Thursday, December 1, 2011

SI Football: Tradition and Community

In anticipation of Saturday’s Division III CCS football championship game between longtime San Francisco rivals St. Ignatius and Sacred Heart Cathedral at AT&T, I decided it was time to share with my students the story of legendary SI coach, Vince Tringali. My students, the football players and fans in particular left class sharing with me that they were ever more pumped for the big rematch. I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t be. The story of Vince Tringali exemplifies the rich tradition and strong sense of community that is SI.Tradition. To watch this NFL film one learns that SI has a tradition of excellence. During Tringali’s tenure, the Wildcats held a 19-game winning streak from 1962-63, a number one national ranking in the 1962 Imperial Sports Syndicate Poll and four league championships. He succeeded in both the AAA and WCAL Leagues, preparing his players for the transition and making a mark in both.

He knew talent. He saw O.J. Simpson play at Galileo High School and was instrumental in getting him to USC. And, he had talent. When a young Dan Fouts transferred from Marin Catholic after his sophomore year, Tringali said "talk about the gift of the Magi.” Also, several of the young men he coached went on to become coaches in the NFL, like Gil Haskell and Bill Laveroni of the Seattle Seahawks. Tringali’s influence on athletes and coaches extended beyond St. Ignatius and is greatly missed; he died in April 2010. His mark on the tradition of SI stands strong. Today there are two scholarships in his honor. Former players and students support a lunch in honor of the man and his passion.

Community. One of the more unique components of Vince was a relationship he built with a young man who did not even play football in high school. Al Saunders, offensive coordinator of the Oakland Raiders was an All-American swimmer for the Wildcats. Vince knew of his competitive nature and athletic excellence; he called him “fish” whenever he passed him in the hallway. A connection was made.

While Saunders’ father discouraged him from playing football, Tringali didn’t. Eventually Saunders would play defensive back and wide receiver for the Spartans of San Jose State from 1966–1968 where he was a three-year starter, team captain, and an Academic All-American. Tringali said “I’ll take credit for that! He’s one of my own.”

To an outsider, his remarks may seem strange and yet it reveals something about the community that is Saint Ignatius. Every year, my fellow cross-country coaches and I scout the soccer fields in particular for potential runners. We have had to come to terms with the idea that perhaps the best runners at SI are not even on our team. And yet, I love to see these athletes succeed. Every year, I hope I will convince just one of them to try our sport. I will forever tease Cornell lacrosse player and former SI soccer captain Kelly Lang that I have yet to forgive her for not coming out to run cross country her senior year. Three sports is demanding and so are academics; I understand. I still hope to see her run competitively in the years to come! Tringali did the same. He saw defensive end of the Miami Dolphins Igor Olshansky at a game. When he realized Olshansky wasn’t a parent but a student, he asked him why he wasn’t playing football. The sophomore replied, "I am a basketball player." The ever-blunt Tringali said “someone lied to you.” Tringali didn’t. Igor went on to play for three years at the University of Oregon before the San Diego Chargers drafted him. In a community, people take notice. Tringali did that and the lives of many young men have never been the same.

He said “what you get from coaching is a relationship. And for some it only lasts a season. Still others, ask or need more of you and it extends beyond. And with some, the relationship lasts a lifetime. One that does not end in even with this life.”Whether her knew it or not, Tringali’s outlook was deeply Catholic. He was speaking of the Communion of saints. Catholics recognize that the living and the dead, those on earth, in heaven, are part of the mystical body of Christ. Because Christ rose from the dead we remain in spiritual union with one another beyond this life. We intercede for one another, we communicate through prayer and we believe our relationship has not ended, only changed. He added to the tradition of St. Ignatius, one that was over a 100 years in the making when he arrived. He sustained a community that appreciates this tradition, its blessings and more.

Vince Tringali’s concluding remarks in the 2006 NFL film are “in victory, I salute you.” I hope as the Wildcats exit AT&T Park on Saturday night that I can say the same. It is my hope that same tradition that Tringali furthered and community he shaped continues and thrives. And who knows, I hope he is praying in heaven for the success of young men, some of who may be the sons of men he coached.

Photo Credits

Communion of Saints
Coach Tringali
Tringali SI Community

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