The St. Anthony CYO teams in 1995 won both Girls Volleyball and Girls Basketball championships.
'A Christian community
exhibiting good sportsmanship'
"'Run to win,' St. Paul advises (1Cor.9:24). In CYO athletics, all who compete can win, if they run to win the real prize: closer union with Jesus Christ."
Father Paul Schmidt, then Catechetical Director for the diocese, wrote this more than 35 years ago, reflecting on the real value of CYO. CYO sports were already in the East Bay when the Diocese of Oakland was formed, so the Oakland Diocese CYO is also celebrating 50 years. Next year, the 50th annual boys' basketball playoffs will be played!
In our diocese, CYO has grown and changed significantly in 50 years. In the 1978 — 1979 seasons, the first year with existing recorded participation, about 6,000 participated with 800 coaches. During the current season, more than 16,000 participated with 2,700 coaches.
There has been tremendous growth, not only in regions of our diocese, but also in participation by girls in CYO. Prior to 1980, girls' CYO was largely a Seventh and Eighth grade after-school program. Now, girls' sports parallel the boys in age levels and in quality.
Over the 50 years, CYO pioneered mandatory coaches training and certification so that those who coach see their role as creating a play environment with Christian values as well as teaching skills. Teams began to come together before games to pray and recognize God's presence with them on the court.
But, oddly, for a sports program, when I think of CYO over the years, I don't think of playoff wins, trophies, college scholarship athletes or NBA players. I think of CYO as families, of children who played and now return to coach their children or to referee, of many who have told of the lasting friendships made on teams and of the inspiring coaches in their lives. I continue to be inspired by adults who dedicate countless hours to help children, and by children who may not be great players but just enjoy the game.
I think of the late Father Jim O'Connor, who, along with Sister Mary Denise Bourdet, PBVM, coached children at St. Joseph the Worker, Berkeley. One of their players is now Father Jayson Landeza, saying he owes much of discovering his vocation to them. Sister Denise still volunteers, after more than 50 years in CYO.
I think of Father Clarence Howard, SVD, pastor of St. Patrick's parish from 1964-1977, who had a vision of a Catholic community sports program in West Oakland, and organized teams, drove children to games and even bought his players basketball shoes.
I think of Tim Chavez, who ran CYO track for Holy Spirit, Fremont, then coached his four daughters at Holy Rosary, Antioch, and now runs the CYO track program there. Or Tony Spinnato, who played in the first boys' basketball playoffs in 1963 for St. Bedes' Fifth Grade, and is now Athletic Director at All Saints, Hayward, running many tournaments for CYO. Tim and Tony are two of many who serve in CYO as athletic directors or track coordinators, and continue to serve and give back, even after their children have left CYO.
I think of an Eighth Grade boys' basketball playoff final this March, when Joe Marino from St. Bede's CYO sat in the corner of the gym to watch the St. Bedes' team play. Joe is in his 80s, with more than 40 years of service to CYO at St. Bede. As the St. Bede's players' names were announced before the game, each ran out to shake the opposing coaches' hands but then ran to shake Joe's hand and for a word of encouragement. The St. Bede's Athletic Director, Tony Fernandez, told me the players did this because, "We teach respect!"
I also think of our Catholic Scout programs in the diocese, part of CYO, helping thousands of young scouts, boys and girls, earn religious awards, go camping, attend retreats and who are inspired by their scout leaders. Joe Zipp, St. Felicitas parish, was awarded the diocesan Medal of Merit by then-Bishop Cordileone, for his work with scouts for over 50 years.
There are so many more who should be mentioned over the long, rich history of CYO, like Marty Mart, Valeria Smith, Ray Freitas, Jim Negri Sr., and countless others, who have had a significant impact in the lives of young people in our church, and who continue to serve.
There are currently many challenges facing youth in sports: excessive competition, for-profit club sports, and a few parents who see sports as a career path for their children rather than recreation. We still strive to support the original vision of CYO as ministry, where a young person of any skill can play for his or her parish or Catholic school, with coaches as loving role models, with the support of family and with a team of friends that is also a Christian community exhibiting good sportsmanship. This vision is as valid today as it was 50 years ago.
(Bill Ford is diocesan director, Catholic Youth Organization.)
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