Tag Archives: paragould

Guest Post by Request (Terry Austin, Communications & Development Director, CRA)

logo-craheader4Today, we’ve replaced the fine writing usually served here at Al Sturgeon’s blog with the literary equivalent of Folger’s Crystals. Let’s see if his readers can tell the difference…

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If you’re reading his blog, you’re either a friend of Al Sturgeon or you’re stalking him for nefarious purposes. I suppose both could be true, but let’s focus on the former option.

I’m firmly in that first group and have been for literally as long as I can remember. Al and I grew up together (though he is much, much older). We lived in the same small town in the northeast corner of Arkansas, attended the same church for several years, and went to the same school. I was even his deadbeat roommate for a time, which I choose to recall as a practicum of sorts for his later work in helping the needy.

So if it’s a skeleton in Al’s closet you seek, I’m the man to ask. I could tell you about the time he… well, no, that wasn’t Al. Or how about when the cops busted him for… well, shoot. That wasn’t him, either. That might have been me.

Clearly, the plain if somewhat aggravating truth we must face about Al Sturgeon is this: He’s always been this way, folks. Head of the class, seeker of justice, dispenser of mercy, speaker of truth, friend to all. That’s Al. The darkest stain on his character is his affinity for canned tamales and the Dallas Cowboys.

And so, because of those characteristics (and in spite of the tamales), I’m honored to take over Al’s blog today to announce this:

For his personal and professional accomplishment and his faithful spiritual example, Al Sturgeon has been selected as the 2017 Distinguished Alumnus at Crowley’s Ridge Academy in Paragould, Arkansas.

Al graduated from CRA in 1988 as the valedictorian of his class, the president of the student council, co-winner of the basketball award, and — as chosen by the school’s faculty — holder of the honorific “Mr. CRA.”

Shortly after college, he returned to the school as coach and teacher. His track teams delivered the school’s first-ever state championships (1994 and 1995). And his office was frequently a refuge for students quietly wrestling with turmoil within or at home. They naturally gravitated to Coach Al. He was, then as now, a solace for those in pain and need.

While teaching at CRA, Al met his wife, Jody, and they and their daughters, Erica and Hillary, have since journeyed together from Paragould to a pair of coasts, always together, always building or rebuilding, and always serving.

Readers of this blog are likely familiar with Al’s work in the years that followed, first picking up the pieces after Hurricane Katrina in Ocean Springs, Miss., and then as student, dean, elder and minister at Pepperdine. Along each step in the Sturgeons’ remarkable journey, those of us “back home” have watched with pride and claimed a small, mostly undeserved ownership in it.

And so, at CRA’s Homecoming on Friday night, December 8, in the same gym where Al once rained three-pointer after three-pointer, we’ll claim that stake once again. If you’re in the area, please join us as we honor our friend, Albert Andrew Sturgeon, III, as our 2017 Distinguished Alumnus.

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A Night at the Orchestra

17267869_230418650696729_6304749396227522560_n(1)Last week, my oldest daughter and I attended a concert of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, or as we sophisticated people call it, the LA Phil.  The specific concert was titled, “Tetzlaff Plays Dvorak,” which as it turned out, was not a tennis match after all.  

You may be surprised to learn that I did not attend orchestral performances growing up in Paragould, Arkansas.  We had our share of drama, sure, but not much orchestra.  The closest I came was purchasing the soundtrack to Close Encounters of the Third Kind on vinyl.  

But who knew, if you purchase a ticket and have a beautiful date, “LA Phil” will apparently let pretty much anyone into the crazy cool Walt Disney Concert Hall.

I really did enjoy (most of) the performance, but my cultural unsophistication did allow my mind to wander to less-than-cultured places from time to time.  Like whether the guest conductor also played Captain Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation.  And how one particularly animated violinist looked like a marionette under the influence of a tipsy puppeteer.  And how two gentlemen with a remarkable resemblance to Stephen King and former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy were playing an unidentifiable instrument that made them look as if they were smoking fancy grenade launchers.

But the best part of the evening came shortly after intermission when a woman in our general vicinity began to painfully unwrap a piece of candy, which in that hall of hushed reverence sounded like she had trapped a squirrel in a bag of potato chips.  The surrounding patrons were silently livid, which my daughter and I discovered to be the funniest kind of livid to watch.

Much more seriously, as we sat side by side listening to classical music in Walt Disney Concert Hall, it occurred to me how far Erica and I have come in our precious years together.  I did not feel smug in this thought–as this essay shows, I remain far too ignorant to feel arrogant.  And yet I did not feel out of place either, even though that was obviously the case.  Instead, I just felt happy .  Happy at the honor of allowing such beautiful music to wash across my soul in that spectacular venue in this magical city with such a lovely young lady that I have been privileged to walk alongside for all these years.

I never imagined an evening like that one.  I wonder what other evenings I have yet to imagine?

Madness

17126701_1108437092601567_4197244785582407680_nBasketball used to be my thing.  I thought about it all day, every day, and dreamed about it at night–and sometimes still do.  Hour after hour alone in the driveway getting sunburned, soaked in rainstorms, and frozen in the snow and ice.  Dreaming I was Dr. J.  Dreaming I was an Arkansas Razorback.  Dreaming I was the hero of a state championship game for the C.R.A. Falcons.  Alone in my dreams.

Basketball became my community.  Countless practices.  Pickup games anywhere there were players and some version of a ball and goal.  My very best friends and mortal enemies.  Jammed fingers.  Shirts and skins.  Dunk goals.  Make-it, take-it.  We got next.  Cut-off t-shirts and short shorts.  High tops and two pairs of socks, pushed down to be cool.  Arguments and hurt feelings.  High fives and heroics.

Popular culture fueled my obsession.  “Hoosiers” hit the big screen when I was in high school, the peak of my love affair with the sport.  Rap music became a thing, and I wore out a cassette learning every word of Kurtis Blow’s “Basketball.”  Thanks to an NBA commercial, the Pointer Sisters’ “Let’s Get Excited” became my warm-up song–even though I don’t think that’s what they were talking about.

I was valedictorian of my high school class and had options, I suppose, but all I cared about was basketball.  Since I wasn’t talented enough to play at the college level, my attention shifted to coaching.  I made every home game at Barnhill Arena during my college years.  Rollin’ with Nolan.  Dreaming that I would some day coach in the madness of March.

I remember the exact day my basketball dreams began a rapid disintegration.  It is hard to forget since it was one week before my wedding.  Appropriately, I was playing basketball in a outdoor three-on-three tournament at a local festival when a nasty fall shattered my right leg in three places.  Emergency surgery led to a four night hospital stay, released in enough time to make it to my wedding in a wheelchair.  In sickness and in health, right?  

In 1994, I began a love that has grown stronger year after year, and maybe not ironically, began to lose my feelings for basketball.  With my broken leg, after the lengthy recovery, I learned that I just couldn’t play all out anymore, and that stole all the fun.  I really don’t follow basketball much anymore.  Sure, I root for my Pepperdine Waves, and sure, I fill out an annual bracket and will be rooting for the old alma mater today as they take on Seton Hall (Go Hogs!), but it is no longer the center of my life.

I’m not sad about this.  I follow other sports as a spectator and am now somewhat obsessed with running.  But what I learned is that it is possible to walk away from something that was once important to you without regrets.  What is not okay, at least in my book, is pretending something is important and then doing it halfway.

Special Memories

familyMy parents’ birthdays are two days apart in early December.  Well, technically, sixteen years and two days apart.  My dad turned down an appointment to the United States Naval Academy in the late 1930s but enlisted alongside thousands of other Americans when Pearl Harbor was attacked the day after his twenty-first birthday.  Meanwhile, my mom celebrated her fifth birthday in the Arkansas hills the day after the attack.  While my dad headed off to the Pacific Theater to defend America’s freedom, my mom was a little girl having her freedom defended.

This week, were they both living, my dad would celebrate his ninety-sixth birthday and my mom would celebrate her eightieth.  Ninety-six and eighty are just numbers, but they are hard-to-believe numbers.  Where does the time go?

The last time I saw my dad alive he was in a hospital bed facing a wall in the fetal position and fighting the pain.  The last time I saw my mom alive she was weak and yellow and exhausted sitting in a lift chair in my sister’s living room.  When you go to check out of this life, the checkout counter is just awful.

But that’s not what I remember on special days like birthdays.  What comes to mind are happy and healthy times—and smiles.  Like the only time I remember being angry at my dad when he couldn’t suppress laughter after a bird pooped on my head.  Or my mom’s beaming face when she had the opportunities to spend time with my sweet daughters.  That’s what I will remember this week.  The smiling people who gave me an enjoyable life.

These milestone days come and go, which must explain the shocking numbers.  My sisters and I will text each other in sacred commemoration on December 6 and December 8.  I may or may not mention either day out loud to my wife or others.  But I always notice, and always remember, and never know exactly what else to do.

I do have an idea this year.  This year, I think I’ll plug in the Bing Crosby Merry Christmas CD that I kept from my mother’s things and close my eyes and be transported to another world.  I’ll picture being a kid again in that tiny house on West Mueller Street.  Mom and Dad are both there in the living room with me.  The stove is glowing orange because it is cold and snowing outside.  I can see it out the picture window when I squeeze around the Christmas tree.

I’m going to listen to that Bing Crosby sing about Christmas and travel away to that special world of memories.  And in particular I will smile when his distinctive baritone voice delivers the signature lines from that old World War Two classic, “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”

Great Big Beautiful World

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Photo Credit, Jeff Baker

In this great big beautiful world of ours, I come from a place called Paragould, a small city in the northeastern corner of Arkansas right next to the Missouri border.  We called it The Friendly City, and maybe that is still its nickname.  Paragould is primarily a factory town sitting on a geographic anomaly called Crowley’s Ridge just east of “the hills” and just north of Mississippi Delta farmland.  It experiences all four seasons each year, from the searing heat of summer to the crisp fall air to bitter winter weather to the liveliness of spring—sometimes all in the same week—and is home to mosquitoes large enough to pull a truck out of the mud should they ever decide to be helpful.

In Paragould, I have fond memories of loving family and friends, listening to Cardinal Baseball on the radio, cruising Kingshighway as a teenager, eating “baby burgers” at Dairy Queen, and high school basketball straight out of the Hoosiers movie set.  In Paragould, I am not glad to remember a sordid past in race relations and am amazed that an almost unbelievable lack of racial diversity persists even to today.  But all of this, the good and the not good, is part of my hometown.  It’s where I come from.

This week is Diversity Week at Pepperdine Law, my California home for the past eight years, and it kicked off with the second annual Global Village Day, a day that celebrates the national, regional, and ethnic cultures found within the Pepperdine Law community.  It has become my favorite day of the entire year.  I suspect I enjoy it so much because of my insular experience growing up in Paragould.  To wander around a single law school atrium and experience cultures including Armenia, China, East Africa, France, Germany, India, Iran, Israel, Italy, Korea, Moldova, Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Scandinavia, Spain, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam—and regions of the United States including California, New England, and Texas—is just too cool to describe.  But from a somewhat less selfish perspective, it is even more fun watching students (and faculty and staff) take such pride in sharing their culture with others.  We are all from somewhere, and all of those somewheres are worth sharing.

So on Global Village Day I joined my friends Jeff, Margaret, Brittany, and Sarah for a pretty awesome table that shared the American South with the law school community.  I wore my Arkansas Razorback necktie and poured gallons (four!) of my wife’s sweet tea to those who wandered by, and Jeff shared his amazing (ten-hour!) playlist of Southern music alongside his homemade biscuits and pimento cheese, and Margaret, Brittany, and Sarah shared scrumptious cheese grits, macaroni and cheese, and Butterfinger cake, respectively.  We were a hit, but we were a hit in a room full of hits.

We are all from somewhere.  I have no intention of forgetting that.  But I sure love learning more about this great big beautiful world of ours.

This Old House

I realize that “old” is a state of mind and not a specific age.  I also realize that old is often my state of mind.  Some circumstances are less than helpful.  My parents are gone.  My sisters are grandparents.  My children are adults.  My hair color is Caucasian, and my beard is gray.  I am blind in one eye and increasingly cannot see out of the other.  I thought Pokemon GO was a statement granting a Jamaican proctologist permission to proceed.

But contrary to popular opinion, old isn’t necessarily bad.

If all went as planned, this post will publish as I fly back to California after a family visit in Arkansas.  It had been a couple of years since I visited, and it was good to go “home” for a few days, even though Arkansas has not really been home for nearly two decades.  On these increasingly sporadic trips, I always make a point to see the little place on West Mueller Street that I called home for the first couple of decades of my life.  My parents rented the tiny house for sixty dollars a month until I was in high school, and I still remember the day that the landlord increased the rent to ninety and my dad went apoplectic.  He took it as a personal insult given the thoughtful care he donated to the place.

The little house went downhill after the Sturgeon family moved out sometime around 1990, and it always made me sad to see its deteriorating condition.  An overgrown yard.  Broken down cars.  Peeling siding.  In particular, I would always look to see if the basketball goal my dad mounted on the roof of the garage was still there, and amazingly, year after year, it held on.  A couple of years ago, it appeared to be holding on by a thread, dangling from the plywood backboard looking more like a lone gymnastic ring than a basketball goal, but it was still there.

I won many dramatic NCAA and NBA championships on that goal, and I couldn’t tell you how many beautiful cheerleaders fell in love with me in my imagination given my astounding heroic feats on that cracked, cement driveway.  My dad often sat on the porch silently just watching me play.

Well, it finally happened.  The goal is gone now after a good run of forty years or so.  And it made me feel a little older.

But you know, in a sense, even without that old basketball hoop, I still feel like my dad is sitting on the porch watching me, and that provides great comfort.  And, in another sense, I get to take his place on the porch and watch my children live out their dreams in this life, and since he was my first hero, taking his seat is a pretty great thing to do.

Yes, contrary to popular opinion, old isn’t necessarily bad.