PROVIDENCE — In the Diocese of Providence, sports and spirituality have gone hand in hand since the 1930s. For decades, sports within the context of parish and Catholic school life have not only been a way for youth to work as a team, gain confidence and better health, but also as a unique way to make real, faith-based connections.
As is the case in many areas of the Catholic Church, participation and numbers have declined significantly throughout the years — something visible not only in the pews, but also on the court. The diocesan Catholic Athletic League is realistic, but sees opportunity in the challenges because they are focused on the player, explained Louise Dussault, director of Catholic Youth Ministry. Dussault shared that sports in a Catholic context promote a communal sense of belonging, an identification with the parish and school, direct ministry to families and lived Christian values.
Because of the decline in the number of parishes participating in CAL sports teams, a new opportunity for young athletes has come about. After surveying parishes through pastors and parish athletic coordinators, parishes may now work together to form Cooperative Parish Teams.
The motivation in creating Cooperative Parish Teams — per level, gender and division — is to provide additional youth from parishes that have insufficient numbers to support and field teams by allowing them to combine with a host parish. The teams will be created based on their deanery location, but some exceptions will be made based on church proximity.
The formation of a Cooperative Parish Teams is not intended to promote parish shopping and hopping, or to promote a search for the most talented players. Rather, the intent is to enable greater participation by youth in the parish division — and to give everyone a chance to play. If a player who is part of a parish that does not have a team, they may still take part.
Being involved in a sport, besides the health benefits is also about the communal benefits and understanding what it means to be part of a team explained Dussault.
“It means that my gifts and your gifts make us more successful than my gifts alone. That’s a life value; a value that is needed in our workplaces, that’s needed in our community,” Dussault says.
“That’s the piece for me that saddens me that we have less teams. It’s not about money or pride, it’s about depriving kids of the opportunity. You don’t have that same opportunity sitting with your cell phone on your lap. When you give kids this Catholic experience and you have a coach that is a role model and faith witness that can be really formative. It’s about making sure we provide those opportunities.”
Athletics has played a vital role in Youth Ministry since CYO first began in the Diocese of Providence in 1935. In 2002, CAL was formed in order to better serve both the Catholic Schools and the parishes with appropriate offerings in multiple sports. The difference between CAL and school or community sponsored sports teams is that CAL instills Catholic values above the goal of winning at any cost.
“There is a misconception that sports is about keeping kids busy,” she said. “It’s about teaching Catholic values through the use of competitive sports. I think sports in a Catholic context can teach young people and adults about how we strive to be better, physically and in all areas of life, without destroying our opponent and while maintaining the respect and Christian values that we proclaim at church on Sundays. It’s about being consistent in our values and behaviors. People come first.”
CAL offers a variety of sports throughout the seasons. In the Fall: Cross country for boys and girls and co-ed tennis. Winter: Basketball for boys and girls (registering now.) And Spring: Volleyball and soccer, both co-ed. CAL leagues also have a mandatory playing time for every athlete and teams pray before every game. Coaches, who are trained, supervised and supported, are called to not only coach, but to be positive witnesses in their Catholic faith. Based on those reasons to offer athletics, and seeing that many parishes are not offering them, CAL believes that it is important to encourage parishes to use this platform to teach important values.
“We also believe that one way to get to participate in faith formation and worship is by getting them to be part of a community that is connected to their faith. We want to make sure that we provide opportunities for every Catholic young person in this state to be able to play in a sport if they choose to,” said Dussault.
Families and parishes interested are strongly encouraged to reach out to the Office of Youth Ministry, by emailing email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more at www.calsportsri.com. Register for basketball today.