McBride instructs children at St. Jude's Primary School in Jinja about the rules of American football.

Monogram Winners Teach Ugandan Children To "Play Like A Champion Today"

Sept. 20, 2010


Editor’s Note: This is the first story in a two-part series about Monogram winners’ humanitarian work in Uganda. Look for an article about current Notre Dame student-athlete Jake Brems ’12 (lacrosse) and his Uganda trip on Thursday, Sept. 30.

Uganda Ministry Photo Gallery

United under a common message of action and a common mission of athletic ministry, Monogram winners Kevin Dugan ’01 (lacrosse) and Oscar McBride ’94 (football) spent two unforgettable weeks in Uganda this past August, mentoring children and teenagers in villages and churches throughout the third-world nation.

Armed with a projector and a PowerPoint presentation, Dugan and McBride developed a lecture centered around Notre Dame’s popular “Play Like A Champion Today” message that McBride would share with children at all of the stops on their trip. At the conclusion of each presentation, they would then apply the core values in the lecture to sports and used flag football as the primary method of teaching the concept of athletics ministry.

“It was just a ton of fun and it was really encouraging to see how much the churches, parishes and communities appreciated it, because it’s ministry in a way that’s exciting for kids,” Dugan said. “It’s delivering the Catholic ministry and values through athletics and that became a really powerful platform that we were able to use.”

With such an organized and persuasive teaching initiative, it may come as a shock to some that McBride and Dugan only met a month or so before embarking on their trip to Africa.

The two Monogram winners returned to Notre Dame in June to attend a conference sponsored by Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education. The organization sponsors the “Play Like A Champion Today” Educational Series, which aims to help youth and high school sports programs reflect Gospel values and promote the moral and character development of young athletes.

Dugan spoke at the conference about his humanitarian organization, Fields of Growth International, which uses lacrosse to foster friendships and raise awareness about education and healthcare for children in Uganda.

McBride, the creator of the Fit4Life Youth Foundation, which aims to curtail childhood obesity, was looking to spread his organization’s message in a more global setting, and saw a collaborative effort with Dugan as a great way to accomplish this goal.

The two individuals met a few days later, and developed a curriculum that adapted the basic teachings of the “Play Like A Champion Today” message to reflect the unique dangers and societal concerns that children in Uganda face.

“The `Play Like A Champion’ program is not just about winning and being a champion, but also about being a champion in life,” McBride said. “So what we did, given the fact that Uganda is so stricken with HIV, AIDS and poverty, was to use the message to minister in the cardinal virtues – good decision making, abstinence and the value of continuing your education.”

A month later, Dugan and McBride landed in Uganda and set off on their mission. They spent most of their time speaking with children in the Masaka district of the country, in the village of Kkindu, but also traveled to a Holy Cross parish in Bugembe, Jinja where they ministered to youth at three primary schools supported by Holy Cross Missions.

The children were extremely attentive and very receptive to the lessons taught by McBride in the lectures, but what they and their American mentors enjoyed most about their interactions were the flag football games.

The children learned the rules of American football easily enough, as rugby is very popular throughout East Africa. However, McBride and Dugan quickly found out that Ugandan football developed into a much different game than its American counterpart.

“It was like lining up with 10 Rocket Ismails out on the field,” Dugan joked. “Every game was a total offensive shootout and we had a really tough time playing defense. Oscar and I were just airing it out to these kids, because they were super fast and had really good hands. Everyone wanted to be a wide receiver.”

The children would often return re-energized after the football games, eager to learn more from McBride and Dugan.

One of the most important concepts the two Monogram winners hoped to develop with the Ugandan youth was the need to respect women in all aspects of life.

McBride and Dugan would often gather the boys and girls in the classroom or church hall, and tell the boys to look around the room at their female counterparts, helping them realize that one day, many of them would become their wives in the village.

“Women are always the most marginalized people in third-world communities,” Dugan said. “So trying to create something as a platform to build self-esteem and self-confidence in the young women is critical.”

Members of St. Monica’s women’s group display their handwoven “Play Like A Champion Today” mats as Dugan looks on.

Dugan’s organization sent two women over this summer to work with young girls in the village. Kerry Hamill, a junior on the Yale University women’s lacrosse team, and Mara Trionfero, a drug and alcohol counselor at Notre Dame, spent their entire summers working with young girls through sport, music and education.

“Seeing bright and confident women that are educated and independent was an incredible source of encouragement and hope to the young girls in the village,” Dugan said.

Dugan has also empowered several women’s groups in the country to begin weaving mats with the “Play Like A Champion Today” message on them. These mats are being sold here in the United States with the proceeds being sent back to Uganda to help support the women.

Whether Dugan and McBride were playing quarterback with a group of Ugandan youth or spending time with the women of each village, the Notre Dame alums were always grateful of the support they received from church officials and priests living in the area.

While in Jinja, Kevin and Oscar lived in the Holy Cross community home, eating meals and partaking in Masses with priests and deacons of the faith. In addition, Holy Cross seminarians would help McBride translate his lectures into the local language, and many of the schools they visited were of the Holy Cross affiliation. For two Notre Dame graduates, this direct affiliation with their faith and their alma mater was a truly fulfilling experience.

Now, looking back on the trip, Dugan and McBride are eager to return to Uganda to continue raising awareness in youth about abstinence, disease and the need to become, respectful, motivated adults.

For McBride, he got a kick out of working with the children, as for many, it was their first time interacting with an African-American.

“The kids would come up to me and say, `You’re a big Ugandan, what tribe are you from?’ and I would say `Florida,'” McBride laughed. “But it was an incredible experience to interact with them. Short of my children being born, this was the only time in my life I’ve experience pure, unadulterated peace.”

McBride is striving to raise $1200 over the next year to support the educations of 12 Ugandan children. As $120 pays for a child’s tuition and books for an entire year, he has come to realize how such a small sum of money can make such an incredible difference in an African child’s life.

For Dugan, he continues to work in Uganda because the poverty and suffering affecting such optimistic and special children remains fresh in his mind. Dugan has developed a phrase that he and McBride stand by: “Once you know, you can’t not know.”

Dugan, through his work with Fields of Growth International, has already helped build eight homes and two athletic fields to positively influence the people he’s met in southwest Uganda. Ground has already been broken on a new athletic field in the Masaka region as well, so the children that McBride and Dugan mentored on the trip will be able to play flag football, lacrosse and soccer, and practice the lessons learned from the two Notre Dame alums for the foreseeable future.

McBride and Dugan will always be thankful to Notre Dame for giving them an education and strengthening their faith, and continuing to work in Uganda provides them with a way to share their knowledge and experiences with those in need, a direct affirmation of their Christian values and spirituality.

“When you’re sharing the things that bring you the most joy, you’re doing exactly what God created you to do,” Dugan said. “There’s no better feeling in the world than that.”