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March Madness: Team Chaplains Provide Spiritual Support & Pushup Power

Donna Klinger

Three women’s basketball team and two cheerleading squad chaplains, all seminarians at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, will be in Reynolds Coliseum Thursday night to support the athletes and cheer on the Mountaineers as they take on Longwood in its NCAA Tournament First Four matchup in Raleigh.

pushup3.pngThe cheerleading team’s chaplains, Scott Nemec and Seth Winter, are likely to attract the attention of the ESPN broadcast team as they do pushups for successful free throws, a longstanding game tradition for the chaplains. During the Northeast Conference championship game, ESPNU commentators were so impressed by the quick set of three pushups with claps for each free throw that they expressed disappointment over the rare missed Mount free throws.

At home games in Knott Arena, the cheer chaplains, both from the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, bring a Husker football tradition to the Mount, holding up their shoes before kickoff, or in basketball terminology, tipoff. “Whenever we are at Knott and they play the same song Nebraska has for pre-kickoff (Kernkraft 400), we always jump up and down with our shoes in the air to bring a little of our own fan tradition to the Mount!” Nemec explained.

nemec-2-in-text.jpgThe cheerleading team and its chaplains are excited to be able to take part in March Madness this year. “The cheer team works hard all school year on chants, dances and stunting, and they are looking forward to bringing their talent to a big stage,” Nemec shared. “The cheer team's presence at the tournament will be a huge support to the women's basketball team. I know the ladies appreciate the loud vocal support and team spirit that the cheer team brings.”

Nemec also believes that the pressure that the cheer and student section chants put on the opposing team can sway the outcome of close games. “The cheer team's presence will absolutely give the ladies an added edge on the road,” he exclaimed.

Nemec has been a chaplain for the cheerleading team since he came to the Mount three years ago. Recruited by Nemec, Winter is in his first season as a cheer chaplain and is “a great fit.” One of the basketball team chaplains, Deacon Christian Schwenka, is also from the Lincoln Diocese. He is in his second year with the basketball team and will be ordained a priest in May. Schwenka is joined in the basketball chaplaincy by Andy Barnes of Fort Wayne/South Bend, Indiana, and Carter Pierce of Ogdensburg, New York.

Before basketball games, the chaplains pray a decade of the rosary as well as pray with their teams. Chaplains also give weekly talks at practices. Nemec and Winter share their personal faith testimonies as well as talk about the indispensable character that each cheerleader shares with her team and the world. Among other topics are charity, prayer, the importance of living in the present moment, the afterlife and heaven and a Catholic view of ghosts and spirits.

“We tell the women that they can come to us with anything that is going on; we are there to serve them. If a cheerleader is upset or going through difficulty at practice or in games, we try to say a prayer with them,” Nemec said. “We also meet with them individually for coffee or lunch to hear their stories, listen and answer big life and faith-related questions.” 

Donna Klinger