For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.
[excerpt from Sports and Faith: More Stories of the Devoted and the Devout, Copyright 2015, by Patrick McCaskey.]
The McCaskey family is tied to several Christian churches over the generations—Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Lutheran, and Catholic. Many of my friends have similar backgrounds. The influence of an Irish Catholic grandmother on my dad’s Scotch Irish side and a Bohemian Catholic coach on my mom’s side helped bring the McCaskeys of my generation into the Catholic school system. Catholic schools in many areas made grade school football teams popular. Football continues with many Catholics into high school and college. I had to quit football after high school, but I would have loved to have played at the University of Notre Dame. Serious eye problem cut my play short. My time had come to seek something else. So over the decades I have been running in the Masters Track Circuit.
As my family and friends head into each new football season in the fall, we are reminded of the special affection we have for football. For those who played on or cheered for Catholic grammar school teams, who can forget the glorious Sunday games after church when the entire parish stood over at the park hugging the sidelines. The cheerleaders’ sharp chant of “Push ‘em back, push ‘em back, waaaay back” still echoes today. On the field there was the knocking of helmets, blocking, tackling, and running like the wind amidst the cheers of what seemed like thousands.
The cheerleaders often got a better workout than the football players as homemade pompoms were thrust out in millions of quick moves, leaving thousands of tiny crepe paper streamers all over the field! And back when smoking was acceptable in public places, there was the strong smell of cigar smoke as dads and grandpas lit up just before the kickoff. Priests in their long cassocks and birettas would often find a good spot to watch the action and sometimes the Sisters would come over to the field as well.
In many places, Catholic grammar schools were the only grade schools to offer football—it was a truly Catholic school experience. Prayer was often a part of a team’s “preparation” and if any player was injured, quiet prayer could be felt throughout the crowd. Grammar school football still goes on at many parishes and there are many Pee Wee teams. Most everyone has an opportunity to play or cheer.