Promoting sportsmanship, Catholic values at PJP
Yes, big girls – and big boys – do cry. Those tears normally flow for members of a high school athletic team after they’ve lost a hard-fought game.
At Pope John Paul II High School in Slidell, the tears often flow much earlier at something called a “jersey night,” when fathers of the student-athletes get a chance to say something to their child they’ve never been able to express publicly before.
“The dad usually has something say about their kid and how proud he is,” said Roy Delaney, dean of students at Pope John Paul II. “Some give their best Knute Rockne speech. Some get one word out and can’t talk. I have a senior, and I got about three words out and could barely get through it, and I’m one of the guys coordinating the program. That’s the type of impact this has.”
Promoting Catholic values
Pope John Paul II is the first high school in the Archdiocese of New Orleans – and in the state of Louisiana – to collaborate with Catholic Athletes for Christ and SportsLeader, two national Catholic organizations that promote sportsmanship and Catholic values among athletes, coaches and parents.
Catholic Athletes for Christ (CAC), established in 2006, promotes Catholic values throughout the athletic community and offers a broad curriculum on developing Christian virtues among students.
SportsLeader has a similar focus but targets coaches and mentors with training, guidance and support in their role of ministering to students.
Using the resources from both organizations, Delaney said, is making a great difference in observable behaviors at games and during the school day. Although the playing field may not be a place “where seldom is heard a discouraging word,” when the tempers do flare they usually can be brought under control much more quickly because of the awareness each PJP athlete and coach has.
“We’re trying to change the environment,” Delaney said. “When a school comes to play us, we’re going to play hard, but they also know they are going to come here and feel welcomed and safe and there won’t be any nasty issues, regardless of what anybody else does.”
Parents learn, too
Some of the information has been relayed to parents, especially in their roles as spectators at games. There might be occasions where parents have lost their cool during a game, but Delaney says the school has asked parents “to take a step back from the heat of the moment and see that maybe that’s not the best way to behave.”
The training hasn’t eliminated all problems, but Delaney said it has helped de-escalate potential skirmishes. A recent shoving match at a basketball game could have gotten out of control, but parents were able to take their players to a neutral corner while the coaches and game officials sorted things out.
“Maybe two years before it would have become a big melee,” Delaney said.
Another nice offshoot of the program occurred after a physical football game against Northlake Christian School when players from each team gathered at midfield and took a knee to share a prayer.
“We should all do more of this,” Delaney sad. “We need to act this way. If we can get that to happen that way every time, we’re doing the right thing.”
Sometimes high school athletes are negatively influenced by the acting out and poor sportsmanship displayed regularly on ESPN and other sports networks.
“High school is different than the pros or even LSU,” Delaney said. “Those are grown men. We don’t want to mirror the ugly aspects of sports. High school sports are still an interscholastic activity that is part of the educational process. It’s an extension of the classroom. We want to teach our students to be good, responsible citizens – good Christian citizens.”
Going strong for 2 years
Pope John Paul formed the Karol J. Wojtyla chapter of Catholic Athletes for Christ in 2013, and there are 42 student members. Representatives of each team sport meet to discuss CAC guidelines and plan activities.
Each team rotates in sponsoring a weekly Mass and providing invocations before games. The club meets during the school day to discuss a Bible passage and how it impacts their athletic lives. One week the students got to discuss Jesse Owens competing in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, when he was helped on his jumping technique by a German competitor.
“He was a lead runner for the Nazis and he didn’t have faith – or at least he wasn’t practicing anything,” Delaney said. “His tips ended up helping Jesse Owens win that event, and it created a great relationship during the Olympics. The German athlete died during World War II, but it resulted in him converting to become a Christian.
“It’s important for us as faithful Catholics to evangelize by our behavior, by the way we talk. We’re trying to push for better sportsmanship through Christian unity.”
It all seems to come together on jersey night.
“I had one student tell me, ‘My dad and I had a fight back in May and we haven’t talked until tonight,’” Delaney said. “And this was in September. Then he told me, ‘This is the first time I’ve ever heard my dad tell me he loved me.’”
Delaney would love more schools in the Archdiocese of New Orleans to join the groups. For more information, call him at (985) 649-0914.