Coach Aldrich, Hilltoppers recognized for sportsmanship
By Karen Mahoney
Special to your Catholic Herald
BURLINGTON — Their record was 14-0 and they won the WIAA Division 7 Wisconsin state football championship. However, for Coach Tom Aldrich and his team at Catholic Central High School, football comes second to faith.
Coming second, however, is not a bad finish and putting football second is what caught the eye of Sports Faith International officials. The Chicago-based media initiative co-chaired by Chicago Bears co-owner Patrick McCaskey recognizes outstanding Catholic high school athletes and their coaches who share SFI’s vision of inspiring and transforming culture through the world of sports.
Recently Sports Faith International named Catholic Central Football the Division-A Team of the Year and inducted them into the 2009 Sports Faith International Hall of Fame. Teams from all over the nation were eligible to be nominated for the award.
The Sports Faith Hall of Fame induction ceremony was held in February at the Chicago Bears Halas Hall in Lake Forest, Ill., in conjunction with its Induction Ceremony for Professional Athletes.
According to Catholic Central principal Greg Groth, the award caught him by surprise, as he had quickly entered the team after he saw the application appear on his desk.
“I was just hoping for the $500 scholarship they offered, and when they won, I had no clue as to how big this award was,” he said. “Whoever nominates the team gets to attend a Chicago Bears awards dinner, and I couldn’t even go because my dad became ill and I had to fly out to care for him.”
Candidates were evaluated for excellence in the areas of athleticism, academics, community service and Catholic faith in action. Thirteen awards were presented including male and female athlete of the year, coach of the year and teams of the year.
More important than the team’s season success were the testimonies of players living out their faith, on and off the field of play admitted McCaskey.
“The team was cited for the players’ actions throughout the season, which exemplified a great desire and willingness to let the Light of Christ shine through their lives for all to see,” he said. “They have worked on Highway Clean up Days, and volunteered with the Burlington Historical Society. Some have taught religion to preschool children and have spoken at St. Mary Elementary School to help pass the torch of faith along.”
Citing him as the epitome of a Catholic school head coach, Groth is edified by the way Aldrich molds team members into Christian young men, who pray before and after games, attend Mass together, participate in service work in the community and give back to parishes.
“He has the demeanor, actions, expectations and presents himself as an example to others as to what it means to be a disciple of Christ,” said Groth. “When I tell people that we have only 78 boys in the entire school and 41 of them play on the varsity football team – they think that’s pretty neat.”
Admittedly surprised by receiving the award, it is no surprise that Coach Tom Aldrich gives credit to the team for winning it.
“It makes me realize once again how fortunate and blessed I am to be able to work with such great young people,” he said. “What I believe makes this team so special is their unselfishness and the love they developed for one another.”
It wasn’t always that way, Aldrich explained. At the beginning of the year, the team was like most others. While they discussed what it meant to be unselfish, it was hard for players to buy into it. They understood that they needed to play as a team, but most wanted it to be under their own terms.
“Initially it was a struggle for a lot of them,” he said. “Once they started making sacrifices for each other, this group really became genuine. By the end of the year, they were more excited for a teammate’s success than they were for their own. It was really neat to see and be a part of it.”
Senior Joe Spiegelhoff felt it; and he knows that he is a better man because of the guidance Coach Aldrich provided.
“The best part is the camaraderie,” he said. “Everyone gets along and we have a lot of fun at practices. He is a great guy and always teaches stuff off the field – his main goal is to make us better men, not just football players.”
Before each practice, team members complete responsibility worksheets, pray before and after a game and often attend Mass together. Aldrich’s actions have influenced Spiegelhoff so much that he chose him to be his confirmation sponsor.
“I will never forget him, I have a lot of respect for Coach Aldrich,” he said. “I know he has influenced many people because I always see alumni coming up to him at our games – I am definitely proud to be on his team.”
Senior, Max Vos noticed early on, that life values are more important to Aldrich than football or winning a game.
“He takes teaching his students to another level,” said Vos. “We really respect Coach Aldrich and our other teammates and not a lot of teams can say that.”
Regarded by many as a father figure, Vos said that teammates would frequently turn to Aldrich for advice and guidance.
“I have always looked up to him and (he) is one of the greatest guys I know,” he said. “I know I could go to him with problems. Because of him, I am definitely thinking about coaching – he lives that responsibility and enjoys teaching young men – and that has put the thought of coaching at any level in my mind.”
As the head of the Catholic Central football team family, Aldrich believes that faith is the glue that bonds them together, and that it is important to share and live that faith.
“We are not evangelists shouting from the rooftops, but it’s important that we are not afraid to act out our faith in whatever fashion we are comfortable with,” he said. “I firmly believe that the family that eats together, plays together and prays together, stays together. As a football team, we do all of these quite regularly. I find it amazing how powerful the simple act of prayer can be.”
Although Aldrich admitted that the team is not perfect and members frequently make mistakes, each one strives to demonstrate his faith by his actions each day.
“With God’s grace and forgiveness, we keep plugging along as we try to live a life that is pleasing to him,” he said. “I am truly inspired by my students. In a world that tempts and preys on our human weaknesses, these young people are amazing gifts. I learn something from them everyday that I am around them. Don’t ever underestimate our young – they will surprise you.”