Usually held in the Spring, Sports Camp is an exhilarating, experiential weekend for men desiring to learn how to play team sports with encouragement, coaching, and an abundance of Christian fellowship. The Lions, Dolphins, Colts, and Rams face each other in softball, football, basketball, and soccer in the annual epic battle for the coveted Harvey Cup. Sports Camp men physically compete on the field while enriching their souls through a daily regimen of prayer, confessions, mass, and the Liturgy of the Hours.
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Catch this interview on the King's Men Radio Show!
It's an excellent witness for the Sports Camp!
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Here's what past participants have to say about Sports Camp!
The accommodations were great. The setting was peaceful. Wonderful experience. Yes, my muscles were sore but my heart was thankful and the experience was a blessing from God. -- John, Indiana
Every man with SSA should attend the Sports Camp at least once. The S.C. gives us a boost in our confidence in playing sports. The two best things about Sports Camp are the awesome fellowship, and the wonderful chance it has given me to let go of the years of shame and humiliation I have experienced around sports. -- Ted, Pennsylvania
It was very moving to get to connect with other guys in such a positive and healthy way. Sports Camp is an awesome, healing experience. I really thank God for this incredible weekend. -- Eric, Florida
Courage Sports Camp conditions both body and soul. -- Bob, Iowa
SC is way cool. -- Jim, Tennessee
Awesome weekend! I had a blast physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I enjoyed the fellowship, prayer, and of course, sports!
-- Steve, Ohio
I released my fear and shame surrounding sports and realized that I'm not as bad as I thought! -- Andy, Pennsylvania
Because of my lack of athletic confidence, I've often felt less than a man. I initially detached myself from sports in part to avoid fear and shame, but that didn't solve the problem. I still felt painfully inadequate around male peers. At Sports Camp, I felt the fear but was encouraged to face it, supported by the solid foundation of Christ-centered brotherly love. I felt the shame, too, but then saw it vaporized by an unshakable sense of my own goodness, which especially shone when I joined in with the other men, whose hearts poured out Christ's love.
But I didn't feel that way immediately. At the opening meeting Thursday night, we were divided into teams. I was called up to the Dolphins, and the two friends I came with were called up to the Lions. Everyone received a team t-shirt, which each man then seemingly instinctively slung over his shoulder. When I realized I hadn't done that, I felt insecure, even hostile-why was I different from the other guys? I knew that I couldn't let insecurities govern my life. As Matthew Kelly writes, "the measure of your life will be the measure of your courage." So I slung my t-shirt over my shoulder too, trusting that all things would be well.
Friday morning we gathered at the softball field. After we played catch for a while, we were led in warm-ups by Mark Houck, former NFL player and founder of the King's Men (a Catholic men's organization). He taught us how to properly throw and catch, and we took turns batting until everyone successfully hit a ball. Then we played a game, and the Lions won.
In the afternoon, Mark led us in football warm-ups. We practiced throwing, catching, running backwards, and receiving patterns. Then we played a game, and we, the Dolphins, won. I enjoyed playing as a team, including deciding plays and covering all the opponents. I felt overwhelmed trying to understand what was going on, nevertheless I was excited. I felt good about myself. Being on a team, I felt less self-centered. I thought, "I should live all of life as if I'm on a team." In fact, we are all on a team, praying for, encouraging, and assisting each other in the battles of life.
At dinner, a Jewish man at our table shared his Sabbath food. There were also many non-Catholic Christians and a Muslim participant. Just on the Dolphins team, there were men originally from France, Israel, Haiti, and Cajun Louisiana. There were about 40 men total, single and married, black and white and in between. In age, we ranged from the early twenties through the late fifties, maybe higher. It was affirming in a special way that Fr. Check (the director of Courage), Mark Houck, another priest, and another layman, who didn't personally know the same-sex attraction struggle, gave their weekends to be there and play in the games with us. Their presence helped me believe that, despite my inadequacies and my doubts about my identity as a man, I belong with other men.
That night we had a Courage meeting. Fr. Check invited us all to consider the concept of "self-forgetfulness" and how to become less self-conscious and more engaged with life. It was very heartening to hear what the other men shared, including their humor. One man said, "Now, after going through Sports Camps for a few years, I'm not so anxious about sports anymore. Rather than fearing AND hating sports, I just hate them." From seeing him on the field, though, it seemed that even he was having fun! This problem of same-sex attractions in my life has turned out to be such a source of blessings, including the privilege to get to know all these men. After the meeting it was clear that our crosses can be our salvation, for they can lead us to Jesus. In letting us carry our crosses, God actually draws us into deeper love.
I admired these other men so much, and yet they carried the same cross I did. I thought, If I'm like them-men I so admire-then I don't need to be ashamed. I felt the same as the other men and thus more complete my own man. The other men were handsome, athletic, and confident; yet I didn't desire to possess them since I had come to believe that I could possess those qualities, too. I don't need to possess another man, because, in giving me myself, God has already given me a man. In seeing how the other men respected me, I was able to believe in my own goodness and so respect myself.
Saturday morning we played basketball. Because of my college basketball class, I went in feeling relatively relaxed. After warm-ups and skill instruction, each team was divided in half for half-court scrimmages, and then the winning halves played each other full-court. I was on the losing half but subbed in for the winning half and ended up playing much of the final game. We won after a close comeback by the Lions.
It felt so true-and good-to see myself as a peer and competitor to the other men instead of believing that I didn't belong with the other members of my own sex. Instead of feeling intimidated or repulsed by the physical contact, I liked it. I enjoyed running up and down the court and assertively getting in others' space. I experienced again the value and joy of playing as a team. One time a teammate gave me a sweaty celebratory hug. He was humbly secure in himself, just as he was, selflessly and joyfully showing affection to others. I also liked when one man, whom I'd felt intimidated by, gave me a pat on my belly, meaning "way to go!" His touch made me feel accepted as one of the guys.
That afternoon we played volleyball. The coaches taught us how to bump, set, and spike. Such teamwork helped me realize that teamwork isn't just fun or useful-life requires teamwork, making one's own contributions and sharing in others'. My team barely won the volleyball series and thus avoided having to do a tiebreaker with the Lions for the Sports Camp XII Harvey Cup (named after Fr. John Harvey, the late founder of Courage).
During the final awards ceremony on Sunday, I noticed that I once again felt self-absorbed, rather than feeling the team spirit I felt only the day before. From reading the writings of Catholic psychiatrist Conrad Baars, I'd learned that feelings themselves are morally neutral (only acts of the will are morally good or bad), so I don't need to judge my feelings or feel guilty for them. Rather, I need to accept them (childish as they may be), speak reason to them, and just go forward cooperating with God's grace to do what is right, trusting that God will transform my heart in His time.
After lunch, we said our goodbyes. I particularly looked up to one man who had played the organ for the weekend. He had been coming for several years, and this year he also served as the basketball instructor. His eyes and his smile exuded a deep peace and a quietly ecstatic joy; he seemed to possess a humble sense of security in his own worth. I also met a man who is an ESL teacher. I felt I had a lot in common with him, which again made me feel acceptable as a man.
As I see it, Sports Camp is a work of mercy. The men who organized the weekend provided us with another chance to step up to the plate. I learned that while sports are "just a game," playing hard serves a very important purpose: it is an exercise in perseverance, in seeking victory in the battles of life, which is much more than "just a game." At the winner's ceremony after each game, the captain placed a medal around each team member's neck and announced, "[Name], through perseverance, you are victorious!"
On the trip home, I was so confident, energized, and joyful that I talked almost non-stop. At the airport I saw several women crying and many other men and women who looked empty. I felt compassion for these strangers. I was sad they didn't have the same joy I had. We are all made in God's image, and so there's gold in each of us. When we cooperate with Him, absolutely nothing can keep Him from redeeming us and drawing that goodness out of us. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, all our life problems are placed in the light, and we can hope for eternally joyful communion-for belonging-with God and humanity.
Thursday, May 23 - Sunday, May 26, 2013
St. Charles Borromeo Seminary
Wynnewood (Philadelphia), PA
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