There are moments in each of our lives that will bring out our true character and will undoubtedly leave an impression on others for years to come. For the middle school athletes, parents and fans who were part of the 2013-2014 St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School boys varsity basketball program, it was truly that kind of a defining season.
Although our school has been around for 33 years, this is the school’s first conference championship for the varsity boys.
It was a classic underdog story that unfolded as our student athletes played with unparalleled drive and determination. The personal stories of each player during this season are heartwarming and truly inspiring. They played each game, whether they won or lost, with all heart and humility.
For some of these students, they began the year with memories of seasons in which they had lost all of their games on the school’s junior varsity. At the time, there were only enough players to make one full team, and there was never an alternate on the bench waiting to come in for a player who needed a break. With more students coming out for the team in subsequent years, coaches had more players on the bench to pull from.
Strategies for winning each game sometimes meant that able and willing players waited hopefully for their turn to get into the game. The pressure was there to win, and although they came close to winning in the past, the league championship eluded this team.
Until now, that is.
What makes this championship even more remarkable is that these boys were led to victory by novice, inexperienced parents who have never coached before. Maureen Byrne and Bill DiMercurio have spent much of their time supporting the team from the bleachers and willingly admit that coaching was unfamiliar territory. With no one else able to take on this responsibility, Byrne and DiMercurio said “yes.” If there were any mistakes made, they were either dismissed or excused by others based on their lack of experience.
(Let’s pause right here. I am biased. Bill DiMercurio is my husband. Still, you need to know what happened.)
The coaches and players relied on each other and also on their faith. Although they lost four games this season, it was never by a landslide and students knew they had given their all and walked away from each game with poise.
As the season intensified, the boys informally coordinated extra practice time whenever possible. Meeting at different community parks and scheduling Saturday morning scrimmages against anyone willing to play ball would prove invaluable. While shooting baskets at Vineyards Community Park, the boys found some welcome allies. Students from the nearby Ave Maria Law School helped build their confidence and refine their skills while going toe-to-toe.
It was an experience the middle school boys will remember fondly.
Going into the final tournament, the players knew they had prepared as best they could. As they came together for one last huddle against a team they had lost to twice, one player wanted his teammates to know, “Win or lose, I want you to know that this is the most fun I’ve ever had.” It was a moment that touched the hearts of the other players and coaches too. Middle school boys don’t often share their emotions, but in this case, they had committed their hearts as well as their minds and bodies
The prayer to St. Michael became the team’s anthem before their final tournament games.
As the patron saint of police officers, St. Michael has a special place in the heart of one particular player. Having lost his father in the line of duty six years ago in New Orleans, Tommy Byrne was playing for someone special in heaven. His father, Thomas J. Byrne, served others while working as a special agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Although his father couldn’t be there in person, he was certainly there in spirit as an enthusiastic crowd watched his son and wife lead the St. Elizabeth Seton boys varsity basketball team to the championship.
The players, coaches, parents and fans were all witness to God’s many miracles along the way.