Catholic Diocese of Cleveland

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St. Ignatius High School football, soccer coaches share thoughts on ‘Coaching the Faith’ at First Friday Club of Cleveland

Two championship coaches at St. Ignatius High School addressed the First Friday Club of Cleveland at its Jan. 3 meeting at The City Club. Chuck “Chico” Kyle, head football and track and field coach, and Mike McLaughlin, head soccer coach, spoke about “Coaching the Faith.”

Kyle, who also has taught English at St. Ignatius for more than 40 years, has led the Wildcats to 11 state championships and four national championships during his 36-year tenure as head coach, for a record of 353-90-1 — earning him the distinction of having more wins than all previous St. Ignatius head football coaches combined. He also has been at the helm of the track and field team for 46 years, earning two state titles. Kyle is a 1969 St. Ignatius alumnus and a 1973 John Carroll University graduate.

McLaughlin is a 1985 graduate of St. Ignatius and a 1989 graduate of Quincy College. He chairs the St. Ignatius theology department, is director of the Sophomore Service program and has been head soccer coach since 1995, guiding the Wildcats to eight state championships and four national championships.

Both men agreed that athletics are important to the formation of young people. They said athletics and being part of a team teach valuable lessons.

“But in the end, it’s just a game,” Kyle said.

Moderator George Wasmer, also a St. Ignatius alumnus, posed a series of questions to the coaches. “These are two of the finest coaches in America,” Wasmer said, adding that they use their God-given talents to help produce quality human beings. “They are dedicated to helping youth and their faith,” he said.

When asked how his faith has formed him, McLaughlin said his coach at St. Brendan’s – Coach Wasmer – once asked him why his faith mattered.

“It matters to me because it mattered to my parents,” McLaughlin said, adding that parents have an important role. As the father of three sons, he said he takes his role as a parent seriously. In addition, he said St. Ignatius has helped form him by providing him with good role models in teachers and coaches.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he said. He had Kyle as an English teacher and football coach and said that when he “began thinking that I’d like to be like those people,” he said, referring to his mentors at St. Ignatius.

Kyle said he began changing his coaching outlook based on the Ignatian pedagogy – the interaction between teachers and students.

“We’ll win and lose, but the students experience God’s love through their coaches and teammates,” he said.

Kyle talked about the late John Wirtz, the legendary St. Ignatius football coach who coached him. Wirtz was part of the group who interviewed him for the head coach position. He said Wirtz had a mantra about St. Ignatius football: “the kids will learn and grow mentally, physically and spiritually.” He said football is a mentally challenging game that players must prepare for physically, but added that those two things don’t guarantee success.

“There’s a strength to your faith. To be a spiritual, religious person you must be able to read and visualize things. Football is just a game. You can do well at your career, but making it a vocation takes it to a higher level. That’s what’s important and we hope the kids realize that we do this because it’s our vocation. You can have a tremendous career as a doctor, but what about your vocation? How can you help people?” he asked.

The two men also discussed how leaders can serve.

McLaughlin, who heads the school’s well-respected Sophomore Service program, in which every sophomore engages in a service project for the school year, said the program helps match the students’ talents with the needs of the world.

He said his college soccer coach, who died recently, illustrated how sports and coaches can be great teachers. McLaughlin said players learn the logistics of the game, but he knew his coach cared for them and he was a role model.

Kyle said service was the common denominator in all of Jesus’ miracles. “He always helped someone. That’s what service is – it doesn’t matter what career you’re in.”

Wasmer also posed the question of how coaches can handle students who make first team and others who sit out.

Kyle explained there are important lessons to learn. “It’s not just about you,” he said, noting that egos can get in the way. “All kids think they’re the star – but they’re not,” he said, adding that learning to be humble is an important lesson. “You want your team to be successful and there’s nothing wrong with that. Success is an earned blessing,” he said, and after the game, life goes on. “Win or lose, you learn from it.”

McLaughlin said he and Kyle both view sports as a way to give students tools. “But they are just games,” he said.  On Sunday nights, McLaughlin said a group of St. Ignatius students in the Labre ministry goes out to meet the homeless on Cleveland’s streets, bringing them meals and companionship. “They establish relationships with people,” he said, adding that the students learn to be courageous as they meet people. They also learn humility and to understand what they have and how to use their gifts.

The coaches also discussed the sports chaplaincy program. Each sport has a chaplain – usually not a Jesuit – who spends some time with the team weekly to talk about what matters.  McLaughlin said each soccer player gets a tennis ball at the beginning of the season and puts the year, their jersey number and the theme or word for that year on the ball. In order to practice or play, each player must have his ball with him. The 2016 word was servant. The chaplain shared stories and talked with players about how they could best attain that objective.

They also talked about being role models and collaboration. McLaughlin said once the soccer team was preparing for the national championship game and he was trying to arrange practice time on the field, which the football team also needed. He said Kyle asked how much space they needed, then moved the football team to one half of the field while the soccer team practiced on the other half.

Mass before each game was part of Kyle’s routine for the football team. He also recalled when he played football at St. Ignatius the team would say a rosary on the bus while traveling to the game.

Bonding as a team and learning to share are important, powerful experiences, Kyle said, explaining that people are meant to be together. When Jesus picked his apostles Kyle said he didn’t go to the temple and pick religious people, he picked tax collectors and fishermen – people with a work ethic who would learn from him and spread his message.

McLaughlin said sports help students to be a part of something and learn that they can accomplish more as a team than they can alone. “It’s amazing what you can do together,” he said.

Kyle said students used to be grouped alphabetically so it could be difficult to get to know students other than those with names near yours in the alphabet. That’s why getting involved in things like sports can be important because it allows them to meet more people and experience new things.

As he offered a final blessing, Auxiliary Bishop emeritus Roger Gries, First Friday Club spiritual moderator, reflected on his own experiences as a student, athlete, coach, teacher, principal and president at Benedictine High School.

“It all adds up to camaraderie and the friendships you establish, the relationships you build,” he added.

The club will hear from Brooke Taylor, author, mother of five and former radio personality, at its 11:30 a.m. meeting on Jan. 31 at The City Club, 850 Euclid Ave., Cleveland. Cost is $25 or $250 for a table of 10. For more information or a link to register online, visit firstfridayclubcleveland.org.

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