May 25, 2012

CYO honors dedicated volunteers for their legacy of faith

The 2012 St. John Bosco Award recipients pose for a photograph with Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, apostolic administrator, during the Catholic Youth Organization awards ceremony on May 1 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. They are, from left, Stan Schutz, Jeff Kirkhoff, Nancy Prather, Pat Sullivan, Rob Goldner and Gregg Bennett. (Photo by Jerry Ross)

The 2012 St. John Bosco Award recipients pose for a photograph with Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, apostolic administrator, during the Catholic Youth Organization awards ceremony on May 1 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. They are, from left, Stan Schutz, Jeff Kirkhoff, Nancy Prather, Pat Sullivan, Rob Goldner and Gregg Bennett. (Photo by Jerry Ross) Click for a larger version.

By John Shaughnessy

As he neared the end of his tribute to the newest members of the “CYO Hall of Fame,” Ed Tinder seemed to offer a thoughtful reminder to the thousands of men and women who volunteer to coach children and teenagers in the Catholic Youth Organization.

“Everything you say, everything you do, everything you encourage them to be is all about the Gospel messages we have heard all our lives,” said Tinder, CYO executive director. “The best CYO coaches are teachers, mentors and ministers. They are important to the legacy of our Catholic faith.”

Tinder’s words also captured the essence of the six individuals who received the St. John Bosco Medal—the highest recognition given by the CYO—on May 1 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis.

This year’s recipients are Gregg Bennett of St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg, Rob Goldner of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, Jeff Kirkhoff of St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis, Nancy Prather of Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Beech Grove, Stan Schutz of St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis, and Pat Sullivan of St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis.

(Related: See a list of all those who were honored with the Msgr. Albert Busald Award and the Spirit of Youth Award)

Here is a glimpse of how each of these coaches combines sports and faith to make a difference to young people.

The joy of coaching, the fun of playing

Pat Sullivan’s joy in coaching shines through as he recalls a former player on the 56 CYO football team for fifth- and sixth-graders at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis.

“He would wear his lucky Halloween pajamas under his uniform during games, and they would stick out all the way down to his cleats—with the pumpkins and ghosts showing,” Sullivan says with a laugh. “Every time he wore them, our team won so the other kids kept telling him to wear them.”

Sullivan and his fellow coach, Mike Joseph, strive to create that sense of fun and camaraderie for players throughout the season.

“We work a lot on how to treat each other right, make it a good experience for everyone on the team and make sure every kid feels a part of the team,” he says. “We run special plays and have special nicknames for everyone. If the coaches do it, the players rally around it.”

The rightness of that approach was re-affirmed for Sullivan when he was reunited with a former player who was still playing football as a high school senior.

“He used to destroy quarterbacks, but he didn’t remember that at all,” he says. “He remembered our official team snack food—Swiss cake rolls. He remembered the fun and the bonds we had.”

Those moments have made Sullivan’s approach to coaching change through the years.

“I started coaching in my 30s. At first, it was all about winning. As you grow, you find it’s all about the kids. I love kids. The one thing I wish I could give to parents in their 30s now is that perspective. Help your child enjoy the experience. So many people think it has to be so serious. We work hard, but you can have fun and be successful, too.”

Finding a new perspective

If anyone ever wants to capture the competitive fire of girls playing sports through the decades, a good place to focus would be the story of CYO kickball on the south side of Indianapolis.


And one of the “poster girls” of that intense, all-in approach of a female athlete would be Nancy Prather of Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Beech Grove.

“All through my grade school and high school career, the Holy Name kickball team won the city tournament every spring and fall except one time,” Prather says. “I was the pitcher on those teams.”

Yet, in her 25 years of coaching CYO sports, the mother of three daughters has developed a different perspective about sports for children.

“I always want the girls to win, but we have to instill in the young ones that it’s not about winning,” she says. “I try to encourage them to get better as the season goes on. I hope they learn respect, including for themselves. I hope they learn to win with dignity and lose with dignity. And I also hope they have fun.”

In teaching children about sports, Prather has learned, too.

“Sometimes I get caught up in the moment, but I catch myself,” says Prather, who also has sung in the Holy Name choir for more than 30 years. “I take a deep breath, clap my hands and move on. I think about all the progress we’ve made. And we always pray before every game. That sets my mind as to what we are all about. Everything we do is to honor and serve the Lord.”

Building relationships that last

Another wedding invitation came in the mail recently for Jeff Kirkhoff—this time from a former player he hadn’t seen in about five years.

It’s also not unusual for his former players to “shadow” Kirkhoff at his financial investment job when their high school allows its students to have a “career day.”

“As corny as it sounds, one of my favorite parts about coaching is just continuing the relationships with the kids through high school and college,” says Kirkhoff, who has coached CYO boys’ basketball at St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis for 21 years.

“I always invite them back to practices and games. When they come back for practices, we let them run it and they enjoy it. And three of my former players have been assistant coaches with me.”

Those close connections reflect the commitment that Kirkhoff makes to his players and the parish.

Besides his coaching duties, he and his wife, Tina, do all the scheduling of gym time for the 23 boys’ basketball teams that the parish has at the grade school and high school levels.

Just as telling, Kirkhoff speaks with pride about his longtime assistant coach, Joe Schaefer, who received the CYO’s Msgr. Albert Busald Award this year.

“Our players have to bring their report cards to practice, and they have to show them to Joe and me,” says Kirkhoff, a father of three. “Ultimately, our goal for them is to have fun, have them grow up to be fine, young men, and learn some basketball along the way.”

‘A life that God wants you to live’

During football season, Rob Goldner figures he may spend more time with his players than their parents do. So he doesn’t want to waste the time and the opportunity he has with them.

“There’s something more important than just football or sports,” says the 56 football coach and football commissioner at St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. “We’re part of the kids’ development for those 10 weeks.

“One of the big things we stress is that every kid is blessed with a different talent, whether it’s speed or size or strength or their feel for the game. You may not win all the time, and you may not win at all, but if you learn to use the tools you have to do the best you can, you’ll be fine. It’s a lesson I hope they carry with them through sports and life.”

Goldner’s approach to the children on his team mirrors his approach to his six children.

“You deal with all kinds of personalities in your family,” he says. “You know which ones you have to challenge, and you know which ones you have to pat on the back.”

Still, there is the common approach of stressing the importance of faith in life.

“All of our rules, all of our morals, come from a higher source. I teach the kids that it’s important to follow rules and live a life that God wants you to live.”

Setting—and raising—the standard

In both practices and games, Stan Schutz sets one main standard for the players he coaches—strive to be better than you were the last time.

It’s a standard he embraced as he led the construction of the football field at St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis.

It’s a standard that guides him in the way he takes care of the parish gym, and the way he seeds, waters and fertilizes the football field.

It’s also a standard he demands of himself as he coaches both boys and girls in several sports.

He even raised the standard for himself in 2001 after the youngest of his three children died in an accident.

“I was involved somewhat at church and school prior to my son’s accident,” Schutz says. “After the accident, I realized how blessed I was because of the support I had at St. Jude’s. It also made me realize that God was always in my life, but I wasn’t always in his. I realized if I was to see my son again, I had to be a better person.”

Schutz’s commitment to other children grew. He often coaches teams whose players aren’t the most athletically gifted.

“I realized that God is great to me, and the people at St. Jude were great to me,” he says. “I knew I had to do all I could for them as I carry on.”

Making faith a priority in sports

While some coaches struggle with making faith a priority in sports, Gregg Bennett views it as an opportunity to bring his players closer to Christ.

In nominating him for the St. John Bosco Award, one parent wrote about Bennett, “He is totally committed to the Bible and teaching them all aspects of being the best person they can be.”

Sometimes Bennett even challenges his fellow CYO coaches to be the best person they can be.

“I have been in games where we have been beaten by 40 points,” says Bennett, who has coached boys and girls in basketball for about 15 years. “I have said to other coaches that run up the score, ‘Do you know this is CYO?’ It’s a Catholic organization, and we should treat each other in a Catholic way. Running up the score is wrong at any level.”

Bennett’s focus on his faith has led him to also serve St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg as the chairman of its finance committee, stewardship committee and parish capital campaign.

“I give to the parish because of all it gives to me,” he says. “I got that from my wife’s side of the family. She [Suzanne (Armbruster) Bennett] does service all the time. It’s not just about our kids. It’s about our faith.”

That belief dominates his relationship with his players.

“Before and after every practice, we say a prayer. The prayer aspect is very important. So is the mental health of the child. Everybody has to be active and have fun when they play.” †

CYO recognition highlights work of both adults and young people

2012 Msgr. Albert Busald Award
  • Christ the King Parish—Brad Elson, Brian Elson and John Sullivan
  • Good Shepherd Parish—Mary Heisig
  • Holy Angels Parish—Victoria Marshall
  • Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish—David Gorden
  • Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ Parish—Jim Brennan
  • Our Lady of Greenwood Parish, Greenwood—Patrick Henn
  • Our Lady of Lourdes Parish—Janet Deery
  • St. Barnabas Parish—Joe Schaefer
  • St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Carmel, Ind., Lafayette Diocese—Joe Bauer and Jack Meyer
  • St. Jude Parish—Mitch Allard and Jackie Allard
  • St. Lawrence Parish—Neil Schafer
  • St. Luke the Evangelist Parish—Mike VanMarter
  • St. Malachy Parish, Brownsburg—Bobbie Hanny and Mike Waters
  • St. Mark the Evangelist Parish—Patrick Collier
  • St. Matthew the Apostle Parish—Kathy Fitzgerald
  • St. Michael Parish, Greenfield—Lynda Manley
  • St. Michael the Archangel Parish—Mike Cmehil
  • St. Pius X Parish—Kiernan Keating and Stacy Eaton
  • St. Simon the Apostle Parish—Darrell Dolan
  • St. Susanna Parish, Plainfield—Patrick McCune
2012 Spirit of Youth Award
  • Christ the King Parish—Ryan Hayes and Annie Quigley
  • Good Shepherd Parish—Cameron Golden and Danielle Maher
  • SS. Francis and Clare of Assisi Parish, Greenwood—Adri Richardson and Audree Zabel
  • St. Anthony Parish—Carolina Villegas and Beatriz Preciado
  • St. Barnabas Parish—Shelby Jackson and Pauline Dearing
  • St. Jude Parish—Jacob Pollard
  • St. Malachy Parish, Brownsburg—Kyra Jo Gaerke and Kathryn Zielinski
  • St. Mark the Evangelist Parish—Elizabeth Anne Corcoran and Josef Herkert
  • St. Matthew the Apostle Parish—Kevin Wissler
  • St. Michael the Archangel Parish—David Tilly
  • St. Pius X Parish—Thompson Manuszak
  • St. Roch Parish—Scott Colon

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