February 26, 2010

Forming character, sportsmanship and faith: Building sports programs at smaller schools creates another foundation for life

Seton Catholic High School basketball player Adam Schroeder directs his team’s offense during a Feb. 19 game at Chuck Mosey Memorial Gymnasium in Richmond. In the past five years, Seton Catholic has made great strides in developing a sports program for its students. (Submitted photo)

Seton Catholic High School basketball player Adam Schroeder directs his team’s offense during a Feb. 19 game at Chuck Mosey Memorial Gymnasium in Richmond. In the past five years, Seton Catholic has made great strides in developing a sports program for its students. (Submitted photo)

(Editor’s note: When it relates to sports, the approach of well-established Catholic high schools in the archdiocese has usually been marked by competition, character, sportsmanship and faith. In the past five years, two new Catholic high schools in the archdiocese—Seton Catholic High School in Richmond and Providence Cristo Rey High School in Indianapolis—have experienced the challenges and joys of starting sports programs for their students. Read the related story: Providence Cristo Rey athletes learn about motivation and leadership.)

By John Shaughnessy

It’s a moment that Trent Tremain will never forget.

It’s a feeling that Adam Schroeder savors every time he thinks about it.

Taken together, both situations offer a special glimpse of basketball-inspired March Madness and Hoosier Hysteria—complete with a touch of the Catholic approach to sports and life.

Both situations also provide a perspective of the challenges and joys that await a small Catholic high school trying to develop an Indiana High School Athletic Association sports program for its students.

The first splendid moment is shared by Tremain, the athletic director of Seton Catholic High School in Richmond, a school that opened in 2002.

As the boys’ basketball team prepared for the state tournament in 2009, the school had never won a sectional game in any sport. In fact, since the school first began playing sports in the 2004-05 school year, the boy’s basketball team had a history of struggling, including losing one game 44-0. That’s the background for Tremain’s story.

“One of our players on last year’s team had the ugliest free throw shot in Indiana high school history,” Tremain begins. “I tell kids I’ll come in and work with them at any time. He took me up on it. He came in the mornings to work on his shot. When we got to the first round of the sectionals, the game was tied with a few seconds left, and he got fouled. He ended up making both free throws, and we won the game. He came up and thanked me for working with him.

“That’s the one thing I value more than anything else at a small school. We have so many one-on-one opportunities with kids where they know we want them to succeed. They understand we care about them, and have their best interests in mind. That makes those moments that much more special.”

Then there’s the feeling that Adam Schroeder savors every time he thinks about it.

The feeling occurs when the 15-year-old freshman plays this season on the boys’ varsity basketball team during home games at Chuck Mosey Memorial Gymnasium, Seton’s athletic facility that opened during the 2008-09 school year.

“Our stands are nearly full at most of our games,” says Adam, a member of St. Andrew Parish in Richmond. “The environment is amazing. The crowd cheers when you go on and off the court. It brings out the best in all of us. A lot of our crowd is from the Richmond Catholic Community. It’s nice to see them at the game and then at Mass on Sunday.”

Building a sports program

Those moments are part of the joy for the Seton Catholic community, but there are also challenges in trying to create a sports program for a high school that has about 75 students in its four grades.

“There have definitely been some challenges,” Tremain says. “It’s getting smoother now. One of the challenges you have is when kids say, ‘Yeah, I’m going to do this,’ and then you set it up and they back out. The first year we tried girls’ basketball, I got us a coach and a schedule. About 11 girls said they would play, but when practice started, just three showed up.

“One of the biggest challenges is getting all the students and parents to understand what it takes to build an athletic program.”

Tremain’s approach comes from playing sports at Helias High School in Jefferson City, Mo.—a Catholic high school of about 900 students known for winning state championships.

“I know what it takes to be successful at a high level,” Tremain says. “The feeling here sometimes is everyone wants to have fun. That’s good, but as far as a competitive spirit, it wasn’t there program-wide. At some point, our coaches expect more than that. At some point, we have to be successful. It’s been hard to get our students to understand the importance of their out-of-season efforts. They’re starting to understand what it takes.”

Another challenge is scheduling for the seven sports for boys and the seven sports for girls.

“You really have to know the level of each team you’re scheduling for,” he says. “We’re obviously a 1A school [the smallest class, based on a school’s enrollment, in the Indiana High School Athletic Association]. For the boys, we have enough talent and experience to schedule some of the larger schools. With the girls’ program just starting, we have to travel to Indianapolis and Ohio to play small schools. You have to know the skill level of the students to let them taste success, yet also to let them know there’s a lot of work to be done.”

Creating another foundation for life

Elise Armstrong has experienced the joys and challenges as a volleyball player and a tennis player at Seton Catholic.

“If you were at a bigger school, you would have to try out for the team,” says Elise, a 16-year-old sophomore and a member of St. Mary Parish in Richmond. “At Seton, if you want to play, you’re on the team. The negative is, if you like to be on a team, you can’t always find enough players. For volleyball this year, we were really hurting for players. We asked everyone if they wanted to play. We only had eight girls on the team this year.”

Still, Elise’s experiences have taught her to look beyond the win-loss record, and focus on the tight bonds and the valuable life lessons she has gained from playing high school sports.

“Not only do you get to play, it teaches you people skills,” Elise says. “You learn to communicate well with others. It teaches you to be patient and humble as well. It also teaches you your strengths and your weaknesses—and to hone in on your strengths and improve your weaknesses. With our smaller size, you really get to know people. You get to be really close to your teammates. You’re respected. I really feel that the coaches here generally care about you, too.”

Similar to Tremain and Adam, Elise also has a defining moment in sports to savor.

“Our first game of the volleyball season was a home game,” she recalls. “It was just being on the court, looking at your teammates and seeing the excitement on their faces. The crowd was really supporting us, cheering us on like a crowd should.

“It really made us work and try our best.” †


(Related story: Providence Cristo Rey athletes learn about motivation and leadership)

Local site Links: