June 4, 2021

Emotional tribute shows the impact a coach can make

By John Shaughnessy

Steve HeathThe emotional tribute to Steve Heath came from one of his former players, offering a poignant example of the impact that coaches can make beyond their sports.

“My first year playing CYO high school basketball was during the most difficult time of my young life, and Mr. Heath was my coach,” the woman noted.

“My dad had just died from cancer, and Coach Heath showed me such kindness and compassion. He was so supportive and had such a calm demeanor. In many ways, he displayed the qualities that I missed so much from my dad—and he set a great Christian example for us all. At that time in my life, he was exactly the person that I needed, and I will cherish that forever.”

Bruce Scifres, the executive director of the archdiocese’s Catholic Youth Organization (CYO), shared that tribute when he honored Heath as a recipient of the 2021 St. John Bosco Award—the highest honor the CYO gives a volunteer.

For Heath, hearing that tribute was a crowning moment in his 27 years of coaching basketball at his home parish of St. Barnabas in Indianapolis. The tribute was also a reflection of his priority as a coach—building relationships.

“That really got to me,” he says about hearing that tribute. “Just to think you’ve touched someone that much. As a coach, you want to be part of their lives for the few years you have them. You get to know them, and they get to know you. You want to make sure they’re learning something, they’re having fun, they enjoy coming to practice, and they feel they can talk to you.

“I’ve been invited to a lot of graduation parties. When you’ve touched their lives enough for them to ask you to come, that means a lot to me.”

So does his involvement in helping to lead the Boy Scouts program at St. Barnabas for more than 20 years. With both the boys in Scouting and the girls in basketball, Heath strives to give them opportunities to grow in leadership and develop their character.

“There’s too much chance for kids to scoot by,” says the father of three grown children and the grandfather of four. “They need to learn to be proud of themselves, their team and their Church.”

It all adds up to explaining why Heath always comes back to coach another year.

“I enjoy the kids. And there’s the pride that you’ve touched a kid’s life—that you’ve taught them something, that you’ve watched them grow, that you’ve watched them develop friendships, that you’ve helped them develop their character by how they act on and off the court. That’s something we can do as coaches.” †


Related: Archbishop praises CYO volunteers as being ‘enduring witnesses of Christ’

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