By Marc Friedland
Teams in every sport strive to develop chemistry, teamwork, and even a family of players. The Texas 9.0 tennis team competing in the Nationals is the quintessential “team”—one made up of not just players, but of family, friends, and even faith.
Talk about family values. Captain Christine Cone explains that her team competing at the 2008 USTA League presented by Chrysler National Championship—Western Mixed Doubles has a special bond, one based in blood relations and previously established friendships, but also one based in moral values. The 10-person team consists of a brother and sister (Christine and her brother, Patrick), and a father, mother and son (Charlie, Hilary and Burke Marold). What’s more, the Cones and the Marolds have been family friends for the past few years. They also played together on last year’s team.
But that’s just the flesh and blood of what makes this a unified team. The team also includes genuine spiritual faith, and a binding fabric of values.
As if by divine providence, two events collided that would shape this group into a team with moral fortitude and strong, supportive values. One event was Christine’s prompt dismissal of a team member from last year’s team who was somewhat physically aggressive toward an opposing player. The other event was when Patrick Cone suggested a replacement player he had recently competed against: Peter Marsalek, an ordained priest.
Christine says that Father Marsalek, who had just moved to Corpus Christi where the team is based, adds a unifying spirit to the team. “Someone of faith belongs to everyone’s family,” she says. “It’s advantageous having a team with family ties, but our ties go across the entire team.”
As Father Marsalek explains, in fact, the purpose of a priest’s vow of celibacy is because a priest is literally meant to be part of everyone’s family. As a priest, you don’t have a family so that you can make everyone else’s family your own, and therefore a priority. So on the Texas 9.0 team, that means teammates Nandini Krishnan, Preston Borchelt, Joanna Nichols and Brenda Wilson, and of course Father Marsalek, are no less family than are the Cones and the Marolds. Father Marsalek’s priestly example—one of always being available for others, and always expressing interest in being with them—permeates the thinking and spirit of the team. The fact that they are his family is a constant reminder that they are all family.
The Father’s example may also serve to make the team a shining example of good sportsmanship.
“I feel a certain responsibility to behave impeccably on the court,” says Father Marsalek. “One person on court can make a big difference in how people act on court, from the moment you greet opposing players down to the line calls. You want a spirit of competition, which is what it is all about. But you need to maintain a level of sobriety so the match doesn’t get over competitive.” To Father Marsalek, that means no loud verbal gloating over great plays, as well as squelching any verbal abuse toward opponents.
That’s the spirit of the Texas 9.0 team. A good example for all teams.