While the LGBT news this past year from Catholic high schools has mostly been negative, focusing on the dismissals of teachers for being proud of their sexual orientation and their marriages, this summer sports seems to be offering a glimmer of hope in this arena.
The latest news is that Our Lady of Mercy School for Young Women, a Brighton, New York high school, has renamed its soccer field after Abby Wambach, a 1998 alumna and two-time Olympic gold medalist, who also happens to be a lesbian. This news comes only days after a South Dakota Catholic school coach came out publicly as a gay man.
Wambach, who won the 2012 FIFA World Player of the year, the top award in her sport, was present at the field’s dedication ceremonies this past weekend, and she exhorted current students to strive for excellence, integrity, and honesty. The Rochester Democrat-Chronicle reported from her speech:
“I want you girls to believe in yourselves. Think about the people around you. Know what motivates you. Find a passion, find something you love and blow every record that I’ve set out of the water. I truly believe that because that’s how we … grow and evolve.”
And Wambach had praise for the Sisters of Mercy who run the school and her former coach there:
” ‘I want to thank Mercy and the Sisters of Mercy for always praying, especially late in some of those Olympic Games. We love you for that,’ Wambach said, opening her speech with a joke. . . .
“I’ve had a lot of coaches in my life, a lot of amazing soccer-mind coaches in my life. There is no better motivator that I’ve ever been coached by than Kathy [Boughton]. . . .
“She told me if you come from this school and you want to wear this jersey, you’ve got to be a good person … I appreciated all the tough love you showed me and all the teaching one needs to have about respect.”
These are strong words of praise coming from such a celebrated athlete. The Democrat-Chronicle recounted her main achievements:
“A six-time winner of U.S. Soccer’s Female Athlete of the Year award, the former Section V standout was the 2012 FIFA World Player of the year, the highest honor given in her sport. In 2011 she also became the first soccer player to win The Associated Press’ annual Female Athlete of the Year award. The roots to becoming the greatest scorer in soccer history — her 167 international goals are tops among men and women in the record books for any player from any country — were planted at Mercy.”
Wambach came out publicly as a lesbian in 2013 when she married Sarah Huffman, another soccer player, in a Hawaii ceremony. She had long been a vocal supporter of LGBT equality.
In a separate news story, Wambach again expressed her thanks for her Catholic education:
” ‘I am honored that my alma mater would want to do this for me and my family,’ Wambach said Wednesday via text message. ‘I owe so much of my success to my upbringing and education. Mercy is a massive part of my character.
” ‘The values (her former coach, Kathy Boughton) instilled in me still apply in all parts of my life. I couldn’t be more proud and thankful for this amazing honor.’ “
Jackie Robinson, the first African-American major league baseball player, integrated professional sports over a decade before American society began to wrestle with integration. Sports paved the way for larger change on the issue of race in America. Perhaps sports will be the area that will help the Catholic community come to terms with its LGBT members and work for their equality.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
Related sports blog posts:
May 29, 2013: “Robbie Rogers: Soccer Star, Devout Catholic, and Now Openly Gay”
May 29, 2013: “First Out Gay Student College Athlete Is at Catholic School”
February 12, 2014: “Catholics Tweet Their Support for Mike Sam”
March 22, 2014: “University of Notre Dame Athletics Closer to Full LGBT Acceptance”