App, booklet aim to connect football, character

| September 22, 2017 | 0 Comments

Rich Chapman holds a copy of the booklet he is distributing to high school football programs in Minnesota. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Corporate consultant and Catholic Rich Chapman is continuing his effort to bring character and virtue to the football field.

His short booklet “The Greater Game” was released last year and distributed to 20 Minnesota high school football teams. The book features quotes from NFL players and coaches, and this football season it has made its way into 160 prep programs, both public and private.

Chapman first delved into writing in 2014 when he co-authored a book called “All Pro Wisdom” with former NFL and Cretin-Derham Hall High School standout Matt Birk about character and virtue as they relate to football.

The feedback was positive, so Chapman decided to keep going. Drawing on some of the same sources who appeared in the book, he came out with a smartphone application the following year featuring inspirational quotes from NFL players and coaches, plus further reflections and questions about character. Like the booklet, the app was called “The Greater Game.”

It was designed for high school football players, with coaches brought in to help inspire their team members with the daily messages. One of those coaches, Jeff Ferguson of Totino-Grace High School in Fridley, suggested that Chapman put the messages in print.

“’The Greater Game’ is about what we learn through playing the game,” said Chapman, who attends Our Lady of Grace in Edina. “It’s not about the game of football … it’s about what we learn by playing it. I thought if we could equip a coach with the right messages to create some conversation with young men, it would be a way to shape their lives.”

Reading stats about how influential coaches can be in the lives of young people, Chapman thought it made sense to provide a tool to help coaches influence their players in a positive way. And, starting with football made the most sense, given his background with the sport and the high number of participants.

“Football is unique in that it involves more players than any other sport,” Chapman said. “A lot of these football teams have 60, 80, 100 members.”

Doing the math means that this year alone, the booklet is going into the hands of at least 7,000 football players, more than 25 percent of the state’s high school players this year. Some of them play for Catholic schools like Totino-Grace, which started using The Greater Game app last year.

“We’ll use that and have one of our players speak about it on a daily basis to our team,” said senior linebacker and team captain Joey Linders, of a routine that takes place at the end of every practice. “I spoke on one [lesson] that was talking about the hard times. It just happened that day that we found out that two of our players can’t play the rest of the year [because of injuries]. So, it coincided with what was actually happening in certain people’s lives.”

Linders’ message that day was a quote from Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, who appears several times in the booklet and was Birk’s coach for several years, including when Baltimore won the Super Bowl in 2013 with Birk as the starting center. Linders delivered the message to the team that “after the darkest hour is when the light shines the brightest.”

That quote helped the two injured players, both juniors, see that if they do their rehab faithfully, they can get back into the lineup next year to try and shine brightly on the field.

Ferguson said the value of the booklet and the app for him is reinforcing what he and the coaches are saying and doing to build a strong team culture and positive atmosphere.

“It’s nice to have it,” he said. “And, I’m proud to be part of that [effort to bring it to football teams]. A lot of the stuff we’re doing, we’ve always done. But, you always look for new ideas, whether it’s new ideas on how to block a play or new ideas on how to reach kids. What’s nice is it’s fresh, it’s daily and even if we don’t bring it up in practice, hopefully kids are looking at it [on their own].”

For the public school teams, it’s a chance to introduce character and virtue to boys who might not be getting those messages at home. And, that’s precisely the kind of young men Chapman wants to reach.

“I want to be in the public schools,” Chapman said. “We want to get to the fringe, we want to get to kids who might be from a broken home, might not go to church.”

He engages nonreligious kids by linking character traits to athletic qualities.

“Here’s what I wrote on the fundamentals of character: strength, conditioning, speed and agility,” he said. “If you master these fundamentals, you have a chance to achieve greatness [in athletics]. If you don’t, you’re destined for mediocrity. Wisdom, respect, courage and self-control. They are the fundamentals of making good decisions. Are you mastering your character fundamentals? That’s the four cardinal virtues. So, they’re getting the truth, but it’s not wrapped in a Scripture passage or it doesn’t come across in a religious way.”

So far, the app and the booklet are catching on in public schools. Chapman hopes to keep reaching more football programs, including outside of Minnesota. From there, he wants to expand to other sports and include girls.

Ferguson is on board with the plans for expansion of “The Greater Game.”

“Extend it to girls; I have four kids, three of them are girls,” he said. “I told him, ‘Football’s a great place to start. But, don’t end it there. How about basketball, how about soccer?’”

With $500,000 in donations from several local companies, Chapman plans to move forward with his vision, starting by reaching out to prominent male and female athletes in other sports. He also hopes to develop apps that can be tailored to individual high school teams.

At a meeting with a group of coaches, including Ferguson, in summer 2014, Chapman and Birk listened to the prep football coaches describe the challenges of coaching today’s teens. They listed broken homes and Attention Deficit Disorder as two of the toughest things they face.

Then, they added one more. “The last thing they said I call the battle for the eight square inches of real estate — your mobile phone,” Chapman said. “They said, ‘We’ve got to get them either off that or speak to them through it.’ So, I posed this idea of the app, and they all said, ‘Phenomenal.’”

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