Last May, Vincent White, the new head coach of the Saint Mary's football team, made a quiet decision that made a big statement about his view of the job of athletics coaches at the College. He took his coaching staff to Mont La Salle for a special retreat and educational program about the Lasallian tradition and the work of the De La Salle Christian Brothers.
A graduate of a Christian Brothers school in Denver, White believes that anyone at a Lasallian institution should appreciate the Brothers' educational mission.
"I think it's very important to our being at Saint Mary's College," says White. "Our coaches need to understand the Lasallian tradition, who we are, and who we are recruiting."
Jim McDonald, a member of the coaching staff for thirty-two years, says it was the first time that they had gone on a Lasallian retreat.
The football staff spent two days at the Brothers' headquarters, where they learned about Saint John Baptist de La Salle; Lasallian education and spirituality; and the local, national, and global work of the Brothers. The coaches also visited the Brothers' cemetery and archives and spent time in prayer and meditation.
The retreat was planned specifically for the coaches, said Carole Swain, special assistant to the president for Lasallian initiatives at the College, and it was led by Greg Kopra, assistant coordinator for Lasallian school programs at the Brothers' headquarters in Napa.
Kopra asked the coaches to recall their favorite coaches and why they admired them. He wasn't simply being curious. Rather, Kopra was reminding them of how much they learned from their coaches.
"I made the point," Kopra explains, "that they have an awful lot to teach the student-athletes."
Kopra said that one of his goals was to point out that important values of a Lasallian education-valuing each person, noticing the person who is most in need, educating people for life-are important in the relationship between coach and student-athlete.
Kopra says he was impressed with the coaches' responses. One recalled that when he was a student-athlete, his skills were average at best. But his coach took an interest in him, convincing him that he had an important role on the team. Now, that coach wants to do the same. Another coach mentioned a mentor who pushed him to work harder, encouraging him to surpass his goals despite his self-doubts. A third remembered being invited to a coach's home, where he saw for the first time that perhaps his own life could be better than the one he had known until then.
"One message we wanted to give them," says Kopra, "was that the football program isn't an independent program, it's part of the College community," he says. "The College stands for certain things, and the football team is a part of that."
Kopra's point wasn't lost on Mike Dotterer, who coaches the team's running backs.
"If you don't know the history of Saint Mary's and the connections to the Christian Brothers and the Lasallian tradition," says Dotterer, "you're not going to have as great a feeling of family. And that feeling is essential in athletics."
But Dotterer realizes that a student-athlete's undergraduate experience at Saint Mary's can have an important impact on the rest of her or his life.
"I think it's important that the student-athletes know that they are part of the Lasallian family. A lot of them don't appreciate that, and it's our job to communicate that there's a large world out there, but they aren't alone when they get there...Saint Mary's is connected to a great Lasallian network that can help them after they graduate."
That experience is one that White himself values, and he knows he is a part of a broad Lasallian community.
"I went to a Lasallian school, where I was able to meet great people who not only cared about me as an athlete but as a person," he says. "And I want to do the same for these students-athletes."
-- by Joseph Wakelee-Lynch