Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The High of the 2014-2015 School Year: The Story of Liam— Something Beautiful for God

In my last posting, I shared 4 of the 5 highs for the 2014-2015 school year. Here's #1

The high of my year began with an introductory assignment in the senior Religious Studies elective, Sports and Spirituality. To set the tone of the course and for my students to get to know one another, we share a "Sports Moment of Grace." One of my "spiritual MVPs," Claire—who is now an alumna and a friend, told the story of a boy named Liam.

Claire met Liam while serving as a manager for the varsity football team. Working beside two other student-managers, she has contributed invaluably to the football team and has the respect of the athletes she assists. Many of those guys were in my class.

When Claire shared Liam's story: who he is, how he's involved with the team and why he's captured so many hearts, everyone in class understood we were let in on something special. The football players listened to Claire and added to her moment of grace. I realized his impact was too beautiful not to share beyond the gridrion and Room 202. The story you will read below was in the Spring issue of Genesis—the alumni magazine of St. Ignatius, but it will also stay with me as the high of this school year. 

It was an honor for me to have Claire as my student, to see the football players treat this young man with love and kindness and to interview him and his dad. Here's some insight into who he is.

From Genesis: Come to a varsity boys’ football game and it’s likely that you will notice an eighth-grade boy running along the sidelines, high-fiving the players and cheering on the Wildcats. He talks the ear off of the athletic directors, assists the managers, and wants to know why the school doesn’t have a pep band.
That redheaded boy, Liam Caraher is an extra needs kid—and the nephew of assistant coach Tim Caraher His father, Pete Caraher said, “ever since my brother started coaching at SI, all Liam ever wanted to do was go on the field and really experience football.”

Born with a motor-planning issue, Apraxia affects Liam’s speech and causes some cognitive delays. It hasn’t, however, dampened his love for SI football or his desire to be an unofficial member of the team.

Five years ago, Coach Caraher introduced Liam to players and brought him onto the field after games. His role however changed two years ago when a varsity captain and the quarterback went out of their way to include him and make him feel welcome. In doing so, Liam and the team have never been the same.

Pete said “these boys have been accepting and supportive of my son. They never treated him differently. Instead the realized he just does things differently.” According to senior captain Alex Griffith, “Liam is everyone's biggest fan and just one of the guys.”

Claire added, “I see the impact Liam has on the team at every game. It's the brotherly love he shares with all the players. Whether they be poking each other on the sidelines or giving each other a fist bump after a good play, it is easy for Liam to meet a new friend. He clearly idolizes each of the boys, but the entire football program idolizes his spirit for SI Football.”

It’s inspiring to learn about the symbiosis of this relationship. “These young men have made my son the happiest 12-year old boy in the Bay Area.” This year, the team honored Liam with two football jerseys. “I got #60 for home and #46 for away games!” said Liam.

“Liam's positive spirit and excitement each and every day had a huge impact on my life and motivated our team to grow closer together,” said quarterback Ryan Hagfelt.

That spirit was evidenced in the locker room after a disappointing loss. Alex Grifftih said, “everyone was either silent or had their head down in tears. When we began to talk about our memories of the season, Freddie reminded us that it was Liam's birthday that day. He came to the middle and we sang Happy Birthday to him. He began to cry out of happiness and excitement.

“It was very special for us to be included in that moment.” Pete said, “Every senior shared something. It was so obvious by what they said that teamwork, compassion and responsibility are core values of the program. I am confident my son will be a successful member of society knowing that these boys are watching out for him.”
Liam and SI Varsity Football Managers
He added, “Liam will probably never be able to attend SI, or play organized football or any other sport. That’s okay because he knows in his heart that he is a member of a team that accepts and welcomes him as a teammate.”

Talking to those involved in the SI football program about Liam Caraher reminded me of the words of Mother Teresa. She wrote, "What I can do, you cannot. What you can do, I cannot. But together we can do something beautiful for God." 

By some standards, there are many things that Liam cannot do. But to see Liam join the team in Wildcat jacks and stand in the locker room before, during and after games, you see much more than what he can do. You see something beaiutiful.

Claire said,  “When he sees the boys start to line up in the end zone, he drops everything and says, "I gotta go see my boys."

What could be more beautiful than that?

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