BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The atmosphere had the feeling of a high-five at Bethlehem Catholic High School as Bishop John O. Barres of Allentown was on hand to shoot a promotional DVD for the upcoming Knights of Columbus’ International Free Throw Championship.
Bishop Barres – who played junior varsity basketball at Princeton University under the program of legendary coach Pete Carril, a Bethlehem native – also spoke about vocations, encouraged parishes to host Knights councils and talked up the Knights Soccer Skills Challenge in the DVD.
The bishop then shifted gears and mixed it up with a little coaching in basketball and soccer with students from three Bethlehem elementary schools: Notre Dame of Bethlehem, Our Lady of Perpetual Help and St. Anne.
Since 1972, local Knights councils have sponsored the free throw event for boys and girls between the ages of 10 and 14. All competition starts at the local level. In 2011, many councils will hold the competition in January.
Contestants compete within their own gender and age group. Winners move on to the district, regional, and state or province levels. From there, some make it to the international level of competition level for their age group.
The DVD with Bishop Barres, filmed in the fall, will be posted on the Knights’ website, www.koc.org, as well as on YouTube, according to Robert J. Ennis, the Knights’ director of fraternal operations and programs.
It also will be distributed to the Knights’ 14,000 councils next spring as part of annual programming materials they receive.
“There are connections between the art of basketball and free throw shooting, and living our Catholic faith,” Bishop Barres said in a commentary he wrote for The A.D. Times, Allentown’s diocesan newspaper.
The commentary was published in the Nov. 25 issue of the newspaper, along with coverage of the time he spent at Bethlehem Catholic High School to film the DVD and coach the students.
“Just as we emphasize the fundamentals of basketball, so, too, do we emphasize the fundamentals of our Catholic faith: a love for the Eucharist and the Mass, a daily focus and concentration on the four Gospels, an affection for Mary and the rosary, a missionary spirit and the daily offering of our academic work, and even basketball practice in union with the Lord,” Bishop Barres wrote.
“The experience of basketball is enhanced, enriched and taken to a whole new level when a player dedicates all their hard work, discipline and sacrifice to Jesus Christ,” he continued.
“Every dribbling or shooting drill, every conditioning exercise designed to increase agility, speed or quickness, every summer camp, every game can be dedicated to the Lord – for his glory and in gratitude to him,” he added.
He encouraged Catholic athletes, whether they are just learning to dribble a basketball or already play on a team, “to connect the basketball experience “to personal prayer, love for the Eucharist and the Bible, love for Mary, and a missionary spirit to light the world on fire with their Catholic faith.”
“Developing our love for Christ and the church, practicing our Catholic faith inspirationally requires the consistency, concentration and grace under pressure that is part of the art of the free throw,” Bishop Barres said.
The idea to bring the bishop together with Knights officials for the DVD filming and spending time with students was the brainchild of Michael J. O’Connor, supreme director of the state Supreme Council and immediate past state deputy of the Pennsylvania Knights of Columbus.
“It was a pretty free-flowing discussion with the bishop. … It was apparent the bishop enjoyed the morning, especially interacting with the young people who participated,” Ennis said.
The students likewise had a blast, they said, and they learned something, too.
“Basketball has been my main sport since second grade, so I was extremely excited to play the sport that I love,” said Lianna Bright, an eighth-grader from St. Anne.
“My experience with the KOC and Bishop Barres was an amazing opportunity, and I would love to have the chance to do it again,” she added.
Bright’s classmate, Olivia Roseman, said, “Some of the things the bishop shared with me will help me with my basketball skills as well as with my faith life. I did not realize how good Bishop Barres was in basketball!”
Jenna Hopper, an eighth-grader from Notre Dame of Bethlehem, said she found the bishop “very down to earth, and he gave some very helpful tips about basketball.”
““Being with the bishop was both a fun and spiritual experience,” said Ryan Schmidt, also a Notre Dame eighth-grader. “It was my first time meeting the bishop, but he made me feel as if I’ve known him for years.”