"A higher calling in holy game"
The following is an article from yesterday’s Washington Times, Metro section. Thanks to the Times for covering our game, especially to Sterling Meyers (reporter) and Michael Connor (photographer). Praise God for the ‘Hood coverage!
The inaugural basketball game yesterday at the Verizon Center between D.C. and Baltimore priests and seminarians was not exactly a nail-biter. The DC 'Hood team cruised to an easy 44-21 victory over Baltimore's Men in Black, but more was at stake than victory or bragging rights.
Organizers hoped the event would help them close a nationwide priest shortage by showing priests and seminarians as average guys who like to play sports and are passionate about more than religion.
"These are normal guys who like to play basketball and do other things, but also feel called by God to live this special life," said Monsignor Robert Panke, director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Washington.
The number of U.S. priests decreased from about 59,000 in 1965 to about 41,000 last year, according to several reports, including one from the Life Cycle Institute at the Catholic University of America in the District.
Despite the national trend, the number of priests and seminarians entering the Washington Archdiocese has increased from 28 to 73 over the past nine years, spokeswoman Susan Gibbs said.
But in past years, the church has "just stopped asking young people to join," she said.
The archdiocese has roughly 580,000 parishioners in 140 parishes that cover Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, Prince George's and St. Mary's counties.
For its victory yesterday, the D.C. team did not even have to go to the bench for its secret weapon: 6-foot-5-inch Bishop Martin D. Holley.
The 53-year-old bishop was the captain of his high school basketball team, then played at Alabama State University.
Yesterday, he shot a basket with the hometown team before the game, then, dressed in his clerical collar, he sat on the bench with a big smile and cheered for his team.
He said the game was a good way for the seminarians and priests to exercise, have fun and promote the priesthood.
About 550 people filled two sections of the 22,000-seat downtown arena, where the Wizards later played. Tickets for the game were also good for the NBA game. Some of the proceeds from ticket sales will go to the Office of the Youth Ministry and Catholic Youth Organization.
Mary Pat MacMillan, 16, and her sister, Elizabeth, 20, came to cheer for Father Gregory S. Coan of St. Peter's Parish in Olney.
The sisters blew kazoos and joined in the "D.C. 'Hood" chant that Mr. Coan started when a loose ball bounced near the group of his parishioners.
The 6-foot-4-inch Father Charles Sikorksy had a fan club that included almost 10 family members and a co-worker. His family cheered for his team, though they hail from Baltimore.
Father Sam Young, of the Baltimore team, has played basketball with other priests and seminarians for the past 10 years. Mr. Young pastors St. Joan of Arc Church in Aberdeen, Md., and said people need to see more to the priesthood than Mass.
Ray McKenna, founder of Catholic Athletes for Christ, helped promote the game and hopes to help other areas of the country start similar programs.
Father Greg Schaeffer compiled the D.C. team in 2004 and before the pre-game shoot-around yesterday said it was the players' first practice together in more than four years.
"The event is great for families and it builds a lot of community," he said. He also said the D.C. team has a busy spring schedule with four games in April and May.