by Marc and Julie Anderson
TOPEKA — The Runnin’ Revs might not be in the same league as LeBron James.
And they might not dazzle their fans with amazing ball-handling skills like the Harlem Globetrotters.
But one thing is certain: They know how to play hard and have fun.
Wearing black shorts and black T-shirts designed to look like priests’ clerical attire, the Runnin’ Revs squared off against their opponent, the Serra All-Stars, in a basketball game played April 19 at Topeka’s Hayden High School.
Comprised of nearly a dozen priests from the archdiocese and coached by Msgr. Michael Mullen, co-director of seminarians and pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, Kan., the Runnin’ Revs faced a squad of nearly three dozen high school and eighth-grade hoopsters from the Topeka and Nemaha-Marshall regions. Between 200 and 300 fans cheered for their favorite players.
Prior to tipoff, vocations director Father Mitchel Zimmerman gave a light-hearted opening to the event. It would be easy to tell which young man from the Serra All-Stars had a vocation to the priesthood, he said. Just look for the player who scores the first basket — or the player who scores the most points during the game!
Father Zimmerman went on to give the invocation, asking God to protect the players from injury and to draw more young men and women to vocations in religious life and matrimony.
The game was one of two annual events held to benefit the seminarians’ book fund. The first game was played March 8 at Bishop Miege High School in Roeland Park. Cosponsored by the Topeka Serra Club and area Knights of Columbus councils, the April 19 game raised approximately $1,450.
According to Msgr. Mullen, the annual event, begun in the 1990s, was the idea of the vocations office and has grown through the years. Father Zimmerman, soon to enter his third year as vocations director, explained the event’s intent.
“The whole idea is to let the kids see the priests have fun. It changes their perception of the priesthood,” said Father Zimmerman.
“They can see that being a priest is a very, very normal thing to do,” he added. “Jesus calls normal guys to be his priests.”
He also encouraged area Catholics to attend future games to support the seminarians — their future archdiocesan priests.
“We have a lot of seminarians who can hardly wait to play in the game, but they can’t yet. Some of them can even dunk!” he promised.
For most of the first quarter, it appeared the All-Stars were going to run away with the game. On their first and second possessions, the All-Stars scored, and then they stole the ball back from the Revs. Then, Father Shawn Tunink, chaplain of Hayden High School and associate pastor of Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish in Topeka, fouled Quinton Smith, an eighth-grade student from Topeka’s Christ the King School. After Smith missed both free throws, the Revs had the ball, but the All-Stars stole it again and scored on a fast break.
For a while, it seemed the All-Stars could do no wrong. Midway through the first quarter, the All-Stars led 14 to 4. With 29 seconds left in the first quarter, the All-Stars scored again, making it 20 to 10. The Revs scored one last time, making the score 13 to 20 at the sound of the buzzer.
The Revs rallied during the second quarter, finding strength in players like Father Zimmerman and Father John Schmiedler, OFM Cap., pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Lawrence, both of whom scored at least one three-point basket during the game. At halftime, the score was tied: 30 all.
Throughout the second half, the Runnin’ Revs and All-Stars traded baskets. Several key plays resulted in at least three or four lead changes. With about 3:10 left in the game, Father John scored for the Revs, tying the game at 57. Then, with around 45 seconds left, the All-Stars led by two points with the score at 61-59. A three-point basket made by Father John in the final 20 seconds put the Revs in front 62-61.
A foul called on the Revs, however, sent Hayden’s Benton McGivern to the free-throw line. After missing the first free throw, McGivern sank the second, tying the score at 62.
Both the All-Stars and Runnin’ Revs tried to score again before the buzzer — but without success — so the game ended with a tie. Afterward, the teams were treated to pizza and pop in the cafeteria.