Most parish priests in the Diocese of Brooklyn already take on a great deal of responsibilities. It’s in their nature to consistently give of themselves in the service of others.
Father Sean Suckiel, parochial vicar at Blessed Trinity parish, Breezy Point, is no exception.
Aside from his priestly duties, Father Suckiel coaches two Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) basketball teams for the parish’s sports program. He’s the head coach of the boys’ sixth-grade ‘B’ team and the assistant coach for the girls’ third-grade team.
It’s been 17 years since a parish priest actually coached a CYO team, so this situation is quite unique. And so far, Father Suckiel had enjoyed every minute of it.
Basketball has been Father Suckiel’s passion since his days playing CYO ball at Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Ridgewood. He took his basketball talents to Cathedral Prep, Elmhurst, where he honed his game under the legendary coach Jim Dilg.
When he wasn’t playing the game, he was watching the New York Knicks’ teams of the mid-1990s – with his favorite player being John Starks. Father Suckiel wore No. 3 and played shooting guard, just like his idol.
He was ordained a priest last summer and assigned to Blessed Trinity. He said he wasn’t too involved with the CYO program last year, since Hurricane Sandy forced the team to play all its games at other parishes.
However this year, the program was looking for coaches, and Father Suckiel decided to give it a try.
“Some parents came up to me and said, ‘You love basketball, why don’t you coach?’” he said.
Father Suckiel has played the game for many years, but he still said that it could be tough at times to communicate his knowledge to the kids. He’s lucky to have an assistant coach, Arthur Cardaio, who has helped with his transition from player to coach.
“It’s a different game for me now, because I’m not a player…I’m a coach,” Father Suckiel said. “It’s a totally different game to sit on the sidelines and watch the game as a coach now. It’s interesting.”
In forming his coaching philosophy, Father Suckiel was sure to incorporate the religious aspects of his life as well as the values emphasized by CYO.
“My philosophy is that it’s not about winning or losing or how many points you score,” he said. “It’s about giving your all. It’s about playing every game as a championship game.
“It really stems from Christ giving His all on the cross. It wasn’t about winning or losing. It was about giving His all. So we have to give our all on the court. Play every game as if it’s your last game.”
The players look up to the 28-year-old priest, because not too long ago, he was playing basketball in the same gymnasiums. The kids often brag to their friends about having a priest as their coach.
“It’s pretty cool because he’s really nice too, but sometimes we have to get serious when it comes to games,” said Ryan Gibson, a sixth grader on the Blessed Trinity team.
From the start, the parents have been extremely supportive of Coach/Father Suckiel. They understand the nature of the situation so have offered to fill in whenever he can’t make a game.
“I’ve never seen [a priest coaching] before; I think it’s great,” said Ed Carr, one of the parents. “He’s (Father Suckiel) excited about it. You see him getting into the game too on the bench.”
There’s still plenty of season left for the Blessed Trinity squad, which is off to a good start. But again, Father Suckiel makes sure his team is having fun and falling in love with the game.
“The game of basketball really helps with our human formation to work as a team and to learn how to communicate with others,” he said.
Even so, Blessed Trinity figures to be a challenge for its opponents. Not only does the team sport a talented roster, but it also has the power of prayer in the form of Father Suckiel on its side.