Diocesan News

Men’s Conference Inspires Through Faith and Football

Msgr. Jamie Gigantiello (right) prays with Jim Wahlberg on stage before Wahlberg speaks at The Ultimate Playbook conference. (Photo: Michael Rizzo)

The Ultimate Playbook conference will be replayed on NET-TV on Father’s Day, June 19.


By Michael Rizzo

WILLIAMSBURG — Faith, redemption, and football metaphors filled The Ultimate Playbook conference at the Emmaus Center in Williamsburg on June 11, which aimed to provide men with guidance to improve their spiritual and personal lives.

The four-hour event’s featured speakers were former NFL quarterback Jeff Kemp, ex-college and NFL assistant coach Bill Lozar, and Jim Wahlberg, the brother of actors Mark and Donnie Wahlberg. Worship singer Jonathan Traylor provided inspirational music for the on-site audience as well as those watching the event live on NET-TV.

Msgr. Jamie Gigantiello, chairman of the Emmaus Center, hosted the program, and in his opening prayer asked God to make all attendees players in the ultimate playbook of Jesus Christ.

That theme of Christ as the ultimate playmaker was foremost in Kemp’s two-part presentation. Kemp played in the NFL from 1981 to 1991 and is now a motivational speaker applying his Christian faith to helping men become better husbands and fathers. His book, “Facing the Blitz,” which references when a football team tries to sack the quarterback, recounts how he dealt with being ‘‘blitzed and sacked” in his life and playing career but bounced back through humility, seeking God’s guidance and “going strong in Christ.

“If you are struggling with alcohol, pornography or anger or you are wandering in life, the answer is Jesus Christ; he turns blitzes into eternal success.”

He offered three guidelines for men to improve their lives: taking the long view, being willing to change, and reaching out to others.

Kemp also had attendees participate in a ‘Men Huddle” exercise from JeffKempTeam.com which can help men make supportive connections with other men.

Earlier in the event, Lozar told the audience about his experiences in coaching.

“You need to be authentic,” Lozar told The Tablet before he spoke about working with athletes. “I get paid to make players better in football but I also want to give them, and other men, an example as a husband and father to be better in those parts of their lives.”

Jim Wahlberg surprised Msgr. Gigantiello with a recorded introduction to “Brooklyn and the Emmaus Center” by Mark Wahlberg. In it, Mark expressed how inspired he was by his brother’s life journey.

Jim Wahlberg then described his life of crime, which twice put him in prison in Massachusetts. During his second incarceration, he said his life changed when Mother Teresa visited the facility and spoke to prisoners.

“She said you are more than the crimes we committed; you are a child of God. I felt she was talking directly to me,” he said. “God revealed himself to me through Mother Teresa.”

His message to attendees at the conference?

“God takes a guy like me with brokenness and turns him into an asset to serve others,” referencing his current work helping young people.

Even though it was promoted as a men’s conference, women did attend. Elizabeth Varriale of St. Athanasius parish in Bensonhurst came with her cousin Brigitta Galati and Galati’s 7-year-old daughter Seramaria. Varriale said she had read Wahlberg’s book “The Big Hustle.”

“His story is inspiring,” she said of Wahlberg. “It’s important for me, especially as Seramaria’s godmother, to bring the faith to children and for them to hear the positivity of these stories.”

Edward Paunetto came with his 22-year-old son Brandon from St. Simon and Jude parish in Gravesend. He noted how every speaker had role models in their lives, like priests, friends, or mentors, who helped them become better men.

While the conference did not have a huge crowd in attendance, the Emmaus Center’s Executive Director Craig Tubiolo called it a success.

“If one person is touched by this event, hearing the different perspectives from the speakers and it reaffirms their faith or if it brings people to Christ, it’s a success,” he added.

Tubiolo said The Ultimate Playbook theme will be repeated for future events, specifically for women or young people, to teach Biblical principles and to offer an experience different from typical conferences.