More than a game

A team that prays together, wins together

(Toni L. Sandys - Washington Post)
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Monday, December 28, 2009

Views from high school sports from photographer Toni L. Sandys

The DeMatha boys' basketball team heads to the locker room one last time before they take the court for warmups. The team files in with purpose. They go over last-minute changes and reinforce the game plan. Then they quietly stand up, take each other's hands and form a circle. They bow their heads and begin to pray.

"Our Father, who art in heaven . . ."

DeMatha senior Derrick Banks, 17, grew up going to church every Sunday with his mother and his aunt. While he didn't choose DeMatha for the religious education, Banks is sure it was a part of his mother's attraction to the Catholic school. Still, faith is an important part of his life.

"It gives me the feeling that somebody's watching over me. That somebody is always helping me," Banks said.

When he's down on himself or the game, Banks says he draws on his faith to see him through. "If you're down or having a bad day, faith can lift you up," he said. His faith, Banks says, helps him look at things from a different perspective. His faith helps him find the positive in a situation when he's feeling down. "Sometimes, if I'm not [playing] well, I might say a quick prayer just to lift me up."

Banks feels faith makes his team stronger. Religious classes at school offer the teammates a common bond. "We all have a good foundation and know how to act," Banks said. That helps explain why the area's top-ranked team handles itself with such a humble demeanor.

Before the warmups begin and the prayer finishes, Banks offers his own personal prayers for the night. He prays for strength and energy. He prays for good decision-making skills.

A voice breaks through as the prayer ends. "St. John DeMatha?"

"Pray for us," the team shouts back in unison.

"Our Lady of Victory?"

"Pray for us!"

© 2009 The Washington Post Company