NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) — The recent scene in downtown Nashville of mobs of hockey fans was almost unthinkable a decade ago.
Fans in bright yellow jerseys clamored to get inside the Bridgestone Arena May 22 to witness the Predators’ first appearance in the NHL’s Western Conference Finals. They also filled nearby parks and restaurants to watch the game on the big screen.
Ten years ago, the team was in financial peril and considering moving out of the city. But slowly, surely, the team grew into a bona fide success, and convinced this Southern city that it is a hockey town after all.
Two of the chief architects who helped build the Predators into the team that is now headed to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in franchise history, are the team’s chairman, Tom Cigarran, and its CEO, Sean Henry, both active members of the Nashville Catholic community.
“It was electric,” Henry said in describing the atmosphere inside Bridgestone Arena when the Predators beat the Anaheim Ducks in Game 6 of the conference finals to clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Having a packed house of passionate hockey fans and a team in serious contention for the Stanley Cup “is all we’ve ever imagined,” added Henry, a parishioner at St. Matthew Church in Franklin. “It’s everything.”
With their deep playoff run, strong commitment to the city of Nashville and visible presence in the community, the Predators have built a reputation as a powerful force both on and off the ice.
Ever since Cigarran, a part owner of the Predators, was elected chairman in 2010, and hired Henry to join the executive team, the organization has been laser-focused on its goal of being the No. 1 sports and entertainment venue in the country built around a Stanley Cup-winning team.
In his role with the team or with Cathedral of the Incarnation’s Haiti Mission, “I believe in focus,” Cigarran told the Tennessee Register, Nashville’s diocesan newspaper. “You can do anything, but you can’t do everything. Pick one focus.”
As the chair of his parish’s Haiti education mission for over 15 years, Cigarran has focused on building stronger schools for the children of rural Haiti.
Cigarran, a health care entrepreneur who helped launch two Nashville-based companies, Healthways and AmSurg, has invested some of his considerable wealth in the schools of St. Jean Baptiste Parish in Lavallee de Jacmel, Haiti.
Not one to just send a check and be done with it, Cigarran visits Haiti at least once a year; shortly after the devastating 2010 earthquake, he was on the ground there, helping deliver food, tents and assess the damage to the schools.
He sees education as the single most important thing that will help the Haitian people escape the vicious cycle of poverty that has plagued so many in that country for so long. “The future depends on education,” he said.
Cathedral’s twinned parish, St. Jean Baptiste, now has two schools serving kindergarten through high school students. Cigarran plans to return to Haiti in July to see the high school students graduate.
In recent years, under Cigarran’s leadership, the cathedral’s Haiti education mission has begun supporting high school graduates with college scholarships, and these students are becoming the first in their families and their village to attend college. “These kids are very motivated,” Cigarran said. “They are committed to changing the country for the better.”
As chairman of the Predators, Cigarran has encouraged a spirit of service within the organization. Team owners and executives encourage all Predators employees, from players to front office personnel, to participate in at least 40 hours of community service each year.
The Predators Foundation, the team’s charitable arm, provides support to a wide range of causes, such as assisting veterans, public school children, and the homeless. Henry, Foundation president, encourages Predators players and employers to “give of themselves with time, talent and treasure” to support causes they are passionate about.
Even with all the success the Predators have experienced on the ice this season, Henry says he’s “most proud of what we do with the foundation,” supporting worthy causes throughout Middle Tennessee. In May, the Predators Foundation announced 129 grant awards totaling over $500,000.
Henry has been active with MEND, a program of the YWCA dedicated to ending violence against women and girls by engaging and educating boys. A father of two boys and two girls, Henry said some may consider MEND’s goals unattainable, but ending, not just reducing, violence against women and girls will remain “the ultimate goal.”
Laurence is a staff writer at the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.