Story by S.L. Hansen
WAHOO (SNR) – It’s not often that you find a coach who believes that success lies in cutting practice short one day a week, but that’s exactly what Mike Weiss has done with the Bishop Neumann High School boys basketball team.
Last year, Coach Weiss – who is also principal of St. Wenceslaus Elementary School in Wahoo – was inspired to increase the faith formation aspect for the high school boys he coached.
“Without a doubt, I feel that what we ask the boys to do in our basketball program helps them to understand how we can become better Catholics,” he said. “When we ask them to give their best effort, play together and treat each other with respect on and off the court, it definitely makes it easy for them to think, ‘Why can’t I do the same with my Catholic faith?’”
Coach Weiss considered how his own spiritual walk had developed over time.
“When I became the principal of St. Wenceslaus Catholic School 12 years ago,” he said, “I became an acolyte so I could help at the daily school Masses.”
This simple decision had a profound effect on his own faith. He wanted to find a way to share it with the high school kids he was working with.
Knowing that his players during the 2015-16 school year would be open to learning more about their faith as a team, Coach Weiss decided to shorten one practice session each week to lead the boys in prayer and discussing a spiritual book.
“They were the perfect group of young men to help make the book reflection a success,” said Coach Weiss.
He felt it was important to set a tone that was conducive to fruitful discussion.
“As you know, everyone has their own interpretation to the readings. We didn’t want just the team leaders or coaches to have to lead every discussion,” he said. “So, each week was led by a different coach or half of the players from one class.”
There were also some basic ground rules. Each player knew he wouldn’t be forced to say anything or share personal information about his own faith journey.
“It was informal and meant to be just an open opportunity to learn and share our faith together,” the coach said.
The book he selected was “Finding True Happiness” by Archbishop Fulton Sheen.
One of the most beloved collections of the late archbishop’s inspirational works, the volume focuses on the search for true and lasting happiness. He encourages readers to ignore society’s push to pursue happiness in prestige, fortune or fame and instead find true joy in God alone.
The students responded very well.
Jordan Fujan, who graduated from Bishop Neumann last spring, said, “I think that it helped the team grow as one and that it was a great idea. I really enjoyed the time we spent together in the chapel.”
Classmate Skyler Woita agreed.
“It was really nice to be able to step back and take some time to reflect as a team,” he said. “I think it not only made us closer, but it helped me to grow stronger in my faith.”
Another classmate, Ben Simons, said that the time of prayer and spiritual reading helped the team maintain priorities.
“It’s very easy to lose track of doing things the right way,” he said. “ In terms of basketball, [the book] helped us enjoy the team success and not our own individual fame. Also, it helped us to strive toward higher goals and that boosted team camaraderie.”
They and their teammates ended the season as C-1 state champions. But that’s just a nice extra, as far as Coach Weiss is concerned.
“There are always situations that come up throughout a season between teammates or player/coach…” he said. “I do feel by doing the book reflection that we are all more understanding of each other’s thoughts and feelings.”
Then there is the unseen effect, which Coach Weiss hopes will last throughout the students’ lives.
“I hope by doing this my players leave our program not only becoming the best basketball player they can be, but most importantly, having the desire to keep practicing and loving their Catholic faith as they move on to adulthood,” he said.
This year, the team is resuming the same practice schedule: one day cut short for prayer and study. The book for this season is Matthew Kelly’s “Resisting Happiness.”
Coach Weiss has three hopes for all the students in the school where he is principal as well as the school where he coaches: lasting faith, a good work ethic and a great attitude.
“No matter what path their life takes them on, if they can possess these three things they will be very successful and happy!” he said.