COLUMBIA — Dean Gregory still remembers the cursing football coach.
The Catholic school coach, whose team was playing against Gregory’s son’s team in a Columbia Youth Football League game, was yelling profanities at his young players before kickoff in an apparent attempt to motivate them. Gregory was disgusted.
“I thought to myself, ‘That’s just crazy that here they’re supposed to be representing the league as Catholics, and here they’re doing something like that,’” Gregory said.
The event angered Gregory so much that he wrote a letter to the Archdiocese of Jefferson City to notify officials of this lack of sportsmanship. Now, the high school his children attend and where he coaches golf is taking the next step by partnering with the University of Notre Dame’s "Play Like a Champion Today" Educational Series.
The series, a sportsmanship program that through its workshops and research has reached more than 15,000 coaches, is based on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football motto. “Play Like a Champion Today" is displayed on a placard outside Tolton Catholic High School’s athletics office. But the program is more than just a motivational tool for Tolton student athletes.
“(The program) takes sports back to its original intent, which is to have fun through the enjoyment of competition,” Tolton Athletics Director Chad Masters said.
"Play Like a Champion Today" was started in 2006 after Notre Dame professor Clark Power noticed the unsportsmanlike behavior from parents, coaches and players was ruining the sporting experience for all involved. Since then, the program has put on workshops for thousands of parents and coaches.
“The culture of sport is getting a bit out of hand. As leaders of schools, we need to take a different stand,” said Kristin Sheehan, program director of Play Like a Champion Today.
Sheehan said the program specifically aims to eliminate cheating, cheap shots and parents berating athletes during and after sporting events. In addition to workshops, the program has full-time employees that help its member schools develop sportsmanship programs, as well as distribute information and statistics to parents, coaches and athletics directors.
While young athletes are bombarded by headlines about substance abuse, match fixing and equipment doctoring, the program aims to promote holistic virtues through good sportsmanship.
“There’s statistics out there that indicate athletes are learning poor lessons in how to cheat,” Sheehan said.
The program is heavily based on psychological statistics, which has helped get the point across to Tolton parents.
“I had been to parent meetings before but actually having a PowerPoint presentation with actual data carries more wait,” Gregory said.
In August, Masters and Sheehan put on a “Parent Like a Champion Today” workshop for the parents of its student athletes. The workshop, mandatory for all parents of the Catholic school’s fall and winter athletes, addressed such topics as character development to nutritional advice.
“We do need this to take a step forward in preventing the behavior that ends up on YouTube,” Gregory said. “Maybe this is just the start of it.”
Tolton is one of only two high schools in Missouri to use the program, Sheehan said. The program is also used in the Kansas City Parochial League.