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FAITHFUL FAN | Integrity comes first for Cardinal Ritter Prep grad

Imanté Griffin’s honest answers surprise people sometimes. As does the value he places on sportsmanship.

It’s refreshing. And his example needs to be displayed, a counter to the negative news we hear about — athletes, their parents and fans who embarrass themselves with selfish, misguided win-or-else attitudes.

Griffin, a football and baseball player at Cardinal Ritter College Preparatory High School, was among winners this year of the Carl Fricks Sportsmanship Scholarship presented annually to graduating high school seniors from the St. Louis metro area. Administered by the St. Louis Sports Commission Associates, the scholarship recognizes individuals who exemplify honesty, integrity, civility, selflessness, kindness, compassion and class in athletic competition.

Even before learning about sportsmanship from his coaches, Griffin said, his parents taught him about its importance, letting him know that “your little brother is watching you.”

This fall he’s taking his talents to the football field at MidAmerica Nazarene University, an NAIA school in Olathe, Kan., where he’ll also try out for the baseball team

“No matter how far I go, I’ll always have sportsmanship,” Griffin said. “I love the competition. But at the end of the day, the best man won. If I lose, that means the other team was better.”

Griffin’s coaches informed the Sports Commission of his track record of sacrifice and selflessness. For example, an opposing player had muscle cramps and had forgotten his receiving gloves. Not only did Griffin give his opponent a bottle of Gatorade, he gave him his extra pair of gloves, too. Before another game, a top player from an opposing team needed a ride to the game. Instead of leaving his opponent stranded, Griffin gave him a ride. And that player scored the game-winning touchdown for the opponent.

Griffin’s Catholic faith is a guiding force. He prays before and after games. He asks for God’s help but realizes God already has helped him with the opportunity to play. “At my school we had great coaches. He guided me and my family to the right school. He helped me keep my religion and play the game I love. Win or lose, I pray. I really do depend on the Lord,” Griffin said.

People question him, asking him if God will help him win. “I think God will give me the ability to win,” he said. “If I lose, that just means I didn’t make the play. Or that me and the team didn’t finish well. You’re not going to win every game, and that’s OK. But hard work does pay off.”

He wanted to go to another high school with his friends, but he went to Cardinal Ritter because his parents wanted him there. He let everyone know. It didn’t take long, however before his attitude changed and he embraced the school.

His mom, Kenyatta Griffin, noted that in meeting Griffin, the then-principal of Cardinal Ritter asked why he chose to attend the school. Her son said, “‘Well, I’m going to Ritter because my mother made me,’” Kenyatta Griffin recalled. “Mr. (Michael) Blackshear laughed. He said, ‘Kenyatta, he’s going to be OK. Because he’s one of the most honest kids I’ve seen.’”

As a parent, she said, “you push effort, you push character, you push doing the right thing. It’s so hard in a competitive world when you want to win, you want to be the best. But I never want my kids to lose who they are. That goes back to the foundation of why we even exist in this world.”

Kenyatta Griffin, a parishioner at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta who also attends St. Alphonsus Liguori (Rock) Parish, appreciates when her children follow through on what they’re taught. “Once you release them to this world, society attacks them. To know they still have their foundation and are doing the right thing, something as simple as giving someone a glass of water or a ride, it’s amazing,” she said

This summer Griffin is working at a YMCA camp as a counselor with children and is coaching a youth baseball team. Brandon Gregory, Cardinal Ritter’s head football coach, said his captain sometimes endured criticism for his selfless behavior, but he eventually won them over with his example for teammates, spectators and younger players.

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