With their double-overtime victory over the St. Francis de Sales Knights the Wildcat hockey team cemented their place in Saint Ignatius athletic lore. Our hockey program collects trophies like Dwight Schrute collected bobble-heads, and this third-in-a-row, fourth-in-five-years trophy is sure to be joined by more silverware in upcoming seasons.
The rally to celebrate this most recent of the hockey team’s six state titles had all of the usual hoopla, including the trophy presentation to School President Fr. Ray Guiao, S.J., ’82 and the ever-popular rewarding of a free day. Yet, there was something different in the tone set by long-time coach Pat O’Rourke ’90. He focused not on the team’s prowess on the ice, but on their qualities as persons.
Pat noted several times that those players seated on the floor of the Fr. Sullivan Gymnasium were “really good boys,” as were all of the young men surrounding them in the bleachers. Coach O’Rourke noted the work that his players have put in with the St. Benedict Joseph Labre Homeless Ministry as well as their association with the Special Olympians who play for the Cleveland Rockin’ Wildcats.
When Fr. Ray accepted the trophy he continued on this same non-hockey theme by pointing out two phone calls he received about the team during the season. One caller noted seeing our Hockey Cats when they were eating dinner in a restaurant during an out-of-town tournament. Fr. Ray was told just how exceptional their behavior was and how Saint Ignatius must be doing something right to produce such young men.
The second person to contact Fr. Ray had similar words to impart after seeing out team en masse at Mass. Again, the theme was that we at Saint Ignatius have a pretty good handle on what it takes to help turn out young people of whom we can be so proud.
With all of that feel-good vibe pulsating through the gym it was important that Coach O’Rourke point out that, despite being really good boys, all of our Wildcats are imperfect and need to always be aware of that imperfection when they are interacting with others. Pat rhetorically asked the crowd what they would do if they saw someone eating lunch alone in the Rade Dining Hall: Would they make fun of the boy sitting alone, or would they sit down with him and maybe invite him to join with friends at their table?
In light of the high school walk-outs across the country last week this is a compelling question. Other important questions come to mind. How many of those children who walked out have mocked and bullied other students? Did any of them mock or bully someone who ended up taking their own life or the lives of others? Did any of them try to reach out to these troubled students or seek adult intervention if they saw a problem?
It is easy for any of us to jump on the bandwagon of the moment, but it is important – especially in our setting as a Catholic school in the Jesuit tradition – for us to look at any hot-button issue from a different, Christ-centered position.
As I type these words the country is learning about yet another school shooting. The sad irony is that last week this school, Great Mills High School in Maryland, had a student-led walkout. As much as a walk-out can give those students involved a feeling of empowerment or of at least doing something, it is important for adults to do what Mr. O’Rourke did at our State Championship rally – he focused on the often ignored and much more difficult task of seeing each fellow-student as a brother for whom we are to care. In a manner befitting his role as a Classicist, Coach O’Rourke helped the crowd to focus their thoughts by quoting from the 1989 “classic” film, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
When he told those fifteen hundred young men in attendance to “be excellent to each other” he was able to do what any great teacher does – impart wisdom, but in a way that is relevant to the audience. Being excellent to each other is not a new thought. It is as old as our race, and is simply another way to say “love one another as I have loved you.”
In a world where that message can be drowned out by a lot of political grandstanding it would be good for all of us adults to impart that most excellent Christ-centered message by our words to those young people we encounter, but, more importantly, we need to impart that message by our actions.