January 25, 2013

Catholic Schools Week Supplement

A winning combination: A special season in sports is shaped by a teacher’s hope, a coach’s influence and a team’s effort

Demetrius Folsom and Peggy O’Connor-Campbell flash smiles in recalling the success that the fifth- and sixth-grade football team of the Mother Theodore Catholic Academies in Indianapolis had during the 2012 season of the Catholic Youth Organization. O’Connor-Campbell taught Folsom in grade school and asked him to coach the team. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Demetrius Folsom and Peggy O’Connor-Campbell flash smiles in recalling the success that the fifth- and sixth-grade football team of the Mother Theodore Catholic Academies in Indianapolis had during the 2012 season of the Catholic Youth Organization. O’Connor-Campbell taught Folsom in grade school and asked him to coach the team. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

It’s the story of a teacher’s secret hope.

It’s also the story of a former student’s desire to keep a promise.

And both Peggy O’Connor-Campbell and Demetrius Folsom share the great joy of knowing that her hope and his promise led to a magical season for a Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) football team of fifth- and sixth-grade boys.

The seeds of the story were planted more than 25 years ago when Folsom was a junior high student at the former St. Andrew the Apostle School in Indianapolis, learning language arts from O’Connor-Campbell.

He never forgot the influence she had on him as a teacher—an impact that was strengthened by his experience of playing CYO football at the school.

He carried that influence with him when he became a student-athlete at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis, graduated from college, and served the United States as a soldier in the Indiana National Guard and later in the U.S. Army.

And when he came home from California in 2002 to visit family and friends, he stopped by St. Andrew School to see O’Connor-Campbell. During that visit, he also learned that the school no longer had a football team. That’s when he told her that if the school ever started a football program again to give him a call. He promised he would coach.

Flash forward to 2011. By then, O’Connor-Campbell had become vice principal at Central Catholic School in Indianapolis and the coordinator of CYO activities for the Mother Theodore Catholic Academies—a consortium of center-city schools that include Central Catholic, Holy Angels, Holy Cross and St. Philip Neri—and the parishes of St. Andrew the Apostle and St. Anthony.

A football program for the Mother Theodore Catholic Academies had just been started a year before, and O’Connor-Campbell needed another coach. She found one in Folsom, who had returned to live in Indianapolis with his wife and daughter.

This past season, Folsom was the head coach of the fifth- and sixth-grade team. He also served as the coordinator of the football program for the academies.

“He has made such a huge difference,” O’Connor-Campbell says. “His approach toward everything with the kids is, ‘How can I help make these kids more successful in life?’ Through his experience at St. Andrew and Chatard, he saw the impact that coaches had on him, and he wants to do the same thing for them.”

She shares that assessment of her former student with such pride that it shows the depth of the hope that has guided her in her 34 years of dedication to Catholic schools. She has strived to make a difference in the lives of her students. And to see Folsom doing the same for children moves her.

“He’s concerned about their character, their future and what kind of people they’re going to be,” she says. “He does it through the venue of football.”

Folsom said he couldn’t say no to his former teacher or the boys.

“With all my experiences, I just felt I could make a difference in these kids’ lives,” the 40-year-old coach says. “We have a variety of kids—white, black, Hispanic. A lot of them are from single-parent families, but not all of them. And some of them come from disadvantaged situations. I can relate to them. Without me, I figure some of these kids would go [the wrong way]. I can help to keep them on the right road.”

He did that as a coach, leading his team—which included seven boys who hadn’t played football previously—to a record of six wins and two losses.

He also did it as a person, especially after the team lost a close game in the semi-finals of the city tournament. The hurt and the disappointment of the loss showed on the players’ faces. They were also clearly on display as Folsom wiped away his own tears. Then he told the boys how proud he was of them, how far they had come during the season, and how special they are to him.

“We always end on a positive note,” Folsom says. “We always talk about being student-athletes. We talk about them being prepared and self-motivated. I feel very fulfilled that I’m contributing to the future of young leaders. I just want to give back.”

Those words give life to the secret hope of his former teacher.

“It’s really very heartwarming to see it come full circle,”

O’Connor-Campbell says. “To see what you tried to instill in him, and that Demetrius wanted to come back to his roots and volunteer with these kids—it puts a smile in my heart.” †

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