Sports Jan. 20, 2017

The Gospel according to football

By Josh Tng

Terry Fox’s football triumph has roots in Catholic faith

When Vancouver’s Notre Dame Jugglers fell 17-14 to the Terry Fox Ravens at the Subway Bowl Triple-A final, it may have seemed like a defeat for the Catholics.

But the victorious Ravens have their own Catholic roots entrenched among their members.

The Port Coquitlam school claimed victory at last month’s provincial football championship at B.C. Place stadium with an overtime field goal by Devin Passaglia.

Despite Terry Fox’s secular status, the team features several Catholics among its ranks.

Devin Passaglia is a Catholic whose father’s cousin is former Notre Dame Juggler and B.C. Lions kicker Lui Passaglia. Devin’s mother is also a Notre Dame graduate.

Ravens head coach Martin McDonnell, a parishioner of St. Luke’s Parish in Maple Ridge, said “There are abundant Catholic connections in football coaching circles.”

Raven assistant head coach Tom Kubada is a parishioner at Our Lady of Assumption in Port Coquitlam and a former offensive lineman for the Lions.

McDonnell began teaching and coaching at “the grass roots level” (Grade 8) at Holy Cross Regional Secondary in Surrey, where he met his wife Naomi and gained further coaching experience. “I was lucky enough to get my start in the Catholic system teaching for three years in the mid ’80s.”

After those three years, he secured a job as a teacher and wrestling coach at Maple Creek Middle School (formerly Hastings Junior High) in Coquitlam. At the time, the school had no football team. “It took me a year to raise the money but the next year we started a football team at Hastings Junior,” McDonnell said.

That would mark a milestone in his football coaching career and sparked a professional relationship with Kubada. “I first met Tom when he was playing for the B.C. Lions and he attended my high school football awards banquet,” said McDonnell.

He was reintroduced to Kubada when the fledgling Hastings Junior football team joined a strong six-team league dominated in part by Kubada’s Port Moody Raiders.

“We lost every game the first year as none of our players had ever played football.” Nonetheless, McDonnell and the Hastings Junior team went on to win the district championships within six seasons.

McDonnell coached seven seasons at Hastings Junior until returning to his old high school, Port Coquitlam Secondary, renamed Terry Fox Secondary in 1986 after Fox’s passing. (McDonnell had graduated with Terry’s brother Daryl and knew the family well.)

Kudaba would eventually join McDonnell at the helm of the senior varsity team, where they began a run that saw them win three more AAA varsity championships and four junior titles.

“I was brought up in a system that one could use the inspiration of Jesus within the game of football not to necessarily defeat your opponent, but to use that strength within oneself to do what is difficult and be successful when the odds were against you,” said Kubada.

Having learned to play football in an Ontario Catholic high school, he applied his faith to his coaching style.

“Football at Terry Fox is a metaphor for life,” said Kubada. You can either give up, or persevere by acknowledging your errors and learning from your mistakes.

Despite Terry Fox’s status as a secular school, both coaches found Catholic teachings aided their coaching. “There is no doubt that I motivate my players with a strong Catholic message of being brethren and supportive of one another,” said Kubada. “I make a point of mentioning to my players that I am a Catholic and that I practise my faith so they know where my values stem from and what they represent.”

It’s an opportunity for students to learn some important life lessons, said McDonnell. “Football teaches teamwork, perseverance, commitment and sacrifice. Football teaches the importance of preparation and planning, and that there are no short cuts.”

“Teaching in a Catholic school, you have the advantage that a common faith provides, but in a public school there are students from a wide variety of faiths and backgrounds, so it’s important to find something that you can all belong to,” said McDonnell.

“Football provides the family that many (students) need.”