Diocesan News

Faith on the Diamond: HS Baseball ‘Captain’ Keeps Teammates Focused on Catholic Values 

Julian 3: Julian Cruhigger huddles with his team. (Photo: Alicia Venter)

ASTORIA — Compared to his teammates, Julian Cruhigger has more to do when he suits up for baseball games at St. John’s Preparatory School. The senior has a responsibility that extends beyond the diamond.

Before the undefeated St. John’s Prep team takes the field, he invites his teammates to the chapel and later ensures that they pray alongside Father Charles Gilley, the school’s director of guidance. And he makes sure that the Code of Ethics is being followed, and that all the student-athletes feel supported. 

As a member of the Captain’s Club, he represents his faith. 

“Every time I get on the field, I just thank God,” Cruhigger said. “I’m always thankful to be able to play the game as long as I have.”

Cruhigger is one of 31 inaugural members of the Captain’s Club, a new initiative by the Catholic High School Athletic Association (CHSAA) for the Diocese of Brooklyn to strategically reinforce Catholic values within their programs. 

Each co-ed high school has two representatives, one boy and one girl — the single-sex schools have one — and their roles include acting as a liaison between administrators and student-athletes.

The members of the Captain’s Club, who meet once a month via Zoom to discuss how to become better leaders, were each selected by their individual schools’ faculty. It was crucial to select two outgoing students who embodied what St. John’s Prep principal Maria Johnson says is probably the most important idea of Catholic schools: that God’s presence is seen in everybody. For that position, Cruhigger and Keira McGovern were chosen.

“They were model players. They [were the ones who] would probably get the coach’s award. They were the glue of the team. Julian is the glue. He brings the group together,” Johnson said.

Cruhigger, known for his extroverted, personable nature, is seen by his teammates as the person they can always go to for advice. To anyone watching the game, his Catholicism is clear, announced to the world by the cross he wears around his neck. 

The new CHSAA Captains Club works to keep the “C” in CHSAA standing for Catholic. (Photo: Courtesy of Dom Vulpis)

He is approachable, junior Christian Quirindongo said, and while the St. John’s Prep team has always felt like a family to him, he knows that Cruhigger is one of the guys he’ll be able to call in 15 years for help.

“He’s the guy I feel like I just go to for a conversation and to take advice from,” Quirindongo said.

Cruhigger and Quirindongo have been working together to organize a Mass service before games, and have encouraged players to go to church before they warm up. 

Change had to start with the players, said Dominic Vulpis, executive director of CHSAA for the diocese, and in less than a year, he has seen fundamental changes in the athletic culture in schools. 

Next year, he plans to turn to the coaches directly, utilizing a video service to instruct them on the values that must be implemented within the teams to improve the players holistically. 

“It all lies within the fact that we’re all God’s children — every one of us,” he said.

The Captain’s Club began at the end of the 2023 school, as the CHSAA evaluated some behavioral issues happening during games. In June, the principals and athletic directors met to figure out how to put the “C” — or Catholic — back in CHSAA. 

Through the meetings, they realized that there had been a fundamental shift in who was coaching these teams. For years, coaches had been schoolteachers, and through their full-time positions, they had been trained on how to incorporate Catholic values into their instruction.

However, many Catholic school coaches now come from outside organizations and have not had this training.

Cruhigger is a utility player, and is part of a team going for the “three-peat.” For the past two years, their varsity team has won the city championship, and with an undefeated season so far, things are looking good for the team to do it again. 

“He’s well respected by the other guys on the team, is always doing the right thing on and off the field,” said Jeff Cohen, the assistant varsity coach.

There are nine graduating seniors on the team, many of whom will be continuing their athletic careers in college. 

For those who have the “God-given ability” to play baseball in college, the opportunity will come, Vulpis said. While athletic scholarships are celebrated by CHSAA, they are not the purpose of the program. It’s to ensure the players have a strong foundation built on Catholic values.

“We spend a lot of money on athletics. It’s not because of the championships. The money gets spent because we’re molding people for real-life situations under pressure,” Vulpis said.

After playing baseball since he was 3 years old, Cruhigger has decided to take a step back from baseball, and not join a collegiate team. He will attend Adelphi University in the fall to major in physical therapy, and he plans to join a club team at the Long Island college that will not require as much of a time commitment. 

However, he insists, the lessons he’s learned from St. John’s Prep baseball and the Captain’s Club will last a lifetime.

“I really enjoyed the group of players I came in with, and the people that keep on coming in. They’re my brothers at this point,” he said.