The Inductees

Bill Wennington, Three-time Chicago Bulls World Champion. Wennington, who played thirteen years in the NBA,  is now entering his thirteenth year as the color commentator for all Chicago Bulls broadcasts and currently is in partnership with Chuck Swirsky. The former mentor and coordinator of the Bulls player relations program for three years, now draws on  his background in communications and personal challenges to serve as  inspirational speaker. Adopted, along with three siblings, and challenged  by his adoptive parents divorce, he  now speaks frequently  to high school students encouraging them to aim for their personal best every day of their lives, and to be responsible.   “You have the opportunity every day to be the best you can be every day, and make the right choices. I can’t be Michael Jordan, but I can be the best I can be that day… What I pray is that everyone finds peace, happiness, love and health in their lives… I believe in prayer.”

Wennington is joined by fellow Church of St. Mary’s parishioner, Chip Beck who, as a three time, first team, All American at the University of Georgia, became the most decorated golfer in UGA history. Beck went on to  win four PGA Tour victories and spent 40 weeks in the top 10 World Golf rankings from 1988 to 1989.  When Beck won a million dollars from the Hilton family for shooting a “59” he donated half of it to create the Chip Beck Scholarship, which has been in existence since 1991.  Beck  urges us to encourage women to play in the Pro Ams…‘embrace the power of women at work in all our communities”.

 “To many around the world Chip Beck is simply known as “Mr. 59” but ask him and he will tell you he is just another guy who loves God, his family and the game of golf.”

Nick Rassas, a graduate of Loyola Academy in Wilmette, Illinois, and University of Notre Dame All American  and College All Star, played for the NFL Falcons.  Rassas, has joined 2015 Sports Faith Hall of Fame Inductees Johnny Lattner and George Connor as one of the top twenty five beloved figures in  Irish history. According to “On this date in Notre Dame Football, coincidently, the  “May 14 entry reads as follows: Irish Legend “Nick Rassas of Winnetka, Illinois, is one of the great “rags to riches” stories in Notre Dame history; After joining the football team as a walk-on, he not only worked his way into the starting lineup at safety in 1964 and 1965, he was one of the nation’s most scintillating punt returners. In 1965, he set the Notre Dame single-season average with 19.1 yards per punt return, helping him to earn consensus All-American honors” Nick’s younger brother, Bishop George Rassas of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Vicariate 1 will be on hand for the festivities.

Zygmont “Ziggy” Czarobski was the starting right tackle for the University of Notre Dame in their back-to-back National Championship .years of 1946 and 1947 in which they trounced their opponents 17-1 and outscored the opposition 562-76. The previous National Championship year, Czarobski interrupted his college career to  serve in the military.  An INS and NEA All-American he played two years with the Chicago Rockets.  After football “Ziggy” devoted much time to charity, including raising $202,000 for Maryville Academy, a children’s home in a single day.  He died in July 1984. His wife Doris will be in attendance, Fr. John Smyth, of the Standing Tall Foundation, previously of Maryville, will be on hand to accept the award.

Tom O’Hara (born 27 May 1942) was the first native of the U.S. state of Illinois to break the four-minute barrier for the mile run. He accomplished this feat in 1963 when he ran the mile in 3:59.4. He also held the world record for fastest mile in indoor track, which was set when he ran the mile in 3:56.6 on February 13, 1964. He later beat that record on March 6 of the same year with a time of 3:56.4, a world record that stood for fourteen years.

At St. Ignatius College Prep High School, in Chicago, Illinois, O’Hara was a star runner on the school’s cross country and track and field teams, often running—and winning—the quarter mile, half mile, mile, and mile relay in a single meet. He was a member of the Loyola University Chicago track, cross country, and indoor track teams. He was the individual champion of NCAA Division I men’s cross country in 1962, and he participated in the 1500 m at the 1964 Summer Olympics, where he qualified for the semi-finals.

 2015-16 Sports Faith International College Team of the Year: Marian University Football, Indianapolis, IN.

Marian University, has been located in Indianapolis, Indiana since 1937 but has had a football program only since 2007.  In that short period of time, the program has rapidly become a national power in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics winning 70% of their games with a 77-33 record and have a two-time NAIA Coach of the Year in Mark Henninger.  In 2012, in just their sixth season of existence, the Knights won their first NAIA National Championship.  In 2014 the Knights rose back to prominence with an 11-3 record and it’s second appearance in the NAIA National Championship game.  Prior to that season, Marian University chose to join with the organization Team Impact, which matches up children with life threatening and chronic illnesses with local college athletic teams all over the country.  This program’s goal is to improve the child’s quality of life by gaining strength, camaraderie, and support as the child fights their health battle in a team environment while student athletes learn about courage, resiliency, and life perspective.  It was through Team Impact that Marian’s football team was matched with with a young Bedford, Indiana boy named Cole Winnefeld.  At age 5 Cole was diagnosed with Stage IV Chronic Neuroblastoma which is a cancer that started in his adrenal glands and spread to his bones.  Through his courageous fight, his family saw him as their little superhero, and so his alter ego, Batcole, was born.  With warmth and kindness, Cole always thought of the others first, offering gifts to visitors, despite his illness.  When he came to Marian to meet the team, he was signed to a scholarship, given jersey #11, and bonded with the players immediately.  He followed every game, attended games when he was physically able, was a pregame coin toss honorary captain, and joined in post game locker room celebrations. The team was so inspired by Cole’s courage, they wore “Cole Strong” wristbands and had Batcole stickers put on their helmets.  When the family could not afford a flight nor could he risk flying commercial to the national championship in Daytona, Florida, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay let the family fly on his private jet, “Horseshoe One”.  Unfortunately, Marian lost to the Southern Oregon University Raiders 55-31.  During the summer Cole’s health declined.  When he was first diagnosed, doctors only gave him a 20% chance to live two years, but like a true superhero he fought for 6 years. On July 28th, 2015, Cole was too ill to travel to see the team, so the team came to see him, joking around, playing Mario Karts, and praying with him.  The next day Cole Winnefeld passed away at the age of eleven, but the Knights football team was there for their adopted teammate until the end.  Inspired by Cole’s memory and embracing his warrior spirit, the Marian Knights were on a mission this past season.  They finished that mission with a 12-2 record by defeating Southern Oregon 31-14 in a rematch for the 2015 NAIA National Championship.  The Knights players and staff knew Cole was watching from above the whole season.  Cole Winnefeld may be in heaven now, but his legacy will live on into the future here on earth.  In honor of his memory the Winnefeld family has started the Batcole Foundation to raise funds for research on therapies for neuroblastoma and pediatric cancer.  Marian University has also created the Cole Winnefeld Scholarship.  The 2015 Marian Knights football team was able to “finished the race” as St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, not for a perishable ring or trophy, but in honor of a fallen adopted teammate who did finish his race.  Their football program has been a living example of St. Francis’ value of showing dignity of each individual, including a boy who was chronically ill and socially marginalized.  It’s a great christian example our society can learn from and follow.

2015-16 Sports Faith International High School Team of the Year: Loyola Academy Football, Wilmette, IL.

Loyola Academy Football, in Wilmette, IL has been one of the most consistent winning football programs in the Illinois High School Association over the last decade.  However, a state championship always alluded them as six of the last seven Class 8A state champions defeated them in the post season.  This included losses in the state title game in 2011 and 2013.  Showing the true grit and virtue of perseverance, Loyola, lead by former NFL Player and 2014-15 SFI Hall of Fame Inductee John Holecek, broke through in the fall of 2015 with one of the most dominating performances in championship game history with a 41-0 defeat of the Marist High School Redhawks to win the IHSA Class 8A state title, the programs first since 1993.  Loyola finished with 14-0 record, defeating their opponents by an average of 31.1 points per game. Offensively the Ramblers scored 39.9 points per game while having one of the more suffocating defenses in the nation that allowed only 8.8 points per game.  Loyola ended the 2015 season ranked 15th in the nation by the USA Today poll and 28th out of 15,000 high schools in the U.S. Army National Guard ranking, being awarded the U.S. Army National Guard Max Preps Tour of Champions Team of the Year for Illinois.  The football program however, is not just about winning. Each season Loyola’s football team partners with Misericordia, a community that provides care for people with developmental disabilities.  Every summer the residents get to go through practice with players and coaches.  One Misericordia community member, Patrick Nicholson, the brother or Ramblers player Mark Nicholson, became an assistant coach and has helped the Ramblers over the last few years.  During the regular season members of the community get to attend a home game and hang out with the team and bond with Loyola players at a pizza party.  In truly living out the Jesuit tradition of service to the marginalized and disadvantaged, the Holy Spirit guides the Loyola Ramblers Football program to put into action Jesus’ commandant to “love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  John 13:34-35.

Valeria Tkacik, an Annapolis resident, is the 2016 recipient of the Virtue of St. Paul Award bestowed on an athlete, coach or team with the most inspirational personal story.  Tkacik recently completed her sophomore year at Ave Maria University in Florida where she is pursuing a major in political science and a minor in environmental science.  Valeria, who was born without her left arm, was offered a basketball and lacrosse scholarship to play at Ave Maria, opting to play on the first women’s lacrosse team at the university.  She has started every game since the sport’s inception at Ave Maria, earning league recognition and accolades from her teammates, coaches and opponents.  She was also accepted as a Mother Teresa Scholar at Ave Maria, an exclusive program designed to produce graduates of service and compassion based on the teachings of Mother Teresa.  As a Mother Teresa Scholar, Valeria has contributed numerous service hours working with the poor, and participated on two mission trips: assisting in a shelter for women in Harlem, NY and working with the elderly in Puerto Rico, also helping feed the homeless on the streets during both trips.

All Star Catholic High School Coaches of the Year

Michael Fitzgibbons has been on the faculty of Carmel High School for the past forty years. He has been a Campus Minister since the fall of 1982, and has been a member of both the Religion and English Departments in his time there. He has coached football, wrestling and track, and was the Head Football Coach from 1986-97.  He was a 2004 recipient of the Archdiocese Heart of the School Award. In 2015, he was inducted into the East Suburban Catholic Conference Hall of Fame, and also, in 2015, he received the Lamp of Knowledge Award from Carmel.

Besides a Bachelors Degree in English, Michael has a Masters Degree in Counseling and a Masters Degree in Pastoral Studies. He is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor and has a private practice in which he does family and personal counseling in Mundelein.

In 1999, he published a novel, My Senior Year, and in 2003, he wrote, directed, and starred in a feature film, “From Yesterday Till Tomorrow,” which played at the New York Film Festival in November of 2003. In 2015, he published a collection of narrative poetry called, ‘The Light Within,” which are inspirational poems about the wonder of each person’s inner Spirit. He has done motivational speaking, run team- building workshops, and facilitated seminars on conflict resolution for more than 25 years.

Michael lives in Mundelein with his wife of 27 years, Mary. They have three children – Molly (Joe) Sponseller, a Chemistry teacher at Stevenson High School, Michael, 23, a recent college graduate who works in the restaurant business, and Kevin, who graduated from Clarke University last week in Biology.

Michael Zunica is the Athletic Director and head baseball coach at St. Rita’s High School

“The most incredible thing about baseball is the amount of failure you have to endure.  You can fail seven out of ten times and still be considered a Hall of Famer in Major league baseball…in life you are going to have failure.  You are going to get knocked down and if your faith is your No. 1 priority in life you are going to get back up.. Our message is to prioritize that as the No. 1 thing in your life”.

2015-16 Sports Faith International Hall of Fame Inductee: Lauren Hill, Basketball Player, Mount St. Joseph University

Lauren Hill was a starting forward on the 2013-14 girl’s basketball team at Lawrenceburg High School in Indiana.  Like many high school players, she had dreams of playing at the collegiate level.  On her eighteenth birthday, she committed to playing NCAA Division III basketball at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Weeks later, while playing her senior season, she felt slow, dizzy, and occasionally numb.  In November of 2013, after going through medical tests, she received the diagnosis of having an inoperable brain tumor with a prognosis of having two years at best to live.  The disease is called Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma or DIPG, and it typically strikes children between five and eight years old.  With no cure available, and painful treatments of chemotherapy and radiation as the only options to slow the disease due to low funding for research, Lauren’s doctor told her that she could be the face of this illness to help raise public awareness.  After a passionate prayer service in January 2014, she choose to pick up her cross and be the voice to help younger children who are currently or in the future will suffer from the same debilitating terminal disease.  So Lauren held fundraisers, and publicly spoke about the ravaging disease raging in her head.  The tumor continued to grow and doctors only gave her until December to live.  As a college freshman, Lauren was determined to play in a college basketball game before it was too late.  Mount St. Joseph petitioned the NCAA to start their season two weeks early against Hiram College.  The petition was granted and Lauren’s fight became a national story.  The national exposure of her story resulted in the Lions first game selling over ten thousand tickets in an hour as the demand forced the game to be moved to Xavier University’s Cintas Center.  On November 2, Lauren Hill achieved her dream of playing college basketball, scoring four points on the first and last baskets of the game.   She played in four games and scored 10 points before her illness forced her to retire.  She used her remaining time and strength to fund raise for The Cure Starts Now Foundation through the Layup for Lauren challenge.  In her short time at Mount St. Joseph, Lauren was attracted St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s example of redemptive suffering of dealing with daily grief, hardship of health issues, while persevering to finish what she set out to do.  She accomplished that by raising over one million dollars for DIPG research while teaching others how to live every day to the fullest, keeping her sense of humor through it all, saying “I gracefully assaulted the floor” when she would fall.  One of Lauren’s motto’s was “never give up”, and she never did, only running out of time in her personal fight against cancer.  On April 10th, 2015, the Lord called Lauren Hill home.  Her short life is best exemplified by the following quote from Joshua 1:9 that her college team had printed on t-shirts months earlier. “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid;  do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Documents and Images from the Event