December 11, 2020

Bishop Chatard, Cathedral, Roncalli win state football titles

Bishop Chatard football players raise their helmets in celebration after the archdiocesan Indianapolis North Deanery high school won the Class 3A Indiana High School Athletic Association championship at Lucas Oil Stadium on Nov. 28. (Submitted photo by Mia Todd)

Bishop Chatard football players raise their helmets in celebration after the archdiocesan Indianapolis North Deanery high school won the Class 3A Indiana High School Athletic Association championship at Lucas Oil Stadium on Nov. 28. (Submitted photo by Mia Todd)

By John Shaughnessy

Their football teams have been fierce rivals through the years—teams that challenge and motivate each other like brothers often do when bragging rights hang in the balance.

Yet on this most recent post-Thanksgiving weekend, the football teams of Bishop Chatard, Cathedral and Roncalli high schools all shared the glory as they each convincingly earned a state championship in the Indiana High School Athletic Association state finals at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Roncalli started the championship streak for the three Indianapolis Catholic schools with a 49-7 win over the team from Hobart High School on Nov. 27, earning its 10th state championship in football, this one in Class 4A.

A day later, the communities of Bishop Chatard and Cathedral both joined in the celebration. Bishop Chatard defeated Danville High School 42-14 in the Class 3A championship game, marking the 15th time the Trojans have won a football state championship—more than any other high school in the state.

And Cathedral earned its 13th state championship in the sport as the Irish beat the team from Zionsville High School in the 5A title game, 46-28.

While each of these teams will be remembered for the championships, their coaches note that this football season will also be defined by the challenge of COVID-19.

“It was more than constant,” said Rob Doyle, head football coach of Bishop Chatard. “We had numerous close calls. COVID was an issue we talked about every day. It kept us focused. Football was our sanctuary. It was a place where we could be together and do the things we love to do. This group remained focused and kept driving through this bizarre time.”

Roncalli’s first-year head coach John Rodenberg also praised his players’ focus through the COVID challenge.

“They were asked to not hang out with their friends, to be more disciplined in school and out in public,” Rodenberg said. “They wanted to have a football season. Their willingness to sacrifice and persist through this was impressive.”

Beyond the challenges of a pandemic, players and coaches at Cathedral also had to deal with the heartbreaking loss of a teammate. Mario McCullough—who would have been a senior on the team—was shot and killed on March 29.

“This has been a special group,” said Bill Peebles, Cathedral’s head coach. “Everybody has had to overcome COVID, and that’s been difficult, but the seniors lost one of their teammates, their classmates. The team rallied around it. They were able to use it as a motivating factor to play well, to stay focused.”

Each team had defining moments during the season.

Rodenberg pointed to back-to-back games in the middle of its regular season schedule that let him know his Roncalli team had the potential to do something memorable this year.

“In both games, we were trailing in the fourth quarter, and we came back to win those games,” he said. “It really unified our team and brought us together. It really helped me understand the type of team I was coaching. You understand their toughness, their fortitude, that they’re able to overcome adversity. If you’re going to win a championship, you’re going to have to overcome tough situations.”

Doyle focused on Bishop Chatard’s seventh game of the season against Merrillville High School, a team ranked second in Class 6A at the time. The Trojans won 45-28.

“Our kids played great that night,” Doyle recalled. “It was a turning point for us—that you’re not going to roll anyone out there that we can’t play with. It was awesome to see.”

For Cathedral, its defining moment came during the team’s bus ride to Lucas Oil Stadium for its state championship game. Peebles had the bus make a stop at the location where Mario was killed.

“We say the rosary on the way to every game,” Peebles recalled. “We parked our buses, put our flashers on. I thought it would be appropriate for us to start our rosary there. It was emotional.”

Hours later, Cathedral players danced across the Lucas Oil Stadium field, celebrating their state championship as many of them held up two fingers, signifying Mario’s jersey number.

In the days since the championship weekend, the players, coaches and school communities of Bishop Chatard, Cathedral and Roncalli have continued to celebrate and savor the moment. Peebles talked about that feeling in relation to Cathedral, but his comments also applied to the two other teams.

“That’s the most special part—to know they get to have that feeling,” Peebles said. “This group of kids, this is a defining moment to them. They get to make this part of their history.” †

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