Antonio Conte and the Chelsea squad surprised children and their families at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital penultimate Wednesday afternoon.The players spread festive cheer with the visit, delivering presents for the kids, posing for pictures and signing autographs around the wards. Sadly, some of the children were in hospital over Christmas and so the Blues popped in following the morning’s training session at Stamford Bridge. The annual visit to the Chelsea and Westminster, just along the Fulham Road, is a significant one for the players.‘Each year we come and it is important for us as players to do this and to see the kids,’ said Cesar Azpilicueta to Chelsea FC official website.‘I am a parent myself and I know how special this time is. Christmas is normally a very happy time but for these kids and their families it is very difficult so it is nice for us to come here, give them presents and to spend time with them. It is also nice for us to be able to do this and to make people’s day nicer.’One young admirer of the Spanish international was Hannah Pollock, who was delighted to meet the players and receive a selfie stick.‘She has had some issues with her tummy and has go to start a diet of a milky drink for the next six weeks which will get her better,’ her mum Lucy explained. ‘She’s been in and out since November 6, but we will be home for Christmas which is very exciting.‘It’s fantastic to see the players. It’s quite quiet here normally and she feels like she has missed the build-up to Christmas at school with the play, the games and the jumper day, so it’s lovely for the players to come in.’David Luiz too had one special fan. James Middlehurst plays for the Team GB amputee football team. He was thrilled to meet his hero!From the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, it was next stop the West Stand at the Bridge where there were plenty more smiles on faces at the Bridge Kids Christmas Party.There in one of the suites hundreds of junior members of the club plus guests of the Chelsea Foundation, who had been enjoying party food to the accompaniment of balloon modelling and music, were joined by the players for plenty of selfies and signed photos, with one giant selfie taken of everyone together.The undoubted highlight though was a quiz at the end between two teams consisting of two of the kids partnered by David Luiz and Victor Moses, with the final challenge for the youngsters an impression of Antonio Conte on the touchline. The manager himself judged the winner and given they were both hilariously good, he called it a draw.Throughout the day, in the shadow of the West Stand, there was plenty of fun for all the family at a special Chelsea Christmas wonderland full of activities. As well as seeing live reindeer and penguins, children had the chance to take part in a series of challenges and games testing their aim, balance and speed.There were craft workshops and ice sculpture opportunities too, while some competitive table football match-ups, between young and old alike, occasionally took centre stage!Share this:FacebookRedditTwitterPrintPinterestEmailWhatsAppSkypeLinkedInTumblrPocketTelegram
“It’s just one of those things where my wife (Julie) and I just kind of made a decision based on faith,” Rhule told Sporting News. “We thought that this was where we were supposed to be. We knew Baylor was a great place, but that they had hit on hard times. We felt that we were uniquely suited to come here. We thought that we could turn it around. And really, turning it around, to me, meant turning it around off the field first. So we felt like if we could get it done off the field, then on the field success would follow.“Whereas a lot of people saw disaster, we saw an opportunity to go do something — not just something positive on the field, but also something really positive off the field as well.”MORE: Sporting News 2019 All-America teamRhule has turned that opportunity — from an 1-11 record in 2017 to an 11-2 campaign and Sugar Bowl berth this season — into Sporting News’ Coach of the Year for 2019.But wait: Did Rhule call Baylor “a great place” before he got there? What, in 2016, made Baylor a great place? From the Pepper Hamilton report, the exposés, the steady stream of statements and accusations, the convictions, the expulsions, the firings, even the Big 12 sanctions, there seemed little that was “great” about Baylor three years ago.Sure, there’s the company line about a commitment to excellence and high academic standards and competitive athletics and a strong Christian mission. Soon enough, though, Rhule returns to the heart of the matter — football — to explain why he took the job.“Unfortunately, despite having that mission, the football program wasn’t necessarily in line with that,” he told SN. “So I thought me, as the son of a high school football coach and minister, that maybe I could help get the football program back in line with the university and the university’s mission with a commitment to faith and service and leadership.”Rhule, 44, executed a similar on-field turnaround in his four years at Temple, taking the Owls from 2-10 in his first year to 10 wins in each of his last two in Philadelphia. He regards that first season in Temple as “our best coaching,” and said the same thing happened in Waco.The Bears “weren’t quite ready” to win in 2017, but those hard lessons from a 1-11 season produced five single-possession wins this year. The Bears twice took College Football Playoff-bound Oklahoma to the wire, including an overtime loss in the Big 12 championship game. They also tied a program-record 11 wins, and have a chance at one more.Winning football games is one thing, but winning back the Waco community and college football fans in general is something entirely different. Rhule’s players haven’t had any prolonged off-field issues since he got there. He said when he arrived, there were zero graduate students on the roster; now there are 10. Players are committed to community outreach projects. Family has become a centralized theme for the coaching staff.There are so many “How did you” questions for Rhule: How did you save your first recruiting class? How did you build this team up? How did you unite a fractured fan base?Start with recruiting. The departure of half the 2016 recruiting class, followed by a mass exodus of the 2017 group that left just one player — safety Jalen Pitre — meant Baylor’s future depended on much more than Rhule’s ability to parachute in and put out fires.“Kids hadn’t been on visits. Kids hadn’t been recruited,” Rhule said. “It wasn’t like there was a bunch of kids that had been recruited and then we just had a transition. We had to start over from scratch. It was really, really, really hard. But I think we looked at it as an opportunity.”Rhule’s first move was to hire David Wetzel, who was president of the Texas High School Football Coaches Association and played receiver at Baylor under Hall of Famer Grant Teaff. Wetzel was an accomplished coach at Reagan High School in San Antonio. But Wetzel “knew all the right people” among the Texas coaching ranks, and was invaluable for his connections. So Rhule made him assistant athletic director for football relations.Wetzel introduced Rhule to another successful Texas prep coach, Joey McGuire from Dallas suburb Cedar Hill. Rhule hired him to coach tight ends (he’s now associate head coach and works with defensive ends). From there, Rhule hired former Baylor quarterback and Cedar Ridge coach Shawn Bell, who’s now the offensive line coach.“Those were three of his first hires,” said Baylor play-by-play voice John Morris. “That was the first move, and it was very well thought out, very smart.”A Yankee like Rhule — native New Yorker, played at Penn State, coached in Philly — could have crashed and burned in Waco if he hadn’t reached out and brought some of the Texas coaches into the fold. In that endeavor, hiring Wetzel, McGuire and Bell — along with Evan Cooper, who followed Rhule from Temple — was a vitally important first step.In two months, that first recruiting class grew to Pitre and 26 others, including 20 Texas schoolboys, 17 of whom are still on the team. The list includes three-year starting quarterback Charlie Brewer (Austin-Lake Travis), as well as All-American defensive end James Lynch (Round Rock), All-Big 12 linebacker Terrel Bernard (LaPorte), Big 12 title game hero Trestan Ebner (Henderson) starting guard Xavier Newman (DeSoto) and starting wideout R.J. Sneed (Cypress Ranch). Some of them had other offers, some did not.“There are too many kids playing high school football in Texas — there are too many great players — to not recruit well,” Rhule said. “There’s too many players in this state that can go play and play at a high level. So for us, we’re just on a mission to make sure that we do a great job evaluating. You know, I don’t want Drew Brees leaving the state. I don’t want Nick Foles leaving the state. I want to make sure that all these guys that end up playing in the NFL, that we evaluate and we get our arms around.”Rhule gets the credit for building that class, extinguishing the flames and winning those games because, it can be argued, he’s precisely what Baylor needed: an outsider. That was both the quickest and most lasting way to get the Bears past the dark times and into a brighter, more enduring future.This team was the doormat of the Big 12 before Briles, whose wide-open, sideline-to-sideline, up-tempo offense seemed to be the only way to turn a perennial loser into a contender.“But there’s other ways to do it as well,” Rhule said. While the big-play abilities of players like Brewer and Denzel Mims and Tyquan Thornton are still in place, this Baylor team is built on punishing opponents with the Big 12’s most physical defense.As for uniting the fan base, Baylor was largely split between “Coach Art Briles” and “anybody but Coach Art Briles.”“There were pockets of what you’d call ‘Briles people,’” Morris said. “There were people who said (after Briles was fired), ‘I’ll never give you another dime,’ and they may still be there. But Matt has done a great job of getting them back on board, getting Baylor together pulling in the same direction. We’re a small school. We don’t have a lot of alums. So we’ve got to have all our people on the same page pulling in the same direction to start with.”That includes athletic director Mack Rhoades, who hired Rhule in 2016 after unsuccessfully trying to lure him to Missouri in 2015. (“I wasn’t ready to leave Temple at the time,” Rhule said.) When Rhoades finally landed his man in Waco, he knew the rebuild would require patience.He demonstrated that faith and patience earlier this year — with Baylor coming off a 7-6 campaign and starting 2-0 in 2019 — when he extended Rhule’s contract through the 2027 season: essentially a 10-year deal.Said Rhule of the extension: “That contract and the length and terms said, ‘Hey, we believe in what you’re doing and we know that it’s built to last; it’s not just some flash in the pan, that we’re gonna have a sustained period of excellence here.’”For most fan bases, winning solves almost everything. Happy fans and generous boosters aren’t things Rhule outwardly concerns himself with, but he knows the importance of external harmony.In that vein, Rhule said so many in the Waco community were supportive of him and his team — even as they lost.“They would see us in the community,” Rhule said, “even as we were losing, they would see us pick the other team up, they would see us go out there and compete and play our hardest even though we weren’t good enough (to win). And while some people were probably disgruntled, other people were really positive. And that’s why, when I’ve had a chance to leave, I haven’t left. Because that first year, we walked off the field to, I think, three or four standing ovations. Even though we lost. And that’s really special in today’s day and age.”It’s in that community that Baylor football has changed the most. The football team has won the athletic department’s community service award twice already in Rhule’s three seasons. Giving back, he said, is its own reward, and he’s glad his players embrace that.“We’re supposed to be in the business of educating kids,” Rhule said. “I believe, and it’s been well said, that giving is the highest form of living. So our kids are very blessed to be here. They get scholarships and they get tutors and they get clothing and they get gear and they get this and they get that. And there’s an argument out there that they don’t get enough, and that might be true. But they do get a lot. And so, to whom much is given, much is required. And we want them to go out and impact the community. It’s one of the key tenets of our program.” Rhule, a father of three (15-year-old son Bryant frequently attends practice and is on the sideline for games), characterized himself as “a grinder.” But he makes himself and his staff take Thursday nights off during the season so they can enjoy at least a little family time in the midst of that grind.“My son and I are usually watching the college football games. My daughters and I maybe watch a movie because they’re younger,” he said. “But I think we work really hard and there needs to be a time when you can disconnect from the game plan, when you can disconnect from everything and you can just go out and be a dad. That certainly is my first job.“I love the fact that I was named coach of the year, but I’d rather be father of the year first every single year.” When Matt Rhule agreed to become the head football coach at Baylor in 2016, the campus was scorched, the athletic department was smoldering, and the football program was in ashes.He arrived in Waco that December at a university trying to recover from a sexual assault scandal that rocked the campus and saw coach Art Briles, university president Ken Starr and athletic director Ian McCaw lose their jobs. It was clear Rhule’s success wouldn’t be measured by just the on-field product.
SANTA ROSA – A Presbyterian minister accused of marrying two lesbian couples in violation of the faith’s position on same-sex unions said Thursday that in doing so, she was only following her conscience and the wishes of the “brides.” The Rev. Jane Spahr of San Rafael has been charged with official misconduct for officiating at the weddings in 2004 and 2005. The constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA) reserves marriage for a man and a woman, although ministers may bless other types of “holy unions.” As the first witness in her trial before a church judicial commission, Spahr testified that as a veteran pastor and lesbian activist she knew her church’s position on gay marriage and yet felt called by God to use the language the couples wanted when she presided over their nuptials. “I don’t care what your sexual orientation is, what’s most important to me is what you call it,” she said. “They said ‘marriage’ and I was honored to do their ‘marriage,’ so they would not be seen as second-class in any way.” AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORECasino Insider: Here’s a look at San Manuel’s new high limit rooms, Asian restaurant If found guilty by the Presbytery of the Redwoods, the regional governing body of the Presbyterian Church, she could face anything from a rebuke to being forced to leave the ministry after more than 30 years, according to one of her lawyers, Timothy Cahn. In opening statements, Stephen L. Taber, a San Francisco lawyer representing the church, cautioned the seven-member tribunal not to get distracted by emotional arguments about gay rights. Issues of personal conscience would be relevant only if Spahr were on trial for heresy, he said. “The burden on this commission is not to decide whether same-sex marriage is or is not appropriate for the Presbyterian Church USA,” Taber said. “The only question here is whether Reverend Spahr committed certain acts, and whether those acts are in violation of the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church.” But defense attorney Sara Taylor countered by saying that ignoring the larger moral issues would be passing up an opportunity to correct a wrong no less grievous than the church’s previous ban on allowing women to serve as ministers. “It is too simplistic to take something this church has wrestled with for 30 years and say it doesn’t matter,” Taylor said. The Presbyterian Church (USA) is among several Protestant denominations embroiled in a bitter debate between liberals and conservatives over what role gays should have in their churches. Under a ruling by the national church’s highest court in 2000, Presbyterian churches may bless same-sex unions as long as they do not equate the relationships with marriage. Spahr is one of a half-dozen Presbyterian ministers across the nation facing disciplinary action for marrying same-sex couples, although her case is the first to come to trial, Cahn said. The others include the Rev. Jim Rigby in Austin, Texas, the Rev. Janet Edwards in Pittsburgh, and the Rev. Ilene Dunn in San Antonio. Thursday’s trial, held at the Church of the Roses in Santa Rosa, drew an older crowd through which support for Spahr ran strong. Despite the potential consequences, the atmosphere was frequently lighthearted, with the defendant milling about hugging people during breaks and her testimony often provoking good-natured laughter. At one point in the proceedings, for example, Taber asked Spahr whether she ever sought permission to perform same-sex weddings from any of the presbytery’s leaders or informed them about her activities. “Several of them were even at these services, so I didn’t think,” she quipped. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!