Who's who panel of sports icons talk faith, sports and leadership at Shrine forum

From left, Oakland University men's basketball coach Greg Kampe, Big Ten deputy commissioner Diane Dietz and Detroit Pistons broadcast analyst Tim McCormick discuss how their faith has influenced their success in athletics during a Faith, Leadership and Sports summit at Shrine High School in Royal Oak. (Photos by Wright Wilson/Special to the Detroit Catholic)

McCormick, Harbaugh, Krasula and other share lessons learned from a lifetime in sports on how to blend faith and athletics

ROYAL OAK — Although Detroit Pistons broadcaster Tim McCormick had a successful career at the University of Michigan and in the National Basketball Association, he’s quick to admit he’s glad he’s not growing up in this day and age.

“There are so many distractions,” McCormick said. “I think it’s one of the hardest times for teenagers right now with all the different career-killers and roadblocks.”

Namely: high expectations, pressure to obtain a scholarship, poor sportsmanship, bullying, social media, broken families, a win-at-all-costs mentality and other negative factors that frequently appear to be societal norms.

But for all of the pressures, there’s one thing that hasn’t changed over the years.

“Faith is something that is constant, and prayer and belief in a greater being, family, team, leadership — they all come together,” McCormick said. “All are positive things that can form the foundation for the future.”

Such was the message delivered to hundreds of student-athletes, their families and coaches attending the Faith, Leadership and Sports summit Sept. 18 at Shrine High School in Royal Oak.

WJR-AM radio personality Jack Krasula, left, asks noted football coach Jack Harbaugh how he deals with pressure. "I feel God trusts me and I can handle it," Harbaugh replied.

“I think the most important thing is to dream big and work super hard, be very focused on your goals, but know that you’re going to get knocked down along the way, and you just have to keep getting up,” McCormick said. “I was blessed to have a family and parents who guided me, and they kept nudging me forward. I think we all have an obligation to help young people.”

McCormick, who mentors both student-athletes and professional athletes, was part of a panel of renowned sports figures discussing how faith, leadership and sports are often intertwined. He was joined on stage in Shrine’s Saunders Auditorium by Big Ten Conference deputy commissioner Diane Dietz, former college football coach Jack Harbaugh and Oakland University men’s basketball coach Greg Kampe. WJR radio personality Jack Krasula, host of the show “Anything is Possible,” served as moderator.

Krasula also told the audience being a follower of Christ gives a growing student-athlete a proper perspective.

“Get a relationship with Jesus,” Krasula said. “'Be not afraid’ is the most used phrase in the Bible, and Christ’s last words when he’s ascending are, 'I’m with you always, until the end of time.' He’s with us every second. ... If we just let him use us, it’s going to work out OK.”

"People are going to judge you on what you say and what you do," Oakland University men's basketball coach Greg Kampe told the young athletes attending the Faith, Leadership and Sports summit at Royal Oak Shrine High School.

“Today, a lot of people are afraid. There’s a lot of fear in athletics,” Kampe said. “Being a coach is like being a good parent. Coaches help them overcome their fears; it’s kind of like being a good shepherd. Your athletes listen to you and they believe in you. They know you want the best for them.”

McCormick played eight seasons professionally, but called himself “not the typical NBA player” because he was questioned and mocked for living his faith through sports. Today, he helps mentor NBA draftees on how to stay grounded despite acquiring newfound fame and wealth.

McCormick said he tells budding professional athletes to make sure their words, actions and thoughts align with the athletes' “mission, thoughts and dreams,” and to identify five “guiding light people” who will help them on that path.

The 90-minute free program covered myriad topics, ranging from self-gratification, praying as a team, attending Mass, overactive parenting, resilience and perseverance, words and actions, and servant leadership.

Everyone on stage had personal anecdotes to share. Dietz talked about Michael Jordan’s best qualities; McCormick recalled playing youth sports with friends and neighbors; and Harbaugh related watching his sons (John and Jim) square off against each other as rival coaches in Super Bowl XLVII.

“(These are) great people who live their faith, not just when it’s convenient; that’s their compass. (They’re) great role models,” Krasula said. “Look what Greg Kampe’s achieved, Tim McCormick, Diane Dietz, coach Harbaugh — world-class. (I am) honored to be with them.”