St. Sebastian keeps ball rollin’ for school sports

Julie Filby

Jeff Stemper, 50, grew up in Aurora playing sports. He loved being part of his schools’ football, basketball and baseball teams, and sees how they helped form who he is today.

“Sports were a great experience for me,” said the husband and father of two young adults. “I learned to co-exist; I took pride in being part of a team.”

When it came to his attention that some students in Archdiocese of Denver Catholic schools were unable to participate in school sports for financial reasons, he sprang into action and launched the St. Sebastian Project Denver (SSPD).

Named for the patron saint of sports, the St. Sebastian Project is a nonprofit that provides funds to economically challenged Denver-area Catholic elementary/middle schools to support their athletic programs. Since 2011 they have provided uniforms, equipment, athletic fees and countless basketballs, volleyballs and soccer balls.

“There are kids that don’t have the opportunity to play (and) that doesn’t seem fair,” said Stemper, SSPD executive director. “We want kids to have the opportunity to be able to play and take pride in their school by playing on an organized team.”

Tim Root, a parishioner of Most Precious Blood Church, was serving as an SSPD liaison for two schools, Assumption and Blessed Sacrament, when another school, St. Therese in Aurora, indicated they were looking for a boys’ basketball coach. Root, along with his son Nathan, a senior at Regis Jesuit High School, began coaching the middle-school athletes last season.

“(The experience) taught them teamwork, responsibility and working together for a common goal,” Root said.

It created a tight bond between the boys, which included a total of eight sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.

“Some of these boys never really experienced each other outside the classroom,” he said of team members that included students from African-American, Hispanic and Laotian communities.”So it also taught communication skills, (they learned) they’ve got to communicate and work together as a team.”

Those skills translate to other areas as well.

“Playing sports builds confidence,” Root continued. “That kid that makes one basket, all season—he carries that with him and he’s on Cloud Nine for two weeks.

“Then it helps him later in class projects,” he continued. “Or anything team related.”

For some, the experience also helped bring their academics up to speed.

“They told me ‘they’re pretty good ball players,’” Root said reflecting on the team’s early stages. “But they have to stay (academically) eligible to be able to play.”

They worked to make sure that happened. Nathan, along with seventh- and eighth-grade St. Therese student-mentors, tutored team members and assisted them with their homework before practices.

“I give them a lot of credit for keeping going,” Root said.

In the end, the team went on to win third place in a competitive Catholic Schools Athletic League Varsity Division 3.

“They were so excited to bring home hardware,” Root said.

St. Sebastian’s has provided St. Therese with about $3,000 for new basketball uniforms, athletic fee scholarships for some 36 students annually, as well as a heavy-duty basketball goal for the playground that’s available to everyone in the school and neighborhood.

“That was an amazing gift,” said Norma Araiza, athletic director. “And of course the kids love it.”

Each year the project gains more momentum, according to Stemper.

In addition to the nine schools they’re currently working with—
Annunciation, Assumption, Blessed Sacrament, Presentation of Our Lady, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Francis de Sales, St. Louis in Englewood, St. Rose of Lima and St. Therese—they would like to add more.

“We started this because we didn’t see anyone dedicated to this niche,” he said. “We’re not familiar with any other program similar to ours that supports these schools’ athletic programs.”

The St. Sebastian Project continues to grow through the generosity of donors at an annual fundraiser. This year’s fundraiser will be held 6:30 p.m. June 21 at Green Oaks Pool at 5898 Green Oaks Drive in Greenwood Village. For a suggested donation of $75 per couple, plus a ball, guests will be treated to a Mexican dinner and margaritas. For more information or to RSVP, visit www.saintsebastiandenver.org or email info@saintsebastiandenver.org.

When: 6:30 p.m. June 21
Where: Green Oaks Pool, 5898 Green Oaks Drive, Greenwood Village
Suggested donation: $75 per couple, plus a ball
RSVP: www.saintsebastiandenver.org
Questions: info@saintsebastiandenver.org

By the Numbers
They shoot, they score St. Sebastian Project Denver

Schools involved: 9
Combined students enrollment: 1,740
Students supported by St. Sebastian’s: 428

COMING UP: Not your “this-could-be-for-anyone” Christmas gift guide

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With Christmas rapidly approaching, many of us run into the problem of finding great and unique gifts for our friends and relatives. For this reason, we have come up with a gift guide that can make your Christmas shopping a little more fun.

For your friend who enjoys “Naptio Divina”

We all know that sleeping during adoration or prayer isn’t all that bad: you rest with Jesus, right? Well, we thought this quality would be worth honoring with this shirt from Elly and Grace that you can gift your “Jesus-took-naps” friend. The cozy baseball shirt is perfect for any man or woman who enjoys resting with Jesus. Visit EllyandGrace.com for more information.

It is great to nap with Jesus; but… it is also good to pray. Therefore, we have included Fr. Larry Richard’s “No Bible, No Breakfast! No Bible, No Bed!” Scripture Calendar, in case your friend is tempted to nap with Jesus every time, instead of talking with him. You can find this calendar on CatholicCompany.com and help your friend remain faithful to praying without napping.

For your friend who evangelizes while they drive

Is your friend’s driving accompanied by countless Rosaries and acts of contrition? We have the perfect gift! The Catholic Company provides numerous car accessories for the fast evangelizers. It reminds them to wait for their guardian angels on the road in their works of mercy. On the Catholic Company inventory, you can also find sacred images and pins, such as the visor clip for any parent who is worried about their children’s driving habits.

For your friend who fights for a cause

Religious art, yards, a great cause: everyone wins with one. Angel Haus is a Denver-based nonprofit that provides employment for the disabled by creating religious art, especially for yards. The founder is the newly-ordained Deacon David Arling, who has been operating it since its initiation five years ago. They have now sold over 300 Christmas Display boards and San Damiano Cross images. The family business has encountered much support from their pastor, Father Michael Carvill at Nativity of Our Lord Church. Nonetheless, they need your support to continue with this project. To purchase an item for your friend and help this great cause, email Arling at djarling2011@hotmail.com.

For your friend who is a lost cause

Okay, okay, no person is a lost cause; but we all know someone who is pretty close to being one. As soon as you think they’ve finally gotten it, an off-the-cuff comment smashes all your hopes. Hold fast and do not despair, St. Jude is here to help! This 3 ½” tall St. Jude wooden peg from Etsy.com will make sure that the patron saint of lost causes is constantly at work for your friend. Etsy provides a wide variety of religious hand-painted figures from Whymsical Lotus that range from the Sacred Heart to your favorite saints, such as St. Therese, St. Patrick, and Our Lady of Guadalupe. These charmingly detailed and delightful dolls make a unique gift for those friends who need a special intercessor.

For your little friend

Running out of ideas to gift your child, godchild, or short friend? The search is over. Faithful Findz from Etsy.com makes great replicas of saints’ attires. Take, for instance, the “Saint John Paul II the Great” costume, handmade out of cotton poly fabric (Hawaiian Pope mobile not for sale: sad, I know; but a miter and red cape can be purchased separately). Some of their popular costumes include the habits of Mother Teresa and Padre Pio (gloves included). Even more, the maker requests the person’s waist measurement to ensure the best fit. When in doubt, you won’t lose with the saints, and neither will your little friends.

For your priestly friend

He already has all sorts of things, what could he possibly want? Rosaries, religious art, and other religious accessories are probably some of the most common gifts for priests (or priestly friends). Nonetheless, we can assure you that very few have a custom-made priest bobblehead of themselves. It makes a great gift! All you have to do is send a couple pictures of your favorite priest to MyCustomBobblehead.com. Doesn’t sound like the best idea? Look at it this way: it is a way for your priest to remember and embrace his obedience to the teachings of the Catholic Church, as his bobblehead will constantly nod to God’s will and shake his head to refuse all sinful things. Plus, you’ll get a discount if you mention you saw this in the Denver Catholic.

For your friend who never gave up on comics

Why would anyone give up on comic books when you have great initiatives like The Ultimate Catholic Comic Book? A group of Catholic cartoonists joined forces to bring about this entertaining, clever, humorous, and enriching book for all ages. Although many of the parodies and puns may well go over children’s heads, the comics contain messages that remain true to Catholic Doctrine. You can buy it and check out the sample digital copy at CatholicComicBook.com.