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Rich Wessel

Rich Wessel loves basketball as a sometimes, possibly former, recreational player, a referee, a former coach, and the coordinator of the youth recreation basketball league at St. Francis for the past 19 years.  Little did he know that when he volunteered 20 years ago, his “fate” would be to impact so many. 

Rich remembers growing up Catholic and says, “All we did was receive the sacraments and go to Mass. It was not really an interactive upbringing at our Church.” “For Chris [his wife] and me,” he recalls, “getting involved at St. Francis gave us a new perspective on what it meant to be part of a Catholic community.”  Their kids attended The Franciscan School (TFS), and Rich says the school drove a lot of that volunteer attitude toward giving back to the community. “Being part of the school meant a lot. Having that upbringing with our kids, one that advocated and encouraged volunteering, drove people to the Church and participation.” 

Rich has enjoyed working with kids in the league and seeing them develop over the eight years from 1st to 8th grade when they can play. “When kids get older, they look back on those experiences as great times with their friends,” Rich says. But, Rich adds, he gets a lot out of it as well, “It’s a lot of fun, seeing people who have been in the league come back as a parent, and then coach and participate in the league.” He says, “Even some of the old coaches are coming back too because it was such a great experience.” 

Rich credits the late Jerome Friedman, a long-time coach at TFS and the Youth League, with guiding his view of spiritual leadership in many ways. Jerome used an acronym with his team, and it spelled out Christ. The letters stood for Care, Humility, Respect, Integrity, Sportsmanship, and Teamwork. “This acronym,” emphasizes Rich, “sums up what the full community of St. Francis should strive for and what we should be doing in youth basketball.” 

The ministry is a real community, and, as an example, Rich shares the story of a player who asked him to be his RCIA sponsor. “Walker was a non-Catholic when he played but was getting married in the Church. He thanked me for being his sponsor, but I thanked him for the experience. As a sponsor, I found it rewarding to relive the sacramental experience and learn more about the scriptures and the ministries at SFA. It exposed me to the size and impact of St. Francis, which I took for granted.”

Rich encourages people to find a place where they can have an impact at SFA, too. “To get involved as an individual,” he advises, “find something you enjoy doing or maybe even something different; just something small at first, it’s pretty easy. It doesn’t take much to give something to someone that means a lot.”

Author: Mike Watson