The Season's cover photo shows coach Ted Schmidt with the Mimico Marauders during a magical 1967 high school basketball season.

Ted Schmidt: Sport's real victories happen off the court

By  Ted Schmidt
  • December 14, 2017

Last month, standing on the basketball court of my first school as a teacher, Mimico High, I launched a book titled The Season.

It celebrated the time in 1967 when, as a 27-year-old Latin teacher, I coached the best high school team in Ontario — and probably Canada — to a 45-1 season.  

The book attempts to distil what I had learned about coaching and why men and women coach. And how coaching has changed, not necessarily for the better. Although meant for public consumption, I wrote candidly about my Catholic values, and how they were intrinsic 50 years ago to a team that was special both on and off the court.

As a Catholic who taught in a public school for five years (until heeding a deep call that led to a long career in Catholic education) I could not use overtly religious language, but I never shied away from my fundamental inspiration: the primacy and sacred nature of the human person. In the book I quote J.D. Salinger from his novella Seymour: An introduction: “Seymour once said that all we do our whole lives is go from one little piece of Holy Ground to the next. Is he never wrong?” 

For me, the basketball court was on fire with meaning. As I put it: “With these young men in this small box of a gym in a suburb of Toronto a hardwood floor became a temple of transcendence. What we were doing was important. This personality building experience to me was an event of cosmic importance. I had moved from room 206 to a gym — ‘from one little piece of Holy Ground to the next’. ” 

To add authenticity to the book, I asked the six still-living players of the team to write their memories of that annus mirabilis. It was extraordinary to me how all of them focused on the meals we shared outside of school time. I was single at the time and expanded the locus of my teaching to George’s Spaghetti House, where the team often convened on Friday nights.

When I reread my journal, there were constant quotes from theologians — Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Hans Küng, Teilhard de Chardin, to name just three — and several references to sharing meals. Intuitively, “breaking bread” was important to me. There is a name for this: commensality.

This part of coaching I learned from Fr. Maurice McMahon, a New York Paulist at St. Peter’s Parish in Toronto, and Carmen Bush, my great baseball coach, a De La Salle grad who coached for decades at the Columbus Boys Club in Toronto’s Little Italy. They never used the word, and I certainly did not use it at the time. But it grounded my coaching.

In the book, I also recalled the time in June 2008 when my alma mater, St. Michael’s College High School, celebrated 60 years of basketball at the Toronto school. I was invited as a former player to give a talk on the meaning of sport in a Catholic school. Four of our family had played basketball for SMC and, over the decades, I had written and spoken publicly on the issue. I was happy to oblige. Historically, I said, Catholic schools often succumbed to Cathletics, a noxious fusion of Catholicism and athletics.

In early Ontario one of the few places in a largely Protestant culture for Catholics to prove themselves was on the athletic fields and rinks. Thankfully, those days are over, but there are still traces of an exaggerated emphasis on winning. 

I evoked Blais Pascal, the French religious philosopher-scientist, whose words on the  “twin impostors of success and failure” apply to sports. When winning becomes the reason for sport, we miss the splendour of relationship and community.

In essence, every season in sport should be successful because of the relationships and community that is forged. Winning at all costs should be problematic for all coaches of youth.

Sport is meant to be a festive communal experience that teaches important life lessons. But sadly, sport is too often a narcotic in our lives. Witness the hype surrounding the Super Bowl or Olympics. Sport has become a self-contained universe of hyper-competition (rather than play) that has the potential to devour our young.

Looking back to that amazing season 50 years ago at Mimico High, of course I remember the victories, but more vivid are the holy moments on gym floors and in classrooms. Those memories, sacramental in nature, are what have accompanied me my entire life.

(Schmidt taught for 18 years at Neil McNeil High School in Toronto. The Season can be purchased for $15 by e-mailing info@thebookband.com.)



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