June 1, 2018

Coach’s motto: ‘I do it with all my heart’

By John Shaughnessy

Theresa Wells-DittonEver since she was a small girl racing bikes against the boys in the neighborhood, Theresa Wells-Ditton has always had the heart of a competitor.

She did it as a scrappy point guard playing at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis. And she asked for that same commitment and competitiveness from all the girls’ kickball and basketball teams she has coached for nearly 25 years at St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis.

Yet something changed four years ago when two friends approached her about coaching a girls’ basketball team at St. Anthony Parish in Indianapolis. The team didn’t have uniforms at first, and nearly all the girls from mostly Hispanic families had never played the game.

“It changed my entire approach to sports,” says Wells-Ditton, a 2018 recipient of the St. John Bosco Award, the highest honor from the archdiocese’s Catholic Youth Organization (CYO). “I had to completely re-wire my mind.”

Her heart changed, too.

“I find myself moving more into a compassionate role. You talk about kids who are at risk. The hope you can give them is worth every minute. They need people to be there for them. I love the kids, the families, the school.”

And they love her. When she drops by the school, she is swarmed with hugs. They know she cares. At the same time, when they step on the court, they know she wants them to hold their heads high.

“I want them to be competitive. It gives them a way forward as an adult—to learn how to play as a team, to deal with a loss, to be a gracious winner. In this day and age, young girls have a lot of pressures. It’s important for them to have a non-parent, preferably a female, who can also guide them and be there for them.”

It’s why she and her mother Suzie have gone the extra financial mile to help a couple of girls attend a Catholic school.

It’s why the victories on the court have become more meaningful, too.

“We didn’t win a game two years ago. Last year, we finally won. They had a feeling of, ‘We can do this!’ That goes so far off the court, too.”

Through all this change of heart, she often thinks of the example of her father, the late James Wells.

“Anything I’ve ever tackled—whether it’s work, coaching or being a parent—I do it with all my heart. That’s what my parents taught me. It carries on today. I’m still competitive, but now I define success as making a difference in a child’s life.” †


Related story: Archbishop salutes CYO honorees for living ‘the joy of the Gospel’

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