St. Hugo of the Hills, Guardian Knights capture CYO football championships on Detroit's 'big stage'

Three games were classified as exhibitions that kicked off at 7:30 on a Saturday morning at Ford Field. With the exception of Christmas morning, this was probably the easiest occasion to rouse the kids who dreamed visions of playing on the same artificial turf and under the same cavernous roof as their Detroit Lions heroes – even if they were allowed only about 20 minutes to play. It was worth the sacrifice.  

Two full-fledged championship games followed featuring teams that survived qualifying playoffs. One game was decided in thrilling overtime, the other, a blowout.

This was the start of Prep Bowl XLVI, a daylong football extravaganza that was split between the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) in the morning and the Catholic High School League in the afternoon and into the evening.

Players, coaches, parents, grandparents and other assorted early-morning well-wishers for the exhibition games watched Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes play St. Clair Shores St. Isaac Jogues, North Oakland Catholic against Rochester Hills Holy Family, and Bloomfield Hills St. Regis play Dearborn Divine Child. All were winners. No one kept score.

The C-D championship game featured two 9-0 squads: West Catholic and the Guardian Knights. Both teams are merged rosters, a common occurrence when there aren’t sufficient numbers for a school to field a competitive team. 

West Catholic Crusaders players run the ball against Guardian Knights defenders during the CYO C-D Division championship game Oct. 20 at Ford Field. The Guardian Knights won, 20-14, in overtime.

This is the first year for West Catholic, a merger of Livonia St. Edith and Plymouth Our Lady of Good Counsel. The Guardian Knights – a combo of Clawson Guardian Angels and Royal Oak Shrine – are in their third year together.

“The merger has worked well," said Karl Taylor, the football operations coordinator for the Guardian Knights. "We have checked our egos at the door to help the kids.”  

The Knights won, 20-14, in overtime. “We achieved our goal,” said coach Matt Smith, in his seventh year. “The kids worked hard in practices and in the games.”

Unlike the Knights' merger, which will be employed in multiple sports, West Catholic’s merger is only for football.

“It was fantastic how our parish communities came together in spirit and faith,” coordinator Paul Gardner said. “Something had to be done for the kids.”

While he was able to use uniforms and equipment from both schools, the helmet was a special challenge. “It cost a lot of money, but we were able to get new helmets with a distinctive CW logo.”

In addition, a memorial sticker is on the back of each uniform shirt in honor of a player’s mother who died from cancer and of a father-veteran who was killed 12 years ago in Iraq.

The St. Regis Raiders run the ball against the Divine Child Falcons in a CYO exhibition game at Ford Field as part of Prep Bowl festivities Oct. 20. 

Developing the whole athlete

In the spring, the CYO announced a new initiative, “Coaching IS Ministry,” in partnership with three nationally recognized Catholic sports education programs seeking to fulfill the mission of Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron's Unleash the Gospel to change the culture of Catholic sports.

The programs include the University of Notre Dame’s “Play Like a Champion Today: Character Education Through Sports;” Sports Leader, a program already in place at a few CYO parishes; and “Catholic Sports Ministry” from the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry.

“We are aiming to challenge coaches to develop the whole athlete: physically, mentally, socially and (above all) spiritually," said Christopher Werner, executive director of the Detroit CYO. "We see these programs as tools to enhance our total Catholic athletic experience.”

Gardner, who has been involved for 32 years in coaching and/or administering athletics at the high school or elementary school levels, including the last seven at Good Counsel, described how the coaches are implementing the four pillars of the Sports Leaders program: Virtue, Mentoring, Ceremony and Catholic Identity.

One week’s virtue might be accountability, for instance, during which athletes are encouraged to be responsible for one’s actions in life and in faith. Coaches divvy up the roster and talk to two or three players each week. In a ceremony, parents present a jersey to their son or daughter athlete, and athletes express appreciation to their parents.

Catholic identity is formulated through prayer together or community service projects, acts of kindness or corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Gardner said that teams also attend Mass together.

St. Hugo of the Hills completed a perfect season with a 34-0 victory over St. Joan of Arc in the A-B CYO championship game.

St. Hugo takes A-B CYO crown

In the A-B championship, Bloomfield Hills St. Hugo dominated St. Clair Shores St. Joan of Arc, 34-0, in much the same fashion they have dominated opponents all season long en route to a 8-0 record, winning by an average score of 36-6, including five shutouts.

“I do a lot of subbing,” said coach Jim Nelson, who also has coached wrestling at Brother Rice for 13 years. “I haven’t let the first string play in the second half.”

Dennis Shubnell has coached St. Joan of Arc for 33 years. “Be proud of what you did this  year,” he told his disappointed players. “You have terrific memories. You have made a little niche in the history of St. Joan of Arc.”

He also had the unpleasant task of consoling his two star players, 13-year-old, 6-feet twins, Ryan and Jack Jones, who each left the game early with injuries.

The boys are eighth-graders at Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett, and will be attending high school there next year – which means their Catholic League foes will have a chance to see their talents.

“They love all sports,” their mother, Karlyn, said. Last year, they were on the Grosse Pointe team that went to the Little League World Series. Jack pitched, Ryan caught.

“When they got home from Williamsport, the next day they were in their football uniforms ready for the start of practice, playing basketball on the driveway.”

“In all my years,” Shubnell said, “they are the nicest boys I’ve ever coached.”