The Pride of Graham County: TitleTown Saint Pope John Paul II on Sports

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There are still celebrations going on for The Black Knights, the Football Team of the Graham County High School on the North Side of Robbinsville.

They’ve taken their 14th A 1 State Championship. But I wouldn’t want to give the football team too much publicity. Graham County excels in plenty of other sports on the State level, particularly wrestling.

Sports have done much for Graham County. It’s one of the very poorest, marginalized counties in all of North Carolina, and in the Appalachian Mountains throughout the Eastern USA. That they so very frequently finish up in first place says much of the local spirit.

Another sport has been added very recently: marksmanship. How well do they do with that, you ask? Well, those of you who are as old as I am may remember a skeet-shooting session in the The Beverly Hillbillies. It’s kind of like that:

Sports have done so very much to promote unity among people of different backgrounds and of different wherewithal on whatever level and in whatever way. I’ve seen this before in Rosman and Brevard North Carolina, where there have been some amazing coaches. I am reminded of Saint John Paul II’s words on sports:

  • “Playing sport has become very important today, since it can encourage young people to develop important values such as loyalty, perseverance, friendship, sharing and solidarity.”
  • “Sport is a factor of emancipation for poor countries and helps to eradicate intolerance and build a more brotherly and united world.”
  • “Sport…protects the weak and excludes no-one…frees young people from the snares of apathy and indifference and arouses a healthy sense of competition in them.”
  • “Sports, in fact, can make an effective contribution to peaceful understanding between peoples and to establishing the new civilization of love.”
  • “Sports contribute to the love of life, teaches sacrifice, respect and responsibility, leading to the full development of every human person.”
  • “Every Christian is called to become a strong athlete of Christ, that is, a faithful and courageous witness to his Gospel. But to succeed in this, he must persevere in prayer, be trained in virtue and follow the divine Master in everything.”
  • “Sport trains body and spirit for perseverance, effort, courage, balance, sacrifice, honesty, friendship and collaboration.”
  • “Give thanks to God for the gift of sport, in which the human person exercises his body, intellect and will, recognizing these abilities as so many gifts of his Creator.”
  • “Lord Jesus Christ, Help these athletes to be your friends and witnesses to your love. Help them to put the same effort into personal asceticism that they do into sports; help them to achieve a harmonious and cohesive unity of body and soul.”

  • “May they be sound models to imitate for all who admire them. Help them always to be athletes of the spirit, to win your inestimable prize; an imperishable crown that lasts forever.
  • “The correct practice of sport must be accompanied by practicing the virtues of temperance and sacrifice; frequently it also requires a good team spirit, respectful attitudes, the appreciation of the qualities of others, honesty in the game and humility to recognize one’s own limitations.”
  • “In the midst of all this entertainment, you referees have a fundamental role to play. Your capacity to judge in a quick, accurate and impartial manner will contribute greatly to ensuring that the rules of the game are respected and that good sportsmanship is maintained.”
  • “I hope, above all, that you approach this competition with that disciplined and focused attitude which helps to form every person and which can teach order, loyalty and respect for people and laws as well as being a training ground for building strength and dignified behavior.”
  • “It is important that you know how to witness to the masses who follow your sporting abilities. As athletes, before being fit and skilled in responding quickly on the pitch, be men who seek after and conform to all that is good, true and excellent. Make sure that man is never sacrificed to sport!”
  • “When facing fundamental questions about existence, even the greatest sporting champions find themselves defenseless and in need of God’s light in order to overcome the difficult challenges that human beings are called to face.”
  • “Athletic competition develops some of the noblest qualities and talents in people. They must learn the secret of their own bodies, their strengths and weaknesses, their struggles and breaking points. They must develop the capacity to concentrate and the habit of self-discipline through long hours of exercise and fatigue as they learn to take account of their own strength. They must also learn how to preserve energy for the final moment when victory will depend upon a burst of speed or a last push of strength.”
  • “The Church cannot but encourage everything that serves in harmoniously developing the human body. It is rightly considered the masterpiece of the whole of creation, not only because of its proportion, strength, and beauty, but also and especially because God has made it His dwelling place and the instrument of an immortal soul, breathing into it that “breath of life” by which man is made in His image and likeness.”
  • “The dignity of sport is increased when it is inspired by healthy principles and is void of excessive risky behavior by athletes and the disturbing attitudes by some fans who get carried away during competition.”
  • “Sport is an activity that involves more than the movement of the body; it demands the use of intelligence and the disciplining of the will. It reveals, in other words, the wonderful structure of the human person created by God as a spiritual being, a unity of body and spirit. If sport is reduced to the cult of the human body, forgetting the primacy of the spirit, or if it were to hinder your moral and intellectual development, or result in you serving less than noble aims, then it would lose its true significance and, in the long run, it would become even harmful to your healthy full growth as human persons.You are true athletes when you prepare yourselves not only by training your bodies but also by constantly engaging the spiritual dimensions of your person for a harmonious development of all your talents.”

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