At the end of July, 38 Pius XI High School student-athletes took three days and two nights out of their summers to be on the ground floor of an exciting new organization in their school.
The three dozen-plus young people went on a retreat to Lake Geneva to kick off the school’s Christian Athlete Leadership Organization (CALO), which was the brainchild of Pius XI theology teacher and boys tennis coach Mike Kolz.
The idea for the organization started percolating in Kolz’s mind earlier this decade when he was in an organization called Living Intentionally for Excellence (LIFE), and started reading about leadership.
In May, any sophomore or junior athlete (this year’s seniors and juniors) were invited to a meeting to discuss the new group, and Kolz and Pius director of faith formation Jason Gonzalez were blown away by the reaction and response from those students.
The leaders were hoping to get 30 students.
“We were almost turning kids away, they responded so fast,” Kolz said.
Some of the goals of the organization are to energize the school and its athletes, build leadership skills, make the students reach out and go beyond themselves, get excited about their faith and give students experiences that will shape their lives and make the community stronger.
“The kids got on fire for this,” Kolz said.
As the new school year begins, Kolz and Gonzalez plan to have to bi-weekly meetings and monthly talks from business leaders and college coaches.
“Attitudes are contagious,” Kolz said. “If I’ve got 50 kids who are excited about coming to Pius High School, it’s going to make Pius High School a better place.”
The service projects Kolz has been kicking around with the students are connecting with Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin or Special Olympics, tutoring at Catholic grade schools or working at food pantries.
At a school like Pius XI, which sits neatly on the urban-suburban divide and is what Kolz calls the most diverse school in the state, an organization like CALO can help build bridges throughout the student body and community.
“It’s a great place to come see where diversity is done right,” Gonzalez said. “As this organization gets going, I think it will have an effect on culture.”
“More through osmosis than direct, I think,” Kolz added.
Among the activities during the retreat were the chance for the students to journal and reflect on some inspiring passages, an ask-me-anything session with the school’s new principal, team-building exercises and a team Olympic-style competition.
They also created three catchphrases that can serve as a model for the group: Pius leaders are great listeners, Pius leaders are servant leaders, and Pius leaders leave a legacy.
“It helped the kids focus,” Kolz said. “We talked about those aspects of their life.”
While Kolz and Gonzalez believe an organization like CALO, if successful, can have the by-product of success on the court or the field because of the added layer of investment by athletes, that is far from their consciousness.
“Hopefully they learned that true leaders give it away,” Gonzalez said. “What I would like to see is have another group that really receives and gives and receives and gives, and makes that their own life mission, and they take it outside these walls.”
“Sports is just the avenue, because there are so many life lessons in sports,” Kolz said.