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Photo Credit: Sid Hastings

FAITHFUL FAN | Third-grade tournament, volunteers have a heart

Good job. Nice play," Kate Eichhorn shouted to the players on the third-grade basketball team that includes her daughter, Jillian.

The players from Immacolata Parish and their opponents from Our Lady of Lourdes Parish ran up and down the court, passing and dribbling fairly effectively, considering their age and experience level. Some had an accurate shot from a close distance and others need to grow a bit before they'll have the strength to score. Regardless, they had plenty of smiles to go with their enthusiasm.

The Mary McDermott Third-grade tournament, now in its eighth year, was the idea of Immacolata parishioner Steve Mattingly. He came to the McDermott family, knowing they wanted to do something to honor their daughter, Mary, who had loved the competition of sports and the camaraderie of being a part of a team and also had a fondness for SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital. Because of the care she received there, especially early in her life, she lived 24 years before her death in 2008. SSM Cardinal Glennon is the recipient of all the funds raised at the event.

Jillian Eichhorn is Kate Eichhorn's third child to have payed in the tournament, and she's a big booster of it. "It's a fantastic event," Kate Eichhorn said. "The kids love it, and it's for a great cause."

The cause and the dedication of parishioners is what makes the event special. Plus, the players have fun.

Maehle Lawrence was one of the players on a team from St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Brentwood. "I like it," she said. "I get to play with my friends."

No tournament had been operating in the archdiocese for third-graders — the first year for competitive basketball in the Catholic Youth Apostolate's CYC sports program — until Immacolata's tournament began. SSM Cardinal Glennon benefits from the team fees, game admission charge, concession and barbecue proceeds, T-shirt sales and auction. Auction items included signed Cardinals and Blues jerseys; a suite for a Blues home game followed by a visit with forward Alexander Steen; and Olympics memorabilia donated by Bob Costas, including a framed, signed Sports Illustrated cover of Michael Phelps.

Mattingly has no problem finding volunteers. "It's a parish event, people giving their time and talent. That's what a parish is all about," he said. Best of all, he said, it involves healthy children who are helping those who aren't.

Mary Dolan, a junior at Visitation Academy and a former participant in the tournament, donated her time as a referee. "It's a tradition here, a really sweet event," she said.

Immacolata parishioner Wendy McGowan and her teenage daughters were among the volunteers as well. McGowan, who formerly worked at SSM Cardinal Glennon, said the hospital has a special place in her heart and the McDermotts' dedication is impressive — taking what happened to them and making it a positive.

Tom Walther of Ascension Parish in Chesterfield brought his three grandchildren to the event. He likes seeing the players and fans in a low-key sports atmosphere. He's also happy to help a children's hospital, since he has a grandchild who has been treated for leukemia at a hospital in Cleveland and now is in remission.

Bill McDermott, a former soccer player at St. Philip Neri, McBride High School and St. Louis University who is a soccer broadcaster known as "Mr. Soccer" in St. Louis, said his daughter Mary and her twin sister, Colleen, were "at death's door" when they arrived at SSM Cardnal Glennon. The family put their trust in the doctors and nurses at the hospital and continue to do what they can to help them, he said. Last year, the event passed $262,000 in funds raised for the hospital.

McDermott, who donates fees as a speaker and emcee to SSM Cardinal Glennon, also is a big booster of the Catholic Youth Apostolate's CYC sports program recalling longtime director Msgr. Louis Meyer's desire to keep children active "in the shadow of the church" and his request of former players to give something back.

It's a great melding of a Catholic hospital, sports program, parish and dedicated Catholics — something positive to to emulate as we begin the new year.

Kenny is a staff writer for the Review and a member of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Oakville. 

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