By Andrew Mentock
Winter season for the Inter-City Catholic League is underway. The decades-old winter athletics roster consists of boys’ and girls’ basketball, as well as girls’ volleyball, for South Bend-area Catholic school students who are in fifth through eighth grade.
As the years have gone by, those involved with ICCL agree that the level of overall talent in the league has improved. Often, the competitive environment that comes from such a rise in talent will cultivate poor sportsmanship: however, the men and women in leadership positions with the ICCL have made sure the league keeps its core, faith-based values.
“My goal is to try to reinforce some of the values that kids get throughout the day in their Catholic schools,” said Ben Wiginton, vice president of the ICCL board and president of basketball. “Whether they are interacting with an official or a coach, they should show them the same respect they are expected to show their principal or a teacher at school.”
An important way that these values are strengthened is from the prayer that each student is required to memorize and pray before every game or match.
“This year we’ve also encouraged the coaches not just have the students learn the prayer because it’s important to say the words,” said Wiginton, “but also to understand the message behind the prayer and what it talks about.”
The pregame prayer is important because it starts the players off by acknowledging their potential shortcomings and asking God, the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Sebastian, the patron saint of athletics, to help them put their best efforts forward and stay safe from harm, and for the strength to treat everyone, including their opponents, with respect.
“Not only does every game start with a prayer, but I hear a lot of prayers said by the teams in the locker rooms,” said Steve Baumgartner, who monitors Saint Joseph High School’s gym during ICCL games. “Coming from the Catholic grade schools, I think it’s imbedded in the kids. That comes out in the way they play, act and show sportsmanship on the court.”
The respect, positive attitude and faithfulness that students participating in winter ICCL show is why those in charge of the league are so comfortable with it becoming more competitive.
“We want it to be competitive — it’s one of our goals for the league,” said Wiginton. “We want to show kids that there are rewards for hard work, a reward for putting time and effort in and succeeding in a positive way — where there’s respect for your teammate, respect for your opponent and respect for the officials around you.”
In addition to the men and women who run the ICCL, the coaches are also key components of the league’s competitiveness.
ICCL coaches Nick Dalton and Ryan Hunsberger are perfect examples. Both have continued to coach even when their own children weren’t playing on their teams. They do it not only because they enjoy sports, but because they care about helping to provide such a great environment and competitive experience for the kids.
“I attribute much of the kids’ sportsmanship to their faith and how they have been taught to treat others,” said Dalton, who for the past 20 years has helped coach either boys’ or girls’ basketball at St. Anthony de Padua School in South Bend. “It also helps that in the ICCL, wins and loses aren’t as important how they play and prepare for each game.”
It’s safe to say that Hunsberger agrees.
“I wouldn’t be coaching in the league if I didn’t think it was such a positive experience for the kids,” said Hunsberger, who has also been a coach in the Mishawaka Catholic School system for 20 years.
The ICCL will continue to focus on making sure the students are putting sportsmanship and their faith before the game.
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