The Anglican Bishop of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador throws his head back and laughs when asked if he’s ever solicited divine intervention for his beloved St. Lawrence Laurentians soccer team.
“No,” Right Rev. Cyrus Pitman says, “I’ve never gone that far.”
The 67-year old bishop and a life-long St. Lawrence supporter, who once played for The Big Blue, points out the Laurentian players still huddle for a prayer before each game, so they’re definitely keeping in touch with a higher power.
“I don’t know what words they use now, but in my day, we’d pray for a good game, that you wouldn’t get hurt and that you wouldn’t hurt anybody,” said Pitman.
“The tradition goes way back.”
The Laurentians, who find themselves in third place heading into this weekend, probably could use a little extra help from above this year, but Pitman says, “When it comes down to it, it’s hard to beat St. Lawrence, eh. Don’t count them out.
“I’m more than a fan,” Pitman admitted during an interview at his office earlier this week on King’s Bridge Rd.
“I’m out there with them. Oh, yeah. I feel bad when they aren’t doing so good. But win or lose, I like to see them play well.”
In any case, he added, St. Lawrence fans are as good as having an extra player.
Not a fanatic in terms of his support, he noted that while he never openly criticizes the officials, “I’ve seen some interesting stuff.”
Soccer is so entrenched and ingrained in the fabric of the culture of the people on the Burin Peninsula, it’s likened it to a religion.
We are, after all, talking about a community where church services have been changed when they conflicted with Challenge Cup playoff kickoff times.
Pitman doesn’t have any problem with that.
“Soccer in St. Lawrence gives life to the community,” he says.
Born in Lamaline, Pitman moved to St. Lawrence when he was 12 and didn’t play organized soccer until he was 16.
The first thing he noticed in St. Lawrence was that everyone seemed to be kicking a ball around and they didn’t need a field
“There was always a game going on somewhere in a meadow or any open space and you’d see people playing in hip rubbers.
Pitman was a runner in school and it was that speed, he was told, that helped him make the Laurentians’ senior squad.
“I wasn’t the most skillful player or anything like that,” he said.
While the bishop plays down his set of skills, they were good enough to get him into the St. Lawrence Soccer Hall of Fame in 1992.
“He was a very solid, steady player, sort of a no nonsense type of player,” said former Laurentians coach Gord Dunphy.
Dunphy said he had to be a pretty good player.
“Back in his day, you practically had to be a star player just to make the team,” he noted.
And while he admitted to being a “talker” on the field, it wasn’t any sort of trash talk some players get on with today.
Instead, he said he was always exhorting his teammates not to give up.
Those soccer-playing days on the Burin Peninsula still provide vivid memories for the bishop who occasionly encounters players he played with and against.
Pitman, who played on the left side of the half line said he was “a team player and, basically, my job was to get the ball up to Reg Farrell.
Farrell, as it happened, left St. Lawrence around the same time as Pitman, to study in the seminary to become a Catholic priest. He studied for six years, but was never ordained.
In fact, Pitman recalls Farrell missed a provincial final because of seminary commitments in Ottawa and his loss probably cost the team the title.
Pitman said he felt called to the priesthood when he was playing with the Laurentians and going to Memorial University.
“I couldn’t make up my mind what to do at first. I thought about becoming a teacher or an engineer. I thought about all kinds of things. But, really, I wanted to work with people and help people.
“That’s something I felt I could do,” he said.
Soccer certainly is in the Pitman family. His younger brother, Frank, played superbly with the Laurentians for several years and perennial all-star Clinton Edwards is his nephew. Farrell, in fact, is a “distant” relation, according to Pitman.
Pitman played his final season with the Laurentians in 1965 and was ordained two years later.
”I couldn’t play in ’66 or ‘67 because I was in Nova Scotia for (priesthood) training, but I still got calls to play,”’ he said.
“Soccer was a big part of my life then…I mean it was a privilege putting on the blue (jersey). Everyone in St. Lawrence wanted to wear the blue. It was a huge because you were representing the town.”
Pitman said something he learned playing with the Laurentians has lasted a lifetime.
“I know what it means to build a team. I learned that sometimes you can have the best players without having the best team. You have to have the skills, but the big challenge is taking those skills and building them into a team that works together, where everyone is important.
Team work, he believes, can be applied to life outside of sport.
“You try not to make mistakes because that would hurt the team,” he said. “When I was playing, and if I missed the ball or something, someone like Cyril Quirke would back you up and say something like ‘That’s all right.’ It was a team where everyone looked out for one another.
“Norm Kelly was like that, too,” he noted.
“Some of the most challenging players were from Lawn. They had heart,” he said.
“I remember we had a great rivalry with Grand Bank during my time.”
Pitman noted that back then, the Burin Peninsula league winner represented the region in the provincial playdowns.
“The local league was where the real rivalries were at that time,” he said.
Pitman’s involvement in sports continued after his ordination and it wasn’t limited to soccer.
His first appointment was in Port aux Basques, where got involved with the local hockey team, playing with them for three years.
Then it was off to Meadows in the Bay of Islands where a soccer team was formed and competed in the Corner Brook league.
Nowadays, the bishop keeps his sports involvement to watching his Laurentians play in the Challenge Cup.
He’s travelled to Halifax to see them compete in the national championships and he expects to be at King George V Park next month for the 2011 provincial finals.
“I’ll be wearing something blue,” he said smiling.