A Commerce City comeback

Football coach boosts team’s morale, reverses dismal record

Rumor has it the strategy behind Adams City High School’s stunning comeback from a woeful eight-year losing record is one football coach’s passing on of a little faith.

The Commerce City public school and community took notice of the Eagles 4A team that halted a 4-76 record since 2006, one victory being a forfeit, and launched this season with a 4-1 record. The last time the team had a winning record was in 2005 when it finished 6-5.

Team members say the difference this year isn’t simply the new equipment or more rigorous practices. New football coach and practicing Catholic Dan Jajczyk formed a family atmosphere and instilled a sense of worth.

“They don’t care whether we win or lose—they just care about us,” said junior Juan Zazueta. “We’re really doing things different than we did all the other years. It’s paying off.”

Fellow junior Joseph Gonzalez said, “The coaches this year are treating us right.”

The 2,000-student body has a reputation for high drop-out rates, teenage pregnancy, gang activity and poor academic performance. All of the students qualify for the free and reduced lunch program, a governmental assistance for low-income families. Eighty-five percent are Hispanic with English being the second language for many, said the school’s communication specialist Autumn Jones.

The team, and school, suffered from hopelessness, said Jajczyk, who is also supervisor of security for Adams County School District 14.

“These kids felt like they weren’t worth anything. These kids felt like nobody cared about them,” he said. “A lot of these kids are just looking for someone to love and looking for someone to be loved by.”

Jajczyk said it’s his ministry to give the students hope and dignity by being an example of a faith-filled Catholic man of God.

“I think God got me here to give them that hope, to give them that vision, to give them that reality that they are worth something,” he said.

The team shares meals together and “takes a knee” to pray before and after games. The staff and students hold each other accountable if a practice is missed or grades are falling.

“We’re trying to teach them life lessons that they’ll carry well beyond a silly football season,” Jajczyk said.

The change is apparent and it’s infectious.

“From the teacher perspective, we see it spreading in the classrooms. It’s not just the football team that’s caring. I see ownership and pride in school,” said Amanda Gonzalez, the school’s learning specialist.

Jajczyk, 56, said his own conversion plays a part in his ability to guide the football team.

“I was a ‘70s rebellion kid,” he said. “I just made some bad choices back then and got hooked up with the wrong people.”

He said he looked for acceptance and love in all the wrong places. The pleasures of sex and drugs consumed his life and for 10 years he regularly smoked marijuana. In 1982 he was caught with drugs and reached a turning point.

“It was at that moment I looked in the mirror, physically looked in the mirror, and was crying,” he shared. “I needed to change. I needed to be there where I had nothing but (God). I was right there in darkness, fear and despair, but I had him.”

He made a choice to live a life in loving relationship with God and returned to his Catholic roots.

“There comes a time in your life when you’ve got to make decisions and quit living for yourself and start living for others,” he said. “My life has changed from in the ‘70s when it was all about me to where everything I do now is all about everyone else.”

Jajczyk said he completed a 20-year career in the Air Force. He moved with his wife, Susan, and two children, and he got into school security work in 2001. He prays the rosary and Divine Mercy chaplet daily.

He uses his past experiences and renewed faith to guide his team away from a similar path, he said.

“I see football as a parallel to life. Through football, you can learn to overcome disappointment. You learn how to be perseverant, you learn how to be disciplined, you learn how to sacrifice, you learn how to give yourself to others,” he said. “That’s what Christ taught us.”

The Denver Broncos named him the high school coach of the week last month. He’s said he’s coaching to not only lead the team to a winning season, but to give the team faith.

“For me it’s just about (hearing from God), ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.’ If I can hear those words, I don’t need the accolades.”

 

COMING UP: On Fathers and Christian Masculinity

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The Year of St. Joseph points us to Jesus’ adoptive father, Joseph, as the essential model for fathers. Joseph not only manifests genuine masculinity, he also images God’s own fatherhood, as Pope Francis makes clear in his apostolic letter, Patris Corde: “In his relationship to Jesus, Joseph was the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father: he watched over him and protected him, never leaving him to go his own way.” Jesus, though the Son of God, obeyed Joseph, learned from him, and worked with him, acknowledging Joseph as a true expression of God’s own fatherhood.  

God does not just use fatherhood as an image of himself, because he himself is Father, even within his own triune life. Earthly fatherhood comes forth from him and should manifest his life and love. St. Paul speaks of honoring the “Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph 3:15). God wants everyone to be able to see his own fatherly love and called certain men to share in his own paternal gift of bringing forth life and caring for others. Every father is called to be liked Joseph, “an earthly shadow of the heavenly Father” for his own family. 

Our culture, however, often denigrates masculinity, sometimes viewing even its proper expressions as toxic. We too often see maleness in its fallenness — dominating and selfish — rather than showing self-sacrificial service. In fact, later in Ephesians, Paul speaks of the true vocation of the husband and father: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). He also speaks of the role of fatherhood: “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Paul shows us the goal of fatherhood — sacrificing himself for the flourishing of the family by putting the good of his wife and children before his own desires.   

No matter what the contrary voices of our culture say, we need strong men and fathers. God created man and woman in complementarity, and they need each other to thrive, helping the other in relation to their own strengths and weaknesses. Children need the strong presence of a father to discipline and teach, as Paul reminds us. Study after study has shown that fathers have the largest impact on the faith of their children. Christian Smith explains in his sociological study, Young Catholic America, that “the faith of Catholic fathers is powerfully determinative of the future faith of their children (125). The same can be said for general wellbeing and success. When fathers are absent or refuse to exercise their role, a moral and spiritual vacuum appears. A strong majority of felons, for instance, grew up without fathers in the home.  

St. Joseph helps us to understand the strength of Christian fatherhood. First, like any good husband, Joseph listened — not just to his wife but also to God. Woken up frequently by angels, he demonstrated obedience and trust, quickly leaving everything behind to follow God’s instructions and to protect his family. We also know Joseph for his work as a carpenter and builder, content to live simply and to work hard. Importantly, he also taught Jesus how to work, showing that fathers model and teach by drawing their children into their life and work. And we can also learn from Joseph’s humility, serving the Incarnate God and his Mother without even a single recorded word in the Gospels.  

This humility points us to the essence of Christian fatherhood. Although living with two perfect people, Joseph was still called to lead. He quietly and humbly did what was needed for his family and taught his own maker how to share in his work. Fathers do not lead in order to be in charge or to get their own way. They lead because God asks them to care for and protect their families. Fathers and mothers share in the great and beautiful partnership of family life, although fathers cannot simply sit back and let mom take the lead in the spiritual life, as they are often tempted to do. Like Joseph, fathers should act firmly and lovingly to put God and the family before self, obeying God and leading the family in the right direction. They are called to model faith, work, and sacrifice to their children. 

On Father’s Day we can affirm that masculinity and fatherhood are not just good — they are essential to understanding God and his plan for human flourishing. If our culture turns around, it will be because, in large part, Christian men stand up and fight. As Christians, we cannot give in to the culture’s attempt to denigrate masculinity and fatherhood or to pit men and women against each other. We can use this celebration to affirm the essential role that our fathers play, leading their families like St. Joseph.