In this May 2019 photo, the Notre Dame High School baseball team celebrates its Mercer County Tournament title after its win over Hopewell Valley.
A new Baseball Bible Study has been underway at the school, and it will continue online even though the 2020 spring sports season is canceled due to COVID-19. Rich Fisher photo
In this May 2019 photo, the Notre Dame High School baseball team celebrates its Mercer County Tournament title after its win over Hopewell Valley. A new Baseball Bible Study has been underway at the school, and it will continue online even though the 2020 spring sports season is canceled due to COVID-19. Rich Fisher photo
Joe Drulis has been the Notre Dame High School baseball coach for 20 years, and he has been a devout Catholic much longer than that.

Those two aspects of his life are one reason why he incorporated “The Seventh Tool” philosophy for this year’s team. The Seventh Tool is an extension of the old baseball axiom that states a truly great all-around player has five tools – hit for average, hit for power, speed, defense and a strong arm.

“I went to a clinic this January and listened to the coach from South Florida [Billy Mohl], who talked about the sixth tool – the mental aspect,” Drulis said. “I piggybacked off that and wrote a short article on how at Notre Dame we can engage in the Seventh Tool – faith and spiritually.”

Drulis put a Seventh Tool letter on his agenda at February’s player-parent meeting. He began the letter by discussing a book written by Hopewell Valley Central High School grad Mark Gola, which touched on baseball’s mental aspect.

Drulis followed, writing, “At Notre Dame High School in Lawrenceville, N.J., we are going to be introducing the seventh tool … faith and spiritually in baseball. Since Notre Dame is a faith-based educational institution, faith and spirituality can be discussed and practiced. In a public school environment, there is the constitutional separation of church and state.”

From there, Drulis discussed the faith opportunities available at Notre Dame, such as daily Mass prior to the school day, the campus ministry, Catholic Athletes for Christ and the Baseball Bible Study Group. He went on to explain the benefits of each.

This is the first year for the Baseball Bible Study, where players meet with the moderators – coaches John McKenna and Jim Treacy, and Father Jason Parzynski, the school’s chaplain. Seniors Brayden Meskill and Mike McLaughlin are the group’s senior representatives. The first meeting started with a prayer by Father Parzynski, and the main message from the moderators was that each player should think that they can perform well.

“The players responded well to our meetings,” Drulis said. “The Bible Study Group discusses topics that relate to life and sports. Players narrate some of the readings to the entire group. Players are asked how this can relate to them individually but also how it can help the team.”

Things were put on hold, however, once the COVID-19 shutdown went into effect. When Gov. Phil Murphy announced that students would not be returning to school and that spring sports were canceled, a new plan was enacted.

On May 7, Father Parzynski dispatched an email to the entire team, inviting the players and coaches to a virtual meeting from 2:30 to 3 p.m. May 11 “for an opportunity to check in and spend some time together.”

Senior pitcher Steven Graver is one of the many students who has embraced the Baseball Bible Study, especially after he and numerous teammates lost their final year of high school competition.

“The Seventh Tool helps to bring us together on and off the field,” Graver said. “On the field, we knew that we all had each other’s backs and we were there to pick each other up. Off the field, it helps especially well in a time like this. Knowing that we all have this same belief has brought us together and allowed us to stay in touch better during the current situation.”

Drulis is a member of the Catholic Community of Hopewell Valley, which includes the parishes of St. George in Titusville, St. Alphonsus in Hopewell and St. James in Pennington, which is where the coach attends. The pastor for all three is Msgr. Michael Walsh, whom Drulis has known for 42 years.

He has taken Father Walsh’s teachings to heart and feels they are essential to his team. Aside from good players, he wants to mold men of character.

“I think spirituality is important because having faith in your life can help you keep you mentally focused,” Drulis said. “Taking time to reflect to do the right thing is part of being a faithful person. This train of thought can transfer to when people text or send emails to others. Think before you act.

“The spiritual person knows that everyone is different and walks their own path and has their own issues,” he continued. “A spiritual person regularly practices acts of charity and kindness. Doing a small act of kindness to another may make a bigger impact than one would think can occur.”

Aside from helping others, Drulis added that spirituality includes self-love, allowing individuals to work on their self-esteem and think positive. Compassion also comes into play, as Drulis noted, “A faithful person doesn't waste time bickering, doesn't complain about others, and doesn't remain angry for a long time. Being angry all the time only hurts the person who has those bad thoughts.”

And then, there is a truly important message when it comes to his team and competitive athletics.

“Being spiritual allows you to know that love and compassion aren't easy traits to always have in our life,” the coach said. “Life is difficult, and there are ups and downs in our lives. Baseball, and all sports, are a microcosm of this statement. Spirituality is like counseling. It calms you as a person and can give you a better outlook on life.”