Thuribulls show determination and resilience in memorable win
On November 13, 2021, amid the crisp fall air tinted with smoke from incense-burning thuribles, the Seminary of the Southwest Thuribulls took on the team from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in a game of flag football. The game, as is well known by alumni from both schools, has gone by a simple moniker for decades:
The Polity Bowl.
Following a 20 month period filled with challenges, trauma, and loss, the Thuribulls did something they hadn’t done since 2009 – they won. Breaking a 12 year losing streak, the Thuribulls started the game with an interception returned for a touchdown, and then pulled away from APTS with two late 2nd half scores to win 34-20.
In front of a large energetic and electric crowd of fellow students, faculty, staff, family, and friends, the Thuribulls showed up organized, determined, and well-dressed. In the lead-up to game, as the team practiced each week and fans created signs and other forms of support, one thing become abundantly clear: this was about much more than just a football game.
“When we started practices, the first thing that was obvious was how this game was filling part of the hole created when covid pulled us all apart,” said Eric Scott, Vice President of Communications and Marketing. “The desire to do something together, with a shared goal, in each others presence, was palpable. Some years we have to beg people to play. This year we had 20 to 30 people at every practice. We had people coming to practice just to cheer us on. It was the Holy Spirit healing our community through a football game.”
“The Polity Bowl is an enduring tradition of which generations of alumni/ae have vivid memories,” said the Very Rev. Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, Dean and President. “The size and talent of the team, its teamwork, preparation, and spirit were all quite extraordinary. I am very, very proud!”
One characteristic noticed by some of the more experienced Polity Bowl participants was the make-up of the team. “We had MDiv students, we had counseling students, we had spouses and partners and children and siblings of students, faculty, and alums from both programs,” said Scott. “We had faculty and staff. It was a testament not only to the enduring quality of our community, but to the depth and breadth of its reach. Southwest is more than a campus community – it’s a network of inclusion that touches people more than we know.”
The team was coached and quarterbacked by MDiv Senior Andrew Gordon. Gordon’s 4 touchdown passes and steady leadership throughout the preparation and within the game were key to the win. Gordon, a former high school coach and varsity football letterman at Sewanee, shared the common sentiment: “This season was about getting Southwest back after the past 18 plus months of our pandemic reality. Throughout this fall, weekly practices served as a point of connection and togetherness in the midst of a busy semester as MDIV, Center students, SPOTS, faculty, and staff worked to build community. The Polity Bowl was a grand culmination of hard work, intentionality, and commitment to each other.”
What stood out at the game, in addition to the passionate effort by the Thuribulls, was the crowd. With deafening noise, the large crowd and the team fed off each other. In the final moments, as the Thuribulls scored on the final play to seal the win, the team and crowd erupted in celebration. Scott described the scene in one word: “Joy. Pure unadulterated joy like we haven’t felt together in a long time.”
“This community has been through much these past two years, which in no way makes us unique,” added Kittredge. “But through it all, we worked hard to keep one another together in any way we could. It was very hard work. This felt like the culmination of much of that effort where, finally, the payoff felt joyous and real.”
At a celebration the following Monday, Dean Kittredge presented Gordon with the game ball, which had been signed by nearly all the members of the Southwest community.
“At the end of the game, as we hoisted the trophy high and our sideline full of supporters cheered us on, it seemed quite clear to all who were present: the Southwest community is back and stronger than ever,” said Gordon. “Go Thuribulls!”