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For Lion’s Basketball, Heaven is the Ultimate End Game

A Season of Travel, Triumph, and Teamwork

by Maggie Doyle

“It was worth it,” quips Matthew Wagner, a third-year graduate seminarian studying for the Diocese of Winona-Rochester at Sacred Heart Major Seminary.

He’s referring to the black eye he received during the latest Lion’s basketball game, the joy of the sport evident in his voice as he reflects on the 2017-2018 season.

Wagner acknowledges that while their first priority as seminarians is preparing for the priesthood, it is truly a blessing to get to know each of his brothers on a deeper level through teamwork and good-hearted competition.

“It’s a great break from the academics, as a lot of what we do here is very focused on praying and studying… It’s great to be able to kind of break away from that and have some time for good competition,” Wagner said. 

by Maggie Doyle

The Lion’s basketball team is made up of both Sacred Heart Major Seminary undergraduate and graduate seminarians, led by Head Coach Fr. Ryan Ford, instructor of theology at Sacred Heart. They stay focused on their team motto, “Audience of One,” reminding them to play for the Lord rather than for the human glory of the game. 

During the Eighteenth Annual Mundelein Tournament, the Lion’s came out strong, winning their first game against the Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary, 34-25. They were eventually knocked out of the quarter-finals in a nail biter, losing by one point to the Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary of Indianapolis.

Their next tournament appearance took them to the Thirty-eighth Annual Josephinum Tournament in Ohio, where they made it to the semifinal round, losing to the host and eventual champion, the Pontifical College Josephinum.

“We don’t like losing but we have to keep things in perspective. One of the seminarians said, ‘you know, we’re all just a bunch of guys trying to get into heaven.’ So, we’re all supporting each other in that main goal,” said Coach Ford.

While the traveling tournaments provide valuable opportunities for connecting with other seminarians across the Midwest, some season highlights happened right at home.

Wagner specifically recalls the Priests vs. Seminarians game as bringing a record crowd. The Lions come away with the win against a strong team of alumni priests, although the priests nearly tied the game in the last second. Affectionately referred to as the “Sr. Mary Finn Classic,” this annual game honors Sr. Mary Finn, HVM, assistant professor of theology, whose enthusiasm for the Lions is unmatched, according to Wagner. 

The season culminated with the First Annual Theology vs. College Showdown, the first inter-seminary game at Sacred Heart Major Seminary. This new idea was born out of an evening of games among seminaries, where Wagner said several of them realized that they wanted to implement more opportunities for brotherly competition. After securing permission, they worked to organize and coordinate the event.

Open to all seminarians, this game brought many new faces onto the court, creating a fun change in the teams’ dynamic. As a nod to their directors, the teams were dubbed Theology Foxes (for Rev. Charles Fox, director of graduate seminarians) and Clint’s Crusaders (for Fr. Clint McDonell, director of undergraduate seminarians). Stakes were high as the seminarians fought to secure a year’s worth of bragging rights over their housemates, with the Theology Foxes eventually stealing the win over their undergraduate counterparts, Clint’s Crusaders. Good spirits and camaraderie abounded.

Wagner summarizes the experience as a unique privilege. “It’s really special, especially at the end of the year because obviously guys come and go… but it contributes to the blessing which has been the team this year and it contributes to the memories that we get to share as a team,” he said.

Maggie Doyle

Maggie is a freelance writer and editor based in Omaha, Nebraska, passionate about sharing stories that captivate.

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Sacred Heart Major Seminary is a Christ-centered Catholic community of faith and higher learning committed to forming leaders who will proclaim the good news of Christ to the people of our time. As a leading center of the New Evangelization, Sacred Heart serves the needs of the Archdiocese of Detroit and contributes to the mission of the universal Church.