Lessons learned on the football field go far beyond the game itself.
For those willing to apply them, they relate to nearly every aspect of life.
This is particularly true for the 19 boys who have played this fall for the Cair Paravel Latin School Lions in Topeka.
Heading into Thursday night’s playoff game against Sunrise Christian Academy in Wichita, Cair Paravel had a record of 2 wins and 5 losses.
It wasn’t the record coach Doug Bonura and his players were hoping for, yet if the youngsters take what they gained from their efforts on the gridiron, it was far from a wasted season.
Cair Paravel, a private Christian school at 635 S.W. Clay, has fielded an eight-man football team for about 15 years. The team competes in the Kansas Christian Athletic Association, taking on opponents such as the Manhattan Chiefs, St. Marys Catholic Academy, Veritas Christian School of Lawrence and St. John’s Military School in Salina.
The Lions won the state championship in their league in 2007 and 2013.
Cair Paravel doesn’t boast facilities of most public schools — even those in small towns.
Cair Paravel shares a small practice field across the street from the school with the Lions’ soccer team, which also plays in the fall.
Cair Paravel also has a junior high football squad that practices on the same field.
Cair Paravel rents fields around town for its home games, including SportZone, the Seaman High School stadium and Yager Stadium at Moore Bowl.
Despite being far from the Friday night limelight, football has become an integral part of student life at Cair Paravel.
“They really enjoy playing,” Bonura said of the boys on the football team. “They’ve had a lot of fun. The younger kids especially are really enthusiastic about it.”
About half the junior high players had never played tackle football before this year, “so it’s a learning curve,” Bonura said.
“I think the challenge is learning how to play the game the way it’s meant to be played,” Bonura said. “There’s a certain physicality that’s needed. That would be the biggest challenge for us as coaches — to try to bring them along and say, ‘This is how you play the game.’”
Those who play on the team say they know the importance of doing their jobs and what it means to be a part of a team.
“In football, you can’t have one guy off,” Bonura noted. “Everybody’s got to be on the same page. It’s really a team effort. That’s why I like it, and I think it’s why the kids like it. Football builds a bond and a unity that they wouldn’t have in some other situations.”
Bonura said the players quickly learn that they can bring their Christian faith with them to the football field, and that their experiences from the field of play will follow them home at the end of the day.
“The reality is there’s nothing separate,” Bonura said. “We can learn from the game of football about our life as a whole.
“We talked about this a couple of years ago, after we had a team that got beat really bad by a team that we shouldn’t have gotten beaten by. We got mercy-ruled. I just talked to them — ‘Is this how you want to live your life?’ Because what they did was they rolled over.
The other team started wining and they just gave up.”
Not the way he wanted his players to compete. As Bonura told them, “Christ calls us to continue to battle.”
He said he took advantage of a teaching moment, challenging the boys with questions like, “When your marriage becomes difficult, are you going to walk out? When your child who is a teenage boy becomes very difficult, are you going to say, ‘I disown you’ and move on?”
Enter football and the way it translates to spiritual discipline. He told the boys that “you’ll be looking back at this someday, saying ‘Yeah, I’ve got to persevere, and I can do that through the power of Christ.’”
Are the kids picking up on it?
“That’s the hope,” said Bonura, who teaches science and the Bible at the school. “We keep on saying it.”
There can be no mistake that the Cair Paravel team generates plenty of excitement in the school, particularly on game days. Though they don’t play on as big a stage as other high school teams in Topeka, the Lions still create a buzz in the school’s hallways on game days.
“It’s been a pretty exciting thing, and people enjoy coming and watching the games,” Bonura said. “There’s just no other sport like football, where every moment can be very entertaining, because every play is different, and you just don’t know what’ s going to happen.”
Greyson Kerns, a Cair Paravel senior who plays on the offensive and defensive lines, said he didn’t start playing football until his junior year, after moving to Topeka with his family from North Carolina.
“There’s a lot of character in football,” he said, “because you have to be strong, you have to be disciplined when the ball is snapped. You also have to have skill. You have to have faith that your other teammates are going to be there and have that other block, so that you will be safe when you come through with the ball.”
As for the school being excited for Friday night under the lights?
“Oh, yeah, everybody knows it’s game day on Friday,” he said. “They want to know if it’s here in Topeka or far away, because if it’s in Topeka, everybody’s usually there.”
Zach Brown, another senior, is the team’s quarterback. He said he began playing tackle football when he was in fifth grade. Being part of a team with different moving parts all working together has left an impression on him, he said.
“That team aspect is a huge deal,” Brown said. “There is nothing that any one person can do to win a game. If there’s only one person on the team doing their job and playing their hardest, they’re gong to lose. I play quarterback, and if my offensive line doesn’t do their job, I’d end up in the grass a lot.”
He said he has found football is a good fit with his life as a Christian.
“Football is all about struggle and hardship and overcoming,” he said,. “It’s through these struggles that we build character, and it’s in that character we have hope.
“The character that you learn in football is something that can help you in your spiritual life, especially, because if you don’t have good character, then you’re not going to do what you’re supposed to — you’re not going to follow God’s will, you’re not going to study the Bible. You need this character and you need to know how to endure hardship in order to really understand how to serve God better.”
Matthew Will, a sophomore who plays middle linebacker, said his coaches and teammates “are kind of like family to me,” adding that he, too, has learned much about character through participating on the team.
“Coach Bonura always tells us ‘Football doesn’t build character, it reveals character,’” Will said. “He’s always in the huddle after practice, giving us Bible verses.”
Will said there are parallels between football and faith.
“Football is about persevering,” he said. “You have to keep going. You have to work in practice, when you’re in a safe zone.
“In your in spiritual life, you have to work hard and practice all your spiritual things while you’re in Cair Paravel and in church, so when you get out in the bigger world, you’re prepared.”
Contact Phil Anderson at (785) 295-1195 or follow live reports @Philreports on Twitter. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/philreports.tcj/.