March 30th, 2012

Hyland's Heroes: Mike Sullivan

Paul Najjar

CSN Staff Writer


Hyland's Heroes: Mike Sullivan
photo from Mike Sullivan

Sullivan finds joy in helping kids achieve

The following feature is a part of a weekly series, sponsored by Hyland, Block & Hyland, called "Hyland's Heroes" - a set of profiles that will spotlight Louisville area Catholic volunteers, coaches and administrators who assist athletic programs and teams, and help promote excellence in all aspects of sports. Know someone that you think should be featured as the next "Hyland's Hero”? Send your recommendation to editor@catholicsportsnet.com.

This week’s Hyland’s Heroes feature begins with a child and shifts to two eighth grade girls. Because that’s exactly how Mike Sullivan got involved with St. Bernard football and ultimately coaching and working with the CSAA.

When his son Brendan began playing sports at St. Bernard, Mike felt it would be a good experience to work with the young football players. While that seems an easy connection for most parents, it was one that helped Mike reestablish his bonds with his faith in addition to bringing him closer to his son.

As the football coordinator at St. Bernard’s, Sullivan helps organize and oversee all four of their teams. He also started the Powder Puff football program for girls in 5th-8th grades. In addition, he helps coach the 7th-8th grade boys team.

“My son started playing flag football seven years ago (in first grade) at St. Bernard’s and I was asked to coach,” Sullivan stated about his initial involvement with the school and the sport. “About a year later they asked me to be the football coordinator and I’ve been there since.”

He grew up in St. Bernard’s parish and played football and all the rest of the sports there while attending public school. A graduate of Moore High School, Sullivan appreciates the benefits of Catholic education. He also understands the importance of the relationship among academics, faith formation and athletics in the local Catholic elementary schools.

“I’ve always kind of hung around the Church and once I got married and had a kid we moved about two blocks from St. Bernard’s,” Sullivan explained. “We decided to send our son to school there and I wanted to jump in somewhere and help.

“I always wanted to get back and give back to the Church and as we got involved and began going to functions with my son I saw where I could be a contributor,” he continued. “Whether it was a clean-up crew or maintenance crew or being involved in a committee, I just wanted to be involved and help the Church and the school.”

And get involved he did. For seven years Sullivan has served St. Bernard’s athletics and the benefits of watching the kids grow as they move through the football program brings great satisfaction to him.

“From first and second grade flag football and watching them progress to become young men and athletes, I can follow them all the way through,” he said. “I get to watch that and know that I had a small part in helping these boys develop into young men. I’ve always tried to have integrity with our programs and have the school really promote that. We want people to know that St. Bernard’s is a really good place to be.”

And while watching the boys develop through the football program, he got an unexpected, unsolicited nudge from a couple of St. Bernard’s girls to start a “Powder Puff” football team.

“One of the things we’re really proud of is the Powder Puff league that we run for the girls,” he stated. “We started it five or six years ago with three schools and now we have seven involved.”

He attributes the beginnings of the Powder Puff program to two St. Bernard students, Megan Cox and Katie Wells, who wanted to have a 7th v. 8th grade match.

“Megan Cox and Katie Wells approached me with the idea,” he recalled. “And it’s basically flag football for the girls, but I was concerned about injuries and someone getting hurt. They and my wife finally talked me into doing it. The girls got a few other schools involved and the program took off and now it’s a pretty big thing.”

What began as a suggestion from two students to have one game between two classes, the Powder Puff program has evolved every year and now includes between 125 to 150 young girls participating annually. Sullivan cites numbers that show 95% of the girls in 5th-8th grades at St. Bernard play Powder Puff. He enjoys seeing these girls play and having fun on the field.

“The response to it has been overwhelmingly positive,” Sullivan said. “The parents see how much fun it is for them, especially some of the dads who get the chance to their daughters and their daughter’s friends. It gives dads an opportunity to spend time with their daughter in a sport that they know. We’ve used the games for fund raisers to give back to the community, too. It’s just a lot of fun.”

Sullivan tells one story about Powder Puff football that he brings up all the time.

“It’s engrained in my head,” he said. “There was this little girl who couldn’t have been more than 4’5” and didn’t weigh maybe 100 pounds. She came out with double pig-tails flowing, eye-black under her eyes and her football jersey on. She had a smiley face on one cheek and a flower on the other and she thought she was the biggest thing on the face of the earth. It’s funny, but those stories are what make this such a fun sport for everyone.”

Whether it’s watching the boys develop or making the girls happy, Sullivan has found his niche at St. Bernard’s and in the CSAA. They have given him a heartfelt sense of accomplishment for giving back to the community. And an extra benefit, it has brought him closer to his faith.

“Honestly, being more active in the church has been a real positive,” he said. “And knowing that I can help kids have a good time with their friends and their school, that’s real satisfying feeling for me.”

 

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