September 28, 2018

Faith and sports: A winning combination in the lives of high school student-athletes

Pictured from left to right are high school athletes Leon Kinne, Celcilia Linn, Will Yunger, Lucia Corsaro, Katie O'Donnell and Brian Adame. (Submited photos)

Pictured from left to right are high school athletes Leon Kinne, Celcilia Linn, Will Yunger, Lucia Corsaro, Katie O'Donnell and Brian Adame. (Submited photos)

By John Shaughnessy (Second of two parts)

In sports, perhaps the greatest compliment that athletes receive can be summed up in these words: “They give their heart and their soul.”

As another fall season of high school sports unfolds, The Criterion is featuring some of the Catholic school student‑athletes from across the archdiocese who give their hearts to their game and who give their souls to their faith.

To help with the project, athletic directors at each of the Catholic high schools in central and southern Indiana were asked to nominate student-athletes who represent that heart-and-soul combination. From these nominations, The Criterion has selected one athlete from each school to feature, with the added focus of making sure that each high school sport played in the fall is represented.

We realize this story doesn’t do justice to all the student-athletes who approach their sports with a heart-and-soul attitude, but we believe our readers will be inspired by the ones who are featured here.

‘My faith sets up the values for my life’

Sometimes the biggest challenge for Leon Kinne as a cross country runner is that he often has to practice alone.

That’s because there’s only one other runner on the boys’ team at Father Michael Shawe Memorial Jr./Sr. High School in Madison, and that teammate is usually practicing his first sport—soccer.

Still, Leon never feels like he’s running alone.

“Before each race, I’ll make the sign of the cross and say a Hail Mary. I know God will be with me on the course, no matter what,” says the 17-year-old senior. “Sometimes, you just have to rely on God to get you through.”

Willing to go the extra mile for running, he does the same for his faith.

“I’m on the pro-life group at school,” says Leon, a member of Prince of Peace Parish in Madison. “I’ll go to the March for Life in January. I went last year. It’s falling back on my Catholic values. We value all life. My faith sets up the values for my life.”

‘It helped me feel closer to God’

When it comes to her Catholic faith, Lucia Corsaro says she has always benefitted from “the firm foundation” and “great role models” of her family.

The sophomore volleyball player at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis tries to keep that same emphasis on faith and family with her teammates and classmates.

“Before the season started, we went to a camp together and did team-bonding exercises. We prayed together, and it helped me feel closer to God and them. Our goal is to win in faith, friendship and volleyball.”

Lucia has another defining goal in the way she lives her life.

“For me, my faith means loving everyone and making sure everyone feels loved,” says the member of St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis.

“If someone has a bad day, I’ll stay up with them all night if it’s needed. If someone needs help with homework, I’ll help. I just want to let everyone know I care. I’ve had experiences with people telling me no one cares about them. I want to make sure no one feels that way.”

‘God helps me to believe in myself’

It’s not something that referees usually do after a game, but this ref felt compelled to share his thoughts about one of the players.

The ref had just officiated a soccer match that ended in a 6-0 loss for the boys’ team at Providence Cristo Rey High School in Indianapolis. Yet the one-sided score didn’t linger in the ref’s mind. Instead, what lasted was the approach of one of the Cristo Rey players, an older, talented player who stayed positive and kept encouraging and passing the ball to his younger teammates even as the other team dominated.

So the ref made a point of telling people how impressed he was by the attitude of the player—Brian Adame.

It’s equally telling that the 16-year‑old junior wasn’t the one who shared the story about the ref. It came from the communications person at the school.

“I’m a team player,” says Brian, a member of St. Anthony Parish in Indianapolis. “I try to do everything for my team. And I always stay positive.”

He has that same attitude toward his faith.

“My faith gives me something to believe in and something to work harder for,” he says. “God helps me to believe in myself.”

He also believes that God has given him a purpose.

“I think it’s to help others. On and off the field, I like helping my teammates and the people around me.”

‘It just changes everything for me’

Like all athletes, Will Yunger has times when he struggles.

“It can be pretty frustrating when you lose a few points and you’re mad at yourself,” says Will, a member of the boys’ tennis team at the Oldenburg Academy of the Immaculate Conception in Oldenburg. “Someone told me when I’m struggling to just ask God to guide my racket. It just changes everything for me. I ask God for help, and it calms me down.”

That focus on faith during his sport is an approach that the 15-year-old junior has shared with his teammates. It’s also an important part of his life.

“God’s a big part of my life. We pray before every practice and match. And I’m from a big Catholic family,” says Will, a member of All Saints Parish in Dearborn County. “I’m the oldest of six kids. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my family. My parents are involved in our church and our faith, and I’m definitely lucky for that.”

‘We always try to stay as a team’

As the athletic director of Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis, Jason Kehrer gives a succinct summary of the specialness of senior soccer player Cecilia Linn:

“She’s a model Catholic student. She leads by example with her Catholic faith, she helps out at school, and she does a lot of charity work.”

Cecilia also takes her faith and her relationship with God onto the field.

“I always try to keep a positive attitude, knowing God is always with us. When times are tough, I always know I have that to lean on, and I’m not alone,” says the member of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis.

She makes a point of sharing that approach with her teammates, especially the freshmen.

“During a game, if the other team is super tough and aggressive and our team’s spirits are getting down, I try to help us come together and stay positive. We always try to stay as a team.”

‘We’re trusting in God’s will’

While many athletes rely on their favorite music to get them mentally and emotionally ready to compete, Katie O’Donnell turns to a favorite prayer—St. Ignatius’s Prayer of Generosity.

She especially focuses on these lines as she and her cross country teammates say the prayer together before a race:

To fight and not to heed the wounds,
To toil and not to seek for rest.

“I like how it’s talking about fighting and not seeking rest,” says Katie, a member of the cross country team at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis. “It’s trusting that God will get us through that last mile. We’re trusting in God’s will.”

That approach has not only helped Katie to keep running through the pain of a 3.1‑mile race, it’s also helped her make her path to a deeper relationship with God.

“In the past four years, Brebeuf has allowed me to explore my faith and my relationship with God,” says Katie, a 17-year-old senior and a member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis.

“I’ve been able to make my own way through my faith. For me, God is love.”

Her thoughts about her love of God and her love of running lead her back to the Prayer of Generosity, and these lines:

To labor and not to seek reward,
Except that of knowing that I do your will.

“If we win, it’s his will,” she says. “If we do well, it’s his will.”


(Student-athletes from Bishop Chatard, Cardinal Ritter, Our Lady of Providence, Roncalli and Seton Catholic high schools were featured in the Sept. 14 issue. Click here to see their stories.)

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