Home»Features»More than Just a Game

More than Just a Game

Pinterest WhatsApp

By Kary Ellen Berger

In sports and similar matchups, there is typically a winner and loser by event’s end. But in the game of life, with God as the center, everyone wins. This is evident with St. Xavier High School’s team chaplain program. The 11 team chaplains are St. Xavier teachers and faithfully lead 15 sports teams and the school’s band.

“It was the athletes themselves who [first] showed interest,” said Paul Rieselman, a teacher since 1989, the Director of Contemplatives in Action program and the team chaplain since 2007. “There was no ‘top down’ requirement. Our kids also want to know that this experience has drawn forth from them the personal qualities of high character and camaraderie that will serve them well after the season has ended.”

The idea of having team chaplains started with former St. Xavier head swim coach, Jim Brower. “Year in and year out, Jim and his coaches formed a brotherhood with the boys around the dedication and disciplined hard work that competitive swimming requires,” said Rieselman. “It became clear to me that these boys were not just swimming for trophies; they were swimming for each other.”

“And as a man for others, they choose to lay their gifts at the service of a [greater cause], the team, and to lay those gifts at the service of persons other than themselves, their teammates,” continued Rieselman.

Head football coach, Steve Specht, worked with Father Bill Murphy, S.J., to kick off their own chapel program in 2006, and Specht later asked Rieselman to be the team’s chaplain. Rieselman said, “I knew then that this idea was a tremendous opportunity to meet the boys in an endeavor that they loved, and that through scripture, a few brief words of reflection

and a bit of prayer, they could see that their hard work and personal sacrifice held much more promise for them than scores at the end of the week or trophies at the end of the year. Here, each boy had a chance to get on that road of becoming the man he longed to become…together.”

As team chaplains, the adults become in-tune with the students’ experiences—in school, in their activities and in their faith life. The chaplain tries to attend practices and most games while staying in constant contact with coaches on how best to meet the team’s needs.

“The chaplain, usually in cohort with the coaches, then chooses a theme that we build upon for that week,” said Rieselman. “We connect the theme every week to a scriptural piece that speaks to the same theme. We always close with prayer.”

Rieselman also noted that through the team chaplain program, the students are empowered with tools needed to share God’s goodness with others. “The core of our work with our athletes actually flows from what is at the heart of the gospel, Matthew 5:16, ‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and give glory to our Father in heaven,’” said Rieselman. “This is at the heart of true evangelism. God becomes more known to the world because of the way I choose to live my life.”

“God is ingenious,” he continued. “We are enticed to follow what we love. And there, we are taught to become even more loving. Everybody wins.”

This article appeared in the March 2023 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.

Previous post

Body of saint, patron of African Americans, significantly damaged in Sicilian church fire

Next post

Precious Blood Jubilarians 2023