sports blog by andy shenk


In Xavier on March 19, 2012 at 10:29 PM

When Jesus came to Earth two thousand years ago, he preached one message: Love. That message could be splintered a million different ways and each time it would return to one core truth: There is a reason to live, to love, and to be loved. This is love: Love for oneself and Love for the world.

This truth has spoken to me quietly and persistently in recent years. Friends miraculously, unexpectedly taught me how to love myself through their acceptance of me. That insecure, unsure me of several years ago had never experienced such release. Thus, I began to care for myself, to repeat to myself how valuable and wonderful I was. When life collapsed, when my hopes and joy for living disappeared, this ennobling truth held me together.

More recently, I wrestle daily with confidence. My dreams and hopes again seem distant. So, I begin to learn about trusting not only my goodness, but the incredible gift that my life is to the world. Each disappointment ought to be viewed with perspective, each success with humility.

At my job I am responsible for three adults with developmental disabilities. I supervise them and the quality of their work cleaning an apartment home for the elderly. Gaining my clients’ respect, gaining the trust of the home’s staff and earning acceptance from residents stresses me out. One day I come home a failure after a client ignored or made fun of me throughout the day. Another day, I’m incredibly happy when the director of the apartment home compliments my work and the work of our crew.

What I’m looking for is persistent confidence. I crave the peaceful consistency of maturity and freedom from the need to prove anything.

This I find in the words of Scripture, but also in the 2011-2012 Xavier University men’s basketball team. This December their fairytale 8-0 season seemingly disintegrated in the face of an on-court brawl with their rivals, the University of Cincinnati Bearcats. Post-game comments from Xavier players were wildly and widely distorted, which led to the players’ and University’s name being dragged through mud for weeks to come.

Nonetheless, the players and staff put their heads down and fought through two gut-wrenching months of basketball, which saw them close the regular season 19-11, an even 11-11 post-brawl. The joy was gone, the star player, Tu Holloway, admitted to feeling the weight of the team’s failures on his shoulders. This young man had deferred an excellent chance at being selected in the NBA draft in order to go out a winner at Xavier his senior year, following a first-round loss to Marquette in the NCAA Tournament the previous spring. Yet, the team refused to let the troubles and disappointments pressing on them destroy their confidence in one another. In press conference after press conference they spoke to their belief in the system and the faith that they would win again.

They opened their conference tournament with a quarterfinal game against the rival Dayton Flyers. The game had to be won or else they could say goodbye to the NCAA Tournament and any chance of ending the season on their own terms. They won, 70-69, with a flurry of points from oft-maligned junior guard Mark Lyons and unbreakable, unbending defense. Tu Holloway skipped down the court after the buzzer sounded, flying towards the Xavier student section, a smile back on his face after so long. So long the team toiled and here, so near what could have been the very end, sunlight broke in again upon the Musketeers. Confidence nursed in desperation now unmistakably illuminated their countenances and they joyfully accepted the gift of one more game.

Nine days later Xavier defeated Lehigh University in the 3rd round of the NCAA Tournament. After a one-year hiatus, they were once again in the Sweet 16. The team is poised to win a few games that would shock a sports world in which they are known primarily for a fight and a few misinterpreted comments.

Most significantly, however, they have lost all fear. Rather than accede to the boos, hate, and high-handed moralistic critiques of the program they have trusted themselves and their character. They have cared for one another and loved themselves, and, now, on the cusp of one magical weekend, their battle-tested confidence will make them a team to be feared and to be respected. That is something of which they can always be proud.


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