Senior staff writer
There’s no coach more gracious in defeat or humble in victory than former Roncalli football coach Bruce Scifres.
Beyond all the X’s and O’s, Scifres truly walks the talk of his faith. He led the young men of Roncall’s football program along that path for 27 years. Fans were stunned in early March when it was announced that he would become executive director of the Catholic Youth Organization in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
At the CYO, Scifres reaches an estimated 30,000 youths, coaches and adults. He will be mentoring numerous coaches and providing them with values to lead youngsters to discover and use their God-given talents.
Indianapolis needs leaders like Scifres because far too many teenagers are killing one another on the city’s streets. Through Scifres and CYO activities, teens can be saved from a life of breaking laws via the teachings of Christ. They can become responsible and accountable and productive citizens who shares faith with others.
With his coaching accomplishments in the record books, Scifres has accepted a greater calling with a far better reach than he enjoyed at Roncalli. To be sure, his outreach will have a great impact on youths and adults.
No coach at Roncalli accomplished as much as Scifres. He guided the Rebels to seven state championships, won three of those titles consecutively, had three undefeated seasons and stepped away with 248 wins and 88 losses, a 73.8 winning percentage. He was among Indiana’s top 25 winningest high school coaches when he left Roncalli’s legendary “blockhouse” for the last time.
Those achievements pale in the light of faith, hope and love of Scifres outreach through CYO.
Scifres relies upon the same basics from Roncalli with youths and adults through CYO: Strengthening their relationship with God through CYO. Becoming a good person, ultimately to be a faithful spouse and loving parent. Striving to obtain a great education and becoming a good citizen and eventual leader through CYO.
Scifres believed that football at Roncalli was a portal to living the rest of your life the way God expects; likewise, for the youths and adults he guides through CYO.
As a running back in high school and college, Scifres’ goal was to reach the goal line. As a coach, he was determined to guide his players beyond the goal line and prepare them for the life ahead. The same goal line lies ahead for all involved in CYO.
He explained the goal of being a coach: “The main job is to teach players how to live their lives and how to strive to be the kind of people God created them to be. This is most rewarding, and it should be the priority in coaching.”
His faith was emotionally tested in 2002 through a series of deaths within the Roncalli football family. Sophomore player Jonathan Page died of injuries from a traffic accident. Former player Karl Andrews, father of two Rebels players, died. And then one week after Roncalli’s first game that season, former standout Dick Nalley succumbed to cancer. Nalley’s son Marcus received permission from Scifres to wear his dad’s high school and college uniform number, 24.
Roncalli started the season 0-4, and on the afternoon of its fifth game a devastating tornado roared through the Southside, miraculously sparing Roncalli and adjacent St. Jude Catholic School. Somehow strengthened by tragedies, the Rebels won 10 straight games and the first of three consecutive state championships.
My best Scifres’ moments were after the games, home or away, when the teams gathered at midfield, where he would commend them and lead them in prayer.
Scifres showed great respect for my coverage with an autographed copy of his autobiography (“Beyond the Goal Line: The Quest for Victory in the Game of Life”). He signed it: “Al, I hope you enjoy the book. Thanks again for your wonderful coverage through the years. Maybe this will spark the inspiration for you to finish writing yours! May God bless you and those you love!”