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March 1, 2009

Smyth joins second round of sports inductees

By Joyce Duriga


It’s usually reserved for reviewing footage from last week’s game or highlights of next week’s opponent, but on Feb. 21 the auditorium at the Chicago Bears’ famed Halas Hall became a sanctuary for Mass and a platform for the love of Jesus and the talents he gives his athletes for the second annual Sports Faith Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

It was the second induction ceremony for Sports Faith International, a Lake Forest-based nonprofit whose purpose is to evangelize and inspire through sports. The Chicago Bears’ Pat McCaskey is chairman of the board.

Father John Smyth, president of Notre Dame High School in Niles was one of this year’s professional inductees. Smyth is a former NBA first-round draft pick and All-American captain of the 1957 University of Notre Dame championship team.

After basketball, Smyth pursued a vocation to the priesthood and led Maryville Academy in Des Plaines for many years. During his tenure there, he also established the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which draws hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.

At this year’s ceremony, the inaugural Father John P. Smyth Award was given to former prosoccer player and now seminarian Chase Hilgenbrinck. The award will be given each year to an outstanding Catholic athlete or coach interested in pursuing a religious vocation. Hilgenbrinck also delivered the day’s keynote address.

Along with Smyth, the other professional inductees were NFL Hall of famer Dave Casper, who played for the 1973 Super Bowl championship Raiders, and Wellington Mara, the now-deceased longtime owner of the New York Giants.

This year, Sports Faith International added categories for high school coaches, teams and athletes. Nominations for these honors came from all over the country, along with the winners.

Willows Academy soccer coach Amy McMahon received the female coach of the year award. Willows is a Catholic school for girls in Des Plaines operated by the personal prelature Opus Dei.

McMahon said faith is a big part of sports at her school and that her team prays to a litany of saints before every game. She said that when they play another Catholic school they even pray to the patron of the opposing team.