Evan Desai
ASU Student Journalist

Bourgade prioritizing Catholic identity within athletic program

December 3, 2018 by Evan Desai, Arizona State University

Bourgade Catholic is active in having faith be a major influence of their students' high school experience. (Photo: Evan Desai/AZPrepls365)

For all 17 athletic programs at Bourgade Catholic High School, part of being a Golden Eagle is practicing Catholic faith within athletics.

Bourgade has been striving to provide a valuable high school experience to students while implementing Catholicism in students’ lives since it opened in 1962.  There are many ways in which athletics are affected by this practice, and are noticed and appreciated by athletic administrators, coaches and athletes.

Kim Higginbotham’s perspective as athletic director

Kim Higginbotham, who has been with Bourgade for two years, is fond of the opportunity Bourgade gives athletes to pursue the religious aspect of their lives.

“It’s actually integrated into every day for our students,” Higginbotham said.  “We have daily mass on campus.  Students are not only welcomed but also encouraged to talk about their faith with teachers and faculty, and the whole staff’s there to help them on their own journey within their faith and their relationship with God.”

Father David Loeffler is the Campus Chaplain at BCHS, and according to Higginbotham, he is someone student-athletes specifically tend to look up to.

“The kids just gravitate towards him,” Higginbotham said.  “He’s so compassionate and so understanding for our students, and I’ve seen them open up to him and want to celebrate their faith more because Father David’s on campus.”

Higginbotham and the rest of the Bourgade staff seek to provide unique ways to remind their athletes of their faith.  For instance, this fall, Bourgade had its first “Rosary Rally.”

For this ceremony, the athletes and community as a whole were invited to come and pray for the safety of the fall athletes in their upcoming season.  They will continue to have a “Rosary Rally” before the start of every sports season this year.

Higginbotham believes it is vital for her and the rest of the entire staff to lead by example and practice Catholic virtues at all times when in front of their student-athletes.

“I think everybody that works at Bourgade Catholic is definitely a role model in the way that they live their life and their own personal journey in their faith,” Higginbotham said.  “Regardless of whether you’re a student, or an administrator, or a teacher, or coach on campus, we’re all on our own individual journeys within the faith.  So students are absolutely looking to us to see how we’re handling ourselves, and what behavior we’re portraying as a caring adult in their life.”

Needless to say, Higginbotham is doing what she can along with the rest of the athletic administration to encourage student-athletes to learn about and explore their faith through their athletic programs. 

A coach’s perspective

The athletic programs are headed by coaches who are just as interested as anyone in hitting the faith aspect of their athletes’ lives.  The teams at Bourgade pray before every practice and game, and even sometimes invite the other teams that they just competed against to pray with them. 

Marcel Lopez, the head football coach at BCHS, has head coaching experience at multiple Catholic schools, and spoke about his favorite part of coaching at religious schools.

“Being able to really help these young men on their own faith journey (is my favorite part),” Lopez said.  “A lot of times they’ll have questions, a lot of times they’ll want answers for different things that they’re unsure of.  And being able to provide that for them is a big part of my job, being able to model how a Catholic man should carry themselves.  It’s an awesome responsibility.  Sometimes it’s not easy.  There are times where it is a struggle to always be a model of the faith, but that comes with the job.  It comes with my responsibilities as a coach and as a Catholic man.”

An athletic program that Lopez, as well as Higginbotham, has been very excited about is called the “Sports Leader” program, in which the team is given a virtue of the week.  For that entire week, the coaching staff and players focus on that virtue of the Catholic faith.  This way, the athletes are being introduced to behaviors embodied by their religion.

Lopez has had lots of experience coaching at non-religious schools as well.  He coached for 10 years at the NFL YET academy, which is also located in Phoenix.  He started their football program. 

While he could not be as vocal about his faith there, he made sure he sprinkled Catholic qualities into his leadership.

“I taught at a public school and coached at a public school for 10 years,” Lopez said.  “The biggest thing is you can still evangelize, you can still do all the work to really mentor these young men but it has to be modeled.  That’s the biggest thing.  You don’t have to preach it, you don’t have to even ask them to pray, but you do have to model it.  And once they see what Christian virtue looks like, it’s something they begin to want.  It’s something they begin to even model themselves.”

He was not able to vocally advocate his faith as much as he can now, but he certainly found ways to lead and model what his Catholic virtue looks like.

Another Bourgade Catholic head coach, Melinda Espinoza, sees value and opportunity in religion taking a part in her volleyball program.  She acknowledges that there are ways that Catholicism has improved her team’s performance that may not be seen just by analyzing the fundamentals of the game.

“As far as X’s and O’s (th,e religious aspect of Bourgade) doesn’t (affect my coaching on a daily basis), but it helps with managing a team,” Espinoza said.  “When you can bring religion into the game as far as dealing with the girls, and how we deal with each other, and how we deal with other teams, and adversity and things like that, then that’s when religion can come into play, and religion can come into play when things are good too.”

Espinoza finds opportunities to use the squad’s religion as teaching points.  She’s pointed out that the advantage of a religious athlete playing in a religious program is that they find ways to find and stay true to their faith through the ups and downs they experience while playing sports.

Religion has been used to turn things around when the team is losing, or needing to get through an obstacle.

“When things are tough, we kind of refer back to different things that would be in our religion that would help us get through our tough situation,” said Espinoza.

This proves that Bourgade’s Catholic identity is surely not just a title, and can even be used as philosophy to keep Bourgade competitive on the court.

Through Athletes’ Eyes

It is evident that Bourgade coaching staffs are teaching their athletes about their faith along the way in their athletic journeys.

Erica Sandoval, a tennis and volleyball player at BCHS, sees her religion leading the way in terms of team unity, sportsmanship, and leadership as well.

“Being at a Catholic school and having that religious aspect in sports, it really brings out the unity and the sportsmanship that they really try to emphasize at our school,” Sandoval said.  “They really emphasize good sportsmanship and being a strong leader on and off the court.”

Sandoval just finished up her last volleyball season at Bourgade, and was a senior captain for her squad.  She takes her faith into account when trying to lead the younger players in the program.

“I think I’m able to show the younger members of the volleyball program that it really is possible and it’s a good thing to be an athletic leader, but also focus on yourself and your spiritual life,” Sandoval said.

Sandoval plans to continue practicing her faith in college, and is very fond of the religious experience and community she was a part of at Bourgade.

Nolan Dunn is an exceptional track athlete for the Golden Eagles.  The Dunn name carries a legacy of its own in Bourgade’s history.

Not only did Dunn’s brother go to Bourgade several years ago, but his parents did as well.  Even Dunn’s grandparents attended Bourgade.

Religion has had a very strong impact on Dunn’s life, and he credits Bourgade in his family’s efforts to have Dunn practice Catholicism. 

“I definitely think Bourgade, or Catholic education in general, taught them how to focus themselves and carry out their religion on every Sunday or throughout the week,” Dunn said.  “So I’d say Bourgade and Catholic education does very well at keeping the religion aspect high in life.”

Dunn credits his family for his religious background, but also has lots to say about his new principal.  Javier Bravo worked at Bourgade for many years, but left last year to be the principal at Dunn’s elementary school, Saint Jerome.  He came back this year as the principal, and Dunn sees him as a religious role model at his school.

“He really keeps the Christ life really active at Bourgade,” Dunn said.  “Every time he speaks to us, it’s got something to do with religion.”

Dunn does not know if he will be attending a Catholic college next year after he graduates in the spring, but he knows he will look to continue to take his faith seriously.  His Bourgade experience is highlighted with a strong showing in academics, athletics, and religious development.  His favorite part about Bourgade, however, is more about those around him.

“My favorite part," Dunn said, "has to be the community aspect that comes with it, because it’s just one thing that most of the school has in common, so you can relate to at least a majority of the kids.”