The Zak Zone
Academics is something that I have always held very near and dear in my life.
I grew up a bookworm, always reading every chance I could — a habit I wish I had continued throughout my adolescent and college years — and have always loved to study anything and everything.
Growing up, my favorite parts of the newspaper were the agate of the sports pages, where I could analyze the statistics and standings of each of my favorite sports, and the "Today in History" section, where in such a short amount of time I could learn so much about the history of a single day on the calendar.
I've always liked acquiring knowledge, and going to class was typically a pleasure for me.
But as I've grown older, I have realized that academics is not the only important thing that takes place in the public schooling system.
Learning is very important, but it doesn't happen only in the classroom.
Academics — just one form of learning — happens in the classroom and is very important, but learning also takes place in extra-curricular activities such as sports.
Learning is about making changes and adjustments that, in the long run, help a person to survive and to thrive.
The example that has brought this sports-to-real-life metaphor to mind for me of late has been one I've known for some time: The pump fake.
The pump fake is a move in any sport, really, where you feign an action — such as throwing or shooting — to force the person defending you to react to the expected action.
After they react, you take advantage of that reaction.
I've been familiar with the pump fake for some time, as I grew up a Steelers fan, and watched former scrambling quarterback Kordell Stewart make many defensive players look silly via the pump fake.
Stewart was known for his "slash" abilities, but most of his opportunities as a Steelers QB came from using his legs to run the football.
Despite his running abilities, though, he still had a cannon for an arm, and defenses knew they had to defend the pass against him.
On more than one occasion, Stewart scrambled outside the pocket and started to run with the ball before meeting an oncoming defender.
When he realized the defender had a beat on him, Stewart frequently would pump fake — at times past the line of scrimmage, where it would have been illegal to throw the ball.
Most times, the fake out worked perfectly for Stewart, psyching out professional defenders and gaining more yards than he should have all because of the pump fake.
Kordell had learned a move that caused his opponents to react in a way that was counteractive to the strategy of the game.
Their experience had told them that when a quarterback pump fakes, you should jump to try to block his pass.
We should always learn from our experiences, as that is what helps us survive and thrive, so they made an adaptation, and Stewart took advantage of their stubborn efficiency in their adaptation.
Other quarterbacks, such as Ben Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning, who aren't known as well for their running abilities, have also used the pump fake to their advantage.
A good defensive back, such as Troy Polamalu or All-Pro Charles Woodson, is so good because he learns to anticipate what quarterbacks are going to do.
A good quarterback will pump fake and take advantage of the anticipatory reaction, and in the long run, it helps them thrive.
More locally and recently, I have seen the development of the pump fake on a young girls' basketball squad that has helped them start to turn the corner after a rough start to the season.
The Lady Chucks started 0-7 this season behind just one senior starter and no juniors, but since the turning of the calendar, the Lady Chucks are 4-2 — with the two losses coming to a then-undefeated ECC team and a Hollidaysburg team ranked in the top 600 in the nation — in large part thanks to their ability to take the ball to the basket and score after the pump fake.
Punxsy is known for its outside shooting, with a plethora of players who can knock it down from outside the arc, so teams have adjusted and tried to block those outside shots.
The Lady Chucks' answer to this problem came with the pump fake, but it wasn't a seamless transition, either.
In basketball, one must pump fake — going through all the motions that imply she will shoot the ball — while keeping a pivot foot planted.
Early in the season, Punxsy players pump faked but started moving their feet too quickly and were called for numerous traveling violations.
Of late, though, the Lady Chucks have started to zone in on the technique that comes with polishing and practicing, and many of them are now forcing defenders to leave their feet and going around them for baskets.
Learning is about adjustments that help people survive and thrive. Sometimes, the easy baskets that come off pump fakes help keep the Lady Chucks in a close game, while other times, they discover a team that is prone to leaving its feet after the fake, and they can thrive off the other team's training for the night.
One example of a player thriving off the pump fake came Jan. 6 when Taylor Newcome scored 36 points against Clearfield to become just the third player since 2001 to score 30 for Punxsy using a combination of sharp shooting from outside the arc and pump fakes to open the lane for easy layups.
The Lady Chucks are helping us all realize that life is about learning to make adjustments to better one's self, and that takes place in and out of the classroom ... in all areas of our lives.