January 27, 2017

Reflection / Sean Gallagher

Fourth-grade basketball teaches lessons of faith and the ultimate goal

Sean GallagherAll of the practice and game experience my 9-year-old son Victor had in his first season in Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) basketball led up to a shining moment during a recent game.

His team of fellow fourth-grade boys from Lumen Christi Catholic School in Indianapolis were down four points with less than 30 seconds left in the game.

A missed shot from a squad from Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in Greenwood fell to the floor. Victor dove after it, and successfully took it away from one of his opponents. Lying on his back, he made a great pass to a teammate, who then made a layup while being fouled. The teammate made the free throw, and their team was only down one point.

In the waning seconds of the game, another teammate put up a potential game-winning shot at the buzzer, but it fell off the rim with Lumen Christi losing by one.

My sadness at the loss was far surpassed at my elation in seeing Victor make such a key play. It didn’t count as much on the stat sheet. But it made a victory possible. More importantly for his wonderful coach and this proud father, it showed how much he developed in his first season playing basketball.

At its start, Victor didn’t have a sense of the game and didn’t know how to try to make plays. But the patient teaching of his coaches and the regular practices with his classmates helped him get a grasp of what to do on the floor. A few of his teammates knew much more about the game, and naturally took charge during games. But they were patient in helping him and their other teammates become better players.

And the fact that the team had only six players meant that everyone got experience. Though fewer in number and usually smaller in stature than other teams, they were giants in heart and team spirit. These boys who prayed together at Mass every school day, studied together in class, ate lunch with each other and played together at recess clearly supported each other and had fun together as a team.

As we prepare to celebrate Catholic Schools Week, it’s good to honor the Church’s long track record of sponsoring sports leagues, often involving school-affiliated teams through CYO. Because sports, when approached appropriately by parents, coaches and players and kept in its proper context, can give those involved a lively perspective on the life of faith.

To live out the Gospel well requires us to study it regularly, like a new basketball player learning the rules and finer points of the game and an experienced one going ever deeper into his knowledge of it. It also involves putting it into practice in everyday life, like basketball players going over the fundamentals again and again in practice and applying them in game situations.

And every faithful Christian has a part to play in carrying out Christ’s mission, just as Victor and his small band of teammates had essential roles to carry out on their team, even if they were newcomers to the game.

At this point, I don’t expect Victor to be the next Larry Bird. (But who knows?) What I do hope he learns, though, is that this experience and any he may have in the years to come will help him become a better friend to his teammates, and give him discipline that he can use in life, including living the Gospel.

If that happens by God’s grace, then he will experience the best victory imaginable, wearing a crown of glory in heaven.

(Sean Gallagher is a reporter for The Criterion.)

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