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Saturday, June 24, 2006

CYO and Christian values

UPDATE FROM COACH SHERWOOD: It’s a program for Bay kids. It's a tiny district and it needs all the players it can get. "Our approach is to get kids involved in the game of football and if we can get them to stay and play in our football program that's great," says Sherwood.

This is downright hilarious. It seems that the Catholic Youth Organization, also known as CYO, has launched a “landmark program that puts Catholic values ahead of winning….”

Whoa! Wait a minute! This IS groundbreaking. You mean winning at all costs and creating a bunch of St. Ignatius and St. Ed’s hopefuls is not what CYO athletics is about? (Yes, that is filled with dripping sarcasm.)

After years of dashing children’s hopes and self-esteem by forcing them to ride the pine for games on end while the select few get the spotlight, it seems the good folks at the Diocese of Cleveland have created a policy that offers equal playing time for basketball players. David Briggs writes:

Under the new "No Child Left on the Bench" rules in the Cleveland diocese, each fourth- to sixth-grader on basketball teams of 10 or less (which is the great majority of squads) must play at least half the game. Seventh- and eighth-graders must play at least one quarter.

Pardon me while I clean up the coffee I spit out upon reading this article.

I’ve had plenty of experiences with CYO athletics as both the parent of athletes and the wife of a coach. In my experience there was nothing less Christian than that program. But hey, if it has suddenly had a spiritual awakening then that’s fabulous. Good for CYO.

I have one question: Why wasn’t this a policy all along?

It's part and parcel of the elitist mentality that pervades the parochial school structure. I say this having had a son who played every down of every football game, both offense and defense. I recognize that some kids thrive under this culture, but it can be downright destructive to others.

CYO runs afoul of Catholic values through parents who insist on winning and creating personal vehicles to spotlight their child’s athletic talent. It's been a program about reliving glory days, about egos and bragging rights and feeding the Ed's/Iggy athletic machine. If that's its mission, then let's be clear that the less-talented needn't join the team. The flaw in that argument, of course, is that these are children who all develop at different rates. You need only bring up the story about how Michael Jordan was cut from his 10th-grade basketball team to realize that there is such a thing as late bloomers--and early flamouts.

Danny’s last year of coaching Ryan’s CYO basketball team was in fifth grade. You'd think the coaches meeting was the NBA draft, where dads piss and moan and argue about what players they want to draft for their team.

Danny told me it was such a disgusting display (remember, we’re talking about grade school athletes) that he told them he’d take whoever, just to be congenial and move the process along. And that’s what he got. They gave him Ryan and some kids who had never played or even touched a basketball.

At the outset, Danny told the parents that his philosophy was equal playing time. The kids are too young and undeveloped at this age and what they need is playing time. On his team they probably wouldn’t win much, but every kid would play a half—and every kid would score a bucket in a game.They didn’t win much that season. And some of these kids passed the ball off as if it were a hot potato.

But Danny was determined to give them a good experience.

During the final games in the tiny St. Mary’s of Berea gym, Danny’s faith in his players was put to the test. All but one had scored in a game. They were losing big-time, but the scoreboard wasn’t the issue. Danny was trying to figure out how to get the ball into this boy’s hands so he could shoot a basket.

This boy looks as if he belongs more in a lab than on a court. Danny, who is quite animated on the sidelines, is waving his arms and yelling, “Get the ball to Wadi!” The clock was ticking down and he missed two shots already. Parents on the team knew what he was trying to do and started to cheer wildly. Then little Wadi got the ball at the top of the key. He hesitated for a moment and Danny yelled, “Shoot! Shoot!”

Swish! The ball went into the bucket. The entire gym erupted in cheers and the look on that little boy’s face put tears in my eyes. He was incredulous at first and then so, so proud. Danny was jumping up and down like a maniac on the sidelines yelling, “Way to go, Wadi!”

It was the highlight of the season. They lost the game, but all the players on Danny’s team got so much more from the experience. They learned about being a team, about supporting each other and that miracles can and do happen.

We’ve since left the world of CYO athletics and I’m not sorry. Patrick and Michael play on rec teams and Ryan now plays in interscholastic sports for Bay Schools. There are no more dads coaching their kids to greatness. It’s about team, sportsmanship and pride in your school and your community. Some would call those “Christian” values. For us it’s a more wholesome atmosphere.

During our orientation to Bay Middle School, one parent asked about the school’s policy on athletics. The principal at the time replied:

“Our interscholastic teams begin in seventh grade, which is the state standard under the Ohio High School Athletic Association rules. That's the norm unless you go to parochial schools where competition begins in kindergarten.”

The audience of parents laughed, but there were enough of us from parochial schools that we laughed even harder knowing just how true the sentiment really was.

The final straw came last summer. One of the CYO football coaches called our house and spoke to Ryan. He told him he’d get a lot of playing time and that he could get a scholarship to St. Ignatius or St. Ed’s if he played on the CYO team. He didn’t ask to speak to us, he told this to a 12-year-old.

I was livid. How dare he call our house and make promises he couldn’t possibly keep to a young kid. It was highly unethical, but hardly surprising. Ryan very confidently told him thanks, but no, he was playing for Bay.

About an hour ago I dropped Ryan off at Bay High. The varsity football coach was taking him, two other eighth-graders and the freshman, JV and varsity quarterbacks to a camp in Warren. He knows he loses potential good players to the Catholic high schools where, frankly, many of the Bay boys don’t even get to play.

So he’s nurturing his program from middle school on up. As a fifth-grade teacher he gets the kids excited about Bay football in addition to teaching them math. Every summer he runs a weeklong football camp with his varsity players as counselors and he discourages the Catholic school kids from attending.

CLARIFICATION FROM BAY HIGH COACH GARY SHERWOOD: It’s a program for Bay kids. It's a tiny district and it needs all the players it can get. "Our approach is to get kids involved in the game of football and if we can get them to stay and play in our football program that's great," says Sherwood.


Jill said...

Fabulous post, Wendy. Thank you very much for this affirmation.

And just so others know, that kind of insane creation of and kowtowing to competition isn't just a problem in the places you name. You can find it coming from some of the parents - who are Jewish - in my kids' rec level swim team.

Frankly, I think some of the behavior qualifies as abuse.

Wendy Hoke said...

Thanks, Jill. It's no secret that I have disdain for the elitist mentality of the parochial structure. I'm sure it can be a lifeline for certain kids. It was that 30 years ago when my husband was a student and the parish school was where he found the support he didn't always have at home. But times, people and philosophies have changed that dynamic -- to the detriment of children, which is the greatest violation of "Christian" values.

School Spirit Blog said...

Although we have definitely experienced the negative side of CYO sports, we have also experienced the good side of it with nurturing coaches and positive Christian influences. On the flip-side, we have also experienced one of the most negative, unchristian, demotivating experiences with a Bay "public" travel team. I wish that people would not always take sides on the parochial vs. public schools, teams etc. I think there is definitely room for improvement in both environments, but also great experiences to be had on both. - Susan Augustine

Wendy Hoke said...

Hey Suz! I find travel teams to be the worst of all, which is why my kids don't participate in them. My point about CYO is that they should all encourage participation over winning and this shouldn't have to be some new "landmark" policy. It runs counter to everything we try to teach our kids about sportmanship and team and kindness toward others. Hello to Johnny and the boys.

writelife said...

Good stuff, Wendy...
And as for testing out that new wireless Internet, you'll have to let me know when you perch at a coffeehouse on the West Side. We'll catch up!

TomM said...

I believe the quality/attitude/demeanor of the coaching depends largely upon the coaches themselves. I've had my son in CYO wrestling for the past two years (at the very same St. Mary's of Berea you mentioned) and found the coaches outstanding. The coaches promoted healthy competition and yet recognized excellence. Every boy would "wrestle off" to see who competed for the team in their weight class at the team matches. The "losers" of the wrestle off would still have an opportunity to wrestle at every match in the exhibition round. Having said that I did hear rumors of lopsided playing time within other CYO sports at the school.
There is something to be said, however, for recognizing excellence in athletics (and every endeavor). I have a problem with participation trophies awarded in my kids' ball teams and swim league. If everyone gets the same reward whether they committed maximum effort or minimally participated, what's the motivation to excel besides self-satisfaction. I believe its OK to recognize and encourage achievement. I think many parts of society (schools and some youth sports for example) have been infected with the idea that we all must have equal outcomes. I support equal opportunity (as in more balanced playing time in all youth sports), but outcomes will vary by each person's ability and effort.