“Trailblazers Dominate Lake City Conference” headlined our student produced and published newspaper this week at school. Our boys soccer and girls volleyball programs both celebrated conference championships in their respective sports. Our Cross Country team also celebrated two runners named to the “all-conference” team. I am always proud of our student-athletes for the courage they exhibit in stepping on the court or running onto a field to take part in an athletic contest on behalf of our school. Some of our students have never played organized sports and some of them have played most of their lives. While our athletic teams certainly strive to win their games, our athletic program has a greater purpose. It offers our students an opportunity to reach towards personal excellence and is an additional venue to put into practice our Catholic, Jesuit values.
As we concluded the regular seasons for our teams in these last few weeks, I was heartened by what I saw in terms of athletic talent and how our athletes exhibited our values at their athletic contests. Just last week the sound of the referee’s whistle marked the conclusion of our boys soccer conference championship game victory. Cristo Rey’s players jumped up and down, hugged each other, and ran to the side of the bleachers where their fans stood cheering them on. They held up the conference trophy in front of their fans proudly.
As Cristo Rey’s players congratulated one another on the walk back to their bench, I noticed one of our players glance over at the opposing team on the opposite half of the field. The Cristo Rey soccer player slowly pulled away from his teammates and began walking a bit unsure and nervously towards the other half of the field where members of the opposing team were headed back to their bench. Our player extended his hand to the opposing team’s player as a gesture of gratitude for the hard fought game. The opposing player looked at our player and returned the gesture. The players then started talking to one another. In a short period of time, just about every member of the two soccer teams greeted one another and exchanged words of mutual respect. While the opposing team was distraught from their loss, this genuine show of mutual respect, good sportsmanship, and care for the other team placed relationship with one another as the priority and conclusion of the athletic contest, not winning or losing.
As I think about how we and the parents of our students are working together to equip our students with values that will build a more just and loving world, I have hope. Undoubtedly, as our students move on in their lives, they will experience the thrill of winning and the heartbreak of losing. If they continue to see and prioritize the relationships between them and those they encounter along the way, they will help us all to remember that fundamentally we are all connected. Win or lose, we are “our brother’s keeper.” Even the actions of one person after a soccer game to approach another, when it would be so much easier and comfortable to walk away, can produce a big win for us all.