FOND DU LAC — Rain-slicked helmet bowed in reverence to God, St. Mary Springs Academy Ledger defensive tackle Matt Miranda clutches the shoulder pads of fellow defensive linemen Steven Braatz and Evan Beisbier in a team prayer moments before kickoff against public-school opponent Lomira High School.

Just prior to the on-field team prayer, private and public school teams and fans joined in respect as the announcer recited a The Fond du Lac St. Mary’s Springs Ledgers football team gathers for a pregame prayer prior to its game against the Lomira High School Lions on Sept. 18. St. Mary’s Springs won the contest, 55-15. (Catholic Herald photo by Steve Wideman)prayer read before every Ledger game:

“Heavenly Father,
Please watch over all competing today.
Provide the players with the gifts of teamwork and team spirit.
Help all of us to be mindful of displaying good sportsmanship at all times, keeping our comments positive and respectful.
Help all of us to glorify you through this competition.
We ask this in your name.

Immediately, the Ledger pep band enthusiastically broke into melodic, patriotic strains of the National Anthem as a packed parent section rose in cheers of support for the athletes.

Catholic student athletes of all types, boys and girls from grade school through high school, are getting involved in a year-around and growing myriad of sports some fear might clash with faith obligations.

But coaches, athletic officials and parents strive to keep faith and family values at the forefront for students — on and off the field.

Athletic contests on Sunday rare

“We don’t have athletic contests scheduled on Sundays so there is no problem conflicting with Mass. When any of our teams travel on the weekend, going to church is included,” said Peggy Seeger-Braun, athletic director at Divine Savior Holy Angels High School in Milwaukee.

Seeger-Braun said DSHA recognizes its responsibility to ensure the students have time to meet their obligation to their faith and families if, on the rare occasion, there is an athletic event on Sunday.

“We will schedule the event later that day. I think the responsibility of athletes to the faith, family and sports can happily coincide because we make that a priority,” Seeger-Braun said.

Regulations in place by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee for archdiocesan elementary schools up to grade eight, state “no sanctioned or organized athletic activities, including league or tournament games, practices, tryouts and scrimmages involving school and parish teams may take place on Sundays before noon or on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or during the Easter Triduum.”

“Our main mission is to protect the essential mission of education and formation programs in our parishes,” said Brenda White, associate superintendent for archdiocesan schools.

“Sunday sports would interfere with family life,” White said. “These regulations have been in place for a very long time.”
Athletics are extension of parish life

White said sports at the grade school level are one of many extracurricular activities involved in parish life.

“It’s an extension of parish life where we hold the Eucharist and Mass as our primary focus,” White said. “Athletics should not interfere with the reason we exist – to celebrate the Eucharist.”

White noted high school athletics are subject to rules and regulations of the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA).

Since Jan. 16, 2004, the same prayer read before the Springs/Lomira football game, composed by long-time assistant coach and current Springs athletic director Kyle Krueger, has sent a message of the importance of turning to the Catholic faith to bring strength to all athletic endeavors.

“Faith is the reason we exist,” Krueger said. “Our students pray before school, during school and prior to lunch. Our teams pray before a game, just prior to the game, after the game and sometimes before practice,” Krueger said. “Faith in God helps bring everyone together. We know God doesn’t care who wins and loses. We pray for safety and good sportsmanship before a game. We are not praying to win the game.”

Legendary Ledger coach Bob Hyland, in his 45th year of coaching football and the winningest coach in Wisconsin high school football, said, “When you have strong faith, you rely on others around you to perform to the best of their ability.”
The reliance on God extends to the building of strong families, he said.

“Having God gives you faith in fellow players. Nobody can do it on their own,” Hyland said. “Before every game, before we leave the school, we say an ‘Our Father’ and thank the Lord. Whenever we get a chance during the game, we ask the Lord for help and guidance.”

Prayer over public address system

Springs, as a member of the WIAA and other parochial schools are allowed to have a standard prayer announced on the public address system prior to the game.

“We have not had, as far as I know, any complaints from the public because we pray,” Hyland said. “Having prayer builds team spirit and is a very important aspect of knowing Christ. We do it all for his glory.”

Mixing faith, family and athletics is a way life for Fond du Lac’s Jennifer Baudry and her family.

“It’s a lifestyle you have to live day to day,” Baudry said.

Baudry’s husband, Jim, coaches youth football. Her daughter, Lexi, a freshman at Springs, participates in volleyball, basketball and track, while son, Nolan, plays fifth-grade football.

“Sports, and a strong Catholic education, teaches kids respect and lots of good family values,” Baudry said.

Bob Wissing, who has seen three daughters graduate from Divine Savior Holy Angels and has one daughter attending the all-girls’ school, said DSHA, in particular, puts faith and family over the obligations of sports.

“After all, it is sport. Faith and family remains a long time after high school sports,” said Wissing, president of DSHA’s volunteer Parent Athletic Association.

The school is the only Catholic high school in the archdiocese to have earned exemplary recognition in the area of Catholic identity by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

Wissing’s 16-year-old daughter, Katie, participates in cross country, basketball and track at a school where 63 percent of the student body of about 686 students participates in sports.

School athletics never get in the way of his family’s life, Wissing said.

“First of all it would be very unusual for a high school sport to be played on Sunday,” Wissing said, noting one of his daughters participated on the school’s state basketball team on a weekend road trip.

“The team went to church and the parents joined them,” Wissing said. “The whole experience was nice and concluded with Mass.”

Managing time may mean sacrifices

Wissing said that when kids are involved in any extracurricular activities “it presents a challenge to scheduling and things like family meals.”

“Our family makes it a point to eat dinner together at least five times a week,” he said. “If you want to manage family and faith time you can, but you may have to make sacrifices.”

Albert Lagore, athletic director at St. Dominic Elementary School in Brookfield, said, “It’s difficult for kids” to divide family, sports, faith and school obligations, but sports “are part of their social development.”

In addition, preparations for a sports contest take time, Lagore said.

“We try to instill in our coaches, 95 percent who are parents of kids in our school, that school work and faith activities need to take priority over all other commitments,” Lagore said. “To be competitive, and I don’t mean winning or losing, but being able to put an honest effort forward, we try, at the end of the day, to be in recognition of our Creator.”

He noted students are recruited to write pregame prayers.

“At the end of the day, winning is enjoyable, but not the most important thing,” Lagore said.