O’Dea football players model character, faith, service for their ‘Little Irish’

  • Written by Nathan Whalen
  • Published in Local
Members of the Little Irish mentoring program get to join O’Dea High School football players on the field for the national anthem before home games. This year, 90 students, most in grades K–6, are participating in the program. Photo: Courtesy O’Dea High School Members of the Little Irish mentoring program get to join O’Dea High School football players on the field for the national anthem before home games. This year, 90 students, most in grades K–6, are participating in the program. Photo: Courtesy O’Dea High School

SEATTLE – Even though they now live in Massachusetts, brothers Mack and Sterling Goedde have stayed firmly connected to their “Little Irish” mentors at O’Dea High School in Seattle.

“It’s a fun program where kids are paired up with a high school [football] player,” said Mack, now a fifth-grader, who watches the O’Dea games on streaming video and each week emails his mentor, junior Michael Padilla.

This year, 90 elementary school students are participating in Little Irish, which matches them with mentors from the O’Dea Fighting Irish football team. Every O’Dea football player participates in the program, said Joe Cronin, O’Dea’s associate head football coach and athletic director.

The program aims to “encourage our young men to become positive leaders and role models in the greater O’Dea community,” while giving young kids an opportunity to have a mentor in their lives, according to the Little Irish website.

“It’s really good for our football players to mentor youth,” Cronin said. The players and kids form a bond when they talk by phone on Thursday evenings and meet on game days, he added.

“We want to be a good example for them,” said Noah Miles, an O’Dea senior who plays safety. Each week, he calls his Little Irish mentees to check in on them, asking about school and sports.

“The players know there are little eyes in the stands watching them,” said Tom Goedde, a 1988 O’Dea graduate and father of Mack and Sterling. He said he likes his sons to participate in Little Irish, even from across the country, because of the character, faith and service it instills. “This program nails all three of those,” Goedde said.

Little Irish ProgramElementary school students participate in O’Dea High School’s Little Irish program, which pairs each with an O’Dea football player as a mentor. The Little Irish attend home games and talk by phone with their player-mentors each week. Photo: Courtesy O’Dea High School.

The Little Irish program is open to boys and girls in grades K–6 (some exceptions are made for younger kids to participate). Little Irish families pay a $30 participation fee, which includes a Little Irish jersey, lanyard and nametag, an O’Dea football and admission to home games at West Seattle Stadium, where the kids accompany the players onto the field for the national anthem. After each game, the Little Irish meet the players on the sidelines for the post-game talk and prayer (earlier this season, Archbishop Paul D. Etienne led the prayer, Cronin said).

“We get kids from down in Kent to up in Marysville,” from both Catholic and public schools, said Cronin, who is in his fifth year at O’Dea. He said he based Little Irish on a similar program — the Bruin Buddies — at Cascade High School in Everett, where he was a coach.

The program begins each September, when participants visit O’Dea to be paired with players. In addition to attending games and getting weekly phone calls from their player-mentors, the players and kids get together for an end-of-season pizza party to watch an O’Dea basketball game.

Senior Henry Muench, who plays safety, said the kids always look forward to their weekly chat with the football players. “They really expect that call,” he said.

Muench’s Little Irish are Declan and Kellen McDonnell-Keough, ages 6 and 4 respectively. Being in the program “gives them someone to look up to,” said parent Kerry McDonnell, a 1997 O’Dea alum. The boys are super-competitive, he said, and benefit from observing how high school athletes compete in games. “They watch them like hawks,” he said.

The kids are an essential part of the team, Noah Miles said. “They bring out the best in us without even knowing it.”

Little Irish ProgramLittle Irish members join O’Dea football players in a post-game prayer. Photo: Courtesy O’Dea High School.

O’Dea in the 3A playoffs

O’Dea High School, runner-up in last year’s state 3A football championship game, is undefeated this year and ranked first in the 3A division by the Seattle Times.

O’Dea’s next game is against Ferndale at 5 p.m. November 8 at Memorial Stadium in Seattle. The winner advances to the next stage of the 3A playoffs, which culminate in the state championship game December 7.