July 27th, 2012

Elementary Excellence: St. Agnes

Sarah Newell

CSN Staff Writer

Elementary Excellence: St. Agnes
photo from sportsleader.org

SportsLeader Program Guides Coaches

The following feature is a part of a weekly series called "Elementary Excellence" - a set of profiles that will spotlight Louisville area Catholic elementary schools and its athletic programs, teams, traditions and excellence in all aspects of sports. Do you want your school to be featured? Send us your recommendation to editor@catholicsportsnet.com.

Within the local Catholic grade school football community, there are many coaches who have led by example to make not only better players, but better men.

One such coach is Paul Passafiume, who starts his 19th season at St. Agnes as the seventh and eighth grade football coach this school year.

Yet his story is unique, and his leadership role is even more unique.

“Joe Lukens and I started SportsLeader in 2004 as a ‘virtue based’ program for coaches,” said Passafiume. “I thought, ‘if I am going to spend all this time with these kids, there has to be a way that I can help the parents give them something more that will impact all areas of their life’. We started SportsLeader at St. Agnes. There was not any material, but it was basically releasing the power of authentic ‘Man-hood’ for the boys, and then inspiring the kids to do good things through mentoring.”

Since the start on Newburg Road, Passafiume has seen the idea grow nationally.

“We have been working in the last few years to develop programs at a higher level of athletics. I have worked with Dean Hood at Eastern Kentucky University, and he recently connected our company with Urban Meyer.”

Meyer, head football coach at the University of Florida, was originally interested in SportsLeader because of the impact the non-profit organization had on high school athletes, according to Passafiume.

“Dean introduced me to Urban, and I spoke with Urban to high school coaches in Cleveland. Urban has become so impressed with what we are doing that he has agreed to do quite a few things for us, including to become the president of our coaches association and to speak at our annual sports leader coaches clinic in February 2013. He has given us a letter of endorsement that we are going to use with coaches that are interested in our program.”

Urban Meyer is just one well-known national coach that SportsLeader has captured much attention with on and off the field.

“Dean Hood, Urban Myer, and even Patrick McCaskey (who owns the Chicago Bears) are working to try and develop programs (at their own level of coaching) up to the NFL Players association. What they see in our program is that we have a systematic way that we can raise the maturity level or help coach coaches raise the maturity level of athletes whether Pee Wee League or Professional,” said Passafiume.

In addition, to those national figures, several more well known programs have established SportsLeader within the threading of their teams.

“The Ohio State Wresting Program is using SportsLeader, Michigan State Football used it last year, and we are really concentrating on the Big Ten, and the NFL right now. Currently we have over 5,00 athletes on the program, we have coaches from New Jersey all the way to Texas using it.” Said Passafiume.

With famous coaches and programs taking a look at SportsLeader, Passafiume said that he’s excited to keep teaching the program and living it out in Louisville.

“We have 72 virtues that we offer coaches, and they are base virtues like charity, humility, and competitive greatness,” said Passafiume. “As an example, a kid can practice doing something as simple as saying something good about a kid that all the other children are talking bad about. Every time he does that, he becomes stronger, he becomes more charitable, and becomes more generous. And for example, with work ethic, when a kid does not feel like practicing hard that day and he practices hard anyway, and then when he goes home he helps his mother put the groceries away without asking, he has increased his work ethic and generosity. SportsLeader Coaches encourage kids not to just do it on the practice field, but to do it in every area of their life. When they can do that, the change comes.”

Parish schools such as St. Patrick have picked up the SportsLeader program in the Louisville area to use with their own coaches and athletes. Passafiume knows how SportsLeader can impact youngsters for life, and maybe even into their own NFL careers one day.

“The team with the most talent doesn’t usually win, it’s the team with the most virtue. But if you take a team that has the better talent and a team that is close to the same talent level but is more virtuous, they can use their will to keep working hard and keep playing hard. When you train your kids like that, it does something. We (St. Agnes) have been to seven Toy Bowls since 2000, and I can’t really think of one Toy Bowl where we had more talent than the other team, so it has applications on the field of competition,” said Passafiume.

From young athletes to NFL’s best, Passafiume mentioned that a John Paul II quote tells the SportsLeader story in one sentence, and he hopes to teach that to his student athletes at St. Agnes again this fall.

Said Passafiume: “Self-mastery, not self-assertion, will make you truly human and free. John Paul II said that, and it’s true that virtue sets you free.”


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