Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Skill of Appreciating the Tradition: The Bruce-Mahoney

Though the title of his research sounds discouraging, in his book "Going, Going, Gone: The Dynamics of Disaffiliation of Young Catholics," Bob McCarty offers positive and realistic solutions for how to re-engage young people in the Church. He names several skills that ought to be taught and promoted to keep Catholic youth curious, involved and eager for more. For example, a few faith skills might be 1) how to pray 2) how to use Scripture and 3) how to recognize God's presence/instilling a sense of wonder and awe in one another. He notes that skills require preparation, experience, and reflection. His ideas and recommendations totally make sense to me; teaching a course like Sports and Spirituality, I hope that I offer a creative way to teach and instill those skills on a regular basis. And, there are no better means by which to teach about, practice and promote another skill: the skill of Appreciating the Tradition, than the Bruce-Mahoney trophy. 
At 5:15,  the Wildcats of St. Ignatius College Prep will take on the Fightin' Irish of Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep at AT&T Ballpark in what is the third installment of the Bruce Mahoney contest. As written about many times before, this storied rivalry holds the distinction as the longest standing athletic rivalry between two schools west of the Mississippi River. Based on the outcome of today's baseball game, the trophy will either remain at SI or be claimed sometime later this week by student-athletes from SHC. The series is comprised of football, basketball and baseball and what makes today's game special is that the series is split. SH prevailed on the gridiron, lost to SI on the hardwood and we shall see what occurs on the diamond later today. Indeed there is much to appreciate about this tradition beyond the athletic competition, iconic San Francisco venues, and the fact that alumni from each institution return year after year to wear either Green and White or Red and Blue. A starting point for appreciation ought to be education about the namesakes of the trophy: Bill Bruce and Jerry Mahoney. 

A fellow SI faculty member who I consider our resident archivist and historian shared with the faculty the "tribute to Bill Bruce written by Bill Leiser, sports editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, published on April 18, 1943—four days after Bill was killed in a plane crash. Leiser addresses the spirit of sacrifice that is at the heart of the Bruce-Mahoney competition." You can read it here.
I asked my seniors, young men and women just two months from leaving SI to comment on what stands out...what do they appreciate about Bill Bruce. They loved that he was deemed a "right guy." Every single one of them noted that me "meant more to the football team than the best galloping ghost halfback." A few were confused about why he left the NFL for the Navy; their peers and I were quick to help them understand a). the Broncos is a reference to Santa Clara University and the football team they once had and b). the NFL didn't even come into existence until 1960 (if you are to consider what it is today). Context. Still, others added that he was an "orphan," a word you don't hear that often today....or the term "St. Ignatius High School." "God rest his soul" is a beautiful way to conclude the tribute. Amen.
The Bruce-Mahoney is a wonderful tradition to appreciate and what I think adds value to it is that the tradition is a living one. This past year, including female athletics into the series, has been a subject of serious conversation, planning, and debate like never before. Though many young women and men have in years past discussed and done what they can to determine how this rivalry can both remain true to its roots and yet accommodate for who we are today, those conversations haven't had the immanence and desire for an answer like they do now. I'm excited to discover what will be!

Celebrating the Bruce-Mahoney has kept graduates of St. Ignatius and Sacred Heart Cathedral engaged, involved and curious in our communities. Let us in the Church use this as a powerful example that Appreciating a Tradition is a skill that can and should be prepared, experience and practiced. Today, my students have a better sense of who Bill Bruce is. In a few hours, they will experience the spirit of sacrifice out at the Yard and I hope at some point, they will reflect upon the gift that is this rivalry—a living tradition.

Photo Credits
Girls Hoops

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