Bishop Frank J. Dewane distributes Holy Communion during a pre-game Mass for the football players of Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota and Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers on Aug. 24 in Sarasota.

Football rivals gather for Mass before big game

Sarasota | The Cougars of Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota and the Vikings of Bishop Verot Catholic High School have a long-standing rivalry as foes in many sports, but they are united in their faith.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated a pre-game Mass for the two football teams just prior to their annual clash Aug. 24 — the first game of the season for both teams. While a game-day Mass for the football team is a tradition at both Catholic high schools, the joint Mass began in 2014 as the game alternates between the two schools each year. The winner gets bragging rights until the next contest.

Reminding the young men of their common faith and respect they must have for each other as brothers in Christ, Bishop Dewane said he prays that the healthy rivalry does not get in the way of who they all are: men of God.

Bishop Dewane prayed for the safety of each player during the game and season, and said he knew they would accord themselves well on the field in the best tradition of Catholic schools.

The young men were told by the Bishop, who played high school football as well, that they are blessed to have certain athletic gifts. Having those gifts lifts them up to a certain status at their respective schools. But with this rank comes great responsibility — the duty to evangelize.

“You do it out on the football field by sharing and using the gifts you have been given in front of others,” Bishop Dewane continued. “But you must also evangelize in the gym, in the halls of your school, or at any social event. You do it by the example you give in honor of Jesus Christ, Our Lord.”

The actual game between the Mooney Cougars and Verot Vikings was delayed by lightning. Bishop Dewane and Dr. Ben Moore, Diocese Superintendent of Catholic Education, both attended the game rooting for both teams with equal passion. Moore even changed shirts and sidelines at halftime to avoid any perception of bias.

The game became a nail-biter with a thrilling finish as Cardinal Mooney earned the bragging rights in football for the year as they defeated Bishop Verot 28-25.