July 1, 2022

Coach looks to his past to prepare his players for the future

By John Shaughnessy

Aaron IrwinWhile the reality is that many people start coaching in the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) because of their children, Aaron Irwin bucked that trend.

He dedicated 15 years to coaching other children before he started roaming the sidelines for his three children in the past five years—because he wanted to honor all the coaches who did more than shape his sports experience, they shaped his life.

He has even borrowed many of the principles that guided their coaching: Do the right thing, work together as a team, outwork the competition, live your life so you can get to heaven.

“The reason I coach is to honor God and all those coaches who were great role models for me and helped me along the way,” says Irwin, who coaches football and girls’ basketball at St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis. “It kind of gets me choked up thinking about all those coaches.”

That circle of life is making another rotation now, as some of his players have returned to coach with him. Others have given him one of his greatest honors—asking him to be their sponsor for the sacrament of confirmation.

“That means the world to me,” he says.

So does the opportunity to coach the children that he and his wife Jill brought into the world: Jake, Maggie and Drew.

In coaching Jake and Drew and their classmates in football, Irwin has tried to instill the knowledge and values he learned from playing the sport at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis and at Hanover College in Madison.

In helping with Maggie’s team in basketball, Irwin has learned another valuable principle of coaching.

“I learned that the girls all need something different. It’s helped me to become a better football coach, too—to not coach everyone the same way.”

Beyond coaching, he stays in touch with his players by being a chaperone on school field trips, joining them once a month for lunch, and attending their school Masses—“just a chance to pray and thank God for all he’s given us.”

It’s all part of what led him to be chosen for the 2022 St. John Bosco Award, the highest honor from the archdiocese’s CYO. It’s all part of his focus on faith and family.

“After a prayer at the end of practice, the last thing I tell them before they go to their parents’ cars is to tell their parents they love them.”

It’s another principle to live by. †


Related story: Archbishop salutes CYO volunteers ‘for giving of themselves’

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