Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Remembering #74: Brenden Tiggs

Tiggs being Tiggs.
Teachers have to be good at a lot of things, and one of them it to listen to the many conversations among students but pretend as though we aren't. That might be a survival mechanism or the first line of defense, but something must abate the endless complaints about "not understanding the homework" and how confusing the directions were (regardless of the fact they are written and explained). It's important to give teenagers the airspace to harp and vent; to settle into their space and relax. And so it should go without saying that my 14 years of teaching, I have been privy to some interesting insights, retorts, and exclamations. But none have been as unexpectedly funny as one from my beloved student Brendan Tiggs, who I would like to honor with this posting. 

"Tiggs" as his friends an teammates knew him, was a member of the loudest Sports and Spirituality class I have taught to date. This group had but four female students and it was ever difficult to get the 24 males to get anywhere close to quiet. When I told them we were going to watch a clip from "ESPN's 30 for 30's: The U" about the Miami University football team of the 1980s, they could not refrain from yelling...one after another..."The U!" 

I was trying to mark attendance, trying to review the agenda, and to set any context whatsoever and "The U!" repeated nonstop. Exasperated with these second-semester seniors, I looked over to where Brenden was sitting. He didn't know that I was looking at him and with a totally straight face, he flashed his eyes to one side and said to the football fan next to him "Gimme some of that co-caine." It's not just what he said, but how he said it—I couldn't stop laughing (it was also a great reference to the habits of that Miami team in later years. Think Michael Irvin). That is one of the funniest things I have heard; I am so glad I listened.
A vigil in his honor at SJSU
Everyday class begins with silence and time for prayer; the student leader invites anyone to offer their intentions out loud. Without fail, Brenden offered prayers for his Grandma and on a near daily basis, he would pray for "anyone who might be having a tough time." 

In this instance, I make a concerted effort to listen to my students. I think about what they carry and who they remember. My only regret is that although I listened to Tiggs' prayer, I never thought he was the one who might be having the tough time.

Brenden Tiggs died by suicide at the age of 18. Because of his spirit and kindness, the hurt on this one runs deep. He was big, his impact was big, and his faith in God was too. 

Today, I listen with increased awareness to what those who knew Brenden have said about him. One of my students said "I've been blessed for the past two years in sharing the number 74 in football with Tiggs. And now I realized how blessed I am to have that and I feel like that will always connect me with him." Others who never had a class with him added that "he said offertory prayers at every Friday Morning Liturgy"; which he attended beside his football teammates.
What a great day.
I thought back to last May when students were asked to thank a classmate for their positive presence and thoughtful contributions in class. This is part of their final project—a synthesis presentation. To no one's surprise, a great number of them thanked Tiggs, who also won the Religious Studies award. Their comments speak to his gifts. 
  • Never afraid to put himself out there
  • Insightful and thoughtful comments
  • Consistent participation
  • Truly a LOVING and friendly guy
The word "education" comes from the Latin educere which means "to draw out." Although I was his teacher, I didn't teach Brenden anything—I simply drew out what was already in him. A spirit that loved sports and found more connection than disconnection, how God can be found in all things, and that each and every one of us is called to be a "sacrament." To have been that educator is one of the great privileges and honors of my life.

In the Catholic tradition, when someone dies we say "Grant him, Lord, eternal rest." and we are called to respond by saying "And may perpetual light shine upon him." Perpetual light will shine on this "Muscular Christian." It always did.

Photos Credits

Memorial Service


  1. Replies
    1. Michael: Thank you for reading and for your comment. I was on senior retreat last week, and shared a little big of Brendan's life and impact in my talk. He is missed.