Sister and her ‘football rosary’ patrol the gridiron at Hill-Murray

| October 7, 2015 | 1 Comment
Benedictine Sister Linda Soler gives a high five to Hill-Murray senior Garrett Kaelin before a game against Simley Oct. 2. Kaelin, a kicker, is holding Sister Linda’s “football rosary,” which she carries with her while walking the field before games to cheer on and pray with the players. Dave Hrbacek/ The Catholic Spirit

Benedictine Sister Linda Soler gives a high five to Hill-Murray senior Garrett Kaelin before a game against Simley Oct. 2. Kaelin, a kicker, is holding Sister Linda’s “football rosary,” which she carries with her while walking the field before games to cheer on and pray with the players. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

The University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, has “Touchdown Jesus.”

Hill-Murray High School in Maplewood has “football rosary.”

The beads shaped and painted like footballs belong to Benedictine Sister Linda Soler, who takes them onto the field before every game as part of her new job as the team’s spiritual coach.

But, she brings much more than Hail Marys to the Pioneers and their coaches. She carries onto the field her passion and zeal for helping the boys become not only the best players they can be, but also the best people.

“They love having her,” said Head Coach Rick Frykland, 32, in his first year with the Pioneers. “She’s great not only to have on the sidelines, but she comes to our chapel service that we do every week on Thursdays to echo the message of the week that we always have. She’s always a person that people can talk to. I’m not in the school right now [during the day], so the boys definitely stop in to her office and just check in with her.”

Hill-Murray may be the only high school football team in the state to have a religious sister on its coaching staff. The College of St. Scholastica in Duluth has one: Sister Lisa Maurer, also a Benedictine. Coincidently, Sister Linda’s football rosary came from St. Scholastica’s monastery.

Although Sister Linda has been embraced by players and coaches alike, there was some uncertainty at first about her presence on the field.

“When I first heard it, I was like, ‘OK, this is kind of weird,’” said junior running back Will Sonntag. “But, so far, it’s been great. . . . She embraces us, we embrace her. She does help the team be better. If guys are in bad spirits, she lifts the mood.”

She’s had to do a lot of mood lifting this year. The Pioneers have lost their first seven games, the latest a 56-44 loss to Simley Oct. 2.

Yet, there are a lot of smiles on the field, and perhaps none bigger than Sister Linda’s. It has to do with the fact that she, along with the coaches, do not emphasize wins and losses as much as faith and character on the field. She wants them to be their best and play their best, and has found a helpful tool to boost their performance.

“Sometimes, I say, ‘Play the game, not for yourself, but for someone who has been an influence in your life,’” she said. “‘Just play as hard as you can for that person.’”

The word “family” is used often to describe the bonds coaches want the players to have with each other and their coaches. Players say it’s working, with Sister Linda being somewhat of a big sister.

“I know it sounds weird, but you can feel her spirit at practice,” said senior center Ben Pults, who is trying to recover from a sprained ankle before the team’s final game of the regular season later this month. “She’s there for you. She’s really uplifting and really a pleasure to be around. Definitely, having Sister here is one of the best things to help this football team this year.”

She has been especially helpful to the kickers, with whom she spends perhaps the most time before and during games. At every level, kickers are known for having fragile psyches that can cause kicks to sail wide of the goal posts. But, Sister Linda has a coaching tool that helps them boot it straight.

“I told the kickers, ‘You’re supposed to kick the evil out of the ball, and Jesus is the goalpost,’” she said. “And, they make the sign of the cross before they kick. It’s not for the points as much as it’s a reminder of what it’s all about and who we are about, and about Jesus, his presence through the sign of the cross.”

A tangible reminder of God’s presence on the field is the football rosary, which she keeps tucked in her pocket and will pull out when it’s time to bless players before games. She also has helped the boys embrace the spirit of St. Benedict by encouraging them to carry medals in their helmets, wristbands, shoes or pads during games.

This is exactly the type of thing Frykland had in mind when he brought Sister Linda on board in August, after walking over to the Benedictine Monastery near the school one afternoon with a whistle and coach’s T-shirt in his hands, ready to bring a sister onto the gridiron.

“We need to facilitate the development of all aspects of our student-athletes. And an area that is often neglected is that spiritual side,” said Frykland, who played football for St. Thomas Academy in Mendota and was an assistant coach there before taking the Hill-Murray job.

“To me, being a kid who’s a product of a Catholic school, a teacher in a Catholic school, a believer in the Catholic faith, I needed to have someone who could teach our boys and model for our boys what’s really important.”

Once the season ends, there could be more spiritual coaching opportunities for Sister Linda, who is the student service coordinator in the school’s campus ministry department.

That’s just fine with her.

“That is totally up to the Holy Spirit,” she said. “I would be open to whatever Hill-Murray would ask me to do. My calling will always remain open.”

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  • tschraad

    At least I could tell who the football player was by the way he was dressed. The other person may have been a sister, but who would know. Wish she was as proud to be a sister as Muslim women are proud to let the world know who they are.