Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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Spokane police officer finds balance as volunteer coach for Assumption
Story and photo by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff
(From the May 24, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)
Judi Carl has been a volunteer coach at Assumption School, Spokane, for more than 30 years. Coaching and its contact with families helps provide balance to her life as a Spokane police officer. (IR photo)
Judi Carl, born and raised in Spokane, was an 18-year-old senior at Marycliff High School when a friend asked if she would drop by Assumption School one afternoon and give the girls on the softball team a few pointers on technique. Carl had some experience to draw from – she had played on the girls’ softball team at St. Peter School and around Spokane on other softball teams.
She continued helping out with the girls’ softball teams at Assumption through her college years, too. “During spring semester,” she said, “I always made sure I could get up to Assumption by three o’clock. I even arranged my class schedule so I could do that.” Little did she realize, however, that more than 30 years later she would still be a faithful volunteer in the girls’ softball and basketball programs at Assumption.
“It started out being a very loosely organized program, just for sixth, seventh and eighth graders, and we had so many kids that we divided the program up for fifth and sixth (grades) and seventh and eighth (grades). Then Larry O’Brien, from St. Thomas More, and I split the leagues so there were two leagues, so we could have a B squad and an A squad. That way we could have the younger kids play with their own age group.
Most games were played on Saturday morning. Economics were a factor for the Catholic school programs, “so I always talked my dad (the late Rudy Carl, who worked for Murphy Brothers Construction) into buying equipment for us so we could have some bats, and new balls, and new catcher’s equipment. He and my mother actually came to the games, all the games I coached, forever. My mother would still be coming to the games if she could. My dad said that he enjoyed those games more than he did major league games.”
Along the way, she married Duane Sivanish and had two children, whom she has also coached – a boy, 16 and a girl, 14. She also began coaching not only at Assumption but at the local YMCA.
When her son was in kindergarten, she started coaching basketball as well as softball. “One year I had five different basketball teams. I had so many kids playing,” she said. “They gave me the coach of the year award,” she says with a laugh, “because they thought I was absolutely nuts!”
These days, Carl says it’s not unusual for her to coach the daughters of women she coached 20 or 30 years ago. “I remember families, and sisters, and I still run into kids I coached. One day I was jogging, and this car came up, and the driver said, ‘Aren’t you Judi Carl?’ I said, “Yeah,” and she said, ‘You were my softball coach!’ Sometimes they’re surprised that I’m still alive, because they all thought I was 100 years old back then! I coached whole families of girls.”
It has not been a one-woman operation, however.
“Don’t get the idea that I ever did all this by myself,” she said. “I’ve had various people helping throughout the years.”
In 1980, after finishing both undergraduate and graduate degrees at Gonzaga University, Judi Carl left a position as a social service agency counselor and became the second woman hired to become an officer in the Spokane Police Department. Since late January 2007, Lieutenant Judi Carl has been Director of Training at the Spokane Police Academy. Prior to that, most of the time since she joined the Spokane Police Department she was, she says, “out on patrol.”
Scrolling across Carl’s computer monitor is a screen saver message that provides an insight into the impact of her Catholic faith on her work as a police officer.
“Do the right thing for the right reason,” the message admonishes.
“I think you need to have guiding principles,” Carl said. “At times I haven’t been very spiritual in my job. At other times I think I have. It’s a pretty reflective job. Sometimes it’s a job where you just close (yourself) off because you don’t want to be that reflective. Sometimes it’s a little too painful out there, the things you see. You need to take care of business above all, because that’s a life-saving issue. But it’s a kind of action-backed ethics. We have to act our faith, police officers who are rooted in a faith and well grounded in a belief system. Those basic tents are kind of universal. We have to act our faith, not proselytize it.”
For her, being Catholic and a police officer has become “a foundation and an engrained way of life that affects everything – work, decision-making. It shapes conscience. Not that I lead a holy life, by any means. I’m a far cry from Mother Teresa, trust me! But I think I do try to put my faith into action daily. I was pretty blessed with what I had, growing up, and I was always taught to give back.”
A great many rich memories come with having grown up Catholic and attending Catholic schools, she said.
“There are incredible memories from grade school on,” she said. “No one who was raised and taught by nuns would not have those memories. They’re universal. When I went to Gonzaga and met kids from all kinds of other places, if they went to Catholic high schools and were taught by nuns, they all had the same stories. I actually had a nun who told me that I would probably be in jail by the time I was 21,” she said with a grin. “We were at odds during my entire time in high school, and I ended up speaking at her funeral.”
Although it’s sometimes a stretch to fit her coaching into the rest of her life, it helps maintain some balance in her life, she said.
“I kept on volunteering because that (coaching) job always kept me grounded into what families really mean, and the way it’s supposed to be. Not that everyone there is perfect, but (volunteering at the school) kept me in touch with what the system should be.”
As a police officer, she said, “We see the worst people at their worst and even the best people at their worst. We do not have people invite us to their good times. We only respond to chaos, crisis, or trauma – whatever you want to call it. What we see does not give a good view of mankind, or a happy view of families. So it was always important to me to balance that with time spent volunteering at Assumption where I could see the positive, healthy side of life.”
Again, however, she insists that she never could have remained involved at Assumption without help from other volunteers.
“I’ve always had many great role models. I’ve always had a lot of help. Volunteering is never a burden when there are many of you standing side-by-side. Sometimes the most appreciated volunteering is when you do something spontaneously, something small. I’ve done everything from unclog urinals at the school to raking leaves. You cover books, you go on field trips, you volunteer for school, you volunteer for church, you bring fresh flowers. It’s small acts, and everybody can do something. It doesn’t need to be a huge, organized kind of thing.”