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
|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.
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.
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
|A moment of prayer on the playing field.|
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
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
Where do the athletes learn such virtue? It’s taught
not only by word, but also by example on the
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.|
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.
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.|
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.”
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.
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.
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.|
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.