Faith in the Team

As chaplains for the men's and women's basketball teams, Fathers Dave Anderson and Natch Ohno bring encouragement and more

Faith in the Team 2010

Dave Anderson, S.J., extends a hand and words of encouragement to men's basketball players in the locker room this past season.

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A couple of years ago, alumni chaplain Dave Anderson, S.J., was walking back to his office after visiting an alumnus near campus when the spirit moved him to take a detour to the Connolly Center. There he sought out the men's basketball coach and asked if the team would be interested in having a Jesuit as team chaplain.

The idea had actually been on Father Anderson's mind for awhile. As an undergraduate at Gonzaga University, he'd observed Father Tony Lehman taking a seat as chaplain alongside the players and coaches at men's basketball games. "What it said to me," says Anderson, "was that the Jesuits are involved in all aspects of students' lives."

At Seattle University, Anderson was welcomed onto the basketball team. Later in that first season, when the Redhawks played the University of Washington, Anderson had occasion to meet Cameron Dollar, then assistant coach for the Huskies. Dollar would be introduced as SU's new head coach a month later, and one of his very fi rst orders of business was to ask Anderson to continue on as chaplain. The Jesuit enthusiastically re-upped.

Basketball Chaplain

Natch Ohno, S.J., provides support and more as the chaplain for women’s basketball. Like Father Anderson, Father Ohno is often seen on the sidelines at SU’s home games.

A similar arrangement would soon be made on the women's side. Not long after Joan Bonvicini was hired as SU's head coach of women's basketball in 2009, she found herself at a staff meeting, sitting next to Natch Ohno, S.J., assistant to the vice president for Student Development. Father Ohno asked Bonvicini if there was anything the Jesuit community could do for the team. "Without missing a beat, she said, 'Well, I want a Jesuit on the bench,'" Ohno recalls. He checked with his rector, and it was decided he would join the team.

What exactly does it mean to be team chaplain? There is no playbook, and both Jesuits are careful to clarify what was expected of them. Ohno says Coach Bonvicini told him that he was a member of the team and that he could be as involved as he wanted to be. One of the people with whom Anderson conferred, Assistant Athletic Director Eric Guerra, suggested that the team chaplain's role was to provide "presence and support."

In addition to their game-related duties, which for Ohno range from leading the prayer before tip-off to providing gum and mints to the injured players on the bench, both chaplains make it to nearly every practice. "It is great to have a Jesuit priest work so closely with our program," says Coach Dollar. "Father Anderson is a key part of helping us fulfill our mission and develop holistically."

Any doubts Anderson may have had about his value to the team were put to rest last fall. It was a busy time for the team, which was gearing up for its first season with a full Division I schedule, as well as for Anderson personally. He had been on the road quite a bit, visiting alumni who were dealing with life threatening situations. One evening, Dollar called his chaplain to check in. Anderson recalls the conversation: "I asked Coach Dollar how he was doing, and he said, 'I'm doing fine, but we're missing one of our coaches.' I said, 'Oh really, what happened?' He replied, 'Well, where've you been?'"

Bonvicini is similarly grateful for Ohno's presence. "Father Natch is a settling force in the locker room and on the bench," she says, "and we defi nitely look to him for inspiration and advice. What he does for our program is a lot more than just basketball. He helps bring us all together."

Ohno came to his role as chaplain as a self-described casual basketball fan. For his part, the 6-foot-2-inch Anderson played basketball in high school—a forward with a decent outside shot. Having a high basketball IQ can be something of a mixed blessing. Anderson frequently has to remind himself to refrain from offering coaching pointers to the players because that's not allowed by the NCAA. He's also had to work at laying off the referees.

But once a victory is sealed, the chaplain revels in the moment. "I'm pretty sure Father Anderson was the first person to run onto the court after we won the game at the buzzer at Portland State," says men's forward Aaron Broussard.

Ohno also knows his way around a postgame celebration, even if his manner is a little more restrained. "My favorite memory of Father Natch," says Bonvicini, "is when we finally earned our first win of the season. He and I walked arm-in-arm out of the gym together, celebrating the joy of the moment."

Asked if he ever prays for a win, Anderson laughs before saying, "I don't think God works that way."

—Mike Thee

Diana Chamorro of SU Athletics contributed to this story.

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This is an excellent article about a wonderful concept. Yes, SU is educating the whole person!
(10/1/2010 10:20:34 AM, Sue Hogan )


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