UR students play sports with spirit

By Amy Kotlarz/Catholic Courier    |    12.20.2009
Category: Young Adult


Their coaches and leaders are a team of fellow student athletes who, like them, juggle school, sports and spirituality.

Their playbook is filled with prayers and inspirational quotations.

And now their trophy case includes a national nod.

The University of Rochester’s St. Sebastian Society, a first-of-its-kind group that was started in 2004, was recently recognized by the Catholic Campus Ministry Association for its goal of encouraging Catholic athletes to combine their faith with sports. Earlier this year, the program received the 2007 Developing Leaders for the Future Award from the national association.

The group gives athletes lessons on leadership development and opportunities to serve the Rochester campus and the surrounding community. The goal is to deepen spirituality, provide witness to moral courage and serve the vulnerable, according to the group's playbook of sports-themed inspiration that athletes can take to competitions. The group has an ongoing tutoring project with students at Rochester's St. Boniface School, one of the schools that offers financial aid for low-income families through the Wegman Inner City Voucher Program. Student athletes also have taken the St. Boniface students to Rochester Red Wings and University of Rochester basketball games and other special events.

Senior Sam Carr of Fairport, captain of administration of the society and a volleyball and softball player, said the connection with St. Boniface School has helped college athletes learn to be good role models.

“It’s nice for (St. Boniface students), because it develops the connection with some older mentors,” Carr said.

In addition to service outings such as Christmas caroling, the group hosts an annual sports dinner. During this year’s dinner, student athletes learned about making moral choices from one of their own: J. Nelson Hoffman, the founder and former CEO of airplane-component maker Brice Manufacturing and a Class of 1955 basketball and soccer standout. Hoffman wrote the book Virtue and Values for the Twenty-First Century: Renewing America’s Character and Spirit and is a member of the university’s athletics Hall of Fame.

Hoffman, who congratulated students on balancing sports and school, defined character for the students.

“It’s what you do when you don’t have to that will determine what you will be when you must,” Hoffman said. “It’s facing hard choices.”

During the dinner, St. Sebastian Society members celebrated receiving the Developing Leaders for the Future Award. Father Brian Cool, director of the college’s Catholic Newman Community, said the society prepares students to be the leaders of tomorrow.

“The future is not something we inherit, it is something we create,” he said.

Father Cool said he was thrilled and very surprised upon learning in December 2006 that the group would be receiving the award. During the Catholic Campus Ministry Association's conference in San Diego earlier this year, representatives of the society gave a presentation telling others more about the organization. Although nationally there is an interdenominational Fellowship of Christian Athletes, there was a need for a Catholic athletic group, society members said. The group hopes to inspire other colleges to start their own St. Sebastian Society.

“Students don’t tend to get a lot of recognition of their faith on campus,” Father Cool said.

The group takes its name from the third-century Roman martyr who was to be shot by archers and left for dead until he was healed by the widow St. Irene. Eventually, he was clubbed to death. Although the program has its roots with Catholic athletes, membership is open to all student athletes.

Senior Eric Snider of Fairport said Father Cool, who officiates high-school and college lacrosse games in his spare time, broached the idea of starting an organization for Catholic student athletes. Snider, cocaptain of the organization and a basketball player, said many Catholic basketball players were among the athletes to become active in the society.

“We talk about values that we as Catholics bring in to the field of athletics,” Snider said.

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