Speaking Oct. 5 at the annual Archbishop’s Columbus Day Breakfast at Anthony’s Ocean View, the former professional basketball player told about 300 supporters of Catholic schools that they are the key people who can combine faith in God and belief in each child.
"My message to young people is simple: You can do amazing things if you believe in God, if you believe in yourself, and if you surround yourself with people who believe in you," he said.
Mr. Nichols is the founder of "You Gotta Believe," an organization that conducts basketball camps, retreats and motivational presentations in Connecticut and Rhode Island.
He referred several times to his time and travel as a member of the New York Nationals, the exhibition team best known as the chief competitor of the Harlem Globetrotters, a job "where I became a professional loser," he said, drawing laughs.
He performed a few ball-handling tricks that brought the Globetrotters to mind during his presentation, during which he praised Catholic education.
"Our Catholic schools and all the people in them, they believe in our students. They give them a chance. They believe in setting them up for success. Our good people at the Catholic schools, they want to train them to be productive citizens, they teach them 21st century skills and they do a great job preparing them for the future," he said.
Mr. Nichols is the author of the three-book series You Gotta Believe: A Journey to Fulfillment, which focuses on faith, hope and love.
He said people have opportunities to show their faith in others in every interaction and everywhere.
"As I say to the young kids all the time when doing talks, ‘As one person, you cannot change the world, but you can change the world for one person.’"
He recalled that after every game against the Globetrotters, he selected one young boy or girl from the audience to present with a dollar bill with a sticky note attached. On the note was written his favorite quote from the Bible, "I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me" (Phil. 4:13).
"It was about connecting, hoping some day that it would make a difference but at least plant a seed for somebody," he said.
Sponsored by the Archdiocese of Hartford’s Foundation for the Advancement of Catholic Schools (FACS), the breakfast was a fund-raiser to provide scholarship grants to children attending Catholic elementary schools in the New Haven area.
Cynthia Basil Howard, executive director of FACS, said the breakfast brought in about $30,000, which Archbishop Henry J. Mansell promised that the archdiocese would match.
Dominic Fulco III, vice president of the FACS board of trustees, greeted and thanked the guests. New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., an alumnus of St. Bernadette School in New Haven, welcomed the group to that city.
In his remarks, Archbishop Mansell said that children in Catholic schools consistently outperform their peers in public schools. He thanked all those who support Catholic education.
Brian A. Giantonio, treasurer of the FACS board, said that the Catholic schools save the state of Connecticut close to $475 million in operational costs each year, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Keith Kountz, News Channel 8 anchor, served as emcee. Children from Our Lady of Victory School in West Haven led the Pledge of Allegiance, and students from St. Lawrence School in West Haven sang the national anthem and other songs.
Several speakers mentioned that three schools in the archdiocese recently earned distinction as 2012 Blue Ribbon Schools for academic excellence from the U.S. Department of Education. They are Our Lady of Mercy in Madison, Corpus Christi School in Wethersfield and St.
Dominic in Southington.