There may not be another person in our diocese longing for the return of sports more than Sister Shirlee Tremont, M.P.F.
If you followed the annual “Collars vs. Scholars” softball game the past two summers, you surely already know Sister Shirlee, who was the game’s inaugural MVP.
Softball has been ingrained in the slugging sister since her childhood, and now she can’t wait to hit the field once more when the time is right.
Born in Atlantic City, N.J., Sister Shirlee attended Our Lady Star of the Sea parish and grammar school. She was a member of the parish’s Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) basketball and track teams, but at that time, there was no CYO softball. Instead, she joined her township league and played games all over the Jersey Shore. It was easy for her to develop a love of softball. School playgrounds remained open all summer, so pickup games were routine. Also, the locals enjoyed following the Philadelphia Phillies.
“It was a gift,” Sister Shirlee said. “It was a talent I believe that I was blessed with, and it was nurtured.”
As a freshman at Atlantic City H.S., she played intramural softball since the school did not have a team. That, however, did not last long into her high school tenure.
“A group of us as freshman approached a teacher and asked if she would coach us,” she remembers. “She didn’t really know much about softball, which didn’t matter because most of us were pretty well-schooled. She agreed to coach us pretty much in name only.”
Sister Shirlee was the team’s catcher and acted as a coach on the field for three seasons. She also played two years of varsity basketball and four years of varsity field hockey. As she was enjoying her athletic endeavors, she also began considering a call to religious life.
She received a scholarship to play softball at Temple University, Philadelphia. After discussing her options with her mother, she decided to go to college, since if truly her calling, the vocation would still be there four years later.
Sister Shirlee spent the 1978 through 1982 seasons playing competitive Division I softball at Temple. Each year, her teams qualified for the NCAA regional tournament.
After college, just a small spark toward religious life remained. She earned a degree in elementary education and reading, yet she had trouble finding a job. Finally, she was hired to teach in a public school in South Jersey.
It turns out in the next town over, St. Joseph H.S., Toms River, N.J., was looking for a softball coach. And as fate would have it, the adjoining grammar school was in need of a kindergarten teacher.
So, after getting hired for both positions, she met the Religious Teachers Filippini, which reignited her spark to religious life.
Sister Shirlee entered the order’s motherhouse, Villa Walsh Academy, Morristown, N.J., and spent the next six years completing her training and novitiate. She professed her final vows in 1993, and since the early 2000s, she has been serving the youth at St. Bernadette Catholic Academy, Dyker Heights.
The first order of business upon becoming a transplant Brooklynite: switch fandom of professional baseball teams. In an unheard-of move, she jumped ship from the Phillies to the division-rival New York Mets.
“I tried desperately to remain a Phillies fan, but you don’t see many Phillies games here in New York,” she said. “So kind of by default and my eighth graders through the years, I’ve become an avid Mets fan now. I’m a convert.”
At St. Bernadette, Sister Shirlee teaches religion for grades seven and eight and English language arts for grades six, seven, and eight. She also moderates the Student Council. The school does not have its own softball team, so she instead follows her students in their local leagues.
“I’ll go out on a Saturday and hit two or three games wherever they may be playing,” she said. “I will get my glove out of hibernation and go to the gym when they have batting practice or indoor workouts.”
During the “Collars vs. Scholars” games, Sister Shirlee stole the show. Being able to play at MCU Park in
Coney Island on the field that the Brooklyn Cyclones call home has been a dream come true for her.
“I expect everybody out there to take the game seriously, which of course doesn’t happen at all!” she said. “It’s a lot of fun, and I hope they keep doing it. The kids get very excited. It’s really just a chance to play and have a wonderful time.”
After earning MVP honors the first summer, last summer’s game featured a custom giveaway of an authentic Sister Shirlee bobblehead doll.
“Of course, I’ve always been a big Mike Schmidt and David Wright fan, so now I’m with all these bigshot names in having my own bobblehead,” she said. “It’s just so cool!”
As we all try to get through these tough times, we do know that a return to normalcy is on the horizon. Sister Shirlee will be the first in line to watch and/or play softball when the game returns.
Through her years playing and coaching softball, she has laid the foundation for her teaching career. She approaches the classroom as if she were the coach, guiding her students to raise the bar to reach their fullest potential.
“Becoming the very best version of yourself requires commitment, determination, and dedication,” Sister Shirlee said. “I like to think that I encourage that attitude in all of my students.”
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.