Who knew a game of football could do that?
On Aug. 23, the Fighting Irish of Knoxville Catholic High School hosted the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame High School in the return of the Irish Bowl. Knoxville Catholic High School won the Irish Bowl trophy, winning 22-13 before a capacity crowd.
The Irish Bowl was a tradition last seen in 2004, but Bishop Richard F. Stika decided it was one that needed to be brought back.
“I’m rooting for the Irish,” he joked when asked which was his favored team. “We’re just trying to build a sense of diocese, and try to connect the Tri-Cities with Knoxville, and Knoxville with Chattanooga,” Bishop Stika said, referring to the Diocese of Knoxville’s geographic expanse. “It gives an opportunity for parents … to get together. It’s a great way to kick off the 25th anniversary of the diocese; it’s a great way to root for the Irish.”
Bishop Stika said the teams will alternate home fields, with the game to be played in Chattanooga next year.
Cardinal Justin Rigali also was in the stands cheering for the Irish.
“It’s wonderful to see all this enthusiasm, it’s wonderful to see this commitment to the higher ideals of athletics, and the wonderful camaraderie among the Catholic schools and the Catholic people,” Cardinal Rigali said, noting the game was truly blessed because “Jesus said, ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there.’ Well, we’ve got a few more than that here tonight!”
The friendly rivalry between the two diocesan schools also is a family affair for two key people. Dickie Sompayrac is Knoxville Catholic High School’s principal and his brother, Howie Sompayrac, is the athletic director for Notre Dame High School.“Hey, can you get a picture of us with the scoreboard in the background?” Dickie Sompayrac asked, teasing his brother. Howie Sompayrac described how he and his brother, along with their two sisters, grew up in a traditional Catholic family in Chattanooga.
“Our parents were so involved. Mom was an alumna of Notre Dame High School and our dad was so supportive, folks thought he went to Notre Dame, too,” he said. “My parents [Howard and Betty Sompayrac] were so involved that an award was established in their name there.”
Howie Sompayrac said the Irish Bowl was “like a homecoming.”
“My wife has family here [Knoxville], and she taught at St. Joseph School, so she enjoys coming up, and now when I come with her, I make new friends.”
Howie Sompayrac’s wife, Cathy Rainwater Sompayrac, is a St. Joseph and Knoxville Catholic graduate.
“[The Irish Bowl] is more than just sportsmanship. It’s about the community of our diocese. Dickie and I both said it feels kind of weird, because you want your team to win, but that’s not as important. I see my kids getting together with their cousins and it’s all good,” Howie Sompayrac said.
One student said, “I saw Mr. [Dickie] Sompayrac driving around with his brother in a golf cart, and I yelled out, ‘Hey, Mr. Sompayrac!’ and both turned and waved hello.”
“I think it is terrific,” said Notre Dame High School parent Mary Pat Haywood. Despite not having a son on the team, Haywood said she and her family drove from Chattanooga because they are “crazy football fans.” She looks forward to future games and had this message to Knoxville Catholic High School and its supporters: “Next year … we will welcome you!”
At the end of the game, Bishop Stika and Sr. Mary Marta Abbott, RSM, the diocese’s superintendent of schools, presented Knoxville Catholic High School’s team with the Irish Bowl trophy.
But regardless of who won, one statement was certain: “Go Irish!”