FAITHFUL FAN | CYC soccer teams, Musial Awards show sportsmanship is alive

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When athletes behave badly, the public knows about it. Take, for example, University of Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield who last month taunted and made an obscene gesture toward the University of Kansas team in a game won by Oklahoma 41-3. Reports have detailed similar incidents in the NFL.

But sportsmanship is alive and well in the Archdiocese of St. Louis and across the country.

Fifth-grader Riley Coffman played CYC soccer at St. Peter Parish in Kirkwood off and on for the past five years. Since Riley has Down syndrome and was unable to match the skill-level increases of the other players, her parents decided to let her participate only in practices this year. She looked forward to practicing with the team each week more than any other activity. Jeff and Cindy Coffman praised her coaches — Mike Ryan, Angelo Bendoff, Scott Holdridge, and Julie Gau — and her teammates.

Before the last game of the season, Bendoff asked Riley's parents for permission for Riley to play.

"The morning of the game we got Riley dressed in her soccer uniform, and she was beaming," Jeff wrote in a letter to the soccer director at St. Peter. "Between the hour when we got her dressed and game time, she must have asked 30 times when her game was — she was clearly super excited."

The St. Peter coaches met with St. Gabriel's coaches before the game to let them know that Riley would be playing at least for a few minutes. Riley led off the game. As her dad described it, she slowly kicked the ball down the field, with both the St. Peter players and the St. Gabriel players in tow to pass the ball back to Riley when it got away from her. Eventually, Riley scored.

The reaction of all the players, coaches and parents from both teams "was tremendously heartwarming," her parents stated. Everyone celebrated and patted her on the back as they ran back to midfield.

"As a parent of a child with special needs, moments like that will last a lifetime," Jeff wrote. "I just want to say 'thank you' so much to her amazing coaches and her sweet teammates. I also want to thank St. Gabriel for their sportsmanship and kindness. I can't remember who won the game that day, but I sure know what family did — the Coffmans."

Earlier this season, a similar example of sportsmanship occurred in a sixth-grade girls soccer game between Immaculate Conception Parish in Dardenne Prairie and Assumption Parish in O'Fallon. Shellye Solomon, who has Down syndrome, scored for Immaculate Conception with Assumption girls assisting. She did two cartwheels to celebrate. Game official Tom Schmittgens told the CYC that players from both sides will remember the game.

The Musial Awards, a national program sponsored by the St. Louis Sports Commission and the National Sportsmanship Foundation, recognizes sportsmanship each year. It's refreshing to learn the stories of the honorees. Among those recognized last month was Matthew Garcia who, the commission reports, was in the crowd for a youth football game in San Antonio cheering on his younger brother who played for St. Luke Catholic School. He spotted Addie Rodriguez, a cheerleader for the opposing school, St. John Bosco, who looked distraught, covering her face as she cried, during a set of cheers honoring the cheerleaders' parents.

Addie was upset because her father, Abel Rodriguez, a senior airman and medevac tech in the Air Force who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, was away on a training mission. By what he called instinct, Rodriguez jumped two fences and rushed to Addie. In telling his story, the commission noted that Rodriguez knelt down, then asked if he could give her a boost so she could join in the cheer. He hoisted her on his shoulder, and the crowd applauded. It was no big deal to Rodriguez, though it meant so much to Addie and her family.

These stories, and other Musial winners, prove sportsmanship still matter and resonates with players and fans.

Kenny is a staff writer for the Review and a member of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Oakville. 

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