Faith fuels Knights’ march to finals
LINCOLN — This was supposed to be the place that Norfolk Catholic players, coaches, parents and fans would gather about three hours before kickoff.
Yes, it was on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus, but it was not Memorial Stadium.
But the St. Thomas Aquinas Newman Center was dark. No one was there yet.
First, the Spirit Squad showed up. The high school girls were chattering a bit, but even they weren’t sure exactly where to go. Later, some parents started filing into the chapel area.
A few minutes before 7:15 a.m., the lights came on. Moments after that, all of the Norfolk Catholic players — most of whom already had their white game jerseys on — filed in. The coaches — most of whom looked dressed for Memorial Stadium — followed.
Three of the last four football seasons for Norfolk Catholic have ended in trips to Memorial Stadium, including Tuesday’s Class C2 final against Centennial. But three hours before the biggest game of this year’s season, the Knights had more important matters at hand — Mass led by Sacred Heart Parish pastor, the Rev. Dan Andrews, inside the Newman Center. This time, he was joined by assistant pastor, the Rev. Scott Schilmoeller.
“This state championship experience is a lifetime memory for the players and their families and our fans and supporters,” Andrews said. “To have a spiritual moment as part of that memory, I think, is really formative and tremendously impactful to the players. I think it’s important for them and not just their parents.”
Count senior lineman Ethan Piper among those who recognize the importance of that.
“It really sets the tone that we’re going to come out here and play like brothers,” Piper said.
Andrews said that, since all three of those title games had a morning kickoff, the schedule coincided with the Newman Center being available to host Mass for the Norfolk Catholic community. He added that the Newman Center staff have noted in the past that Norfolk Catholic is one of the more frequent outside visitors to take advantage of the facility.
“We just have to credit them with opening their doors so readily for us,” Andrews said.
Why is it so important to take time away from the gridiron to spend some time with Christ before the biggest game of the season?
For one, it unites the team with families and other supporters. It’s an impressive, and unique, display considering that the church was about two-thirds full at a time many people are still getting ready for work or school.
It’s also putting into practice that each person has a bigger purpose than the game at hand.
“What we’re teaching is life has a purpose, it has an ultimate purpose, and we want to point people toward that all the time, so that people don’t see that God is over here and then there are these things over there,” Andrews said. “They all come together.”