SOUTHINGTON – On June 9, Kevin Ollie and his champion UConn Huskies men’s basketball team were honored at the White House. On June 10, Coach Ollie was honored at the 29th annual Franciscan Sports Banquet at the Aqua Turf. One was more meaningful to him.
“Well, both of them were great events,” he said. “But I like this one just a little bit more because of the [Franciscan] Life Center and what it represents. You know, meeting the president was great, but I love Mother Shaun [Vergauwen, mother general of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist] and what she’s doing, so I hope her blessings rub off on me.”
Coach Ollie moments earlier had accepted the St. Francis Award for community service and charitable work. In his remarks, he said the Franciscan Life Center – which sponsors the fund-raising event in conjunction with Franciscan Home Care and Hospice Care of Meriden – transforms lives.
“I see in the back of the [program] book the words ‘growth’ and ‘faith,’ and that’s what the sisters are about. And that’s what UConn basketball is about,” said Coach Ollie, whose team won this year’s NCAA championship against great odds.
He said that his personal life was a challenge this past year, even while his team was winning games. His wife had a miscarriage; he lost his father-in-law; and his mother, 80-year-old Dorothy Ollie, developed breast cancer and lung cancer. Seeing how his wife and his mother dealt bravely with their burdens was an inspiration to him, he said.
“Because when they’re giving me this strength, this hope, it’s a foundation to build upon,” he said.
As he was resuming his seat at the head table, his mother embraced him and commandeered the microphone.
“I would be disobedient to the Holy Spirit if I didn’t speak right now,” Coach Ollie’s mother said. “I just want to thank you all for the love and compassion that you’ve shown to my son.”
She said, “All the struggle that Kevin spoke to you about, I endured that as a testimony for the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
She added, “I thank all of the doctors and nurses out there that brought me back. And I can stand here tonight cancer-free. Now give the Lord a big hand.”
Other award recipients included Jackie MacMullan, columnist, author and ESPN sports commentator, who accepted the St. Clare Award; Dave Bike, former head coach of men’s basketball at Sacred Heart University, who received the Dean of Sports Award; and Guy DeFrances Sr., an attorney with Brown & Welsh P.C. of Meriden, who accepted the Jim Calhoun Community Service Award. Former UConn head coach Jim Calhoun presented that award.
A record 674 people attended the event. The proceeds benefit the Franciscan Life Center, Franciscan Home Care and Hospice Care, and the construction of a larger chapel and expanded House of Formation for the Meriden-based Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist.
Richard Sobycki, a deaf attendee from Southington, spoke through interpreter Cory McMahon. “I’ve been going to the Franciscan Sports Banquet every year. I’ve been doing it for about 10 years,” he said before the event got under way.
Jim and Terry DeBisschop of Southington admitted that Kevin Ollie was a major reason they attended. “We’re big UConn fans, and we support the Franciscan Sisters also,” Mrs. DeBisschop said. “Jim had hip surgery, and they came and did rehab at the house. They’re a great organization.”
Cheryl Lavalette of Wallingford is director of acute psychiatric services at Masonicare Health Center, which the Franciscans use as part of their hospice services.
We have a nice relationship with them there,” she said. “The Franciscans offer hospice services both at the home and at the hospitals, so we’re one of the hospitals that they offer those services in.”