One Green Blood's State of Mind

Happy 35th Birthday to the MSU Sexual Assault Program

Spartan IconsTonight, Colleen and I joined about 60 others, including Student Life VP, Dr. Denise Maybank and MSU President, Lou Anna K. Simon, to celebrate the 35th birthday of the Sexual Assault Program. I was deeply honored to be recognized, along with my good friend, ASMSU President, James Conwell, for our support during the past year.

It was one of those instances where I wrote down my remarks beforehand to make sure I said exactly what I wanted to say. Here’s the result:

For those who haven’t yet met her, I want to ask my wife, my soul mate and the love of my life, Colleen Aldrich-Westerman to stand up. That’s her, the beautiful blonde, standing in the back, wishing I had not pointed her out.

This generous recognition has special meaning for Colleen and me, because we know, first hand, what it’s like to be survivors. Five years ago, Colleen was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer. It was an attack we didn’t expect. Colleen had to let strangers do horrific things to her body to survive. It destroyed any innocence we may have had left. And it profoundly impacted all of us who love and support her.

The monster will always be part of our consciousness, but thanks to gifted caregivers, we are now able to enter what we are calling our second life, dedicated to helping survivors of every definition regain their power, discover their life’s purpose and to turn that purpose into a joyful expression of the best we can be.

It’s a wonderful irony that the two words we are using to describe the current Campaign for MSU are Empower Extraordinary. Shari’s team, the counseling center, our peer educators and the amazing women of SACI are doing extraordinary things, helping men and women rediscover their power and pursue their purpose.

This is the essence of what makes Michigan State University great. We’re a microcosm of the larger world. We have flaws. And we still have much to learn. But as Spartans we have chosen to rise above whatever may happen to us, and to apply the immense, healing, enlightening power of the Spartan Nation in the direction of transformational change.

This is the true definition of a Spartan’s Will. We are honored to model the behavior and are deeply grateful for the honor of serving you.

The Great Game

By Scott Westerman
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By every objective assessment we shouldn’t be here. Even Nate Silver, our favorite son who knows the numbers better than most, didn’t initially think we had much of a shot. The regular season gave every indication that this team could not coalesce into a contender.

But those of us who know them and the coach who lives for the month of March waited, quietly, apprehensively, for the magic to happen. And it has. Michigan State is in the Final Four for the 9th time in Tom Izzo’s tenure.

It is said that sports imitates life. And life is The Great Game. We come into it with an empty tool box. Coaching (read parenting), practice, forward failure and faith are the four factors that define our body of work and determine the final score.

Tom Izzo and Mark Dantonio may be the most visible examples of the MSU athletic brand, but I know every one of the head coaches across our 25 varsity sports. Each display the qualities essential to effective coaching.

  • They recognize talent – Years of study give them the x-ray vision to see into the depths of a prospect’s character. Physical ability coats the surface. The deeper dimensions include humility, work ethic, honesty and the ability to help others succeed. No success is sustainable without the entire package.
  • They can articulate a vision – Come to MSU and you will have the opportunity to play on the biggest of the world’s stages, in competition with the best of the best. You will leave the program stronger, more confident and wiser than when you entered. And you will be surrounded by hundreds of those who have gone before you who will be there to help you continue to grow and thrive.
  • They communicate – Communication is a highly personal thing. No two individuals respond to it in the same way. There will be moments when you will feel the heat. And there will be moments when compassion can make all the difference. Knowing how, when and where to communicate (and when to keep silent) is the hallmark of a great coach.
  • They model the behavior – There is nothing that a good coach will ask you to do that they have not done. Every prospect, every player, every spectator is always watching. How a coach behaves reflects the program, for better or worse.

Let’s talk about practice.

  • Practice is inculcating the fundamentals of effective performance into your being. You must understand the basics before you can mold them to work for you in your own way.
  • Practice requires repetition. Lots of repetition. In the arena, there won’t be time to think about what to do. Repetition makes excellence reflexive. You will need good reflexes when a split second decision can mean victory or defeat.
  • Practice is best done with others watching. The greatest athletes make their teammates look good. Their assists are always in double figures, because no one person can be successful without others and assists help the team win.

Failure is essential to success. How well you fail will determine how often you prevail. So fail forward.

  • Failing forward means dissecting your mistakes in detail as soon as they happen.
  • Failing forward means adjusting your behavior immediately and returning to the arena to do it again until you get it right.
  • Failing forward means banishing the fear of failure from your mind, welcoming it as the learning experience it was meant to be.

And what about faith?

  • Faith is the ability to face the darkness of your current situation, to do the uncomfortable things that must be done, without ever taking your eyes off of the prize.
  • Faith is understanding that you were put here to do great things, even when it feels like you never will.
  • Faith is walking away from an unacceptable situation, from false friends and energy suckers, while believing that better situations and good people await you in the future.
  • Faith is taking the first step in to the unknown, without being certain of the outcome.
  • Faith is understanding that all things come to an end, that doors must close for other doors to open. All great teams eventually finish the season. They assess what they learned and put it to work in practice for the season to come.

Study the Spartans performance this season and you will see the progression of coaching, relentless practice, forward failure and faith that brought us to Indianapolis. We love tales of trial and redemption and we celebrate those who can endure and prevail against great odds as heroes.

True believers support their teams through each stage, no matter how long it may take. A fan base with a reputation for support will help attract the best prospects and can inspire teams to rise to heights that others thought impossible. And true believers also put the put the four dimensions of excellence to work in their own lives.

We are in competition every day, against formidable enemies like hunger, disease and ignorance. MSU researchers race to find solutions to the world’s biggest problems before those problems can consume us. Our alumni apply knowledge in the direction of positive, productive progress. And our students seek out teachers, practice and opportunities to learn with faith that their preparation will put them at the head of the line when their dream job appears.

We will soon know how our basketball season will end. This amazing team has already surpassed the expectations of many. If they can continue to apply the dimensions of excellence effectively, they will continue to achieve, even after the final buzzer signifies the closing of one door, and the opening of another.

But the larger lesson that elite athletic programs like ours can teach is the notion that we can apply the dimensions of excellence in our own lives, expecting excellent results and understanding that whoever we are and whatever we do, we are all playing The Great Game.

Play it to win.

Driving the Spartan Brass

WSW Circa 1973

Yours truly in 1973. And yes, those are green sparkle 1969 Ludwigs. Sure wish I still had them!

It’s something only drummers can truly understand.

You’re sitting behind a collection of brass, chrome, plastic and wood, surrounded by some of the best musicians at Michigan State. Their arrangements are time tested and they execute each measure to near perfection. The audience knows every note. If you’ve ever been to any athletic event where the Spartan Brass has played, it is impossible not to get caught up in the explosive energy.

There’s a reason that every coach wants them on hand when everything is on the line. When all else is equal, properly motivated spectators can be the deciding factor. And nothing supercharges a fan base like the Spartan Brass.

There’s a reason I identify with Mackenzie Viventi, Auston McMurray and those few chosen young men and women who drive the Spartan Brass from a drummer’s perch.

I’ve been there.

For as long as I remember, I wanted to play percussion. I dutifully paid the ransom my parents demanded for a pair of drumsticks. Two years of monotonous piano lessons and a year blowing my lungs out through a trumpet mouthpiece were my dues. I was rewarded, not just with the tools of the trade, but with an extraordinary teacher. Jerry Hartwig taught an awkward 13 year old how each of my four appendages could become independent, yet well coordinated apparatus. In time, they learned to translate impulses from my auditory cortex into cylinders that could power the drive train of a band.

I was obsessed with Buddy Rich, Ginger Baker and Danny Seraphine, wearing out every one of their LPs to pick up each nuance of arms, wrists and ankles. Meter and dynamics were the mazes I inhabited. Buddy’s incredible left hand, Earl Palmer’s right foot and the metronome precision of Hal Blaine were the skills I chased. I watched Michael Shrieve’s explosive Woodstock performance with Santana until I could emulate those amazing triplets. I studied every bit of film of James Brown’s funky Clyde Stubblefield until I understood the true meaning of syncopation.

But even then, perfection was always elusive. At the most frenetic tempos, even a 32nd note’s misplacement could lead to disaster. I deconstructed every one of my recorded performances to replay the most minute missteps in their proper order.

In time the muscle memory became so reflexive that I could float out of my throbbing being and become immersed in the music that was flowing around and through me.

Trust me, there is nothing like driving a big band from the center of the action at full throttle. And when all the elements coalesce, when each musician also enters that zen state where performance elevates to a higher plane, the feeling is the closest one can come to unbridled, exuberant, perfect joy.

I’ve known that feeling in finished basements, soccer stadiums, church sanctuaries, school gymnasiums and on hundreds of different stages of every shape and size across two continents. In retrospect, these are the experiences that constitute some of the happiest moments  of my life.

The constitution required to perform at even a modicum of percussive excellence is not something that stays with you. It is not like riding a bicycle. You must continue to train the conflagration of inspiration, neuron and muscle, or ability quickly dissipates.

All of these things flashed through mind in the space of a nano second when John T. Madden pointed in my direction this past weekend at the our pep rally in Syracuse and said, “Why don’t you sit in with us on ‘Gimmie Some Lovin’?”

I had not touched at drumset in 22 years.

This is where fear lives. Imagine Tom Izzo tossing you the ball in front of a capacity crowd, surrounded by the Spartan starting line up, telling you to weave through the best division one defense and take the shot. This was the sensation I knew in that instant.

Julian Stall, The Spartan Brass’ regular drummer, who navigates “Everybody’s Everything” with the felicity of an olympic luge champion in a freshly iced chute, stood up and handed me his sticks. I could feel the eyes of the kids looking at me, this graying 60 year old, and imagined them wondering, “how bad could this get?”

There was no graceful way to extricate my unprepared and totally terrified self from the moment. So I did the only thing I could.

I sat down behind the instrument and prayed that I wouldn’t embarrass myself.

The muscle memory was totally gone, as was much of the agility that had atrophied with time and distance. All I could do was grit my teeth, watch for John T.’s downbeat and hope to survive the experience. To make matters worse, our legendary director had his cell phone video camera pointed right at me.

“Have fun,” he said. And we were off.

I have probably played “Gimmie Some Lovin.” a thousand times. I know every section by heart. My conscious mind could still construct the riffs I used to render as if it was yesterday. Getting my arms and legs to keep up was another matter.

Within seconds, I realized that this was not going to be at all elegant. I would have to hope for survival, perhaps with a few shreds of self esteem intact. I was proud of my body of work as a percussionist. I didn’t want to blow it all in three minutes and thirty three seconds.

But even from the depths of my uncertain terror, the addictive musician’s high still swept through me. And I realized how much I missed this. In the final analysis, it isn’t about ego, or adulation. It’s the indescribable sensation of jubilation that comes from contributing to group performance, even if it’s not nearly the performance you wish you could create.

The kids were generous with their kind words surrounding my attempt. If I were Len Goodman judging “Dancing With the Stars”, I would have given myself a “5”. I hit all the right notes and didn’t miss an important downbeat. Listen eyes closed and you could almost get past the visual flailing and call it ok.

But it’s not nearly as good as it could be, as I wanted it to be.

Colleen has never seen me play in a band like this. When I texted her, alternating my adjectives between excitement and embarrassment, she did what she always does. She encouraged me to do it again.

“You can still do this,” she said. “We need to get you a drum set so that the next time that John T. offers you the sticks, you’ll have more fun with it.”

And perhaps play a little bit better.

From the perspective of hindsight, those three minutes in the midst of the amazing Spartan Brass, turned out to be three of the most amazing minutes of of my 5 years at Michigan State. I’m grateful for the opportunity to express my professional passions in a place where dreams are born and Spartans are made. I’m grateful for John’s exceptional leadership.

And I’m glad that a teacher pushed me back into that chair and challenged me to, once again, know that feeling that only drummers know.

WJR’s Mike Fezzey dies suddenly at 58

WJR's Mike Fezzey (right) Amid the joy of MSU’s return to the elite 8, there is sadness in the Spartan Family this morning. We lost long time WJR Radio general manager and Huntington Bank executive Mike Fezzey this weekend to a heart attack. Mike was the architect of the partnership that orchestrated MSU’s move to News Talk 760, and a great friend to Michigan State University. He was 58.

To hear MSU Spartans football and Basketball via WJR’s legendary 50,000 watt voice was a powerful affirmation that our athletic program had grown to become one of the most respected in the nation. We’ll miss this visionary broadcaster.

Hear Mike Fezzey tell our Russ White how the WJR deal came about in this 2006 Spartan Podcast.

The Spartan Podcast Celebrates 10 years

The Spartan Podcast in 2005Ten years ago this month, Gary Reid, Bill Castanier, Jeff Smith and I launched The Spartan Podcast. It was one of the first of it’s kind in the university space. We started out riffing on the week’s news but soon began to get fascinating guests to join us, people like Lawrence Lessig, Keith Ferrazzi and Milo Radulovich.

Russ White was a guest in October of 2005 year to discuss MSU’s new radio contract with WJR. He became executive producer in April of 2006 and has turned our Beggars Banquet brainstorm into a best in class multi-media archive. Here’s a link to the very first Spartan Podcast from February 15, 2005.

On The Road With @MSU_Hockey

By Scott Westerman
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My trip to Madison with the Spartan heroes of MSU Men’s Hockey.

On the IceTo begin to understand another’s journey, you must walk in his shoes. That was my goal this past weekend as I traveled with the MSU Men’s Hockey Team to Wisconsin.

Our journey began at the corporate terminal at Lansing Capital Regional International Airport. A bus with the team’s equipment was already in Madison. The aircraft that accommodates a group this size can’t carry the hundreds of pounds of sticks, pads, helmets and uniforms that are the tools of the ice trade so ours felt a lot like a commuter hop to Detroit.

The underpinning of every excellent athletic organization is an equally gifted supporting cast. The operations team, a trainer, a doctor, a videographer, student managers and 5 of us civilians, 45 in all comprise the travel compliment. It’s easy to see why winning programs require financial resources that stretch beyond ticket and concession revenue. As the team bus arrived on the tarmac, I felt a wave of gratitude for the Spartan Fund and the men and women of vision who write the checks to invest in champions. (more…)

Don’t tell me I can’t!

By Scott Westerman
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My friend, Brian Willis, writes a great blog about maximizing human potential. He believes that life’s most important question is, “What’s Important Now?” And he’s right. We’ll talk more about that one sometime soon. But today I want to expand on his recent blog post about “The True Meaning of ‘I Can’t’“.

“How many times in your life,” Brian asks, “has someone told you that you can’t do something?”

And he shares this nugget of wisdom from Sean Stephenson: “If someone tells you, ‘You can’t’ they really mean, ‘I can’t.'”

I love it when someone tells me that something can’t be done. It almost always inspires me to prove that it can.

Early in our radio careers, my college roommate, Steve Schram  and I were often told,”you can’t”. There is a lot of “no” in radio. We made a pact that whenever that happened we would challenge one another to work harder, get smarter, act and dress in a more professional manner and out hustle the competition. If someone told us we couldn’t do something, we immediately set out to prove that we could.

I credit that attitude to every success I’ve enjoyed ever since.

When I first read Dr. Vicktor Frankl‘s amazing book, “Man’s Search For Meaning“, I was fascinated to learn who survived the Nazi death camps. It was the people who had something they desperately wanted to do. It was often the desire to see loved ones again. For some it was as simple as living long enough to get back at the guards.

But they created that fire in the belly that drove them to succeed even when the reality of what they saw made it feel like the odds were stacked against them.

I’m still on the lookout for things that put a fire in my belly. That fire pushes through fear, obstacles and conventional wisdom. It keeps you going when everything around you tells you to give it up. Fire turns iron into unbreakable steel. It turns a placid pool of water into powerful steam that can warm the coldest heart and bring light to the darkness.

And nothing stokes that fire like hearing someone tell you something can’t be done.

Remembering Don Herro

By Scott Westerman
Don and Tina Herro - FerlandThe elements that so mix to create the tapestry of words and deeds that reveal our character is the creation of many artists. If we are lucky, there are singular people who come into our lives at just the right moment, guiding our adventures in the direction of excellence.

In my life, one of those amazing individuals was Don Herro. My first impressions of the man were reflected through the prism of his children. Inclusive, magnanimous, focused and fun, they welcomed me quickly into the family. I saw it happen to many others, too. When you were at the Herro’s, it immediately felt like home.

With Don, you were always the center of attention. He greeted you with a smile and a handshake that telegraphed acceptance. He was fascinated by your story and you got the sense that you were the most important person in the room.

It was later that I learned that these elements were central to the achievements of a brilliant business man. You expect successful people to wear status on their sleeve. Don never did. For him, the ins and outs of leading a customer focused team were a fascinating puzzle to be solved. When things went well, he praised the team. I never knew if they didn’t because Don always had faith in a positive outcome and radiated confidence and humility at every turn.

Don knew sorrow and loss. The passing of our years bring us both frustration and joy. But he never lost his resilient spirit. If retirement had any disadvantage for Don, it was the fact that it was harder for him to roll up his sleeves and jump into the fray to solve the world’s problems. But I will always remember him as a man for whom each challenge faded with the setting sun and each new day dawned with fresh opportunity.

The most important thing to Don was family and he was quick to extend the definition to the teams he served and to the dozens of friends he picked up along the way. He epitomized one of my favorite maxims, “Strangers are only friends we haven’t met yet.”

Perhaps the most important lesson Don taught us was to pay it forward. He modeled self sufficiency and the Midwestern work ethic. And he helped us learn to fly without a wingman, even though we always knew he would instantly be by our side in time of need.

His passing leaves a huge hole in our hearts. But Don Herro taught us well. Even though he has shed a body that no longer could contain his spirit, that spirit still flies beside us. Don Herro’s essence is indelibly etched into the tapestries of the people we are becoming. We have the potential to be his living legacy. That certainty is cause for celebration and will continue to comfort us and inspire us to be the best we can be.

And to pass it on.

Some final thoughts from Dallas

And so ends another memorable Spartan footballl season.

It shall be recorded that the only teams to have besmirched a perfect record for our young men will now compete, on this same Dallas field of battle, in the first-ever national championship game. Of course, there will be voices will likely argue otherwise. This is a world where fandom biases are extreme and the ability to shout across social media gives equal time to all points of view. But, having watched this program grow and mature during my 5 years as an alumni servant at MSU, I contend that these Michigan State University Spartans have earned the right to be recognized as the number 3 team in the nation.

As ever, number one in every true Spartan’s heart!

What it means to be a Spartan

The night before every important athletic event, I always try to recenter myself by thinking about what it means to be a Spartan. Being a Spartan is not just a degree from a university or your name on the back of a jersey. It is not resting on the accomplishments of our forbears nor taking credit for the achievements of others. Being a Spartan is walking the talk. It is living a belief system that promotes service above self, fairness, inclusiveness, tenacity, beneficence, personal engagement, a thirst for continuous learning, self improvement, excellence and class. It is the courage to deal with darkness without losing faith in the sunshine. It is fighting for what is right, even when it may not be the popular thing to do. It’s going the extra mile when everyone else has given up.

Being a Spartan is not a given. It is earned every day. Many may claim it, but only a few truly live it.

Where there is arrogance, Spartans Will be magnanimous.
Where there is negativity, Spartans Will find the positive.
Where there are setbacks, Spartans Will rise above them.
Where there is anger, Spartans Will defuse it.
Where there is excellence, Spartans Will exemplify it.
When everybody else has lost their cool, Spartans Will stay centered.
Where there is a job to be done, Spartans Will get it done.

Who will be part of the solution to the world’s biggest problems in 2015? Spartans Will.

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