Thursday, January 12, 2023

Sports Nourish Us: Reflections on Game 3 of the 2022-2023 Bruce Mahoney

Whether it be the table in a science lab or classroom, the Eucharistic table at mass or the table in the faculty dining room, Father Mike Gilson, SJ taught me that Jesuit education happens at tables. Tables bring us together; they are where we learn some of life's most valuable lessons. And at lunch the day after the Bruce Mahoney game, I was reminded of something so basic and obvious but important and true: sports nourish us.

Sports give us something to chew on and competition among student athletes provides plenty of sustenance. Whether you coach, attend or play in a game, sports spark conversation, elicit opinion and draw out debate. Athletic contests call us to question what is good coaching, the importance of discipline and sportsmanship, the gift of raw talent, playing up or missing the mark. The home opener, a rivalry game, and the post season provide a school community with a reason to come together. And every once in a while, what happens on the field, court, in the pool, or on the course is something to savor.

The St. Ignatius boys' basketball team secured the third win of the Bruce Mahoney rivalry with their 78-58 win over Sacred Heart Cathedral before 3,000 fans at USF’s War Memorial Gym. The quest for the trophy is decided by the best of five games: girls' volleyball, football, girls' and boys' basketball and baseball. This "W" gave SI students, faculty the nourishment we needed amidst our long, rainy days.

I sat down to a crowded lunch table and heard my colleagues asking Did you go to the game? Where were you sitting? Others offered remarks like "I thought the student section was well behaved" and "The deans did a great job." "The kids had a ton of spirit" reverberated from one table to another. #SIPride

Another commented on the smart use of the cheer "he's a freshman." As written in the San Francisco Standard, "If the St. Ignatius student section chanted “he’s a freshman” every time one of Caeden Hutcherson, Steele Labagh or Raymond Whitley scored, they would have never stopped." The A.D. leaned in and said "the future looks good."

Much to the delight of my colleague from Detroit, I admitted every time I heard Caeden's name, I thought of the Lions' first round draft choice, defensive end Aidan Hutchinson. How old is he? asked another teacher. I said "Are you asking that because the quarterback from the University of Georgia is 25?"

Others were impressed by our colleague who just returned from maternity leave and attended the game. At lunch she was excited to share that when she realized one of her students, a freshman was a varsity starter she had to go. The teacher who covered her class last semester asked if he could come by class and congratulate him. "I want to tell him to keep his grades up, too. He can do it." As I listened, I was reminded that teaching after a big win is so much easier...and fun. Way to go 'Cats!

Though we sports fans prefer to win— I would argue that a win is not necessary for the nourishment that sports provides.

This past fall, my brother, niece and I attended the football home opener at Notre Dame. The morning after, my friend Father Paul Kollman, CSC hosted us for brunch at Corby Hall. Home to the priests and brothers of the Congregation of Holy Cross, we were the only people sitting in the dining room not dressed in clerics. 

My brother, Mark looked over his shoulder and said to me "that's Monk Malloy, right?" Monk was the University President from 1987—2005. I was hoping to get a chance to talk to him because Mark and his family just moved to the neighborhood in Washington DC where Monk grew up. Unfortunately, there was never a break in the conversation at his table. Why? He and the five other priests were talking about the game.

The Irish lost to the Thundering Herd of Marshall University 26-21. The Irish had a streak of 42 straight wins against unranked opponents home, no less! Tough one to swallow, but there was a whole lot to chew on. I noticed that campus celebrity, Father Pete McCormick, CSC was an animated over eggs as he is in every Fightin' Irish media video, pep rally and basketball game. I realized that  coming together the morning after at table, broke down the disappointment, discontent, and dissatisfaction of high hopes for a season that started 0-2.

We left Corby and Mark said "I couldn't believe they kept talking about the game." I thought, I don't even know how many of those priests are big football fans, but in the strife, struggle, guts and glory it's hard to deny, sports nourish us.
In Sports and Spirituality, I ask my students to name what feeds their soul. For me, the answer is easy. My soul is nourished when I see people I care about reach their potential, use their talents, pursue their passion and achieve their dreams. Time and again, sports is a sacred space where this plight plays out. Not always, but time and again....yes.

Already looking forward to 
Game 4 in the Bruce Mahoney series as the Wildcats take on the Fightin' Irish. Same time, same place. Wednesday, January 25. Let's Go!

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