CHARLOTTE — Ryan Kilmartin grew up at St. Matthew Church, receiving his sacraments there, attending Mecklenburg Area Catholic schools and graduating from Charlotte Catholic High School in 2009.
He always loved basketball and played for Charlotte Catholic in high school. His passion for the sport took him to play first at Appalachian State University and then for Coach Cuonzo Martin at the University of Tennessee.
Throughout his youth, Kilmartin had many coaches who influenced him, mentored him and helped him achieve his goals. After college, Kilmartin came home to Charlotte and decided it was time to give back to the parish community that had helped raise him. The 26-year-old is now volunteering as the parish’s athletic director of his home parish, overseeing its Interfaith Basketball Program, which this fall sponsored 48 teams.
This spring St. Matthew Church will field 17-20 AAU teams, the most of all diocese members, and Kilmartin is coaching three of those teams himself. He says he wants to make a positive impact on young people – following the example of all the mentors he had in his youth.
“Monsignor (John McSweeney, St. Matthew Church’s pastor) tells our coaches that they will have an impact on these athletes, positive or negative, but they will have one,” Kilmartin says. “To me, the title ‘coach’ is the same as mentor, role model and in some cases, it could be father figure.
“Our coaches have the moral responsibility to be that figure of their life. So that is our hope, to be that positive extension for their individual and personal development.”
Recently Kilmartin saw a statement by Pope Francis that he says really struck home with him. The Holy Father spoke of great sporting events and how they create a culture of encounter, helping participants to go beyond their own self-interest.
“I agree wholeheartedly,” he says. “Sports help us go beyond self. In coaching, I try to be influential. I try to help players understand that during a basketball game they can make unselfish decisions.”
He believes that the ability to pray before games when it is appropriate and players shaking hands at the end of the game are signs of faith and sportsmanship that are important to youth sports at St. Matthew Church.
Kilmartin says he is proud of what he and the staff and volunteers at the parish have been able to do with youth sports.
“It’s truly a team effort,” he explains. “We’re trying to start more things at the parish like a running club, a dodgeball league for people aged 16-plus, and a volleyball league as well. We have a lot of ideas.
“We even have some great summer camps coming up! Basketball camp where CCHS basketball players will be able to help coach the athletes, and a Summer Fun camp where we will play a lot of sports, games, watch awesome movies and have a lot of fun!”
Kilmartin enjoys being part of one of the largest Catholic churches in the U.S. and the largest contributor of teams to the basketball leagues in Charlotte.
“It’s worth it,” Kilmartin says. “I get to hopefully positively influence 500 kids a year. I want to help instill work ethic, character and determination for these athletes – to help them develop with their faith, life and then athletics.
“Hopefully, they will use the life lessons taught in our programs to help not just their lives but other lives as they get older and start making their impact on the next generation.”
— Sueann Howell, Senior reporter