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Is there a place for God in athletics?

By JOANNE FOX, Globe editor
(Email Joanne)

Viewers repeatedly witnessed the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat at the 2014 Winter Olympics, officially known as the XXII Olympic Winter Games, in Sochi, Russia.

Athletics, by their very nature, have one winner and one or more losers. That’s a bit different than Christianity, which espouses the aspiration all can be winners in achieving heaven as their final goal.

According to Carroll Kuemper High School’s dean of students and boys basketball coach Tyler Edwards, this race to be No. 1 in competition can fit into “we are one in the Spirit.”

“Sports can nourish one’s faith,” he said. “Like faith, sports can provide direction and guidance. You walk with God and you walk as a team.  My favorite prayer is: ‘Lord there is nothing that will happen to me today that you and I cannot handle.’”

Father Craig Collison, pastor of Sacred Heart Church, Sioux City, agreed and stressed the concept that athletic competitions need not be at odds with our faith.

“I would suppose if Jesus grew up as a normal little boy in Nazareth, he quite possibly played with all the little boys and girls in the neighborhood and quite possibly they might run a race,” he offered as an example. “Did Jesus win every race? I doubt it. Did he run home to Mary and Joseph crying with his feelings hurt because he didn't win or get angry or did he become more determined to do better the next time; therefore, using the loss as motivation to improve performance?”

Edwards, who has been teaching and coaching for the past 17 years, eight of those at Kuemper, pointed out the Olympics can serve as a good example of healthy sports competition.

“There is the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” he acknowledged. “That does teach you to be humble just like you walk with God in winning and losing.”

Father Collison – who previously umpired baseball games and has long been a public address announcer for a variety of sporting events – noted most athletic competitions promote unity.

“Athletic competitions promote teamwork and cooperation,” he said. “They also promote caring and love for other individuals as well as groups of people. Many athletes and teams say a prayer of some kind before performances – not to win, but to perform to the best of their abilities with the athletic gifts God has blessed them with and thank God for those blessings.”

However, there is no denying there are a lot of folks who believe in the “win at all costs” approach.
“At the high school level you see from the fans’ perspective that win at all costs and I would add: Fan is short for fanatic,” Edwards said. “As a coach, I try and teach kids to win and lose in a respectful manner. We stress the importance of showing good sportsmanship, no matter what happens.”

“Sure there are a few who get it wrong, who are selfish, who are self-centered, who are ruthless and climb all over people to get to No. 1,” Father Collison said. “Name me one profession where that is not present. I can't think of any.”

The temptations of vanity and pride can worm their way into an athlete’s psyche. Edwards emphasized the importance of keeping winning in perspective.

“As a team, and as an individual, you are constantly looking to improve and play the game to the best of your abilities,” he said. “We cannot always judge winning and losing by what is on the scoreboard.”

Collison felt many schools and coaches did a good job in promoting a healthy competitive spirit.

“I can hardly believe that every school, Catholic, private, or public, elementary, middle, high school, undergraduate, post-graduate, you name it, has athletic competition, music competition, academic competition, you-name-the competition for the wrong reason,” he said. “It’s up to them to weed out those with the wrong attitude, the wrong motivation, and promote all the good that comes from such endeavors.”

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