The Only Rivalry that Matters
Published in the Michigan Catholic
As fall sports move into high gear it prompts me to recall my own high school days at my alma mater, Detroit Catholic Central. Now, as a Catholic school Theology teacher I am again immersed in those same fall rivalries. My first year as a teacher – at Orchard Lake Saint Mary’s – reminded me how fun those rivalries could be. As a newer teacher, though, I often wondered how deep these contentions ran. I wondered if the rivalries ever melted into enmity or bitterness. After all, sports have taken a much more prominent role in society today. As much as I love sports, I often questioned whether they had been elevated to too high a level of importance.
It didn’t take me long to find the answers. On April 9, 2012 I walked into work to find out that the father of a local high school student was tragically killed and a mother and son lay critically injured due to a senseless act of violence. This unfathomable tragedy rang loudly throughout the entire Catholic school community – most certainly through the Shamrock family. The Ciprianos were a Catholic Central family. I taught at Orchard Lake Saint Mary’s. The very next day I listened to how the Shamrock community reacted. With their strong Basilian administration at the helm the “Shamrock nation” responded in a way that was nothing short of inspiring; gathering in prayer, support and determination. I’ve since heard stories of hundreds of boys meeting – unabated by adults – to pray the rosary. Knowing the goodness, discipline and knowledge the Shamrocks espouse, that didn’t surprise me.
But what struck another heartrending cord in me – perhaps because I was there to witness it a mere day after hearing the report – was the way in which the Saint Mary’s community reacted. Yes. Saint Mary’s – arch rivals to Catholic Central. The day after the tragedy I watched Headmaster Jim Glowacki pace the halls of the prep building with the same intensity as he had before many big games. I knew him to be an Eaglet through and through. But this time the mission was different. This time, a fellow student needed aid. And creed, color or fight song was suddenly less important. Within a week, Saint Mary’s faculty and students raised a large sum of money for the family in need. God, Family, Saint Mary’s – when push came to shove, they rose to the mantra they so proudly wear on the backs of their shirts.
I would later learn of the numerous acts of love perpetrated by public and Catholic Schools alike; acts such as Ladywood girls, gathered in droves, before the administration even had the opportunity to organize them – to assemble fundraisers for the family (after having taught these girls for the last few months, this comes as no surprise!); acts such as Brother Rice wearing Sal Cipriano’s number on their uniforms.
My experiences from inside the classroom have spoken volumes about how Catholic League rivalries abound. But suddenly I discovered my understanding of these contentions was beginning to change. And what I came to realize was that the rivalries were present, but in ways I had least expected. Shamrock and Eaglet; Blazer and Marlin. Yes, those battles existed, but perhaps the greatest rivalry was the one I had least expected.
Whoever said the youth of our county was lost doesn’t know the kids I teach. Who would have known they would step up to the challenge? Take that, sorrow! Take that, hopelessness! The real rivalry has been revealed. It’s the only one that can truly assuage the anguish of a hurting community. The rivalry is between darkness and light, tragedy and triumph. And it’s only possible through the love of Christ.
On September 14th, 2012 – a mere five months after the Cipriano tragedy, Rose Cipriano joined her son Tanner for parent day at the Catholic Central football game. I’m told there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. God has that ability to remind us of the rivalry into which we should all be immersed; the only one that will ultimately transform our world. If our Catholic school kids can step up in ways I’ve witnessed, our future is bright.