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Archdiocesan Youth Athletics Charter culmination of 18 months of hard work, dedication

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The following is a letter from Sean Reynolds, Director of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s Youth and Young Adult Ministry

Something remarkable happened this past June 1.  After eighteen months of hard work, on the heels of nearly two years of consultations,  the Archdiocesan Youth Athletics Task Force reached consensus on its Youth Athletics Charter. Perhaps even more remarkably, by the end of that meeting there was no dissent, only applause and gratitude.  It was a great day for Catholic youth athletics in the Archdiocese!

To understand the significance of this moment, you need to understand the unique history of youth athletics here in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.  More than thirty years ago, then-Archbishop Bernardin decided to discontinue an Archdiocesan role in parish-based and elementary-age athletics.  (There had been a CYO office with an athletics director prior to that.)

This created a vacuum that scores of concerned and committed parents and fans stepped up to fill, and fill it they did!  Over the years a number of independent, Catholic youth athletics leagues sprang up.  Here’s a partial list:  Northern CYO, Dayton CYO, Springfield CYO, Hamilton CYO, Cincinnati CYO, Cincinnati CYO Track and Field, Boys Western Athletics Conference, Girls Western Athletics Conference, Greater Cincinnati Youth League, and more — each with its own way of doing things.

Representatives of these groups joined up with pastors, religious educators, youth ministers, school principals, diocesan leaders, parish boosters, deacons and representatives of Catholic high school athletics to form our Archdiocesan Youth Athletics Task Force.  Not only were all of these leagues and roles represented on the Task Force, but all three regions of the Archdiocese were represented as well:  Cincinnati, Dayton and northern.  When we began with all of those varied viewpoints and experiences around the same table, we thankfully had lots to inspire us and pull us together.  The public consultations we had done all over the Archdiocese prior to the Task Force left us with this compelling mission:  to create a consistently high-quality experience of youth athletics as a form of youth ministry all across the Archdiocese.

We had learned in the consultations that although there were many fine examples of well-run athletics programs, led by truly outstanding Catholic coaches and leaders, there were also far, far too many embarrassing exceptions and inconsistencies.  We heard the same story all over the Archdiocese:  as a Catholic coach, you try your best to instill virtues and values in your kids, and across the court or field your opponent (also a Catholic coach), is modeling something very, very different from that.  We heard stories of heroes, and horror stories.  And so the word came loudly and clearly from the people of the Archdiocese to Archbishop Schnurr:  NOW is the time after all these years for the Archdiocese to get involved, to bring people together to develop consistent standards so that if you’re in Catholic athletics, you’re in it for the right reasons.

So what’s next?  With some minor amendments, the fourth draft that was unanimously approved by the Task Force will, with those amendments, become draft five, which will be formally submitted to the Archbishop.  He will then consult on it with his various leadership bodies, including the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, and the Council of Priests.  We have been told that a final decision on the Charter could come sometime in October, 2013.

If the Charter is approved, a transitional Steering Committee will organize and manage its implementation, with the guidance of the Archdiocesan Office of Youth & Young Adult Ministry, and the expertise of many of the athletics leaders who were part of the Task Force.  There will be a time table for Charter compliance that leagues and athletics organizations will work towards with the help of an Archdiocesan Youth Athletics Commission.

The end result?  Firstly, here’s what the Charter WON’T do:  it won’t go take us back in time to the way it was 30 years ago with the Archdiocese running tournaments and leagues.  The leagues and organizations that so many fine people built over the years will remain intact.

And here’s what the Charter WILL DO:  it will establish standards of quality for leagues, athletics organizations, competitions, coaches, fields/facilities, fans, etc. — so that when someone says “Catholic” youth athletics it will mean something special, something consistent, something reliably good.  And when those standards aren’t met there will be real consequences, consistently and fairly applied, by a Youth Athletics Commission composed of seasoned athletics leaders.  And most importantly, those standards will have been built upon good sportsmanship and fair play, AND will stretch towards a higher bar of faith, Catholic identity, and discipleship.

As Archbishop Schnurr has often said, “Catholic in name only” is not an option for any of our youth programs, including athletics. The Charter takes us into a better future in which the words “Catholic Youth Athletics” will evoke a sense of pride, character development, virtues and of explicit Catholic faith.

The Archdiocese owes a debt of gratitude to the scores of people who have made the Archdiocesan Youth Athletics Charter a reality.  Their generosity, dedication, commitment and wisdom have literally shaped a better future for the children who play, their parents and families — and all of us!

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