Do you remember the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego? The three Chaldeans who were thrown into the fiery furnace in the Book of Daniel (Chap 3)? It seems that they were given two choices: either defile their God or be thrown into the fiery furnace. They chose to serve God and be thrown into the furnace. Their faith was so evident and strong, the king had the furnace fired up “seven times more than usual.”
Well, the Bible is timeless, because we have a similar story today. It seems that there were three Carmelites who had to make a similar decision. God or sports? They chose God and their faith was so evident and strong.
It seems that Alex, JT and Zach (as well as all the students at SSS Parish on the track team) had to make a decision: either go to a Penn Qualifying Race or go to the Stations of the Cross during Holy Week. As the story unfolds, on the day of the original competition, it rained. The rain lasted only an hour, but the commissioner of the Catholic Conference decided not to run that day but to reschedule a Catholic sports event during Holy Week. She scheduled the make up race on Wednesday of Holy Week, telling everyone “that was the only available time.”
Wednesday of Holy Week is also the time that the youth of St. Simon Stock Parish celebrate a gothic interpretation of the Stations of the Cross. These young men and women rehearsed for two months every Tuesday and Sunday night, which shows their commitment to faith, considering how busy their schedules already are. We have a rule at St. Simon Stock Parish (which includes OLMC/SAA Regional School) that there are no activities during Holy Week, only church services. Everything is cancelled, even basketball.
It seems that Alex, JT and Zach had to choose between going to the Stations of the Cross and prayerfully celebrating Holy Week, or going to the Penn Relay Race and competing in sports. They chose God! How refreshing in this day and age. They knew what they were giving up, but the alternative was a much better Catholic-Christian choice. Holy week is a time of faith-filled experiences, and the choice that Alex, JT & Zach made was truly a testament to their faith.
The commissioner, according to the coaches, said that Wednesday of Holy Week was the only option. But this was not a “competition race,” it was a “timed race” which means it could have been done at any time. Since this was not a “competition race” but a “timed race” the principal of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel/St. Andrew the Apostle Regional School wanted to help her students and said she would even release the students early from school to go and “be timed,” or allow them to go the day before and be timed. The commissioner said no for some reason. We also offered the option of having official timers at Paul VI High School time the boys at their track by the assistant athletic director of PVI. She would have given these times to the commissioner, whom she knows. Still the answer was no.
We also mentioned that they were eighth grade boys and there is not an opportunity to try again next year. We covered every base including offering the track here which was still open on Tuesday even though we weren’t using it. No was all we heard.
I do not know what prompted her decision to schedule this event on that particular day. Yet, even if her decision seemed reasonable to her at the time, it seems to me that, at the very least, that it is not unreasonable to expect that a Catholic league would be especially attentive to the solemn importance of Holy Week.
Needless to say, our three boys, Alex, JT and Zach, were thrown into a fiery furnace, and did not compete (nor did the rest of our parish’s track runners). They survived the fiery furnace that night.
The boys were not the only victims. Barb, one of our seventh graders, was a runner on the girl’s team and in “Follow Me” the Youth Stations. We had no alternate for the girls so they were unable to compete and the commissioner was aware of this as well. What is the purpose of sports in a “Catholic” environment? Who really won the race this day? WWJS (What would Jesus say)?
As a very proud pastor, I truly believe the track team of St. Simon Stock Parish won the Penn Qualifying Race of the Catholic Conference that day. They did not receive any trophies or medals, just a prayerful applause at church that night. “It is faith that matters, nothing else!”
Father Joe Ferrara is pastor of St. Simon Stock Parish and presiding pastor of OLMC/SAA Regional School
Carole M. Fesi, commissioner of the Catholic Track League, responds
The commissioner, as well as the Catholic Track League, understand and are proud of these athletes, as we would be for any other athletes who had to make this decision.
Since its founding in 1973, the schools of the Catholic Track League share a common faith and have endeavored to promote interscholastic track competition in a Christian atmosphere of fair play and good sportsmanship. The league has established policies and procedures which are reviewed every year and each team votes on the passage of these rules for the upcoming season. The league is dependent on the availability of public high school tracks for all of its meets and makes their schedule based on this availability. The league does not compete or practice from Holy Thursday through Easter Sunday. The league understands that there are scheduling conflicts due to individual parish or school events such as Holy Communion, class trips, school plays, etc.
The Penn Relays is a unique event outside the scope of league control and as such will occasionally necessitate deadlines within the Lent/Easter season. The procedures for the Catholic Track League Penn Relay Qualifying Meet are part of the League Rules and are reviewed and approved by its members at the beginning of the season. This is and has always been a head to head competition so that all teams are running on the same track, under the same conditions and with the same set of officials. This is central to the integrity of the process. The date of the Qualifying Meet is set in advance so a track may be secured and the meet may be held within the guidelines and due date established by the Penn Relays. If there is inclement weather the meet moves to the rain date established and continues to move forward to the next available day and track until conditions permit the meet to be held. Weather conditions are highly unpredictable. For a meet with qualifying at stake, the league may tend to be more conservative weather wise so that all of the boys and girls teams run under the best possible and safest conditions.
After poor weather on the original qualifying meet day and also on the rain date and the day after, most of the schools (eight of the nine schools) in the league who had tracks available to them tried to secure them earlier on Wednesday to avoid the conflict with the performance of the Stations of the Cross by the Our Lady of Mount Carmel children. However, none of the tracks were available at the earlier time requested since the high schools use them for their own track teams or other sports teams’ events. We did try alternate days and times, but due to the weather and the unavailability of the tracks we use, we had no choice but to have the qualifying meet on Wednesday evening. Of course, it goes without saying that we would not have this meet at any time during the Holy Thursday through Easter Sunday timeframe due to the solemnity of these holy days.
We regret that a situation beyond our control resulted in a lost opportunity for these children to run. But by making a difficult choice, the Our Lady of Mount Carmel team has earned the respect and admiration of all.