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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Vignettes of Victories
SportsLeader Program Changes Lives of Coaches, Athletes, and Families

October 23, 2007. West Chester, Ohio. “It’s just a game,” some might say. Not so for SportsLeader teams. For the athletes, coaches, and families participating in this life-changing program, sports has become a training ground for life’s essential lessons— a theater of virtue, charity, and apostolic zeal.

The vignettes featured below are just some of the stories from successful SportsLeader programs across the country. To find out more what coaches from pee-wee leagues to college-level think about Sports leader, click on the SportsLeader icon at right:

Learning to Face Adversity with Grace

A talented redshirt freshman running-back from the University of Louisville learned some of his most abiding life-lessons on the SportsLeader playing field.

In a recent university football game, he was getting up from the tackle after a run when an opponent pushed him back down and stood over him, calling him racist names.
A moment of prayer on the playing field.
A moment of prayer on the playing field.
At that moment, a phrase that his SportsLeader coach had taught him in high school came back into his mind and heart: a man always uses his will to do good. The athlete stood up, faced his opponent, and replied, “God bless you.” A few plays later, that same opponent got hit hard and was on his back, down for the count. The running-back went over and offered to help him up.

To this day, that was one of the moments that this award-winning athlete is most proud of – because in a tough moment, he used his will to do good.

As a sophomore, this same athlete helped his high school team win a state championship. He said all he wanted was to play his hardest so the seniors could win their last game and achieve the state championship. He didn’t care about himself. It was all about winning that joy for the team, for others. As he himself says, helping others is his happiest memory.

Teaching Virtue in Tough Situations

Where do the athletes learn such virtue? It’s taught not only by word, but also by example on the playing field.

Recently, a 5th grade Stallions team faced a tough situation in an out-of-division game in Dayton. Something smelled fishy when the coach noticed supposedly ten or eleven year old kids on the opposing team who looked quite a bit older, since most eleven year olds don´t shave. Even fishier, the opposing team did not bring their eligibility book with the players’ birth certificates to certify that they had the correct aged players. He decided to play anyway. Midway through the first quarter, the opposing team started swearing at his players, cheap-shotting them, and making continuous late hits. In response, he called a timeout and told his team that they were calling this game and going home. He explained the reasons calmly, told the kids that they needed to pray for those guys and that this was a great opportunity to use their wills to think and speak positively of the other team though it was hard. He told them, “We will still go through the line and shake hands and we will still give them the fish crackers,” a tradition to show sportsmanship. They went through the line and the opposing team called them quitters and other names.
SportsLeader Stallions fighting for victory.
SportsLeader Stallions fighting for victory.
When they were given the crackers, many of the kids threw them on the field and stepped on them. The Stallions players just walked back to their huddle and prayed for the other team.

It’s not easy to walk away gracefully, but this team did it with class and charity. Led by their coach’s example, they called a fair shot and handled a tough situation with virtue. The Stallions parents who witnessed it said that it gave the boys a great testimony of how to face adversity.

When Virtue is the Sweetest Victory

As any sports fan knows, a playing field makes a great theater for miracles.

A SportsLeader team in New Jersey was playing a very successful team and losing 19-0 at the start of the 4th quarter. Many of the coaches had that “here comes another blowout” look on their faces. But not the kids. They believed they could win and fought for it every step of the way.

The upset began at the top of the 4th quarter when they drove down the field and kicked a field goal to make it 19-3. Then they forced a fumble and recovered it, scored a touchdown and went for two, and made it to 19-11. Both teams traded some quick punts and then the SportsLeader team scored again and once again went for two to tie the game. They did it, reaching 19-19 with less than two minutes to go. The opposing team then drove the length of the field and got the ball first, making a goal from the two yard line with 20 seconds left to go. Our men stopped them three times at the goal line. As time expired, the opposing team lined up for the game-winning field goal. They missed. Overtime. Our men got the ball first and scored on the first play. The opponent got stopped three times and the game ended with the sacking of the opposing quarterback. The final score: 26-19. The local paper called it a miracle.

A coach in Cincinnati Hills, Ohio
Just us guys: enjoying a Stallions father-son camping trip
Just us guys: enjoying a Stallions father-son camping trip.
experienced something very similar the same night. His team was losing 12-3. They drove the length of the field and then fumbled on the 1 yard line. The opposing team drove 99 yards and scored, 18-3. They went for two but the SportsLeader team stopped them and began their comeback, scoring an overtime victory—a win that the coach attributes to the heart and virtue of the players. He observed that they had grown unusually united as a team and were constantly talking about being a “band of brothers.”

Thanks to SportsLeader, a few of the boys have been steered away from drugs, the assistant coaches seem more fulfilled as they are mentoring the boys, and the seniors are treating the freshmen with a respect that has never been seen before.

Miraculous comebacks are always inspiring, but perhaps the greatest miracles of all are happening off the playing field.

Building Families

It’s not only the players who are benefiting from SportsLeader. The graces are also trickling into the families.

One day at the end of practice recently, a 6 foot 5 inch, 300 pound man walked up to a Stallions coach and gave him a bear hug. Seeing as how the coach was at a loss not knowing who he was, the man went on to explain that he was the uncle of one of the players and was so thrilled that his nephew was part of the Stallions. It turned out that the extended family had their Sunday dinners together and the 9 year old boy was the star of the show, enthusiastically regaling the family with all of the virtue stories he had learned and sharing the lessons his coach had taught him in his mentoring session that week. Now no one missed their family dinners on Sundays because they wanted to hear “all the great stuff.” The uncle came to practice just to tell the coach and to see the Stallions for himself.

In another area, a family with four children in the Stallions (three football players and one cheerleader) lost their father in a tragic car accident. The family was not well-off and did not have another car, so the children had been walking to practice and other events.

The coach sent out an e-mail letting his network of families know about the situation and asked if anyone had an old car that they could donate. Two men immediately sent
Coaches who are also apostles.
Coaches who are also apostles.
in checks of $250 to help. Later two Stallions moms happened to be at a prayer group meeting over the weekend. One was the mother of a football player and the other was the mother of a cheerleader. They did not know each other and did not realize that their children were both a part of the Stallions. As they talked, the theme of "the family in need of the car" came up, which was news to the cheerleader’s mother. Later that night, her father called her up out of the blue and said, "Listen, I´ve got this old car I´ve been meaning to get rid of. Would you happen to know anyone who might need a car?"

"Dad, I just heard this morning that a family needed one."

She immediately called the coach, who was ecstatic. "We´ll use the $500 for repairs and we can present her with the car later this week.” Now that family has a car and the kids don’t have to walk to practice anymore.

Coaches Reaching Out

Much of SportsLeader’s success depends on the level of commitment of the coaches. In many areas recently, coaches have gone above and beyond the call of duty because they see their work as a mission, not just as a job.

In one city, a SportsLeader coach has already brought several families into the Catholic Church. But the coaches’ role is not always so dramatic; their work can be as simple as an extra gesture of concern. One coach reached out to boys who missed practice due to strep throat and had the mentors of those players call them to encourage them. The families were surprised and grateful that the coaches took that extra step of concern for their sons.

At the same time, their work can also be as ambitious as starting up a new program on Catholic radio and interviewing star athletes, bringing faith and sports together in a new way. A coach in Lexington, KY started a monthly radio segment called the SportsLeader Spotlight on the local Catholic radio station, 1380 AM. He interviewed Jacob Tamme, a Catholic All SEC tight end who will most likely be drafted into the NFL next season. Next month he will interview Rocky Boiman of the Indianapolis Colts and Joe Zelenka of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

SportsLeader coaches are not only reaching out to kids, families, and the wider public. They are also supporting each other. Two SportsLeader coaches do business together, with one offering a workers’ compensation package to the other. The one offering the package was able to save the other the exact amount of money down to the dollar that he wanted to donate to a charitable organization. Then a few minutes later, the one offering the package received a phone call letting him know that his father had passed away. In response, his colleague gathered his employees to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet for him. Needless to say, the coach was extremely moved. It also turned out that the first condolences e-mail the coach received was from a parent of one of his players—and it happened to be the last parent he would have expected to express concern. He has since seen that family at church and adoration.

His conclusion: you never know how much of an impact you are having as a coach. Only God knows. But with SportsLeader, you can be sure it’s a big one, and that it will impact lives in a lasting way.



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