“We try to do things the right way.” These were not just words coming from the mouth of our Athletic Director Rory Fitzpatrick ’88 in an attempt to play to the crowd at last weekend’s first-annual combined Wildcats Roar/Athletic Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. As an alumnus of Saint Ignatius and as a former athlete himself Rory has a concern for our athletic programs that reaches far beyond the categories of his job description.
During his tenure, and that of his mentor and predecessor Dale Gabor ’66, the athletic department at Saint Ignatius has become the gold standard of doing things “the right way” while achieving success unthinkable in the first century of the school.
From the day that the doors of St. Ignatius College opened in the fall of 1886 until the spring of 1988 the school amassed a grand total of zero state championships. Since that first state championship rally for the wrestling team thirty years ago the gold trophy count for Ohio High School Athletic Association championships is 36. When you include the championships of sports not recognized by the OHSAA the number soars to 51. And then you can add in the 8 national championships and the Sports Illustrated rankings of #1 sports program in Ohio and #18 in the nation.
In his remarks to the crowd on Saturday evening Rory certainly noted the most recent trophy haul, yet his real focus was on one particular aspect of doing things “the right way.” For Rory, the highlight of the past year for the athletic programs of Saint Ignatius High School is not quantitative: how many trophies we brought home; but qualitative: how committed we were to deepening our relationship with Jesus and each other through the Eucharist.
As I sat in the Breen Center listening to Rory I was struck not only by his eloquence and unmatched comfort with a microphone, but also by his heartfelt love for the Eucharist and the role that the Saint Ignatius athletic programs, under the ever-watchful eye of Drew Vilinsky ’97 the Director of Sports Chaplaincy, plays in the formation of young Catholic men.
Because of the efforts of Drew and Rory our programs not only compete at the highest level, but they strive beyond the ephemeral nature of athletic accolades to the eternal goal that St. Paul spoke of in his second letter to his disciple Timothy:
“I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.”
The great 2nd Century Christian scholar Tertullian told of a practice in ancient Rome where a slave, while holding a crown over a general’s head during his triumphal return from battle, would whisper in the general’s ear “Memento mori – Remember that you have to die.” This fleeting nature of victory is countered by St. Paul in his words to Timothy and forms the basis for any Catholic vision of earthly strivings, whether they be academic, economic, political, or athletic.
The life of a faithful Catholic is all about focusing on doing things the right way, and athletics can be both a model of and a catalyst for such efforts. And in a world where things like trophies and rings, multi-million dollar contracts, fame, and all of the trappings of earthly success become the ultimate goal, it is imperative that Saint Ignatius continue to keep the Eucharist in its rightful place in the lives of our student-athletes. When they see all things through this Eucharistic lens and run the race of life accordingly, then they, like St. Paul, can look forward to the crown of righteousness, a crown worth so much more than gold.