Denver Nuggets and families team up for second annual Catholic Families Night

The Denver Nuggets and Colorado Catholic community are teaming up once again for a night of slam-dunks and family fun.

The second annual Catholic Families Night is happening at the Pepsi Center on Dec. 20, and it’s expected to be bigger and better than last year. The Denver Nuggets are facing off against the New Orleans Pelicans, and in addition to what is sure to be an exciting game, it’s going to be a fun night out for Catholic families. Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila will be in attendance, and a portion of the proceeds will once again benefit the Saint Sebastian Project, a non-profit organization that assists Catholic schools with their sports programs.

Catholic Families Night is the brainchild of Bill Hanzlik, who is the co-founder and CEO of the Gold Crown Foundation. A parishioner at St. Thomas More parish and a former Denver Nugget, Hanzlik noticed programs such as Catholic Schools Night happening in association with some of Colorado’s sports teams and came up with the concept for Catholic Families Night based on that idea.

His close connection with the Nuggets enabled him to make this dream a reality, and he, along with Jeff Stemper, founder of the Denver chapter of the Saint Sebastian Project, his friend Tom Sauer and Mark Strawbridge, former principal at Good Shepherd Catholic School, collaborated on ways to market the event.

Hanzlik is hopeful this year’s Catholic Families Night will be even bigger than last year’s. His goal is selling between 4000 and 5000 tickets.

“[Last year] we had 1600 tickets sold, we had a great night, and yet we knew we could do so much more,” Hanzlik said. “I am really excited about this year.”

Nuggets tickets can be rather expensive, so one of the goals they had was making the game more affordable so people could experience the excitement of a professional basketball game in a fun, family-friendly environment. They were able to get a great deal on tickets, with $15 for upper level seats and $45 for lower level seats.

In an effort to draw as many Catholics as possible, there are also corporate supporter packages available in which purchasers can buy packages of tickets to then distribute to clergy, teachers and other members of the Catholic community.

The night will feature pre-game activities for students and youth to participate in fin activities before the game, including a full-court scrimmage for 8th grade students and a basketball clinic for students in 5th through 8th grade on the floor of the Pepsi Center. There will also be fan experiences in which kids can run through a high-five tunnel with the Nuggets before the game and hold the flag for the National Anthem, which is being performed by the Our Lady of Lourdes school choir.

“[It’ll] be awesome for these kids to be able to play at the Pepsi Center. [You can] imagine as an 8th grader how cool that would be,” Stemper said.

“Seeing those smiles, that’s what excites me,” Hanzlik added.

The response to Catholic Families Night on 2014 was very positive. Lots of people said they were happy that there was a Catholic event being held through organizations other than the schools and that they were able to be a part of it, Hanzlik said. Hanzlik and Stemper want to bring the entire Catholic community together for a night of fun and fellowship, and there’s been a lot of pieces in making it happen.

“The Nuggets have helped, the Catholic community has helped, and all told, it’s going to really help Saint Sebastian at the end of the day,” Hanzlik said. “It’s a great [night] that incorporates our Catholic community in a really positive, fun environment.”

They plan on making Catholic Families Night an annual event, and they hope it continues to grow each year.

“We might sell out [the Pepsi Center],” Hanzlik said. “We’ll just take the whole arena.”

Catholic Families Night is on Dec. 20 at 6 p.m. Lower level tickets are $15, and upper level tickets are $45. For more information, visit To order tickets, visit

Catholic Families Night with the Denver Nuggets
Where: Pepsi Center, 1000 Chopper Cir., Denver, CO
When: Sunday, Dec. 20 at 6 p.m.
Pre-game events: Basketball scrimmage for 8th grade students, clinic for 5th through 8th grade students
Tickets: $15 upper level, $45 lower level

COMING UP: Did Christians ban the Games? Tales, myths and other fun facts about the ancient Olympics

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The 2020 Summer Olympics began less than a week ago, and as is usually the case, there’s been enough stunning athleticism, shocking upsets and yes, even a little bit of drama on display to keep the water cooler chatter abuzz until at least the 2022 games.

At their best, the Olympic games bridge cultural divides and unite countries around the world as the greatest living athletes around the globe compete for the coveted gold medal in their respective events. There’s a spirit of global camaraderie that welcomely comes about during every Olympiad; whether watching the Games at home with the family or going to a local bar to cheer on your favorite country, the Olympics bring people together in a way that most other sporting events do not.

Another astounding thing about the Olympics is how they’ve endured over the millennia. Indeed, they provide a special glimpse into the history of the world and those common qualities of humanity that will never die; namely, the need for both unitive, universal community and friendly but fierce competition.

The first recorded Olympic games took place in 776 B.C., though some historians speculate that they could have began as early as the 10th century B.C. The games were held every four years in Olympia to honor the greek god Zeus as one of four Panhellenic festivals, this one coinciding with the second full moon following the summer solstice, usually at the end of July or early August. The Olympics became so significant that the term Olympiad was used to mark a year the games took place, and became a common unit of historical time measurement.

Now, the ancient world wasn’t exactly known for its amicability or even peacefulness, as indicated by the countless wars and power usurpations that took place throughout its history. However, Olympic festivals were marked by a truce among the Greeks called ekecheiria, which roughly means “holding of hands.” This ensured safe travels for athletes and spectators as they made their way to the festival and was a common basis for peace among the Greeks. That the Olympic games could get even the constantly feuding Greeks to lay down their arms and come together in a spirit of solidarity speaks to their significance in ancient history.

Early Olympic events included the footrace, wrestling, the long jump, the javelin throw, the discus throw and boxing. Of course, it’s nigh impossible to read about the ancient Olympics and not come across epic tales of chariot racing, an event which was briefly banned early on but was reinstated by the first century B.C. and drew the interest of several key Roman figures (more on that later).

By the fifth century B.C., athletes from all over the Greek-speaking world came to Olympia for the games. The footrace, also called the Stade or Stadion, was considered the most prestigious event, and is where the english word “stadium” is derived from. Stade was a unit of measurement in ancient Greece which modern historians say is the rough equivalent to 600 feet or 200 yards, though the actual length has been a subject of debate for many years. Either way, it represents the length which runners in the Stadion ran to prove themselves as the fastest sprinters in the ancient world.

Interestingly, very little record about the Olympics games during the time of Christ exists. History tells us that the Roman emperor Tiberius, who was emperor during Christ’s life, won the chariot races during the 194th Olympiad in 4 B.C. In 17 A.D., the popular Roman general Germanicus, who was Tiberius’ adopted son and the future father of the third Roman Emperor Caligula, won the chariot races in 17 A.D., presumably around the time Christ was a teenager.

About those chariot races: they were known to attract elite political figures, some of whom won based on true skill, and others who only wanted the appearance of winning to further exert their power and status. During the 211th Olympiad, Emperor Nero, known for his fierce persecution of Christians and rather narcissistic personality, forcibly moved the Olympic games set to take place in 65 A.D. to 67 A.D. so he could compete while on a tour of Greece. He participated in the chariot races (with six more horses than the other competitors), and declared himself the greatest Olympic victor of all time, though historical eyewitness accounts tell a different story. Nero actually nearly died after a severe wreck, but Nero being Nero, he was still declared the winner.

Thankfully, Nero’s title as an Olympic victor and the Olympiad he “won,” which did not adhere to the established chronology of the games, were subsequently stricken from the official Olympic records after his death.

The Olympics grew over the course of 1,200 years until 393 A.D., when Emperor Theodosius I banned all Pagan festivals from the Roman emperor after Christianity became adopted as the state religion. Popular culture and history has long maintained this story of Christianity being to blame for the halt of the Olympic games. However, in recent years, some historians have disputed this account, saying that it was not for religious reasons but rather economic reasons that the games ended when they did. In fact, even after Theodosius’ death, there are still records of Olympic games taking place up until the fifth century. As the administration of Roman Empire evolved, the Olympics could no longer be sponsored by civil funds and instead became sponsored more and more by rich elites of the time. Simply put, the games became too expensive, and no one wanted to pay for them anymore.

The Olympics did not make a return for 1,500 years, until the Athens Olympics in 1896. Over the last 125 years since their reinstatement, the Games have become an integral piece of modern culture and a remnant of ancient history that was revived to great avail. As the Olympics in Tokyo continue over the next week and athletes compete for the gold, the words of St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians serve as a pertinent reminder of how the spirit of an Olympian imitates closely that of a Christian:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:24-27).

So let the Games continue! And may the race be run not for a perishable prize, but an imperishable one.

Featured photo: Met Museum, Terracotta Panathenaic prize amphora (jar), ca. 510 B.C. Attributed to the Leagros Group.