, socially, especially in the South.  It’s how you get girls, right?

The one problem Danny Lilya had . . . was that he was confined to a wheelchair.  Danny has been paralyzed from the waist down since birth, but that never contained or confined his love of football.  So, this inspirational young man is now wheeled onto the field after every touchdown the Moose Lake (Minnesota) Rebels make, and for every field goal attempt.  In those moments Danny sits patiently waiting for the snap from center, upon which he catches the ball and sets it up unerringly for the place kicker!

“I’ve always been dreaming of being a Rebel football player since I was in kindergarten,” he says forthrightly.  “Finally having that dream come true was amazing.”

Danny’s story brought tears to my eyes and, along with other examples of like fortitude, it inspires me to go forward when things look tough.  Though optimism is a default setting in my life, that does not prevent moments of deep dungeon.  Life intrudes.  There is genocide out there.  Climate change is considered fake news by our present leader.  People pick on the lame, the weak.  Nonetheless, there are plenty of folk out there willing to stand up to injustice and provide stalwart examples of fortitude and toughness.

Who inspires you to take a deeper breath?  Who brings tears to your eyes with their extraordinary effort, even against long odds?  Who nudges you to bring out your better self in tough times?

My high school baseball and basketball coach, Ken La Crosse was the man who moved me to reach back and find reserves of strength I didn’t know were there.  I carry a recurring image of walking into his office in the basement of our gymnasium . . . and seeing his bookshelves stuffed to overflowing with eclectic tomes on sport, science, history, biography, geography, politics, etc.  “Whoa,” I thought. “Mind and body.  And more.”

My late mother-in-law inspired—and still inspires—me to try and be a better person.  A more unassuming, a more generous person I do not know.  As I always remind people, if all mothers-in-law were like mine, there would be no mouther-in-law jokes.  She was precious and wonderful and inspiring.

Right now, I look to the ladies of the MeToo movement and the kids in Parkland, Florida.  Both groups are taking on stultifying power and bringing those ignominious idiots to their knees.  Women are not second-class citizens and children should not have to be fearful in their classrooms.  Those ought to be self-evident truths but, sadly, in today’s politicized climate they are not.  But, with citizens young and old taking to the hustings, those out-moded motifs are going to be changed.  So, take a deep breath and watch these whirlwinds go do good works and be inspired.  You can shed a tear or two, too.  It’s okay.

©2018 Richard Paul Hinkle


I love to connect with people.  I figure I can make a new friend within five or six minutes.  Seriously.  Easiest way to start?  Just ask a person where they’re from and turn ‘em loose.  They’ll talk for an hour if you just listen.  Really.

We were at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center a couple of weeks ago.  When I asked the night nurse where she was from.  “St. Helena,” she responded.  “Oh, wine country,” I said.  “Any of your family in the business?”

She nodded in the affirmative and told me that her dad had some connections to the historic Beringer Winery.  I asked if she knew the Raymond brothers (their family sold the winery to Nestle in the ‘70s) or winemakers Myron Nightingale, Jill Davis and Ed Sbragia.  “Of course.”  In the course of our conversation she mentioned a small family label “Tor,” and I immediately began to put things together.

A “tor” is a high mountain peak.  It is also the first name of a delightful fellow that I used to go canoeing with on the Russian River . . . nearly a half century ago.  “Molly,” I said to our night nurse.  “Would I be right if I said that you know a fellow by the name of Tor K. rather well?”

She laughed, as if she knew what was coming.  “That’s my dad!”  Of course he is.  Had to be.  It was the only logical outcome.

We were in St. Louis last summer to take in a Cardinals baseball game, ticking off one more of the thirty major league teams we’ve seen in their home parks.  We have only two to go, now, Miami and Tampa (which we hope to visit this summer).  On a trolley tour of the city—punctuated often by our tour guide, touting St. Louis’ myriad museums which are “Absolutely Free!”—we ran into a couple who said they were from San Francisco.  Which is what you say when you’re from the “area.”

When I asked him to be more specific, he narrowed it down to Pacifica, just south of the city and on the Pacific Ocean’s foggy coastline.  Which is where Terra Nova High School is.  I asked him which high school he attended (the other is Oceana).  “Terra Nova.”  Who was the Vice Principal then, I prodded?  “Mr. Hinkle.”  I already knew that, but it was fun to draw it out from him.  Naturally, we congratulated ourselves for knowing someone in common.  But that is almost always the case if you ask more than a question or two.

Where you from?


©2018 Richard Paul Hinkle


This gun thing is troublesome.  If only logic were involved, we could quickly take the experience of others to heart—Australia, Canada, Japan, Great Britain as examples—and take assault weapons out of circulation among the general populace.  We know that they are designed for war and that they ought to have no access to our quotidian lives.

But there is an abnormal paranoia to deal with.  It is impossible to argue anyone out of a position they were never argued into in the first instance.  When only emotion is appealed to, logic runs a poor and far second.

When we do employ logic, there are reasonable conclusions we can agree upon.  People with mental problems should not be allowed access to weapons of any kind.  Thus, background checks are a must.

Large magazine weapons have no place amidst any civilized civilian society.  It’s like handing a loaded weapon to an infant: The only potential outcomes are disastrous.  All of them.  It’s like the most basic rule of theater: If a gun appears in Act One . . . it will have been discharged before the end of Act three.

The paralysis of paranoia fatally infects the invocation of the Second Amendment into the argument.  The design of the Second Amendment had more to do with keeping an increasing population of slaves in check than it did with keeping the government out of our private lives.  Still, the right to self-protection and to hunt for provender is well-recognized therein.

What is not recognized is the evolution from flintlock to assault rifle.  No less than the late Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Warren E. Burger, called the NRA’s position “a fraud on the American public.”  There more than 310 million guns in our country, almost one for every man, woman and child.  At what point do we understand that registration is not confiscation?

Here are some numbers that will stick in your craw (and ought to).  Last year in the following countries—Japan, Great Britain, Switzerland, Canada, Israel, Sweden and Germany (combined)—there were 263 people killed by hand guns.  Last year, in our country, there were nearly 11,000 people killed by handguns!  Our population?  336 million.  The population of those countries, combined?  324 million.  Digest that, if you can.  In disgust.  (If you were to look up the definition of “insanity” in the dictionary, might not this be it?)

If you follow the money, the NRA is all about supporting the gun industry, and that’s fine as far as “support” goes.  But when common sense intervenes, as it always should, it must put paid to the notion that confiscation inevitably follows registration.  Registration (along with reasonable background checks) is just that: An awareness of where the guns are and who has them.  (And do not talk of arming teachers.  An entire Army base, chock full of trained armed folk, could not stop a man armed with an assault rifle.)

The most telling bit of information that has surfaced in the increasingly volatile discussion was the calming, entirely sensible comment from the school teacher who, in her weekly student evaluations, seeks to pinpoint the loners, the alienated, so that she can find ways to reintegrate them into their classroom society.  For these are the kids who, when further pushed away, will invariably find a means to get back at those who have shunned them.  And when efficient means of killing are so easily available, well, you know what the result might be, don’t you?

©2018 Richard Paul Hinkle