On Bus Rides and Experiences of Lifetime Value
NOTE: This article was written in August 2005. It is re-posted here because it is has relevance to the whole idea of putting youngsters inside Fraternity Houses – or in Fraternity sponsored uniforms – in the summer. There are 5,500 such Houses each one of which can easily sleep and feed 50-60 kids. Almost all are empty and idle in the summer. For me this is morally repugnant, financially stupid and exceptionally short-sighted. I am proud to say I was the prime sponsor to the 2005 Sigma Chi Challengers, ages 15-17 (American Legion). To my knowledge this was a first in the entire Greek World.
Baseball, Bus Rides and Brotherhood
August 2005. by John Hibbs, House Dad, Sigma Chi @ Oregon
“Even after getting taken to the woodshed, shut-out three games in a row, in the boiling heat of Roseburg, Oregon, the ride back to Eugene turned out to be a good one. How could that be?
Behind us is the litter of a three game butt-kicking. Ahead of us is the end of a season that will ink our miserable record — three games under 500. 88 miles ahead of us aboard an ancient school bus poking along at speeds a covered wagon could easily outpace.
Inside our cramped cell-bus it’s all armpits and elbows. The windows are cranky; most won’t allow even a crack. Forget air-conditioning. There’s not even a fan. Used jocks smell better than we do.
The kids are dog-tired, as beaten as an old rug. The seats are as upright as a street pole. And just as hard. Second grade girls couldn’t possibly fit in them.
Our grumpy coach hunkers at the wheel fixated on finding every bump in the road. Right behind him in the front seat is me….”Grandpa” – now dribbling yarn as old as the Ice Age. And just as dull.
Oddly, inexorably – and as is often the case on buses where ball players are headed for the next game – or the next level – slowly, magically, the atmosphere changes.
Like many a two-out rally, it starts with worn out spitballs.
“Why”, asks our driver, also the coach,still not missing a bump, “do they call four bad pitches a walk?”
From the back comes the automatic refrain: “Because if you have four balls the only thing you can do is walk!” Yuck. Yuck.
The floodgates come open. Here comes baseball jokes as old as the hills.
“Tyler couldn’t hit water falling out of a boat.” “Brandon couldn’t catch rain with a barrel.” “Kevin couldn’t find home plate if it was pasted to his butt.”
Coach Niles, our wicked driver, has become Coach Senile — a good laugh there. He volleys my digs with a fastball of his own: “Grandpa, what was it like to play football without a helmet?”
Mysteriously, both the drubbing at Roseburg and the heat inside the bus begins to dissipate. Evaporated by wise cracks, banter and optimism that comes with every team bus-ride known to man.
Headed north to Eugene, here comes the Eternal Baseball Conviction
“No sweat. We’ll get ’em next year”.
As sure as Ogon rain, Sigma Chi Challengers will start next season in first place. Or will they? Suddenly, a new subject comes up. Not just about next year but why are we here?
Mostly the questions are aimed at Grandpa. In Little League Grandpa could flub a grounder rolled to him underhand. Who cares if he’s seen Willie Mays duel Sandy Koufax at Candlestick? Or watched Mantle jack one out at Yankee Stadium ?
At first, it’s all part of the giggle
“…Grandpa, was that before radio …or after the telegraph?”
The truth is if they want to know about baseball, Coach Niles has the answers. He’s ridden a million miles in the minor leagues. And a million more in his duties for Sheldon High in Eugene. Not to mention his duties with American Legion baseball in Lane County. That’s not the question. Not now. Just 30 miles outside of Eugene
On this bus the kids are all the Sigma Chi Challengers – still wearing their Sig uniforms. They have been assembled from all over Lane County. They play tough competition from all over the state.
Somehow on the bus from Roseburg to Eugene it all comes together; the elegant connection between past, present and future. It’s a strange concoction where odd subjects can get serious, very quickly. On this ride — it turns earnest when the talk turns to Fraternities.
No longer on the bench, it’s Grandpa at the plate.
What are they like? How many guys live in a House? Rich kids only? Who else? When did they start? Do girls come over? Good looking or ugly? Do you have to do nasty stuff before they let you in? To join, do I fill out an application? What are Sororities like? Do you have to learn Greek?
For Grandpa it’s delightful; for the kids it’s intriguing.
Coach Niles – young, balding and smart – urges it along. Then, like baseball, just when you’re real comfortable, having a good time, the situation gets tense.
A really bright kid asks, very seriously, “Mr. Hibbs, why should I join?”
Suddenly, the bus grows utterly still.
For six weeks they’ve been correcting every one around about how to pronounce the word ‘Chi’. They’ve learned that it’s fighting words to utter the word “frat”. They are proud to be the first team in American Legion history that’s ever been sponsored by a Fraternity.
In a vague but certain way they know Sigma Chi is in the business of character development. Instinctively, they also know there’s a big difference between promoting hamburgers and promoting a life-changing experience.
They also accept they are part of a brand new experiment which could end with young kids playing summer ball in Greek uniforms all over America.
Or that this whole experiment – this summer – would end it all.
For everyone on the bus, there is n escape:
Have they’ve just played the last game ever for Team Sigma Chi?
Could it be that there is no chance next year to be in first place —
not even on Opening Day.
On some deep level they also understand the central questions about Fraternities.
“Why should I join? Why does it matter?”
Intuitively they also know this has a bearing on why sixteen year old kids got sponsored by Sigma Chi. And why Grandpa is convinced that these summertime experiences are as valuable to the Fraternity as they are to those in Sig uniforms.
To everyone on that bus ride, these are all sobering thoughts. “Why should I join? Why does it matter?”
Suddenly, old Grandpa gets a chance to hit one right out of the park.
I take a big gulp. These days everything’s boiled down to sound bites. Any answer longer than thirty seconds is just not allowed.
I give it my best shot.
“Guys, the long answer is that being a Sigma Chi, being a Greek, is of extraordinary lifetime value. I AM a Sigma Chi. And I will be until I die. And so are my very best friends.
“The short answer is Fraternities can enrich your college experience in ways that can only be understood after becoming a Greek But the best answer is the one you learned a lot about this whole summer.
Bottom line, Sigma Chi is all about Brotherhood. And experiences worth remembering. All of your life.
You’ve just had a good taste of it. Right here on this bus.”