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Archdiocese holds listening sessions on Catholic athletics

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Thursday, October 21, 2010
By Mike Dyer
ARCHDIOCESE — Wearing his St. Ignatius baseball cap, Tom Barford not only brought his parish pride to the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s Athletics Initiative Conversation on Oct. 12, he brought a sense of optimism for what a continuation of parish communication across the city could mean for youth athletic programs.

Barford, who is president of the St. Ignatius Parish Athletic Association, was one of about 20 people in attendance at the second of four listening sessions the archdiocese was scheduled to host during October.
Recognizing the connection between sports, youth and faith, Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr initiated an exploration of Catholic athletics so the archdiocese could develop increased awareness of its impact on young people and their families and better support area parishes and their programs.
In a letter to participants, the archbishop thanked them for coming and said, “Your contribution to this broader discussion will help shape how the archdiocese can best foster the faith of our young people through their involvement in parish-based athletics.”
Those in attendance from around the Greater Cincinnati area included  athletic association presidents from parishes such as St. Dominic in Delhi, St. James the Greater in White Oak and St. Susanna in Mason, along with athletic booster presidents and Tim Reilly, principal of St. Ignatius School. All gave input to the session, which included four parts: strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities for Catholic athletics in the archdiocese.
The main question was simple: “How can youth athletics and the Catholic faith community best foster athletic, character and faith development in our children and families?”
Sean Reynolds, director of the archdiocesan Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, was the facilitator for the session. He asked participants to be honest in their assessment of how Catholic athletics has affected families and faith and what each parish could learn from others to improve.
The group listed several aspects of the state of Catholic athletics — whether positive or negative assessments. The topics varied greatly from the many benefits of teamwork and seeing coaches be positive faith-filled role models, to several areas that need improvement. All of the results from the conversations were scheduled to be posted on the archdiocese’s website, and the discussion will continue in the future, organizers said.
“No one knows better than athletes the importance of striving for excellence, for self-discipline and for single-minded commitment to victory,” Archbishop Schnurr wrote in his letter. “In a similar way, we wish to help our young people strive for excellence in faith, self-discipline in prayer, service to the least among us and single-minded commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
All the participants were committed to bringing ideas to the table of how their parish could help young athletes in their faith journey. Reynolds presented research studies of how faith and religion significantly affect young people. He cited the book, Soul Searching: The Religious and  Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers by Christian Smith and Melissa Lundquist Denton, which includes data that suggests fewer of the nation’s young adults are retaining their faith than in the past generations.
“This research is extremely sobering and it is calling us as Catholics to review what is it we are doing with our kids,” Reynolds told those gathered. “Because, as the research goes, it seems as though in relation to other Christian groups in the country, the Catholic Church is lagging behind…about five to 25 percentage points behind, which is startling for those of us who have worked at this stuff for years and years.” 
John Klare, who has been president of the St. James Parish Athletic Club for the past three years, gave commentary on his role within his parish and the ongoing potential for faith formation in young people and the coaches who instruct them. He said the listening sessions could have significant meaning when participants look back on their work four or five years from now.
Klare described children as the “clay of the church,” and their faith formation is of utmost importance, whether it’s at home, in school or on the playing field. He said it can be challenging to fully reach all the children in Catholic athletics, but he believes the listening sessions are a sign of the movement of the Holy Spirit guiding the adult leaders and coaches.
“We have a chance through our (athletic) programs to touch these kids, to teach them about more than just wins and losses, something that could really make a difference in their lives,” said Klare, who has been a member of St. James Parish for 15 years. “I want to do that.”
Reynolds showed a video of various coaches who spoke of the faithful benefits of Catholic athletic teams and how they teach life lessons. The session then went into the strengths of the various Catholic athletic programs that the group had previously listed. They included the dedication of parents, volunteers and coordinators throughout the parishes and the variety of activities offered during the school year. The discussion also highlighted the great pride, history and tradition in many of the athletic programs and noted that many of the young athletes will learn significant life skills beyond what sports provide on the surface.
The areas in which participants noted room for improvement included scheduling, organization and rules for participation in the respective leagues.
The end of the session included time to discuss ideas parishes could share in  the future, such as continuation of coaches being positive role models for kids, better use of parish facilities and the opportunity for young athletes to be educated and catechized.
As one participant noted toward the end of the evening, “It’s too important to let pass an opportunity to influence our children.”
Listening sessions were also held at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Anderson Township on Oct. 6, and at St. Susanna Parish on Oct. 18. A fourth session is scheduled for Oct. 23, 9 a.m., at Mount Notre Dame High School in Reading.
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