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A coaching error: When I — inadvertently — said a prayer before a game that offended some players

… prayer before games was not a controversy

When I first started coaching, the team was the Lilly Raiders. I knew nothing about coaching football, but followed the example of what I had seen in high school.

And part of that included saying a pregame prayer.

So, I continued that practice, and never thought about it until a few years ago.

The conversation

Maybe about eight years ago, I had contacted a former Lilly Raider player who has done very well in life. He said great things about his experience playing for the team, and he gave me and Coach Paul “Butch” Erzal kudos for that.

However, those email conversations diverged a little when he said something this, “I remember you saying the Our Father before all of our games, but one time, you ended up saying the Hail Mary, and being a Protestant, you lost me on that one.”

I then realized how biased I was. I should have known that Protestants did not say the Hail Mary, or at least most of them do not. However, I did not.

He said this in jest, but the positive part of it was a very good conversation about the bias of Catholics against Protestants in that small community, and of Catholics against Catholics.

Divisions in a community

I told him that today, I realize how biased Catholics were against Protestants. Because Lilly was probably 85 percent Catholic — just a guess, but a dominant number were.

I mentioned to him that many times, Catholics, either inadvertently or intentionally, looked down upon the smaller Protestant churches in the community.

Even worse, two Catholic Churches were in the community: St. Brigid’s and Our Lady of Mount Carmel. St. Brigid’s was founded by the Irish but also included those of Italian and German extraction, among others.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel was founded as a church for those of Polish extraction, but also included some who were Slovak and even a few Hungarians.

However, while they were both Catholics, a division between the two churches had taken place early in the 20th Century, one that lasted into the 1950s when I was in St. Brigid’s School. This division also extended into the school with the parochial students and public school students often having a barrier between them.

Best decision for Raiders — made by Father Curran

I have written this previously, but a decision made by Father Philip B. Curran proved to be propitious for the Lilly Raiders and for the community as a whole.

When Jack Inman approached Father Curran about having a team representing St. Brigid’s School, he refused. His primary reason was the schools are for education, not athletics. Father was an intellectual, educated in Rome, and had absolutely no interest in sports.

In addition, he told Jack that he could not justify spending money intended for education on sports.

The joy of this decision was that the Raiders became a community team, one that encompassed people of all religions — or no religion — and included everyone regardless of which school they attended.

I really believe that the rejection by Father Curran was a very positive one for the community. Yes, we still said a prayer before the game, but the Catholic Church and school were not involved in it.

The community raised money in a variety of ways from sub sales to the Lilly Grade School Basketball Tournament, and the Lilly athletes and cheerleaders were some of the best dressed and equipped as you could find anywhere.

I apologized for the discriminatory prayer, but said that it was just a reflection of the culture in which I was raised. However, I was very happy that 40 years after the fact, that a successful man was very happy to have experienced success with the Lilly Raiders.

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