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A two-way street: Parishioners support deacon’s basketball team, players help parish

Parishioners support deacon’s basketball team; players help at St. Vincent

Deacon Terry Collins, a deacon at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, is the head coach of the St. Louis Community College basketball team. In coaching players, he said, “you can dig a little deeper into who they are as a person and what they want out of life.”
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
Cheering the Archers men’s basketball team at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park Feb. 22 were about 30 supporters who weren’t students, alumni or family of the players.

They are parishioners of St. Vincent de Paul in St. Louis where the community college’s coach, Terry Collins, serves as a deacon. Players sold tickets at the church for the game and accompanying chili supper, but several parishioners attend other home games and even take trips to road games to places such as Quincy, Ill., Kansas City and Kentucky.

“We go and support the young men on their efforts” said Pat Poehling, volunteer coordinator at St. Vincent. “They are very appreciative and enthusiastic.”

The games, especially road trips, build camaraderie among parishioners, she added.

It’s a two-way street. The players volunteer at the parish to help with the rummage sale, Christmas program, meals program and more. “Whatever work we need around the parish,” Poehling said.

The players’ volunteer efforts “broaden their horizons and hopefully help them appreciate the opportunities they have,” Deacon Collins said.

Of the parishioners who travel to road games, he said: “It’s a good feeling to look up and see them in the stands.”

Wanda Sidwell had a front seat for the game in the balcony overlooking the court. She said Deacon Collins is a caring person, reserved at the parish but animated on the court. “We love watching him as a coach,” she said.

Gary Cason said diplomatically that all the players are his favorites. “They’re a nice group of guys. They like helping us,” he said.

Fellow parishioner Judy Cernich explained that the support of the team simply is “a lot of fun.”

‘I want to sanctify the work that I do’

Deacon Collins grew up in Los Angeles, playing in the Catholic Youth Organization. “I was always interested in sports. Then when I went to college I was coaching at St. Bernard’s grade school, and I’ve been doing it ever since,” he said.

Collins is in his fifth year as coach of the St. Louis Community College Archers men’s basketball program. Coaching is different than teaching in general because most classes are requirements for a degree and of a brief time frame, while in sports it’s a choice, players and coaches spend more time together and “you can dig a little deeper into who they are as a person and what they want out of life,” Deacon Collins said.

The connections last a long time, too. He received a phone call recently from a player he coached 30 years ago. He appreciates seeing players go on to four-year universities, receive a degree and stay connected.

Deacon Collins was a high school teacher and coach in the Los Angeles area until moving to the Midwest in 1984. As part of a master’s degree program in sport science, he interned with the Washington University basketball program in St. Louis. Since then he’s coached at several colleges, mainly community colleges in Illinois. He was ordained a deacon for the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Deacon Collins worked in the St. Vincent de Paul Parish food pantry. Deacon Collins tries to facilitate a relationship between his parish and players, with parishioners cheering on the team and players volunteering at times at the parish.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
He returned to St. Louis after assisting a young coach in Florida.

When he was exploring the diaconate program in Chicago, he was asked why he wanted to do it. “I said I want to sanctify the work that I do,” Deacon Collins said.

That’s what he’s tried to do — to be the light of Christ in someone’s life. It’s a struggle with the competitive environment of sports. “Like every Christian, I’m just trying to pick myself up after I fail and do better the next time,” he said.

He is bolstered by spiritual direction, integrating faith within a competitive field. Msgr. John Borcic, pastor of St. Mary Magdalen Parish in St. Louis, “is always someone who is a great sounding board for me on how to handle the challenges. It’s something people facing similar challenges should know, that there are resources, people who are tuned in to that and can help us on our spiritual journey.”

Life lessons

He views the players as part of his family.

Miles Nettles, an assistant coach of the Archers, played for Deacon Collins in 2016-17. It wasn’t the basketball that attracted Nettles to the team but the fact that the deacon-coach is “a genuine person with a good heart. He’s passionate about basketball, but he teaches life lessons,” Nettles said.

Nettles has helped with the St. Vincent’s Thanksgiving and Christmas programs for people in need. It shows “how people from different backgrounds can come together,” he said.

He appreciates the parishioners’ support of the team and its coach. “They are really behind him,” Nettles said.

>> That’s a winner


A halftime free-throw contest brought a $1,000 bonus to St. Vincent de Paul Parish’s social ministry fund.

Sheryl Bonsett of St. Vincent Parish in St. Louis competed against a representative of St. Louis Community College at the Archers game vs. North Central Missouri College Feb. 22 at the Forest Park campus of the college. Donors from the parish put up $500, and college donors put up another $500 in hopes that their shooter would win all the funds. The community college’s share would have gone for the school’s scholarship fund.

But Bonsett prevailed in the best-of-five shooting. Inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame last year, she totaled 1,011 points at Scottsburg High School, and was a two-time team MVP averaging 17.3 points and 5.2 rebounds her senior season. At Eastern Illinois University, she graduated eighth in program history with 1,012 points, second in career assists with 435 and fifth with 166 steals.

>> Coach Collins

Deacon Terry Collins took over the men’s basketball program in the fall of 2015. The Archers reached the region finals that year, followed up the next year with Region 16 and District 13 championships, and returned to the region final game in 2017-18 in a season that saw the Archers engineer wins over three Division I powers in Moberly, Mineral Area and Three Rivers. In the 2018-19 campaign, the Archers earned the number one seed in the Region 16 tournament by going undefeated in region play in the regular season but lost in the tournament championship game on the last possession.

One of the reasons Collins’ teams have prospered is his ability to develop players. Chris Whitney, a member of Collins’ 1989-90 and 1990-91 Lincoln Trail teams and NJCAA All-American, went on to play at Clemson University before embarking on an 11-year NBA career. Headlining Collins’ championship Lincoln Trail team was NJCAA All-American Terry Johnson, currently an assistant at Ohio State University. Diante Watkins, an NJCAA All-American for Collins at Daley in 2009-10, went on to earn NAIA National Player of the Year honors at Robert Morris University in Chicago before playing professionally in Germany and France. Larry Taylor, a reserve player in high school, excelled under Collins at South Suburban College. After completing his collegiate career at Missouri Western, Taylor played professionally in Brazil, making the 2012 Brazilian Olympic Team.

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