Pro athletes thankful for life lessons learned in CAA

| April 25, 2013 | 0 Comments
John Hannahan, center, enjoys some time with sons Jack, left, and Buzz at the annual CAA banquet on Feb. 11. All played in the CAA, with Jack going on to play Major League Baseball. He currently is an infielder with the Cincinnati Reds. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

John Hannahan, center, enjoys some time with sons Jack, left, and Buzz at the annual CAA banquet on Feb. 11. All played in the CAA, with Jack going on to play Major League Baseball. He currently is an infielder with the Cincinnati Reds. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Matt Birk chuckles when he thinks back to his playing days in the CAA. Now a Super Bowl champion with the Baltimore Ravens, he notes — perhaps amazingly — that he did not play football in the CAA while attending Nativity of Our Lord School in St. Paul. Rather, he focused his attention on soccer, basketball, track and baseball.

“I played everything except football,” said Birk, who enjoyed 10 years with the Minnesota Vikings and four with the Ravens before retiring shortly after his team won the Super Bowl in February. “Jack Peick [physical education teacher] was my coach in everything. He was the guy at Nativity that coached everything. I can remember even at a young age when he was coaching us in basketball.”

How could he forget the intense regimen on the court during practices. He and the other players were asked to run what were known as “Lakers.” It involved bending down and pushing a carpeted board on wheels up and down the court.
Little did Peick know the dividends that simple drill would pay for Birk in the NFL.

“He didn’t just teach us about basketball, we trained for it,” Birk said. “I think that’s important. Basketball practice was hard. For me, that was a great lesson to learn for life, and it served me especially well in football. At a young age, he helped get into my mind that you had to work hard, you had to endure the physical pain of this sport, of the training, to get better. It’s definitely one of my strengths, my willingness to endure and go through that discipline as a football player.”

For that valuable lesson, Birk is grateful. And, no doubt Peick is more than happy to have provided such inspiration. He must be proud, too, that Birk became a member of the CAA Hall of Fame. The 1994 Cretin-Derham Hall grad was inducted in 2009 and considers it “a special deal.”

“It’s a great honor to be associated with an institution like the CAA,” Birk said. “I think of Jack Peick, Bob Doane, Joe Meyer from St. Mark. There’s a lot of legendary St. Paul coaches and administrators that have participated. They gave their lives and their life’s work to the kids to make athletics a positive experience for thousands and thousands of kids.”

‘It’s my roots’

Birk

Birk

Birk was not able to attend the annual CAA banquet this year in which Doane was inducted into the CAA Hall of Fame. But another pro athlete was. Major League Baseball player Jack Hannihan, who signed with Cincinnati during the off-season, squeezed in the banquet before leaving for spring training the next morning. Despite the time crunch, it was a don’t-miss for him.

“It [playing in the CAA] is my foundation and I go back to it whenever I need to,” said Hannihan, who played baseball at Highland Catholic School in St. Paul. “I’m proud to be from the CAA. It’s my roots and I’m proud of it.”

He also was proud to attend the banquet to congratulate his grade school coach, Bob Tschida, who was one of three inductees into the CAA Hall of Fame this year. Jack was there with his father, John, and brother, Buzz, who played with him at Highland Catholic and played some professional baseball in the Philadelphia Phillies organization.

“What Mr. Tschida did was make baseball fun and exciting,” Jack said. “When you showed up, you were excited to be there. He never yelled at you. He was always there for us. He taught us the game.”

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Catholic Athletic Association Hall of Fame

Jim Rantz: 25th Anniversary 1973 Most Outstanding Male Athlete

Paul Molitor: 50th Anniversary 1998 John W. Hajlo Most Outstanding Athlete of the Half Century

Chris Weinke: Robert G. Doran Most Outstanding Male Athlete from 1973-1998

Jean Tierney Holt: Father Otto Neudecker Most Outstanding Female Athlete from 1973-1998

Hall of Fame inductees

2003: George P. Sweeney
2004: Ed Brandt and Bill Ivory
2007: Tim Tschida
2009: Matt Birk
2010: Dennis Denning
2011: Tom Hansen, Jim Pacholl and Wally Wescott
2012: Ruth Opatz Sinn and Jeff Whisler
2013: Bob Doane, Ted Steichen, Bob Tschida

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Category: Catholic Athletic Association