I had the pleasure of shaking the hand of Father Dale Cieslik at the celebration and tribute night following the triumphant return of the Bellarmine team to Knights Hall. By the time I arrived, the bleachers were packed to the rafters with welcoming fans, proud parents and alumni. Where could I possibly remain standing near the court to get a good look at the platform without being admonished by a Louisville Metro Policeman or campus security?
That’s when I saw Father Dale. Why, I’d stand next to a priest and who would possibly ask me to move , right?
For the few minutes before the team would be trotted out to the cheering crowds, we got to chat. I explained that I was a late-blooming fan of the Knights and was captivated by their victory. He smiled and told me that he had gone on the road with the team through the tournament as Team Chaplain.
I had probably high-five’d him or patted him on the back during that Sunday morning homecoming as the bus pulled up to Knights Hall and the passengers made their way through a double wall of admirers.
I asked him, as a man of both the cloth and the court, did he get to play or pray more.
“I prayed a LOT!” he laughed.
As the team filed onto the stage and speeches were blending with the cheers, a cell phone ring tone chimed over the P.A..Coach Scotty Davenport looked up and asked, “Is that God calling?”
As Chris Jung reported on Louisville Catholic Sports:
Turns out, it was the cell phone of team chaplain Father Dale Cieslik, who Davenport had invited to join the team on stage midway through the rally.”Tell Him you’re off (tonight),” said Davenport toward Cieslik.
So, I lost my standing room only partner but it was worth it to see the surprised “Who, me?” look on his face when called up to the stage. The house came down as all stood too applaud as the coach reached out to receive the chaplain. By that time, there were two father figures on the platform.
I was moved as I read Eric Crawford’s reporting in the Courier-Journal that included a portion of prayer with Cieslik in the huddle:
The players gathered for a prayer, and Father Dale Cieslik mentioned an old adage: “The three most important steps in life are your first step, your last step and your next step.”
I contacted Father Dale via email later that week with a few more questions about prayer, fast hoops and high hopes.
“I can say that when I pray with the team I usually petition God to keep the players safe and healthy while playing the game as well as thanking God for the talents and abilities that each of them has been given by our creator.”
And being on the go, there can’t be a lot of time or space.
“If there are some specific requests or need for prayers, I incorporate them into the team prayer.”
Were there any memorable moments on the tour?
“Yes…when I got on the wrong bus on the way to the Basketball Hall of Fame for a meal with the teams that made up the Elite Eight on that Monday night, he recalled. “The team’s bus I rode was our first opponent. That team was as surprised to see as I was to see them. Later in the evening, each head coach spoke and Midwestern State told the story of seeing me on his bus and thinking that he didn’t have a prayer, and, of course, he didn’t. He was going to play our Knights.”
I was glad you got to take your place on the platform that night.
“I was very pleased to be called forth by Coach Davenport. It just validates my fondness and love for that whole team, the coaches and the staff.,” he said. “Coach D and the Bellarmine Athletic Department were kind in asking me to go to Springfield. How lucky am I? They are great people and great things need to happen to great people.
The NCAA Division II champs will be hitting the pavement again soon as they serve as Honorary Grand Marshalls in the 2011 Pegasus Parade. They will be joining four Congressional Medal of Honor recipients from WWII, Korea and Vietnam under the banner of this year’s theme – “Heroic Adventures.”
One last request for Father Dale–pray that it doesn’t rain.