by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Since their dramatic seventh-game victory, I have been frequently asked my thoughts on the Cubs winning the World Series.
My usual reply is: “I think every team deserves to win once a century.” All kidding aside, congratulations to both the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians! It was a great World Series.
I am always a little sad for the baseball season to conclude. However, it is only 111 days until spring training. Despite the corrupting effect of the large amounts of money involved in professional sports today, and some of the unfortunate antics of some professional athletes, sports can be a vehicle for cultivating virtue within young people.
Recently, Dennis Hurla, the longtime baseball coach for Bishop Ward High School retired. In his 20 years at Bishop Ward, Coach Hurla’s teams won 352 times, compared to 135 defeats. During his tenure, Ward made it to the state championship finals 14 times, winning 10 state championships.
This is an incredible record of achievement. Teams do not win that consistently because they have the best talent. Great coaches have the ability to draw forth the best from their athletes and, even more importantly, to instill in them an unselfish attitude to play, not for individual achievement, but as a team.
My impression of Coach Hurla is that his primary goal was not about winning baseball games, but helping young men grow in virtue. A trademark of his teams was sportsmanship. Hurla’s players did not argue with umpires or display their frustration with mistakes on the field or engage in flashy celebrations when they made a good play or got a key hit.
In his own unassuming way, Coach Hurla gave to his players a powerful witness of the importance of faith. Team prayer and participating in Mass together were an essential element of the Ward baseball season under Coach Hurla’s leadership.
Several years ago, Coach Hurla invited me to sit in the dugout for a Bishop Ward game. I was impressed by the team spirit, the focus of players on the details of the game and their commitment to excellence.
Coach Hurla was always teaching — not just about baseball — but life lessons. He did not demean or ridicule his players for mistakes. Both in victory and defeat, Coach Hurla was teaching his players not just how to be better at baseball, but how to be better men.
Despite his remarkable record of accomplishment, I never got the impression from Coach Hurla that winning championships was as important to him as helping young athletes become virtuous men.
Dennis Hurla is emblematic of the outstanding teachers and coaches who staff our Catholic high schools. They are dedicated professionals who work hard to draw forth excellence from their students in the classroom, on stage and upon the athletic field.
All of our teachers and coaches are asked to participate in a process to develop and deepen their own faith life. Our faculty and staff at our schools need to be committed to strengthening and deepening their own friendship with Jesus through a vibrant prayer life. They cannot help our students to come to know and love Jesus if their friendship with Our Lord is not the first priority of their lives.
The goal of our teachers is not just to impart knowledge or develop the skills of students, but, more importantly, it is about forming young men and women who will be future leaders within the church and community. They are devoted to helping their students become young men and women of prayer, virtue and service.
Just a week ago, I attended the Wyandotte County Mayors’ Prayer Breakfast at which Dayton Moore, the Royals general manager, was the featured speaker. He began by identifying himself as a devout Christian. Then, he shared the seven principles of his leadership philosophy. Dayton Moore acknowledged how each principle was drawn from the teaching and example of Jesus.
One of his principles was to begin the day and everything else with prayer. He described how he began each day meditating on a portion of the Scriptures. He acknowledged that without spending this time in prayer with Our Lord, his day was much more likely to become unfocused and unsatisfying.
Part of Dayton Moore’s leadership style is to impress upon everyone in the Royals organization the importance of their job and how the overall success of the organization was dependent upon how each of them fulfilled their responsibilities.
In other words, they all had a stake in one another’s success. It was refreshing to hear the significance faith plays in the personal and professional life of a successful executive for a major league franchise.
I find the examples of Dennis Hurla and Dayton Moore gratifying. They both have been incredibly successful in the field of competitive athletics by being men of faith who developed a leadership philosophy based on the principles of the Gospel.
Leo Durocher, a baseball legend, coined the cynical phrase: “Nice guys finish last.” Dennis Hurla and Dayton Moore proved Durocher wrong. By the way, Durocher spent part of his major league career managing the Chicago Cubs.